Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Census is Upon Us!

Last summer, I got my visit from my friendly neighborhood census worker (who happened to be my backyard neighbor) in order to verify my address. I questioned then, since you're here, why not just ask me how many people live here.

At the beginning of March, I received the form letter saying that the actual Census letter would arrive in a couple of weeks. My curiosity was piqued and I went to the census website. I was hoping that I could just fill it in online and be done with it. I mean, I have applied for jobs online, trade stocks online, file my taxes online, opened bank accounts online, etc. Surely something as simple as letting the government know how many people live in the house with me could be accomplished with an online form, right?

BIG WRONG! This is one proof that there is no major government conspiracy to do anything. Government of it self is rather stupid, slow, inefficient, and ineffective. Departments truly don't talk to each other, even when it would be in their (and our) best interest to. Yes, I know that the government used the census to help round up the Japanese, Germans, and Italians in WW2. But they didn't get them all. I definitely don't support the government abusing the information it is given in this way.

On the otherhand, the IRS has the names and addresses (and email addresses if you file electronically) of probably 75% of the homes in this country. So why doesn't the Census Bureau simply request the address list from the IRS? I know, because more than likely the IRS would botch up the transfer and end up sending addresses, SSN, bank account numbers, and a list of donations to charity which would then be used in nefarious ways. And they probably wouldn't encrypt it during the transfer. Oh yeah, and it would be blind copied to all of the email addresses they have.

A review of their website shows that the Census is on twitter, facebook, flickr, and youtube. But for some reason, they still haven't figured out how to count online. Well what about false responses you say? Well, what about false responses with paper forms (or just plain made up numbers)? Does that not happen now? Have they not figured out how to deal with that in the last 200 years?

Back to the point of what I was saying. The Census does not do online reporting because in their own words "No. Not at this time. We are experimenting with Internet response for the future." What? I know that I have been filing my taxes for at least 7 years electronically. The Census only happens every ten years. So if they are experimenting now, we will probably have a Beta test in 2020 with a small portion of the population, an expanded Beta test in 2030 with a larger portion, and by 2040 we will all be able to answer online. Of course by that time, all of our brains will have microchips in them and we will be interconnected. Oh yeah and health care will be free.

So, anyway, the website also tells us that the reason that we get so many visits and letters is because it is optimized for maximum response. Yes, if you send out a mailer saying you are going to get a letter, then send the letter, then send out a postcard saying that you got a letter, it decreases the number of people that come to your door to ask you if you received the letter.

A couple of weeks after getting the letter saying that I would be getting the Census, I received my very own copy of the Census form. I was giddy, I had read all sorts of blogs and news stories of people who are only going to put the number of people in the house and nothing else. Ron Paul is doing it. Michele Bachman won't even fill it out. Then I opened the form and actually read it.

Oh yeah, I forgot about that part. Census day is April 1st. By sheer coincidence, April Fool's Day is April 1st. The questions are suppose to be answered based on information available on April 1st. Well, I filed the form away until April 1st. All sorts of things could happen between now and then. We may adopt triplets, I could get hit by a bus and die, my oldest daughter may decide to move out, my parents may decide to move in, there may be a natural disaster and we house some refugees, etc. All of these things could alter who is living and staying at my home on April 1st. Did I mention it is also April Fool's Day?

So, when people at work mentioned that they had filled out their census form, I informed them that they may be providing false information to the Census bureau which is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $500. It turns out, the Census bureau wants you to return your before April 1st. Ideally, everyone's census form would be received by April 1st so they could be counted on April 1st.

The Census bureau prides itself on confidentiality. With respect to WW2, the Census bureau operated under a different set of rules so their sharing of names and addresses then wasn't illegal. But this is the newer, more improved, more confidential Census bureau (at least until the next national emergency when the .gov wants to suspend the rights of a portion of its population). That being said, I still plan on filling out the Census form, in total. That doesn't mean I have to make it easy for them.

Since the census form is printed in multiple languages, it must have people that can read multiple languages. So right off the bat, I figure besides Arabic numbers, I can use Roman numerals, Chinese numerals, etc. Next, I haven't found anything in the census form or the CFR that says I SHALL use the Gregorian calendar for reckoning time. Well there is also the Julian calendar (which isn't used anymore), there is the Jewish Calendar, the Islamic Calendar, the traditional Chinese Calendar, the Taiwan Calendar, the Unix time code, and the Windows or Mac time code. I'll have to see how many of these I can put in there. (I'll be sure to include a reference for them so that they can calculate it.) With 2012 coming up, the Mayan calendar could be a possibility, I mean, the world is going to end on December 21, 2012 (or is it the 20th - either way, the Mayans got it wrong as their world ended 500 years ago).

Names. Last, First, and Middle Initial. Well, I have the name I go by, I also have a Chinese name that I use with Chinese people (it also works for Korean and Japanese with a little translation). Then there is my nickname from college. The nickname my grandpa called me. And my superhero alterego. Which should I use... Making up names or putting obviously false ones like "Mickey Mouse" is illegal and something that ACORN would do. I'm not that way.

Then there is the age. We normally use solar years. How about calculating it by lunar years? Or maybe using the Chinese calendar to calculate one's age (which when one is born he is 1 year old - accounting for gestation - and then on Chinese New Year he advances one year - so it is entirely possible to be 2 years old according to Chinese reckoning and have been born two days ago).

Of course there is the infamous race question. We really need to get over "race" in America. It has come to the point that we don't even know how to define race. First there is the question on hispanic origin. The "other" category includes Spaniard. While normally I would answer "no" to this question, family history research has shown some lines of Spaniards that I am descended from. Sure, they are 500 years ago, but if race is going to be so convoluted maybe I still count. I'll have to cogitate on that for a few more days. And I'll have to decide whether my children count as Spaniards as well, or I have bred it all out of them. I may have the last Spaniard genes in the family. The next then asks for your race and includes terms that are more properly described as skin color, ethnicity, or national origin.

Places like China or India (with 1.5 billion people each) are given a single category. They have a box for Black, African American, and/or Negro. But what about Egyptians, Tunisians, or Libyans? Are they forced to choose Other. The concept of race is a throwback to 16th-19th century racists. Once genetics was discovered and people tried to "prove" their racist concepts, it quickly became apparent that there are no "races" that people can be divided up into. Perhaps we should change this question to just be skin color. Although then we would need to distiguish between northern and souther Europeans and between Aryan Indians (who aren't white) and Aboriginal Australians.

I could always use the "American" throwback or the "Human" in the other category, but then you are allowed to check multiple boxes. And if I am going to use the Spaniards in my genealogy to count myself as hispanic, why not use the Africans in my genealogy to also make sure that is checked. In fact based on my known family history and the proposed progression of migration out of Africa, I should check White, Black, Native American, Asian Indian, Other Asian (I am assuming that the Indo-Europeans in Turkey approximately 20,000 years ago count as other Asians). I have had some Chinese people tell me I have Chinese features so maybe I should choose that as well.

The last question is whether you sometimes live or stay somewhere else? I am sort of confused. Do they mean on April 1st, 2010 in particular or at any time in the last 10 years, or at any time in the next 10 years. If it is the first, well, I'll have to see. If it is the second, I could check "In college housing", "at a seasonal or second residence", and "for another reason." If it is the third, then I will tentatively check all of the blocks, because I don't know what the next 10 years holds.

Now for some other hypothetical questions. Do people who believe that life begins at conception include a pregnancy as an extra child in the census? If you are moving and happen to move out of your home in California on March 31st, drive across the country and spend April 1st traveling through Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska, where does your family get counted? How do you handle deaths on April 1st, are they counted in the census or not?

Finally, you may want to ask why I am being difficult. Well, frankly because I can, and it is the Census workers job to count people, if the form is not going to be specific, why not be creative, I will be sure to include all of the information they need to get the answers in the format they want. Since the money has already been allocated to counting, if the census bureau doesn't spend it all, my guess is they will have one heck of a party with the leftover $20 million and maybe give out "Lifetime Service Awards" to some of their temporary workers to use up all of the funds. My goal is to make sure they use as much of their budgeted money as possible actually doing their job, counting people. So while others are "protesting" by only filling in the number of people living in the home, I am going to fill out the entire form. And probably include lots of comments as well. I might even post some images of it when I am done. 70 years from now when the records are made public, my great grandchildren can search through the forms and find out that I took my civic responsibilities with pride and helped to ensure that someone had a job (census worker, US Marshall, judge, jury, etc.) during these tough economic times. After all, I fully expect to get a visit from another friendly neighborhood census worker. I am just not going to fill out the form or answer any questions until April 1st (actually, probably April 2nd since I want to be sure that no meteor destroys our city on April 1st thus negating the need for all of the federal dough we are "entitled" to).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care "Reform" Passes

3/21/2010, the die is cast.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mom's Six Figure Salary...NOT!

Well, with the title alone I have probably offended every female who may ever read this including my wife and mother. Before you come tearing down my door with your butcher knife and righteous indignation, bear with me for a moment and let me make my case. Please note that this post is not a knock on mothers or wifes (I happen to like my mother and my wife very much). This is a knock on society's insecurities that lead people to trying to justify why they don't pitch in and help out at home. is on their ninth incantation of the Mom's Salary Survey. When the first one came out I remember reading it and laughing. To me it appeared that some children and husbands were feeling quilty about the lack of work that they did around the home and so decided to show their wifes and mothers (on Mother's Day of course) that their hard work was worth a "theoretical" $100K+. After some adjustments a few years ago which lowered the amount, the 2009 survey found that stay at home mother's were worth a salary of around $122,000 and working 96.4 hours a week.

Interestingly enough, the Bureau of Labor Statistics job description that most closely matches the overall role of a mother (and I am using the term overall role very loosely here) is Personal Home Care Aides. They make on average $9.47/hr so assuming a 40 hours at regular time and 56.4 hours at time and a half their annual salary would be $61K a year. So why the discrepancy? I set out to find out.

Using the calculator for my family and area, I found that my wife is worth $118K using their average number of hours worked from the survey. I then came up with the following fallacies based on my own family situation and experience.

Fallacy #1 pretends that working multiple jobs will get you "overtime" pay. I sure wish this was true. But it isn't. At one point in college, I had three jobs: photographer, electronics bench technician, and data entry clerk. Each was with a different employer, and in spite of the fact that I was working 60+ hours every single week, I NEVER was paid time and half. Turns out that employers don't really care how much you work at another job when it comes around to payday. Of course, I knew this going in. I still had to pay for college, so I had to work 60+ hours to earn the money. Making this one adjustment and calculating my wife's pay for straight time, we find that she is worth only $91K.

Fallacy #2 uses wage rates that are unrealistic for the training/experience of the average mom. Their salary is based on the wages of the top 10 time consuming occupations that mother's do. I didn't have a problem with three of them: Housekeeper, Laundry Machine Operator, and Janitor (coincidentally, these could all be rolled up into the Housekeeper category and their wages were all around $9.50 per hour). For each of the others I disagreed with their wage or else my wife (and the average mother) does not have the qualifications to command such a wage.

Day Care Center Teacher (theirs: $12.43 per hour) - since it says teacher rather than worker, I am assuming that there is some level of certification required by the state. My wife doesn't have it so she gets $10/hour for this.

Cook (theirs: $12.70) - we are not talking fine restaurant cook here, we are talking cook. The vast majority of meals made at our home would probably rank in the fast food arena or maybe the decent sit down place. Having worked in both of these types of places before, and knowing that I was paid minimum wage at both, I'll give my wife $10/hour for this.

Computer Operator (theirs: $14.57) - if this is data entry, then I would have killed for this kind of money in college doing data entry, as I mentioned before I had a data entry position, and I made a little more than minimum wage. I'll give my wife $10/hour for this (are you seeing a pattern yet).

Facilities Manager (theirs: $32.67) - I think we are talking about something like a convention center or such. If this is the case than I can agree with it. If you are managing the facilities of a hotel with 30,000 square feet of convention space, I can see you getting $32.67/hour. However, we are talking about a 2000 square foot home. I'll give my wife $10/hour for this.

Van Driver (theirs: $14.70) - my wife was a bus driver in college. Guess what she made? Yep, minimum wage. I'll be generous and give her $10/hour.

Psychologist (theirs: $34.44) - last I checked, psychologists usually have an advanced degree, and are usually licensed in the state that they work. If you don't have either of these (degree mills don't count), you will be hard pressed to command the $34.44/hour wage. On the other hand, there are also help lines that are looking for people to answer phones, listen, and give advice. They are usually on a volunteer basis, but I'll give my wife $10/hour.

CEO (theirs: $65.36) - I worked at a small business where I think the owner was making about $130K a year ($65/hour). Since I took all the deposits to the bank, one day while waiting in line I calculated that his company was bringing in about $2 million a year in revenue. He had 10 employees and a small fleet of vehicles. Based on what I new of office space rental, equipment costs and probable salaries of the people in the office, I calculated that he was making $130K. For my family, we have less than a tenth of $2 million in revenue. So, I'll just be generous and give my wife $12/hour.

Using my figures and's hours with no overtime, I get just under $50K.

Fallacy #3 uses a self reported survey for the hours worked. Self reported surveys are notoriously bad at providing unbiased information. Self reported data is tenuous at best and in many cases pure fantasy. So I went over the reported numbers and adjusted them for what I think the amount of time my wife spends. Here is what I came up with:

Housekeeper (theirs: 16.5) - this is a littler more than 2 hours per day. I can live with that.

Day Care Center Teacher (theirs: 14.7) - well we homeschool our kids, although I have admitted in the past that my wife spends about 2 hours teaching (the kids also do a lot of work on their own) five days a week. Subtract out the days she doesn't teach and add in the days that she does planning and I will go with 15 hours a week.

Cook (theirs: 13.1) - well, we do once a month cooking that takes about 8 hours, then there is cooking each day which is probably only an hour (although I do some of it), and if we add in grocery shopping which is 2 hours a week then the total time is probably around 10 hours a week.

Computer Operator (theirs: 9.2) - I have not met a home yet that requires 9.2 hours to operate. Sure my wife spends 9.2 hours on the computer each week, but the majority of that is doing her hobbies (scrapbooking, playing games, etc.). So how about we limit counted computer time to budgeting, shopping, and activities that directly affect the family. I could maybe go for 3 hours.

Facilities Manager (theirs: 8.6) - on a week that we are having a party at our house, we spend 8.6 hours preparing (maybe), otherwise, about the only thing that I would put in this category is arranging play dates for the kids, which is about a 10 minute phone call each week. I'll round that up to 2 hours.

Van Driver (theirs: 7.3) - Yes, my wife spends about 7 hours each week driving the kids around. So, while I could quibble that part of that time is spent going places she would have if we didn't have kids, I'll accept the 7.3 hours a week anyway.

Psychologist (theirs: 7.2) - the majority of my wife and I's practice of psychology does not have to do with delving into our children's feelings. Its more along the lines of "good cop, bad cop" to determine which kid is at fault. But, I'll agree to at least 7 hours of it.

Laundry Machine Operator (theirs: 7.2) - laundry does take about 7 hours each week (including folding and putting away), but more than half of that time the machine is running and no one is actually doing anything. I'll give my wife 4 hours.

Janitor (theirs: 7.1) - how is this different from Housekeeper? I don't know, so I'll give my wife 0 hours since I already accounted for the cleaning and picking up in Housekeeper.

Chief Executive Officer (theirs: 5.5) - CEO stuff that my wife (or I) do: pay the kids allowance, plan the budget for the year, shop for big purchases, um ... Yeah, I don't see us spending 5.5 hours a YEAR on that stuff. But I'll be generous again and give my wife 2 hours a week.

So adding it all up I get 66.8 hours of work a week, 30 hours less than what survey found. I trust my numbers more, and I would be willing to bet if they made the people who take the survey record on a daily log for one month what they spent their time doing, it would be a lot closer to my numbers than's.

And what does this get us for a total salary for the year: $34,096, which translates into $9.82/ hour. WOW! that is what I said Personal Home Care Aides were making at the beginning of this blog. Turns out, the reason they are making that amount, is because that is the value of the work that they do. I am not the only one who finds the Annual Mom Salary Survey ridiculous at its core.

So there are my reasons for mocking the salary survey. If you think I am going to trade my wife or mother in for a housekeeper and nanny, they you are the crazy one. If you are a mother and look to the salary survey to feel justified, then you should talk to a real psychologist about your self esteem issues. If you are a child or husband and you try to prop up your mother or wife with this claptrap, then maybe you should start lifting a finger or two around the house and help out.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

People of the Gun

Gun people are all racist, neophyte Republican, men who are probably missing a couple teeth and married to their first cousin.

OK, that kind of inflammatory language is really just a strawman, although it does include some ideas that I have read from people who have a fear of firearms. Well, they are wrong. People of the Gun is a tribe of people (I can't even limit to Americans) who believe in the right of all people to keep and bear arms (that would be one of those inalienable rights that everyone has, not just Americans).

The tribe started as the brainchild of Jeff Soyer in response to a column by Laura Washington. Besides guns, there is not a lot that this group agrees on. At the website you can read their blogs and find that the group includes Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, libertarians, and everything in between. There are engineers, biologists, programmers, and librarians. Young and old. People who hunt and those who don't. Having read most all of their blogs I can say that discussion topics are more varied than you probably would imagine.

But, we do have one thing in common. Which is why we are the People of the Gun.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Homeschooling Textbook Problems

Apparently, many homeschooling textbooks don't do justice to evolution. Since my wife and I home school our children, this story actually interests me. Nothing can bring out the religious hysterics more than talking about evolution. Probably 80% of the population (including 99% of those who don't believe it) have any real concept of what evolution is.

Most of people's understanding is relegated to "humans evolved from monkeys." This is absolute and complete poppy-cock. From a taxonometric standpoint, humans are part of the superfamily hominoidea, or apes. Monkeys on the other hand, include all primates except lemurs, tarsiers, and bushbabies. So, monkeys are not apes, and apes are not monkeys. The correct simplified way of describing evolution is to say "humans evolved from apes."

Apparently though, there are some textbook suppliers that don't believe evolution and like to try to pretend it doesn't exist. I'm OK with that. There is nothing wrong with people teaching their kids any manner of bravo-sierra, we do it all the time in public school systems, why is it considered a problem at home? But really, this article was about non-creationist parents being frustrated about the lack of good teaching materials that don't have a Bible bent. I can sympathize for them, but I am not going to cry a river or whine about it.

The push for home schooling started in the 1980s (there was home schooling before, but in the 1980s is when people started to become vocal for it). It was mainly centered around the conservative Christian demographic who did not want their kids partaking in evolution, sex education, and not having a prayer to start the day (alright that is a gross exaggeration - maybe). Since then, it appears that the demographic has shifted and soon evangelical Christians will no longer be the majority. The Home School Legal Defense Association estimates that roughly half of home school families are evangelical Christian, which is down from the two thirds it was in 2000.

With roughly 1.5 million home schooled children this year, I had to do a quick idiot check. Half of 1.5 million is 750,000. According to this source, 26.3% of the US identifies itself as evangelical Christian. There are roughly 55 million children in grades K-12. So, to begin with 14.5 million school children are evangelical Christians. Which means roughly 5% of them are home schooled. I can buy that number.

So, since the home school movement started with evangelical Christians, they have a big jump on providing teaching materials. Wouldn't you know, they happen to put in their dogma. In fact the article mentions that the only scientifically sound biology text that one could find is from the Calvert School. That was nice to see since we use their curriculum in our family. Granted, our kids are all elementary age so we haven't delved into science too heavily.

Which brings me to my next point. Why is this a problem at all? Evolution (and all of the intricacies/complexities of it) is probably not going to be taught in any coherent text until high school. I remember learning about it from National Geographic as a kid, but it wasn't until high school that any kind of in depth review of it was done, and even then it was still rather superficial. Frankly, the vast majority of what I know about evolution, I have learned on my own (everyone should read Darwin!).

In any case, when my children get to be about high school age, what do I plan on doing for textbooks? Why go down to the local community college and pick up the text for Biology 101 or Chemistry 101 or Physics 101 or Calculus 101 or ... do you get the picture. College textbooks (particularly the intro ones) are perfect for high school students (in some cases that is what they use anyway). There is no need to try to create our own "non-religious" home school publishing empire, just use the "non-religious" publishing empires that are already in place.

Which brings me back to the original article I cited. Apparently, the number of people home schooling for religious reasons is rising. What are my reasons? In a nutshell, the public school system is a complete waste of time. We get all of our schooling done in about 2 hours a day and the kids have maybe another 2 hours of work on their own to do. Are they maladjusted? I don't think so, but then again, I am rather biased. Furthermore, I have complete control over what they learn and when they learn it. If my six year old wants to figure out how babies are made by reading the medical book, go right ahead (just don't bring it up during Sunday School, adults tend to blush at that kind of thing).

Before I end, let me bring up one final point about the ridiculousness of the "religious" biology texts. I will admit, I haven't ever read one. I have the Bible (the King James Version and the Chinese version). The original article quotes from Bob Jones University "Biology: Third Edition." Those who do not believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God will find many points in this book puzzling ... OK, that is probably an understatement. Where do I stand. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, however I laugh at the concept of inerrancy. My question to them is "Which one? Which version of the Bible is the inerrant one?" They certainly can't all be inerrant.

To make things clear, inerrant means free of error or infallible. So, let's just take a simple look at something like the ages of the patriachs (Adam, Noah, Methusaleh, etc.). There are three major versions of the Pentateuch (first five books of Moses): Masoretic, Septuagint, and Samaritan. Most western civilizations are familiar with the Masoretic as most of our Bible translations come from that. The Orthodox Christians of Russia and Eastern Europe would disagree. And the Samaritans of Israel would further disagree. Even on something as simple as the ages of the patriarchs there is not agreement among them. Remember, to be inerrant means that there are no mistakes. Sure, the numbers are close (mostly), but inerrant means that they are infallible. Can anyone who believes the Bible is inerrant explain why the Masoretic text is the correct one and the other two are not? Can you do this without mental gymnastics? If you can't do this, then why would you even hope to get something like "Biology: Third Edition" correct?

So, now that I have offended a good portion of Bible inerrantists, I'll wrap this up. Biology (or any science) is not something to be explained by people who can't do simple math. Don't buy textbooks from them. On the other hand, there is a wealth of resources out there for home schoolers if they just open their eyes, it might not all be labeled "For Homeschoolers," but that is the beauty of it. Disneyland can be used to study physics, the grocery store can be used to study math, and whip out the old baseball cards and you have endless lessons in statistics that the kids will enjoy (or just use the cereal boxes at breakfast).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Racial Insanity!

The Secretary of Education cannot visit a school in Alabama because they opposed Martin Luther King, Jr. What? Is there some place in the US, even in the south, that doesn't celebrate MLK day? Uh no, this has nothing to do with the holiday. This has to do with THE Martin Luther King, Jr.

Back in 1965 (let's see, 2010-1965=45 years), the principal, faculty, and students (I guess that is what the article means) of Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, AL publicly opposed MLK and the Selma-Montgomery march. If I did my math correctly, 45 years later that means our Education Secretary can visit the school because it would be an insult. Does this mean that Barack Obama can't have anything to do with the University of Alabama since George Wallace attempted to stop black students from enrolling there in 1963? (I wonder if Barack was watching the BCS championship game earlier this year - perhaps Jesse Jackson should condemn him for that).

I guess when it comes to racial issues, the children and grand children have to suffer for the sins of the parents and grandparents. I highly doubt that there is anyone still working at Robert E. Lee High School that was around when the Selma march occurred 45 years ago. My bet is that less than half of the faculty was even born then and probably only one or two people were even teenagers during that time and know what was going on.

That Mr. Duncan is going to the school to commemorate (NOT celebrate) the "Bloody Sunday" incident is very telling. I look at this as a way to say, "Hey, you bozos who opposed civil rights were wrong. And now we can commemorate our dead using your ground!" Except that the school is not still "opposed" to desegregation. As near as I can find, that sort of died out 45 years ago.

Do the self proclaimed civil rights "leaders" have nothing better to do than to continue to condemn people who have long since died? Good thing we can still make progress without them. Arne, if you read this, go to Robert E. Lee High School and tell people why you are there. Robert E. Lee will look up from his grave and smile at you.

A Quandary of Epic Porportions

I have a quandary every time I see and article like this. Almost a hundred years ago (before nearly everyone on the planet today was born), the Ottoman Empire killed off a whole bunch of Armenians. Now, some in the US Congress feel the need to condemn this action and label it a genocide.

On the one hand, I am ecstatic that Congress is debating something that isn't going to increase my taxes or limit the rights of Americans. I support a lot of the frivolous-no-action legislation that is passed by our government, particularly if it is something that members can give long winded speeches showing that they support said frivolousness. You know, things like declaring National Hot Dog Day, or Congratulatory Bills to the World Series Champion, or even debating and voting on Mother of the Year awards. These are things that take up their time so that they can't screw up other things. In the end, if they screw up any of these frivolous items (which they amazingly do), since there are no actions at of it, and no money spent, it doesn't affect me.

On the other hand, we appear to be on the path of attempting to right all of the wrongs that have happened throughout history. The latest one to be debated is the Armenia genocide resolution. What would it do, other than saying that the Ottoman's were really bad...nothing. So why are we doing it? I have no clue, maybe to suck up to Armenia since they are strategically better positioned than Turkey? (Except that they aren't.) Did a million plus Armenians get killed back in 1915? Yes. Was it primarily a result of the Ottoman Turks? Probably. However, everyone who perpetrated it is long since dead (except for maybe a 12 year old boy who helped, of course he would be 107 now, so are we going to waste some resources trying him in a military tribunal and putting him in prison for the rest of his life - well, if it will prevent Congress from passing new programs, then yeah maybe we should).

Turkey is naturally upset because they are the descendants of the Ottoman Empire. Of course, if I lived there, I would say: "So what. If we aren't currently killing them or have policies in place that lead to that, why are you wasting your time?" Turkey recalled their ambassador to the US. Frankly, I think he should have just sent a nicely worded letter to the offending congressional committee saying that they really need to grow up.

Which is what we need to do. When we "condemn" actions of other countries (some of which no longer exist) that happened 100, 200, or 500 years ago, we are being childish cowards. How about condemning China for current human rights violations? Back it up with sanctions and not taking any more imports from them? Well, they happen to be one of the big boys. And we can't just stop importing from them. So maybe their human rights violations are not as important as the trade we have. In fact, maybe it is better to sacrifice "human rights" of the present population so that future populations can have freedom. Sanctions and shunning North Korea and Cuba have done nothing for the last 50 years. Cutting off business with Iran has only entrenched the extremist regime in that country over the last 30 years. Condemning people who can't fight back is easy. Asking the tough questions for those that can is much more difficult.

So far, the State Department and President Obama are taking the right approach. Keep encouraging Congress not do take this resolution further. This could actually end up as a win-win for everyone. Congress debates this resolution and doesn't get the "important" legislation passed. Therefore, we are better off in America since there are no new health care monstrosities, cap and trade debacles, or second stimulus bombs. In the end, the Congress doesn't pass the resolution and Turkey wins since we aren't condemning them for what their great grandfathers did. Armenia may not get what they want, but if all they wanted was a piece of paper condemning the Ottoman Empire, I can send them that.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Brady Scores and Crime

Over at Snowflakes in Hell, Sebastian takes a stab at showing there is no correlation between Brady Score and Violent Crime Rate. I saw it and instantly said, "Why use one graph when four will say the same thing?" So I went to work.
First to understand the Brady Score, the Brady Campaign has developed a list of gun control laws they think should be implemented and grade each state from 0 to 100 (0 being "bad"). Supposedly these laws help decrease gun violence. Based on the fact that 80% of the states score less than 25, most of the governments in the US do not agree. The best score is from California, with a 79. The only other state with a passing grade (which I define as >60 - or a D-) is New Jersey. So, the Brady Bunch is not too happy with the way gun laws in the US are going.

Let's put them to the test by examining a couple of things. First, Sebastion graphed out violent crime rates. I decided I wanted to expand on that. If gun control laws are going to have any affect on crime, they are going to decrease gun crime primarily. So for my crime data I went to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. This data is reported by law enforcement organizations to the FBI. They have tables that break down crime by the type of weapon used and the state. I looked at murders, robbery, and aggravated assault. Rape is normally included in the violent crime statistics but I elected not to include it since based on other FBI data less than 10% of rapes involve someone using a firearm. And compared to robbery and assaults there are much fewer rapes so the numbers (and rates) won't be affected too much. Using this same logic, I could exclude murders as well (there aren't that many compared to robberies or assaults), but roughly two thirds of murders are with a firearm so including it might help the Brady Bunch out (but not really since the number of robberies and assaults committed with a firearm is 35 times the number of murders).

Now, to simplify things I have to delete a few data points. For one, the Brady Campaign doesn't rank District of Columbia. By throwing this out it is definitely to their advantage as DC has stricter gun laws than California and have a very high violent crime rate - which is contrary to what the Brady Bunch would have you believe about the effect of gun control. Illinois also has to be thrown out since they have spotty reporting to the FBI. Their Brady Score isn't anything to write home about (28), but without consistent data compared to the other states there is no sense in including them. Finally, Florida gets thrown out as well since they didn't have a murder rate listed in the FBI tables. I have no idea why but I didn't want to go hunting for another data set just to include them. They score a 6 by the Brady's reckoning so in effect we have thrown out a low, medium, and high Brady score, but we still have 48 data points.

So I begin by re-creating Sebastian's graph with my data. As you can see, it is mostly similar to his, although my linear trendline is showing a slight decrease whereas his showed a slight increase. The R-squared value is the same 0.0005. In a nutshell, this says that 0.05% of the variability of the violent crime rate from the trendline can be explained by the Brady Score. In other words: there is no correlation! (You would expect something at least above 0.5 before you started claiming correlation.)

But, gun control laws would primarily affect gun crime, not necessarily all crime. So, let me run the numbers again. This time, the R-squared value has increased to 0.0176. That is light-years ahead of all violent crime, but still very dismal as far as correlation goes: there is no correlation!
Now, before we just leave this issue lets take into account population. Not with the rates, but with the Brady Scores. Let me create a population weighted Brady Score. By dividing the Brady Score by the population of the state and then multiplying by 5,000,000 (the average population of the states) I get my Brady Population Weighted Score. This helps to minimize the effects of those small states like North Dakota (by giving them a higher score). Unfortunately for the Brady Campaign, it does nothing for a state like Utah that has a score of 0. Violent crime has an R-squared value of 0.0525.

And firearm crime has an R-squared value of 0.0902. This is the absolute best that I could get the Brady Scorecard to show some sort of correlation to gun crime. Once again, there is no correlation.
To sum up the data: Gun control laws do not have any observable affect on violent crime or crimes committed with firearms. Remember, correlation may not be causation, but if there is no correlation, there cannot be any causation.