January 10, 2013

Reason.tv: 5 Facts About Guns, Schools, And Violence

Filed under: Law, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:39

No one wants to ever again see anything like the senseless slaughter of 26 people — including 20 children — at a school. But as legislators turn toward creating new gun laws, here are five facts they need to know.

1. Violent crime — including violent crime using guns — has dropped massively over the past 20 years.

The violent crime rate — which includes murder, rape, and beatings — is half of what it was in the early 1990s. And the violent crime rate involving the use of weapons has also declined at a similar pace.

2. Mass shootings have not increased in recent years.

Despite terrifying events like Sandy Hook or last summer’s theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, mass shootings are not becoming more frequent. “There is no pattern, there is no increase,” says criminologist James Allen Fox of Northeastern University, who studies the issue. Other data shows that mass killings peaked in 1929.

3. Schools are getting safer.

Across the board, schools are less dangerous than they used be. Over the past 20 years, the rate of theft per 1,000 students dropped from 101 to 18. For violent crime, the victimization rate per 1,000 students dropped from 53 to 14.

4. There Are More Guns in Circulation Than Ever Before.

Over the past 20 years, virtually every state in the country has liberalized gun ownership rules and many states have expanded concealed carry laws that allow more people to carry weapons in more places. There around 300 million guns in the United States and at least one gun in about 45 percent of all households. Yet the rate of gun-related crime continues to drop.

5. “Assault Weapons Bans” Are Generally Ineffective.

While many people are calling for reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons — an arbitrary category of guns that has no clear definition — research shows it would have no effect on crime and violence. “Should it be renewed,” concludes a definitive study, “the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.”

Recapping the awful legal conditions for Ontario wineries

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Cancon, Law, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

In the latest issue of Ontario Wine Review, Michael Pinkus explains why the outcome of the last provincial election dashed a lot of hopes in the Ontario wine industry:

Give an Ontario winery the chance to vent its spleen, especially about the recent provincial election and the future of the wine industry in the province, and you can sit back, pour a glass and listen to what has been described as “years of frustration”. Ontario remains one of the most backward places to make and sell wine and the rules and regulations are just so 1920s (the decade our monopoly was formed). One of the most telling problems about our system is how many winery principals are afraid to go on the record with their comments. “I will ask to remain anonymous as quite frankly I am afraid of LCBO backlash. We are spending more and more time getting to know the LCBO system [as one of the only ways to grow our business] … and I am sure with one phone call the buyers will drop us … without the LCBO we are screwed.” Now, you would think we were discussing selling forbidden information in communist Russia or talking against the state in Stasi-controlled Cold War Germany, instead of discussing election results in a “free” country like Canada. [. . .]

“We are definitely one of the worst regulated wine industries in the world. No other jurisdiction has supply-managed grapes and government-owned monopoly distribution (a system designed to fast-track imported wine into Ontario). In fact, I am hard pressed to think of any other industry in Canada that has this type of anachronistic regulatory burden. Off the top of my mind, a list of products more dangerous than 100% grown Ontario wine that are less regulated: hunting rifles, cigarettes, pseudoephedrine, ATVs, fast food, pointy sticks, etc.” (AWP)

So what can you as a consumer do about this situation? First of all, you can of course become more informed, look into why you can’t order wines from other provinces, question, and why you can’t buy local wines at wine shows or farmers’ markets. Find out why wineries are limited to where they can sell their wines and why only a handful of wineries are making money hand-over-fist because of the ability to blend foreign wine with domestic wine (yet over 98% of wineries cannot use that practice) and why those same wineries can sell wine in off-site stores, while smaller un-grandfathered post-1993 wineries struggle to sell wines in one of three places: their cellar door, restaurants and the restrictive LCBO. Many wineries won’t go on the record against the biggest wine buyer in Ontario (so much for free speech).

[. . .]

Problem One are direct sales to restaurants and other licensee holders (banquet halls, etc). One AWP says OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs) puts ridiculous regulations in place. “If I sell a bottle of wine at the winery for $10.00 (including all taxes etc), I get to keep $7.55 of that. If I deliver that wine to a restaurant, I get to keep $4.03, rather than $7.55. Although LCBO has not touched that bottle, I have to pay the equivalent of LCBO warehousing charges. This overhead is not warranted as cost recovery by LCBO, as its only responsibility is the audit of winery reports.”

Remember the LCBO had nothing to do with the sale, yet it makes money on it.

Problem Two is that market share is actually declining. According to numbers obtained by the Winery and Grower Alliance of Ontario (WGAO), Ontario’s market share of wine, in its own market place, is actually declining — although an agreement made years ago stated that the LCBO would work towards a 50% target for Ontario market share compared with imported wine. The numbers show a different story. In 2010/2011, imports had 61% of the market, while Ontario had only 39%, of which 29% were International-Canadian blends (the old Cellared in Canada) … leaving Ontario VQA wine (100% Ontario product) with a measly 10% (WGAO newsletter — August 2011) … Ontario is losing ground in its own market — and that’s not because of low quality wines, that’s because access to market is curbed. Says one winery principal on the subject: “The present situation is choking the wine industry in Ontario” while another says, “it is very apparent that the LCBO is unable or not interested in growing the VQA wine industry.”

Narcissism on the rise (again) among college students

Filed under: Education, Media, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:04

I know you won’t believe this, but college students have an inflated sense of self-worth that has been further enabled by those new-fangled social media tools.

A new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has accumulated data for the past 47 years from 9 million young adults, reveals that college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing.

Psychologist Jean Twenge, the lead author of the analysis, is also the author of a study showing that the tendency toward narcissism in students is up 30 percent in the last thirty-odd years.
This data is not unexpected. I have been writing a great deal over the past few years about the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities — the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.

On Facebook, young people can fool themselves into thinking they have hundreds or thousands of “friends.” They can delete unflattering comments. They can block anyone who disagrees with them or pokes holes in their inflated self-esteem. They can choose to show the world only flattering, sexy or funny photographs of themselves (dozens of albums full, by the way), “speak” in pithy short posts and publicly connect to movie stars and professional athletes and musicians they “like.”

While the specifics of today’s worries differ, I’m reminded of this classic, attributed to Socrates (but not authenticated):

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

QotD: The mild, quiet, unassuming world of high-nitrogen compounds

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

When we last checked in with the Klapötke lab at Münich, it was to highlight their accomplishments in the field of nitrotetrazole oxides. Never forget, the biggest accomplishment in such work is not blowing out the lab windows. We’re talking high-nitrogen compounds here (a specialty of Klapötke’s group), and the question is not whether such things are going to be explosive hazards. (That’s been settled by their empirical formulas, which generally look like typographical errors). The question is whether you’re going to be able to get a long enough look at the material before it realizes its dream of turning into an expanding cloud of hot nitrogen gas.

It’s time for another dispatch from the land of spiderweb-cracked blast shields and “Oh well, I never liked that fume hood, anyway”. Today we have a fine compound from this line of work, part of a series derived from N-amino azidotetrazole. The reasonable response to that statement is “Now hold it right there”, because most chemists will take one look at that name and start making get-it-away-from-me gestures. I’m one of them. To me, that structure is a flashing red warning sign on a dead-end road, but then, I suffer from a lack of vision in these matters.

But remember, N-amino azidotetrazole (I can’t even type that name without wincing) is the starting material for the work I’m talking about today. It’s a base camp, familiar territory, merely a jumping-off point in the quest for still more energetic compounds. The most alarming of them has two carbons, fourteen nitrogens, and no hydrogens at all, a formula that even Klapötke himself, who clearly has refined sensibilities when it comes to hellishly unstable chemicals, calls “exciting”. Trust me, you don’t want to be around when someone who works with azidotetrazoles comes across something “exciting”.

Derek Lowe, “Things I Won’t Work With: Azidoazide Azides, More Or Less”, In the Pipeline, 2013-01-09

Colby Cosh on the rules of hunger striking

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

A useful guide to those who have a legitimate grievance that can’t be addressed in any other way:

Congratulations! If you are thinking of conducting a hunger strike to advance some very important cause, this guide is for you. Think of it as a sort of Anarchist’s Cookbook for those who intend to stop eating for political purposes. The hunger strike is very nearly the greatest weapon of protest available to the truly powerless. In its potential for non-violently multiplying the revolutionary leverage of a single dedicated person, it is perhaps exceeded only by the act of setting oneself on fire in the public square — a tactic which, it must be admitted, does have a slightly better record of influencing the course of history.

The formal hunger strike is made prestigious by its association with Mohandas K. Gandhi, who (probably uniquely) applied it several times with devastating effect in various contexts. Because hunger strikes have often failed, however, it is worth considering the reasons Gandhi was able to make it work — implicit conditions you should, before you proceed, make sure of your ability to satisfy.

[. . .]

Many of these rules or conditions can be summed up by simply observing that people will not want to believe that you, as a hunger striker, fully intend to die a slow death for your beliefs: the whole point of the exercise is to create a vivid, heartbreaking tableau that is unbearable to contemplate. The corollary is that they will tell themselves anything — that you are crazy; that you are a fanatic; that you are engaged in a ploy for immortality and fame; that you are secretly eating — rather than believe the terrible proposition you are putting forward to them. You had better be in possession of the truth. If not, you should throw down this guide and never return to it.

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