All posts by Greg Laden

Nitpicking the Press: Numbers Count!

This morning’s news story: “President Biden Will Remove 1.5 Million Lead Pipes”

Thanks, Joe, but “no thanks” to the culture of journalism, which sometimes strings words together that make no sense. We do not count pipe this way, usually. A line of pipe that runs from a main to a house may be made up of one or more pipes (usually more), if you count the number of tubular objects fixed together to connect everything up. Say they the installers use five pipe segments. Is that five pipes that President Biden will dig up, or is it one pipe all fixed together? The water pipe that feeds Boston, Massachusetts is a complex of pipes that runs about 70 miles, I believe there are two of them in parallel, and although they are not made of lead so President Biden will not be digging them up, I suspect there are tens of thousands of segments joined together to make that work. Or does this count as two?

So who is counting wrong? CONTINUED ON SUBSTACK

How Trump Ends

I heard an absolutely awful person (via media not someone I know) proudly complaining that if a good friend or lover suffered a physical insult, such as tripping over a broken sidewalk and landing on their face, that she thereafter could not look at that person again without disdain.

That sounded unbelievable until I remembered this story: SEE MY SUBSTACK!

Enviro-Misconceptions and Wrongness

Is climate change accelerating? No.

A subset of climate change scientists and activists are known in the mainstream science community as doomers. These are often credentialed and legitimate scientists who prefer the scarier interpretations of data, and who tend to have hair-on-fire reactions that they pass on to the general public. This does not help us in the broader mission of helping the public understand the science. Assertions that underestimate the amount of warming or the severity of effects do not help; assertions that overshoot the mark also do not help.

I wrote a substack on this, which you can visit HERE.

Happy Memorial Day: Take Down Your Flag

There is a story about a young woman named Yara. Yara worked for the city of Franklin in the clerk’s office. During election season, she worked mainly on elections, and during the rest of the year, other things, including staffing the “input line,” the main telephone interface with the public.

One fine June morning she left her house in a quiet cul-de-sac walking distance from City Hall. It was actually her parent’s house; she was living with them until she saved up enough money to move to the Boston area, where she had deferred admission to a graduate program in public policy. Her passion was to work for the government, because she believed public service to be her calling, and she believed in good government. This was something she picked up from her grandfather, who had been a civil servant in Iran; he was an honest government worker, who believed in the elusive concept of democracy. Thus his removal to the united States decades earlier.

Anyway, Yara headed out towards work and as she passed by two side-by-side homes near the corner, the shuddered a bit, thinking about the occupants. They were known to her as MAGA people. One of the residents, a man in his 50s, had one time let himself into Yara’s home while the family was eating dinner, to tell them what the #BLM sign they had just put out on their lawn really means. About how it was racist, and all lives actually matter. And so on.

Read the rest on my substack.

Is global warming speeding up?

Is global warming speeding up?

There has been some discussion about this recently. For some, if you look at the changes in global surface temperature, it seems like the rate of warming has increased. For others, an apparent uptick in rate of warming is just a normal short term shift in the rate of warming that is offset by prior and future downturns in rate. Regardless of whether there is a change in rate of warming, the question itself brings up a number of sub-questions of interest. Some of these questions are about climate science, some are about how to wrangle and interpret data, and some are about the rhetorical interface between science and the public conversation.

I have some thoughts.

Criminal Justice Framing and Philosophy: The Crime Wave

It is campaign season, so let’s talk about how thoughtful politicians running for office might frame their messaging related to criminal justice. (Originally posted here)

Criminal Justice and Public Safety are non-partisan universal issues that affect everyone, but many politicians wrongly define justice in a way that makes no one safer, that solves no serious problems, but that helps candidates that abuse crime statistics to win elections using fear as a motivator for taking people’s votes.

Every single person deserves to feel safe — and actually be safe — in their homes and workplaces, and as they travel about in their daily lives. For this to happen, there must be an ongoing, honest, and accurate assessment of the threats that exist in each environment where we live, work, or recreate. This means carefully and honestly tracking crime waves, and understanding what they are.

Long term, crime in Minnesota is way down since initial European settlement. Frontier mentalities, copious firearms, and other factors fostered a huge crime wave in much of the US, peaking prior to the 1920s. Nationally, the homicide rate peaked at about 10 killings per 100,000 per year, but in the “Wild West,” which included Minnesota, homicides were as common as ten to 15 times that.

That wave ended as the cowboy days waned, over the decades leading up to and including World War 2, and we really haven’t seen crime waves that bad since.

A second national wave in violent crimes including homicide built up in the 1970s and 80s, separating the US from all of the other industrialized nations. This is seen as a result of our nation being awash in poorly regulated firearms, significant economic disparities, and other factors.

Today, our rates of violent crime have dropped significantly, but the factors that support it are still there, so both violent and other crime rates are more likely to rise up in the US than most other places, in short term, often local or regional, waves. The Covid crime wave, largely now abated, was an example of this.

Crime waves are waves, like waves on the water. The largest waves you’ll normally see on a pond or small lake can be measured in inches, while the largest waves you’ll see in an ocean storm can be measured in yards. The US, in terms of criminal violence and other offenses, is like the ocean, compared to other industrialized countries.

The potential range of variation, and the maximum size, of any crime wave is much greater in the US than most other places in the world. This unique threat to life and liberty for every single American is the result of the unique ways in which we’ve treated violence and criminal justice, firearms, and punishment. We are among the most heavily armed populations, we are among the most incarcerated populations, we have a stronger link between racism and violence than most other places, we have a legal system that imposes thought-free sentencing requirements on judges, we foster the sentiments of revenge and rage, we meet violence with violence with the death penalty, and we have a highly militarized police force. These approaches cost money and have not worked as promised. Taxpayers have been duped into supporting a miniature military defense industry that has nothing to do with our national defense. And none of this makes anyone be any safer.

We need good policing, and we need to look at causes of crime even as we attend to consequences. A current example demonstrates this. We are experiencing a mini-crime wave in the theft of certain models of cars that are easy to steal with the use of a readily available technology. Kids — often as young as 11 — have been stealing these cars for joy rides in which the driver can barely see over the wheel. This looks like a crime wave in car theft, but it is such a unique situation that it really should be thought of and addressed separately. In Hennepin County, the County Attorney’s office has been working with municipal police to identify the likely culprits — it is a known subset of kids doing this — in order to approach the families involved. Instead of barging in and laying down criminal charges, the county criminal justice staff are having conversations with families, intervening socially rather than with handcuffs and arraignments. This program started in June 2023, and as of the end of the year, most of the kids for which this intervention happened had stopped breaking the law, and thefts are way down. Nobody’s going to jail, nobody’s going to emergency, the mischief is being managed, and if the car companies do the right thing, maybe it will become harder to for a middle schooler on an errant mission to steal a Kia or a Hyundai.

Thinking. Smarts. Compassion. Understanding. Seeing past the veil of rage through which one sees only retribution. Finding the problem and solving it, instead of reacting to the problem and fumbling through whatever makes one feel good. Justice for all no matter who they are, protection for all members of our society, and the control of crime waves requires a better plan that we are only now starting to see being implemented as a new generation of experts takes the helm. Fund a better police force, a better criminal justice system, and a better prepared and more thoughtful society. That is mid 21st century criminal justice.

My Bear And Man Thing

Years ago I wrote about the bear and the man, sans the bear. (But there was a dog.) I thought it might be a good time to reprise.

Bold Assertions

Do you know me? Yes? How well and for how long, and how good is your memory? If you’ve known me for a while you might remember that in 2009, as chief proprietor of a widely read science blog, I shocked many people in the skeptics/science world (aka Friends of Big Bang) by coming out firmly against rape. Within a year or so I came out with another shocker: I suggested that under certain circumstances men out alone at night, when encountering a women also out alone at night, might give her a wide berth in order to not engender fear. Cross the street instead of bearing down (as it were) on the person you don’t even know.

These bold assertions overlapped in time with Elevatorgate. Remember that? My position — no on rape, and also no on being a dick — were sufficiently shocking in the world of self styled intellectuals (and actual intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins himself) that I and all the others who were saying similar things at the time were attacked relentlessly by a then growing MRA movement (Men’s Rights Activism). In fact, I’m pretty sure that Rebecca Watson and the women of Skepchick, PZ Myers, Myself, and a couple of others fueled the growth of that movement without intending to do so. As recently as several months ago, one of the MRAs threatened to harass one of my family members “until the day he dies” out of spite.

Read the rest on my substack!

Oldsplaining The Young Is Cheugy

How many times have you been to a political meeting and someone says “we need to get more young people on board” or “we need to reach out to yoots” or words to that effect? Lots of times. Maybe almost every meeting that goes longer than a half hour, and they all go longer than a half hour. The conversation often veers into a discussion of strategies to find and recruit young folks, and sometimes, into a complain session about what the young folks are doing wrong….

Read my latest Substack. Also, bonus section on why you are wrong about polling. HERE

Worried there won’t be a Trump-trial before the election? Don’t worry. That is what we want!

“I think the last two or three years of watching the criminal justice system has resulted in two very important changes in our culture, at least in the subculture of the oddballs that pay a lot of attention. 1) We all have law degrees from Podcast University; and 2) Historic events have knocked the judges and the high level prosecutors off whatever pedestals on which we might have previously set them. The Supreme Court can decide to set the Constitution on fire, when it is convenient. While there are many excellent judges on the Federal bench, there are some real scoundrels. Special prosecutors have always been suspect, but we now know that our absurd tradition of always siccing Republican prosecutors against Democratic electeds is, well, absurd. ”

See my latest substack HERE.