Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A comment on the U.S. police system.

Source: The Economist
The graph on the right shows that, while the incarceration rate is higher for whites in the USA than for the general population in comparable countries, it is significantly higher for blacks than for whites in the USA, and many times higher for blacks in the USA than for the general population in comparable countries.

Murder is arguably the worst crime, and the murder rate in the USA is higher than for the general population in comparable countries; it is much higher for U.S. blacks than for U.S. whites.

Why should this be so? Clearly we in the USA are a violent people, and clearly we have policies that put a lot of people in jail. (It might be that putting a lot of people in jail and keeping them there a long time does not work in reducing violent behavior.) I believe that there is still a large amount of racism in the USA, and that as a result blacks are likely to be sequestered in black neighborhoods; also as a result, blacks are likely to be less educated and have fewer opportunities in life, leading to high crime rates in black communities where the victims are likely to be black. These observations seem so obvious that I am surprised that they are not universally recognized, especially among whites.

Source: The Economist
Most blacks are suspicious of police in the USA, much more so than whites. It seems obvious that blacks have more reason to be suspicious of police than whites do. There has been and remains much less prejudice against whites than against blacks, and blacks are much more likely meet such prejudice. I also think that it crime rates are higher among one group than among another, the police will treat the members of the high crime rate group with more suspicion.

The article suggests one helpful step -- combine small police forces into larger ones that will have the resources to select better officers and to better train them. I would think that the "war on crime" with mandatory sentencing and long sentences has been proven counterproductive. More fundamentally, we have to continue fighting against racism and work to provide more mobility for blacks. I suppose a big challenge for decades will be to rehabilitate the black men who now have criminal records and histories of long periods spent in jail.

Maybe I am too much a prisoner of my own culture, but I would suggest that the problems of some police officers in some police departments should not be exaggerated. There are some 3.6 million police officers in the USA, and I think most of them do a good job for the public. That many armed people on the streets 2000 hours a year are going to do some things that they should not do. Moreover, the policemen that I have talked to and known face a difficult job and have often been injured while doing that job. Of course, policing can and should be improved, and of course that will only happen if people demand that it be done. But it seems to me that we need to keep some perspective on the situation, and not go off half cocked as our politicians did with "the war on crime". The media don't help by ignoring the problem until an event captures the public's fleeting attention, and then too often they hype that event.

A came across this graph after posting the comments above:

Even if the country enacts better policies now, it will take a long time to recover from the effect of the policies enacted in the 1980s.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As a people, Americans tend to cluster together.

Half of the U.S. Population Lives in these 146 Counties
Source: Business Insider
Marked in blue are the 146 counties with the most people out of more than 3000 counties in the whole country. (The country is now 81 percent urban or suburban.)

California, Texas and New York have the largest economies of any states (in that order). Together the three states produce more than a quarter of the country's GDP. Thus the 6 senators from the most productive states face 94 senators from less productive states.

An odd parallel -- two processes with similar tipping points.

It just occurred to me that there is a parallel between the nuclear fission and communicable disease.

  • When an atom of Uranium 235 breaks up into two smaller atoms, it also emits several neutrons. Absorbing a new neutron causes an atom of Uranium 235 to break up into two smaller atoms. There are three possibilities according to the amount of Uranium 235 present and its configuration: a. on average each atom that breaks up causes less than one new atom to break up as happens in nature; b. on average, each atom that breaks up causes exactly one other atom to break up, as happens in a nuclear reactor; c. on average, each atom that breaks up causes more than one other atom to break up and since the break up of a Uranium 235 atom emits considerable energy, BOOM.
  • When someone becomes sick with Ebola that person may infect one or more other persons. There are three possibilities according to the average number of others that each sick person infects: a. on average, each ill person infects fewer than one other person, and the outbreak is quickly contained; b. on average, each ill person infects exactly one other person, and the disease become endemic; 5. on average, each ill person infects more than one other person, and an epidemic occurs.
In the case of nuclear fission, the problem is to arrange the fissile material in such a way as to produce a safe nuclear reactor or a nuclear bomb (according to the purpose); in the case of an Ebola epidemic, the problem is to isolate the infective persons in such a way as to prevent or stop an epidemic.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Perhaps a new technological revolution in the biological technologies.

Journey of Homo innovaticus since the dawn of agriculture 
highlighting recent advances in technology and bioscience.
This graph, shows both the rate of world population growth and the rate of invention in biotechnologies. The left hand portion shows the prehistoric domestication of key species in thousands of years BC and AD.

It was drawn from a post by Timothy Taylor in his blog, Conversable Economist. It originated in an article by William Hoffman in Global Policy. I quote the complete abstract of that article:
Arising from its roots in the US, biotechnology today is a global enterprise. Cutting-edge tools are transforming traditional models of drug discovery and development and diagnostic testing. They are enabling the potential for large scale production of renewable fuels, biodegradable materials, safer industrial chemicals and food crops grown under harsh conditions. The practice of technological innovation in the industrial era – the systematic application of ideas, inventions and technology to markets, trade and social systems – is now being joined with the code of life through rapid DNA sequencing and synthesis technologies. The pace of bioscience innovation is also influenced by geographic concentration of research, entrepreneurship and investment (clusters). Policy makers are just beginning to consider and debate the implications of the new biological technologies: the promises they hold for global public health, natural resource conservation, and economic growth, and the risks they pose from their power and accessibility around the world.
Of course, the potential in this technology will not be easily achieved. We know that people are frightened by many of these technologies, and that there will be a huge job of educating the public as to where the real risks are and which perceived risks are simply due to misperception.

Some of the benefits of this innovation will be available to all without adaptation, such as vaccines for globally endemic diseases. Others, such as improved crop varieties will need local capacity to adopt to local needs; these will often require development in poor countries, which have less developed scientific and technological capacity. Some of these technologies potentially beneficial for developing nations will have to be invented in those countries, and for that purpose the capacity will have to be greatly strengthened.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

This says something about the USA!

I quote from the article from which this map is drawn:
What if American state borders were redrawn such that each of the 50 had an approximately equal population? Well, it might look a little something like this map drawn by Neil Freeman and described as an electoral college reform proposal. In partisan terms, by packing so many liberals into incredibly lopsided urban states this concept would tilt the college in favor of the GOP. Nate Cohen, for example, has calculated that Mitt Romney would have won a narrow electoral college victory under this map in 2012, despite losing the popular vote by four percentage points. But there would be broader policy implications of creating several city-states that wouldn't be subordinated to state legislatures and would send their own urban-focused senators to Washington. This remapped America would have more non-white statewide elected officials, and give politics less of a pronounced regional schism.
Of course, one would also change the Constitution to have direct election of the president; the electoral college is an absurdity.  Assuming that the county continued to have a bicameral legislature, since 81 percent of the population lives in urban or suburban areas, the lower body would represent urban interests. The upper body would apparently represent rural interests. But of course, the state boundaries would shift from census to census, as do the legislative districts now.

The Qattara Project

I quote from the source of this map:
The Qattara Depression, in Egypt, is a swathe of land about the size of Lake Ontario that sits near the Mediterranean Sea, at an average depth of 200 meters below sea level. The Qattara Project was the brain child of a German hydrolic engineer named Friedrich Bassler who proposed digging a canal from the Mediterranean to flood the area. After about ten years, the water inside the depression would reach sea level. But the desert climate in the area would cause it to evaporate relatively rapidly, leading to a further influx of seawater. This ongoing flow was to be used to generate hydroelectricity. At the same time, the new, massive saline lake could transform a largely uninhabited desert area into a series of viable fishing communities. The part of the project where you dig a massive canal never penciled out as remotely cost-effective, but for some time the CIA maintained an interest in the project as part of its Cold War efforts to pull Egypt out of the Soviet orbit.
There used to be proposals to use nuclear energy to dig huge canals. I wonder if such an approach would be feasible. Would such an approach change the economics of the project? As energy becomes more expensive in the future, will this project become economically feasible?

How about if desalinization of water becomes less expensive? Would provision of potable water in the desert make the project more attractive?

Would the project help ameliorate sea level rise due to global warming? If so, would those benefiting from the savings be willing to help pay for the project?

This is an old "engineers dream"!

New Invention Data -- You Have to Interpret Carefully

I quote from the article from The Economist from which I drew this graph:
(T)he explosion of patent filings is not the result of local researchers suddenly coming up with twice as many ingenious inventions: it is a response to a government order. As the report acknowledges, “the growth in output is driven by the 12th Five-Year Plan and the associated Chinese National Patent Development Strategy”. Bureaucrats have decreed that local firms will apply for 2m patents by 2015. Thanks to various subsidies and incentives, China looks set to hit that target........Of the desired 2m filings, many will be for “utility” or “design” patents, which are less substantial than “invention” patents..... 
Only about 5% of patents filed by local firms in China last year were also filed abroad, whereas over a third of patents originally filed by local firms in Japan were also filed elsewhere. 
Almost all of the growth in China’s invention patents over the past three years has come from local firms, not from the Chinese divisions of multinationals. 
I remember also that China is by far the most populous country in the world. The per capita patent rate would still be low, even were all those reported were legitimate.

While invention fuels international competitiveness, and in that respect threatens other countries, so too the more invention that goes on globally, the better for the average person everywhere.