July 14, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Homicide is on the rise again, but now we know how to stop it (Benjamin van Rooij and Adam Fine, July 13, 2021, Yahoo! news)

Research shows that police do have an important role to play in reducing homicides. Studies consistently find that there is less violent crime when the chances of being caught and punished are high. Unfortunately, as Jill Leovy's book "Ghettoside" has shown, all too often the quality of homicide investigation is highly uneven and correlates with the victims' race and neighborhood. It is unsurprising, then, that some people of color argue that their communities need more and better policing. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that 81% of Black Americans want police to spend the same amount or even more time in their area.

However, more police should not mean a return to steep sentences and mass incarceration. There is no evidence that stronger punishment, whether the death penalty or long prison sentences, prevents murder. What works is smart enforcement that combines direct punishment threats to high-risk offenders with community support offering potential aggressors a real alternative to violence. That means providing immediate services to those willing to consider stepping away from violence, including offering cognitive behavioral treatment, bolstering social services, conducting direct outreach through mentoring, and opening employment opportunities and job skills trainings. The idea is to work with the community to tailor the approach directly to what drives each person to engage in crime. When Cincinnati adopted this approach, it saw a 38% decline in gang-related homicides, in just two years. Smart enforcement has reduced violent crime in most cities brave enough to adopt it.

Police reform is equally important. To prevent murder, we need to combat racism and police violence. When communities do not trust law enforcement, they will not cooperate with police and report crime. Moreover, there is clear evidence that unfair policing stimulates more crime. The reality is that whatever the future of policing looks like, police cannot be effective if they do not build trust with the community they are supposed to protect and serve. So when we invest in law enforcement, one priority must be to eradicate the racism and violence that have plagued so many departments. No one should be against this idea, as it not only saves more of us from becoming victims of police misconduct but also is vital for controlling the spiraling murder rate.

Preventing homicide is a long game. It can't be won with law enforcement reform alone. Murder thrives in poverty and the lack of education opportunities. Research analyzing data from 63 countries found a clear link between conditions of poverty and homicide, even when controlling for overall development, inequality, and population size and density. Just consider this fact: One year extra in school reduces murder and assault by 30%. The lesson is simple: True prevention starts with investing in poverty reduction and better education for all.

Preventing murder also requires a serious discussion about guns. As one study summarizes it: "More Guns, More Crime." Pro-gun politicians seem to have known this all along, why else would they have blocked federal funding for research about the relationship between firearms and homicide for 25 years?

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


DeSantis' anti-riot law didn't apply as Cuba protesters shut down a Miami-Dade road. Hmmm . . . (THE MIAMI HERALD EDITORIAL BOARD, JULY 13, 2021)

Cuban Americans shut down part of Palmetto Expressway

Gov. DeSantis should have just laid it on the line when a reporter asked about the scores of Cuban-American demonstrators and their supporters who shut down a portion of the Palmetto Expressway in Miami-Dade County.

Instead, he deflected, talking about protesters in Cuba.

Implicit in the question, however, was whether the governor's vaunted anti-riot law -- created in the wake of George Floyd demonstrations -- would apply in the case of the demonstrators blocking streets and an expressway in Miami-Dade.

Their cause is righteous, of course -- bringing down Cuba's oppressive and regressive regime.

Florida's misbegotten anti-riot law leaves even peaceful demonstrators subject to being arrested if a protest is arbitrarily deemed a "riot." The law explicitly makes blocking a highway a felony offense. Worse, it gives civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters who are blocking a road -- basically, encouraging haters to do just that.

Here's what the governor said when he signed the blatantly un-American bill into law: "Just think about it, you're driving home from work and, all of a sudden, you have people out there shutting down a highway, and we worked hard to make sure that didn't happen in Florida."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is Eric Weinstein a crackpot?: The grand unified theories of the man who brought us the Intellectual Dark Web (Robert Wright, 7/14/21, NonZero)

Is Eric Weinstein--unofficial founder of the "Intellectual Dark Web," money manager for eccentric billionaire Peter Thiel, and frequent guest on the Joe Rogan show and other power podcasts, where he's gained a reputation for brilliance--a crackpot?

This question came up near the end of a long conversation I just had on The Wright Show with a mathematician named Timothy Nguyen, and it actually has two dimensions. The first dimension--the main subject of my dialogue with Nguyen--has to do with physics.

Weinstein, who has a PhD in math from Harvard, says he's developed a unified field theory--a "theory of everything"--that, if correct, could not only put him next to Einstein in the physics pantheon, but put him above Elon Musk in the visionary hierarchy. Whereas Musk wants to take people to Mars, so they can safeguard human civilization in the event that Earth implodes, Weinstein says Mars doesn't buy us enough insurance. He says his theory of physics--the theory of "Geometric Unity"--could open up whole new vistas: Maybe once we have the universe's "source code," which a fully developed version of his theory would provide, we'll see that Einstein was wrong to think nothing can move faster than the speed of light, and then we can send humans beyond the solar system in search of hospitable planets.

Suppose, Weinstein said on the Lex Fridman podcast, that Musk "got us to Mars, the moon, let's throw in Titan. Nowhere near good enough. The diversification level is too low." But you can't really blame Musk. "He doesn't know how to do anything else. He knows rockets." Weinstein, in contrast, knows Geometric Unity, which, he says, can "give us hope of breaking the Einsteinian speed limit."

So, all told, Weinstein's theory--which he finally released in written form this April after much drum roll--would, if valid, be quite an accomplishment for someone who, at age 55, has never published a paper in a physics journal.

I'm not fit to pass judgment on Weinstein's theory or its relevance to the crackpot question. If you want to see that done by someone with appropriate credentials, you can find my conversation with Nguyen (who did work on theoretical physics before leaving academia to do AI research at Google) here.

The dimension of the crackpot question I feel more qualified to explore is the second one:

Weinstein has a tendency to sound like a conspiracy theorist--and, not infrequently, like a victim of the conspiracies he theorizes. He says he would have become famous in math and physics circles decades ago had his ideas not been squelched by what he calls the "Distributed Idea Suppression Complex" (DISC). He says the DISC also kept his brother Bret (a biologist), and his wife Pia Malaney (an economist) from getting due credit for academic work they did as PhD students. Had it not been for the DISC, he says, both might have won Nobel Prizes--which could have meant three Nobels for his family, since, he says, he might have won one too, in a DISCless world.

Among the DISC's other alleged doings: suppressing non-mainstream ideas about covid's origins and its possible treatments, misleading Americans about good nutrition, and, several decades ago, producing fake news about a supposed shortage of American scientists and engineers. This last one, says Weinstein, was big, because it helped build support for liberal immigration laws--which allowed "the Chinese to populate our labs and put a proctoscope in the entire university system, which is where we do our research, so they would get the benefits of... all the stuff we were doing with our freedom and then they'd go implement and execute with totalitarianism." Weinstein didn't vote for Trump (which his boss Thiel famously did), but he has nationalist leanings and a feel for populist rhetoric. "The enemy is the DISC," he says.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


"A race to electrify everything:" ANU lab to fast-track distributed energy technologies (Michael Mazengarb, 13 July 2021, Renew Economy)

The development of new monitoring and control systems, as well as intelligent device aggregation and virtual power plants, are likely to benefit from use of the DER Lab, producing new tools that are likely to be necessary to ensure the proper integration of the growing market for distributed energy technologies.

Chief Operating Officer of the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, Heather Logie, says the new lab is being opened at a crucial moment when more of the world's energy system is being electrified.

"We are now in a race to 'electrify everything'. This means we need to build an energy ecosystem that is powered by millions of connected and different devices, including batteries, vehicles and even air conditioners," Logie said.

"The DER Lab is helping lead the charge. The 'plug and play' set up means researchers, government and industry have the opportunity to test this new tech and how it can be harnessed by our energy grid before the switch is flicked 'on'."

ANU Vice-Chancellor professor Brian Schmidt said the research lab would help the shift from the centralised energy system dominated by fossil fuelled power stations, to a system build in a diversity of renewable energy and energy storage technologies.

"As Australia moves away from large centralised fossil-fuel powered generators to a decentralised grid consisting of a vast array of distributed renewable energy assets, we need to find innovative ways to enable this vast amount of renewable energy to safely and effectively enter the electricity grid," Schmidt said.

"It is through the research carried out in the DER Lab that we, as a society, will be equipped with the technology and capabilities that will help smooth out and accelerate this vital energy transition."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Long-awaited plant-based chicken promises to be 'almost identical' to the real thing (Lila MacLellan, 7/11/21, Quartz)

Beyond Meat might have another plant-based winner on its hands, one that could plausibly top its popular Beyond Burger.

Customers who crave chicken but have given up meat to benefit their health, animals, or the environment now have a substitute poultry option from the company: breaded "chicken" tenders made from fava beans and pea protein.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rwanda Has Become Africa's Counter-Terrorism Powerhouse (Michael Rubin, 7/11/21, 1945)

The international community betrayed Rwanda in the run-up to the 1994 anti-Tutsi genocide. Simply put, the Hutu genocide against the Tutsi need not have occurred, but cynical French politicians instigated it. UN betrayal continued after the genocide. After the Rwandan Patriotic Front commanded by Paul Kagame drove the Hutu génocidaires out of the country, UN forces neither disarmed them nor separated them from legitimate refuges, but instead welcomed them into camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) just a few miles from the Rwandan border. That UN inaction in effect gave the armed génocidaires control over a new generation of refugees to indoctrinate and from which to recruit, contributed to the erosion of DRC stability and control, and ultimately sparked Rwandan intervention in eastern Congo. Ironically, while some Western aid workers and human rights groups grouse about Rwandan involvement in eastern Congo, DRC leaders embrace the Rwanda partnership.

For Rwanda, however, security and the need to fight against terror and those who would perpetrate genocide is no longer only an issue for their borders. As rebels marched on the Central African Republic's capital Bangui late last year, Rwanda came to the rescue. The small African state deployed its forces 1,500 miles without any foreign assistance to prevent an imminent massacre and political chaos.

While the Central African Republic may have stabilized, Mozambique has increasingly teetered against the backdrop of an Islamic State insurgency it has had difficulty stamping out. China is more interested in extracting resources than ensuring stability and neither President Joe Biden nor Secretary of State Antony Blinken have shown any interest in Africa. Neglect, however, is not a counterterrorism strategy. Enter Rwanda. Earlier today, the Government of Rwanda announced that, at the request of Mozambique, it would "today start the deployment of a 1,000-person contingent of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and the Rwanda National Police (RNP) to Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique" to secure and stabilize the region in cooperation with the Southern African Development Community. It is the right move.