Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What's this "Daylight Saving"?

Something odd happened about two weeks ago. Everyone around me put their clocks an hour behind the actual time--and because of this silly action, everyone is waking up an hour earlier, and scheduling meetings an hour earlier, and opening and closing businesses an hour earlier as well. And, as they do so, they are claiming that they are "saving daylight".

The kicker is this: the sun still rises at about the same time each morning, and the sun still sets at about the same time each night.

How do I know this? Because I haven't changed my clock. I still wake up at around the time the sun gets up (after acknowledging it, I'll typically go back to sleep), and I still go to sleep sometime after the sun goes down. Thus, I have had plenty of opportunity to check whether or not we get more daylight. Yes, it is unfortunate: all those people who have changed their clocks in an attempt to save daylight, have done nothing of the sort!

I have always hated Daylight "Saving" Time. Even when in high school and college, when I didn't exactly have the best of sleeping patterns, I could tell how changing the time I sleep really messes up the way I feel. At one point, when I was still in high school, I even tried to ignore it--but I gave up, when I was almost late to Church, based on some confusion as to what so-called "Daylight Saving" did to time. Since then, I resigned myself to my fate, and have since put a bit of hope that my State Legislature would finally get around to repealing Daylight Saving. Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered at the time, anyway. As a student in high school, I would have been stuck with the same rigid timeframe anyway.

As I pondered my dislike last year, though, I thought: "Why wait for the Legislature to do something that I have the power to do myself?" So I decided I would not recognize Daylight Saving that year, to see what it would be like. And this is what I noticed:
  • It's nice to make the "transition" from "Standard" to "Daylight Saving" without changing my sleep pattern at all. This was possible because I have flexibility in determining my work hours.
  • It's not too difficult to mentally adjust times that other people use. You just have to remember that everyone is doing everything an hour earlier than they say they are!
  • It's more difficult to catch up on hours missed in work. Because external meetings (say, my Linux User's Group, or my wife's Book Club) meet an hour earlier during this time, I have less time to squeeze in an extra hour of work before I go home.
  • It's a little weird when something on the radio says it's five o'clock, when it's really four. Partially for this reason, but also because my wife still recognizes Daylight "Saving", I changed the time on the clock radio in the kitchen.
  • There have only been a couple of times where I missed something because of mixed-up times. It turns out that both these times, though, it wasn't because I was on "Standard" time that I was confused, but because I was completely confused as to the proper time of the event itself.
So far, I have been alone in refusing to acknowledging Daylight "Saving" Time: my wife, both last year and this year, has insisted on changing her clocks. I would like to see what this little experiment would be like, if my entire household would just keep the proper time! Since we're likely to home-school my oldest, starting this year, I may have more success next year in convincing my wife to go along with this experiment :-).

Unfortunately, this year, I haven't had the benefit of undisrupted sleeping patterns. Due to headaches, migraines, and random sickness, I have been sleeping in longer than I would like. Thus, for the past two or three weeks, I've been meaning on waking up an hour or so earlier. Since Daylight "Saving" Time reared it's ugly head, I decided that now would be a good time to do that! So far, I've been getting up an hour earlier, but have been trying to get up an hour-and-a-half instead.

Friday, March 18, 2011

More Thoughts on Statistics and Guns

The day after I posted these observations on statistics, I started to reflect on another point I found amusing:  Kelly complained that I accept those criminologist that I agree with, but reject all those criminologists that I disagree with.  This reflection started as a comment, but it grew to the point where I decided it desereved a post of its own.  Here it is.

There are a handful of reasons for why I trust "pro-gun" studies over "anti-gun".  A major one that I cannot ignore is this:  I have my own biases, and they are likely coloring what I trust or distrust.  Having said that, when I first read "More Guns, Less Crime" by John Lott, I didn't feel all that strongly one way or another about guns at all.  Indeed, after reading it, my thought was "Perhaps I should get a concealed carry permit and a gun."  A year later, I was in New York State, where it would have been much more difficult to get either.

It wasn't until I read the essay A Nation of Cowards; by Jeff Snyder that I realized that carrying a gun is a duty, and the political issue of guns became so important to me.

But beyond that, I simply find the "pro-gun" studies more thorough than "anti-gun" studies.  They tend to be more up-front about their methods, go into greater detail about how they acheive their results, are more likely to provide their data, use common methodologies that avoid obvious flaws, and so forth.  The last chapter of "More Guns, Less Crime" is an eye-opener, too:  Lott details all the efforts, and even lies, that were put into debunking his study, by people who never saw it.

Meanwhile, "anti-gun" studies, time and time again, have glaring flaws.  Studies that find a high correlation between gun ownership and crime, for example, leave off glaring counter-examples known around the world.  Studies between groups (say, for example, a recent comparison between Arizona and Scotland) bend over backwards to explain why the comparison is valid, but ignores the reasons why the comparison is invalid.  "Deltas"--that is, changes over time--are ignored.  Gun violence is emphasized, but violent death by other means is ignored.  Different countries use different methods for gathering (and sometimes covering up) data.  Overall, data that would hurt their position is often ignored, sometimes even dismissed outright.

And finally, there's the reason why none of these studies matter in the first place--why I would accept gun violence, even if the studies really implied that guns increase the murder rate.  Every individual has the right to self-defense.  That is, each individual has the right to judge when their life, and/or the lives of their loved ones, are in danger, and to act to defend innocent life.  Even if it means using lethal force to neutralize the threat.  Every individual has the duty to overthrow tyrannical government, even if such a duty cannot in practice be fulfilled.  Banning guns says, in effect, that individuals are not capable of using correct judgement to defend lives--that only the Government can do that.

This philosophy--that only Government agents can make life-and-death decisions--means that only Government can decide what health care you get.  Or what you can eat.  Or what light bulbs and washing machines you can use.  Or where you can go to school.  Or what ideas you can learn.  Or what you can publish and broadcast.

This very philosophy runs completely counter to the idea of Representative Republics, where the People are entrusted with selecting their leaders.  In this system, at least in theory, the People are the ultimate holders of power.  If we can't trust these people with guns, then how can we trust them with the vote?  After all, the people will have the power to vote for people who will give them the right to keep and bear arms.  Just because they haven't yet, doesn't mean that they won't do it in the future!

This very philosophy assumes that people elected to office, and the bureaucrats those people appoint, and the agents those bureaucrats hire, are somehow superior at making these types of decisions, and are somehow so special, that they are either allowed to carry a gun, or can have bodyguards that carry guns.

Politics is ugly.  Elections are usually popularity contests.  By the very nature of bureaucracy--whether in government or in business--bureaucrats become slow and sluggish.  You will have a very difficult time convincing me that people selected in such political processes will be on par--let alone superior--than those people who elect them.

No matter what government we put together, people on the street will always be better at making decisions--whether it be choosing a light bulb, or deciding to shoot a mugger--because they will always have far more information than any bureaucrat sitting at his desk, or any police officer arriving to the scene five minutes after the crime starts.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Some Thoughts on Statistics and Guns

In the last little while, I have continued a debate with James Kelly.  This is Kelly's third post on a debate that was supposed to die with the first post.  I have committed myself to not rebutting his post, but doing so has annoyed me:  the points really deserve rebutting!  But both of us have already put too much energy in the debate, and it's becoming quite circular.  Even so, I wanted to get a few things off my chest, and to half-rebut several things.  Hence, this post.

As a word of caution:  I'm not in the mood to look up these statistics, so feel free to correct me, or even to provide collaborating links.

First, I found it amusing that Kelly continue to give me statistical reasons to fear guns, when I've stated time and time again that I don't trust statistics--not even my own!  He gave examples of the United States, or Finland, and of Brazil as positive correlations between guns in society and violence, and Great Britain as an example where they had less guns and less violence--then said that my conclusion that there is no correlation between guns and violence is false.  It's interesting that he left off Switzerland (high-gun but low-crime) and former Eastern Bloc countries (low-gun but high crime) from the list of examples.

Second, Kelly never understood my desire to know the "guns per gun death" statistic.  I wanted to test this basic idea:  which society handles guns more safely?  It is my suspicion that the Arizona would a lower rate of deaths per gun than Scotland--which would run counter to the idea that "more guns would be more dangerous in society".  Alas, such data is difficult to find.  Since I'm a big believer in looking at how things change over time, I'm hopelessly lost, because it seems rather difficult to find data like that kept over time, for Scotland.

But I would admit:  I'm not sure if I'd trust such a number, even if it came out in my "favor".  This is because it would rely on the number of illegal guns, which would be, at best, an educated guess.  Heck, the number of legal guns in Arizona would be, at best, an educated guess, because Americans aren't required to register their guns to be legal!

Even so, now that I've been thinking about this, I'm curious:  what is this statistic, and how will it change over time?  I may distrust statistics, but I've learned enough in the course of becoming a mathematician that I have a tiny statistician in my soul that just itches to grab hold of data and run with it.

Third, in the process of trying to find these numbers, I stumbled onto two curious headlines.  One was, in effect, "Scotland's murder is lowest in 31 years!" and the other was, in effect, "The Number of Guns in Scotland Have Increased!"  As I thought about this, I found it amusing:  a correlation that I could have exploited!  I'm not sure anything would have come of it, though.  It's just an amusing coincidence, after all.

Or is it?  That's one of the funny things about trying to use statistics to understand society.  As much as I admire John Lott's work, or Gary Kleck's, or other criminoligists and statisticians, we're trying to measure effects in a very chaotic system--a society of individuals, each with their own free will, making countless decisions over time on how best to act.  It is very difficult, perhaps even meaningless, to point to a single thing and say "This caused that!".

I like to see what, in Calculus, are called "deltas"--changes over time.  It would be impossible to see all the deltas--for example, why did Scots suddenly feel the need to buy more guns?--but if you're going to claim something like "banning handguns will reduce crime", then, to convince me of this, you'd better show me a reduction in crime after you ban handguns.  Unfortunately, in Great Britain, violence has increased since the handgun ban.  Kelly dismissed this line of reasoning, saying "handguns were practically banned before the formal ban, yet crime was rising before!"  Well, his exact words were,
The whole concept of householders routinely owning or using guns for 'defensive' purposes was already an alien one prior to 1996. A practice has to have meaningfully existed before its 'removal' can be claimed to have made a difference.
which is odd, because if the idea of having legal access to guns increases violence, rather than decrease it, then one would think that crime should have been decreasing well before 1996.  Yet here's an essay (the only one I'll link to) that discusses how murder rates decreased steadily over six centuries as technological advances allowed more people in Great Britain to own guns, only to increase, beginning in 1920, when Great Britain began to ban guns.

Admittedly, it's based on a study--which means it's contestable--but if I'm to be convinced that gun control works, I'll first need to see studies that show the reverse, and have even more solid footing than the one to be contested.

So, there you go:  some thoughts on statistics, based on a long and convoluted argument.

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Empty Victory

Several months ago, natural gas and oil companies were bidding on parcels of land they wanted to drill on.  One Tim DeChristopher made bids on several such parcels, because he didn't want these companies to get to these natural resources, in an attempt to "save the planet".  He had no intention to pay for the land though, and thus, such activity is illegal.

I, for one, have a strong desire to obtain our own resources, from our own land.  Indeed, the claim that we shouldn't is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy:  we need these resources, and if we seek international sources for them, but prevent obtained these resources on our own land, we're essentially telling the world "We're going to exploit your land, and preserve our land, because our land is better than yours!"  If you add the fact that importing oil and natural gas from around the world increases the carbon footprint for these resources, we're only adding insult to injury.

Thus, when DeChristopher was found guilty yesterday, I took glee that justice was served.  At least, I did, until I learned of this:
"We were limited by the defense we wanted to put on," Yengich [DeChristopher's lawyer] said. "That was an impediment."
DeChristopher had sought to center his case on the so-called necessity defense, which hinges on the legal premise that he chose the lesser of two evils and had to act illegally to right a wrong.
If that defense had been allowed, DeChristopher could have summoned the breadth of his motivations for acting regarding climate change and environmental impacts caused by oil and gas drilling.
[Judge] Benson rejected that, however, saying there were other lawful avenues available for DeChristopher to choose, rather than resort to breaking the law.
DeChristopher wanted to make silly pleas to the jury.  He wanted to say "I did it for the environment!  Think of the children!  The world is going to fry because of global warming, and I did my small part to stop it!" but the Judge forbade it.

How the heck did we come to the point that a judge can tell what defense a defendant can use?

If DeChristopher really wanted to bring up environmental concerns, let him.  Then the prosecution could bring in their witnesses to explain how drilling has minimum impact on the environment, and that importing oil has its own tolls on the environment that can be avoided by buying locally.  If, in the end, the jury decides to acquit, then so what?  DeChristopher made his case as best he could, and the jury accepted it.

If DeChristopher really wanted to do an "aliens suggested it" defense, let him!  If DeChristopher got on the stand, and said "Aliens visited me while I was fishing, and they told me how fun it is to make bids on objects in an auction when you can afford them--of course, on their planet, they go to jail for such things, but hey, you only live once, so I thought 'Why not?'", let the jury decide if this is sufficient reason to find him "Not guilty".

By forbidding what DeChristopher and perhaps his lawyer defense, I cannot accept the conclusions of the trial without having lingering doubts about the verdict.  Such power, given to a judge, provides too much potential for abuse.  Hence,  at a minimum, we should declare this a mistrial.  If DeChristopher was pardoned today, or acquitted, I would have no objections, although I would be annoyed by the injustice done, because of the judge's interference.