Ferguson: more irresponsible reporting

I just read the NYT editorial on the Ferguson riots. Without doing their own fact checking, they quoted a “grim report by ProPublica“ which claims that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men.

That report is grim mostly for its failure to link original sources and its tenuous grasp on basic statistics. Let me attempt to improve on it. Their statement that young black males were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men relies on numbers which they do not cite a specific source for. “Federally collected date on fatal police shootings” is as close as we get. In my own research, I have used the CDC Fatal Injury Reports. From the ProPublica report:

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

I’ve found a few issues with this statement.

1. According to the CDC data, there have been 1,454 deaths caused by police between 2010 and 2012, not 1,217 (excluding females, the number is 1,402). Additionally, that is the number for all ages, so it seems irrelevant if we’re discussing deaths of those aged 15-19: that number is 81 (79 if we restrict to males).

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.42.22 AM2. It is unclear from the above statement whether they are comparing all blacks age 15 to 19 to white males of the same age range, or if they’re comparing only males to males. I assume the latter because it makes more sense. In that case, the CDC website shows that blacks were killed at a rate of 6.6 per million, and whites at 1.5 per million.

3. That would make the relative risk 4.4 times as high, not 21.

I’m not sure how they reached the 21x figure, but I attempted to re-create this figure by selecting “homicide and legal intervention” for males age 15-19, but that gave a relative rate of 8.4. Then I tried that again, with males of all ages, and that gave a relative rate of 7. I welcome the authors of the ProPublica report to point me to the original sources from which they derived their relative rate of 21.

Conclusions drawn from this report seem to be unvaryingly of one flavor: we suffer from a problem of racist policing. However, here’s another interesting chart from the CDC data

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 12.47.52 AM

It’s the same data, but including males of all ages. Here, the black males seem to face twice the risk of white males of death by cop. But if we glance down a bit further, white males are at about twice the risk of Asian males. If we are to conclude, like the NYT article did, that

“These statistics reflect the fact that many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings”

Then I suppose we’ll have to conclude that police officers also see white men as expendable compared to Asian men. Or that the justice system was set up to benefit Asian men. Asian privilege? But if not, if these conclusions sound absurd, then might there also be room at the other end of the spectrum for more reasonable and less racially divisive conclusions? Any speculation you can give about why Asian men are at lower risk than white men should sound also reasonable when you apply it to whites versus blacks. Try that before saying what’s expected of you.

You could also read the grand jury testimony to get the full picture. Or, if you still believe this is an issue of racial privilege, I dare any white male to punch a police officer, attempt to take his gun, then charge him. I want proof that white privilege would have kept Michael Brown alive or seen to the prosecution of his killer. Show me.

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Propositions H and I

Edit: if you read just one article about these two propositions, don’t waste your time on mine. Read this one.

In the upcoming Nov. 4th election, Proposition H is to keep natural grass and prohibit artificial lighting in the western part of Golden Gate park (near the Beach Chalet and Ocean Beach). Proposition I would nullify Proposition H.

The main supporters of Proposition H (and opponents of Prop I) are the Fisher brothers, who run Gap. They fund a couple of PACs with names like “Let SF Kids Play” and a foundation called “City Fields Foundation.” Their argument is that artificial turf (made out of ground up tires) and stadium lights help extend the number of hours that kids can play in the fields.

On the other side, educators, environmentalists and parents seem to be speaking out against Prop H and for Prop I. It’s almost enough to see who pays for advertisements in the voter information booklet for each side. If the field renovations would really benefit children (as all of the Let SF Kids Play ads imply), then one would expect to see more support from parents and educators. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Anyway, reservations start at $28/hr. If you’re not able to prove residency with a utility bill (because you are perhaps a child who has no utilities billed to you), then rates start at $78/hr, which I’d guess is a little high for most children.

Then who does benefit? City Fields Foundation is pouring millions into the renovations and the Fisher brothers who are behind it all are businessmen. When do businessmen get involved in projects? The partnership between the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department and City Fields Foundation probably means that CFF gets lucrative contracts for field installation and maintenance.

Here’s an extensive list of reasons to vote yes on H and no on I, including research and links from Jason Jungreis:

Continue reading

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Ebola and flight bans

I was curious why there haven’t been any flight bans since the ebola outbreak has landed in the US. A quick google search led me to a Time article [linked below] in which CDC director Tom Frieden says:

If we try to eliminate travel… we won’t be able to check them for fever when they leave, we won’t be able to check them for fever when they arrive, we won’t be able—as we do currently—to see a detailed history to see if they’ve been exposed

But this doesn’t make any sense. If we eliminate travel, they wouldn’t be arriving or leaving at all. Unless they swim? Or if they’re smuggling themselves over on boats? I’m sure that eliminating flights will greatly reduce the number of people who arrive here infected.

Further down in the article there’s an argument that there are no direct flights between the US and affected countries anyway. Which is why I would insist on closing down the airports of affected countries rather than simply banning flights. But I guess it’s possible exclude passengers with connecting flights who have originated in affected countries. Also, if the US institutes a flight ban, I’m sure many countries would follow.

It does seem the simplest way to avoid having an epidemic here. I understand why airlines wouldn’t want to — they lose money. I wonder what the real reasons are behind the CDC’s refusal to call for a flight ban.

Edit: I just found another article in which the author hypothesizes that the CDC’s position on banning flights may be due to a commitment to the ideology of open borders. Personally, I’m more inclined to believe that the director of the CDC is beholden to Obama (his position being an appointed one) and Obama being beholden to airlines and other big businesses.

Why Airlines and the CDC Oppose Ebola Flight Bans

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The essentials for a new kitten

It’s been about a year and a half since I adopted my cat. I had no idea what I really needed. As it turns out, there aren’t a lot of immediate needs. I think there are maybe only 3:



I did too much reading beforehand and concluded that short of grinding my own raw meat and carefully measuring out necessary dietary additives not found in poultry, the best I could do for my cat was find her something grain-free. Things that sound tasty and healthy for humans and dogs (blueberries, whole grain) aren’t ideal for cats. At least, the first ingredient should be meat.


I tried both traditional clumping litter and pine litter. I prefer the latter. It lasts longer and is easier to clean because you only have to deal with solid waste (which can be flushed). It actually does smell better. I think I was allergic to cleaning the clumping kind. It doesn’t matter what kind of box you get, but the pine litter requires a special scoop with larger holes like this.

Nail clippers — (For an indoor cat). Nothing fancy. I hear the fancy things don’t work as well anyway. Kitten nails will get sharp within a week, so you don’t have to get these before you adopt, but you’ll need them soon.

That’s it. Here are some things I got that I didn’t need:

Carrier – When you adopt a kitten from the pound, they give you a cardboard box for transport. Later, you may need one for vet visits, or for travel, but you don’t need to have one before your meowface comes home.

Bed — Your kitten will find something she likes. Maybe your bed, or a fuzzy couch blanket. Or in the case of my cat, a plastic bag on the kitchen table. Or an empty shipping box. I bought her a bed and she liked it for a few weeks, but soon moved on to bigger, better things.

Toys — I got my kitten one of these ball track things, half a dozen jingle balls and feathered mice, a dangly stick toy with 3 interchangeable dangly parts and most of this just ended up underneath the couch. The most popular items have not been from the store. At least, not purchased from the store. She was best friends with a rubber band for a week. She’s spent half her life in discarded cardboard boxes. She loves the bits of plastic guarding the tops of pill bottles.

Bowls — You don’t need specialized pet bowls. Just opt for stainless steel or ceramic rather than plastic. Plastic harbors more bacteria so a cat rubbing his chin on a food or water bowl is more prone to getting an infection from a plastic bowl.

Collars — Unnecessary for an indoor-only cat, especially if also microchipped. You can get one eventually for trips outside the house. I guess they’re good if you let your cat outside — so no one else thinks they’re homeless and tries to catnap them. Of course, a safety collar is recommended.

Okay, I hope that helps. I spent way more than I needed to and all the shopping made it feel more daunting than it needed to be. You’ll see that you don’t need much to keep a kitten happy. Your trash, your hair, and whatever you’re doing in the kitchen will be endlessly amusing. Good luck!

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Prop E

It’s a proposed tax of 2 cents per oz on sugary beverages (25 calories or more from sugars per 12 oz serving). Who’s in favor? Sounds like the entire medical community. Dentists, pediatricians, nurses, even hospitals.

Who is opposed? Of the 13 paid arguments against in my trusty voter guide, 11 were paid for by the American Beverage Association California PAC. If you can, I highly recommend that you read the arguments against. They’re droll. Things that I assure you the ABA doesn’t care about at all, but that they’re hoping you will. They argue all of the following:

  • The tax is regressive
  • Parents should decide what their kids eat and drink, not the government
  • Cost of living is already high in San Francisco
  • Obesity is a complex issue that requires a more complex solution
  • The tax hurts small businesses
  • Everyone’s grocery costs will increase

But they remain completely silent about what I’m guessing is the true reason they’ve spent almost $8 million on ads against Prop E: that it might hurt their bottom line. I guess the truth didn’t sound like a winning argument. Does anyone honestly believe that the beverage industry cares about any of the above points? No. The beverage industry is panicking over the tax because they think it will be effective in lowering soda consumption.

If there are any San Francisco voters reading this and you haven’t decided on Prop E, consider who has your best interests at heart. The entire medical community? Or the industry that sell drinks containing the equivalent of 10 tablespoons of sugar per can?

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Reader’s Digest

In middle school, there was a magazine drive every year. To motivate us to sell, we were given ‘weevils’ — multicolored fuzzy pom-poms with googly eyes and stick-on feet worth exactly nothing — for each magazine subscription sold. It worked on me.

But, while I was a spoiled child able to convince my mother to subscribe, I was an utter failure outside of my house. That’s why she still has half a bookshelf full of National Geographics that we leafed through at best. They were too pretty to recycle. “We’ll read them someday.” That was more than ten years ago.

Sometimes I find a copy of Reader’s Digest under furniture or at the bottom of a box. Those I devoured cover to cover. I think my mother took the title too literally, imagining that each one contained summaries of great books that she didn’t actually want to read. They didn’t, so that ended her interest in them.

I’m not sure why I found them so fascinating, but now I think it’s because they represented what’s at the heart of White America. What does that even mean. Stories of miraculous recoveries from being coated with hot tar, heartwarming stories about giant but gentle bulls, a page of jokes sent in from military families… 20/20 on paper. Engineered to appeal to the least common denominator. Simple and sensationalist. After your heartstrings without being informative.

I was 12 and I knew that they were full of nonsense, but that didn’t stop me from reading every page. I wish I felt the same way about useful texts.

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Israel v Gaza


That might be the only thing needed to see that what Israel is doing cannot be called “self-defense” by anyone who is intellectually honest.

I thought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a bit nutty, but I do agree with him on one thing: Israel should be wiped off the map. Literally. Not in a figurative “annihilate them with nuclear weapons” way. Just, it should be removed from all maps. No one in the international community should recognize Israel as a sovereign state. There should not be a Jewish state. Yes, I’m anti-Zionist. But not just that: I’m against the existence of any religious state. A religious state is an apartheid state where citizens with other beliefs are forced to live by the dominant religion. I don’t think there’s any good justification for it.

I never knew the reasoning behind the bouts of rocket fire from Hamas, but there was a recent NPR piece where the chief information officer of Hamas attempts to explain. His English isn’t great and he’s not the most eloquent, but it’s interesting to hear him say that he just wants freedom for his people and that the Palestinians have been living under siege for so long that many feel they don’t have anything to lose.

There was a protest downtown San Francisco today, but I didn’t attend. I’m skeptical about the value of marching in protests. But I’d like to do something. The most promising thing I’ve found is the BDS movement. Any other suggestions? If there’s anything I can do to get the U.S. to end its support of Israel or generally to get Israel off the map and out of the news, I’d love to hear it.

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Chamber music

Tonight I attended a performance of UCSF’s Chamber Music Society. The video is of my favorite of the pieces they played (played by not-them).

It’s transcribed from an organ piece. But I was destined to like this piece. It’s Handel. It’s a passacaglia. It’s on strings.

I was also at the SF Symphony this past weekend. The contrast between the two experiences makes me think I prefer chamber music. I don’t care for the dramatics of having dozens of musicians anyway. It isn’t the temperamental clashing that makes me feel like I have a soul. It’s the melody. The more… how shall I put this .. amabile, the better.

At this event, there were hardly any old people, as compared to the demographic of the SF Symphony’s audience. That means, no coughing or dying tainted the playing. No one was dressed especially nicely. No one had a much fancier seat than anyone else. No one was there to “see and be seen”. There were no crowds. The room wasn’t even half full, and it wasn’t even as large as the biggest lecture halls I’ve had class in. Everyone was there for the music.

It was also more personal: the musicians introduced themselves and gave brief introductions to their chosen pieces. They chose what they played for us, so even that tells us a bit about them as people. All of them were either affiliated with UCSF medical school or had jobs in unrelated sectors (like software engineering): all of the musicians were hobbyists playing for the fun of it. I got to sit close enough to see their faces. Ah, I hope for a summer full of such concerts! Let me know if you are aware of any in San Francisco, won’t you?

Oh, and for anyone who’s curious, here’s the original Handel organ passacaglia:

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100 happy days

I found out about this challenge through a Facebook friend, and decided to try it. I could end up with a fun series of photos, at least.

I’ve been doing it for almost a week, and I’ve found that it’s helped me actually do more each day, and pay more attention to things that make me smile. These are just a few so far.

Though, I realized that being happy isn’t particularly difficult for me. If a macaroon can make me happy, it’s not really a “challenge” is it? So, maybe an interesting idea would be to share something you learned every day for 100 days. A “today I learned” series, perhaps? Nothing too general or too small! Encouraging lifelong curiosity and learning is as important to me. Maybe I should try that. I guess it doesn’t lend itself as much to Instagram and social media though, so it might not have quite the viral power.

I’ll give it a go in a personal journal for now, and if I end up learning worthwhile things this way, I may write a weekly compilation in this blog. Until then, Cece says hi!


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Manifesto of Elliot Rodger

If you want to read it for yourself, it’s here (let me know if that link stops working).

If you’d rather read a synopsis, you’re in the right place. I read the whole thing in just a few hours. He begins at the beginning: his idyllic childhood in England. His move to the US at the age of 5. School, friends, etc. His hobbies throughout the years may sound familiar: Pokemon, Halo, skateboarding, World of Warcraft. Sounds like the average Redditor.

Strange thing is how oddly specific he is. He names parks he went to as a child. Friends from grade school by first and last name. Each nice restaurant. He calls his father’s car “the Mercedes SUV” even if he’s already mentioned it in the last sentence and could switch to using “car” with no confusion. He remembers the names of his elementary school teachers and what desserts his grandmother fed him a decade ago on holiday. His family’s lawyer claims he had high functioning form of Asperger’s.

What was really interesting about him is that he didn’t hate women. Not really. He desperately wanted a girlfriend (a tall, skinny blonde, of course), but no girls ever talked to him. He was also obsessed with material things: clothes, mansion, car, hair, having lots of money. His logic was that he could only attract (deserve?) the sort of girl he wanted if he had millions of dollars and fancy cars. And his conclusion was that he needed to win the lottery, since that was the only quick way to get the kind of money he needed to attract his pretty blondes. He spent thousands on the lottery, but only after using the ideas found in The Secret (ie, picturing himself winning the lottery over and over again).

It’s funny that he couldn’t see his own contradictions at all. He spoke of the men who managed to sleep with the girls he so desperately wanted. He called them slobs. He said they were barbaric. Low class. Ugly. Poor. Then why would he, Elliot, need fancy cars and many millions to attract the same girls?

The killing spree was, in his mind, revenge on sexually active men for getting what he never had, and on women, for denying him sex and love, which he believed he deserved more than other men. He started out just being angry when he saw couples. Then he had a phase where he would spill his drink on happy couples. There is, perhaps, some amusing Freudian analysis to be made here — dousing coveted blonde beauties in liquids… I giggled a little when I read this because it sounds so childish. “He’s got what I want so I know! I’ll pour my drink on them!”

He does make one point which I think has some merit:

Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. That choice should be made for them by civilized men of
intelligence. If women had the freedom to choose which men to mate with, like they do today, they would breed with stupid, degenerate men, which would only produce stupid, degenerate offspring. This in turn would hinder the advancement of humanity. Not only hinder it, but devolve humanity completely.

Though, personally, I wouldn’t restrict it to women. Rather, most people aren’t doing a great job  of choosing mates. If they were, at least half of the population wouldn’t be breeding at all (everyone with IQ below median should find themselves un-mate-able if people were making good choices).

All in all, the case of Elliot Rodger makes me sad. He grew up extremely privileged and wealthy. He visited 6 different countries before the age of 5 and would go on to have many lengthy international holidays. He attended film premieres, mingled with the Hollywood elite and their offspring, got basically everything he ever asked his mother for. Yet, he was unhappy. He wanted his mother to re-marry: someone even wealthier, because he thought it would solve all his problems. Where on earth did he get the idea that more money would fix things? Oh, right, this is America. Of course. It’s the only thing that matters here. More generally, I think we can all find a shadow of this in our own lives: we focus most of our attention on the one thing we don’t have, becoming unable to enjoy the rest.

I’m sad because he was smart. The people he killed, they were probably smart too. Why don’t we ever hear about the San Francisco homeless population massacring one another? Entire prison populations having a shank orgy resulting in the deaths of hundreds of violent offenders? Now that might actually be useful! But this, these. These deaths are a pity.

From his writing, I can tell that he was a sweet, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent boy. His only downfall was caring so much about what others thought of him: having rigid ideas of success and worthwhileness, all of it validated only externally. As fiction, his Manifesto would’ve been one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read. It’s better than Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

I’ve spoken to two people about him, and both have said “He’s really cute!” or something along those lines. I think the true tragedy here is that maybe he was so shy that girls who would’ve been interested interpreted his behavior as disinterest.

Here’s a much more thorough synopsis of Elliot Rodger from Mashable.

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