Culpability in Accidental Shootings

Crime Scene

I just read an incredibly sad story via Fark, Gun in Donated Clothes Kills Woman in Chicago. Carmen Dominguez was working at the Unique Thrift Store. It’s a small chain of stores, mostly in Chicago. Dominguez and a co-worker were going through donated clothes. Some things were in a sock. The co-worker poured the contents out. Inside was a 22-caliber gun that accidentally went off, shooting Dominguez in the chest. She was pronounced death a half hour later. She was 54 years old.

Thus far, the police believe it was simply a tragic accident. And certainly this seems to be the case regarding the workers at the store. But how exactly does a loaded gun get stuffed into a sock and donated to a thrift shop? Not just a gun, but a loaded gun! I really don’t understand how people can be so careless.

Let me give you an idea of where I’m coming from. I spend most of my life worrying about accidents. When I do dishes, I make sure that all the knives and forks are facing down in the dish drainer. Otherwise, people could be cut. I come from a long line of people who talk with their hands. One could easily stab oneself in that way. But it could be even worse: someone could fall and stab themselves. I don’t mean to press too much on this point, and I know this is partially indicative of my advanced age, but why can’t people take just a little care?

The most basic kind of care is to always assume that a gun is loaded. Yet there was this story from last week, “A 36-year-old man from Independence Township apparently shot and killed himself by accident while trying to demonstrate gun safety to his girlfriend after he had been drinking, authorities said.” Apparently, he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. His point was that it is completely safe when the gun is not loaded. Unfortunately, one of the guns he used was loaded.

I understand: standard gun safety procedures are to always assume the gun is loaded. You don’t go around pointing a gun at another person, even if you “know” it is unloaded. But it seems to me that we see this kind of nonsense more and more. And I think this is partly because of the hysteria that is generated in the gun owning community. Guns have stopped being what they were for hundreds of years: tools for doing things like hunting. Now they are critical pieces of hardware that must always be loaded, because if someone wakes you up in the middle of the night, you don’t want to have to wait to be clear headed enough to load the gun. You want—no, need—to be able to start shooting without a thought.

I know that there are any number of reasons how that gun got into that sock. But I still think the fact that the gun was loaded is an outrage that cannot be defended. I have no problem with people storing dozens of guns with hundreds of bullets. But there is no need to keep a loaded gun around the house so it can accidentally kill someone. And I use the word “accidentally” in the most limited way. The person who left that gun loaded is culpable.

Two Different Maurice Ravels

Maurice RavelOn this day in 1875, the great French composer Maurice Ravel was born. What I find fascinating about him is that he is most remembered for Bolero. Yet that piece of music is totally unlike anything else he had done before. What’s more, the work he did throughout his career was incredibly consistent. His melodies were highly modal. And they were supported by complex harmonies. Overall, most people, thinking that Bolero is typical of Ravel, mistake his music for Debussy. And indeed, even though I would never mistake Ravel for Debussy, they are the two major composers that sound most alike.

Here is Ravel’s orchestral arrangement for his solo piano piece Le tombeau de Couperin. It is beautiful and compelling. But most of all, it is entirely typical of his work:

At least it was typical until 1928 when he composed Bolero that must have come as a shock to those who followed his music. It is still a brilliant piece of music. But the main theme, while lovely, is in the major key—not modal at all. Harmonically is is quite simple. Really, other than his use of the woodwinds, it doesn’t sound anything at all like the rest of his work.

And then, there was silence. Ravel completed only a couple more compositions: Piano Concerto in G Major, Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (written for Paul Wittgenstein), and Don Quichotte a Dulcinee. He clearly had some kind of brain disease, which caused a shrinking of the left hemisphere, resulting in aphasia. He died as a result of surgery, but had not been able to work for some time and would have died soon regardless.

It has been suggested the the disease was responsible for the more repetitive nature of his last compositions. But we can’t say. The piano concertos were also rather jazzy. Maybe Ravel was just moving in a different direction. Regardless, although the last part of his life was sad, the little music that he produced extends wonderfully on his earlier works. We are so much the better for it.

Happy birthday Maurice Ravel!

Racial Diversity in Millennials

MillennialsThe Pew Research Institute has published an analysis of the Millennial Generation’s attitudes regarding matters political. Jonathan Chait has a rundown of it, A New Report Shows How Young Liberals Own the Future of American Politics. Although that headline is certainly true, the article gives the wrong idea about what the results really say. Put bluntly: it ain’t about age; it’s about race.

The data show that from the late 1970s onward, young people have generally voted the way old people did. But since 2004, this has diverged with the old getting slightly more Republican and the young getting very much more Democratic. And then the polling data indicate that Millennials are much more liberal in their beliefs than older generations. That’s all fine. In fact, for the liberal cause, it is great!

Just looking at whites, the Millennials are distinctly more liberal than the older generations: Silent, Boomer, and Gen X. And this does matter. It is a myth that people get more conservative as they grow older. When it comes to minority and civil rights, they actually get more liberal, as Catherine Rampell reported in, Getting More Liberal With Age. Of course, it is also true that people get more conservative the more money they make. But the bad news for Millennials and good news for the liberal cause is that the modest opportunity that was available to even Generation X is pretty much gone for our younger people today. This generation will get better government services and union rights or the whole society is going to crumble.

What’s most remarkable in the data, however, is that the liberalism of Millennials is primarily a function of race. While white Millennials are more liberal than white Gen Xers, they aren’t that much more liberal. But the Millennial Generation is so much more diverse that it makes the generation as a whole very liberal. For example, non-white Millennials are no more liberal than non-white Gen Xers. This probably also shows that the collapse of opportunity hit the non-whites a generation earlier than it hit whites. But racism is a thing of the past, right conservatives?!

However, I think it is a major mistake for liberals to think that they have a demographic lock on politics going forward. Liberals will always have a big problem: they have to spend time actually governing and coming up with better policy ideas. But as I discussed on Wednesday, conservatives spend all their time and energy coming up with new ways to sell and repackage the same old policies. And they are good at it. And they often get people to vote against their own best interests. Their old racist dog whistles may not work in the future, but I have confidence they will come up with new ones that might appeal to a more liberal and less racist electorate, even if I have no idea what they might be.

Ultimately, the biggest problem that conservatives have is their own success. They have managed to create much of their dystopian future filled with little opportunity and unprecedented levels of inequality. As long as America is at least nominally a democracy, this is a problem for them. We have an extremely unfair society. And society is more unfair the later people are born. Something will have to give. But that doesn’t mean it will result in something good. It might be widespread voter disenfranchisement. And then it won’t matter how liberal the Millennial Generation is.

Innumeracy in A Beginner’s Guide to Endings

A Beginner's Guide to EndingsThe other night I watched the not altogether bad film A Beginner’s Guide to Endings. It actually has a fairly clever script, which could have used a few more rewrites. The directing is stylish enough to be interesting but not so much as to be annoying. And the acting is good. Except for Scott Caan; repeat after me, “Nepotism!” But I don’t bring up the film to talk about its cinematic merits. I bring it up to discuss its use of math.

Before I get to my main point, however, I want to discuss this business of hanging. Duke White (Harvey Keitel) says that there is a one-in-three chance of a hanging going right. You could: (1) hang for hours; (2) choke for minutes; or (3) hit the sweet spot and break your neck. One-in-three! I don’t mean to over-think this. But what does “hang for hours” even mean? Hang dead? Because if you aren’t dead, you will chock for minutes and die. So that’s really just two options. I think the writer is totally confused about Newton’s Third Law.

Okay, so on to the real business of this article. Duke says, “My family defies all odds: five kids, all boys. The odds in that: one-in-sixteen.” This is wrong; it is one-in-thirty-two. The odds of one boy is one-in-two. The odds of two boys is one-in-four. And so on: eight, sixteen, thirty-two. Now I understand, maybe the screenwriter is being clever and slyly showing that Duke doesn’t even understand the most basic of statistics. But if that’s the case, it’s a terrible thing to do because almost no one would notice.

Duke goes on and says, “Five boys from three different women: one-in-300.” I don’t even know where this number comes from, whether you assume his mistake or not. I tried various possibilities and none of them came out to anything close to 300. But any way you do this kind of calculation is wrong because women you sleep with is not a random variable in the way that the sex of children is.

The ultimate question is whether there is any greater pedant than me when I write about movie mathematics. I don’t think so. Also check out Innumeracy in Rocky and Numeracy in Shakespeare in Love. Of the three films I’ve written about, the two American films got simple math problems wrong and the one British film got a complicated math problem right. Typical.