Category Archives: Science

ICYMI: ‘gun nuts week’ at the Arizona Lege

With all the other crazy shit going on in the world this past week, you may have missed “gun nuts week” at the Arizona Lege.

First up, Shannon’s Law, enacted in 2000 with the support of Governor Jane Dee Hull and even the NRA. Shannon’s law is named after Shannon Smith, a fourteen-year-old Phoenix girl killed by a stray bullet in June 1999:

While she stood in her backyard talking on the telephone with a friend, a stray bullet hit her in her head, causing instant death. Smith’s death sparked a furor among Arizona residents. Her funeral was attended by approximately 1,300 mourners. A monument, made with melted metal from confiscated firearms, was raised in her honor at her middle school by her classmates and friends. Tens of thousands of dollars in donations for the monument were primarily raised by Shannon’s friends and classmates holding car washes.

A violation of Shannon’s law is defined as a felony offense in Arizona. The gun worshipers and ammosexual gun fetishists at the Arizona Citizens Defense League now want to gut Shannon’s Law. Panel votes to gut Shannon’s Law on gun discharges:

Arizona gun owners would be able to escape being prosecuted under “Shannon’s Law” if they say it was just an accident that they fired their gun into the air.

On a 6-5 margin, the House Judiciary Committee voted to say that criminal negligence in discharging a weapon within a city would no longer be a felony. Instead, prosecutors would have to show that someone knowingly or recklessly shot off a few rounds.

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Legislative Whirlwind Part 4: Lettuce & Birds (video)

Lettuce in Yuma

Here we can see miles of fields of Romaine lettuce with crews of migrant workers in the distance. In the foreground are 1000s of discarded outer Romaine lettuce leaves. Workers severely trim lettuce heads down, so they can be sold as “Romaine hearts”. The leaves will be plowed back into the ground for nutrients, but still, the waste was surprise to someone like me who heard “waste not want not” many times while growing up.

During our Yuma Legislative Tour in December, we saw miles and miles of lettuce, cotton, broccoli, seed crops, and more. We got muddy and trudged around the Romaine lettuce fields with migrant workers, and we also toured a cotton gin. (More photos are here on my Facebook page.)

After our first day of touring Yuma’s agricultural areas, we heard multiple presentations at a hosted dinner paid for by different growing/ranching industry groups and served up by 4H and JTED youth. The presentation by Paul Brierley, director of the University of Arizona Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture, stuck out in my mind. He talked about using engineering technology to help growers in the Yuma area. According to the UA website, “The [Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture], based in Yuma, is a public-private partnership (PPP) between the college and the Arizona and California desert agriculture industry, dedicated to addressing ‘on-the-ground’ industry needs through collaboration and research.” The website continues on to say: “More than two dozen industry partners from Yuma and Salinas, California, have invested in the center, together committing more than $1.1 million over the next three years.”

Brierley is an affable engineer who grew up on a large farm. According to Bierley, the primary problem that industry partners wanted the PPP center to tackle was “productivity”. He talked about different ways to boost productivity by using technology. For example, Brierley said that the date palms needed help with pollination. He showed a photo of a migrant worker pollinating date trees using a machine that looked like a leaf blower strapped on his back. This human-assisted pollination worked, but to improve productivity, the UA and Yuma growers began experimenting with drones. They found that drones to be more efficient pollinators than people. Technology to the rescue: mechanical birds. (For some jobs, this is the future: people being replaced by machines.)

Another problem area that had been identified as a hindrance to productivity was birds.

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Kansas is a cautionary tale for Arizona, part the infinity

I have been posting this continuing series for some time, but now the Arizona Republic wants in on my meme. “As a new legislative session is set to start in Arizona, a cautionary tale comes from Kansas, where deep tax cuts have resulted in steep budget cuts and anemic job growth.” A warning to Arizona on income-tax cuts: ‘Don’t do what Kansas did’:

DorothyThe “Kansas experiment” of eliminating the income tax is a failure that Arizona would be wise to avoid, participants at the launch of a new economic-policy think tank were told Thursday.

“The moral of our story is ‘Don’t do what Kansas did,'” said Duane Goossen, who ran the Kansas state budget office for 12 years. The result of eliminating the income tax on small business and chopping down the income-tax rate has been disastrous, he said.

“It’s a Dumpster fire, it’s a real crisis,” said Goossen, who came to Arizona to help kick off the opening of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress.

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New report on automation and A.I. replacing human labor

popsciWhile I was waiting in line to check out at the store, I thumbed through a special edition of Popular Science on the magazine rack. Popular Science – The New Artificial Intelligence.

The New York Times Magazine recently published a feature, The Great A.I. Awakening, about how Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate, one of its more popular services — and how machine learning is poised to reinvent computing itself.

Last year there was even a best selling book on the subject by Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future: “As technology continues to accelerate and machines begin taking care of themselves, fewer people will be necessary. Artificial intelligence is already well on its way to making ‘good jobs’ obsolete…”

More and more I see news articles appearing on this topic, but our political leaders appear to be entirely unaware, uninformed and unconcerned about rapid advances in technology replacing human labor. They do not even talk about this subject, let alone offer any plans or policies to deal with the economic disruption caused by rapidly advancing technology.

Instead, we just held an election in which Appalachian coal country voted for Donald Trump because he told them that he could bring back 20th Century coal mining jobs that disappeared years ago and are never coming back. It was a cruel hoax for which all of us will now have to suffer the consequences.

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Losing faith in democracy

Some deeply disturbing reports in the Washington Post Wonkblog today. First, Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa write, Yes, people really are turning away from democracy:

We have been surprised by the scale and intensity of attention our work has garnered around the world since the New York Times profiled it last week. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been. Our research, after all, helped contextualize the seismic shifts we’ve seen in some of the world’s long-standing democracies over the past year — and comes to some rather startling findings.

Public attitudes toward democracy, we show, have soured over time. Citizens, especially millennials, have less faith in the democratic system. They are more likely to express hostile views of democracy. And they vote for anti-establishment parties and candidates that disregard long-standing democratic norms in ever greater numbers.

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It is to be expected that claims as disconcerting as these would evoke some skepticism. Over the past week, our critics have mooted three main objections: They claim that our findings are highly sensitive to the wording of particular survey questions or the way in which we interpret particular results; they claim that, contrary to what we are saying, millennials are not more critical of democracy than their elders, and they dispute that disenchantment with democracy has markedly increased over time.

We would be very pleased if these criticisms held true. After all, we’d rather be reassured of the stability of our democracies than win an argument. Sadly, though, we remain as alarmed as we have ever been.

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The GOP war on women’s reproductive rights under Trump begins

Women’s reproductive rights are now in the cross-hairs of the Forced Birthers, and Roe v. Wade is threatened by the Trump administration. Empowered by Trump, Ohio legislature passes ‘heartbeat’ bill that would ban most abortions:

abortionOhio lawmakers passed a bill late Tuesday that would prohibit abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — at around six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant.

If Gov. John Kasich (R) signs the bill, it would pose a direct challenge to Supreme Court decisions that have found that women have a constitutional right to abortion until the point of viability, which is typically pegged around 24 weeks. Similar bills have been blocked by the courts. Because of this, even many antiabortion advocates have opposed such measures.

But some Ohio Republicans said they were empowered to support the bill because of President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court decision that legalized abortion nationally.

There is one vacancy on the Supreme Court, left by Antonin Scalia, a conservative justice who died this year. Another conservative justice in his place would not likely change the dynamics of the court enough to alter the chances for such a bill. But that could change if Trump gets the opportunity during his term to appoint a replacement for one of the more liberal justices.

The vote is the latest sign that Trump’s election has energized conservatives on cultural matters, even as his campaign was built around an economic message. Social conservatives were heartened by his choice for vice president, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), who shepherded some of the nation’s strictest abortion laws in his state. They have watched approvingly as his cabinet picks have almost uniformly been outspoken against abortion rights.

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