Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Good Guys and Bad Guys With Guns: The Future

(This is an Associated Press story published in the future. The events described here have yet to take place.)

New Haven CT ( AP) -- Conroy C. Nelson, 38, became the first person in the U.S. Friday to be sentenced under a controversial law backed by the National Rifle Association that criminalizes the act of not attempting to engage a suspect with a handgun during the commission of a felony.

The pretzel-logic law was enacted with major NRA muscle and a Tea Party minority in the U.S. Senate, after a less radical version of the bill was tabled in the House.

The law, called The National Punish Your Neighbor Freedom Act of 2020, was signed by President Marco Rubio last month amid predictions that its provocative contents could result in a perpetual gun fight on the streets of the United States.

Simply put, the NPYNP considered armed people carrying licensed and concealed weapons to be de facto  federal peace officers and thus responsible for upholding local and federal law. Moreover, one of the "peace officer's" duties is to halt felonies with quick and precise use of their weapons.

The expectation of the law is that it will lead to a major increase in civilian shootings and a corresponding drop in crime. 

The most controversial and to many, frightening, aspects of the law is this requirement for the peace officers to use lethal force -- and the punishment for failing to stop the alleged crime being committed -- is itself punishable by a hefty fine and prison sentence.

Critics of the measure, such as Irwin Chemerinsky, professor of law emeritus at Stanford University, contend that the bills twisted logic will result in armed people shooting people whom they merely suspect of a crime in order to avoid going to prison.

"This is the startlingly unconstitutional and practically implausible," said Chemrinsky, an expert in civil liberties and gun laws, at Stanford's "Beach School for Integrative Government Studies," a  left-leaning think tank.

"If this law is faithfully followed urban areas will become perpetual no-man's lands. The peace officer 
is not compelled to see a suspect's weapon before he opens fire.  These so-called peace officers have a license to kill whomever they choose," Chemerinsky said.

Traditionally, police officers are only allowed to use their weapons in clear instances of self-defense and in cases where a suspect may inflict serious harm to others. 

According to police, Nelson, owner of a Walther PPK .380 caliber concealable semi-automatic with 6 rounds, was walking to his parked car at the Southington (Ct) Mall at about 7 p.m.Thursday,  when he allegedly saw William Santos, 27, of Bridgeport, attempting to force a woman into his 1987 Ford F-150 pick-up truck.

Nelson ordered Santos to stop, police said, and he woman yelled "Help, I am being raped," police said.

Witnesses said the woman, whose identity has not been released, clearly and repeatedly shouted "I'm being raped," and "He's going to kill me."

Under the law Nelson was required to unholster his weapon and shoot to kill the alleged assailant. Instead, he yelled "Stop or I will shoot you," as he approached Santos. Santos shot the woman in the abdomen and tried to drive out of he parking garage, but hit a pillar, police said. 

He was shot to death by state police who had been summoned by mall patrons. The medical examiner's office confirmed that Santos died from 12 to 14 gunshot wounds to the head, torso, and legs. The head wound, one of the first shots, was probably lethal, according to the medical examiner.

Nelson declined several requests for a comment. 

Walther PPK .380

In a statement President Rubio said, "A man who shirked his duty will now have to face the consequences. If we as a country do not counter armed criminals with all resources, then terrorist acts will recommence with a fury." 

Police confiscated Nelson's pistol and placed him under arrest. Nelson did not struggle. Nelson was arraigned in Superior Court before Judge Yin Bin Yao, and charged with dereliction of duty during the commission of a crime, a felony under NPYNP. (Court officers call the law Nip-Yip) 

 Nelson, who owns his own real estate company, argues that he was not sufficiently trained in the use of his firearm and that he could have injured bystanders, a class 2 felony.

On the advice of his attorneys Nelson pleaded no contest to the charge and his lawyers appealed the judge's sentence of 25 years to life. 

"He did not do anything other than witness an alleged crime," said one of his attorneys, Hugh Keefe of New Haven. Keefe said Nelson has since been treated for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder at Yale Psychiatric Hospital. 

"Should this be the future of urban America God help us," Keefe said.

Keefe said he would appeal the sentence on the grounds that it violates the Constitutional due process clause, and that Yip-Nip forces involuntary "peace officers" to commit state sanctioned homicide.  

The State Supreme Court could  reduce or eliminate the sentence, vacate the conviction, and or declare the law unconstitutional under Connecticut law. The five-member panel comprises three democrats and two republicans appointed by former Gove. Daniel P. Malloy. 

U.S. State's Attorney Stefanie Zara-Linley said, "The law is very clear. Nelson had the responsibility to kill the suspect with his weapon. He completely abandoned the good-guy/bad-guy basis of the law and in doing so placed himself and the poor victim in danger. She died because of him."

Yin denied Nelson's request to post bond and he was remanded to the Whalley Avenue Correctional Center in New Haven pending his appeal. 

Public response to the case has been mixed, as residents wrestle with the implications of the new law.

Anthony Vitale, of West Haven, said, "I can see why he was charged, but the idea that someone other than the police is responsible to use lethal force -- required by law to kill an innocent person -- troubles me. 

"What if it was a prank? What if they were married and having a fight?" Vitale said.  "This whole Nip-Yip thing is a disaster."

Like many others Vitale pointed out that peace officers such as Nelson must shoot suspects based on their perception of complicated events that may easily be misinterpreted. 

Such was the case Oct. 3 in Newington, when Jonathon Walker shot and killed Hiram Espinoza after seeing Espinoza exchanging cap-gun fire with his cousin Marcel Guttere.  Walked shot and killed both men with a Smith & Wesson .40-cal. semi-automatic loaded with hollow point "Hydra Shok" ammunition designed to inflict devastating wounds.

Smith & Wesson .40

Walker was awarded the Newington Bravery Medal by the mayor and has refused to comment on the incident. Medical and police  reports suggest that Walker has also sought treatment for PTSD at a local drop-in clinic. 

Statistics maintained by the FBI show that since the law was enacted, non-municipal peace officers have intervened in 26 cases, leaving 24 suspects dead and 4 wounded. None of he peace officers other than Nelson has faced charges. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

The 3D Printer From Satan

For some reason I became interested in 3D printers.

Big mistake. I am now wiser but sadder, or vice versa. Here is my tale of woe:

Stubbornly useless

My interest was piqued by a recent price drop in the machines. A printer used to be extremely expensive (thousands of dollars). Recently, models have appeared for about $300.

Suspending my deep pessimism about everything, I purchased one. A Monoprice Architect, which I subsequently discovered is a rebranded Flashforge Creator. 

the original Monoprice, a Flashforge Creator

The machine, with thin wood-like walls, came with only a two-page introduction and no software. Also supplied were a power source and a USB cable. The no software proved to be problematic.

Searching the Monoprice web site for the printer showed no results, a bad sign.  Sending Monoprice an email resulted in nothing. When I called the company, support was desultory. The company does not seem willing too part with information, even to consumers who've already been hooked and hauled in. 

The printer came with an SD card that contained "models." The models turned out to be oblongs. Not especially fun nor useful. 

Then I spent many hours downloading software, fiddling with the card, and trying to follow what a support person had told me: first convert files into some program that would slice them up, and then convert the files into a format that the printer could recognize.

Easier said than done and not easily said.

Back on Monoprice's web site, I searched for my model machine and kept being shown another different model.  At this point I should have taken a sledge hammer and crushed the thing into little pieces.

But I digress.

 I added files of things like dinosaurs and cup holders  to the card, but the Monoprice/Flashforge did not recognize the files. Picky little gizmo. I have a feeling that either the USB port came loose during shipping, or perhaps, is not connected to anything.

The software I ended up using, Replicator G, kept telling me my laptop was not connected to a printer. I was puzzled. Another call to support, which proved useless. 

I was told that the machine would not work with OS 10.11.3. Oh-oh. If I wanted it to work I would have to downgrade my computer. Not easy to accomplish.  I'm not sure, but I think no one in history has ever accomplished this feat. I certainly was not about to try. 

So, sadly, I had to tell Amazon that the Monoprice Architect had to be returned because it was literally useless. Well, unless all I wanted were blocks. 

Take this as a warning:  If you are the second person in the world using OS 10.11.3 (I am the first) do not buy a 3D printer, unless you are an electrical engineer and computer scientist. Or unless you like hours of torture. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Arguing with people who know they're right

I try not to be drawn into pointless Facebook arguments, and it is never a wise idea to argue with anyone about religion. 

Yet I have become enmeshed in an unfolding and probably never ending dialogue with people who are extremely faithful Christians. My role has become "doubting Thomas" but a worse version, more like "Don't you see that your faith keeps you trapped in a thoughtless vacuum bubble Thomas." 

For example, one of these people, whom I will not name, posted a photo of a surgical team in an unnamed hospital engaging in a prayer circle. Perhaps it was a stock photo or staged for some reason. 

I took the bait and posted that if I saw nurses and surgeons at a hospital in which I was a patient performing such a rite, I would drag myself to another hospital. And rhetorically, I posed the question, "If you were in a hospital in which the surgeons danced weirdly with a monkey skull before your surgery would you be as sanguine?"

The point being, a show of familiar faith is one thing; a show of an unfamiliar faith is something different, and perhaps disturbing. Ultimately the idea was, could you imagine yourself as a Christian in a foreign non-Christian nation, undergoing surgery, and how would you feel is a heathen rite was performed on your behalf?

The response was purposely (I assume) obtuse. Was I against freedom of prayer? Was I not aware that the group in the photo was praying to God, not a monkey skull.  No one addressed my questions but that should not have surprised me.

If you believe you know the truth based on a 2,000-year-old book, or a story passed down from 2,000 years ago that seems like many other myths, then no argument can sway you. 

These's something about that frame of mind that I find frightening. What's the difference between being certain of Christianity and being certain of Islam?  Or, for that matter, any other absolutist philosophy, including Nazism, or Communism?  

So I swore on a Facebook of electrons not to engage in any more useless arguments with these people, some of whom are sort of obnoxiously all-knowing in a restricted claustrophobic kind of way.

Freedom of speech, as I posted, also means freedom from speech, which is as easy as killing a Facebook account. And eliminating a Facebook account is about as easy as obtaining a tour of North Korea's nuclear weapons plant. 

So, there you have it. Would Jesus be on Facebook, assuming he ever existed?

Umm, like, you know, right?

I was listening to Connecticut Public Radio one recent morning, during the long process of waking up and I was very impressed -- negatively -- by what I heard.

The discussion was extremely interesting and, I think, important. But some participants kept saying "you know."

Those on the radio who were professional  broadcasters typically spoke in full sentences and hardly ever used filler phrases such as "you know," "like," and so on.

Other people on the program (Wheelhouse, I believe it was) were "ya know"ing so much it made my head hurt. I am not a public speaker nor do I ever speak on radio, which is good, because I umm and hmm and uh just like everyone else.

However, I do not think I say "you know" as an all-purpose noun, preposition, semi-colon, or whatever it's being used as. I'll admit to using "like" occasionally, but I'm usually saying it for rhetorical effect, as in, "So, like, then he says, why do you have horns? And I go, you know, I'm like the devil," etc.

I am not an overzealous grammarian or  a person who diagrams sentences
 and I am aware that English usage does change over time.  

How hard is it to change one's speech to avoid saying "you know" every fifth or sixth word? That's the question. If it were as difficult as learning Latin, then I would understand why people in the communication biz say "you know" with abandon.

Otherwise, why not train yourself to stop saying "you know" constantly? You would sound better and way less irritating, especially for people who are just waking up. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Gift of Love

Either  society is in its last days, everyone is getting older, or both.

Try looking through the Carol Wright Gifts catalogue and you'll see what I mean.

 First off, as in virtually all catalogues and magazine ads, the products being advertised are advertised by people without the condition that the advertisement is for. 

I should rephrase that. An add for wrinkle cream has a model without even a slight hint of a wrinkle who is possibly in her early 20s.  The potential consumers, however, actually have wrinkles and are probably much older.

This has always been the case, but now that I am wrinkled, crinkled and sprinkled, it makes more of an impression. Genie Slim-leggings, for example, are modeled on a woman who has perfectly shaped legs, hips and so on. 

Embroidered dresses for $22, which are probably intended for single elderly women, are shown on what can only be described as beautiful young women.  Then there is the ad for a gizmo to remove facial hair. She has as much hair as a balloon.

The fantastic nature of magazine ads and articles became clear to me several decades ago, when I was reading Men's Health. The people who write and otherwise produce it, suggest that its readers are young ambitious executive types who exercise like maniacs and have several opportunities with gorgeous women a few times a week.

It dawned on me that the magazine is a fantasy for paunchy old not-extremely successful guys who are married or who haven't had a date in the past 36 months. Coincidentally, like all of these magazines, the cover depends on lists, and these lists are always about sex, diet, and sex.

Ten ways to win her back; 8 things she cannot ignore; 11 ways to create bulging muscles, 9 ways to lose 8 pounds, 5 ways to make her understand you better, and so on.

A magazine editor actually confirmed all of this once in an unguarded moment. 

Anyway, we're leafing through the Gift catalogue, and we go from waist shapers for a woman who ways perhaps 110 pounds, to -- "maximum pleasure for him," a device once advertised in plain envelopes.  On the next page is "Men's Mood Pleaser."  To quote, "Get yourself in the mood with this soft, sensual stroker."  


Then a few more pages of knick knacks, cheap sheets, crew socks, and so forth, we get a double-truck spread (no pun there, really) on the amazing butterfly kiss, the maestro of strokers, pocket size pleasure kit (for her), and help strengthen your prostate (for him).  

Then it's back to therapeutic pillows, slipcovers, lanterns, mosquito killers, and armchair organizers.

Am I a naive prude? I don't think so.

 Nor do I think there's anything wrong with people over the age of 20 or 60 having sex, with or without a partner. I just did not expect to see these things so casually pitched in a catalogue for wrinkled, cheap,  bargain hunting overweight, self-conscious men and women. 

Live and learn, I guess. But if I had any young children, I would feel obligated to hide this catalogue, lest they learn about strokers, passion ribs, and other sex toys, from that dirty old lady, Carol Wright.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Slow down to avoid disaster

Decades from now the few who have the aptitude to read and the motivation to study history will be incredulous that people used to drive individual  un-linked vehicles.

"How could that possibly be true?" they will muse. 

By then light rail will handle most transportation and "automobiles" will no longer be autonomous. They will be sensibly guided by computers that will also record locations, trips, driving habits, and other personal information.

Meanwhile, drivers have lost any knowledge they ever had about the Newtonian physics that govern how wheeled vehicles operate on snow, ice, and other low-friction surfaces.  Think back to high school:  an object in motion tends to stay in motion, an object at rest remains at rest; all of that stuff that your insane physics teacher directed at you without any context.

Sir Isaac Newton, a pretty unpleasant and strange character, and also a genius, created experimentally verifiable theories of gravity, motion, optics and even invented calculus. So independently did Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  Somehow mathematicians chose Leibniz's confusing notation.

Among Newton's accomplishments were his "laws" of mechanics, such as Force equals mass times acceleration; mass times velocity equals momentum, and the idea that potential energy was converted into kinetic energy at the rate of one-half of the product of mass and the square of velocity.

Newton also linked the dropping of apples (as the story goes) with why the moon orbits Earth, and correctly described the inverse square law of gravitational attraction and calculated the gravitational constant of Earth at 32 feet per second per second. 

These relatively simple laws were sufficient  to solve artillery firing solutions and guide Apollo to the moon and back. Albert Einstein's equally revolutionary theories of relativity supplanted Newton's laws, but many engineers and scientists continue to use Newton's far simpler formulae. Einsteins ideas take over at very high speeds and enormous masses.

Fortunately, cars cannot travel at even one millionth of a percent of the speed of light, because drivers apparently do not understand or appreciate that their vehicles must conform to the laws of physics. No, driving a 2-ton sports utility vehicle does not protect the driver from losing control on ice or allow him to stop any faster than a conventional car. 

The brakes of four-wheel drive vehicles are no more resistant to "slipperiness" than a two-wheel drive car. Moreover, even if they could, a vehicle that weighs double takes correspondingly higher forces to start and stop. 

Yet light trucks glide past you insouciantly on the interstate, spraying your windshield with sand, salt and slush. The sand is spread to increase friction between tires and road surface.

There are two types of friction: static (for example) would be pushing a heavy box down the driveway, and dynamic, the friction that rotating wheels experience. 

The odd properties of water further complicate winter driving. The melting point of frozen water drops under pressure. A car's mass, or weight, melts the surface of an ice patch, reducing the frictional coefficient of the ice.

Which is to state the obvious. Driving  safely on ice or snow simply requires a slower speed. That's all, basically. Simple. 

Problems can arise if the car's brakes lock, changing dynamic friction into static, and causing a skid. To avoid a skid, drive slowly and slow down before trying to stop. 

Ultimately, to avoid accidents, collisions, injury and so on, just drive slowly