Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mass Shooting -- Another One

This fellow was not using his firearm for sport. 

This may seem petty in light of the record-setting mass shooting in Los Vegas.

The apparent culprit was described as having "high powered rifles."

All rifles -- all rifles -- are high powered.  If he had been shooting BBs, that would have been a low-powered rifle. Or if he were using a popgun.  What kind of rifle would you be willing to be shot with?

The mysterious lunatic in Los Vegas was apparently using "bump stocks" on some of the arsenal of rifles he had in his hotel suite. 

As the name suggests a bump fire stock allows the recoil of the rifle to automatically load another round, creating a weapon that seems to be automatic. For some reason this is legal. 

The problem is that with the body of the rifle sliding or bumping back and forth accuracy is almost impossible. If all the shooter wants to do is fire many rounds into a crowd, a bump stock will do the job.  For accuracy, however, a semiautomatic rifle is far more accurate.

All of which raises the question of why assault type military firearms like the AR-15 are sold in the United States.  The AR-15 is the civilian version of the M-16 that is used by U.S. armed forces.

The AR-15 and M-16 were designed for one purpose: to kill people. They were designed to fire a small caliber round at extremely high velocity. The NATO 5.6 mm or .223-caliber round is lethal at several hundred yards. It produces a large temporary cavity, turning the victim's internal organs into mush. 

Hunters  generally use larger caliber rounds that can cleanly kill their prey. This usually means a bolt-action rifle, which has a low rate of fire compared to a AR-15 with or without a bump stock. A shooter with a bolt action rifle could have killed many people before the police located and neutralized him. 

But a hunter's rifle is not designed for combat and to kill enemy soldiers.

This is an important distinction because after the Los Vegas shooting, something must be done. Some legislation must be passed. The number of mass shootings is just too high to go on.  

What does not need to be done:  restrict magazine size. Assault rifles use smaller caliber ammunition because each solder can carry more rounds. Changing a magazine takes only a second or two. 

What does need to be done: Ban AR-15 and AK-47 type rifles.  They are not used by hunters. They are used by people who like to shoot things like watermelons and bottles. Some owners may actually use them for target shooting. 

Target shooting is basically practice to achieve accuracy in shooting people.  The myth of sporting firearms may have been created by the National Rifle Association too justify the manufacture and sale or civilian assault rifles.

This is a modern development. Before the late 20th century there was no sporting firearms industry and the average  rifle owner did not equip himself with a semi-automatic person-killing-capable rifle like the AR-15. 

The  short history of sporting firearms is important. Rifles were invented as instruments of war and were developed  during the 1500s through the 1800s to better and more rapidly kill enemy soldiers. 
During the Civil War gunsmiths discovered ways to engineer repeating arms. By World War 1 soldiers were still equipped with bolt action rifles like the short magazine Lee Enfield. Machine guns were large and immobile.  

Automatic weapons were designed to clear trenches. The Thompson sub machine gun was a trench clearing weapon that was too expensive and complicated for military use. Later versions became military weapons. 

The US Army became the first to use semi-automatic combat rifles. The M1 was loaded with a stripper clip and could fire rapidly until the clip was empty and was ejected. 

During World War II Germany invented the modern assault rifle, with a straight-back stock, stamped metal parts and chambered for a round larger than pistol and smaller than conventional rifle rounds. 

That brings us to the AK-47 and eventually in the early 1960s the AR-15 and M-16. 

People in the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries never used rifles to  plink or shoot at targets, except as part of military training.  There was no civilian battle rifle industry. 

Now it is time to take all assault rifles out of circulation. This may take years or decades, but it must be done.

Otherwise, mass casualties from deranged shooters will continue to rise.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why People protesting Nazis Would Not Tear Down the Washington Momument

President Trump asks an interesting question: If all statues of people (white men) who owned slaves are torn down by people protesting against the alt-right and neo-nazis,  does that not include the Washington and presumably the Jefferson memorials?

Before we explore answers to this question, let's go over a bit of history. But first, yes, slavery and the Civil War are still fresh in the public memory and perhaps no where more so than in Virginia, the heart of the Confederacy. 

Some Southerners may still resent "Yankees." This does not mean they riot and are terrorists.

Back to our story.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as well as many of the founding fathers, as we consider them, did own slaves. This does taint their memories, but we must recall that this was in the 18th century, the 1700s. 

As odious as slavery is and was, this was centuries before national socialists, i.e., Nazis, emerged in Germany. That was in the 20th century. 

Consequently, the president's question, which seems to endorse neo-nazis,  Confederates, the KKK and white supremacists, is based on a false premise. 

Nazis probably did not consider Africans to be human, or they gave them subhuman status, along with Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, political enemies, etc. This degenerate ideology culminated in the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews and millions of others, were  killed on an industrial scale. 

The Holocaust occurred during World War II, between about 1940 through 1945. This is roughly 300 years after Jefferson et al were around. 

Does the current batch of would-be Nazis equate Washington, Jefferson, Madison, etc. as pro-Nazi? If so, they are wildly, ignorantly, wrong.

Likewise, the KKK's origins are complicated, but it emerged in the 1860-70s, again in the 1920s, and again, now. The KKK is anti-Catholic, anti-Jew, anti-African American, anti-integration,  and anti-democratic.

To equate Nazi and KKK philosophies to our founding fathers is worse than ignorant.  Most of them did own slaves, but they were neither nazis nor KKK, which emerged centuries later. 

Jefferson's and Madison's homes in Virginia confirm that the men owned slaves and current information provided by these historic sites emphasizes the roles of slaves in building, working at, and maintaining the plantations  and homes of the  wealthy white men at the time. 

These historic places acknowledge the tortured duality that permitted Jefferson et al to write about universal freedom and God-given rights, while owning slaves. Remember, however, that the Constitution has been amended to include everyone.  

Also keep in mind that white people systematically pushed native Americans off of their ancestral lands. Even if your relatives were absent when this was happening, they did ultimately decide to immigrate to the United States. Current citizens go along with this. Anyone with a conscience should consider moving to a different country.

People who protest against neo-nazis, people imitating that they think is the KKK, and other white supremacists like the alt-right, are protesting  contemporary violent, vicious, terrorist groups. 

These organizations are comprised mostly of alienated and misguided young white outcasts who have been convinced that somehow 1940s Germany and the period following the Civil War were a "golden age" of whiteness.   

Yes, Germany was destroyed by the United States, Soviet Union and United Kingdom and other Allies.  No rational non-psychopath believes that any elements of Nazism are worthwhile. The Ku Klux Klan similarly is justly reviled by a vast majority of Americans. 

A digression: The Nazi mania for races has no biological basis. Population genetics shows that there is more genetic variability within "white" people than between white and "black."  Thinking racially is a mistake, in so far as races do not exist in a natural way.  Yes, people do look different from each other, but the difference are literally skin deep. Alt-right white supremacists, neo-nazis and elements of the KKK are probably not up on the biology of simple population genetics.

So, is President Trump ignorant of modern history? Yes, that seems to be the case. Does he understand why counter-protesters who want no part of the alt-right, white supremacy,  and  neo-nazis,  do not equate equate these intolerant hate groups with Washington, Jefferson, and the founding fathers? 

Could left-wing groups commit violent acts? Sure. Did communists show up in Charlottesville to attack the provocative racists? Not a shred of evidence that anything like that happened.  Did a possible psychotic neo-nazi drive his car into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators? Yes.

But if President Trump continues his slide into the alt-right cesspool, it seems possible that equally violent and intolerant left-wing groups will form and start to conduct terrorist acts. 

Nothing good can come of any of this. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

The truth as I see it

I've been writing this blog for several years starting after I was laid off by the New Haven Register where I was science editor for a period of years. I spent more time interviewing scientists, doctors, meteorologists, physicists, astronomers, entomologists, botanists,  molecular biologists, geneticists, cancer specialists, physicists of all kinds, archeologists, and many, many, many people, than most undergraduates at Yale, the University of Connecticut, Southern Connecticut State University, and to a lesser extent, Wesleyan, and Connecticut College, that I used to think, humorously, that perhaps I deserved an Ivy League degree.

I was also pretty good at all manner of other reporting on fires, homicides, car crashes, explosions, nuclear accidents, cold cases, and general assignments. My real forte was knowing about weather and climate, how the body metabolizes food, the truths about gluten and low frequency electromagnetic waves, arboviruses, West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, other tick-borne diseases, transplant medicine, and a considerable amount of knowledge on gunshot wounds and firearms.

I enjoyed my job, asking questions, and translating complicated  subjects into easier-to-understand words. I would have done that until I was in my 90s, had not the Journal Register Company (no longer exists) decided that I was too old and too well paid. I along with several other experienced and older people at the Register was let go in 2008.

Since then I have volunteer tutored reading, taught a writing class at Quinnipac University, sold a few free-lance pieces, and kept a much lower profile. Now I read the New York Times carefully everyday and the weekend Register on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

I have seen many changes since I began as a reporter in 1978. The newspaper industry contracted and dozens of journalists were left looking for work.  The Register sold its presses (for scrap, I heard) and tried to convert to a digital platform. Recently Hearst purchased the Register. Details of the sale are unclear.

Here are some items, opinions and things that I believe are facts:

* The newspaper industry experienced upheaval when increasing numbers of women entered the news workplace as reporters and editors. Some of the best reporters and editors are women, true. But the influx of even lower paid workers complicated efforts to unionize, and took some jobs away from men, When I started, no women typically worked in editorial. They were restricted to obituaries, weddings and so on. Women journalism school graduates complicated nearly everything. Now, the screwy men who became reporters, were joined by equally screwy women. Bringing weird men and women together always seemed like a recipe for problems.

* Climate change, I fear, is developing into a global catastrophe. If the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica slides into the ocean, sea levels around the world will rise by an average of, perhaps, 16 feet. That puts parts of major cities and some entire countries under water. Millions or billions of people will be unpleasantly displaced. So, are countries responding to the problem? Yes, many are. Is the United States? Yes, but in a less organized way because the current administration and both houses of congress rabidly support the vanishing coal industry and fossil fuels in general, which contribute to the greenhouse effect. The U.S. seems ready to build a useless wall along the Mexican border for at least 1 trillion dollars. The money should by spent paying shore dwellers to move inland and start mitigation projects in New York, Boston, New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles and many other shoreline cities in the US.  Is that likely to happen? No, not until a major city is inundated.

* The Republican administration is gathering intrusive data on all registered voters in the country, or at least, trying to. This is part of a political search for voter fraud, which experts of both parties say is virtually non-existent in this country. This dubious process is being undertaken because our president apparently smarts at the fact that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes. The collecting of voter information, which several states are resisting, is clearly intended to dissuade or prevent minority  voters from voting. A majority of them are likely to vote for Democrats and the Republican  nativist extremists want to minimize the Democratic vote.

* In Google news, teens somewhere sat by and ridiculed a drowning man who was calling for help. No one called 911. And they videoed themselves. The man did drown. This is extremely disturbing. Do younger people see the world as a video game? Literally? Do they not have a conscience? A toddler playing in a MacDonald's somewhere went down a slide covered with another playmate's feces. The toddler went down the slide and was covered with feces. His mother asked employees for help and they demurred, acting like they were on break and generally being unhelpful. The bathrooms did not have soap. A couple somewhere else teased one of their children with food, as the child starved to death. A woman talked a man online into asphyxiating himself.  Does any of this make sense? What has this country produced? A whole subpopulation of sociopaths?

* Gun violence. There are more guns in the United States than people. In other words, many people own more than one or two guns. The Second Amendment to the Constitution is oddly written and can be parsed in several ways. Its intent seems to support the idea of an armed government militia, not the prevalent idea that every person has the right to own hunting rifles, semi-automatic hunting rifles, assault rifles, and semi-automatic pistols. What is an assault rifle? A semi-automatic long gun that fires ammunition larger than pistol and smaller then rifle. The stock extends straight back to the shoulder to minimize the effects of recoil. The only purpose of assault rifles, as the name suggests, is on a battlefield. Why do people snap and then kill droves of others? The answer is complicated and elusive. The answer is obvious: slowly confiscate all guns and melt them down. This may take decades and be met with violent protests, but it is the only path to peace. The National Rifle Association, contrary to most of the US population, favors arming teachers, carrying concealed weapons and openly carrying semi-auto rifles. Gun owners, some of them, want to have the right to carry guns into bars. Meanwhile, a large percentage of gun owners use the weapons ultimately to kill themselves, either on purpose or by accident. Put the gun industry to work making something else.

* The National Security Agency, among others, is probably reading all emails and tapping all telephone calls to allegedly gain information on terrorist plots. This is like trying to catch minows going over a huge waterfall, like Niagara Falls. The NSA et al undoubtedly uses complex algorithms to gather relevant information. Terrorists who use unprotected email, if there are any, are probably  smart enough to communicate in code. So the NSA and whoever, must also perform code breaking while sifting. Every time you email "Our show bombed in Shelton" or "I'd rather die than go out with him/her" "The use of finger fidgets exploded" and so on, must be analyzed and discarded, or stored in some anonymous building somewhere.  We would not know about any of this, except that Edward Snowden, now living in Russia, revealed it.

* It seems clear that Trump colluded with Russian intelligence and Putin to tilt the presidential election in 2016. Can he destroy all social programs and the economy in the next three years? We can only wait and see. Do Americans realize that they must vote to keep people like Trump out of office? One would hope so. Paul Ryan, Mitch O'Connell. Mike Pence, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVoss, et al, are determined to jettison all environmental law, all public education, all help to poor and middle class citizens, basically, anything good or useful that the federal government does. Franklin Roosevelt instituted many great programs when he took office in the midst of the Great Depression. He started programs to put artists and writers to work, built massive public works projects, and helped defeat Nazism and Imperial Japan.

* Will any future president, or his or her speech writer, approach Abraham Lincoln's language? That seems unlikely, but why? People are not stupider than they used to be. Had people been equipped with smart phones, computers, and PlayStations in the 19th century, would presidential candidates sunk into dull, turbid, cliche-ridden speech? We will, or shall, never know.

* Intelligent Design, homeopathy, and many other pseudo or non-science are gathering credence. Maybe we are, some of us, getting stupider, more gullible, less able to think or reason, or use logic, or know how to use mathematics.  I'm convinced that reading on a screen and reading on a page are fundamentally different, and that the brain responds differently to computer screens and paper books.
We have seen that most people will not pay for online news. They will pay for pornography, hook-up software, and not much else. Eventually, paper will be rediscovered as a miracle product that can be written on with a variety of implements, folded, torn, stuffed into pockets, copied,  and written on.
Meanwhile, the Library of Congress is gradually converting its books into optical disks, which start to disintegrate a few years after they are produced. Books from the 15th century, however, are delicate yet still easily readable. We know how to preserve paper. We do not know how to preserve digital information.

I could go on and on. But you get the gist.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Guns are unsafe and should be banned

Gun violence in this country is pervasive and unacceptable.

According to the Washington Post there are now more guns in the US than people. And people with guns tend to either shoot themselves, intentionally or by accident. 

 Untrained owners of handguns imagine the weapons being used for self-defense and may be surprised when a  curious child kills another, or the owner accidentally shoots  a friend or relative  in the dark, or occasionally in a fit of rage, kills a member of his family.

As we know, long guns and pistols were never used for sporting events. Firearms trace back to the Renaissance, where they were developed to penetrate armor.  Contrary to what the National Rifle Association claims, guns were never widely used for target shooting, or plinking, and the second amendment to the Constitution specifies that gun ownership be restricted to members of a militia. 

After an individual (usually a man) kills several people with a gun, an understandable perception forms that the person has or had "mental problems."

This stands to reason because otherwise, why would anyone shoot a bunch of strangers? Research by the U.S. Army found that  a high percentage of soldiers in World War II would intentionally fire over the heads of enemies, because the idea of killing a person is considered a sin, is so defined by major religions, and seems indefensible. 

That research involved soldiers, who are trained and does not include people with serious mental illness. In fact, the American Journal of Psychiatry says:

Even if one assumes a direct association between violence against others and serious mental illness, the focus must be narrowed to the population of individuals with serious mental illness associated with less than 3% of all violence (Fazel and Grann 2006). Furthermore, current research suggests that in general there is a minimal relationship between psychiatric disorders and violence in the absence of substance abuse (Martone et al. 2013). Thus, the assumption that all persons with mental illness are a “high-risk” population relative to violence gen- erally and gun violence in particular lacks supportive evidence. 
This study, among others, found that "less than  3 percent of all violence" is carried out by people with diagnosed mental illness.  Yet almost everyone would agree that the man at Virginia Tech, the man at the nightclub in Orlando, the man who killed at Sandy Hook, the man who shot people in a theater showing a Batman movie, and etc., must have serious mental issues.

So either shooting people is a rational act -- it isn't -- or many people with serious mental health problems are going undiagnosed and untreated. 

Is 3 to 4 percent a realistic figure? If so, efforts to stop gun violence by stepping up mental health screenings hardly makes sense. One if also forced to conclude that mass shootings are acts of rational people, which flies in the face of common sense. 

The gun industry and lobby are glad to blame shootings on mental illness as a way to distract people from the real issue:  handguns and rifles do no good, are not necessary, and citizens without guns are safer than gun owners in the U.S. 

The solution to gun violence is elementary. Gradually eliminate private gun ownership. Get rid of firearms. 

Will that ever happen? Don't hold your breath.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Publisher's Clearing House, Pirate's Cheating House

Publisher's Clearing House, in combination with the unsettled economy, has me trapped.

Do I want $7,000 a week for life? Yes. Do I want $100,000? Yes.

Are either of these prizes headed my way? Of course not. Nor, in all probability,  are they en route to anyone anywhere.

What or who is Publisher's Clearing House? I do not know, but it should not be too difficult to find out.  It used to mail out bundles of complicated and sparkly forms to fill out for the chance to win huge sums of money.

Ed MacMahon would appear at the winner's house with an enormous check. 

Many people thoughts subscribing to a magazine through PCH would increase their chance of winning. Read the rules, however, and you find that no purchase is necessary.

Funny story: On my iPhone relatively recently I played a PCH slot machine game and won $3,000. I took a screen shot just to prove, sort of, that this happened. I'm not holding my breath.

My impression is that if paying did influence the "game" the whole business might be considered gambling, or wire fraud, or some other felonious operation.

I recently began to play PCH games on my phone. The amount of mail I receive from PCH has gone way up. I need to enter this, I need to submit that. Last night all I wanted to do was sleep, but I felt it necessary to play endless hands of blackjack a la PCH for "tokens" that don't seem to be worth anything.

The occasionally explicit idea is that playing the games enters your name in PCH's great give away of  thousands or millions of dollars. 

Even if I am entering these lotteries, the odds of me winning are so small as to be zero. If I liked to gamble I would have a much greater chance of winning at a casino or racetrack. 

So I continue to waste time on these dopy PCH games, based on the belief that although the chance is almost zero, I might be able to win $5,000 a week for the rest of my life. Someone will win, after all. Just not any particular person. 

It's the law of big numbers and seems paradoxical. If someone must win, why not me? Suppose the odds of winning are 1 in 100 million. Someone will win, but the chances of any person winning are 1 in 100 million, which might as well be zero.

At any rate, PCH has morphed into an applications company. Visit the app store if you have nothing more productive to do and you will find several PCH "games," which are similar to casino-type games. They include roulette and slot machine games.

PCH claims that if you play their free games you could win money. Philosophically speaking, they mean that winning money is a contingent reality, that is, that result does not violate any physical laws. People who have downloaded these games and have left reviews, suggest that though they have played long hours, none has won anything.

That's because Publisher's Clearing House is a phantom organization. Do you know anyone who has ever won a dime from PCH? Neither do I.

My sense is that PCH may actually award prizes, but it does so in a secretive manner and does not go to great lengths to locate winners.

I imagine them going to someone's address, ringing the bell, and if no one answers within 30 seconds, they leave and the prize money goes to PCH.

Is it a seller of magazine subscriptions and cheap merchandise, or inexplicable games that promise enormous wealth, or a game developer? It may be all of those, or it may be a cabal of criminals based in Siberia.

Anyone know any of these people? Are they actors?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Complicated Coffee the Easy Way

Making coffee used to be relatively simple.

You bought a can of ground coffee, put some in a percolator, or French press of drip coffee making and pressed a button, or otherwise operated the apparatus. 
The result was "coffee," if not by taste, at least by definition. 

I've never tasted the same coffee twice.  That is, even following the same method, one cup  inevitably varies from the next.  Other consumables always taste the same: Almond Joy, Mars bar, McDonald's; Juicy Fruit, Coca-Cola.

The mysterious Keurig K250
Coffee is complicated. Coffee beans contain about 1,000 chemicals, some of which are more soluble in water than others. What is coffee, the beverage?

Whatever starts out in coffee beans changes when the coffee is roasted. Compounds break down,  and others are formed. Lots of organic chemistry happens between the bean-stage and the familiar roasted coffee, which has that yummy coffee odor.

Then it's added to hot water, for more transformation.

A mixture of soluble compounds, micro fragments of beans, chemicals adsorbed to the fragments, chemicals that react with minerals in the water, chemicals modified by heat, and chemicals that react with each other when introduced to hot water.

Coffee contains caffeine, which increases blood pressure, induces wakefulness, alertness and at higher levels, agitation, tremors, heart arrhythmias, and, presumably at some dosage, death. At normal consumption levels, coffee is a mild stimulant. 

Many people are in the habit of drinking a cup or two in the morning and then perhaps another cup or two in the afternoon. 

Just as individuals are becoming more isolated, coffee-making is increasingly solitary. The culprit is Keurig, what I consider the first digital coffee maker. It used prefabricated cartridges of coffee that are plugged into the machine. The Keurig pumps water through the cartridge, producing coffee.

Aero Press 
The operator never has to see or handle coffee beans or grounds and only has to keep the reservoir filled with water.  The coffee seems okay, but what the Keurig offers is convenience.
 However, making one cup of coffee at a time is a triumph of packaging -- each "K-cup" is an assembly of plastic and foil, and coffee. 

The New York Times calculates that K-cup coffee costs about $50 per pound, while conventional Starbucks is about $12 and Dunkin Donuts roughly $9. Keurig coffee is about 66 cents a cup versus DIY coffee, which is about 28 cents a cup.  

And while you can buy a drip coffee maker for as little as about $30, the least expensive Keurig machines start at about $100.
Quisanart drip maker

An engineer friend told me that Keurig machines contain complex computer-driven mechanisms. The body is filled with circuit boards, microchips, pumps, valves, filters, and sensors. 

I hate to admit this, but lately I've been drinking Keurig coffee. It's so easy. Just pop in a pod, push a button, and in less than a minute, voila. 

So, my Aero press, French press, siphon, percolator, and drip coffee machines are temporarily idle. As are my electric grinders and manual bean grinders.

Soon I will tire of K-cups, I suspect. Meanwhile, someone needs to determine the chemistry of coffee making. Right now, I just need another cup.

Hario hand grinder
Hario single cup drip maker