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