Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The real problem with guns and crime . . .

. . . is that guns truly aren't the problem.  The anti-gun brigade simply ignore the facts and the statistics, and manipulate victims and their acquaintances to project their own false arguments.

They also ignore a very real problem that's seldom mentioned.

Now that the gun control advocates have had their fifteen minutes of fame, let’s start focusing on the real issues impacting the rise in school shootings since that infamous day in Columbine in 1999. Issue number one that no one in the mainstream media or government wants to acknowledge: fatherlessness. Specifically, the impact of fatherlessness on the boys who grew up to become school shooters.

. . .

As Terry Brennan, co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, notes:

  • 72 percent of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers; the same for 60 percent of all rapists.
  • 70 percent of juveniles in state institutions grew up in single- or no-parent situations.
  • The number of single-parent households is a good predictor of violent crime in a community, while poverty rate is not.

Yet, despite the growing number of experts, pundits and commentators drawing attention to the impact of fatherlessness on school and community safety, the post-attack discussion inevitably reverts back to gun control. Instead of spending so much as fifteen minutes on fatherlessness we are forced to endure the same salacious headlines, the same provocative tweets, the same tired old memes about the evils of guns as if somehow a cold piece of metal convinced yet another boy to become a mass-murderer. We ignore the lack of adequate mental health services, the failure of law enforcement to effectively intercede, and the sickening impact fatherlessness has on each one of these tragic cases. Why? Because it is easier to ban a hunk of metal than it is to right systemic cultural wrongs.

There's more at the link.

If you look at American society and culture over the past three-quarters of a century, I think there's a lot of evidence to support that view.  After all, when millions of American servicemen came home from World War II and the Korean War, they were all highly trained in the use of firearms, and many had seen combat.  How many mass shooting incidents did they, or their children, perpetrate?  Just about none.  It's only with the breakdown of the nuclear family in the 1960's and beyond, and the astronomical increase in the divorce rate, that we see the emergence of more frequent mass shooting events.

Makes you think, doesn't it?


EDITED TO ADD:  Sebastian offers an excellent analogy as to why gun owners are fed up with those trying to take away our firearms.  Click over there to read it.  It's a good argument.

Apple Mac: lessons learned (so far) and questions

We run Windows 10 on most of Miss D.'s and my computers, except for one creaky 11-year-old laptop on which I've just loaded Linux Mint, to see whether it can be kept going for a year or two longer (doubtful - it's very slow).  I'm about to buy Vellum, a program that offers very easy and attractive pre-publication formatting of books.  Unfortunately, it only runs on Apple's Mac computer series, so I've got to get my hands on one.  The software is good enough that I'm willing to make that outlay - but I can't afford a new, top-of-the line system.  My budget isn't that large.

Several friends advised me to look for a used Macbook or Macbook Pro laptop computer.  However, there are several catches.  The first is that in 2012, Apple changed their manufacturing methods to ensure that users could no longer upgrade things like RAM or hard disks.  You're stuck with what the factory installed when the computer was built.  Oh, there are work-arounds if you send it back to Apple, to be upgraded by their (expensive) technicians using their (expensive) components;  or, if you're handy with a soldering iron and know computer wiring and architecture well, you might even be able to do it yourself.  However, for most of us (including yours truly) these are not cost-effective options.  Therefore, buying an older Mac comes with built-in limitations, unless one buys a pre-2012 model - in which case one is buying hardware that's several generations out of date.

What's even worse, the prices on used Mac computers are ridiculous!  It's as if the sellers think they're made of solid gold.  I can buy a used PC of similar vintage, power and performance for well under half what most sellers of used Apple computers are asking for what they appear to regard as their "precious" systems - something like this:

(Apple's new prices aren't much better, of course.  I reckon I can buy a comparable PC for about 40% less than Apple's price, across their range.)

However, there's a silver lining to the computer cloud.  If one is willing to go with a desktop system, Apple's "miniaturized" Mac Mini is available brand-new in a basic configuration for $499, and in a more powerful, better-equipped form for $699 or $999.

The lower two of those prices are significantly better than a well-equipped, used Macbook of comparable performance would cost me.  The Mac Mini doesn't come with keyboard, mouse or monitor, but it has standard HDMI and USB 3.0 ports that will work with just about anything you can plug into them.  I have a spare monitor and keyboard, so that's not a problem.

Before I make a final decision, I thought I'd ask my readers - at least, those of you who are familiar with Apple Mac computers.  Does my reasoning make sense to you?  Do you think the Mac Mini is worth its price?  If you've used Vellum, do you think it would run well on the Mini platform?  Would it also serve for common everyday tasks such as word processing, writing a blog, and web surfing?  If so, I might use it for more than just Vellum.

Please add your comments to this post, so we can all learn from your experience.  Thanks.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Thanks for the prayers, and good news

Thank you to everyone who offered prayers for my friend's brother, as requested in my previous post.  It looks as if he has encephalitis, which is not good, but is entirely treatable and curable.  I was very worried that it might have been a stroke or a brain tumor, both of which can produce the same symptoms.

I'm sure he'd rather not have encephalitis at all, but it's a lot better than it might have been.


Urgent prayer request for a friend

A friend's brother has just experienced sudden, extensive memory loss.  He's being taken to a treatment facility as I write these words.  Of course, there's no diagnosis available right now, but as I'm sure many of you are aware, that can be symptomatic of several ailments, all of them serious.

My friend and his family will be grateful for your prayers, I know.  I'll provide more information as and when I can.


Safely home - still exhausted

Miss D. and I finally made it home about half past midnight this morning.  We had a long flight, delayed by the arrival of a winter storm in Salt Lake City, which delayed our flight while it was de-iced before takeoff.  There was a bit of weather around Dallas, too, requiring incoming flights to "stack up" and delay their landings while controllers talked them down more slowly than usual.

The weather on the ground was strange.  Our car was parked in the long-term parking garage, but every car inside it was wet, as if it had rained indoors!  The floors were damp and slick, too.  There was a heavy mist, and it had obviously penetrated everything it could.  Driving home was no fun at all, with drifting banks of mist making it hard to see at times.  That didn't stop a lot of drivers going at it full tilt, to the undoubted irritation of the State Police, who were out in force.  I must have seen eight or nine of their vehicles on the road north, pulling over everyone who was driving too fast for the conditions.  I daresay they made a lot of money last night writing traffic citations.

I've got to give a shout-out to Braum's in Decatur, TX.  They were just closing as we arrived, but the manager could see we were tired and hungry, so he let us order a burger and fries apiece, and sit down and eat them, "as long as you don't mind us cleaning up around you!"  We didn't.  That was very good of him.  It gave me energy to drive the last stretch through the mist.  Progress was slow, as I didn't dare drive at the speed limit - vision wasn't good enough.  Still, we made it in the end, and fell into bed, very tired.

I'll post again later this morning when I'm compos mentis once more.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday morning music, and homeward bound

It's been an interesting three days at LTUE.  A group of friends and fellow writers gathered at a local rendezvous last night to share good food and good company, as a fitting end to a busy convention.  Since many brought their families, it was interesting to have to avoid rampaging small children while keeping up a conversation - not the usual Con fare!

Miss D. and I will be heading homeward later today.  The only direct flight that still had seats available when I booked, some months ago, is in mid-afternoon, so we'll kill time until then, perhaps visiting with friends once more.  We probably won't get home until late evening.  I'm sure the cats will be ready, first to greet us enthusiastically, then to give us the cold shoulder for abandoning them to a friend's care for a few days.  This seldom meets with their approval.

For today's music, I suppose traveling to (and from) a writers' convention provides suitable themes.

We may sleep in tomorrow morning, what with a long day's travel today, so regular blogging may resume a little later than usual on Monday.

As always, prayers for traveling safety will be greatly appreciated.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

So that's why men avoid housework!

The Independent reports:

Regular use of cleaning sprays has an impact on lung health comparable with smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, according to a new study.

The research followed more than 6,000 people over a 20 year period and found women in particular suffered significant health problems after long-term use of these products.

Lung function decline in women working as cleaners or regularly using cleaning products at home was comparable to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over 10 to 20 years.

The scientists who carried out the study advised that such products should be avoided and can normally be replaced with simple microfibre cloths and water.

. . .

The study did not find any harmful effects comparable to those seen in women in the men they studied.

However, the scientists noted their work did have some limitations, and the number of men exposed to cleaning products on the scale of women in the study was small.

There's more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

I'm sure many (most?) women will immediately claim that the reason fewer men than women suffer from this problem is because men don't do enough of the household cleaning and maintenance.  I daresay they're right . . . but, on the other hand, if you test men and women for impaired lung function after the use of automotive fuels and lubricants and gun cleaning solvents, I daresay we'd score a lot worse than most of the fairer sex!


What does the USAF want with light attack aircraft?

Air Force Magazine reports:

The Air Force has set aside $2.4 billion in the five-year future years defense program to start buying a new fleet of light attack aircraft ... The service announced earlier this month it was scrapping the planned combat demonstration in favor of a second experiment with two of the four original participants. That experiment, which will take place this summer at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., will be focused on integrating sensors onto the aircraft.

. . .

Exactly how many aircraft the service intends to buy, though, is still not clear.

. . .

Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mike Holmes told reporters at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber conference in September the service was looking at using the light attack experiment as a model for new experiments, noting the possibility of a “light” intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft ... the service is “experimenting in a lot of different ways” with ISR in an effort to satisfy the “insatiable demand” for “persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.” That could include adding certain sensors onto whichever light attack platform the service chooses.

There's more at the link.

This is very interesting from many points of view, not least for the questions it raises.  The purchase appears to fly in the face of established USAF doctrine - so what is the service trying to achieve?

  • UAV's such as the MQ-9 Reaper (and UAV's in the US Army such as the MQ-1C Gray Eagle and smaller craft) are already handling the tactical ISR mission.  What do these small manned platforms bring to the table that such UAV's don't already provide?  That's not immediately clear - unless the manned aircraft are intended to control "drone swarms" of smaller UAV's during a mission, providing oversight and direction.  That would be a new departure.
  • The USAF is already critically short of pilots.  It needs 1,200 more just to operate its existing planes.  Where will it get the additional numbers to fly a group (2-4 squadrons) or wing (2-4 groups) of light attack aircraft - not to mention the weapons systems operators in the rear seats, plus the maintenance crews and administrative personnel?
  • Light attack aircraft such as those due for further testing (the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano and an uprated, armed version of the Beechcraft AT-6 Texan II) could not possibly survive in heavily defended airspace.  They're intended for areas where ground-to-air and air-to-air defenses are sparse (e.g. Afghanistan, where the Afghan Air Force is receiving 26 Super Tucano aircraft as military aid from the USA).  Is the USAF therefore willing to deploy some combat aircraft that will have limited combat capability?  That would make sense if the group/wing concerned were tasked with training and (at least initially) operating alongside the forces of allied minor powers, who would be the most likely customers for such aircraft.  It might also make sense if the light attack unit were regarded as a "feeder" organization, where newly-qualified junior pilots might be sent to gain experience, after which they would "graduate" to more powerful strike aircraft.  That might be justifiable in terms of the much lower cost per hour to operate light attack aircraft, compared to full-blown attack jets.
  • The USAF is apparently moving much more quickly than originally planned to bring this new light strike aircraft unit into being.  Why?  With all the other demands on its budget (the B-21 bomber program, ongoing F-35 purchases, maintenance backlogs, etc.), why is the service diverting critically needed funds to buy aircraft of limited utility?  There are clearly "wheels within wheels" that have prompted this decision, and we're not being told everything.  I'm curious - and puzzled.

This will bear watching.


Friday, February 16, 2018

On the ground at LTUE

It's the second day of the LTUE conference/symposium/authorklatsch/whatever.  Miss D. and I are enjoying ourselves, apart from finding the altitude a bit of a pain.  We've come from under a thousand feet at home to over four and a half thousand in Provo, Utah, with very, very dry mountain air thrown in.  I'm slathering moisturizing lotion on my arms and hands, and we're both drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated.  I was initially surprised that it affected us so badly, but then I realized that every other time we've been to Colorado or other higher states, we've traveled by car.  Our bodies have had more time to acclimatize on the journey there.  This time we flew, so there was no adjustment time at all.  We're feeling it.

Old NFO, Lawdog and I found ourselves hijacked enlisted by Larry Correia to help with a seminar he was running this afternoon.  None of his fellow speakers showed up, so he yelled at us as we came in the door and beckoned us to join him at the presenters' table.  We had fun for an hour talking about self-publishing, the state of the market and the industry, and how novices should go about entering the field.  Those in attendance (pretty much a full house) appeared to enjoy our presentation, and we had a good time together.  (All four of us go way back to Internet gun forums before the turn of the century, so it was really a gathering of old friends at the podium.  That's always fun.)

I was surprised and extremely pleased this morning, while on walkabout around the conference venue, to find a shop that stocked British and South African foods.  A large bag of biltong, a variety of chocolates, and other goodies followed me back to the hotel.  I've been handing out Turkish Delight bars to my buddies - Lawdog and I grew up on the stuff in Africa.  It brought back happy memories of younger days.

Last night a bunch of friends, including ourselves, adjourned to the house of a member of our group.  He and his wife fed us royally on barbecued chicken and adobo pork.  Delicious!  Their stock of bourbon and other fine liquors took some punishment, too, as spirited conversation and loud laughter rolled around the room.  I understand we may be having a sequel this evening, which would be fun.  We're coordinating our movements and intentions by text message, which can be tricky as conflicting messages criss-cross the ether.  I daresay we'll catch up with each other eventually.

More later.


Thoughts on the Florida school shooting

I've waited a couple of days to say anything about the tragic high school shooting in Florida.  As usual, the media and self-appointed "experts" were all over the situation, exploiting it for their various purposes and agendas.  Few, if any, worried about what the families who've lost loved ones might think, or how they might react.  As in previous such tragedies, the media are dancing in the blood of the victims.

I've written about such situations in the past, particularly here and here.  My arguments then remain valid today, so I won't repeat them.  I simply point out that gun control will not work.  It's as simple as that.  H. L. Mencken made the point in 1925, and Kevin over at The Smallest Minority expanded on the logic a few years ago.  Both are correct.  I invite anyone who wishes to refute their reasoning, to try to do so.  If anyone can demonstrate a guaranteed, practical, logical, rational approach to gun control that will - not may, will - reduce mass casualty events such as this, and reduce "gun crime", I'll support it with my money and my vote.  However, no-one will, because no-one can.  It's not humanly possible.

It's human to demand that somebody in authority "do something".  I can absolutely understand those who lost loved ones in this tragedy expecting that of their elected representatives.  The trouble is, "doing something" doesn't necessarily equate to "doing something effective".  The worst school massacre in US history did not involve firearms.  Neither did one of the worst nightclub massacres.  Gun control legislation would not have prevented either of those incidents, or many others like them in our troubled history.

Nevertheless, I must (and do) concede that the problem of access to dangerous articles and substances is one that must receive more attention.  If gun control legislation will not prevent such tragedies - and it won't - then what can we do to improve the safety of our schools and other vulnerable places?  Is there any possible way to provide greater security against such attacks?  I think there is, starting with more armed, well-trained guards in schools - preferably the teachers themselves, who will be in the best place to respond to such incidents as soon as they arise.  Israel found that approach effective after the Ma'alot massacre.  However, that was in the context of a broad, society-wide anti-terrorism effort.  Ultimately, it's that broader focus that has proven relatively effective, although even that has not prevented some terrorist attacks by "lone wolf" operators.

There's also the issue of the widespread and deliberate doping of our children.  Karl Denninger has a well-informed perspective on that issue.  There's been a lot of discussion about possible links between mood-altering prescription medication and mass shootings, including a very interesting list of perpetrators who were confirmed users of such drugs.  You can read more about it for yourself.  The upshot is, I think there's enough anecdotal evidence to justify a formal study of the issue.  If the authorities want to to "do something" really effective, perhaps they should start there?  I doubt that they will, though . . . there's an entire industry grown up around drugging our society as a whole with these medications, and an entrenched bureaucracy administering it that will fight tooth and nail to prevent any reduction in their authority, power or influence.  (For more information, see here, here and here.)

Ultimately, a large part of the problem boils down to individual versus community "rights".  Our Constitution enshrines individual rights - they're what the Bill of Rights is all about.  I'm certainly not advocating that any of them be reduced or constrained.  However, many of those arguing for greater gun control or other restrictions are not being fully honest, because what they want will necessarily involve restricting those individual rights.  Their objectives can't be achieved without that.

Are we looking at a situation where, to maintain, uphold and defend our existing individual rights, we must accept periodic shootings such as that in Florida as an unavoidable "side effect"?  That would be tragic beyond words . . . but it's a question that needs to be asked.  It's easy to be glib and say, "Yes - my individual rights take precedence over everything and everyone else!"  However, it's not so easy to say that when looking into the eyes of a mother who's just lost her child in a school shooting.  Somewhere, we have to find common ground, or risk our society unraveling over this issue.

I don't have any answers.  I suspect few of us do.  Nevertheless, we need to continue to look for them together.


Analyzing last weekend's Israel-Syria-Iran clash

Popular Mechanics sums up the events last weekend.

The flight of a single drone this weekend will spark the biggest Israeli air battle with Syria in more than 20 years.

Israel takes an aggressively defensive posture following the drone incursion. Commanders decide shooting down the drone is not enough to punish the Iranians who operate it. They want to degrade their enemy's ability to fly drones from Syria into Israel.

Israel's attacking tools of choice are F-16 fighters ... The IDF target is a command-and-control vehicle containing the crew that operates the Simorgh drone.

. . .

Syrian air defense crews don't take the raid lying down. Israel's bombing of Hezbollah, even inside Syrian airspace, is one thing. Killing the troops of the Syrian regime’s Iranian allies is something else, and fighting back, even if it fails, is important to save face ... the sky swarms with anti-aircraft missiles, all seeking to kill a warplane before it crosses back into the safety of Israeli airspace ... Suddenly, one with a proximity fuse detonates nearby, peppering the F-16 with whirling metal. They’ve been hit.

The F-16 is damaged, and the pilots have to eject.

. . .

By 8 A.M. the Israelis are ready to respond to the shootdown. The government calls it “a large-scale attack” against the Syrian air defenses and says it’s the biggest operation against Syria since 1982’s war over Lebanon.

Israel targets SA-5 and SA-17 sites, apparently able to track the mobile batteries. The government claims 12 separate locations for airstrikes, and make sure to target Iranian installations as well as Syrian military sites. The raid is one of the largest taken against Syria in recent years ... The Israeli warplanes are again met with volleys of anti-aircraft missiles. None touch an Israeli airplane.

There's more at the link.

The first thing that struck me was how many missiles were fired at the F-16 that was shot down.  According to Israeli sources, at least 20 missiles were used, of which only one got close enough to detonate via proximity fuse and damage the fighter, causing the two crew members to eject.  That's pretty poor performance from the missiles and those controlling them.  Clearly, the jet's maneuvers and countermeasures were sufficient to defeat most of the incoming threats.  I presume the sheer number of incoming weapons finally overwhelmed the aircraft's defenses.

That did not apply when the Israeli Air Force responded by going after the missile batteries.  There were no further Israeli planes shot down, despite what must have been dozens of attacking aircraft and literally hundreds of missiles launched against them.  That's pretty telling.  Once the IAF began using all its electronic defenses, they were effectively immune from Syrian weapons - which is very bad news for Syria and its Iranian allies.  Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, which is aiding and abetting Syria and Iran, will also take cold comfort from that fact, as it will be very vulnerable to those same aircraft if another shooting war breaks out on its home turf.

(I presume Russia did not use its S-400 missile system, deployed in and around its bases in Syria;  and I presume the IAF were very careful not to target anything too near those Russian bases, to avoid any such development.)

Another element is the compressed timescale in which the engagement took place.  The drone was shot down in the early hours of the morning.  Within a couple of hours, eight F-16 strike aircraft hit the trailer containing the launch controls and crew that had operated it.  One of those aircraft was shot down.  Within a couple of hours of the shoot-down, a massive retaliatory strike involving dozens of aircraft was hitting targets all over Syria, in the face of massive air defenses that clearly didn't faze the attacking pilots at all.  That's a very rapid escalation of response, and indicates the Israeli Air Force can go from zero to all-out operations in a very short time indeed.  Kudos to them.  I doubt whether any other air force in the world could have responded that quickly, or that effectively.

Another consequence of the weekend's engagement is likely to be that Israel will buy more aircraft capable of carrying large numbers of heavy strike weapons, with a sufficiently long range to carry them to where they're needed and sufficient defenses to keep them safe on the inward and outward journey.  Flight Global reports:

Israel's air force command wants to keep a "critical mass" of fighters that can carry a variety of heavy weapon systems, including those produced by local companies. The immediate effort is to acquire additional surplus F-15s from the USA, on top of the nine ex-Air National Guard examples delivered last September. Once intended for use only as a source of spare parts, these are now being upgraded to the same standard as the Israeli service's F-15C/D "Baz" strike aircraft. This process includes air force technicians performing fuselage, wing and tail surface treatments and installing Israeli-made systems.

The 10 February clash also will serve to expedite plans to establish a missile unit within Israel's ground forces to strike at threats from within home territory ... [Syria's] military appears to be prepared to mirror Iranian doctrine by launching large salvoes of weapons against airborne threats: a practice which could encourage Israel to employ surface-to-surface missiles where possible – protecting its air force assets from attacking such targets up to a distance of 400km (216nm). Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier this year expressed his full support for the development of such a capability.

Again, more at the link.

Israel is no stranger to missile systems of many types.  It's built intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (the Jericho series) and artillery rockets (the LAR-160 system, the Accular family, the Romach precision-guided rocket, and the EXTRA long-range rocket), and the Predator Hawk and LORA tactical ballistic missiles.  In 2016 the IDF expressed interest in buying a large quantity of precision-guided ground-to-ground rockets or missiles with a range of between 150 and 300 kilometers (93 to 186 miles).  Therefore, Minister Lieberman's latest comment is merely the latest in a long series of developments, and is entirely logical.  It supplements the Israeli Air Force's strike aircraft, rather than replace them.  In theory, the missiles could be used as a "first strike" weapon, meaning that pilots won't have to put themselves and their aircraft at risk.  The missiles are also faster and much more difficult to intercept than cruise missiles or armed UAV's.

This is a particularly difficult development for Syria, Iran and Hezbollah to counter.  In order to defeat such ground-to-ground rockets and missiles, defenses such as Israel's Iron Dome and related systems will be necessary - but none of those parties have any such systems, and because Israel is their only source at present, no-one else will be able to provide them in the short term.  In addition, the launch of counter-missiles against incoming weapons will reveal the location of defensive batteries and radars - and Israel is not likely to allow such installations to survive being revealed for very long.  I wouldn't like to be a crew member of such batteries.  I suspect their life expectancies will be rather short, in the the event of conflict.

Note, too, that the latest air strikes apparently did not involve Israel's new F-35 strike aircraft.  They appear to have sat this one out.  (It's rumored that the US has requested the F-35's should not be used within range of Russian forces in Syria, so the latter can't gain intelligence about its operational capabilities.)  If they weren't used, that's even worse news for Syria and Iran, as Israel's attacks succeeded without the use of stealth technology.  Add the latter to the mix, and future Israeli strikes will be even more difficult to intercept.

Israel believes that its most recent air attacks, apparently the most extensive since the 1982 Bekaa Valley air war, have destroyed about half of Syria's total air defense system.  That's a loss Syria can't afford, and one that will cost a great deal to replace and refurbish.  I hope Syria and Iran got the message . . . otherwise I predict Syria will lose the other half in short order, and probably more besides.