Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ferguson and the 'race' problem

I've watched carefully how the riots in and over Ferguson, MO have been reported and discussed over the past week.  Some news outlets (notably CNN) have been almost transparently desperate in their attempts to whitewash the rioters (you should pardon the expression), trying to make people believe that the problem's minor and not very widespread.  The New York Post has an excellent exposé of the network's attempts.  It makes interesting and educational reading.  CNN's also attempted to ensure that any discussion of the racial element in the Ferguson situation is classified as 'racism' one way or another - see, for example, this article, which is about as biased towards the liberal/progressive viewpoint as any I've seen anywhere.

On the other hand, far too many on the conservative/libertarian side of the aisle have attempted to portray all those resentful of the Ferguson grand jury verdict as thugs, low-lifes and 'ghetto trash'.  A lot of them are;  but I don't think they're a majority of those concerned by what this incident has revealed.  To 'tar all of them with the same brush' (and yes, I know that expression has its origins in slavery and racial discrimination - but so does the present discussion) is as unjust, in its own way, as to try to portray the rioters and looters as poor misunderstood racially-suffering little baa lambs.

I think a key issue hasn't yet been addressed by anybody, and that is:  This isn't really a race issue at all - it's a class issue.  America prides itself on being a relatively 'classless' society;  in fact, one of the factors discussed during the Revolutionary era was the value of doing away with nobility and the upper classes in favor of an egalitarian political solution.  Nevertheless, we do have a series of classes in the USA today, based more on economics than on birth.  Very often, what's couched in terms of 'racism' or racial politics is, in fact, a matter of class.

Let me give you a few examples.  Over the past week, on an e-mail list to which I belong, two articles from American Renaissance have been discussed.  Both are from lawyers, the first dating back to 2003, the second from earlier this year.  (Yes, I'm aware that American Renaissance has its own agenda and viewpointSo does almost everyone else in this debate.  For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center appears to be just as bad, but on the other side of the political spectrum.  One has to use any source with due care and diligence.)

In the first AmRen article, 'Urban Law 101 - What I Didn’t Learn in Law School:  Adventures with black clients', the author paints a truly dismal picture of the education, personal ethics and morals, and other shortcomings of his black clientele.  Here's just one example.

I pride myself on doing good work for my clients, but I cannot remember even once being thanked or complimented by a black client. They do not observe even the most common courtesies. Also, with rare exceptions, blacks will never admit they made a mistake. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, it is always someone else’s fault. The most common excuse blacks give is, “They are putting me through the changes.” I have yet to figure out exactly what that means.

Most people tell lies because they think a lie will help them. I have come to the conclusion that most of my clients cannot distinguish between a plausible lie and a wild fairy tale. They are convinced people will believe anything they say. Clients often tell me some fantastic story I cannot possibly defend in court. If I tell them what they are saying is unbelievable the usual reaction is anger and screaming. Typically, they will add, “I’m paying you. You have to believe what I say.”

There's more at the link.

In the second article, 'Confessions of a Public Defender', the author makes similar points.

As a young lawyer, I believed the official story that blacks are law abiding, intelligent, family-oriented people, but are so poor they must turn to crime to survive. Actual black behavior was a shock to me.

. . .

Although blacks are only a small percentage of our community, the courthouse is filled with them: the halls and gallery benches are overflowing with black defendants, families, and crime victims. Most whites with business in court arrive quietly, dress appropriately, and keep their heads down. They get in and get out–if they can–as fast as they can. For blacks, the courthouse is like a carnival. They all seem to know each other: hundreds and hundreds each day, gossiping, laughing loudly, waving, and crowding the halls.

. . .

Prosecutors are delighted when a black defendant takes the stand. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. However, the defense usually gets to cross-examine the black victim, who is likely to make just as bad an impression on the stand as the defendant. This is an invaluable gift to the defense, because jurors may not convict a defendant—even if they think he is guilty—if they dislike the victim even more than they dislike the defendant.

Again, more at the link.

The problem with both of these articles is that yes, they are largely true:  but they're not the whole truth.  I've worked for years as a prison chaplain, both part-time and full-time, and have ministered as a pastor in a number of American inner-city areas.  I'm here to tell you, there's a white 'underclass' that does precisely and exactly the same things.  Yes, as a proportion of their racial group, more blacks than whites commit crimes or are guilty of 'underclass'-like behavior;  but that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of whites doing precisely the same things.  To refer to it as a 'black problem' is, in fact, a racist outlook, whether or not we want to admit that to ourselves.  (The owner of the American Renaissance Web site, Jared Taylor, argues this position in his book 'Face To Face With Race', which I've read and recommend as a useful - albeit one-sided - perspective on the issue.  Unfortunately, I think he falls into this trap as well, and his views are tainted by his overtly partisan perspective . . . just as badly as many liberal and/or progressive views on race are tainted by opposing perspectives.)

(It's precisely the same as religious bigotry and intolerance.  I've highlighted in a series of articles how the vitriol, hatred and distrust directed at Islam by many people is not, in fact, justified, because the actions of extremists cannot be used to condemn an entire religion and all its adherents.  If they could, we'd have to condemn all Christians because of the Northern Irish 'troubles', or the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, or any of a number of modern wars of religion.  One-sided, partisan intolerance is as unacceptable in the field of religion as it is in racial issues.  It's never about the group - it always comes down to the individual.)

Another thing.  We talk about 'white trash', but if you were to refer to 'black trash' you'll be convicted of racism in a heartbeat.  Why?  Aren't the 'trash' the same?  Why is one expression 'racist' but the other not?

The real problem is that those who riot in Ferguson, or those who behave as the AmRen articles discuss, are part of an underclass that's been more or less deliberately created.  We've discussed its genesis here on several occasions.  Its roots go back to the Moynihan Report of 1965 and President Johnson's 'War On Poverty' launched in 1964.  In particular, the Moynihan Report has proved prescient in its forecast of difficulties to come if the problems then evident in the black community were not addressed.  In a hard-hitting review 40 years after the Report's publication (that I highly recommend you read in full - it's an eye-opener), Kay Hymowitz demonstrated how it had been systematically discredited and sidelined by progressive and liberal pressure groups - but the problems it identified and predicted had all occurred as forecast.  It had been proven prophetically correct, even if politically incorrect.

The creation of a black underclass has been mirrored by the creation of a white underclass.  If you look at the situation in rural Kentucky, for example, there are awful parallels between its hopelessness and poverty and the same problems in inner-city black ghetto environments.  The surroundings may be different, but the fecklessness and the misery are all too similar.  That's only one example.  There are many others I could cite, but won't because of lack of space.  Suffice it to say that members of the 'white underclass' behave in much the same way as the members of the 'black underclass' cited in the AmRen articles - so much so that I find them indistinguishable from each other, except for the color of their skin.  (Yes, I've run into all too many people from both 'underclasses' in my time.)

I submit that the black community has got to take off its blinkers, and see reality for what it is.  They've got to stop blaming every problem on 'racism' in one form or another.  I've had black people call me 'racist' because I used an expression like "That's stupid!"  No, it's not racist to call someone or some action stupid.  Stupidity has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with behavior and/or thought patterns.  Get over it!

Black people also need to start listening to the wise men within their own ranks.  Far too many of them are dismissed as 'Uncle Toms' or denigrated as 'white under the skin' because they won't toe the politically correct line.  (Speaking of that, I wonder whether the current frantic efforts to discredit Dr. Bill Cosby on the grounds of alleged 'rapes' have anything to do with his realistic approach to black community issues?  He's not been convicted of any crime in a court of law, but an awful lot of 'politically correct' commentators, journalists and media are carrying on as if he's indisputably guilty.  What happened to 'assumption of innocence'?  And who's behind this sudden flurry of accusations?  Was he about to speak out about the situation in Ferguson?  I think there's more going on here than meets the eye.)

Let's look at three perspectives from within the black community.  Note that all of them primarily address behavior and personal responsibility, things that the white underclass need to deal with just as much as their black counterparts.  First, here's an excerpt from Bill Cosby's famous 'pound cake' speech in 2004.

Next, Fredrick Wilson II provides a contemporary youthful perspective.

Wise words, IMHO!  Finally, Benjamin Watson's Facebook post on the events in Ferguson has 'gone viral' - with justification.  Here are some excerpts.

I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

. . .

I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

. . .

I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.

. . .

I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

There's more at the link.  I encourage you to click over there and read the whole thing - and, of course, as a retired pastor, I emphatically endorse Mr. Watson's last paragraph above.  (Note how CNN silenced him when he tried to share that perspective on the air . . . )

I think that the three citations above point to a common thread, unstated but very real.  To label the Ferguson issue as primarily a 'race' problem is wrong.  It's a class problem.  It's a foundational problem in society, but race is incidental.  To solve it, we're going to have to change the way our current 'ghetto societies' - of whatever race, and no matter whether they're urban or rural - are structured.  Only by providing better and stronger foundations and structures within which people can grow into maturity can we address the real problems in our society.  Those foundations and structures have to be there for everyone, no matter what color their skin may be.


I'd like to ride this train.

Here's an experimental Japanese mag-lev train.  Its indicated maximum speed of 504 kilometers per hour translates to 315 mph - and all without vibration or even much noise, thanks to the 'contactless' mag-lev system.

I'd love to go for a ride on that one.  Looks more like an airliner inside than a train!


Saturday, November 29, 2014

No wonder this food is tough . . .

I couldn't help laughing at this report from Denmark, even though it's rather nauseating.

National authorities have shut down a company that produced food for nursing homes and hospitals in a cement mixer.

The Danish Food and Veterinary Administration (Fødevarestyrelsen) discovered that the food company Nordic Ingredients violated hygiene rules by producing gelled foods in a cement mixer. The food was delivered to public nursing homes and to hospital patients who have difficulty swallowing whole food.

A Food and Veterinary Administration official said that in addition to producing food in a cement mixer, the hygiene levels at the company’s production facility were abysmal.

“It wasn’t just a bit of mess from the most recent production, and we determined that the cleaning standards were completely inadequate,” Henriette Mynster told DR.

Mynster said that the cement mixer didn’t appear to have been cleaned in between uses.

There's more at the link.

You can imagine some of the slogans that could be used to advertise those meals:

  • "The food with true grit!"
  • "Swallow this!"
  • "We got the idea from Obamacare."
  • "Hey, you asked for concrete proposals for better food."


That's not a yawn!

I was both amused and irritated to see this photograph in a gallery of animal images at the Telegraph.  (Click it for a larger view.)

The caption read:  " A hippo yawns in Chobe National Park in Mozambique".  Unfortunately, it's not correct.  For a start, Chobe's in Botswana, not Mozambique - but then, what's a thousand-mile error between friends?  Secondly, and more seriously, that's not a yawn.  That's a threat display.  The hippo is showing its fighting tusks, ivory 'teeth' that can tear great chunks out of a rival hippo, or dismember a crocodile . . . or rip you apart if you provoke it.  That's what its actions are saying to the photographer.  "You worry me.  If you come any closer, I'm going to do something about you - and you won't enjoy it!"  Look at the animal's only visible eye.  It's not closed or screwed up, as is natural in a yawn.  It's looking right at the photographer to see if he/she got the message.

During my many years in Africa it never ceased to amaze me how absolutely, blindly stupid tourists could be about animals.  They would never believe our warnings, thinking that we were joking with them or trying to scare them.  When (as inevitably happened) some of them got into difficulties, their reaction was to blame us for not warning them sufficiently!  Let me give you a couple of examples.

A group of kayakers from Europe decided to travel down the Zambezi River.  I was present when they were warned about precisely the kind of threat display illustrated above, and told explicitly, "Don't paddle too close to hippos - they won't like it, and they'll attack."  One of them actually had the gall to laugh at us and mention the dancing hippos in Walt Disney's 'Fantasia'!

Unfortunately, Disney's dancers had (and still have) nothing whatsoever to do with reality.  At least one of the kayakers didn't listen, as was demonstrated a few days later when he paddled too close to a hippo.  His body was never found;  the crocodiles probably got whatever the hippo left.  The remains of his crushed, well-chewed canoe were recovered a few miles downstream.  (Yes, his traveling companions vociferously blamed local authorities for not signposting the river at least every mile concerning the dangers of hippos, crocodiles and ingrown toenails . . . after all, they couldn't be expected to believe verbal warnings from ordinary people like us.  We weren't 'official'.  We weren't certified experts!)

In another incident, a female tourist from the USA visiting a game reserve spotted a small lion cub on the other side of a fence.  (Its mother was recovering from injuries, which is why the two of them were in the protected enclosure.)  Before the astonished guide could stop her, she put her arm through the fence to try and pet it.  Its mother, hitherto unnoticed in the bushes just beyond the cub, must have assumed she was trying to harm her cub, because she promptly ripped the flesh from the woman's arm.  Only bones and a few tendons were left;  what remained had to be surgically amputated.  The woman actually had the gall to try to sue the game reserve for not posting warning signs and armed guards to prevent her from doing something like that - this despite having been clearly and repeatedly warned during the introductory lecture, prior to the walking tour, not to approach, pet or talk to any animals whatsoever!

So . . . a hippo, yawning.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Firearms and forensic investigation

A correspondent asked me today what clues police can find in a firearm or bullets that may have been used in a crime.  (She's also a writer, and needs the information for her current work in progress.)  I promised I'd write about the subject here on the blog, for her benefit and for other authors who might be interested.

First, there's the traces left by anyone handling the firearm.  If it was recently cleaned, it may have cleaning fluid and/or lubricant residue left in nooks and crannies.  If these match such products in the home or workshop of the suspect, it's an indication (although not convincing evidence in and of itself) that the firearm might have been cleaned there.  If the traces can be tied to a specific batch of product, and that batch is present in the suspect's home or workshop, that's an even stronger link.

There are likely to be fingerprints on various internal parts of the firearm.  Even if the outside's been wiped down, people still load cartridges into the magazine or a revolver's cylinders.  Fingerprints can be recovered from cartridge cases (even fired ones) without much difficulty.  The magazine of a semi- or fully-automatic weapon may have fingerprints on it, or there may be some left inside or underneath parts that have been cleaned.  Furthermore, stray hairs, flakes of skin (don't forget the average human being sheds 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells every hour), secretions from the skin's sebaceous glands, or human sweat found on the firearm might be DNA-matched to the person who left them - a dead give-away.

Ammunition offers many clues.  For a start, manufacturers produce ammunition in batches (usually marked somewhere on the box).  The type or exact blend of propellant(s) used, source of the cartridge cases, and other elements may differ from batch to batch.  If the cartridge(s) used in a crime can be traced to a particular batch of ammunition, and if ammo from that same batch is found in the suspect's possession, it's another link in the evidence chain - not fully convincing in and of itself, but taken in conjunction with other elements, it will point in his/her direction.

The cartridge case will show marks left by several parts of the firearm.  It may have scratches on its sides caused by the lips of a magazine, or the cylinders of a revolver.  The primer will show a mark left by the firing pin, which may be sharp enough to be linked microscopically to the head of the firing pin itself.  The base of the cartridge case will be forced back against the breech face by the ignition of the propellant, leaving marks on the case that can be microscopically compared to imperfections in the breech face.  A semi- or fully-automatic firearm will use an extractor to grip the edge of the cartridge case to withdraw it from the chamber after firing, and an ejector (usually a pin or protrusion) against which it's pivoted to force it out of the ejection port.  Extractor and ejector will also leave distinctive marks on the cartridge case.  Given enough of those clues, they work like fingerprints to prove that cartridge was fired from that gun.

As for the bullet itself, it may be possible to match it to the lands and grooves of the rifling in the barrel of a firearm, particularly if the bullet's still whole and intact.  However, if it's an expanding bullet, particularly one fired at high velocity that's produced explosive fragmentation on impact, that's a lot more difficult.  Also, many firearm barrels are very similar to each other, so unless there's a distinctive scratch, burr or other mark inside the rifling, there may not be uniquely identifiable markings on the bullet.  It's not as easy as television makes it appear.  It may be possible to say (for example) that a bullet was fired from a Glock pistol, due to the distinctive polygonal rifling used by those handguns, but that might not be enough in and of itself to tie it to a specific Glock pistol.  Nevertheless, if other clues also tie a particular gun to a particular suspect, rifling marks on the bullet can add additional evidence to the overall picture.  There's also the feed ramp of a semi- or fully-automatic weapon;  the bullet is pushed onto this ramp as it's drawn from the magazine, then slides up it into the chamber before being fired.  Any scratches, burrs or other imperfections in the feed ramp may leave tell-tale traces on the bullet.

Obviously, a criminal can take several steps to ensure that a firearm can't be linked to him.  The best is to completely destroy the gun, but this requires a smelter to melt down the metal parts into unrecognizable slag - something that's not widely available.  Dumping a weapon into a nearby sewer or a river or a dam, or burying it, are frequently used, but if it's later recovered (which it is, surprisingly often) it might still be linked to the person who used it.  Ideally, it should be made impossible to forensically link the firearm with whoever fired it, the bullets found in the person shot with it, and any cartridge cases left at the scene.  To do that, several things are required.

  • Avoid touching the internal parts of the firearm with bare hands, particularly while cleaning it.  Disposable gloves are useful for this purpose - but be sure to choose ones that won't dissolve when they encounter cleaning fluids!  Use generic cleaners such as mil-spec CLP that are widely available in commercial form (e.g. Break-Free, to name the best-known brand) and not distinctive.  Wipe down every single surface after cleaning, inside and outside the weapon, to ensure that no fingerprints and as little DNA as possible is left on them;  ideally, wear protective clothing to prevent them getting on the firearm at all.  It's probably best to do the cleaning and preparation in an area you don't normally frequent, so that your DNA, hair, skin cells, etc. aren't on the work surfaces.  When you've reassembled the firearm, seal it into a plastic bag (also new and uncontaminated inside by your DNA) until it's needed.
  • Wipe down every round of ammo before loading it, as well as any magazines that might be discarded at the scene, to remove fingerprints and DNA evidence.  Use 'generic' ammo that's widely available (preferably something sold over the counter at big supermarkets or gun stores), and pay cash for it so the purchase can't be traced back to you.  If you reload your own ammo or buy scarce, hard-to-find rounds, and the police can prove the rounds used in the crime are identical to ammo in your stash or that you've bought, that'll be like a giant neon sign pointing at you.  After using the firearm, discard any and all ammo from that batch or box (first wiping it down if necessary), so you have no matching rounds that might provide a link between you and those used in the crime.  Preferably, don't even have the same brand of ammo anywhere near you, and make sure there's no evidence that you ever bought any.  (Mail order, Internet ammo purchases and credit or debit cards are NOT your friend in that regard!  They leave paper trails.)
  • If possible, shoot the weapon from inside its plastic bag without touching it.  If that can't be done, wear gloves if you can to avoid leaving fingerprints or DNA evidence on the weapon, and avoid gunshot residue (GSR) getting on your skin.  Burn or otherwise completely destroy the gloves and/or plastic bag after use - don't throw them away intact.
  • After you've used the weapon, wipe down your hands as soon as possible to remove any GSR on them.  Kerosene or gasoline work best for this purpose, as they dissolve the compounds concerned;  but wash your hands with soap after that to avoid complications.  GSR will probably be on your clothes, too, so destroy them, preferably by burning them after soaking them in kerosene or gasoline to dissolve the GSR.  If you wore the clothes in a vehicle, GSR may have been transferred from them to the seats or safety belts.  It may not be feasible to destroy the vehicle, but try to ensure it's been used for trips to the shooting range or something like that - that will leave lots of GSR all over everything, from different weapons and batches of ammunition.  It'll make it very difficult to isolate the GSR from the crime scene.  Alternatively, use a vehicle that can't be traced back to you . . . but be aware that in an age where security cameras are all over many major cities and in most cop cars, the odds are pretty good that there'll be at least some pictures of you driving it.
  • If you can't afford to get rid of the weapon, you'll have to make it as difficult as possible to match it to rounds fired at the scene.  To do this, you'll have to alter the physical characteristics of  parts that might be used for matching purposes.  Take a file to the tip of the firing pin, the claws of the extractor, and the head of the ejector, altering and/or removing any distinctive marks they may leave on rounds fired from the gun.  If possible, replace those components with new ones and throw the old ones away (after, of course, rendering them unusable for matching purposes - take a welding torch to them, or flatten them with a sledgehammer).  Such parts are usually freely available for popular weapons - but remember, if you buy them online or by mail order, there'll be a paper trail.  An investigator might wonder why you needed them, and what happened to the old parts;  so have someone else order them, who can't be linked to you.  File, sand or grind the breech face to remove (or at least alter) any marks it may have left on the cartridge case(s).  Remove the barrel from an auto pistol, and discard it after flattening it so that no rounds can be fired through it for comparison purposes.  (Replacement barrels are freely available for many popular makes of pistol).  If it can't be removed (e.g. from a revolver), file or sand the chamber(s) and forcing cone, and consider doing the same for the entire length of the barrel with coarse sanding or grinding material wrapped around a cleaning rod.  That's not an ideal solution, and may result in permanent damage to the firearm, but it's better than nothing.  Discard the magazine(s) used at the scene, preferably disassembling them, then hammering or stomping them flat after using a file on the edges of their feed lips to make it impossible to match rounds fed from them.

Obviously, most criminals don't bother to go to such lengths to make a firearm untraceable to them.  However, for fictional purposes, it's up to the writer's imagination!  Readers who are knowledgeable in the field might like to contribute additional suggestions in Comments.


Are airless tires about to go mainstream?

Back in 2009 I wrote about 'The search for the ultimate military tire', in which I reported on an airless tire being developed by a Wisconsin firm.  Now Michelin's built an entire plant to produce their incarnation of this idea.  The Telegraph reports:

Michelin has opened a new facility in South Carolina, USA, to produce its Tweel airless tyre.

Conceived by Michelin research engineers in the US, the Tweel is a non-pneumatic radial tyre that brings together the tyre and wheel assembly in one solid unit.

(Image courtesy of Michelin)

It comprises a rigid hub connected to a shear beam by flexible, deformable polyurethane spokes, all functioning as a single unit.

(Image courtesy of Michelin)

The Tweel is designed for commercial use, such as landscaping, construction and agriculture.

There's more at the link.  Here's Michelin's publicity video about the new plant.

There are more videos about the Tweel on YouTube.

I'm very glad to see this technology go in production on a large scale at last.  Its initial market will be construction, agricultural and mining machinery, but I hope it moves into mainstream motoring soon.  It'll be great to no longer have to worry about punctures or damaged sidewalls.


Remember to put down the glass

I hope all of you had a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.  Miss D. and I certainly did.

Today is 'Black Friday', and many people will be frantically shopping as if there's no tomorrow.  I hope most of my readers won't be among them.  This is supposed to be a season for thanksgiving, for relaxation with family and friends.  I loathe the way it's become commercialized to the point of being almost unrecognizable - rather like Christmas, unfortunately.  (I dread the thought that the same thing may happen to Easter one day.)

I'm grateful to fellow blogger agg79 for sharing this thought for Thanksgiving.

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they'd be asked the "Half empty or half full?" question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired:  "How heavy is this glass of water?"

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter.  It depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute, it's not a problem.  If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm.  If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn't change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

She continued, "The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt.  And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed - incapable of doing anything."

Remember to put down the glass.

That's very good advice.  I'm going to do my best to put down my 'glass' this weekend, and relax.  I hope you'll do the same.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

How to cure a fear of water

The Telegraph reports:

Anna Paterek took her horse, Magic, to a river with the hope of curing his fear of water.

At first she tried to ride him into the river, but Magic was very cautious.

So Anna got off and walked him into the river herself to show it was safe.

What happened next Anna described as "the best thing ever".

There's more at the link.  Here's how it went.

Looks like a splashing good time was had by all!


Thanksgiving 2014

I'm thankful for so many things.

  • The merciful God in whom I believe.
  • My wife, Miss D., without whom my world would be a much darker, lonelier, colder place.
  • My friends, who help keep me sane.
  • All of you, my readers, who come back here so often and encourage me to keep on writing, both here on the blog and in my books.
  • Despite the vicissitudes of our political system, we still have a United States for which to be thankful.  Let's do all we can to make it an even better one during the coming year!

I'll leave the last word this year to the Wizard of Id, one of my daily cartoon reads.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why eyewitness testimony alone is unreliable

It's long been known that so-called 'eyewitness' testimony, unsupported by other evidence, can be dangerously inaccurate.  It can lead to convictions that put people behind bars - or even on Death Row - only to see them exonerated years later through DNA testing or fresh evidence.

The shooting of Michael Brown provides a quintessential case study of the problem.

Some witnesses said Michael Brown had been shot in the back. Another said he was lying face-down when Officer Darren Wilson finished him off. Still others acknowledged changing their stories to fit published details about the autopsy, or admitted that they didn't see the shooting at all.

An Associated Press review of thousands of pages of grand jury documents reveals numerous examples of statements made during the shooting investigation that were inconsistent, fabricated or provably wrong. Prosecutors exposed these inconsistencies before the jurors, which likely influenced their decision not to indict Wilson in Brown's death.

Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, said the grand jury had to weigh testimony that conflicted with physical evidence and conflicting statements by witnesses as it decided whether Wilson should face charges.

"Many witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown made statements inconsistent with other statements they made and also conflicting with the physical evidence. Some were completely refuted by the physical evidence," McCulloch said.

. . .

Another man, describing himself as a friend of Brown's, told a federal investigator that he heard the first gunshot, looked out his window and saw an officer with a gun drawn and Brown "on his knees with his hands in the air." He added: "I seen him shoot him in the head."

But when later pressed by the investigator, the friend said he hadn't seen the actual shooting because he was walking down the stairs at the time, and instead had heard details from someone in the apartment complex.

"What you are saying you saw isn't forensically possible based on the evidence," the investigator told the friend.

There's more at the link, including many more examples of falsified testimony in this case.

This leads me to ask two questions.

  1. Will those who deliberately falsified their testimony, and were caught out, be charged with perjury?
  2. If not, why not?


Entitlement reform: it seems I'm not alone

Back in September I wrote an article titled "Entitlement reform: an attitude problem?"  I went into detail about the wrong attitudes prevalent in the area, and made this suggestion.

Do you want meaningful entitlement?  Here's one way to do it.  I'd dismantle the entire welfare and entitlement system, including unemployment benefits and Social Security, but excluding medical insurance (although that needs reform too).  In its place I'd offer every citizen of the USA (not non-citizens, please note!) a flat sum of money every year.  It would be enough to live at a basic level, without much in the way of luxuries - say, $1,500 to $2,000 per month, or $18,000 to $24,000 per year.  Let's make it tax-free, too.  The total cost would be a lot less than what we, as a nation, currently spend every year on welfare and entitlement programs.  Even better, because everyone would get this, we wouldn't need the plethora of government departments, bureaucrats and administrators that currently manage the existing dysfunctional system.  We could shrink government substantially and save even more money!

By doing that, we'd all start with a level playing field, rich and poor alike.  Those who are prepared to work hard will earn more than that, with which they can live at a higher standard.  Those who aren't prepared to work will at least be able to support themselves at a basic level.  The 'entitlement culture' will be overturned, because success will once again depend on your own efforts.  What's not to like?

There's more at the link.

My suggestion aroused quite a bit of criticism, not least because some respondents calculated that the cost of such largesse would be too high.  Nevertheless, I continue to believe that it might be a better way forward than our current morass of entitlement programs and culture.

It seems some people in Switzerland are feeling the same way.

Switzerland could soon be the world’s first national case study in basic income. Instead of providing a traditional social net—unemployment payments, food stamps, or housing credits—the government would pay every citizen a fixed stipend.

. . .

The proposed plan would guarantee a monthly income of CHF 2,500, or about $2,600 as of November 2014. That means that every family (consisting of two adults) can expect an unconditional yearly income of $62,400 without having to work, with no strings attached. While Switzerland’s cost of living is significantly higher than the US—a Big Mac there costs $6.72—it’s certainly not chump change. It’s reasonable income that could provide, at the minimum, a comfortable bare bones existence.

The benefits are obvious. Such policy would, in one fell swoop, wipe out poverty. By replacing existing government programs, it would reduce government bureaucracy. Lower skilled workers would also have more bargaining power against employers, eliminating the need for a minimum wage. Creative types would then have a platform to focus on the arts, without worrying about the bare necessities. And those fallen on hard times have a constant safety net to find their feet again.

Detractors of the divisive plan also have a point. The effects on potential productivity are nebulous at best. Will people still choose to work if they don’t have to? What if they spend their government checks on sneakers and drugs instead of food and education? Scrappy abusers of the system could take their spoils to spend in foreign countries where their money has more purchasing power, thus providing little to no benefit to Switzerland’s own economy. There’s also worries about the program’s cost and long term sustainability. It helps that Switzerland happens to be one of the richest countries in the world by per capita income.

The problem, as with many issues economic, is that there is no historical precedent for such a plan, especially at this scale, although there have been isolated incidents. In the 1970s, the Canadian town of Dauphin provided 1,000 families in need with a guaranteed income for a short period of time. Not only did the social experiment end poverty, high school completion went up and hospitalizations went down.

. . .

In 1968, American economist Milton Friedman discussed the idea of a negative income tax, where those earning below a certain predetermined threshold would receive supplementary income instead of paying taxes. Friedman suggested his plan could eliminate the 72 percent of the welfare budget spent on administration. But nothing ever came to fruition.

Again, more at the link.

I still maintain that a system of this kind would be far fairer than current entitlement programs, and would put everyone on a common economic foundation.  Those prepared to work hard would make a lot more money, and deserve it.  Those who aren't, wouldn't, and would deserve that too.  Best of all, we'd eliminate almost all of the huge administrative overheads - costs, personnel, bureaucratic inertia, etc. - that plague our present system.

I'd like to see it tried.  I think the results might surprise naysayers.


Feel-good story of the day

It seems a Swedish team competing in an endurance race in Ecuador arrived with four members, and went home with five.

And here's the little rascal at (I think) the airport, preparing to leave Ecuador.

All together, now:  Awwww!


AR-15 follow-up #2

Earlier this month I appealed for help to readers who were more familiar than I with the AR-15 rifle, and followed it up a week later with a report-back.  This post provides more feedback in terms of what I've learned.  In particular, I want to give a shout-out to three companies whose products and/or support have been absolutely outstanding.  They've made my life much easier.  (In case you were wondering, I've not been asked or paid to mention them.  The same goes for products I name:  some were donated by other shooters, and I paid for the rest out of my own pocket.)

My biggest problem in helping those who brought their 'problem child' rifles and carbines to me is that I know firearms in general, but I'm not an AR-15 guru (or, at least, I wasn't one at that time).  I started to educate myself about the platform, whilst at the same time appealing to my readers for information.  Thanks to all of you who contributed to finding solutions.

I'm a former military man, whose life once depended on understanding the weapon(s) issued to him and keeping them functioning under all sorts of interesting (!) circumstances.  I rapidly became frustrated because I wanted to learn the AR-15 in the same depth, but initially found few online resources that experience showed to be authoritative.  Two that became my 'go-to' guides were's series of articles, guides and manuals about the AR-15 (and other rifles), and also its weapon-specific forums covering anything and everything its members want to discuss about the AR-15.  Click over there and look through the list of what's available.  I'm sure you'll find useful information.

I looked through the many, many videos available on YouTube and elsewhere concerning building, modifying and repairing the AR-15.  An awful lot of them can only be described as 'crappy'.  I wasn't impressed.  A number of people suggested I order the American Gunsmithing Institute's DVD titled "AR-15 Rifle Technical Manual and Armorer's Course".  That was good advice.  The video's an overview and component-level breakdown of the weapon, very comforting to someone like me who wants to know how the floggletoggle goes into the thingumajig, or which doohickey to use to thread the taddle through the whatchamacallit without screebling the flibbertigibbet.  Highly recommended to all AR-15 novices who want to learn about their rifles in detail.  (I can see I'm going to have to buy more of the many AGI DVD's about other weapons.  If this one's any indication, they'll be very educational.)

In analyzing the problems my students were having with their AR-15's, I learned a lot about the different components used by various manufacturers and had the chance to compare them.  To say I'm unimpressed by some of the 'cheaper' rifles out there (or, at least, their choice of parts) is an understatement!  I now have a box of components that have been discarded and replaced by something better.  I learned a lot in the process, of course, which was useful reinforcement to the education provided by the AGI DVD mentioned above.  I've also learned (the hard way!) how important it is to have a spare parts kit on hand, as well as the right general gunsmithing tools and AR-15-specific armorer's tools.  They made life an awful lot easier.

Something that stood out was the difference between mil-spec ("military specification") and civilian hardware.  Almost uniformly (you should pardon the expression), the mil-spec stuff was tougher than the civilian (with a couple of notable and honorable exceptions, as you'll see in a moment).  In particular, where I found constrictions or other problems with upper receivers (mentioned in my first feedback report), it became clear that the aluminum used to make the parts concerned was thinner and/or less strong than it should have been.  Investigation led me to two articles concerning the difference between 6061 and 7075 aluminum alloys (click on those links to learn more about them).  Briefly, 7075 has almost twice the tensile strength of 6061, and is used by the makers of a lot of quality AR-15 parts for that reason.  It was also cited as a factor in a Military Times 'torture test' of AR-15 stocks to see which performed best under stress.  I therefore replaced the defective parts with others, made to mil-spec and using 7075 aluminum whenever possible.  I hope they'll hold up better.

Two companies' products stand out from the crowd, as does their customer support.  I value parts that perform as advertised and don't give trouble, and no-nonsense, no-bull advice that doesn't waffle but gets right to the point.  Both companies provide them.

  • Bravo Company has a very high reputation for the quality of their firearms and components, and my experience with them bears it out.  They've sold me top-notch gear, and my e-mails asking questions have been answered promptly and efficiently.  They come highly recommended by the top instructors in the business, many of whom have extensive military experience.  Works for me.  Bravo Company is now #1 on my list of AR-15 parts suppliers.  They're more expensive than some, but you get your money's worth from them.
  • Magpul has an equally stellar reputation for high-quality aftermarket accessories that replace (and sometimes significantly improve upon) original equipment on AR-15 rifles.  (I note that many manufacturers, including Colt, now offer Magpul accessories on upgraded, more expensive 'editions' of their rifles.)  I've tested a lot of aftermarket add-ons from a number of manufacturers in recent weeks, and only Magpul's have worked first time, every time.  All their parts fit and functioned precisely as advertised.  That's worth gold to me, and therefore Magpul is now my #1 supplier for AR-15 aftermarket accessories.

I've also got to give a shout-out to Oleg Volk, who very generously handed me a large crate full of AR-15 stocks, handguards and what have you, and invited me to help myself to whatever I wanted.  He's generous to a fault to his friends (among whom Miss D. and I are honored to count ourselves), and I couldn't have tackled some of the work without him.  Thanks, Oleg!

I'm still learning, and enjoying "mixing-and-matching" parts and accessories across various rifles and carbines as I learn what makes them tick (or not tick, as the case may be).  Slowly but surely I'm standardizing around stuff that works well across all platforms, and discarding bits and pieces that prove less reliable.  It'll take a couple of months yet, but by the end of that time I'll have built and/or rebuilt half a dozen AR-15's, and should know the platform well enough to do the next one in my sleep.

Thanks again to everyone who offered advice.  You've been a big help.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson around the Web

I put up my own reactions to the Ferguson grand jury verdict earlier today.  There have been a few other very worthwhile articles and blog posts that I'd like to share with you.

My buddy Lawdog has some trenchant thoughts on the matter.  A sample:

I think that the other old saying about actions having consequences should be followed closely in Ferguson, Missouri.

If you are a business owner, and a rampaging mob of Social Justice Warriors has looted and burned your place of business -- call your insurance company, take the cheque they're going to write, and use it to get the hell out of Ferguson, Missouri.

Take your vulnerable hide and your tax revenue somewhere that the local community doesn't think that it's perfectly okay for a bunch of thugs to burn you out because they've got a beef with the po-po.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

Another buddy, Larry Correia, responds to the ignorance displayed by many protesters and journalists by looking at the legalities of shooting people.  It's a long, complex article, but that's the nature of the subject, I'm afraid.  A sample:

Violent encounters are complex, and the only thing they have in common is that they all suck. Going into any investigation with preconceived notions is foolish. Making decisions as to right or wrong before you’ve seen any of the evidence is asinine. If you are a nationally elected official, like say for example the President of the United States, who repeatedly feels the need to chime in on local crime issues before you know any facts, you are partly to blame for the resulting unrest, and should probably go have a Beer Summit.

You can’t complain about the bias in our justice system against some groups, and how the state unfairly prosecutes some more than others, and then immediately demand doing away with the burden of proof, so the state can more freely prosecute. Blacks are prosecuted more and sentenced more harshly, so your solution is to remove more of the restraints on the state’s prosecutorial powers, and you think that’ll make things better? You want people to be prosecuted based on feelings rather than evidence, and you think that’ll help? The burden of proof exists as a protection for the people from the state. We have a system for a reason. Angry mob rule based on an emotional fact-free version of events isn’t the answer.

Again, more at the link, and well worth your time.

The (black) National Bar Association has decided to sound off against the grand jury's findings.

The National Bar Association is questioning how the Grand Jury, considering the evidence before them, could reach the conclusion that Darren Wilson should not be indicted and tried for the shooting death of Michael Brown. National Bar Association President Pamela J. Meanes expresses her sincere disappointment with the outcome of the Grand Jury’s decision but has made it abundantly clear that the National Bar Association stands firm and will be calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue federal charges against officer Darren Wilson. “We will not rest until Michael Brown and his family has justice” states Pamela Meanes, President of the National Bar Association.

More at the link (if you want to waste your time on such racially biased claptrap).  I find it supremely and bitterly ironic that an association of lawyers and jurists is objecting to the outcome of this case - an outcome produced by the same legal system within which they work.  I submit that their protests would carry more weight if they all resigned their official positions and refused to operate within that system any longer . . . but then they'd have to actually work for a living, wouldn't they?

I note with gratitude that not everyone 'rolled over and played dead' in the face of screaming protesters.  Faced with the almost complete absence of police protection, some citizens took matters into their own hands.

Along West Florissant just north of 270, in Greystone Plaza, about 20 men with handguns and AR-15 rifles stood around the perimeter of the parking lot, guarding the dozen or so stores.

They estimated that 100 cars had come by throughout the night, seemingly to check the place out, but turned away.

Mike Cross, the owner of St. Louis Ink at the plaza, said: “There's nothing in this strip mall open, so you're going to get scrutinized.”

Well done, those people!  If I lived nearer to Ferguson, I'd have been proud to stand alongside you.

Finally, I note with anger and frustration that the bias of journalists and the mainstream media is as obvious over Ferguson as it was before and during the recent mid-term elections.  The New York Times published the address of Officer Wilson and his wife, and Salon went so far as to publish a picture of the house.  As you can imagine, protesters picked up on that right away and disseminated the information via social media.  I suspect at least some journalists would like nothing better than to photograph, and report on, a screaming mob of protesters attacking Officer Wilson's house and torching it (preferably with him and his wife still inside it).

I have a suggestion.  If Officer Wilson's home is damaged or destroyed by protesters, let's find out the names, addresses and other personal details - in other words, the same information they've reported about Officer Wilson - of every single journalist, editor and manager who collected, authorized the publication of, and helped to disseminate it.  Let's publicize the information we've collected on our blogs, through our organizations, and in any other way that we can.  After all, in the words of the proverb, "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander".  Let those media scum experience for themselves the same fear that they so blithely foist upon others.  I doubt they'll enjoy it, but who cares?  They certainly don't seem to care about those they endanger by their actions!


EDITED TO ADD:  Looks like someone else had the same idea.  Thank you!

Just what the world's been waiting for . . .

I'm afraid this might ruin the old limerick.  The Telegraph reports:

A Frenchman has developed a range of pills aimed at making people’s flatulence smell sweeter - of chocolate or of roses - which he says will make the perfect Christmas present.

The 65-year-old artist and inventor says his pills are aimed at easing indigestion and are made of 100 percent natural ingredients such as fennel, seaweed and blueberries.

The pills are sold on the internet under the Lutin Malin (Crafty Imp) website and have been approved by health authorities, according to Christian Poincheval, who is based in the village of Gesvres in western France.

For this year’s festive season he has added a new product to the range which he has titled “The Father Christmas fart pill that gives your farts the scent of chocolate”.

There's more at the link.

I'm sorry, but I can't stop giggling over this one.  Considering schoolboys' obsession with fart jokes (and yes, there are even Web sites about them!), I can just see some budding juvenile chemist taking this idea and running with it in the school lab, producing his own variation on 'fart pills' that will make the result smellier than ever.  Limburger cheese farts, anyone?  Sulfur dioxideButyl mercaptan (a.k.a. skunk oil)?

Oh - the limerick?  You don't know it?  Believe it or not, it was one of my mother's favorites.  It goes like this:

There was a young man from Australia
Who painted his **** like a dahlia.
The color was fine,
Likewise the design:
The aroma?  No, that was a falia!


The Ferguson verdict

Well, the verdict's out at last.  Officer Darren Wilson will not face criminal charges in connection with the shooting of Michael Brown in August.  I'm not surprised;  for weeks, it's been clear that the balance of evidence was that it was a justifiable homicide.

It's also been clear for weeks - ever since the shooting, in fact - that protesters could not be trusted to demonstrate peacefully their opposition to the racial tensions in Ferguson, MO, and the events that led to Michael Brown's death.  Predictably, many of them were not interested in the facts of the matter, only in their perceptions of and emotions about the incident.  After the announcement of the grand jury's findings, the inevitable happened.

I have no problem accepting that racial tensions run high in the area.  I equally have no problem accepting that law enforcement there has serious problems that are as yet unaddressed.  When you have a community that's more than two-thirds black, but its police force is 94% white, that's prima facie evidence of an imbalance.  When investigations incontrovertibly reveal a long-standing culture of law-enforcement and justice-system discrimination against black people, it's even worse.  I urge you to read the following reports to understand the legitimate and very real anger of black people there.  These reports are fact, not fantasy - they're the reality of life on the ground there.

It's no good trying to write off those reports as liberal or progressive propaganda.  The facts have been checked by many different sources.  The problem is real.  That's why the reaction of the local black community to Michael Brown's death has been so visceral.  It's not primarily about Michael Brown as a person.  His death has become a symbol of what they perceive - and experience every day - as persistent, institutionalized racial bias in local law enforcement and the local justice system.

Unfortunately, the community's anger has been manipulated by those with their own agendas to pursue.  Activists are deliberately trying to inflame community anger to provoke outbursts of rioting, looting and insurrection - with considerable success.  When there's so much tinder lying around, it doesn't take much of a spark to produce a conflagration.  This, in turn, provokes even greater intransigence among local law enforcement, and among the white community.

Even those of us who strive to acknowledge the fairness of black grievances in the area are outraged when protesters set fire to vehicles and buildings, and loot stores.  Those are crimes, not protests.  As far as I'm concerned, anyone perpetrating such acts deserves to be treated like the criminals they are, not handled with kid gloves . . . but if the police do that, they'll be accused of being 'insensitive' or 'bullying' or 'racist', largely due to the perceptions to which their own actions in the past have given rise.  They can't win.  If I lived in Ferguson, and encountered a mob of protesters trying to torch my home or business, and used lethal force to stop them, I'd be just another Officer Wilson in the eyes of the mob.  They wouldn't ask whether or not I was justified in my actions - it would be all about their perceptions, which to them have the force of reality even if they're not factually correct.

Let's be blunt.  I'm not an apologist for Michael Brown.  Before he was shot he'd used marijuana and robbed a convenience store;  and the evidence presented to the grand jury indicated conclusively that he initiated the assault on Officer Wilson that led to the latter shooting him.  I agree with the grand jury's findings:  there's no evidence of wrongdoing in his death.  It's in similar vein to the shooting of Trayvon Martin - who openly boasted of his drug use, illegal possession of weapons, and 'thug' persona on social media - by George Zimmerman in 2012;  the evidence proved that Martin assaulted Zimmerman, who shot him in self-defense.  Two wannabe thugs - Brown and Martin - are dead, and our streets will probably be safer in the future as a result.

Unfortunately, the fates of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin are now going to be inextricably linked and manipulated by the racial grievance industry.  It's already happening.  They're going to exploit their deaths for whatever gain they can wring out of them, and sweep their undoubted criminal proclivities and actions under the rug.  In turn, the 'thin blue line' of law enforcement and the local justice system are going to get their dander up about the 'unfairness' of many of the accusations against them, and resent the hell out of those making them . . . which may well prevent the authorities from recognizing, acknowledging, and dealing with the very real shortcomings they've demonstrated in the past.

There are no winners in this situation;  and, unless calmer heads prevail, there won't be any in future either.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Crimson Trace laser sights

I was asked today why, in previous articles, I've recommended Crimson Trace laser sights for pistols over all other brands.  My correspondent pointed out:

Most other laser sights are half the price of the Crimson Trace equivalent, and work just as well.  Why should I pay double for the CT version?

I admitted that he was quite correct about the pricing:  but cost isn't everything.  I thought some of you might like to hear my explanation.

Let me begin by emphasizing that I don't earn anything for recommending Crimson Trace - no endorsement fees, no free products, nothing like that.  I recommend them because, in my experience, their products perform as advertised, and they have one significant advantage that no other laser sight has.

Most people who've been in a few fights - whether involving fists, knives, guns or whatever - will confirm that things happen fast.  It's seldom like the movies, where there's a build-up of tension, an exchange of words, mood music, lowering light levels, and all the other signs saying that violence is about to erupt.  Look at some video clips of the so-called 'knockout game' circulating on YouTube, or some of the mugging attacks caught on camera.  You'll notice most of the attacks come out of nowhere, with little or no warning.

That's where many (but not all) models of Crimson Trace laser sights have a priceless advantage that others lack.  They work by what CT calls 'instinctive activation':  as your hand grasps the firearm, your finger instinctively and automatically depresses the activation button for the laser, which is positioned on the grip itself.  The button is highlighted by the red arrow in the illustration below.

On some models the button's at the back of the grip, rather than the front:  but wherever it is, you don't need to use another finger or your other hand to activate the laser.  It comes on as you grasp your gun.  I've learned the hard way that when the proverbial brown substance hits the rotary air impeller, simplicity is speed, and speed of reaction is what will most likely save your life.  You almost certainly won't have time (or a safe distance) to activate a laser using both hands.  It'll take too long.

There's also the factor of your position.  If a mugger has just knocked you down, and you're trying to react to save yourself before he stomps you, you won't have time to fiddle with your gun.  You're on the ground, unable to take a firm two-handed firing grip and leisurely align your firearm's sights on your target.  Your support hand will be trying to lever you up off the ground or fend off a blow or kick - you can't spare it to grasp the gun or fiddle with a laser sight.  If you can simply grab your gun and have its laser sight come on instantly, so that whatever your position and wherever the gun may be, you can simply put the dot on your attacker and pull the trigger . . . that may make the difference between you walking away from the attack, or ending up in the hospital - or the morgue.

There are a few other instant-on options.  Viridian, for example, offers waistband holsters with a built-in 'switch' that activate its laser sights the instant the gun is drawn.  That's fine, if you're carrying in a waistband holster.  If (as I often do) you need a type of holster they don't offer, or are carrying a smaller handgun in a pocket holster, that won't work . . . whereas the CT system will.

I'm not trying to say that the products of other laser sight manufacturers are technically inferior.  They're not - they work just fine (mostly) and are often cheaper than Crimson Trace equivalents.  However, they lack the 'instinctive activation' feature that CT patented some years ago.  (Yes, I think CT's prices are unreasonably high:  but they're charging what the market will bear.  Since they're the only company to offer grip-activated lasers, if we want that convenience, we have to pay for it.  That makes life difficult for my disabled and handicapped students, many of whom have enough trouble affording guns and ammo, let alone laser sights . . . but CT isn't a charity, and we can't expect it to operate like one.)

To date I've installed CT grip-activated laser sights on Ruger LCP's and LC9's, various models of Springfield XD's, Glocks and Kahrs, Smith & Wesson and Ruger revolvers, and a few long guns.  I've never had one fail me or a student when it was needed (as long as one's made sure to replace the batteries as and when required), and the instinctive activation feature has proved its worth on more than one 'social use' occasion.  That's why I'll be buying more of them, despite their relatively high price.  In my experience, no other laser sight works as easily and instinctively on a handgun in the heat of the moment.


Medical costs and US government spending

Karl Denninger has produced this video presentation that lays it on the line about how medical costs are crippling the US economy and our government's budget.  He hasn't made up a thing - he uses official US government figures.  You need to watch this, carefully.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Of course, there's the question of how to do it.  Our current crop of politicians won't - they've been bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists.  Just look at the top ten business sectors in terms of how much they spent on lobbying in the 2014 fiscal yearFour out of the top ten are medical groups.  If you think they're throwing away tens of millions of dollars each year out of the goodness of their hearts, you need help.

The only way we're going to change this is to hold our representatives and Senators accountable.  Tell them, bluntly, that we won't support them for re-election unless they do something to fix this;  and then act on that promise when the time comes.  Insist that those who want to replace them should commit to doing something about this problem, and un-elect them in their turn if they fail to keep their promises.

Of course, that would require an informed, involved, active electorate . . . something that's in short supply in this country right now.


I thought this was faked, but it's real

I was astonished to learn an advertisement that I was sure was CGI was, in fact, real.  The Telegraph reports:

The video was created as an advert for EMC technology, who are technology partners for Lotus F1 team.

The Lotus team are now in possession of an impressive new world record as the F1 transporter managed to clear the longest ever truck jump at 83 feet and seven inches.

There's more at the link.

Here's the advertisement.

I'd love to know how they prepared that truck for the attempt - clearly, it must have been stripped of every possible ounce of weight.  Even so, I sure wouldn't have volunteered to drive the car as the truck crossed over my head!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

A great (and free) literary resource

Courtesy of a link at Instapundit, I was led to an article in Open Culture that described the Harvard Classics series.

It was in 1909 ... before the advent of modernism and world war, that The Harvard Classics took shape. Compiled by Harvard’s president Charles W. Eliot and called at first Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf, the compendium of literature, philosophy, and the sciences, writes Adam Kirsch in Harvard Magazine, served as a “monument from a more humane and confident time” (or so its upper classes believed), and a “time capsule…. In 50 volumes.”

What does the massive collection preserve? For one thing, writes Kirsch, it’s “a record of what President Eliot’s America, and his Harvard, thought best in their own heritage.” Eliot’s intentions for his work differed somewhat from those of his English peers. Rather than simply curating for posterity “the best that has been thought and said” (in the words of Matthew Arnold), Eliot meant his anthology as a “portable university”—a pragmatic set of tools, to be sure, and also, of course, a product. He suggested that the full set of texts might be divided into a set of six courses on such conservative themes as “The History of Civilization” and “Religion and Philosophy,” and yet, writes Kirsch, “in a more profound sense, the lesson taught by the Harvard Classics is ‘Progress’.” “Eliot’s [1910] introduction expresses complete faith in the ‘intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization’.”

. . .

What may strike modern readers of Eliot’s collection are precisely the “blind spots in Victorian notions of culture and progress” that it represents. For example, those three harbingers of doom for Victorian certitude—Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud—are nowhere to be seen. Omissions like this are quite telling, but, as Kirsch writes, we might not look at Eliot’s achievement as a relic of a naively optimistic age, but rather as “an inspiring testimony to his faith in the possibility of democratic education without the loss of high standards.” This was, and still remains, a noble ideal, if one that—like the utopian dreams of the Victorians—can sometimes seem frustratingly unattainable (or culturally imperialist). But the widespread availability of free online humanities certainly brings us closer than Eliot’s time could ever come.

There's more at the link.

All fifty volumes of the Harvard Classics, plus twenty volumes of The Shelf Of Fiction that accompanied them, are available free of charge as e-books from Bartleby.  I can't recommend this resource too highly.  If you want to give yourself the classical education that most schools failed to provide;  if you have kids or grandkids who are even less well informed about these literary greats;  or if you just plain enjoy good books - you owe it to yourself to click over to Bartleby and download your own copies of these works.


Saturday Night Live gets it said

I know many bloggers have already embedded this, but it's so accurate I think I'll join them.  Saturday Night Live skewered President Obama's 'imperial' proclamation of concessions to illegal aliens in a very well-done sketch.

I doubt whether President Obama will give a damn, though . . .


The horror of surgery before anesthetics

Through a link in an article at Taki's Magazine, I came across Fanny Burney's description of her mastectomy in 1811.  It's horrifyingly graphic in its details, and conveys the agony of surgery without anesthetic better than anything else I've ever read.  Here's one paragraph from her account.

... when the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast—cutting through veins—arteries—flesh—nerves—I needed no injunctions not to restrain my cries. I began a scream that lasted unintermittingly during the whole time of the incision—and I almost marvel that it rings not in my Ears still! so excruciating was the agony. When the wound was made, and the instrument was withdrawn, the pain seemed undiminished, for the air that suddenly rushed into those delicate parts felt like a mass of minute but sharp and forked poniards, that were tearing the edges of the wound—but when again I felt the instrument—describing a curve—cutting against the grain, if I may so say, while the flesh resisted in a manner so forcible as to oppose and tire the hand of the operator, who was forced to change from the right to the left—then, indeed, I thought I must have expired.

There's more at the link.

Ghastly to read, but it makes me very thankful that anesthetics have been available for all the surgeries I've undergone!