Sunday, May 31, 2015

FEC Member Proposing "Quotas" For Women in Elected Office

In what appears to be one of those few moments where the statists reveal their real hopes and intentions, panelists on a forum held at the Federal Election Commission headquarters (FEC) in Washington on May 12 suggested a number of solutions to the perceived problem of a lack of women participating in politics. This wasn't official FEC business, it was a "brainstorming meeting" paid for by someone else, but it's still highly instructive.  Here we have members of the FEC and some other organizations addressing how to solve the problems they think exist in the political system.  Their proposals included quotas for women in office, more public funding of campaigns, and total overthrow of the American economic system.
The forum, hosted by FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel, has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks. Though it was paid for by the independent agency and hosted in FEC facilities, the Democratic commissioner was the sole organizer of the event and selected all of the panelists herself.

Ravel, who has served as the current chair of the FEC for four months, recently said she was going to use her position to focus on “getting information out” to voters. She noted that the goal of the forum was to “contemplate solutions to the underrepresentation of women in the political process” and to look at “the challenges faced by women in running for office.”
That link in the second paragraph is to an article in the New York Times in which Chairman Ravel said her agency would be unable to prevent criminal tampering with the 2016 elections.  Which ought to come as a surprise only in the sense that she committed a DC gaffe: she told the truth. 
“The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”
Conventional wisdom is that elections have to be won by such a substantial amount, called the margin of fraud, that they don't go into recount.  Ask Al Franken.  But back to the fun of the special conference at FEC headquarters,
“If I was really playing God, I’d probably have to completely, like, dismantle our economic system, that doesn’t value women’s work in the same way it does men’s,” said Adrienne Kimmel, one of the forum panelists. Kimmel also serves as the executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which describes itself as working to “advance women’s equality and representation in American politics.”

Kimmel suggested that women have a diminished role in politics because they are also excluded from the top levels of the business world.
In addition to quotas, Norris said, campaign finance laws could be used to encourage women to run for office. In particular, she suggested, limits should be placed on “donors and caps on parties in terms of how much they can spend, and caps on candidates.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such limits to be unconstitutional in its 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, so Imposing expenditure limits on federal candidates or political parties would require a constitutional amendment.

“I know in America that sounds as though it’s a radical revolutionary – I won’t say left-wing agenda – but nevertheless brand new idea,” Norris went on. “If you’re in Britain and you’re running as a candidate of any party, you can’t really spend that much money – $15,000 to $20,000 maximum, basically… You can’t buy ads, so that gets rid of that. You shove a pamphlet through people’s doors, that’s it, and then you meet people,” she said.
There's a pretty stunning openness in the article.  There's no hiding the fact that they want to tear apart the country as it exists and remold it to their own desires, as the Fabian Socialists used to say.
(Fabian Socialists hammering on an Earth heated red hot to "remould it nearer to the hearts' desire")

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lightning From Uncomfortably Close

The time is September, specifically the weekend after Labor Day.  The year is 1976.  I had been a ham since February of '76, and had a few friends who were introducing me to lots of typical ham activities.  I lived in Ft. Lauderdale at the time, working in my first job as an electronics technician.  Some of these friends suggested a "road trip" up to Melbourne, for the annual Melbourne Hamfest as my first introduction.  It's about 150 miles between the cities, and in those days, Interstate 95 didn't go through.  It was interrupted in places and the trip took more like 3 1/2 or 4 hours than today's 2 1/2 hours.  Instead of spending the night, we were on the road early and heading back late in the afternoon.

I remember this so clearly because on the drive back, while crossing between back roads and where we could pick up I-95 again, I came the closest I have ever been to a lightning strike.  Even now, 39 years later, it is vividly clear in my mind.  Florida is the lightning capital of the US and Central Florida is the most active place in the state.  According to the National Weather Service, the number of annual thunderstorm days in the central Florida area are:
  • East coast (Melbourne/Vero Beach) = 70-80
  • Interior (Orlando) = 80-90
  • West coast (Lakeland) = 90-100
As you can see from those statistics, thunderstorms are common here, especially on summer afternoons like that.  I was in the right rear seat looking out the window at the guard rails, bolted as they are to concrete posts alongside the roadway.  It was not raining extremely hard; the lightning tends not to be in the densest rain. 

Suddenly a blinding flash of light and a concrete post was hit.  It couldn't have been more than a car length ahead or so, so no more than 30 feet from where I was sitting.  The bolt looked enormous - several feet across - and painfully bright.  Then just as suddenly as it flashed on, it flashed off.  In the bolt's place in the air were what I've always thought to be little balls of glowing air.  Ionized?  Actually burning?  I have no idea.  This was definitely one of those "time freezes" moments and it felt like several seconds with the balls drifting slowly in no particular directions.   Then, BANG, the second stroke occurred, painfully bright and feet wide again.  After it flashed off, I don't recall the glowing balls of air.  During this whole event, the car was still moving, so by the time the second strike occurred, it was no more than five feet from where I was sitting. 

For the last 39 years, that has been a vivid memory.  I have never been that close again, and never seen the phenomenon of the glowing balls of air again.  Until today.  A friend sent me this 10 second video taken by the dashcam in a police car.  The strike occurs around the 6 to 7 second mark and for perhaps two seconds, glowing balls of air are visible, quickly self-extinguishing.   This frame grab shows the density of the glowing air near its peak, and they're only visible against the much darker cloud.  One or two long-lasting balls can be seen on the right, near the ground level right up to the end of the video.  
This is the closest thing to what I saw that day that I've come across in these 39 years.  It's farther away, for sure, but the contrast of how bright the lightning looks to the rest of the day looks just about right. 

That day I was as close to a strike as I've ever been, and I really don't want to get any closer.  Anyone who isn't a little bit afraid of lightning doesn't understand the problem.

Friday, May 29, 2015

About That "PATRIOT Act and New Technology" Post

If you haven't read the comment thread after the cartoon post from two days ago, you should. 

Just about the only privilege I get as the blogger here is that I get to write long, thoughtful responses to comments.  Longer than Blogger lets you readers leave as a comment.  Aside from the argument in the comments, there's some really good content there.  I honestly expected to get this kind of response to what I said about the PATRIOT act last Saturday, not to this post, which I put up as fun/profound humor. 

The way I see it?  First off, I agree with the first Anon's point that the probability of a nuclear terrorist attack, or a nuclear strike on a major Western city within the next five years is extremely high.  Maybe not if the economic collapse comes before then, and I think it will.  A nuke attack is absolutely going to usher in really bad times. (Actually, there might be a nuclear attack even if the Western economies collapse - just to finish us off).  WWIII is a real possibility. 

The point about them only storing metadata is pretty meaningless. There were several widely published articles when this whole story first broke that demonstrated just how powerful that metadata is. Likewise the point that other countries are listening and trying to get everything we say/write/text is also pretty meaningless. I expect foreign spy agencies to be trying to do that. As someone pointed out, this isn't new territory for the NSA; they've been sucking up every bit of electronic intelligence they can find for as long as they've been around. When it was expressly illegal to monitor US citizens, they had arrangements with other countries to monitor each other and exchange data, again, as someone pointed out.

The question is simply: do you really think that the government that couldn't find a couple of asshole kids that it had been warned about before they blew up the Boston Marathon; the same government that couldn't find the semi-retarded underwear bomber that it had, again been warned about before he tried to blow up an airliner (and burned his schwanz off) ... the same government that promoted and praised Nidal Hassan, the psychotic Jihadi psychiatrist who openly published papers about beheading infidels and pouring boiling oil down their throats... the government that weaponizes its IRS to go after conservative groups, pretends it lost tons of emails and records even though it has an IT staff charged with maintaining them ... that lists Tea Party members and Ron Paul voters as terrorists but considers Nidal Hassan as an innocent boob who just committed workplace violence...that traffics guns to the most violent criminals on earth so that they might get a better chance of taking away our fundamental constitutional rights... that government is going to suddenly get an attack of competence and find a well coordinated attack by professional agents of other governments?  I don't buy it.  I don't believe they could find it with a trillion NSA data centers.

To channel Milton Friedman, "if our government was put in charge of the Sahara desert, there'd be a shortage of sand in a few years".  And to throw in channeling Tam, "the only thing the government is competent at is incompetence".

But it's worse than that.  They're not just incompetent, they're crooked.  I've heard Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the principle authors of the USA PATRIOT act, saying they tried to write a law that prevented the kind of abuse we're seeing.  Whenever we grant the any power, they stretch the laws to take more and more and more.  EPA, anyone?  So why should I trust them with even the tiniest extension of powers? 

We have a process; we have laws. Considering how useless all this data they've been collecting has been, they should go back to getting search warrants to investigate individuals. Use more intelligence (of the human kind) rather than a bigger vacuum cleaner to suck up more and more electronic fog to sort through. I don't care if they can go back and find a trail of messages after the nuke has gone off in New York. That's too late.  More police work, more warrants, finer focus, less vacuum cleaner. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Obama's EPA - High Priests of Junk Science

As previously claimed, the EPA today released a rewrite of the Clean Water Act of 1986 to give it control of every body of water visible to the naked eye, down to and including large puddles.  In doing so, they enlarged the law from an "anorexic fashion model-sized" 88 pages to an engorged tick of 2200 pages.   They did this under the guise of "just clarifying the laws". 

In doing so, they relied on some amazingly junky science.

The Clean Water Act initially limited the federal government to regulating the “navigable waters of the United States” like the Ohio, Mississippi or Colorado Rivers, or the Great Lakes.  In 1986 the EPA expanded that definition to seize control over tributaries and adjacent wetlands. They've now expanded the law to introduce the concept of a “significant nexus to a navigable waterway”.  Insty explains: 
The agency defines waters as “significant” if they are “located in whole or in part within 100 feet of the ordinary high water mark,” or, alternatively, within the 100-year floodplain and 1,500 feet of the high water mark of waters already under the government’s jurisdiction. That’s already a lot of water, but there’s more.

The EPA acknowledges that the “science available today does not establish that waters beyond those defined as ‘adjacent’” to these significant” waters should be regulated. But forget science. The agency says its “experience and expertise” show there are “many” other waters that could have a significant downstream effect. Thus the EPA establishes an additional standard for significance that covers just about anything that’s wet.
I remember reporting on their efforts to do this years ago, and found a piece in 2013. The EPA issued a paper, which was not peer reviewed at the time, saying all waters in the world are connected.  This gives them the authority to say a puddle on your property can drain into a creek and eventually end up in the "navigable waters of the United States".
In September, the EPA issued a draft scientific study purporting to find that virtually all wetlands and streams are “physically, chemically, and biologically connected” to downstream waters over which the EPA already claims authority. Moreover, says the EPA study, even many “ephemeral streams” and “prairie potholes, vernal pools and playa lakes” that are dry most of the year can be found to have some connectivity to downstream waters.
This is the most ridiculous kind of pop eco-science, pure junk science that can be invented.  How does one measure that?  How can you be certain that water in a creek or pond hundreds of miles from one of these navigable waterways ends up in them?  How do they know it just doesn't evaporate and leave whatever they're afraid of as residue on the land?  How could they measure that movement?  How long would it take to measure that well enough to know?  Underground rivers generally move quite slowly (I know there are exceptions, but they're rare).  Ground water moves even slower. Would it take centuries to measure it?  Millennia? 

Add this to their junk science about CO2, shutting down the coal power plants for the modeled-but-never-measured global warmening, their absurd claims about freon and ozone holes, ozone pollution, regulating outboard motors and lawnmowers to be as clean as cars, or their equally absurd claims about DDT and I see an agency that clamps onto whatever junk science fad is running around and issues regulations before anything is truly known.  "We need to regulate now!  We can't wait until we have proof!!", as all the warmists used to say in the 1980s.  It's the motto of tyrants everywhere.
(mercilessly borrowed from

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Where the PATRIOT Act and New Technology Inevitably Lead

If you agree that the first two graphs are correct, and that all communication via technology is monitored, the conclusion is inescapable.    
From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a geeky cartoon that routinely pokes fun at economists, philosophers, statisticians, psychologists and religion.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Techy Tuesday - The Future of Windmills May Be Losing the Blades

Ordinarily, when a structure shakes in the wind, it's a bad thing.  Perhaps the most famous example in history is the collapse of "Galloping Gertie", the Tacoma Narrows bridge in Washington, 1940, and that's a pretty extreme example.  Probably everyone has heard the wind cause powerlines to make sound, or felt things moving in the wind.  Everyone who has ever sailed a boat has felt it.  In virtually all situations, the wind-induced motion is undesired.  Some structures, like telescopes, spend a lot of engineering effort to eliminate that motion.  

I bet you never thought of that motion as energy that could be captured to do something useful.  Researchers in a small start-up company in Spain are working on that very idea. The company's called Vortex Bladeless, and its wind energy harvesters don't look like the giant windmills we're used to.  They look more like giant stalks poking out of the ground.
The mast design is being optimized to create vibration in the wind; at the bottom, that vibrational energy drives a mechanical alternator that turns mechanical energy into electrical.
The Vortex’s shape was developed computationally to ensure the spinning wind (vortices) occurs synchronously along the entirety of the mast. “The swirls have to work together to achieve good performance,” Villarreal explains. In its current prototype, the elongated cone is made from a composite of fiberglass and carbon fiber, which allows the mast to vibrate as much as possible (an increase in mass reduces natural frequency). At the base of the cone are two rings of repelling magnets, which act as a sort of nonelectrical motor. When the cone oscillates one way, the repelling magnets pull it in the other direction, like a slight nudge to boost the mast’s movement regardless of wind speed. This kinetic energy is then converted into electricity via an alternator that multiplies the frequency of the mast’s oscillation to improve the energy-gathering efficiency.
Why bother?  First off, there are no rotating parts, and no bearings, so maintenance costs drop like a rock.  Maintenance is a major cost for conventional wind turbines.  Vortex Bladeless says its turbine would cost around half of the traditional turbine whose major costs come from the blades and support system.  They're easier to manufacture and install than conventional wind turbines.  Plus, with no spinning blades, they won't produce the infrasonic problems the current wind turbines produce and they'll be much easier on the bird and bat populations. 

The company says they’re hoping to have their first product, a 9-foot, 100-watt turbine that will be used in developing countries, ready before the end of the year. A 41-foot counterpart to that turbine, called the Mini, will be ready in a year.  At this stage of their development, nothing appears to be said about how well it will scale up.  They say their approach extracts less energy from a wind stream, but they make up for it by being able to put up more of their masts than conventional turbines in a given space.  

One of the major problems with wind energy is its terrible costs compared to fossil fuels.  If the cost per kW could be improved (including the long tail of logistics),it might enable wind power to make economic sense. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dietary Guidelines Finally Admit They've Been Wrong

To some degree.  I read it as a massive attempt to save face, but The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued a statement about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans saying that they applaud the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) for "drafting a strong, evidence-based" report:
"Despite some criticism suggesting that changed recommendations illustrate concerns about the validity of the nutrition science upon which the Dietary Guidelines are based, the DGAC should change its recommendations to be consistent with the best available science and to abide by its statutory mandate," Connor said.
What exactly are they talking about?

You may have read that the new Dietary Guidelines (My Plate or Food Pyramid or the Dietary Icosahedron - whatever they're using this time) have finally admitted for the first time that the evidence for the Diet-Heart Hypothesis just hasn't turned up, despite searching for it for almost 60 years.  Not to mention carrying out medical experiments to find this link on unsuspecting Americans (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the world).
In comments recently submitted to USDA and HHS, the Academy supports the DGAC in its decision to drop dietary cholesterol from the nutrients of concern list and recommends it deemphasize saturated fat from nutrients of concern, given the lack of evidence connecting it with cardiovascular disease.  [Emphasis added - SiG]
The (Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture) have finally admitted that having your morning bacon, with a couple of eggs instead of a bowl of cereal isn't going to harm your health. 

Wait - it gets better.  Or worse depending on your point of view.
The Academy also expresses concern over blanket sodium restriction recommendations in light of recent evidence of potential harm to the overall population. "There is a distinct and growing lack of scientific consensus on making a single sodium consumption recommendation for all Americans, owing to a growing body of research suggesting that the low sodium intake levels recommended by the DGAC are actually associated with increased mortality for healthy individuals," Connor said.  [emphasis added again - SiG] ["Connor" is Academy President Sonja L. Connor]
Got that?  The salt intake levels that Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Obama, the FDA, and the previous versions of the Dietary Guidelines have been shown to harm people, not help!  "Sorry if we killed you, buddy.  We thought we knew what we were doing. "  Sodium is one of the most essential minerals to the body.  We all have heard the saying that someone is "worth their salt"; that's because soldiers (and others) used to get paid in salt.  It's where the word "salary" comes from!  So while it has been empirically observed that there can be a 10-fold difference in vitamin absorption between people, there's one number for the sodium every person needs?

Without going too deep into the rabbit hole, it's generally recognized that by the 1930s, obesity research was focusing on carbohydrates.  Most of this work was in Europe.  World War II wiped out those universities, and the studies were all in other languages, so that when American researchers started on diet/health issues, they simply made the wrong choice.  They could have gone after fat or sugars and they chose the wrong one.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics seems to address that, too:
The Academy supports an increased focus on reduction of added sugars as a key public health concern. "Among the identified cross-cutting issues, the evidence is strongest that a reduction in the intake of added sugars will improve the health of the American public. The identification and recognition of the specific health risks posed by added sugars represents an important step forward for public health," Connor said.
While it's encouraging to see the science being updated as the data changes, it's very, very overdue.  In a way, this is bad news.  It's a simplifying thing in life to have one nutritional bad guy to avoid, be it dietary fat or salt.  In reality, life is too complex for that.  Salt does effect some people's blood pressure, but that appears genetic; for the rest of us, it has no effect.  There is some correlation between various ratios of the blood lipids and heart disease, but the situation is much more complicated than "high cholesterol will kill you", an idea that's pushing 60 years old, and even more complicated than "too high a ratio of LDL to HDL will kill you", or that LDL is "bad cholesterol" and HDL "good" are ideas that are about 25 years old.  The idea that dietary cholesterol doesn't affect circulating cholesterol (much) so everyone needs to restrict saturated fat to reduce blood cholesterol goes back about 40 years.  Today, it's recognized that there are many different types of LDL that are differing degrees of "bad"; some seem to be fairly benign.  There have even been studies that showed elevated cholesterol to be associated with longer life for women and elderly people.  Not something to be avoided, it's something that's good for you.  As we've learned more, the situation has increased in complexity, and the previous dietary guidelines were too simplistic. 

There have literally been hundreds of studies on these subjects, and at least a dozen books written for the non-scientist.  If you're interested, I heartily recommend, "The Big, Fat Surprise" by Nina Teicholz; "Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It" by Gary Taubes; or "Good Calories, Bad Calories", also by Gary Taubes.  "Good Calories, Bad Calories" is the earlier book, and is mostly the science with painstaking references.  "Why We Get Fat" is a more practical book.  "The Big, Fat Surprise" is equal parts history and biographies, with major emphasis on the personalities.  The most recent of the three, she summarizes Taubes' work and extends them with interesting new data. 
Of course this means that the Heart Attack Grill can't use this advertising meme.  There's no association between cheeseburgers and heart disease.  Never has been.  They're just another cheeseburger in a world full of them.  

Memorial Day 2015

There isn't much signal I can add to the excellent commentaries and history I've been reading this weekend.  But I repost this photo which I find among the most haunting I've ever seen.
 In case it doesn't seem familiar:  
In a final act of loyalty, Hawkeye, the dog of slain Navy SEAL U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jon T. Tumilson walked up to his fallen master’s casket during the funeral in Rockford, Iowa, and then laid mournfully down beside the body for the rest of the proceedings [Note: Petty Officer Tumilson was one of the 30 killed in Afghanistan in Extortion 17 - SiG]
A depressing number of government officials could use Hawkeye's loyalty.

My heartfelt thanks and gratitude to those who have served, or are currently serving.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Did I Mention I Like Clever Ideas?

While talking about the Stealth Arms 1911 jig, I mentioned I'm a big fan of clever, and switching from metalworking to woodworking, we find a piece of (Patent applied for) clever that makes creating drawers a one step operation.

The invention is a specially shaped cutter that enables you to make four cuts in a piece of plywood, fold it up, glue it up, clamp it up, and voila: you have a drawer.  Looking a little closer, it requires a table saw with a dado blade set and this new blade. 

H/T to IMAO, of all places.  I shouldn't say that.  Frank usually gets some cool videos over there.

And by the way, if you didn't read the comments on that post about the Phantom Jig, YouTube user MosinVirus posts results of running the Phantom Jig on a steel 1911 rather than aluminum.  While it took some additional hand work, the result was a fully functional 1911. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Why I Hate Day-to-Day Politics in Three Easy Pieces

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but long time readers will have seen me say that I view following politics like cleaning the cat's litter box.  It's a dirty, nasty, disgusting job, but if you don't do it, it only gets more disgusting.  Which is where we are now, as a nation.  (and, seriously, I love cats as much as anyone, but I guar-an-damn-tee you that the guy who invented chemical warfare had a litter box in house for inspiration) 

I present three easy examples in the news from the last couple of days in no particular order.  Three stories that make me say, to borrow a phrase from the Crusades, "Kill them all and let God sort them out".

1.  Alcee Hastings Wants a Pay Raise.  

US Representative from Miami and pretty much continuous criminal Alcee Hastings says Congress needs a pay raise.  Before running for congress, Hastings was a judge.  He was convicted of soliciting bribes in 1989, impeached, and kicked out of his office.  After some time (presumably to learn better criminal skills) he ran again and has been a fixture in office ever since.  He has a constant barrage of allegations of criminal or unethical behavior against him, ranging from nepotism to sexual harassment, but he keeps getting re-elected because his Gerrymandered district in south Florida will always vote for anyone with a D after their name.  In his 2012 election, he won 85 to 15% over an NPA opponent

Hastings apparently feels the $174,000 a year he makes (legally on the books) is clearly inadequate.
"Members deserve to be paid, staff deserves to be paid and the cost of living here is causing serious problems for people who are not wealthy to serve in this institution," said Rep. Alcee Hastings during a Monday Rules Committee hearing on the upcoming year's legislative branch appropriations bill, according to Roll Call.
Leave it to Washington criminals to grow the government, causing the cost of living in DC to go up as all those new DC workers try to live there, and then say they need to take more of our money to pay for the cost increases they created.

2.  Two Party Names, One Ruling Class.

Perhaps you caught the headline on Drudge today that last night the Stupid Party gave more powers to Obama.   In what universe does "give more powers to Obama" sound even remotely like a good idea?  I don't know if you know the details on this Trans Pacific Partnership agreement that the president keeps pushing, but in case you haven't read it ... OK, that was a lie.  You can't know details and you can't have read it because the actual text is a classified document.  To follow the "even a broken clock is right twice a day" principle, I'm going to quote Elizabeth Freakin' Warren (!):
“In the past few weeks the public has heard a lot about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal the U.S. is negotiating with 11 other countries. The public has heard from supporters that it is the most progressive trade deal in history, a deal that will benefit working families and small businesses. And they’ve heard it will only tilt the field in favor of multinational corporations and leave workers and everyone else behind. The public has heard a lot but in all that time they’ve never actually seen the deal itself. In fact, the press hasn’t seen the deal, economists haven’t seen the deal, legal experts haven’t seen the deal, most everyone in America hasn’t seen the deal. Why? because the administration has classified the deal making it illegal for any of those people to read it.
(side note - if you've gotten emails from GOA or NAGR (I forget which one it was) saying the TPP is going to gut gun rights, they haven't read it either.)

So the Stupid Party acted to give the president more power to work on the TPP and other agreements with the same countries on his own.  Since he already has his pen and his phone, I'm not sure why they felt they needed to formalize their bending over, but they did.  It's a strange alliance.  The president is pushing the treaty hard and alienating all his usual allies: the unions, the anti-corporate crowd, and the socialists - like Elizabeth Warren.  Instead, he's allying with the major corporate donors in what is virtually certainly going to be a trade agreement filled to the brim with more cronyism. 
In perhaps the most unusual alliance in the debate, Obama’s trade agenda will soon rest largely in the hands of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was the Republicans’ 2012 vice presidential nominee.

Now chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Ryan is leading the push to secure as many votes as possible from the Republican side of the aisle for Obama’s fast-track authorities on trade deals. He has been working with Boehner’s leadership team convening meetings with Republicans to educate the dozens of junior lawmakers who have never considered a trade deal like the potential Pacific Rim pact.
Two party names, same money-grubbing ruling class.

3.  Is it Principles or Pimping? 

Rand Paul made a very public mini-filibuster of the renewal of the PATRIOT act, talking for 10 1/2 or 11 hours.  I'm a little mixed on this because I'm against the NSA "Giant Sucking Sound" approach to this sort of intelligence.  I think targeted listening, like any other police investigation, is a much better approach rather than just collecting every bit of data criss-crossing the country and crunching it to find keywords.  We do have a 4th amendment in this country; whether it's completely dead or still on life-support, I'm not 100% sure.  Killing the PATRIOT act might well help it start breathing again.  (By the way, anyone who has not read James Bamford's "The Puzzle Palace" history/biography of the NSA really should.  It explains much about why they like to work the way they do.)

The thing about this one that gets it into my simple three examples is that while I respect Rand Paul, and might even vote for him in the primary, I got a fundraising email from him every few hours for three or four days.  Or so it seemed. 

My problem with this comes down to whether he was fighting the PATRIOT act because he's truly  opposed to it, or because he (or his advisors) think the people he wants to appeal to are opposed to it.  Was the filibuster only done because they thought that we will be more likely to contribute to his campaign if he runs the filibuster?  Was it just a glorified (and pretty much completely free) campaign commercial? 
Politics.  It's like cleaning the litter box. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Watching the (Drone) Watchers

The Telegraph published an article this week that is one of those "well, of course!" stories.  Burglars are using widely available drones to case properties, looking for places to rob. 

It got me thinking.  It's an obvious use of the technology, and one we'd better all be aware of.  Especially if there are things on our properties or behind our fences that we'd like not to be widely known about.  Google Streetview, Google Earth, Bing Maps, and any others not withstanding.  While the mapping programs will let anyone curious know if you had a valuable car, camper or boat behind the fence on the day the picture was taken but which might be gone today, the drone will allow them to get today's information.  All the drones I've seen videos of are a bit noisy, but if you have your windows shut for some reason maybe a small drone could get close enough to take pictures through your windows.

In our location, we're technically inside a city's limits, so discharging a weapon is specifically forbidden - with the exception of self defense.  Shooting a drone looking in the window probably would be hard to sell as self defense.  As far as I know, something like this would be exempt.  They're not firearms, but whether or not they're legal to shoot in the city requires a little research.  This Ruger Blackhawk Elite will push a lightweight pellet to 1200 FPS, and you'll get the loud crack from being  supersonic.  In the real gun world, I have some subsonic 22 ammo and a couple of options that are just happy to shoot that all day, but that's depending on no one complaining they heard you shooting in the back yard. 

Offered as an intellectual exercise only, ya understand.  No actual downing of drones implied or approved.  Your mileage may vary.  Do not remove tag under penalty of law. 
What do you think, guys?  Any experience with these air rifles?  It seems the Ruger name is licensed to a Chinese factory, I'm guessing Umarex.  I've heard great things about the Benjamin Marauder, an almost $500 air rifle.  Clearly you get something more for the extra $400, but for short range/under 25 yard shots across the yard, I'd think these lower end rifles would work fine. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Clever Fixturing For an 80% 1911

Thanks to Wirecutter at  Knuckledraggin' My Life Away, we find a link to a new way of making a 1911 from an 80% frame without a milling machine.  Designed at Stealth Arms, the new fixture, called a Phantom Jig, guides your cutting of the necessary features by hand.  The operations required to complete their version of the 80% frame are to drill a couple of holes, cut the slide rails and the barrel seat.  The Phantom Jig performs the cutting operations that would usually be done on a milling machine.
The jig with a frame in place - when you buy the jig, they include one frame.  Note the long black handle: in operation, you use this like a woodworking plane.  The cutter is lowered into cutting position by the black knob with finger grooves located next to the handle, and the handle is then used to push the cutter forward through the metal taking off - ? - "several thousandths".  The rest of the jig needs to be held in a sturdy vise to handle the forces you're going to generate on it.  Once you make a cut, you advance the cutter 1/10 of a turn of that knob and cut another pass through the frame.

Wirecutter embeds this video, but I didn't watch all of.  It's 45 minutes long - and the video author said it took 40 minutes to finish his frame.  Stealth Arms has a video on the Phantom jig's page showing how this all works. 

I post this because I like clever, and this approach just exudes clever.  If you have even a table top drill press, you can drill the two holes you need to drill.  (Seriously - get a drill press if you don't have one.)  Then all you need is this fixture, a bench vise, an hour, and some good old fashioned elbow grease.  I think I should warn that this fixture isn't going to get you there if you're trying to complete a steel frame.  I think that requires more shear force than you can generate.  Stealth Arms' frames are made of 7000 series aluminum, which is heat treated to a higher hardness than the more-common 6061-T6 "aircraft aluminum".  7075, for example, is used in high-end mountain bikes.

Making a 1911 is pretty high on my list of projects right now, and I'm keeping an eye out for a steel frame.  Since I have a milling machine, and making one without the jig is cheaper, chances are that's the way I'll go. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Techy Tuesday - The Self Driving Car Hype

You know, being immersed in the electronics business 24/7/365, I have a tendency to think "everybody knows that" when things about the way our world works come up.  In this case, does everybody know the electronics industry pretty much runs on a hype cycle?  The Gartner Hype Cycle is 21 years old now, and it describes the progress of technologies as well as anything.  There's a good introduction at that link, but the Gartner cycle itself is a detour from where I'm going tonight, except for one thing: autonomous or self-driving cars are running right around the absolute peak of the hype cycle.  Because of that, discount virtually everything you're hearing. 

I've heard pundits say that "a child born today may never learn to drive" (aside from the phenomenon of millennials being less interested in driving).  Both Nissan and GM, as well as some other car makers, say they expect to market self-driving cars by 2020 and some pundits are saying they will be mandatory by 2035. 

A study by a professional research company called Lux Research offers market research to show that's really a lot of hype.  Note this is research they sell, so their survival depends on being right often enough to get repeat business.  Design News extracts some coverage from that report for us. 
”The $102 Billion Opportunity in Partial Automation for Cars" contends that autopilot features in vehicles will grow sharply over the next 15 years, creating huge markets for automotive sensors and software. “Partial autonomy is coming,” Maryanna Saenko, Lux Research Inc. analyst and author of the report, told Design News. “By 2030, it will very likely be common in mid- and high-level cars. But the idea of the car picking you up at your house, driving you anywhere and dropping you off -- that’s still a long way off.”
They include this graphic in the article (not very high resolution) showing that even out at the end of the projections in 2030, fully autonomous cars (darkest blue) don't even show up.  The larger, lighter blue area is "enhanced assist" technologies.
For consumers, the result will be a fast-growing variety of new semi-autonomous features, Saenko told us. “The first step is to have autopilot,” she said. “Not where the car drives endlessly in a straight line, but where it can deal with traffic, merge in and out of lanes, and find the fastest route on the highway.” In subsequent steps, engineers will develop vehicles that can handle suburban and urban driving.
Cruise control speed-regulating devices have been around for decades, and I've had one since 1990.  On long trips they make driving more like just steering; just keep it between the lines.  My first car with cruise control just kept the speed constant.  It also regulated at about 2 mph over the speed you were going when you turned it on.  My next car, in 2004, would change the speed in 1 mph steps.  I'm fairly sure that was digital cruise control.  Autopilot, even if it just kept you between the lines would be convenient, but the ability to do these other tasks she refers to get very close to chauffeur level.
Saenko said technical and regulatory hurdles will complicate the transition from partial autonomy to full autonomy, however. A “likely” scenario described in the report calls for just a handful of fully autonomous cars, operating in highly restricted environments, by 2030. “We have to address how technically difficult it is to have a car drive itself and deal with the errant situations that can happen during driving,” she said. “It’s really about the technology getting competent and reliable enough to deal with all possibilities.”
I should have said, "get very close to chauffeur level, except..."  Except that you are ultimately still in control in the car and will be responsible if it does anything wrong.  That means if your autopilot hits a pedestrian, it's the same as if you were driving.  If you're expecting a day when you can get in the car and read, play games, or conjugate Indian verbs with your girl/boy friend, that's just not happening soon.   Barring new technologies or real breakthroughs.  I actually wrote about this aspect already, so I'll reprise something from just a couple of months ago.
This concerns me because in many ways, driving a car is considerably more complex than flying a plane, yet airplane autopilots get really serious amounts of money dumped into certifying them safe.  Even with that effort and expense, aircraft automatic control systems will still get confused and do the wrong things.  Pilots talk about trying to stay alert at all times should the autopilot hand control back, but one of the disadvantages of the modern autopilots is that they're so good pilots get out of practice flying.   Will self driving cars caught in a critical moment hand control off to someone reading a book on their tablet, listening to music or otherwise engaged with people in the car? 
Driving a car in a city environment is more complex than flying a plane.  Nobody is standing around on a cloud and steps out in front of a plane.  There are no planes sitting at a corner that decide to dart in front of you.  There are no bicycles going a quarter of your speed, or old farm tractors going even slower.   The fact the aircraft on similar routes maintain separation by flying similar speeds helps reduce the chance of an overtaking accident.  Yet with all these things going for them aircraft autopilots still get confused.  We're going to have to go through some years of weeding those failures out of autonomous cars. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Moving Experience

Over the last couple of weekends, I've been a little scarce here.  I've been re-laying out a corner of my shop, the only corner without power tools.   One side is my reloading bench and the other I use for several tasks: gun cleaning, fishing tackle maintenance and repair, tackle making (I tie bucktail jigs and make other lures), and even rodmaking.   Between the pictures at those two previous blog posts, you can get an idea what it looked like.  After the last couple of weekends the area looks like this:
Rather completely rearranged.  The presses are in the same place, thanks to some bolts, and they're the only things in the same place.  The shelves are all in different places and everything on them has moved, too.  The left most set is newest: I built those yesterday.  They're 1x8 boards.  The shelves just right of them are second newest: I built those two weeks ago.  The other pine board shelves are 1x6 boards, so the shelves are shallower, front to back. The white shelves on the right, in the corner, were on the left where the newest shelves are.  Those are laminated particle board. 

All that's left is to get some lighting in that corner.  Probably LED lighting.  Lots of options there.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Is That Really a Silver Coin?

If the days to come unfold as I expect them to, we're likely to reach a stage where barter and trade with something other than "legal tender, backed by the full faith and trust of the US government" is going to be taking place.  (I've long said, ".22LR, it's the dime of the new millenium!").  It may be fully out in the open and it may be black market because use of anything other than federally managed digital money is illegal.  I expect, as many others do, that silver coins and other pieces of sterling or fine silver will be used for this to some (unknowable) degree, simply because they're recognizable.  Everybody in the US knows an American dime when they see one.  It won't take too long for Ma and Pa Sixpack to know they're seeing a US denominated coin and that coins from before 1965 are more valuable than those made from cupronickel sandwiches since then.  If the grid is up and TV news is running, I suspect that the price of silver will be a daily news item. 

So how do you know if that 2015 Silver Eagle you're being offered is real?  If you want to go beyond trust, now would be a good time to look into the ways that jewelers tell silver alloys apart.  A kit like this one is a really good way to start.  It also includes test solutions for gold alloys, too.  Like most things that come from the world of jewelry, to use it well requires a bit of skill on your part.  Practice will only help.

How do the kits work?  The essential parts of the kit are a test stone and a solution of an acid.  You wipe the edge of the coin on the stone and leave a visible trail of metal on it.  It doesn't have to be really heavy, you are taking metal off the coin.  Then you add a small drop of the acid on the trail and read the color.  You've heard the expression, "the acid test"?  This is it!  Pure silver (also called fine silver) like you find in the real US Eagles, turns bright red.  Sterling silver (92.5% silver, 7.5% copper) turns a darker reddish brown, and US "junk silver" coins (90% silver) turn a little browner than sterling.  80% silver will turn pretty brown, but I don't think you'll see that.  It's a pretty crude fake.  The difference between sterling and the coin silver is tricky to see.  Side by side you can tell, but either way you can be sure they're not pure silver.

Important: there are different kits with different test solutions on the market that produce different colors.  You might get a kit with a different color system.  Same concept, different colors, so be sure to Read That F(ine) Manual!

The risk here is that if the fake is real silver that was  plated onto a base metal coin, you'll only test the plating.   There are two ways out of this.  Sometimes, all you need to do is weigh the coin.  If the fake uses something silvery in color like nickel silver (AKA German silver, which contains no silver) it could be that a reloading scale, is all you need to tell you if it's the right weight. You may have heard of counterfeit gold coins and bars on the market.  The gold bars were gold plated tungsten and they were found by measuring specific gravity of the bars.  Specific gravity compares the density of the coin to an equivalent volume of water.  There are test kits on the market, but if it's really not that hard to do it yourself using nothing but your reloading scale, a small container of water, and a small piece of wire. Finally, you may have to file into a coin to see if you can detect different colored metals inside it.  The really artful counterfeits, like some of the Chinese bars, could only be identified by high tech analysis. 
It might be a good time to start reading about counterfeit silver coins.  They're definitely out there, and it helps to know how to tell them apart.  Remember, it's completely possible the guy offering you a counterfeit eagle thinks it's real, and someone ripped him off.  As for whether or not you'll see counterfeit 90% silver coins, that's harder to tell.  If you see a bag of silver coins today, you'll see a wild mix of dates and conditions.  It would be hard to counterfeit the distribution like that.  That would require many molds and a lot of manual work.  The more valuable they become, the more likely counterfeiting becomes, though.  If someone offered me a bunch of coins with the same date that looked identical, I'd be suspicious, even though I know we can buy rolls of "Brilliant, Uncirculated" coins today... 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cartoon of the Day

Actually, from a few days ago, but the more I look at it, the more I like it. 

Gary Varvel after Norman Rockwell.  There's just several good details in there that I didn't notice the first time I saw this.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Genetic Testing In Corporate Wellness Programs?

Fox News in New York issued an interesting report stating that US-based Aetna Insurance and Newtopia, a Canadian company, are working to prove that genetic testing can reduce medical costs to employers, so that they can sell that as part of corporate wellness programs.
Sparking the push to add genetic testing into corporate wellness offerings is a new program from the health insurer Aetna and Newtopia, a small Canadian company that creates personalized health-improvement programs. Their offering uses data from initial wellness program steps like physicals or blood tests to figure out which employees are vulnerable to metabolic syndrome.

That's a group of conditions like high blood sugar, poor cholesterol or a big waistline that, when they occur together, increase a patient's risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
This prompts speculation that companies will genetically screen employees as part of the employment screening process.
In fact, corporations are looking to new genetic testing programs to see if they can predict the probability of disease in future employees. The technology is said to help companies avoid hiring employees who take extra sick time and is supposed to help the companies cut down health expenses altogether.
Wellness programs are sold on the basis that they save employers money.  I've never kept it secret that I'm skeptical of these programs, but to say that at work is to confess to eating babies or something awful.  In reality, employers can push workers harder if the workers can take it.  If they keep having to replace workers who crack under the stress, they don't get the work done.  But there's a really simple solution to reducing the cost impact to corporations:  get them out of the health insurance business.  Make health insurance like car insurance or any other insurance.  Get the government out of health insurance.  That makes it more competitive, and more market based, especially if the byzantine rules that keep you from buying across state lines are gone.  People can buy their own car insurance, is that all that much simpler than health insurance?

Regardless of whether companies are going to start genetic screening, or if that's just wild speculation, it's been my contention for some time that the conventional full time work that we're used to is going away and will likely be gone within the lifetimes of people reading this today, if the trends continue.  The reason is the same: government over-regulation.  The pressure from these rules will help force work relationships to be more independent contractors and far fewer full time employees.  I work for a very large company, so we're not going to be 100% contractors anytime soon, but for new, start-up companies, the barriers being constructed are going to prevent them from growing beyond 50 people (the current number).  The cost of keeping up with new laws and regulations is simply too high.  As Elizabeth MacDonald at Fox Business News put it, "The government, in a sense, does create jobs in the private sector—a massive vegetative, unproductive universe of workers dedicated to dealing with federal rules."

There was a report this week from the Competitive Enterprise Institute showing that the cost of regulations took $1.88 Trillion away from productive uses in our economy.  If U.S. federal regulation was a country, it would be the world’s 10th largest economy, ranked behind Russia and ahead of India. Regulation nation is bigger than Canada.  Their report, with the wonderful title, "Ten Thousand Commandments" lists some memorable facts:
  • Economy-wide regulatory costs amount to an average of $14,976 per household – around 29 percent of an average family budget of $51,100. Although not paid directly by individuals, this “cost” of regulation exceeds the amount an average family spends on health care, food and transportation.
  • The “Unconstitutionality Index” is the ratio of regulations issued by unelected agency officials compared to legislation enacted by Congress in a given year. In 2014, agencies issued 16 new regulations for every law—that’s 3,554 new regulations compared to 224 new laws.
  • Some 60 federal departments, agencies and commissions have 3,415 regulations in development at various stages in the pipeline. The top six federal rulemaking agencies account for 48 percent of all federal regulations. These are the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The 2014 Federal Register contains 77,687 pages, the sixth highest page count in its history. Among the six all-time-high Federal Register total page counts, five occurred under President Obama.
  • The George W. Bush administra­tion averaged 62 major regulations annually over eight years, while the Obama administration has averaged 81 major regulations annually over six years.
For years, I've been arguing we need to start pruning the Code of Federal Regulations back.  There's a "Regulatory Improvement Act" already in process that would establish a Commission to comb through the Code of Federal Regulations, now 175,268 pages long, and look for harmful, redundant or outdated regulations to get rid of.   That will address the monster we have, adding automatic sunsets or expiration dates for new regulations would help keep the monster from growing as much.  For starters, all new laws would expire after a period time, for example, five years.  Automatic expiration provides a painless way to get rid of obsolete or ineffective rules, and still allows Congress to easily renew successful regulations with a vote.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Making the Rounds At Work

Got this from a technician I work with.  Remember these? 
"New For 88", it proudly proclaims.  $1499 for the phone, apart from your service plan ("ESP Available").  Of course, a phone is pretty useless without a service provider. 

Today, buyers usually get the phone as part of a package plan, rather than buying it up front and going to find a service provider.  The MSRP cash price for an iPhone 6, for comparison to this phone, is around $650 for a middle version, a bit less than half the price of the $1499 brick phone.  A Samsung Galaxy S4 (a roughly equivalent Android phone) is roughly equivalent in price.  In terms of features, capability, size, convenience and so many other ways, the newer phones are light years ahead of the old one, thanks to the continuous improvements in digital electronics. 

I've seen articles like this regularly for years, saying it's actually cheaper to buy the phone and then get a plan. 
A case could be made that the major cell carriers have become modern versions of the flimflam man, using slick web interfaces and byzantine terms of service agreements in their quest to separate consumers from their cash. Point in case, the offer to "discount" the price of a new phone, in exchange for signing a two-year contract.
Details and actual price examples in that article

Something like this is just a "blast from the past" for folks who have been in the electronics business for years, continually fighting to make everything smaller, faster, better. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The War on Cash, and Nearly Comic Book Levels of Absurdity

Today's Telegraph (UK) news site contains an article adding fire to the war on cash: "How to End Boom and Bust: Make Cash Illegal " by Jim Leaviss, identified as being, "head of retail fixed interest at M&G Investments". 

The gist of the article is that once all money is controlled by the world's governments, everything will be wonderful.  They'll have total control over all of us and all of our lives for once.  If people think they should save money, the governments can start charging us to keep it - a tax on savings called negative interest (currently in use in Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, the European Central Bank, and Australia).  Negative interest will make us spend if the alternative is watching our money evaporate.  Likewise, if we're spending too much, they'll be able to offer interest payments to incentivize us to save money.  If they want to steal calculate they need to confiscate money out of everyone's account, a  Cyprus Haircut, it's a simple as adjusting all the accounts at once.  If despite the negative interest rates being calculated to ensure everyone spends, the velocity of money isn't high enough, they can emulate the helicopter Ben or helicopter Janet fix easily by directly creating money out of nothing for your account.  It would make the scenario Jim Rickards described here drop dead easy. 

I can't even accept his basic premise that he could remove "boom and bust cycles".  The other word for this is the business cycle, which economists have been studying for a few hundred years.  I believe that to be a natural consequence of how markets work.  I can't believe they'd remove it by manipulating us.   

With no need to be slowed down by people bringing actual cash to banks, they have computer control, such that they could change the value of your money as often as they want.  Conceivably day by day or even second by second - if they thought control of the economy required that.  Of course, if all business is conducted this way, the black market disappears (in theory) and tax collection is on 100% of transactions (in theory).

What could possibly go wrong?  I mean besides everything.

The article, and the others like it, is full of glittering nonsense that flies in the face of every aspect of human nature.  They completely destroy the essence of what money is.  Money is more than just a medium of exchange; it's also a store of value or purchasing power; and a standard of value.  By changing what money is "worth" from day to day, they obliterate money's role as a store of value, a store of purchasing power and a standard of value.  The only role left is the medium of exchange.  In a cashless society, all you'd ever know is you exchange some number of credits for some amount of a good or service you need.

I'd think it would become impossible to save for retirement or any major purchase if these policies were in place, but central bankers seem to hate savings.  They want everyone to buy on credit.  It's hard enough now with the interest rates going negative (in real terms) like the Fed and world central banks have in effect.  (If the interest cost on a loan is less than the rate of inflation, the interest payment is negative in real terms.  The US has had negative real interest rates since at least the 2008 crash.) 

It's impossible to carry cash if it doesn't exist.  Why even carry a debit card if they can just put a tracking chip in your arm or somewhere?  In reality, you know there were would be barter based on something people value and want, be it shiny pebbles (gems) or old coins that they don't confiscate.  Doesn't 5000 years of human history demonstrate they'll fail?  

Absolute control over every person on the planet, right?  The absolute end of individual freedoms?  You're reduced to nothing but an economic unit who buys or saves depending on how they choose to control you.  It sounds like the "CONSUME" signs in They Live.  Only worse. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

That Was A Busy Weekend

I'm really slowing down as I'm getting older.  I mean, I just don't get as much done as I used to.  Retired friends tell me they don't see how they ever had time to work, and I'm starting to really understand that. 

Saturday, we went to see the Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Fun movie, and close to 2 1/2 hours - over that in the theater seat.  But it really used up Saturday, when we added a half hour visit to a friend in the hospital on the way.  The movie, BTW, is a lot of fun, as those movies tend to be.  There's a bit more quiet character development than the first one, with less wholesale CGI destruction.  Perhaps.  You may have heard that some feminist groups complained about something involving Scarlett Johansson's character, Black Widow.  It suddenly occurred to me while watching the movie that the scene we were watching was The Scene that got them upset ... and I still don't get it.  Throughout the movie there's a developing closeness between Black Widow and Bruce Banner (the Hulk).  It involves their relationship. 

Yesterday, we moved into an upgraded gun safe and I went to drill holes into the floor to put in concrete anchors.  My 30 year old AC-powered drill wouldn't drill through the ceramic tile.  After a couple of minutes, all I had done was heat up the motor and the drill bit.  The "hole", if you want to call it that, was really just a dimple, probably less than 1/16" deep.  After a bit of time figuring out what the next step was, it was off to the Big Orange Borg to pick up a hammer drill.  This one cut through the tile in a few seconds, and then drilled into the concrete so fast you could feel the drill sinking into it. 

But that took all day - from about 11 until almost 6!  Putting in four concrete anchors shouldn't take a over four hours, even with a one hour drive to get the drill added in.  And an hour fixing one concrete anchor.  Sitting or kneeling on the floor isn't exactly my strongest point, and I spent too much time working around that.

I need to spend more hours in activity and fewer hours sitting in front of a screen.
(Scarlet Johansson and Mark Ruffalo from Age of Ultron.  Not The Scene, but A scene from the movie.  Because scene from the movie.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

It's the Hypocrisy That Bothers Me Most

I'm talking about the mainstream media's reaction to Garland. 

After January's Charlie Hebdo attacks, they were full of "Je Suis Charlie" and solidarity.  Condemnation of the attackers (not full-throated loud, still tons of PC-crap).  There was some "they had it coming" talk but the strong current was blaming the perpetrators. 

Here we are barely four months later and this time the tone is virtually completely blaming the victim.  "I support free speech, BUT...";  "Pamela Geller has the right, BUT..."  The UK Mail claims to be the most widely read news site in the English language and they attacked Pam on May 3rd, literally hours after the attack, with a headline proclaiming her "long history of hatred".  The NY Times, probably ashamed to be beaten to victim-blaming, declared her to be purely motivated by hate.
Charlie Hebdo is a publication whose stock in trade has always been graphic satires of politicians and religions, whether Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. By contrast, Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam campaigner behind the Texas event, has a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims.
To steal a quote from Mark Steyn,
The media “narrative” of the last week is that some Zionist temptress was walking down the street in Garland in a too short skirt and hoisted it to reveal her Mohammed thong – oops, my apologies, her Prophet Mohammed thong (PBUH) – and thereby inflamed two otherwise law-abiding ISIS supporters peacefully minding their own business.
To channel Heinlein, the correct way to punctuate, "I support free speech, but -- " is with a period after the "but".    Don't use excessive force in supplying such a moron with a period. Cutting his throat is only a momentary pleasure and is bound to get you talked about.  As everyone has pointed out, free speech is only important when we don't agree.  The more disagreement, the more free speech is needed.  The Mail, the NY Times, NPR, Bill O'Reilly, and all the people who have started their attacks on the victim are sanctimonious, hypocritical cowards.  Pamela Geller has the nerve to stand up and know she's putting a target on her chest.  She is doing this to demonstrate just how bad the jihad problem is.

This isn't simple dhimmitude, the media being docile pets to appease their Islamic masters, for the Lamestream Media it's America's insane politics writ large.  The attack on Charlie Hebdo was OK to be against, because there were no Republicans involved.  The attack on Pamela Geller was on an American Jew on American soil; it could end up affecting the 2016 election.  "If we support her, we may end up giving ammunition to a Republican". 
Nevertheless, this is fantasy...

Me, Je Suis Pamela Geller.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Helping The Paralyzed Walk Again

When I was in my 20s, in the mid 70s, I was a dedicated fan of the Miami Dolphins.  With a powerful offense led by "the thinking man's quarterback" Bob Griese, and the "No-Name" defense led by linebacker Nick Buoniconti, they were one of the dominant teams of the era.  As we do with actors, we tend to feel we get to know players and think of them as a sort of long-distance friend.  Nick Buoniconti was a friend of mine, in that sense. 

Fast forward to 1985 and retired Nick has a son, Marc, who starts playing in major college football.  At 19 years old, Marc is hit with the worst injury that can happen to a player: he breaks his neck (C3/C4) during a game and is paralyzed for life from the shoulders down.  Nick and Marc form the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.  If it can be done with pure drive and relentless mental toughness, these two will succeed.  Unfortunately, it's much harder than that.

Conventional wisdom is that nerve damage can't be fixed, but there have been some tantalizing hints of nerve growth in limbs.  These larger nerves in body are very much like insulated wires: there is a central nerve tissue, the conductive axons, covered in an insulator called a myelin sheath.  I read one report where by putting a myelin sheath between the ends of severed nerves in a frog's arm, the nerves grew down the myelin tube until they fused and restored motion to the arm.  The spinal cord is whole higher level, though.  There have been very few things that have shown even a little promise for the kind of injury that Marc Buoniconti has.

In this Video from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) we see a promising technique for splicing spinal cords; a patch for the sheath on the spine (called the dura mater) that is flexible, and very highly biocompatible.  As you can see, with this patch in place, rats were able to walk again. 

I've said before that I think the future is in tissue engineering: growing replacements for diseased or degraded body parts, patching defective genes before they cause damage.  Work along those lines.  There's an idea floating around today (which I think comes from Ray Kurzweil) that says if we can survive until the year 2030, we will have the option of immortality.  I'd say no unless spinal cord repair was as reliable as changing a fuse in a car.  I'd say no unless all those annoying things that happen as you age are eradicated.  Things like every old injury turning arthritic, deteriorating hearing, metabolic problems, all the rest.  Not to mention scars from every little cut and injury you get need to stop, lest we turn into one continuous mass of scar tissue.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hat's Off to the Garland PD Officer

Everyone has heard that the officer who ended the "Sudden Jihadi Syndrome" attack of the two idiots in Garland wasn't SWAT, decked out in top-end, tacticool gear; he was an experienced officer.  According to reports, he used his duty pistol (I'm guessing Glock 19 just based on its popularity) to take out both *s in 15 seconds.

Bob Owens has a detailed report and has updated it as details emerge from the fog. 
At the point of the attack, the two suspects apparently drove up and opened fire upon an unarmed security guard who was accompanied by a 60-year-old Garland police officer. The unarmed guard was struck [in] the volley of gunfire. The veteran Garland officer then drew his duty-issue Glock pistol and opened fire on the suspects.

The officer killed one terrorist and wounded the other in his initial volley of return fire. Witnesses claim there was a brief pause, and then the officer fire two more shots to kill the still-moving terrorist as he appears to be reaching for a backpack. The entire event lasted 15 seconds, with heavily-armed Garland SWAT converging on the scene immediately afterward.
Pretty outstanding work on the officer's part.  Takes down one guy in the first few seconds from about 20 yards, then when the other guy starts reaching for a backpack, possibly to blow an IED or a suicide belt, he double taps him.  60 years old?  Anyone want to take odds he's been shooting for 50-some of those years? 

Bob points out an interesting detail that isn't in that quick summary.  From the evidence photo it appears the officer attacked his attackers. 
The evidence markers at the bottom of the photo above show us a remarkable story, as they denote the final locations of the shell casings ejected from the officer’s Glock duty pistol. While every pistol is different from another in its ejection pattern, and the movement of the officer and the cant of his gun precludes us from knowing exactly where he was, there is a distinct trail of shells showing that the officer was moving forward from the bottom left of the photo above towards the terrorists at the rear of the vehicle.  He appears to have opened fire from 20 yards away, and fired at least a dozen shots by the time he reached an area near the traffic cones, roughly 7-10 yards from where the terrorists died.
The post on Bearing Arms does a good job of getting more details of weapons used, and has continually swapped out better pictures as they become available.  I know the officer involved has not been identified and has asked for some time to collect himself.  That sounds like it's the first time he has had to kill someone in the line of duty.  Hat's off to you, officer, for a job well done.  I can only hope that, God forbid, I should ever be faced with that situation that I acquit myself as well as he did!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Techy Tuesday: Space - It's Genuinely Scary Out There - Part II

It has been quite a while since I ran part I, but an article I saw today got me thinking about the subject again. 

The overall topic is the dangers of travel to Mars, as well as living on the surface. Life on the surface of Earth has a big advantage: the Earth protects us from dangerous radiation common in deep space.  Earth's magnetic field, and to a lesser extent the atmosphere, protect us from Galactic Cosmic Rays, GCRs, high energy particles believed to come mostly from exploding stars.  NASA's Human Research Program has just reported on a study called, “What Happens To Your Brain On The Way To Mars?”. 
Astronauts on deep space missions risk significant damage to their central nervous systems from galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), which could diminish their abilities to deal with mission-critical events, according to a new study from NASA’s Human Research Program.
The problem is exposure to those GCRs during the trip.  Astronauts onboard the International Space Station have the advantage of living inside the magnetic "bubble" that Earth's field produces, so they're not exposed to it.  The only humans in history who have been exposed to the potential of high energy GCRs found in deep space were the handful who went to the moon.  Their exposure was brief; a few days at most, and I recall reading missions were planned around expected low sunspot activity (solar CMEs are another form of high energy particles).  According to Charles Limoli, professor of radiation oncology at the University of California Irvine (UC-I) School of Medicine.
“Performance decrements, memory deficits, and loss of awareness and focus during spaceflight may affect mission-critical activities, and exposure to these particles may have long-term adverse consequences to cognition throughout life,”

The effects of exposure to GCR are similar to those experienced by brain cancer patients, who receive much higher doses of radiation. There is little protection from spacecraft shielding at GCR energy levels, according to the researchers, who suggest the best countermeasures may come from pharmacological solutions that block free radicals and protect neurotransmissions. “But these remain to be optimized and are under development,” Dr. Limoli notes.
In addition to the problems from radiation, the physiological effects of that much time in space could also be trouble.  As it is, long-term crews on the ISS need to do a lot of exercise to maintain bone density, but they still lose some bone.  Mars travel is an application where spinning the craft to create pseudo gravity could be a life saver.  

These problems of a long space voyage are enormous, but I don't think they're insurmountable.  A vehicle that could continuously accelerate half the way there and decelerate for the other half would drastically reduce the amount of time spent in deep space over our current "boost and coast" approach.  This means entirely new approaches to rocket engines because chemical rockets require dragging along too much fuel to be able to run continuously.  A very likely approach would use nuclear powered rockets.  Being placed at the front of a spaceship with nuclear reactions going on behind them would expose the crew to much less radiation than riding conventional rockets.  Some designs that have been investigated would allow 60 day trips to Mars.  Boost and coast trips would take 18 months.  (Both of these are travel time)  In addition to potentially increasing the amount of time available for the surface activities in the mission, simply reducing the time in flight from 500 days down to 60 would dramatically cut the amount of radiation exposure. 
An Orion class rocket concept: continuous chain of hydrogen bombs propel the rocket.