Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Not Ban Assault Rifles?

Why not? What does it matter? After all, the assault rifle is a rather ineffective tool. Applying science and logic, there are better choices for most every situation a firearm is called for.

Hunting - For hunting, the purpose of the firearm is to achieve a quick, clean kill, with a single shot. Multiple bullets means unnecessary pain and suffering for the animal and damage to the meat. The ideal hunting weapon has very good accuracy to a reasonably large distance, with a bullet which will make a small entry hole, causing as little damage as possible to the external tissue (meat). The bullet should then expand internally, doing as much damage as possible to internal organs (specifically heart and lungs), to ensure a very quick death. Assault rifles don't have good long range accuracy, as a general rule, there is no need for an automatic, or even a semiautomatic rate of fire, as the kill should occur with a single well placed shot. Most of the best hunting rifles are bolt-action, like the Kimber model 84m or the Ruger M77RSI International.

Home Defense - An assault rifle is a horrible choice for home defense. Consider the situation; tight quarters, short distances, low response time, neighbors. Most assault rifles are too long, awkward and clumsy to be used effectively in a close quarters, in-door situation. You'll be bumping the barrel into walls and furniture. And when you do find your target, you will have less than a second to bring the  weapon to bear, and fire. Even with automatic fire, you are only like to get a few rounds off. Probability of you being able to place a lethal, or stopping round is quite low. And the rounds that miss are going to penetrate your walls and enter the neighborhood, where they have the potential to maim or kill innocents. For home defense, the best choice is a short barrel shotgun, like a Mossberg 590A1 or the Benelli M4 (yes, there is a Civilian model). With a shotgun, you don't have to be especially accurate, as you will have a spreading pattern of balls striking in the vicinity of where you aim. You have a great deal of "stopping power", and the shot will generally not penetrate your walls, keeping the lethal force contained in your home.

Mugging//Car-Jacking/Street violence -  It is pretty hard to hide an assault rifle. If a criminal wants to do you harm, and they see you packing an AR-15   (the link will take you to an editorial note explaining the change) M-16, they will just shoot you from behind. Assuming you have an MP5, or something else small enough to potentially conceal. You aren't going to be able to retrieve it fast enough to do you any good. In this situation you need something small, light and concealable. This is the situation for a hand-gun, even an itty -bitty .22 pistol can be an effective weapon in such close quarters.

Apocalypse - Suppose the country falls apart and it is every man for himself. Surely this is where the assault rifle shines, right? Wrong. Fact is you and your assault rifle will be one of the first to go. Governments tend to resist apocalyptic events, those with sufficient money and power will still have access to trained soldiers, which they will use to ensure their survival. They will have more men than you, and more bullets than you. They might drop you with a sniper round the first time they see you and your assault weapon in the open. They might approach you in a group in which case you might be lucky enough to get one or two of them before they drop you. They might just start a firefight, and let you use up your ammunition. For the apocalypse, you are going to want a good hunting/sniper rifle, and something concealable for the surprise value in a situation you can't otherwise escape. Given limited supply of ammunition, you definitely don't want anything automatic. 

Governmental Defense - What if it is necessary to take arms against your own government? To restore liberty? Such a scenario is not unrealistic. It has happened before. It is happening now, in fact, in other parts of the world. Would an assault rifle be a good choice then? Again, supply of ammunition needs to be considered. If the military stands with the newly self-appointed dictators, they are going to have an unlimited supply of ammunition, and you are not. The simple reality is that the assault weapon is more about intimidation. You hurl an ungodly amount of metal at your opponent to break his will. Maybe you will get lucky and have a round or two strike home. More likely you will keep him pinned down until you can get a sniper in place to execute a one-shot kill. In every situation, there is a specific firearm more suited to the task at hand.

Zombie Apocalypse - Okay, you might have a case there....

The assault rifle is to guns what the Lamborghini is to cars. It is sexy, noisy,  expensive, goes like mad, makes you feel "manly", and ultimately is terribly inefficient and ineffective.

So why not just go with a ban? Why fight it? Why not just capitulate and make everybody happy?

What defines an "assault weapon"? The word "Assault" in the name is not a valid metric.

You  need a practical measurement in order to effectively ban it. The ultimate goal is to prevent loss of life, right? So how do you achieve that? What, based on that objective defines an assault weapon.

Is it an assault weapon because it is automatic? semi-automatic? Have you ever seen Jerry Miculek speed shooting with a revolver?

What about magazine size? Is the threshold 30 rounds? What happens when everybody starts making 29 round magazines? 28 Round magazines? Do you know how long it takes to switch out a magazine?  Do you know how fast you can reload a revolver?

How do you design a standard for identifying and banning assault rifles, which will not run the risk of infringing on basic 2nd amendment rights? How do you ensure that responsible Americans can still defend their homes, families and lives against the unjust or the tyrannical, should the need arise?

If it is loss of life you are truly concerned about? Wouldn't it be better to start by banning alcohol, which accounts for nearly 3 times as many deaths annually? Oh, we tried that once, didn't we? WE still regulate it, yet it present a much higher body count. Why will banning assault weapons be different?

I will admit, when I listen to the pro-gun nuts talking, I begin to think a firearms ban would be a good idea, All that white-trash, red-neck, semi-literate, belligerent, chest thumping makes me nervous. On the other hand, they aren't the ones making the news for shooting people, are they?

In short, banning assault weapons will most likely be a high cost solution, with a relatively low gain. It would be much wiser to invest those resources in other ways, like encouraging and rewarding solid, nuclear families, good educators, and effective peer support programs, positive media,... things which can have a real, long-lasting impact on the way we think, and therefore act. And, banning assault weapons, even though it may seem to serve the greater good, is a dangerous step toward losing fundamental freedoms essential to the evolution of the human experience.

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive."
        -C.S. Lewis

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gut facts

This page is probably going to be a list of random facts about the Intestines. Things I have picked up from some MIT coursework, and elsewhere. Stuff that may be helpful to me or others. I will try to stick to information with relatively solid science to back it up (keeping in mind the Fundamental flaws of science). Of course, if you notice inconsistencies, please let me know, and provide source for validation. I will list sources at the bottom of this document.

  • An average human being is composed of roughly 10 trillion cells

Cells have a fairly high probability of mutation as they divide. That is just the way the system works;  as bits of genetic material attach in sequence to complete a new DNA strand, there is a fairly high probability of a coding error.Gut cells are especially at risk for mutation, due tot he fact they are in contact with the waste products of our digestive process, many of which may have mutagenic qualities.

Cells have mechanisms to watch for these errors and truncate them;strip of the bad code and reconstruct), or destroy the new cell.

  • The gut has a series of valleys, called crypts, and peaks, called villi.

 In the crypts there are groupings of stem cells (stem cells are generic cells which can become/create any(totipotent) or many(pluripotent) types of cells in the body. Much of stem cell research is about controlling these cells, so we can create new organs and other body parts, which could be a genetic match to your body, thereby taking care of the whole rejection issue.). These stem cells duplicate themselves at a relatively slow rate, and have a relatively long lifespan, to reduce the probability of mutations occurring. These cell produce the various specialized gut cells (we'll call them daughter cells), which work their way up to the top of the villi, and make up the bulk of the gut cell tissue.
Some of the specialized gut cells produce a mucus substance (mucin) which forms a barrier (a slimy force field) between the stem cells and the contents of the intestines, thsu preventing these stem cells from coming in contact with potential mutagens.

Since the stem cells produce a relative small quantity of cells, most of the cells which make up the gut are the result of an series of exponential divisions of the daughter cells, which the stem cell originally produced.

These cells work their way up the villi, where they become exposed to the contents of the gut. At this point, they are now a high risk for mutation, so they ... kill themselves (apoptosis), to be replaced by newer cells. This cycle takes 3-4 days.

  • The gut is also home for a host of bacteria. There are more bacteria in the gut, than there are cells in the body (roughly ten time more, in fact). These bacteria perform all kinds of tasks, like breaking down stuff our body can't, extracting use nutrients we couldn't otherwise get access to. They help train our immune system, they help to prevent the growth of pathogens, and they may play a role in the prevention of allergies and Inflammatory Bowel Disorders.

Cats, Swords, Sticks, Guns

In Medieval Europe, a terrible plague once threatened to wipe humans from the map. The humans did their best to help it happen too. See the plagued was caused by a flea, which thrived on rodents. the people of the time, driven by inaccurate data, concluded that cats were the cause. And went on a cat killing spree. The reduction in the cat population, meant fewer predators for rats, who then flourished, and the fleas along with them. You'd think we'd be smarter now, but instead we seem to have made cat killing an art.

A lifetime ago, I had a martial arts instructor who trained in Okinawa. He shared some interesting history with me. At the time, the sword was king. And the Japanese had mastered the craft. The Japanese Katana was a truly formidable weapon. The blade was a springy steel, which would flex, readily, making it less prone to breaking. They would bury the blade in the sand, leaving only the cutting edge exposed. This would harden the edge, while preserving the flexibility of the rest of the blade. the hardened portion could then be honed to an extremely sharp cutting edge.

A skilled swordsman could use the Daito (long sword) to disable a horsed opponent with a single stroke, severing the front legs of the horse and toppling the rider. The shoto (short sword) was equally lethal.

The okinawan commoners were not allowed swords by law. The leaders of the time banned weapons to prevent insurrection. If your soldiers are armed and your peasants are not... So the Okinawan commoners improvised. Farm tools became weapons. Okinawan tradition holds that the Tonfa and Nunchaku were both tools used for threshing grain, beating rice kernels open. Both were adapted to the purpose of combat. Either is capable of delivering a fatally skull crushing blow.

And of course every civilization has used the stick (Quarter Staff, Bo Staff, sharpen one end and call it a spear, lance, or javelin...) when no other option was available.

People who wish to do violence have always found the means to do so, whether by stick, car, plastic knife, or diesel and fertilizer.

Today's cat of choice seems to be the firearm. It is all over the news. One group points out the many recent tragedies. Another holds up statistics showing an increase in crime after gun control laws have been implemented in other countries. And everyone argues about guns.
And everyone ignores the fleas. The problem isn't the piece of metal, the explosive material, the blade, or the stick. The problem is the action. More fundamentally, the problem is the thought which led to that action.

That is where the focus should be. You want to fix violence? Fix that.

Here are a few hints:

Personal Responsibility/Accountability
Highly Available, Accurate Information
Learned Selflessness

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Slavery today

In 1865 Slavery was officially abolished in the United States, with the ratification of the thirteenth amendment of the constitution. Plans to eliminate slavery went back to the original declaration of independence, but weren't acted upon at that time, as some states depended upon slavery, and it was decided unification of the states was more important at the time. There was of course talk of the need to work out a plan to ultimately phase out slavery.

In the Early 1800's, growth of the labor-intensive cotton industry spurred an increase in slavery in the southern states. Originally slaves were a fairly equal mix of Europeans and Africans (Yes, there have always been white slaves in America. No thanks to the race wars, that is all but forgotten).

Then a war was fought, a constitution was amended and the US abolished slavery. Hooray for us. But, is slavery really gone from America?

I'm not talking about the (tens of? hundreds of?) thousands of individuals in the US who are here under duress, primarily by abduction, and often forcibly employed in various aspects of the sex-for-money industry  (not that this isn't a subject worthy of attention).

First, what is slavery? Lack of pay? Early American slaves received pay, in the form of room, clothing, food, and in some cases allowance. Practically everyone who works does so, in order to receive money, which they trade for food, clothing, shelter...

Is it freedom? How free is an individual living hand-to-mouth, working extended hours in a factory?
Is it the ability to walk away if they choose? To change their circumstances? Many of the early American slaves were only slaves for as long as was needed to repay the debt they incurred to pay the fare for their journey to America. They chose slavery for a time, in an effort to obtain a better life in  the future (kinda’ like how we use credit cards, only their debt usually had an end).

What if (extending the conversation outside the U.S., to China, India,…) individuals are lining up to take jobs at those factories? What if you can produce many interviews from those individuals talking about how their lives are better now? It isn't slavery if their lives are better off, right? Well, some American slaves had better lives while in slavery than they had before or after their time as slaves. Sure there were horrible masters who treated their property poorly. There were also a few decent masters who treated their slaves like family.

I have children. They perform chores around the house, which is not how they want to spend their time.  They are also required to attend school, take piano lessons etc..., frequently against their will. They don't get a salary. Yes, we feed them clothe them, provide them rooms, a little spending money (and love of course). Many early slaves have experienced the same.

I'm not trying to downplay the state of American slaves historically, nor am I trying to build a case that the Chinese factory worker is precisely comparable. I am sincere when I ask, what defines slavery?

Quite frankly the definition seems rather blurry; more a buzzword that gets pulled out when some group or other wants to whip a crowd into a frenzy, often over something that frankly has no connection whatsoever to slavery, past or present.

Okay, set that aside for a moment. Assuming we manage to establish a clear definition of slavery. Do we all agree it is bad? Do we all want it eliminated?

Does that seem like a stupid question?

Ever seen the Egyptian pyramids? The Great Wall of China? They are the products of slavery. See, it all goes back to that Law of Conservation thingy. It takes lots of calories to build amazing things like pyramids and massive walls. Those calories are not invested in making food, clothes, shelter.... things people actually need. That means while someone is busy stacking rocks in a pointy shape, someone else has to collect food etc... for themselves and for the rock stacker. What do you do if you don't have enough people willing to do double duty on food collection? Well, somehow, you need to come up with people willing to do the work for less food, shelter, etc...

So, you can go conquer someone, and put them to work for you, you can have lots of children, and let them do the grunt work, or you can find some “economically inferior” country, and magnanimously improve their lives by letting them do your grunt work in exchange for peanuts.

“What about technology?” you may say. Advancing technology does give us better tools which can make the job easier and faster, with fewer people. But, for technology to advance you need people investing their time in advancing education, science, and in designing and engineering said new technology. You are back to needing people making extra food for extra mouths.

Now it is possible, for responsible people to work hard, work together, and accomplish amazing things without resorting to slavery. It is just a matter of hard work, cooperation, a few sacrifices...

In the western world, average hours worked is declining. Many European countries average less than 38 hours per week.  People are working longer (retiring later), but they are also living longer. People are having fewer kids, and fewer of those kids are actually performing the “grunt” jobs, that were a rite-of-passage for prior generations of teens.

Houses are bigger, cars are bigger. Appetites are bigger. What with TVs, game consoles, CD's, DVD's, Movies, Portable gaming devices, Tablets, etc...  The average US household spends about $2500 every year on entertainment

Nine year-old's are packing cell phones. Nine year-old's are in the red on the conservation balance sheet before the cell phone becomes an essential part of their accouterments.

And of course we consume hoards of “free stuff”. Somebody has to pay for “free”.

Our amazing healthcare system is keeping us alive longer; it is also keeping criminals alive longer, criminals who grow their wealth through theft, extortion, and other resource draining activities.

Some of our present welfare laws encourage people to do less. If you make too much money you don't qualify for school grants, you could lose access to essential healthcare assistance.

The future of space exploration is iffy at this point, which means we are no longer actively pursuing options for resources or expansion beyond our 5.972x1024 Kg rock.

In short, the "civilized" world is becoming increasingly dependent on “slavery”, in one form or another, to help balance out the consumption/creation equation.

Just some thoughts to ponder while you're sitting at Starbucks, sipping your caramel macchiato, using the “free” Wi-Fi to consume “free” content with your Apple(or Android or...) gadget, and complaining about immigration, the treatment of Chinese workers...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Random Thoughts about pants on Sunday movement...

Just some random thoughts I had yesterday and today after reading about the "Wear pants to Church on Sunday" thing.

  • Why would you protest a church? It is a religious organization, not a social club. Either you believe it is true, and directed by deity, in which case you do you best to follow its tenets, or you don't believe it, in which case, why waste your time?
  • Why would women seek to lower themselves to the level of selfish thinking that men have already fallen too?
Justification for that statement?
Have you been listening to conference for the past many many years?
Gist of talks targeting the women. Be faithful, have patience keep on enduring, continue to make Jesus Christ your foundation, and charity your motto.

Gist of talk targeting men: c'mon you idiots get your act together! Stop looking at porn! stop cheating on our spouse! stop neglecting your family! stop mistreating your family!
Do something useful will ya?

I might be exaggerating slightly, but only slightly. This isn't a new trend, by the way. A prophet named Jacob gave a similar talk roughly 2500 years ago (Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:6-10)

Point is, women generally speaking have always seemed to have a better grasp on the meaning of true Christianity: of charity, humility, faith, service and obedience. Why would you change that by pursuing selfishness, conflict, divisiveness?

  • Sacrament Meeting is about renewing personal covenants with our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is one hour a week when we attempt to step away from worldly distractions of business and politics, and focus our attention on Faith, Repentance, Bearings one another burdens and strengthening one another's faith? Why on earth would you choose to inject a political statement into time meant to be focused upon the savior?

  • Those of you decrying the Gender inequality in the Church... Have you ever been to a Bishops Council or Ward welfare meeting? I've have been to quite a few, in a number of capacities. The one common thread of every meeting? The Bishop presides over the meeting, but the relief society president calls the shots, and when she talks, the men take notes. Sure there are occasionally idiots who wind up as Bishop or Stake President. There were a few prophets in the Bible who did some rather dumb things too. But referring back to the second point, why would you stoop to their level?

  • Callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint's are NOT positions of authority. The church is is not a business, nor a political organization. Nobody in their right mind wants to be a Bishop, or Stake president. Bishops 1 year for every two months they have their calling. It is about service, not about ascension. (I secretly suspect that may explain in part why men are those callings, they need to be ... encouraged... when it comes to service and selflessness. Women, generally speaking seem to be able to 'just get it' on their own.