Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Non-Existent Chemical Weapons Still Need Destroying

From Associated Press:

BAGHDAD (AP) — Britain will help the Iraqi government dispose of what's left of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons, still stored in two bunkers in north of Baghdad, the British embassy in Baghdad announced Monday.
The British Defense Ministry will start training Iraqi technical and medical workers this year, an embassy statement said. The teams will work to safely destroy remnants of munitions and chemical warfare agents left over from Saddam's regime. He was overthrown in 2003 following an American-led invasion.
Saddam stored the chemical weapons near population centers so that he could access them quickly, despite the danger to his civilian population.
Most of Iraq's chemical weapons were destroyed by military forces in 1991 during the first Gulf War or by U.N. inspectors after the fighting. The inspections halted just before the invasion.
What happened to "Bush Lied, People Died"?

Very Interesting Piece About John Punch, America's First Documented African Slave

John Punch is one of those interesting footnotes to American history -- the first African who we know was made a slave for life.  (There is circumstantial evidence that the first slaves sold in Virginia in 1619 were treated as indentured servants, because we know that some of them, within a few years, were land owners and in some cases, slave owners.)

Ancestry.com is promoting their services by issuing this new report about Barack Obama's ancestry--and they tell us that he is a descendant of John Punch (or Bunch, as the name later became).  But this is not through his Kenyan father--but through his mother.  Remember that in the very earliest years, there were no laws against interracial marriage, and it happened enough for Virginia and Maryland to pass laws in the seventeenth century to prohibit it.

UPDATE: I had originally titled this, "America's First Documented Slave" but actually, first documented African slave.  Indian survivors of the Pequot War in 1637 Connecticut were enslaved.

UPDATE 2: The comments over at Legal Insurrection are beyond skeptical, and some of them are really quite amusing.  This one, which those familiar with the story of Superman, will recognize:

This doesn’t quite square with the old southside Chicago legend that states Ma and Pa Dunham were on their front porch in Kansas one night, when they saw what they thought was a meteor. Well, the thing whooshed over the house, knocked over the family-size statue of Lenin in the front yard and crashed into the herb garden.
 Far from being a meteor, it was the remains of a very sophisticated rocket, but not one you’d ever imagine coming from Earth. No, this one was covered in strange writing and inside, was a baby, wrapped in a copy of what appeared to be the Communist Manifesto.
November 1, 2012 NYT headline: Barack Obama Ancestry Traced Back To Jesus Christ AND Mohammed. 

Why Companies Can't Find Qualified Software Engineers

Sad article about why software companies can't find qualified applicants.  It starts out telling this story:
At the second RailsConf, David Heinemeier Hansson told the audience about a recruiter trying to hire with “5 years of experience with Ruby on Rails.” DHH told him “Sorry; I’ve only got 4 years.” We all laughed (I don’t think there’s anyone in the technical world who hasn’t dealt with a clueless recruiter), but little did we know this was the shape of things to come.
Mr. Hansson is the author of Ruby on Rails, so short of time travelers showing up to apply, this employer was going to be waiting a while.

I remember in the late 1970s, when the IBM Series 1 minicomputer came out. Within a year of its debut, there were job ads requiring ten years experience programming the Series 1. 

 The article goes on to explain that many employers have become very focused on hiring people with the exact experience that they want, rather than looking to hire people who can learn a new language, application domain, or operating system.  (Yes, there is still something besides Windows.)

When I worked for startups in Telecom Valley in the 1980s and 1990s, there was an assumption that it would take several months for a software engineer to become fully productive. Either you were learning the operating system (usually homebrew in those days), the application space, or the programming language. We did not expect anyone to be productive the second day on the job. Now, employers do expect that. The notion that you are employing someone who can learn something new, and will bring their experience solving complex problems, seems to be gone.

UPDATE: A reader points out that some of the specificity of employers at the moment is like demanding experience driving a Toyota--as if other other vehicles aren't fairly similar.  There are some areas where the differences are pretty big--the transition to a non-object oriented language like C to C++, C#, Java, or (God forbid) Smalltalk is painful.  Ditto for writing web-based products where server and client are at arms-length (often continents-length).  (I think I still have some scars from that learning experience.)  But C# vs. Java is primarily a difference in the libraries, and the differences in a particular company's application and local design methods will typically be much larger.

Now, there are some areas where I see the case for hiring someone with a particular experience.  I did a challenge exam for Node.js recently, and yes, writing in that environment takes a very different mindset from conventional Javascript.  It is run-forever situation, and I can see why an employer might want someone who has done that for a year or two.  

But most of the specific complaints about what I wrote were pretty ridiculous: they had asked for the output to be numbered 1-100; I numbered it 0-99.  They had asked for the events to be randomly positioned between 5 and 10 seconds.  I interpreted this requirement as integer seconds, not millisecond intervals, because that wasn't specified in the request.  A couple of lines were missing closing semicolons; big deal, Node.js is a Javascript variant, and Javascript is pretty forgiving on syntax.  They did have one specific complaint that I could see as legitimate, because the strategy that I used definitely did not reflect the sort of event-driven process that Node.js uses.  They probably do need someone who has done this sort of programming before.  

But much of the specificity of positions now seems to be a mixture of: "We can't afford to be even a few weeks behind the rest of this ferociously competitive industry on anything," "There's a surplus of unemployed developers, so we can be absurdly demanding," and "Why should we invest even a month or two of salary in long-term development when we expect to make all of our money in the next year when we get bought out."  (And of course, the vast majority will not.)

UPDATE 2: I am amused to see that the company in question is still advertising.  My guess is that they are having trouble finding someone with the exact experience that they want.  I will be curious to see if they wait six months to find Mr. Perfect, when they could hire someone who could spend the next six months becoming highly proficient at what they want.

When Whistling At A Killer Whale Is A Crime

This July 27, 2012 Washington Post column by George Will reminds me of Kafka's The Trial:
The huge humpback whale whose friendliness precipitated a surreal seven-year — so far — federal hunt for criminality surely did not feel put upon. Nevertheless, our unhinged government, with an obsession like that of Melville’s Ahab, has crippled Nancy Black’s scientific career, cost her more than $100,000 in legal fees — so far — and might sentence her to 20 years in prison. This Kafkaesque burlesque of law enforcement began when someone whistled.

Black, 50, a marine biologist who also captains a whale-watching ship, was with some watchers in Monterey Bay in 2005 when a member of her crew whistled at the humpback that had approached her boat, hoping to entice the whale to linger. Back on land, another of her employees called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to ask if the whistling constituted “harassment” of a marine mammal, which is an “environmental crime.” NOAA requested a video of the episode, which Black sent after editing it slightly to highlight the whistling. NOAA found no harassment — but got her indicted for editing the tape, calling this a “material false statement” to federal investigators, which is a felony under the 1863 False Claims Act, intended to punish suppliers defrauding the government during the Civil War.
Read the whole thing.  But please, don't mistrust your government.

Gee, What Do You Think?

What are the odds that this person has some sort of serious mental illness problem?

A Spanish tourist was attacked by a hammer-wielding man, apparently at random, while sitting inside City Hall Park Monday afternoon, authorities say.
The 31-year-old tourist from Barcelona was sitting in the park at Murray Street and Broadway when a man dressed in a suit and tie began hitting him with a hammer, witnesses told investigators.
The assailant reportedly hit the victim in the head several times and screamed obscenities at him. Witnesses said he made erratic remarks about President Obama and the Clintons.
Had he used a gun, I'm sure by now this would be a Tea Partier at work.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Moon Observing

I'm reading Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (1865) (although unaccountably titled "The Moon-shot" in the translation that I am reading), and how appropriate that I rolled out my 5" f/9 refractor this evening to take a look at the Moon.

Verne's novel shows his great respect for Americans, while also poking fun at some of our more uncivilized habits.  His description of the Gun Club (and we're talking artillery, not small arms) in Baltimore that decides to fire a projectile to the Moon captures what was apparently even then a European view of us as a little bloody-minded of a bunch for our own good--but still, you can tell that Verne respected the American attitude: any technical problem that might cause Europeans to back down is simply a minor obstacle for American engineering and manufacturing to ram through!

Technically, I didn't roll the telescope out to look at the Moon.  No, no, I was testing a new design for ScopeRoller for one particular class of tripods where the existing design is a bit ugly to make because of the precision required and the manufacturing tolerances of the tripod legs that it has to fit.  So having made a prototype set a couple of weeks ago with my son, I used them to roll the refractor out over the reground asphalt apron that we had Stor-Mor Sheds build the telescope garage.

Everything worked just fine on the reground asphalt apron; when I reached the chip seal surface in front on that, it was a bit slower going.  I have some concerns that Big Bertha, when rolled out, may be more of a problem.  If so, we may have to have this reground asphalt carried a bit farther out, once the fall semester starts and there is more money coming in.

Anyway, the downside of living at 43 degrees is that in summer, it takes forever for the sky to get really dark.  I envy astronomers who live in Hawaii and Florida for this reason.  It goes from sunlight to dark almost like turning a switch!  As a result, the Moon was about the only interesting thing to look out before it was time for bed.

I was wondering if I would be able to see the craterlets in Plato.  Plato is a relatively small crater that you won't be able to see without at least big binoculars.  (This picture is from Enchanted Learning's website; Plato is labeled near the top):

This picture that I took back in 2007 has Plato at the top, a bit right of the terminator:

This guy has a great picture of Plato and the craterlets that he took with a considerably larger telescope (a Celestron C11):

Anyway, the refractor isn't quite large enough to resolve the craterlets -- perhaps I'll try this again with Big Bertha tomorrow night.

There was an astonishingly bright crater closer to the terminator, and on the same edge as Plato that was really spectacular.  I am surprised that I can't find a picture of it online.

I also want to thank whichever one of my readers suggested that I use Levels in GIMP to do some cleanup.  I took this picture back in 2007--a little work in GIMP and voila!  This:

turned into this!

What Is Tragic Is That This Is A Darn Good Idea

The July 30, 2012 Denver Post has an article in which they describe how an instructor at the American Military University in DC has trained his children:

Even now that his daughter is in her 20s, Jeffrey Hawkins still springs a familiar quiz on her when the two are out together in a restaurant.
"We'll be chatting about this or that," said Hawkins, "and then I'll stop. I'll say, 'OK, what's your plan?' And she'll know exactly what I'm talking about. She'll say, 'Dad there are three exits... One behind you. One to our left, and one through the kitchen.' "
" 'OK, and what if that doesn't work? What would you do?' "
" 'I would take this chair, throw it through the window and run.'"
It's not about being paranoid, said Hawkins, a public safety and security industry veteran. It is about realizing that "things can happen," even in public places once deemed safe.

Read more:The movie shooting and public responsibility in the face of violence - The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/style/ci_21186811?source=pop#ixzz2291zRnG6Read The Denver Post's Terms of Use of its content: http://www.denverpost.com/termsofuse
Amazingly enough, when I was young, this would have been a sign of paranoia--to worry about something as unlikely as a random act of mass murder.  Now, it's just commonsense.

New Black Panthers In News Again

Remember when the Obama Administration overrode its career lawyers and dropped a case that they had already won against the New Black Panther Party for trying to intimidate voters with weapons and racist rhetoric outside a polling place?  The Obama Administration and its defenders in the mainstream media keep insisting that they did nothing of the sort--that this was strictly a decision of the career lawyers.  Nope.  From  July 30, 2012 Fox News:

A federal court in Washington, DC, held today that political appointees appointed by President Obama did interfere with the Department of Justice’s prosecution of the New Black Panther Party.
The ruling came as part of a motion by the conservative legal watch dog group Judicial Watch, who had sued the DOJ in federal court to enforce a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents pertaining to the the New Black Panthers case. Judicial Watch had secured many previously unavailable documents through their suit against DOJ and were now suing for attorneys’ fees.
Obama’s DOJ had claimed Judicial Watch was not entitled to attorney’s fees since “none of the records produced in this litigation evidenced any political interference whatsoever in” how the DOJ handled the New Black Panther Party case. But United States District Court Judge Reggie Walton disagreed. Citing a “series of emails” between Obama political appointees and career Justice lawyers, Walton writes:
The documents reveal that political appointees within DOJ were conferring about the status and resolution of the New Black Panther Party case in the days preceding the DOJ’s dismissal of claims in that case, which would appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez’s testimony that political leadership was not involved in that decision. Surely the public has an interest in documents that cast doubt on the accuracy of government officials’ representations regarding the possible politicization of agency decision-making.

In sum, the Court concludes that three of the four fee entitlement factors weigh in favor of awarding fees to Judicial Watch. Therefore, Judicial Watch is both eligible and entitled to fees and costs, and the Court must now consider the reasonableness of Judicial Watch’s requested award.

I mean realistically, how will Obama win re-election without racist threats at polling places?

Hans von Spakovsky over at PJ Media points out that there is something a bit more serious going on:

In a little noted decision on July 23, a federal district court judge concluded that internal DOJ documents about the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case “contradict Assistant Attorney General [Thomas] Perez’s testimony that political leadership was not involved in” the decision to dismiss the case.
In other words, the sworn testimony of Perez, the Obama political appointee who heads the Civil Rights Division, before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was apparently false.
Isn't that called perjury, when a Republican does it?

No Great Surprise

No surprise on this at all:
A former University of Colorado graduate student accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others in a shooting rampage at a Denver-area movie theater last week had been under the care of a psychiatrist who was part of a campus threat-assessment team.
The disclosure came in court documents filed on Friday by lawyers for James Holmes, 24, who is accused of opening fire last Friday on a packed showing of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
The defense attorneys, in their request to an Arapahoe County district judge, are seeking a court order requiring prosecutors to turn over the contents of a package that Holmes sent to Dr. Lynne Fenton and was later seized by investigators.
"Mr. Holmes was a psychiatric patient of Dr. Fenton, and his communications with her are protected," the filing said.
Dr. Fenton has apparently done research on schizophrenia:
Lynne Fenton, 51, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Colorado-Denver medical campus, is medical director of student mental health services and a researcher into schizophrenia....
She has been medical director of the student mental health services since July 2009. She sees 15 to 20 graduate students per week for medication and psychotherapy, supervises psychiatric residents who treat students, and sees five to 10 general psychiatry patients, according to the university’s website.
University records show she is on the faculty of the university medical school’s Center for Schizophrenia Research and has lectured on bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorders.
 I don't blame Fenton for failure to act.  My guess is that doctors are reluctant to pursue commitment when there is little or not chance of getting the legal system to go along, because of the danger of it destroying trust between doctor and patient.  Psychiatrists have a duty under the Tarasoff Rule to inform police or a third-party if there is an identifiable likely victim.  But I rather doubt that the shooter in Aurora knew any of the people that he killed.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Six Reviews on Amazon Now

And all of them five star reviews.  Some are by people with professional expertise:
I was a medical student in 1962 when I got a summer job working in a VA psychiatric hospital doing routine physicals on the inmates. They were all men and some had been there for years. They were all "chronic hospital cases," as described in this excellent history. Mr. Cramer gives a very thorough history of psychiatry leading up to the introduction of psychiatric drugs that actually worked and the social upheavals of the 60s that led to the emptying of the state mental hospitals. At the time I had my personal experience with the chronic schizophrenic, the deinstitutionalization movement was just getting started. My own days with these patients were similar in many respects to Mr Cramer's experiences with his brother, Ron. Fortunately, none were my relatives and I could go home every night and leave their troubles behind. Still, the experience of talking to them all day was exhausting. My job was to do annual physicals since the psychiatry residents did not want to do so.

Busy Updating Syllabi Today

I had a good time doing DaTechGuy's show in Western Massachusetts today, but now I am busily updating the syllabi for U. S. History I and Western Civilization I, both of which I am teaching in the fall.  The U.S. History class is online, and all 30 seats are full; the Western Civ class is 98 seats, and a long ways from being full.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Mike McConnell Show on WGN Monday

I'll be on starting at 11:00 AM Central time.  WGN is AM 720 in Chicago, for those of you who don't frequent that part of the country.

Non-Firearm Mass Murders

Slate has an article about "Going Postal, Pre-Pistol" pointing out that mass murder is something that doesn't require guns, and guns aren't even the big advantage that everyone assumes.  But what disappoints me is that they don't mention two of the biggest mass murders in American history that were largely ignored by the national media because they did not advance the gun control agenda.  December of 1987 (96 murdered by Hector Escudero in Puerto Rico) and April 1990 (87 murdered by Julio Gonzalez in New York City). But because both were arson murderers, the mainstream media largely ignored these crimes.  My 1993 Journal of Mass Media Ethics paper, which has been getting a bit of attention of late, points out that Time and Newsweek, on a dead bodies per square inch basis, gave these crimes almost no attention.  Newsweek didn't even cover the Gonzalez murders--but they spent enormous space covering mass murders with far fewer deaths, because the goal was gun control.

Opposing Homophobia Only For The Milder Forms

Instapundit linked to this column by Michael Graham at the Boston Herald, which points out that Boston's mayor wants to stop Chick-Fil-A from opening a restaurant because they oppose gay marriage--but the mayor was quite willing to sell city property at a bargain price to a group that opposes gay breathing:

Given his stance on Chick-fil-A, would Mayor Tom Menino grant permits to a group that has counted among its leaders a man who has repeatedly called homosexuality a “crime that must be punished” by death?
Actually, he has done that  . . . and more! Menino effectively gave away city land valued at $1.8 million to the organization, and he gave a speech at its ribbon-cutting ceremony.
But nobody’s accusing Chick-fil-A of supporting terrorism — just traditional marriage (I think liberals still see the former as more dangerous). Menino heard the president of the company call same-sex marriage a “sin,” and he announced it would not be allowed to do business in Boston.
OK, Mr. Mayor. But when you gave all that land to the ISB at a song, here’s what imam al-Qaradawi was teaching:
“[A homosexual should be given] the same punishment as any sexual pervert  . . . Some say we should throw them from a high place, like God did with the people of Sodom. Some say we should burn them.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “In 2003 Qaradawi stated on IslamOnline that the punishment of homosexuality is the death penalty.”
This is one of the reasons that I can't take progressives seriously.  Their opposition to "homophobia" is inconsistent and dishonest.  If opposing same-sex marriage is reason enough to deny a business permit, why isn't supporting capital punishment for homosexuality enough reason to not subsdize the organization with a special deal?

I look forward to Chick-Fil-A opening their full restaurant in Boise, partly because it infuriates the same-sex marriage crowd, and partly because it infuriates hypocrites like Mayors Rahm and Menino.

Gun. Knife. Violence. Good Result.

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - A citizen with a gun stopped a knife wielding man as he began stabbing people Thursday evening at the downtown Salt Lake City Smith's store.
Police say the suspect purchased a knife inside the store and then turned it into a weapon. Smith's employee Dorothy Espinoza says, "He pulled it out and stood outside the Smiths in the foyer. And just started stabbing people and yelling you killed my people. You killed my people."
You wonder how many people the guy with the knife would have injured or killed if not for the guy with the gun.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I have been hearing from others who have family members with mental illness problems for a long time, and I am now hearing even more.  Deafening Silence tells the story of the other victims of a tragedy like this; how family members become tarred with the contempt of others for failing to prevent a mentally ill family member from doing something awful:
While she struggles, fingers will begin to point.  Bad Mother, Bad Morals, Bad Parenting, Bad Guns, Bad Movies, BadBadBad will be the chant, as pundit after pundit (from the safety of their undisturbed lives) joins the chorus of moral outrage....
In the early morning hours of July 19, 2009, 23-year-old Isaiah Kalebu climbed through an open bathroom window and proceeded to hold Teresa Butz and her partner at knifepoint for over an hour, repeatedly raping them both.  When he tired of raping them, he began slashing and stabbing them with the knife.  Her heart punctured, Teresa Butz somehow managed to break the bedroom window and jump out.  She ran, screaming, until she collapsed and bled to death in the street.  The other woman attempted to flee via the front door, but her hands were so slippery with blood she nearly couldn't turn the knob. She would find her way to a neighbor's, survive the attack and testify in court, securing Kalebu's conviction.
Just six days earlier, Kalebu had been released on his own recognizance by a Superior Court Judge, despite repeated warnings from mental health professionals that Kalebu posed "an elevated risk for future danger to others and for committing future criminal acts." 

New Englanders Can Hear Me Saturday Morning

DaTechGuy is having me on his show starting at 10:00 AM Eastern time, AM 830 WCRN.  I believe that there's a streaming version for those of you in other parts of the country.

I Just Don't Enough Get Credit For This One

In January of 2011, I put a funny "quote" up from Abraham Lincoln about the dangers of trusting quotes you find on the Internet.  Now I see from this posting at Classical Values that there are more than 165,000 uses of that quote!  And almost none of them give me credit for it!

Interesting Combination of Technologies

Cool Stuff We Like discusses a wind turbine that pulls water out of the air:
"Give us wind, we give you water."
That's the slogan of  Eole Water, the French company that has developed a wind turbine able to condense up to 1,500 liters of clean water a day right out of thin air. The WMS1000 system is self-contained: the water condenser unit is powered by an internal wind-driven generator. In addition to water, it produces 30kW of electricity.  
Wind turbines are not, by themselves, a good choice for producing electricity unless you are in a reliable, high wind area, because you need a reliable energy source as well, or a huge battery backup.  But this is an interesting combination.  As long as you have a large tank in which to store the water it is condensing out of the atmosphere, the energy output is simply a nice side effect, because the turbine does not have to run all the time.  I spoke to someone recently who spent $60,000 on a well--and did not have a useful result.  Something like this would be very attractive for that reason.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Instalanches Make All The Difference

I had more than 20,000 page views (someone opened a page on my blog) these last two days.  The power of an Instalanche!

In the Denver Post

They may put it in the print edition later in the week.

UPDATE: They are going to put it in the print Sunday edition, and have removed it (temporarily) from the online edition.

Gun Control Advocates: You Are Making Americans Buy Guns

The July 25, 2012 Christian Science Monitor reports on the spike in gun sales that is happening now, as it always does after one of these tragedies--and the gun control advocates are responsible:
Self-protection is part of the reason. But a bigger factor, say gun dealers, is fear of something else:  politicians -- specifically, their ability to enact restrictions on gun ownership and acquisition of ammunition.
When a high-profile shooting takes place, invariably the airwaves are full of talk about gun control.
“Once people start hearing about that, they say, ‘Wow I was planning on doing this. I better do it now,’” says Mr. Hyatt.
A gun-store owner in Virginia reports the same phenomenon.
"Normally what happens - and I've been doing this for 30 years - is whenever they start talking about gun control on the news and they start pushing that, people have a tendency to think they're going to take away their right to buy the gun, and that usually spurs sale,” says Paul Decker, owner of Hunters Heaven in Hayes, Va.
I support the right to keep and bear arms, but I confess that I cringe at the thought of people who no knowledge of guns rushing out to buy guns.  In some cases, they have not thought through the responsibilities involved.  How do I secure it against theft?  How will I keep my kids from getting into it?  How will I train my kids to understand the risks and responsibilities involved?  Do I have the right temperament to own a gun?  Perhaps being three sheets to the wind on the weekends isn't a wise combination with gun ownership?

So gun control advocates, when you keep talking about gun control, remember that when at least some of these reactionary purchasers do something stupid or tragic, it is because you panicked them into it.

Mail Room Employees: What You Do Is Important

I mailed a copy of My Brother Ron to a radio station in Chicago Monday.  It arrived Tuesday--but the host never received it.  Where did it go?

Now we see a far more serious consequence: it appears that Holmes mailed detailed plans of what he planned to do to a psychiatrist at the medical school--but the package, which may have been there a week, was apparently not delivered:

The FoxNews.com report said Police and FBI agents were called to the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus in Aurora on Monday morning after a psychiatrist, who is also a professor at the school, reported receiving a package believed to be from the suspect.
Although that package turned out to be from someone else and harmless, a search of the Campus Services' mailroom turned up another package sent to the psychiatrist with Holmes' name in the return address, the source told FoxNews.com.
After obtaining a search warrant, police took the package away and discovered its contents.
FoxNews.com quoted its source saying: "Inside the package was a notebook full of details about how he was going to kill people. There were drawings of what he was going to do in it - drawings and illustrations of the massacre."
Images in the notebook included drawings of stick-figures shooting at other stick figures, the FoxNews.com report said.
Can you imagine how this might have turned out differently if the package had been opened before Thursday night?

UPDATE: The July 26, 2012 Christian Science Monitor indicates the package arrived Monday, and was not delayed on being opened.  No lost opportunity on this.

New PJMedia Article

"'Deinstitutionalization': Mass Murder and Untreated Madness"

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ice-T On The Right To Keep And Bear Arms

I confess to having no knowledge of Ice-T's work as a musician.  I have watched him in Law & Order for many years, where he does a good job of portraying an up from the streets black man trying to make the world a better place by being a New York City cop.  So you can imagine my surprise to see him in Britain, doing a spirited defense of the right to keep and bear arms on an interview show:

Memo to gun control advocates: you've lost.

Caleb Medley Needs Your Help

He is one of the survivors, shot through the eye.  News coverage this evening is that he is uninsured, and may end with $2 million in medical expenses.  I just kicked in some money.  You can do so as well.

Just Talked To A Reporter for CBC

He found the angle with which I was approaching this quite interesting.  This may turn into something.

Not Very Often That Someone Cites This Paper Of Mine

It's still nice.  In the July 23, 2012 The Atlantic:
Anyone remember a fourth-century-BC Greek named Herostratus? He's the guy whose name history has recorded solely on account of his having burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, in 356 BCE -- so that history would record his name.
In a 1993 paper called "Ethical Problems of Mass Murder Coverage in the Mass Media, published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Clayton Cramer explored a variation on the question my colleague Robert Wright is rightly asking now, following Roger Ebert's New York Times op-ed on Friday: Given that intense media coverage of mass killings (a) plays straight into the perpetrators' tendency to want recognition for their crimes, and (b) encourages copycat iterations, can major media outlets police themselves not to play into these dynamics?

You Didn't Build That Massacre...Someone Else Did It For You

Everyone has been wondering where the money came from to buy all those guns and ammo.  It turns out that Obama's remarks about small businesses apply elsewhere.  From July 24, 2012 CBS DC:

WNEW News reports that Holmes was awarded a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It gave the graduate student a $26,000 stipend and paid his tuition for the highly competitive neuroscience program at the University of Colorado in Denver. Holmes was one of six neuroscience students at the school to get the grant money.
A depressing part of being adjunct faculty is that you start to find out that there are students who get financial aid to go to college...but it goes to things like big screen TVs and other stuff far removed from studying.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers.  If you haven't already purchased a copy of My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill: you should.  If you want to understand why these random mass murders went from shocking to routine, this book explains why (along with a number of other social pathologies of modern America).

UPDATE 2: Some readers are insisting that such stipends don't go to the student.  That's not how stipends work in history departments.  These are payments to a grad student, usually because he is teaching undergrads.  Perahps CBS is wrong about this, and the money does not go to the student.  But unless he was working and in a very demanding program at the same time, it sounds like the money went to him.

Not Bulletproof

From the July 24, 2012 San Francisco Chronicle:

TacticalGear.com filled an order received on July 2 from Holmes, who allegedly opened fire inside an Aurora, Colo., theater on Friday, killing 12 people. Holmes paid $306.79 for an urban assault vest, two magazine pouches and a tactical knife.
Chief Executive Officer Chad Weinman said despite its name, the urban assault vest is not bulletproof, but is simply a vest made for carrying accessories.
It would still have been a hard shot to make in a dark and crowded theater.  I mean, with all those people running around, someone might have gotten hurt!

UPDATE: From some of the comments, it is apparent that irony doesn't come across very well.  I can't imagine any likely situation where an armed civilian returning fire would have made this situation worse.  The odds are against success, but even causing the shooter to look for cover would have been an improvement.

Reasons Why You Should Not Be Dependent on Higher Education For Income

Peter Wood has a disturbing article in the July 23, 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education about how the higher education bubble is going to pop--and not just slowly deflate.  As much as I like teaching, I confess that articles like this make me somewhat less upset that I could never get a full-time teaching slot, nor is it ever likely.  When the unreality of the current bubble pops, a lot of people who teach full-time are going to find themselves adjuncts again.  (And those of us who are currently adjuncts will be out of work.)

Big Fish, Small Pond

From the Amazon page for the Kindle edition of my book:
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,285 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Okay, so #1 in those categories doesn't mean much.  It's still nice to see!  And thanks to Instapundit for the shoutout.

Holmes' Mother Disputes "You Have The Right Person" Quote

ABC News had initially reported that Holmes' mother seemed to acknowledge that she did not find it surprising that her son was charged with mass murder.  She now says that ABC mischaracterized the conversation.  I wish that I could claim to be surprised.  With the choice of believing a woman trying to save her son accused of a horrendous murder, which make people do or say all sorts of dishonest things, or a news organization with ABC's reputation for quality and accuracy, I'm afraid I'll have to trust Arlene Holmes for the moment.

At $5 A Week, How Long Will That Take To Pay Off?

From the July 23, 2012 Los Angeles Times:

Back in June, two weeks after a nuclear submarine went up in flames at a Maine shipyard and caused $400 million in damage, Navy officials thought the blaze might have been caused by a vacuum cleaner that had sucked up something hot. 
According to charges filed Monday in federal court, the fire was started by a stressed, anxious, depressed, heavily medicated painter who had a panic attack and wanted to get out of work. The May 23 blaze injured seven people who were trying to put it out.
Is there a more expensive example of individual vandalism, anywhere in history?

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Lost Touch With Reality"

From the July 23, 2012 Daily Mail (who at least is willing to discuss the mental illness aspect of this, unlike many American news organizations);

former classmate from the University of Colorado suggested another cause for the killings, saying Holmes had lost touch with reality after becoming 'obsessed' with video games.
The classmate told the Daily Mail: 'James was obsessed with computer games and was always playing role-playing games. 
'I can’t remember which one but it was something like World of Warcraft, one of those where you compete against people on the internet.
'He did not have much of a life apart from that and doing his work. James seemed like he wanted to be in the game and be one of the characters.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2177736/James-Holmes-Dark-Knight-massacre-gunman-appears-court-prosecutors-seek-death-penalty.html#ixzz21SzGPv9Q
Note: video games don't make you crazy.  Mentally ill people often pick a particular subject as the basis of an obsession: religion; politics; environmentalism; math.  The artist Ruth Gikow did a painting describing what used to be a real problem in some European mental hospitals: "Two Napoleons--And a Josephine."  Obsessing about video games and Batman would be no surprise.

The Decline of Mental Hospitals

Treatment Advocacy Center has a new paper out about how state mental hospitals are in serious decline:

In “No Room at the Inn: Trends and Consequences of Closing Public Psychiatric Hospitals,” we use data from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute to report changes in the availability of public psychiatric hospital beds from 2005 to 2010 and to assess the consequences for individuals and society. In summary:
  • The number of state psychiatric beds decreased by 14% from 2005 to 2010.
  •  In 2005, there were 50,509 state psychiatric beds available nationwide. By 2010, the number had shrunk to 43,318.
  • Per capita state psychiatric bed population by 2010 plunged to 1850 levels.
  •  In 1850, at the beginning of the movement to provide more humane care by treating seriously mentally ill persons in hospitals, there were 14 beds per 100,000 population. In 2010, the supply was virtually identical at 14.1.
  • Thirteen states closed 25% or more of their total state hospital beds from 2005 to 2010.
  •  New Mexico and Minnesota closed more than 50% of their beds; Michigan and North Carolina closed just less than 50%. Ten states increased their total hospital beds but continued to provide less than half the beds.
  • The decrease in state psychiatric bed availability since 2005 is actually worse than the 14% that occurred 2005-2010.
  •  Completed or announced bed eliminations since 2010 will eliminate 4,471 additional beds.
Overall, many states appear to be effectively terminating a public psychiatric treatment system that has existed for nearly two centuries. The system was originally created to protect both the patients and the public, and its termination is taking place with little regard for the consequences to either group.
They indicate that the per capita state mental hospital capacity is now where it was in the 1850s.  Even if antipsychotic medicines worked perfectly, and even if there was no problem with mentally ill persons refusing to take those medicines, this would be a perfectly peculiar situation.  State mental hospitals in the 1850s were already crowded.  As the mass murder problem that has developed in the last 30 years demonstrates, we need more capacity than we currently have.

I'm A Bit Frustrated

I would have thought that my new book My Brother Ron would have been an obvious basis for discussion of what happened in Aurora, but no luck.  I talked to a producer from NPR yesterday, but apparently they decided that they needed local guests on the program instead.  My suspicion is that the need to boil everything down to the old 60 Minutes Point/Counterpoint binary model of public policy may have made adding another explanation besides guns too complicated for their audience.

Age Bias

A reader pointed me to a September 1, 2011 Computerworld article about age bias:

Age bias is "something that no [employer] talks about. But it's a reality in tech that if you're 45 years of age and still writing C code or Cobol code and making $150,000 a year, the likelihood is that you won't be employed very long," says Vivek Wadhwa, who currently holds academic positions at several universities, including UC Berkeley, Duke and Harvard.
As Wadhwa's observation indicates, "age bias" is a simplistic label for a complicated set of factors that influence the job prospects for senior tech employees. When considering workers over the age of 50, employers take the following factors into account:
• The relevance, applicability and currency of their skills, which may or may not be up to par with those of younger employees.
• The level of compensation they expect, which is typically higher than the salaries younger people seek.
• Their behaviors and attitudes, which can become rigid and narrow-minded with age.
• Their energy level, which is presumed to be less than that of a 25-year-old.
While none of these generalizations is necessarily true for any particular candidate, each is a stereotypical assumption about older workers. What's more, they are all logical and legal reasons for an employer to fire, or not hire, someone.
Essentially, the article is saying that because older workers (many of whom are not making even close to $150,000 a year) are more likely to have these characteristics than younger workers, employers are free to discriminate based on age, and it will be hard to second-guess the decision.

A Little Reality For Our Side

The response of many gun rights people is to say, "If the theater didn't have a no-guns policy, someone could have returned fire." True.  And there have been cases where this has worked out, such as Jeanne Assam's shooting of a murderer in the lobby of the church in Colorado Springs several years.  But The Joker was wearing body armor, and throwing tear gas.  Returning fire under those circumstances had more chance of success than praying for a meteor strike to take out the bad guy, but the core problem here is that someone clearly was mentally ill--and we no longer make any serious efforts as a society to help mentally ill people.

UPDATE: This account describes the "urban assault vest" that The Joker was wearing as costing $300.  That's too cheap to be bulletproof.  This report points to the vest, which does not appear bulletproof.  Still, he was wearing black (making him hard to see), wearing a Kevlar helmet.  This would have been a very difficult shot to make in darkness, with tear gas.

UPDATE 2: A reader points to a picture in this article that could be soft body armor.  One problem is that the tactical nylon vest isn't necessarily much different in dimensions from soft body armor.

UPDATE 3: It does appear that the vest was not bulletproof.  This would still have been a hard shot to make in the darkness, but consider the alternative.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

James Holmes' Scientific Interests

From the July 22, 2012 New York Times:
Mr. Holmes’s background was science. Before dropping out he took a class that explored the biological origins of psychiatric and neurological disorders, and was scheduled to give a presentation on “MicroRNA Biomarkers,” according to a class schedule published online. The topic appears to demonstrate an interest in the genetic basis of mental illness.
There is (at least in some circles) a prejudice that people study psychology to find out what's wrong with them.  You have to wonder if Holmes' interest might have reflected an awareness that he was having problems, or because of a family history of mental illness.

Imagine If a Republican Put Something Like This Together

Sarah Silverman's video offering sexual acts to billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson if he will give $100 million to Obama's campaign instead of Romney's campaign.  Yeah, yeah, she's a comedienne (for very loose definitions of the word).  Do you think Democrats find this solicitation of an act of prostitution amusing?

James Holmes Too Weird To Join Gun Club

I have said that we would probably find evidence that James Holmes' was having mental illness symptoms before the attack.  And it appears to be the case.  An Associated Press story in the July 22, 2012 Boston Globe:
AURORA, Colo.—Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes applied to join a Colorado gun range but never became a member after the owner became concerned over his "bizarre" message and behavior.
There is usually advance warning, as there was with the rampage at Virginia Tech, at Cafe Racer, and most of the other mass murders done by mentally ill people.  But our society chooses to make it impossible to take any preventative action about an individual with serious mental illness problems until blood is dripping out of bodies.  Unless, of course, that preventative action is something very broad, like gun control laws, which apply to everyone.  This unwillingness to look at individuals and their problems is absurd.

Thank goodness that Holmes did not know enough about guns to know what 100 round drum magazines tend to do:
AURORA, Colo. (AP) — The semiautomatic assault rifle used by the gunman in a mass shooting at a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie jammed during the attack, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press, which forced the shooter to switch to another gun with less fire power.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Broken Key in Lock

My wife, during yesterday's panic, broke the key off in the lock of our new telescope garage.  There isn't much if anything of the key in the lock to grab with pliers.  My thought is that because the key is a bit less than 1/16" width, I might solve the problem by buying a 0-80 tap, a .0469" drill bit, and a 0-80 screw.  I should be able to put just enough of a hole into the part of the key remaining in the lock to thread it, and then use the 0-80 screw to gently pull it from the lock. Any other suggestions?

UPDATE: My wife managed to (and I don't know how) get the doorknob out of the door without damaging anything.  Now I can take the lock into a locksmith, instead of the locksmith charging me a fortune to come up here.

San Francisco Wants To Ban Smoking In Public...One Exception

Yes, you guessed, it.  From July 19, 2012 CBS San Francisco:

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Smoking anything other than medically-prescribed marijuana at San Francisco street fairs, festivals and other outdoor events held on city property would be banned under new legislation before the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Eric Mar said he introduced the proposal because of the health impacts ofsecondhand smoke when people light up in public.
“It’s widely known that secondhand smoke is responsible for as many as 73,000 deaths among non-smokers each year in the United States, and there is no safe level of exposure,” he said.
I was watching an old Dragnet episode where Friday and Morgan are talking to a Timothy Leary-type of drug guru, looking for evidence on which they can bust him.  It is a remarkably preachy episode in a series that is not strong on its writing or subtlety, but watching them go back and forth in 1968 about whether young people would eventually legalize drugs is quite interesting when viewed from today.  Especially when viewed from watching what the future of America is: San Francisco, deciding for health reasons to ban cigarettes, but leave marijuana alone.

Mass Murder in Colorado

It does not appear to political terrorism--and the man arrested for this crime was described by his mother this way:

 San Diego woman identifying herself as James Holmes's mother spoke briefly with ABC News this morning.
She had awoken unaware of the news of the shooting and had not been contacted by authorities. She immediately expressed concern that her son may have been involved.
"You have the right person," she said.
"I need to call the police," she added. "I need to fly out to Colorado."
He's 24.  He engaged in an apparently irrational mass murder against strangers using carefully thought out methods.  His mother thinks he is "the right person."  What do you think the chances are that he is mentally ill, and that this has been apparent for some time, but because we don't do anything about this.

Cafe Racer in Seattle.  Now this.  I keep trying to get someone to pay attention to this with a book like My Brother Ron and yet nothing happens. Are we just not sufficiently concerned as a society?

UPDATE: CBS News reports:
Holmes was a student at the University of Colorado's medical school but withdrew last month, according to the school.
This fits the pattern: smart young man--something went terribly wrong.  Likely, schizophrenic breakdown.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Having Trouble Sleeping; Pondering Why Frontier's Network Monitoring Software Is So Defective

Perhaps too exciting of an afternoon.  The Frontier tech showed up at my mother's place to try and figure out why her Internet connection was going down every five minutes for 15-30 seconds.  According to the tech, their network monitoring center saw no signs of any problems with the line or the connection.  Therefore, it must be software.  While I was talking to him on the phone, he suddenly said, "Wait a minute.  Why did the modem [by which he meant the CPE box that converts DSL to LAN] just go off?"  Sure enough--the new CPE box they installed a few months back was periodically shutting down, then coming back to life.

1. What kind of networking monitoring center can't figure out that the far end of their DSL connection is shutting down for 15-30 seconds on a regular basis?  Even without any active failure, you would expect a series of packets that don't get a response from the far end would set up some sort of alarm...unless they have decided that customers shut off CPE often enough to suppress such alarms.

2. The nice thing is that the new CPE is not only reliable, but produces a much clearer image when using Skype with my mother.  My guess is that whatever was causing the CPE to fail was also interfering with reliable packet transmission, causing Skype to create much lossier compression, and not just when it was shutting down.

New GAO Report on Concealed Carry

It is here, and appears to be a very careful analysis of existing concealed carry laws, prepared for Congress when they were discussing laws to mandate reciprocity.  Interestingly enough:

According to state reporting to GAO, there were at least 8 million active permits to carry concealed handguns in the United States as of December 31, 2011.
This is more than my estimate of 7.6 million active licenses in the 49 states.  

More Awesome Pictures With The New Lens Later This Evening

But of a fire that caused the sheriff to come and tell us to evacuate.

We're back in the house now, but some of our neighbors had fire 30 feet from their homes.

Channel 2 did a live broadcast with me.

We grabbed my laptop, and the cat--and the cat, in panic, sunk his claws into my inner lip, and refused to let go.  We set up at the vista point 1 1/2 miles away on the new highway, along with the various television crews.

Fire retardant air strikes from surprisingly small planes:

Of course, there was the retardant orange afterwards:

And yes, for those of us who are very sharp-eyed--that's an Israeli flag flying from my neighbor the electrician's home.

Lots of air traffic to deal with the fire:

Looking rather like a large and dangerous insect, you can see one of the four helicopters carrying its water bucket:

Here's one of the other choppers, after having dumped its load:

I don't think there were any injuries, but probably in case there was a need, our volunteer fire department rolled the ambulance.

Our neighbors' homes saved at the last minute:

One of the choppers carrying his bucket in front of our house.

There is a sizable lake on top of the mountain, so each helicopter was back with a fresh load of water every 30 seconds or so, as this picture captures, now that the smoke was getting thick:

I've never been close to catch pictures of the water bucket dumps before, and it's awesome!  It must be even awesome on the ground.  My neighbor Chuck was using his hose, trying to save his house when suddenly...he was soaked.  This might have been the drop, since they were dropping on his house with this one:

Here's a sequence that really captures how dramatic this is:

Fire suppression involves reducing temperature, eliminating fuel, or preventing oxygen.  A water drop does two of the three pretty effectively.  Watching one of these dumps onto a fire turn into steam is very gratifying. Here's a great dump:

And here's a sequence that I think almost everyone can appreciate:

UPDATE: A reminder that it is an ill wind indeed that does not produce a positive benefit for someone.  I started talking to someone who owns a nearby parcel, but who has never built a house on it because he couldn't find adequate water.  This led me to discuss the very successful methodology that I used to place our well.  (Successful: I said we would hit water at 120 feet; instead, it was 127 feet.)  At this point he asked me, "What do you do for a living?"  "Software engineer."  It turns out that he runs a company that writes mobile app software.  One thing led to another, and he gave me his email address to send a resume.

UPDATE 2: Not terribly surprising: our land line service is out.