Saturday, November 18, 2017

The danger of an UN-loaded gun

In all the accounts of the Sutherland Springs church shooting a couple of weeks ago, one element stood out for me.

Stephen Willeford ... responded to the sound of gunfire by grabbing an AR-15 with an EOTech red dot sight out of his safe. But he didn’t have a magazine loaded. So he grabbed a handful of ammo and started loading a single magazine and headed for the crime scene.

God bless Mr. Willeford for being willing to put his own life on the line to protect the lives of others.  I've no doubt those who survived the massacre did so in large part thanks to his intervention.  However, his story highlights a conundrum that affects many gun owners.

We hear advice from many sources that one should never store a firearm in a loaded condition.  Many owners manuals for firearms specifically state that.  We hear advice that one should store ammunition separately from firearms.  Some jurisdictions make that official.  For example, here's the sixth rule of gun safety from the office of California's Attorney General.

Store your gun safely and securely to prevent unauthorized use. Guns and ammunition should be stored separately. When the gun is not in your hands, you must still think of safety. Use a California-approved firearms safety device on the gun, such as a trigger lock or cable lock, so it cannot be fired. Store it unloaded in a locked container, such as a California-approved lock box or a gun safe. Store your gun in a different location than the ammunition. For maximum safety you should use both a locking device and a storage container.

In other countries, for example Australia, it's actually illegal to store firearms and ammunition together.  Police may make unannounced visits at "reasonable times", without a search warrant, to ensure that gun owners are in compliance with the law;  if they're not, they face confiscation of their firearms on the spot, and the permanent loss of their gun license(s).

The trouble is, such policies prevent any reasonably quick armed response to a crime.  Of course, that's the point in such jurisdictions:  police don't want citizens stopping crimes using their firearms.  That's a very important reason for avoiding such jurisdictions if you can!  However, if he'd been living under such legal restrictions, Mr. Willeford would not have been able to stop the church massacre as he did.

Safety considerations are important, particularly if you have small children and/or untrained persons who might get their hands on your guns.  (You should, of course, store them in such a way that they can't . . . but accidents happen.)  Nevertheless, you also need to be able to respond to crime in order to defend yourself, your loved ones, and your property, where that's legally permitted.  To do so, you'll need a loaded gun.  Ideally, you should have it on your person, where it's always under your supervision and control.  However, for many of us, that's not possible;  which means storing at least one firearm in a loaded condition, and/or with a magazine or other ammunition supply near it and available for instant access.

If Mr. Willeford had had a loaded magazine already available, instead of having to load one, he might have been able to intervene more quickly, and save even more lives.  That's a thought I'm sure he's had since the tragedy.  It's one we need to think about, too.  If you rely on a firearm for self-defense and the protection of your family, you need to have ammunition ready to go, accessible with the firearm.

The military refers to a soldier's ammo loadout as a "basic load".  It's carried over and above his other necessities.  Here's what that looked like for a Vietnam-era soldier;  modern troops carry even more.

Police have a similar concept, although they don't necessarily call it the same thing.  As civilians, we don't need anything like a full "basic load", and we almost certainly will never need that much ammunition.  Nevertheless, I strongly recommend having available at least three loaded magazines per weapon, one in the gun, the other two as backups, carried on one's belt, in pockets, or in a so-called "tactical" vest.  If carrying two guns (e.g. a rifle and a pistol), I'd recommend three magazines for each weapon.

It's all very well being safety conscious;  but too much safety consciousness can get you killed, or prevent you from responding to an emergency as you'd otherwise do.  I daresay Mr. Willeford regrets his lack of a loaded magazine.  I hope and pray none of us ever have cause to do the same.


Here's a treat for fans of sword-and-sorcery fantasy

I was pleasantly surprised to find the compete stories about Conan the Barbarian, written by Robert E. Howard, are now out of copyright.  They've been compiled as an e-book - for just 99 cents!

The stories inspired two well-known movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Conan the Barbarian" and "Conan the Destroyer", which have attracted a cult following.  For the benefit of those who may not have seen them, here are two of the theatrical trailers for the first movie.

Conan was a literary phenomenon.  The stories inspired countless successors, and most modern sword-and-sorcery fantasy owes Robert E. Howard a debt of gratitude (not to mention acknowledgement for all the details borrowed from his work!).  Personally, I find his Conan stories somewhat repetitive and "same old, same old":  but I doff my hat to him for having, in a very real sense, founded the sword-and-sorcery genre with the character and his adventures.

If you're at all interested in modern sword-and-sorcery fantasy, whether as a reader or as a writer, this is an essential collection;  and, at just under a dollar, it's unbeatable value.  Highly recommended for its historical value (and for some good stories in the collection).

(A final note:  some of the early reviews on complain about missing chapters in some stories.  That problem appears to have been fixed - at least, the copy I've bought has no missing chapters.)


Friday, November 17, 2017

A reminder of our fund-raiser for Andi, with great prizes to be won

I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago.  A group of Blogorado attendees, including yours truly, have come together to raise funds for our friend Andi.  She's had a stroke, and is facing massive medical bills for her treatment and rehabilitation therapy.  Details are in my first post, and you can read more about Andi in Jennifer's blog post about the fund-raiser.

We've contributed guns, jewelry and other things from our respective collections, and some very generous "outside" friends have also added prizes to the pot.  Old NFO has details and pictures of most of them in three blog posts, here, here and here.  For every $10 you donate, you get a chance at a prize;  for every $50, six chances;  for every $100, 12 chances;  etc.  The first winner drawn will take his or her pick of the prizes;  the second will choose out of what's left, and so on.

As I write these words, the fundraiser stands at $12,692 out of a goal of $25,000.  In other words, we've raised just under 51% of what we hope to get.  There's still a long way to go, so may I appeal to you, please, dear readers, to support this fundraiser?  Andi's good people, and she's facing a need that might come to any of us one day.  If it does, I know you'll agree that it'd be desirable to have good people trying to help you pay for it.  On the basis of "do unto others", let's "do unto Andi" in a good cause.

Thanks, friends.


Don't just live your faith - eat it!

I'm giggling at some of the reactions to a British bakery's Christmas advertisement.

A British bakery chain has apologized after creating a Nativity scene in which Baby Jesus, surrounded by three wise men, was replaced with a sausage roll.

And not just any sausage roll, but one that had been bitten into.

Greggs, the largest bakery chain in Britain, released the image of the sausage roll nestled in a straw-filled manger to help promote its $32 advent calendar.

But no sooner had the image of the sausage roll savior been published than consumers of all faiths took to Twitter to express moral indignation — and more than a few snickers.

One woman observed that Jesus was Jewish and that pork was not kosher.

“Out of interest do you think the people at Greggs understand that Jesus was Jewish and serving up a pork sausage roll in the manger is unbelievably inappropriate?” the woman identifying herself as Beth Rosenberg, wrote on Twitter.

. . .

While many people said they were offended by the image, it also prompted whimsy, delight, a poem and more than a few bad puns. “I never thought I would see the sentence ‘Greggs sorry for replacing Jesus with sausage roll’. One of those moments that makes you glad to be alive,” Emma Weinbren, an editor at The Grocer, wrote on Twitter.

There's more at the link.

Well . . . it was in bad taste, certainly, but (almost by definition) one can hardly call a sausage roll "tasteless", can one?


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Quote of the day

From Borepatch, concerning the sex scandals surrounding current and prospective members of Congress and the Senate:

Pretty wild - every time I think that my assessment of Congress can't be any lower than it is, they up and say "hold my beer".



Doofus Of The Day #984

Today's award goes to a particularly dumb criminal in Colorado.  A tip o' the hat to reader Jim H. for sending me the link.

When you're in court before the judge, and you doff your cap in deference, make sure your cocaine does not fall out of your hat and onto the floor where both the judge and the cops can see it.

And it would help if you weren't in court on a separate felony drug charge in the first place.

. . .

Juan Jose Vidrio Bibriesca, 43 ... now faces two more charges: narcotics possession and bond violation, both felonies.

Bibriesca was born in Mexico and is reportedly in the country illegally, which means Immigration and Customs Enforcement will also want a word with him.

There's more at the link.

He didn't even need to say anything to convict himself - his actions spoke louder than his words!


Artistry in wood, steel and brass

I recently stumbled upon the Web site of Bill Shipman, a rifle-maker in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  He produces reproductions of 17th- and 18th-century muzzle-loading weapons.  I was stunned by his attention to detail, careful selection of wood, and the level of ornamentation in the fittings.

Here are just four examples of his work, taken from his gallery. Click each image for a larger view.

Isn't that great workmanship?  There are dozens more images, particularly in the detailed galleries for each weapon.  Highly recommended viewing.

If I could afford one of Mr. Shipman's rifles, I'd already have my order in!  I can't, I'm afraid . . . but a man can dream, can't he?


The societal trap of debt

Yes, I'm going to talk about debt yet again, because it's such a critical issue right now that our economy is teetering on the brink of what's been called a "debt tsunami".  Unfortunately, far too few consumers are aware of the extent of the problem, and even those that are tend to downplay its likely impact on their lives.  That's a critical error.

Let's begin by looking at US government debt.  It's a foundational issue, because every US taxpayer is on the hook for his or her "share" of that debt.  David Stockman calls it "The Black Swan In Plain Sight---Debt Out The Wazoo".  (If you don't understand his reference to 'the black swan', see here.)

Washington has suspended it[s] way into a $5.7 trillion increase in the public debt in just six years since October 2011. That is, during a period which supposedly constitutes the third longest business expansion in US history.

Indeed, when viewed in cyclical context the latest spike screams out a severe warning. To wit, in the 12 months since the election shock of November 8, 2016, the net public debt--- after giving effect to the fluctuations in the cash balance----has risen by $870 billion to the current total of nearly $20.28 trillion.

. . .

In short, the Dems have never cared about the deficit and are now just harrumphing about it because the Brady bill does not benefit their constituencies and because it being pursued on a strictly partisan basis. And now that the Donald has left the Congressional GOP crazed and desperate for a "win," they, too, have thrown fiscal sanity to the winds and, instead, are signing up for a double catastrophe.

That is, they are embracing a giant, politically-stupid "trickle down" tax cut that will not make it to the legislative finish line, but will be a huge loser in the 2018 campaigns.

At the same time, they have punted completely on the spending side of the equation by using the FY 2018 budget resolution as a phony vehicle for parliamentary maneuver (i.e. 51-vote reconciliation in the Senate), thereby guaranteeing that the automatic spending machine for entitlements and debt service---70% of the total---will roll forward unmolested.

. . .

At the end of the day, you can't borrow your way to prosperity. That's the oldest rule in the book of sound money and sustainable finance.

And it's about ready to be learned all over again.

Big time.

There's more at the link.  Note that Mr. Stockman blames both political parties for the current situation, as do I.  Both of them have gotten us into this mess through profligate spending.  Neither is willing to change that - yet.

That's the situation on the government side of the debt equation.  What about you and I, the private citizens who make up this nation?  Robert Gore points out that government debt has been used to fund benefits for current voters - setting up a disaster for future voters.

In the US, the increase in government debt has been larger than the increase in GDP every year since the 2008 financial crisis. Under the accounting standards the government mandates for the private sector, the US is going backward, getting poorer. Future generations will carry an ever-expanding debt load with a shrinking ability to repay it. The aging population and unfunded pension and medical liabilities—promises made by governments, but not technically debt—exacerbates this bleak scenario.

. . .

Across the developed world, the younger generation faces a future already mortgaged by a kleptocratic oligarchy ... Debt initially dazzles and deceives, then it disappoints, disillusions, devastates, and destroys. The oldsters got the first two, the youngsters will get the last four. The former reassure themselves: we vote, the kids don’t, we’ll protect our benefits. Debt deceives. Mounting public pension problems are a harbinger: you can’t squeeze blood from stone, not matter how many vote for it.

A collapse of the debt skyscraper of cards is inevitable, the issue is who bears the losses. Amidst the devastation and destruction, the young may cast a gimlet eye on the benefits their elders have voted themselves, and decide they’re less than willing to fund them. They may decide a generational uprising is in order—perhaps outside the boundaries of the normal political process—and a reshuffling of the remaining assets.

Again, more at the link.

So, we've seen how the growth in government debt has continued unabated since the 2007/08 financial crisis.  Voters have demanded government handouts, and our elected politicians have obliged;  but they've had to fund those handouts by borrowing, because there wasn't enough tax revenue coming in to pay for them all.  Those who've received those benefits (and demand to continue receiving them) are doing so at the expense of those who will have to repay the borrowed money in future - namely, the young(er) people and voters of today.  Will they consent to repay it?  Or will they default on it, wipe the slate clean - and wipe out the inflated benefits still being paid to older voters?  I know what I'd do, in their shoes.  If you're relying on government money to fund your retirement in the style to which you'd like to be accustomed . . . I'd think again, if I were you.

The plight of younger voters isn't made any easier by the financial stresses and strains on them as wage-earners and consumers.  Market Watch reported this week, "Household debt rises by $116 billion as credit-card delinquencies pile up".  People are finding that their income simply can't fund even what they consider to be essential spending:  so they're borrowing more and more money to pay those bills.  It's worse in high-cost-of-living states such as California.

Homeless advocates and city officials say it's outrageous that in the shadow of a booming tech economy - where young millionaires dine on $15 wood-grilled avocado and think nothing of paying $1,000 for an iPhone X - thousands of families can't afford a home. Many of the homeless work regular jobs, in some cases serving the very people whose sky-high net worth is the reason housing has become unaffordable for so many.

Across the street from Saldana's camper, for example, two-bedroom units in the apartment complex start at $3,840, including concierge service. That's more than she brings home, even in a good month ... She cooks and serves food at two hotels in nearby Palo Alto, jobs that keep her going most days from 5 in the morning until 10 at night. Two of her sons, all in their 20s, work at a bakery and pay $700 toward the RV each month. They're all very much aware of the economic disparity in Silicon Valley.

"How about for us people who are serving these tech people?" Saldana said. "We don't get the same paycheck that they do."

It's all part of a growing crisis along the West Coast, where many cities and counties have seen a surge in the number of people living on the streets over the past two years. Counts taken earlier this year show 168,000 homeless people in California, Oregon and Washington - 20,000 more than were counted just two years ago.

The booming economy, fueled by the tech sector, and decades of under-building have led to an historic shortage of affordable housing. It has upended the stereotypical view of people out on the streets as unemployed: They are retail clerks, plumbers, janitors - even teachers - who go to work, sleep where they can and buy gym memberships for a place to shower.

. . .

The median rent in the San Jose metro area is $3,500 a month, yet the median wage is $12 an hour in food service and $19 an hour in health care support, an amount that won't even cover housing costs. The minimum annual salary needed to live comfortably in San Jose is $87,000, according to a study by personal finance website GoBankingRates.

. . .

On a recent evening, Benito Hernandez returned to a crammed RV in Mountain View after laying flagstones for a home in Atherton, where Zillow pegs the median value of a house at $6.5 million. He rents the RV for $1,000 a month and lives there with his pregnant wife and children.

The family was evicted two years ago from an apartment where the rent kept going up, nearing $3,000 a month.

"After that, I lost everything," said Hernandez, 33, who works as a landscaper and roofer.

He says his wife "is a little bit sad because she says, 'You're working very hard but don't have credit to get an apartment.' I tell her, 'Just wait, maybe a half-year more, and I'll get my credit back'."

More at the link.

Lower-cost-of-living areas don't have such exorbitant rents and other costs, of course, but then, salaries and wages in such areas are also lower, so the burden is proportionately just as bad.  In my area of Texas, well-paid work is scarce;  many people have to travel to the oil fields to get good-paying jobs, leaving their families behind and sending them money every month.  The stress of separation adds to their economic anxieties.

Ray Dalio speaks of "The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60%".  John Mauldin analyzes his views, and adds his own insights, in an article titled "The Distribution of Pain".

[Dalio] believes it is a serious mistake to think you can analyze or understand “the” economy because we now have two of them. The wealth and income levels are so skewed between top and bottom that “average” indicators no longer reflect the average person’s experience or living conditions.

. . .

Dalio ... goes on to quantify the 60/40 split with some startling numbers. Just a sampling:

• The average household in the top 40% earns four times more than the average household in the bottom 60%.
• Real incomes for the bottom 60% have been either flat or down slightly since 1980.
• In 1980, the average top 40% household had six times more wealth than the average bottom-60% household. Now it is 10 times as much.
• Only about a third of the bottom 60% saves any of their income.
. . .

One source of considerable stress ... is household debt. I talk a lot about government debt and pension debt, but for most people the more immediate concern is probably their mortgage, auto, credit-card, and student loan debt. There is a mountain of it.

. . .

We have had this notion of the “working class.” These are the people who do not own the businesses and are not professionals in the sense of being doctors or lawyers or accountants ... there is a distinction between what we have seen as the working class and what I am coming to see as the service class. A working-class person is somebody who has a trade, and because of their skill, they can generally command a decent income.

Then there is the service class – bar and restaurant workers, retail salespeople, general manual laborers, and so on. These jobs are almost plug-and-play. It is not that the greedy restaurant owner doesn’t want to pay his staff more; it’s that competition generally won’t let him do so and still make a profit. So he holds his labor costs down; and he can do so, because in today’s market there are typically more people available for jobs than there are jobs. And because of the Obamacare mandate, if you are a business with more than 50 employees, you simply cannot afford to have full-time employees; so you resort more and more to part-time positions, which do not allow a worker to earn an adequate wage.

Health care being number one of the worry list? I think a large part of that is the fact that young people are required to buy ridiculously expensive health insurance packages in order to subsidize a sick elderly population. And if you’re making $10–$12 an hour working two part-time jobs, trying to figure out how to hold onto a place to live, eat, have adequate clothing, and a bit for entertainment, you’re just not able to spend $400–$600 a month on health care. And then you find out that your taxes are much higher than you thought they would be because now you have to pay the penalty for not having health insurance. Yes, that might stress me out, too.

. . .

We are a nation that is increasingly under stress. Dalio talks about it in terms of the bottom 60% versus the top 40%, but he could have made the same case using an 80–20 model or even a 90–10 model. I am reminded of Pareto’s 80/20 principle, which states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes ... Unless we somehow figure out how to help people deal with their stress and better manage the yawning differences in incomes and outcomes, we’re going to see increasing tension and fragmentation in our society.

More at the link.  Bold, underlined text in the last sentence is my emphasis.

Follow the chain of thought expressed in the articles I've cited.

  • The US government borrows profligately to fund expenditure it can't otherwise afford.
  • Every US taxpayer is on the hook for those borrowings, whether we like it or not.  Sooner or later, they're going to have to be repaid - or repudiated, which would trash this country's credit rating for years, if not decades, to come.
  • State and local governments have overwhelmingly followed the lead of the federal government, and borrowed out the wazoo to fund their expenditure (which they often used to bribe local interest groups such as trades unions, community organizations, etc. into voting for the party distributing the borrowed largesse).
  • In their turn, US consumers, unable to make ends meet on their ever-diminishing (in real, after-actual-inflation terms) salaries and wages, have also turned to borrowing to fund their everyday needs.  (Some are not "needs" so much as aspirations or desires, of course.  Anyone borrowing a six-figure sum to study for a degree or degrees that offer(s) little hope of earning enough money to repay the loan(s), while leaving enough over to live on, is . . . that's just nuts.)
  • Added to all of the above, we've seen a growing dichotomy in society between the "haves" and the "have-nots", where most of us (the bottom 80%-odd of the population) have seen the real purchasing power of our earnings diminish steadily over time, while the top quintile have seen theirs increase.  An economic gulf has developed, and it's getting worse.  Effectively, those who could do so, have controlled the government to spend money where they wanted it spent, thereby generating better returns for themselves.  The debt incurred by governments has very often been used for their advantage.  The rest of us have been browbeaten into accepting, or at least tolerating, the situation . . . but that's changing fast.
  • The root of all these issues, if you take it back to first causes, is debt.

The absolutely staggering scale of debt in the world, dwarfing all the assets in existence and the productivity of the entire global economy, is mind-boggling.  Visual Capitalist has laid it out in a graphic that will amaze you.  It's far too big to reproduce here in its original form.  Click over there and scroll down to view the various categories, and read the explanations of each in the sidebar.  It's worth your time.

Debt is killing us, as a nation, as states, as cities and towns, and as individuals.  There's no other way to put it.  It's a noose around our necks, and it's getting tighter by the day.  The only solution, on an individual basis, is to get rid of it by paying off our debts, and living - as far as possible - debt free from now on.  What's more, we should stop using debt to pay for everyday living expenses.  It should be reserved for high-value items that are too expensive to buy for cash, and that will give us a long-term return on our investment, either by the increasing value of the asset (e.g. a home), or by the utility we'll get out of it (e.g. a vehicle).

Food for thought.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Doofus Of The Day #983

Today's award goes jointly and severally to everyone at the University of Maryland who's behind, or endorses, this proposal.

The SGA [Student Government Association] voted to endorse a proposal that would implement two napping stations in the University of Maryland's McKeldin Library for students in need of a midday snooze.

The vote passed 28-2 with four abstentions.

MetroNaps EnergyPods, which have a "futuristic appeal," include a 20-minute timer, a privacy visor, storage space, a light mimicking sunrise at the end of the nap and a music feature, said Anthony Escalante, who created the proposal.

The order for two pods — including shipping, delivery, assembly and installation — would cost a combined $21,818.20 after applying a learning institution discount of $6,470.

. . .

"We're here to help students succeed academically," Bartheld said. "We hear from them frequently that they want EnergyPods or a napping room or something just to help them make it through long hours of studying."

The ultimate goal is to install nap pods in all seven libraries on the campus, Escalante said.

There's more at the link.

Even with a "learning institution discount", the pods will cost almost $11,000 apiece.  Are you, like me, wondering why universities are charging their student so much these days?  I think we've just found one more reason.

I have a suggestion.  Let's take over an empty room somewhere on campus (or erect a "temporary structure", just like the US Army did in World War II - some of which are still in use today!).  Inside it, we'll put a couple of rows of these.

There must be thousands of them stored in military warehouses across the country;  and if those aren't available, you can get plans and build them out of wood.  (Heck, you can buy modern reproductions on, or get the originals from military surplus stores like this one;  either costs less than 5% of the price of an EnergyPod!)  I reckon, for the price of a single pod, you could probably buy or build a dozen stout, strong double bunks, each equipped with a foam mattress (which will probably be a lot more comfortable than the original), sheets, a pillow and a blanket.  Heck, if that was good enough for Uncle Sam's fighting men, back in the day, it's surely good enough for their descendants - today's special snowflake students!  The budget should even be enough to provide earplugs and sleep masks.  As for privacy, too bad.  Let the students get used to snoring, other students' poor personal hygiene, and the occasional fart.  They can toughen up while they nap!

There.  I've just saved the University of Maryland tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands of dollars, provided nap facilities out the wazoo compared to one or two isolated pods, and ensured gainful employment for all the carpenters, builders and vendors who'll supply the needful.  Am I a financial genius, or what?


Mind-boggling stunts behind the wheel

This just makes me shake my head in disbelief.

How he missed taking out some of those overhead wires, I'll never know!


If you've never heard of the Coandă effect . . .

. . . it's how this plane flies.

The Coandă effect (named for its discoverer) is the way in which a jet of air (or, for that matter, water) will travel over the surfaces adjacent to it, whether they're straight or curved.  This allows an aircraft utilizing the effect to direct air from its engines across the curved surface of its wing, providing greater lift at low speeds, which in turn shortens the takeoff and landing speed significantly.

The 1970's experimental Boeing YC-14 used the effect to . . . well, to good effect!

The Boeing's competitor at the time, the McDonnell Douglas YC-15, went on to be developed into the very successful C-17 Globemaster III.  Ironically, it became a Boeing aircraft when the latter company took over McDonnell Douglas in 1997.  The YC-14 project was abandoned in the US, but appears to have inspired the (much smaller) Antonov An-72 and An-74 aircraft in what was then the Soviet Union.  They achieved only moderate sales success, but it appears they may be making a comeback.  A US company has just announced it will invest $150 million in Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov to restart production of the An-74.

Here's two video clips of a commercial An-74 freighter landing, then taking off.  Note the thrust reversers, which appear above the engine as the aircraft lands.  Note, on takeoff, how the thrust from the engines flows over the top of the wings, providing greater lift by using the Coandă effect to best advantage.

Strange-looking bird, isn't it? I'd like to see those high-mounted engines on some of the dirt airstrips I've used in Africa. I think they might offer a real advantage in terms of not ingesting dirt and rocks kicked up by the undercarriage . . . but I'm not so sure about low-flying buzzards over the runway!


Fires, and fighting them

I've had the misfortune to be caught in two building fires.  One was in a military barracks in South Africa, back in the 1970's.  Over a hundred of us had to make our way through smoke-filled corridors to the emergency exits at either end of the building, because the genius (genii?) who designed it had failed to specify windows with openings (or panes of glass) large enough for people to escape through them.  After it was all over, and we'd stopped hacking up our lungs from smoke inhalation, a lot of us expressed quite vehement opinions about that.

The second was in Louisiana in 2008, where a faulty shredder set fire to my home office while I was elsewhere in the house.  It left quite a mess behind it, but fortunately I noticed it before it could do major damage to my home.  Equally fortunately, my earlier experience in South Africa had taught me to have a couple of small fire extinguishers on hand.  I was able to use one of them to stop the flames from spreading too far before the fire department arrived.

That Louisiana fire demonstrated to me that consumer grade fire extinguishers (the kind you can buy at some supermarkets or hardware stores) are not necessarily a good idea (particularly the disposable variety that can't be refilled).  One of mine failed to function at all, despite its pressure gauge being "in the green" before, during and afterwards.  The other proved ineffectual against even a small fire, despite the claims of its manufacturer.  The best that can be said for it was that it helped to slow things down.  I lost confidence in consumer grade extinguishers after that experience.  (A recall of tens of millions of similar products, just a couple of weeks ago, demonstrates that things haven't improved much.)

I learned another important lesson from that second experience;  namely, that it was worth spending money on a high-quality product where my safety is concerned.  That applies even more now that I have Miss D.'s safety to consider, as well as my own.

I took the time and trouble to educate myself in the most likely types of fire I was likely to confront.  There are several very useful resources online:

There are also useful resources available in our communities:
  • The military often trains its members in fire-fighting and damage control.  I went through a week-long course on the subject during my service in South Africa, which taught me a lot, and I know the US armed forces provide similar instruction.
  • Manufacturers of fire detection and fire-fighting equipment often offer training in how to use their products.  This will mostly be for the benefit of fire-fighters, but it's sometimes open to interested members of the public as well.
  • I've heard of several "open days" held by local fire departments, where time-expired fire extinguishers have been donated by vendors and/or manufacturers for the public to try them out and learn how they work.  At least one was arranged with a local school, where seniors could get hands-on training in fighting small fires.  It was intended to encourage them to volunteer as fire-fighters, but had the added benefit of teaching them the basics of a useful skill.

As for fire-fighting equipment, I bought two or three small commercial-grade extinguishers after my Louisiana experience.  Miss D. and I each had one in our vehicles, and one was on standby in our garage.  However, they were all relatively small, light units, designed more to deal with electrical, or kitchen (i.e. grease or cooking oil), or garage fires than with a more common structural fire.  I wasn't happy with only that level of preparation, so I've recently taken steps to upgrade it, and replace our older units with newer, more capable extinguishers.  We now have six, distributed as follows:
  • Two 2½-gallon water extinguishers, one next to our fireplace (which is, let's face it, the most likely source of fire problems in our home), and the other in our bedroom, in case we need to fight our way through flames and sparks to our front door.  These are big, heavy units, that might not be suitable for a child to use, but we're adults, so that's not a major concern.  They're free-standing on the floor.
  • Two 2½-pound chemical extinguishers, one in our kitchen, one in our garage, mounted on the wall using the brackets supplied with them.  These are intended to deal with electrical and/or oil and grease fires.  They're filled with so-called "Purple-K", one of the most effective firefighting chemicals.  They offer only about 10 seconds use each, but they're professional-grade, and should be able to handle any small kitchen or garage fire that might arise.  If one isn't big enough to do the job, the other is only a few steps away.
  • Two 5-pound chemical extinguishers, also filled with Purple-K, for our vehicles (one in each).  These offer up to 20 seconds use, which should be enough to put out a small engine bay fire and/or stop it spreading to other parts of the vehicle.  Our car extinguishers are larger than our household chemical units, because they're more likely to be needed far from a fire department or another backup extinguisher, so their extra capacity might come in very useful.  (The vehicle extinguishers are currently carried in the trunk, but will soon be mounted either in hook-and-loop fastening straps, or on a vehicle fire extinguisher bracket.)

All six are commercial- or professional-grade extinguishers, refillable, and capable of being serviced if necessary.  I sleep better knowing that we have reliable, high-quality equipment on hand.  If we should be so unfortunate as to have a fire of any kind, they should help us contain the situation until the fire department can get here (fortunately for us, their building is only a few minutes away).

If you haven't thought about the risk of fires in your own home, and equipped yourself to fight them in the beginning stages, before they get out of hand, may I recommend that you do so?  Your local fire marshal will probably be more than happy to walk through your home with you, pointing out potential problem areas and suggesting ways to deal with the danger.  I submit that the expense of a fire extinguisher or two, or even just a couple of strategically placed buckets of water and/or sand, will repay itself several times over if you ever really need them.  I speak from experience.

It's not just flammable household items we need to worry about.  Those who service their own vehicles at home need to remember that oil and grease - not to mention gasoline - burn very readily and very hot;  and barbecue grills using propane as fuel have cylinders of gas that can explode in a fire.  Such materials should never be kept in your home, or in any structure attached to it such as a garage.  They should be stored in an outbuilding such as a garden shed, well away from the house.

In particular, those of us who enjoy the shooting sports need to think about how and where we store ammunition, reloading components, etc.  Ammunition that isn't chambered in a firearm doesn't explode in a fire - with nothing to confine the cartridge, it simply goes "pop" without sending the bullet any distance at all - but if we store it in airtight containers such as ammo cans, those can build up pressure inside until they let go with a very impressive bang.  Something to think about.  What's more, if we store large quantities of ammunition at home, firefighters hearing it "cook off" might withdraw from the structure and let it burn, rather than risk injury to themselves.  (That's not uncommon:  see, for example, here, here and here.)

The video below was produced to educate firefighters in what happens to ammunition in a fire.  It's worth watching.

There's a lot to think about in terms of fire safety. It's too late to do so after the flames have taken hold.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How the Las Vegas shooting victims were saved

There's a fascinating article at Emergency Physicians Monthly about the emergency medical response to the Las Vegas shooting, and how so many victims were saved.  Here's a brief excerpt.

The first thing I did was tell the secretaries I needed every operating room open. I needed every scrub tech, every nurse, every perfusionist, every anesthesiologist, every surgeon—they all need to get here right away. They immediately began making phone calls. I told the trauma nurses that I needed all the treatment areas completely clear. Nurses were instructed to keep an eye out for crashing patients and make sure that all patients had bilateral 14-18 gauge IVs ready for the moment that they would decompensate.

We also initiated our hospital’s “code triage,” in which staff from upstairs would come down to help by bringing down gurneys and spare manpower. We took all of our empty ED beds and wheelchairs out into the ambulance bay. Anybody who could push a patient, from environmental services to EKG techs to CNAs, came out to the ambulance bay. I said to the staff, “I’ll call it out. I’ll tell you guys where to go, and you guys bring these people in.”

. . .

My plan was that we were going to take care of all of our major resuscitations (red tags) in Station 1. Station 2 was going to have our orange tags, patients with threatening gunshots in critical areas, but had not crashed yet. This is not in the textbook. In my mind, these orange tags were expected to crump near the end of the Golden Hour. Station 4 was going to have the yellow tags, patients that had torso/neck or proximal extremity shots that looked very stable and were expected to survive past the Golden Hour. Rapid Track and Med room would hold the green tags, staffed by two PAs, were just going to end up sitting on the floor or stuffed into an area with people watching over and making sure that none of them crumped. The ER doctors would resuscitate and send the resuscitated patients to Trauma 3 or 4 for the trauma surgeon to prioritize to the OR.

In preplanning, I knew that as we started to get some of these red tags stabilized, the anesthesiologists and surgeons would start arriving and we could open up more ORs. That’s the first major choke point. I can resuscitate four or five people, but that operating room was going to be the key to stopping the bleeding and saving lives. In a high volume penetrating MCI like this, you really need flow. You need people to get stabilized and into the operating room, not sitting around perseverating about what test to order next. Getting those ORs staffed and opened was my biggest priority. With potentially hundreds of incoming patients, it was going to be a matter of eyeballing patients or feeling for carotid pulses because we didn’t have enough monitors. Everything was 100% clinical judgment. You’re looking at all these patients, and you’re just waiting for them to declare themselves—and then you start to work on them.

I was out in the ambulance bay when the first police cars arrived with patients. There were three to four people inside each cruiser. Two people on the floorboards and two in the back seat, and they were in bad shape. These patients were “scoop and run”—minimal to no prior medical care but brought in a timely manner. They had thready pulses, so they went directly to Station 1, our red tag area. By textbook standards, some of these first arrivals should have been black tags, but I sent them to the red tag area anyway. I didn’t black tag a single one. We took everybody that came in—I pulled at least 10 people from cars that I knew were dead—and sent them straight back to Station 1 so that another doc could see them. If the two of us ended up thinking that this person was dead, then I knew that it was a legitimate black tag.

There's much more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

I'm very glad for the victims that such high-quality care was available within minutes of their getting shot.  It couldn't save all of them, but I daresay a number are still alive today who wouldn't be without access to that level of attention and the rapid, professional way in which the incoming patients were triaged and handled.

Kudos to all the emergency responders concerned.


Judge Moore, sexual harassment allegations, and the state of society

I'm sure my readers are familiar with the sexual harassment allegations against former Judge Roy Moore, a Republican Senatorial candidate in Alabama.  Let me admit at once that I don't know whether or not they're true . . . but the way in which they've suddenly surfaced, decades after the alleged events, gives me pause.

The passage of time is the biggest single barrier to credibility.  The alleged incidents occurred plus-or-minus 40 years ago - yet we haven't heard a peep about them out of the accusers until Judge Moore became the Republican candidate for Senate.  Why not?  The Judge has been a prominent and politically polarizing figure for many years, including having been removed from office, twice, because of his insistence on following biblical moral norms rather than the law of the land.  Surely, if he was so hot on biblical morals, some of his accusers would have called him a hypocrite long before now?  Yet, they didn't.  Why not then?  Why now?  Your guess is as good as mine . . . but mine is that both the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party establishment - the swamp, in other words - are determined not to allow such a maverick into Senatorial ranks.  Why, they couldn't predict, much less control, what he might say or do!  That's simply unacceptable!  Let's knock him out of the running before the election, by fair means or foul, in order to avoid such a disaster!

What's more, the accusers did not come forward of their own accord.  They were contacted by the Washington Post, which wholeheartedly disapproves of President Trump, Roy Moore, and everyone else of their ilk.  The newspaper, by its own admission, spent weeks hunting down potential accusers and "convincing" them to come forward.  I find that highly suspicious, too.  If the accusers were so hot and bothered about what had allegedly been done to them, why did they not come forward earlier?  Why wait until outside pressure was applied?

What's more, the substance of the allegations themselves is ludicrous.  There is literally not one single allegation of inappropriate sexual contact.  The most that occurred, according to the accusers themselves, is a kiss or two.  What's inappropriate about that?  Please tell me.  I really want to know - and don't, for the love of Mike, tell me that a kiss between a thirty-something man and a teen-something woman is inappropriate in and of itself.  In that case, you may as well convict half of Congress and the Senate of the same crime, right now - not to mention former President Clinton too!  (Of course, it wouldn't help to accuse Congress or the Senate;  they've exempted themselves from most sexual harassment statutes.  One wonders why they found that necessary?)

Karl Denninger puts it in perspective.

If there is proof that Moore is guilty of soliciting a 14 year old (for "dates" or anything else) who he either knew or had reason to know was 14 at the time then he has no business in Congress or anywhere else.  But the evidence does not support that.  Let's go through it.

There is one actionable allegation from a person with credibility problems.  The other allegations are that an adult asked other persons of the legal [age] of consent to go on date(s), in fact asked their parents even though not legally required to do so for consent and received same, that the other party consented to said date(s) as well and the worst "behavior" exhibited during such dates were some number of...... kisses.

I repeat: I have yet to read any allegation of force, coercion, abuse of an unequal power relationship, sexual harassment, unwanted touching, attempted sex whether consensual or not (of any sort, such as with Herr Clinton and his stinky cigars) and unlike so-called "men" today the so-called accused asked the parents of the young women if it was ok to date their daughter before doing so.

Now if you have an issue with him being 30ish at the time, well, then you do.  I get that, but such is neither illegal or immoral.  I remind you that the age of sexual consent in Alabama was (and is) 16, and the age of consent to drink in Alabama at the time was 19.  Therefore, if 16, 17, 18, or 19 then she was a "teen", but perfectly legal and, if whoever "she" was was 19 then it was legal for her to drink too.

Despite this even the accusers admit that said "terrible cad" not only asked for his dates' parents blessing (which he had no requirement to do) and received it, and despite alleged consensual alcohol consumption (by a legal adult) his "horrible conduct" included such things as playing a guitar and singing, with the worst of said "conduct" being a kiss, probably of the "goodnight" variety.

If you are going to hang a man politically who by admission of his accusers is more honorable than 99.9% of the men in the nation today, who I remind you believe there is no requirement in honor or otherwise to ask a young woman's parents if it is ok to date their daughter say much less **** her brains out and then the worst conduct you can accuse him of is a goodnight kiss you're certifiably insane.

There's more at the link.  It's hard to argue with logic like that, isn't it?

Of course, "logic" has little to do with the current brouhaha.  It's all about "feelings" and "perceptions" and "appearances" and emotions and patriarchy and oppression and blah blah blah.  Facts are just minor obstacles, speedbumps in the way of convicting Roy Moore in the court of public opinion - and, therefore, in the mind of the Alabama electorate.  That, in my opinion, is the real reason for this whole mess.

I repeat:  I don't know whether the allegations against Roy Moore are true or false.  Nevertheless, the way in which his accusers have chosen this, of all times, to come forward, stinks to high heaven of political opportunism, particularly given the fact that they could have done so at any time in the past four decades.  The fact that some choose to believe their allegations, despite no evidence whatsoever to corroborate them, is a sign of the current moral and ethical sickness of our society.

I'm forced to conclude that political operators are capitalizing on what's been called the "Weinstein Effect", and are using it as a tool to damage Roy Moore (and presumably, in the near future, other political opponents).  Unless and until hard evidence, usable in court, is presented against Roy Moore, I shall continue to believe that, rather than the allegations against him.


Bringing "special snowflakes" down to earth

An associate professor of law at Faulkner University, Alabama, lays down the law to his incoming class of millennial students.

Before I can teach you how to reason, I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated. To put it bluntly, you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.

Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims, even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. Most of you have been taught to label things with various “isms” which prevent you from understanding claims you find uncomfortable or difficult.

Reasoning requires correct judgment. Judgment involves making distinctions, discriminating. Most of you have been taught how to avoid critical, evaluative judgments by appealing to simplistic terms such as “diversity” and “equality.”

Reasoning requires you to understand the difference between true and false. And reasoning requires coherence and logic. Most of you have been taught to embrace incoherence and illogic. You have learned to associate truth with your subjective feelings, which are neither true nor false but only yours, and which are constantly changeful.

We will have to pull out all of the weeds in your mind as we come across them. Unfortunately, your mind is full of weeds, and this will be a very painful experience. But it is strictly necessary if anything useful, good, and fruitful is to be planted in your head.

. . .

So, here are three ground rules for the rest of the semester.

1.  The only “ism” I ever want to come out your mouth is a syllogism. If I catch you using an “ism” or its analogous “ist” — racist, classist, etc. — then you will not be permitted to continue speaking until you have first identified which “ism” you are guilty of at that very moment. You are not allowed to fault others for being biased or privileged until you have first identified and examined your own biases and privileges.
2.  If I catch you this semester using the words “fair,” “diversity,” or “equality,” or a variation on those terms, and you do not stop immediately to explain what you mean, you will lose your privilege to express any further opinions in class until you first demonstrate that you understand three things about the view that you are criticizing.
3.  If you ever begin a statement with the words “I feel,” before continuing you must cluck like a chicken or make some other suitable animal sound.

There's much more at the link.  Highly educational, sometimes giggle-worthy, and recommended reading.

I think the good professor's students are very fortunate.  They'll come out of his course with the ability to think, rather than feel, and rationally analyze, rather than emote, about the problems of the world.  Far too few millennials appear to have that ability . . . yet they're the ones who, in due course, will run our society.  Heaven help us!