Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Appreciating the Heavens

Since acquiring a dog...  about four years ago this week, as a matter of fact...  Norene and I have been paying more attention to what's above us.  That's because Riqui's (officially 'Suncatcher's Periquita') last walk of the day happens between 10:30pm and 11:30pm.  We have started to pay more attention to things like 'summer constellations' and 'winter constellations' and phases of the moon (because we can walk the golf course's cart paths from about half-moon through full-moon and for a few days after).

The moon rises about 50 minutes later every day.  Because the moon's cycle is about 28 days (more or less), it rises 1/28th of a day later each day.  There are 1,440 minutes in a day, and 1/28th of that is 51 minutes and 20-some-odd seconds.  Seven days' worth of that is 358+ minutes — pretty close to 6 hours.  At 'new moon', the moon rises just around dawn.  Half-moon (first quarter) is seven days later and has the moon rising around noon.  At full-moon, the moon rises near sunset — the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the Earth.  That's what makes the moon 'full'.  From full moon on, the moon rises closer to sunrise than to sunset.  Last quarter has the moon rising around midnight.

The stars are a different matter.  The stars make a complete circuit (360 degrees) over the course of a year — 365 days — close enough for government work.  The stars rise 1/360th of a day earlier each day.  That comes out to about four minutes (plus or minus).  Thirty days times four minutes is 120 minutes, two hours, 1/12 of a day, and one sign of the zodiac.

Over the course of a year, someone who looks up at the sky about the same time every night will watch the sky gradually change as the moon and the constellations creep across the firmament.

I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Letters to the Editor

I'm an inveterate letter-writer.  I rap out snarlygrams to the St.Petersburg Times on a regular basis... or did.  They tend not to print my letters anymore.  I suspect I pissed Martin Dyckman off once too often and have been banned in perpetuity.  On the rare occasion they do print a letter, they invariably send it through the editorial meat-grinder first so that any point I might have been trying to make gets lost on the cutting room floor.

I think I'll just publish them here.

 

09/02/2006

Subject: Price of Freedom?

A letter-writer Thursday cites the Alamo, the battleship Maine, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 as "the price of freedom".  This writer badly needs a lesson in history.

In 1836, Texians (don't forget the "i") seceded from Mexico, and became an independent nation for 9 years before joining the United States.

The battleship Maine was destroyed by an explosion in a coal bunker, but it was a great excuse for us to grab some territory.  No sabotage was involved.

It is now well-documented that FDR knew of the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance and declined to warn our sailors there because he wanted us in that war;  this is much closer to "treason" or "accessory to murder" than it is to "price of freedom".  Any infamy that day came from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I suspect that the next 10 or 20 years will also give us a different perspective on 9/11.

 

10/02/2006

Subject: It --does-- matter!

A letter-writer Saturday (Iraq has to be fixed) asserts:  "[everyone] knows[s] the war in Iraq should never have been started.  That doesn't matter anymore."

It certainly does matter, because if we come to believe that it doesn't matter, then it will happen again, although it is difficult to see how that might be worse than the present situation.

Legislation just passed by our Congress cancels habeas corpus and fundamental procedural rights of due process that stretch back to the Magna Carta.  Federal grand-jury indictments for terrorism are no longer necessary.  Under the new law, criminal prosecutions for terrorism can now be handled by the military, which is part of the executive branch of government, rather than by the judicial branch.  There will no longer be any right to a jury trial in which the jury consists of ordinary citizens.  Military personnel will decide the guilt or innocence of the accused and, unlike in federal-court proceedings, will be permitted to rely on hearsay evidence and evidence acquired by torture to convict the defendant.  Right to counsel will be limited.  There will no longer be a right to a speedy and public trial.  Military judges, not independent federal judges, will preside over the proceedings.  The military will be free to inflict cruel and unusual punishments on those judged to be terrorists, and being a citizen will not save you because anyone can be labelled a 'terrorist'.  In fact, this letter might get me thrown in jail, next to the editors of the StPetersburg Times for printing it.

Until we decide that such things do matter and introduce our presidents and generals to a breathtaking new use for hemp, we can no longer call ourselves 'the land of the free'.  This nation of sheep has at last begotten a government of wolves.

 

02/14/2007

Subject: No guns allowed

The shooting at a Salt Lake City mall occurred in a place posted as "No guns allowed".  All the shoppers were unarmed because they were all law-abiding citizens...  all except one.

The next time someone says "oh, we can't allow guns here...  they're so dangerous!"  point them at the Trolley Square Mall in SLC.  All the disarmed shoppers were lambs before the slaughter until an off-duty police officer from some other city stepped up to the plate.

Except for Trolley Square's "No guns allowed" policy, some of those shoppers might still be alive.

 

03/30/2007

Subject: Kangaroo conviction

Interesting, the case of David Hicks, former kangaroo-skinner, now convicted terrorist:  in order to be convicted, he had to 'prove' his guilt to the military tribunal.  Funny, I always thought that was the prosecution's job!  Lucky for them they managed to get a "voluntary" confession out of him.

Part of his 'plea-deal' is that he also promises never to say that he was mistreated at Camp X-Ray.  I guess we'll never have to face hearing him suggest it was a case of "confess or stay here forever".

For those of you who say it can't happen here, it has now happened here.

 

04/15/2007

Subject: Virginia Tech

Those who say we can't do anything to prevent horrific events such as happened Monday at Virginia Tech are just plain wrong.

Virginia Tech is a "gun-free zone".  A student who brings a firearm onto school grounds risks expulsion or suspension.  Those who wish to actually graduate from college won't risk expulsion, so they go unarmed.  It is they who become victims when a nut-case decides to make headlines.

We will never see the end of mass-slayings until we get past the bizarre notion that rendering law-abiding citizens 'prey' makes them safer.  By all means, keep guns out of the hands of criminals, but let's not delude ourselves into thinking it's possible to disarm everyone and thus prevent the next outrage.  That sort of utopian delusion just sets us up by inviting us to remain unprepared.

It's time for us to grow up and face reality.  Not all guns take lives;  some of them save lives.

 

09/02/2007

Subject: Florida's Early Primary

The Democratic and Republican parties are treating Florida's primary as if they were paying the bill for it.  Here's news for them:  they're not.

If they want control over the conduct and the timing of Florida's primaries, let them get out their checkbooks.  I'm sure the taxpayers of Florida will gladly allow them full control over all aspects of the primary process — for a small fee.

 

09/30/2007

Subject: Private roads are dead end for Florida

The Times' objection to private roads in Florida is that "motorists would get stuck with the bills", but who gets stuck with the bills for state-owned roads?  Answer:  everybody!

Has the Times forgotten so soon the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis?  It wasn't even two months ago!  That state-owned bridge on that state-owned highway collapsed because of poor maintenance.  I wonder what kind of maintenance a private owner would have done on that bridge given the choice of "revenue if it stays up" and "lawsuits if it comes down"?  Of course, the state doesn't have to worry about lawsuits because of their sovereign immunity.  That's why they can afford to skimp on maintenance.

So...  which would you prefer:  higher bridge tolls or higher death tolls?

 

10/09/2007

Subject: WI officer shot self 3 times?

The AP report on the berzerk WI deputy who killed six and himself reports that he "shot himself in the head three times with a pistol".

If he was that bad a shot, how did he manage to kill six people?

It seems far more likely that the AR-15 he was carrying  (a true assault rifle, unlike those available to ordinary people)  was set to '3-shot-burst' and that he shot himself, not with his .40 caliber pistol, but with the AR-15 machinegun the police department issued to him.

And you think  we  can't be trusted with those things??

 

07/19/2008

Subject: Guns in homes

I find it disturbing that the Times would publish yet another diatribe from yet another uninformed ideologue.  I refer, of course, to  "Guns in our homes put children at risk"  by Peter Gorski (7/19 Opinion).  Even more disturbing is that you positioned it right next to an article on Hubert Humphrey who, were he alive today, would be writing an angry letter to the Times.

Gorski, a pediatrician, tries to make us believe that accidental shootings of children are "all too common".  With 300 million firearms in the hands of 80 million gun owners, "all too common" would mean a million dead children each year.  Next to that, 5,000 deaths  (if that number is actually true)  is statistically insignificant.  In fact, Gorski here includes "children" up through age 24, many of whom are killed in drug-related turf wars — hardly 'accidents'.

Then Gorski points out that private handguns did not prevent the events of 9/11.  Well, duhhh!  Anyone who brought a gun to carry on those planes was arrested before they got to the gate.  How stupid does Gorski think we are?  (Don't answer that.)

Studies that Gorski doesn't cite suggest that private handguns prevent between 400,000 and 2,500,000 violent crimes each year, and almost none of them involved a loud noise — or a newspaper article, or a police report.  Gorski is trying to convince us to save those 5,000 "children" but let those 2.5 million violent crimes be completed successfully.  Remind me not to take my kids to him for medical care;  this doctor doesn't understand 'triage'.

Gorski calls gun prohibition  "the one fail-safe solution", ignoring its unintended consequences.  What would Hubert Humphrey say?  “Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms....  The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against the tyranny which now appears remote in America but which historically has proven to be always possible.”  That's what Humprey said.

"Hubert's generation has largely disappeared", David Shribman says in the article next to Gorski's tripe.  Indeed.

 

02/22/2009

Subject: re: Guess which ones carry guns (Opinions, 2/22/09)

Within the week, the (Memphis TN) Commercial Appeal posted a searchable database of all Tennessee concealed handgun licensees on the debatable assumption that the people of Tennessee had a right to know who among them was armed.  The law in that state allows news organizations to acquire the complete list, but the C/A's abuse of that 'loophole' is about to result in TN closing off all access.  The law here is just the opposite and the Times is upset that they cannot bleat far-and-wide the names, addresses, phone numbers, and birthdates of Florida's armed law abiding citizens because timid Floridians are in such great danger from them.

The canard that everyone else is much less safe because of armed law-abiding citizens (ALCs) is a patent falsehood which would have become as apparent to you as it is to everyone else had you done any research at all on the topic.  You would easily have discovered, for instance, that where such records are kept they indicate that ALCs are among the safest of weapons carriers.  You could have published that fact rather than the hoplophobic editorial you did publish.

You would have discovered that ALCs are 5.7 times less likely to be arrested for violent acts than is the general public, and that they are 13.5 times less likely to be arrested for anything than is the general public.  Note, by the way, that these are arrests, not convictions.  Tell me again how dangerous ALCs are?

As for the nonsense that ALCs are less-well-trained than the police, you would have discovered that 11% of police shootings involve the death of an "innocent bystander" but only 2% of ALC shootings.  The typical police officer goes to the range when it's time to 'qualify' and shoots (maybe) 100 rounds.  Your typical ALC uses thousands (plural) of rounds each year, and I know some who use tens of thousands.  Tell me again how much danger Floridians are in?

The people of Florida are at no time safer than when they are sitting next to an ALC, and the more ALCs there are, the less anxious criminals are to ply their trade.  Far from whining that you can't tell who's carrying and who isn't, you should be lobbying the legislature to make range time mandatory for all Floridians.

Of course, then crime would plummet and what would you have to write about?  I see your dilemma.

 

11/14/2010

Subject: "Vouchers only for the faithful" (11/14)

Robyn Blumner makes a fairly obvious error when she criticizes  "Vouchers only for the faithful" (11/14).  She assumes that tax money is the rightful property of the state.  Perhaps in some other system of government it is.  Our system is founded on the notion that only people have rights.  Governments have powers which are granted to them by the people via documents known as 'constitutions'.

In the case at issue, the people of the state of Arizona acting through their legislature made it possible for citizens to specify how much of their taxes will be routed to certain schools not part of the 'public school system'.  Given the uniformly ghastly performance of those public schools, it's not difficult to see why Arizonans might be amenable to alternatives.

We have a federal system.  Certain tasks are delegated to the federal government.  Others are delegated to state governments.  For that latter group, we are supposed to have up to 50 potentially unique solutions to common problems, a schema known as 'massively-parallel trial-and-error'.  When there are 50 different ways to fund schools (for instance), we would shortly discover that one state was doing it very well, others good but not great, and still others poorly.  Over time the poorer models would be discarded for better ones.  This is called 'improvement'.

Opinions such as are found in  "Vouchers only for the faithful"  operate to ensure a static, one-size-fits-all model with no chance for experimentation and no chance for improvement.  It begs us to cling to the status quo as if it were the only worthwhile option.  It is a call for nationwide stagnation and a school system that will never get any better.

 

05/18/2011

Subject: Safer streets

Sunday's lead editorial,  "Clear path to creating safer streets",  contains so many errors of fact it is difficult to know where to begin addressing them.  Perhaps the easiest error to dispel is that presented last:  "Nine of ten firearms confiscated [in Mexico] came from the United States".

In fact, only a very small portion of the firearms confiscated in Mexico are traced at all.  The vast majority of them are modern machine guns and are not available for sale here.  A goodly portion of those are M-16s and M-4s which do, in fact, come from the United States, but they originate with Pentagon purchase orders, not a clandestine sale at a gun show.  They wind up in the hands of the cartels because Mexican soldiers go AWOL with their government-issued machine gun.  Mexico wouldn't bother tracing those;  they know where they came from.

So, if twenty percent of seized guns are traced and ninety percent of those originated here, what is the net percentage?  Then ask how many of those guns were seized simply because Jose Seis-pack may not have guns at all in Mexico.  There, every gun is a crime gun, including those in the hands of the policia.

I highly recommend you do some research.  Start at http://gunfacts.info/ .  It will help you adhere to your mission statement.

 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Memories of days in black and white



Eureka!


Out there on YouTube I found days... no, WEEKS of episodes from "Have Gun, Will Travel" (1957 ff), all well beyond their copyright date.


Just thought you'd like to know...