Saturday, August 28, 2010

Things We Learn At The Deer Rifle Sight-in (2005 Part Deux)

Once more into the breach...

image courtesy of wikimedia commons

I worked the second to the last deer rifle sight in day today. You guessed it, Remington selfloading rifles turned out in droves. About half were wearing see thru scope mounts (more on these abominations another time). None were shot well. The Browning BARs held their own, as did the Remington pumps. No Winchester 100 rifles but there was one 88 levergun. A couple guys with new Remington 710s were doing their best to shoot minute-of-buck at 200 yards. As usual the slug hunters with 20 bores shot better than those with 12 bores.

A large crew of Hmong hunters showed up with brand new Mossberg package guns, some in 20 gauge, others in 12. Several still had the oval blue and yellow logo sticker on the buttstock. My two clients eschewed the 25 yard line and started at 50. Within ten rounds each they had dialed in 50 yard zeroes and said "Good enough". It was interesting to coach through a translator. Each member of their family must be testing different ammo as one was using Federal Barnes coppers, another Winchester Platinum Partitions, another the ICBM-looking Hornady plastic-tipped jobs, and yet another was shooting a flatpoint full diameter hammer I'd never heard of before made by the Heavishot people.

I saw one Savage package gun break. It shot great for the son at the 25 but dad could scarcely keep them on the paper at 50. Turns out one of two screws holding the rear scope ring together stripped out giving the scope a sad case of the side to side wobbles. Back to the sporting goods store with less than a week before the opener.

Another father son team were working out with grandpa's old Remington M700. It shot okay but didn't feed very well and sometimes the bolt wouldn't go forward at all. We popped the floorplate latch to dump the rounds several times. The follower wouldn't come out very easily or go back in very easily. The bottom metal seems to stand a little proud from the stock. Then it became suddenly obvious. Sometime in the rifle's history someone had disassembled the rifle and put it back together with the magazine box in upside down. Yeah, you can do that...sorta. We set things right with many thanks from the owners and to the oohs and aahs of the gallery. This M700 was old enough that one has to turn the safety off to cycle the action so later, while the son fumbled to open the action, he touched off a round without intending to.  Very exciting.  Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on target!

Home and dry, I will park my body armor in the closet until next year's festivities...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Speaking Truth to Power

Is not always appreciated...

It seems Army Col. Lawrence Sellin didn't much like what he encountered during his assignment as a staff officer at the NATO International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Kabul, Afghanistan.  So he wrote an Op Ed about it for UPI.  Oops...not a resume enhancing maneuver.  Needless to say his assignment has been terminated (gratefully not with extreme prejudice).  It certainly looks like he violated some very clear standing orders against communicating with the media without submitting it to public relations in advance, but who among us has not suffered through a death by powerpoint presentation?  Hopefully, Mr. Sellin will continue writing for UPI.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Danger Room!

Been following the WIRED Danger Room blog off and on for a while now...

Subtitled "What's Next in National Security" the Danger Room has assembled a team of writers who are smart and smart-assed, serious and snarky.  They love sticking it to dumb ideas hatched in the "homeland security space," but report on serious stuff too.  Among other titles their sub-categories include Darpawatch, Less-Lethal, and Paper Pusher, Beltway Bandits, Politicians.  What can I say?  I have a soft spot for talented irreverence.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Battle for God

Karen Armstrong has an incisive intellect and a strong voice...

If you care to understand the origins and impact of fundamentalism in the world's three monotheistic religious traditions this is a fine place to start.  This book was purchased with one of the best dollars I ever spent at a library book sale!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blow Ups Happen

From an email shared with friends (and posted on Usenet) way back on 23 September 1996...

Saw a rifle blow up at the range Sunday. Actually, I just missed seeing it explode, but I heard it let go. There was an unusual report and I turned to see a large cloud of gray smoke enveloping a man sitting at his shooting bench. He was holding the back half of what used to be - and I mean used to be - a Remington 7400 semiautomatic rifle. Fortunately this unlucky fellow was wearing safety glasses when he touched off his first round of the day and suffered only a bruise to his left elbow and some minor cuts and scratches to his hands, arms, and face.

The barrel and foreend - minus some shattered wood splinters - were found in one piece in front of the bench. The scope was bent and its mounts destroyed. The wood buttstock was shattered through the wrist. The action was catastrophically disassembled. The action of the rifle was peeled open like a banana. The trigger group was held in only by the rear pin. The bolt head was eventually found, with approximately half of each locking lug smeared off (this was the newer Remington Woodsmaster with four lugs, not the old nine lug artillery style lock-up). There was a fresh half inch by inch and a half hole in the plywood divider between the shooter and the fellow shooting next to him. Whatever punched the hole was not found; neither was any sign of the cartridge case head. The magazine was smashed and ejected from the action and the several of the unfired cartridges were knocked open.  The remaining cartridges held the strongest clue for what had happened.

Initially the range officers thought rifle somehow fired out of battery, but as the broken open cartridges were being collected for photographs they noticed there appeared to be two kinds of powder lying on the bench. There were both small grained spherical pistol powder and the extruded grains of IMR 4831 rifle powder the shooter said he'd used to assemble the loads. He said he metered his charges into the pan and then trickled them to weight on a scale. At the time I left the speculation was that, as a handloader of both pistol and rifle cartridges, he had not completely emptied his meter of pistol powder before loading his rifle rounds. This was not authoritatively established. Maybe it was just an overcharge (or undercharge). Perhaps the rifle was out of battery when it was fired. We'll likely never know. I do know I've got even more respect for the 50,000 pounds per square inch operating pressures we handloaders and shooters manipulate at the loading bench and on the range.

Go carefully.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Podcasts I Wish Were Updated More Often

Haven't heard from these entertaining podcasters lately...

image courtesy of

Apologia "is a friendly forum for both theists and non-theists to come together in search of some common understanding. Rather than a contentious debate format, Apologia provides a setting in which all participants can discuss without confrontation."  Sometimes I wish there was a little more confrontation, but they are producing new content all too rarely these days.

Brain Science Podcast is "the show for everyone with a brain" by Dr. Ginger Campbell, MD.  We understand Dr. Campbell is taking a break this summer but we hope she returns this fall.

Polyschizmatic Reprobate's Hour is produced by J. Daniel Sawyer, "a hat-wearing, obsessive-compulsive autodidact."  He is also a science fiction writer who offers several of his stories as lavishly produced podcasts.  Sawyer is also one of the non-theists at Apologia.

The Skepchick "podcast appears irregularly with interviews, discussions, and assorted skeptical goodness."  Just not often enough for my taste.  The production values totally eclipse the more casually assembled and still massively entertaining Skeptic's Guide to the Universe and The Skeptic's Guide 5x5 on which head skepchick Rebecca Watson also appears (and more frequently).

Podcasts I No Longer Follow

I have only so much ear time...

image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Bible Geek - "Theology with a twist but without the spin."  Robert M. Price is one smart guy when it comes to interpreting the Bible and a prolific author but the sound quality of many of his early podcasts are excreble and I find his delivery frequently grating.  Price can also be heard, in a more moderate style, as a frequent host on Point of Inquiry.

Irreligiosophy - "The one true podcast."  The unhappy young men behind this atheist podcast were once disaffected Mormons who have since seen the light of reason.  Much as converts make the most fervent religious zealots, disillusioned Christians frequently make the angriest atheists.  Their vitriol might be tolerable if they didn't strive to earn their iTunes [Explicit] rating every time they opened their mouths.  Swearing for it's own sake isn't shocking (except maybe in Utah), it's just boring.

Skeptic Zone - While it's interesting to hear the Australian perspective from the leaders of the skeptical community there something about their conversational tone just doesn't grab me.

[UPDATED TO ADD: As of October 2010 I'm giving Skeptic Zone another try.]

Reality Check - This podcast by the Ottawa Skeptics is nice enough but the topics covered are dealt with in greater detail on other 'casts.

The Infidel Guy Show is the oldest skeptical podcast on the web. It deals with religion as well as the paranormal and pseudo-science. The production values can be a little rough and more than a few podcast debates have raged out of control of the host.  After 11 years the host and producer, Reginald Finley, is taking a break.

All of these can be found at their respective websites and at iTunes.

Shackleton's Way

Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer...

Over the years history has come to regard Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton as an explorer of the first rate, eclipsing both Roald Amundson - who may have made polar exploration look too easy when he achieved the South Pole without incident in 1911, and Robert Falcon Scott - who for reasons only the British can explain, was celebrated for reaching the South Pole in 1912, a month after Amundson, and then dying of scurvy, privation, and exposure with his entire party on the return trip. 

Shackleton made several Antarctic forays.  Shackleton was invalided home after falling ill during Scott's unsuccessful attempt to reach the South Pole in 1903.  Leading his own expedition in 1909 Shackleton turned his team back from the Pole with only 97 miles to go, knowing his party could reach its goal but that they would almost certainly perish on the way home.  Once Amundsen succeeded in his technically adept attack on the Pole, Shackleton set his sights on traveling across Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.  Before reaching the starting point his ship, the Endurance, was trapped in the pack ice in 1914 and then sunk in 1915.  He led his 27 men onto the ice for several more months, then into the ice-clogged sea in lifeboats, before reaching the relative safety of barren Elephant Island.  Chances of accidental rescue on Elephant Island were nil so Shackleton and a small party sailed the lifeboat "James Caird" 600 miles to South Georgia Island.  Every one of his Endurance team survived this harrowing adventure.

Authors Margaret Morrell and Stephanie Capparell have reimagined Shackleton as an example for corporate leadership.  To do so they gloss over his failures as a businessman between expeditions as well as his shortcomings as a husband.  A ten year old dustcover blurb comparing Shackleton to Jack Welch and Michael Dell is ironic now.

As a leader in challenging circumstances Shackleton did in fact have many admirable traits and the authors do a fine job of illuminating the leadership skills evident in Shackleton's career, particularly during the voyage of the Endurance.  Shackleton was a tough man, a gifted leader, and an interesting character.  Shackleton's Way draws parallels between his short life and our 21st century challenges.  Examples are given of the effect Shackleton's story has had on modern business leaders but the most compelling are those offered by military leaders and Jim Lovell, Commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, another successful failure.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who served under both Scott and Shackleton, is most famous for having said "For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen: and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time".

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chinese Supercarrier Killer

Here's the latest variable for our geopolitical calculus...

The Dong Feng 21D is an Anti Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM), the first of its kind.  Fired from a hard to track, and even harder to target, road-mobile launch vehicle the DF-21D (CSS-5 Mod-4) is intended to strike a moving aircraft carrier nearly 2000 miles distant.  Defense analysts surmise a non-nuclear penetrating warhead is housed in its Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (MaRV) which uses terminal guidance information provided by a new series of Chinese spy satellites and UAVs.

So what is this neat, new technological marvel going to be used for?  Why, to kill, or threaten to kill, American supercarriers operating within a couple thousand miles of the Chinese coast line, of course.  Why would they ever want to do a thing like that?  The Chinese have some very specific interests within their regional sphere of influence.  These interests might be frustrated by the presence of U.S. combat forces in the neighborhood.  Creating the ability to deny the U.S. Navy carrier battle groups access to the Taiwan Strait is the most likely purpose of  this latest iteration of the very adaptable Dong Feng 21 (which has also been used as a Submarine-Launched Ballistic nuclear Missile, a Medium Range Ballistic Missile - with a conventional, chemical, or nuclear warhead, and as part of an anti-satellite weapon system).

An operational Chinese ASBM is a game changer unless and until the U.S. Navy comes up with some effective countermeasures or a new way to project power in the region.  Between the polite strangle hold (err...leverage) the Chinese have on the U.S. economy and an ability to to influence, if not reshape, American naval doctrine - without resorting to nuclear weapons - perhaps Taiwan had better give some thought to its eventual reintegration into the People's Republic.

UPDATED TO ADD: Here's an interesting article by Stuart Koehl at the Weekly Standard which evaluates the threat of the DF-21 differently.  Notably, Koehl is confident that the U.S. Navy will retain it's power projection advantage despite China's growing technological prowess and a home field advantage.  Of course, such a view would seem to be in alignment with the Standard's conservative outlook.

More Drivetime Podcasts

I've thinned out my podcast listening list so there's room to try a few more...

Caravaggio's "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" courtesy of wikimedia commons

Righteous Indignation "is the weekly UK based podcast that aims to critically examine extraordinary claims and the people who surround them. These include ideas related to conspiracy, the paranormal, the occult and attempts to redefine the boundaries of science and current understanding." Their website is here.

Token Skeptic is an Australian skeptical weekly that looks at "superstition, paranormal belief and the science behind it all. The podcast covers a range of ideas and issues, stemming from psychology, philosophy and ethics, science, critical thinking, literacy and education." Created by Kylie Sturgess who also blogs at PodBlack Cat, writing on science, superstitions and skeptical life.

[UPDATE: Ms. Sturgess wrote to politely inform me she's Australian, not British...Oops.  If I'd paid closer attention I'd have recognized her name (but apparently not her accent) from the work she did at The Skeptic Zone, another Australian podcast I've tried in the past.  While taking a closer look at Kylie's blog I'm interested to see she writes about skepticism from a female perspective as well as the role of skeptical inquiry in education.  She also writes the Curiouser and Curiouser column for CSI.  I look forward to studying her work.]

America's Evolutionary Evangelists, Evolving FaithInspiring Naturalism are three podcasts feature husband and wife traveling eduation team of Michael Dowd - the minister, and Connie Barlow - the science writer, who also operate The Great Story website.

[UPDATE: Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow's various offerings are taking some getting used to.  Their pro-science, pro-evolution, moderate atheist but vaguely pantheistic message is delivered in a woo-colored, evangelical-flavored wrapper.  Interesting, but weird.]

Unbelievable, hosted by Justin Brierley.  A podcast of the weekly religious radio programme aired by Premier Radio in the UK.  The show is unabashedly promoting an evangelical biblical worldview but they address a variety of topics discussed or defended by non-evangelical Christians, believers from other traditions, and even nonbelievers, so I'm giving them a try.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Rush to Judgement?

The workplace violence tragedy that shattered Hartford Distributors in Manchester, Connecticut, this week has attracted much attention...

image courtesy wikimedia commons

Those of in the security trade have worked to prevent all forms of workplace violence, including homicide, for ages.  The great majority of homicides at work - 75% or so - are routinely committed during armed robberies.  In the 1980s a different sort of workplace homicide captured the public imagination - workplace mass murder.  In 1986 postal worker Patrick Sherrill single-handedly inspired the unfortunate phrase "going postal" when he murdered 14 co-workers.  Then in 1988 Richard Farley shocked the world, perhaps especially those of us living and working in the "Silicon Valley," when he went on his infamous rampage at ESL.  Since then there have been mass killings at other businesses, on commuter trains, in schools, and even on military bases.  While much less common than other sorts of workplace  killings, workplace mass murder committed by a disgruntled employee grabs the 24 hour news cycle by the throat every time it occurs.

This week Caroline Hamilton wrote about killings perpetrated by Omar Thornton at Hartford Distributors on her Riskwatch blog

I responded:

As we come to grips with the tragedy at Hartford Distributors it’s important not to conflate injuries due to workplace violence, workplace homicide, and workplace mass murder.

Most INJURIES due to workplace violence occur in hospitals, specifically in mental health care settings.

The great majority of workplace HOMICIDES occur during robberies of retail establishments – especially at night, and of service providers – especially cab drivers. Of the 7606 persons killed at work between 1997 and 2008, 5809 were killed by “robbers or other assailants.”

We should be careful not to let lurid media coverage of these tragedies give us a false impression as to their frequency or severity. Depending on whose numbers you choose the number of workplace homicide between 1980 and 2008 seem to have remained relatively constant (Over the same interval the working population has increased which might be expected to reduce the rate).

1980-1989: 7603 total (760 per yr)

1980-1992: 9937 total (764 per yr)

1993-2002: 8148 total (815 per yr)

1997-2008: 7606 total (633 per yr)

Remember, year to year 75% of all these killings occurred during robberies. The balance was perpetrated by work associates, relatives, and other personal acquaintances.

Your statement “It makes me wonder if the workplace violence statistics from 2008 until now may be such a large increase, that has been either underreported or even held from publication!” strikes me as alarmist. Federally provided numbers regarding such incidents routinely lag a year or two due to the realities of data collection and publication. We need not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by our federal bureaucracies.

As for Patrick Fiel’s opinions, unless he has inside knowledge of the precise situation and decision-making process at Hartford Distributors I respectfully submit it is premature for him to comment on the situation, or be quoted as an authority in this case.

Mr. Fiel’s suggestion that terminations should be conducted somewhere other than the office is an interesting notion. In over 30 years of work experience most employees receive corrective action, participate in disciplinary hearings, or are terminated, in the building (or on the campus) where they work. Of course it goes without saying all but the smallest fraction of these actions are completed without incident.

Fiel states as fact “Obviously this company didn’t have a crisis plan in place, and hadn’t done a risk assessment for the facility. A simple assessment might have saved nine lives by setting up procedures for the termination; and additionally, by making sure employees knew what to do when he did draw his gun.” While every business should have an active workplace violence prevention program in place, having a crisis plan and successfully averting a disaster is not one in the same. Unless and until the details of this horrible tragedy are revealed we will not know what happened. Why the rush to judgment?

Today Security Management Daily linked to an article written August 5, 2010, by James Allen Fox on his Crime and Punishment blog at the Boston Globe titled "Workplace homicide: What is the risk?"  Good reading.  Professor Fox has done the math on the sort of statistics I hastily assembled for my reply to Ms. Hamilton. I look forward to following the rest of his series on this topic.

Workplace violence and its prevention and mitigation is a complex issue that will call for all of us to do our best work.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Problem with Atheism

I've been intrigued by Sam Harris, especially the differences between him and the other horsemen of the new atheist apocalypse - Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett, for some time now...

image from wikimedia commons

I really enjoyed Sam Harris' first book The End of Faith, at least until he slipped away sounding like a crypto-Buddhist in the closing chapters (an issue he has since clarified to my satisfaction).  I did not read his brief Letter to a Christian Nation but have learned the gist of it from a variety of presentations Harris made during his book tour for that slim volume.  He has a new book coming out, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, which appears to expand on ideas he discussed in a recent TED talk.

In 2007 Harris gave a very interesting lecture at the Atheist Alliance conference title "The Problem with Atheism," in which he questioned the self-applied label of "atheist," equating it to the nonsensical labels "non-astrologer" or "non-racist."

"We should not call ourselves 'atheists.' We should not call ourselves 'secularists." We should not call ourselves 'humanists,' or 'secular humanists,' or 'naturalists,' or 'skeptics,' or 'rationalists,' or 'freethinkers,' or 'brights.' We should not call ourselves anything...we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them."

Harris has taken much abuse and suffered some disavowal from the hard core atheist community but takes advantage of such opportunities to express his views further and with greater clarity in a variety of essays.

His views impact an idea I hope to write on one of these days.  Until then there's much to read and watch at his website.

Some Wicked Quackcasts This Way Come

A review of Supplements, Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (SCAMs)...

I've mentioned Mark Crislip's Quackcast in previous posts.  His podcasts #48 and #49 posted on iTunes 24 July 2010 were refreshingly acerbic.  The first skewers Harvard medical school for sponsoring a $6,650 course on acupuncture.  In the second he takes to task the pharmaceutical industry's practice of paying for CME.

"While we are at let's have McDonald's be responsible for teaching nutrition, Nintendo teach us about fitness, lobbiests determine the congressional voting, and tobacco companies provide research into cancer, and oil companies to tell us the cause of global warming."

Funny, with a bite.