Elvis

elvis

January 8th is the birthday of Elvis Presley.  If he had lived, he would be 81. Elvis died in 1977, thirty-eight years ago, but just mention his name, and there is instant recogniton, even from those far too young to remember him clearly.

I was never a “fan” of Elvis Presley, but I always enjoyed his music.  There is no doubt that as a cultural icon, Elvis is indisputably “The King”.

A few years back, I saw my first live performance of an Elvis tribute artist, a guy by the name of Doug Church, and he was pretty good:

After seeing this performance, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I learned that Doug Church is just one of many Elvis tribute artists.

There’s Shawn Klush:

And David Lee:

And many, many, more.

Elvis Aaaron Presley was born in 1935 and died in 1977. In a lifespan of just 42 years, he became arguably the most famous singer of all time. During his career, he recorded between 665 and 711 songs (the actual number is in dispute). He had twenty number one albums, and thirty-six number one singles. He appeared in thirty-two movies.

Books and movies have been written about his life. His music was (and is) known around the world.

Even though he has been gone for almost four decades, his persona lives on in the form of an army of Elvis impersonators.

Elvis impersonators come in three forms: The look-alikes; not necessarily perfomers, but available for your next party or supermarket opening. The sound alikes; singers who attempt to imitate Elvis’ voice. And finally the tribute artists; professional performers who put on Elvis-oriented shows, sometimes traveling around the world to perform.

elvis02 elvis03

 

There are some incredibly bad Elvis impersonators:  bad elvis 1

A trio of Elvis impersonators with tartan capes, from left, Shane Allison, Dean Pirtle and Matt Raven wave to fans as they walk along the 18th fairway during the third round of the Verizon Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Saturday, April 19, 2008. The three were declared the winners of the tournament's Tartan Day competition. (Jay Karr/The Island Packet/MCT) ORG XMIT: 1057191

bad elvis 3

There are Japanese Elvis’s (Elvi?):

japanese elvis

Chinese Elvis’s:

chinese elvis

And yes, even female Elvis’sfemale elvis

So many Elvis’s, so little time….

Comedian Andy Kaufman “made his bones” with an Elvis impersonation back in the 70’s.

Elvis lives, at least in the minds of those who follow the shows of tribute artists. But a take look at the audiences of these shows, and one sees a lot of gray hair. It would seem that as the audiences age, the popularity of Elvis remembrances might fade as well.

On the other hand, Graceland, Elvis’ home in Memphis, still attracts over a half million visitors a year. Graceland was voted top U.S. iconic tourist attraction by USA Today readers in 2012.

GracelandMansion

The deceased Elvis earned $55 million dollars in 2012, just behind the top two deceased performers, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.

An then there is Warner Brothers, who reportedly has secured the rights for the entire Elvis music catalog as part of a planned Elvis biopic under discussion.

As far as the tribute artists, there are still a few balcony seets left for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist contest to be held in Cincinnati in January. Cheap seats in the nosebleed section start at $175, and there are not many left.

Memories of Elvis are strongest for those from his era, but it looks like there may be a number of little Elvi in training:

little elvis

Paris Warms Up

President Barack Obama, left, sits with French President Francois Hollande, right, as they have dinner at the Ambroisie restaurant in Paris, France, with Secretary of State John Kerry, 2nd right, French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royal, 3rd right, and French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, 3rd left, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. Obama is in France for a two-day visit as part of the COP21, the United Nations Climate Change conference. Other officials are : Translator, Thomas Ronkin, 2nd left, Charles Kupchan, top left, and French President Hollande's Military Chief of Staff General Benoit Puga, top right. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool)

The world-wide conference on climate change in Paris ended recently. The media exhibited a breathless, Entertainment Tonight  glow reporting the event. One blog headlined it like this: “This is a momentous, world changing event”.

No, it is not.

Yes, I know some 196 nations reached an “historic” agreement in Paris. Yes, I am aware that many people around the world are convinced that this agreement will “save” the planet (or more accurately human beings), from global catastrophe. I am completely aware that I am one of the minority, or as I like to call it, the loyal opposition.

Let’s discuss politics.

Each of the nations involved in the agreement submitted a plan for reducing it’s reliance on carbon fuels. Each was a combination of “hope” to do, “want” to do, and “plan” to do to reduce their “carbon footprint” by 2050 or so. I say “or so” because dates always tend to get a little fuzzy in multinational agreements.

None of the agreements are legally binding. They are “promises” loosely based on what each country’s leaders think they can get through their repective governments and publics. The United States, for instance, was smart enough not to try to make this into a legally binding treaty, because it is well known no such treaty would ever make it past Congress, which must approve all treaties. The stongest enforcment in the agreement is “global shaming” of countries who do not meet their committments to reducing emmissions.

So think of it as a multinational “to do” list, with some items possible, others not. The prospect of each nation reaching it’s goals is extremely unlikely. Why? The complications and the money, mostly the money.

The poorer nations (most of them) are demanding payments from wealthier ones (especially the United States) to help them to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Part of these are oblique “reparations” for industrial nations advancing economically while at the same time being the major polluters. These poorer countries believe that the wealthy countries are the ones who have caused “global warming” and now demand those countries pay.

And pay big. One figure floated around Paris was $100 billion (dollars) per year transfer from wealthy countries to poor ones, over a period of at least ten years, a total of  one trillion dollars!   And that’s just for the first decade of the agreement!

Does anyone really think that is going to happen?

** Note — This just in: Congress is approving President Obama’s request for $500 million in the 2016 budget for the climate fund for poor countries. Could that money have been spent here? Nah….we don’t need it….

The biggest polluters carbon fuel-wise today are China and India. China has said it will stop increasing it’s use of carbon fuels by 2030, but that’s not surprising, insasmuch as that’s about the time China’s population will stop growing. India, on the other hand, refuses to get tied down, as it claims that because it is such a poor country, it needs more time to “catch up” industrially with the West.

It’s already been noted that even if the U.S. took extraordinary measures to reduce carbon fuels, the difference we could make would be negligable at this point. That doesn’t mean however, that shanigans won’t be taking place.

money temperature

Look for calls for “carbon taxes”. Bernie Sanders has talked about this alot, and I suspect he will have company as time goes on. These “taxes” will make it more expensive for you and I to heat our homes and fuel our cars, but it doesn’t stop there. Manufacturers and all sorts of producers will get slammed with these taxes, which they will naturally pass along to the consumer. Ostensibly these taxes will go toward encouraging research and development of “clean” energy sources, vis-a-vie grants and so forth to potential developers.  Watch out for that one. The name Solyndra comes to mind. If you don’t recall who they were, they were the solar power company that received over $500 million from Uncle Sam, only to go bankrupt after five years.

solyndra

Currently there is no large-scale replacement for fossil fuels. Solar, wind, biomass, and hydro power all work, but only in a limited way. So far, no one has found a viable solution to what happens when the sun isn’t shining or the wind is not blowing.  All of these combined could not generate nearly enough power for an industrialized country such as the United States. The “hope” is that newer and better alternatives will be discovered just in time to save the day and keep the seas from rising. Maybe that’s where “Hope and Change” came from – we hope someone will invent something that will mean a change.

The alternative to a new discovery is taxing carbon fuels so heavily that we all return to a pre-industrial state, sort of like living in the 1750’s.  We all know that’s not going to happen. I’m not saying the taxing won’t happen, it surely will. I’m saying it all hits the wall when the public finally realizes what the proposals mean to them; and that will not be pretty.

I’m sure all the delegates had a marvelous time in Paris on someone’s expense account, and left feeling fulfilled and salf-satisfied. The problem is, like so many political activities, most of the discussion was completely removed from the real world we live in.

We may be going through climate change. Certainly it has happened before. I seriously doubt man has had much to do with it, and doubt even more that man can do much about it.

Except hold conferences.

Immigration Part II: Demographics

 

overpopulation2

The world is changing, and not a little bit. I’m not talking about climate change, I’m talking about people change.  There are significant changes taking place all over the world, and they will effect everything.

As I write this, the earth’s population is about 7.4 billion people. This number is fluid because we are adding to the population at a rate of something like 200,000 people per day. That, by the way, is not births. It is births minus deaths, or an actual net gain.

Roll that number around in your brain for a minute. That’s more than the population of Little Rock, Arkansas (197,706), Salt Lake City (190,884), or Providence, Rhode Island (179,154) every single day. We are seeing a population explosion like nothing the world has ever seen, and we have no idea what it all means.

First a little perspective. From the dawn of time, literally from the beginning of mankind thousands of years ago, the earth did not reach one billion people until about 1800. Thousands and thousands of years to reach one billion.

The second billion came just 130 years later in 1930, the third billion in 1959, the fourth in 1974, the fifth 1987, the sixth 1999, and we reached seven billion in 2011. At the current rate, we’ll hit eight billion around 2024, just nine years from now.

population graph

Yeah, well that’s nice, but so what?

overpopulation

 

The so what is that with this growth, everything changes. Everything. It all comes down to something called the birth rate, more significantly, something called the replacement rate.

The replacement rate is the number of children each woman in a given population must have in order to sustain that population. More childen, the population goes up, less children, it goes down. Pretty simple, right? Well it is, but it requires some calculation. For instance, the replacment rate must offset deaths of any kind, simply for a population to remain stable.

The generally accepted replacement birth rate for stability is 2.1 children per woman. So in a given population, if there is an average of 2.1 children born to each woman, the population will remain stable, neither going up nor down. It will stay exactly at that point.

Remember, this is an average of women in the population. It accounts for the fact that some women will have no childen where others may have three or four or six. It’s an average.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and disturbing. The current birth rate in the United States is 1.87. This is below the replacement rate, which means the population of the United States is in decline. Absent immigration, the population will continue to go down. Some reasons for this may include fewer people getting married, more choosing not to have children, or other social factors.

Similar numbers exist in other countries. The United Kingdom (1.89),  Germany (1.44), Canada (1.59)  Belgium (1.78), Italy (1.43). All well below the population replacement rate. These and many other western countries have an aging population which accounts for much of the decline.

Then there is the opposite side of that coin, countries with booming, sometimes absurd population growth. African countries such as Niger (6.76), Somalia (5.99), Uganda (5.79), and Zambia (5.72). Throughout Africa, there is a population explosion that far exceeds any other place on earth.

In addition, Middle Eastern Muslim countries are having large population increases. Pakistan (2.75), Syria (2.60), Iraq (4.12), and in the Gaza Strip (4.08).

How about Central and South America? Mexico (2.27), Guatemala (2.90), Honduras (2.78) Panama (2.35).

Even the Caribbean:  Haiti (2.69) and the Dominican Republic (2.33) exceed birth rates in the United States.

Ground zero for the population explosion is Africa. At current rates, Africa will have a population of over 4 billion by the year 2100. That year, the world population is expected to be about 11 billion.  That means 36 percent of the world’s population will be African. By comparison, the United States is projected to be about 450 million, roughly 1/10th that of Africa.

The bottom line is this: Western European and North American countries are in decline, sometimes steep decline, while countries to the south are almost all exploding.

immigration boat

Migration

People all around the world are migrating. Of course, we see it in the United States on our Southern border, but it is happening all over the world.

There is no question that economics are a significant factor. Overwhelmingly, countries with high or even absurd birth rates are poor and undeveloped. There is never a case where wealthy people migrate to a poor country. As these populations grow at an astonishing rate, the additional people put even more pressure on sometimes collapsing infrastructures. Not enough food, not enough water, no jobs, poor health conditions; the list is endless.

Add conflict to these situations and it only gets worse. People fleeing not only poverty, but war and societal chaos. Sometimes fleeing for their lives. And they only have one place to go: north.

This is not a futuristic scenario; this is happening now. According to the New York Times, sixty million people around the world are migrating at this very moment. They are on the move.

Mass Migration – The New York Times

You may have seen this video. (Note: audio goes off occasionally, do to copyright disputes with the music composer):

Income Levels:

There is a clear disparity of income levels in northern and southern countries.  It’s not completely clear to me why this is the case, but the differences are dramatic.

According to the World Bank, Per capita family income in the United States is $54,630. In the United Kingdom, it’s $45.603. France is $42,733, and Germany is $47,627. Most of Western Europe is in the same range, fairly wealthy countries.

South America, not so much. Brazil is $11,385. Argentina $12,569. Peru, $6559. Colombia, $7904.

Much of the Middle East is not prosperous: Iraq, $6,334. Egypt, $3199. Jordan, $5,423.

Southwest Asia is even worse: India, $1,596. Pakistan, $1,334, Bangledesh $1,093.

And finally, Africa: Chad, $1,025. Ethiopia, $585. Gambia, $419. Rwanda, $696. Uganda, $696.

This list of figures was not meant to make the reader bleary-eyed, but to point out a significant point: Much of the world is poor, abysmally poor, poor beyond our imaginiations. And these places are where the population is growing. The sheer numbers of the growing populations of poor people is staggering.  Add to this the fact that many of these countries have little or no effective infrastructure, educational systems, or even effective governments. This is precisely the right incubator for terrorism. These countries have very young, uneducated populations. The make perfect cannon fodder for groups like ISIS. They are a terrorist army just waiting to be led.

Let there be no mistake; the population explosion coupled with massive poverty is a recipe for disasters. And these disasters are likely to begin happening long before any “global warming” effects, if any, are seen.

Which leads me to a theory:  Before the reader jumps to a conclusion that I am a whacko “climate denier”, please hear me out. If my theory is faulty, I’d love to hear from you telling me why.

I suspect a ruse. The leaders of our government and all European governments are surely aware of all these facts and figures. They have to know that these combinations present a clear and present danger much larger and sooner than any rising oceans. They also know that if people in these poor countries ever began migrating in mass, there would be no way to stop them. Sheer numbers would overwhelm any attempts to stop them. We are seeing the early stages of this today with the migrants entering Europe.

I have come to believe that government officials have been working on a plan to prevent this, and hiding it beneath the cloak of “climate change”.

Major portions of the United Nations proposals on climate change include wealthy nations effectively paying poor nations to upgrade their economies as to not rely on fossil fuels. These proposed payments are in the hundreds of billions of dollars to many of the countries mentioned here.

My premise is that these proposed climate mitigation payments are in fact payments to poor countries to keep their people within their borders, methods to be determined by the countries receiving the money.

Paying people to stay where the are? Why not? All the wealthy countries on earth could not begin to absorb the vast numbers of poor and uneducated people from these places.

Does this solve the problem? Of course not. It is a delaying action at best. If these countries cannot be convinced to enact serious population control (ie birth control), the situation will only get worse. Just remember, every day 200,000 new people on the planet, and no end in sight.

Then there is this:

Next installment will look more specifically at options for dealing with the population demographic crisis.

 

World Population Clock

CIA World Fact Book

Monthly Disposable Incomes Worldwide

 

Climate Denier: Part One

global-warming 1

Climate Denier. Such an odd term. It used to be Global Warming Denier, and before that  Anthropogenic Global Warming Denier,  for the sophisticated.

I suppose I might be called a Denier. I’m not sure if that should be capitalized or not. It seems to be a formal label of sorts, so I guess it should be capitalized.

Anyway, it’s an interesting choice of words. To deny something, according to the dictionary, is to “refuse to admit the truth”. In the case of global warming, now called climate change, to deny the “science”, or “the truth”, is to be a Denier. I call bullshit.

First of all, no one can deny climate change. The climate on earth has always changed, from the very beginning. It is changing now, and will change again, and again in the future. Such is the nature of the planet. I can’t imagine anyone who would deny that, but alas, that is not the point, is it?

The point is whether or not one agrees with the “settled science” of the day.  Disagree, and one automatically becomes a Denier. Worse, one becomes some sort of Neanderthal, incapable of understanding the complexities of the modern world. To disagree makes one an outlier; not to be taken seriously,  a person to be ignored. I accept that challenge, and here’s why:

First of all, there is no such thing as “settled science”, that’s not the way it works.

“But you’re not a scientist”, some may say, “what do you know?”.

Well, a little. Let’s have some background before continuing. I worked for four years at Rutgers University, in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology. For those four years plus four more, I worked on a human subjects research project as the project director. The work of this project was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

NAS 1

Additionally, I have presented research results to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), both in Washington DC and at the University of California (USC) Irvine, at the invitation of the NAS.

So no, I’m not a scientist, but I have worked in the field and believe I have some notion how legitimate science works, and how it does not.

First of all, science is rigorous. A “fact” is never a “fact” until it has been tested, replicated, and repeated again and again and again. Even then there is always the open notion that it can be proven wrong sometime in the future. There is not now, and has never been such a thing as “settled science”.

Science relies on experimentation, not consensus. There is no opinion polling in science. Even when legitimate scientists agree, they allow for the possibility that they could be wrong, individually or collectively.

Generally speaking, science is not in the predicting business. It is recognized that certain outcomes may be likely, even seriouly likely, but they are never guaranteed. Speculation, plausible outcomes, possibilities, and liklihoods are all fair expressions. Absolute certainty is not. Scientists have been proven wrong in the past, and will be in the future. There are no absolute truths.

sciencetruth 1

What we are seeing today is a hypothesis presented as fact. Statistical extrapolation projected as absolute truth.

sciencetruth2

There is always great risk speculating about climate. The earth’s climate is a vast and complicated organism. Collecting past data accurately may reflect what happened in the past, but is a poor resource for predicting the future. The reality is that with all our sophistication, we can barely predict the weather more than a week in advance. Predicting such things as climate and sea levels hundreds of years in the future is arrogance, not science.

As a non-scientist, my hypothesis is not worth much, I understand that.  But since this is my blog, I will be presenting some of my ideas on the subject in future posts. Read them or not, agree or disagree. That is fair. What I do urge, however, is that you do not blindly accept the “facts” you read today as “settled”.  Examine them, question them. Those presenting the information are not infallible. Don’t let them pretend that they are.

Immigration: Part One

liberty

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again,
They’re coming to America

…. Neil Diamond

Immigation is a hot-potato issue in the United States today. Pro or con, it seems everyone has an opinion, and the sides are often far apart. This is the first of a series attempting to look at the issue in some depth.

The History

We’re a nation of immigants, we’ve all heard that many times. True enough, all of our ancestors came from somewhere else, including the “native Americans”. Their ancestors probably came from somewhere in Asia across a land bridge thousands of years ago. So to set the record straight, none of us, truly none of us has absolute roots in the good old U S of A.

The Spanish, French, and English were the first to arrive in the 1500’s, followed by settlers from just about every European country, and thousands of Africans brought here as slaves.

Fundamentally, there were no U.S. immigration laws until 1882, and the first group restricted from entering the country were the Chinese. By 1892,  the government has set up Ellis Island,  the first Federal immigration station. The first immigrant to be processed there was Annie Moore, a teenager from Ireland.

Early migrations of people were small,  an estimated 20,000 Puritans in New England,  for example.  As time went along the numbers grew. It is estimated that about 600,000 African slaves were brought in during the early-mid 1800’s.  By the beginning of the twentieth century,  over four million Irish and five million Germans had landed on America’s shores.

By the mid 1800’s there were a significant number of native-born Americans,  who often resented new foreigners arriving. Descrimination was common.  But they kept coming anyway.  By 1920, more than four million Italians and two million Jews had arrived. The peak year was 1907, when over 1.3 million people arrived.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was the first major law to place restrictions on immigration.  Also known as known as the McCarran-Walter Act, the act was used to block “undesirables” such as Communists from entering the country.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished a national origins formula which allocated admission to the US based on country.  The new system focused on an immigant’s skills and/or relationship with an American citizen as criteria for admission. Numerical restrictions were set at 170,000 new immigrants per year.

Today the worldwide limit for legal immigation into the United States is set at 675,000 per year.  Additional immigrants classified as refugees can also be permitted by Congress and the President. Of this number, 480,000 entries are restricted to family relationship:  the person entering must have some certain type of relationship to an American citizen. Congress, however,  has played with this number, and it often exceeds 480,000. The remaining visas are for persons with certain desirable skills, such as computer programming skills. These visas also have been abused, which will be discussed later.

An unlimited number of immediate relatives, spouses, minor children, and parents are permitted. We will look at this issue closer when we discuss the so-called “anchor-babies”.

Illegal Immigation

Illegal-Immigration-300x300

Illegal immigation is a flashpoint today, and likely will be a major issue during the 2016 Presidental campaign. It’s an emotional hot potato. Before going forward, however, let’s look at legal immigation.

A person who applies for legal immigration and is approved is issued the famous “green card”, which is simply a visa for permanent residence. The  person can move forward eventually toward naturalization,  and become a citizen. Until then, they are a legal “resident alien”.  Since  they are here legally, those who come in illegally are “illegal aliens”. Today it is considered politically incorrect to use this term, but a non-citizen is an alien, and since they are not here legally, they are “illegal”.  So I’ll use that term. Anyone who has a problem with that can stop reading now.

Entering the United States illegally the first time is a misdemeanor, the second time it is a felony. Like it or not, those here illegally have broken the law. So what about the law? Are immigration laws good or bad, and why do they exist?

Every country has its own immigration policies and for its own reasons. For the most part, it seems that developed countries created limits on immigration to avoid waves of “undesirables”. These “undesirables” may be poor, uneducated, low-skilled, or in poor health. In other cases restrictions might be aimed at religious or political affiliations. The laws vary and frequently change with the changing times. Some countries, such as Italy, Switzerland, Australia, and Japan have very stict immigation laws.

Australia has even made a video for those who might try to enter the country illegally:

Clearly, some countries have made it very difficult to enter. The United States, however, seems to have gone in the opposite direction.

To be fair, however, there is little resemblence between Australia and the United States. Australia is an island continent, completely surrounded by water.  The only way anyone can enter Australia is by sea or by flying.

The US border with Canada is 5,525 miles long, and the border with Mexico is 1,953 miles long. That’s 7,478 miles of border, much of it unguarded. To look at a comparison, the distance from Maine to Florida is 1,597 miles, less than the length of the Mexican border.

U.S Customs and Border Protection has about 21,000 Border Patrol agents. These agents are responsible for not only policing the Canadian and Mexican borders, but also for about 2000 miles of coastal waters around Florida and Puerto Rico.  Looking  at 21,000 agents covering  9478 miles of border and waterway,  we immediately see a problem. That’s about two agents per mile; and if we divide that into 3 eight-hour shifts, that’s far less than one agent per mile.  We understand that looking at it that way  may be unfair, but it does seem pretty clear that the US has no where near the number of agents needed to effectively patrol the border. Even considering high tech cameras and arial surveilance, it’s obvious that it’s pretty easy to get into the United States illegally.

There are an estimated 11.3 million illegal aliens in the United States. About half of these aliens are from Mexico. The rest come from Central America, the Caribbean, and Asia. There is also an increase of illegal immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. These immigrants make up about 5.1% of the American workforce (8.1 million people) and their children are about seven percent of the K-12 school population.

During World War II, there was a labor shortage in the United States. The US Government entered into an agreement with Mexico to allow thousands of Mexican “braceros” (manual laborers) into the US to work in agriculture and the railroad system. This became a form of “open border” system for migrant Mexican workers coming into the US to work. While the program was supposed to end after the War, it continued until 1964  when it was ended due to objections from US labor (union) officials.

The notion that immigation laws are “flexible” becomes part of the problem. We welcomed Mexican laborers for twenty years, and then changed the policy.  Today, it seems, we lay out that same welcome mat for immigrant farm workers or hotel workers, but do it without formal agreement,  making it illegal. This “wink and a nod” approach by the government only serves to add to the chaos that is the current immigration problem.

Assimilation versus immigration

America was not created nor settled by immigrants. It was created and settled and prospered by those who came to this country from other places and became Americans,  which is something vastly different.

For many years people came from all around the world with the specific purpose of becoming an American citizen. This was the “melting pot”, people coming from many countries and becoming one people. You were not Italian or German or Irish, you were an American. You could be proud of your heritage and background, but you were an American first and always.

Today, this is not the case. Too many immigrants coming here want to retain their “status” as Mexicans, or Guatamalans or Pakastani’s. They don’t really want to become citizens except for some benefits they might receive.  They wish to be of their country and culture, but live in the United States. The notion of “diversity” has become something it never was before in this country and conceivably has dire consequences.

It’s not working, and it never will.  Instead of immigrants coming here and assimilating into the American culture, some want America to kowtow to their needs, be it language, customs or accomodations.

Government is now expected to be multi-lingual, to accomodate those who do not speak English, and perhaps have no desire to learn. School districts, for example, must pay significant monies for translators so they can send home letters to parents in their language, something unheard of decades ago.

America is not multi-cultural. It is made up of people who come from many different cultures and allowed them to be subsumed into American culture. The strength of the country has always been a common language, common traditions, and common beliefs. People maintained their own cultures in private, but in the public square, they were Americans and nothing else. Changing this changes the culture and there is nothing good to come from it.

Next: Current immigation policies in the US and around the world. — The risks and dangers of mass migration versus strict immigation policy. — Immigration as an issue in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

References:

American Immigation Council

Bracero Program

Heritage Foundation Report: Costs of Illegal Immigation

History.com Immigration before 1965

Pew Foundation Facts on Illegal Immigation

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Website

Size Matters (Or Does It?) A Discussion of Hubris

All things are relative. When we say something is large, for instance, the obvious question is “compared to what”? Indeed this is going to be a discussion of scale.
Man has created gigantic buildings:

Burj

 

Huge ships:

allureoftheseaVast cities:

city

So these things and many others are quite large, compared to other building or ships or cities. But how large are they really, when compared to other things? Indeed, how large is everything on earth when compared to everything in space?

earth1Earth. The only planet we really know, or will ever know. It is quite literally the center of our universe. We know of course that is metaphorical, and we really aren’t the center of anything, don’t we? Not always. How “large”are we in the universal scheme of things?

earth2

Next to our moon, we’re pretty substantial, but we know that. How do we stack up against everything else in the cosmos?

earthplanetsLooks a little different, doesn’t it? Just lining us up against the other planets in our solar system gives us some relative size. Since we don’t count Pluto any longer, this is earth in the group of four smaller planets versus four quite large ones. Click on any image for a better look.

As far as even our own solar system, we’re a pretty puny planet. Not much to speak of.  But take a look at all the planets compared to our sun:

earthsun

Notice how we’ve shrunken to a little dot? Take a good look. We’re about to disappear altogether as the scale increases.

eatharcturus

Click to expand this photo. Take a look at the tiny little dot on the bottom right. That’s our sun. Think the big star in the photo(Betelgeuse) is big? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

earthbetelgeuse

 

And finally:

earthcanismajoris

Compared to the star Canis Majoris, our sun and our entire solar system just disapear.

We could go on and on, with increasingly larger and further entities, but here’s my point: In the scheme of things, in the larger universe, we are nothing.  As a practical matter on the metaphysical scale, we don’t even exist. We are far smaller than the smallest grain of sand in the cosmic universe. This is but a small part of the universe in a photo from the Hubble telescope:

hubble deep field

Man is the only creature on earth possessing arrogance. Fill with hubris, the self pride of his own invention. No other creatures walks the planet believing they are the most important. No other creature believes it can control not only it’s own environment, but other environments as well.

Some believe we can control the climate when we cannot even predict the weather accurately more than a few days in the future – hubris. We are blessed with intelligence and abilities, but we  let arrogance and conceit turn these gifts into a sense of super power; that we can change and control the forces of nature. We cannot. We are man, only man, and we live on this planet at the whim of forces far beyond our limited imaginiations.

We might do well to understand that we are only passengers on this great ship we call earth. We control nothing, we can change nothing. To put it in the venacular, we really need to get over ourselves.

Tom Wolfe coined the phrase “masters of the universe” referring to the lions of Wall Street, but perhaps Shakespeare describes the hubris of man better in Hamlet:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

Alternative Power, Part II

Last time we discussed two possible alternative “green” energy sources to replace our current use of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. We looked at wind energy and solar energy, and neither looked very promising, so let’s look at a few more:

Looking down on Hoover Dam, near Boulder City, Nevada

Hydroelectric Power

The picture above is the Hoover Dam in Nevada, one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the United States.

Hydroelectricty, or electric generated from the use of moving water, is widely used around the world, and accounts for some sixteen percent of all electricity produced worldwide. About seven percent of the electricity used in the United States comes from this method, mostly in the western portions of the country.

The process is pretty straightforward. A dam is built on a waterway, creating a reservoir of water higher than the outflow beyond the dam. Water flowing downward from the reservoir is piped to a water turbine and generator, creating electricity.  There are several variants on this theme, but most function in a smiliar manner (see diagram below).

hydroelectric dam

 

Power generated from large dams is often cited in gigawatts. A gigawat is one billion watts.

Let’s stop for some quick math. Remember our average home that uses about 30 kilowatts a day?  Well, one gigawatt is enough power for over 330,000 homes! Quite a bit of power.  The Hoover Dam in Nevada, pictured above, has a capacity of about 2.1 gigawatts, or  almost 700,000 homes. Indeed, Hoover Dam provides power to users in Nevada, Arizona and California.

Dams like the Hoover Dam are massive constrution operations. The dam took thousands of workers over five years to build between 1931-1936 at a cost of $49 million, which would be about $833 million today.  Over one hundred workers were killed during the construction of the dam.

The use of dams for electicity is limited. First, and obviously, the dam needs a source of water (a river). The building of a dam can require the dislocation of people and wildlife in the creation of the dam and reservoir. It can have a not insignificant impact on the ecology of the area. As such, the construction of large-scale dams is not practical in heavily populated areas, and new construction of dams has dwindled since the 1980’s. While there are thousands of dams nationwide, most are too small to be practical as significant sources of electricity.

A footnote on this: Proposed construction of new dams, especially large ones, are often met with steep resistance from enviornmentalists. A 1954 proposal for a massive five gigawatt damn in Alaska to be known as the Rampart Dam, was strongly opposed for years until President Jimmy Carter killed the plan in 1980 by turning the proposed area into a national wildlife santuary.

Biomass Energy

This is one of the more unusual methods suggested as a way to produce electricity. Essentially, biomass is anything organic that can be burned: wood, crops, trees, paper, and even manure.  Biomass currently accounts for about 1.4% of the electricity produced in the U.S.

Looking into this, I found parts of it to be amusing. “Biomass” can be almost anything you can burn: tree limbs, old stumps. leaves, grass clippings or wood chips. It can be old plants, like dried corn stalks, sugar cane, or even bamboo. In short, it’s burning organic trash to make heat, which in turn can fire boilers, which can turn turbines and make electricity.  Nothing new, and nothing much to see here folks. Every time you build a fire in your fireplace or fire pit, you’re creating “biomass” energy.

Burning stuff to make energy isn’t a new idea, but if biomass energy gets rid of some waste products, expecially stuff like manure, it can’t be all bad. Right? Actually that’s debatable.

While this form of energy is “renewable” (grow more trees), it’s not necessarily clean. Burning all these products produces the same dreaded CO2 that burning coal produces. Fuels produced from biomass are not particularly efficient, and expensive to produce. And, it’s not just about picking up dead tree limbs. On a large scale, it’s about actually growing crops to be burned, which takes up lots of room, and seems just a tad bit silly for the minimal return. This too can invoke the wrath of environmentalists — “strip farming the Amazon” etc.

Another example of this is the use of corn for ethanol, which helps farmers unload their unwanted corn, but actually takes more energy to create than gasoline from oil. The cost of production and the pollution from using the corn to make biofuels is no bargain. As far as replacing existing carbon fuels, it’s a very bad trade off.

cc waste

One area which isn’t actually biomass per se, but has some use is “trash to energy”. This is simply a spin on the old style incinerator. Instead of just burning the trash however, it is used to heat boilers to make electricity.  An example of this is a plant like this in Camden County, NJ. In operation since 1991, this plant burns about 1050 tons of trash per day and produces 21 megawatts of electricity from the burning, enough for about 700 homes. Not major, but the combination of keeping the trash out of landfills and providing some energy at the same time seems reasonable.

Time for another bottom line:

Hydroelectic power is great, but building large dams is a limited exercise.  It seems unlikely that hydroelectricity will ever produce much more than the current seven percent in the U.S.

Biomass seems even less likely than wind or solar to ever become a major energy player. After all the hype it received a few years back, it really does seem to be much ado about nothing.

So now we’ve explored four “alternative” sources from a pretty short list of possibilities. Three of them,  wind,  solar, and biomass account for less than six percent of our current electric supply combined.  Including  the hydroelectric seven percent, we’re still looking at a pretty paltry thirteen percent.  And frankly none of them offer any short term promise of being any more significant than they are today.

So are there no real answers? —  Well, yeah, there are.  There is an “alternative” source out there that is safe, reliable, climate friendly, and efficient.  It’s the one real possibility to reduce our use of carbon fuels. Strangely, it’s hardly ever mentioned in “green” or “save the planet” circles.  The best possible alternative has a very bad name. We’ll look at that next time.

Coming next: Nuclear energy.

 

 

A Story of Alternative Power, Part I

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? — Old Boy Scout saying.

I’m not here to discuss global warming or climate change or whatever it is called today. Whether I believe in it (I don’t) or not, the real issue is what we are being asked to do about it.

All over the news we read that it is necessary for us to get away from carbon fuels (oil, natural gas, coal), which  are “causing” climate change. The problem is of course, these three areas are most of our energy sources. Global warming worriers insist we must begin using alternative “renewable” energy sources and soon, or we’re all  doomed.  Can this be done? While the warmer worriers would say “of course”, our mission here is to look at these alternative sources and see just how effective they are and how realistic the demands that we rapidly abandon carbon-based fuels. For our purposes, for brevity, and the sake of understanding, we will focus only on electricity in this article. Perhaps we’ll look at other areas in the future, perhaps not. First, a primer:

Where does it come from?

Our electricity comes from a number of sources:

  1. Coal  39%
  2. Natural Gas: 27%
  3. Nuclear energy: 19%
  4. Hydropower: 7%
  5. Wind: 4.4%
  6. Biomass: 1.4%
  7. Oil: 1%
  8. Geothermal: .4%
  9. Solar: .4%

 

Electricity, a layman’s primer, or What is a watt?

Measurements of energy use can get pretty damned complicated, but our purpose here is to clarify, not complicate. To do this we will focus on one thing: watts. A watt is a measurement of electricity transmitted or consumed. Think of a light bulb:

lightbulb

This is Tom Edison’s good old fashioned incandecent bulb. Forget about those new ones, this one works fine to explain this.

Light bulbs are measured in wattage, as we all know. The higher the watts, the brighter the bulb and the more energy used. Let’s take the common 100 watt bulb as the example. This bulb uses electricity as the rate of 100 watts per hour. If it was turned on for ten hours (10×100) is would used 1000 watts or one kilowatt. A kilowatt is the basic measurement used in calculating our electric bills.

All the electrical appliances in your home use electric by the kilowatt. Some use more than others. That hair dryer you blow dry your hair with can use around 1500 watts or 15 kilowatts in ten hour. A microwave uses around 1000 watts. Your desktop computer uses between 60 and 250 watts per hour.

All these devices, going on and going off through the month add up to a certain number of kilowatt hours that you’ve used. This is how the electic company bills us, the price per kilowatts used. According to the EIA, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average home in the U.S. uses about 10968 kilowatts per year, or about 909  kilowatts per month.  This is an important number, and we’ll be seeing it again.

If we’re all using an average of 909 kilowatts per month, that’s roughly 30 kilowatts a day.  So if I use 30, and you use 30, we are using 60 kilowatts between us.  If there are ten houses on our block, we are collectively  using about 300 kilowatts per day.

We depend on the electric company to provide us with those kilowatts, and they do, mostly by burning coal or natural gas.  We also get electricity from nuclear power, but we’ll discuss that later.  These carbon fuels are burned in great qualities to light our bulbs, but there is a pretty sufficient supply of these materials, expecially coal.  But remember, these are the bad guys and must go.  So if we stop using them, what on earth will be use? Enter alternative “renewable” energy:

The Wind Turbine

turbine

There they are, the wind turbines.  We’ve all seen the photos, and maybe you’ve seen them in person.  These suckers are big, really big. A common 1.5 megawatt turbine built by General Electric  consists of 116-ft blades atop a 212-ft tower for a total height of 328 feet.  That’s an office building 32 floors high.  Pretty damn big.

Windmills and turbines have been around for centuries. Commercial wind turbines operate by using kinetic (wind) energy to turn a propellor which is connected by a shaft to a generator which produces electricity. A simple process on a small scale. On a large scale, however, something else entirely. As I said, these puppies are big,  and the average cost to install one commercial wind turbine is about three to four million dollars!  That does not include the cost of the land it sits on. These turbines require a lot of room to work effectively.  Operating and maintainence costs can run as much as a quarter of a million dollars per year.

Okay, so that’s how they work. In a nutshell, they generate electricity when the wind is blowing (more about that later). So how much electricity does one of these turbines generate?  A typical turbine today can generate about 2.5 megawatts of electricity. A megawatt is a thousand kilowatts, so think of it as 2500 kilowatts.

So here’s where it gets interesting. The companies that promote these things will tell you this can power about 400 homes or even more. But let’s do some math:

Remember our individual homes? Thirty kilowatts a day? If a turbine generates 2500 kilowatts, how many homes can it supply? We divide 2500 by 30, and we get the answer: 83. That monster turbine, can provide power to about 83 homes when the wind is blowing. If the wind stops, the propeller stops, the generator stops, the power stops flowing. No more electric. Nothing, none, nada. There is a rating for these turbines known as the capability factor. In essence, this means how often it is actually producing electricity. Overall the average in the industry appears to be 40%, meaning the electricity is actually flowing from it forty percent of the time. Critics, however, suggest that the real percentage is more like 25 percent.

Now this doesn’t seem sensible, but the way they are used is as supplemental energy. When they stop generating, the electric company switches over to more reliable fuels — carbon fuels.

One last point and we’ll move on. Let’s assume we have a 2.5 megawatt turbine and it’s totally effective. It would power about 83 homes. So how many wind turbines would it take to power a small (population 10,000) town? Hmmmmm….120 turbines! And remember, that’s just homes, not store, offices or factories which require lots more electricity.

How about a larger city? Well let’s see; South Bend, Indiana, households, 101,190 = 1219 turbines. Madison, Wisconsin, 245,691 households = 2960 tubines. How about a large city, say Chicago? 2,722,389 households  =  32,800 wind turbines.

Okay, so that’s a bit of overkill, but the point is this: Wind power is nice, it’s relatively clean, and it’s renewable. But commerial wind turbines are expensive to build, take up lots and lots of space, and other than as an auxillery power source, are not practical. Time to move on.

Solar Energy

Solar Panel with green grass and beautiful blue sky

 

The process of converting the sun’s rays into electricity is called photovoltaics. Suffice it to be said, the physics of the whole process confuses me, but we don’t need to know more than this: The sun shines down on panels of solar cells that use that heat and light to create electricity. I think we’ve all at least seen pictures of solar panels and have an idea of how it works.

So what is a “typical” solar panel, and how much electricity does it make? Residential and commercial panels differ somewhat in size. although not considerably. On average, the typical panel is about six feet long and 3 feet wide (6’x3′ – eighteen square feet), holds about 60-70 solar cells and weighs between 40 and 50 lbs. Again, on average, this one solar panel can generate 200-300 watts of electricity when the sun is shining on it. That two or three 100 watt lightbulbs. For our purposes, we’ll say a typcial panel is 250 watts.

Remember our house from the previous section? Thirty (30) kilowatts per day. If we take that number, 30,000 watts and divide it by 250, we get 120 panels to power our home. At eighteen square feet per panel, that’s 2160 square feet of solar panels. Not huge, but not small either. But….it only works when the sun is shining. Interestingly, “usable” sunlight is much less than you might think. It can be as low as three hours a day in some parts of the country.  The maximum, in places like Arizona, is only seven hours per day.

So how much does in cost? Well…..that gets tricky. There are tons of “deals” and “subsidies” out there as incentives to get those panels up on your house.  It can be as high a 7-9 dollars per watt! Keep in mind, it’s not just a matter of slapping the panels on your roof. The system also requires batteries to store the power, a controller to regulate the power in the batteries, and an inverter to covert the battery power into usable electricity.

But let’s suppose solar prices are going down, and you can get a deal for five dollars per watt. That’s $500 to light one lightbulb. It comes down to about $1250 installation costs per panel (250 watts).  So if you could fit 50 panels on your roof (900 square feet), you would generate about 12500 watts (12.5 kilowatts) for a cost of  $62,500. Before some reader goes ballistic and says “It doesn’t cost that much!”, let me repeat that there are many different kinds of subsidies to lower the cost to the consumer. Without dragging this out any further, do this: Calculate your kilowatt costs from your electric bill. Determine the return in kilowatts from solar panels, and see if it works for you. My guess is you’ll find it takes a considerable number of years to break even.

Remember the 30 kilowatts per house per day? Let’s try that with solar panels. Suppose we had a large solar panel the size of a football field, including the endzones. That area is 160 x 360 feet, or 57,600 square feet, a pretty big area. Using our 18 square foot panels, that works out to 3200 panels, each generating at the maximum 300 watts. That makes a total of 960 kilowatts from the football field grid, or enough wattage for 32 homes.  Yup, 32 homes when the sun is shining. The amount of space needed to power even a small amount of homes, part of the time is larger than large, it is huge.

Bottom line so far: Two very popular alternative energy methods are in fact not very practical at all. It seems to me that there is a fair amount of deception going on with alternative energy. An energy source is only worth discussing if it has a potential to replace what exists. After a brief look, we see these two sources do not.

Coming up next: Hydroelectric and biomass.

 

 

Sources:

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Solar Power Authority

 

Kenneth, What is the Frequency?

Explain this to me like I’m a two year old:

“This was the moment when the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal…” Barack Obama, June 3, 2008.

The seas are rising, or are they?

I’m not a “climate change skeptic”. Of course the climate is changing — it always changes. Since the beginning, earth has constantly been changing. Very hot, very cold, not so hot, not so cold, and so on. It’s the very nature of the planet we live on. During the Precambrian Period, (prior to 542 million years ago) the weather commonly flip-flopped over the years. so much so that between warm spells there were actually glaciers around the equator! During the Mesozoic era, (65-251 million years ago), the earth was pure “greenhouse”, with temperatures and carbon dioxide levels much higher than today. That’s when the dinosaurs were around, by the way.

The last glacial period or “ice age” on earth peaked a scant 22,000 years ago, just a few seconds on cosmic scale. Basically, we’ve been warming since then, a normal pattern on planet Earth (remember very hot, very cold,etc?).

Anyway, my point here is not to get hung up in the grand scope of things, but rather focus a bit to see what we can figure out. To that end, for this piece we’ll stick to one thing: sea levels. Are the seas rising or not?

First, what is sea level? It’s actually called MSL, for mean sea level, which is the midpoint level between low and high tides. Petty simple, right? It is. And the land is “above sea level” since it’s land, and anything else is “below sea level”, like say  the Titantic.

Now here’s where I start to get confused, so bear with me. Water is water, right? And we all know that water seeks it’s own level. For instance, when we fill a bowl or bottle with water, the level on one side is neither higher nor lower than the other — it’s even. In any container, the water “levels” itself out.

Think of the oceans of the world as containers, giant swimming pools, if you will. Like in a regular swimming pool, the water levels out all around, not higher nor lower on any side. Similarly sea level must be the same height on the shores of France as it is on the shores of the United States. Otherwise a ship making the journey might be going “uphill” to get to France, and “downhill” to come back. Silly, right? Yes it is. Sea level is sea level, the same wherever you go.

On this basis, I’ll argue that if the oceans rise in one place, they must also rise in every other place, as the water “levels” itself. Go up here, go up there.

So are the seas rising, and if so how much and why?

According to good ‘ol Wikipedia, that composite of human knowlege, between 1870 and 2004, sea levels have risen 195 milimeters, or… wait for it … 7.7 inches! Doing some math, that breaks down to .06 inches per year; that’s 6/100 of an inch per year! Wowzers! Exactly how they measure this and how accurate that is is arguable, but we’ll go with it for now.

Wiki also tells us that since 1993, the rise has been an astonishing 2.9 milimeters, or 11/100 of an inch per year, or 1.5 inches in the last twelve years! Have you noticed that? I haven’t.  If it continues at that rate, we’d be seeing an increase of maybe 11 inches in the next hundred years!

thumb forfinger

 

See the guy above? That’s a little less than ten years rise in sea level. Yeah, that’s right, ten years. 

But…we are led to believe that Armageddon is upon us if we don’t do something and soon! Just two days ago the New York Times had a major article that some scientists believe the seas could rise 200 feet: New York Times, but it order to do this, we have to burn all the fossil fuels on earth, everything! All the coal, all the oil, and all the natural gas. Take a minute to think about that one; it’s indicative of the silliniess surrounding this issue. And by the way, they suggest that even that could take a thousand years.  Yeah, a thousand years. Give me a break.

So I’m not a scientist, I get that. But someone needs to work with me if I’m going to buy into something. So, where is the sea level actually rising in some manner that we can see it? There are tons of charts and graphs, predictions and projections, but I’d like to see something more tangible.

Venice? Venice is one city that always gets thown out there as a warning of sea level rising. But let’s get one straight. Venice was built on water! If anything, I suspect Venice is sinking as much as any water is significantly rising.

Lighthouses:

sandy hook light

Cape May Lighthouse, 1859. Barnegat Lighthouse, 1859. Sandy Hook Lightouse, 1764. Portland Head Maine, 1791. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, 1870. Many lighthouses were built in the US and around the world in the 18th and 19th century. I mention these above, because guess what, they’re still there. They’re not beseiged by the sea. The oldest, Sandy Hook, is actually further inland than when it was built due to the ocean pushing sand ashore. Over two hundred years and the ocean is not claiming these obviously close-to-the-shore structures.

Tuvalu and the Maldives

Global warming reactionaries often write that Tuvalu and the Maldives are sinking. Huh? Where the hell are they anyway?

Tuvalu is is string of coral reef islands in the South Pacific. Environmentalists have been pounding the drums for years that the islands will be submerged as the ocean rises. At it’s highest points, it’s only fifteen feet above sea level. So maybe in a hundred years or so, the residents might think about moving. There are only about 11,000 people in total on these islands, so it shouldn’t take much to relocate them.

The Maldives, a group of islands near India that have about 350,000 people spread out on twenty six islands, most of which are only about five feet about sea level. They are beautiful islands, but five feet above sea level in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Ever heard of cyclones?

So there may be some spots on earth with some risks, but living near a volcano includes risks too. Are the environmentalists worried about that?

I ‘ve been going to the Jersey shore every summer for over sixty years. Each and every summer, the ocean is still in the exact same spot I left it the previous fall. No closer, no farther away. Any changes have been completely unnoticable.

Look, I’m not trying to make light of this, (well maybe a little), but if you want to get me stirred up about global warming, give me something to work with. Don’t tell me Wildwood and Ocean City will be underwater a thousand years from now, it just doesn’t tug at my heartstrings. It’s not that I don’t care about those people fifty generations from now (I don’t), but that’s way too far out to concern me. Don’t tell me you’re going to triple my electric costs and make me pay ten bucks for a gallon of gas to save the planet for folks in the year 3015. Sorry.

That may seem heartless, but there are tons of actually important issues happening right now that need attention. I don’t think the people in the year 1015 worried how we would cope. They had enough on their plates, and so do we.

Here’s my bottom line. I’ll keep watching the shore in Jersey. If I see the ocean rising, I’ll let you know. Otherwise I have more practical things to worry about.

Firearms in America

 

minuteman

Let me first state for the record: I am pro-gun. I mean that in the sense that I believe that the Second Amendment gives us the right to own the gun of our choice. I can own a pistol, a rifle, or a shotgun. I can own as many as I choose. I can hunt or not hunt. I can target shoot or not. I can use the weapons or keep them for home defense. I can do anything or nothing at all with them, as long as I do not commit a crime.

I am also of the notion that the Framers of the Constitution knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote the Amendment. The country had just been created by a revolutionary war. The Colonists were (at the time) British citizens, and they took up arms against their own government. I believe in writing the Second Amendment, the Framers deliberately made the wording fuzzy;  first a nod to the militia, a product of the state, but then noting “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. While they certainly hoped there would never be another revolution, I believe they kept that door a bit open by making sure the citizens could do it again if necessary. Obviously, this is just my opinion, but these were very intelligent men, and the Second Amendment seems to be parsed in this strange way on purpose.

There is an ongoing debate today about guns; ownership, use, and misuse. Hardly a day goes by without seeing a news article or Internet piece about guns; usually in the negative. Groups on both sides clamor for more control of gun ownership or less control. Contrary “facts” are hurled back and forth, to the point of the absurd. There aren’t enough laws; there are too many laws. Murders with guns are up, murders are down, and on and on.

I decided to look into this for myself. I thought that by looking at some of the actual source numbers I might be able to determine who is speaking truth and who is speaking propaganda.  After some time attempting to research the issue I realized that in order to make any sense it was important to focus on specifics. I decided to narrow my look to deaths by firearms in the United States. I made some interesting discoveries. The reason I focused on death is because it is an absolute. Discussing injuries becomes less specific and less precise. Most reports indicate about 85 thousand people were “injured” by firearms in 2013, but fail to define type of injury. Of these numbers, approximately 33 thousand were treated and released, presuming a minor injury. I suspect that many of these could be people injured, for example, by running away from a shooting incident and perhaps falling down. It would be helpful if this reported number were more specific, but it is not.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the CDC recorded over 30 million non-fatal injuries in 2013. Once again, firearms accounted for about 85,000 of these injuries. To keep perspective however, it needs to be noted that the same report shows that 113,000 were injured by dogs, 405,000 people were injured in fires, 1.3 million were poisoned, and over 8 million injured in falls. So firearm injuries accounted for .003 percent (85000/30000000) of reported injuries in 2013.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been the offical recorder of death and injury by firearms for a few years now. Their online database, WISQARS (Web-Based injury Statistics Query and Reporting System), offers abundant data about all sorts of things, including deaths by firearm.  (CDC WISQARS)  The data base allows for sorting by categories and subcatagories, which allows specific data to be broken out. The most recent data available is for the year 2013. All the numbers that follow come from that report.

Total Deaths by Firearm 2013:  33636 

gun

Unintentional Deaths by Firearm (Accident) 2013:  505

Accidents with firearms are largely preventable. There is no doubt that there are people who are not careful with their guns, just as there are people who are not careful driving. In both cases, they and/or others can be seriously injured or killed.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no way to account for human carelessness, laziness, or plain stupidity. There is no way to detect it in an individual, which is why these people sometimes own guns and drive cars. There are hundreds of millions of guns in this country, and tens of millions gun owners. Positive education about gun safety, like the NRA offers, seems to be the best way to attempt to reduce these accidents.

Of the above number, 108 accidental deaths were children under the age of 18. Less I be accused of being heartless, this is horrible. No child should be killed this way. On the other hand, during the same year, 807 children died by drowning, 320 died in fires, and 106 were killed while riding their bikes.

The often-criticized National Rifle Association (NRA) probably does more than any other group to promote gun safety. They offer thousands of free and low-cost training programs to guide people how to use a gun safely.  It seems to me those who make the most noise about children being shot in accidents should be promoting the one group who actually does something about it, rather than proposing another round of “laws” which essentially do nothing. (NRA Training Courses).

Suicides by Firearm 2013: 21175

Frankly, this number surprised me. I never thought much about the numbers of people who commit suicide, much less those who use a gun to do so. From what I can gather, there are about 40+ thousand suicides in the U.S. each year, with firearms accounting for about half of that number. The majority of suicides of all types, including firearms, are committed by males. Males account for 86% of suicides, and the female suicide rate is 14%.

Some might make the argument that if a gun was not present, a person might not commit suicide, and I suppose that could be the case in some instances. But this is a specious argument. No one can truly understand the motivations of a particular suicide; we can only speculate. Similarly, supposing the presence of a gun had any impact on the action whatsoever is without merit.  If a person is despondent enough to take their own life, discussing the method they used is apropos of nothing.

According to data from the CDC, the overall suicide rate at around forty thousand suicides per year has not changed significantly since 1981. Firearms have consistantly accounted for around fifty percent of those deaths.

 As we can see already, the majority of deaths by firearms (65%) are suicide or accident related. Clearly these are an issue, but the anti-gun groups like to concentrate on homicide, giving the impression that murder by firearm is rampant. Certainly a word like “rampant” is fluid; what it means to you may be different than what it means to me, but let’s stick with the numbers for a bit:

Homicides by Firearm 2013: 11208

Still a large number, to be sure, but how does that break down? Who is killing whom ? Suppose we break down this number by the race of the victim? As this point, in addition to raw numbers, we’ll include the rate per 100,000 of the population as this can be instructive:

Homicide victims by race:  All Race Total 3.61/100M

White:  2799  1.42/100M

Hispanic: 1750  2.98/100M     

Black: 6364  14.84/100M

Let’s now look at children being killed, insamuch as this is a major point with the anti-gun groups:

Homicide deaths under the age of 18: All Race Total 1.27/100M

White: 159  0.37/100M

Hispanic: 207  1.25/100M

 Black: 598  4.62/100M

** Note: the numbers do not add up exactly to the overall figures, as it excludes homicides of other races.

It quickly becomes evident that blacks are killing blacks at about seven (7) times the rate of whites killing whites. The difference in deaths of children is over twelve (12) times higher. Overwhelmingly the victims are murdered by someone of their own race. There is some crossover, to be sure, but for the most part each race kills their own more often than not. Looking at the FBI homicide statistics based on race, for the year 2013, when race of the perpetrator was known, Whites were killed by other Whites 83.5 percent of the time, and Blacks  were killed by Blacks 90 percrent of the time.

Whites are 77.7% of the population, and accounted for 25% of all homicides. Blacks are 13.2% of the population and accounted for 57% of all homicides. Hispanics are 17.1% of the population and accounted for 16% of all homicides.

I would be castigated if I were to speculate on the difference in the White and Black homicide rate. I am not a social scientist, nor do I have any particular knowledge about the factors that go into assessing this. The numbers, however, are the numbers, and those are the facts. Causation is for others to determine.

The who, and now the where: Five cities account for about twenty-five percent of homicides: Chicago, 415; New York City, 333; Detroit, 332; Los Angeles, 255; and Philadelphia, 246.  Many smaller cities, however, have a much higher death per hundred thousand rate than the larger cities. East St. Louis, Camden NJ, Gary Indiana, Chester PA, and Flint Michigan all fall within the top thirty cities in rate of homicide.

While homicides by firearms occur throughout the U.S, it is clear that there is a concentration in urban areas.

Gangs: 2000 Homicides a Year

ms-13

Gang related homicides:   The Department of Justice reports that there are an average of 2000 gang-related homicides a year (Gang Related Homicides). Most of these appear to be gun-related, but there does not appear to be accurate statistics on this.

Gang members: Hispanic 46%, Black 35%, White 12%. There are an estimated 850,000 gang members in the U.S. in about 31,000 gangs.

According to the FBI, gangs account for about 48 percent of all violent crime, and as much as 90% in some urban areas. Several gangs such as The Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, and the infamous Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13, have national reach. MS-13, for example, has operations in 42 states.

FBI Gang Report

Mass shootings

The definition of a mass murder by the FBI is three or more people killed in a single incident. When there is a mass shooting it captures the headlines, sometimes for days or even weeks.  What is almost never written is that for as awful and tragic these killings are, they are still quite rare, and a very small percentage of people killed each year. Between 2007 and 2013, the average number of mass shootings in the U.S. was six per year, with a total average of forty people killed. In 2013 there were five shootings and thirty-six fatalities, and in 2014 there were two shootings and nine fatalities.

Mass murderers are obviously mentally ill.  It would be nice to suggest that these people could be prevented from acquiring firearms, but it simply is not possible. A few examples:

Adam Lanza Newtown Ct  (2012): Lanza shot and killed 28 teachers and children at a grade school. Lanza had Asperger Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosed. Whether or not Lanza’s psychological disorders would have prevented him for obtaining guns is largely moot, inasmuch as the guns he used in the massacre belonged to his mother, who he also killed.

James Holmes, Aurora Colorado (2012): Holmes shot and killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a mass shooting in a movie theater. He apparently suffered from depression and obsessions from the time he was in middle school, and reportedly attempted suicide at the age of eleven. He not not see any mental health professionals for his conditions. He is very intelligent and graduated from college with honors and was a Phi Beta Kappa. He was enrolled in a PhD. program in neuroscience. He purchased the weapons and aummunition he used in the killings legally and completed the background check successfully. He had no criminal record.

Nidal Malik Hasan, Fort Hood Texas (2009): Hasan was a psychiatrist, and major in the United States Army. He killed 13 people and injured 30 others in a mass shooting at Fort Hood. Hasan is a Muslim, and many believe this shooting was an act of terrorism. It was not so classified, however, and is catagorized as workplace violence. Hasan had been in the Army since 1988, had a good military record and no criminal record.

Aaron Alexis, Washington Navy Yard (2013): While employed with a civilian contractor, Alexis entered the Washington Navy Yard and killed 13 people, including himself. A Navy veteran, he had been arrested a few times on minor charges, but never prosecuted, so he legally purchased a 12 guage shotgun he used in the murders. While some who knew him and the media suggested he was suffering from a mental illness, he had not been treated for any such illness.

As in many cases of mass murder, there are no laws that would have prevented these murderers from obtaining the weapons.  In many cases, the shooter had not received mental health attention, and did not have a criminal record, two of the “roadblocks” that might prevent a person from buying a gun.

The notion that a person being treated for a mental illness would have to be “reported” to somewhere is quite controversial. Requiring doctors to make such reports steps into the realm of doctor/patient confidentiality, and poses many legal questions. It is one thing for a doctor to report his patient has high blood pressure, it is something quite different to require a doctor to report his patient has a mental illness.

Mass Shootings. 1982-2015 Mother Jones Magazine

New York Magazine, Data on Mass Shootings

Domestic violence : 1569? **

It is very difficult to get reliable data on domestic violent deaths by firearm. According to the FBI, however, about 14 percent of murders are committed by a family member. Another 30 percent are committed by a person known to the victim (friend, neighbor, co-worker etc).

There are numerous “studies” which suggest that a firearm in the home contributes to the escalation of a domestic dispute, often leading to a shooting and/or homicide.  This may be true, or it may be not true, no one knows for sure. Simply put, a domestic dispute is usually within the confines of the home, and details are only known to those involved until a crime is committed.  Some statistical studies suggest a firearm in the home increases potential for violence, but like all such studies, it is speculation based on actual crimes. There is frankly no way to prove or disprove this theory, leaving it open for continual debate.

** This number was determined by using the murders by gun number: (11208 x14%)

FBI Statistics — Murder by relationship

 Guns and Gun Laws

No one knows exactly how many guns are in private hands in the United States. Many estimates seem to hover around the figure 270,000,000, and this estimate is considered low by many. Presuming this number is roughly correct, and 11208 homicides were committed with a gun in 2013, this means .00004 or .004 percent of the guns in the country were used for murders. Conversely it means that 99.996 percent of guns were not  used to murder anyone.

How many gun laws are there? A common figure often seen is 20,000, but that number is deceptive. While there may be thousands of gun regulations at the Federal, state, county, city, and local levels, Federal and state laws often trump local ordinances, rendering them moot. According to a study by the Brookings Institute,(Brookings Institute Study), there are about 300 major gun laws on the books. These laws can vary from moderate (Texas), to very restrictive (New Jersey). That being said, some cities such as Chicago and Washington DC which have very restrictive laws also have very high gun homicide rates.

There is currently no National gun registration law. Gun registration varies from state to state, with many states making registration voluntary. Many states require a permit to purchase a handgun, but do not require firearms already in a person’s possession to be registered.

One state with a strict registration law is New York. The state enacted a tough mandatory registration law in 2013. To date, around 50,000 firearms have been registered. The problem with this is that there are probably around 18 million guns in New York state. Obviously, many, many people are ignoring the registration law.

The shear volume of existing firearms makes the very notion of gun registration rediculous. It may make people feel better, but it will have no effect on homicides. Closing “loopholes” at places like gun shows, and requiring waiting periods on the purchase of new firearms does not even touch the vast numbers of guns in the population.

Registration of firearms effects only honest citizens. Criminals will not register guns. The “toughening” of laws is nothing more than a placebo it makes people feel like something is being done — until the next incident.

So are there too many guns, or too much violence? Obviously, only a small percentage of all guns are used in homicides, so one must think there is too much violence.  Curiously, violent crime in the United States in down and has been decreasing, even as the population grows. Gun ownership, as well, has been continually declining since around 1980.

Watching the media, one would think crime is exponentially higher today.  Actually, all violent crime, including murder, peaked in 1991 and has been going down consistantly ever since. Click the link for the numbers: Crime Rates in the United States

That being said, I find our propensity for violence today, particularly with younger people, to be disturbing.  It seems that the great majority of movies geared for young people, especially “action/adventure” movies are often wall to wall violence.  The abundance of violent video games in the “Grand Theft Auto” mode is equally bothersome. It strikes me that too many young people spend far too much time watching or being active players in things that appear to be violence just for the sake of violence. It seems to me that a kid who has thousands of hours experience with a game controller “killing” enemies would have done much better with his time riding his bike or playing baseball.

We live in a violent world, and this has always been the case since the dawn of time. Our access today to 24 hour a day news reporting and the Internet may make it seem more violent, even if it is not. To be sure, there are violent people and places where violence seems to happen more frequently. But overall, especially considering the huge numbers of firearms in this county, the United States is a pretty safe place.

 

References:

1. CDC Database: (CDC WISQARS)

2. NRA Training: (NRA Training Courses)

3. Gang Related Homicides:(Gang Related Homicides).

4. Gun Laws Reference: (Brookings Institute Study)

5. Mass Shooting Data: Mass Shootings. 1982-2015 Mother Jones Magazine

6. Mass Shooting Data: New York Magazine, Data on Mass Shootings

7. Domestic violence: FBI Statistics — Murder by relationship

8. Crime rates:  Crime Rates in the United States