Friday, February 29, 2008

Cost Alone Should Be a Reason To Be Concerned

Even if they weren't fellow human beings, and even if they weren't overrepresented in scary mass murder situations.

I've read that before deinstitutionalization, schizophrenics were the single largest category of hospital bed-days in North America. That's not mental hospital bed-days--all hospital bed-days. Why? Schizophrenics are about 1% of the U.S. population. But because most schizophrenics become ill in their teens to mid-20s, only about 30% recover, and it doesn't directly kill them--schizophrenics typically have 40-50 years during which they are sick.

I was digging around for more data to fill in one of my stubby little chapters, and I found this disturbing piece of data from a government agency called the National Quality Measures Clearinghouse about schizophrenia:
It accounts for more than 10% of all disabled people in the United States (U.S.) and 2.5% of all U.S. healthcare expenditures. The cost due to society of schizophrenia is enormous (more than $20 billion/year in the U.S. alone).
According to this table, the total monthly disability insurance payments for 2005 was $6,607,972,000--or $79,295,664,000 annually. Schizophrenia thus is costing us more than $8 billion a year just for disability checks. This page indicates that U.S. health care costs were slightly less than $2 trillion in 2005. So health care for schizophrenics (which isn't done all that well, since many are living on the streets) comes to about $50 billion.

Why is this not a major issue in the presidential campaign? I know that there's a lot of research funded to try and understand various mental illnesses. My first reaction to these numbers is that an investment of even $10 billion a year into understanding the causes and trying to find either preventative methods or cures would be a sensible investment.

I've mentioned previously
that The Lancet, the most important British medical journal, a few years back reversed its editorial position about marijuana being harmless because they published a review of existing studies--and concluded that there was a 40% increase in psychosis among marijuana users--and the psychosis came after the marijuana use. This is merely a correlation--perhaps, for all we know, people who are going to become psychotic are attracted to marijuana, and it doesn't really have any effect.

Still, if that correlation does indicate causality, this suggests that Americans are paying at least $23 billion a year extra so that those potheads who don't go psychotic can get mellow and giggle stupidly.

Channels The Right Size Are Scarce

Channels The Right Size Are Scarce

It turns out that the aluminum channels turn out to be either too thin or too narrow. I am thinking that buying a 5" wide 1/4" wall rectangular aluminum tube, then running it through the bandsaw to get a channel might be the simplest solution. Of course, I'm a little unsure whether my bandsaw is going to be happy cutting 1/4" wall aluminum. Hmmmm.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Miracles of Channel Stiffness

Miracles of Channel Stiffness

I mentioned yesterday
that I was hoping someone would tell me if my calculations were correct. I spent a bit of time checking the spreadsheet (and updating it), and I am now confident that the calculations are correct. Of course, that requires the underlying equations be right....

It is astonishing how non-linear the relationship between thickness and stiffness for a channel is. As an example, with a 4" wide channel, .125" thick, and the verticals are .5" high gives a maximum deflection of .0326" inches. At .25" thick, the deflection drops to .0107". Doubling the thickness cut the deflection by about 2/3.

Making the channel wider, however, is also non-linear in its effects. Doubling the width of the channel only gets about 1/3 more stiffness. When making the trade-off, if stiffness were the only goal, you would want thick but not very wide.

Now, the trick is to call Metal Supermarkets, and find out what sizes of channel they have in stock, plug the dimensions in, and see what makes the best fit. Because the goal is to reduce roll, wider is better. At the same time, the price goes up, and thick contributes more to the stiffness. Since I have to trim the verticals so that the tube fits into the bottom of the channel, I don't want two thick of a channel--because I have to run this through my table saw to make it fit.

Bipartisan Corruption

This is a dirty little story from the February 26, 2008 Fort Wayne, Indiana Journal-Gazette:
A lawyer accused of trying to bribe a judge also paid two associates $500,000 to convince Attorney General Jim Hood not to file criminal charges against an insurance company over its handling of Hurricane Katrina claims, according to an FBI report in court records.

Plaintiffs lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who sued State Farm Fire and Casualty Cos. soon after the 2005 storm, was afraid the company "was not going to settle the civil cases" if the attorney general's office filed criminal charges, according to an FBI report filed Monday in the bribery case.

At the time, Attorney General Jim Hood was pursuing a criminal investigation against State Farm over what he claimed was the company's fraudulent practices in denying homeowners' insurance claims.

Scruggs agreed to pay New Albany attorney Timothy Balducci and former State Auditor Steve Patterson "if they could get Hood to relent on indicting" State Farm, according to a report written by FBI Agent William Delaney on Nov. 2, 2007.
This is a complicated case, but I guess what strikes me about it is that even if Mississippi Attorney-General Hood is telling the truth--that he did not bend to either a bribe or a threat--it doesn't say much for his reputation that someone found it plausible that paying $500,000 to a third party to either influence or bribe Hood was a reasonable business investment.

Before we go to single payer health insurance, I think we should see how single payer legal insurance works! Just think: you would never have to hire an attorney, or give him 1/3 of the eventual settlement, or have to hire an attorney to represent you in a criminal case. All attorneys, civil or criminal, would work for the government, for a flat salary. It might be a very nice salary--say, $100,000 a year--but think of all the really sleazy lawsuits that ambulance chasers file today in the hopes of getting 1/3 of $10,000,000. No lawyer would file a suit like that, because it wouldn't affect his income in the least. O.J. wouldn't have any more of a Dream Team than any other defendant being tried for murder.

Planned Parenthood's Return To Its Roots

This is one of those stories that just amazes me. It started out as a UCLA student newspaper (one apparently on the pro-life side--yes, at UCLA!) had a "donor" call Planned Parenthood operations around the country, and offer money to them with the proviso that it would be used just to abort black babies--and for an explicitly hate-filled reason. The February 28, 2008 Idaho Statesman, shockingly enough, actually ran a story about it, and included the amazing transcript of the conversation with the Planned Parenthood representative here in Idaho:
Autumn Kersey of Planned Parenthood in Boise: Good afternoon, this is Autumn.

Donor: Hello, Autumn, I'm interested in making a donation today.

Kersey: Fantastic!

Donor: What about abortions for the underprivileged minority groups?

Kersey: Oh, absolutely. We have, um, in fact, uh wonderful, fantastic news. We just received a very generous donation to our women in need fund.

Donor: Wonderful. I want to specify that abortion to help a minority group - would that be possible?

Kersey: Absolutely.

Donor: Like the black community for example?

Kersey: Certainly.

Donor: OK, so the abortionI can give money specifically for a black baby, that would be the purpose.

Kersey: Absolutely. If you wanted to designate that you wanted your gift to be used to help (an) African-American woman in need, then we would certainly make sure that that gift was earmarked specifically for that purpose.

Donor: Great. Because I really face trouble with affirmative action, and I don't want my kids being disadvantaged, you know, against black kids. I just had a baby; I want to put it in his name, you know.

Kersey: Mmhmm, absolutely.

Donor: So that's definitely possible.

Kersey: Oh, always, always.

Donor: So I just wanna - can I put this in the name of my son?

Kersey: Absolutely.

Donor: Yeah, he's trying to get into colleges, and he's going to be applying, you know, he's justwe're just really bighe's really faced troubles with affirmative action.

Kersey: Mmhmm.

Donor: And we don't, you know, we just think, you know, the less black kids out there the better.

Kersey: (Laughs) Understandable, understandable. ... Um David, let me, if I may, just get some sort of specific general information so we can set this up the right way. You said you wanted to put it in your son's name, and you would like this designated specifically to assist (an) African-American woman who's looking to terminate a pregnancy.

Donor: Exactly, and yeah, I wanna protect my son, so he can get into college.

Kersey: All right. Excuse my hesitation, um, um, this is the first time I've had a donor call and make this kind of request, so I'm excited, and I wanna make sure I don't leave anything out.
It wasn't just Idaho where they found someone at Planned Parenthood willing to accept a donation for an explicitly racist reason.

Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood's founder, saw her objective as (in part) reducing the supply of inferior races--not just blacks and Hispanics, but also southern Europeans. Nor was she alone. I am always astonished, when I read through newspapers of the 1910-25 period, how many progressive sorts were explicitly pushing birth control as a method for keeping blacks from outbreeding whites.

But I find it very hard to believe that Planned Parenthood offices are staffed by the modern version of this. I am more inclined to think that what we are seeing is:

1. An enthusiasm for abortion that transcends everything else--including standards of decency that I thought were pretty universal in America.

2. A generation that has grown up with so little exposure to ferocious racism, and so little knowledge of history, that they don't find statements like the one above repugnant.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tragedies That Lead To Reform

Tragedies That Lead To Reform

I was reading this report by the New York State Office of Mental Health about the outcomes of New York's adoption of "Kendra's Law" back in 1999, which provides for involuntary outpatient commitment. What is that? And who is Kendra?

Involuntary outpatient commitment essentially means that a person who is mentally ill, and is considered a danger to himself (although perhaps not an imminent danger) is ordered by a court to take their medications, go to counseling, and be under the supervision of a social worker or mental health worker who is responsible for making sure that this person does not deteriorate.

Many states have such programs. California has something called "Laura's Law" that provides for such treatment--although only in a few counties so far. I mentioned earlier today a bill under consideration by the California legislature to expand the program statewide. I know that as of 1999, at least Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia--had such programs--and by some accounts, all of these (except Tennessee) have been effective at reducing hospitalizations and improving the condition of mental patients who are so committed. Idaho (in some counties) has something called Mental Health Court that imposes similar rules on those with less serious criminal offenses who are mentally ill.

Of course, as with all these programs, the threat of being institutionalized is one of the mechanisms used to ensure medication compliance. For those mentally ill who are well enough to understand and respond, this works. For those who are not that well, this provides a fast way to restabilize the person, without waiting for him to get to a point where he kills someone.

And why is New York's involuntary outpatient commitment program called "Kendra's Law"? And ditto for "Laura's Law" in California. In both cases, they are named after a person who was murdered by a mentally ill person who desperately needed help from a society that was awash in bizarre fantasies about how the mentally ill would benefit from being deinstitutionalized.

The New York Times has an impressive list of articles
about Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a subway train in midtown Manhattan on January 3, 1999 by Andrew Goldstein.

Goldstein was one of those really smart people who was going to probably contribute something wonderful to the world, even if only in a small way. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, one of New York City's remarkable specialty public high schools. This isn't an easy place to get into, and being a graduate meant that he was going to be something some day. But at age 16, Goldstein started to show symptoms of schizophrenia--which became disabling in college. Eventually, after at least thirteen violent incidents, and frequent hospitalizations (usually not lasting for very long), he murder Kendra Webdale.

One of the frequent claims that I see made is that it isn't possible to interest taxpayers in paying for adequate mental health treatment. I look at this long list of articles describing Goldstein's hearings and trials--and I know that processing it through the system wasn't cheap. I do not expect that we will see Goldstein back on the street anytime soon. Public mental hospitals weren't cheap; some states in the 1950s were spending almost half their budget on just mental hospitals. But tragedies like the death of Kendra Webdale aren't cheap, either.

Solving the Roll Problem

Solving the Roll Problem

I mentioned a few days ago that I was thinking of using a piece of aluminum channel to solve the problem of the round tube (especially the part holding the main mirror) from rotating off the square tube that mounts to the dovetail plate.

I've been doing the math, and I think I've got a reasonable solution. A channel definitely is stiff than a plate, but as the height of the verticals approaches zero, the more closely the channel approaches the stiffness (or lack of stiffness) of a plate. A channel that was 20.4" wide that captured both sides of the tube (as one person suggested) would be immensely stiff--and far too heavy. It would also be hard to find off the shelf!

So, I have resigned myself to a channel of a more reasonable width, probably just a bit wider than the dovetail plate, which is four inches wide. A 5" wide channel that is .5" thick needs to have verticals that are .5" high so that the tube fits into the bottom of the channel, where the bolts lock the tube to the channel. (The verticals prevent rotation.)

My first reaction was that a channel with such low shoulders isn't going to be a lot stiffer than a plate of the same width and thickness. Yet when I run the numbers, I get results that tell me that even with these low shoulders, it is really, really stiff! So much so that I don't trust my calculations.

When computing deflection of a beam with a central support, the formula appears to be:
deflection = FL^3/48*E*I
where F is the force, L is the length of the beam, E is Young's modulus for the beam, and I is the moment of inertia.

E is approximately 70 GPa for aluminum.

The moment of inertia for a plate is really simple: I=bh^3/12, where b is the width of the beam, and h is the height. Because the plate is different width and height,
the moment of inertia in the Y-axis is 0.00000002 and 0.00000217 in the X-axis. (No surprise: the plate is more resistant to bending on the 5" than the 1/2" dimension.)

Using this formula, a 5" wide by 1/2" thick aluminum plate with a 35 pound weight (156.07 Newtons) 18 inches (or .46 meters) from the end produces two results: a deflection in the Y-axis of 0.0002048 meters (.0081") and 0.0000020 meters (.0001") in the X-axis. The weight of the plate comes to 4.39 pounds.

At this point, only the real engineers, or masochists (which are somewhat the same thing) are still reading. Now we do the more complex set of equations for computing deflection for a channel.

Over at you can see this lovely set of equations for computing the moment of inertia for a square channel. I'm going to put my spreadsheet up at the end of this post for those who really want to check the math. (And if you do so--I'm grateful.)

In this case, I'm using a channel that is 5" wide, 1/4" thick, with 1/2" high verticals (the right size to cradle the 20.4" tube). The moment of inertia in the Y-axis is 0.00000022, and in the X-axis, 0.00004966. Using the same force of 156.07 Newtons, the same length .46 meters (18"), gives an X-axis deflection of 0.00000009 meters (0.00000352") and a Y-axis deflection of 0.00002037 meters (0.00080216"). As you can see, this is substantially stiffer than a much thicker plate--and a weight of only 2.85 pounds.

Anywhere, here's the spreadsheet. If you see any errors, let me know.

UPDATE: I found a couple of errors in the spreadsheet--which actually understated the stiffness of the channel. I have updated it as of 2/28/08 9:28 PM Mountain time.

Another Mental Illness Tragedy

I blogged about this on the Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog last month. The first news accounts only described Marshall Fink as "mentally ill." There's a bit more about the tragedy in this February 26, 2008 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article:
WELDON SPRING — The veins in Marshall Fink's neck bulged with fury as he pumped his fist, telling his parents they should stick a shotgun in their mouths and pull the trigger.

His mother and stepfather begged Fink, 26, to take his medication and calm down.

That set him off.

Fink put his fingers to his head, pretending to have a gun, then pointed at his parents. He chest-bumped his mother into the garage, snarling and telling her she should die.

Shirlee and John Gentles called 911 several times the night of Jan. 11.

The police were on their way, but by the time they arrived John Gentles had fatally shot his stepson.


Fifteen months after graduating from Francis Howell High School, Fink enlisted in the Navy, inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks to serve his country.


Fink was stationed at the Naval base in San Diego as a mechanic aboard the Peleliu assault ship.

"It was a natural fit that he would go and work on engines," Shirlee Gentles said.

For more than two years, his service record was clean; his superiors even wrote him several letters of commendation. Fink wanted a career in the Navy, but a conflict of highs and lows was escalating inside his head.

"Something happened to him in the Navy," Heather Gentles said. "He just was never going to be the same."

Fink's illness developed quickly and was brought on in part by stress and lack of sleep, said his psychiatrist in St. Charles, Dr. Greg Mattingly. Fink's condition emerged about the same age as most bipolar patients, Mattingly said, and was not spurred by any specific traumatic incident.

"With bipolar, you can go from pretty much normal one day, to the next day being very, very, very sick," Mattingly said.

Fink mouthed off to his commanders, stopped eating regularly and lost 20 pounds. He grew increasingly paranoid, and in September 2005, doctors at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego diagnosed his condition as bipolar disorder, which often results in episodes of severe depression and mania. It affects more than 5 million Americans.

Most people who develop the disorder are genetically predisposed to it, Mattingly said. Along with stress and sleep deprivation, he said, substance abuse is another common trigger. Fink had begun taking legal stimulants as part of a body-building regimen.

Because of Fink's diagnosis, the Navy started discharge proceedings.

Fink challenged the diagnosis. He wanted the chance to return to active duty, but the Navy considered him unfit to serve.
About 2.6% of the adult population suffers from bipolar disorder. Not everyone with bipolar disorder ends up as out of control as Marshall Fink. A lot of people with bipolar disorder manage to lead productive lives--using the energy in the mania stage to get a lot accomplished, and sleeping or sulking during the depressive stages. I've read that CEOs are disproportionately bipolar, and there are some astonishingly creative characters out there, such as Sir Isaac Newton and Howard Hughes, who are believed to have been bipolars whose condition was not severe enough to disable them. (Although Newton, in his later years, seems to have collapsed into a pretty severe depressive state.)

From my reading, it appears that alcohol can pitch people with mild bipolar disorder over into acute bipolar disorder. I have watched several relatives whose acute bipolar disorder appeared shortly after they started smoking marijuana--and one of them has not recovered. Since marijuana appears to increase the risk of a psychotic breakdown by about 40%, I do not find it difficult to believe that it might play a part in aggravating bipolar disorder. This is part of the reason that I no longer regard legalization of marijuana as a great idea. Yes, most people who start smoking marijuana aren't going to suffer a psychotic break, or find their unrecognized bipolar disorder aggravated. But for those who do, it's tremendously bad news.

Another interesting problem is that SSRI antidepressants, if prescribed without a mood stabilizer, can aggravate the mood swings of someone with bipolar disorder. One of the advantages of Prozac, when it was first released, was that it was relatively low risk for side effects, and so a lot of GPs were encouraged to prescribe it. Unfortunately, people suffering from bipolar disorder would show up at their doctor when they were depressed--not when they were feeling energetic and powerful. Not surprisingly, GPs assumed that they were treating depression--not the depressive phase of bipolar. And the mood swings would just get worse.

If you have a really smart child who is also defiant and is rapidly getting out of control--you should at least consider the possibility that the problem is bipolar disorder. Until quite recently, psychiatry would not acknowledge that minors can suffer from bipolar disorder--partly because it is so difficult to easily distinguish from normal adolescent behavior. Demitri Papolos, M.D. and Janice Papolos's The Bipolar Child: The Definitive and Reassuring Guide to Childhood's Most Misunderstood Disorder is a good place to start. You may decide, after reading the Papalos's book, that you just have a strong-willed child. You may decide that it is time for psychiatric evaluation.

Broken Telescope Mount Part

Broken Telescope Mount Part

I mentioned a couple of days ago that my attempt at using 5 minute epoxy to repair the broken part on this CI-700 mount was unsuccessful. This morning I took it in to Riverside Welding and Fab in Eagle for repair.

Because this is cast aluminum, apparently you need to heat the part up before you can start welding--and the two pieces that broke off were so small that they were starting to melt before the welder could get the big piece hot enough. So the solution was that they welded a large piece of aluminum on in place of the broken parts, and cut off the excess. It doesn't look very good (especially because the original part was black anodized), but it works just fine. You have to look inside the mount to see the bare aluminum, so I consider this sufficient. (I might use some glossy black spray paint here in there to make it look a bit better.)

I was also able to straight out the bent bolt. It still isn't perfect, but it is close enough that you have to look carefully to see the bend, and it works just fine.

Best of all, it only cost $35 (their minimum shop charge) to have this done.

Californians Concerned About Mental Illness Problems

Californians Concerned About Mental Illness Problems

You might want to read this one. Apparently, SB1606 is under consideration, and would provide assisted outpatient treatment (which is a type of outpatient commitment) for every county in the state. A few counties have been operating such programs, but most apparently do not--including, from what I have read, San Francisco, which needs it more than most.

The bill itself is a bit more complex than that. One provision would extend the 14 day intensive treatment period that is currently provided for those hospitalized under Cal. Welfare & Institutions Code sec. 5150 to include those who have been ordered into assisted outpatient treatment by a court.

Another provision removes one of the notice requirements related to these hearings. I'm not quite sure why, and this probably won't survive a court challenge under substantative due process requirements.

Other provisions that seem understandable and aren't obviously unconstitutional delete the requirement that those certified for assisted outpatient treatment get recertified every 60 days for the program. This makes perfect sense to me; most people with severe mental illness problems don't recover in 60 days. Many never recover at all. Recertification every 60 days seems like a lot of paperwork for no good purpose.

Another provision changes the extension period for assisted outpatient treatment from 180 days to 360 days. This makes sense to me for the same reason as the recertification change.

Most importantly: this bill would make assisted outpatient treatment programs available in every county in the state. That's a big win.

It turns out that New York State has used a similar program for some years now. Here is a report from 2005 on the consequences. Over the roughly five four years the program was in effect, 10,078 persons were referred to the program; 4,041 were apparently determined to be ill enough that a petition was filed seeking to put them under this supervision. Of these, 3,766 persons were placed under supervision (meaning that 93% of the petitions were granted).

The diagnosis of those placed under this outpatient supervision was 71% schizophrenic, 13% bipolar disorder. Unsurprisingly, a bit more than half had a combination of mental illness and a substance abuse problem.

The rest of the report gives details on the improved situation of those who were placed on this program. I guess that most of you won't be surprised that the net effect was to substantially improve the condition of those who were now under court-ordered outpatient supervision.

We probably aren't ever going to go back to the mental hospital system that we had in the 1960s. This may be an alternative for many of the mentally ill whose conditions just deteriorates until they die (the usual case), or until they become an ugly newspaper headline (a relatively rare situation).

Islamic Extremism

An interesting video by some random Briton that is a bit raw on language, but makes some important points about how multiculturalism is preparing Europeans to live under one culture's rules.

I've just finished reading Robert Ferrigno's new book Sins of the Assassin. I'm going to need some time to gather my wits together enough to write a review as important as this book, and its predecessor, Prayers for the Assassin deserve.

This Wouldn't Be Believable Fiction

So instead, it becomes fact. From the February 25, 2008 Washington Times:
Montana officials are warning that if the Supreme Court rules in the D.C. gun ban case that the right to keep and bear arms protects only state-run militias like the National Guard, then the federal government will have breached Montana's statehood contract.

Nobody is raising flags for the Republic of Montana, but nobody is kidding, either. So far, 39 elected Montana officials have signed a resolution declaring that a court ruling of the Second Amendment is a right of states and not of individuals would violate Montana's compact.

"The U.S. would do well to keep its contractual promise to the states that the Second Amendment secures an individual right now as it did upon execution of the statehood contract," Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson said in a Feb. 15 letter to The Washington Times.

The resolution also was signed by Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana's lone Republican congressman, and state Sen. Roy Brown, who is running to unseat Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat.

The dispute goes back more than a century. Back in 1889, the settlers of the Montana territory struck a deal with the federal government: They agreed to join the union, and the government agreed that individuals had the right to bear arms.

That has worked fine for the past 118 years, but the Supreme Court is expected next month to hear oral argument in District of Columbia v. Heller, the appeal of a federal court decision striking down the District's gun-ownership ban on Second Amendment grounds.
Now, I think this is something of an overreaction--but it does raise an interesting question: if the Supreme Court were to rule that the Second Amendment protects the right of the states to arm and discipline their militias without federal interference (a position that gun control advocates used to argue very seriously), then Montana would have the authority to issue machine guns, grenades, Stingers, etc. to the unorganized militia. Maybe the Court should go ahead and clarify that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, instead!

And I thought Idaho was pro-gun!

Here's the letter (scroll down a little).

Finally: The Corvette Is Operable!

The road out is good enough that I was able to drive the Corvette today--for the first time in about two months. While our driveway is pretty broken up from the TrailBlazer's narrower tires chewing up the mud, I was able to get down it and back--and the wide rear wheels on the Corvette seem to be flattening the ridges (which are still wet) nicely. It was very strange after driving nothing but a 4WD for the last two months to be so low to the ground.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Idaho: Global Warming Nonsense

Idaho Senate Concurrent Resolution 128 is supposed to be coming up to a committee vote in the Senate Resources & Environment Committee Wednesday afternoon. As regular readers of my blog know (or, for that matter, almost any other blog that pays attention to this question), anthropogenic global warming involves at least two highly arguable points:

1. Is there actually clear evidence of global warming? I'm inclined to think that there is, but the evidence is far from certain--and some of the data on this has experienced significant revisions of late. This is an especially troublesome question because many of the U.S. weather stations that feed data on the supposed warming--when inspected--turn out to have serious repeatability problems--such as 22 air conditioning compressors next to the station or a station at the end of a jet aircraft runway, or five feet from a burning barrel put in place when a condominium complex was built in a rural setting.

2. There is clear evidence that Mars has warmed since 1976--and by 0.5 degrees Celsius--an amount not much different from the claims of the AGW crowd. There is far less certain evidence that Neptune is getting more illumination as well--and again, roughly in parallel with the AGW claims. Pretty obviously, if, as some astrophysicists claim, the warming we experienced from the late 1970s to a couple of years back, is primarily the result of solar output changes, we're going to burn an enormous amount of money, impoverish a lot of people--and accomplish nothing.

It's time to let members of the committee know that this "settled science" is far less settled than they want to believe. Here are the email addresses:

Monday, February 25, 2008

That Dirty Harry Line

That Dirty Harry Line

Remember the line in Dirty Harry where Sgt. Callahan tells the punk that he's holding a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum--the most powerful handgun in the world? Well, since then, more powerful handguns have been made--but even they don't really compare with this gem, the Pfeifer-Zeliska .600 Nitro Express Magnum, made in Austria.

The video of it being fired is one of those reminders that there times that engineers come up with solutions to problems that do not yet exist. I suppose that there might be a need for this gun if rampaging elephants herds became a problem in urban areas. But other than that?

This is one of those guns that, if you were mounted on roller skates, would make a tremendously expensive and noisy method of getting yourself up to speed.

Epoxy As A Repair Agent For Aluminum

Epoxy As A Repair Agent For Aluminum

I mentioned several days ago
a stupid accident that snapped a couple of pieces of aluminum out of the CI-700 mount. I have not found any solution that I am completely happy with for fixing this. Welding the two broken parts back in place would require complete disassembly of the mount.

There is a soldering product called Alumaloy--which appears to be largely zinc. You heat the aluminum parts up with a blowtorch, and that's hot enough to melt the zinc. Zinc is not as strong (or as flexible) as aluminum, but it isn't orders of magnitude worse than aluminum. A number of comments that I found indicate that Alumaloy works, but it isn't as easy as the demonstrations of it suggest. And I would still have to the take the mount entirely apart to do this.

However, epoxy might make sense. Epoxy seems to have a yield strength in the 12,000-15,000 psi range, while aluminum is in the 15,000-20,000 psi strength range. This isn't going to be anywhere as strong, but it's worth a try. I've got some five minute epoxy that I used to repair the counterweight lock knob which broke, and while I will never want to treat it roughly, it doesn't seem to be preparing to fall apart. Once I have everything in position, I'll use the blow dryer to accelerate the curing process. It's a confined space, so this should work well.

UPDATE: For some reason, the 5 minute epoxy would not set--and being as the broken parts were upside down, getting them to stay in position was hopeless. I'm told that J.B. Weld epoxy, which is made specifically for metals, works better.

Fortunately I was able to disassemble the mount head, and ended up with a single small part with nothing electrical on it that I could feel comfortable taking to a welding shop.

Click to enlarge

Lawless San Francisco Government

Residents of public housing projects in San Francisco are now receiving this new set of rules for tenants. Among the really idiotic provisions is section 1.9 of the rules:
Firearms, Knives & Weapons -- Residents and their guests may not possess or store a firearm, BB gun, air gun, paintball gun, pellet gun or any other item that discharges ammunition, bullets, etc. Water guns are prohibited. Anything that looks like a gun or a weapon is prohibited. Use of any item as an imitation weapon is strictly prohibited. Use of any item including but not limited to knives, blades, swords, pipes, bats, sticks, batons, chains, tools, rocks and guns as a weapon or the threat of a weapon is strictly prohibited. Violation of this lease provision is grounds for immediate eviction.
This means that if you legally have a gun for self-defense, you must now move out. If this were private housing, I wouldn't be happy about it, but I would at least acknowledge the right of the landlord to indulge his delusory theories of how to make the society safer. This, however, is public housing. The government is subject to a considerably stricter set of standards--including California Government Code sec. 53071 and 53071.5:
  • 53071. It is the intention of the Legislature to occupy the whole field of regulation of the registration or licensing of commercially manufactured firearms as encompassed by the provisions of the Penal Code, and such provisions shall be exclusive of all local regulations, relating to registration or licensing of commercially manufactured firearms, by any political subdivision as defined in Section 1721 of the Labor Code.
  • 53071.5 By the enforcement of this section, the Legislature occupies the whole field of regulation of the manufacture, sale, or possession of imitation firearms, as defined in Section 12250 of the Penal Code, and that section shall preempt and be exclusive of all regulations relating to the manufacture, sale, or possession of imitation firearms, including regulations governing the manufacture, sale, or possession of BB devices and air rifles described in subdivision (g) of Section 12001 of the Penal Code.
Clear enough? About the only part of section 1.9 that is legally enforceable is the ban on water pistols. Even the ban on using anything as a weapon, because it fails to exclude self-defense, is arguably defective, since the California Constitution, Art. I, sec. 1, includes a guarantee of a right to defend life and liberty:
All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.
You are probably asking yourself, "Water pistols? How many murders does San Francisco have with water pistols?" If California still allowed the sale of realistic water pistols, I might see their point. Back in the late 1980s, after several incidents where police officers fired on kids playing with overly realistic toy guns or pellet guns, the legislature changed the law to require them to orange or green--just to make sure that a cop wouldn't make a tragic mistake. I remember being in a park in San Jose when a big 11 year old walked in carrying what, from a distance, seemed to be a MAC-10.

So why ban water pistols, if it isn't legal to sell realistic toy guns? I suspect that this is an attempt to create a culture in which little boys don't play with toy guns. This is doomed to failure. We had some friends in California who, like my wife and I, didn't want their kids playing with toy guns. There is an age where kids aren't clear on reality vs. play, and it seemed foolish to encourage this confusion. So inevitably, they found one of their little boys had grabbed a Barbie, bent the legs over to form the grip of the handgun, while the upper body became the barrel. "Bang, bang, bang!"

I remember that the Clinton Administration tried to ban guns in Chicago public housing projects in the 1990s. My memories aren't perfect, but I think I recall that being the Clinton Administration, they decided, "Why violate only one provision of the Bill of Rights, when you can violate two?" I think a federal judge finally intervened and prevented them from doing door to door searches for guns. Can anyone point me to details of whatever federal court decision stopped this insanity?

Now, I can understand how, if you were really delusional about how guns cause crime, you might decide that banning guns in public housing would make things better--you know, like banning guns on airliners. But there's a difference: there are metal detectors at the airport, and it isn't terribly easy to get a weapon onboard (unless you are a terrorist, of course). Public housing projects don't have checkpoints and searches going in and out. That still wouldn't work very well, but at least they would be attempting to disarm everyone going into the projects. A rule like this doesn't even attempt to disarm the bad guys. The only people that are going to obey this rule are the victims of the bad guys.

UPDATE: I can't find the case myself, but apparently, Pratt v. Chicago Housing Authority, 848 F. Supp. 792 (1994) ruled against the Clinton Administration's attempts to do warrantless searches for guns--and the response was to create the lease requirement that San Francisco is now using.

Channel vs. Tube Deformation

Channel vs. Tube Deformation

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, it appears that the solution to the Big Bertha 2.0 problem is replace the 1" square aluminum tube with an channel. This will support the tube on both sides, instead of leaving it only supported at the point where the screws go through both parts.

I'm having a little trouble finding the formula for computing the deflection on a channel. I was thinking of using a 4" wide aluminum channel. Obviously, the wider the channel is, the more support the sides of the channel create on the tube, and the less strain it puts on the screws that hold the tube and channel together. Of course, the wider the channel is, the heavier it is, too.

I have an intuitive sense that a channel is less stiff than square aluminum tube of the same dimensions because the channel is missing the top of the square. I also intuit that stiffness declines as the verticals of the channel get shorter. The ideal channel, from a longitudinal stiffness perspective, has the vertical as tall as the width of the channel. Obviously, the only way that I could use a channel like that for this application would be if the channel was 20.4" wide, and the verticals were 10.2" tall. Of course, that would be a very heavy channel.

The thicker the channel, the more stiff it is longitudinally--but the heavier it is, too. My guess is that to get a channel of approximately the same stiffness as the 1" square tube (which was 1/8" wall) I will need a 4" wide channel that is 1/4" thick. I haven't done the trigonometry yet to figure out how tall the verticals will have to be to get the telescope tube assembly to fit to the bottom of the channel, but a 4" wide channel is going to have relatively short verticals. Perhaps I would be better off with a wider channel of a thinner material? The wider channel means taller verticals, and thus more stiffness with a thinner material. There's no magic solution on this--whatever I build is going to be heavier than the 1" square aluminum tube, I know that.

Anyway, the net result is that I need a formula for computing how much deformation is created by applying force N on material with Young's modulus E, and length L. I believe that I could even use the current formulas that I have if I knew how to compute the moment of inertia for a channel with dimensions for the thickness, width of the base, and height of the verticals. Or perhaps there is some way to use the moment of inertia calculation for an I-beam, and modify it for a channel, which is essentially a I-beam that has been turned on its side and chopped? From that example, it looks like a channel's moment of inertia (where T=thickness, W=width of the base, and V=height of the verticals) would be computed by adding the moment of inertia for each of the verticals (TV^3/12) and for the section between the verticals (W-(2*T)*((T^3)/12)

I=2*(TV^3/12) + (W-(2*T))*((T^3)/12)

Did I miss something here?

UPDATE: Here's the formula for moment of inertia of a channel. It doesn't seem to be that simple!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Abortion Alone Wasn't the Cause

As the article points out, this woman had a history of depression--but it does make you wonder how differently things might have worked out if:

1. She and "Ben" had married. The commitment of marriage at least has a fighting chance of filtering out guys who aren't prepared to handle children.

2. She had gone ahead and had these babies.

From the February 24, 2008 Telegraph:
An artist killed herself after aborting her twins when she was eight weeks pregnant, leaving a note saying: "I should never have had an abortion. I see now I would have been a good mum."

Emma Beck was found hanging at her home in Helston, Cornwall, on Feb 1 2007. She was declared dead early the following day - her 31st birthday.

Her suicide note read: "I told everyone I didn't want to do it, even at the hospital. I was frightened, now it is too late. I died when my babies died. I want to be with my babies: they need me, no-one else does."
The inquest at Truro City Hall heard that Miss Beck had split up with her boyfriend, referred to as "Ben" after he "reacted badly" to the pregnancy.
She saw her GP before the termination, but missed an appointment at a hospital in Penzance. She then cancelled, but later turned up to an appointment at a clinic at Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske. The counsellor was on holiday so a doctor referred Miss Beck to a pregnancy counselling telephone service eight days before carrying out the abortion when she was eight weeks pregnant, the inquest heard.

The inquest heard that Sylvia Beck, the victim's mother, wrote to the hospital after her daughter's death, saying: "I want to know why she was not given the opportunity to see a counsellor.
"She was only going ahead with the abortion because her boyfriend did not want the twins.
"I believe this is what led Emma to take her own life - she could not live with what she had done."
The doctor said: "I discussed Emma's situation with her, and wrote on the form, 'Unsupported, lives alone, ex-partner aware'.
"It is normal practice to give a woman the number for telephone counselling when a counsellor is not available.
"I am satisfied that everything was done to make sure that Emma consented to the operation.
She added: "We have since appointed more counsellors so there is more holiday cover."
Katie Gibbs, Miss Beck's GP, told the hearing: "She was extremely distressed by the abortion procedure, and I didn't think she ever came to terms with it.
"She had a long history of anxiety and depression. Despite my best efforts, she was not willing to see a counsellor after the termination."
Her boss at the clinic, said: "The time that can be given to a woman by a counsellor is limited in a busy hospital.
"I am satisfied everything was done to make sure Emma was consenting to surgery. I don't feel there was any gap in the counselling service.
"There were lots of individuals who would be alert to any doubts. The comments made by Emma's mother are not about a doctor I recognise."

Obama's Meeting With Terrorists

This is a startling item from the February 22, 2008 The Politico, detailing Obama's meeting with two people whose involvement with people building bombs to kill Americans isn't even open to dispute:
In 1995, State Senator Alice Palmer introduced her chosen successor, Barack Obama, to a few of the district’s influential liberals at the home of two well known figures on the local left: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.

While Ayers and Dohrn may be thought of in Hyde Park as local activists, they’re better known nationally as two of the most notorious — and unrepentant — figures from the violent fringe of the 1960s anti-war movement.

Now, as Obama runs for president, what two guests recall as an unremarkable gathering on the road to a minor elected office stands as a symbol of how swiftly he has risen from a man in the Hyde Park left to one closing in fast on the Democratic nomination for president.

“I can remember being one of a small group of people who came to Bill Ayers’ house to learn that Alice Palmer was stepping down from the senate and running for Congress,” said Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician and advocate for single-payer health care, of the informal gathering at the home of Ayers and his wife, Dohrn. “[Palmer] identified [Obama] as her successor.”


Like many of the most extreme figures from the 1960s Ayers and Dohrn are ambiguous figures in American life.

They disappeared in 1970, after a bomb — designed to kill army officers in New Jersey — accidentally destroyed a Greenwich Village townhouse, and turned themselves into authorities in 1980. They were never prosecuted for their involvement with the 25 bombings the Weather Underground claimed; charges were dropped because of improper FBI surveillance.

Both have written and spoken at length about their pasts, and today he is an advocate for progressive education and a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago; she’s an associate professor of law at Northwestern University.

But — unlike some other fringe figures of the era — they’re also flatly unrepentant about the bombings they committed in the name of ending the war, defending them on the grounds that they killed no one, except, accidentally, their own members.

Dohrn, however, was jailed for less than a year for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating other Weather Underground members’ robbery of a Brinks truck, in which a guard and two New York State Troopers were killed.

“I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough,” Ayers told the New York Times in 2001.

And their rehabilitation in establishment circles, even in Hyde Park, has its limits.

Though he is a respected figure in liberal educational circles, Ayers wrote recently about how in 2006 he was informed he was persona non grata at a progressive educators’ conference in the summer of 2006.

“We cannot risk a simplistic and dubious association between progressive education and the violent aspects of your past,” he quoted the conference organizers, whom he described as friends, as writing to him.
Here's an article telling a bit more about the bomb making factory that went wrong, and how one of the survivors of that explosion went on to do a Brinks armored car robbery that killed three guards, leaving nine children without fathers. Oh yes, this was a crowd that was trying to start a race war in the United States:

In her parole hearing, Boudin -- a veteran of the terrorist Weather Underground -- claimed that she participated in the robbery because she felt guilty for being white. She told the commissioners she believed the crime would help 'oppressed' black people and advance the cause of 'civil rights'.
This is an astonishing reminder that Obama's leftist politics aren't just connections to antiwar activists of the 1960s putting flowers in their hair and carrying signs. The Ayers and Dohrn were part of a crowd that was making bombs as part of their war on the United States government, murdering people that had to work for a living (unlike this bunch of spoiled rich kids).

If you think this isn't much of an issue--all of this blowing up buildings and murdering people was a long time ago--imagine what the media hoopla would be if someone discovered that McCain had, in the 1990s, met at the home of Edgar Ray Killen. We would be hearing endlessly about McCain's questionable judgment, about McCain's opposition some years ago to making Martin Luther King's birthday into a holiday, with the implication that McCain was some sort of closet Klansman. But Obama gets a free ride.

As Ace of Spades HQ points out:
Unless McCain is a complete idiot, he'll drive this one like a stolen Ferrari.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Big Bertha 2.0: Something That I Didn't Think About

Big Bertha 2.0: Something That I Didn't Think About

It finally came time to mount Big Bertha 2.0 on the equatorial mount today--and I ran into a problem that I now realize is pretty significant. Deformation along the length of the telescope isn't a problem (especially now that I have switched the rail that the dovetail plate attaches to from 1/16" wall to 1/8" wall). But I hadn't considered the problem of deformation across the telescope. It was immediately apparent that when over at an angle, the primary mirror assembly would twist the rail quite severely.

I think the problem here is that all the stress of the primary mirror assembly is being transferred to the one rail to which the dovetail plate attaches. Within the existing design, I can see the following possible solution:

1. Add three more rails, so that I get a hexagon. This only adds about five more pounds to the telescope.

2. Add supports that transfer the load that is currently entirely on one rail (and at the bottom part of the rail alone, where most of the weight is) to distribute the load to the other five rails. This might be something as simple as using 1" square aluminum tube sections to connect all six rails together. This involves making a series of 60 degrees cuts (easy with the chop saw), then drilling and tapping holes that will allow them to lock to the rails going lengthwise. At least at the moment, I am having a little trouble figuring out exactly how this will work. The 1" square tubes are stiff enough, however, that I suspect that it would not take a lot of these segments to do the job. Remember that they don't have to be terribly strong themselves; they just need to stiff enough to transfer the load that is currently on one rail to the other five rails.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that the big problem isn't even twisting of the telescope itself--but that the lower assembly (which is very heavy, because of the mirror) is twisting on the rail because there is a single point of contact (round surface on a flat surface). Perhaps using an aluminum extrusion that consists of two right angles might work better. In that case, the round tubes drop into the extrusion. The tube then rests not only on a single point of contact, but also against the two uprights. In this case, a 4" wide base with two uprights would prevent the rotation across the flat surface.

McGovern, 1972

The only good thing about being old is that you get to say, "I've seen this idiocy before!" It is increasingly apparent that the Democrats are planning to reprise the 1972 election--with a Republican that many Republicans didn't like, because he wasn't very conservative (the 55 mph national speed limit, wage and price controls) running against a very liberal Democrat who talked a lot about idealism.

A little background for those of you aren't old enough to remember the age of disco, leisure suits, waiting in line to buy gasoline, and a time when no one worried about STDs. In 1968, Eugene McCarthy tried to get the Democratic Party nomination away from V.P. Hubert Humphrey--a machine liberal politician, but one identified far too closely with President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War. Democratic Party activists, however much they might have sympathized with McCarthy's "flower power" campaign (remember those little plastic flower appliques that antiwar activists put on their VW Beetles?), recognized that giving the nomination to a bunch of pot-smoking, antiwar, long-haired hippies, was going to be the twentieth century's equivalent of the Children's Crusade.

For those who don't know--the Children's Crusade was a thirteenth century effort by children to retake the Holy Land where their adult ancestors had failed. The children, being of holy and pure spirits, would succeed where the sinful adults had failed. Many of them never even got close to the Holy Land, and unsurprisingly, after arranging for sea transport, a large number were sold into Muslim slavery. Purity and good intentions aren't enough.

Anyway, Humphrey ended up getting the Democratic nomination in 1968, and came darn close to winning the election (perhaps helped by George Wallace's independent run for President). By the time the 1972 Democratic primary race was under way, the hippies had cut their hair, found suits, proudly took over the Democratic Party, and picked a far left Democrat, George McGovern, to lead the party over a cliff. And boy did he ever! He won Massachusetts (and I think, DC). He didn't even carry his own state, South Dakota.

What the was magic trick to this? Contrary to what some tenured radicals want to believe, Watergate isn't what won Nixon the election. If anything, the small amount of bad press from it probably hurt Nixon slightly. What did it was that McGovern had been very far to the left, and had emphasized that during the primaries. He was, after all, trying to appeal to a faction of the Democratic Party that Nixon's campaign characterized as "acid, amnesty, and abortion." From my recollections of the time, that was an exaggeration, but it was not without some basis in fact. ( And I think my memories are more trustworthy than your graying professor's memories, because I seem to be one of about 48 members of my generation that did not smoke pot or drop acid during that time.)

During the general election, McGovern's campaign tried to run away from his radical positions--and one especially powerful Nixon ad showed McGovern's picture on a weathervane, spinning back and forth between his primary statements, and his general election statements. The radical positions upset lots of voters--and the flip-flopping, I suspect, upset radical voters who were still suffering from the delusive idealism of McCarthy's Children's Crusade.

Barack Hussein Obama is, by any sensible standard, pretty far to the left--and some of the positions that he has taken should just about guarantee a McCain victory in November. I've mentioned his position in support of restrictive gun control--a position that is going to force at least ten million voters to vote for McCain. (Many of them would do so anyway, but Obama's position on this will guarantee it.)

I see that Obama has also taken another quite divisive position--and one that puts him in the minority, by a large margin:
Q: What us your view on the decision on partial-birth abortion and your reaction to most of the public agreeing with the court's holding?

A: I think that most Americans recognize that this is a profoundly difficult issue for the women and families who make these decisions. They don't make them casually. And I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy. And I think that's where most Americans are. Now, when you describe a specific procedure that accounts for less than 1% of the abortions that take place, then naturally, people get concerned, and I think legitimately so. But the broader issue here is: Do women have the right to make these profoundly difficult decisions? And I trust them to do it.

Source: 2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC Apr 26, 2007
Pro-life voters, of course, are going to be unlikely to vote for Obama, but partial-birth abortion is such a repulsive procedure that even most pro-choice voters are prepared to make an exception, and ban it. An August, 2007 Pew Research survey found that 75% of Americans wanted it to be illegal--only 17% thought it should be legal. McCain's support for stem cell research, which is the major black mark against him for pro-life voters, is pretty minor compared to support for partial-birth abortion.

Here's a twofer: an area where he gets to upset not just smokers, but those who understand that the Constitution's division of powers between states and the federal government limits what the federal government can do:
Q: Over 400,000 Americans have premature death due to smoking or secondhand smoke. Would you be in favor of a national law to ban smoking in all public places?
A: I think that local communities are making enormous strides, and I think they're doing the right thing on this. If it turns out that we're not seeing enough progress at the local level, then I would favor a national law. I don't think we've seen the local laws play themselves out entirely, because I think you're seeing an enormous amount of progress in Chicago, in New York, in other major cities around the country. And because I think we have been treating this as a public health problem and educating the public on the dangers of secondhand smoke, that that pressure will continue. As I said, if we can't provide these kinds of protections at the local level, which would be my preference, I would be supportive of a national law.
Q: Have you been successful in stopping smoking?
A: I have. You know, the best cure is my wife.
Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate at Dartmouth College Sep 6, 2007
Fortunately, there's only one of Michelle Obama to go around. (I'll resist the urge to make a crude joke about this.)

Now, if I were going to just take a Machiavellian view, I would say, "Excellent! Obama will guarantee a McCain victory!" But as I have explained in the past, there are real dangers in taking this approach. We need the best candidate from each party, because you never know what craziness can happen--and there is a war on, you know.

Mercury, CFLs, Global Warming, Migraines, & Breast Cancer

Mercury, CFLs, Global Warming, Migraines, & Breast Cancer

What else can I drag into this seemingly implausible combination? I mentioned a couple of days ago in an posting about the connection between overillumination and breast cancer that some experts are concerned because compact fluorescent light bulbs are likely to actually aggravate the breast cancer issue relative to incandescents.

One of my readers told me that he had to remove the compact fluorescent bulbs from his home because they gave his wife migraine headaches--and when I searched for articles, I was surprised to find quite a bit of discussion of how the non-visible flicker associated with fluorescent bulbs seems to be related to migraine headaches.

Of course, compact fluorescents have mercury in them--and this article over at FoxNews points out that many of the environmentalists who are now pushing CFLs, just a few years ago, were warning how dangerous they were because of mercury--and now that the environmentalists have persuaded Congress and President Bush to sign a mandatory CFL law (phasing out incandescent bulbs by 2012)--they are asking the lawyers to start suing:

But the partnership is about to implode. As predictable as Lucy pulling away the football from a determinedly charging Charlie Brown, the environmentalists are preparing to turn the tables on the CFL businesses and consumers.

The signal came in a Feb. 17 New York Times editorial entitled "That Newfangled Light Bulb."

The editorial read, in part, "Across the world, consumers are being urged to … switch to [CFLs]. ... Now the question is how to dispose of [CFLs] once they break or quit working … each [CFL] has a tiny bit of a dangerous toxin … almost 300 million CFLs were sold in the U.S. last year. That is already a lot of mercury to throw in the trash and the amounts will grow ever larger in coming years … the dangers are real and growing."

The Times piece continued, "Businesses and government recyclers need to start working on more efficient ways to deal with that added mercury. Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is raising the cry about the moment when millions of these light bulbs start landing in landfills or incinerators all at once. The pig in the waste pipeline, she calls it."

Aside from the editorial’s implicit targeting instructions for eco-agitators and trial lawyers, I could only chuckle at the editorial’s nod to, and partial disclosure about, Silbergeld. For many years, she was a "senior scientist" with Environmental Defense who, before moving on to left-wing academia, excelled at fomenting dubious scares about "toxic" substances in the environment.

During Silbergeld’s days with Environmental Defense in the 1990s, the group’s pitch to the media was "when fluorescent bulbs are crushed, traces of mercury vaporize and enter the atmosphere. If the lamps are buried, the toxic element seeps into the soil."

Until the Times editorial, the activists and the media had been holding back their customary attacks against mercury-containing fluorescent light bulbs.

In lamenting the bulbs, Clean Water Action told the media in 1997, for example, that the mercury level in tuna is so high that a 35-pound child eating more than 2 ounces a week would exceed the EPA’s "safe" level.

But while CFL-mandating legislation was pending in Congress, the enviros did a temporary flip-flop: Environmental Defense began pooh-poohing mercury concerns stating, "In short, the exposure from breaking a CFL is in about the same range as the exposure from eating a can or two of tuna fish."

Two ounces of tuna used to be a horror, but in the name of CFLs, two cans became no problem.

Of course, the environmentalist about-face is because they decided that anthropogenic global warming (which may or may not be happening, and is likely not anthropogenic) is more important than mercury poisoning (which is very real).

One of these days, the environmentalist/ambulance chaser scam is going to become visible to the average American. I just hope that they haven't completely bankrupted the country paying for CFLs, the reduced productivity because of migraine headaches, treating hundreds of thousands of extra cases of breast cancer and caused massive mercury poisoning before that point is reached.

John Delling

John Delling

I've previously mentioned John Delling, who was being tried for multiple murders. From an Associated Press story in the February 21, 2008 Idaho Statesman:
BOISE, Idaho — A Boise man is mentally unfit to stand trial because his paranoid schizophrenia prevents him from helping his attorneys fight a first-degree murder charge, a court-appointed psychologist said.

John Delling, 21, is charged with killing two Idaho men and wounding another in Arizona during a 6,500-mile road trip across the West last spring.

Boise-based clinical psychologist Dr. Chad Sombke did a mental health evaluation requested by Delling's attorneys and made public at a hearing Wednesday.

Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Roger Bourne asked 4th District Judge Deborah Bail for time to have a different psychologist study the results of Delling's evaluation before deciding whether he wants to challenge the findings.

This other news story by Patrick Orr, also in the February 21, 2008 Idaho Statesman, goes into more detail:

During a jailhouse interview in June, Delling told the Statesman that he was possessed and had no control over his body. He also said he had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. After his arrest, Delling's family sent a letter to the Statesman, saying, "John was very sick and needed more than this system had to offer."

Former neighbors and friends also said Delling had shown signs of mental illness for years. Those close to Delling have said he often talked about people stealing his "aura" and "powers."

All accounts that I have read suggest that Delling's parents made attempts to get psychiatric help for him in high school, and were unsuccessful. Again, it isn't clear how much of this problem can be laid at the feet of deinstitutionalization, and how much is the result of failure of the system to appreciate how troubled he was.

Another Tragedy

From the February 22, 2008 Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review:
Bryan Kim, the mentally ill teenager convicted by a Spokane jury last month of murdering his parents, will spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Before his sentencing Thursday by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen, Kim rose and asked for the 44-year sentence his public defender had proposed as an alternative to life behind bars – a request Eitzen denied.

Katherine Dillman, Kim’s maternal aunt, asked in her letter for mercy for her nephew. She criticized the Spokane County prosecutor’s office for not accepting a plea bargain that would have kept Kim out of prison, and she criticized her dead sister as a “very controlling individual” who charged Bryan for rent, food and his medicine for bipolar disease.
M. Rose Stowell, another maternal aunt, lashed out at the jury for seeming to ignore Kim’s “documented history of mental illness.”
“This is a young man who fell through the cracks, did not receive proper treatment or diagnosis, causing him to spiral out of control,” she wrote. Stowell asked Eitzen to place her nephew in a safe environment with treatment and consistent medication.
I'm not sure that this qualifies as a deinstitutionalization failure; there isn't enough information to say for sure, one way or the other. But I find myself wondering how long Kim's parents had been struggling with an out of control kid.

Idaho Press-Tribune Published My Piece

Idaho Press-Tribune Published My Piece

about deinstitutionalization's failure. Read it here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


The first part of the story is worrisome--but I could almost believe his claim that he hollowed out this book to hide money and drugs. From the February 20, 2008 Pinellas County, Florida Suncoast News:
TAMPA - A 21-year-old Clearwater man was arrested at Tampa International Airport this weekend after security personnel found a box cutter in a hollowed-out book, authorities said.

About 7:30 a.m. Sunday, airport security ran Benjamin Baines Jr.'s backpack through an X-ray machine and saw the image of a box cutter, according to a report from the Transportation Security Administration.
When searching the backpack, a security officer found a book titled "Fear Itself." The book was hollowed out, and the box cutter was inside.
After Baines was read his rights, he said his cousin had cut away the pages to make the hollow section in the book. Later, reports state, he said he had hollowed it out himself to hide money and marijuana from his roommates.
Baines told officers he was moving to Las Vegas and forgot the cutter was in the book.
The other books that Baines had with him were...interesting:
Officers found books in the backpack titled "Muhammad in the Bible," "The Prophet's Prayer" and "The Noble Qur'an." He also had a copy of the Quran and the Bible.
What are the odds that this guy wasn't engaged in some sort of dry run to see how good TSA is?

Bright Meteor

Idaho Air National Guard surveillance video of the incoming meteor--very impressive!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sexual Abuse & Adult Homosexuality

There's a surprising number of journal articles about this subject. The abstracts alone are pretty telling. Lynda S. Doll, "Self-Reported Childhood and Adolescent Sexual Abuse among Adult Homosexual and Bisexual Men," Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, v16 n6 p855-64 Nov-Dec 1992:
This study of 1,001 adult homosexual and bisexual men found that 37% reported they had been encouraged or forced to have sexual contact with an older or more powerful partner before age 19. Median age at first contact was 10. Ninety-three percent of participants reporting early sexual contact were classified as sexually abused.
Median age at first contact was 10?

Beitchman JH, Zucker KJ, Hood JE, daCosta GA, Akman D, Cassavia E., "A review of the long-term effects of child sexual abuse," Child Abuse Negl. 1992;16(1):101-18:

Adult women with a history of childhood sexual abuse show greater evidence of sexual disturbance or dysfunction, homosexual experiences in adolescence or adulthood, depression, and are more likely than nonabused women to be revictimized.
By the same authors: "A review of the short-term effects of child sexual abuse," Child Abuse Negl. 1991;15(4):537-56:
This is the first of a two-part report that critically evaluates empirical studies on the short- and long-term effects of child sexual abuse. With the exception of sexualized behavior, the majority of short-term effects noted in the literature are symptoms that characterize child clinical samples in general. Among adolescents, commonly reported sequelae include sexual dissatisfaction, promiscuity, homosexuality, and an increased risk for revictimization.

Here's an article that isn't specifically addressing homosexuality, but that is the major risk factor in the U.S. for HIV--which is what this study examines. S Zierler, L Feingold, D Laufer, P Velentgas, I Kantrowitz-Gordon and K Mayer, " Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and subsequent risk of HIV infection," American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 81, Issue 5 572-575:
METHODS: In an adult cohort enrolled to investigate causes of transmission of human immunodeficiency virus, we identified current behaviors affecting risk of infection that were associated with a history of early sexual abuse. One hundred and eighty-six individuals provided information on the occurrence of abuse and subsequent sexual and drug using activities. RESULTS: Approximately half of the women and one-fifth of the men reported a history of rape during childhood or adulthood. Twenty-eight percent of the women and 15 percent of the men recalled that they had been sexually assaulted during childhood. People who reported childhood rape compared with people who did not were four times more likely to be working as prostitutes (90 percent confidence interval = 2.0, 8.0). Women were nearly three times more likely to become pregnant before the age of 18 (90% CI = 1.6, 4.1). Men who reported a history of sexual abuse had a twofold increase in prevalence of HIV infection relative to unabused men (90% CI = 1.0, 3.9). CONCLUSIONS: The disturbing prevalence of early sexual abuse and its possible health-related consequences call for prompt and routine investigation of sexual abuse histories. Identification of sexual victimization may be an important component for management of risk factors for human immunodeficiency virus.
You would think that it might have been interesting to ask if there was some connection between childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual orientation.

Here's another study examining childhood sexual abuse and HIV status among homosexual and bisexual men. Samuel Jinich and Thomas J. Coates, Jay P. Paul, Ron Stall, Michael Acree, Susan Kegeles, Colleen Hoff, "Childhood Sexual Abuse and HIV Risk-Taking Behavior Among Gay and Bisexual Men," AIDS and Behavior, Volume 2, Number 1 / March, 1998. The abstract:
We explored the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse among adult gay and bisexual men and measured the association between childhood sexual abuse and high-risk sexual behavior in adulthood. Two separate population-based samples of gay and bisexual men (n = 1,941) residing in Portland and Tucson were surveyed. Over one quarter reported a history of childhood sexual abuse (sexual behavior with someone at least 5 years older prior to age 13, or with someone at least 10 years older when between ages 13 and 15). Men who were abused were more likely to engage in sexual risk behavior than men who were not abused (e.g., unprotected anal intercourse with non-primary partners in the previous 12 months: 21.4% vs. 15.0%, p < .001). Perception of having been coerced was associated with greater sexual risk. Furthermore, childhood sexual abuse and level of coercion were associated with reported levels of HIV infection among gay and bisexual men.
Hmmm. More than one-quarter of gay men reported that they had been sexually abused? That's almost three times the rates of sexual abuse among men in the general population. Isn't anyone noticing what might be an obvious connection here?

And there are lots of other articles out there, again ignoring the elephant in the bathtub--the high rates of childhood sexual abuse among adult gay men.

UPDATE: Just to clarify: these studies suggest that adult homosexuals were disproportionately victims of child sexual abuse--not the other way around.

If South Africa Were Still A Whites-Only Government

I would assume that this tragic news story was propaganda put out to make black African governments look like incompetent fools. From the February 18, 2008 Lagos [Nigeria] Daily Champion:
Tragedy may even be inadequate to describe the killing of 17 innocent Nigerians during a routine military exercise by the army at the shooting range in Ibadan recently.
For the uninitiated, the shooting range exercises are simply training or practice exercises by the military to perfect their ability for precision target shooting.
This exercise is carried out routinely at designated training locations. It is an exercise targeted at achieving combat-readiness and takes place in locations where human beings are not residing. But the exercise in Ibadan resulted in the killing of 17 citizens in their homes in the Oyo State capital. "We saw bullet holes in our houses and on our roof tops", the villagers told reporters in Ibadan recently.
The development leaves a number of questions still unanswered. In the first place, why was the location so near to residential houses? Why did the army not take into consideration the killing range of the rifles used in the exercise? How was the army in Ibadan been doing it before now? And what led to the sudden change of location or strategy that brought about the killings that occurred?
If this is an "accident," what would constitute an intentional action of murder?

One of the arguments that gun control supporters often raise is that civilians just aren't highly enough trained to be trusted with guns. If this was an accident, it sounds like the Nigerian Army isn't highly enough trained, either.

Yes, There Was A Lunar Eclipse Tonight

Yes, There Was A Lunar Eclipse Tonight

and no, there won't be any pictures. We had high thin clouds here--it just ruined all the pictures I took.

Breast Cancer & Dark Skies

I'm always a bit skeptical of correlations that fit with what I want, and I'm skeptical of this one as well--but there is at least a plausible causal connection here, and because I am an amateur astronomer, I'm not going to spend a long time looking this gift horse in the mouth. (Several years ago, the Idaho Statesman published a piece by me about the importance of dark skies.) From the February 20, 2008 Washington Post:
Women who live in neighborhoods with large amounts of nighttime illumination are more likely to get breast cancer than those who live in areas where nocturnal darkness prevails, according to an unusual study that overlaid satellite images of Earth onto cancer registries.
The finding adds credence to the hypothesis that exposure to too much light at night can raise the risk of breast cancer by interfering with the brain's production of a tumor-suppressing hormone.
"By no means are we saying that light at night is the only or the major risk factor for breast cancer," said Itai Kloog, of the University of Haifa in Israel, who led the new work. "But we found a clear and strong correlation that should be taken into consideration."
Scientists have known for years that rats raised in cages where lights are left on for much of the night have higher cancer rates than those allowed to sleep in darkness. And epidemiological studies of nurses, flight attendants and others who work at night have found breast cancer rates 60 percent above normal, even when other factors such as differences in diet are accounted for.
On the basis of such studies, an arm of the World Health Organization announced in December its decision to classify shift work as a "probable carcinogen." That put the night shift in the same health-risk category as exposure to such toxic chemicals as trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The team then overlaid that map with local statistics on cases of breast cancer and, for comparison, lung cancer, which is caused mostly by smoking and so would not be expected to be linked to light.
After using neighborhood data to correct for other factors that can affect cancer rates, including wealth, ethnicity and the average number of children in families living in those localities, the researchers found no link between night lighting and lung cancer, they report in this week's online issue of the journal Chronobiology International.
But the researchers found the breast cancer rate in localities with average night lighting to be 37 percent higher than in communities with the lowest amount of light; and they noted that the rate was higher by an additional 27 percent in areas with the highest amount of light.

That matter of the compact fluorescents is especially interesting and worrisome.

Like I said, there are all sorts of other possible reasons for this correlation. Perhaps women that live in big cities, with lots of night illumination, and big city values, are more likely to smoke.

There have been some studies that suggest a link between abortion and cancer, although the National Cancer Institute says that the most recent and best done studies do not show the link. Here's a study from the New England Journal of Medicine which "370,715 induced abortions among 280,965 women" and "10,246 women with breast cancer" from Danish records, and found no correlation.

This 1994 study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, on the other hand, did find a correlation:

Highest risks were observed when the abortion was done at ages younger than 18 years—particularly if it took place after 8 weeks' gestation—or at 30 years of age or older. No increased risk of breast cancer was associated with a spontaneous abortion (RR = 0.9; 95% CI = 0.7-1.2).
Similarly, this 1996 article from Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reviewed existing studies, and concluded:
Although the increase in risk was relatively low, the high incidence of both breast cancer and induced abortion suggest a substantial impact of thousands of excess cases per year currently, and a potentially much greater impact in the next century, as the first cohort of women exposed to legal induced abortion continues to age.
This 2004 article in Cancer Causes and Control found no correlation, but I notice that it looked at both induced and spontaneous abortions--and that Journal of the National Cancer Institute study that found a correlation with induced abortions didn't find it with spontaneous abortions. It is conceivable that the correlation is weak enough that combining spontaneous abortions might wash out the results of induced abortions.

I don't find a link between abortion and breast cancer implausible (there's a lot of hormonal consequences to pregnancy, and an abortion would certainly affect hormonal activity), but considering the number of variables that are correlated with abortion, I can see how even if such a connection exists, it would be very difficult to definitively prove or disprove.

Feeling Especially Stupid This Morning

Feeling Especially Stupid This Morning

I finished mounting the dovetail plate on Big Bertha 2.0 yesterday, and did a sufficiently slapdash job on it that I decided to replace that one square aluminum tube with one with a 1/8" wall. This way it will be stiffer, and I can do a more precise job drilling the holes because it won't be attached to the rest of the telescope when I drill them.

Then, I decided to go ahead and put Big Bertha 2.0 on the CI-700 mount, which is the only one that I have with the weight rating for a 50 pound telescope. This soon led to a minor disaster for the following reasons:

1. A German equatorial mount is a balancing act. The counterweight shaft for a 50 pound telescope has to have 50 pounds of weights on it, or at least close to it. That means that when the telescope isn't on the mount, it is intrinsically unstable.

2. I had not removed an extension from the tripod that put the equatorial mount head twelve inches higher than it needed to be. Partly I didn't do this because it would have required me to drill two holes in the tripod to mount some of the CI-700 mount's electronics on it, and I was in a bit of a hurry.

3. I neglected to lock down the casters under the tripod before trying to mount the telescope, and so it was a little too willing to roll.

The net result was that when my wife and I tried to put Big Bertha 2.0 into the dovetail slot on the mount, the mount (but not the telescope) fell over, landing on the counterweight shaft, and narrowly missing the 5" refractor that I had just taken off this mount.

The head of most equatorial mounts (including the CI-700) are positioned in between two verticals, held in position by a bolt that squeezes the verticals tightly against the head. It isn't a great picture, but you can sort of see this (especially if you know what you are supposed to be seeing from the description above):

Click to enlarge

In the case of the CI-700, there is also a latitude adjuster bolt that goes in between the bolt and the verticals, and makes it easy to adjust the mount for your latitude. The latitude adjuster bolt moves a cylinder back and forth that presses against two sets of "ears" on the under side of the head. Here you can see the latitude adjuster bolt, and the cylinder that moves back and forth against those ears.

Click to enlarge

The counterweight shaft had enough force against it to break most the ears (the lobes?) off the under side of the head, and bend the latitude adjuster bolt. Here are the broken pieces of aluminum that were the ears:

Click to enlarge

The ears are an integral part of the head; replacing the head would cost many hundreds of dollars--if parts were available, which they aren't. It might be possible to have them welded back in position, although I am afraid of what that might cost. I'm quite sure that epoxy wouldn't have the strength for this bond.

The latitude adjuster bolt is a 3/8"-16 thread. I'm thinking of buying a bolt of the right length, turning down the end that isn't threaded, and then making a larger cylinder--large enough that it will work against the parts of the ears that weren't broken off. This means that the hole that I have to tap in it will be offset, instead of centered.

Any suggestions or hints for alternative strategies?