Saturday, July 30, 2016

Guns, Violence, and Statistics

Many people jump up and down whenever the topic of guns, gun violence, or gun control is brought up. Personally, I have to believe that our Founding Father’s believe that a well armed population is the best counter balance to a corrupt government. For as Thomas Jefferson once stated, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” In actuality, when people think of the causes of the American War for Independence, they think of slogans like “no taxation without representation” or a cause célèbre like the Boston Tea Party. In reality, what finally forced the colonials into a shooting war with the British Army in April 1775 was not taxes or even warrant-less searches of homes and their occupation by soldiers, but one of many attempts by the British to disarm Americans as part of an overall gun control program, which included seizure of firearms and powered. So, for this very reason it is understandable why the Founding Fathers made the 2nd Amendment, the second most important in our Constitution. But aside from that, we have to take the emotion out of the discussion of guns and actually look at facts, and being an engineer, I like dissecting numbers and statistics, so this is what this article will do, bit by bit.

OK, here are the fact: There are 30,000 gun related deaths per year by firearms. That is not disputed as a fact of American life, sadly.

What is never shown or talked about though, is a breakdown of those deaths to put them in perspective; as compared to other causes of death.

• 65% of those deaths are by suicide which would never be prevented by gun laws
• 15% are by law enforcement in the line of duty and justified
• 17% are through criminal activity, gang and drug related or mentally ill persons
• 3% are accidental discharge deaths

So technically, "gun violence" is not 30,000 annually but drops to 5,100. Still too many!! So let’s see how are those deaths spanned across the nation?

• 480 homicides (9.4%) were in Chicago
• 344 homicides (6.7%) were in Baltimore
• 333 homicides (6.5%) were in Detroit
• 119 homicides (2.3%) were in Washington DC (a 54% increase over prior years)

So basically, 25% of all gun crime happens in just 4 cities. All 4 of those cities have strict gun laws so it is not the lack of the rule of law that is the root cause. Maybe it is gang violence and the lack of the historic family unit with a father and a mother, or poor schools, or lack of job opportunities? Whatever the root cause, we are left with 3,825 deaths caused by guns in the rest of the Nation, or about 75 deaths per State.

That is an average number because some States have much higher rates than others. For example, California had 1,169. Alabama had 1. Putting this in quantitative amounts, California alone accounts for 25% of the gun deaths alone. So, with the four cities and California you now have 50% of the gun deaths in the US.

Now, which State has the strictest gun laws by far? California of course but understand, it is not the tool (guns) driving this. It is a crime rate spawned by the number of criminal persons residing in those cities and States.

So if all cities and states are not created equal, then there must be something other than the tool causing the gun deaths.

Are 5,100 deaths per year horrific? Absolutely, but how do they compare with other known causes of death?

All death is sad and especially so when it is in the commission of a crime but that is the nature of crime. Robbery, death, rape, assault; all are done by criminals to victims and thinking that criminals will obey laws is ludicrous. We are not here to debate the reason why they are criminals, but just realize without some major intervention that criminals will behave as criminals do, and often violently. That is why they are criminals.

But what of other causes of death? Remember total gun deaths is 30,000/year, and it has been shown that it is really 5,100.

• 40,000+ die from a drug overdose – THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR THAT!
• 36,000 people die per year from the flu, far exceeding the criminal gun deaths
• 34,000 people die per year in traffic fatalities (exceeding gun deaths even if you include suicide)

Now let us look at the really big numbers of deaths caused by preventable actions:

• 200,000+ people die each year (and growing) from preventable medical malpractice. So in actuality, you are safer statistically in Chicago than with dealing with a doctor!
• 710,000 people die per year from heart disease. Time to stop the cheeseburgers!

So what is the point of stating these statistical facts? It is simple. If the people who focus their attention on banning guns were to instead focus on heart disease, even a 10% decrease would save twice as many lives annually over of all gun related deaths (including suicide, law enforcement, etc.). In addition, a 10% reduction in malpractice from doctors would be 66% (20,000 lives) of the total gun deaths or 4 times the number of criminal homicides. It seems relatively easy to achieve a 10% reduction in these two preventable causes of deaths, so where is the outcry?

So you have to ask yourself, in the grand scheme of things, why is there such a focus on guns? Our Founding Fathers realized that freedom is a messy and risky endeavor. They also understood Government that governs least, governs best. Many aspects of life in a free society can lead to harm or misfortune or death for some people. Driving kills. Smoking kills. Bad diet kills. Drugs Kill. Sports and recreation kill. Travel kills. Living kills. Bottom line, living is a risk filled business.

The core element of any objective to “eliminate” ALL such bad outcomes is to increase control over many, most and eventually all aspects of life. Of course, this does not mean that measures should not be taken, largely in education, to make activities and elements of life pragmatically safe. Look at the wonderful success of the anti-smoking campaign that removed millions of people from even ever starting. But "common sense" approaches cannot be equated to the perspective of those who only seek to eliminate freedoms that are (1) widely accepted by large portions of the or (2) established as points of law.

It is pretty simple. Taking away freedoms under the excuse of taking care of people gives control to governments, which leads directly to tyranny. This is not conspiracy theory; this is a historical fact. Why have we not understood this for so long? Tell me again why is it impossible for any Government not to spill over into dictatorship? The Founders of this great Nation knew that regardless of the form of government, those in power may become corrupt and seek to rule as the British did. As Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

They colonial British tried to disarm the populace of the colonies because it is not difficult to understand; a disarmed populace is a controlled populace. Thus, the Second Amendment was proudly and boldly included in the Constitution, representing and protecting all the other freedoms. It must be preserved at all costs not because it is sacred, but because it is statistically sane. Again, our Forefathers, while not perfect, were incredibly prescient.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Never Give Up

Chester Carlson? Whenever I think an idea or project will not make it, I think of Chester Carlson. Most people do not know who this person is, but he came up with the second greatest invention of the last 500 years (after the printing press); xerography; and he was not even a engineer. There should be a movie made of this guy: grew up dirt poor, lost his parents at a young age; worked his way through college, earning a degree in physics, and law school; invented xerography.

Anyway, the reason I mention Chester Carlson is that even though he thought up xerography and demonstrated it at the Astoria hotel in 1938, the first copy machine (made by the Haloid Corporation who changed it name to Xerox) was not made until 1958! Twenty years later. During that time, there were many set backs, but Mr. Carlson believed that being able to print without water would be a “disruptive” technology, so he never gave up. There were many nay-sayers.

Mr. Carlson got the kernel of an idea while at work as a patent attorney. He noted that there never seemed to be enough carbon copies of patent specifications, and there seemed to be no quick or practical way of getting more. The choices were limited to sending for expensive photo copies, or having the documents retyped and then reread for errors. A thought occurred to him: Offices might benefit from a device that would accept a document and make copies of it in seconds. For many months Carlson spent his evenings at the New York Public Library reading all he could about imaging processes. During that time, Carlson read an article about the little-known field of photoconductivity, specifically the findings of Hungarian physicist Paul Selenyi, who was experimenting with electrostatic images. He learned that when light strikes a photoconductive material, the electrical conductivity of that material is increased. Frustrated by a lack of time, and suffering from painful attacks of arthritis, Carlson decided to dip into his meager resources to pursue his research on his own, setting up a small lab in nearby Astoria and hiring an unemployed young physicist, a German refugee named Otto Kornei, to help with the lab work. It was here, in a rented second-floor room above a bar, where xerography was invented. Otto took a glass microscope slide and printed on it in India ink the notation '10-22-38 ASTORIA.'

Incredibly, Carlson was quite alone in his work, and in his belief that xerography was of practical value to anyone. Following this first demonstration of xerography, Mr. Carlson searched for years in a fruitless quest for a company that would develop his invention into a useful product, and was turned down by over twenty companies, including IBM, GE, and Honeywell, during that time.

Incredibly, no one could believe that a tiny glass plate and rough image held the key to a tremendous new industry. During these painfully long years, Mr. Carlson became discouraged and several times decided to drop the idea completely. Still, he could not abandon this disruptive technology and he stayed thoroughly convinced that the invention was too promising to be left on the scrap heap of history.

Finally, in 1944, Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit research organization signed a royalty-sharing contract with Carlson. In 1947, Battelle teamed with a small photo-paper company called Haloid (later to be known as Xerox) to develop a xerographic machine.

It was not until 1959, twenty-one years after Carlson invented xerography, that the first convenient office copier using xerography was unveiled. The 914 copier could make copies quickly at the touch of a button on plain paper. It was a phenomenal success. Today, xerography is a foundation stone of a gigantic worldwide copying industry, including Xerox and other corporations which make and market copiers and duplicators producing billions and billions of copies a year.

So, bottom line: It may take a long time, but if you KNOW something is worth pursuing, NEVER give up! Chester Carlson never did. As a footnote, Mr. Carlson made 1/1000th a cent per copy as a royalty, and when he died, he was estimated to be worth $266 million.