Monthly Archives: March 2018

Guns and Natural Selection

Recent school shootings have brought into public debate the wisdom of widespread gun ownership and the failure of American gun laws to prevent such tragedies. Let me make clear that I consider such shootings of innocent children terrible tragedies that could have been prevented if America had stronger gun laws. The experiences of other industrialized countries like England, Sweden, Australia, etc. have proven that beyond doubt. I am angered and saddened by such events. However, the movement to ban assault weapons or impose other restrictive gun laws is doomed to failure, in my opinion. Even so, not all is bad news in that arena. People advocating for stronger gun laws or who hate the National Rifle Association (NRA) can take solace in some seldom-considered facts.

First, as to why I think reform (if that’s the right word) of gun laws is doomed to failure, it can be summed up in three words: The Second Amendment. I happen to think the Second Amendment is bad policy and I would vote to repeal it if I had the chance, but I see no chance of that happening. It is worthwhile to consider why we have the right to bear arms embedded in our most fundamental legal document. It is because the British banned the American colonists from having guns. They did this so that they could dominate “us” Americans (our forefathers at least). They housed their armed soldiers in our houses and took our food. They taxed us without representation. They were an oppressive national government. The colonists wanted to make sure that never happened again, that they could take up arms – military quality arms – to rebel against an oppressive national government. Banning assault weapons goes directly against the very purpose the Second Amendment was created. The gun rights people have prevailed in the courts too often for me to believe meaningful change can happen. I think Britain has failed to recognize its part in creating this mass shooting problem. British tyranny was largely responsible by motivating the Second Amendment.

So what is the good news for those opposed to gun violence? Like it or not, widespread gun ownership is an instrument of natural selection.  Of course tragedies like Parkland and Columbine catch the headlines, but the fact is that personally owned guns are three times more likely to kill their owners or close family members than they are burglars or other criminals threatening the owner of his family. I believe the large majority of gun owners are responsible people. I carried a gun for 25 years while I was in the FBI because it was a tool of my trade. I have no problem with hunters or recreational shooters, although I never saw the appeal in either. Let’s face it, though – some gun owners, a minority, are irresponsible, or even outright criminals. What research has proven is that this segment is relatively efficient at removing their contribution to the gene pool by killing themselves, their family, or others like themselves, i.e. idiots and thugs.

Take a look at the statistics. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) did a study in 2010 of cause of death from guns in the U.S. and published the results. The NRA promptly got Congress to pass a law prohibiting them from doing it again. But what it showed was very informative. It was also consistent with another study from Time magazine. I remember reading a special issue many years ago (1990s or 2000s) where Time described every single gun death in the U.S. for one week. Per the CDC, 62% of gun deaths were suicide. Yes, suicide, and by a large majority. Most in the Time case study were elderly people who were either suffering from a painful and fatal disease or who had just lost a beloved spouse. This says a lot about our health care system and its lack of a humane, painless way for us to exit the world when our time has come. Gun law reformers would be advised to change the laws about euthanasia and doctor’s obligations so that we all know for certain that we have an easy way out. Opposition to gun law reform would diminish significantly, in my opinion. Teens going through the normal hormonal rages and depressions were also numerous. Those are more tragic, but the natural selection aspect is undeniable.

The next largest category of gun deaths is accidents. The most common type according to the CDC was juveniles playing with their parents’ weapons, especially older brothers killing younger siblings. Of course that’s tragic, too, but the grim reality is that the idiot parent, by failing to secure the weapon, has reduced his or her contribution to the gene pool. I’m not trying to be funny. Most of us can see the dark humor, or at least some justice, in the Darwin Awards where some fool kills himself through his own stupidity or criminal behavior. The death of an innocent child like in these cases is no laughing matter, but from an evolutionary standpoint, the effect is almost the same: fewer idiot genes in the next generation. The same is true where an intruder steals the owner’s gun and shoots him with it, something that is more common than the other way around, I believe, although I couldn’t find hard stats on that.  Most homicides were also within the family, usually between spouses or lovers. Other homicides are often criminals (e.g. gang bangers) or drunken low-lifes shooting others of their ilk, or police shooting criminals. Sure there are racist cops and some of the Black Lives Matter shootings were not justified, but the vast majority of police shootings, regardless of the color of the person shot (not necessarily a “victim”), are justified. I know this from personal experience investigating civil rights cases. Even when unarmed, the decedent was often engaged in unlawful behavior such as fleeing in a vehicle at high speed while drunk or on drugs, thus putting the general public at significant risk of death or serious bodily injury. Whether the shooting is legally or morally justified or not, the gene pool is better off without these members in all these cases.

The remaining cases – those where someone with a gun intentionally kills totally innocent unrelated others – are actually very rare, at least in comparison to the types of gun deaths just described. The randomness of those killings and the sense of unfairness add to the feeling of tragedy and to our malaise, so my words may not provide much solace but it is something to consider. I put most gun deaths (not the Parklands and Columbines) in the same category as smokers, drivers who don’t wear seat belts, or motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets. You made your choice and now you and your passenger, or your child who breathes the second-hand smoke, die by that choice. So be it. It’s natural selection. Go ahead, buy a gun. Make my day.

Origin by Dan Brown

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This comic book for adults is vintage Dan Brown. I don’t usually check out other reviews before writing mine, but I couldn’t help noticing that they mostly started with something along the lines that Brown can’t write worth beans but the book is entertaining. I agree he can’t write well, but I did not find the book entertaining. I read it only because my book club chose it. I thought The DaVinci Code was mildly entertaining, but I only read that years ago because it was used as the key to a puzzle I was trying to solve. I’m a big cryptology hobbyist, so maybe that made it seem interesting. Then I read Digital Fortress, his first book, and that was so bad I swore I’d never read another. That was maybe 15 years ago. Finally, my book club forced me to break that vow.

Brown’s idea of suspense is to tell you that so-and-so read/saw/heard something astounding and reacted with wonder/horror/awe but doesn’t tell you what it is. Person A whispers to person B, whose jaw drops in astonishment. A video is being presented but just as the big reveal is starting, the computer system goes blank. You get the idea. 400 pages later you finally find out what all the fuss is about. The 400 pages are populated by various nefarious characters who are trying to suppress the great revelation and maybe kill our hero, Robert Langdon who is being chased most of the time, of course accompanied by a beautiful woman.

Interestingly, I recently compared two maps of the U.S. on a state-by-state basis. One is the popularity of conspiracy thrillers like Dan Brown’s books (map provided by and one of Donald Trump’s approval rating (Gallup). Although not identical, they are strikingly similar, i.e. people who like conspiracy books like the Donald. Make of it what you will.

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Rules of Civility by Amor towles

Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Katey, the central character, is a secretary in 1937 New York. Intelligent, witty, and good-looking, she blends into the smart set despite her humble beginnings. A dashing banker named Tinker Grey catches her fancy, an attraction that seems reciprocated, but Katey’s close friend has her eye on him, too. The plot explores the often complex relationships between girlfriends, lovers, and the highly stratified classes of that time and place. The vivid pictures of the era are captivating and the life lessons worth heeding, but ultimately the joy of this book is the astoundingly delightful dialog.

Towles is more than a good writer; he is superb. The characters banter with a wit we would all want to possess. (He wouldn’t stoop to such clumsy alliteration, either). Wit is often paired with intelligence, but rarely with good cheer. Too often it is barbed. Somehow this author manages to dispense with meanness in the repartee. The characters all seem to be having fun the entire time and this constant delight rubbed off on me as I made my way through what at first seemed a rather slow-moving story. An additional plus is that they all to one extent or another were likeable, notwithstanding some rather unlikable behavior from time to time. They all display the titular civility that characterized that societal strata. Such a refreshing thing that is, too.

Stripped of its wittiness and lush metaphors and descriptions, the plot is not so original. I could name one or two similar stories, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. Still, it is rare for a book to grow so much on me. I could easily stretch this to five stars were it not for the fact I think much of its value, its sheer erudition, will be lost on the average reader or even some above-average readers. I know that sounds rather conceited, but as a novelist I know fine craftsmanship when I see it. I listened to it in audiobook form and the reader, Rebecca Lowman, was outstanding.

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Our Ignorant Newsies – radio edition

My wife heard a couple of gems recently. The reporter said that the interviewee was “of the green eye shadow class – an accountant.” Do all accountants wear green eye shadow now? I think she meant green eyeshade, but maybe I’m being a sexist. I’m sure there are some accountants who wear green eye shadow. Some of them probably aren’t female, for that matter, but I doubt those subtleties were understood by the reporter. I think green eyeshades for accountants went out with men’s sleeve garters, too.

The other one was a different radio reporter who was interviewing someone named Ena. He began by greeting him, “Hi, Ena.” Say it out loud. Maybe he was trying to be funny.

Yet another faux pas that several reporters and anchors repeat is calling recent storms “potential dangers” to burned out areas. They aren’t potential dangers, they are actual dangers. This sometimes comes in the form of “potential risks.” They are actual risks that have the potential for harm. “Potential danger” is like saying a coin flip has a potential 50-50 chance of being heads. It’s an actual 50-50 chance.

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

In a Lonely PlaceIn a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story is told through the eyes and mind of a serial killer. This book is often hailed as a pioneer in that genre of mystery and an influence on other writers. It was written in 1947 and that’s the setting as well. It has the appeal of a museum – giving the curious reader a glimpse into a different place and time. Unlike modern novels set in the past, this one doesn’t have to imagine life as it was, so it is more authentic. I’m old enough to remember some of it – the drinking and smoking by my parents, for example, and wearing suits or dinner jackets to go out, rather than jeans and T-shirts. I found that aspect entertaining in a nostalgic sort of way.

The only character that is really developed, however, is the narrator and killer, Dix. The author’s representation of his mindset is not what I’d call credible, but it is plausible. Her guess as to a serial killer’s tortured thinking is as valid as mine or yours, I would say. However, I found the other characters woefully undeveloped and the plot line not plausible. As a retired FBI agent, I am always bothered by novels (and movies and TV) that portray law enforcement in unbelievable ways. This book fits in that category. Still, the book is all about the psychology of Dix; it’s not intended as a police procedural.

There were a few stylistic oddities that grated at times, sometimes seeming pretentious, and other times, well, just klunky. For example, the repeated use of archaic words such as slattern and megrims, the use of the nominative case in similes (“as normal as I”), and the use of the word “like” as an adjective (“…drove a like car”). These cannot be chalked up to the writing style of the times. I’ve read Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain. Their writing was better and certainly free of these peculiar choices.

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What3words Name Game

What3Words is a company that provides a unique service. It has named every spot (3 meters square) on the globe using a set of three words. The intent is to provide a way of identifying locations, especially those without normal addresses, such as rural areas or ocean waypoints, with a unique identifier that is easier to remember than a set of coordinates. Click on the above link and enter a specific location, e.g. coordinates, address, or name into the search box, then click on the magnifying glass. The page will return a three-word “address” at the bottom of the page. The identifiers are randomly assigned. You can also search the opposite way. Enter three words, separated by periods, into the box and if all three words are in their database, the map will send you to the corresponding location. It has many uses, but I have devised my own: finding interesting or amusing word combinations that are oddly appropriate to the location, or perhaps ironic or even totally inappropriate. I will provide a few below, but I encourage you to add as a comment any surprising or entertaining combinations you find. Note that a location such as a building may have many combinations that apply to it, since if you move three meters (about 10 feet) any direction you’re in a different square. Feel free to change the punctuation or spacing to improve the result.


continental.united.states = a spot in Wyoming. The chance of it being anywhere in the continental U.S. is only about 1.5%, but this spot is only about 500 miles from the geographic center of the continental United States (about a 4/10 of 1% chance).

enjoyable.civic.impact = Apple HQ in Cupertino, CA

jumpy? float? bump!, next loss: couple = Golden Gate Bridge (famous for its many suicide jumpers)

Petty, vast knots, stays same really = the U.S. Capitol Bldg.

Hill.Opera.debit = War Memorial Opera House (on a hill in San Francisco and still being paid for)

National.wildlife.refuge = a spot in E. Angola proposed for Mussuma National Park, to be joined with Liuwa National Park, a wildlife Refuge in Zambia 20 mi. away.

speeds.spoke.moves = The London Eye

prosecuted, spells restraints = San Quentin Prison

The White House has many, some to satisfy every political view:
regime: enjoyable income
Guilty! Mental! Reduce
poster saying “Cheat!”
answer? obey, agreed (middle of the west wing)
comb.backed.bucket ( ” )
square.oath.melt (Oval Office)

lowest.level.since = middle of Washington D.C.

deep.ocean.trench = middle of nowhere near Great Falls, Montana at 3600 ft. elevation

grow.fats.tour = Graceland Mansion, Memphis, Tennessee live in Wheaton, Ill. but you may be surprised to learn that the public.broadcasting.service is in a remote area of Queensland, Australia, National.Public.Radio is in Kosovo, and the is hiding out in a field in Barton, Ark.

W3W says that Sweden has rapid.economic.growth while Norway has


It turns out the word trump is one of the valid W3W words, so you can do a lot with that. live in northeast Alaska, but then so do people.against.trump. Others may think but unfortunately the country is China (near Anhui).

Please add your own in the comments (if they’re entertaining).

I have a tool that will return up to 100 word combos for a location, such as your house or office. If you would like me to send you a list for a location of interest to you, contact me through the Contact link in the top menu and provide me with the address or other information sufficient for me to find it on a map and I will send you a list. Please refer to this post, since I get contacts about other unrelated posts.