Archive | December 2013

Seven Round Limit

I noticed, Federal Judge Upholds Majority of New York Gun Law in today’s NY Times:

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that New York’s expanded ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines was constitutional, but struck down a provision forbidding gun owners from loading their firearms with more than seven rounds.

The judge, William M. Skretny of Federal District Court in Buffalo, called the seven-round limit “an arbitrary restriction” that violated the Second Amendment.

But Judge Skretny said the greater restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were constitutional because they served to “further the state’s important interest in public safety.”

In the comments, gun rights and gun control types are going at it over this seven round limit. A few weeks ago I would have been firmly on the gun control side, but since reading Guns for Good Guys, Guns for Bad Guys, I’m wondering if it really matters either way.

Most people shoot guns for fun, and the seven round limit won’t matter much at the range. When a shooter is trying to shoot someone, stats say it is usually themselves, so they don’t need too many rounds for that. If they aren’t a middle-aged white male trying to shoot themselves, stats say they are probably a black gang member or drug dealer shooting some other black person in their own neighborhood. I suppose dodging seven bullets is better than ten or more, and it might save a few innocent bystanders, but the intended victim is probably going to get hit by one of the first several rounds.

A seven round limit wouldn’t have saved that woman who was shot in the face through the screen door, that boy with a toy gun who was shot by deputies, that girl shot by her father in the dark, any of those toddlers shot by their slightly older siblings, or that playful husky shot by another dog’s owner. Or Trayvon Martin. Or Claire Davis.

Even though one’s chances of dying in a massacre are very slight, I think people that don’t own guns have a visceral fear of large magazines thanks to Columbine, VA Tech, Aurora, Newtown, etc.

OTOH I think people that do own guns are highly unlikely to ever need a full magazine for that Grand Theft Auto scenario that they expect to erupt around the next corner.

But they’ll keep arguing about it.

Carbo Loathing

January is the time we think about resolutions and regimens. If you have the slightest interest in toning up or feeling better after feasting, the media will enthusiastically tell you which diet fad to try and which to avoid. Back in November, Forbes posted, What Grain Is Doing To Your Brain, about anti-gluten guru Dr David Perlmutter. The doctor has a bestselling book, Grain Brain, and a PBS special, Brain Waves, based on his belief that grains, gluten and carbs are destroying our brains. Wait, what  … Oh yeah, should you believe him?

Perlmutter’s book is propelled by a growing body of research indicating that Alzheimer’s disease may really be a third type of diabetes, a discovery that highlights the close relationship between lifestyle and dementia. It also reveals a potential opening to successfully warding off debilitating brain disease through dietary changes.

Perlmutter says we need to return to the eating habits of early man, a diet generally thought to be about 75% fat and 5% carbs. The average U.S. diet today features about 60% carbs and 20% fat. (A 20% share of dietary protein has remained fairly consistent, experts believe.) …

So we’re in Paleo territory.

“Lifestyle changes can have profound effects later in life,” he says. “I’m watching people who’d already started to forget why they walked into a room change and reverse this. We have this incredible ability to grow back new brain cells. The brain can regenerate itself, if we give it what it needs.”

What it needs most of all, Perlmutter says, is “wonderful fat.” There’s no room in anyone’s diet for modified fats or trans fats, he says, but a diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil, grass-fed beef and wild fish provides “life-sustaining fat that modern American diets are so desperate for.” …

“We like to think a whole-grain bagel and orange juice makes for the perfect breakfast,” Perlmutter continues. “But that bagel has 400 calories, almost completely carbohydrates with gluten. And the hidden source of carbs in this picture is that 12-ounce glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. It has nine full teaspoons of pure sugar, the same as a can of Coke. It’s doing a service with Vitamin C, but you’ve already gotten 72 grams of carbs.

In The Atlantic, Richard Hamblin recently posted, This Is Your Brain on Gluten, and wonders if Perlmutter is really on to something, or just trying to support a preconceived notion. He asks anti-fructose crusader Robert Lustig what he thinks:

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Lustig told me last week, “that insulin resistance drives dementia. We have causative data in animals, and we have causative medical inference data in humans. Basically, Alzheimer’s is a metabolic syndrome of the brain.” … “If anything affects how our mitochondria function, it’s going to be felt in the brain first. We know that metabolic syndrome is defective mitochondrial function. I have no doubt that at least one form of dementia — the most common form; the one that’s gotten worse over the past decades — is due to our diet. There is no question that refined carbohydrates play a role in this. The question is, what role, and is it the starch or the sugar? I think the jury is out.”

I am reminded of Minding Your Mitochondria by Terry Wahls, but Lustig carefully does not actually endorse Perlmutter. Another of Hamblin’s sources attacks Perlmutter’s embrace of fat and high LDLs, yet another notes that some cultures live perfectly well on high carb diets, and another points out that paleolithic man didn’t have cooking oil, and probably didn’t get the 75% fat that Perlmutter claims. One of them endorses his own book. Hamblin remains skeptical.

I’m skeptical, too. Though I think Paleo is a decent strategy, I think avoiding processed foods is the most believable aspect.

Merry Fracking Christmas

While many of us are busy enjoying Christmas, the EPA has quietly released a report that supports those who have been challenging hydraulic fracturing:

Inspector General Finds EPA Justified in Intervening to Protect Drinking Water from Fracking

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General found EPA Region 6 was justified in legally intervening to protect Parker County, TX residents’ drinking water from drilling impacts. At Sen. Inhofe’s (R-OK) request, the Inspector General investigated to determine if Region 6’s intervention against Range Resources was due to political influence by the Obama administration.

“The EPA’s internal watchdog has confirmed that the EPA was justified in stepping in to protect residents who were and still are in imminent danger,” said Sharon Wilson, Gulf regional organizer of Earthworks. “Now we need an investigation as to whether political corruption caused EPA to withdraw that protection.” …

“Releasing this report at noon on Christmas Eve shows the Obama administration is obviously embarrassed by its findings,” said Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel. “As they should be. The withdrawal of Obama’s EPA is an abject failure of its mission to protect Americans’ health and environment.”

RIP Mikhail Karishnikov

Few men attain greatness in even one pursuit, so it is with reverence that we note the death of the great weapons designer and ballet dancer, Mikhail Karishnikov.

As a boy, young Mikhail had a motivation problem. He was a good dancer, but was a bit too lazy to train for the leaps expected of a top ballet star. He was watching a dubbed American Western one day, when the cowboys used their six guns to force an Eastern dude to “dance.” With a flash of insight he realized that his dance coach could do the same thing with one automatic rifle – if only it was reliable and simple enough to be operated by an arts major.

And so he invented the Karishnikov AK-47, which could lay down a stream of fire that would force him to ever higher and longer leaps, and which could withstand the abuse of legions of divas.

The worlds of dancing and warfare were forever changed.

Where are you getting your Vitamins?

A friend’s link led me to Activist Post, which includes odd articles about chemtrails, global cooling and a solar flare that’s going to toast the US electrical grid. But Multivitamin Hitpieces – A Natural Health False Flag? caught my eye and led me to The Case Against Corporate Media and Big Pharma Science Grows Stronger in which drug companies offering synthetic vitamins are battling other companies offering organic or natural vitamins and supplements:

Every year, Americans begin the new year with resolutions, most of which surround health and weight loss. Thus, Big Pharma and its associates target the general public toward the end of the year so that any plans for greater intake of natural nutritional supplements which actually work and a greater consumption of organic or locally produced foods is completely derailed before it even begins. Like the official “authorized” narratives on virtually every issue, one can only hope that the general public has grown more wary of propaganda assaults launched by mainstream outlets, governments, and big corporations.

The alarmist tone reminded me of that Mel Gibson anti-FDA short from several years ago, but as some confirmation of its premise, I had just read Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids on the main page of the New York Times:

Dietary supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from 7 percent a decade ago, according to an analysis by a national network of liver specialists. The research included only the most severe cases of liver damage referred to a representative group of hospitals around the country, and the investigators said they were undercounting the actual number of cases. …

But the supplement business is largely unregulated. In recent years, critics of the industry have called for measures that would force companies to prove that their products are safe, genuine and made in accordance with strict manufacturing standards before they reach the market.

I have to admit that when I see these little red bottles of 8 hour energy drinks in almost every store, I tend to favor some regulation. But is the FDA any more reliable? I see plenty ads for drugs with all sorts of unsavory side effects. From the NYT article:

Dr. Victor Navarro, the chairman of the hepatology division at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, said that while liver injuries linked to supplements were alarming, he believed that a majority of supplements were generally safe. Most of the liver injuries tracked by a network of medical officials are caused by prescription drugs used to treat things like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, he said.

Just over ten years ago, on my first visit to a doctor in my new insurance network, I was given a prescription for some sort of pill to combat toenail rot. I googled the drugs and found a lot of complaints about side effects – everything from loss of taste to permanent liver damage! – so I decided I could live with ugly toenails and without that doctor.

I tend to agree with Dr Terry Wahls, who advocates getting our nutrients from eating unprocessed, vitamin-rich foods rather than processed supplements. Interestingly enough, though, one of the foods that Wahls and others have strongly recommended is kale.

In just the last month I have heard comedians Jim Gaffigan and Bill Cosby each make fun of kale, and I keep seeing articles bad-mouthing kale as a trendy food du jour. Other articles warn that getting too much of the oxalates in it can be bad for you. [See aa’s comment.] We’ve bought both raw and prepared kale. It’s like tough spinach. I like it, but eating too much would be quite a workout for your jaws.

Update 20131223: I just found Should We Toss Our Vitamin Pills? in the NY Times Well blog. Another hitpiece?:

In an unusually direct opinion piece, the five authors say that for healthy Americans worried about chronic disease, there’s no clear benefit to taking vitamin and mineral pills. And in some instances, they may even cause harm.

The authors make an exception for supplemental vitamin D, which they say needs further research. Even so, widespread use of vitamin D pills “is not based on solid evidence that benefits outweigh harms,” the authors wrote. For other vitamins and supplements, “the case is closed.”

“The message is simple,” the editorial continued. “Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”

Coincidentally, my wife has had good results with vitamin D. The article finishes by claiming that you can’t eat junk food, take vitamins and expect it to all work out the same. I can agree with that, but, again, I’d be more convinced if doctors weren’t so quick to prescribe drugs themselves. From the outside this looks like a turf war.

Ozone Killing Trees

I just happened to run across Whispers from the Ghosting Trees, a ScienceBlogs post from back in January. Though we recoil from dark and smelly air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, we rarely consider the invisible emissions of nitrogen oxides that increase low level ozone in the atmosphere:

While we hustle busily through the necessities of our lives, wrapped up in our daily preoccupations – our obligations to our families, our jobs, and our dreams – at the same time all around the world, trees are silently expiring. For those who take the time to look, we can see that the forests are being transformed before our helpless and incredulous gaze into spectral mausoleums, as even the most ancient living wood is consumed by a raging tsunami of pathogens unprecedented in scale and virulence. What has instigated this global explosion of lethal insects, disease and fungus, which is decimating swathes of trees across ravines and mountains, invading city streets and wilderness, rampaging through parks and suburban backyards? What would we hear the trees saying if we understood the language of their injured foliage, if we could discern the message in their tortured splintered branches?

Only the latest in a long tradition of foresters, scientists, and ecologists, I am merely an amateur and a gardener doing what I can to warn society that there is a longstanding trend under way that is ominously accelerating. Until very recently impaired tree health was generally regarded as a regional, episodic problem mostly attributable to acid rain from sulfur dioxide. Now, new satellite technology has revealed that precursors of ozone – reactive nitrogen and methane pollution – travel across continents and oceans, and the toxic reach extends into the most remote and rural places. What was once slow and localized and species-specific has become terrifyingly fast, ubiquitous and indiscriminate.

The Good, the Bad and Their Guns

A few days ago, a pleasant young woman was pitching the concept of modular construction in our office conference room. Although the AIA calls these continuing education courses, we call them “Lunch ‘n Learns.” We eat lunch while they edumacate us about something – which they usually also sell.

She showed us pictures of various building types that had been constructed with her company’s modules. As she showed some school buildings, she pointed out that most schools now use modular single-classroom buildings that require students to troop outside between classes. “With all the school shootings these days,” she matter-of-factly noted, “our larger modular buildings provide much better security.”

I had just the evening before finished reading Guns for Good Guys, Guns for Bad Guys by Michael R Weisser, a former sole proprietor arms dealer in Massachusetts. I ran across Adam Gopnik’s enthusiastic review of GFGG, GFBG at The New Yorker, where I learned that Wiesser blogs about guns on the Huffington Post, using the handle, Mike the Gun Guy. GFGG, GFBG wasn’t a long book, only six chapters and 240 pages, and was easy to follow.

Wiesser’s stated intention was to inject some facts into the national discussion about firearms, and clear up some misunderstandings. He tries to explain both the mindset of the gun enthusiast to the rest of us, and to explain why they are so successfully influenced by the NRA. He claims that thin profit margins and long product life have set manufacturers in search of new customers. He challenges the idea that people need guns for protection – or could even use them effectively. He asserts that the root cause of gun violence is not the guns, but the root cause of violence. And finally he points out that most statistics cited in the mainstream media and pro and anti-gun internet sites are based on two surveys sampling about 250 people each, neither of which  took scientific measures to ensure the accuracy of the responses.

Weisser likes guns, respects average gun-owning folk, can’t stand the NRA but hasn’t much use for gun-control advocates either. His argument that the root cause of gun violence is the root cause of violence strikes me as a more nuanced version of the saying, guns don’t kill people, people do. Weisser might say: sure guns are dangerous, but whatever leads to violence is what we really have to worry about, not the gun hobbyist.

Weissner cites statistics to assure us that only two sorts of people do most of the killing with guns: black males (shooting other blacks), and even more, white males (shooting themselves). In Weisser’s view the mass shootings, the family shootings and the accidental shootings are just noise that temporarily riles up antigun sentiment but has no lasting impact on the debate.

Though he wants gun folk to be left alone, Weisser’s opposition to the NRA seems to have made him very popular with the gun control crowd. But there is no safe middle ground in a shooting war, and Weisser has riled up many pro-gun internet sites, which ask if he is a Useful Idiot, or call him a Judas Goat. I would recommend reading the book to educate oneself, but I wouldn’t recommend citing Weisser as an authority on a pro-gun forum.