I notice with some amusement that a couple of my comments here represent a temporal paradox, in that I appear to have known and commented upon something (orange petunias, for one) before I apparently first heard about it. This is because my posts here are being arranged by the date I started writing them, not the date I actually posted them. I may be exploring more than one idea at any given moment, and I tend to switch around from one to the other in no particular order. I suppose there's a setting here somewhere for that, but I haven't found it yet.
I'm about to present another example of this, as well as an interesting example of synchronicity, because no sooner had I posted my comments on Congressman Ruiz' behavior, than I received this reply from one of my Senators, Diane Feinstein, on exactly the same bill as Congressman Ruiz. While her answer was no less disingenuous, she didn't just bend the truth, choosing instead to lie by omission and conflate completely unrelated statistics with the issue to support her apparent agenda.
"Thank you for writing to express your support for the use of silencers and noise suppressors on firearms. I appreciate hearing from you, and I welcome the opportunity to share my perspective.
In the interest of brevity, I'll confine myself to examining that 30,000 deaths figure. According to the CDC's own figures, the latest of which seem to be from 2014, there were, indeed, 33,594 deaths from gunshots that year. However, that figure includes 21,386 suicides, and 11,008 homicides. The number of accidental shooting deaths was 461. The homicide category includes an unknown number of self defense cases, including police officers protecting lives. The CDC apparently did not think it important to differentiate between lawful self defense and the crime of murder. Suicidal individuals typically seek whatever method is most convenient. There were 42,826 total suicides that year; it is reasonable to assume that access to a firearm is not a causative factor, and that those who used firearms would have simply used other methods had a firearm not been available. Notice the choice of language, however; "each year over 30,000 people are killed with a firearm in the United States", the implication being that there are 30,000 murders here every year.
Now that we've dispensed with her dishonesty with the numbers, the next question is, what do these statistics she tosses out have to do with suppressors? Were all those deaths the result of putting a silencer on a firearm? The idea that sound suppressors, which work in essentially the same way as a car's muffler, somehow makes a gun more lethal is laughable.
In fact, the only figures I could find on silencers being used in crimes came from the Free Beacon. There are roughly 1.3 million legally owned sound suppressors in the hands of private citizens. How many prosecutions has the BATFE recommended? Forty four. not forty four convictions, not forty four crimes charged, but forty four they're thinking about charging. I couldn't find a breakdown of that number, but I'd bet the majority of those are for paperwork errors. The average gang banger doesn't bother with a silencer. Why? Well, for starters, they don't go "phut phut" as Hollywood would have you believe. While sound levels are reduced to levels that are more or less safe for human hearing, there is still quite a bit of noise produced. When used in the appropriate circumstances, a suppressor can make it more difficult to locate the shooter, which can be an advantage for some military units. They also generally make a pistol much harder to conceal. Since the average law enforcement response time is in excess of ten minutes, assuming anyone calls them, criminals are much more concerned with being able to hide the weapon on their person than they are with the weapon's report drawing return fire.
So, why would Pistol packin' Senator Feinstein try to tell me that a device that, in civilian hands, serves only to reduce the danger of hearing loss, will put my life in jeopardy? Like so many of her fellow hoplophobic, less than honest associates, I can only think she's afraid of us, the citizens she swore an oath to serve. She apparently lives in a world of delusions, where a crazed killer hides behind the eyes of every ordinary American, just waiting for a bad day at the office to trigger them. Then again, perhaps she has much more pragmatic reasons for wanting us disarmed.
I saw a picture of orange petunias the other day. Very pretty. However, after I read the accompanying article, I was horrified. Apparently, petunias just don't come in orange, the genes aren't there. Or rather, they weren't until recently.
Apparently, a Finnish researcher discovered that these plants are genetically modified, and may have been available for sale for several years, but never went through any approval process or testing for safety. It isn't at all clear how they reached the retail market, but there are now around a dozen varieties. They appear to have been originally created by Syngenta by inserting genes from Bt corn, but never commercialized. Even though they are illegal in the UK and most of Europe, and the USDA has asked nurseries (though they've refused to order them pulled off the market) to destroy current stocks of seed and plants, I found that it is still easy to buy them. There were several sellers on eBay. Here's one on Etsy who describes them as "rare."
So, since the USDA claims these flowers pose no risk to human health or the environment, and have requested stocks be destroyed merely as a compliance issue, why am I so disturbed by this? Think about it. What has this incident just proven? It's simple and obvious; this is glaring, damning evidence that all the fears of GMO opponents have been realized. Genetically modified organisms cannot be contained, controlled or effectively regulated. Safe or not, these petunias have been sold for several years. They're in gardens all over the world, they've had plenty of time to cross with wild relatives in Europe, and with other petunias in North American flower beds. Growers have already hybridized them into over a dozen varieties, so it can also be assumed that there are now varieties of other colors that carry these foreign genes. To be fair to the USDA, a recall now is pointless. The genie is out of the bottle.
What's worse, it has apparently occurred to nobody, or at least nobody who's voiced this suspicion, that these plants are probably the tip of the iceberg. They are, for practical purposes, the first black market GMO product that has been discovered, and then only because of a color that should not have occurred in the species. How did they get away from Syngenta in the first place? Employee theft? Some sort of seed mix up? This forces me to ask, how many other genetically engineered life forms have also entered the market under the RADAR? How many are in the food supply, even organics? How much of the epidemic of relatively new health problems we're seeing, diabetes, cancer, IBS, gluten intolerance, fibromyalgia, etc. are due to undiscovered contamination of food and personal care products, among other things?
I don't suppose it matters how the petunias escaped, as they may not actually be Syngenta's at all. The technology itself has escaped. Any hobbyist with a credit card has been able to buy their very own CRISPR kit and brew up designer bacteria to their heart's content for a couple of years now. Never mind that the much celebrated new CRISPR technique has already been proven to produce the same types of unintended mutations as older methods. There have been communities of people experimenting in home labs, referred to as biohackers, for over a decade. Not to mention the work that has no doubt been, and is being, conducted in military and corporate labs around the world, without proper safeguards, as is rumored at Plum Island and similar locations. I find myself wondering about the origins of some new diseases, as well as sightings of never before seen cryptids.
I think at this point, Pandora's box isn't just open, the lid's been blown off with dynamite. Our choice to partake of this technology, in our diets or any other part of our lives, has been taken from us, perhaps deliberately. Jeffrey Smith may as well pack up his tent. I'm all for creative innovation, that's what this site is really about. That doesn't mean we should jettison common sense and prudence. The biotech industry is acting like a five year old who's found the kitchen matches, and I fear it's too late to prevent them from burning down the house.
The disingenuous public conduct of the political class no longer surprises me, but I am still appalled and disgusted at the contempt with which many of them apparently view their constituents. It's obvious that they believe us to be vapid, stupid and easily manipulated. The sad thing is, their opinion of us appears to be justified, based on the results their lies usually achieve.
My current Congressman, Dr. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), is a good example of this. I've written letters and signed a couple of petitions in support of the Hearing Protection Act, which would remove firearm sound suppressors from National Firearms Act regulation (the entire law was unConstitutional to begin with), making them easily available to the general public without having to jump through all the silly legal hoops and pay the $200 tax.
There are a number of sensible reasons to end restrictions on sound suppressors, ranging from protecting the hearing of lawfully armed citizens or first responders and bystanders during a self defense incident, to reducing the potential disturbance to wildlife and other outdoors enthusiasts on public and private lands. The former is especially important. Firearms are already loud enough to damage human hearing. When fired in an enclosed space, such as a bedroom or hallway, it's a given that some permanent hearing loss will result. While a homeowner might have time to don electronic hearing protection, it generally isn't feasible for police officers and CCW holders to have such equipment on their persons, nor will they usually have time to put it on during a violent encounter. If it were up to me, firearms manufacturers from this moment on would be required to include a sound suppressor with every gun they manufacture, preferably integrated into the design. Ruger's new integral barrel/suppressor for the 10/22 Takedown, and Silencerco's new maxim9 are indicators that at least some manufacturers agree with me.
However, each time I've written to Representative Ruiz, I've received the same canned response, word for word:
"Thank you for contacting me to express your views regarding H.R. 367, the Hearing Protection Act of 2017. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the issues important to the individuals I serve. It is an essential part of our democratic process, and I am grateful for your input.
This is the usual thinly veiled anti-civil rights drivel, but the line that jumps out at me is "However, according to the EPA's noise reduction ratings, hearing damage occurs at 85 decibels. As such, even with the reduced decibel, shooters still risk damaging their hearing even if they use a silencer." There are a serious factual errors in this statement. Dig into the book, "Occupational Exposure To Noise: Evaluation, Prevention and Control" which you can download by chapter at the World Health Organization's website, and you'll quickly discover that the subject is just a wee bit more complicated than the good doctor makes it out to be. For starters, there's a big difference between continuous and intermittent noise, evaluated with different standards. Sound pressure also matters, which has a lot to do with distance from the source and reflective surfaces in the vicinity, such as the above mentioned hallway. Someone standing fifty feet away from a jet turbine is probably at less risk than someone using a circular saw in a small, closed room, even though the turbine is magnitudes louder. Length of exposure also matters a great deal, and this is where the Congressman gets into trouble.
The 85 decibel limit he cites is real, but it's the lower limit at which hearing damage can begin to occur for exposures exceeding eight hours! The actual upper limit at which no amount of exposure is considered safe (by anybody; OSHA actually links to the book I mentioned above, that's how I found it) without hearing protection is 140 dB. As sound energy rises above that 85 dB threshold and approaches the 140 dB cutoff, the (relatively) safe length of exposure drops quickly. When you get up around the levels of the average firearm discharge, it drops to under one second. Of course, it's possible to suffer hearing damage with shorter exposures at any given noise level above 85 dB. It depends somewhat on the individual's unique anatomy and health status, but these are the medically established guidelines.
Looking at the table from NIH, we see that for a great many activities we engage in, we should probably be wearing hearing protection, starting with your kitchen blender. Rock concerts and orchestras excepted, the reason most of us aren't deaf by the age of twenty five is length of exposure; we don't do most these things long enough to cause real damage at the given energy levels (though it could explain the booming business in hearing aids as we near our sixties. Damage can accumulate over time). I think the Congressman may have pulled his other numbers off of the Silencerco website, since they are pretty close to what the company quotes for some of their .22 silencers. Usually, a .22 Longrifle is somewhere around 130 dB. Given that the concussion from a gunshot lasts only milliseconds, a drop from 130 to 116 dB is very good, putting it well into the safe range for the length of exposure.
Congressman Ruiz is an intelligent man, and like Ron and Rand Paul, he is a licensed physician. I find it hard to believe that he doesn't understand the medical literature and established safety standards pertaining to human hearing, so why is he misrepresenting them? It would appear that the Congressman has another agenda that has nothing to do with the health and safety of his constituents, or defending their Constitutional rights. That he would attempt to confuse and conflate such easily verifiable facts doesn't say anything good about his opinion of his constituents either.
It appears that I was not far off in my predictions when I said we are headed for a world of enforced conformity, or perhaps a better description would be "hell on Earth by consensus." I said in the welcome to this website that I created it to promote creativity, to rail against the chains of conventional thought.
I realize now that I should have tempered that statement. Imagination should have no limits, true, but what we choose to make real from our imaginings should, must, be constrained by our common sense and conscience, or it will bring us to ruin.
Take genetic engineering, for example. I need not belabor the arguments regarding safety, or the fact that all the studies the FDA cites are funded by the industry itself; that information is easily available elsewhere. The extreme danger of this technology should be self evident anyway. The process, either the old gene gun methods or the CRISPR technique, crams ten million years of evolution into ten minutes in a test tube. Anyone who claims they can accurately predict how that brand new organism will interact with our environment is either a liar or an idiot.
We've already experienced the Starlink corn debacle, which cost U.S. farmers millions. There are still many nations which don't accept U.S. corn exports because of the other Bt varieties grown here, which can't be effectively segregated from non-GMO varieties, since corn is wind pollinated. Then there's the GMO rapeseed mess in Canada, which has created an expensive weed problem. Populations of these herbicide resistant strains have also been found in the U.S.. Now, we have black market GM plants showing up, which means Pandora's box is wide open. It begs the question, how long will it be before you'll be forced into having your kid's genes tweaked if you want them to have any chance of competing in this brave new world?
If we have engineered petunias showing up from unknown labs, engineered humans can't be far behind, the law be damned. The Herd (my new and simpler name for the vast majority of humanity) will embrace designer babies, without ever considering the real danger that we will lose what it is to be human. They will charge mindlessly ahead, keep up with the Joneses style, dragging anyone who wants their children to have a life with them, like a bad remake of Gattaca. Just as they embraced smart phones, those little televisors we all now carry with us, continuing to reward corporations that have violated our trust and our human dignity repeatedly. Just as they will embrace autonomous vehicles.
Whatever benefits are touted, the main point we should be focused on, is that the completely networked, interconnected transportation grid of self driving vehicles being touted by everyone from Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk to Google, can and will be used to control our movements. Stopping a protest, suppressing a public gathering, rigging an election, even making individuals disappear, becomes a matter of selectively tweaking the system. Do we want our cars telling us where and when we can travel? Or driving us to a detention center for requesting a destination that some bureaucrat has decided is suspicious, for whatever reason? I don't, but The Herd, not surprisingly, appears to be buying all the positive hype, and they will do what they always do, stampede to the next shiny new thing. Which means those of us who want nothing to do with the damned things will be regulated into them, sooner or later.
In every technical field I can think of, everyone is too busy with the question "can we", while not once addressing the first question they should be asking, "should we?" The path we're on leads to a cliff, and we're headed for it at a dead run. I guess all those survivalist gloom and doom types have a good point.
Have you ever heard a noise you couldn't identify? Seen a shadowy something that was there and then gone? As most of us are wont to do, you most likely put it down to imagination, or something you ate, or just assumed it was some ordinary thing, plopping it down in some experiential category we're all accustomed to. A car door. The neighbor's dog. The wind. Was it really the wind? Are you certain?
Your brain is constantly being bombarded with a huge amount of information from your senses, far more than it can actually process. So, it relies on a bunch of calculating tricks to "fill in" the world you see around you. As you might surmise, it tends to fill that world in according to your previous perceptions and experience of how the world works. Illusionists have been relying on this blind spot in the mind for centuries. It will even discard information that it can't make fit, so that we sometimes literally don't see what's right in front of us. I learned about this from a strange source: humming birds.
Until we put up a feeder, I'd never seen a hummingbird in the flesh. I'd seen pictures, of course, but never a live one. Then one year we decided to put up a hummingbird feeder. The birds showed up immediately. They're very aggressive little things, constantly fighting among themselves, they'll even call and tap at the windows when the feeder is empty. Some will try to take your hair for their nests. While it's still attached to your head.
The weird part is, they'd always been there. I realized that until I had learned what they look like and sound like, my brain had been passing them off as a bee buzzing by, or a cricket chirping (their calls sound a little like a high pitched cricket), or a leaf on a twig. I literally hadn't been seeing them. I had this confirmed several times when I started pointing the birds out to other people in various places, such as the local garden center. Some people literally could not see the bird unless the bird moved when I was pointing at it.
I started second guessing myself after this, and it has been rewarding. While at college, I spotted a small animal running from bush to bush. I pointed it out to a couple of people, who replied with something like, "yeah, there are lots of squirrels around here." I suggested they look again, because what I was seeing was a rare California Black Footed Ferret.
On a darker note, a few years ago, while on the freeway, I happened to look up into a small canyon in the hills overlooking the freeway just outside of town, and saw a large black animal strolling along a trail. My mind said "dog", but something wasn't right about that. The gait was odd, the head too big, legs too short, tail too long. On the second look I found myself staring at a black phase jaguar. Thinking that someone had let their exotic pet escape, I called the sheriff's office as soon as I got home. Their response was predictably useless. Thanks for calling, we'll check it out, snicker snicker. A couple of years later, I did a little research into big cats for unrelated reasons, and found out that the jaguar's original range extended clear into central California, and through most of the Southwest. Now that ranchers aren't shooting them anymore, the cats are moving back into their old range. There are even breeding populations in Texas. People mistake their kills and tracks for those of mountain lions.
So, when that something goes bump, perhaps we should make it a habit to take the time for a second look. The next time you see a dark shape under the tree in your front yard, it may be best not to assume the neighbor's dog has jumped the fence again.
I've alluded to this in the introduction to the site, and posted on Facebook about it before as well. Today I ran across an article in the Atlantic describing research into iris scanning technology that can identify people at a distance, and decided my first post here might as well be an expanded explanation of what I call the society of self enforced conformity (a bit of a mouthful, I know). This Orwellian construct has been made possible by the information technology boom, and we, the people are the ones building it.
There's a great deal of controversy over 'privacy rights' at the moment, given the ongoing Snowden revelations, among others. My fear is that we are having the wrong conversation. We do not have a right to privacy. Never have, never will. The Fourth Amendment states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Notice the word 'privacy' does not appear anywhere in the amendment or the entirety of the Constitution, for that matter.
Privacy is a social issue, though it does grey into the legal area quite a bit. The Fourth Amendment isn't about privacy. It is a stern prohibition on government fishing expeditions into your life. It states clearly that the authorities, before they can go mucking about in your personal and business affairs, must go to a sitting member of the judiciary and convince him or her that they have a legally compelling reason to do so, explaining exactly what they suspect, exactly what persons and evidence they expect to find, and exactly where they expect to find them. They then must receive permission from the judge to go and get them (the warrant). The men who wrote our Constitution were thoroughly familiar with the British Crown's use of property and records seizures to intimidate critics into silence by destroying their livelihoods and reputations.
Our Federal and state governments have dug the Fourth's grave by simply moving most of the spying into the private sector. The Internet made targeted marketing research into a multi-billion dollar industry. It should come as no surprise that intelligence agencies found all that low hanging fruit just too tempting. They've begun the Fourth's funeral by blatantly ignoring the law. I recall telling friends not to relax in 2003, when Congress defunded John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness program. I predicted that the program would be taken into the black, and once it was too well developed and embedded to easily dismantle, its creators would trot it back out into the light with an arrogant swagger, and a one finger salute to the public. Isn't that just about what's happened? What they now know about you is only a threat to you. What they may have on nine Supreme Court justices and five hundred and thirty five members of Congress, not to mention state legislators and governors, is a serious threat to all of us. That could conceivably explain why our supposed representatives, and the courts, lately seem to be paying little more than lip service to either the law or their constituents' wishes. If you want a more in depth view of who's really behind this push for total surveillance, I suggest you check out Joseph P. Farrell's site.
Even so, I don't think government overreach is the biggest threat, and now I'll get to the meat of it; the biggest threat is us, and our changing attitude toward privacy. The behavior of governments can be controlled somewhat by the citizenry, as long as said citizens are willing to push back, and back up their resistance with steel. The larger threat is that the surveillance and behavioral prediction technologies used by governments and large corporations are now rapidly becoming available to the general public, in user friendly, easy to abuse formats. The same private sector information technology boom that has put the wildest fantasies of public sector authoritarians within their grasp, has also given the private citizens an unprecedented ability to spy on each other.
We are not losing the non-existent right to privacy. We are losing the ability to "be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects." In plain language, we are losing the ability to compartmentalize our lives, and even losing the understanding of why it is impossible to have a free society without it. You don't share the same things about yourself with your auto mechanic or grocer that you do with your doctor, pastor, or spouse, and I'm sure you understand at a visceral level why you don't, whether you can articulate it or not. Now, imagine a world where literally everything about you, your beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes, can be known by anyone who cares to look, regardless of your desire to keep that information private. We are building that world right now.
Literally anything about you can be learned or extrapolated from your purchasing habits, location (cell phone metadata), web sites you visit, personal and business contacts (cell phones, e-mail, Facebook), etc.. All of this is being recorded by hundreds of businesses, not just the NSA. A good example is the teen girl who's pregnancy was revealed to her father by coupons Target sent to her for baby items. The store chain's data mining algorithms had picked up on her probable pregnancy from a change in her purchasing habits. Some may find this story funny, but much darker examples can be found among all the businesses and individuals who've been targeted for their private political activities. The danger lies not in the fact that companies, and increasingly, private individuals, are collecting and correlating all of this information, but in the fact that there is absolutely no way that anybody can guarantee that it will remain private. Do you want your rabidly vegan, PETA supporting boss knowing you spend your vacation time bow hunting? Does the ultra-conservative loan officer at your bank need to know about your support for marijuana legalization? Probably not, but they can easily find out now, and the probability that they will is increasing daily.
The result of this trend will be not just the chilling of speech, but of action and even thought. People will learn to self censor in every area of their lives, from what they dare say, to what they buy, who they talk to, places they visit, media they view or read, even the things they allow themselves to be interested in. Anyone not expressing and living the "correct" values and opinions will find themselves socially and economically isolated. Automated persecution, poverty and deprivation for the non-conformist, no jackbooted thugs needed. It will become the ultimate expression of pure democracy, mob rule. In the end, he who can influence the mind of the mob, will rule the world.
That's the society of self enforced conformity. It isn't a society I care to live in. Humanity needs to sit down together and have a long, reasoned discussion about what is appropriate for us to know and share about ourselves and each other, and put those limits into place, before that society begins to mature.
I am, and have always been, unafraid to voice my opinions. In fact I believe everyone needs to vent now and then, and we all have a God given right to do so. I despise willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, and take a perhaps perverse pleasure in puncturing the politically correct proclamations of those who have anointed themselves as our betters. I could be described as a contrarian and a bit of a curmudgeon, having now reached an age at which those labels no longer sound odd. Not everything I'll address here will be controversial. In fact, I would rather keep that sort of thing somewhat limited (and it should surprise no one that I probably won't succeed in doing so). We already have our fill of whining talking heads on the 'net. However, if you are easily offended or thin skinned, you might want to skip this blog. You have been warned.