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The “in the final turn” baseball post

I’m a week late on this, but things have been happening (see previous post) and Elvi and I spent three days in Boston so that she could attend an Amanda Palmer concert. Subsequently, we toured Beacon Hill, Harvard Square, and met my old WarBirds crony Tone to take the Rangefinder Challenge.

Currently, I’m on a porch on Lake Winnipesaukee while a Christian faith retreat goes on around me. I suspect I am the only atheist Jew here.

A week late on what? On a fantasy baseball update. Don’t you read headlines?

One week ago, I had fallen to eighth place, which sounds worse than it is. The spread between third and tenth is less than ten points, and the standings are dynamic day to day. I was able to grab young phenom Starling Marte with my pic. I don’t care what batting average he puts up so long as he keeps playing and adding to the counting stats.

I’m in a good position to move up if my team merely does what it should. We’ll see.

.286 batting average (in first by 0.11)
160 HR (3rd and nine out of 2nd)
622 runs (3rd, two out of 2nd)
605 RBI (3rd by nine)
86 SB (8th by two, five out of 7th)
3.78 ERA (6th, 0.10 out of 4th)
1.27 WHIP (8th, 0.16 out of 6th)
679 K (10th, 28 out of 9th)
46 wins (tied in 7th, four out of 6th)
12 saves (8th)

I’m in fifth, only four points out of the money with two months to go.

Bonus whine:

Why, when I’m retreating and hiding around Wi-Fi-enabled corners, do people keep seeking me out to chat?

Guns and death

Another month, another gun rampage, another anecdotal bullet in the clip of those who argue for banning guns and for those who advocate a thoroughly armed populace.

As tragic as massacres may be, they are rare and do not account for many casualties. Data from the Centers for Disease Control (National Vital Statistics Reports Vol. 60, No. 4; see p. 44) indicate that in the US in 2010 there were 118,043 accidental deaths, 37,793 suicides, and 16,065 homicides. US population in 2010 was 308,750,000, give or take.

The CDC breaks down the numbers further. Slightly more than half the suicides (19,308) and about two-thirds of the homicides (11,015) were caused by firearm.

Statistics Canada supplies similar data for Canada, although the latest available data comes from 2009. Accidents killed 10,250 people, homicide killed 574, and there were 3,890 suicides. Canadian population in 2009 is estimated at 33,894,000. The number of firearm homicides in 2009 was 180 or 30.5%. As the table shows, that number has varied between 30% and 34% in recent years.

It goes without saying that the total number of homicides is dwarfed by other causes of death. Even if you factor in the shock of an unexpected death, accidents are far more prevalent. The gun issue simply doesn’t merit the energy it consumes.

Here’s a table, with rate being number per 100,000 population.

Cause US total US rate Canada total Canada rate
Homicide 16,065 5.2 574 1.7
Gun homicide 11,015 3.6 180 0.53
Suicide 37,793 12.2 3,890 11.5
Gun suicide 19,308 6.3 622* 1.8*

* Although Statistics Canada has not released data with firearm suicides as a separate category since the early 2000s, 16% of all suicides was the rate then and is used here. This rate was higher in the ’90s, around 22%.

A huge difference between the countries lies in homicide rates. Americans (5.2/100k) kill each other three times as frequently as Canadians (1.7/100k) and they are six times more likely to do so by shooting a gun. But let’s remove all gun homicides. Americans kill each other without guns (1.6/100k) more frequently than do Canadians (1.2/100k) but the difference isn’t nearly as drastic.

It’s a much different situation across the globe. I took data from the Guardian and added more relevant content. Take a look at my spreadsheet (it’s not a comprehensive list of countries as I removed any with incomplete data).

The spreadsheet is sorted by total homicide rate. Note that 17 of the top 20 countries are in Latin America or the Caribbean. Why would that be? These countries do not have particularly high numbers of guns per capita. Gun-lousy countries like Serbia, Finland, and Canada all have much lower rates of homicide. Gun prevalence is roughly equal to or higher than the top 20 in eight of the countries with the 20 lowest rates of homicide.

Conspicuously grouped at the bottom are France, Norway, Germany, Austria, Greece, Denmark, and Spain. A few other European countries are not too far away. Switzerland with the third most guns per capita ranks 21 from the bottom.

You can probably guess where I’m headed. I don’t think gun ownership has anything to do with homicides. Certain cultures are inherently more violent than others. Whether they have guns or not is beside the point. The non-gun homicide rates track extremely well with total homicide rates.

It’s a cultural difference. Some cultures are simply more violent. Sometimes the difference is huge. Other times it’s subtle – but I truly believe that Americans as a whole are more violent than Canadians. We do not share the same culture. We do not share the same approaches to the balance of community versus individual. The gun control question is practically moot, a secondary consideration.

American and Canadian national suicide rates are the essentially identical, and have been throughout the last decade – although Americans will use a gun more often. That’s not surprising. Roughly 3 million Canadians in 26% of households live with at least one gun, Justice Canada tells us. According to a recent Gallup poll, the corresponding figure is 47% in the US.

If Canadians owned guns at the rate Americans do, gun suicides would probably increase, but would the extra suicides pad the total or simply replace more cumbersome methods of offing oneself? Fortunately, researchers have studied this.

Miller et al (“Household firearm ownership and suicide rates in the United States”) found in 2002 that “a robust association exists between levels of household firearm ownership and suicide rates.” Many suspect that the immediacy of the act of shooting a gun versus more cumbersome and less successful methods leads to both more attempts and more successful attempts. A position paper from the Canadian Paediatric Society has more citations that lead to the same conclusion. In short, fewer guns means fewer suicides. (There’s a corollary: fewer guns in Canada means we would otherwise be killing ourselves more often. Blame Canada!)

Suicide is the forgotten variable in discussions of gun control. Far fewer folks shoot someone else than shoot themselves. I’ve maintained for years that the question of gun control is a question of suicide, not of interpersonal violence or home defense.

The rate of gun deaths among various nations follows the total homicide rate fairly well, which indicates not that guns are the problem, but that cultures of violence among countries are the problem. The only stat that defies the curves is gun suicide. Having guns around really does make it a whole lot easier to kill yourself. Those who consider suicide a health problem should find free gun ownership a problem.

(Actually, I lie. Accidental gun deaths also increase with gun ownership, but the number is so tiny, it’s not significant enough an event to base policy on.)

From the Canadian Paediatric Society paper:

The presence of a firearm in the home has been shown to increase rates of homicide and suicide compared with homes without a firearm. In studies of adolescent suicide conducted by Brent et al, the presence of a firearm in the home was found to be a strongly positive risk factor for completed adolescent suicide. Apparently, the adolescent without a firearm in the home is more likely either to use a less lethal method or to not attempt suicide. Birckmayer and Hemenway analyzed the relationship between suicide rates and household firearm ownership for four age groups. They found that firearm ownership was correlated with increased suicide rates for 15- to 24-year-olds and 65- to 84-year-olds, but not for 25- to 64-year-olds. This suggests that the availability of a firearm in the home is a suicide risk factor for some, but not all, age groups. It is likely that certain developmental characteristics of adolescents, such as impulsivity, sensitivity to peer pressure, and experimentation with alcohol and substances, are responsible for this effect.

Reach for the Top

Thirty years ago, I was preparing for my last year of high school (which in Quebec ends after Grade 11). I was also coming off my rookie year as a member of Bialik High School’s Reach for the Top team.

Reach for the Top was a Canada-wide high-school quiz show on CBC. Our school was always a strong contender in Quebec, but I had the misfortune of going to my high school at the same time as Gerry Moschopoulos, who was probably the best player in the province, attended Malcolm Campbell High School. In my first year, Gerry and three other people knocked us out of the competition.

In Grade 11, there was turnover on our team. David Cape and Arnold Cohen graduated. I made the ’82-’83 team again. David Tanenbaum and the futurely infamous Kenny Hechtman joined us. Our star was Lorne Beiles. He was in my class, but I don’t remember if he’d been on the team the year before.

Our coach both years was Bryan Wolofsky, whose son and mine took a bar-mitzvah program together this past year.

One of the things I did while cleaning up my dad’s house was to look through old media. My brother Jeff hoarded all the film but I got to pick through some videotapes. Among the collection was a treasure that I’ve had digitized and I’ve uploaded it to YouTube. It’s about 110 minutes long, so you may want a snack.

May I present Bialik High School’s 1982-83 “Reach for the Top” performance in its entirety.

YouTube Preview Image

Even if you have no interest in my quiz-show history, you’ll love the vintage Canadian commercials.

Homo habilis

Man install new shower doors. Man handy.

My archives

Now that I have a Zip drive in hand and working, I’m going through a box of old Zip disks before I throw them out.

Scoff all you want, but I have found some treasures to hoard. I know have a backup of my CompuServe account (I was member 73144,2466). I found a few documents left over from my time as a sysop in the Dinosaur Forum. Here’s one:

Making Fossils – The Home Game

This recipe has been tested and actually worked. Still, I take no liability if you burn down your kitchen.

Get a thick wax candle and carve it into a bone with a knife. Try to get a bone that does not have wick in it. Get a big foil roasting pan (the size used for turkeys) and carefully cut a hole in the bottom just large enough for a piece of wide-bore heat-resistant tubing. Stick a piece of the tubing in so that about an inch sticks up, seal it in place with some heat resistant sealant and trim off the bottom.

Balance the wax bone on the top of the tube and seal it there with sealant.

Fill the roasting pan with enough plaster or something to cover everything. Be careful not to jostle the wax bone.

When the plaster is dry, stick the whole shebang into a hot oven (check the melting point of candle wax for how hot). Place the contraption over a dripping pan. If this works, the hot wax will run out the tube leaving a bone-shaped hole in the plaster. You might have to shake the thing to get all the wax to run out.

When the wax has run out, let the pan cool. Get a lot of castable resin and pour it in the tubing so that it fills the space where the wax used to be (I guess you can also use molten bronze instead). Let it dry.

After it dries – voila! The plaster is the sediment, the heat is the water leaching out the bone and the resin is rock minerals replacing the lost bone. Kind of.

Good luck.

I also found an archived copy of WarBirds 1.11r3, which measured a tiny 38 MB in size. I’d need a System 9 emulator to run it, but it’s neat to have.

Best of all, I found some photos I don’t have elsewhere, taken in the Bahamas in the winter of 2001-02. Here’s one.

Bonus strange conversation:

Elvi and I went out to a new bar with some of her choir mates last night. (Given its location, I guess the bar will have a lifespan measured in months.) We were the last of our group to leave but Elvi went to the bathroom just before we did.

I half-stood, reaching into my front pocket for my car keys but awkwardly sat down again at our table when I realized it would be a few minutes. A guy was standing there as if he wanted to grab the table for some other group of friends. I told him he was welcome to sit down.

He sat right next to me. A few seconds later he amiably said, “You look like you need to have a giant fucking shit.”

I explained that I’d decided to leave my keys in my pocket until my wife came out of the bathroom. At that, he got up and left.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that he had pitched me some sort of come-on. The bar was very gay-friendly. It’s the only explanation I can think of.


Child Two and I took I took Child Three and some of his friends to paintball today. A grand time was had by all, especially by those of us who escaped without wounds.

I was shot once in the neck (by Child Three!) but recovered quickly. I was shot once in my bad knee by a paintball that didn’t burst and that hurt for a minute.

Child Two and I formed an effective fire team in the latter games. We got ourselves into enfilade positions and ripped through the opposition like the killers we are.

My favourite moment of the day came when one kid crept up to the corner of a building to get a shot at Child Two. I let loose a volley of five shots and all landed. I saw my target dance a little and disappear behind the wall. I learned afterward that four of my shots had hit his hand and made him drop his gun – uh, drop his marker. My trophy:

Child Three got hit three times on the bicep in the last fight:

It look like two hits, but the top welt is two hits stacked. The lower, fainter welt shows up much better this evening than it did when I took the photo.

Here’s a masked “before” photo and one from a break in the action.

Mysteries of the ancient world

I’m back home now, but I still have a few photos to share. It took three full days, but I finally managed to clear out my dad’s office and closet – only to fill the closet again with stuff Brother Two wants to keep but couldn’t fit in his suitcases.

I found a Mac PowerBook 1400C in the closet, deep in the strata. I think in total, my dad had 11 computers, of which two were hooked up. I cleaned up a clamshell iBook and then plugged in and powered up the PowerBook. As you can see if you click on the thumbnail to the left, it booted into System 8.6 as perfectly as possible. I think my dad last used it in early 2003, judging by the dates on the files. Good thing he kept it around.

We also found a brass case. We have no idea what it is. Other than the photos below, here’s what we know…. The “fan” folds open and closed and rotates freely. The axle fits into some sort of plastic apparatus that barely resembles a small electric motor, although there is no resistance to rotation. There is no place for batteries, and since the entire case is made of metal and there are no wires, we doubt it is an electrical device of any kind, or any sort of motor for that matter. But of what use is a manual fan or propellor?

The bottom of the device opens up. Is something supposed to go in there? Take a look, and please guess – or even better, inform.

The inscription on the bottom of the case reads: “PATENTS PENDING / DON QUIXOTE / MADE IN BRITAIN”. Don Quixote is a cigar company and I suspect this has something to do with tobacco, but I’m stumped.

Speaking of mysteries, this video has me, an avowed skeptic, stumped:

Bonus l33t CSS skillz:

I’ve been struggling with getting slideshows to center. I’m using a WordPress plugin called Portfolio Slideshow, which is easy to use and format, but which is inexplicably impossible to center on a page.

Many people have the same predicament, but the developer’s only official response is that the Pro version ($9) has the ability to center the slideshow.

Nine bucks? I didn’t teach myself CSS for nothing! Here’s my custom Portfolio Slideshow CSS code for WordPress. On your Dashboard, open Appearance > Editor. Click on the Stylesheet link at the bottom right. (I ignore the stylesheets for IE6 and IE7. Screw ’em.) Add the following code to your stylesheet and save:

div.portfolio-slideshow {margin-left:auto; margin-right:auto; width:60%; margin-top:20px; border: solid 1px #d4d7ca;}
div.slideshow-nav {text-align:center; margin-bottom:20px;}

You may want to play with that width percentage to get it perfect on your layout. The margin-top and border styles are optional, as is the entire .slideshow-nav class.

This only works for one specific size of slideshow image. In my case, I’m using 400-pixel-wide images.

Dogs and the family

We never knew this story until Tuesday, when we cracked open a scrapbook that once belonged to my grandfather’s brother, Max.

When Jacques (my grandfather, although he went by “Jack”) was a kid in the Netherlands, he owned a small dog. His father, Bernard, thought that a big photo of their boys and the dog to hang on the wall would make a great present for his wife, Josina.

The photograph was taken, blown up, framed, and presented to Josina. She took one look at it and exclaimed that there was no way she could hang that in her house. She pointed out the dog, which had an erection that the males had somehow overlooked.

That’s one well-endowed terrier. Jack is on the left, Max on the right.

The gift was modified by the 1920s’ version of Photoshop – that is, an artist – and the final product, um, hung in their home for 50 years. I don’t know what happened to that, but thank goodness we have a print of the original. Jack was born in 1914, so I estimate that the photo was taken around 1925.

The dog’s name, even before this photograph, was Dickey.

But 1925 wasn’t Max’s last appearance in a photo with a strange dog.

That’s a trained dog, allegedly, but the look on its face says, “If you take my picture, I’m going to kill somebody.” This has meme potential.

Bonus schadenfreude:

That’s a lot of caulk

In a previous blog, we established that my dad hoarded junk. He also hoarded useful items. Elvi was working on the garage, and she came across my dad’s caulk.

She couldn’t believe how big my dad’s caulk collection was. It was massive: enough caulk for three houses.

Here’s a pic of her and my dad’s caulk:

Elvi needs more than two hands to handle my dad's caulk.

I swear this post was her idea.

Fashion and faux pas

Much of Sunday was spent going through Dad’s clothes with Brother Two. Brother One (both are younger than me, by the way) wasn’t yet in Freeport and the clothes wouldn’t fit him regardless.

We found a lot of clothes… – from the ’70s, let’s say to be charitable. And what better way to celebrate the ’70s than with a slide show!

You may have noticed that I put a modern twist on the jeans. I think my favourite bit of these photos is my brother’s hands clasped with glee in the first picture.

That wasn’t all the clothing-related hilarity. After some delicious snapper and cracked conch (best I ever ate) at Billy Joe’s on the beach, Elvi bent over to wash her hands in the ocean. Two ladies and a man walking by in the right place at the wrong time got an eyeful of her underwear as her shorts ripped from stem to stern. The man cracked up – you can’t blame him – but the helpful ladies gave us a towel to keep.

I used the towel to highlight the damage.

Elvi, learning from my father’s poor example, did not keep the shorts.

Bonus observation:

If you think I’m fat, check out this curly-tail lizard.

At least I signed up for flag football this spring and summer.

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