The Web
Post Categories
Buy my book!
Avia S-199 in Israeli Air Force Service

Archive for 2012

NBC LA covers 101 Squadron

Robert Kovacik, a reporter with KNBC in Los Angeles, is in London for this year’s Olympics. Yesterday, the station aired his report on Mitchell Flint, who used the 1948 Olympics in London as a ruse to cover his volunteer service as a pilot in Israel during the War of Independence. For much more on his experiences, visit the link on his name, which takes you to my historical 101 Squadron Web site.

The NBC report has been posted online at Bing. No, I don’t know why. Bing video cannot be embedded in Web pages. No, I don’t know why that is, either. Regardless, you can click on the following screenshot to watch the video.


Bonus nostalgia:

Attendees of the 1999 WarBirds convention in Palm Springs, Calif. may remember Flint as one of the three 101 Squadron veterans who came to speak and experience our fanaticism, along with the late Rudy Augarten and the late Aaron Finkel.

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.


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

Midpoint mayhem

THe beginning of July marks the middle of the MLB and fantasy baseball seasons.

Although I hadn’t noted it, I was in seventh place at the beginning of June, and I stayed there most of the month. Last week, pick-up Travis Wood and a more typical Mat Latos propelled me from despair to hopefulness. They combined for four wins over 32.2 innings with 14 hits, 3 walks, 2 earned runs, and 30 strikeouts. My pick-ups this year have all been pitchers and they have all contributed, and will continue to do so as Marco Estrada is back from the disabled list and I added Michael Fiers this weekend.

Fiers is a weird egg. He has had superb minor league stats but he seems not to have registered on many prospect lists. So far, he’s been lights out. He’s a bit old for a rookie, but I think he’s for real – real enough that I chose him over old favourite Chris Young (the pitcher).

My hitting is holding up, and that’s without Matt Kemp. I’ll get more counting stats from Jim Thome now that he has a real job as a DH. Third place is definitely in my sights, although it is within many teams’ sights. There are five teams no more than 2.5 points back of third.

.284 batting average (1st by .01)
117 HR (3rd, four back of 2nd )
468 runs (2nd, eight back of 1st)
446 RBI (3rd)
61 SB (9th, five back of 6th)
3.83 ERA (5th, a gain of four points!)
1.28 WHIP (7th)
465 K (10th)
30 wins (9th, six back of 6th)
10 saves (8th)

I have 53 points, tied for fifth.

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.

Pitching a fit

This is the time of month when I list the accomplishments of my fantasy baseball team.

These were my starters at the beginning of the year, and I added Marco Estrada whom I picked up at the start of May:

Mat Latos
Ted Lilly
Jordan Zimmermann
Jhoulys Chacin
Erik Bedard
Chris Narveson
Corey Luebke
Chris Carpenter
Marco Estrada

These were my healthy starters Sunday night:

Mat Latos
Erik Bedard
Jordan Zimmermann

Narveson and Luebke are out for the year. Chacin and Carpenter are still not throwing. Lilly and Estrada are expected to miss weeks, possibly months.

I added Travis Wood on Monday but there’s no recovering from this disaster.

It doesn’t help that my power has disappeared.

.281 batting average (barely 2nd)
71 HR (tied for 2nd)
295 runs (2nd)
272 RBI (4th)
46 SB (7th)
4.04 ERA (9th)
1.32 WHIP (9th)
306 K (10th)
21 wins (7th)
9 saves (tied for 7th but not for long)

Waze and means, part two

Last time, I established that I come from a line of antagonists. This post, we move from the theoretical to the practical.

A few months ago, I discovered that Navigon was on sale in the US iTunes Store for around half price. I bought it, I used it, I like it. Setting a target address is a little annoying – you have to set the city, then the street, then the number instead of typing or pasting it all in at once. Other than that, and a few pronunciation errors, it works great.

(I think the Quebec map has built-in French pronunciation, which reads “chemin” perfectly but requires five syllables for “Mountain Sights”.)

In February, I head about Waze, which is a free, crowd-sourced GPS navigation app. You can use it for free and live with the reasonably correct maps. Or you be like me and start editing those maps to make them better.

From what I gather, Waze started with a satellite map and had an algorithm (or slave farm) find and plot the streets. After that, users took over and continue to edit the maps into shape. We name streets, set the street directions and types, mark legal and illegal turns, etc. The central Waze brain monitors drives and alerts editors to mistakes they may not know about. Drivers can also send an alert to the system to be dealt with, whether that alert is an incorrect map issue or a traffic jam. The app requires a minuscule amount of data transmission but it’s worth it. Map-editing is perfect for those of us with compulsion issues.


There is a slight problem when it comes to editing: too many cooks spoil the broth. While the Waze wiki provides some guidelines for editors, there is no firm standard for mapping and no oversight. This leads to problems, which is where the antagonism comes in. Remember the antagonism? It’s between cooks.

Some people get a kick out of editing the maps, and for us, there are two primary annoyances. The first is idiots who go on the map and make global changes to amass Waze points with no consideration for accuracy. That’s why, for example, the current map features “Ville St. Laurent”, “Montréal (Saint-Laurent)”, and Saint Luarent”, among other variations for the Montreal borough and former independent city of Saint-Laurent. It’s a huge pain to fix that to the accepted standard (the second one, by the way).

Montreal provides rare challenges to map editors because of the language situation. Street names of more than one word take a dash according to the Quebec government’s strict toponomy, but the cities don’t always follow that rule on their signs. French names take a hyphen (Boulevard René-Levesque Ouest) but English ones don’t (Avenue Mountain Sights). The island is Île Perrot; the city is Île-Perrot.

One of the features/bugs of the usage of Montreal street names is that rarely do we use the generic part of the street name. We say, “Take a left on Saint-Denis,” not “Take a left on Rue Saint-Denis.” We say, “It’s near Décarie and Queen-Mary,” not “It’s near Boulevard Décarie and Chemin Queen-Mary,” or, heaven forbid, “It’s at the corner of Décarie Boulevard and Queen Mary Road.”

Of course, when you use Google Maps to look up street names, all the streets are listed with the generic indicator. Official municipality maps, such as Dorval’s, often skip that formality. Driving and looking at street signs doesn’t always help as many of those are also missing the generic indicator for reasons found at the intersection of budgets and anti-English politics.

It’s my contention, then, that to make a better GPS app means taking into account these real-life considerations – but I’m just one cook.

Two super-users constantly “patrol” and edit the map of Montreal in Waze. The Waze forum allows users to send messages so I know about about the other guy. He’s a francophone Montreal police officer (that’s a bit redundant…). He goes by something like Duff, so let’s call him that.

Duff is all about the rules. I’m all about accessibility. If it were up to him, all roads would have their full names. We have battled a bit about Chemin de la Côte-Saint-Luc, which to me is a ridiculous thing to put on a map when everyone just calls it “Côte-Saint-Luc”. Similarly, who cares if it’s Avenue O’Brien, Rue O’Brien, Chemin O’Brien or Boulevard O’Brien? The advantage of not putting down the street-type designations is twofold: it cuts down on map clutter and it better matches the street signs that drivers see.

Duff disagrees. Early in my Waze phase, we battled over naming, until coming to an unspoken agreement. I stopped changing the names of major streets (e.g. Rue Saint-Urbain) and he stopped renaming minor streets and streets with ridiculously long full names (e.g. Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine). Together we have converted E and O to Est and Ouest, St. to Saint (to avoid Waze pronouncing the abbreviation as “street”), and put missing French accents into town names (Montréal, not Montreal). We also have begun using abbreviations for boulevard (Boul.) and avenue (Ave.), both of which Waze pronounces correctly, in English at least.

Waze has a problem with accents. It pronounces Décarie as “Dee-Ay-copyright-caree”. I thinks it’s better to leave the accents in and wait for the system to catch up than to poke language purists. The Waze disagreements are language issues, but not typical Quebec head-butting language issues.

After I capitulated on streets like Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue Jean-Talon Est and Ouest and he left the Côtes alone, we have an uneasy ceasefire, with hotspots. Duff and I are still at war in Verdun and parts north. I think he wants to set full names on every street that is indicated by an exit. We bombard each other with changes over des Irlandais, Riverside, Mill, Oak, Marc-Cantin, etc. He also likes to invade Lasalle and change the lonely streets west of Angrignon – uh, Boul Angrignon: Senkus, Cordner, Lapierre, etc.

That’s not all I do, though. I have completed every street and intersection in Hampstead, Côte-Saint-Luc, Montréal-Ouest, and the boroughs of Lachine and Saint-Leonard. I’m halfway through Dorval. I’ve completed large chunks of Lasalle, Saint-Laurent, and within the pre-merger boundaries of Montreal proper.

I feel I’m rambling a bit so I’ll cut out now. I do heartily endorse Waze, even if you’re only a consumer of it rather than a contributor. The traffic updates alone make it worth the price.

Waze and means, part one

I come from a long line of antagonists.

My dad’s mother died a few months before I was born and my grandfather was not a capable bachelor. He met a slightly older woman on a cruise and they got married. Then they got divorced. Then, on her terms, they got married again.

My grandfather needed someone to take care of him. His wife was willing to do that, for a price. It was a marriage of convenience. It was certainly not love.

This woman was the only grandmother we knew on my dad’s side and, as kids, we knew none of this. Nor did we know that this grandmother and my dad shared a white-hot hatred for each other. They hid it well. But this isn’t about my dad, yet. This is about my grandfather.

There was a certain amount of resentment mixed into the convenience. My dad rarely told us much, so I only heard this story from his Wife Two. My grandfather had somehow discovered that his wife detested the phrase “bum wad” as a synonym for toilet paper. Every chance he got, he’d use “bum wad”. “Frances, when you go to the store, pick up some bum wad.” Oh, that must have been a jolly household.

You know what just occurred to me? This was my step-grandmother’s first marriage. She had short hair. She always wore pants. I can’t recall ever seeing her in a skirt or dress. Maybe she was gay.

Anyway, that was my grandfather. My dad’s attitude can best be explained by the following printout I discovered while cleaning up his office in March.

Note the dot-matrix quality of the text. The printout had been laying around a while.

The sheet speaks for itself. I don’t have to make any more comment – well, except to point out that it makes more sense if you replace “on purpose” with “by accident”. The red cloud of vendetta can muddle one’s editing ability.

So that’s my genetic heritage, which sort of explains this, although a) my vendetta is more passive; b) my vendetta was actually carried out until it overwhelmed me; and c) I never bought a paint gun with which to peg speeding jet-skiers in the canal behind my house.

I was going to go on and explain the Waze bit, but I think I’d rather take a nap now. Stay tuned for part two.

Every click…
...contributes to world domination.