Friday, 6 October 2017

09:15 – It was 52.6F (11.5C) when I took Colin out at 0715, partly cloudy. Barbara is heading for the gym and supermarket this morning, after which we’ll be doing kit stuff.

I’ve never been a member of the NRA, because I consider them anti-gun. Every time the federal government introduces new anti-gun legislation, the NRA has been right there supporting them. From the National Firearms Act to the GCA68 to Clinton’s banning “assault” weapons and magazines, NRA has at best stood by and done nothing, and often actively co-operated with the feds. With friends like them, 2nd amendment supporters don’t need enemies.

So I wasn’t even slightly surprised yesterday when the NRA officially came out in favor of regulating bump-fire stocks as Class 3 automatic weapons. Screw them. What they should be doing is fighting to eliminate all laws and regulations that infringe our right to keep and bear arms, including automatic weapons.

I was about to change the designee on my Amazon Prime smile account. I thought it was the NRA ILA, which was the group I specified when I first set up Amazon smile. (Not that ILA was great; they simply hadn’t done anything egregiously bad lately, and they were the only supposedly pro-gun group offered as an option when I originally signed up with smile.) Turns out, a year or 18 months ago I’d changed my designee to the Second Amendment Foundation, so I left it as it was.

Barbara and I finished re-watching the first series of James Burke’s Connections and got started on Connections¬≤. Season One, which ran in 1978, started with Burke sounding like a prepper. He first covered the Great Northeastern Blackout of 1965, which for him at that point was little more than a decade in the past. He pointed out the fragility and interconnectedness of our electric power network, how subject it was to cascading failures, and that a long-term, widespread electricity failure could kill tens of millions. He then walks us back through what that would mean, eventually ending up standing behind a horse-drawn plow.

The irony, of course, is that here we are forty years on, and our electrical grids are much, much more subject to catastrophic failure than they were in the 60’s and 70’s. And we have half again the population now that we did then, and all of those people are even more dependent on reliable electric power. As just one example, in 1978 a fair percentage of public water systems were still gravity-fed, and so could continue to provide water even without electricity. Nowadays, almost 100% of public water systems–including ones in small mountain towns like Sparta– use pumped storage, which does require electric power to function. When those big golf-ball water towers run out of pumped water, all of the people who depend on them are SOL.

When this series first ran, I thought of James Burke as a pretty radical leftie/prog. He was then, and still is, although some of what he says in this series would nowadays get him branded as a hide-bound conservative/Nazi.

If one thing still establishes his leftie/prog credentials, it’s his insistence through the series that genius plays little or no role in innovation and invention. In fact, the whole series is built around that concept. Burke reminds me of Obama’s You didn’t build that.

According to Burke, the key issue is that a critical mass of discoveries exist that are just lying around waiting for someone to combine them into something new and innovative. If Isaac Newton or James Watt or William Henry Perkin hadn’t done it, Ed the Regular Guy down the street would eventually have figured it out. Wrong.

Unless Ed TRG happens to have both curiosity and a genius IQ. All kinds of discoveries have lain around for years, decades, centuries, and even millennia, waiting for a genius to happen by and notice them.

The example I always use to illustrate this is the discovery of smelting metals. In areas where copper ore was exposed at the surface, some of our early ancestors happened to use chunks of that ore to build fire circles. Everything necessary was present: the copper ore, the heat of the fire, and the carbon from the charcoal needed to reduce the copper ions to metallic copper.

And I’m sure that for a thousand years, if not ten thousand, many people noticed the little beads of red metal that appeared around such fires. Chances are, they collected them to use for jewelry, but thought no more about it.

Then one day, a genius sitting around the fire started thinking about those tiny beads of copper and started wondering if they could get more of them. He or she may have experimented for an hour or a month, doing different things with the ore, fire, and charcoal, but those experiments eventually yielded metallic copper in large amounts. And that changed the world.

This is the way things work. Regular people take advantage of things they find lying around; geniuses wonder WHY that stuff was lying around and then do something about it. Burke even uses a classic example, Fleming and penicillin.

How many thousands or tens of thousands of times did someone culture bacteria and have the culture spoiled by a growth of Penicillium notatum mold? How many thousands or tens of thousands of times did that scientist mutter, “SHIT!”, and just throw out the culture and start over? It took Fleming to notice that the growth of P. notatum was suppressing the growth of the bacteria and wonder why that was happening. And, again, that changed the world.