What happens when a mass “shooter” doesn’t have a gun?

Anti-gun activists often look to Japan when soapboxing about the virtues of extremely restrictive gun laws.

And it’s true Japan doesn’t suffer from mass shootings. The homogeneous, law-abiding culture, however, has its own vulnerabilities, such as the mass poisoning that happened several years ago, when thieves convinced most of a company to consume poison by posing as medical personnel and claiming the victims had been exposed to a toxin and needed to take an oral “antidote” that they’d brought (there’s that “law-abiding culture” for you).

Only in Japan.

But today, Japan is so international, they’ve just had an animation studio attacked by a mass shooter–

Oh, right. No guns. Kyoto Animation has been attacked by a mass arsonist. The term doesn’t even properly convey what happened, because “mass arsonist” implies someone who started a lot of fires, but this is clearly the same mentality and basic method one sees in “mass shootings,” only the weapon in this case was (not gun) fire. Even the term “arsonist” brings to mind someone who usually does his dirty deed and slips away before his fire-baby starts killing its victims. This arsonist, whose beef against Kyoto Animation is still unclear, barged into the building guns blazing– I mean, ran through the front door screaming, “You die!,” sprayed a flammable liquid (apparently gasoline) around the place, and lit it up. Since this happened close to the main entrance, the roughly 70 occupants trying to dodge the (not gun) fire and get out of the three-story building were forced to find unfamiliar routes out of the building.  (At least a shooter has to stop sooner or later to reload; fire just keeps going on its own.)

Thirty-three didn’t make it.

Plenty of others have lots of burns that will be slow and painful to heal and likely leave ugly scars behind.

Personally, I’d rather have been shot.






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Warning: Wood, apple cores, banana peels not “biodegradable”

There are certain advantages to having a lot of old emails hanging around in your inbox. If something happens and gets corrected soon after, it’s an ignorable “blip” in the grand scheme of things. If there’s no correction, then you know you might have something significant.

Case in point: I just learned from an old email subscription  that substances such as wood, banana peels, apple cores, and paper are not biodegradable. How do I know? Because they do not meet the definition of “biodegradable” that the Federal Trade Commission applies to plastics.

Back in 2015, the FTC went after ECM Biofilms for claiming their additive made plastics “biodegradable.”

Initially, ECM claimed the additive would cause plastics to break down “in timeframes that would be similar to things like wood or pieces of sticks.” But when consumers clamored for a specific time, ECM began saying “nine months to five years” in 2009.

When challenged by the FTC, ECM brought out 19 studies showing plastics degraded faster with their additive, including one where plastic biodegraded 49.28% over 900 days (traditional plastic biodegraded just 0.12%). Sounds “biodegradable” to me.

The FTC countered with 13 tests that showed no acceleration in degradation. And a survey that showed a “significant minority” expected that “biodegradable” meant a thing would “fully decompose” within five years–a standard of proof that is impossible even for materials that are understood to be “intrinsically biodegradable,” such as wood, paper, and food waste.

Believe it or not, this is actually a “relaxed” standard compared to the FTC’s 2013 definition:


To claim a product is “biodegradable,” a company should have proof the product will completely break down and return to nature within a year. Landfills shut out sunlight, air, and moisture, so even paper and food could take decades to decompose. Most plastics won’t biodegrade even outside of a landfill.

So, despite an FTC administrative law judge ruling that the additive worked, the full FTC commission decided that claiming “biodegradable” on something that takes more than five years to “fully decompose” (even in landfills where “intrinsically biodegradable” materials may take considerably more than five years) is false advertising.

I searched for a few other related articles, finding a few (government website) guides about what was and wasn’t green, a few “green” websites pointing out that putting these additives in plastics render them “non-recyclable” (so double-whammy), and even an old (2009) blog entry from when the FTC first started seriously looking into claims, where (judging from the comments) the “environmentally conscious” readers bit on the FTC rhetoric–hook, line, and sinker.

In the years since that ruling, I have found nothing to indicate that more sensible heads have prevailed. Keep in mind, many “recyclable” plastics, even when put in recycling containers, end up in landfills for one reason or another (but that’s a subject for another blog), where they break down just as slowly as any other non-recyclable. The end result is that this ruling is creating more waste by setting arbitrary and impossibly high standards for “biodegradable” plastics while simultaneously discouraging real solutions to our growing plastic waste issue.

So next time you peel an orange, or a banana, or shuck some sweet corn from the farmer’s market for dinner, remember: the packaging is not biodegradable. The FTC said so.

Read more:

“Green” Claim Check

Ban New Green Products?

FTC Bans “Biodegradable” On Products

How the FTC Dealt with One Firm’s Questionable Biodegradable Plastic Claims

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Concert photographer gets banned for reporting unauthorized use of image

Recently concert photographer J. Salmeron was banned from any and all performances of Arch Enemy after requesting compensation (actually, he asked them to make a charitable donation) from a company for an image he took of Alissa White-Gluz, the lead singer of Arch Enemy, during the FortaRock metal festival in the Netherlands. Instead of responding directly, the company referred his request to the band manager, Angela Gossow, who told him that the company–being the sponsor–had the right to use any photographer’s work without compensation (beyond the exposure his work was getting, which he should be happy for), and that all promoters, labels, and booking agents would be informed that he was persona non grata.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of precedent for this. As copyright law gets more-encompassing and longer-lasting, the power falls more and more into whatever corporation is backing the most commercially-viable iteration of the intellectual property. in this case, the IP of the band is overriding the “derivative work” of the photographer photographing the band.

I’ve seen firsthand how IP-bullyish the music industry is. While I was in college, I worked at an arena that occasionally hosted music concerts (fortunately, I hadn’t gotten into photography back then, and nothing “interesting” happened with the IP of my image during the event). One such concert was recording for a video and had posted signs on the doors saying that “by purchasing a ticket” and “entering the premises” people were licensing their images in perpetuity and without compensation. Now I don’t see a problem with taping crowds as crowds, but the phrasing of the “release” was so broad that if anything “unusual” had happened, the band management would have owned that, too–lock, stock and barrel. The other problem with it? I hadn’t purchased a ticket; I was an employee, so technically, I hadn’t “agreed” to release my image to them. Nothing in my employee info said I was signing away any image rights (I’m sure arenas the world over are adding tiny little clauses to their employment contracts to cover that, now.)

Not that this problem is unique to the music industry. (What’s the difference between a “poem” and a “song lyric”? Two lines of a copyrighted poem in your work is usually “fair use”; two lines of a copyrighted song lyric in your work is always “intellectual property theft.”)

And the situation is getting worse, not better. Used to be, if it was part of a cityscape, it was fair game for photographers. Now, you need permissions to photograph certain buildings if they’re “recognizable,” even if they’re only incidental to the composition. Same goes for cars: it’s one thing to “not look at” a corporate emblem, but a few years ago Ford declared that images showing the “C-scoop” of its Mustangs could not be used without specific release. The more pervasive corporate branding gets, the more their 800-lb gorilla lawyers abuse the protections of copyright.

What we need is some court to recognize a clear definition of “public place” and stop all these IP squatters from eating their cake and having it, too.

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Reduce the National Debt in 5 Simple Steps

A few years ago, I read an article about the nation’s $18T debt. It’s bigger now, of course. That article had a call for what to do about it. I replied to it, and my suggestions haven’t changed. And since we’re in the middle of tax season, I thought I’d put this out for the rest of the world.

Step 1: GET THE MIDDLEMEN (i.e. HEALTH INSURERS AND GOVERNMENT) OUT OF HEALTH CARE. (Trump WANTS a single-payer health care system). The more middlemen, the greater the cost to the consumer. Since the 1970’s, the number of physicians has remained relatively constant, while the number of administrators has grown almost in lock-step with the cost of healthcare. The so-called “Affordable” Care Act created new levels of administration, causing even more money that is ostensibly directed at medical services to be directed toward administrative costs, instead. Cut the bureaucracy, cut the cost of health care.


There are hundreds of laws on the books whose primary effect is to create costly red tape while either having very little effect on actions they’re supposedly controlling or else intruding in individual actions that our founders never meant government to have control of. Get rid of them, and money that was spent in paying lawyers to split hairs over what exactly hundreds of laws do or don’t require can now be invested in the economy–which will mean more sales tax revenue for States (see Step 4).

Step 3: Overhaul the IRS. If you have to pay someone hundreds of dollars to do your taxes for you, they’re too complex. If nothing else, we’ll save money (and trees) on compiling instructions. (Despite the IRS no longer printing many forms themselves, there are still many people who need the instructions printed out for them–like my ex-professional tax preparer, completely-internet-illiterate mother)

Step 4: Cut welfare and SSI. With all the savings from Steps 1-3, fewer people will need it in the first place, and those who do need help will be better supported by community programs that can now afford to operate under the reduced tax burdens created by Steps 1-3. In fact, there’s a lot of Federal programs that would be better handled as State programs–as in Step 1, we save money by eliminating the middlemen who gather taxes from the States into the Federal coffers, and then redistribute them back to the States.

Step 5: Have a national lottery. Those who want to pay in to the Government for a chance to get rich can. Those who don’t, aren’t obligated to. Again, less taxes for the rest o us to pay.

Of course, there’s a reason that I said “5 simple steps” and not “5 easy steps.” Most of these actions would give power back to the people, and that’s one thing that will have a bureaucracy circling the wagons in no time. Too many people in power are too happy with the status quo. Which is why we continue to go deeper into debt.

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Authors Guild’s 2018 Author Income Survey Shows 42% Decline in Authors’ Incomes Since Kindle Debut: A Response


Several factors have been mentioned in causing this, most of them coming back to Amazon, Google, and Facebook (especially Amazon) working to reduce their distribution costs and secure profits for themselves at the expense of devaluing the publications themselves. Self-published authors are peanuts at the mercy of an elephant, while traditional publishing houses swallow the additional costs by cutting down on advances and royalties for their authors.

Particularly egregious is Amazon’s willingness to allow third-party vendors to list “new” and “nearly new” books at prices below what they will allow original publishers (including self-published authors) to list them at. This is creating a race-to-the-bottom push in publishing that will have the next great “American” novel being written in India, or Nigeria. Truly American authors will be restricted to celebrities who can sell half a million copies on their name alone, and independently-wealthy dilettantes who only write as a hobby.

An often-made suggestion to deal with this is charging royalties on secondhand books.

I don’t agree in charging a royalty on resale. That’s a whole new can of worms that will enable lawyers to take a vise grip on books, just as they have done with music. Not to mention it won’t solve the problem of Amazon allowing third-party vendors to underbid the original publisher.

What I would like to see is a limitation on copyrights–copyrights are SUPPOSED to enable the CREATOR to enjoy a monopoly on their work, but how does a creator benefit from royalties earned after her death? Either royalties end up with heirs she’s never met, much less determined whether to bequeath her royalties to them, or in the hands of some corporate entity, which is either reaping the royalties (if it’s a cash cow) or forcing it out of the market (in order to clear its list for what may be the next cash cow). Either way, the royalties end up beneffitting someone who hand NOTHING to do with the creation, which is what copyright law is intended to reward. Patent doesn’t last NEAR that long, and the average patent takes longer to develop (time and money) and “publish” than the average book! There’s a lot of good material published in the mid-20th Century that’s going to be lost to time because copyright law allows publishers to suppress it until it’s completely forgotten.

Lawyers are already becoming a problem for authors by defending publishers who slap copyright labels on what should be public domain–if it had ever been copyrightable in the first place. (For example: A fact is not copyrightable, therefore a string of facts that forms a description of a game is not copyrightable, yet the NFL fines “Unauthorized pictures, descriptions, or accounts” of their games with impunity.)

Oh, and about “destroying bookstore returns”: The problem with that one is the cost of returns. That’s why a lot of mass-market paperbacks have these statements about “if you bought this book without a cover”–to save postage, bookstores just rip the front cover off the book and send it back as proof of “unsold and destroyed” while shipping the rest of it off to overstock dollar-store distributors.

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Looking for the Keys Where the Light’s Good.

There’s this old joke about a guy looking for his keys under a streetlamp:

A passerby comes along and offers to help. After several minutes of fruitless looking, the passerby asks where the guy lost his keys.

“In that alley” (or “my apartment,” in some versions.)

“Then why are you looking here?” the passerby asks.

“The light’s better here.”


This is, unfortunately, the ways the Government often deals with danger. Take cadmium, for example.  If you’re an artist, you know cadmium as the pigment responsible for a range of colors from warm red to yellow. Though there might conceivably be a teensy-tiny risk to the artist, once the painting’s done it’s pretty much sealed off and harmless to everyone.

What you might not know is that it could also be in your jewelry box. Recent tests on jewelry sold in common discount retailers (Ross, Papaya, and the like) found some of them were up to 100% cadmium. The common factor isn’t the price point, but the source: “made in China.” (Is anyone surprised?)*

Cadmium’s also been found in drinking water and food, though how it’s getting there isn’t quite so straightforward.

California (naturally) has been slapping warning labels on cadmium-pigmented paints for a few years, now. And many manufacturers are proudly proclaiming their paints as “cadmium-free.” It looks like we may be heading toward an outright ban on cadmium-pigmented paints. (Whether enough die-hard fans of cadmium will carve out an exception for artist-grade paints, as they did with lead, remains to be seen.)

Whether this will have any effect on the increasing levels of cadmium in our bodies is dubious, at best.

But that’s where the light is better.


*Source: Dr. Mark Stengler <HouseCalls@newmarkethealth.com> [Warning] The ONE holiday gift you should NEVER give

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Five Theories on the Fitz: Leftoverture

When you’re writing a book that involves a lot of research, there comes a point when you have to tell yourself, “Enough! Write the book already!”

The aftermath of this being, even as you’re finishing the final edits, you’re still discovering new information, and your brain is still formulating new material on your research.

For example, as I paged through my proof copies (typo #23, typo #24…) I began to think more about the equipment the boats carry and what it shows about how Government “solves” problems. More importantly, which problems Government chooses to solve.

You see, at the time the Edmund Fitzgerald went down, there was no requirement to have fathometers on large vessels, and the Fitz only carried a hand lead (a weight on a marked line–not something you’d use in heavy weather). There was no requirement to have anemometers, thermometers, or wind vanes, either, but Fitz had a full suite of these.

Why Fitz was carrying a suite of weather equipment is a story that goes back to November 11, 1940. That was a nasty storm that brought a few boats down. The lakers wanted better forecasting. The National Weather Service wanted more data for their weather models. So they entered into an agreement: the NWS would supply and maintain 40 suites of weather equipment on lake carriers, and the crews would learn to make weather observations and report them four times a day (except when they were navigating rivers). The Edmund Fitzgerald was one of those 40 boats carrying NWS equipment. The program was so popular and beneficial to the boats, that some companies bought and installed weather equipment out of their own pockets.

The Arthur M. Anderson carried company weather equipment.

If the Government’s attitude of “they won’t do it unless we force them” is correct, then why were they buying anemometers and not fathometers?

To outside lubbers, the lack of a fathometer bordered on criminal negligence. Why wouldn’t you want to know if you were getting into shoal areas? To the freighter community, a fathometer was irrelevant. They traipsed over the same paths day after day, week after week, they knew from years of experience where the shallow spots were. The only place there was any variation of note was in the harbors, where erosion and spilled cargo could, over the course of a few weeks or months, leave an ore boat with not as much water under her keel as she should have. In that case, a hand lead was adequate to let the dock know it was time to dredge. Hull damage from shallow harbors and canals is considered normal wear and tear for freighters.

Weather, on the other hand, was a huge unknown. Going to anchor when they didn’t need to wasted tens of thousands of dollars. Not going to anchor (or picking the wrong place to anchor) when they needed to could lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage or loss of the entire boat (and crew). Sometimes a spot that provided safe anchorage early in a blow would leave a boat exposed to the full force of the storm when the wind shifted. The only defense against this was better weather forecasting, and the only way to get that was by accumulating more weather data.

So why were fathometers mandated for large vessels after the Fitz went down and not weather monitoring suites?

Because fathometers to prevent grounding is an easier problem to understand and simpler to apply a fix to than improving freighters’ ability to gauge exactly how dangerous an incoming weather system will be.

Once you recognize this pattern, you see it in legislation everywhere. Government looks for the easiest fix, then tries to convince you that the the fix Government came up with is the most effective solution to the problem, that the problem it solves is the biggest problem you have to face, and that the problems that it can’t solve are so unlikely to occur as to not bother about.

Look around. You’ll see.



Five Theories on the Fitz: And What They Reveal About the Politics of Disaster launched on October 18, 2018 .

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