Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Here's the best 404 message I've ever seen:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sir Chistopher Lee: RIP

Aside from being one of the finest actors the world has ever known, Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was (there's just no better way to express it) a badass.

At 6'5", he spoke six languages, participated in more on-screen sword fights than any actor in history and is the oldest (award-winning) heavy metal vocalist ever at 91. He was apparently the most prolific actor in motion picture history (281 roles), the son of an Italian Countess descended from the line of King Charlemagne, and of a WWI war hero related to American Civil War General Robert E. Lee.

In 1939, Christopher Lee volunteered to fight for the Finnish government, and upon the death of his father volunteered for the Royal Air Force. As a codebreaker in North Africa, he helped bring about the 1943 North African surrender of the Axis.

Lee's special ops service is so highly classified that his records are still sealed, seventy years after the close of the war. However, after the war, Lee is also said to have assisted the UN War Crimes Commission by personally tracking down Nazi war criminals. In 1997, he was named Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John; in 2001, Commander of the Order of the British Empire; in 2009, he was knighted by Prince Charles, and in 2011, he was named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the government of France.

Lee acted in screen adaptations of the greatest stories of all time: The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, Dracula, Star Wars, James Bond, The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, Hamlet, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, and many more.

As an interesting bit of trivia, Lee also hobnobbed with many other greats - you can find him on the cover of Paul McCartney's album Band On The Run, where he's dressed as one of several convicts caught by a searchlight (alongside McCartney, the band, and actor James Coburn). As a master golfer, he's played against Jack Nicklaus. He even met J.R.R. Tolkein in an Oxford pub called the Eagle and Child, and found himself so starstruck that all he could say was "How do you do?"

Lee was apparently a huge fan of the author's work (which he read in its original 1953 prio\nting), and said in an interview with Cinefantastique magazine:

"Members of the [Lord of the Rings] cast and crew were always trying to catch me out. They'd ask me questions like, 'What was the name of Frodo's father,' or, 'What was the name of this or that sword.' Things like that. Well, they never caught me out -- not once! They tried, but they never did."
"I still think the Lord of the Rings is the greatest literary achievement in my lifetime," he said.

Millions around the world will doubtless agree Sir Christopher Lee was the greatest actor of his time.

"Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." Horatio - Hamlet

Sources: "Christopher Lee was a Nazi hunter and other badass things you didn't know about cinema's biggest villain", Philippa Hawker, The Age;"Sir Christopher Lee on The Lord of the Rings trilogy", Lawrence French, Cinefantastique;
IMDB; Wikipedia; "One Reason Christopher Lee Was Perfect For 'Lord Of The Rings'", Todd Van Luling, The Huffington Post 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Boy Who Wants to Save the World - and Just Might

The 19-year-old Dutch aerospace engineer looked like a young Donovan Leach, and certainly shared that famous balladeer's visionary temperament.

But his Atlantis is of a more tangible sort: Boyan Slat has a vision of how to address a deeply troubling and pressing environmental issue - skimming off the mountains of plastics choking the life from our oceans.

When his TedX Talk sparked international enthusiasm, funds started pouring in for his foundation The Ocean Cleanup:

One year, a UN Champions of the Earth award and $2 million in seed money later, his passive ocean cleanup system is set to launch - next year.

It's an engineering feat on a grand scale, and one that is restoring hope in our planet's future.

The passive cleanup array is currently being tested in seawaters off the coast of Tsushima, an island found between Japan and South Korea.

The 6,560-foot system is the longest floating structure ever set afloat, and is slated for at least two years of operation. Slat's team is currently trying to find methods of using the harvested waste plastic as a source of alternative energy.

Three years later, with deployments gradually increasing in size, team will deploy a 62-mile-long array to deal with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch found between California and Hawaii.

In preparation, the team will deploy 50 ships this August to map out a 3,500,000 square km region between California and Hawaii, to create a high-resolution map of Pacific Ocean plastic contamination.

Ship owners are presently being invited to participate. More information on the technology is available here: http://www.theoceancleanup.com/

Ms. Lennox, if you would please do the honors:

Sources: How the Oceans Can Clean Themselves: Boyan Slat at TEDxDelft;
The Ocean Cleanup.com
Cleanup Device Will Be World's Largest Floating Structure by Wendy Laursen, Maritime-Executive.com

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Praise Jesus and Pass the Ammunition: Neoconservatism and Gun Control in America

Psychology 1900: Introduction to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences,
by Eric A. Smith
, Harvard University

Overseas, U.S. gun statistics elicit shock, and the numbers prompt non-Americans to seriously reconsider their travel and emigration plans. Perhaps they can’t be blamed - the numbers are indeed stunning. According to the most recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, With less than 5% of the world's population, the United States is home to roughly 3550 percent of the world's civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison.”

The UK Guardian says this equates to 88 guns per 100 people, the world’s highest per-capita gun ownership, far ahead of number two contender Yemen, which boasts 54.8 guns per 100 people. But just how many guns is that?

A 2012 Congressional Research Service Report says that nearly 310 million guns are found in 40% of U.S. households, with most of those households containing more than one gun. Thats a very sizeable portion of the world's 875 million guns, used to kill 1,000 worldwide every day, according to GunPolicy.org. The FBI's 2011 Uniform Crime Reports show that, of 12,664 resolved murder cases, two thirds (8,583) were committed using firearms.

But that’s just the proverbial tip of a very bloody iceberg: between 2001 and 2010, U.S. guns were used in approximately 20-25% of all serious crimes (those which involve robbery, aggravated assault, rape and other sexual assault) according to the 2012 Small Arms Survey.

Furthermore, notes The Atlantic’s Jonathan Stray, "...Guns are also involved in suicides and accidents. 19,392 of 38,264 suicides in 2010 involved a gun (50%), according to the CDC. There were 606 firearm-related accidents in the same year -- about 5% of the number of intentional gun deaths."

Aside from the devastating toll exacted upon family and community wellbeing and morale, gun crime also exacts a more tangible price: the 2012 Small Arms Survey adds that "...Direct medical costs for firearm injuries, including hospital stays, diagnostic procedures, surgery, and blood products, are substantial and often exceed the costs of treating other injuries and medical emergencies.”

"Research was carried out in the United States in the 1990s, when the firearm violence epidemic was at its peak, to assess the overall cost of firearm injuries. One study estimates that direct and indirect costs exceeded USD 20 billion in 1990, of which USD 1.4 billion represented direct medical costs (Max and Rice, 1993, p. 171). Another study, focusing exclusively on medical costs, estimates the mean cost per injury at about USD 17,000, which includes hospitalization (as victims who survive firearm injuries frequently require multiple rehospitalizations) and subsequent medical treatment spread over a victims lifetime. Based on the number of firearm injuries in the US in 1994, the study estimated a total cost of USD 2.3 billion. The study finds that approximately three-quarters of these costs were borne for gunshot injuries due to violence (Cook et al., 1999, p. 453)."

However, these are simply the most obvious deleterious consequences of America's love affair with firearms: in 2008, the World Health Organization concluded that "...a comprehensive assessment of direct costs of firearm violence would include expenses linked to policing and imprisonment, legal services, foster care, and private security (Butchart et al., 2008, p. 7, table 1). Tangible indirect costs include loss of productivity, lost investments in social capital, and higher insurance costs; a broad range of intangible indirect costs may also be taken into account, such as reductions in or limitations on health-related quality of life (pain and suffering, both physical and psychological), job opportunities, access to schools and public services, and participation in community life.

In Gun Violence: The Real Costs,  authors Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig put the monetary costs of gun violence to Americans at a whopping $100 billion every year.

With so much at stake morally, ethically, politically and financially, it's imperative that we deepen and broaden our understanding of the problem. To that end, is it possible to build up a typical "pro-gun" profile, and, if so, is it independent of factors like gender and age?

Correlational analyses were conducted upon a survey of 100 Harvard students, with a series of responses scored from 1 ("extremely liberal") to 7 ("extremely conservative"). These responses were then tallied and compared to responses to the question "Should gun control laws be stricter?", to determine whether or not there was a correlation between political conservatism and a preference for lax gun control laws.

The sample of 100 individuals was drawn from enrollees in Harvard's Introduction to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences. The participants ranged in age from 17 to 65 with a mean age of 29.17 and SD of 10.8 years, and there was a ratio of 66 women to 32 men, with two participants electing not to disclose their gender.

The null hypothesis posits that gun control opinions are independent of political leanings, while the alternative hypothesis states that there is a typical American "pro-gun" profile, among the most politically conservative.
Our second alternative hypothesis states that there is a correlation between gun control advocacy and gender.

A histogram shows the political views of the 100 respondents formed a normal distribution, ranging from extremely liberal (45) to extremely conservative (99), with a mean of 71.68 and a standard deviation of 13.37:

The first correlation test found no significant correlation between political leanings and gun legislation preference (r=.097, n=98, one-tailed). However, SPSS automatically set the alpha level at .19, and this value did not appear to be adjustable.

The second correlation test likewise found no significant correlation between gender and gun legislation preference (r=.170 n=98, p=.01, two-tailed).

It's important to bear in mind that this sample is drawn from a population which is highly atypical; Harvard students have a higher level of literacy, affluence and upward economic mobility than typical Americans.

For a truly representative study, respondents would need to be drawn from the American population at large, with a much larger, regionally diverse and gender/income-balanced sample. Given the time and resources, it would also be advantageous to add literacy, income and education levels as additional independent variables.

Works Cited:

Gun Crime Statistics by US State, Mona Chalabi, September 17, 2013, The Guardian newspaper

A Matter of Survival: Non-Lethal Firearm Violence, Chapter 3, Small Arms Survey Yearbook, 2012, chapter 3, Anna Alvazzi del Frate et al., Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/publications/by-type/yearbook/small-arms-survey-2012.html

Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (with 13 Concise Answers), Johnathon Stray, Feb 4, 2013, Atlantic Magazine http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/gun-violence-in-america-the-13-key-questions-with-13- concise-answers/272727/

2012 Congressional Research Service Report on Gun Control Legislation, William J. Krouse, U.S. Congress, November 14, 2012 http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL32842_20121114.pdf

Gun Violence: The Real Costs, Philip J. Cook, Jens Ludwig, Oxford University Press, 2002 http://books.google.com.hk/books/about/Gun_Violence.html?id=3xi31fs1y-oC