Friday, December 21, 2012

Why Not Renew the “Assault Weapons” Ban? Well, I’ll Tell You… « Kontradictions

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Facts about Mass Shootings

December 16, 2012 4:00 P.M.

The Facts about Mass Shootings
It’s time to address mental health and gun-free zones.

By John Fund

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Near the Newtown, Conn., school massacre

A few things you won’t hear about from the saturation coverage of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre:

Mass shootings are no more common than they have been in past decades, despite the impression given by the media.

In fact, the high point for mass killings in the U.S. was 1929, according to criminologist Grant Duwe of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Incidents of mass murder in the U.S. declined from 42 in the 1990s to 26 in the first decade of this century.

The chances of being killed in a mass shooting are about what they are for being struck by lightning.

Until the Newtown horror, the three worst K–12 school shootings ever had taken place in either Britain or Germany.

Almost all of the public-policy discussion about Newtown has focused on a debate over the need for more gun control. In reality, gun control in a country that already has 200 million privately owned firearms is likely to do little to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals. We would be better off debating two taboo subjects — the laws that make it difficult to control people with mental illness and the growing body of evidence that “gun-free” zones, which ban the carrying of firearms by law-abiding individuals, don’t work.

First, the mental-health issue. A lengthy study by Mother Jones magazine found that at least 38 of the 61 mass shooters in the past three decades “displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.” New York Times columnist David Brooks and Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson have both suggested that the ACLU-inspired laws that make it so difficult to intervene and identify potentially dangerous people should be loosened. “Will we address mental-health and educational-privacy laws, which instill fear of legal liability for reporting potentially violent mentally ill people to law enforcement?” asks Professor Jacobson. “I doubt it.”

Gun-free zones have been the most popular response to previous mass killings. But many law-enforcement officials say they are actually counterproductive. “Guns are already banned in schools. That is why the shootings happen in schools. A school is a ‘helpless-victim zone,’” says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. “Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,” Jim Kouri, the public-information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., Batman-movie shooting. Indeed, there have been many instances — from the high-school shooting by Luke Woodham in Mississippi, to the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo. — where a killer has been stopped after someone got a gun from a parked car or elsewhere and confronted the shooter.

Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found that a common theme of mass shootings is that they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools.

I spoke with Lott after the Newtown shooting, and he confirmed that nothing has changed to alter his findings. He noted that the Aurora shooter, who killed twelve people earlier this year, had a choice of seven movie theaters that were showing the Batman movie he was obsessed with. All were within a 20-minute drive of his home. The Cinemark Theater the killer ultimately chose wasn’t the closest, but it was the only one that posted signs saying it banned concealed handguns carried by law-abiding individuals. All of the other theaters allowed the approximately 4 percent of Colorado adults who have a concealed-handgun permit to enter with their weapons.

“Disarming law-abiding citizens leaves them as sitting ducks,” Lott told me. “A couple hundred people were in the Cinemark Theater when the killer arrived. There is an extremely high probability that one or more of them would have had a legal concealed handgun with him if they had not been banned.”

Lott offers a final damning statistic: “With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.”

There is no evidence that private holders of concealed-carry permits (which are either easy to obtain or not even required in more than 40 states) are any more irresponsible with firearms than the police. According to a 2005 to 2007 study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Bowling Green State University, police nationwide were convicted of firearms violations at least at a 0.002 percent annual rate. That’s about the same rate as holders of carry permits in the states with “shall issue” laws.

Despite all of this evidence, the magical thinking behind gun-free zones is unlikely to be questioned in the wake of the Newtown killings. Having such zones gives people a false sense of security, and woe to the politician or business owner who now suggests that a “gun-free zone” revert back to what critics would characterize as “a wild, wild West” status. Indeed, shortly after the Cinemark attack in Colorado, the manager of the nearby Northfield Theaters changed its policy and began banning concealed handguns.

In all of the fevered commentary over the Newtown killings, you will hear little discussion of the fact that we may be making our families and neighbors less safe by expanding the places where guns aren’t allowed. But that is precisely what we may be doing. Both criminals and the criminally insane have shown time and time again that those laws are the least of the problems they face as they carry out their evil deeds.

— John Fund is a national-affairs columnist for NRO.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012


I sit here today absolutely crushed and heartbroken.  Tears keep welling and I cannot get my heart away from the pain of the loss in CT.  


I keep seeing the angry, torn, heartfelt and terrified remarks online and in the media.  Many want to lash out at what they seem to think are obvious causes but so few have been able to put rational thought to this most horrible of tragedies.

Here is my attempt at rationality written through the fog of tears the day after:

There is a very tired and overused comparison among law enforcement, military, and others in our society.  It compares the everyday person and a small minority that move among them to sheep and sheepdogs.  This comparison is widely batted around on days like today when the broken, the evil, or “the wolf”, has us all running for safety.

So I offer this simple question.  Why do we take the most precious of us - the “lambs” if you will - and put them in the most open clearing,  at the same time and place each day,  and then take away the sheepdogs?

Friday, December 07, 2012

Pi factory processes

Triumph and disaster: Two migrations to OpenOffice

It must have seemed a sure thing. With costs for Microsoft Office around $75 per seat per year for public administration, the city of Freiburg in Germany embarked on a migration to, figuring it'd save a bundle in license fees. With 2,000 users, the move would amass $150,000 annually. So the city tried.

Five years and at least $600,000 on, with unhappy staff complaining of interoperability problems with Microsoft Office documents, city administrators called in a consultant from a Microsoft partner to support the city council in fixing the problem. The solution proposed: a complete reversal of course, switching back to Microsoft Office for a sum of at least $500,000, with a $360-per-seat cost for licensing Microsoft Office and no firm estimates for undoing the earlier migration.

[ Open source suites go beyond Microsoft Office [1] | Track the latest trends in open source with InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter [2]. ]

What went wrong? Was it simply that the open source software was incapable of delivering the functions that Freiburg needed? The first hint that the answer to that question would require some digging came when, almost simultaneously, another German city -- Munich -- announced that the success of its open source migration had netted savings around $13 million.

When two almost-simultaneous announcements on the same topic have opposite conclusions, you know complexity awaits, with deeper lessons to be learned. Working out exactly what's been happening has been involved, first because there is an amazing volume of paperwork to digest and because everything beyond the superficial is in German. With help from friends in Germany, I've worked my way through some of the information about both Freiburg and Munich.

Cost cutting, two ways
The contrast between the approach taken in the two cities is striking. Freiburg -- a smaller city administration -- focused on cost cutting. It recognized there would be one-off costs to pay from template and macro migration, as well as user training, but it stuck with Windows desktops, retained certain existing applications, and even allowed some staff to opt out of the migration entirely and keep using Microsoft Office. It seems there was a limited uptake of migration training, too. The result was an environment with both 3.2 and Office 2000 in use throughout the attempted migration.

Because Office 2000 did not support the OpenDocument format standard, this guaranteed a flow of documents in the formats used by both office suites, maximizing opportunities for incompatibility. By all accounts, the city stuck with those old versions of both Office and and allowed the mixed environment to persist throughout. No two word processors can ever be 100 percent compatible with each other's file formats; only a well-defined, standard format implemented by both stands any chance of interoperability. Unsurprisingly, staff ran into problems with document compatibility; equally unsurprising, the crew blamed the "new" software for the problems.

Looking at the numbers (see my article in ComputerworldUK [3] for more details), it appears that the expenditure in Freiburg was dominated by the idea of cutting licensing costs. I may be missing it in the reports, but I couldn't find any sign of investment in the open source software itself. The report -- and the subsequent PR from Freiburg -- talks about the "uncertainty" of the software (forked to create LibreOffice [4], abandoned by Oracle, then repurposed by IBM and others at Apache) but makes no mention of investment in the software.

Investing in empowerment
By contrast, the city of Munich's migration was all in, full on, and nonoptional. The city switched to Linux desktops as well as to It hired staff to work in the open source community, developing features and fixing bugs. The government invested in software, helping develop the comprehensive WollMux [5] tool to manage its usage, as well as the LiMux platform [6]. Administrators stayed up-to-date, switching to LibreOffice once it was obvious it was the vendor-supported and active forward path for the productivity suite. The crew engaged expert vendors to improve the open source software for them [7]. As well as investing in IT and technology, Munich's workers invested in the user community, hiring staff to manage communications inside and outside the organization too.

If your primary assumption is that an open source migration saves money [8], this sounds crazy. Why spend so much money and effort? The reason is Microsoft's desktop environment is largely immune to drop-in replacement. Switching away involves breaking the lock-in and changing the software. This is the big lie of "interoperability." Any time you see that word in the context of a software migration, you can be sure that someone somewhere wants you to believe you can switch suppliers without breaking the lock-in.

Munich realized the importance of open source software came from empowerment rather than license price. Yes, it saved $13 million, with more cash likely to come. But to do so involved using software freedom to break the lock-in holding back the city. Achieving this was a long-term strategy, one that involved learning and course corrections. It also involved investment -- in software, in community, in engagement.

As Munich frees itself from vendor control over its IT architecture, it is increasingly able to prioritize its own decisions and gain greater control over software budgets, eliminating the worry over arbitrary price rises [9] or non-negotiable fees. But that doesn't mean no spending; value always costs money. Freiburg tried to save money in the short term without breaking the lock-in and failed. Munich invested in open source empowerment and created a long-term strategy to break the lock-in. Now it's sitting pretty.

This article, "Triumph and disaster: Two migrations to OpenOffice [10]," was originally published [11]. Read more of the Open Sources blog [12] and follow the latest developments inopen source [13] at For the latest business technology news, on Twitter [14].

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