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Health, Science, Environment

Commentary: The hazards of logic or a futile search in the 24/7 news cycle

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 28, 2013 - The film Platoon is narrated by a fictional American infantryman in Vietnam named Chris Taylor. At one point, battle-scarred and exhausted, he says, “Hell is the impossibility of reason.” For his sake, let’s hope Chris didn’t become a cable news junkie in his later years because the 24/7 news cycle contains enough illogic to fuel several infernos. To cite but a few examples:

High-capacity magazines

In the wake of the slaughter at a grade school in Newtown, Conn., gun-control advocates advanced the rather sensible idea of banning high-capacity magazines. These devices allow the shooter to fire up to 100 rounds without pausing to reload.

The NRA — of course — opposes the measure, in part because the organization contends that it would be ineffectual. A seasoned marksman, the reasoning goes, can rapidly replace a spent magazine with a fresh one, so killers would just carry more magazines on their murderous sprees.

Questions to the NRA: If a high-capacity magazine affords no advantage to the shooter, why are you anxious to retain them? For that matter, why were they invented in the first place?

When an individual is under stress, his fine motor skills are impaired. That’s why you always seem to fumble with your car keys when you’re in a hurry, but handle them easily when you’re relaxed. The idiot who shot Rep. Gabby Giffords and her associates was overpowered when he dropped a magazine while attempting to reload. Shouldn’t we at least try to make it difficult for mass murderers to realize their dreams?

Helmet laws

Some years ago, the Missouri legislature followed the lead of several other states and voted to require motorcyclists to wear helmets. The rationale for the requirement was that bare-headed riders sustain more serious injuries when involved in accidents and thus unduly tax public resources.

Now the same deliberative body contemplates suspending the law in August of each year. Legislators fear that bikers en route to their annual extravaganza in South Dakota avoid Missouri because of its helmet law, thereby robbing the state of coveted tourism dollars. The proposed “Helmet Holiday” would make the state a more appealing travel route.

Question to the Jeff City Delinquents: You contend helmetless motorcyclists cost the state money but you want to lure hordes of them here each summer to improve the local economy?

Secondhand smoke

Smoking ban crusaders prosecute their campaign on a township by township basis. This approach results in a crazy patchwork of bizarre exemptions that contradict the medical assumptions underlying the effort.

In St. Louis, for example, it would appear that bartenders in small taverns (under 2,000 square feet) are impervious to the smoke of others while employees of larger — and presumably better ventilated — establishments are not. Similarly, restaurant workers are assumed to be vulnerable to the deleterious effects of environmental smoke while casino employees are apparently immune. And, of course, the Missouri Athletic Club remains exempt to the laws of physical science, to say nothing of the trifling strictures of municipal ordinances.

Question to Secondhand Smoke Zealots: Instead of fighting the same battle ad infinitum, why not call upon OSHA to invoke its existing statutory authority to ban the hazard of secondhand smoke in workplaces nationwide? Could it be because when you tried for the grand solution about 15 years ago, a federal court issued a scathing and detailed opinion demonstrating there was no credible scientific evidence to indicate that anybody’s health was ever endangered by somebody else smoking a cigarette?

Obama’s third term

The latest nightmare of the Black Helicopter Watch Society has the Democrats regaining control of the House in the 2014 off-year elections and then repealing the 22nd amendment to install Barack Obama as president-for-life.

All that needs to happen for this to take place is the following: two-thirds of the Congress (290 representatives and 67 senators) will have to vote to send the proposal to the states, after which three-fourths of the various state legislatures will have to ratify it. Then, the country will have to decide to re-elect him.

At present, Obama can’t convince a simple majority on Capitol Hill to fund the government for a full fiscal year and the usual time period for ratification of a constitutional amendment is seven years.

As the new Congress won’t be seated until January 2015 and the next presidential election is slated for the first Tuesday in November 2016, it would appear that Obama — who garnered all of 51 percent of the popular vote and lost 23 states in his last election — has some quick talking to do.

Question to the People Who Dream This Stuff Up: Have you guys heard about online porn?

The Age of the Universe

The Associated Press reports that the universe is approximately 80 million years older than previously thought. This conclusion is based on recent observations of “sound echoes and fossilized light” from the Planck space telescope — an instrument named after Max Planck, the German physicist who developed the theory of quantum mechanics.

These findings are reported to validate the concept of “inflation” — a precept of the Big Bang theory that postulates the universe was once smaller than an atom, then suddenly “exploded, cooled and expanded faster than the speed of light." The article mentions that the idea of inflation is “based in part on Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.” Perhaps in the interest of brevity, the author failed to mention that quantum mechanics and relativity theory are considered by most theoretical physicists to be incompatible.

Question I’d Honestly Like to Know the Answer To: Since we define a year to be the duration of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, how can we calibrate events that preceded the creation of the sun and Earth in years?

I recognize the need for a constant unit of measurement. But relativity theory states that time slows as we approach the speed of light and the concept of inflation postulates that the universe initially expanded faster than that speed. Aren’t we trying to superimpose a stopwatch on a process that had none when we attempt to measure creation in years? Wouldn’t time, itself, have unfolded along with the evolving physical universe?


The beleaguered rifleman, Chris, was spot-on with his observation about the impossibility of reason.  Here's hoping he didn't expect the problem to resolve itself when he left Vietnam.

M.W. Guzy is a regular contributor to the Beacon.

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