Monthly Archives: January 2016

Prize-winning technology to make the desert bloom

Line in the sand: New technology could transform poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land.


Through a combination of climate change, drought, overgrazing and other human activities, desertification across the world is on the march. It’s a process defined by the UN as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions”. Given that around 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface is occupied by drylands – home to around two billion people – the potential for desertification to impact the planet is huge. A recent report from the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative claimed that it’s a problem costing the world as much as US$10.6tn every year – approximately 17 per cent of global gross domestic product.

The refugee crisis in Europe has highlighted the difficulties that arise when large numbers of people migrate. However, the numbers arriving from countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Eritrea pale in comparison to those that could be forced into exile by changing climate conditions. According to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the process could displace as many as 50 million people over the next decade.


But one Norwegian start-up is developing a technology to wage a frontline battle with desertification. Desert Control is a Norwegian company set up by Kristian and Ole Morten Olesen, alongside chief operating officer Andreas Julseth. It was recently awarded first prize at ClimateLaunchpad, a clean-tech business competition that attracted more than 700 entries from 28 countries across Europe. The product that earned Desert Control top honours was Liquid NanoClay, a mixture of water and clay that is mixed in a patented process and used to transform sandy desert soils into fertile ground.

“The mixing process splits the clay particles into individual flakes and adds air bubbles on both sides of the flakes,” Ole Morten Olesen, CEO of Desert Control, told The Engineer. “The mix is then spread over the land and allowed to saturate down to root level – about 40-60cm deep. This requires around 40 litres of water and 1kg of clay per square metre.”

Olesen explained that his father Kristian, Desert Control’s chief technical officer, has been working on the process behind Liquid NanoClay since 2008. The treatment gives sand particles a nanostructured clay coating, completely changing their physical properties and allowing them to bind water. The process, which does not involve any chemical agents, can change poor-quality sandy soils into high-yield agricultural land.

According to Desert Control, virgin desert soils treated with Liquid NanoClay produced a yield four times greater than untreated land, using the same amount of seeds and fertiliser, and less than half the amount of water. It found that Liquid NanoClay acts as a catalyst for Mycorrhizal fungi when nourishment is available, with the fungi responsible for the increased yield.

Clay is a fundamental component of productive arable land, acting as a water-holder, providing elasticity, and allowing non-clay elements to bind to the soil. In the past, adding clay to dry land
in order to improve its agricultural value has involved tilling clay into the soil. This requires large volumes of clay and substantial amounts of manual labour. The process of transforming sandy
soil into fertile land can take between seven and 15 years. By comparison, Liquid NanoClay takes just seven hours to saturate into the land.

The water and clay is mixed on site using the patented process, then traditional irrigation systems such as sprinklers or water wagons are used to spread it across the sandy soil. The individual clay flakes bind to the surface of the sand particles with a Van der Waals binding, significantly increasing the ability of the soil to hold water and nutrients.

The cost of treatment per hectare is US$4,800, and requires a 15-20 per cent retreatment after four or five years if the land is tilled. If the soil is untilled, the treatment lasts for longer. Converting a piece of desert the size of a rugby pitch into fertile land for this cost seems like a pretty good deal.

“In just seven hours the soil is totally transformed,” said Ole Morten. “We use existing irrigation systems to apply the Liquid NanoClay, removing the need to till the land and use much
greater volumes of water.”

“In just seven hours the soil is totally transformed

Ole Morten, Desert Control

The performance data for Liquid NanoClay is based on field tests that were conducted at the Agricultural Research Centre (ARC) in Ismailia in Egypt. White pepper was planted in test fields containing dry sandy soil. Fields treated with Liquid NanoClay gave an additional two months of harvest, compared to the fields that were untreated.

Following the initial harvest, the plants were then left without irrigation over winter and spring, when new plants were due to be sown. However, the original crops were found to be in such good condition that they could be used for another season.

“When we returned the following season, we were surprised that the pepper plants were looking so healthy,” said Ole Morten. “We had expected to have to replant, as they had been left over winter and spring without irrigation. But the old plants were in good enough shape that we could use them again in the next season.”

Unsurprisingly, some of the most vulnerable areas to desertification are in north and central Africa, around the edges of the Sahara. Other regions under threat include large parts of China and Mongolia, as the Gobi encroaches into the eastern parts of the Eurasian Steppe and the farmland it supports, as well as several regions in Australia.


When pitching Desert Control at ClimateLaunchpad, chief operating officer Andreas Julseth also focused in on the particular business opportunity available in Central Valley, California. Making up around 14 per cent of California’s total land area, the valley is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions. However, since 2011, the state has been in the grip of one of the worst droughts on record.

“In 2014, the agricultural sector in Central Valley lost 165,000 hectares to fallowing,” Julseth recently told the ClimateLaunchpad audience. “Fallowing means they ploughed the land but didn’t sow any seeds, because there simply wasn’t enough water available to sustain the land. They estimate this had a US$2.2bn impact on the agricultural industry.”

In the desperate search for water, farmers in California have been digging ever deeper, employing oil-drilling equipment to reach the disappearing aquifers. Not only is this expensive, it is eradicating an ancient natural resource in a classic tragedy of the commons. Acting out of rational self-interest, the farmers are draining a communal water resource dry. Julseth believes Liquid NanoClay can help avert the impending tragedy.

“I believe that farmers will flock to us as soon as they see that they can reduce their dependency on water by at least 50 per cent,” he said. “Put it this way – if they were using our product, the present drought would no longer be a problem. I also believe that land developers will use the opportunity to buy dry land, have us treat it, and then be able to sell it for eight to 10 times the purchasing price. Because that’s the reality now – dry land goes for one-tenth what fertile land goes for.”

“I believe that farmers will flock to us as soon as they see that they can reduce their dependency on water by at least 50 per cent. If they were using our product, the present Californian drought would no longer be a problem

Andreas Julseth, Desert Control

If Desert Control can successfully get Liquid NanoClay to market, the potential of the technology is enormous, with implications for fragile environments around the globe and the populations that inhabit them. Along with the testing that took place in Egypt, additional third-party verification is taking place at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College London.


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The unsexy truth about why the Arab Spring failed


Protesters gather in Tahrir Square on February 1, 2011.Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Image

By the time it became clear to the world that Egypt’s Arab Spring had gone terribly wrong, that the seemingly Hollywood-like drama of good-guy protesters triumphing over bad-guy dictator had turned out to be something much more disappointing, the other revolutions across the Middle East had soured as well.

Today, Egypt is under a new military dictatorship; Libya, Yemen, and Syria have all collapsed into civil wars.

In the years since everything went so wrong, it has become fashionable to blame the naiveté of the revolutionaries or the petty incompetence of transitional leaders. We are still trying to make this a story about the personal accomplishments or failures of individual heroes or villains, but that narrative is just as silly as it was when we first tried to apply in 2011.

The truth is that this was never a story primarily about individual heroes or villains. Rather, it was about something much bigger and more abstract: the catastrophic failure of institutions. It’s not a story that is particularly dramatic, and it’s not easy to profile for a magazine cover. But when you look at what has happened from the Arab Spring, from its 2011 beginning through today, you see institutional failure everywhere.

That story isn’t as emotionally compelling as the one we told ourselves in 2011. But it’s a crucially important one, if we want to understand how this went so wrong and the lessons for the world.

The story we tell ourselves about the Arab Spring

Freedom Graffiti Tunisia

Graffiti on a building in Tunis, Tunisia, during the revolution. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In the five years since the Arab Spring disappointed the world’s hopes, a story has developed for the revolutions and their failures.

On Egypt, for example, the story usually goes something like this: First, the brave and idealistic but tragically naive revolutionaries focused only on bringing down the evil dictator Hosni Mubarak, but not on governing when he was gone. They failed to plan or to politically organize, foolishly placing their faith in hope, change, and Facebook instead of doing the difficult work of real politics.

In that story, the liberals’ supposed failures left an opening for the Muslim Brotherhood to sweep in and establish a hard-line Islamist government. The Brotherhood failed as well, pursing shortsighted, petty agendas that alienated the public and elites alike. The military was able to exploit the liberals’ naiveté and the Muslim Brotherhood’s incompetence, taking power for itself and placing Egypt under a military dictatorship.

This narrative looks very different from the story we first told ourselves in 2011 about the Arab Spring, in which brave, enlightened protesters were said to be standing up to the evil dictators. But what these two narratives share is that they ascribe everything to the personal failings or strengths of certain individual people: a wicked dictator in the original 2011 story; naive protesters, shortsighted and oppressive Islamists, and an evil general in the 2016 version.

But both versions of the story are incomplete. Individual failures alone didn’t cause the disastrous consequences of the Arab Spring revolutions, just as the individual heroism of Arab Spring protesters wasn’t enough to ensure their success.

The truth is that while the revolutionaries were in fact very brave and the dictators were in fact very bad, the real story of the Arab Spring wasn’t one about individual people being heroic or wicked. Rather, it was a less cinematic — but far more important — story about the dangers of brittle dictatorships and weak state institutions.

Democratic transition, it turns out, isn’t about whom you can overthrow or whom you replace them with. It’s about whether or how you can change the vast network of institutions underneath that person.

If you don’t make those institutions work — and often, by the dictator’s deliberate design, you simply can’t — then your revolution is doomed. No matter how many times you topple the dictator, no matter how pure and good your protesters are, it won’t be enough. That’s the real lesson of the Arab Spring — and it’s important precisely because it’s not as exciting or emotionally satisfying as the good-versus-evil story we prefer to tell.

The story of Egypt’s Arab Spring we don’t see: institutional collapse

Tahrir protest teargas

A November 2011 protest in Tahrir Square, seen through a haze of police tear gas. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak began preparing for revolution long before it came. In the three decades of his rule, he systematically ensured that no opposition party or civil society institution grew strong enough to challenge him. But in ensuring that no institutions were powerful or independent enough to threaten his rule, Mubarak also ensured that they were too weak to support a transition to democracy after he fell.

Mubarak stuffed the interior ministry with political loyalists rather than effective public servants, which allowed corruption and brutality to corrode public security. He turned the judiciary into a pro-regime puppet, which gave him a tool to persecute political opponents but left judges dependent and the rule of law weak. He undermined liberal opposition parties and tolerated the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood only enough to let him credibly claim to the world, “It’s me or the Islamists,” using frequent crackdowns and careful electoral rules to ensure that they never got real governing experience.

The one institution that gathered strength was the military. Its role in politics expanded under Mubarak far beyond what his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, had permitted, with Mubarak using patronage to buy the military’s loyalty as it grew more powerful.

But those measures couldn’t protect Mubarak forever. Even before the revolution, there were signs his regime was in trouble. His apparent plans to pass power to his son Gamal provoked popular outrage, including a 2010 protest at which demonstrators burned photographs of Gamal. Popular tolerance for the regime eroded further as inflation raised the cost of food, especially bread, placing real strain on poor Egyptians. Unemployment grew so catastrophically high that the International Monetary Fund warned it was a “ticking time bomb.” Popular anger against police brutality grew.

When the protest movement finally exploded in January 2011, Mubarak’s regime proved brittle. The revolution quickly gathered public support. The Interior Ministry failed to restore order.

And then, perhaps most crucially, Mubarak lost the loyalty of Egypt’s powerful army. Instead of crushing the protests, the army withdrew its support from his regime and installed itself in his place, ostensibly temporarily.

But it turned out that the military, an institution itself, had become focused on preserving its own interests over those of the state, and, a mere year after the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi became president, executed a military coup that deposed him and installed Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president.

The Morsi government, in its year of rule between military regimes, did some things right and a great many things wrong. But at all times, regardless of its performance, it was beset and undermined by the weakness or total incapacity of institutions and civil society. The judiciary turned openly against the Morsi government, security services withdrew from the streets, and even the state institutions that provided gas and electricity failed, according to the New York Times, “so fundamentally that gas lines and rolling blackouts fed widespread anger and frustration.”

Many of Morsi’s failures were self-inflicted, but even if he had been better at governing, the hollowness of Egypt’s state would still have at least severely weakened and possibly doomed him. And so when Morsi faltered, the country’s democratic transition collapsed. The military filled the void left by the rest of the state’s failures.

The problems that brought down Mubarak have never been fixed

December 2011 Tahrir protest

A December 2011 protest in Tahrir Square. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/GettyImages)

The conditions that Mubarak deliberately engineered to elongate his rule — an excessively powerful military, a weak opposition without governing experience, corrupt security services, hollowed-out civil society, and no effective democratic institutions — have all remained after his fall, and have undermined successive governments as much as they eventually undermined his own.

When you see that, it becomes clear that the real problem was never the degree to which individual protesters did or did not understand grassroots political organizing. That democratic transition isn’t merely the absence of a dictator. Rather, it is the presence of democratic rule.

And democratic rule requires something a lot more important, if less obviously visible, than having a good-guy democrat at the top of the government. It requires the institutions of democracy: political parties capable of winning elections, politicians capable of governing, a bureaucracy capable of implementing that governance, and civil society groups able to provide support and stability to those institutions.

Many of the liberal protesters had years of organizing experience, yet they couldn’t seem to develop a political party to carry their ideals beyond Tahrir Square into actual governance. Maybe this was due in part to infighting, an inability to reach the working classes, or other failures. But it is also the case, perhaps most important of all, that Mubarak had systematically ensured, over the decades of his rule, that the conditions for developing a successful liberal political party simply did not exist.

The Muslim Brotherhood had fared a bit better — it had a genuine party machine, political candidates, and a base of public support — but as Morsi’s disastrous administration showed, those are only necessary conditions for forming a viable party, not sufficient ones for governing.

Mubarak had ensured, over the decades of his autocratic rule, that basic institutions were weak or missing in Egypt. Yet when his regime fell, we were all shocked — shocked! — to discover that Morsi couldn’t, in his 12 months in power, muster those institutions either.

The story of the Arab Spring is one of weak states imploding

Assad protest 2012

Protesters burn images of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at an April 9, 2012, protest. (John Cantlie/Getty Images)

A similar dynamic played out in most of the other Arab Spring countries — with even worse results.

In Libya, for instance, Muammar Qaddafi had gone to even greater lengths to weaken institutions such that none was strong enough to challenge him. It was, according to theInternational Crisis Group, “a regime centred on himself and his family; that played neighbourhoods and groups against one another; failed to develop genuine national institutions; and deliberately kept the national army weak to prevent the emergence of would-be challengers.”

So when Qaddafi’s regime fell, there was little left of the Libyan state. The country collapsed into conflict and today is mired in a civil war involving two rival governments and countless militant organizations, including ISIS.

In Syria, the military is strong and has largely remained loyal to Bashar al-Assad. But Assad had engineered the military not primarily as an external security force to guard the borders, but rather as an instrument of sectarian rule, staffing it with Alawites who would remain loyal to the regime. The result is that when Assad ordered the military to fire on unarmed protesters — orders that many militaries might have refused — some of the troops complied, while others defected to help begin an armed rebellion.

And so the Arab Spring protests in Syria have led to the worst of both worlds: the preservation of a brutal dictatorship that still holds substantial territory and attacks civilians, but also a power vacuum in territory that Assad lost, which has proved to be fertile ground for ISIS and other extremists. It has, of course, been a disaster for Syrian civilians.

Is Tunisia the exception that proves the rule?

Tunisia protest 2011

A January 2011 protest in Tunis. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

There was one Arab Spring country whose institutions weren’t hollowed out prior to its revolution: Tunisia. It turns out that it was the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with anything approaching a real democracy.

Although there have been moments of serious crisis, including the murder of two liberal politicians in 2013, Tunisia has thus far stayed the course of its political transition. Its first post-revolutionary government remained quite stable throughout its term, and although it eventually lost public support, that resulted in a defeat at the ballot box in 2014’s free and fair elections, rather than another revolution or coup.

Explaining the success of Tunisia’s revolution necessarily involves some unseemly Monday morning quarterbacking. But Tunisia did have one advantage over its neighbors that seem to have made a crucial difference: Its civil society institutions were far, far stronger.

That meant that when the country faced a political crisis following the 2013 assassinations, and when initial attempts to draft a new constitution broke down, there were other institutions within the country that were strong enough to prevent a descent into violence or state collapse.

Tunisia’s largest trade union, its business organization, its lawyers association, and a leading human rights organization formed, in 2013, a “national dialogue quartet” that successfully brokered talks between rival political factions. Their ability to steer the political system toward consensus defused political tensions, supported the successful drafting of a new constitution, and paved the way for 2014’s historic elections. In 2015, the quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its work.

Tunisia’s story is, yes, one of brave protesters and noble-minded individual Tunisian leaders, but it’s also one of strong institutions and civil society that allowed those individuals to succeed.

That’s not a particularly emotionally compelling story. As a former lawyer, I know all too well that no one has ever written a revolutionary ballad romanticizing the heroism of a lawyers association’s participation in a series of meetings, and I suspect no one ever will. But without lawyers and trade unions and NGOs willing to step in to do the dull work of civil society, it’s not clear that Tunisia would be the success story we consider it today.

Institutional weakness isn’t as exciting a topic as evil dictators or heroic protesters — but it’s far more important

Ben Ali protest photo

A protester waves a defaced photo of former Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The lesson to draw from this is not that it would have been “better” for Egypt to keep Mubarak, Libya to keep Qaddafi, or Syria to keep Assad. Rather, it’s that by the time these countries got to the moment of choosing to keep or depose these leaders, the game was already lost. The governments were already so brittle and institutions so weakened that any outcome would be bad.

The lesson here is that although rigid autocracies often like to advertise themselves as a regrettable but necessary way to ensure stability, they’re actually drivers of instability. They are only ever buying their regimes temporary stability today by mortgaging their future security.

The primary question we should be asking after the failures of the Arab Spring is not whether more should have been done after 2011 to bolster transitional governments, or whether we should have chosen to simply preserve the dictatorships. The question we should be asking is why and how we allowed those dictatorships, over the decades before the 2011 revolutions came, to hollow out their states so completely that the Arab Spring was all but assured to bring chaos regardless of the world’s response.

It was Qaddafi’s brutal and ruthless regime that paved the way for Libya’s eventual collapse into civil war, and Mubarak’s shortcomings that left Egypt vulnerable to a coup by a mass-murdering general. And Bashar al-Assad is still proving every day that he was and remains the most terrible danger to the Syrian people, both in his own wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians and in his regime’s catastrophic failures that opened up space for ISIS’s own brutality and violence.

That’s not the exciting, emotionally compelling message that anyone craves. Brave young protesters aren’t going to take to the streets waving banners demanding judicial reform or civil society groups that can one day support a slow, incremental process of change. Hollywood isn’t going to make any summer blockbusters about political negotiations that succeed because respected pillars of the community convince stakeholders to adopt a consensus-based approach. And political candidates aren’t going to win applause with debate zingers about the importance of institutions to American foreign policy.

It’s far easier to call for a dictator’s downfall than to pressure for boring, unsexy policies that anticipate such a downfall years in the future and look for ways to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition.

But it’s a story worth paying attention to. The Arab Spring nations aren’t the only countries with brittle autocratic governments that could suddenly and catastrophically collapse. This is a problem we will face again.


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In Kazakhstan, an apartment complex with a skiable roof

Slalom House, an apartment complex with a rooftop ski run proposed by Astana, Kazakhstan.

Funny slope: Just be sure not to face-plant in front of your neighbors when attempting to leave the house. (Rendering: Union Architects of Kazakhstan)

As a blizzard-y beast named Snowzilla descended upon the East Coast last weekend, many a city-dweller immediately grabbed a sled, yoga mat, garbage can lid and/or Rubbermaid laundry basket and high-tailed it to the nearest park boasting anything resembling a hill. Great … but wouldn’t it be lovely if urbanites had the luxury of sledding — or even downhill skiing — from atop their own apartment building?

That’s the idea behind Slalom House, a mixed-use apartment block where a traditional roof is replaced with a 1,000-foot ski slope winding down the top of the 21-story structure.

This actually isn’t the first building with a roof-cum-ski run to pop up in recent years. In Copenhagen, work is underway on the Amager Bakke Waste-To-Energy Plant, a massive municipal incinerator that doubles as a regional ski resort. That project, boasting a 333,700-square-foot (!) artificial ski slope, is designed by none other than well-coiffed Danish wunderkind Bjarke Ingels.

Slalom House, an apartment complex with a rooftop ski run proposed by Astana, Kazakhstan. Curving along the the top of the U-shaped structure, Slalom House’s 89-foot-wide artificial ski run would be open year-round. (Rendering: Union of Architects of Kazakhstan)

Slalom House, if completed, would be the world’s first residential building with an exterior ski slope.

Shortlisted at the 2015 World Architecture Festival in the Residential: Future Projects category, Slalom House was conceived by a consortium of Kazakh architects headed by Shokhan Mataibekov of the Union of Architects of Kazakhstan.

And it’s in the Kazakh capital city of Astana that Slalom House would be located.

Astana (the city was previously known as Akmola, Tslelinograd and a handful of other names before being named capital, literally, in 1997) is a fitting location for a 400-plus-unit housing complex with a shopping mall on the ground floor and a slalom course on its roof. With an annual average temperature that hovers just barely above the freezing mark and winters where minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit temps are par for the course, Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world behind Ulan Bator, Mongolia. (Ottawa previously held that second chilliest spot.)

Slalom House, an apartment complex with a rooftop ski run proposed by Astana, Kazakhstan. Surrounded by a flat-as-a-pancake landscape, Slalom House would bring alpine skiing to the chilly, sports-obsessed Kazakh capital city. (Rendering: Union of Architects of Kazakhstan)

Located smack dab in the middle of Kazakhstan amidst the vast Central Steppe, Astana is also exceptionally flat. Basically, it’s a city — a sports-obsessed one at that, with multiple ice hockey and soccer teams — boasting a winter sports-friendly climate but a winter sports-unfriendly terrain. As Mataibekov explained to CNN, it takes about four hours by car from Astana to reach the nearest ski slopes.

Nestled in the foothills of the Trans-lli Alatau mountains in the far southeast section of the country, Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital, sees most of the snow-centric sports action and has produced numerous champion skiers and winter sports athletes. Almaty was even in the running to host the 2022 Winter Olympics but narrowly lost the bid to Beijing.

With an estimated price tag of $70 million, Slalom House would bring year-round alpine skiing — snowboarding and likely sledding, too — to the heart of Astana while serving as a glistening new tourist attraction for a rapidly expanding economic hub located in the middle of nowhere.

Slalom House, an apartment complex with a rooftop ski run proposed by Astana, Kazakhstan. In addition to a snowboard-able roofline, Slalom House boasts over 400 residential units along with office and retail space. (Photo: Union of Architects of Kazakhstan)

And about that year-round part: While Astana’s long and brutal winters serve Slalom House well, the hill itself would be covered with Snowflex, “a synthetic material designed to simulate the slip and grip effects of real snow.” Thus, Slalom House’s slope would be skiable in the absence of precipitation and during the city’s fleeting balmy-ish months.

While Mataibekov hints to CNN that there’s been serious interest in actually building Slalom House, it’s true that an apartment complex with a ski run up top may seem a stretch, if not excessively starry-eyed. Bonkers. Bananas. Not going to happen.

But have you seen Astana?

If not, allow me to introduce you …

Astana, KazakhstanAk Orda Presidential Palace and the Golden Towers, Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo: ninara/flickr)
Astana, KazakhstanFoster + Partners’ Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, Astana, Kazakhstan (Photo: ninara/flickr)
Astana, KazakhstanKazMunayGas headquarters Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo: ninara/flickr)
Astana, KazakhstanApartment towers in Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo: ninara/flickr)

As you can see, Astana — a shiny post-Soviet Tomorrowland that resembles what would happen if one of the Teletubbies went to architecture school at Yale — is the best place to build an apartment complex with a ski run up top. Oil-rich, otherworldly and, most important, cold as hell, Astana couldn’t be more perfect if it tried.

Set to host the Expo 2017 with the theme of “Future Energy,” Astana is often regarded as the Dubai of Central Asia in that it’s insane-looking and dripping with cash. Like Dubai or even Las Vegas, the city’s aggressive, neo-futuristic skyline — a skyline dotted with sleek towers, glass pyramids, flying saucer-esque edifices and an observation tower that resembles an oversized lollipop — simply boggles the mind.

Writes the Guardian’s Giles Fraser of this “flashy toy-city” in Central Asia: “… out of nowhere, Astana comes glistening into view, all shiny metal and glass, implausibly rising up from the Kazakh steppe like some post-modern Lego set that has stumbled into the opening sequence of ‘Dallas.’”

Formerly a provincial Soviet mining outpost with a notorious gulag prison camp on its outskirts, Astana — much like Brasilia, Canberra and Washington, D.C. — is a planned capital city. And given its isolated locale, it’s a planned capital city with ample room to grow. Since 1997, Astana has positively blown up with the population more than doubling and lavish — and huge — building projects going up left, right and everywhere in between. The city’s population is expected to reach 1 million by 2030.

An aerial view of Astana, Kazakhstan Downtown Astana, Kazakhstan: A little big Vegas, a little bit Genghis Khan. (Photo: Stanislav Filippov /AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking to CNN, local architect Serik Rustambekov explains the grand — and at times, daunting — scale that’s come to define Astana’s architectural landscape:

You need to understand the Kazakh background to get a better picture of our world view. We’re a nomadic civilization that developed over thousands of years in the vast expanse of Eurasia. Free space is more impressive to the Kazakh mindset than the type of congestion found in many European centers.

Architecture always represents the development of the state, of technology and of culture. As Astana is positioning itself as the center of Eurasia, a place where East meets West, a mixture of styles is quite appropriate.

And with so much cash being funneled into the construction of gargantuan structures influenced by the East, West and outer space, the Kazakh government has enlisted a who’s who of international starchitects to conceive these projects.

Bayterek tower, Astana, Kazakhstan The golden egg atop Bayterek is open to the public as an observation platform. (Photo: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Most notable is Sir Norman Foster, whose titular London firm has overseen the design of some of Astana’s most rubberneck-inducing structures including the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a hulking glass pyramid complete with 1,500-seat opera house that serves as “a global centre for religious understanding, the renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality.” And then there’s the Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center, a yurt-inspired shopping and leisure complex complete with an indoor tropical beach that stands as the world’s biggest tent with a floor area of over 1 million square feet.

In addition to Foster and other bold face names, Bjarke Ingels, certainly no stranger to audacious edifices that defy easy description, won an international design competition in 2009 for his vision of a new Astana National Library. Ingels’ swooping design, in which “the circle, the rotunda, the arch and the yurt are merged into the form of a Moebius strip,” has yet to be completed.

A view of Astana, capital city of Kazakhstan Much of Kazakhstan’s recent riches are dedicated to building projects in its capital. And it shows. (Photo: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

While an impressive roster of celebrity architects imported from abroad have made their mark on Astana, a majority of the city’s fanciful structures are, like Slalom House, indigenous designs. This includes the Stalinist-style Triumph of Astanaapartment complex and Bayterek, a national monument/observation tower symbolizing a Khazak folktale in which Samruk, the magical bird of happiness, lays a whopper of a golden egg atop a poplar tree. Soaring over 300 feet above the center of Asanta like the overgrown lovechild of a backyard gazing ball and the Seattle Space Needle, Bayterek (aka “the Chupa Chups”) was initially conceived by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who, according to legend, first sketched out the idea on a cocktail napkin.

All of this considered, a housing developing with a roof that you can hot-dog down from the 21st floor wouldn’t look at all out of place in the weird and wonderful Kazakh capital of Astana.


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A short comic gives the simplest, most perfect explanation of privilege I’ve ever seen.

By Laura Willard
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Privilege can be a hard thing to talk about.
Oftentimes, when it’s implied or stated that someone is “privileged,” they can feel defensive or upset. They may have worked very hard for what they have accomplished and they may have overcome many obstacles to accomplish it. And the word “privilege” can make a person feel as though that work is being diminished.

The key point about privilege, though, is that it doesn’t mean that a person was raised by wealthy parents, had everything handed to them, and didn’t have to do much other than show up.

Privilege means that some of us have advantages over others for any number of reasons we don’t control — like who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin, or certain things that have happened in our lives.

Even when things haven’t come easy for some people, they can still have privileges that others don’t have.

Illustrator Toby Morris did some thinking about the concept of inequality and privilege, and he found one major problem.

He did a lot of research to learn about it, but as he started to really understand privilege, he found that a lot of the information about privilege felt very academic and technical. He felt it was important to “talk about this heavy stuff in a really simple and clear way,” Morris explained to me in an email interview.

That’s what led him to create and illustrate this incredible comic on privilege for the The Wireless.
He did an amazing job. Check it out:
















































































































This comic is property of The Wireless, where it originally appeared. It’s shared here with permission.

This is a great way to explain privilege to someone who’s having a hard time understanding — or someone who doesn’t want to recognize it.
“Comics are very human and accessible — they’re non-threatening and quite inviting to a reader,” Morris said. “It’s a lot less daunting than picking up a giant book or trying to decipher a really long or really dense article.”

True story.

Make no mistake: Morris isn’t taking away from hard work in his comic.
“I’m not trying to say I’m against that idea that if we work hard, we succeed,” he said. “I would like to think that is true, for the most part, but I just think people often forget or don’t realise that our starting points, or our paths to success, aren’t all even. Some people have to overcome more obstacles in the path to succeeding than others.”

He was also quick to point out that this isn’t about anyone needing to feel bad or guilty for the privileges that they have, but rather it’s about honesty and understanding — because maybe that’s what could lead us to a better place.

“Acknowledging the issue is one step towards addressing it hopefully,” he said.

Ultimately, success — or lack thereof — can be about hard work and other factors, some of which are beyond our control.
A lot of people have been able to relate to this comic — both sides of it — and have reached out to Morris to share.

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“Personally, I’ve grown up somewhere in the middle,” he said. Because his dad was in the army, Morris moved around a lot as a kid. “I experienced a lot of different neighbourhoods and schools and friendship groups — some well off, some not so much — and that experience lead me to this belief that ultimately people are all pretty similar wherever you go, we just don’t all have the same chances in life.”


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U.S. Stocks Sink With Markets Around the World

by Jeremy Herron Dani Burger


Global shares near bear market, S&P 500 falls to 21-month low
Yen reaches one-year high, Treasury yield drops below 2%

Turmoil returned to financial markets as oil plunged past $27 a barrel, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank as much as 565 points and global equities approached a bear market that is fueling a rush into haven assets.
The Dow and Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slid to lows last seen in early 2014, though selling eased in afternoon trading as the 30-stock gauge cut its decline to under 400 points. MSCI Inc.’s gauge of global equities fell to 19.8 percent below its May record and emerging shares plunged 3.2 percent. Russia’s ruble and Mexico’s peso fell to records, while bets mounted on an end to Hong Kong’s dollar peg. A measure of default risk for junk-rated U.S. companies surged to the highest in three years. Yields on 10-year Treasuries dropped below 2 percent and the yen jumped to a one-year high.

“There don’t seem to be any signs of relief,” Kate Warne, an investment strategist at Edward Jones in St. Louis, said by phone. “At times like this when the selloff is feeding on itself, it doesn’t give you an idea of when it will end because it’s mostly emotional. Fundamentals aren’t mattering much. Being busy is good, but it’s definitely not fun when it’s because you’re feeling a sharp selloff like today.”
Equities markets buffeted by everything from China to oil and rising interest rates are off to the worst start to a year on record at the same time the Federal Reserve and other central banks have signaled a higher threshold before they’ll provide relief. The rout in the oil patch is rippling through markets amid growing signs that credit quality is worsening. U.S. bonds now predict the slowest inflation since May 2009 as investors pile into haven assets.
“There are a lot of things behind” the selloff, said Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive officer of Blackstone Group LP, in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker from Davos, Switzerland. “You have economic things such as the slowing of the U.S. economy which has been pretty gradual. You’ve got energy going down so quickly that you can almost get windburn. You’ve got China as an issue which is is probably overdone. So when you put those factors together you have an unattractive brew along with the concern the Federal Reserve will raise rates and slow the economy further.”
Selloff Makes Asia Look Very Attractive: HSBC
The MSCI All-Country World Index fell 2.6 percent at 1:47 p.m. in New York, bringing its drop from a May record up to the 20 percent threshold for a bear market. More than $15 trillion has been erased from the value of global equities in the period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The S&P 500 slid 2.2 percent, poised for the lowest close since April 2014. The index pared a drop of more than 3 percent. All but one Dow stock retreated, and all 10 industries in the broader index fell. Energy shares plunged 4.3 percent to the lowest since July 2010.
Should the Dow close lower by 500 points, it would mark the third time since mid-August that the 30-stock gauge has tumbled that much. In the 15 years prior to that, when the index ranged from 6,500 to 18,000 points, the index had registered a rout of that point magnitude on only 12 occasions.
The equities selloff has lowered valuation metrics, leaving the S&P 500 trading at 14.9 times the forecast earnings of its members, in line with the index’s average of the past five years. It’s still more expensive than developed markets in Europe, where the Stoxx 600 Index trades for 13.8 times estimated earnings.

Investors are keeping close watch on progress in the economy as the markets tumble. Data today showed the cost of living in the U.S. dropped in December, led by a slump in commodities. A separate report showed new-home construction unexpectedly fell last month, indicating the industry lost some momentum entering 2016.
The cost of living in the U.S. dropped in December, led by a slump in commodities, and New-home construction in the U.S. unexpectedly fell, government reports showed to day.
Emerging Markets
The MSCI Emerging Markets Index dropped the most in two weeks, sinking 3.1 percent to the lowest since May 2009. The gauge is down 13 percent this year, the worst start since records began in 1988. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng China Enterprises Index tumbled 4.3 percent as oil producers plummeted and a drop in the city’s dollar spurred concern over capital outflows.
Russia’s Micex Index declined 1 percent and the Bloomberg GCC 200 Index of equities in Gulf markets lost 3.6 percent. The ruble weakened as much as 3.1 percent to a record 81.0490 against the dollar. The Mexican peso fell to a record 18.4775 per dollar and is down 6.4 percent this year, making it Latin America’s worst performing major currency.
Saudi Arabian banks are under orders to stop selling currency products that allow investors to make cheap bets on a devaluation of the riyal, according to five people with knowledge of the matter.
Hong Kong’s dollar traded near its weakest level since 2007 and forwards contracts sank as China’s market turmoil fueled speculation the city’s 32-year-old currency peg will end.
West Texas Intermediate crude tumbled more than 7 percent to $26.45 a barrel before. Inventories probably increased by 2.75 million barrels last week, according to a Bloomberg survey before a report from the Energy Information Administration Thursday.
Mining stocks plumbed a 12-year low and metals resumed their slump on prospects for slower economic growth in China and sustained low oil prices. Copper fell as much as 1.1 percent. The Bloomberg World Mining Index dropped as much as 2.4 percent to its lowest since September 2003, with the world’s biggest miner, BHP Billiton Ltd., losing 6.9 percent in London.
Gold rose as renewed losses in equities spurred demand for less risky assets, with Citigroup Inc. saying bullion’s rationale as a haven was now back in vogue and prices may be supported over the first quarter.
The yen strengthened 0.9 percent to 116.58 per dollar, and touched 115.98, the strongest level since Jan. 16, 2015. Japan’s currency appreciated 0.9 percent to 127.19 per euro. The euro was little changed at $1.0897.
The Australian dollar slid 0.5 percent to 68.78 U.S. cents, extending this year’s decline to 5.6 percent. The kiwi touched the weakest level since Sept. 30.
The Canadian dollar rose for the first time this year after the Bank of Canada kept their benchmark interest rate unchanged and said stronger U.S. demand, a weaker currency and last year’s rate cuts are leading the economy out of an oil slump.
Treasuries climbed, pushing 10-year yields to the lowest since October, as investors sought the safety of sovereign debt. The benchmark 10-year note yield fell nine basis points to 1.97 percent, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. That’s the biggest drop since Dec. 11.
The difference between yields on 10-year notes and similar-maturity Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, a gauge of expectations for consumer prices, shrank as much as three basis points to 1.37 percentage points, the narrowest since May 2009.
The yield on similar-maturity German bunds sank six basis points to 0.49 percent, while that on U.K. gilts fell seven basis points to 1.63 percent.
The risk premium on the Markit CDX North American Investment Grade Yield Index, a credit-default swaps benchmark tied to the debt of 100 of the safest companies, surged to 112.47 basis points, the most in more than three years. The premium on the Markit CDX North American High Yield Index, rose to 569 basis points, the highest mark since 2012.


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How to eat for better sleep

Melissa Breyer (@MelissaBreyer)

Better sleep

Public Domain Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam

A new study finds three food choices that can lead to improved slumber.

If you are one of the many millions of people who suffer from the crazy-making scourge that is insomnia, you have likely read plenty of tips on how to achieve that elusive state of bliss known as sleep. You know about the importance of regular sleep routines andturning off the electronics, about skipping the boozy nightcap and limiting caffeine. But now a new study has a few more pearls of wisdom to add to the bag – and all natural approaches to better sleep are a step up from using pharmaceutical sleep aids which come with their own set of risks.

Not surprisingly, since food is the driving force of our bodies, they found several areas in which sleep improved based on food choices. Their research shows that a greater fiber intake during the day resulted in more time spent in the stage of deep, slow wave sleep. Meanwhile, more saturated fat predicted less slow wave sleep, and higher consumption was associated with more arousals from sleep.

“Our main finding was that diet quality influenced sleep quality,” said principal investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, assistant professor in the department of medicine and Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, N.Y. “It was most surprising that a single day of greater fat intake and lower fiber could influence sleep parameters.”

“The finding that diet can influence sleep has tremendous health implications, given the increasing recognition of the role of sleep in the development of chronic disorders such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said St-Onge.

So there you have it. More fiber, less fat and less sugar could be helpful for those seeking to improve sleep. Not really earth shattering, the treatment for so many ailments often boils down to eating better – but it’s a great reminder that our bodies are sensitive machines that run best when well-fueled … and possibly sleep better too.

Tags: Health | Natural Remedies | Sleep


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Just The Good Stuff From The Republican Debate


The sixth Republican Primary debate of the year was Thursday night. Whether you’re looking for the long Ben Carson ramble or a Trump-Cruz showdown, Digg has you covered with all the highlights. You can find the full transcripthere.

Cruz And Trump Talked The Most

Politico published the talking time that each candidate was able to take up. Cruz came out on top and Trump was a close second.


Along with the most talking time, Cruz also got the most direct mentions among the Republicans according to FiveThirtyEight — not necessarily a good thing.


Trump Explained What He Would Do With His Company If Elected

When asked if he would place his assets in a blind trust, Trump talked exclusively about the management of his company instead, not exactly grasping the concept: “If I become president I couldn’t care less about my company…I would have my children run it with my executives.


Rubio And Cruz Fought Over Taxes

Cruz claimed that his tax plan is not a Value-Added Tax (VAT) — a form of consumption tax — but Marco Rubio disputed this. IBTimes explains what a VAT Tax is and MarketWatch explains why Cruz’s plan counts as one and why it needs work.

When Christie got in the mix, Marco tried to budge his way back in, and Christie delivered one of the sassiest retorts of the night saying, “you already had your chance, Marco, you blew it!”


Trump And The Candidates Responded To The Idea Of A Ban On Muslim Immigration

Trump defended his previous statements calling for a ban on Muslim immigration, saying, “I want security for this country. We have a serious problem with, as you know, with radical Islam.”

The other candidates also had a chance to respond to Trump’s statements.

Christie: “You can’t just ban all Muslims. You have to ban radical Islamic jihadists.

Cruz: “We have a president who refuses to acknowledge the threats we face and worse who acts as an apologist for radical Islamic terrorism…I think what we need is a commander in chief who is focused like a laser on keeping this country safe and on defeating radical Islamic terrorism”

Rubio: “If we do not know who you are, and we do not know why you are coming, when I am president, you are not getting into the United States.”

Carson: “And clearly, what we need to do is get a group of experts together, including people from other countries, some of our friends from Israel, who have had experience screening these people and come up with new guidelines for immigration, and for visas, for people who are coming into this country.”

Cruz Criticized Trump And His New York Values

Cruz supported comments he had made about Trump’s New York values: “I think most people know exactly what New York values are…not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan.”

Trump turned to 9/11 to illustrate why Cruz has it all wrong.

The Candidates Tried To Refocus When Asked About Gun Control

The candidates responded to a question crafted in response to recent shootings and Obama’s recent executive order that places more scrutiny on gun sellers: “What is the harm in tightening standards for not only who buys guns, but those who sell them?”

Bush: “We don’t need to add new rules, we need to make sure the FBI does its job.”

Trump moved the issue to mental health: “I’m a second-amendment person…We have a huge mental health problem in this country.”

Rubio said Obama’s measures won’t help: “The Second Amendment is not an option. It is not a suggestion…Criminals don’t buy their guns from a gun show…Here’s the fact, we’re in a war against ISIS.”

Christie attacked Obama’s methods: “The president wants to do things without working with his Congress … that’s not a democracy, that’s a dictatorship. This guy is a petulant child…Mr.President, we’re not against you, we’re against your policies…we are going to kick your rear-end out of the White House.”

Cruz And Trump Sparred Over Cruz’s Birth Status And His Eligibility To Run

Ted Cruz was born in Canada to American parents. Some, including Donald Trump, have questioned Cruz’s eligibility to run for president based on this fact. Cruz sarcastically responded a question on the topic before listing many candidates who have run with the same status:

Cruz: “I’m glad we’re focusing on the important topics of the evening.”

Ted Cruz Responded To A New York Times Report Claiming He Failed To Disclose A Significant Loan Used In His Last Campaign

On Wednesday, The Times published a report claiming that Cruz may have obscured a large loan he took from Goldman Sachs to use in his senate campaign. Cruz responded in the debate, calling it a “hit piece,” but admitting a mistake:

“I made a paperwork error disclosing it on one piece of paper instead of the other.”

Rubio And Bush Came Down Hard On Hillary

Speaking on Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush said she would be a “national security disaster…Her first 100 days instead of setting an agenda she might be going back and forth between the White House and the courthouse.”

Marco Rubio piggybacked on Bush saying, “Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being Commander in Chief of the United States.”

Cruz Got The Opening Question

When asked about the economy, Cruz took the opportunity to invoke therecent and day-long capture of US soldiers who crossed into Iranian seas, noting that a Republican leader would not have let that happen.

He then spoke on the economy:

“The Obama-Clinton economy has left behind the working men of this country.”

Chris Christie continued the critique, criticizing Obama’s State of the Union: “On Tuesday night, I watched storytime with Barack Obama.”

Who’s Leading In Endorsements?

FiveThirtyEight put together a nice chart illustrating who’s leading the pack in terms of endorsements. Interestingly, the two poll leaders (Trump and Cruz) fall very low on the list.


Highlights From The Undercard Debate

You can read the full transcript here.

Fiorina Called The Putin-Trump Relationship A Bromance

Fiorina said, “Despite Donald Trump’s bromance with Putin, Vladamir Putin is not our friend.”

CNN has more on their relationship.


The Candidates And The Audience Lashed Out At Obama Over Guns

The audience booed at the moderators’ invocation of poll numbers that indicate that the majority of people in the US support background checks for gun purchases.


Huckabee insisted that gun-control doesn’t make us safer: “The one common thing that has happened in most mass shootings is that they happened in gun-free zones.”

A report from Everytown Research puts the actual number at 13%.

Fiorina Asked For A Halt On The Acceptance Of Refugees

“We cannot allow refugees to enter this country unless we can adequately vet them, and we know we can’t.”

Rand Paul Released A Video During The Debate Addressing His Absence

“Don’t be led by the nose to the future that includes only the banal and soporific…”

Fiorina Took Jabs At Hillary

Fiorina took a nasty jab at Hillary during the beginning of the debate, saying, “Unlike some other women in this race, I actually like spending time with my husband.”


She went on to say, “Mrs. Clinton, actually you cannot wipe a server with a towel.”

How Popular The Candidates Were Heading Into The Debate

FiveThirtyEight published a nice graphic illustrating all the candidates’ average favorability ranking. Like last time, Rubio went in leading the pack.


Meet The Candidates

In an unsurprising turn of events, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul were booted from the primetime slot. Fiorina joined Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee for the undercard debate, while Rand Paul chose not to participate.

The participants of the primetime debate included Donald Trump, Ted Cruz,Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.

The podium order for Thursday evening’s debate                                     Screenshot via Fox Business News

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Sensors in your seats: Good management or Big Brother?

telegraph newsroom

There were sensors on the chairs in the Telegraph newsroom — for a day. (Photo: Lloyd Davis/flickr)

The tracking of employees is a touchy issue. We’ve wondered before if tracking employee fitness is healthy or creepy, or whether your boss should be able to track you 24 hours a day. Privacy is the issue that grabs the headlines, but sometimes the practice provides really useful information.

At the Daily Telegraph in London, sensors were recently installed on seats and desks of journalists. According to BuzzFeed:

Journalists were baffled by the unannounced appearance of the boxes. Staff resorted to googling the brand name and discovered they were wireless motion detectors produced by a company called OccupEye that monitor whether individuals are using their desks.

The employees were outraged, complaining that management could now tell when they went to the bathroom. (They used stronger words you’ll have to read on BuzzFeed.)

guardianNUJ: National Union of Journalists (Photo: The Guardian)

British newspapers being what they are, The Guardian jumped on the story, covering the objections from the National Union of Journalists, which complained that “Workers have very strong privacy rights and these must be protected. The right to be consulted on new procedures governing such data is enshrined in law. The NUJ will resist Big Brother-style surveillance in the newsroom.”
Within a day the Telegraph had pulled the units, which they claimed were installed to monitor energy-efficiency. Meanwhile the manufacturer of the units issued a long news release that included this statement:

OccupEye sensors monitor the presence of people within a space but they do not identify individuals… OccupEye is used successfully by blue-chip corporate users and small district local authorities alike and, notified beforehand of a deployment with its many benefits communicated (we always recommend that our clients advise their staff in advance), both users and space occupiers embrace the technology positively. Despite the impression that may have been formed as a result of the recent media coverage, there is nothing intrusive or sinister about OccupEye and no deployment has ever had anything other than a positive impact on both a user organization and its staff.

But maybe this really isn’t about productivity

Consider how office design is changing all the time, as the technology we use and the way we work changes. Few are changing as rapidly as newspapers. Many are downsizing offices and changing the type of space they occupy. Managers (and designers) would love to know how much time people actually spend at their desks to determine how many desks are needed.

This isn’t a new concept. In North America, Herman Miller has been doing it for years with its Space Utilization Services. It’s a lot more accurate:

Research shows that, across industries, workstations are not occupied 60 percent of the time; conference room seating is rarely used to full capacity; and private offices are unoccupied fully 77 percent of the time. Sometimes companies already have an idea of their space utilization because they’ve done bed checks. But bed checks aren’t always accurate — or even close. One company’s bed-check report showed a 67 percent dedicated space utilization, but the wireless sensors we installed as part of our space utilization service showed the actual utilization was just 38 percent.

Herman Miller did it with “unobtrusive sensors which … temporarily attach to the underside of chairs and detect when each is occupied. After analyzing the data, Herman Miller recommends space-allocation strategies that better support how a particular space is actually being used.

sensorsWhat’s that under my chair and my desk? (Photo: OccupEye)

When I saw this technology five years ago, I asked about the privacy issue, and the company claimed that it wasn’t an issue; they made it clear they were aggregating information on office use and not monitoring individual work habits.

Consultant Brett Belding was, I believe, the first to say “work is a thing you do, not a place you go.” No doubt management at the Telegraph is monitoring the thing that they do, with words published and deadlines met, just as my editors do. As can be seen in the photo at the top, they’re also all in view of their bosses sitting on the balcony overlooking them. But the Telegraph didn’t tell employees what was happening, and they got what they deserved.

Newsrooms are also changing rapidly. I was in the Guardian’s new one last year and was astonished at how crowded it was; I was also in the Globe and Mail’s and saw huge desks designed with those corners for big old monitors, half of them empty. Companies must deploy their resources better, and this kind of technology can help. I don’t think the Telegraph was wrong in installing these units and trying to figure out what’s being used and what isn’t. I suspect that in this Internet of Things era, it will be built into every chair as a matter of course in a very short time. But still, the company did a dreadful job of communication.

poll on privacyPoll on privacy: I am in the 2.11 percent crowd. (Photo: Snapshot from poll)

Of course when I said this last May, I added a poll in which readers could answer whether it was OK if a company was open and transparent about collecting data similar to this. As you can see above, a huge majority of readers disagreed with me and thought it was intrusive and that people were entitled to privacy, while only 2.11 percent agreed with me.

So maybe I’m not the best person to be writing about information versus privacy.


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In 1651, Thomas Hobbes wrote that free people consent to give up their individual rights in order to establish a political community, i.e., civil society, which establishes laws so that everyone can enjoy security. Although simplistic, this theory supports the following arguments for gun control:

  1. Private citizens should give up the right to own military-style weapons, so that a violent person cannot get one to use on innocent people. In our First World society, we have police, sheriffs, constables, SWAT teams, reservists, military, Special Forces, and a variety of teams that can respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice. If military weapons are needed, a cadre of weapons can arrive with expertly trained professionals.
  2. Citizens who want guns should give up the right of privacy so that they can be vetted to keep guns out of the wrong hands. If you don’t have anything to hide, you should submit to a background check. The government can keep a registry so that if a gun is passed to a new owner it can be tracked so that it is not used unlawfully.
  3. Gun owners should give up the right to buy large quantities of ammunition, so that a violent person cannot obtain thousands of rounds of ammo. Similarly, gun owners should use smaller magazines to limit the round count so that if someone uses a gun unlawfully there may be fewer fatalities.
  4. Lastly, it doesn’t support Hobbes’ theory, but this argument often accompanies the previous ones: The NRA should be universally recognized as a heartless political engine that is funded by firearm manufacturers for profit and it mocks the deaths of innocent people.

I spent many years making these arguments in support of gun control. I cried out, “Enough is enough!” when another senseless murder happened because of a gun. I reviled politicians who were in the NRA’s pockets. I didn’t let my kids play with toy guns. I wanted to end America’s obsession with destruction and start a new generation of we’re-all-in-this-together, rational human beings.

Then I bought a gun.

After a 10-year conversation weighing the pros and cons, my husband and I bought a handgun. I was suddenly on the other side of the mountain and what I discovered was very surprising:

  • Surprise #1: Gun owners are some of the most family-friendly, kind-hearted people I’d ever met. They welcome newcomers and are willing and happy to teach anyone who wants to learn. It is common to find veterans, active military, and law enforcement men and women at the range. This isn’t solely because of the enjoyment for shooting itself; rather it is the culture of people who enjoy shooting sports. Many shooters grew up in 4H or scouting programs that emphasize good citizenship and working together for the common good, and they’re raising their children in the same values. From a young age children are taught gun safety, responsibility, and accountability, and family times at the shooting range or deer lease create lasting memories and traditions.
  • Surprise #2: On my very first trip to the range the first thing I had to do was watch a video that reviewed NRA’s safety guidelines. I discovered that lobbying is only one facet of the NRA. A primary role has always been marksmanship education and safety, but you wouldn’t know that if you’ve never been to a shooting range. At a range you’ll see that most firearms instructors have taken NRA classes to become certified and many shooting ranges offer NRA classes to new and advanced shooters. The NRA also has the Eddie Eagle program to teach gun safety to young children, and it hosts a variety of shooting competitions that can lead a youth shooter to college scholarships and Olympic dreams.
  • Surprise #3: It is socially unacceptable in the shooting community to use a firearm irresponsibly. Post a picture on social media of you at the range without ear protection? Prepare for ridicule. Share a picture of your child holding a toy cap-gun with her finger off the trigger? People will comment just as much about her trigger discipline as her cute smile. They hold each other to a higher standard of safety, so when a senseless tragedy happens gun owners are the first to yell, “Enough is enough!” They want to know why it happened, how it could have been prevented, and solutions to complicated problems. They continue to model responsible behavior with firearms and value safety and accountability.
  • Surprise #4: A “military-style” rifle is actually the same as any other rifle. They can look scary because you see them in war movies and video games, but the body style makes them lightweight and easy to hold and customize so that it fits your body correctly. Having a rifle that is the right size for you makes it more comfortable to shoot and therefore more accurate and safer. The rails look tactical, but that allows you to safely attach flashlights or other accessories. Once you learn about them, they are really not scary at all and are fun to shoot! By the way, automatic weapons are already illegal for (most) private citizens to own. You can’t make them extra-illegal.
  • Surprise #5: Although it is a big responsibility to have a firearm that scared me at first, I feel safer with it. I’ve seen cities be hit by natural disasters that become opportunities for crime, and I know that if we lose power or communications I can keep outsiders from looting our home. I watched mothers in a Nairobi mall beg gunmen for their children’s lives, and I feel safer knowing that we can find shelter and have a fighting chance. I’m not anything close to the female-equivalent of Jason Bourne, but I continue to take training classes and practice so that I model responsible behavior and can protect my family if the need arises.

We can see Thomas Hobbes’ social theory at work in our society because we frequently give up rights in order to have order and security. Some examples are speed limits, drinking ages, and showing ID before you can buy Sudafed. However, the first thing you must know about Hobbes’ theory is that it only works if everyone is on board.

Remember when I said that shooters are often veterans and law enforcement? They sacrifice their lives to protect the common good, but also recognize that not everyone is good. Many gun owners believe that using a gun to protect their loved ones is not only a constitutionally protected right but a moral obligation. I championed for gun control for a long time, but I found that once I became self-reliant for my personal security, the arguments no longer made sense. Here are the reasons why:

  1. There is a saying that regardless of species the most dangerous place is between a mother and her young. If my family is threatened and I have the training and tools to protect my children, it is my right and duty to do so. If I have nonlethal options I will use them — and part of good training is knowing if I do. If I can call 911 and wait for help I may do so. The problem with relying on law enforcement is that they respond after you call them. If someone is assaulting you or breaking into your home, you’ll be toast before the cadre of professionals arrive.
  2. More than anybody, the good guys want to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys. Many law-abiding gun owners understand the reasoning for background checks before buying a gun, and many have conceal/open carry licenses that require background checks plus fingerprinting. The problem is that 38 states submit less than 80% of their felony convictions to the database for background checks, so more than 7,000,000 felons aren’t in the system. This is another example of trying to make something extra-illegal: it is illegal for convicted felons to have guns, so we don’t need more laws about it. We need all of the names entered into the background check database, so that when they try to buy a gun they can be arrested for it.
    While the background check database holds names of those who should not have guns, it makes gun owners very nervous when you talk about “registries” of good guys. It sounds like paranoia to anti-gun people, but this is an era of intense religious and racial tensions, with polarizing, far-left and far-right politicians. Gun owners do not want a list that could be used to identify them for the simple fact that guns are expensive and they don’t want anyone knowing what they have, in addition to a “gun round up” or any other dramatic possibilities. They feel safer being anonymous knowing they can personally protect their families in case of a widespread information or communication outage, terrorist attack, or natural disaster.
    Also if the government intends to track every gun that passes hands it can only log the transactions of people who go to the office and file the paperwork. I’ve never seen a movie of a fugitive getting a duffle bag of passports and pistols that he takes to the state office to file. Similarly, I am carded to buy a box of Sudafed, but the bad guy doesn’t show ID when he steals a case of it for his meth lab. Laws like these are meaningless because only good guys adhere to them, and that creates a registry of good guys. That does nothing to keep guns (or large quantities of ammunition) away from criminals and crazy people.
  3. Another example of going after the good guys is limiting magazine capacity. When I was anti-gun, this sounded pretty serious; however, now I know that it takes less than 2 seconds to change a magazine. It doesn’t slow anybody down, and more importantly, it doesn’t solve the problem of bad guys getting guns in the first place. Focus on the stuff that matters.
  4. As for the NRA, when I wasn’t a gun owner I hated “them” passionately. I began to appreciate the training programs, publications, and other services, but dragged my feet on joining. The acceptance of the NRA was my final step into the gun culture. Now I support the NRA because it fights for *me*. I like the security (and enjoyment) that my gun gives me and I want to keep it. If you aren’t a gun owner you just won’t understand that.

If we truly lived in a Hobbes society where everyone was on board and accountable, then there would be no need for gun control. It seems easier to control guns than human behavior, just like it is easier to take all the markers away when your toddler writes on the wall. As a long-term strategy, however, we need to address the root of the problems: the irresponsible parent that didn’t keep it locked in a safe away from a child, or the gang member skirting background checks, or the teenager struggling with mental instability, or the domestic or international terrorist with a plan to get on the evening news. These behavior problems are much harder to address, but allocating resources to our law enforcement, criminal justice, and mental health systems is a good place to start.

We don’t need more laws to monitor what good guys are doing, or gun control laws that make things extra-illegal. We need we’re-all-in-this-together leaders to get to the root of these complex problems and develop rational policies so that all law-abiding Americans can enjoy the security of a civil society.

I used to wish that the government would get rid of all the guns and then everyone would be safe, but I discovered that the utopia in my mind was actually a society with no bad guys. It was never about guns at all.

Close Comments


  1. Welcome to the community.
    May I ask you why you decided to buy that first gun in the first place?
    How did that discussion and decision go?
    Was your husband also a fervent anti-gunner?

    • We talked about a gun after 9/11, but Hurricane Katrina is what changed a lot for me. I began casually storing food and water so that if my city experienced a disaster my family would be ok for a few days until things calmed down. My husband was concerned that he would have no means to protect us or keep looters from taking our food. I began to consider a gun (for him to use) that would be locked away in a safe to be used only in an emergency. He enjoyed shooting, but understood the fears I had of having a gun around our children, so he encouraged me to join and become educated. I started attending Girl’s Nights Out at the shooting range, and eventually started competing and instructing. The rest is history!

      • Just wanted to say you were wrong on #4 when you said automatic rifles were illegal already for most most private citizens to own.
        Full automatic rifles may be owned by ANYONE who is eligible to purchase a firearm. There is just a few more forms to fill out, plus a 200 dollar tax stamp, an additional scrutiny by the ATF, and more stringent rules that must be obeyed, which as you can’t sell it privately without notification to the ATF, and you must be able to actually AFFORD to pay much bucks when you can actually find one! It is called a class III License. They are not illegal, just highly regulated. Sasme as a “suppressor”, commonly called a ” silencer”.
        Being a newby, it is hard to learn everything about guns, and the HEAPING pile of rules and regulations, designed to keep us “safe” ,but in reality, are an illegal infringement of our 2nd Amendment Rights. Most hard core Constitutionalists agree that ANY laws are infringement, such as requiring a carry permit in order to conceal a weapon, but that is a whole other story, Chapter two….

      • Sorry, but I just finished reading all the comments and saw that someone else said basically the same in reference to full automatics. Sorry for the extra spanking!! No pun intended.

      • Hi Robert. Yes, when I wrote the article I was referring to the regular ol’ average person without a trust and tax stamp, but I had written “private citizens,” which was indeed factually inaccurate. I edited the article to add “(most)” in response to pod’s comment, below. Many complained that my article was already too long, so I didn’t want to venture off course: the point of my article was to describe the culture of the shooting community from the inside because it cannot be seen from the outside. The images and stories depicted in the media are not representative of my experiences of the general population of gun owners who are responsible and care deeply about the safety of our society. It wasn’t my intention to spell out the specifics of any law regarding automatic weapons; just to say that anti-gun people’s perception of who has them is probably not accurate. Before I had shot either, I had no idea of the difference between semiautomatic and automatic. I only mentioned it in my article to say to the anti-gunner who may be reading that there is a difference — and most people don’t have the “scarier” ones. 😉

  2. This is a great story and one we’re beginning to see more and more these days. Thank you for sharing!
    I signed my girlfriend up for a ladies basic handgun class and she said there were two women there with similar stories. They didn’t feel safe and began to feel like they needed to have more information about guns. They didn’t want to be afraid of guns, and they were in the class to overcome their fears.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks, Gordon! That’s exactly it — learning takes the fear out of unfamiliar things. Glad your girlfriend is a shooter now, too. She should join A Girl & A Gun. 😉

  3. This is a common conversion story, because when gun ban advocates wake up and get rational, they convert and have this same common set of revelations.

    Thank you for sharing it. Hopefully it’ll reach a few, over time, who currently have their heads in the sand.

    When are you getting your first AR15?

    Don’t neglect getting a shotgun for home-defense. They are reasonably priced, widely available and quite effective against multiple assailants. If the 12 gauge recoil is daunting for you, many women choose a 20 gauge — and the business end of that smaller bore is still quite significant.

    If you’re ever in Southeast Michigan, I’ll gladly take you to the range to shoot a dozen different weapons. And the ammo is on me.

    • Scott, if I’m ever in Southeast Michigan, you’re on! (You bring the guns and I’ll bring the ammo. Maybe I’ll teach you a few things, haha!)

  4. By the way, new shooters who are female generally learn faster, find the learning easier and are better shots.

    This is largely because men tend to get their egos involved and are willing to pretend they know more than they do, whereas women will admit what they don’t know, listen better and learn more attentively. Of the many people I’ve trained to shoot, women are nearly universally faster learners and better shots out the gate.

    Final comment: since women tend to have less body mass and upper body strength, they ought to be naturally more inclined toward armed self-defense. One woman cannot generally fend off four large men with her bare hands on a blade or bludgeon. But she can take them all 4 our in 2 seconds once she’s trained and confident. Women arguing for gun control is just so anti-feminism it makes no sense at all.

  5. The essence of posting on the internet about guns is that people like to nitpick. So I’m gonna. This was an amazing article, but one little inaccuracy:

    “By the way, automatic weapons are already illegal for private citizens to own. You can’t make them extra-illegal.”

    Not true. Private non-LEO citizens can own automatic weapons under limited circumstances…

    • Automatic weapons made before May 1986 can be transferred amongst law-abiding civilians. All these guns are (in theory) on the federal National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, which is a database (probably an Excel sheet haha) of all the machine guns, suppressors, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, and “destructive devices” that are regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act – which is basically a special classification of firearms the Feds deem to be “really dangerous”. Keeping it simple…

    • If you wish to buy a machine gun, and you find someone selling one legally, you pay for it, and you file a Form 4 with the ATF, plus pay a $200 transfer tax. The ATF goes over your paperwork, approves it, and a few months later you can pick up your machine gun from the seller. Now, since the pool of legally-transferrable machine guns is fixed, the price has gone way up. An M16 originally bought for $1100 in 1980 costs $25000 or more nowadays.

    So yeah, you can own a machine gun, but be prepared to pay.

    Of course, criminals aren’t exactly ponying up $25K for a 40-year old M16. They’re stealing one from the cops or the military if they want one. And yes, that does happen. A crackhead jacked a few full-auto M4s from a National Guard armory in Worcester, MA last year.

    • Just a quick nit to pick. Between the words FOR and Private you will find in her story there is, in parentheses, the word MOST.
      As for the possession of full auto weapons, are you talking I have been told many, if not most, states forbid full auto weapons. Just curious. Trying to learn all I can.

    • Pod you made this young lady apologize for nothing. The key word was most. There are papers that need to be signed and the transfer fee. The Chief LEO of your place of residence must sign off for the transfer. I was lucky I lived in the unincorporated county in Florida. The Sheriff’s son was my Captain so he signed. If I lived in the city I would have been SOL no signature no transfer. Now as more Sheriff’s follow Sheriff Joe of Maricopa Counties example especially here in the red parts of Florida more signatures. Now that creates a new problem no new firing mechanisms. I can buy another MP5 easily but if I can’t find a pre-release change mechanism the best I can do since I’m an H&K armorer, is make the firearm non-selective or semi-automatic. Now knowing Florida well many gun ranges that are FFL are also class 3 dealers so you can rent one. But be sure to take out a second mortgage because my MP5 30 round magazine was empty before the first casing hit the ground lmao

  6. Great article welcome the wonderful world of gun owners. I have forwarded this article to several female friends who are like you describe yourself being, fearful of guns and leery of gun owners in general. I am also glad that you mentioned the great work Scouting, and the NRA do to promote safe gun training courses. My son got both his rifle and shotgun merit badges through the Boy Scouts, and is a great ambassador for shooting sports.
    I wish that everyone who has a negative opinion regarding gun owners, and firearms would take the time that you have to learn as much as possible, because so much of the fear they have is due to ignorance and misinformation.
    Irrational fear of anything is usually based on being uninformed.

    Thanks for sharing your story and continue to help educate others who are where you were before your conversion.

  7. This is a great read. Welcome too the other side. I am a boy scout leader in venturing and love what we do. We are a shooting sports crew, we are all NBA certified and what you say is true. We care about safety and teaching. I have shown people of the anti side the joys of shooting and all that goes into it. All my scouts boys and girls are earning the medals or patches from the winchester nra marksman book. Wish you luck in your continued success

  8. You, and others touched on the fun of shooting sports. I have had many people ask what is fun about something that belches smoke, makes lots of noise and the end result is a hole in a piece of paper. I tell them that to me it is like throwing darts or shooting hoops and many other personal endeavors. It is the satisfaction of doing something well. I guess you could call it pride in self proficiency. P.S. I have seen more people hit with stray darts in a bar than stray bullets at the range. LOL

  9. Robyn, thanks for sharing your experience and I wish more stories such as yours were covered by the media. I do enjoy seeing article after article about the growth of women who are taking up shooting.

    I believe most gun control advocates are in the same situation as you were. I bet 99% of them have never owned or even fired a gun.

    Isn’t it interesting that so many are will to take away the rights of others but not willing to give up their rights. For example, I bet not one gun control nazi is willing to stand up and say “All use and display of guns should be banned from any Movie, TV Show or Game”.

    Groups like Mom Demand Action are the first to scream about the right to do with what they want with their body BUT want to take away OUR right to protect our body(life).

    The REAL danger in all of this is these groups do not understand is by advocating taking away someone else’s rights, they are actually working to take away their own rights. Here is a famous poem that I updated for today’s issues.

    First they came for Cigarette Smokers, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Smoker.

    Then they came for the Christians, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Christian.

    Then they came for the Gun owners, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Gun owner.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    (original Pastor Martin Niemöller – Nazi Germany 1937)

  10. As for the registry, let’s consider: (0) Hackers are stealing data from databases at a phenomenal rate. Stored data by anyone – not even the government – is safe. (1) Australia’s gun registry is an excellent example.

    After the “Sydney Siege” (a.k.a the “Lyndt Cafe Siege”) in December of 014, the Senate commissioned a report. In the report (which is loaded with suggestions intended to “fix” their broken and failing laws), it was noted by The
    Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association that thieves may be getting registration information from the database, and targeting homes that have registered weapons, and I quote: “Anecdotally, there is significant evidence to suggest that many of the firearm thefts in Tasmania are targeted – that is, they are targeted for the firearms, because often nothing else is taken. So you have to ask how this intelligence is being gathered by criminals in the first place.” (Reference: section 4.49 on page 56 of the report)

    Also noted in the report is the general disarray of the system; states fail to communicate data, states have differing laws, and updates to the data is spotty and inaccurate – much like our felon data as mentioned in your article.

    There is much more information in the report, which clearly demonstrates most American’s (and a few specific politicians) are unaware of just how Australia’s “gun control” laws actually fail to do one thing: control guns! We don’t hear much about the failures in the United States, and politicians and citizens in Australia continue to peddle the myth that everything in Australia is Utopian. Since a low of 2005, firearms used in crime (homicides, kidnappings and robberies) have been slowly creeping upward.

    Resource: The Senate Report:

    Resource: Trend in Weapon Use in Homicides, Robbery and Kidnapping:

  11. So in addition to he good aspects of gun ownership..I find target practice very meditative. Sounds strange but when you are shooting, there’s nothing else that can be on your mind from the time you pick up that firearm to the time that you safely put it away. It clears my mind after a rough day at work, you get to see all sorts of different weapons at the range, and always someone new to chat with. Secondary to that, of course, is honing your skills so that if you ever need to use them defensively you will be able to act quickly and decisively and be very familiar with your weapon should the need arise, and we hope the need never arises.

  12. Three things stand out that render all gun control arguments invalid:
    1. RIGHTS (of The People). Rights can be surrendered, but they can’t really be ‘taken away’ without killing somebody. Government only happens by ‘consent of the governed’. Rights are about that fundamental level of our individual human existence that we do NOT consent to be governed by the presumption of others.
    2. Civic DUTY. With every inalienable civil RIGHT there is an associated CIVIC DUTY. Those of us with the will and the means have a DUTY to protect ourselves, others around us who can’t protect themselves and our property, as the aggregate substance of success of our society. A loss for one is a loss for us all. An attack on the freedom of one is an attack on the freedom of all. Almost every violent criminal should also be prosecuted for the violation of civil rights. Where the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is infringed, so is the Right to Life and Liberty.
    3. Moral obligation. To understand this, one must have morals to begin with. In order for morality to have meaning, one must have the freedom to choose, so that Right must be protected, ultimately by the de-facto standing armed Citizen militia as a last resort. One cannot be “compelled” to be a morally-good person by some monolithic government via force of law. We need to understand that behavior which must remain “legal” and yet not be shamed by the “politically-correct” into morally condoning it.

    This is why I say, “A Citizen, by definition, is armed”. Anything less is to be a “subject”.

  13. Interesting read. I respect your opinion, and I think you are the model of a best case scenario gun owner. However, I feel like the only argument you put forward is ‘it makes me feel safer, just in case’. So having guns available in the country makes you feel safer, while actually making you less safe. While not having guns makes you feel less safe while actually making you safer. I know which one I’d rather have…

    • Thank you for your comment! I understand what you’re saying because that’s exactly what I used to believe. You’re right — I would feel less safe without my firearm, and if there were fewer gun sales as a result of gun control laws then anti-gun people would say that I would actually be safer. However, my belief is that I would actually be less safe because there would be fewer law-abiding citizens with guns and more criminal gun sales. In other words, I (a trained, responsible gun owner) wouldn’t know where to get illegal guns because I’m a law-abiding citizen, but bad guys will, and they’ll circumvent gun control laws. That would make our society less safe. It’s similar to the argument that criminals don’t obey posted signs to businesses that require them to leave their gun outside — anti-gun people feel safer there, but pro-gun feel like fish in a barrel. The safety of any building actually depends on the integrity of the people in it.

      • Robyn, I respect your right to your opinion, but you need to educate yourself. First of all, laws like universal background check laws aren’t targeted at law-abiding gun owners. We law-abiding gun owners can pass a background check and so they don’t affect us. But if we had background checks required on every gun sale, with exceptions for family transfers among law-abiding family members as is usually the case, then many of the places that criminals and people who have been prohibited will no longer be available to them. For example, criminals can and do buy guns on Armslist because Armslist helps people arrange private sales. In 32 states there are no background check requirements on private sales. In fact, in most of those states the seller is under no legal obligation to do any due diligence on their buyer whatsoever. Criminals know this now & they take advantage of it. “So what,” you say. “The criminal is breaking the law just buying the gun.” Yes, true. But the seller isn’t. And there are a lot of people out there who would think twice about selling a gun privately without a background check if it was illegal for them to do so. Background checks may not stop all law-breakers from buying guns, but if they were universally the law for all sales in all 50 states they would stop **law-abiding** gun owners from selling to them. And they do, currently, usually without having any idea. Heck, the guy in Seattle who sold a gun to a Canadian citizen in an Armslist sale a few years ago wasn’t a law-breaker. He was a guy who had no legal obligation to find out who he was selling to, and he didn’t. So he sold a gun to an illegal buyer who used that gun to shoot and kill a woman who rejected him. I would think that ALL responsible, law-abiding gun owners would see that narrowing access for criminals by making sure all law-abiding citizens can’t legally sell a gun to a criminal and walk away having done nothing “legally” wrong is the right thing to do. I would certainly think that someone who used to support regulations would see sense in that. Here’s the story of the Seattle “legal” sale to an illegal buyer:

        You really need to think hard about what you are promoting. Gun “control” laws as you put it (lots of gun owners are for responsible regulations, not control) don’t stop law-abiding gun owners from being able to buy a gun. But they can make it harder for criminals to get them. Don’t believe me? Please, tell me of a time when you or a law-abiding gun owner you know was prevented from buying a gun entirely. Not for a few days. Entirely. Thanks.

        • Deamare, I think you need to turn that first sentence around and consider educating yourself before preaching such a narrow and poorly understood viewpoint.
          1) Background checks are already widespread and the “gun-show loophole” is largely a propaganda tool by the anti-gun groups to confuse uneducated people about the actual process of buying a gun.
          2) The vast majority of guns used in criminal activities are either stolen, acquired from friends or family (not sold), or straw purchased. Background checks, regardless of the quality of them, would do next to nothing to stop the use or acquisition of firearms by criminals.
          3) Background checks also touch on the very contentious question of who has a right to own a gun. Perhaps we can agree that anyone on probation or under a restraining order/court order should not be allowed to purchase a firearm. But what about those convicted of a felony previously but have served their time? Have they paid their debt to society? What about non-violent felonies? What about misdemeanors? At what point is someone stripped of a constitutional right? If you listen to the anti-gun folks, including the POTUS, they want to include the mentally ill, certainly social security recipients? Who defines what the line is? What is mentally ill? This is the huge issue with background checks, and for you to preach that it is an obvious thing to understand is childish.
          4) And lastly, as mentioned previously, background checks are only as good as the database that serves them. Until all states provide timely and adequate information, harping on background checks is just security theatre that serves little purpose beyond propaganda.

        • Deamare, I’m with MikeP on this one I believe you need to educate yourself a bit more on universal backgrounds. Universal background checks would require universal registration. Right now the vast majority of the 300 to 400 million firearms in this country are not registered, anything manufactured before 1968 was not required by law to be serialized or registered with the ATF even. To enforce a universal background law, you would have to know who has the firearm to began with. The main people pushing for universal background checks know this, so when the universal background check law doesn’t get results, the next push will be for universal registration. I can tell you right now! Universal registration wont work. So what do you think they’ll push for after that.

      • Yes, if it weren’t for briefly mentioning background checks and automatic weapons, I wouldn’t have gotten any replies to my article, lol! The scope of the article (which some have complained is already too long) only addresses my journey and mindset (in general) from one side of the issue to the other. Mostly I wanted to share what surprised me most about the shooting community — and it was the friendliness, family focus on good citizenship, and due diligence for safety. That definitely doesn’t describe all gun owners, who are a diverse population. We need to examine what existing laws should be enforced (if any), what new policies should be developed (if any), and additional outreach efforts and social services that should be enhanced (if any) to address the underlying reasons for our problems in the first place. There are many opinions on specific regulations, such as background checks, which I didn’t really get into.

    • Pregnantheimlich, you are expressing an opinion based on statistics that are arguably misleading.. I’ve heard repeatedly from anti-gun groups that a household with a gun has a statistically higher incidence of gun violence then one that does not. But to a responsible gun owner this is nothing more than propaganda with no relevance. Those statistics are largely derived from including suicides (2/3 of gun deaths) and accidents. The US overall suicide rate is comparable or lower than most advanced western societies indicating that in the absence of a household firearm, a suicidal person would just find another way. Japan, an essentially gun-free society, has a much higher overall suicide rate sadly, completely eliminating a gun-suicide relationship. Accidents often result from incompetitence and this is an area where we could certainly use better education. But for a “responsible” gun owner this is a non-issue as by definition they will responsibly store and handle their weapons essentially bringing the probability of an accident to near zero.
      Lastly, these statistics almost entirely ignore the preventative benefits of owning firearms for violence prevention as there is no reliable source or database of this. The government does little to track legal defensive gun use so we really have no comparative data for legal versus illegal gun use. It is arguable based on estimation that guns in fact do make a person statistically safer.

  14. Welcome to the right (correct) side of the gun question, Robyn! I’m glad you finally saw the light (truth).

    I wonder if you can comment about all the lies that the anti-gunners have to make up to support their side? Seems to me if you have to make up facts and statistics, you’ve lost the war.

    • Both sides of the issue comprise smart, educated people that use statistics that support their paradigm. The crux of the issue is that the anti-gun view is that everyone should give up rights (like we do with speed limits and such) for the greater good in order to protect even one life from a firearm-related death. It is a noble and worthy cause. The pro-gun view is that law-abiding citizens have the constitutional right to have firearms, and restrictions take rights away from the good guys only because bad guys will circumvent the law. This creates an uneven playing field and a less safe society. Protecting our families and the rights of good guys is also a noble and worthy cause. Bottom line: We need to create dialogue to hash out these views so that we can enforce policies that don’t hinder rights of good guys, but also create safer society for all Americans. It’s a complex issue.


  16. The NRA did not become a lobby until after Congress passed the 1968 Gun Control Act. The NRA began as a safety and marksmanship organization.
    The NRA was all about military style target shooting and organized international competitions. The modern Olympics involves such military based target shooting, although NBC refuses to note that fact when they show the summer or winter games.
    During the Civil War Union Generals saw the poor performance of the Union soldiers, particularly when compared to the Southern soldiers who grew up in the fields and swamps with a rifle and Bowie knife. Many Union soldiers were fresh off the boat from Europe and had never fired any firearm before “boot camp.”
    The EDDIE EAGLE safety program is simple and intended for preschool to first and second grade students. I’ll sum up the content…
    If you see a gun, Don’t touch it, Leave the Area and Tell an adult. It works and has saved lives. If your school system doesn’t use it, attend the next school board meeting. The NRA will be happy to supply materials you can show the school board.

    Welcome to being a free citizen and not just a warm bodied voter.

  17. Great writing, and welcome Robyn. As you said, the females of any species will ferociously defend their young, and humans are no exception. It stands to reason that you should do so with the best means available. What is wonderful is that on your journey to becoming proficient with your means of protecting those you love, you have come across great people and a great organization…. they’re not the evil baby-killers the anti’s paint them to be!

    • Thank you, Cal! Yes, this a surprise to me because in the media I used to hear stories of senseless deaths because parents left pistols sitting on nightstands. It seemed to me that even gun owners shouldn’t be trusted with their own guns. When I began participating in the shooting community I was very surprised how much safety and responsibility is emphasized. It was a breath of fresh air that you don’t see from the other side! I clearly saw the difference between the average American gun owner that cares deeply about safety and the community, and the irresponsible/criminal guys with guns. That changed everything and I was hoping to show that in my article.

  18. Our state is one of the “democratic-controlled” ones that doesn’t allow us to have full-auto anything. Anything that requires class 3 or items on the NFA list are verbotten for us. Frankly, the liberals forget the fact that the majority of mass shooting incidents all had shooting rates far lower than anyone could do with a plain old semi-auto handgun. While the AR15 may “look scary”, it’s no more deadly than my semi-auto handgun (especially since most of the mass shootings occurred at “contact distances”, not shooting at 500+ yards, thus a rifle isn’t necessary. Anyone who is proficient can easily swap a mag in a second or less, so mag capacity limits make no sense at all (the perp will merely carry more 10-round mags). If the “no common sense” politicians want to reduce fatalities in mass shooting events, they need to allow concealed carry in ALL 50 states. Our state has NEVER issued a carry permit to anyone who wasn’t somehow connected to the police, etc. despite being a “may issue” state. “May issue” merely is another way of saying “no issue” when you have liberals in the hierarchy of the police departments. The phrase “Lucky live Hawaii” certainly doesn’t apply in this case. Our infamous mass shooting case here (many years ago) involved workplace violence at Xerox; if we had a “shall issue” law, some lives “may” have been spared and the perp taken out; but maybe not since Xerox had a “no gun policy” in their company premises anyway.



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It’s Time for the Obama Administration to #UploadTheRegs: National Federation of the Blind

downloadHowdy Federation Family,

On July 26, 2010, the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) addressing the obligation of public accommodations to provide websites that are accessible to individuals with disabilities was issued by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). At the time, President Obama  correctly observed that these proposed rules would be “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment.” Yet the release date of the actual rule proposal for revising the Title III regulations of the ADA, originally scheduled for January of 2012, has been extended until sometime in 2018, eight years beyond the issuance of the original ANPRM and at least a year after the end of his administration. Having originally taken a strong stance on the importance of these regulations, it now seems like the Obama administration is wishing to wash its hands of them entirely.

As blind Americans, we know first-hand that equal access to the internet is paramount for education, to obtain and retain employment, and for everyday tasks such as paying bills, online shopping, booking travel, etc. We will not sit idly by as the administration attempts to sideline this critical access issue, so we have launched a petition demanding, in the strongest terms possible, that the administration issue these regulations immediately.

Upon reaching 100,000 signatures, the Obama administration is required to respond, so in addition to sharing our we the people petition via Email and your social media outlets, please personally ask 10 family members, friends, and colleagues to sign it and share it as well. A little personal contact goes a long way!

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me; with your help, we will bring this critical issue for blind Americans to the forefront of the Obama administration’s list of priorities. Let’s go build the Federation!


Gabe Cazares

Government Affairs Specialist

National Federation of the Blind

200 East Wells Street

At Jernigan Place

Baltimore, MD 21230


P: 410-659-9314 Ext. 2206

T: @gmcazares


The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.


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