Thursday, November 16, 2017


Long ago we bought a picnic table and two benches from a local hardware store. I put them together, and they sat decaying in our yard for years, as I kept repairing and reinforcing them to last a little longer. Then one bench decayed beyond hope of salvation and had to be trashed. Next came the picnic table. Finally we had only one bench, and I went and bought another picnic table with built in benches. It began to decay and I have rebuilt and reinforced it a number of times until little remains of the bench we bought and it now consists of the replacement parts I put on it.

A few days ago, as my wife set up an outdoor birthday party, my wife asked me to check our sole remaining single bench to see if it could stand up to the seats of several people’s britches. I pronounced it unsafe for human habitation and incapable of being salvaged, and we sorely missed it at the birthday party.  It was too close to the party to make a new bench, but just as soon as the party was over I began work on replacing the bench. Here is how I did it.

To build an outdoor bench, you start with four 2x4x8 boards. You can go two ways with this. You can get pressure-treated 2x4’s or you can get construction grade 2x4’s like those used for studding in the walls of houses. The construction grade 2x4’s have the advantage of being lighter, less warped, more easily sawn, and altogether easier to work with. I chose pressure treated 2x4’s. Not because I like the challenge of hefting, cutting, and drilling pressure treated lumber, but because pressure treated lumber will last longer. You could seal and paint the construction grade 2x4’s, and they’ll last longer, but you can also seal and paint pressure treated lumber, and it will last even longer.

The hardware that you will need to turn four 2x4’s into a bench are: a pencil, a saw, a drill, a speed square, some clamps, and an assortment of deck screws from 3 to 4 inches in length.

The saw: You can cut with a hand saw or a skill saw, but you really need a chop saw. Unless you are a master carpenter you’re not going to be able to make the precise cuts with a hand saw or skill saw.

The drill: You need a two-speed drill capable of both drilling holes and driving screws. I used two drills so I wouldn’t have to stop and swap bits when I went from drilling holes to driving screws.

The clamps: C-clamps will do, but I like the Irwin quick-grip style of clamps and have an assortment of sizes hidden in various places in my workshop.

Why deck screws rather than nails? Nails back out over time. The teeth on a screw help keep it in place.

Use star-drive screws: Even when you drill pilot holes in fresh pressure treated lumber, it’s going to be a chore driving a 3 to 4 inch deck screw into the wood. Phillips head screws are famous for stripping out and leaving you with a screw partway in the wood and no way to back it out or drive it home except with a hammer. You can buy bits at the hardware store that are specially made for backing out Phillips head screws which have been stripped out. Or you can use star-drive screws. They come with the proper size bit in the box, and it takes more torque than any of my drills can generate to strip them out. In case you're wondering what a star drive screw is, the head looks like this:

We’re now ready to begin building the bench.

STEP 1: Cut three of the 2x4’s down to the length of 66”. Don’t throw away the short pieces, you’re going to use them later.

STEP 2: Take two of the cut boards and mark of a line 1 ½ inches from either end of the board. Then take your speed square and mark off a 45 degree cut on one corner of each end of the boards. Make sure the diagonal cut mark is on the same side of the board.

When you get it cut, it should look like this:

STEP 3: Now take the short ends and cut three 10 ¾” pieces. These are going to be the crossties that tie the runners of your seat (the three long boards) together. Turn the crossties on their sides and take a 30 degree cut off each end. You can use the speed square to mark of a 30 degree line, but most chop saws will have a 30 degree preset. When you get the crossties cut, their narrow sides should look like an isosceles trapezoid:

If one of your pieces ends up looking like a parallelogram:
set it aside and cut another crosstie:

STEP 4: Lay the runners side by side and put the crossties on them at a 90 degree angle. The lines you drew for your 45 degree cut on the ends of the runners shows you where to put two outside crossties. Measure carefully and put the third crosstie in the middle.

STEP 5: Clamp the pieces together so they fit tightly and then fasten the crossties to the runners with 3” screws, two per runner.

STEP 6: Take the fourth (uncut) 2x4 and make a 45 degree cut on its end. Measure 17 ½” down from the sharp end and make a mark. Make another 45 degree cut at the mark. You will now have a board which looks like a 17 ½” parallelogram. Mark this board with a big X on both sides. It is going to be your pattern for cutting the legs. Take your pattern and lay it down on the angled end of the long board so that both pieces are angled in the same direction. Draw a line along the far end of the pattern and cut. Repeat three times. You now have four legs the same length, which is going to be somewhat different than your pattern is. That’s why you don’t use the pattern as a leg. You’ll have three legs the same length and the fourth a different length. That’s also why you use the same pattern for cutting each board. If you cut one board and use it for a pattern to cut the second; then take the second and use it as a pattern for the third; then use the third as a pattern for the fourth; you’re going to wind up with no two legs the same length.

STEP 7: Take one leg and place it against an end crosstie, putting the end of the leg even with the side of the outside runner. Clamp it down. Take a second leg and place it against the clamped leg with its end touching the side of the other outside runner. Clamp it to the first leg. If you have followed instructions, your legs look like this:

STEP 8: Toenail the leg resting against the crosstie to the runner with a 3” screw. Fasten the second leg to the first with a 3” screw. I fouled up by toenailing the second leg to the runner at this time. It is premature to do this. As I got to the next step I had to take the screw out so that I could get everything clamped together firmly. You’ll notice that there is a gap between the second leg and the crosstie. We’re going to fill that gap in the next step.

STEP 9: Take one of your leftover short pieces which has a 30 degree cut in one end, like this:

Stick the slanted end into the gap so that it fits flush with the inside leg. Mark a line on it down the edge of the outside leg.

Now cut it along the marked line, and you’ve got a trapezoidal piece that looks like this:

Take the small piece, fit it back into the gap, toenail it to the runner, and then drive a 4” screw through the outside leg, through the spacer piece, and into the crosstie. If you haven’t been drilling pilot holes before, now is a good time to start. Cut a similar piece to fit to the outside of the inner leg and fasten it to the outside runner and crosstie in a similar manner. Now is the time to toenail the outside leg to the runner. When you’re finished, it should look like this:

STEP 10: Go to the other end of the bench and repeat steps 8 and 9.

STEP 11: Brace the legs by toenailing in a diagonal board. You can cut it with two 45 degree angles or you can vary the angle of each cut, just so that the total of both angles adds up to 90 degrees. I braced this bench with braces which had cuts of 30 degrees and 60 degrees. When I got through, it looked like this:

I used a 30/60 brace because I had a lot of leftover pieces that already had 30 degree cuts in them. A chop saw doesn’t have a 60 degree preset, but you can draw a guideline for your cut by using your speed square. Put one side along the 30 degree cut with the other side intersecting the board like this:

You’re almost through building it now.

STEP 12: Set the bench on its feet and screw the outside runners to the legs using 4” deck screws.

The finished product should look like this:

I’d recommend painting the bench, and the color I recommend is barn red. White is pretty, but it gets dirty in a hurry and fades over time. Barn red masks a multitude of sins. If you used construction grade 2x4’s instead of pressure treated lumber, you must paint and seal the bench, or it will be rotted in no time sitting out in the yard.
My investment in the bench came to just under $25 using pressure treated 2x4’s from Lowe's at $4.29 each and star-drive screws left over from previous projects.

Friday, October 6, 2017


I just saw a Tweet which featured a photograph of an AK-47 and carried the inscription (hashtags omitted): "AK47 stands for Automatic Killer, 47 bullets per pull of the trigger. Much deadlier than an AR15."

Let me explain the problems with this tweet using words of one syllable wherever possible:

(1) "AK" does not mean "Automatic Killer." It means "Automat Kalashnikov," for the type of gun it is (full auto) and the inventor (Mikhail Kalashnikov).

(2) "47" does not mean "47 bullets per pull of the trigger." It stands for 1947, the year it was first made.

(3) The AK-47 available on the American market is no "deadlier" than an AR-15, and not as "deadly" as a semi-automatic .308 or .30-06, both of which can reach out and touch at greater distance with a heftier punch. Back in the last century when I was a deer hunter, I preferred a WWII surplus bolt action .303 Lee-Enfield sniper's rifle to a semi-automatic .308. It made you aim more carefully and didn't waste nearly as many cartridges when you missed.

In the comment meme following the tweet, I read a comment that the "AR" in AR-15 means "Assault Rifle." No, it doesn't. It means "Armalite Rifle," for the company which first made it.

If you want to be 100% absolutely correct in the use of the term "assault rifle," you should confine the description to a rifle capable of full automatic fire, which fires an under-powered rifle cartridge. At the beginning of WWII the Germans equipped their paratroopers with full auto high powered rifles, but the guns kicked so badly that they were near impossible to control. The Germans later improved the full-auto rifle by reducing the cartridge size and power, and the first true assault rifle was born, the Sturmgewehr 44--"sturm" meaning "assault" and "gewehr" meaning rifle. And just to be perfectly clear, "44" does not mean "44 bullets per pull of the trigger," it means 1944, the year the gun was put into production.

Here is a paradoxical fact about the deadly fully-automatic assault rifle: It is actually intended as a life-saving tool as much as it is a life-taking weapon. The main purpose of high-volume small arms fire on the battlefield is not to kill. It is to make the enemy keep his head down so he cannot kill you. The longer your enemy keeps his head down to avoid your full-auto fire, the less time he has to carefully aim and shoot at you. See the Wikipedia article on Suppressive Fire. I saw a documentary a while back which re-enacted a firefight in Iraq. A squad member with a SAW was covering his comrades against fire from a sniper. (A SAW is a Squad Automatic Weapon, usually an M249 light machine gun, which is capable of massive sustained full-auto fire). The soldier with the SAW fired what seemed like thousands of rounds of ammunition keeping the sniper's head down, thereby saving the lives of his fellow squad members. Unfortunately, when his SAW ran out of bullets, the sniper killed him with one shot. In other words, the man armed with the ultra deadly latest model fully automatic assault weapon eventually succumbed to a man armed with a bolt action rifle.

CAVEAT: I don't mean by my title to disparage the intellect of the tweeter by pointing out the tweeter's ignorance. Everyone is ignorant, we're just ignorant on different subjects. The point I am trying to make is that it is best to speak on matters of which one has knowledge and remain silent on matters of which one is ignorant. 


Q: What are NFL players protesting when they refuse to stand for the National Anthem? A: Police brutality.

Q: What entity saw to it that the officers who abused Rodney King were punished? A: An agency of the Federal government (the United States Department of Justice).

Q: What entity came down on the Ferguson Police Department like a ton of bricks after the shooting of Michael Brown? A: An agency of the Federal government (the United States Department of Justice).

Q: What entity has a long-standing track record for working to punish police violation of civil rights, including police brutality? A: The Federal government.

Q: What does the National Anthem symbolize? A: The Federal government.

Q: How do you show respect for the Federal government? A: By standing for the National Anthem.

Q: How do you show disrespect for the Federal government? A: By refusing to stand for the National Anthem.

Q: When NFL players refuse to stand for the National Anthem to protest police brutality, what are they actually doing? A: Showing disrespect for the entity most committed to punishing police brutality.

Q: Does it make sense to protest police brutality by disrespecting the entity most committed to punishing police brutality?

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Although I've been an NRA member for several decades, I haven't always agreed with every stance taken by the NRA or the NRA-ILA. I wondered what position the NRA would take on bump stocks when the post-Las Vegas Shooting conversation got around to discussing a ban. I am happy to see that they favor strict regulation of such devices. I wholeheartedly agree.

For as long as I can remember, anyone who wanted to own a fully automatic weapon had to jump through a number of hoops which had a very small diameter. This is as it should be. Very few civilians have any need to own or possess a fully automatic firearm. I'll be the first person to admit that they're a lot of fun to shoot. However, the fact that it's a lot of fun to shoot off fireworks doesn't prevent the government from severely limiting the shooting of fireworks by just anyone.

It seems reasonable to me that if you're going to purchase a bump stock, you should have to jump through the exact same hoops that you would if you were purchasing a Thompson submachine gun.

An another thing: Bump stocks aren't the only devices that can be used to make a firearm mimic full auto. Certain crank devices can be attached to triggers which allow you to literally "crank out" shots as fast as full auto. There may be other devices which can be attached to firearms to simulate full auto. Tomorrow morning some brilliant gunsmith may invent a new device to simulate full auto fire. Any kind of device which can be used to make a firearm simulate full auto fire ought to be regulated as stringently as truly full auto firearms are currently being regulated.

Monday, October 2, 2017


It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Although during my hiatus I have often had the urge to say something about current events, I never felt that I had anything productive that I could add to any discussion. With what has happened in Las Vegas, I believe that I can add something to the conversation. I have previously voiced the opinion that the problem with mass shootings is not gun control but people control, and I traced the origin of the trend toward mass shootings to the United States Supreme Court’s tightening of the requirements for involuntary hospitalization of the mentally ill. O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486 (U.S.Fla. 1975), made it nearly impossible to hold a mentally ill person for more than a few days. After that, the patient was often back out on the street acting strangely and getting into more trouble.
Most with mental health issues do not become mass shooters, but most mass shooters (excluding those with political motivations) have mental health issues. It hasn’t yet come out that Stephen Paddock had mental health issues, and the media have portrayed him as someone who was normal to all outward appearances. Other than the fact that he was a loner, his father was a professional bank robber on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List, he was a high-stakes gambler, and his brother said he was “not a normal guy”, Paddock was just like anyone else and nobody who knew him could have seen this coming. I don’t buy it. I predict that Paddock will have a history of mental health issues. All that investigators have to do to find out about that history is to penetrate the veil of secrecy thrown up by HIPAA and the patient-psychotherapist privilege.
If Paddock proves to have a perfectly normal mental health history, then there may be something to the Islamic State’s claim that he converted to Islam and carried out the attack “in response to [the Islamic State’s] calls to target coalition countries.” I, however, seriously doubt that the Islamic State’s claims have any truth value whatsoever. If an Islamic State spokesman were to tell me that the sun was shining, I’d go get my umbrella.
It is impossible to 100% completely prevent such incidents as happened in Las Vegas, and O'Connor v. Donaldson makes it even more difficult than it otherwise could be, but I think I know of a way to predict whether someone has a potential for acting out in the way that Paddock did. It will take some explaining. There is a school of thought in the field of statistics called predictive analytics or predictive modeling that employs the use of statistical algorithms to predict future behavior.
My first contact with such predictive algorithms came when I was a Sexually Violent Predator prosecutor. The predictive algorithm (which was called an “instrument”) was called the Rapid Risk Assessment for Sexual Offense Recidivism, or the RRASOR. The psychiatrist or psychologist (hereafter “psych”) simply looked to the RRASOR’s checklist, and checked off the boxes on the list. Each box had a number value. At the end of the checklist the psych added up the numbers for each box checked, and the total score gave a prediction for how likely it was that the sex offender would reoffend. The higher the score, the more likely the person was to reoffend. At that time the RRASOR was touted as being more accurate a predictor of recidivism than a traditional psych evaluation.
Another predictive algorithm that was used in connection with Sexually Violent Predator prosecutions was the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is now in a revised second edition (PCL-R). Its mechanics were similar to the RRASOR. The psych goes down a checklist, giving points for each variable, and totals the points at the end. The higher the score the more likely that the patient is a psychopath. The more likely it is that a person is a psychopath, the less likely it is that the person will respond to traditional psychiatric treatment.
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, in their book Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, describe how the UK’s antiterrorism agencies used such an algorithm to thwart terrorist attacks. They come across a person who looks suspicious, run him through the algorithm, and the algorithm tells them how likely it is that the person is going to make a terrorist attack. Go down the list, check off the boxes, and add up the points, and the higher the score, the more likely the person is to make a terrorist attack. One of the criteria was whether or not the person had any life insurance. Life insurance policies are not going to pay off if the insured kills himself in a suicide attack, so why buy life insurance? The only reason to do so would be to lower your score on the terrorism algorithm.
Now, we’ve got enough data on enough mass shooters to look into their backgrounds and find the common characteristics that all or most mass shooters possess. Assemble a checklist like the RRASOR or the PCL-R, run the questionable individual through the checklist, and if the individual scores high on the algorithm, that person bears watching. We could call the algorithm the Gun Violence Assessment of Risk (GunVAR).
How would you apply it? Use a methodology similar to that used in Sexually Violent Predator prosecutions (See Fla.Stat. §§ 394.910-394.932). When a sex offender is released from prison, the offender is examined and a determination made as to how likely that person is to reoffend. If it is determined that the person has a high likelihood of reoffending, then a Sexually Violent Predator commitment proceeding is initiated. The flaw of Sexually Violent Predator commitment, is that the individual can be committed with no real prospects of being cured and consequently no real hope of release. I would propose a different protocol for proceedings relating to risk of gun violence.
When an individual has been involuntarily committed for mental health issues, upon his release, he will be assessed using the GunVAR. If he scores high enough on the GunVAR, then the psych has a duty to report this fact to the authorities. Proceedings can then be instituted to insure that the person is placed under a form of probationary supervision, he receives outpatient therapy to curb his violent tendencies, and maximum efforts are made to keep him separated from guns (including periodic unannounced inventories of his living quarters to make sure he hasn’t acquired any guns). When a psych certifies that he has a clean bill of mental health, then a judge can release him from supervision.
As I said at the outset, there is no 100% foolproof method of preventing mass killings. A truly determined killer doesn’t need a gun—a pressure cooker and some home-made explosives or a rented van loaded with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil will work just as well. But I do think a procedure similar to that described in the Sexually Violent Predator laws would cut down on such violence.