15 December 2014

Long Range Murder, short range murder. The difference between "sniped" and "ambushed" evidently

Murder committed from a distance is still murder. But for some reason whenever someone uses a rifle they get called a "sniper" instead of "murderer" or "terrorist."

I bring this up because the Crime Museum in DC is putting the Remington 700 used by Charles Whitman on display. They have conveniently labelled it a "sniper rifle" for everyone to see. This is the article that spawned the whole thought process that went into researching all the stuff for this post: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2872736/Victims-1966-Texas-tower-shooting-angered-museum-s-recent-decision-display-sniper-s-rifle-bearing-handwritten-notes.html

One thing that always bothers me is how any criminal with a rifle who kills someone will invariably be called a "sniper."  Heck, wikipedia lists 17 of them, not all of whom I am familiar with: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:American_criminal_snipers

But I think they shouldn't be called, "snipers" for a few reasons.

1, we know their names, and this is because of reason number two...

2, they got caught or killed.

Now there may be 17 named "American Criminal Snipers" listed on wikipedia, but compare and contrast that to this excerpt from: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/19/us/hunt-for-sniper-historical-context-sniper-cases-prove-hardest-for-authorities.html
From 1976 to 2000, more than 500 people committed sniper attacks, killing at long range, and about 200 of these crimes, or 40 percent, remain unsolved, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports. By comparison, only 25 percent of all homicides go unsolved.

 ''Because they kill from a distance, because the crime scene has little evidence and typically because the victims have no relationship to the shooter, there are very few clues for the police,'' Professor Fox said.
So adopting even basic "sniper" practices increase your odds of getting away with murder by 15%? Seems like more criminals would have taken note of this by now.

It is a very interesting segment of criminality, the people who are capable of mastering shooting at distances where discipline is required to master the skill, and the people who lack either the self control to not kill another human being. The ones who climb into a clock tower, who corner themselves, are really just people engaged in a long drawn out suicide. They aren't "snipers" so much as "active shooters" and active shooter scenarios always end with the shooter dying by a responder or by suicide (always is used as a rhetorical device, yes I know some have been taken alive by responders).

The "DC Snipers" weren't true snipers because they were simply killing targets of opportunity to create terror. The "DC Terrorists" would be a much better title. The rifle used didn't even have a scope on it, and shots were well inside the first third of the point blank range of the rifle.

Eric Frein would have come closer to the definition of a "sniper" as he had a getaway plan. Unfortunately he botched the exit, didn't take care of forensic evidence.
"Overall, of the 1,600 or 1,700 [serial slayings] I've personally cataloged, about 20 percent are unresolved," says Michael Newton, the author of the Encyclopedia of Serial Killers.

"It is very possible to get away with these kind of crimes," Newton says.
But in many cases, it was a simply good luck or a key mistake that led police to the attacker.
"It's often just a matter of luck. It really is," says Harold Schechter, a literature professor at Queens College in New York, who has written extensively about serial killers.
Excerpts from:  http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=91114&page=1&singlePage=true
 And just to illustrate the point, http://www.wowktv.com/story/17204660/sniper-style-murder-at-grocery-store-still-unsolved

http://abcnews.go.com/US/kentucky-cop-killed-premeditated-ambush/story?id=19265234

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2011-08-25/19-of-50-slain-police-killed-in-ambushes/50138148/1

And while all this data is important is because it is the justification for the militarization of law enforcement. Of course the militarization of law enforcement will lead to the militarization of criminal organizations eventually. http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/chechinsurgtact.htm and http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/mexico-kills-zetas-founder-as-cartels-decline-continues

Of course none of this compares to the 1930s in terms of sheer violence per capita. But, to sum things up, the more like an actual sniper you are, the better off your chances are for a murder to go into the "unsolved category" but generally people who have that level of self discipline aren't slaves to their emotions or people who commit murder in the first place.

Gain or maintain skill. Plan the operation. OPSEC (keep the operation a secret). Execute the operation. OPSEC (don't get caught during the operation). Exfiltration. OPSEC (don't get caught leaving the scene of the crime). Mitigation. OPSEC (keeping your mouth shut). See how OPSEC is important to success?

13 December 2014

Sierra Leone; Aesop gets another post.

Aesop is like a dog with a bone about the white board showing burials in Sierra Leone not jiving with the reported ebola deaths. He is convinced that the data is so wrong as to be useless. So here are some other things to think about that will hopefully put things into perspective.

The white board measures the number of reported dead who were buried by area and by week. Notice that there is no mention of ebola in the previous sentence.

The official ebola dead numbers published by Sierra Leone only include confirmed ebola dead. This is a decision by those in power, and yes it probably under reports the total number of ebola dead. But the question is, by how much? and, does the under reporting show the same trend lines as reality? Those are the key questions to ask when trying to extrapolate from a data set.

There will be disparity between those two numbers, with the number of burials being greater than the number of confirmed cases of ebola dead. There are very good reasons why the number of people dying is greater than the number of people who die from ebola.

For example, people still die in Sierra Leone from influenza, malaria, and tuberculosis on a very routine basis. In fact Sierra Leone is number one in the world for malaria deaths, number six for influenza and pneumonia deaths, and number one for tuberculosis deaths.

For 2011, the last year data is available for Sierra Leone:
13,262 deaths due to malaria, that is averaging over a thousand a month.
10,761 deaths due to influenza or pneumonia, averaging just under a thousand a month.
7,143 deaths due to tuberculosis, averaging just under 600 a month.

That is right about 2,600 deaths every month from diseases that have end stage symptoms similar enough to ebola to make people call the body removal crews and have their loved one buried. None of this takes into consideration the annual 7,148 diorheal diseases, 2,775 deaths by AIDS, or the numbers for heart attack or stroke.

If you had those sort of numbers for normal infectious diseases present in your country, wouldn't you want to confirm ebola deaths before putting them into the official count? It makes sense that the officials in Sierra Leone would want to do that. It would also make sense that they wouldn't want to risk further exposure to infection by centralizing corpses, or corpse samples when it is safer just to bury them.

There is no big grand conspiracy here, at least not not that I can find by looking at the facts available. But that is the great thing about conspiracies, if you can prove they exist, it wouldn't be a conspiracy.

Explaining ebola analysis

Often it is quite helpful to lay out your logic and processes to people let them follow along with steps that aren't intuitive. People have accused me of being an optimist, I'm really not an optimist I'm an objectivist. If you objectively look at all your knowns, what picture does the data take? With the data of the knowns, what probabilities are left for the known unknows?

So while I like to point out that the massive die offs predicted three months ago haven't occured, it is only because that shows the fundamental problem of predicting the unknown (the future) based on the available known data. The "Climate Change" crowd suffers from the same problem, and all of their predictions have failed as well, but expect someone to lay this ebola epidemic at the feet of "climate change" any time now.

But to explain the analysis....

Earlier this day I showed my boss a line chart I'd made where I took the reported deaths from ebola, averaged out the delta between time reporting periods, then divided the delta by the number of days in the reported period to get a trend line of number of deaths per day. Since October 7th to December 7th, there have been 17 data points, which gives us 16 changes in data points. The average deaths per day during October started out at around 106 deaths per day, down to a few blips in the teens, with a median of 54 deaths per day.

The trend line from then until now is a 50% reduction in overall deaths per day. However the trend line from mid November until now has been slightly increasing towards the median. This is not a new thing with this outbreak, last March we saw a downtrend, followed by an uptrend in the summer. My only prediction for this outbreak is that it won't be over until it has burned itself out. The only reason we sent government assistance is to keep up appearances.

Now this is just the number of deaths known to be from ebola, so anyone bringing up the argument that I can't measure the unknown deaths from ebola is quite technically correct. I can't measure the unknown, so we have to make the assumption that any outbreak big enough to be noticeable will have deaths represented in the official numbers. You can't measure what you don't observe, so you have to extrapolate the truth from the observations you have available, or as close to the truth as you can get.

Another thing that makes the data quite interesting is the 60 to 70% mortality rate of ebola in West Africa. If we do the math, that the dead per day count for 60% of the infected ebola population, then the number of active ebola infections going on on any given day from 7 October to 7 December never spiked above 200 new individuals per day based on the known death count. That means as people died or recovered new people were entering the "sick" phase of the disease so over the course of a rolling change in population was keeping the treatment centers full. Even if we say the reported numbers reflect only 10% of reality, we can't make it to 90,000 dead in Liberia alone.

Now, sick individuals who recover spend more time padding the case roster than individuals who die, so the patient load caused by 32 to 178 new patients a day becomes quite burdensome on a system that needs to treat them until the lucky 30 to 40% don't die.

The other thing that is very interesting is the geographical limits that this epidemic has taken. Much of Africa is rural, poorly connected in terms of roads, cars, and trains, we've seen the disease spread eastward instead of along the coast to Ivory Coast or Senegal. This is a good indicator that the most resourced travel routes are effectively keeping out ebola, so far.

The rising numbers in Sierra Leone are concerning, but the official numbers are tracking closely across multiple sources now. Aesop's "only 600 reported since October" accuasation of deception is not the case as official numbers go from just over 2,000 to 2,600.

Now the problem of under-reporting in an outbreak is a concern, the estimate for under reporting death statistics in Sierra Leone go from 1/3 to 2/3rd of the total deaths. This is not a problem for data analysis as long as the reported number of deaths maintains a rough relative ratio with the un-reported deaths. So if 2/3rds of deaths go unreported, you multiply the reported deaths by 3 and now you call that your estimated death rate. WHO officials have addressed the under reporting issues, and specifically the lack of effective detection methods outside of the few cities. Random jungle village with no communications infrastructure could completely die out and we'd never know. Aesop claims that the actual reporting is only 12% to 20% of the actual numbers, but the facts remain the same, all that changes is the scale of the trend line, not the slope of the trend line.

The only potential danger from under reporting deaths is a divergence of reported and unreported numbers, if the unreported deaths are growing and reported deaths are declining then you cannot use the reported deaths as a proxy for total disease activity. I have not seen evidence of divergence in Sierra Leone, but a good analyst is always looking for alternative proxies to estimate the unknown.

To specifically address the data, which Aesop calls "complete ca-ca" is to explain that the data is only as good as your detection system. If the detection system is flawed, the data is flawed. This is why I prefer the death count instead of the detected/suspected numbers. The second argument that Aesop has made is that the numbers are deliberately being depicted as positive. Aesop's "rosy numbers" argument flies in the face of press releases where WHO officials and African politicians are pleading for more resources to fight ebola. Aesop's belief that The problem is the (Western) bias that thinks "No way would anyone ever just make up absolute horsecrap numbers and promulgate them". Because that would be stupid, short-sighted, sociopathic, and self-defeating for controlling this disease.

The point isn't that we don't have perfect data. Having perfect data doesn't mean you'll be successful in an endeavor. Look at the game of chess, there are no unknowns, every piece is clearly visible and the rules clearly known. But you don't know who will win the game based on simply having perfect situational awareness.

But, things give me hope, the lack of outbreak into the industrialized world and the relative geographical limits of the three most affected countries. Why did a whooping cough outbreak in California not spread to New York last year? Realize that in Africa there is even less travel between areas than between the daily flights, drives, and trains, between California and New York.
Now that I've explained some of the processes and logic, I need to remind everyone that I could still be completely wrong. Having a sound analysis doesn't mean that the analysis is correct. Being able to input new data points into your analysis and have it change the outcome is a sign of good analysis. Global Warming analysis is fundamentally flawed, because no matter what you put in, you get "global warming" out. That means it isn't analysis, it is advocacy (but you already knew that).

For example, before OIF we knew that Iraq had WMDs. What we didn't know is whether or not there existed an extensive WMD program, so analysts made the case for that. And they were wrong. The few programs Iraq had that were still active were not worth going to war over, and nowhere near being a threat to regional stability or US security. Yes we found all sorts of stuff in Iraq, gas, yellow cake, artillery shells, etc, but none of that was really a surprise.

I don't think we are near the end of this outbreak, I'll revisit this in 90 to 120 days as Aesop suggests and see whether his prediction of complete government collapse has happened.

12 December 2014

Cold weather boots

In my last post on nasty weather gear, I mentioned that boots for the cold and wet could be its own post. Well here is that post, and I still don't think that I'm giving it any real justice. Boots are the most intimate article of clothing you own. No other piece of gear you wear molds to you, and you to them, the way a set of boots and feet adjust to each other with use.


The twin problems of staying comfortable in strenuous and stationary activities applies to footwear. But it is much harder to adjust your footwear on the fly. As a personal preference I go lighter on the insulation on my feet if there will be any sort of activity as your feet are a good heat sink to keep from sweating profusely.

In truly cold weather, the old "Mickey Mouse" boots are a fine option. By the end of the day your feet will be swimming in sweat, but warm. Overnight simply let your boots be exposed to the freezing temps, then knock out the frozen sweat next morning and start all over again. If you are ascending a high mountain peak, you probably don't need my advice on footwear.

But, if you aren't at that Arctic winter level of cold or hanging out in the Himalayas, you can get away with leather boots and wool socks, or insulated leather boots and wool socks. What I'm writing about here is mainly my experience with cold wet winters, and cold snowy (but rarely below 0 F) winters. People who live in Minnesota who snowshoe or cross country ski to work should really chime up in comments about strenuous activities in the negative degree weather.

Military cold weather boots have either removable liners or built in insulation. I like the removable liners for how easy they are to dry. I don't like the removable liners because they are yet another layer of "slip" for my feet to deal with in already slippery conditions.

Mountain boots are a generally stiffer in the ankle than you want for anything other than their intended purpose, but a little extra ankle support may not be a bad thing if you are rucking a heavy load.

Military boots aren't the only option in town. I've worked Christmas tree harvests wearing civilian work boots (Wolverine and CAT brands), and while I wouldn't want to spent a lot of time ruck marching in them, strenuous outdoor work was not a problem. Redwing is the preferred boot brand for a number of loggers I know as they last a very long time, but you'll pay a premium.

But no matter the brand of boot, you should be looking for fit and how it breathes. How a boot breathes will give you a good idea of the drying time for the boot. At the end of a long days march when you take off that wet uniform, crawl into your bivy sack, you'll probably stay comfortable as you can all night long. When you wake up in the morning, putting on those cold wet uniform and boots before moving out is a helluva demotivator. In a civilian setting where you can dry out with a fire, or an electric boot dryer back at the hunting cabin, breathability might not be such a big concern as overall insulation for comfort.

Drying out those boots overnight just won't always be possible, so I like to have a boot that can breath enough to evaporate out some water (cooling my feet) even in cold weather. When I put them on wet and start going it becomes a strong motivator to actually move.

Now when you aren't moving, and you have on wet boots (from sweat or rain doesn't matter) one of the ways to stay comfortable is to change out out your wet uniform and boots into your dry uniform and dry footwear. One old Ranger trick was to bring along the wet weather over boots and a pair of running shoes. Slip on dry socks, running shoes, and over boots and it looks like you are still in uniform but now your feet are dry and toasty with plenty of cushion after a ruck. Of course rucking in lighter boots that get wet, and carrying thicker insulated boots for around the patrol base is just as good an option.

As far as the old wisdom, "sleep with your boots in your sleeping bag so they are dry in the morning" goes, I've never been able to get that particular tactic to work, despite numerous attempts. So I've really just adopted a "get wet" uniform/boot set, and a "stay dry" uniform/boot set for field use. This is what works for me, your mileage may vary.

As far as brands of military boots go, I think Belleville is the best bang for your buck as long as your feet feel good in the various styles. I've used Rocky's, Danners, Altima, Corcorans, 5.11, and a few brands without brand name recognition. That is what works for me, and your mileage may vary. We don't all drive the same vehicles, and we won't all like the same boots.

I feel like I've really neglected the role of socks here, but wool or wool synthetic blends are pretty much the only serious option that I've used. Neoprene socks seem like a great option, but I've no experience with them.

Comments are open and encouraged.

11 December 2014

Ebola Update

The "leveling off" trend outlining an outbreak event has already occured in Liberia and Monrovia.

This is good news.

In less positive news the overall ebola epidemic is still going strong with numbers only starting to taper off. That means that the rate of increase is falling, which is a good thing. A declining rate of increase is most definitely not the same as a decrease, but it is good evidence of "normalcy" in the epidemic trend.

Yes thousands are dead. Yes that sucks. Yes odds are a few thousand more at the very least will die before this is over.

But, does anyone remember the "90,000 deaths in Liberia alone" hysteria being published back in October? Scarcely seven weeks ago? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2805300/Ebola-outbreak-explode-mid-December-scientists-warn.html and http://www.wsj.com/articles/up-to-10-000-new-ebola-cases-could-occur-each-week-says-who-1413293490

Remember how much hysteria those predictions caused? Do you remember the ridicule that people heaped on the voices of reason with the dismissing meme, "We have Top Men working on it. Top MEN I tell you!!!" Indiana Jones reference?

I know with the twenty four hour infotainment cycle people are used to having a short attention span, but really this is every bit as newsworthy now as it was then. After all, "if this trend continues" is still every bit as scary bad math now as it was then.

I won't make a prediction about when this outbreak will be over. Africa has a way of making what should be simple quite difficult.

06 December 2014

Winter Is Coming. Thoughts on nasty weather gear.

Cold weather presents two main challenges for people doing anything in the outdoors. If you live in an area where long deep freezes are normal every winter, such as Alaska, Michigan, or up state New York, then you probably already have all the winter gear you need and laugh at people who have to deal with 35 and raining for months on end. But for everyone else, who generally experience a winter between 0 and 40 degrees F, these are my thoughts on the matter.

Staying comfortable while doing strenuous activities.

Staying comfortable while doing stationary activities.

Anyone who says being comfortable shouldn't be a consideration is an idiot. Suffering doesn't build character so much as distract you from everything else you should be doing. But the only difference between the two is "strenuous" verses "stationary." The conventional wisdom is to wear layers that you put on and take off to adjust to the weather and your activity level and try to stay comfortable that way.

There is nothing wrong with the conventional wisdom, although there is something wrong with a lot of the conventional gear in that the stuff designed for "activity" isn't actually very good at keeping you warm and dry when you are sweating heavily. Some people simply go light when they are working hard, and bundle up as soon as they stop moving. Others try to match their activity level to the clothing they chose. Both are viable options, but you should always have at least three layers available if you are going to be outdoors in the elements any distance from civilization.

Base layer.
Outer layer.
Over layer.

Beyond those, you need things to cover your head, neck, hands, wrists, and face. Fleece or wool hat, scarf or neck gator, winter gloves, and possibly a balaclava or face mask with wind/snow goggles (or other eye protection). Boots and socks alone would be worth another blog post.

Base layer. This is what touches your skin, you want this layer to provide some insulation but also breath and wick moisture away from your skin. Lightweight silk or synthetic long underwear are very good for when the temperature is between freezing and 60 degrees. You can get by with silkies and a middle outer layer as long as it isn't raining or horribly windy. You can find real silk long underwear from such fine retailers as LL Bean and REI. You can find inexpensive synthetic long underwear at Walmart or military surplus stores.

Cotton long underwear is not something you should wear for light infantry style levels of activities. It is fine for vehicle crews where fire danger requires the use of natural fibers, but it should not be used by anyone doing any sort of real activity.

The Army solution solution for strenuous activity in cold weather is to not wear a base layer at all, or a silkweight top at the very most, then bundle up when you stop. It is a technique, but it generally falls under the "suffering builds character" level of thought.

Now if the temperature drops further, I don't normally reach for the "poly pro" solution as long as my activity level is enough to make me sweat. And if you are sweating at below freezing temperatures, there is only one base layer that I recommend, fish net style underwear.  You used to be able to find "Norse Net" brand, but now all I can find is "Wiggy's" brand, and while haven't used Wiggy's version those who have give them excellent reviews. If you plan on serious strenuous activities such as cross country skiing, running, or rucking, in below freezing temperatures I highly recommend mesh underwear.

The outer layer is your "favorable weather" wear. Odds are that you wear this stuff on a regular basis. Jeans, jacket, windbreaker, etc. When I am hunting, I prefer wool pants (army surplus from a long time ago) as they keep me quite warm in the cold wet areas I often find myself. Anyone who has struggled through a Pacific Northwest alder thicket in a drizzle trying to get to a good vantage point understands the advantage of wool.

But, modern military uniforms are not made from wool. Cotton for a middle layer is acceptable, such as denim or milsurp uniform, if you don't have any other alternatives and you have a good base layer. Just know that if you get wet, all that cotton will pose signifcant challenges. And if you find yourself going through unfavorable weather, your outer cotton garments will need to get covered by the over layer garments before they get soaked.

Your over layer has two functions. To keep the rain off you, and to keep the wind out. I prefer Gortex pants and parka for this, although walking through the woods with Gortex makes it hard to stay quiet. You can use plastic rain gear if you don't have any other choice, but Gortex will generally stand up better to rough use. Tight weave (or plastic) will block the wind, and shed water. Hunting camouflage works every bit as good as military camouflage (and better than the ACU pattern except in a gravel pit).

So if you have a base layer of silkweight or mesh underwear, an outer layer of a military uniform, and an over layer of rain gear, you'll generally be just fine when you are moving actively in nasty weather, even freezing weather. There is no thick layer of insulation to overheat you and trap your sweat.

But what about when you stop? I've not found a way to get around carrying extra stuff to put on when I transition to a stationary activity outside in the cold. There are expensive options like a Jerven bag or cheaper options like a Wiggy's insulated poncho, or even a Hill People Mountain Serape.

If you want to go cheaper than that in really cold weather, get some "performance fleece" pajama pants and hooded sweatshirts. Wear the polyester fleece between your base layer and your over layer to stay warmer when stationary. Military polyester "waffle" long underwear works the same way. Anything that adds a bulky heat and convection trapping layer will work to keep you toasty in the deep cold. Obviously the colder it gets, the more insulation you'll need, and eventually it will get so cold that you'll need something better than fleece but that is really beyond the scope of this post.

My closing thoughts, I like bib overall style pants because it creates a double layer of fabric where top and bottom meet, giving heat less of a chance to escape, so if you have the choice of Gortex bib overalls and rain jacket verses pants and rain jacket, give the overalls the nod.

Comments are open, what do you wear for activity in nasty weather, and how do you pack it in and out?

03 December 2014

Light Blogging Ahead, for a bit anyways.

I've been slowing down on the blogging, life started getting full this fall.

Kids, work, college classes, it all adds up fast. I added a volunteer part to that mix, and it seemed to overflow the glass enough that "blogging" got pushed out.

But since I actually feel guilty about not writing down something, I will write about the volunteering with a junior air rifle program. A few months ago I volunteered to assist the coach of the local team, and he had no issues with that so I dropped the background check paperwork and waited. And waited, and waited. It took nine weeks before I was cleared to work with kids, and by then the air rifle season had taken off in full swing.

But, even late to the game I'm glad I'm able to help. The team is really two teams, the Sporter class and the Precision class. The Precision class needs a lot less help, but even they are a relatively new team and there still remains work to be done on the standing and kneeling positions. The Precision team is all girls (anyone in the air rifle world will find this the norm).

The Sporter class is where all the boys are, plus one lonely girl. The head coach was running the program all on his own, so by me being there we doubled the amount of coaching time available per shooter. And the sporter class shooters simply need more coaching on the basics than the precision class shooters.

Anyone who has been through an Appleseed will recognize a lot of the marksmanship mistakes that new shooters make. Not achieving natural point of aim, using muscles instead of bone to put the sights on target, dragging the trigger finger along the stock, using the knuckle joint of the finger to pull the trigger, trigger jerk (a LOT of trigger jerk). One on one coaching has helped a number of kids become obviously better even in a short time.

This has also helped me, some kids do not want me as a coach and do not want my advice. A few years ago that would have really bothered me, but now I just refocus my efforts on the shooters who do need help and are willing to accept it. In the future if the dynamic changes then so be it, I'm willing to help anyone.

Now my experience so far is that boys are more amenable to correction than girls. I thought that this would be the other way around, but with the head coach's focus on the Precision team (and there is only one of him to go around) the Sporter team where the boys ended up gave me a good spot to fill where I am value added to the program.

I don't want to make it sound like I'm not gaining anything from this, I always have some selfish reasons for doing anything I do. Watching the head coach work with the Precision team has been a real education in refining a good shooter into a better shooter, and watching how a successful program is actually ran is a priceless education.

So unless something really gets under my skin, blogging will probably be lighter than my normally unpredictable pace. I don't plan on retiring my blog any time soon, but until the season ends in a few months, I'll probably be focused on other things.