Archive | April 2014

Women at the NRA

Image (c)  C. Meissner.

Image (c) C. Meissner.

“Women are the fastest growing segment of the NRA.”

I’ve heard this comment multiple times while covering the NRA Convention in Indianapolis this weekend. Those saying it are very proud of the fact.

Statistically, that would be true. The NRA membership continues to be overwhelmingly male. If you add the same number of people to the male and female groups over the course of a couple of years, the female portion would indeed grow faster than the male sector. Do the math.

Men indeed make up the majority of people I’ve seen at the convention this weekend. Nonetheless, the women I’ve met are a fascinating group.

First, there are the sparkly women—and I mean that literally. Dressed in stretchy gold dresses with shimmery bangles, they greeted convention-goers with glossy flyers advertising the chance to win a free gun by registering at a certain booth. I didn’t get there.

Other women at the convention might not have sparkled in such a literal sense, but their function likewise seemed aimed at attracting attention from the convention’s majority group. One lovely celebrity was autographing glossy posters. She’d roll each one up efficiently before handing it over with a smile.

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Another exhibitor had a duo of violinists playing classical music. They attracted quite a crowd to the area, which also displayed some elegant-looking rifles. Maybe someone in the company’s marketing department was thinking sales will go up if the booth featured sex and violins. In any case, one of the crowd’s youngest female members was absolutely enchanted by their performance.

Women in the crowds dressed a lot more casually and looked less glamorous overall. I’d guess the median age was somewhere above 40.

From what I could see, women attendees showed about as much interest in different displays as the men: Examine a weapon here, check out some ammo there, and pose for a photo or two there. (Sadly, the convention had much less swag available at different booths than the AAAS Convention did in February.)

Women worked at some of the booths too.  Among them was Pyper Unitt, Vice Chair of the Canadian Firearms Institute. Her comments reflect a deep commitment to empowering women and combatting the pervasive problem of domestic violence. She’s encouraged by the growing number of women at the convention.

“It’s a great show,” she says. “It blows my mind to see that many women involved.”

The agenda of women at other booths focused on selling things. One booth carried pink stun guns. The sales rep told me the loud noise would deter both attackers and unwanted animals. The booth had rhinestone-studded pepper sprays too.

Then there were speakers, presenters, and celebrity guests. Kathy Jackson was at one booth. She wrote A Woman’s Guide  to Concealed Carry. Tiffany Haugen and her husband Scott did a presentation on preparing and cooking wild game. Both were articulate women and well-versed in their fields.

Shyanne Roberts.  Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Shyanne Roberts.
Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Another special guest was Shyanne Roberts. This competitive shooter is not yet 10 years old, but she’s got plenty of poise, composure and budding business savvy. What’s her favorite part of the convention? “Seeing my sponsors and getting more sponsors.”

The NRA clearly wants to boost women’s membership and participation. Hence, this year’s meeting featured the 1st Annual Women’s New Energy Breakfast.

“I really envision that in 10 years hopefully the male and female membership will be equal,” NRA Board of Directors member Linda Walker told me.

As an incentive, the NRA offered free one-year memberships to all women at the breakfast.

In short, women at this year’s NRA Convention were a diverse group–just as women in society at large are diverse.

More of these women just happen to carry guns.



Game Changers

Tiffany Haugen.

Tiffany Haugen.

If you eat meat, that meat has to come from somewhere. When Scott and Tiffany Haugen started working as teachers at Point Lay, Alaska, that somewhere wasn’t a modern supermarket.

“If you wanted to eat, you had to get it yourself,” says Scott. “It’s still a subsistence culture up there.”

Fast forward to today. The Haugens are now well-known experts in hunting and authors of books on gourmet game cooking. Scott also produces and hosts Trijicon’s The Hunt. And while they now live in Oregon instead of Alaska, they still hunt for meat.

“We wouldn’t hunt if we weren’t going to eat the stuff,” Scott says.

The Haugens’ seminar at this year’s NRA Convention focused on “Wild Game Cooking: From Field to Table.” And while skill and art play big roles, science factors in as well.

Different factors affect how flavorful meat will be, including the time of the year, abundance of food, and climate. Late in the season, for example, animals are likely to have more fat.

Drought, in contrast, can cut down on animals’ food supply and lead to tougher meat.

Shifts in seasons can also affect hunting. Scott plans to head out on a bear hunt soon after the convention ends.

“Due to this  spring’s early arrival out West, the bears have emerged from their dens early,” he notes.  “And with the grasses greening up, bears spread throughout their territory, quicker than on normal years.” While there aren’t fewer bears, the fact that they spread out sooner will likely make them harder to find.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says extreme weather events like droughts will happen more frequently with climate change. Similarly, earlier warming has led USDA to shift the hardiness zone designations used for planting. Based on these facts, I’d guess hunters might see climate impacts out in the field more often.

Whether the catch is bear, antelope, elk, or something else, though, getting good meals from game starts long before it gets to the kitchen.

“The preparing of wild game starts the minute you pull the trigger,” says Scott.

Once an animal is killed, the hunter’s field dressing work begins. The sooner a hunter can start breaking down an animal and cooling its meat, the less chance there is for cell damage to occur and for bacteria to grow. And the more likely the meat is to taste good instead of gamey.

That goes for any animals, says Scott. “You need to get the hide off them and get them cooling.” Think Food Safety 101–but out in the field.

Doing that in the field requires a good grasp of basic anatomy. And while it’s not something I’m likely to do, the method Scott showed with a video at the seminar had less blood than I remember from some butcher shops when I was a kid.

Care in handling continues for the Haugens back at home. They wrap and label different cuts of meat. Then it typically goes into the fridge or freezer.

“Aging is a big deal,” says Tiffany. “The meat is going to become more tender, and the flavors are going to neutralize.”

Scott and Tiffany Haugen.

Scott and Tiffany Haugen.

“Always defrost your game and meat in the refrigerator,” adds Tiffany. Otherwise cells can expand and absorb liquids. That would make “your fish fishier and your game gamier.”

Even though I don’t hunt, I may try some of Tiffany’s cooking tips in my own kitchen. One of her hints is to try coconut milk in place of water in the crock pot. That sounds like it could make a delicious stew.

Their talk gave me a lot of food for thought too.


Addressing aging infrastructure

Replacing aging infrastructure can be costly and messy, but it’s also very necessary. Check out my latest article in Midwest Energy News:

Ohio utilities replacing thousands of miles of gas pipelines

Yellow flags mark the location of utility pipelines near Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski)

Ohio’s natural gas utilities are replacing more than 11,000 miles of the state’s aging gas pipe mains, in an effort to reduce the risks for catastrophes like last month’s gas explosion in New York City.

Read more….

“Hangry” + Creepy

Photo by Jo McCulty, Ohio State University

Photo by Jo McCulty, Ohio State University

News flash: Low blood sugar can make you cranky. And being cranky makes people more likely to get angry with their spouse.

At first this conclusion from a new study in PNAS seems like another example of Duh! science. But the study also seems slightly sinister.

As lead author Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University says in the university’s press release, “People can relate to this idea that when they get hungry, they get cranky.”

Some people even use the slang term “hangry” to describe the feeling. (Note: I’m not a fan of the word because people could think you’re affecting a cockney accent.)

As most of us know, being hungry can make family members unhappy campers. This is true whether you’re dealing with spouses or kids.

Basically, our brains and the rest of our bodies need fuel in the form of glucose. When we don’t get enough energy, we have a harder time practicing self-control and otherwise regulating our emotions.

Bushman’s work explores how this idea affects the potential for domestic violence. Other researchers for the study include C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, Richard S. Pond of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and Michael D. Hanus of Ohio State.

The team’s research methods met the applicable requirements for ethical research with human subjects. Nonetheless, it seems designed to encourage vicarious violence.

Every night for three weeks, 107 couples enrolled in the study stuck pins in voodoo dolls representing their spouses. The angrier people felt, the more pins they would use. And the lower the blood sugar levels were—as measured by blood glucose meters—the more likely subjects were to be angry with their spouses.

In another part of the study, spouses in separate lab rooms competed to see who could react faster when a target on the screen turned red. The reward was getting to blast the spouse with a loud sound. The lower someone’s blood sugar was, the more likely they were to choose a louder and longer blast.

In fact, spouses weren’t getting tortured with loud sound blasts. But test subjects didn’t know that at the time.

Likewise, pricking pins into voodoo dolls didn’t physically hurt anyone. Yet something seems wrong about egging spouses on to hurt each other—even if it’s only in effigy.

The research does provide interesting insights into understanding relationships and domestic violence. Perhaps counseling could incorporate more thorough health screening and nutritional guidance for some people.

Being aware of the research’s results might even help ordinary couples cope better. “Before you have a difficult conversation with your spouse, make sure you’re not hungry,” Bushman advises in the press release.

Ideally, future studies will track angry feelings in a way that teaches healthy coping skills at the same time. Even fake violence against one’s partner seems somewhat scary.

Grabbing a glass of milk or a cookie might help in the short run. But it’s far from being a complete answer to the problem of domestic violence.


The Physics of Noah’s Ark

Paramount Pictures’ approach to Noah is a big-screen extravaganza with Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m thinking it’s probably a lot different from Crowe and Connelly’s last two pictures together, Winter’s Tale and A Beautiful Mind. I also expect that in future years it may become an Easter/Passover season staple on TV, akin to Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments.

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Students at the University of Leicester have taken a different approach to the biblical narrative. They decided to figure out whether the ark could have floated. And the answer, according to the university’s press release is:

Hurrah! The animals could have floated two by two according to physicists.”

Now, I would have put in a comma after the second “two.” And at first glance it wasn’t clear to me that the physicists were calculating the buoyancy of the boat versus the animals. I imagined sheep and goats bobbing by in the water.

Actually, the conclusion is that the ark could have floated with about 35,000 pairs of animals on board. And the physics and math used by the group of graduate students is definitely cool.

The group’s calculations considered the buoyancy of the ark, as well as its weight. “[I]n order for it to float, these two forces need to be equal,” says research lead Oliver Youle in the university’s press release.

The research team did have to make various assumptions for their calculations. For example, they took an average of the ancient Hebrew and Egyptian cubit measures. (A cubit is supposed to measure from the elbow to the middle fingertip.)

The team assumed the ark was made from cypress wood. That’s a generally accepted translation for “gopher wood,” which is not known in modern times.

And then the team had to figure out the mass of the animals on board. Since they couldn’t readily weigh specimens of all the species, they relied on earlier research suggesting that the average “animal” weighs as much as a 23.47-kilogram sheep.

“Our conclusions were that the ark would support the weight of 2.15 million sheep without sinking and that should be enough to support all of the species that were around at the time,” says Youle.

The team’s findings appear in the Journal of Physics Special Topics.

“We’re not proving that it’s true, but the concept would definitely work,” says fellow researcher Thomas Morris.

Having the math and physics work out obviously isn’t as big a miracle as God intervening to save Noah’s family and myriad species from nature. Yet it’s still pretty impressive.

“Hidden Tax” or “Profit Center”?

The latest bill pushing back against Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency laws looks a lot like a proposal that failed in 2012. Check out my latest article in Midwest Energy News.

Hearings begin today in latest push against Ohio energy laws

Hearings begin today on an Ohio bill that would cancel requirements for additional renewable energy and energy efficiency after 2014.

Senate Bill 310 would freeze Ohio’s renewable and alternative energy requirements at 2014 levels. Those levels are about one-tenth of the current law’s target of 25 percent by 2025.

Energy efficiency requirements would stay at the 2014 level of 4.2 percent. Current law calls for a 22 percent cumulative reduction in retail electricity sales by 2025. That’s about five times as much as the 2014 levels.

Read more…


Read More…