sorry, but we need to talk about wound ballistics

Okay, let’s talk wound ballistics.

Wait. First, let’s just confess that any culture in which it’s necessary to talk about wound ballistics as they apply to school kids is a fucked up culture. Sadly, that fairly accurately describes the culture in the U.S. right now.

Anyway, a friend who’s a gun enthusiast claimed the AR-15 is no more deadly than any other rifle. Which is a difficult argument to address–not because it’s correct, but because the definition of ‘deadly’ is pretty elastic. Which is why–and the only reason why–we need to talk about wound ballistics.

You hear the term ‘ballistics’ tossed about in police movies and television shows, but what the hell are they really talking about? Ballistics is just the study of the mechanics and behavior of projectiles. Any projectile–rocks thrown by a slingshot, bullets shot by a firearm, missiles launched from a submarine. We’re just going to be talking about bullets here.

First, you need to remember this: a bullet–well, any projectile–displaces air as it travels through it. When you fire a gun, you want a bullet that remains stable as it flies through the air towards the target. In other words, you want a bullet that will go where you aim it. This is what they mean when they talk about ballistics in the movies.

What doesn’t get discussed–and what we need to discuss–is terminal ballistics. That’s the study of how projectiles behave after they’ve arrived at the target. When you apply terminal ballistics to a body of flesh, we’re talking wound ballistics. After a bullet strikes a body, what happens to the bullet? How is the energy of the speeding bullet spent? And what happens to the flesh?

When I was being trained as a medic (a million years ago) my unit was given an object lesson in wound ballistics. The instructors hung a pair of pig carcasses from hooks, one in front of the other, and shot them. First with a standard issue 9mm pistol, then with an old M1 Garand–the .30 caliber rifle that was the standard service weapon in WWII–and finally with an M-16. As you know, the AR-15 is the civilian version of the M-16. We examined the carcasses after each weapon was fired.

Here’s what you need to remember. Just as a bullet displaces air on its way to the target, it also displaces flesh after it enters the target. The 9mm pistol rounds easily penetrated the first carcass, making a tidy little entry wound–a little hole in the body. The bullet remained fairly stable as it hit and passed into the pig’s flesh. Except where they hit bone, the wound track was simple and neat. Even when the bullet struck bone and caromed in a different direction, the wound track remained fairly simple. The 9mm bullets lacked the penetrative power to pass through the first carcass and into the second.

The M1’s larger and heavier .30 caliber rounds made a larger but similar entry wound–a hole in the body. Like the 9mm bullets, the wound track was fairly simple–a hole drilled through the body. Unlike the 9mm bullets, several .30 caliber rounds completely penetrated the first carcass and entered the second. Those bullets became less stable in the second carcass.

Both the 9mm and .30 caliber rounds remained stable as they hit and passed into–and in the case of the .30 caliber, passed through–the carcass. That stability meant the bullets penetrated the body fairly smoothly, displacing a relatively small amount of flesh. Basically, these bullets drilled holes in the carcass. The energy of these bullets was spent passing through the body.

Unlike the other bullets, the M-16’s smaller and lighter .223 rounds remained stable until they hit the carcass, at which point they became wildly unstable. That instability resulted in the bullet lurching and tumbling. Where energy of the stable bullets was expended by passing through–by drilling holes–in the body, the energy of unstable lurching .223 bullets was spent in creating extensive shockwaves in the body. This is called cavitation. It not only displaces a lot more flesh, it means organs, blood vessels, and bone near the bullet’s path are also damaged. The energy of the bullet is expended IN the body instead of passing THROUGH the body. The result is really big, savage, gaping, messy wounds.

What does that mean? For a medic, it means a wound from an AR-15 variant rifle is less amenable to treatment than wounds by a .30 caliber rifle or a 9mm pistol. The AR is more likely to pulp tissue and organs instead of simply passing through them, more likely to shatter bone than simply break it. For a shooter, it means he (yeah, these shooters are almost exclusively male) doesn’t need to be particularly accurate in order to produce a high body count.

In practical terms, this generally means mass shootings involving AR-15 variants will have a higher body count–a bigger butcher’s bill. (I say ‘generally’ because the butcher’s bill depends on more than just the weapon used; it also depends on where the victims are shot. Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 using a pair of relatively small-caliber pistols — but 28 of those victims were shot in the head, and all of them had been shot at least three times.)

My point is that the argument that the AR-15 is no more deadly than any other rifle is a bullshit argument. It’s not about the rifle; it’s about the wound ballistics. A shoulder-launched missile is no more deadly that an AR-15, but the wound ballistics…well, you get my point, right? The story is always the wound ballistics.

if i had enough bullets

Howard Unruh. Odds are you’ve never heard of him. He was born in 1921 and raised in Camden, New Jersey, not far from where the poet Walt Whitman lived in his declining years. He was a shy, unassuming, working class kid who took a blue-collar job out of high school, and when World War II broke out, he signed up with the Army.

He was assigned to the 342nd Armored Field Artillery of the 89th Infantry Division. His unit fought in several major combat operations in Europe, including the relief of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. By all accounts, he was a good soldier. Followed orders, fought well, killed several enemy soldiers, earned some commendations, and at the end of the war, after three years of military service, he was honorably discharged.

Private First Class Howard Unruh

Like a lot of veterans, he had trouble adapting back to civilian life. He suffered from a lot of free-floating anxiety, argued with his neighbors, was mocked and harassed for being gay, kept track of slights and insults in a notebook. Then on September 6, 1949, after breakfast with his mother, Howard Unruh dressed himself in a brown tropical-worsted suit, put on a striped bow tie, and laced up his old Army boots. He loaded the Luger he’d taken from the body of a dead Nazi during the war, left his house, and began to walk down the street shooting people.

He shot people he thought had treated him poorly. And he shot people who were somehow associated with somebody he thought had treated him poorly. And he shot people who just happened to be passing by. He killed thirteen people in all; the oldest was 68, the youngest was two weeks shy of his third birthday. It all happened in a span of around twenty minutes.

Howard Unruh can be considered the progenitor of the modern mass murderer. He never stood trial for his crimes because he was adjudicated legally insane (though by modern standards, he’d almost certainly be considered fit to stand trial). When he died just over eight years ago in the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, hardly anybody noticed. He’s probably only remembered by criminologists.

Howard Unruh being arrested.

Here’s why Howard Unruh is important today. He committed his murders with a Luger P08, a semi-automatic pistol which Guns and Ammo magazine called “the most important automatic pistol ever.” It held eight rounds. Eight rounds, which means Unruh had to reload at least twice and probably three or four times (several of his shots missed). It took him around a third of an hour to kill 13 victims.

A week ago Nikolas Cruz killed 17 and wounded 14 in less than six minutes. In 2012, Adam Lanza killed 27 in less than five minutes in the Sandy Hook massacre. In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 and wounded 25 others in less than nine minutes during the Virginia Tech shooting. Last year, Stephen Paddock killed 58 and wounded over 400 people in about ten minutes. And just to repeat myself, it took at least twenty minutes for Howard Unruh to kill 13 people.

Do the math. Then consider whether banning magazines capable of holding 30 rounds would reduce the butcher’s bill.

It’s worth noting the very last public statement Howard Unruh made. He was being interviewed by a psychologist. He said:

“I’d have killed a thousand if I had enough bullets.”

Today, he could have had enough bullets.

keep our children safe, sort of

— We have to keep our children safe!

   — Can’t argue with that. But how are we to….

— We need new laws! To keep our children safe!

   — Totally agree. We should pass legis….

— Bathroom privacy laws!

   — Wait, what?

— To keep children safe!

   — From…?

— A man might put on a dress and buy a pair of kicky strapless pumps and go into the girl’s bathroom in a grade school and do something nasty to young girls!

   — Has that ever actually happened?

— It could! We have to keep our children safe!

   — Doesn’t that infringe on the rights of trans people to….

— Children! Safe! More important than the right of perverts to empty their bladder safely!

   — I really don’t think that’s….

— Stop teaching evolution! Put the Bible in schools!

   — What the hell are you talking about?

— Children need to learn morality! To keep them safe! From Satan!

   — But what about the rights of non-Christian kids, who….

— Keeping children safe is more important than Shari’a and the rights of so-called Muslims!

   — So-called? What?

— Stop teaching fornication and masturbation in school!

   — You mean sex education?

— To keep our children safe! From sex diseases and…and…sex!

   — But studies have shown sex education reduces teen pregnancies and STDs, which….

— End school lunch programs!

   — Are you feeling okay? Maybe you should sit down and….

— School lunches teach dependency! We must keep our children safe!

   — Don’t poor children have the right to…

— The rights of lazy people are less important than keeping our children safe!

   — Are you wearing a med-alert bracelet? Is there somebody I should call?

— We MUST do everything possible to keep our children safe!

   — Maybe a few sensible, common sense gun laws would….

— No! The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed!

   — Then how do we keep children safe from school shooters?

— !

   — I said, how do we keep children safe from…

— !

   — So when you say ‘keep our children safe’ you mean we should…

— Train poor Muslim gay children to swarm the shooter!

That’s right, Faizah, the best way to take down a school shooter is to tackle him at the knees.

school shooting — alert the koalas

There’s nothing wrong with thoughts and prayers. I mean, they’re completely fucking useless, but there’s nothing wrong with sending thoughts and prayers to victims and their families. Hell, send along some unicorns as well, and a few koala bears in party hats. It’s all about letting folks know how you feel, that’s what matters.

Ain’t none of it going to stop the next school shooting, of course. I figure that’ll happen in the next ten days or so. Probably won’t be as bloody as the one in Parkland, Florida yesterday. The butcher’s bill probably won’t be as high. Most school shootings have a lower body count. But, again, it’s all about the shooter letting folks know how he feels, that’s what matters.

You know what else matters? Doing something. And if there’s one thing about which we can be absolutely certain, it’s this: we won’t do anything. Oh, after I finish writing this I’ll call both my senators and my local congressman, but I know they won’t do anything. Some of you may do the same. Most of you won’t; most of you will voice your anger on Facebook or Twitter, maybe repost a meme, maybe sign an online petition. But most you won’t do more than that.

I’m not being judgmental here. Well, yeah, I guess I am — but really, why should you do anything more? We all know it won’t make any difference, because Congress won’t do anything. And why should they? It wasn’t their kids who were killed or wounded. It wasn’t their kids who’ll have nightmares for the foreseeable future because of the shit they saw in the hallways of their high school. And let’s be honest, the folks in Congress won’t suffer any real consequence for not doing anything.

Sure, some of them will get voted out of office in the next election, but it won’t be because of this. By the time the next election rolls around, we’ll have had another half dozen school shootings and other mass killings — and when you enter the voting booth, the odds are you won’t be thinking about any particular school shooting, let alone any particular shooting victim.

Still waiting for the unicorn. In the meantime, here’s a blue daisy and some thoughts and prayers. Sorry your kids got all killed.

We’ve reached a point in this nation where we treat mass shootings as a sort of localized natural disaster or an industrial accident. A tornado in Oklahoma kills five, an explosion in a chemical warehouse in Texas kills eight, an earthquake in Alaska kills three, a mass shooting at a McDonald’s in Tennessee kills nine, a flash flood in Arizona kills six, a train derailment in Montana kills eleven, a school shooting in Florida kills seventeen.

Wait, that’s not true. A train derailment and a chemical explosion will lead to an investigation, after which there’s a decent chance legislators will seriously consider implementing a change in the law to prevent shit like that from happening again. And tornadoes might spark a drive to improve weather forecasting. And a flood might lead communities to prevent houses from being built on a flood plain. And earthquakes have led to more stringent building codes.

Mass shootings? Sorry, nothing we can do. Except call out those thoughts and prayers, Send in the unicorns. Alert the koala bears in party hats. Sorry so many kids got killed again.

the dicknoggin conspiracy

Imagine a foreign country — oh, let’s call it the Republic of Dicknoggin. Imagine the government of Dicknoggin has decided to implement a covert campaign against These United States.

Imagine that deep cover Dicknoggin agents manage to get  themselves installed as administrators of federal agencies. Once in place, they create conditions that will make the air dirtier, the water less potable, food less safe, energy production less clean, working environments more dangerous, gun violence more likely, civil liberties more at risk, poverty more cruel, international crises more probable and more deadly, health care less available and more expensive, and schools less effective.

Imagine Dicknoggin agents using social media to undermine public belief and trust in US systems of justice. Imagine them claiming the FBI and the Department of Justice are actually controlled by a shadowy group of conspirators whose mission is to destroy the very government they work for. Imagine them hinting that those few federal law enforcement agents who weren’t actually criminal were nonetheless incompetent or possibly corrupt.

Imagine covert Dicknoggin agents being nominated and confirmed to lifetime terms as judges, who’ll decide how US laws should be interpreted and applied. Imagine Dicknoggin agents working at the state level to determine who should be able to vote and when voting can take place and how those votes are counted. Imagine Dicknoggin agents seducing and subverting religious leaders with promises of policies that favor their specific religious beliefs.

Imagine if the Republic of Dicknoggin actually existed and instituted those sorts of measures against These United States. It would be seen as a belligerent act by a hostile nation. It would be seen as a type of warfare.

Dicknoggin policy roundtable

Folks, the modern Republican party are Dicknoggins. It’s easy — and, for that matter, it’s sort of comforting — to think these Dicknoggins are acting out of ignorance. Or greed, or a lust for power and authority. It would be nice to believe they’re fucking up the country because they don’t know any better, because they simply fail to understand the very real consequences or the long-term implications of their actions.

I’d like to believe that, I really would. I’d like to believe the Dicknoggins are just fuckwits. But when you consider how widespread their actions are, how every facet of the government has been turned on its head, it suggests that this isn’t an accident. It suggests it’s deliberate.

So if you sometimes feel like the modern Republican party has declared war on These United States, that they’re intentionally destroying the things you love about this nation, then your feelings might actually be justified.

the return of knuckles dobrovic

I’ve already written about my slow conversion to Instagram, so I won’t repeat myself. Well, I won’t repeat myself much. I’ll repeat that my original IG account was meant as an experiment–a test or sorts. I designed a stupidly simple project idea: I put things on a table and photographed them. I didn’t expect it to come to anything and I didn’t really want to be associated with it, so I created a pseudonym: Knuckles Dobrovic. The whole thing was meant to be easily cast aside–project, alias, and the entirely of Instagram.

But, of course, that didn’t happen. I learned to love Instagram and the stupidly simple project idea turned into an actual project (though it remained stupid and simple). And as silly as it sounds, I love the name Knuckles Dobrovic. Here’s one more thing I’ll repeat: this bit in which I considered what I’d do when the project ended:

I’ll probably come up with some other sort of project, simply because I’ve grown fond of the name Knuckles Dobrovic. I realize that’s a stupid reason. I don’t care. I’ve no objection to doing things for stupid reasons.

The Things on a Table project ended in August of 2014. I put Knuckles Dobrovic out to pasture, with the idea that some day I’d–okay, I actually wrote I’d haul his ass back and put him to work, as if Knuckles Dobrovic actually existed.

Here’s the thing: I write and teach fiction, so I’m fairly used to thinking of characters in terms of their internally consistent integrity. So are you, for that matter. You have a fairly good idea how Sherlock Holmes thinks, what Princess Leia believes and would fight for, what Hannibal Lecter wants for supper, who Elizabeth Bennett would like to dance with and why. You have a fairly solid grasp on these fictional characters.

Me, I know what Knuckles Dobrovic would like to photograph. So despite the fact that Knuckles doesn’t actually exist, there are still certain Knuckles-based parameters that I knew would have to apply to a new photo project.

  • The project had to be simple, grounded in something commonplace. It had to grow fairly organically out of an everyday occurrence.
  • It needed to be something that didn’t require much planning or forethought. It had to be open to spontaneity. It also needed a certain–let’s call it ‘temporal economy’, meaning I didn’t want to have to spend much time fussing around with it.
  • The project didn’t need to be entirely original (how many projects are?), but it needed enough flexibility so I could make it uniquely mine. Or, rather, uniquely Knuckles’.
  • The project had to be something I’d find interesting–or at least something I wouldn’t mind doing–over the course of several months, regardless of the weather or season.

I confess, that’s largely bullshit. It’s not like I actually thought about it enough to make bullet points. I didn’t actually articulate any of this until I sort of stumbled onto this project idea. Over the past four years I’d occasionally consider project ideas, but they were all too fussy, or too complicated, or too much bother, too esoteric, too stupid, too something. Until last week.

I walk a lot. Most days, I try to take a lazy two or three mile walk. During that walk I’ll occasionally shoot a photo or two with my phone. I usually delete them. Last week, as I was deleting photos, I noticed I’d taken two shots with similar framing–looking straight down at stuff near my feet.

Nothing out of the ordinary there; I’d guess almost everybody who’s ever held a camera has taken that same basic photo. On a whim, instead of deleting the photos, I used a simple app to lay one image over the other–a sort of faux double exposure. And I liked the result.

January 29, two locations

I liked it enough I almost posted it on my Instagram account. Then it occurred to me that the photo had Knuckles potential. It met all the criteria. Walking was a commonplace event; it required no planning at all to notice stuff near my feet; it’s not an original idea, but it’s flexible enough to allow me a different take on it; and it was dead easy to layer one photo on top of the other.

So I decided, what the hell–I’d do it again on my next walk. See if the idea had legs, so to speak.

January 31, three locations

Again, I liked the result. I figured I’d repeat this for a few days to see if it was actually a viable project concept.

For the most part, I walk in my neighborhood, which is pretty suburban. There are some newer middle class areas, some older working class homes, a few small parks, some bits of light industry not too far away, a handful of strip malls and small shops fairly close by. It’s not particularly visually interesting. But there’s always stuff on the ground. Always and everywhere.

February 2, two locations

What I like about this idea is the element of randomness. You never know what you’re going to find on the ground. But there’s also an element of intentionality and deliberation that I find appealing. You have to make deliberate, intentional decisions on HOW to photograph the random stuff.

The biggest surprise was discovering I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. You’d think it would be easy to photograph random stuff in such a way that they’d blend together in an aesthetically pleasing way. But it ain’t. At least not for me. At least not yet.

February 6, two locations

I really like the fact that I don’t quite know what I’m doing. I like the fact that a lot of what I think will work as a double exposure turns out not to work at all. I’m pretty comfortable with the flawed and fickle nature of this gig. I’m okay with the fact that some days nothing I photograph will produce anything interesting.

I suspect that over time, I’ll get better at it–but I’m in no hurry. There’s always another walk tomorrow. There’s always going to be random crap at my feet.

February 7, two locations

The best thing about this gig (for me, at any rate) is that — well, there are two best things. The first best thing is that I get a ridiculous amount of enjoyment out of the name Knuckles Dobrovic. The second best thing is that this encourages me to walk with anticipation but without expectation. If that makes sense.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Buddhist monk who advocates a form of walking meditation, says this about walking: When you walk, arrive with every step. I’m not a good enough Buddhist to do that, but I try to be open to arriving. There’s just something pleasant and satisfying about seeing something on the ground — a leaf, a shadow, an oddly shaped stone, a bit of paint– and stopping a moment just to appreciate it. To arrive at that leaf or stone. I do that even if I don’t take a photograph.

So I think this project idea might work.

shit is broke, folks

You guys! Remember when Comrade Trump was reading his State of the Union speech out loud and said, “I call upon on all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people.” Remember that? And remember when he said, “Let’s come together, set politics aside and finally get the job done.” C’mon, it was just a few days ago, you surely remember that, right?

Yeah, didn’t nobody believe him. Partly on account of he was just reading something somebody else wrote, but mostly on account of we knew it would only be a few days (or hours) before he was insulting and demeaning folks who disagreed with him. Or folks who just didn’t praise him enough. Or folks who were women. Or black. And sure enough, here’s Trump this morning:

Little Adam Schiff, who is desperate to run for higher office, is one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, Brennan and Clapper! Adam leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped!

You’re probably thinking something like “Yeah, well, Trump’s a dick.” Or “Yeah, well, it’s Monday and this is pretty much what Trump does on Mondays because he’s a dick.” Or “Why doesn’t some adult take the phone away from that mucilaginous motherfucker?”

This guy — notta dick.

But see, here’s the thing: Comrade Trump has just accused somebody — wait, not just your basic somebody, but an actual ranking member of Congress — of committing a felony. We’re talking about the unauthorized disclosure of classified information here. You guys, that’s a direct violation of 18 U.S.C. § 798. You pull shit like that, and the Feds can arrest your ass, prosecute your ass, and if your ass gets convicted, toss your ass in prison for ten years. This is what those of us who’ve done time in the criminal justice biz call a big fucking deal.

If any other president in the history of These United States had publicly accused a member of Congress of doing shit like this, there’d be…okay, I don’t know what there’d be, on account of no other president in the history of These United States has ever been that fucking stupid or that fucking reckless. But after a year in office, we’ve become so inured to shit like this that we think, “Yeah, well, Trump’s a dick” and we move on with our day.

This guy — total dick.

Shit is broke, people. Shit is broke and it’s going to take a whole lot of fixing up to unbroke it. And we can’t even start unbroking it until we kick Trump’s Kremlin-shaped ass out of office.

So organize, you guys. Organize and resist. Resist openly and often. And vote in November. Vote for the candidate who is least likely to be a dick. Let’s make politics as dick-free as possible.

the sacred investigative process?

This morning Comrade Trump had this to say on Twitter:

The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people!

In favor of Democrats. Against Republicans. What absolute bullshit. The FBI was established in 1935 and…well, wait. Okay, it was first established in 1908, but back then it was just the Bureau of Investigation and basically what it did was investigate the Mann Act, which made it a federal crime to transport a woman or a girl across state lines for the purpose of “prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” This was also called — and I’m seriously not making this up — the White-Slave Traffic Act. because apparently nobody cared if women of color were transported across state lines for any damned reason at all. But I digress.

This fucking guy…

In 1935, the BI was formally renamed the FBI. Its first director was J. Edgar Hoover. A Republican. Here’s a list of the political affiliation of every single FBI director:

  • J. Edgar Hoover — 1935-1972, Republican
  • Clarence Kelley — 1973-1978, Republican
  • William Webster — 1978-1987, Republican
  • William Sessions — 1987-1993, Republican
  • Louis Freeh — 1993-2001, Republican
  • Robert Mueller — 2001-2013, Republican
  • James Comey — 2013-2017, Republican
  • Christopher Wray — 2017-present, Republican

You may have noticed a distinct absence of Democrats appointed to head the FBI. What does that tell you? It tells you the three Democratic presidents who appointed FBI directors (Carter, Clinton, and Obama) all deliberately chose a person (okay, a white man) who was in the opposition party.

You think that was an accident? Nope. They each chose an FBI director who was more certain to be independent of the president’s political agenda. Because that’s the fucking job — to be independent of ANY political agenda.

This other fucking guy…

And Comrade Trump? Fired Comey when Comey refused to promise allegiance to him personally. Hounded Deputy Director Andrew McCabe out of office after he refused to promise allegiance to Trump personally. Now Trump and Republicans in Congress are claiming the leadership of the FBI comprises some sort of pro-Democratic cabal secretly determined to undermine his presidency.

You think that is an accident? Nope. It’s a poorly disguised attempt to immunize a president who was elected in part because of Russian ratfucking with the election, a president who has financial ties with some seriously shady Russian oligarchs, a president who has attempted to obstruct the investigation into the interactions between his campaign and Russian intelligence agencies.

Assuming Comrade Trump and the Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee release the Nunes Memo to the public today (and I can’t see anything stopping that), then they’re basically shitting on that ‘sacred investigative process’.

It’s really hard for me to understand how anybody can be that despicable so consistently.