Merchant of Death


f22raptorThe US spends more on weapons than do other developed countries that are not actually at war.

In the US, 3.3% of GDP (2015) goes to military spending. In Russia (still considered a “developing country” economically, it’s 5%; in China, it’s 2%. In the EU, it’s 2.8%.

The big spenders on weapons are the Arab states, led by the Saudis. The Saudis spend approximately 14% of annual GDP on weapons, the highest percentage in the world.

The US also sells more weapons to other countries than does anyone else.

Out of 197 countries, 12 of the largest 25 weapons manufacturers are based in the US. Here’s the top 10 (2015 data, as not all companies have closed their 2016 fiscal year):

  1. Lockheed Martin (US) $40 billion
  2. Boeing (US) $29 billion
  3. BAE Systems (UK) $25 billion
  4. Raytheon (US) $22 billion
  5. General Dynamics (US) $19 billion
  6. Northrop Grumman (US) $18 billion
  7. Airbus (The Netherlands) $15 billion
  8. United Technologies (US) $13 billion
  9. Finmeccanica (Italy) $11 billion
  10. L-3 Communications (US) $10 billion (1)

In addition to domestic purchases, the US is a major provider of weapons to other countries (2). The major buyers are

  1. Saudi Arabia, $1.9 billion from US out of $3 billion in total arms imports
  2. Iraq, $893 million in purchases from the US (51.5% of total arms imports)
  3. Australia, $869 million from US (82% of total arms imports)
  4. United Arab Emirates, $773 million from US (61%)
  5. Qatar, $595 million from US (66%)
  6. Israel, $526 million from US (87%)
  7. Italy, $511 million from US (59%)
  8. South Korea, $501 million (37%)
  9. Japan, $307 million (93%)
  10. Mexico, $280 million (72%)

Oddly, current foreign policy in the Middle East and towards Mexico could put much of this weapons revenue at risk. In World War II, the US was “the arsenal of democracy.” That’s no longer the case since most of the major buyers are monarchies.



  3. “Military Expenditure,”


Self-Driving Cars that Aren’t


The promise of technology and the reality aren’t necessarily the same thing.

Self-driving vehicles have received a lot of media attention in recent months. There are test programs involving self-driving taxis, consumer vehicles, and even tractor trailers. The notion of technology that limits the harm caused by human fatigue and distracted driving is attractive.(1)

However, we have several recent examples of failures in that technology. A recent race on a closed track in Brazil ended with a crash.(2,3)  A Tesla driver was killed when his car ran into a tractor trailer.

Google, an early advocate of self-driving technology, stopped publishing statistics on accidents involving these cars earlier this year.(4)

Mearian writing in Computer World argues that driving conditions vary broadly, that unusual driving conditions happen, and that it is virtually impossible to write computer code that could anticipate every possible situation.

For that reason, there will be a need for a vehicle in an emergency to revert to human control. In turn, the human driver has to be awake and alert to the situation and able to take immediate control of the vehicle. The change in control has to happen in a second.  There’s no time for someone to set aside a computer or wake up from a nap.

I had wondered how a self-driving vehicle could identify a flooded underpass. Right now, it seems it can’t. 

If you need a driver for a self-driving vehicle, what’s the financial benefit of investing in self-driving technology? Doubtless there will be improvements in sensor and in AI technology in the future that might make a truly driverless car possible.  Not now. Not soon.

The other issue to resolve is liability when accidents occur. When a driverless car is in an accident, who is responsible for damages — the owner or the software company? In the absence of legislation, the courts will have to decide.


  1. Adrienne LaFrance, “Self-Driving Cars Could Save 300,000 Lives Per Decade in America,” The Atlantic, 29 September 2015.
  2. Brett Williams, “The first ever self-driving car race ended in a crash,” Mashable, 21 February 2017.
  3. Jon Fingas, “Self-driving car race finishes with a crash,” engaget, 19 February 2017.
  4. Alison Grizwold, “Uber’s self-driving cars are already getting into scrapes on the streets of Pittsburgh,”, 4 October 2016.
  5. Steve Kovach, “Google quietly stopped publishing monthly accident reports for its self driving cars,” Business Insider, 18 January 2017.
  6. Lucas Mearian, “Here’s why self-driving cars may never really be self-driving,” Computer World, 23 February 2017.

Author Connection 5




A painter may contemplate the various shades of coffee or a sunrise on a canvas.DSC_0443

“Creativity takes courage.” Henri Matisse

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers. What Rembrandt or Van Gogh saw in the night can never be seen again. Born writers of the future are amazed already at what they’re seeing now, what we’ll all see in time for the first time, and then see imitated many times by made writers.”

–Jack Kerouac

A musician contemplates the sounds of the day imitating each note in perfect harmony.

“Where words leave off, music begins.” ― Heinrich Heine

“Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”
― Sarah Dessen

“Music can change the world because it can change people.”- Bono

A writer contemplates each scene to bring it alive to a reader on a page.

“And by the…

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Gas Taxes


States have a variety of tools for raising tax revenue, and use them to varying extents.  Thus you can be in a low income tax state and still pay exorbitant taxes.

The gas tax is a case in point.  The average consumer drives approximately 13,350 miles per year.  With an average MPG figure of 25.2, that equates the use of 530 gallons per year.  That’s probably low, as it doesn’t factor in idling, which kills MPG.

In Pennsylvania, that translates into $308 of state gasoline tax the average driver pays each year.  In South Carolina, the average gas tax paid is $89 per year.  In Alaska, the lowest state, it’s $65.

Perhaps people don’t protest the gas tax because it’s not a big check one writes once a year.  Instead, it’s a constant nibbling at one’s wallet.  However, the nibbles add up.

States use a variety of these little taxes to avoid raising income and property taxes, but the effect on the consumer is the same regardless of how its done.

What are the odd little ways your state taxes you?


  1. Federal Highway Administration, “Average Annual Miles per Driver by Age Group,”
  2. Nora Naughton, “Average U.S. mpg edges up to 25.5 in May,” Automotive News, June 4, 2015.
  3. Samuel Stebbins, “States With the Highest (and Lowest) Gas Taxes,” 24/7WallStreet, 3 February 2017.

Parental Involvement in Student Achievement


17456_1269532813224_1076952025_30803996_7657050_nWe’ve all heard of “helicopter parents” — the ones who try to micromanage their child’s life.  The theory is that involvement of that type hurts the child in a number of ways.

It turns out that how teachers perceive parental involvement in the child’s education actually is a predictor of academic success.  Further, there is training that could enable teachers to improve their interactions with parents. That’s  a summary of the findings of a new research study from the University of Missouri — Columbia.

If there is a causal relationship between positive parental involvement and student performance, then anything that enhances the quality of that involvement should enhance academic outcomes.

“If” is important.  The study establishes an apparent association between positive involvement and performance.  It doesn’t document a mechanism by which positive parental involvement affects performance.  Is there an actual change in student behavior or in the teacher’s perception of that behavior?  We don’t know.  It makes logical sense that students should do better when parents provide positive support.  However, until we understand how the mechanism works, this could be a spurious finding.  So, should schools invest in training to improve interactions with parents?  There may be a number of other reasons to do that, but we don’t know for sure if that investment would improve achievement.  The Scottish verdict, “Not Proven,” applies.

One of the most common errors in statistical analysis by non-statisticians is the assumption that an association (correlation) proves a causal relationship.  Simply, if X is associated with Y, then X causes Y.  That’s just not true.  There needs to be a logical explanation of how X affects Y before we can make the case for causality. 

To illustrate this by example, males who grow old tend to get prostate cancer.  Statistically, age is correlated with likelihood of getting prostate cancer.  However, age doesn’t cause prostate cancer.  Other things happening in the body make older males more susceptible to this cancer.  We need to know what these other things are before we can talk about causality.


  1. University of Missouri-Columbia. “Students more likely to succeed if teachers have positive perceptions of parents: Teacher training program can help promote parent involvement in education.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2017. <>.




Intimacy Denied


This may take a couple of readings. Complexity in a few words.



For a brief interlude 

two bodies
each rolling dissonance
with the need 
to create
deliberate obfuscation, 
in a sweet moment
of contentment. 
The twinkling stars 
bear witness before
 the wind imitates
the rub of limbs.
Their intimate moment betrayed.
The boundaries
established once more.
Legs, arms declare
personal space
while the lyrics of love
face doom
as the distance
and the bedding

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