On “Going Postal”

Tucson

What causes people to “go postal,” and where did the phrase originate? The St. Petersburg Times published the phrase on Dec. 17, 1993, in response to a symposium on violence in the workplace, and in 1995 the movie Clueless used the phrase repeatedly, solidifying its popularity. As to why people go “postal,” that would obviously be different in every incident, but some common reasons are a feeling of being boxed in and powerless in attempts to alleviate stress, made to feel humiliation from management (who are more interested in numbers than in people), and other long-standing mental problems which the environment may exacerbate. Some of the most famous shootings are listed below.

* On August 20, 1986, 14 employees were shot and killed and six wounded at the Edmond, Oklahoma post office by Patrick Sherrill, a postman who then committed suicide with a shot to the forehead.

Oklahoma

* A former United States Postal Worker, Joseph M. Harris, killed his former supervisor, Carol Ott, then killed her boyfriend, Cornelius Kasten Jr., at their home. The following morning, on October 10, 1991, Harris shot and killed two mail handlers at the Ridgewood, New Jersey Post Office.

* On November 14, 1991 in Royal Oak, Michigan, Thomas McIlvane killed five people, including himself, with a Ruger rifle in Royal Oak’s post office, after being fired from the Postal Service for “insubordination.” 

* Two shootings took place on the same day, May 6, 1993. At a post office in Dearborn, Michigan, Lawrence Jasion wounded three and killed one, and subsequently killed himself. In Dana Point, California, Mark Richard Hilbun killed his mother, then shot two postal workers dead. As a result of these two shootings, the Postal Service created 85 Workplace Environment Analyst jobs to help with violence prevention and workplace improvement. (In February 2009, the Postal Service eliminated these positions as part of its downsizing efforts.)

* Jennifer San Marco, a former postal employee, killed six postal employees before committing suicide with a handgun, on the evening of January 30, 2006, at a large postal processing facility in Goleta, California. 

According to media reports, the Postal Service had forced San Marco to retire in 2003 because of her worsening mental problems. Her choice of victims may have also been racially motivated. San Marco had a previous history of racial prejudice, and tried to obtain a business license for a newspaper of her own ideas, called The Racist Press, in New Mexico.

* Grant Gallaher, a letter carrier in Baker City, Oregon, pleaded guilty to the April 4, 2006 murder of his supervisor. He reportedly brought his .357 Magnum revolver to the city post office with the intention of killing his postmaster. Arriving at the parking lot, he reportedly ran over his supervisor several times. Subsequently he went into the post office looking for his postmaster. Not finding the postmaster, he went back out to the parking lot and shot his supervisor several times at close range, ostensibly to make sure she was dead. Gallaher reportedly felt pressured by a week-long work-time study. On the day of his rampage, he was ahead of schedule on his route, but his supervisor brought him more mail to deliver. Years earlier, the union steward at the Baker City post office committed suicide.

There have been other shootings, including two in 2017. One at a San Francisco postal facility, and one in Dublin, Ohio in which the perp shot his supervisor and then beat the postmaster to death over his pending dismissal.  

Originally a small press hardcover, Postmarked for Death is now an audiobook, and also an ebook and trade paperback. A rookie postal inspector hunts a politically motivated bomber targeting immigration offices and food stamp card processing equipment. Calvin Beach (#BeachReads) is hiding within the Tucson post office in the heat of summer, mailing letter bombs as police search for the wrong man. A why-dun-it instead of just a who-dun-it. Endorsements: “This gifted writer has given us a page turner that affords a fascinating look behind the scenes at the Postal Service. Read this one, and dropping a letter in the mailbox will never be the same.” –John Lutz (author behind film Single White Female). “A class performance, powerful and accomplished. . .mystery at its best.” –Clive Cussler, world’s #1 adventure writer, interview HERE. —Jonathan Lowe

Bomber

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The Physics of Telescope Mirrors

telescopes

In A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent is confronted by the prospect of the Earth being destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. In countless movies like Star Wars, the universe is depicted as a crowded arena swarming with irate creatures, many of which somehow possess two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs and a penchant for motor sports.

What’s the truth of it? Well, the answer may indeed be out there; just don’t expect to find it by asking a Hollywood screenwriter. To discover the real truth, you’d either need to talk to a working astronomer, or get yourself a pair of very powerful binoculars. Not the kind you can buy at a shopping mall, mind you, but rather one with lenses 28 feet wide.

Believe it or not, such a binocular actually exists. Called the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), this $120 million, 500-metric-ton instrument is now atop Mount Graham, east of Tucson. One of the most powerful telescope in the world, the device, using two giant 8.4-meter mirrors working in tandem, is able to peer deeper into the past, and with better clarity, than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Project director Dr. Richard Green said viewing is limited “primarily to those astronomers in the partner institutions that funded the project.” So unless you’re a qualified scientist from the University of Arizona or one of its partners, you can’t use the telescope.

Even for astronomers, finding time on a major telescope can be tough. As Dr. Green put it, “The current demand so exceeds availability that only one project in six or eight actually wins time competitively.”

Different research projects also demand different types of telescopes. “Many telescopes are specialized to record celestial radiation in different ways,” said Dr. Green. This includes not just visible light, but infrared and ultraviolet radiation, plus X-rays, gamma rays and simple radio waves. “Then you have the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), also being designed in Tucson, but with a much wider field of view than the LBT so that it can capture the night-to-night changes in faint objects to find moving asteroids and distant exploding supernovae. To continue the pace of discovery, we simply need more telescopes, like biologists need more microscopes.”

And in another nod to Southern Arizona, when institutions need the mirrors used in telescopes like the LBT, the LSST or the upcoming Giant Magellan Telescope, they come to Tucson, on campus at the UA’s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab–a state-of-the-art facility that casts the massive slabs of glass destined to answer some of science’s ultimate questions.

Here in this impressive room, behind the university’s Flandrau Science Center, a huge furnace heats 20 tons of glass, gently spinning it into a parabolic shape at 2,130 degrees Fahrenheit, before cooling and polishing it to an accuracy that’s about 3,000 times thinner than a human hair. Finally, a coating of reflective aluminum is applied, and the lighter-weight mirror or mirrors are then transported to the telescope site.

Arizona is a prime place for telescopes, as are spots in Chile, Hawaii and the Canary Islands, because of four needed attributes, according to Dr. Green: clear skies, dark skies, naturally sharp celestial imaging and low water vapor.

“Southern Arizona has an average of about 75 percent clear hours over the course of a year, and Mount Graham is distant enough from Tucson and Phoenix that the growing light pollution from those metro areas has less impact,” Green said. “All the high peaks in Southern Arizona actually deliver sharp images when the weather is stable, but the high altitude of Mount Graham gives especially low water vapor, of particular value for infrared observations, where water in the atmosphere can absorb celestial radiation.”

The three telescopes now atop Mount Graham–the LBT, the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope and the Vatican Observatory Telescope–represent the completion of only the first phase of development. More scopes will be coming, Green said. Indeed, the initial vision called for some seven major telescopes on the site, but the UA will need to formulate an approach with the U.S. Forest Service for the next phase, with environmental concerns a factor.

That’s not to say the Kitt Peak National Observatory has been left behind.

“As a mature facility with moderate aperture telescopes, Kitt Peak observatories are assuming a new and complementary role in astronomy,” Green said. “Their two largest telescopes have mirrors of about 4 meters, with very wide fields of view, and are used more for surveying large areas of the sky for rare objects that can then be followed up with the truly giant telescopes like LBT. Kitt Peak also hosts a number of smaller telescopes run by university consortia that support the long-term projects of their faculty and students.”

Indeed, many astronomers at the UA benefit from Kitt Peak data now, and will from LBT data, too. Like Xiaohui Fan, who holds the record for discovering the most distant quasars, and is ready to start his next survey with LBT. Or Phil Hinz, who is working with NASA support to achieve super-Hubble resolution for detection of extra-solar planets. Green himself has been studying quasars and black holes since his own graduate-student days, when he was a member of the science team that built the Hubble Space Telescope instrument that surveyed nearby giant galaxies, and verified a black hole at the center of every one of them.

Meanwhile, excitement over the LBT’s possibilities continues to grow. “The LBT can make images sharp enough to resolve a football at a distance of 4,000 miles,” said Dr. John Hill, LBT’s technical director. “So if it weren’t for the curvature of the Earth, you could use it to watch Steelers games in Pittsburgh.”

telescopes

Courtesy GMT.org

(Reprinted from Tucson Weekly, by Jonathan Lowe. Also wrote a cover article for Sky & Telescope.)

The Miraculous Plot

architecture

 

We’ll Always Have Paris

Paris

We’ll always have Paris…Texas.”

Just got to Greenville SC after a drive from Tucson (and a cruise to Alaska.) Observations:
1) There are no bears or whales to be seen in Alaska from a cruise ship, although the staff frequently sighted many from the bridge and excitedly told everyone to look either to port or starboard. (Favorite awe shucks: “Must have gone under the ship to mate with Nessie.”)
2) The only calving of glaciers to be seen from a cruise ship are on the videos they attempt to sell you (along with photos of you taken by them every chance they get…plus liquor.) The ship (Holland America) turned around some four miles from the glacier, and didn’t approach another for safety reasons “because of icebergs” (although in the publicity shots you see the ship surrounded by icebergs.) I think this is to sell more shore excursions. Indeed, I took a shore excursion to one of the glaciers, but had to run part way to it due to “time constraints.” (The driver joked, “You know what the bears call tourists five minutes late for the bus? Lunch.”)  Again, and alas, no calving or bears. Or bald eagles. (“Look, there’s one! See it?” Everyone in unison: “Nope.”)
3) Cruise ships burn the equivalent of two swimming pools of fuel every week (yes, with a deep end suitable for the Olympics), and there are hundreds of such ships, along with dozens of tankers transporting the oil from the Persian gulf. Not to mention thousands of jets and millions of cars in operation at any one time. In fact, we’ve gone through millions of years of fossil fuels in one century, and this last year was the hottest on record. So why can’t I see one sheet of ice fall from a glacier while being asked to buy videos and tee shirts featuring whales and bears and eagles…and rum drinks?
4) Alaska is wild and cold and huge. Driving across Texas is wild and hot and (according to Sarah Palin) “a cute little place.” That cute little place took the better part of two days to traverse nonetheless, with drivers who imagine themselves NASCAR racers (complete with tee shirts.) I heard on the news that Texas needs so many new prisons they’re thinking of letting reckless drivers and drug dealers out early to save on bed costs.  Why not let loose the serial killers too? Sure, just take away their driver’s licenses and put them to work in road construction. Then the DUIs and NASCAR wannabes will take them out, two jailbirds with one stone(d). Better yet, we should charge admission to prisons for tourists, like at theme parks. Bring the kids, make a picnic of it. A year in fees of $20 a head would pay to keep Gitmo open for one more week.
5) I never made it to Paris, and who knows, maybe I never will. Never got married either. (Nor did my sister, with whom I traveled to Alaska and across the country…she’s nine years older than I, legally blind, and can’t drive OR spot wildlife.) A girlfriend once told me that she couldn’t wait until I became rich and famous as a writer. The next day I learned that she meant it, literally. She couldn’t wait, and didn’t. Me? I’m still waiting. Next up, my memoirs. Fiction, I think, mostly. My real life is just too boring. In my fictional life, I married Kim Kashkashian (violinist), went to Paris, bought a big house with a tall white picket fence for the bald eagles to land on…and to keep out the bears. We have a yacht bigger than James Patterson’s, and as it roars past the glacier, engines burning its $20 per gallon fuel, huge blue slabs of ice fall into the aquamarine waters. And then, inexplicably, a charming and friendly whale, rising from beneath us, (fresh from his tryst with Nessie), smiles on us and breaks one of the floes into fragments small enough for our rum drinks.Sitka

TFOB