20051231

New blasters this year?

Jeff at Alphecca asks what new blasters a blogger has gotten this year. Can't say that I have gotten any, though TCM has gathered a few.

I would like to get one of mine back, though, from a 'smith who doesn't reply to emails. She's Dierdre's sister Hermione.

This coming year (tomorrow perhaps) Firstborn will send her first .22 bullet downrange. A good pellet rifle will be in order if she gets the itch. Aside from that, I want no more guns, just time and a place to shoot them.

20051228

The problem isn't PowerPoint, it's how it is used

Twice in the last month I have been shortchanged in a course of instruction, by an instructor who chooses not to subject me to "death by PowerPoint. Let's go ahead and get our hands on the equipment instead, you'll learn more."

It would be forgiveable if the instruction were accompanied by sound handouts or preceded by comprehensive read-ahead material. A few block diagrams would help too. Instead I am explaining in whispers to colleagues what all this gear is supposed to accomplish and why, and learning little for myself.

I've cursed PowerPoint myself, in this very space in fact. But dammit, y'all, PowerPoint isn't the problem here. The lazy tendency to shovel a tech manual into PowerPoint, now that's a problem. Making your slideshows underinformative, oversizing them with raw digital photos, adorning them with MS's clip art, those are the problems. Fix them and slideshows won't bore people to death, they'll actually be informative and useful.

Both times, the instructors were contract employees for defense contractors. They represented the same company, in fact, though I suspect this is a trend and is much more widespread. Anybody else encounter this sort of thing?

20051225

Chicken or egg question

Barbaloot and I are watching one of my presents to her, the DVD set of Aeon Flux (impulse purchase at BestBuy).

First episode: Utopia or Deuteranopia?

Trever Goodchild mumbles his goals and means to himself as he completes his purge of competing high-level functionaries to consolidate his rule over Bregna. Among his means: "Total information awareness."

So my question is: was this work recut in the last year or so to add in that throwaway line referring to Admiral Poindexter's pet program, or were Peter Chung and the Aeon Flux writers more visionary (still) than I give them credit? Amazon lists the DVD collection in '95.

20051222

Do you own the data created incident to being eyeballed?

What if two vehicles are hustling along a rural road, doing low-80s in a 75-limit zone, and a Highway Patrol vehicle comes from the opposite direction, suddenly pulls over, reverses direction, and catches up?

The patrol car hovers behind the rear of the two vehicles for about 4 minutes, then passes, hovers behind the front-runner for a few minutes, then lights up and pulls the front-runner over?

Mama-san, passenger with me in the rear vehicle, asks "Why didn't he just pull the guy over instead of waiting so long?"

I, driver of the rear vehicle, replied "He ran the plates."

"Wouldn't he do that after pulling him over?"

"No, he wants to make sure he's not pulling over some psycho who'll try to shoot him. He wants to know whether this will be a one-unit stop, or a two- or three-unit. Bench warrant, multiple traffic violations, expired registration, Al Qaeda, you name it. Run the plates first, know what you're getting into."

Then the wheels were turning. He surely ran our plates too. Hmmmm, the patrolman was probably thinking, serviceman and his wife and kiddies. Nothing interesting here . . . The guy in the front tripped the radar. What about him?

Which makes me wonder: how many times have my plates been run, either by obvious marked patrol vehicles or air units, or by unmarkeds just weaving through busy traffic? What about when optical-character recognition technology is mated with radar camera units and fast, fast realtime connection to the databases, allowing hundreds of plates to be "run" per minute? The potential there for loss of privacy would be staggering. The anonymity of the herd would be gone if it isn't already. The consequences of minor errors, either in the tag records themselves or in the data pipeline between the camera and the DMV, would be enormous.

Johnny Law will assert that he has the power to use government-owned information and commerically-available technology to enhance the apprehension of lawbreakers. How can one object, unless one is caught redhanded and wriggling to escape? The syllogism: the innocent have nothing to fear, therefore the fearful are not innocent.

So how should the civil libertarian respond to this development?

I submit: assert that publicly collected information be owned by those who collect it, and the subjects of collection. If you run my plates (public information, my property interest in my vehicle, my payment of taxes to use that vehicle on public roads, the presence of my vehicle on public roads) with commonly available technology (a camera in the patrol vehicle or mounted to view traffic on the public road, plus OCR to translate the plate into registration information) the resulting data belongs to both the government, who collected it, and me, whom it is about.

The cops know when they collect it. For it to be of use to them for the purposes of law enforcement, they must collect date/time, location, observing officer, and so on---to be evidence it must meet evidentiary standards.

But I may not know that it was collected at all, let alone know the details incident to its collection. If the information's mine, even in part, I have a right to know that it has been collected, where, when, and by whom. If there's an error or fraud I have the right to challenge that piece of information that may be, or is asserted to be, about me.

So do I have a right to know every time that my plates have been checked against databases of vehicle registration, operator licensing, outstanding warrants, and so forth? Some would be surprised to find how often their plates are run, so to speak, though I wouldn't be.

If facial recognition becomes reliable, will my face be "run" with the same regularity? Worse, will my face be run even if facial recognition does not become reliable? Should I not have the right to know the data points are being created so at the very least I can challenge them?

Will the shiny sexiness of technology overwhelm such error, to the extent that a bad OCR on my plate or a bad facial match, be more credible than my wife's testimony that I was five states and two time zones away from the crime?

Here comes the Al-Qaeda Exception: Hypothetically, an Islamofascist mole operating in the United States will be driving about just like I do, occasionally breaking a speed limit just as I do. He can expect to have his plates run about as often. His plates, his operator license, and other governmental records incident to operating a motor vehicle, would be subject to the same level of scrutiny as mine are. But if he's a jihadi baddass, he's looking tactfully to see whether his profile is low enough. Is he being followed or observed more than the average guy?

Would his right to know how often his plates are run, tip the government's hand that he's being watched?

Which way would you rather have it, gentle reader?

  • Everybody, and I mean everybody, is entitled to know every time the government checks his public appearance against a database---even if that might tip off undercover operatives that they are being watched? Or,
  • It's none of your business how often your plates are run. Al Qaeda is (all) the reason (we need).
  • Only the suspected jihadis suffer diminishment of their right to know how often they or their public records are nudged. Oooops, every swinging d1ck has about 5 (or 10, or 40) "hits" a year, so we have to let some of his hits through, let him see them, or he'll suspect something. Problem is, the gummint at various levels will never be good enough at lying to falsify that kind of record plausibly. This option will certainly fail if tried (we've organized crime as an example: "Federal marshals are so far up my ass I can taste Brylcreem"). For practical purposes, disclose all hits or none.


Please answer in the comments. No similarity between this post and the NSA intercept story is coincidental. How you answer probably describes your opinion of the intercept orders.

20051220

First Thanksgiving with a convection oven

This was our first Thanksgiving with a convection oven. After frantic internet searches of how to roast a Thanksgiving turkey in one, I concluded that it would take maybe a little less time than a conventional oven would, that we'd positively adore the result, and that we'd depend on trial and error because of our altitude above mean sea level in the beautiful flyover country of Cheyenne.

With a meat thermometer, we'd still be disaster-proofing ourselves. Okayfine. A thirteen-pound critter stuffed, rubbed with paprika-laced olive oil and scattered with fresh parsley. Before:



Four hours and forty-five minutes later at 375, with foil over the breast and legs, and the meat thermometer in the stuffing showing 180:



Yes, delightfully crispy skin, moist breast meat. But still almost 5 frigging hours.

20051219

Endorsement

I support the Fiscal Watch Team Offset Package.

Details here.

20051209

20051207

Damage may be undone

Update on the situation:

Belkin's USB 802.11g adapter was available at a good price. It installed and fired up instantly.

Then I downloaded a new WiFi driver for from Averatec, installed it, and removed the Belkin. Now my on-board WiFi works again and I have a second spare adapter.

Pain in the ass but we're operational again.

Update: A bud bought the Belkin adapter. I'm back to just one spare. Shall I travel with it from now on?

20051204

What's missing??

OK, normally I blog about gun gear or CCW or training (I think that sums up my entire blogging career, actually) but today I'm gonna' get a bit more personal. I'm starting to feel as if there are things --significant things -- missing from TCM's life. Two things in particular have been nagging at me: combat and women. (And, yes, I believe there's a distinction...)

I've never been in combat. In fact, I haven't been in a fight since the sixth grade. When it comes to violence and hostility, I'm a master at avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation. But part of me thinks that I'm overdue for a break in that trend. As I'm sure many of you do, I keep up to date as to the goings-on in the Middle East. All politics of the situation aside, I see what is obviously a grueling fight between our Boys in Camo and those who would like to kill them. To the grunt on the street, I have to believe it's that simple: him or me. And in a way, I'm envious. I spent 15 years in the Air National Guard and the closest I came to combat was being on-call for three months during the lead-up to Desert Storm. Yawn...

It is said that prostitution is the oldest profession. Perhaps, but what about soldiering? (What gets more ink: the history of prostitution or the history of war?) I'm sure that soldiering has changed little in the thousands of years its been practiced. And yet I feel as though that aspect of being a man, being a soldier in combat, has passed me by. Does combat change a man? For the better? For the worse? What does it feel like to fight another man to the death? How did the Spartans accept the notion that their defeat at Thermopylae was imminent? What went thru the minds of the soldiers that fought to a bloody stalemate at Antietam? How sweet was the victory for the Russians as the last desperate pockets of Nazi resistance in Berlin were finally crushed? Millions upon millions of men in history have known the answers to these questions. I do not.

Let me just say that I have no bloodlust and no romantic illusions about war. I have no doubt that combat is just as ugly and gritty and horrifying as many of those who have been thru it say it is. But I'd like to know that for myself, to experience that primal behavior firsthand, to understand it in terms that my mind has formulated based on personal experience. I'm especially curious as to how I'd act. How well would I perform under fire? Would I freeze? Would I crack? Is my situational awareness as good as I think it is? Would I remember and, more importantly, employ the training I've received? In short, would I "walk the walk"?

I've posed such ponderings to close friends and once they've realized that I'm serious, their answers have been remarkably similar: get in the fight somehow. Unfortunately, it's probably unrealistic to even consider such things. Sure, I've had training but nothing even remotely approaching AIT or even Marine boot camp. (Air Force, remember...) At 40-something, rejoining the ranks is mostly out of the question. Even in the unlikely event that I landed a mercenary personal security gig, could I really perform my job?? Getting yourself killed because you're ill-prepared is unfortunate. Getting your charge killed is unprofessional. Getting your buddies killed is unforgivable.

So what's a "wondering warrior" to do? How do these questions get answered?

One confidante suggested getting involved in anti-piracy activities. That might work if I wasn't terrified of large bodies of water. But the idea still has merit. Unlike the tenuous "keeping the world safe for democracy" mandate that drives our current involvement in the faraway deserts of Afghaniraniraqistan, anti-piracy is apolitical, malum en se kinda' work. No moral dilemmas to keep one awake at night. The pirates are most likely to be un- or poorly-trained. Their tactics would necessarily be limited and predictable since any extreme measures -- ie, sinking the target ship -- defeat the entire purpose of their enterprise. Unless the pirates adopt paratrooper tactics and/or submarines, any fighting would essentially occur in only two dimensions. Overwhelming numbers would be their only advantage, an advantage that could easily be negated thru superior firepower. Seems simple enough.

But then again, I've never been in combat so how the hell would I know?...


Then there's the second missing thing: a woman. As much as I hate to admit it, TCM has been without a woman for almost two years. Being alone isn't always a problem, being the busy, independent, and occasionally self-centered guy that I can be. But, again, I feel like I'm missing out on something. Something that the rest of the world takes part in every day. Something the rest of the world seems to take for granted.

Historically, relationships have presented yours truly with numerous difficulties. I've gotten better at them, though, since I've learned how to step "outside" of any conflicts and look at things impartially. (Not easy, by any stretch, but do-able...) I was unprepared for marriage when I tied the knot at 24 with an equally unprepared woman. We stayed married for twelve years. Our disfunctions remained dormant as we fought side-by-side thru countless non-marriage-related battles. We were a hell of team as long as we had a common enemy. However, once we were both out of college, working well-paying jobs, and focusing on the future, things got easy. Too easy. Without those common enemies, our marriage got stale and fell apart. As did the few relationships I was involved in after the divorce.

Except the last one.

The Little Chinese Girl (aka, LCG) was the one that got away. The relationship found me when I wasn't looking for it. I won't say it was a match made in heaven but it was good match, nonetheless, and we got along pretty durned well. (And, damn, she was cute!!) We had our differences, of course, but we also had enough in common to at least have good pillow talk and even better dinner conversation. We had complimentary talent sets, too. She was the idea person; I was the problem solver. We used the opportunity to improve our partnership skills: how to conduct a fair fight, how to negotiate and compromise, how to support one another, and how to listen and make sure we were being heard. We parted amicably once we both realized there were some serious gaps in what we each wanted for our futures. I had it good with LCG -- I knew it then and I know it now. I did almost everything right with her and we're both better for what we had.

And I miss that.

I miss having the interaction of another person in my life. I know how to deal with myself and my quirks. (Well, most of them...) Being with another is what's missing. I miss the companionship and the conflict and the commiserating and the sharing of Sunday morning breakfast. Life -- just like a relationship -- brings about a swirling river of difficult sacrifices, unexpected complications, and competing demands. At least in a relationship, there's a woman on the other bank of that river!! I've long ago thrown off the notion of blissful abandon, where nobody says the wrong thing, where nobody gets their feelings hurt, where nothing goes awry. That's the stuff of Hollywood and the (pulp) literary world. I'm much more pragmatic about love and relationships at my semi-advanced age. A healthy relationship should be equal parts romance, individuality, and mutually-beneficial business arrangement. To make it all work requires effort, optimism, patience, and occasional mumbling to oneself in the basement. And I won't truck a woman who's not willing or able to reciprocate. (Speaking of trucks, ...)

That's not to say I'm a perfect catch myself. Like I said, I have my quirks. I've been known to focus -- nay, obsess -- on a problem well beyond the point where it stops being funny. (I'm an engineer and, like a cop, I'm not paid to lose...) That said, I have Short Attention Span Moments that are the stuff of legends. When I'm in that mode, a 10-year-old with ADHD could beat me in a staring contest. I have a gun collection that's awfully difficult to explain. I prefer two wheels to any other form of transportation. I occasionally allot copious amounts of "alone time" for myself. This is especially true when work gets stressful. I'm an early bird.

But it's not all bad. I have my good points, too. I try to take care of myself -- emotionally and physically -- and avoid bad influences. Most of my friends are of sound character and won't elicit the dreaded "I never want to see him in my house again" conversation. I'm always where I say I'll be and I come home every night that it's logistically sound to do so. As much as I use them, I hate computers and I'm rarely found fiddling with one "just for the heck of it". I kinda' know how stuff works and can usually fix it if it's broke. I have all my hair.

So, with all these endearing qualities, you're probably asking yourself, "Why doesn't this guy have a date for next Friday??" Well, I've been asking myself this same question for a while. I know the answer. It can be stated -- but not explained -- in one word: exposure. I'm just not around any women. I don't get any exposure.

Take my job (please...) I write software, in a basement, surrounded by Y-chromosome-types just like me. My pastimes are heavily male-populated: shooting, four-wheeling, bicycling, and motorcycling. (I once joined a bicycle racing team with the goal of meeting women, only to discover that there were just two types of women on the team: married or lesbian. I kid you not...) Even my "solo projects" -- woodworking, reloading, electronics tinkering -- don't lend themselves to female involvement. I've considered taking up a hobby that would have women in the same room but there are always repercussions to that. "TCM, why don't we go ballroom dancing anymore??" Sorry, but I'm not gonna' feign interest in tennis or cajun cooking just to get a date. That's all the world needs: another phony. Fuz once recommended the ubiquitous internet coffee shop as a place to meet women. A reasonable suggestion which I admit I have yet to pursue.

I've tried on-line dating with little success. A few years back (before LCG) I met a woman on-line but she turned out to be a poor fit. It took longer than either of us expected to discover the mismatch and it was a difficult break. I recently tried the on-line thing again but it proved futile. Put simply, the women wouldn't respond to my e-mails, which is quite demoralizing. I spoke to a woman who was trying out on-line dating and she said the whole experience is very different for women. They are typically inundated with e-mails and their challenge is to weed out all the man-chaff. She admits that she's probably tossed more than a few good candidates into the recycle bin simply because she didn't have the time to scrutinize the sheer volume of e-mail. I can only hope that this was what happened to me. It's either that or my e-mails weren't as interesting / clever / charming / attention-grabbing as I thought they were.

Just in case "third time's the charm" is for real, I'm getting ready to try on-line dating again. I need to get a new photo and re-work some of the profile text. I'm in no rush at the moment since work is gonna' be pretty crazy for the next three months. I went to a new doctor a few months back and the last question on the three-page background questionnaire was, "What is your current form of birth control?" I wrote-in my answer: "Working 80-hour weeks." She read that and enjoyed a good belly laugh. If I can make a 45-year-old married mother of three laugh like that, I guess there's still hope.

Ciao!!

TCM

Stop the raid on Social Security

Sign the petition.

HT Jonathan G at ChicagoBoyz.

20051203

National Air and Space Museum


We got to goof off today and celebrated it by standing beneath a static display of a Soyuz mated with an Apollo.

20051128

Undoing the damage

I should have known better, but I installed XP service pack 2 on the newer Clandestine Mobile Media Access Platform. It whacked my wireless adapter.

Kudos to both Geek Squad and Averatech's free customer support. The wifi still doesn't work yet but I have a Ghost backup that I can restore if just removing SP2 doesn't bring it back. If this doesn't work, I'm getting a USB wifi adapter at BestBuy tomorrow cuz I'm out of town for a while.

Next clandestine blogging platform might as well be a Mac if Windows is going to keep hosing me this badly. Wonder whether Apple will ever ship Powerbooks on AMDs?

20051113

Idea 842: Internet radio for real

We kept Googling for a way to pull radio station streams off the Internet and hand them to a conventional stereo system; we were rewarded for our patience.

The term I meant to look for is digital audio receiver, which covers a multitude of devices that have either an Ethernet or a WiFi input, and component audio output. Most of what I found were devices that depend on a computer you already have on your home network, so you can pull your MP3s or iTunes stored there over the home network to a stereo system with the power and fidelity to rattle your windows.

These devices need an application installed on the computer to direct the audio output over your home network to the device. As cheap as $49 if you are willing to stick with Bill Gates's abominations, from the various flavors of crippling DRM to the distasteful and permeable Windows itself.

Pay a lot more if you want Sony to give you a DAR with more features and flexibility, but Brother, beware that rootkit.

In this respect, to me, digital audio receiver is a misnomer. The computer is the receiver, the player is just a stream interface between it and your stereo.

I need no access to the MP3s on my computers---got that already on a satisfactory standalone device. I don't subscribe to iTunes or Rhapsody or suchlike either. What I'm hurting for is realtime streaming of the AM stations or hosts that this here brick shanty and its surrounding rolling prairie and electric windmills block out, or the FM stations that I read passably in the car but come in fringy at home.

Call me anachronistic, but a fixed, cabled digital communications medium should provide better service than a mobile analog one.

What I had more in mind was a stripped 'puter, with stripped browser, that connects to various radio stations with an interface borrowed from WinAmp, independently accessing the Internet through the home network. The user can browse for the programming by category or content, or artist name. All the other puters in the house can be shut down, or busy doing something else.

Hell, load the player's control panel as a webserver on the player, and use a Palm Pilot or Windows handheld, to IR or Bluetooth or WiFi into the player. Once at the control panel, seek a station, program, or tagged content ("what's the talk radio world saying about 'Sam Alito?'"), or history ("who the hell was I listening to at 0300 from Des Moines last Friday?").

If you're so into Glenn Beck that you subscribe, you might be able to load your login credentials into the player so it can listen live directly from Glenn's site, or let you browse his archived material.

If Nullsoft marketed a player like this, even if it served only the same content WinAmp could access (including the video), for around $75, I'd buy one and even hardwire it to my router. This player could probably run on the Palm OS itself, needing no disk, just some flash memory and lotsa buffer.

Suffice it to say the market hasn't yet gotten where I want it, but they're getting close.

Update, 20Nov: CabinetMan asks, "Why don't you just recycle an older notebook computer?" Cuz there's no money in it.

There's no good way to spin this . . .

There is a passage from East of Eden where the less-favored son is scolded by his father, for investing in bean futures in advance of a certain war that would demand beans. Something about how ghoulish it would be to profit from the misery and death of others.

My IRA jumped about $6 grand in two months, those very same months being the impact and aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I'd have to dig into the details of the funds that provided most of the ooomph in that period, but it's the most dramatic fscking jump in that IRA I've seen since I rolled three 401(k)'s together to form it.

Yeah, yeah, post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that. But it occurred during a period when one would expect the profits of virtually every sector of the economy to fall. This was a time when everyone predicted dire consequences for the markets because the US economy just had a chunk of flesh bitten out of it. Counterintuitive is the word that came to mind.

We're not talking about a huge amount of money here, though it constitutes most of my life savings left over from the dot-com bust.

Would there be so much kerfluffle over oil companies price-gouging if most people in my generation held that kind of position and realized that kind of gain? Adam Trask be damned---we'd become rich by gouging ourselves. Cost myself a couple Jacksons a month out of my wallet but watch my IRA grow by as many Clevelands? Gouge away.

This suggests to me that if it were this easy everybody would be doing it everybody understood this, and moved their investments accordingly, they'd be competing for those investment vehicles intensely, driving the average cost to purchase said vehicles up to the point where schmucks like me wouldn't bother. But that's not the nature of markets nor of risk, is it?

20051109

Flyover Country is good for AM radio

Just figure: frequencies measured in the hundreds of kilohertz will propagate very well over the prairie and fragment (not be received well on consumer equipment) in the mountains. As I drove home from work this evening, the amply-laminated Prairie atmosphere of Flyover Country was throwing to my car's spindly antenna the programming from Las Vegas, somewhere in Iowa, Dallas, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

This is a richer bounty than I enjoyed in my youth as Super CFL tempted me from Chicago during my roller-skating winters.

My sadness is that I haven't the AM receiver to capture it in my own home. Only in my car will the radio catch it. The Onkyo at home won't even pull in KNUS from Denver, through the Terk antenna. So I lack my fix, developed over the last two years of drivetime driving, of Bill Bennett in the morning and Hugh Hewitt in the evening. Glenn Beck is incisive but not that incisive. The local hosts in Cheyenne aren't incisive at all, except for one counter-criticism of the Kelo decision.

Just figure II: is there an internet device that pulls broadcasters in and offers them to my home radio receiver? In that case it isn't good for AM radio per se. But it's great for those talk-show hosts and broadcasters who stream their shows over the Internet. I Googled last night for "internet radio component audio" and came up kinda dry, but I remember such devices, which I considered extravagant at the time but in retrospect now seem almost sensible over a broadband connection, offered at a store staffed by DeeDee who could be cute?

What we had to explain to Firstborn

AMC gave us the remarkable gift this evening, of having to explain to Firstborn what was meant by Dr. Lao in The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. She was grokking it rather well.

Better than her understanding of Joint Committee hearings on oil company windfall profits.

So note well: if a 9-year-old can divine the meaning of a Silent-era made-for-TV movie but not grok a Senate subcommittee hearing's intent, the fault is not with the made-for-TV movie.

O, the weird things one will see on C-SPAN at oh-dark-thirty

Frightening it is to see Ted Stevens of Alaska sucking up to people who don't need be sucked up to.

Pete Domenici doesn't fare much better either.

Lo dark days are these that Republicians must summon from their depths cloaked apologists for the Free Market.

20051023

I'll be damned

We went to a picnic yesterday. A nearby lake offered catch-and-release trout. Boy tried his hand. As I stood with him, he cast and reeled in, over and over, catching nothing on his wormed hook but stringy moss. Every time, as he felt that little resistance to the reeling in, he shouted excitedly, "Dad, I caught something!"

About the hundredth time, after all the other kids had given up and left for another picnic event, he shouted again. OK, what this time? A boot? A soda can?

He reeled it in, and the rod actually bowed toward the water.

Then the line began to dart back and forth across the water. I'll be damned.




I helped him pull it close, shot the photo above with my phone, then rinsed my hands with water from the pond and took it in my hands and laid it on the dock so he could see it. A fourteen-inch speckled trout. I didn't keep it out of water long, it was bleeding all over and starting to get listless.

No fisherman am I, I didn't know how to get the hook out. Boy was ecstatic. I lowered it back into the pond and kept a grip on the line, then called a bud, who ran out, verified the measurement, and was about to show Boy and me how to free him. Just then, the trout bit through the line and was gone.

That made Boy's day. And mine.

20051019

where does it all come from?

A friend of a friend told me that most helium is separated from petroleum products. It can be isolated from the atmosphere too, but the petroleum process is more plentiful and cost effective.

At the time it seemed to me that helium would promptly race to the surface and dissipate, probably even find a way to escape the Earth's atmosphere, in just a few million years after the Earth condensed. How would any of it still be hanging around, even deep in pockets of the Earth's crust?

A bit of nuclear physics we are learning this week. The mineral-helium question bubbled back up to the surface, pun intended.

As radionuclides decay, one of the decay products is the alpha particle. When it gets the chance, it rips two electrons from any other atoms nearby---it needs to slow down first, of course, because it is ejected from the decaying atom's nucleus--and in so doing it becomes the noble gas helium.

So geologist types: is most or all of the helium available now created from alpha particles emitted by other decayed mineral nuclides, and how much new helium is being created there? Or is it mostly residual helium created in the last nova that gave us the heavier elements, which we are drawing from a finite supply?

20051018

Wondering

Let's say I have a diesel-powered vehicle, and I work an agreement out with local fast-food places to take all of their waste vegetable oil and convert it to diesel fuel for my vehicle.

If I get a load of peanut oil from a Chinese restaurant, will the exhaust from burning that fuel put my peanut-allergic neighbor into shock?

20051016

The Cabinet Man Goes to Gunsite...

...again.

Anyone that knows me well knows that I'm a Big Fan of Gunsite. Gunsite provides -- arguably -- the finest firearms training available to civilians in the USA and, quite possibly, the world. (For you non-silly-villians, don't worry. They train police and military folks as well.) I first went to Gunsite in 2003 for their Pistol 250 course. From day one, I was hooked. My instructor was none other than Louis Awerbuck of Yavapai Firearms Academy and SWAT Magazine fame. The Pistol 250 course was grueling and demanding. Balancing speed and accuracy was a constant and seemingly contradictory requirement. By the end of the 5th day, I was exhausted, humbled, and covered in BandAids. And I was delighted!! I was a better pistol shot. I mean a lot better. I cannot think of any other five consecutive days of my existance in which I learned and improved as much as I did then.

(Note to posers and wannabe's: Gunsite is neither cheap nor easy. If you just want to pad your resume or collect training certs, go elsewhere. Gunsite will eat alive those who aren't serious about learning...)

So, it had been a couple of years and I'd been working up a good Gunsite jones. So last spring, I enrolled in Carbine 223, Gunsite's introductory course to the AR-15. It does for the carbine what Pistol 250 does for, well, the pistol. They recommend Pistol 250 as a prerequisite and that's indeed a good idea. There are some basic assumptions made about the students' backgrounds and those without Pistol 250 will have some catching-up to do. Now, being the "I'll do it my way" kinda' guy that I am, I decided to take Carbine 223 with -- are you sitting down?? -- an AK-47. The course description mentioned 7.62x39 so what's an AK freak supposed to do?? Well, while I don't regret taking the AK, the course is indeed geared towards the AR-15. (Of the 20 students in my class, 18 ARs were being used, my AK and a Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM being the only exceptions.) The instructors weren't entirely familiar with AK but I give them credit for doing their best to incorporate it into the lessons.

Unlike Pistol 250, the Carbine 223 class started kinda' slow. The first day and a half were spent on the mandatory safety lectures, basic carbine operation, and 50/100/200/300 yard sight-in. Had someone had asked me what I thought of the course at lunch on the second day (Tuesday), they might have gotten rolled eyes. But the slow pace didn't last long. We moved to the square range and started the school drills: 1.5 second offhand head shot from 25 yards, 2-second offhand center-of-mass "double taps" from 50 yards, non-standard response drills (failure to stop, "2 to the body, 1 to the head", and carbine-to-pistol transitions), and 100-yard standing-to-kneel/squat/sit timed shots. Countless repeats of two shots from 200 yards in 15 seconds standing-to-prone were practiced. We shot moving targets. We shot obstacle courses that required different shooting positions to engage targets at varying -- and unknown -- ranges, including a shot from inside a dog house!! We shot on steel. We shot at night. We shot a walking course with metal targets out to 200 yards. We performed house clearing. I was starting to get tired. And loving it!!

On the last day (Friday), "final exams" were given: a full run of the school drills. I did OK but I thought I shot better on Thursday. (The exact same thing happened to me during Pistol 250...) However, I seemed to catch my second wind during the shoot-off. The course of fire for the shoot-off was pretty simple. There were two steel poppers to engage for each round: one at 100 yards, one at 200 yards. The 100-yard popper was shot first followed by the 200-yard popper. The 100-yard popper could be shot from any position but prone. The 200-yard popper could be shot from any position. The catch is that a position change must be made between targets -- even if you'd like to shoot both off-hand. Each shoot-off round started from standing, low-ready. (For each round, I shot the 100-yard target from the "Viet Cong squat" position and the 200-yard target from prone.) Two shooters shot at the same time on their own pair of targets. The first shooter to hit both of their poppers won the round. Each person in the class shot 6 rounds. I did really well, connecting 12 times for 12 shots. (That is, if I remember it correctly -- it goes very quickly!!) Unfortunately, I only won 4 of the 6 rounds. A Marine staff sergeant and an Oklahoma police officer each won 5 rounds and shot against each other in the final. The Marine prevailed. Semper Fi!!

I was awarded a Marksman grade, from the possible grades of Completion, Marksman, Marksman I, and Expert (in increasing order of Total Badassness). I kinda' feel like I shot better than Marksman but with all of the excellent performances from the police and military students (which comprised nearly half the class), it's quite possible that I did not shoot in the top 50%. I'll admit that when I had to choose between speed and marksmanship, I chose to make a good, solid hit. I wasn't the fastest guy out there and that probably didn't help my grade. (For the record, I wasn't the slowest shooter either...)

I won't say that I learned as much as I did in Pistol 250 but I still learned a lot. Mostly breath control and trigger control. Gunsite teaches the "empty lungs" method of breath control in their rifle classes which, as much as I tried, I never became comfortable with. I hated the asphyxiated sensation I got from it and it forced me to unnecessarily rush my shooting. Since it didn't seem to improve anything for me, I reverted to my old (bad?) "half-exhale" routine for the last two days. (Probably the only time that Gunsite advice didn't wear well with me.) I'll give the technique more opportunities when I head to range next time. The course's main instructor, Bobby Schneider, hammered home the "press to hold, release to reset" mantra for trigger control. Skeptical as I was, it worked as well for fast shooting as it did for slow fire. When I found my groups turning to patterns, it was usually because I'd starting
slapping the trigger again. Stick to the basics, practice the basics, and win with the basics.

As I mentioned earlier, the course is definitely geared towards the AR-15. Mechanical drills like tactical reloads and failure clearing are all based on the AR. I had to improvise a few of the steps since the AK uses a paddle-type mag release and doesn't have a bolt lock-back. I don't regret having taken the AK but, in hindsight, I'd probably take one of my ARs if I had to do it over again. That said, aside from awkward manipulation during the machanical drills, the AK performed admirably. Granted, I showed up with an upper-tier AK with a red dot sight and not, say, a cheapo WASR-10 and the dreadful stock AK sights. (Let's not forget that I was using the wonderful Cheetah ammunition as well, about which I can't stop raving...) My AK was consistently hitting center-of-mass at 200 yards, occasionally with better groups than the ARs. My 300-yard work was on par with the rest of the class. The only problem I had during the entire week was when my scope mount loosened Thursday afternoon. Other than that, I had zero malfs -- the rifle, mags, scope, and ammo performed flawlessly.

Various notes:

1) For all you gearheads, here's the kit I used:

Rifle: Bulgarian Arsenal SLR-101
Scope: Aimpoint CompML2
Mount: K-Var KV-04
Mags: a mix of Bulgarian waffle polymer and Romanian steel
Flashlight: Surefire G2 Nitrolon
Flashlight mount: Tac-Star Universal Barrel Mount
Cheek rest: D&E Scope-Eze (Brownell's P/N 946-102-003)
Pistol: Glock 22 in .40 S&W
Vest rig: all Blackhawk
Vest: Strike Omega MOLLE (37CL36)
Rifle mag pouch: Strike M4 Double (37CL03)
Pistol mag pouch: Strike Double (37CL09)
Holster: Omega VI (40QD02)

I "designed" the vest rig myself. I love Blackhawk gear but their off-the-shelf vests are very, shall we say, busy. I didn't want all those gee-gaws. Truth be told, I was ready to go with one of those OTS vests, but changed my mind at the last minute. Prior to my departure, I had been practicing with the vest I'd planned to use and found myself getting tangled-up in everything. This was further compounded by lack of Arnold Schwarzenegger-style upper-body strength: I just could not do a weak-side mag change. The SLR is not a light rifle and trying to keep it shouldered with my right hand during a mag change proved challenging and painful. I devised a rather quick strong-side mag change routine, much to the chagrin of the Gunsite instructors. I cobbled-together the vest that I took to Gunsite around that routine. The rifle mag pouch ended up on my right side and the pistol mag pouches on my left, about where they'd been for Pistol 250.

Tac gear specific to the AK is rare. (Untapped market, folks. Anyone paying attention??...) My sling was a Rube Goldberg concoction that consisted of a standard 48" AK sling (too short) lengthened by a steel motorcycle helmet lock cable and attached to the rifle by a minature carabiner. It looked disgustingly Amateur Hour but worked pretty damned well, noise discipline notwithstanding. I kept the AK mags (loaded one per pouch, as opposed to two for the AR) "bullets up" and pointed towards center. This made for the fastest speed loads but still required a good tug to get the bottom plates past the pouch's elastic retainer strap.

There's always a big debate concerning gloves. Fortunately, I practiced a few drills before I left with and without gloves. I could run the AK just fine with my (very thin) Uncle Mike's gloves. However, I couldn't get a good grip on my Glock with them. Hmmmmmm.... What to do, what to do?? Well, I wore one glove. On my left hand. And only so I wouldn't get burned by the AK's various exposed hot spots. Besides, wearing a glove on my right hand would have covered up all the BandAids, the official Gunsite badge of honor.

The equipment list for Carbine 223 lists elbow and knee pads. Rather than the "tactically-proper" Blackhawk stuff, I just brought some cheapo Rollerblade knee pads which worked just fine. I neglected to bring my elbow pads and, given the amount of dropping-to-prone that we did, I wish I had. The reason I didn't is that I've shot with the plastic-faced elbow pads before and the plastic slides around on more surfaces than you might think. And sliding around kinda' defeats the purpose of being prone. A smarter solution would be to bring some of the cloth elbow pads. Something like what a volleyball player might wear seems to be the best solution.

Other stuff I couldn't have done without:

MagLULA: great little toy, saved lots of pinched thumbs and split fingernails

Maxpedition RollyPoly
"dump pouch": didn't have it the first day, bought it in the Gunsite pro shop. Good purchase.

CamelBak: 'nuff said. OK, that wasn't enough. My 10-year-old bladder froze overnight and I (like an idiot) tore the opening trying to brute force it. After saturating my backside in 40-degree weather, I bought a new bladder in the pro shop.

(BTW, I spent less than $70 in the pro shop, quite possibly a Gunsite record!! The pro shop is a dangerous place if you have a credit card. They stock only the best kit. Their prices are fair but good stuff ain't cheap!!)

I didn't spend money on a range bag. Instead, I used a rubber-bottomed, heavy-duty tool bag I picked up a few years back at Home Depot. I paid maybe $30 for it and it was perfect!! I saw no range bags that looked sufficiently durable for under $75. Mine held 400 rounds of 7.62x39, 100 rounds .40 S&W, ten 30-round AK mags and four Glock mags. There was even a little room left over.

But the best thing I brought to Gunsite was my ATV. Gunsite is a big place and we did a lot of jumping between ranges. I stayed at Gunsite's campground and having the ATV allowed me to keep the truck parked and still be mobile. I loaded-up the ATV Sunday night and pretty much left it loaded all week. I had room for my aforementioned "range bag" full of mags and ammo, my gear bag, my lunch cooler, two rifles, and all the BandAids I needed for the week. I highly recommend an ATV for people who have one and plan to drive to Paulden.

The basic rule for gear still stands: train like you fight. If you're a cop or a soldier, bring and wear as much of the gear you're issued as you can. The Marine that won the shoot-off wore his exact kit as if he were in the field. He was even given permission to bring his service weapon. Three-round burst is pretty cool!! That said, he did not wear his k-pot nor his body armor. We silly-villians are forced to guess what we might need. Do I need just enough to chase away an intruder or do I plan to hold off wave after wave of blood-thirsty zombies?? (Personally, I planned around the hope that any surviving zombies will retreat after I decimate the first wave...) Choose your gear accordingly.

2) Stay in the Gunsite campground.

The reasons go on and on. First, it's cheap and convenient. It's located on the "compound" and is only a few hundred yards from the classrooms. They have running water, bathrooms, showers, grills, fire pits, a microwave oven, a washer/dryer, an ice machine, and a pavillion with picnic tables. The campground fosters a "family" environment, with people from different classes getting together to discuss courses, instructors, and just about anything firearms related. While I was there, I met an alpaca rancher from Alaska, a Greek security guard, a truck-driving couple from Florida, and a Marine officer stationed in Hawaii. From these folks, I learned about karambit knives, weapon retention/take-away drills, how to completely disassemble a Glock, how an Aimpoint still works just fine with its front lense cap closed (if you shoot with both eyes open, that is), how to party with hookers in the Far East, and the broad scope of human generosity and shared meals. You just can't get that kind of interaction by sequestering yourself in a motel 45 minutes away.

3) Bring an AR

Yeah, I know. I was warned. But, hey, I needed to find out for myself. I plan to take the Carbine 556 course -- the advanced course -- next year and I'll take one of my ARs. (It's not like I'm totally pig-headed and, well, because I'll hafta'...) In the interim, I'll practice the AR-specific mechanical drills that I didn't get to do with the Kommie Karbine. There were a wide variety of ARs at the course and they all seemed to run pretty well. Most shooters had 30-round mags but those with 20-rounders didn't seem to be handicapped in any way. A few hardcores stuck with iron sights and the rest had either Aimpoints or EOTechs. I know of no optics failures. What I really, really, really want for my AR is a Trijicon TriPower. Trijicon teased the market with these things last year but they were ultimately vaporware. I guess a few were sold but Trijicon went back to the drawing board with them. They claim they'll be available in 2006 in their redesigned form. They got my hopes up once -- they better get their act together next time. There won't be a third foolin' of old TCM...

4) Be prepared

Start by getting into shape. This is a good rule in general but it applies double to Gunsite. I started lifting weights in the spring but had a big (working overtime related-) lull about a month before the class started. And it showed. The course is physically demanding and I know if I hadn't been even marginally prepared, I would have suffered for it. I did a lot of bicep and shoulder work which paid off nicely. However, one thing I didn't plan for was spending hours at a time with a heavy AK tac-slung across my chest. It took a toll on my lower back and a few (hundred) extra reps on the hyperextension machine might have prevented that. My current aerobic condition sucks (literally) but fortunately there weren't many opportunities to get short of breath. Learn how to apply BandAids with one hand.

One thing I was tempted to do that I don't recommend is getting the video of your course before you take your on-site course. "Why not, TCM??", you ask. Well, you'll watch the video and go thru the drills. And there's a good chance you'll think you're doing something right when you're really not. Then when you plant two feet on the range you need to un-learn your bad habits, which is significantly harder than learning them correctly to begin with. The videos are great but relegate them to "refresher" status.

Well, that's enough writing. I'm tired of typing and you're probably sick of reading. I'll depart with one comment. Get training. Most, if not all, of the readers here own guns, just as I do. When I took Pistol 250, I was shocked at how much I didn't know before I took the course. A person could have thousands of dollars worth of weapons but without training, they're worthless. Better to have $3000 worth of training and a $100 gun than a $3000 gun and $100 worth of training. Get quality training. The expensive guns can come later. Give Gunsite a try. It's neither cheap nor easy but it's worth it. Get some!!

TCM

20051009

We get some winter

A first taste of winter has brushed our fragile palate in Flyover Country. I took the first warning seriously last night, and today watched the skies and the thermometer as we unpacked boxes and such.

Just before dusk we were rewarded.



Barbaloot's mum was skeptical about our moving here from Colorado. As she read our local paper, she harrumphed: "Eighty percent of your county's roads are unpaved. Maybe that's why you don't have a State income tax in Wyoming."

Well, Grandma, a good number of those roads are called alleys, which by design remain unpaved in Flyover country. The rest are traveled only by pickup trucks, which do not care whether they cross pavement or dirt. And I'm quite happy to pocket the dollar difference.

But this evening as I stepped out to the sidewalk to take the photograph above, I felt the same comfort in a snowy evening that I've felt back East, watching big fat flakes tumble among pine boughs. It's what I imagine it must feel like in Switzerland or some of those World War II movies where the fighting has moved to the mountains in Germany.

I like the image and the feeling, and I share it with my few devoted readers. Though in this case it is no pine bough but a very big silver maple.

OK, now back to unpacking.

20050916

BOOOO-ya

I'm beginning to really enjoy Jim Cramer's Mad Money. His politics probably would disgust me but he gets naked capitalism.

Hey, big spender

Has the President considered that his approval ratings may be falling because of, rather than in spite of, his throwing money at Katrina relief?

20050910

Quote for the day

Most of the people in New Orleans were . . . able to help themselves, and help others, and to manage their burdens with dignity and compassion for one another. You don't see them on the news because they got out.

Feces Flinging Monkey. Emphasis in original.

20050909

"Patriot Day" is still taken

Remember Lexington and Concord, dear readers. That's Patriot's Day. And it's in April.

The anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon should bear no name. I don't even like the usage "Nine Eleven." Sirens should blow and all people should stop silently for one minute at the time of each aircraft impact. Nothing more.

Katrina

I am in the disaster profession. It has been a growth industry since the Gulf War, but I wasn't fully committed to a career in it until my third layoff in as many years in the telecom industry. A cordial invitation from the President of the United States in October 01 helped things along. I have not received a similar invitation to respond to Katrina, but let's not rule that out.

The Cabinet Man just today forwarded to me a link to a National Geographic article that luridly predicted the effects of a hurricane like Katrina.

Oddly enough, only a few weeks ago I was studying a software toolset designed originally for predicting just such effects. Other government users developed an interest in that tool early on, and adapted it to the modeling of other phenomena that could be considered disasters, hence my involvement with it.

Our last day of class, the instructor showed us the original purpose of that toolset, the modeling of hurricane damage. We navigated to the National Weather Service site, pointed the toolset to a Katrina forecast---at a time when Katrina was still in the Atlantic---and let the toolset generate its prediction. National Geographic all over again.

Displaced persons would number in the six figures, it said, if it never exceeded Category 4, and took a course that made landfall in Mobile Bay, crossed Atlanta into the Carolinas, and recharged itself over the Tidewater. It listed the numbers of refugees, injured, and dead, township by township along the notional path. The pages, rows, and columns of this prediction gruesomely resolved to single digits. It chose the most capacious roads and bridges to evacuate them (or depending on your view of it, which ones to close with force).

Of course there are qualifications. Garbage in, garbage out. We had the best forecasts available but no forecast can equal 20-20 hindsight. There were any number of things that the toolset did not do, and it used some wacky algorithms to do what it did. A computer can only answer exactly the question posed to it, within the limits of the data it is told to assemble for that question. Stupid questions cost the same as shrewd ones.

Still it predicted massive personal and economic disruption from Katrina, from one forecast days in advance for a less powerful storm than Katrina eventually became. As the storm progressed, the model could have been rerun, hourly if desired, the better to position resources, mitigate vulnerabilities, or direct evacuation. No doubt my peers around the US were doing so, some idly to practice with the toolset, others to satisfy the morbid fascination that runs deep in my profession.

Others were running it with a purpose, bags under their eyes, and anxious politicos breathing down their necks.

Which brings me to these very elected officials and their appointees. On the basis of the foregoing alone, one could have only contempt for the local elected officials responsible for New Orleans. A two-hour walkthrough of this disaster model would have shown them the risks and the vulnerabilities. A weekend retreat run by a competent consultant would have given them a roadmap of what plans to assemble and how to start coordinating them.

Hundreds of licenses of this toolset are in operation among DoD, DoE, and DoJ users, and hundreds more in agencies of state governments. The governor of every state, save a handful, has at least one installed license, and trained operators, available to him or her with a phone call. That excepted handful are tooling up.

It is not plausible that the government of a city the size and importance of New Orleans would not have access to a notional hurricane effects model of the kind I was shown how to create in less than an hour.

It is inexcusable---it is politically answerable, if you will---for an elected official, having been shown a model this detailed yet this early and this accessible, to fail to position the resources under his or her control to mitigate the storm's effects. What did Mayor Nagin know, and when did he know it? Did Governor Blanco ever place that phone call?

Among the geek and pundit community there will be list after list of lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, and we will console each other as geeks and pundits do, by comparing them and hoping for the better. I add mine:

Perhaps this storm will remind people of what governments are for, what tasks we should give to a government versus to other institutions. A local government that cannot plan for a disaster, to preserve or recover public order after one, is a negligent government that deserves ouster. Do not allow public expense to build a convention center, nor a stadium, don't even build an airport with public funds, until your government can demonstrate that it can protect you and your property from reasonably anticipated disaster. Otherwise why institute that government in the first place? Who serves whom?

And for Chrissake, don't let that government interfere with your preparations for disaster, if it can't make its own.

Now I'm going back to blogging about praying mantises, the search for Ray Gricar, and the impending collapse of the entertainment industry. I might work in some steroids in professional sports. But I plan no more posts on Katrina.

Not gonna lose my pension over this

Should I be invited to respond to Katrina, I will consider myself duly briefed:
New Orleans' lawless superintendant of police, P. Edwin Compass, has declared, "No one is allowed to be armed. We're going to take all the guns."

The Compass order appears to be plainly illegal. Under section 1983 of the federal Civil Rights law, any government employee who assists in the illegal confiscation would appear to be personally liable to a civil lawsuit. Moreover, higher-ranking officials--such as the National Guard officers who have ordered their troops to participate in the confiscation--would seem to be proper subjects for impeachment or other removal from office (and attendant forfeiture of pensions), depending on the procedures of their particular state.

All police officers, National Guard troops, and U.S. Marshals take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws. It appears that carrying out an illegal order to confiscate lawfully-owned firearms from homes would be inconsistent with the oath, contrary to sworn duty, and perhaps a criminal act.

David Kopel at VC.

20050908

Insect Fear Films of the Nineteen-Fifties


Boy found this monster in our basement stairwell. He and Firstborn ran to me to tell me about it. I grabbed the camera.

He didn't have a laser on his forehead but he was ill-tempered.

Note to Blogger: I ain't at all happy that the photo uploader feature does not work in any of the 3 web browsers on my OSX 10.2.8 Mac. That would include Safari, Nutscrape 7, and IE 6. One way or another I was thwarted and had to sneaker-net the mantis image from the Mac to the notebook to get it uploaded.

20050907

I want a pair of these . . .



Bionic Boots. Into the Wish List with it.

By the way, these boots were the original inspiration for this weird idea for a combination of powered armor, and the preference for the kangaroo-slash-velociraptor form factor over an upright human one.

20050825

Life is full of difficult choices

Lesseee . . . watch Tucker Carlson debate the wisdom of continued US engagement in Iraq with Bianca Jagger, or Aqua Teen Hunger Force?

Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Too easy.

20050824

Gotta give them more credit

An undetermined cable news channel was playing in the barbershop today. As I sat down for my haircut, the Korean woman asked me how I wanted it cut, then asked whether I preferred a flat income tax or a sales tax to replace it. Of course I proposed the FairTax. "Oh, Neal Boortz is on TV talking about FairTax!" she replied.

Get this, now: this woman, obviously a returning soldier's bride some years ago, is still improving her English and putting it to work. It was hard to carry a conversation with her, considering her accent, and the noise of her clippers right behind my ears. She mentioned how people look for shelters against income taxation, farmers seek subsidies, and so forth.

Still, it was clear she understands how taxation affects motivation to earn, save, and spend, probably better than most members of Congress.

20050823

Branching out

After realizing I had written some material that doesn't "fit" here or on the other blogs, I asked Bacchus if he'd host it over at his place. He graciously accepted.

More about sex toys. NSFW.

If you go read that, then go read my post where I appear to take sides with Cleanfilms, you'll see what you might think is a major reality disconnect.

It isn't.

20050822

Turntable turning tables

I went on a CD buying spree recently, and found a two-disc set of Fountains of Wayne material. Dutifully shoveling it into my player, I never got around to listening to it systematically---when it shuffles to the top, that's when I hear it, usually during afternoon sessions on the treadmill, when I'm not paying the best attention to it.

The song was halfway through when I realized it was their cover of Britney Spears's Baby One More Time. Likeable, clever.

Got me to thinking: another song I'd like to hear, that flat-out does not exist, is Shania Twain singing Led Zeppelin's Hot Dog. It wouldn't matter much to me whether she changed the lyrics so it would be a woman singing about being left by a man, rather than a woman abandoned by a woman; though the latter would be a hoot.

Maybe there's a term for this technique, of gender-changing the lyrics of a love song so the other sex can sing it without suggesting same-sex love? Who would know that term? David? Chaz?

And that reminds me also of a very sophisticated table-turning, where Bobby Vinton's Roses Are Red becomes Florraine Darlin's Long as the Rose is Red; definitely Chaz's territory, though to date myself, I used to have the 45's of both.

(Christina Aguilera's Will the Real Slim Shady Please Shut Up? does not count: it's satire.)

20050821

Another face I hoped to see again

She was great in Adventures of Pete and Pete.
I recognized her instantly in Buffy.

Glad to see that Michelle Trachtenberg has her own movie. I probably won't watch it, even though Kim Cattrall is in it too. But it's worth a mention.

Update: but please, Hollywood, don't make her up to be a perky-titted tart.

Road trip

How to kill a Sunday in Albuquerque? I arbitrarily pointed the rental car to Cuba, figuring that would take me up into the hills, then I could cut east to Los Alamos.

That took me through Santa Fe National Forest, and right past this place:

20050819

Just how serious are they?

IP's post caught my eye, about Amazon's venture into marital appliances. "Heh," I guffawed to myself, "they'll go only so far. The Rubicon---the mark of the aesthete of that industry---is the bright red rubber ball gag. Lacking that, their line is no better than one of those philistine gas stations off I70 in Missouri. I bet I won't find one there."

Damn. Third time I've been wrong this month.

Some things I have to rethink, as evidenced by this intemperate and ill-considered thought of mine. Why would Amazon "rep in" only part of another outfit's online catalog? And if so, on what criterion would they choose which products to admit, which to exclude? Cheaper, faster, broader appeal to just bring the whole catalog in (Frolics in this case), which is Amazon's forté in the first place.

20050818

New stuff up at the Senate campaign blog

Boy, I've neglected that one too. Sorry, Big Red, if you're still reading.

Sign the petition, I did

I encourage all to visit and sign a petition to save thousands of M14 rifles from the scrap heap, and instead market them through the Director of Civilian Marskmanship. Save a remarkable rifle, save Uncle Sugar's money, maybe even own a remarkable rifle.

Read the petition, then sign it.

20050817

A beleza mineira

Dinner last night here reminded me of my one loooong trip to rural Brazil.

Girlwatching in Latin America is one of life's finest things, and I highly recommend it.

Oddly enough, this evening while reading back issues of Reason over dinner, another experience of Brazil came whistling back at me from memory like a volleyball from the back row. A section head in the article used a lyric from the song Barbie Girl.

Years ago, I was being driven around the town of Uberlândia with the local cable techs, installing a trial phone service on their 450-MHz cable system. The song came over the radio. One tech turned around in the front seat so he could face me, with a perplexed look on his face, to asked me, "What this means, 'Bobbie gehl'?"

My Portuguese was about as good as my Polish. His English was better than my Portuguese. I shrugged my shoulders. "The girl likes to party."

so that's why I couldn't get laid in college

This cuts way too close to home:
People who want every discussion of current events to go back to first principles are tiresome and I find discussion with them is seldom profitable. Plus, people avoid them at parties.

Instapundit.

20050815

He's picked up a new trick




At 18 months, Toad now prefers to dine with a fork.

20050725

and here's the graphic



Yes, WUTT! supports the McCain Feingold insurrection.

Here's the beginning of the neat graphic that I promised. It might need work, but I'm rather new to Photoshop. Will defer to Really Smart People who suggest what and how to modify.

And meet Biter, companion to Beater. She's a stainless Series 80 Colt Combat Commander, with a few mods of course, though not as sweet and personable as Swen's equalizer.

20050717

What I did on my summer vacation, Part 2

OK, now time for Part 2. If you didn’t read Part 1, you probably should...

As you may have deduced from my notes in Part 1, my trip's theme was "Us vs. Them". My goal was to visit the location of some major – and not so major – conflicts between American citizens and their government. The common threads in these conflicts were (1) a sweeping distrust of the government on the part of the involved civilians, (2) an overreaction to that distrust on the part of one or both parties, and (3) the ensuing death/massacre as a result of that overreaction. I chose five locations to visit:

Sand Creek, CO, location of an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians;
Waco, TX, site of the Branch Davidian complex named Mt Carmel;
Medina, ND, location of a deadly confrontation with tax protestor Gordon Kahl;
Naples, ID, nearest town to Ruby Ridge;
Granby, CO, town partially bulldozed as a result of a zoning dispute.

While many people will recognize these names and incidents, some may not. I won't go into detail about what happened in each case so here are some links to more information. (NB: there are obvious "extremes" in a few of these articles. Read with appropriate BS filters as needed…)

Sand Creek
Sand Creek
Waco (an excellent book, by the way)
Medina (lots of embedded sub-links here...)
Medina
Medina
Ruby Ridge (another excellent book, with an objective approach even!!)
Ruby Ridge
Granby

Sand Creek

As the placard explains, the massacre of these peaceful Indians was unprovoked. The Army misdirected its efforts to stem violence directed towards white settlers by attacking the wrong encampment. While investigative resources of the day were sorely lacking, certainly a little research on the part of the Colorado Territorial Government could have prevented this disaster. Accusations that Colonel Chivington blatantly disregarded orders remain to this day.

As of Nov 2000, the site has been officially designated a National Historical Site. Insufficient land has been acquired to complete the site and negotiations continue with private landowners to secure the necessary land. (Given the recent SCOTUS decision concerning eminent domain, I hope the "negotiations" remain friendly.) The site is several miles north of Hwy 96 and the (ironically named) town of Chivington. It is at this location that the placard can be found. (At the intersection of Hwys 287 and 96, a small placard is in place that indicates that the site is a "work in progress" and essentially encourages people to stay away...) The actual site is unmarked and rather difficult to discern from the road. It's little more than a bend in a dry creek sitting across a planted field. It's visible – barely – here. Given the wording of the placard, it appears the government's "spin" on this incident adheres to the accepted truth. A welcome sign, no pun intended...

While I was meandering around this area, I met an old infantryman (his words) named Ralph. Ralph is a retired attorney from Topeka and a fellow history buff. He was a real character, prattling-on endlessly about various bits of history relating to eastern CO and western KS. He saw action in WWII as part of the 70th Infantry Division, a division that received three battle stars. He was an entertaining old codger and I could have listened to his stories all day. Regretfully, I had a schedule to keep so we said our goodbyes and I went on my way.

Waco

Chronologically, the Waco tragedy occurred after the incident at Ruby Ridge but my planned route put me in Texas first. The site was easy to find; maps showing the location of Mt Carmel complex can be found in various books covering the Waco incident. (NB: the maps show a road CR 216-A, which is labeled as "Boys Ranch Road" when approached from Hwy 84. The remaining roads leading to the complex are correctly labeled.) All that remains of the original Mt Carmel are a few underground structures, the buried schoolbus, the concrete foundations, and the swimming pool. With the help of friends, the surviving Branch Davidians rebuilt the chapel on the exact spot of the original. A modest trailer home has been provided for the current Branch leader and a small, one-room visitor's center has been built. It doubles as a museum, replete with memorabilia and various pieces of released trial evidence. There are even some of the FBI's "trophy photos" that show agents in victory poses with the complex burning in the background.

Trees have been planted in honor of each Davidian killed in the two assaults on the complex. Under each tree is a small memorial naming the person for whom the tree was planted. Here is David Koresh's memorial. The Davidians even went so far as to place a memorial for the four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) agents killed in the first assault. That was a humbling sight for me. I'm not sure I could be that forgiving. It was explained to me that the Davidians harbored no ill will towards the agents themselves, only towards those who sent them.

My tour guide was a gentleman named Ron. He is not a Davidian but someone so outraged by the tragedy that he chose to volunteer to the group as a way to channel his frustrations. He was extremely knowledgeable and willing to answer all of my questions. At no point did I feel I was being preached to. Ron walked me thru the complex, pointing out the various remnants, and gave me a quick peek inside the chapel. He indicated that there are only about eight Davidians still living on the property with another handful living in town. Ron introduced me to Clive Doyle who is currently the lead minister at Mt Carmel. Clive was a survivor of both assaults and was one of only three Davidians acquitted in the trial. His daughter was killed in the fire resulting from the final FBI tank assault.

Being on the property gave me the sensation of walking on hallowed ground. It was here, just over a decade ago, that a group of desperate people attempted to hold off a government that could in no way abide anyone or anything opposing its authority. It was a futile struggle since there was no logic or reason to be found in either party. Both sides believed they had a mandate and both sides stubbornly adhered to their beliefs. Eventually, the government was going to – and did – get its way, at the expense of 82 civilian lives. My reaction to all this was three simple words: "What a waste..."

Medina

I never made it Medina so I have nothing to report. Sorry...

Ruby Ridge

Ruby Ridge is a long sloping ridge of mountains that descends towards the tiny town of Naples, ID. In reality the Weaver cabin was not on Ruby Ridge!! There are a series of ridges in this area that run east/west, each named after the creek to its immediate north. Just north of Ruby Ridge is another named Caribou Ridge. Caribou Ridge is bracketed by Ruby Creek to the south and by [wait for it....] Caribou Creek to the north. Caribou Ridge is where the standoff between the Weaver family and various agencies of the Federal government took place. The media, in its infinite willingness to pursue the truth, must have assumed that the name Ruby Ridge would stick with Americans better than Caribou Ridge. Who knows...

Caribou Ridge is relatively easy to find if you're willing to follow the clues provided by various authors. (Which I wasn't, since I spent two hours driving around Ruby Ridge only to find nothing...) Once I got my sh!t wired straight, I made my way back to old Hwy 2 and then onto CR 12. Suddenly things started to make sense. For about two miles. Then I came face-to-face with that wonderful American tradition of Private Property. The county roads in this area make their way only so far into the woods, then they become the property of logging companies (I assume) or of individuals.

Such was my fate as I followed CR 12 to its terminus and stared blankly into a sign stating "Private Road – No Trespassing". Oof dah!!... I was afraid that might happen. I knew that, standing where I was, in the middle of a clearing that had been nicknamed "Federal Way" during the siege, I was less than one mile from the cabin site. Ouch!! What to do, what to do?? I thought about playing Sneaky Pete and just driving on. If you look like you know exactly what you're doing, most people won't question your actions. El Puerqo Grande is by no means your average tourist's vehicle and could easily pass for one of the ubiquitous construction, logging, or contracting vehicles that rumble along these back roads. But I had two strikes against me: I had CO plates and I didn't know exactly in which direction to go next. On top of that, history has shown that this is "shoot first, ask questions later" country and I wasn't about to start a gunfight with anybody. But it was so tempting with Caribou Ridge right there!! Somewhere just ahead of me was the Weaver cabin site. So close, yet so far.

So, with some guilt about even considering the Sneaky Pete plan, I chose to honor that private property sign and not trudge onward. I stood in front of the truck, in the middle of the road, for more minutes than I care to recall, hoping that somebody from one of the adjacent houses would come out and ask me what the hell I was doing there or tell me to go away. I was hoping to secure permission to continue, but no such luck. Nobody appeared. In fact, it was so quiet up there one could hear a fish fart. Unlike the survivors at Waco, these people don't want to discuss the Weavers. They don't want to recall what happened. They don't want pasty white Coloradans snooping around their isolated homesteads. So, respecting those wishes, I carefully executed EPG thru a tiresome nine-point turn-around and headed home. On the way out, I saw this. No doubt a result of the Ruby Ridge confrontation.

Granby

No luck here, either. The town was quick to repair the damage done by Marvin Heemeyer and there was no visible sign that anything had happened. I did manage to spot what appeared to be a cement plant but, without more details, I could not ascertain any clues as to what damage was inflicted and where.


So, that was my "Us vs. Them" tour. During the many miles I had to cover for this endeavor, I had more than enough time to consider these events and the actors who played their roles in these deadly confrontations. I wanted to find a common thread that led to these disasters and I think I found a few.

First, I believe that there was a concerted effort on the part of the Federal government – with the assistance of a complicit media – to characterize these disenfranchised people in the worst possible ways. Religious cultists. Extremists. Child molesters. Racists. Fanatics. Gun nuts. Once these images were established in the minds of Americans, the Feds were able to act with near impunity. Those that saw thru such tactics and protested were similarly labeled and demonized.

I don't hold the beliefs of Randy Weaver or David Koresh. But then again, defining exactly what those beliefs were is a non-trivial task. The "distortion engines" where at full throttle at all times before, during, and after these regrettable incidents. I wasn't there to witness Koresh molesting children or converting AR-15s to full-auto. I wasn't there to see Weaver giving "sieg heils" at Aryan Nation rallies. Both claim they did none of that. The Feds claim they did. Who do you believe?? Both sides stand to benefit from lying. Koresh and Weaver were willing to die for what they perceived to be the truth. A criminal may be willing to die to avoid capture but, prior to their run-ins with the Feds, neither Weaver nor Koresh were criminals. Yet they were willing to die for what they believed was their innocence. Perhaps they wanted to die as a martyr's ultimate rejection of his lie-filled dossier. That's much different than a car thief shooting it out with the cops.

Second, the Federal government has shown surprising harshness as it deals with those who question its authority. Some of the severest sentences handed out in court today are for supposed crimes against the State. Victims of murder, rape, and kidnapping would consider themselves fortunate to see their assailants similarly punished. On top of that, the Feds cannot accept the notion that an individual might actually perceive a need to defend himself against the actions of the State. But the government is not infallible. It has shown countless times that it is capable of mistakes – sometimes, deadly mistakes. There are going to be incidents where Joe Citizen is going to be compelled to react – maybe even violently – to actions against him. In my mind, this is a perfect opportunity for the Feds to take a step back and re-evaluate their options.

Some of you may be saying, "Well, that's what the courtroom is for." Perhaps. But consider the damage done to an individual or family when the Feds drag them thru the court system. The government has essentially unlimited time and funds to prosecute. Defendants rarely have such luxury. A simple dispute with the Feds can take years out of a person's life before it's resolved. Not to mention the certain bankrupting due to legal costs. This is all possible even if the person is completely innocent. And the Feds have no "loser pays" program. I'm not saying that disputes need to be resolved with gunfire. Certainly not!! But when the Feds see someone so adamant about the their innocence, so willing to challenge their accusers, maybe they should take a deep breath and hear the guy out. Maybe there was a clerical error. Maybe the informant did lie. Maybe he does own that firearm legally. The Feds need to spend more time giving Joe Citizen the benefit of the doubt.

The zeal with which the Feds went after Koresh and Weaver was inexcusable. Neither had previous criminal records and, until pushed, neither had shown a propensity for violence. (Well, that wasn't entirely true in Koresh's case...) Granted, both men had "out there" ideas and confrontational personalities – key ingredients for volatility. But did what these two men do – or should I say, were accused of doing – warrant the overwhelming, pull-no-punches response from the Feds?? I think not. At both Waco and Ruby Ridge, the Feds had the luxury of limitless patience and restraint. In neither case did they choose to exercise it. In fairness to the tragedies, I should add that it's my opinion that Koresh made serious errors in judgement and could have ended the Mt Carmel siege without further loss of life. Many people trusted him to "do the right thing" and they were failed. Had he surrendered, I can only hope that the FBI would have held up their end of the bargain.

(Before I'm accused of promoting lackadaisical law enforcement, let me say that I have no problem with the zealous pursuit, apprehension, and prosecution of real criminals. And by "real", I mean those that have committed malum in se crimes. Additionally, if one of these "real" BGs produces a weapon in the presence of LEOs and his intent is to do harm, may the Boys in Blue promptly send him to meet his maker. Good riddance. And, if asked to do so, I’ll back up that statement in the jury box. But Weaver and Koresh were accused of malum prohibitum crimes – from which there were no victims – that in no way justified the magnitude of force used against them. That statement is doubly true when you consider that fact that the Feds were mostly unable to produce evidence in trial to support their cases.)

And, finally, I think the system of internal reviews and punishment within Federal law enforcement is – or at least was – sorely lacking. Friends reviewing friends. Supervisors wary of knocking an agent off the fast track. Internal memos and withholding of after-action reports. None of these things promote accountability and Constitutional behavior. Independent, third-party review is a must in cases such as these. And it needs to be done quickly before the "blame throwers" get fired-up and agencies hustle to get their stories straight. Inter-agency review is helpful but, due to "cross-breeding", cannot be relied upon to fully expose breakdowns in the system. Additionally, thorough investigations need to be made into the accusations of entrapment and evidence tampering/fabrication. If violations are found, harsh punishment should quickly follow.

And speaking of reviews, I personally think that justice has yet to be served in the cases of Waco and Ruby Ridge. For starters, I believe a fine-tooth-comb investigation needs to be made in both situations to determine Who Shot First. I think the people close to these events – on both sides – need this answer, even if it's not what they want to hear. If the Feds want to be zealous about something, be zealous about answering that question to everyone's satisfaction. I kinda' don't care what it costs to find the answer, either. We waste a lot of tax money on more trivial nonsense than that. Getting satisfaction on this issue is worth a ton of $$$ in my view. Full pardons for the Branch Davidians still in jail as a result of their monkey trial need to happen. And soon.

The real "chain of approval" for the rules of engagement (ROE) for Ruby Ridge needs to be found and the perpetrators drummed out of service. Maybe even prosecuted. Some of the agents on the ground protested the ROE but not all of the agents. I'm thinking a good, solid refresher course in Constitutional Law is in order for all Federal LEOs. And no grading on a curve. Pass/fail only. Former presidential candidate Michael Badnarik or Texas Congressman Ron Paul would probably be delighted to compile material for the courses. (In the FBI's defense – and such a small defense it is – they did bat cleanup in both cases: the US Marshals Service dropping the ball at Ruby Ridge and the BATF initiating the Charles Foxtrot at Waco. But their "showing up late" doesn't absolve the FBI in either case.)

I don’t believe the book on Ruby Ridge will be closed until FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi de-planes in Boise, surrenders to the Idaho State Attorney General, and submits to prosecution for the murder of Vicki Weaver. His actions were malicious, unprofessional, and wholly un-Constitutional. Supremacy clause be damned!! He can claim all week long that he was just doing his job. BS!! That was the same defense used at Nuremberg and it holds the same amount of water.

Thanx for listening,

TCM