Saturday, December 09, 2006

Can't Stop The Signal

For those of you that haven't seen Firefly the series, or Serenity the movie, you're missing out, particularly if you're a SF fan. Snappy dialogue, clever direction and good plots in a 13-episode series that Fox most likely now badly regrets it cancelled back in 2002. I tried very hard to see every episode when it was broadcast, Fox didn't help by moving the series 3 times over the 11 episodes it actually aired.

Firefly did manage to assemble quite a fan base, though, and when it came out on DVD the fans performed an incredible viral marketing job, with somewhere around 600,000 series sets sold since it came out. This pile of change coming into the coffers did make people notice, and with the Internet an international fan base was created virtually instantly. With this interest, the feature movie Serenity was made and released in the fall of 2005. Box office wasn't superb for the movie, but the movie itself was great -- in my opinion on par with Episode IV of Star Wars and better than any of the Star Wars movies except The Empire Strikes Back. It's worth a watch, too.

What's so interesting about this show is that it's not just the fans, but the actors who seem to really love the show. Ron Glass, a veteran of Barney Miller, practically cries in the DVD extras when he talks about how much he enjoyed the series. Due to a misspelling somewhere along the Internet journey, fans of the series became known as "Flans", and there was supposed to be a "Flanvention" this past weekend with people coming in from all over the world, literally. The company that was putting together the Flanvention abruptly canceled the event, just a few days before the planned date.

With a bunch of fans in town for a canceled event, do the actors from Firefly shrug and stay home? No. They go to the hotel and an improptu party begins in the bar, with Nathan Fillion ("Captian Malcom Reynolds") passing out gifts, Alan Tudyk ("Wash", the hilarious pilot) and others posing for pictures. Most likely what began as a massive disappointment has become a huge 'high' for the Firefly/Serenity fans that showed up. That's impressive, and that's how you build fan loyalty.

Apparently, when Adam Baldwin ("Jayne") walked in, the crowd began singing a song from one of the episodes called "The Man Called Jayne", too funny. Christina Hendricks ("Saffron" from my favorite episode, "Our Mrs. Reynolds"), Mark Sheppard ("Badger") and at least two other actors showed up, apparently unpaid, just because some fans of their work were there. Now, you can argue that actors are attention-starved junkies desperate for adulation, and really, who wouldn't want to get to be a real hero to some supremely disappointed people? Nevertheless, I think it's really cool that they would take time out of their lives to make some people's day.

When I get off call, I think I'm going to watch Serenity again.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Plane Diverted Due to Flatulence

Story here. via Drudge Report.

Basically, a woman with "a medical condition" was worried her flatulence would offend others and so she lit matches to conceal the odor. When the lit-match smell was noted by the passengers, the plane was diverted and the "ninja of the nasty" kicked off.

It's a testiment to her personal brand of gas that she believed the terrifying smell of an in-flight fire would be preferred by other passengers to her own emissions, I guess she felt she was trying to do the right thing.

While it's a better strategy than opening a window at 35,000 feet, an even better strategy would be Beano and a high-protein, low-sulfur diet.

As this video shows, the enchilada platter plus the three-cheese omlette with broccoli is a bad choice before you get on a plane.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

He Said What?

I have to say, I didn't expect this out of a Lipscomb University professor. In the Big Three of colleges commonly associated with the churches of Christ, Lipscomb is the smallest but I was under the impression that it was far from the most liberal. Associate Professor Lee Camp of the College of Bible and Ministry is quoted (emphasis necessary -- I don't trust reporters as a rule) as making some, uh, interesting statements at a recent interfaith meeting in Nashville:

To live peacefully with Muslims and Jews, Christians must put aside the notion that their faith requires the creation of a Christian kingdom on Earth, a Lipscomb University theologian told an interfaith gathering at the university.

"We are not going to get very far in our relationship with Jews or Muslims if we do not let go of this idea," Lipscomb professor Lee Camp said at Tuesday's conference.

The unusual gathering of several dozen clergy and lay people was devoted to resolving religious conflict in Nashville and around the world.

"We need to forsake the Christendom model," Camp said. "The most basic Christian commitment … is that we say we believe in the Lordship of Jesus. But, if we claim that, how can a Muslim or Jew trust us, if we say Jesus is the Lord of all Lords?"


First, Christians must examine their "sins of omission," he said — such as not taking the time to learn about other religions. Then they must look at their "sins of commission."

"We have such short historical (memory) spans as white Christians," he said. "There is a history of anti-Semitism, the violence and bloodshed of the crusades and cultural imperialism. We have to deal with the reality of what Christians have done, which in some cases has been to kill people."

Camp described himself as a conservative Christian but conceded his opinions may be viewed as "radical" by other evangelical Christians.

Christians must shed the idea that they need to promulgate a worldwide Christianity, he said.

"If I hold to a model of Jesus … what I've committed to in my baptism is loving my enemy," Lee said. "I'm committed to not killing you, but to serving and honoring you. It's an exclusive commitment to the way of Christ, not to the exclusive authority of Christ."

"Radical", Dr. Camp? Ya' think?

Now, there are a lot of folks whose lives have been changed for the positive by Dr. Camp's book Mere Discipleship, and not having a full transcript available I'm going to suspend judgement as to what he actually said as opposed to how he was quoted. "Christian Bible Professor At Local Arch-Conservative School Throws In The Towel, Accepts Dhimmitude" is such a more interesting subtext than "Religious Leaders Say 'Can't We All Just Get Along" that I can understand why a reporter with a built-in viewpoint would promote Camp's statements to the level of faux pas/career suicide. But it's worth addressing the points raised in the quotes until someone coughs up a transcript.

First, the God of the Muslims is not the God of Abraham and Jacob, the God of David and the Father of the Christ. Our God is not distant and unknowable, he interacts with his people all through the Bible. Allah does not "equal" the Christian God, unless there is a pair of thrones in Heaven, and I somehow believe that since Judaism and Christianity were Mohammed's source texts, somebody would have spilled the beans somewhere in the 66 books of the canonical Bible or the other non-canonical works. I don't seem to recall God mentioning his buddy Allah (who was aloof but good with deserts) when he spoke to Job about laying out the seas during creation in Job 38. The Muslim concept of God is simply not the same God that speaks through the Bible.

Second, I'm curious as to the utility of Jesus if he's not the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. I can understand why having a sweatshirt or bumper-sticker mentality about being on the "King's Team" would be off-putting in a Michigan vs. Michgan State kind of way, this isn't a football game with cheerleaders. But if Jesus is not the Son of God, then his sacrifice would seem to be insufficient to cover the sins of the world, which leaves Christianity with precious little to offer. If the "Good News" is just another flavor of "Religion-ix" to be downloaded and offered as a Moral Operating System, count me out. A fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam is that you can know your eternal resting place before you die, what's more you can know God himself through the Holy Spirit and the Bible, at least as much as our limited consciousness can grasp. You don't have to strap on thirty pounds of Semtex and ball bearings to earn the favor of your Lord by killing yourself and the nearby infidels. The price for you was already paid. Where is the hope, other than for earthly praise by other Christians, if Jesus isn't Lord? If he can't lay down his life and through his own authority pick it up again, then the hope of eternal life, the message we offer to others, is robbed of its power. I'm sure there are missionaries all over the world smacking themselves in the foreheads when this is published and promulgated all over the world.

As for the historical depradations of white Christians, you know what Dr. Camp? I personally don't bear any culpability or responsibility for that, in fact, I categorically reject it. My surname is French, it's entirely possible that one of my ancestors stood (or fell) with Charles Martel at Tours in 732 when the Muslim invaders were forced back to Iberia. My mother's family name has Germanic roots, maybe one of my far-back progenitors was an Austrian fighting for his very life and watching his family slowly starve at the Siege of Vienna in 1529. I don't bear any ill will toward the descendants of the jihad-fueled military expansionists that threatened Europe for 900 years -- they weren't there. This is not a matter of forgiving as much as we're forgiven, I don't see that as biblical. What this is a matter of is using history as pretext.

It was White Christians who powered the Renaissance, who developed the tools of logical inquiry and free reasoning to their current apex (some would say apogee, looking down the road) in Western Civilization, and curiously it was an echo of the Islamic rejection of the same Hellenistic ideas that make Paul's writings so clear and cogent, in the form of Averroes' writings that helped promulgate the very concept of rational analysis in Western religous philosophy. Dr. Camp's statement about "what Christians have done", while incomplete (again, we're waiting on a transcript), rings of a typical leftist apology for our society being more affluent and free than theirs. While this may not be his intent, the simple truth is that when the Islamic world had the opportunity to embrace tradition or reason, it chose tradition -- in the 1200s. The resultant stall in cultural development and embrace of tribalism and ignorance over education has long-lasting effects to this very day, none of which were the result of Americans, Christians or Westerners.

While it's important that we recongnize what Christians have done in the past, having a discussion with a Muslim about which religion has been the most violent or aggressive is patently beside the point. If you want to discuss what some people have done in the name of my God, then we're not discussing my God or his Son, are we? It's a continuation of the anti-rational thread that runs so spectacularly through the more extremist versions of Islam and is still latently present in feelings of inadequacy and failure that run through the Arab world. It's up to me as a Christian to be Jesus to people, real living people that aren't at the Siege of Vienna or the Battle of Tours or the Sack of Jerusalem during the Crusades. In day-to-day interactions, I don't see where the history of either religion comes into play. Either I'm a living example of the love of Christ to people I interact with, or I'm not. I fail to see why wearing a T-shirt that says SORRY FOR THE CRUSADES will make me more credible.

The one thing that Dr. Camp says that I admit to some conflict about is the role of Christians in conflict. The chances of my presented with forced conversion to Islam or death are at this point very slim, but given that specific choice I regretfully (because I love my family and my life, to be painfully honest) find that I have to choose death. Short of that specific eventuality, I don't believe that Christianity compels me to, for example, serve others by exposing myself in the open for the benefit of a sniper who is having trouble shooting me. I don't believe that Christianity compels me to be defenseless against senseless violence, I have a responsibility to my family and to raise my children. I'm their protector, I'm supposed to lay down my life for my wife but I don't read that as being defenseless. Peter tried (inexpertly, I might add) to decapitate Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus undoubtedly knew he had a sword but he didn't compel Peter to disarm himself, or even criticize Peter overmuch for the act itself. I'm humbled by the examples of the early church martyrs, but then they were executed for being Chrisitans. Is it the same when a Muslim extremist tries to kill Americans for being Americans? Having read the blogs of some admirers of Dr. Camp, they would laugh at the idea that being a Christian and being an American are the same, or even related.

I wrestle with this one, but when it comes down to it I don't feel that as a Christian it's my duty to submit to random violence simply because I happen to be in a shopping mall when someone decides to open fire. I'm not going to reason with the guy with the AK, I'm going to shoot him twice in the center of mass and once in the head or pelvis and repeat as necessary. It may be a sin of commission to use violence in Dr. Camp's formulation, but it's a glaring sin of omission to see oppression or violence to others and not act if you have the power. It may be sublime and may be seen by others as more moral or Christ-like to do everything short of violence to resolve a threatening situation, but I'm sorry, I just don't see it that way. There is a sacrifice involved in even legitimate violence, post-shooting syndrome is well-known and often discussed in law enforcement circles.

And finally, I guess we can just pack up the missionaries if we're supposed to "shed the idea" of a "worldwide Christianity", as the reporter paraphrases Dr. Camp. Again, this is a characterization not a quote and I hold it suspect, but it's sure depressing to people like me who support worldwide missionaries.


Well, it seems that as I originally suspected, the fault is apparently on the Tennessean's end. Here is the statement from Lipscomb University:

On November 28, 2006, Lipscomb University held a historic meeting for the city of Nashville and the surrounding community. The Institute for Conflict Management invited individuals with differing religious beliefs to come to campus and participate in a dialogue. That purpose is consistent with one mission of this institution: to proclaim our faith and values to a broader community. For those engaged in the day long endeavor, the program was enthusiastically endorsed.

As is often the case in dealing with difficult questions, misunderstandings or misinterpretations can occur. By now many of you have read the Tennessean article or heard various news reports purporting to summarize comments by Dr. Lee Camp. Having been a participant in that seminar and heard Professor Camp’s statements, I can assure you the article printed in the Tennessean did not accurately reflect the substance of Dr. Camp’s presentation or his personal beliefs.

As a point of clarification, Dr. Camp has provided the following summary statement of his presentation and beliefs.

“On Tuesday, Lipscomb University’s Institute for Conflict Management hosted an “Invitation to Dialogue: Conversations on Religious Conflict.” The full-day program included a variety of speakers, and from a broad range of backgrounds: Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist, as well as Catholic and Protestant. My assignment for the day was to articulate the “Theological Ground for Peaceful Co-Existence.” Due to a front-page story in The Tennessean that mis-characterized my lecture and beliefs, numerous questions have been raised regarding what I believe, and what I said. Many have expressed feelings of dismay in response to the story, feelings I also shared when I read the report. Brief news stories can seldom do justice to substantive conversations.

“The dialogue prior to my lecture had been most encouraging and refreshing: numerous speakers had insisted that Jews, Muslims, and Christians must not pretend that our differences are insignificant. Moreover, we can acknowledge the seriousness of the differences, while honoring one another. Such conversation encouraged me, precisely because I have long disagreed with those who say that Jews, Muslims, and Christians are all “saying the same thing.” Serious adherents of their respective faiths know this is not the case.

“In my lecture, I too insisted that we must not discard what is most important to us. I am a Christian who holds, without apology, to the Lordship of Jesus. I cannot accept any strategy of “conflict resolution” that asks me to set aside that particular claim. I believe and teach that Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

“This exclusive claim of the authority of Christ thus presents a problem for “conflict management.” I went on to ask these questions: How can the Jew or Muslim trust us Christians if we hold onto the exclusive Lordship of Jesus? Given that I refuse to deny the Lordship of Jesus, what can I or other Christians possibly contribute to peace-making, whether global or local?

“Here is my answer: Because I profess that Jesus is Lord of Lords, I have committed myself to loving both neighbor and enemy. Because I profess that Jesus is King of Kings, I have committed myself to serving and honoring all people. Because I profess that Jesus is the ultimate authority to which all other authorities must submit, that authority requires of me to extend gracious, generous hospitality to the stranger, the pilgrim, and those who do not see the world as I see it.

“This, of course, is not how the authority of Christ has always been practiced. In serious dialog with Jews and Muslims, we American Christians, who tend to have very short historical attention spans, must acknowledge the sins of Christian history. The claim of the Lordship of Jesus has often been divorced from Jesus’ call to be merciful to those with whom we differ. In fact, the claim has often served as a battle-cry, an imperialistic profession used to destroy Jews and Muslims. In view of this history, Jews and Muslims have good reasons for not trusting those who wear the name Christian.

“Because I profess Jesus as Lord, I must let go of any strategy that seeks to violently impose “Jesus is Lord” upon another. I believe and profess “Jesus is Lord,” and am compelled by Jesus’ Lordship to share this Good News world-wide. But if such sharing treats others in a way contrary to the teachings of Jesus, I have thereby denied my profession. I choose not only to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord,” but to live Jesus as Lord, among all—believer or unbeliever, Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew.”

Lee C. Camp
Assoc. Professor of Theology & Ethics
Lipscomb University
29 November 2006

Upon learning of the article in the Tennessean, we reviewed Dr. Camp’s actual comments and sought perspectives from conference attendees. This e-mail from Charles McGowan, a prominent religious leader, was consistent with other comments we received:

“The Tennessean did Lipscomb and Dr. Lee Camp a great disservice in how they reported his remarks. He absolutely did not say what the paper reported him to have said. … I commend Lipscomb University for this bold step and for creating a table to which we would invite Muslims and Jews. It is, however, a risky place and one that requires much grace and wisdom which I believe God will give us if we humbly seek His face.”

As an administration, we believe that continuing this dialogue is essential to fulfilling the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called and for which Christ died. The ministry of reconciliation is not without risk and is sometimes difficult. As we participate in this dialogue, I encourage each of us to practice the principles of
Matthew 18 as we engage in community with each other.

L. Randolph Lowry III
President, Lipscomb University

Well, that's better. I'll still differ with Dr. Camp with regard to the importance of history, I know more than most and quite frankly sitting across the table at Starbucks is me and me alone, not my ancestors and not their actions. If there is a Muslim or Jew across the table from me, then it's them, not their ancestors and not their actions. Either I'm credible as a Christian or I'm not. The rest is baggage I don't choose to bring to the table, if others care to use that as a lens through which to see me, then that's their vision problem, not mine.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link, Bill Hobbs!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Blue Ribbon Blue Label

If you've read my post about the Benelli Nova Tactical shotgun, you may remember that the aftermath of Katrina got me thinking about upgrading my short-range portable firepower options.

Well, Father Duvall, a nominally anti-gun person, was moved to consider the same issue in terms of protection following the breakdown of social order. Dad isn't completely against firearms, he has a Wingmaster 870 in the closet, and a family heirloom Colt 1878 DA that he's never fired. It's a handful, .45 Long Colt and older than both of us put together. Its provenance is a story for another post, but suffice to say that it's not the kind of thing he felt confident in depending on in a stressful situation.

So back around Christmas, Dad asked to go to the pistol range and try out my various handguns, a partial selection of which is shown here:

In order, those are the SIG Sauer P229 in .40 S&W, the Beretta 92F in 9mm, the Walther P-22 in .22LR and the Glock 17 in 9mm. He also sampled the SIG Sauer P220 in .45 ACP, as well as a J-frame S&W 639 in .38 Special.

Now, my secret intention was to buy him a pistol he liked for Christmas, and I figured he'd appreciate the Glock 17 for its mechanical simplicity, low-recoil 9mm caliber and (for me) moderate cost. As fate would have it, his favorite pistol and the one he performed best with and appreciated the ergonomics of the most was the most expensive of the bunch -- the SIG Sauer P229. What's more, it seemed he had a little difficulty with the recoil of the stouter .40 S&W round in the short P229, and as he has hands like mine (roughly the size of a dinner plate), the shorter grip wasn't helping. A solution was found that kept him and my wallet happy: the Blue Label SIG.

SIG Family History

The SIG family of pistols has a long reputation for accuracy and reliability. The first SIG pistol of prominence was the SIG P210, the service pistol of the Swiss Army from 1949 to 1975. A single-action 9mm with an 8-round capacity, the P210 was highly accurate but prohibitively expensive to manufacture.

The successor to the SIG P210 was the SIG P220, which introduced a couple of nifty features to the SIG line: the decocker and DA/SA operation. The first trigger pull with the hammer down will both pull the hammer back and release the hammer, requiring 12 lbs or more of force. While not overly conducive to accuracy compared to the SIG P210's light single-action trigger, it's considerably safer as it requires an intentional effort to pull a 12 lb trigger. The SIG P220 introduced a new slide and a new profile, and was adopted by the Swiss in 1975.

The inventive folks at SIG saw a potential market for the P220 outside of Switzerland, and in order to maintain neutrality they formed a partnership with Sauer, a Germany company that manufactured the SIG P220 for export. The SIG P220 was adopted by several other countries and manufactured in a variety of calibers, in fact the P220 in .45 ACP is considered one of the best double-action .45 automatics out of the box due to reliability and accuracy.

The 1970s and 1980s saw a move by US police departments to switch from revolvers to the easier-to-load automatics, and most importantly in 1984 the US Army had trials to select a new service pistol in 9mm, to replace the aging M1911A1, get the US to a NATO-standard pistol round, and provide opinionated gunwriters everywhere a reason to be upset, elated or both. The SIG-Sauer entry was the P226, a P220 with a wider grip to accomodate a 15-round magazine stuffed full of 9mm goodness. At the end of the Army trials, two pistols remained: the Beretta 92F and the SIG-Sauer P226. Beretta beat SIG's entry on overall cost, and thus the M9 pistol was born, and is borne to this day by pistol-armed soldiers in all branches of the military.

In this trial, though, the SIG-Sauer P226 won a number of fans who believed the extra cost of the SIG would have been worth it. In particular, the SEALs of the US Navy took the SIG P226 to heart and had it issued to them in small numbers with some SEAL-specified upgrades, like tritium sights and a corrosion-resistant phosphate finish (useful for people who like to hang out in salt water). Many special operations units that are required to (or choose to) use 9mm pistols use the SIG P226, including the SAS who considered the P226 good enough to displace their venerable Browning Hi-Power 9mms.

A few years after the M9 competition the military had another competition for a concealed-carry pistol for covert or undercover operations, and a version of the SIG P226 with a shortened slide and grip, called the P228, won the competition and became the M11 in US service. When the .40 S&W round came out in the early 1990s, SIG's response was the SIG P229: a P228 frame with a heavier slide to help control the heavier round. This is my carry pistol of choice. Ten (or eleven) rounds of .40 S&W in a small package is a lot of firepower, and compared to the .45ACP I find the .40 S&W more controllable and much easier to fire rapidly. This is the first real centerfire handgun I bought, it's my favorite, my baby, my safety blanket. And Dad wanted it.

Blue Label to the Rescue!

SIG pistols are common, but expensive. Compared to a Glock at about $550 gun store retail, a SIG P229 will run $800 or more. SIG has an innovative program (for the firearm industry) called the SIG Certified Pre-Owned program. SIG Pistols traded in to SIG, typically by police units, are inspected in a five-point process by SIG armorers and any worn parts repaired or replaced. The SIG alloy pistol frame is good for 30,000 or more shots before cracking, and most police pistols are carried a lot and used a little, meaning that a SIG that has been gone over by SIG's in-house armorers still has a whole lot of use left. Certified Pre-Owned SIGs are indicated by a blue label around the grip, and are colloquially referred to as "Blue Label SIGs".

What I needed was a pistol larger than a P229, firing a 9mm, with the same controls and feel of a P229, for a good price. At The Gun Doctor, a local gun store, that's just what I found in the display case. The Certified Pre-Owned SIG P226 came out to about $580 with tax, comparable to a Glock or Springfield XD. It came with a red plastic storage case, instruction manual, a lock, and two 15-round magazines.

Removing the P226 from the packaging, it rests in all of its utilitarian glory on the kitchen counter.

The sights are nice, clean and simple. Front dot goes on the target, rear stripe touches the bottom center of the dot, pull trigger. Repeat as necessary. (Note to safety Nazis: image obtained with magazine out after clearing slide and assuring an empty chamber, with hammer dropped, finger out of trigger guard and children evacuated to a bomb shelter.)

With a couple of boxes of 9mm 115gr hardball, we decamped to the beautiful East Texas Rifle and Pistol Range, with Dad and brother Dan in tow. Sadly, the Canon A530 didn't make it that trip, you'll have to do with the text version.

The P226 is a big enough gun to get hold of, and the trigger pull in both SA and DA was smooth, rivalling that of my P229 and even of the pistol I consider to have the best trigger, my Beretta 92F. It's worth noting that the SIG has no external safety. If you don't want to shoot something, don't put your finger in the trigger guard. The only controls (and they're set up pretty much exclusively for easy right-handed operation) are the slide release, the magazine release and the decocker. The decocker is a lever that when moved downward and released, will lower the hammer and decock the pistol, changing from a single-action light trigger pull to the longer and heavier double-action pull.

Some people argue the 9mm isn't big enough, my counter-arguments are a) that's why there's hollowpoints and b) nobody can tell you the caliber of a round as it enters their heart. Accuracy counts more than anything, and statistically the 9mm in an expanding round is an effective fight-stopper if you can hit the torso. Others will differ and I offer no criticism of those who choose larger calibers. Bigger holes are better, but the 9mm is nowhere near a .25ACP in terms of uselessness, and ammo for the 9mm is plentiful and cheap, allowing for the practice that makes accuracy possible.

The P226 functioned flawlessly over multiple magazines. Dad could keep all 15 rounds in the torso of an IPSC target at 7 yards, most in the 'A' zone. I put all 15 rounds into the head of an IPSC target at the same distance. If 7 yards doesn't sound like a long shot, consider that police shootings occur at an average of 7 feet. That's functional accuracy, certainly enough for self-defense situations. If you are in a situation where you need to put a bullet into the medulla oblongata of someone at more than 7 yards, you're already overmatched IMO. Call the police snipers.


The P226 has had more ink spilled over it than most firearms. It's a proven design with 20+ years of history. It's durable, reliable, accurate and now, reasonably-priced. The only thing I would have added to it would have been an accessory rail for a Streamlight M3 or similar flashlight, but as this is an old-style SIG there was no frame rail attached. Knowing what you're shooting at in a home-defense situation is vital, so I also got Dad a SureFire G2 Nitrolon lithium flashlight. It's blindingly bright and fits in the palm of your hand.

If you need a pistol that works, there's a new sheriff (or at least, an old sheriff's gun remanufactured by SIG) in town at the $500 price point. SIG's Certified Pre-Owned pistols are highly recommended.

Benelli Nova, Google & You

From my SiteMeter reports, there seem to be a lot of folks searching for some Google combination of "Benelli" "Nova" and "Review", so in order to better serve the searching audiance I have stickied the post "The New (S)Hotness" to the sidebar under GUN REVIEWS. Since I have another one coming, I feel confident in keeping the 'S' in REVIEWS.

Happy Surfing!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Shocking Street Theater in the UCLA Computer Lab

Video here.

Note: this is not safe for work or kids, people's language choices seem to veer sharply toward the objectionable when getting tasered.

Additional information:

LA Times
The Register (UK)
CBS 2, KTAL, Los Angeles

In summary, the rules of the computer lab are that to remain in the lab after 11pm, you have to show a university ID. Apparently, the checks of ID are random, and the 23 year-old student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, refused to show his ID to the Community Service Officer, who serves as a guard in the library. He also refused a request to leave if he didn't or wouldn't show his ID. At this point (11:30 p.m., apparently), officers of the University of California Police Department were called, and at some point after that the video begins. As the video begins, Mr. Tabatabainejad is loudly objecting to being touched by the officers. People at the scene reported that he went limp and tried to obstruct their carriage of him from the premesis, at that point (about 40 seconds into the video) he was tasered the first time.

From the screams, it sounds like he was tasered at least once more, and probably once more after that.

A few observations:

Mr. Tabatabainejad had several opportunities to do the right thing here.
The first was to just show his ID.
The second was to show his ID after talking smack to the CSO.
The third was to leave before the UCPD arrived.
The fourth was to respond in a calm and collected manner when the police arrived.
The fifth was to leave when the police asked him to do so.

This sequence of events does not seem to suggest the UCPD trying out a new toy, this suggests to me a 23 year-old having a bad day and choosing the wrong people upon which to vent his frustrations and acting out.

I never hear the UCPD officers swear or use anything other than a pretty even tone of voice. They're not picking a fight, they're handling a situation. Me personally, when someone starts shouting at the top of their lungs in a public place, I start checking the sightlines to the exits and inventorying improvisable (or real) weapons. Normal people don't scream. What's more, the age group at which severe psychosis begins is the 18-25 age group. People that age who are not obviously drunk and act like that I would assume to have either another chemical impariment or potentially mental illness. If you can't control yourself in a public place, it's the job of the police to control you.

What the police were looking for was evidence of compliance, and calling them "M-Fers" and yelling political comments about the (totally irrelevant, in this case) Patriot Act aren't evidence of compliance. Maybe he couldn't stand up within a minute of being Tasered as he was asked to do, but he could gather his wits and de-escalate the situation verbally. You'd think that being shocked to the ground would have some sobering effect, but this kid was way beyond that.

I love the concerned crowd gathered around the malefactor and taunting the police. In particular I love the wannabe pre-law demanding "badge numbers" and verbally assaulting the police. What part of the situation makes Mr. Remesnitsky (whom I presume to be the guy in the white shirt, and to whom I apologize if he is not) believe he is capable of controlling it, or even helping? Does he presume that Glocks would have been produced and Mr. Tabatabainejad executed had he not appeared? Rubbernecking is so rarely helpful.

As far as the "racial profiling" aspect of this goes, less than half of the UCLA population is white and somewhere between 30-40% are going to be Asian or South Asian. This would not seem to be an example of walking into the room and picking on the first brown face you see, if you're going to racially profile at UCLA you're going to be very, very busy. But of course, since Mr. Tabatabainejad is an Iranian-American, the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR) is right there to demand investigation of this "disturbing incident" as only an:
outside, independent probe will ensure that the civil rights aspects of this case are being taken seriously and will be addressed in an impartial manner.
Right. Now, I believe that this incident the result of a college student with authority issues picking the wrong time, place and manner to tangle with the UCPD, nothing more and nothing less. But I have to admit that I would not be at all surprised to find that this was an intentional bit of theater intended to provide pretext for protests of "racial profiling" at UCLA, and by police in general.

Your thoughts?

Edit to add:

Heh. I beat Michelle Malkin to this one. Hope the trackbacks are working...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Blog You Should Read

I've added Disturbingly Yellow to the sidebar under "Blogs of Interest". The host is a guy I met on the internet who has such an interesting background and perspective that it's not funny, although Shimmy is at times excruciatingly funny and continuously insightful. It's odd to think that a Jewish Uzbek immigrant fluent in German, Russian, Arabic (and quite talented in English, I might add) with mad Photoshop skills living in Noo Yawk and a little ol' WASP of Kentucky and Tennsesse extraction like me living behind the Pine Curtain of East Texas would develop a fairly high degree of mutual respect and appreciation, but hey, it's a big world full of potential friends.

Check him out. If he's good enough for Pajamas Media and Instapundit, he's certainly good enough for my recommended list.

Edit: I've also added Troy Stirman, blogger and shotgunner extraordinare to the ACU-X Bloggers list. Another sterling fellow, and not just because he comments on my blog. :)

Why the Iranian And Al Qaeda Approval of The Elections Matters

The elections of Tuesday were hailed in Iran, and by Al Qaeda in Iraq head Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. Much harruphing has ensued.

Had a post at an internet forum I frequent that got me thinking. Editing out the profanity, the name calling, the naked trolling (trolling = making comments to upset people on purpose), and editing to fit Roberts' Rules of Order, here is the "Resolution":

RESOLVED, That Iranian Government and Al-Qaeda In Iraq approval of the recent elections should have no bearing on our strategic choices in the coming months in Iraq.

Like most internet forum debates, this rapidly devolved into a text version of The Argument Sketch.

The advocates state that simply because the terrorists and terror-sponsoring states approve of something doesn't make it automatically bad, and that they weren't terror supporters for agreeing with the outcome (and supporting removal of troops).

The opposition to the Resolution centered around the concept that the election results, at least in the eyes of those ideologically opposed to the US as well as its current policies, constitutes aid and comfort to the enemy based on the statements of our enemies themselves. There was a bit in there about one side or the other being lying gasbags spouting talking points and responses about the dubious parentage of one side or the other, but such is the course of most Internet debates.

Now, my buddy Shimmy over at Disturbingly Yellow, one of my favorite blogs, has wisely cautioned against taking everything the various flavors of Islamists say at face value -- part of their strategy, he notes, is to sow domestic dissent. It's one of the vulnerabilities of a democracy, after all, something that the hierarchical command structures of Al Qaeda and the Islamic Republic of Iran are not particularly subject to -- for instance, did Osama lose his office after being chased out of Afghanistan and losing the majority of his command structure? No.

After considering both sides, I rise in opposition to the Resolution. Here's my statement on the question before the House:

This is an ideological battle. We need to find, and then support, people that are offering a governance and economic system that in Arab minds is superior to what the Sunni-Taliban-Al Qaeda axis are offering, and also superior to the Shi'a-IRGC axis is offering. These would be the moderates we keep hearing about.

It's pretty apparent that the Sunni and Shi'a extremists have the means to argue in other than rhetorical terms that life will be worse under any governance structure other than their own narrow view, namely by blowing up things around the country and executing people until their opponents see the logic of their arguments. It's not apparent now that the elected, and for the Middle East, relatively moderate government is capable of articulating a policy in the same terms, and until that's the case we're abandoning the field of argument -- as well as those "moderates" that are so important -- when we pull out. If you'll remember, the last time Baker, Gates, et al were in charge at the White House we encouraged the Shi'a and Kurds to fight and then sat on our hands and did nothing while Saddam's troops slaughtered them from helicopter gunships. Mixed signals don't win you friends. Either we support the government the Iraqis elected until it can stand on its own two feet, or we need to simply formally announce to all moderates in the Middle East that they're on their own. Democracy is great if you can get it on your own, we say, but it's not so good that we'll actually help you get it, or keep it.

The subtext of this message is that you're an idiot if you're a moderate waiting for economic or political freedom. We're not willing to put anything out for it, and neither should you. Best of luck with it, but you're probably smarter looking over the literature of your local radical group if you want to make a difference.

Of course we need to leave at some point, and if we are to have permanent bases in Iraq they need to be like our permanent bases pretty much everywhere else -- leased, and with the consent of the governed. When the politics of the Phillipines went against US bases there, we abandoned a major naval base as well as an enormous airbase, and likely multiple smaller Army facilities as well. We DO leave when we're not wanted.

This comes down to a Sunni vs. Shi'a fight in Iraq, and as Voltaire observed, God is on the side with the largest divisions. Iraq will be immensely more peaceful when the Sunni leave the country. Sad, but true.

And of course the terrorists see this as a win, because it validates one of their main principles -- that the United States can't stay in a fight. The warrior spirit of the jihad will overcome technological superiority, and given enough time they will come close enough in technological partiy that their superior martial spirit will carry the day in any battle. What they've been saying all along, that the US is a paper tiger, is being proven true. It's not that our soldiers are wimps or cowards, I would have to say that the jihadis by now know better than to have a stand-up fight with the US Army or Marines. They just know where the weak points are, and the weakest point is the civilian hand that directs the military. They don't have to defeat the US military, the largest impediment to their eventual goal of a restored caliphate. They just have to get us to vote to make them go away, and the battles that they would continue to lose simply never happen.

Absolutely they're happy. And if we leave before the moderates are capable of ariculating a policy in military and security terms and are eventually defeated, well that's just another pennant to add to their battle flag, and yet another warning to any moderate in the Middle East -- the US will embolden you, and then abandon you. If you confront us, you'll lose -- your country, your family, your head.

The approval of the terrorists doesn't make things automatically right or wrong, but in this case if we leave Iraq unstable and vulnerable in the interest of domestic politics we will have done ourselves a generations-long disservice. The Islamist principles are foolish on the face, until we go and prove them right. At that point they don't need to burnish their reputation in the Muslim world -- we will have done it for them.

Bangladesh update

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury had his day in court yesterday, pled not guilty. The witnesses for his trial will be called on January 22, 2007. His report of the trial is here, an admittedly obscure location for a sadly obscure story. The Australian has a story about him, the New York Sun had a recent editorial about him, and the WSJ Op-Ed is listed in the prior story. Word is beginning to get out.

This trial date is relatively important because Bangladesh will be having Parliamentary elections in January 2007 (date TBA, as far as I can find out), at which it's very possible that Islamist parties will gain seats and influence beyond their current coalition government with the ruling party, the BNP. If this happens, the Islamist judge in this case will have considerable backup in making a death penalty verdict stick. Hard to believe that I find myself on the same side as Amnesty International and Freedom House, but strange situations do make strange bedfellows.

More congressional pressure would be better, email or call your Congressman and Senators. It only takes a minute and doesn't cost anything, and you might save somebody's life.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Note About The Elections

Yes, I voted. Electronically. I assume it counted, everyone I voted for won, as far as I know.

Nationally, things didn't go entirely the way I would have wanted. The GOP simply didn't do a good enough job to win re-election, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. The crusaders of 1994 were replaced by the incumbents of 2004, and running to keep your job is different than running to do the work of the people. It certainly reflects different electoral results. In 1994 it was +56 House seats for the Republicans, but then they were the recipients of the House Bank scandal and a general fed-upness with 40 years of Democratic rule.

The Iraq War was third behind the 'corruption' and 'the economy' in things leading people to make decisions, according to exit polling. Third, it should be noted, is not first. Yes, it's important, but nationwide it didn't carry the day. Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay (who will be acquitted, IMO), as well as The Bridge To Nowhere, The Railroad to Nowhere, pork by the barrel-full and a host of other issues doomed the Republicans, pretty much all acts they performed to their own detriment. I think that had the GOP balanced a budget now and then they would still be in office despite Iraq, but that's just my opinion.

The interesting thing is that most of the Democrats who won did so by running to the right of Republicans, we're seeing the resurgence of the 'Blue Dog' Democrat, at least at the polls. Immigration was a big issue the GOP couldn't manage to touch. At least if they had passed a tough immigration bill it would be law, as things stand they didn't materially address immigration and they dropped from 40% of the Hispanic vote to 25%, and lost anyway. The '700 mile fence' has not been funded, so at this point it's simply statutory authority. Not a post will be driven until it's funded, and that's most likely off the table now. Yet another failing.

I don't envy Nancy Pelosi her job. The majority in Congress is now the GOP plus the conservative Democrats, if the Blue Dogs can muster themselves as a caucus they can block anything the liberal wing tries to pass that seems beyond the pale. I would be surprised if we don't get a minimum wage increase, Bush seems eager to sign such a bill despite the economic evidence that it will result in loss of jobs. Of course, with a 4.6% unemployment rate there aren't a lot of jobs to be lost, and it's likely that few if any people are making minimum wage at this point. I made more than minimum wage as a cashier at Sam's in 1989-90, and with a tight job market anyone offering minimum wage will have a hard time finding decent workers. What this does is to put upward pressure on union contracts, and hey, that's pretty much what Ford and GM need right now is increased labor costs, right?

Losing the Senate was bummer. I really didn't believe the Dems would win all of the at-risk Republican seats, but they did. Nice to see Lieberman win -- again, by running to the right of his Democratic Party challenger. He won't flip to the GOP, Harry Reid is too smart to treat him like a stepchild and put the Senate back to 50-50 (i.e., GOP control with the Vice-President casting the deciding vote). He said as much, and I don't see Joe changing his mind. He's a person of principles. Nice to have oppostion you can respect.

I don't see Charlie Rangel's House Ways And Means Committee defunding the troops in the field, so a Congressionally-mandated pullback is unlikely. Iraq is truly a thorny problem, particularly for Democrats who observe that the US didn't send sufficient forces and give the answer for that deficiency as removing our existing forces. The answer to "not enough" is "none", apparently. Must be the math they teach you in Congressional Budgeting Class. I imagine there will be lots of committee meetings and some document or another will be produced. It probably won't be 'the answer' either. There is some suspicion that a successful exit from Iraq isn't in the Dems' political wish-list, at least not until there's a Democratic President to welcome them home. To be honest, the one thing Iraq needs more than anything else (aside from prayer) is time.

Bush should have accepted Rumsfeld's resignation a year ago, but last Wednesday was enough of a bad news day that cutting Rumsfeld loose is as good a time as you can choose. Bob Gates is reportedly a very smart man, if he's good enough for Texas A&M he's good enough for the Pentagon. There is some idea among some hawks that this will be justification for upping the number of troops in Iraq -- I don't see that happening. Getting our guys out of the cauldron is a noble goal, but getting them out and letting Iraq descend to chaos isn't a desirable outcome. About the only thing the various warring factions in Iraq agree upon is that a stand-up fight with the US is a bad idea. We're the militia for people who don't have militias, at least until a stable and professional Iraqi Army and Police can be trained. From what I read, the Police are the bigger challenge, the Iraqis don't have a history of clean cops.

Funny that you don't hear a lot about how the elections were stolen by Diebold this time. It's not because of the margin of victory, most of the races were pretty close. On this list of district results, ten of the elections were decided by 10,000 votes or less in the Democrats' favor. The balance of the Senate was decided by a roughly 7,000 vote margin in Virgina, and by about 2,500 votes in Montana. These were fairly close elections, the kind it's far easier to steal. I'd be happy to go back to paper ballots and optical scan in return for identity verification in voting. If you have to show your ID to write a check, is it such an imposition to do so when you vote?

So, in summary, the GOP is back in the Congressional wilderness for a while. Much like Moses, the GOP struck the rock from whence the water came, rather than giving credit to the source of their power -- in this case the voters, the conservatives who put them in office. When you don't govern in a conservative manner, you're unlikely to get re-elected by those people. I hope they'll spend these two years in deep thought and return in 2008 with a new Contract With America that will last for more than 12 years before devolving into the sodden mess that was the 109th Congress. I hope the Blue Dogs will be as conservative as they portrayed themselves, maybe it will stop the humming sound coming from Scoop Jackson's grave (created by him spinning like a lathe) whenever we hear Democrats who can't decide who they want to win in Iraq get in front of a microphone. And lastly, I hope the media features our new Democratic Overlords in all their glory. I anticipate some significant buyer's regret in the coming years.

A Letter to the Senator

Dear Senator Cornyn,

I'm a happy constituent and supporter, and I'm looking forward to supporting your reelection in 2008.

I'm writing in regard to Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a journalist in Bangladesh who is facing a criminal trial beginning tomorrow for a variety of charges that come down to, in my opinion, advocating relations with Israel and criticising Islamic radicalism. He himself is a Muslim, one of the "moderate voices" that is so necessary in this day in the Muslim world. If convicted, and conviction seems likely, he faces a sentence of death. The death sentence can be commuted by the President of Bangladesh if there is a "national interest", or so I am led to believe.

I recognize that Bangladesh is an important partner in the current conflict against terrorism, and that USAID has indicated that they will be sending up to $175 million in health aid alone to Bangladesh in the next five years, in addition to other foreign aid committments we have there. It would seem that sparing the life of a moderate Muslim, potentially a leader for Bangladesh that offers a worldview other than radicalism would be "in the national interest" of both Bangladesh and the United States. Executing someone for publishing the very things the US is trying to promote abroad would seem to be a fairly retrograde move for both the US and Bangladesh.

I am writing the US Ambassador in Dhaka as well as your office, and I'll be praying for the guy as well. Any help you could offer in this regard would be appreciated.



Darren Duvall, MD
Longview, TX

This is a travesty in the making. I sincerely hope the United States steps in here and makes it clear in no uncertain terms what's going to happen to the checks flowing from Foggy Bottom (the home of the State Department) if this guy is executed. He's already been imprisoned and beaten for expressing an opinion that differs from the Islamists', if they take his life they should kiss our aid good-bye, as far as I am concerned. Bangladesh has already seen Islamist bombings, this is a choice-point for them. If their justice system becomes a tool of the Islamists as well, it seems that we know what side they're on.

Seems a shame that the same year the Nobel Peace Prize winner comes from Bangladesh this happens, but neither of those decisions are in the realm of US control. We sure can control where our money goes.

I don't do this often, but if this seems rotten to you, write your Congressman as well.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Statement from Massachusetts

From the Office of William Joseph "Bill" Buckner:

As a baseball veteran, I want to make it clear to anyone in a Red Sox uniform and to their loved ones: my poorly-played grounder at first base on October 25, 1986 was not about, and never intended to refer to any Red Sox fan.

I sincerely regret that my booting of a routine grounder misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything about there having to be a Game 7 in 1986, which we lost, and I personally apologize to any teammate, Red Sox fan, or American who was offended.

It is clear the New York Yankee fans would rather talk about anything but their failed postseason this year. I don’t want my fielding slip to be a diversion from the real issues. I will continue to fight for a change of glove to provide real defensive play for the 1986 Red Sox, and a winning strategy for our baseball club.

You know, if verbal gaffes "don't count" anymore, who's going to tell Trent Lott and George Allen?

Oooh, SNAP

Kerry is such a tool. I get that he may have been making a joke at the expense of the President, but if he had any objectivity he would a) consider his history of insulting not only the troops at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, but his own Secret Service detail in 2004, b) understand that HE said what he said, it wasn't a GOP dirty trick that he bobbled his line, and c) hold a press conference in which he read from the DoD statistics about how the average recruit scores higher than the rest of the population in reading and aptitude tests, and how in fact the Armed Forces are overall one of the best-educated portions of the American society. Followed by an apology for any offense.

His attempts to reframe his comments or defend them are only prolonging this little grease fire, at a rather poor time for the Democrats. They'd rather be talking about anything else, instead of parsing language and trying to back and fill for their 2004 Presidential candidate. This should have been a one-day story if Kerry had handled it well. He didn't. Now we'll be lucky if this gets off the front pages by Friday, and isn't sucking all the oxygen out of the Democratic message on Sunday as well. Strictly from a problem-nanagement standpoint, this is a superb example of what not to do.

And yes, the GOP is piling on, but seriously -- if the Democrats can't handle asymmetric warfare in an election, what makes you believe they can handle it in the real world?

"Don't load your enemies' guns for them" is some good anti-malpractice advice I have gotten. The other common-sense advice is "When you're in a hole, stop digging."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Via Instapundit:

14-year old shoots suspected burglar inside his home

CORPUS CHRISTI - Police are investigating what happened during a home burglary that left the suspect dead and neighbors in shock.

It happened Monday afternoon at a home in the 4200 block of Ocean Drive. A 14-year-old boy shot and killed a man who broke into his family's home Monday and threatened to kill him and his mother, Police Chief Bryan Smith said.

Smith said the man, confronted a woman as she was carrying groceries into her home shortly before 1 p.m. The man forced her inside and tied her and her son up. Smith said the woman was able to loosen the binding and free her son, who got his father's revolver from a security box beneath a bed.

As the man tried to break into the room where the two were and threatened to kill them both, the teen fired a shot through the door and hit the intruder in the head, Smith said.

The crime is being investigated. While the DA is not likely to pursue murder or manslaughter charges, felony wallhacking charges have not been ruled out.

Brave kid, and a hard thing to have to do. Some will say that the mother and son should have pursued bilateral talks with the home invader, but I guess the son had a "either your're with us or you're with the violent criminals" policy.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea: The Leper's Defense

It seems that North Korea has successfully tested a nuclear weapon. At this point, until the "sniffer" planes land and their screens are analyzed, the best proof of that in the media is a shallow, magnitude 4.2 earthquake in the same region where the NoKos said they had successfully tested a bomb. The earlier report was of a magnitude 3.5 quake, equivalent to a 550 ton explosion. This could very well have been a conventional explosion designed to be perceived as a nuclear test, but the later upgrading to 4.2 magnitude suggests a weapon in the 1 kiloton range. That's a lot of conventional high explosives to fool everyone else into believing that the North Koreans have successfully detonated a nuclear bomb. The "sniffer" planes are right now patrolling the air around North Korea, trying to pick up any fragments of nuclear material that may have escaped the test site, things not found normally in nature that are definitive proof of a nuclear explosion. Until then, we have the word of the Russians that there has been successful detonation of something in the "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" class of nuclear weapons. The data so far suggests a far smaller weapon than Little Boy, which was 15kT. It's possible the North Koreans are the first to fail their intial fission bomb test, but it's also possible they're successful, and in any event it's disturbing that they want to be seen as such.

Surprising? No. This particular science experiment was first performed over 60 years ago. Given the proper parts, I could probably assemble the most primitive kind of nuclear weapon: one slug of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) slammed into another slug, making a critical mass and a few microseconds later, a nuclear detonation. I don't know enough about the analysis of nuclear test fallout to know if they'll be able to tell whether it was a plutonium bomb or a HEU device, in some ways a plutonium bomb would be worse, since that implies the ability to build an "implosion" device, which is much more sophisitcated but still a 60 year-old achievement. It's difficult to get a pure fission bomb to yield more than 40 kilotons of explosive power, a test above that level would be much, much more worrisome since it would imply a "boosted fission" or thermonuclear bomb.

If history is any guide, the delivery system for a first-generation nuclear bomb is basically, a train. It weighs a couple of tons, barely fits into the bomb bay of a WW II-era B-29, and is a cantankerous piece of hardware. In other words, this is proof of the ability to make a science project explode, but a long way from mounting one of these bad boys on a missile. Many more tests will be necessary before a nuclear weapon can be miniaturized and hardened to take the stresses of a ballistic launch and reentry.

The next logical question is, "What happens now?" Your 24-hour cable channel of choice will provide you with what is happening, but some additional background may be helpful.

The North Koreans field one of the largest armies on earth, at least numerically, but in real terms the greatest impediment to any significant change in the governance of the country is this:

Call it the 'Leper's Defense'. Nobody wants responsibility for the care and feeding of 20 million starving, indoctrinated Communist skeletons, so this would be a war no outside power is interested in winning. By making his country so impoverished and decrepit, Kim Jong-Il has successfully made his country nearly invulnerable. There is very little the North Koreans as a country do well, besides export arms and counterfeit currency. South Korea is fully aware of the difficulties that prosperous West Germany had in absorbing its Eastern bretheren, a decade's worth of economic disruption from which the united Germany has yet to fully recover. Twenty million more peasants in China would likely be a rounding error, but China doesn't want a direct border with South Korea and most likely doesn't want to be seen as the "occupiers" of North Korea, where the children are weaned on nationalism and very little food. The Japanese are the boogeymen of some North Koreans in living memory, despite sixty years of good behavior since, and while they would likely be ready to help with humanitarian aid they wouldn't likely be welcomed in any capacity. Something about their atrocities in the 1930s and 1940s makes them a poor candidate.

As far as the US provoking regime change, North Korea is lousy tank country and the South Koreans have no interest in the US starting a war and imperiling their economy. Seoul is closer to the DMZ than Dulles Airport is to the Capitol Building, and North Korean artillery can shell Seoul and its prosperous suburbs at will, possibly with chemical agents. While the North Korean nukes aren't deliverable per se, they make rather nasty things to leave behind for your enemies to overrun when you tactically retreat. The country of North Korea is very mountainous, favoring the defender and not ideal for the combined-arms (air-infantry-armor-artillery) operations at which the US excels. Even if the US wanted to invade it would take weeks to assemble the equipment and supplies for a protracted campaign. We did the amphibious invasion at Inchon once, I doubt they'll fall for that one twice.

The only option that seems reasonable at this point is a complete land-sea-air embargo of North Korea until there is regime change -- except that we're back to the Leper Defense. Who wants to "win" the care and feeding of North Korea, with goodness-knows how many stay-behind communists operating out of concealed bases? Relatively speaking, Iraq is an easier proposition, both in the conquest and in the post-conquest phase, even with the Islamic insurgency and the incredible amounts of IED-makings stored around that country. The best hope in this situation is that there is a military junta with sympathies to nominally-communist China (as opposed to the insanely Stalinist-Communist dictatorship there now) can take control, and in exchange for dismatling of the nuclear program (and weapons exports) the rest of the world can provide the aid the North Korean people so desperately need, as well as the connection to the outside world they so severly lack. Whether this can happen is beyond knowing, at this point.

The other very interested observers at this point are the Iranians, who are 5-10 years behind the North Koreans (we hope) in assembling of nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons. How the world responds to North Korea will give Iran tactical information about how to proceed with their own nuclear program. A drastic and effective world response that results in the overthrow of the North Korean government and Kim Jong-Il swinging from a lamppost is unlikely to encourage Iran to further pursue their nuclear ambitions, though deterrence is unlikely short of the US incinerating the North Koreans with nuclear weapons. That MIGHT get their attention, depending on how much stock they put in the supernatural abilities of the Twelfth Imam.

On the plus side, a couple of things are now clear. "Engagement" and the "Sunshine Policy" of the South Koreans is now shown to be bankrupt. Why the world needed further proof that you can't buy off a dictator forever is a mystery but here's the proof, yet again. The lack of utility of international bodies like the UN and IAEA when engaging a regime that doesn't respond to shame, isolation and sharply-worded communiques is also now apparent. Russia and China's responses to the North Korean test may cause them to reconsider their support for Iran's nuclear program, and it's possible that the Europeans will also realize that engagement has its limits with governments who are willing to talk while their centrifuges spin, then demand when their weapons are complete.

Interesting times.

In the near term, expect Japan to repeal Article 9 of its Constitution forbidding offensive war. Japan has a large nuclear industry and extensive rocket technology, they'll be nuclear-armed within a decade if the Kim Jong-Il regime persists. South Korea's civilian government is a relatively new thing, most of South Korea's history has been as a military dictatorship. It's unlikely that the South Korean military will tolerate anything it sees as a half-hearted response to North Korea's nuclear provocation. The sun has most likely abruptly gone down on the Sunshine policy of engagement with North Korea, and if it hasn't there is high likelihood of a military coup there. This development is unlikely, in my opinion, to result in a South Korean invasion of North Korea. South Korea is relatively rich and prosperous, and has little to gain in an invasion, though if they chose to do it I imagine the US would help.


1. UN does nothing of substance.
2. US siezes North Korean ships at sea under the Proliferation Security Initiative.
3. Barring regime change, another North Korean nuclear test within a year.
4. Outisde chance of a complete embargo until regime change.
5. The media and the DNC will declare this test the result of failed foreign policy by the Bush Administration, and Bill Clinton will say that everything was fine on his watch, and that he came closer to killing Kim Jong-Il than any President before or since.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Great Moments in Parenting II

We're sitting around the table at Dudley's, a cajun restaurant in Longview. Me, Marci and the kids, along with Marci's mother, Marci's sister Kylee and her son Caidin, and the Marci's grandmother.

Ross has returned from an overnight stay with his friend who lives out in the country and is creeping the rest of us out with his tales of giant yellow-and-white banana spiders out in the fields.

"Ross," I say, noting the looks of veiled horror around the table. "This is not appropriate talk for the table."

"Okay." But within a few minutes, it became clear that the giant spiders was his only conversational gambit, and again he started up with, "We found this big spider and--"

Eating at a cajun restaurant, it's best to just enjoy the food, IMO, and not consider its provenance. Conversation regarding spiders interferes with the willing suspension of disbelief.

I give him the firm, "ROSS." Follow it up with a stern look. He turns back to his chicken strips. Finally after a couple of minutes, he leans over to Marci and says:

"Do you think I could talk about them if I called them 'arachnids'?"

Monday, August 21, 2006

Great Moments in Parenting

Some of the best times of being a parent are when you're trying not to laugh, but just can't help yourself.

For instance, one wonderful afternoon this past spring, Madeline, our then-first-grade daughter had just painted the planets for her solar system model. Seeing as the day was nice and she and Marci had been out on the back porch anyway, we had lunch outdoors.

Seated around the table, the educator in me saw a teachable moment to review some scientific facts. I began to quiz the kids about the planets.

"Starting from the closest to the sun and moving out, can you name the planets? What's the first planet?"

"Venus!" responded Maddie.

"No, close. It's the hottest and smallest of the planets." Confused looks, no answers. "It's Mercury. What's the second planet from the sun?"

"I know this one," says Maddie. "Venus."

"Right!" I respond. "Now, what's the third planet from the sun?"

"Jupiter?" she ventures. "Nope," I respond.

"Mars?" she asks. "Nope." Seeing that she's flailing, I throw her a line.

"Give you a hint, you're sitting on it right now." A moment of pensive silence follows.

"Uranus?" offered Ross.

I don't know if they knew why Mom and Dad caught each others' eye shortly before exploding into laughter, and we did not explain why we found it impossible to not laugh.

What A Wife

It appears that the blog is rapidly devolving into a shotgun site, so to speak, but I have to brag on my lovely wife, who is not only smokin' hot and unbelievably organized, but has also decided that she wants to learn to shoot Sporting Clays.

Marci is a good pistol shot considering the relatively poor quality of instruction (mine) and the few times she's been to the range. She says it's the steady hands of an old-school graphic designer, but I think there's also a certain amount of innate ability there. After listening to me rave about Sporting Clays, she's decided that this is what she wants to try for a husband-wife sport, and I'm pleased beyond words.

Sporting Clays is in many ways a lot like golf, in that if you begin and learn bad habits you'll spend a lot of time unlearning the things that "feel right" but are actually wrong, so this past weekend we headed off to Prairie Creek Sporting Clays in nearby Gladewater, a Sporting Clays course and the home of Steve Brown. Steve is a Level III NSCA-certified instructor, the highest level of certification in Sporting Clays. He's so dedicated to teaching that he, a right-handed and right-eye dominant man, shot left handed for a year to be able to understand what it's like to shoot cross-dominant (when your dominant eye and dominant hand are opposite) and to be a better instructor. There's not a lot of people that would intentionally handicap themselves that way once they've reached the apex of their sport, but he did it to be a better teacher, something I can respect.

Marci is left-hand and left-eye dominant, so that's not going to be her problem. To be honest, after talking with Steve for an hour Saturday morning, Marci is even more enthusiastic about our upcoming actual lesson with guns and everything this coming Friday. Steve has a lot of empirical experience, and has inferred a lot about neurophysiology and how your brain works while shooting. In wingshooting instruction there are two schools, for lack of better descriptors the "instinctual" school and the "computational" school. Strong adherents of each school find no validity in the other and there are sometimes heated debates about the "proper" method of instruction, but Steve's experience and discussions with investigators at MIT who delve into visual processing may be the Grand Unified Theory of Wingshooting.

What was fascinating in hearing him discuss the debate and the underlying visual-neural processes was that he was explaining both my own shooting experience and my experience in sports in general. Apparently, it depends on what part of your visual receptors you're paying more attention to, the fovea (sharp central vision) or the periphery (the rest). Steve says the image in the fovea, the narrow cone of central sharpest vision is processed virtually instantaneously, and that the information from that perception is available immediately to your subconscious motor control. When you're tracking an object with this sharp, central vision there is no conscious calculation involved in shooting it, my experience of this kind of shooting is that it "feels" mentally like you're reaching out with your hand to slap down the target rather than consciously firing the shotgun.

The other way that you can hit a target is with brute-force computation, and in my experience this is not as natural-feeling as the "reach out and slap" experience. The peripheral vision is not processed in real time, and can induce a delay of up to 2/10th of a second, meaning that you are typically behind on a flying target. When this happens, my "inner" Fire Control Director will observe a bird in flight and give me a big shrug of the conceptual shoulders as to the time and place to shoot. That is never a good feeling, and results in a "lost bird" (miss) often as not. It's like my left brain gives up on the computations and I'm on my own.

What's really interesting to me is that I have experienced precisely the same thing on the golf course. The best golf shots I hit are practically out-of-body experiences, I have to disconnect or distract the computational parts of my brain, and my inner subconscious golfer, who actually knows how to make the shot, is able to direct my motion to the desired outcome. When I stand over a golf ball and find myself thinking intensely about what I have to do with this particular shot, more often than not I don't achieve the desired result.

Something else that Steve mentioned also resonated well, that the subconscious does not respond directly to words or mathematical equations or higher-order descriptors of language. You can't speak directly to your subconscious, it understands metaphors and feelings better than words. In practice, you can tell yourself (as I do, often, on the golf course) to "slow down" or "follow through" without any apparent effect. But visualizing molases slowly pouring out of a jar on a cold morning will get the idea of "slow" across to your subconscious systems.

This is a problem for me in particular, Steve said, because I rely so much on the logical and computational parts of my psyche. If I didn't have ready access to them, I wouldn't have my current job and wouldn't have stuck through an extra four years of schooling and residency. My fallback defense for a challenging situation is to try to think harder, because that works for most everything else I do. In a sports or physical performance situation, that is probably the wrong thing to do, because conscious interference will actually degrade performance. He said that there is a place for thinking in Sporting Clays, but that place is before you begin shooting, not when the shotgun is on your shoulder and the bird is in the air. I have to believe that this concept will help me with golf, as well. "Swing thoughts" are to be considered before the swing, and should be more of the allegorical and metaphorical variety, rather than brute force commands with physiologic monitoring in near-real time. Basically, think before you act, then act without thinking.

It was a fascinating conversation, you generally don't expect to hear about neurophysiology and visual processing when you go to talk to a fella from East Texas about shooting a shotgun. Marci and I are both looking forward to Friday and bustin' some birds.

As far as the shotgun selection goes, Steve said that left-handed folks shoot right-eject semi-auto shotguns without difficulty all the time, and that about 60% of his female clients shot semiautos, with the other 40% shooting over-unders. When talking about the relative merits of both, he got as far as "The over-under is much easier to clean, if that's important to you," before Marci and I shared a knowing look. Neat freak wife = over-under shotgun. He also told the story of his own wife, who started with a custom 28-gauge and came in third in her first tournament. Someone told her, "You shot really well, if you used a 20-gauge you probably would have done better." So she got a 20-gauge, practiced, and came in second at the next tournament, at which some helpful soul said, "You probably would have won if you had used a 12-gauge." Needless to say, in Steve's personal and expensive experience, he felt Marci should use a 12-gauge with reduced-recoil loads to begin with. He has a beater Beretta AL391 with a ladies-length stock for her, and I imagine she'll start with a semi-auto on Friday. I also imagine there is a Beretta Silver-something over-under in her future.

I don't know why, but there's just something inherently cool about a beautiful, intelligent woman who can blast things with a shotgun, and asks you to take her to the range. Pics and a report this weekend!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The New (S)hotness

Note: I promised more than a whole war ago to review my Benelli Nova Tactical pump-action shotgun, and before the last war I wrote a whole article with pictures and everything only to have a Blogger service outing wipe out the whole thing before I could save it. And since I had promised that review next, I have to write this before I get anything else out, so here it is.

If there's anything that convinced me of the need for personal protection, it was the breakdown in social order that followed Hurricane Katrina. Now, New Orleans was never highly-regarded for social order, probably part of its appeal, but there's something about portable firepower that has a way of convincing ne'er-do-wells that things are actually better with the cops around. Cops have rules. Homeowners, eh, not so much.

When it comes to firepower, one definition is "the relative capacity for delivering fire on a target". In firearms literature, this is usually some combination of rapidity of fire combined with the impact of fire on the target, with some debate about slower & heavier vs. faster & smaller. One thing that is relatively not debated is the apex of short-range defensive weapons available to civilians: concealed-carry concerns aside, the winner is always the shotgun.

Seeing as the shotgun is a smoothbore weapon as at home in the 18th century as the 21st, this would seem to be counter-intuitive. Part of the reason for the utility of the shotgun is the inherent flexibility in choice of projectile. Shotguns can shoot birdshot (tiny pellets), buckshot (multiple large pellets between .17 and .36 caliber), and slugs (one single large ball of lead or copper). You can hunt anything from dove to bear with a shotgun, and have a reasonable chance of success. In addition to the metallic projectiles, there is bizarre variety of other projectiles that can be loaded into a 12-gauge barrel that is .729 inches in diameter, from beanbags to little darts (flechettes) to illuminating rounds to bags of metallic poweder designed to blow a lock apart without killing anyone on the other side. The shotgun survives in part due to its flexibility.

But the original claim was in regard to short-range firepower, and a bit of math is due here. The fastest pistol shooter in the world is Jerry Miculek of Bossier City, Lousiana. Mr. Miculek can fire eight .356-diameter .38 Special rounds in one second, and cover the group with the palm of his (large) hand at ten feet. He's a freak, and he's the best. Heckler & Koch's famous MP-5 submachine gun is a 9mm weapon reknown for reliability and controllability in full-auto fire. A trained operator can fire 13 9mm (.356 diameter) rounds in one second, and most likely hit his target with nearly all of them.

By comparison, a single round of 12-gauge 000 buck fires eight .36-caliber balls in one trigger pull. Assuming you can rack the slide and pull the trigger in one second (not difficult at all), a shotgun user can get 16 projectiles on target faster than any other hand-held means. With proper motivation, three shots a second are possible for a total of 24 aimed projectiles per second. And if you shoot a slug, the impact is appreciably greater, with a 429-grain (one ounce) lead slug moving out at 1600 fps or greater. By comparison a .44 Magnum fires a 240-grain bullet at roughly the same speed. The impact is significantly more powerful at short range than all but the heaviest big-game rifles. In short, a shotgun has 100% more firepower than the fastest pistol shooter in the world, at least 20% more than a fully-automatic submachinegun, and you can buy them with nothing more than a Form 4473. Ain't this a great country?

So the 12-gauge shotgun owns the flexibility and firepower titles. And a further feather in its cap is the fact that shotguns are less likely to be dangerous at long ranges in case you miss. The round projectiles of a shotgun lose energy in the air much easier than aerodynamic bullets, even for strictly defensive purposes you must be sure of your backstop up to 3 miles beyond your target with a rifle like an AR-15 or AK-47, and even pistols pack a punch at long range. Using a weapon defensively, a major goal is to not shoot through walls and injure noncombatants, and to not cause injuries to those uninvolved. Shotgun shot in the BB range (.17-caliber) is not predicted to penetrate a wall with lethal force, and is not expected to be even injurious beyond 80 yards or so. It can be disconcerting to have birdshot fall on you on the Sporting Clays course, but it's unlikely to hurt you. Properly used, a shotgun will hurt what needs hurting and protect what needs protecting.

And as far as the pump-action, it's reliable and simple and requires less cleaning than a semi-automatic weapon. It's relatively insensitive to ammo choices and won't balk at light or heavy loads. Plus, the distinctive sound of a pump-action shotgun being loaded has a cachet and deterrent effect all its own.

When it comes to buying a pump, there are numerous options from Winchester/FN, Remington, Mossberg, Maverick and a variety of foreign makers as well as specialty manufacturers like Wilson Combat's Scattergun Technologies division. Making a personal defense shotgun generally involves obtaining a shotgun with a shortened barrel, to allow for maneuverability in enclosed spaces. Different sights may be selected and an extended magazine added to increase the number of rounds carried, a small magazine capacity being one of the drawbacks of a shotgun. I considered the FN Tactical Police model, and the Mossberg 590 series, but they're both a little more than I wanted to spend. Instead of buying a Remington 870 or a Maverick 88 and doing all of this work myself, I went with the Benelli Nova Tactical.

Ordered from the factory, it comes with a legal 18.5" improved cylinder barrel and "ghost-ring" sights well-suited for fast and accurate target acquisition. The Nova came out in the 1990s, and has been proven over time to be a reliable and simple design. The forend and stock are plastic to reduce weight and signs of wear, with a plastic receiver holding a metal insert for strength. The unitary stock prevents adding a pistol grip or folding stock, two things that other than the Knoxx CompStock I find to be unnecessary.

Being unable to leave well-enough alone, I added a Weaver rail to accept a secondary sight like an EOTech or Aimpoint, and a magazine extension tube from TacStar. Benelli has unaccountably stopped selling magazine extensions to civilians, and rather than paying $150 for one on E-Bay I went with the TacStar aftermarket one for $50 and also added a "sidesaddle" shell carrier on the left side of the receiver that holds four extra rounds for faster reloads or flexibility in load selection. The pump action allows me to switch quickly between slug and buckshot depending on the range to the threat. I can put a slug on target to about 50 yards or so, which is a relatively long shot for buckshot and gives me -- again -- flexibility.

The gun itself was $371, the Weaver rail plus installation was $105, the mag extension was $50 and the shell carrier $30, for an all-up cost of $556 or so, tax and shipping included. Compared to the Scattergun Technology offerings, which start at a grand or more, this seems to be a rather cost-effective system. The Nova is one of the few shotguns, especially in this price range, to allow use of 3-1/2 inch 12-gauge shells for shooting at geese and, I guess, tanks and APCs. I don't plan to use these, the standard 2-3/4" shells work fine and with the magazine extension I can carry seven in the tube and one in the chamber, for a total of 8 shots. Added to the four on the sidesaddle, that's an even dozen 12-gauge rounds on or in the gun, enough to deal with nearly any eventuality. Empty and with the stated modifications, it weighs 7.6 lbs and handles well. Pumps can be stiff from the factory, this one is not. The ghost-ring sights are adjustable if need be, and work very well for aiming. The trigger is smooth and doesn't have much in the way of creep or overtravel, at least in my opinion. It's not glass-rod smooth, but this isn't a target rifle.

So it looks intimidating as heck, particularly when being held by someone as big as me, but how does it shoot? The Wife and I took a trip to the lovely East Texas Rifle and Pistol Club for some shooting. As I had never before fired slugs or buckshot, I went to Academy and loaded up on Remington Express (i.e., inexpensive) 1 oz. slugs and No. 4 buckshot (.24-caliber), tossed in some IPSC targets of roughly humanoid shape and drove the few miles to the club.

East Texas Rifle & Pistol Club, one of the five ranges

Having recently fired a couple hundred rounds of #7 1/2 shot at the ACU Sporting Clays event (where our team took third without practicing, have I mentioned that?), I had some recent memory of what recoil in a gas-operated semiautomatic shotgun is like, and this brings me to the other drawback of shotguns. They do not repeal Newton's Laws, if you're throwing a lot downrange, it will throw a lot back at you. Standard slugs have considerable recoil, more than my brother's .308 and more than I have fired previously in a shoulder-mounted weapon. Not enough to make me flinch, but enough to make me know that something powerful just happened. The short barrel (9.5 inches shorter than my Beretta AL391) and light weight (8-9 lbs loaded) of this shotgun are no help in this regard. If the Nova had the ability to add aftermarket stocks I would probably go with the Knoxx Compstock as I have seen this recommended in many publications. As it is, I will probably shoot my Remington Express for practice and carry Remington Reduced-Recoil Slugs. Why get beat up? Benelli also offers a mercury weight system in the stock to add another 13 ounces, but I have heard varying reports on the effectiveness of this addition.


And after: As you can see from the target, fired standing offhand at 25 yards, it's accurate enough for combat purposes and leaves BIG holes, the diameter of my index finger. Any of those hits is going to be instantly incapacitating and most likely lethal.

I fired two rounds each of #4 buckshot at 10 and 15 yards. A pic of me in action:

Shot doesn't spread as much as you'd think, but sometimes more than you want. The rule of thumb is that it spreads one inch a yard, so even at close ranges you still have to aim a shotgun. It's easier to aim with two hands, though, so it works out pretty well compared to a pistol. The larger holes are where the plastic wad that holds the shot in the barrel punched the paper.

Ten yards:

Fifteen yards:

That's 27 .24-caliber pellets per shot, moving out at about 1200fps. This is like you and your 26 best friends firing one shot from one of those cheesy little Raven .25 ACP pistols all at the same target at the same time. Lots of little holes do make a mess. At 15 yards, nearly all pellets stay within the average torso size.

A final note about the sights. Ghost ring sights employ an interesting physiologic ability most people do without thinking. One of the tricks most humans do well is centering something within a circle, in this case the circle is the rear sight that will "ghost out" or become blurry. The thing to be centered is the front post, in this case a nice bright white dot. This works even for people who have age-related nearsightedness, which I do not but will, assuming I live long enough. It's a fast and easy way to get sights on target, and missing with a shotgun doesn't help anybody. The sight picture looks something like this:

In summary, the Benelli Nova Tactical is a relatively inexpensive personal defense weapon. The Nova line has earned a reputation for reliability, and as it has been said that "There are two things you never want to hear around a firearm: a bang when there should be a click, and a click when there should be a bang," the Nova has at least the latter covered. For defensive purposes, it's about ideal for a house gun with appropriate ammo (typically BB shot). And I emphasize defensive purposes, because your ability to hit reliably beyond 75 yards will likely be limited. A rifle can do that, but if it's more than 75 yards from you, it raises a question as to whether or not it's self-defense. If I had to add anything else, I would add a flashlight of some sort for low-light conditions. Particularly for home defense, it's important to know WHAT you're shooting at and WHAT'S BEHIND your target, and sometimes all it takes is the Lithium-Powered Light Of Truth And Justice to make people reconsider their choice of actions.