Friday, December 29, 2006

whoops, wrong hemisphere.

CNN brings us the amusing tale of a young German with a geography deficit. He meant to visit his schnookums in Sydney, Australia...only to end up in Oregon. He was already on the commuter plane to the tiny mining town of Sidney before notifying the airline personnel that there may have been a mix-up.

Apparently, arriving in the United States after a flight from Germany did not perturb him at first, because he thought "you could fly to Australia via the United States." While that is technically true--the planet being roughly spherical in shape--it is certainly not common practice to extend Europe-to-Oz flights by twice the mileage.

It seems that European public schools are rapidly catching up with their American counterparts when it comes to providing students with insufficient geography skills. Now they just need to prune down their language programs, and maybe trade their higher math instruction for high school sports and cheerleading practice.

happy trails.

It looks like Kindly Uncle Saddam is going to swing at the end of a rope within the next 24 hours.

Now, I've mentioned before that i am not a huge fan of the death penalty. My dislike of capital punishment does not mean that I don't recognize certain crimes as worthy of execution, but rather that I find the death penalty to be unevenly and inconsistently meted out in this country.

That said, if there is a candidate for getting his neck snapped by a rope, it's someone who sets up a country as his personal fiefdom, executes political opponents and dissidents at will, and who starts not one, but two lengthy wars of aggression with his neighbors that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. (For the patchouli crowd: Gulf War I was not evil America kicking Iraq out of Kuwait, it was Iraq invading Iran back in 1980, kicking off an eight-year conflict. Gulf War II was the aforementioned eviction of Saddam's goons from Kuwait after they visited that country in force without permission.)

Oh, and it turns out that Arab countries don't use the "Western" method of hanging, whereby a strategically placed knot on the rope stuns the condemned while his own body weight breaks the neck swiftly at the end of a longish drop. They use a short drop method, where the weight of the condemned is not sufficient to break the neck, which results in a comparatively slow death by asphyxiation.

Still, it probably beats dying by poison gas, or getting tossed into a plastic shredder. Uncle Saddam also got more due process than any of the people who had to walk the plank during his reign.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

a decent guy has passed.

There are plenty of posts and news items about the passing of former President Gerald Ford, the "Accidental President", so I won't talk at length about the man.

I do think that his decision to grant Tricky Dick an unconditional pardon was precisely the right one for the country, and I the fact that Ford made that decision even though he knew it would most likely cost him any future election speaks volumes about the man.

Men of such quality are rare in any demographic; among politicians, they are an extinct breed. He may not be remembered for any outstanding foreign or domestic policy achievement, but he made my personal list of Good Presidents, which is rather short. (The current inhabitant of the Oval Office is so far away from that list that if he spontaneously detonated, someone reading my list wouldn't hear the bang for three days.)

Monday, December 25, 2006

ho ho ho.

We loaded up the battle wagon and went east across the mountains for an early Christmas party at the in-laws.

Oy vey.

On the plus side, we got to see everybody, and Quinn scored some epic loot from the rest of the family. They were all amazed at how much he has grown since they saw him last. We had the traditional family Christmas-and-Robin's-mom's-birthday dinner, lobster and steak with half a hundred side dishes.

On the minus side, Quinn didn't want to go to sleep with all the unfamiliar sounds in the house (and the noise coming from the other grandkids, who sounded like they were throwing bowling balls around downstairs), and he kept us up until 2AM. I couldn't put him back in his crib, because he would have screamed the house down and disturbed his infant cousins two rooms over, and letting him stay in bed with us did not make him want to sleep either.

At 2AM, I finally threw in the towel, and we all got dressed to load up the battle wagon again to head back home while I was still awake enough to get us across the mountains again. We got home at 4:30AM, Quinn being awake in the car seat the whole time, and everybody's sleep schedule got messed up severely.

Today, we're just hanging around the house for an uneventful holiday, and that's a-ok with me.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

flight sim geekery.

One of the reasons why I don't have any consoles is that the types of games I like to play just aren't feasible on a console. I've blogged at length about our World of Warcraft addiction, so MMORPGs are definitely up there in my "Favorite Games" category, but my absolute favorite waste of time have always been flight simulators.

In my Commodore 64 days, we used to gather at my friends' homes to play Gunship, flying wire frame vector graphics-modelled Apache helicopters on vector graphics battlefields. Later, I graduated to an Amiga 500, logging countless hours in the Airbus flight simulator, climbing back into the Apache with Gunship 2000, and bombing sub pens in Murmansk with F-117 Stealth Fighter. When I got my first PC, the primary concern was not the kind of productivity software loaded on it, but rather its feasibility to play the state-of-the-art Red Baron and Comanche flight sims. Ever since then, flight sims have had permanent tenure on the hard drives of my successive PCs, and I got years worth of fun out of classics like European Air War and Longbow.

My current tastes have moved away from the military flight sims. I do enjoy a good WWII sim on occasion, even firing up the still-fantastic European Air War on occasion. Props and machine guns require more piloting skills than jet engines and air-to-air missiles. However, most of my virtual stick time is spent behind mundane civilian aviation aircraft in Microsoft's Flight Simulator series. The current iteration is Flight Simulator X, and while it's hard even on beefy systems, the visuals beat anything previously available in the civilian simulator market.

My favorite plane in Flight Simulator used to be the lovely Beechcraft Baron 58, a sleek twin-engined modern plane with wonderful control harmony. With the introduction of FS X, I splurged for the Deluxe Edition, and one of the new offerings has eclipsed the trusty Baron 58 as my favorite. It's the Grumman G-21 Goose, a 1940s-vintage seaplane, and it's an absolute blast to fly. As a flying boat, it can land damn near anywhere in the world, and its runway requirements even with gear-down landings are so low that you can literally put her down on a 500-foot grass strip with room to spare.

Here's a picture of the Goose after a landing in Glasgow--notice how little runway I used before turning onto the taxiway.

I made a trans-Atlantic crossing with the Goose, which has remarkably long legs for a plane of its size. Still, the Goose won't quite make it all the way without refueling stops, so I went from Knoxville to Glasgow by way of Bangor, Goose Bay, Narsarsuaq on Greenland, and Reykjavik on Iceland.

Scottish Lowlands as seen from the cockpit:

Final approach into Glasgow:

Having a digital photo album of simulated trips in digital aircraft is, of course, prime geekery. However, PPLs are expensive to get and maintain, and shared aircraft ownership and hangar rentals are expensive, and this is the closest I'll come to my own plane for the time being. I have watched the progression of realism in flight simulations first-hand for the last decade and a half, and these days you can get commercially available software at CompUSA for a fifty that is good enough for realistic pilot training, complete with IFR flight planning, ATC traffic, fuel management, equipment failure simulations and all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

go and build some more houses, jimmy.

In Bizarro World, our most prominent Habitat for Humanity carpenter has released a book bemoaning Israel's attempts to shield their country from Intifada kids shooting up bus stops and blowing up malls and pizza joints. He's likening Israel's policies to "apartheid", completely ignoring the fact that there are over a million of Israeli Arabs who live and work in Israel as full citizens, with no desire to play the victim card or strapping nail bombs to themselves. Israel's Arab population numbers almost 20% of the total population count. Hell, even the Knesset holds its official business in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Now, that's not to say that the Arab Israelis are singing Kum Bah Yah every night with their yarmulke-wearing neighbors, but claiming that Israel's measures for self-defense amount to the systematic sort of oppression and disenfranchisement of Apartheid-era South Africa is to cheapen the term to the point of ludicrousness.

In the real world, the poor and oppressed Palestinians are busy shooting each other in a dispute about whether Hamas or Fatah are the better choice for the job of collecting aid money while moaning about how the Zionist Oppressor is keeping everyone down.

That's what happens when people elect a bunch of terrorist gunslingers to run a government...arguments are settled in the only way known to them, with AK-47s.

I'm starting to think like the guy on The Onion who stated that "maybe we should stop thinking of it as Middle Eastern Violence, and start thinking of it as Middle Eastern culture."

Monday, December 18, 2006

nine out of ten statists polled hate libertarians.

It's no big secret that I have little love for either Liberals or what passes for Conservatives these days. Fortunately, the lack of love is returned in spades from either group, because if there's one thing those two demographics can agree on, it's their intense dislike of Libertarians. Make yourself logins for a conservative gun board and a liberal discussion board, out yourself as a Libertarian, start a few threads on the right topics, and watch the spittle fly.

What's instructive is the nature of the criticism they level at Libertarians. Republicans/neocons/Constitution Party folks sound a bit like this:

"Libertarians are all a bunch of idealists who just want to smoke pot without being arrested!"

Translation: Libertarians oppose kicking down doors and shooting/incarcerating people over the possession of certain plant byproducts, and where is it going to end if we let that happen?

Liberals and social progressives sound a bit like this:

"Libertarians are heartless and selfish people who would just let people starve on street corners without lending a helping hand!"

Translation: Libertarians oppose extorting people's money at gunpoint to give to other people who need it more, and where is it going to end if we let that happen?

Now, to be sure, there are things about Libertarianism both like, and those are the bits where the Libertarians would just let them engage in their pet freedom. Conservatives like the idea of being able to keep your paycheck and have no restrictions on owning or carrying personal artillery. Liberals like the idea of being able to smoke or ingest whatever they please or boff whatever consenting adult they choose in the privacy of their own home. The sad thing, however, is that neither (R) or (D) would vote for being able to indulge in their own favorite freedoms if it also meant that they couldn't curb the other guy's exercise of his favorite freedom. In other words, they like the part where nobody can tell them what to do, but they hate the part about not being able to tell others what to do.

I have no illusions about the prominence or importance of Libertarianism in the near future of this country. Freedom is a tough sell, and Libertarianism doesn't promise a chicken in every pot, or handcuffs on your favorite kind of victimless criminal. That kind of message doesn't fly too well in a country that's for the most part evenly split between people who want their politicians to promise either the former or the latter in order to get elected.

Isn't it sad, though, that the country of Jefferson and Franklin has turned into a place where the concept of freedom is so unpopular that it draws scorn and ridicule from both sides of the political aisle? We have conditioned successive generations of Liberals and Conservatives to believe that the proper role of government is either to play mommy or daddy to the electorate, and they chuckle when someone suggests that government ought to threat you like a grownup.

(They'll be sure to tell you that they themselves can act like grownups just fine, thank you very much, but that their neighbors just can't be trusted to do the right thing without a little nudge from the government boot.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

but wait, there's more.

While I am on the subject of silly superstition, here's another droll one.

To recap: there are people among us who seriously believe that the position of the planets at the time of someone's birth is not only a valid indicator in determining their personality, but also significant and influential enough to determine that person's chance of an automobile accident.

I'm eager to see the first applications of phrenology when determining insurance rates.

at last, some sanity.

Kudos to the Georgia Board of Education and the Gwinnett County School Board for refusing to dignify fourteenth-century superstitions with official action.

The sad part is that Ms. Mallory "has worked for more than a year" to try and ban reading material not only for her kids, but for every kid in the Gwinnett County school system. How in the frak do you have three kids and time to mount (and publicize) an anti-witchcraft campaign? It reminds me of the South Park episode where the parents all gang up on the network to get the potty-humor show Terrence and Philip banned "for the children", while the kids are being neglected because the parents are out demonstrating and picketing instead of tending to their offspring.

It boggles the mind. I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating: we've harnessed the power of the atom, sent men to the moon, and extended the human lifespan threefold in a hundred and fifty years with the powers of reason and logic, and there are people among us who still believe in the existence of witchcraft.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

say what you want about the italians...

...but they know how to make 'em pretty.

The only Nine currently in my stable, an Italian-made Beretta 92FS. There are 9mm pistols that are smaller, lighter, hold more bullets, or have more extras like luggage racks and spoilers, but few autochuckers are as pleasing to the eye as a Beretta 92. They're also very reliable, and easy to shoot thanks to low recoil.

Back at the gun shop, we had a theory going as to why the Italians put emphasis on making good-looking firearms. I came up with the explanation that surrendering a pretty pistol to an enemy puts them in a good mood. If that is indeed a valid theory, someone needs to tell it to the Frogs, who apparently have "homeliness" at the top of the list of their iron-clad gun design rules.

Monday, December 11, 2006

new arrival in the mac museum.

I recently horse-traded for yet another old Powerbook, and this one is sort of a rare catch.

It's a Powerbook 2400c, the smallest and lightest Powerbook ever made. Apple commissioned IBM to make the 2400c for the Japanese market after doing some research to find out what Japanese users wanted in their laptops. After the American user community expressed interest in a flyweight notebook, Apple relented and released the 2400c in the United States as well, but to date, this little Powerbook is the only Apple notebook only sold in two countries.

The 2400cs were all made between May of 1997 and March of 1998, so they're both technologically obsolete and not very common on the used market. The availability is further limited by the fact that the 2400c is a cult favorite among Macheads, and many owners don't let go of working examples.

The one I managed to snag is pretty much pristine, with very little wear overall, and the original battery even holds a two-hour charge. The 2400c is extremely well put together, made by IBM for Apple during IBMs ThinkPad glory days, and the build quality is outstanding. The screen is only a little over 10 inches in the diagonal, but it's a very sharp and brilliant active-matrix LCD, and the keyboard sports the same scissors-action switches as the later "Wallstreet" Powerbook, generally regarded as having the best keyboard of any laptop ever.

Due to its size and lightness, it has no CD or floppy (the floppy drive was an external option). It's only about the size of a sheet of A4 paper, and so light that toting one around is like lugging an oversized paperback. My 8-pound Wallstreet looks and feels like a behemoth next to the 2400c.

Here's a picture of the 2400c next to my Powerbook G3 "Wallstreet". The 2400c was made some time in 1997, and the Wallstreet dates back to 1998. Both are in perfect working condition, and they run Microsoft Word just as well as a brand new laptop. For portable word processing, they're perfect, more affordable and way more stylish than anything sitting on the shelf at ChumpUSA today. And with their WiFi cards, they can both surf the web without wires as well.

Here at Munchkin Wrangler Central, we embrace the obsolete. The old Powerbooks are classics, and there's a reason why a 1997-era Powerbook will still fetch a c-note or two on eBay while its PC laptop contemporaries are in landfills by now. They're sort of like longer the flashiest kid on the block, and considered ancient by some, they still get the job done in a satisfyingly minimalist fashion.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

mesopotamia again.

I have given some thought to the developments in Iraq lately.

The online gun boards are saturated with arguments about the war, and I have intentionally abstained from commenting on it, because I am sick and tired of repeating myself over and over, and also because most people on these boards have their minds set one way or the other already anyway.

The other day, I read an article that told of a doctor at a Baghdad hospital who said that the majority Shiites had infiltrated the city hospitals to the point where the Shiite militias (Mehdi Army and such) were offering doctors and staff $300 in cash for every patient from a Sunni neighborhood or province they reported when the patient came in. You see, the doctor had noticed a large amount of patient disappearances, some of which were still in recovery from surgery and decidedly non-ambulatory, and he did some research on his own when a staff member pointed him towards said Shiites. The patients would disappear and never be seen again, with inquiries producing results like "the security police came and said he was being transferred to a different hospital".

Then we have reports that the Shiite-led and -dominated security forces and government agencies have actively encouraged raids and interventions in Sunni areas, while discouraging them in Shiite areas. As a recent report states, al-Maliki is either unaware of these actions, surreptitiously supporting them, or powerless to stop them...neither of which bodes well for the impartiality and even-handedness of the new Iraqi government.

The problem with appealing to the national identity of the Iraqis is that most of them don't have one. They don't see themselves as Iraqis first; they identify with their religious sect and their tribe. There are centuries-old grudges present in Iraq (and the region as a whole) between those sects and tribes, and the only time they don't kill each other over millennia-old theological differences or family feuds is when some strong man oppresses them all equally.

Now we've gone in and helped the Shiites who were suppressed by the minority Sunnis, and the Shiites are using their newfound power to extract payback from the Sunnis. There are Shiite death squads abducting Sunni patients from hospitals, and Shiite neighborhoods duking it out via mortar with Sunni neighborhoods. Forget Al-Qaeda in Iraq and their merry band of thugs; the majority of the body count seems to be caused by good old-fashioned sectarian strife, the start of an Iraqi version of Europe's Thirty Years'War.

Democracy and patching roads and rebuilding schools and consensus and diplomacy are kind of pointless at this point. We have enabled the two main religious sects in Iraq to refresh old grudges and lay the seed for new ones that will last for another 800 years. How do you sit down and find a way to jointly run a country with folks who dragged your friends and neighbors out of buses to torture them with electric drills and then shoot them in the head? (Or, conversely, whose folks you tortured and shot to get even in return.) The Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis won't get together and work for the common good anymore than Croats, Serbs and Bosnians will get together any time soon to reform old Yugoslavia.

Note that I am not addressing the terror threat, or our validity for the invasion, or whether "fighting them there keeps us from fighting them here." That's a whole different ball o'wax. This issue concerns the point of our troops remaining in the middle of a full-blown grudgefuck conflict between Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites while serving as both a recruiting tool and a practice ground for the region's Jihadists.

I don't think there's a damn thing that can hold Iraq together after the last pair of American boots leaves the country. The question is, do we want to pay the price for a continued presence if all we accomplish is to enable one sect to try and wipe out the other?

I have a premonition that I'll be taking Quinn to Washington in another twenty years to go and see yet another black wall with 50,000-some names on it, and that's not a cheerful thought.

random thought.

Am I the only one who parses "Hunan Beef" as "Human Beef" on Chinese restaurant menus?