Tuesday, July 31, 2007

the guns for sheikhs program.

Sometimes, the United States sells or gives weapons to people we don't particularly like, in the hope that they'll provide a regional deterrence against a country we like even less. History has taught us that such deals almost invariably end up arming the wrong folks because of unintended consequences, but it seems that we're slow learners.

When we armed the Shah with top-flight F-14s and other assorted goodies, all that stuff ended up in the hands of the fundamentalist Ayatollahs after the Iranian revolution. When we then armed Saddam's Iraq to be a local counterweight to the Ayatollahs, he promptly took all those shiny new weapons and started an eight-year war that destabilized the region. In addition, the same weapons were later turned on us directly during Gulf Wars I and II. (Saddam got to double-dip because the Russians also armed him, back when Iran was still the regional buddy of the US under the Shah. See what I mean about "unintended consequences"?)

Let's not even get into all the Central American and Asian tinpot dictators who got guns from Uncle Sugar jest because they promised to stand against communism, despite the fact that many of them were just as bad a bunch of oppressors as the Reds.

That leads me to wonder why we're once again providing the Saudis with weapons...the same Saudi Arabia that provided fourteen of the sixteen 9/11 hijackers. The same Saudi Arabia that supports the Sunni insurgency with men and money. The same Saudi Arabia that adheres to a particularly backwards version of Sunni Islam, where women can't vote or drive cars, or even go out without a veil and a male family escort. Oh, and the very same Saudi Arabia that has a bazillion dollars a day coming out of the ground underneath their feet in the form of oil.

Oh, no , let me guess...we're trying to maintain a regional counterweight to Iran. Again. Because it worked so well the last few times.

I say, let the Saudis buy their own damn guns with their own damn money...they have enough to finance the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, so why do they need American taxpayer subsidies? If there's one country on the face of the earth that doesn't need foreign aid in any form, it's the Saudis. The Saudi government swims in oil money...they're so rich that Saudi citizens don't have to pay any form of income tax, so why do we need to chip in for their weapons out of our paychecks?

Fuck the Saudis. We don't need friends like them. We have precisely one true ally in the dung heap that is the Middle East, and that's Israel...the only viable democracy in that huge, godforsaken pile of sand, and the only country in the region where women can drive cars, read books, and carry M-16s in public.

question of the day.

When did we start naming our storms after French hookers?

Monday, July 30, 2007

something for the browncoats out there.

Via my friend Mark, here's some YouTube goodness for all you Firefly fans. Good stuff, that.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

never had a doubt.

The sorting hat says that I belong in Ravenclaw!


Said Ravenclaw, "We'll teach those whose intelligence is surest."

Ravenclaw students tend to be clever, witty, intelligent, and knowledgeable.
Notable residents include Cho Chang and Padma Patil (objects of Harry and Ron's affections), and Luna Lovegood (daughter of The Quibbler magazine's editor).

Take the most scientific Harry Potter
ever created.

Get Sorted Now!

to each according to their need.

There's a rabbit breeder in Germany named Karl Szmolinsky who breeds giant rabbits which top the scales at twenty pounds when fully grown, which is a lot of rabbit. Someone in the North Korean government learned of his breeding program through the Imperialist news broadcasts, and the breeder was invited to sell twelve of his rabbits to North Korea at a humanitarian discount, presumably so the NKs could breed them en masse and alleviate the country's chronic food shortage. They also invited him to come to North Korea, share his expertise, and help them set up theor own super rabbit breeding program.

Well, a while after he had shipped the rabbits off to North Korea, the NK government contacted him again and rescinded the invitation. Apparently, they didn't need him anymore...because the rabbits were cooked and eaten by North Korean government officials at a birthday banquet for the Dear Leader.

In the meantime, the peasants and workers of the North Korean socialist paradise are starving, and forced to subsist on grass soup and other such delicacies. Why a country that can't feed its own people wants to spend a lot of cash and energy acquiring one or three Really Big Firecrackers is beyond me, especially considering that their main Imperialist Antagonist has more than enough of those things to flatten every three-hut hamlet in North Korea if it ever came to a nuke lobbing contest.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

lindsay borrows sumdood's pants.

A few weeks ago, we watched a re-run of the "Parent Trap" remake. Robin and I were both commenting on what a cute kid Lindsay Lohan was back then, and what a talented little actress she was at eleven already.

What is it about sudden fame, lots of money, and lax parenting that turns those kids into complete train wrecks? (Whoops, I guess I answered my own question there.)

Now Miss Lohan is barely twenty-one, and already a graduate of the Drew Barrymore School of Comprehensive Substance Abuse. Her latest foibles include getting arrested in a Santa Monica parking lot for DUI, and having a baggie of cocaine in her pocket. Now she's looking at possession charges and definite jail time for repeat DUI offenses. Oh, and the baggie of coke? Turns out the drugs "weren't hers", even though they were found in her pants.

Maybe this is the dastardly work of Sumdood again?

Lots of work to do...gotta drop off a doggie at the vet's for a tooth cleaning, which necessitates two trips to the vet office with both kids. If you've never left the house with an infant and a toddler in tow, you likely have no idea of the supply train and the intricate ballet of nap- and feeding time coordination required for such an excursion. Then I have to run back to the casa and straighten things up a bit, because Tamara and Art Eatman are making a house call around lunch. (I've known Art for nigh on eight years now, but I've never actually met the man face to face.) In between, I have to do some prep cooking for tonight's crock pot extravaganza, Asian Spiced Pork Ribs with Noodles.

Ah, the high-flying life of the stay-at-home dad. We don't get caught snorting coke...because we can't afford it, and even if we could, there'd be no time to snort it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

short landing of the day.

Grumman G-21 "Goose", stopped on the numbers at LOAL (Wiener Neustadt).

I'm sure there are plenty of experienced pilots who could land that bird on the width of the runway, but I was nonetheless pretty proud of putting her down on the threshold and braking to a full stop before the tail had even passed over the numbers completely.

In related news, a company called Antilles Seaplanes is tooling up to make brand new Gooses (the correct plural of the airplane's nickname), available with the original 450hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. radials, or new 680hp PWC turboprop engines. I think the turboprop version looks a little unbalanced with those long engine nacelles, but I'm fond of the Goose's original lines. That's a classic aircraft, and it's great to know that one could pick up a zero hours airframe if one were so inclined, rather than an original...there are about sixty airworthy original Gooses out there, and the youngest of them is more than sixty years old.

Monday, July 23, 2007

legion at ease, i gotta feed the baby.

Bottle-feeding an infant is a time-consuming process that ties up one hand to boot, namely the one holding the milk hopper in position. I usually entertain myself with various computer-related activities while feeding munchkin #2, but my favorite games are out of the question because they require either an uninterrupted block of time, the use of two hands on mouse and keyboard, or both.

Thankfully, I found the ideal game for this scenario--Rome: Total War. I bought it a few years back when it came out, but I hadn't played it much, since most of our computer play time is taken up with communal World of Warcraft questing. Rome: Total War is a turn-based strategy game with real-time battle sequences, so it's perfect for playing turn by turn as time allows. I can play two or three turns per feeding session, and then just leave the game running in the background until I'm ready to hit the "end turn" button and advance the action.

Now, the strategy part of the game is pretty cool, but the really fun part is the real-time battle module. When you shuffle your legions across the map, and they come in contact with an army or settlement of the opposing factions, you can choose to have the battle resolve automatically (if you don't have the time to fight it out), or you can take charge of your army and test your mettle on the battlefield. If you choose that option, you're in control of unit deployment, formations, marching orders, and so on. When the battle commences, things usually go to hell quickly, and it's a lot of fun watching thousands of little animated legionnaires under your command duke it out with the Gauls, Macedonians, Carthaginians, and other assorted adversaries.

Yesterday I was wrapping up my conquest of the Greek city states, advancing an army on Athens.

(geeky battle narrative follows)

The Greeks oblige by marching their army out and meeting mine in front of their capital, which means that I won't have to start a costly siege and pry the defenders out from the streets of a fortified city. I deploy in standard manipular formation--skirmishers out front, cavalry on the flanks, and the center consisting of Hastati in the front and Principes in the back. The Greeks have mostly hoplite companies--hard to crack from the front, but easy kills when you flank them. My plan is to have the skirmishers thin their formation a bit, then hold them by the nose with the infantry and kick them in the ass with the flanking cavalry.

So far, so good. I advance my little troops in neat formation, ready to tag and bag the Greeks, when Greek reinforcements arrive on the battlefield. Just entering the battlefield in the distance are a bunch of Spartan hoplite companies whose presence in the area was unreported by my scouts.

Festive. Now I'm the meat in a hoplite sandwich, with a Greek army in front of me, and a Spartan army coming up from behind. Splitting my army and taking both on at the same time is not an option--I'm already outnumbered, and I don't have enough cavalry and velites to go around to support two different infantry battles.

Fine--screw the original plan, says I. The forward formations of skirmishers are just about to make contact with the Greeks, and I whistle them back and have them retreat through the ranks of advancing infantry. The Hastati and Principes get new orders: double-time on the advance, and rush the Greek front without the customary exchange of skirmisher missiles. The enemy skirmishers dart out in front of the hoplites, trying to bother my infantry, but I order in the flanking cavalry and disperse them.

The main lines clash, my line of Hastati holds, and I send the Principes around for a flanking attack, while riding the cavalry all the way around the enemy formation to nail the coffin shut from behind. The Greek line crumbles like a stale muffin, and their units start routing. My little digital legionnaries want to pursue and mop them up, but I order all units to halt and reform. I get them back into formation and wheeled around just in time to engage the Spartan army which has now traversed the battlefield. Lather, rinse, repeat, and the Spartans are sent packing as well. Athens is mine, and the Greeks have lost two fair-sized formations against my understrength one. I am Maximus, baby--a military genius who can direct his legions while topping off the tanks of little Miss Lyra.

Vanquishing enemy armies while feeding the baby: how much of a geek am I?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

speed reading.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows showed up on my doorstep courtesy of amazon.com and USPS at 11:30am. I started reading the book at 12:00-ish, and I finished it (minus pauses for feeding the kids, doing dishes, changing diapers, etc.) at 7:00pm, all 759 pages of it. I think that's a new record for me.

Robin commented on her amazement at the fact that I can read a book of that page count in seven hours, especially one that's not written in my native language. Truth be told, it probably would have taken me twice as long to read it in German at this point.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

do you kick kittens, too?

So yeah, we've ordered a copy of the last Harry Potter book. We pre-ordered it earlier this year, and Robin received an email notification from Amazon.com that our shipment would arrive on Saturday, which is the day of publication.

I like the books. They have their minor flaws, but on the whole, they're humorous, well-written, and imaginative. I'm looking forward to reading the final installment, and I have no intention of seeking out spoilers on the Intarwebz before Saturday. It seems that "spoiling the fun" has become a major sport, and there are lots of spoilers circulating online already, presumably originating with people who have received the book early by accident. (Some online retailer mistakenly shipped out a bunch of orders early.) Even the German newspaper I read online every day has a big headline about the "Harry Potter scandal", and their banner graphic breathlessly announces "Who Lives! Who dies! Who marries!", enticing folks to click on the story to learn more.

When the previous book came out, some people thought it to be great fun to drive to bookstores where kids were standing in line for the midnight release, and yell crucial plot information out of the window to spoil it for everyone standing in line. ("Snape kills Dumbledore!") People scanned the crucial page of the book, highlighted the critical information, and then posted it on discussion boards online, before the official release date of the book.

Now, some may think that the whole Harry Potter hubbub is ridiculous, and just a giant money making machine. Still, it's one thing to roll your eyes at the spectacle of midnight book launches and kids dressing up as wizards, and a different thing altogether to actively destroy the suspense and fun for those same kids. Sometimes I think that a significant portion of the population does not mature beyond high school age.

I'm not even reading reviews before Saturday, and I'm staying off the Internet for the most part, just so my fun isn't spoiled by some jackass with a scanner and an Internet account.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

a plague on both their houses.

I think that the culture war is lost.

By "culture war", I don't mean the tug-of-war between conservatives and liberals. Taxes, gun control, welfare, immigration, abortion, church & state issues...all of those things are smoke and mirrors in the end. No, the culture war I mean is the conflict between those who believe in the principles of freedom, and those who give mere lip service to it. There is no appreciable difference between liberals and conservatives these days--they all belong in the latter category, and the only difference between them is the kind of prohibition they want the government to enforce on the rest of us.

L. Neil Smith says that a politician's attitude towards the right to keep and bear arms is a barometer for his general attitude towards you. In other words, if he doesn't trust you with a gun, he won't trust you with anything else. I have come to the point where I must respectfully disagree with that theory.

I've moderated on several conservative-leaning gun boards for over half a decade now, and in the process I have learned a great deal about the gun rights crowd: they're people like anyone else, and they have no greater propensity towards defending civil liberties in general than the rest of the population. They like guns, plain and simple, and they tend to be thorough only in the defense of the constitutional amendment that recognizes their right to keep what they like. In general, however, gun owners have as many fans of authoritarianism among them as do the granola-munching Trotskyists on the other side of the political spectrum. Being in favor of gun rights is no guarantee of being a defender of liberty--it merely means that you like guns. There are plenty of politicians out there who wouldn't touch my right to own a firearm, but who would gladly use the power of the State to keep me from reading, watching, eating, smoking, driving, or talking about things they don't like.

Every group seems to have its own personal favorite in the Bill of Rights, and none of them seem to particularly care much about the other articles. The Left holds the First Amendment sacrosanct (especially the part about freedom of speech), but they have very little love or respect for the Second Amendment. The Right sees the Second Amendment as the linchpin of the Bill of Rights, but they're deeply uncomfortable with the protections afforded by the First Amendment, especially when the speech in question is deemed "obscene", or the religion exercised is anything but mainstream Christianity. Talk about the rest of the Bill of Rights, and you lose most gun folk altogether, who can't fathom why anyone would insist on keeping that archaic prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure or due process when it comes to drug or terrorism suspects.

In the meantime, those among us who just want to be left alone are shrinking in numbers. We are outvoted by the authoritarian wings of both the Right and the Left. Both Democrats and Republicans are in agreement about the need for further government authority and extensive social engineering; they merely fight over the proper vector. With control of the legislature seesawing between those two groups every few years, freedom is declining rapidly, and the only choice every election day seems to be a pick between a police state or a nanny state. We make our pick, sometimes as "single-issue voters" (as if you can defend the Bill of Rights by voting only for the guy who promises to leave your favorite amendment alone), and the compromise required for passing laws in D.C. guarantees that we get a mushy mix of nanny and police state, with emphasis tilting in whatever direction the majority in Congress wants it to go.

I think the root of all lousy legislation in this country is the desire of so many people to run the lives of other people. I think the vast majority of both liberals and conservatives is infected with the attitude that they themselves can run their own lives just fine, but that their neighbors just can't be trusted to run theirs if left to their own devices.

I'm not a single-issue voter. I may have been, once upon a time, but I have come to realize that the right to keep and bear arms is meaningless if you have to trade it for the rest of the Bill of Rights. With our rights disappearing at an ever-increasing rate, what exactly are we going to defend with those guns in the end? Our right to say non-obscene non-fighting words while practicing a non-controversial religion? Our right to be secure in our belongings and houses unless we're suspected of growing the wrong kind of plant in the basement? Our right to come and go as we please...unless we don't have the proper papers (and reasons for traveling)? Our right to due process and a jury trial...unless we're declared terrorism suspects or "enemy combatants"? Our right to own property...unless the city wants to give our land to a developer to increase tax revenue?

This may be pessimism, but I look at the way things are going, and I see a storm coming. Our slide into totalitarianism won't come in obvious and dramatic fashion, with some thirteenth-century holy warriors crossing the border in force with crescent armbands on their tunics and sharia law on their minds. It won't come like in a movie, with some flashy operetta dictator seizing power in a quick and photogenic coup. It's coming on quiet soles, with the help and assistance of most everyone around you, with everyone who casts a ballot for someone who promises to set their neighbors straight for them. Too many people are actively involved in making the links for the chains that bind all of us, and too many of them would rather surrender their own pet freedom than let their neighbor have his.

(Exaggeration? Ask some garden-variety conservatives if they'd vote to let anyone take any drug they wanted in return for the right to keep and bear arms without restrictions.)

It's pretty sad that we've reached the point where someone quoting the Founding Fathers is regarded as an "anti-government extremist", and that the only candidate on the national ballot who gives more than lip service to the Bill of Rights is derided by conservatives near and far as an unelectable looney.

If you vote for more of the same, you'll get more of the same, whether your pet vote whore has a (R) or a (D) after their name. As for me, I'm done voting for the lesser of two evils, and I won't help them wipe their asses with the Bill of Rights just because they promise to not use the part with my favorite amendment.

goose and gander.

I'm not surprised that CNN doesn't have the facts right about the Ramos/Compean case. I'm even less surprised that some Senator has his head up his ass about the whole case.

To wit: Border agents Ramos and Compean shot at a fleeing and unarmed suspected drug trafficker at the border, then covered up the shooting and lied about it. They were convicted in a court of law, and are now serving 11- and 12-year federal sentences, respectively.

There's a movement afoot to have the convictions overturned and/or the agents pardoned by the POTUS. Nobody speaking up for those agents seems to get the facts right.

The case is not about whether it ought to be right to shoot at fleeing felons at the border. It's not about the rights of cops and border agents to defend themselves against Mexican criminals. That's another debate, and it's completely irrelevant to this particular case.

Agents Ramos and Compean were convicted of shooting at an unarmed suspect fifteen times and then covering up the shooting. They also received a mandatory ten years in Club Fed for using a firearm in the commission of a crime. That's Federal law, friends, and stupid or not, it applies to everyone, not just the gangbanger doing a drive-by or robbing a Kwik-E-Mart. (That's the nature of law...once it's passed, it never takes long for someone to get that "pants around the ankles" look on their face and say, "But it was never supposed to apply to people like me!")

From the article, we learn that Senator Dianne Feinstein (Marxist-CA) wants to "change a law used by Sutton that required the agents receive at least 10 years for firing their weapons."

Oh, sure, mandatory firearms sentences are fine and dandy when some yokel from Oklahoma gets busted in NYC with a snubby in his front pocket, or some disadvantaged minority youth robs a convenience store, but they're unjust and in need of changing when the King's Men get caught with their hands in the cookie jar, right?

You know you're on the wrong side of an argument when you look next to you and see Dianne Feinstein on your side.

Don't want unintended consequences from mandatory sentencing? Don't want to see good folks go to jail for decades because those mandatory guidelines take discretion away from the judge? Then repeal the stupid law, or don't pass it in the first place.

That's what mandatory sentence laws are: the judiciary version of "zero tolerance" policies in public schools. They share all the same drawbacks, and they deserve the same kind of contempt. Alas, the same folks who rant against "zero tolerance" policies as a tool of the moonbat left also support mandatory sentence laws because it "gets the crackhead gangbangers off the street for a long time", and it won't allow those liberal activist judges to get soft on sentencing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

that's why they call it the wilderness.

So a California guy goes hiking in Montana with his daughter, and they get attacked by a brown bear. They survive the attack, but dad gets mauled pretty badly, and they're all over the news with their "dramatic story of survival".

What amuses me about the reporting is the gratuitous use of emotionally charged adjectives. We are told that the bear "savagely attacked" the guy.

Well, duh. It's a freakin' bear. They're not known for their civilized table manners.

"I say, old chap, would you awfully mind holding out your arm so I can take a brief nibble, if it's not too much of a bother? I am feeling a tad peckish this morning."

Nature is great, but I have no illusions that there are things out there that will cheerfully turn me into lunch without malice or remorse. That's the way nature works--it's hard and unforgiving. Like Bob Heinlein says, we're adapted to living on this rock by millions of years of evolution, and an unprotected human can (and will) die just from exposure to the elements within a day or two. Toss in all the things on the planet which are a.) predatory, and b.) stronger than humans, and the only advantage we have is the fact that we have opposable thumbs and big brains, the better to fashion tools and shelter with.

One of such tools is the firearm. I'll probably see the Montana back country at some point in my life. Maybe I'll even make it up to Alaska. Wherever I go, however, you can be damn sure of the fact that there will be a large-ish handgun loaded with very heavy hardcast bullets on my person.

(Yeah, I know about the rules on personal firearms in national parks. Guess I have to stay out of those, eh? Wouldn't want to break the law or anything.)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

pet peeves.

I'm not a huge fan of the death penalty, but I firmly believe that there are some offenses that merit getting a one-way trip to Magic Happy Land via needle or electric chair.

There are some offenses, however, that are so much of an affront to a civilized society that their commission should result in instant execution. No trial, no due process--get caught doing any of these things, and you deserve a swift and violent death, administered by the folks who have to suffer the consequences of your actions.

Among those acts are:

1.) Talking out loud during a movie, including (but not limited to) shouting advice to the characters on the screen, or answering your motherfucking cell phone. They should issue every moviegoer a suppressed Ruger Mark II just for the purpose of shooting movie yakkers in the back of the head when they start running their mouths.

*ring ring* (or worse, MP3 "gangsta rap" ring tone)
"Hello? Yeah, dawg, I'm at the movies. Where you a--"
*plop plop*

2.) Standing in the "20 Items or Less" lane at the supermarket with a cart packed halfway to the ceiling. Bonus points for paying with a slow method of currency exchange, like filling out a check laboriously by hand. Extra bonus points for not having ID to present with said check. Super extra bonus points for having the cashier scan in a stack of coupons. Triple bonus for checking every goddamned item on your goddamned receipt to make sure the cashier didn't stiff you on your $0.89 cat food coupons. Cashiers ought to have sawed-off double-barrel shotguns under the register just for folks like you. In fact, keep another one on a string hanging from the magazine & candy bar rack by the register, so that the suffering person next in line can let you have both barrels.

3.) Attempting to merge into fast-moving Interstate traffic, and then coming to a dead stop at the end of the on-ramp, blinker out, hoping to merge into traffic going 60+ miles per hour from a standing start. That's not just a great way to get yourself killed, but also a marvelous source of enjoyment for the drivers coming up behind you--the ones that actually know how to merge into Interstate traffic, and who now have to do a happy little slalom around your retarded ass, because you're blocking the on-ramp with your Mercury Medicare. It's a great injustice that 40mm grenade launchers are restricted as Destructive Devices, because there ought to be one in every passenger foot space just for folks like you.

4.) Using the words "irregardless" and "supposably" with serious intent, as if they are actual, valid English. If you're an adult with at least a high school diploma, and those words come out of your mouth, your conversation target should have the undisputed and absolute right to empty their sidearm into your stupid face and leave your carcass on the sidewalk as a warning.

5.) Speeding past the line of cars waiting on an off-ramp or interstate merge, only to squeeze into the line at the last possible moment. Because, you know, we're all just waiting our turn in this long-ass line because we have nothing better to do. You, on the other hand, are so goddamned important that the normal rules of the road don't apply to you, never mind the unwritten rules of common courtesy. If you do that clever little last-second merge, the ticked-off people behind you ought to have the right to drag you from your vehicle, string you up on the nearest light post, and go piƱata on your ass with tire irons.

6.) Driving around in a pick-up truck with a bed full of loose trash. Look, Bubba, I understand it's a bit of an effort to bag your trash and take it to the dump, but I don't think I should have to dodge your terbaccy-juice-filled Styrofoam soda cups, Twinkie wrappers, and ashtray contents. It'd be sweet (and by that I mean totally awesome) if the people suffering from your comet trail of garbage could chain you to the steering wheel and dump you and your truck in one of those handy car compactors that turn a two-ton vehicle into a two-ton coffee table.

This list of offenses is by no means exhaustive. They're just the tip of the iceberg, the most egregious of courtesy felonies that get my blood pressure up every time I encounter them. I think if we must have a death penalty on the books, it would be a shame to limit its application to such pedestrian offenses as Murder One. It's time to cull the herd, I say.

Friday, July 13, 2007

another arrival in valhalla.

Jim Cirillo, former NYPD stakeout unit officer, shooter, and instructor, died last night in a traffic accident.

In his service with NYPD, he survived--make that won--over 250 armed encounters with bad guys. He was known to sling a mean wheelgun, and he was one of the gun gurus I truly respected.

Add another name to the list of people I'll never get to meet.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

hooray for capitalism.

Our fridge gave up the ghost on Saturday. Robin was at work, and we were looking forward to a nice, relaxing evening. Instead, she had to run back out to Lowe's to get a new fridge, and I had to shuttle Lyra's milk bottles into a cooler.

Thanks to the marvels of capitalism, we were able to have a new fridge delivered the next day. They unloaded it, hooked it up, and hauled away the busted one. In addition, they upgraded us from a basic GE to a nicer Frigidaire, because the web-advertised special was not in stock.

In a socialist country, we would have had to file a request with the Household Appliance Committee, which would have weighed the urgency of our request, and then decided where to fit us into the waiting line for the People's Refrigerator Factory. Since we have a toddler and an infant, we probably would have made the accelerated waiting list, which means that the factory would have had a replacement ready for us in less than six months. The new fridge would have been made in Bulgaria, or (if we were politically connected) Slovenia. On the plus side, it would have cost us only very little of our worthless paper currency with pictures of Heroes of the Socialist Struggle on it.

You think I'm joking, or perhaps exaggerating? Think again. Not only did I visit East Germany when it was still the DDR, but we also had relatives over there. They had to put in the request for a car for their kids shortly after they were born, so they could take delivery of their smoking little two-stroke-engine-equipped duroplast car when the kid turned eighteen. (They still had to pay when they put in the order, though.) When I was over there to visit, they made us exchange thirty or so Deutsche Marks for each day of our stay. I couldn't find anything on which to spend my several hundred East German Marks, so I had to get rid of it by going to a bookstore and getting a suitcase full of East German propaganda books. (You couldn't take the precious socialist currency out of the country, you see.) The East German border guard who checked our luggage on our way back home was mightily pleased to see a young Klassenfeind with a proper variety of socialist literature in his suitcase. (That was okay to take out of the country, you see.)

Ah, but remember, kids--socialism is such a great idea in theory! And the only reason why it hasn't worked yet is because the right people haven't been in charge.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

random things.

Today's addition to the blogroll is Squeaky Wheel Seeks Grease. (Is that an original name for a blog, or what?) I just spent a bit of time going through her archives, and boy howdy, can she write. I particularly liked this post on Windbag Moore's latest agitprop piece "Sicko".

Speaking of writing: I've had the Neo for a day and a half now. My usual output per day is right around a thousand words. Some days, I only manage to get down a paragraph...but it's a really good paragraph. Other days, I crank out half a chapter. Most days, however, my natural cutoff seems to be right around a thousand words--nothing awfully prolific, but it adds up.

Yesterday, my word count was 2,500, and I can't recall having parked myself at a desk for the specific purpose of writing. I just dashed out all those words in quick spurts of typing during the day, thanks to the fact that I had a lightweight writing machine with practically unlimited battery life handy. Sit on the couch with the kid while he's reading a book and watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? There's a paragraph or three. Sitting in the kitchen waiting for the baby's milk to warm up? There's another paragraph. At the end of the day, all those quick little five-minute writing sessions add up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

got an ipod? got too much money?

A few days ago, I wrote about simplification.

This is not it.

A seventy-odd pound jukebox that serves as a docking station and speakers for a four-ounce iPod? Talk about taking a great concept (the simplification of your music CD collection) and turning it upside down.

But hey, it's a free country. Statistically, there are roughly three iPods for every man, woman, child, and village goat on this planet, so I'm sure there'll be plenty of people out there who can't wait to turn their pocket-sized music player into something the size and weight of a respectable minifridge.

Monday, July 9, 2007

so long, laptop.

So the big brown truck of happiness showed up today and dropped off two packages: my eagerly-awaited Alphasmart Neo, and a CH Flight Yoke.

The Neo is simply excellent. If your daily routine includes a bunch of writing, for whatever reason, this thing is the device for you. It's about the size of a standard sheet of paper, weighs less than two pounds, and still has a full-sized keyboard. There's no waiting for it to boot--you turn it on, and a second later, you're looking at the blinking cursor waiting for your text input. If you turn it off, it'll pick up right where you left it once you get back to it. Every keystroke is automatically saved, so there's nothing to save manually. The memory has eight file spaces of 64k each, which comes to about 10,000 words per file. (It doesn't seem like a lot of memory in the age of multiple gigabytes of RAM, but this thing is just for ASCII text, and 64k times eight is a lot of text.)

When you're finished with the writing for the day (or week), you plug the Neo into your PC via USB cord, open Word or any other program that accepts text input, and hit the "send" button. Your scribblings paste themselves into the desktop program as if a speed typist on crank is hacking away at the keys.

Best of all: the thing is so light and sturdy that you can take it anywhere, and the battery lasts 700 freaking hours of writing time. (That's a month of non-stop writing.) Apparently, these things are popular with a lot of schools, and they run all year on one set of AA batteries. There's no laptop ever built that comes close to even a tenth of that kind of runtime.

Yeah, I probably sound like an Alphasmart rep, but this thing really is all that and a bag of chips. It's utterly useless to anyone who needs anything other than a word processor, but for writers, this thing is the best invention since Gutenberg's press.

Oh yeah, the flight yoke is the berries, too. Flying a Cessna with a stick just doesn't feel quite right, and the yoke adds a lot of realism. If you're into flight sims, and you can stand the snickers of your friends and family for getting your geek on with a flight yoke bolted to your computer desk, I highly recommend it.

Thus end today's product reviews. If anyone from Alphasmart reads this, contact me for my snail mail address, so you can send me a check and/or some free loot.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

thoreau says: ditch your iphone.

Okay, so Thoreau was a tree-hugging hippie, but he had some salient points. His views on taxation and civil disobedience are laudable, for example, and the older I get, the more I find myself agreeing with his ideas on simplification.

Five years ago, I would have been in line to get my paws on an iPhone. I used to be a gadget hound of the first order--when the original iMac came out, I did stand in line, money in hand, to purchase one of the first ones for sale at the CompUSA in Nashua. I used to be a proponent of what my friend Mark calls "the all-singing, all-dancing multimedia device", coveting and buying gizmos that shoehorned the maximum amount of capabilities into as small a package as possible. The first Windows CE handhelds? I had a bunch of them, despite the fact that the software sucked, and their batteries lasted a tenth of the runtime offered by Palm's devices. Hell, I would have bought an iPhone simply for the fact that it says "Apple" on it, and because it's shiny and glossy.

Fast forward to today, and I'm not very tempted to get a combined phone/music player/web-browsing-and-email device. (And no, it's not just because the piggy bank for toy money is chronically empty these days.) Sure, it looks gorgeous, and I have no doubt that it does all those things in a beautiful and simple fashion, but it doesn't fit my recent trend towards simplification.

My carry guns are one example of this trend. I didn't wake up one day and decide to pare my carry guns down to just S&W K-frames--it just sort of evolved that way. When I made the K-frame my regular carry piece, it was the simplicity of operation and complete reliability that was the initial factor, but after a while I found that I also really enjoyed not having to carry extra magazines. (Speed strips are far easier to carry around--just stuff a pair into your front pocket and be on your way.) Then I appreciated being able to keep all my brass, and after a while I realized that I shot the K-frame better than anything else. I actually ended up carrying the same gun all the time, instead of switching to the Carry Gun of the Month every few weeks, and as a result my skill and comfort level with the old S&W improved quite a bit.

So I ended up getting a duplicate for my carry gun, which is identical in every respect except the length of the cylinder chambers. (My Model 13 is a .357 Magnum, and my Model 10 is a .38 Special.) Both guns are set up identically, with the same grips, loaded with the same rounds (.38 Special +P LSWCHP), and they ride in the same holsters. You can't tell them apart without reading the roll marks on the barrels. Now I have a backup gun for the one I carry, and if the M13 ever breaks or gets taken after a self-defense shooting, all I have to do is get its twin and stick it into the empty holster. I don't have to worry about finding leather, keeping magazines loaded, futzing around with "feed-friendly" carry loads, or getting used to a different manual of arms. Simple is good: you can see the loaded status of both guns just by glancing at the cylinder, both operate in exactly the same fashion, and there's no extraneous fiddle-faddle. Even the sights are just grooves in the topstraps and no-snag low front sights on thick barrels. Recoil is next to nothing even with the +P carry loads, and both guns put those 158-grainers exactly where you point them.

Well, since the simplicity concept works well in that particular area (self-defense weaponry), I started thinking that it might work well in other areas as well. The idea is to pare down the required hardware for a task to the most simple form that still allows full functionality.

I use laptops for writing, and up until recently I usually bought the most powerful machine I could afford every few years. Then I realized that I really only use my portables for writing, and that I didn't need the extra capabilities afforded by a new laptop. I started to regress my writing machines to earlier technology, just to see how far I could downgrade before getting less productive, and to my surprise I found out that writing on an old machine actually enhances my productivity because it offers fewer distractions than state-of-the-art hardware. A ten-year-old Powerbook will still run Word as well as a brand new MacBook, and it won't beckon with World of Warcraft. Then I took that equation to its logical conclusion, and bought one of these, which only lets you do writing...700 hours of it on one battery charge. No email, no Internet, no games, nothing but empty storage space to fill with letters, words, and sentences.

That Thoreau fellow...he may have been a patchouli-scented tree hugger, but that "simplify" thing seems to work pretty well. We seem to be in the middle of the ADHD Age, and our tools and toys reflect that. Buck the trend and try to shed the fluff for a little while, and it might just amaze you how much you can get done when your technology serves you instead of distracting you. I'm a complete and utter capitalist, so I get a twitch whenever somebody starts ranting about "unchecked consumerism", but maybe we don't need the latest and greatest all the time, and the term "obsolete" is used far too liberally.

truth in advertising (sort of.)

Robin, in one of her rare beer moods, brought home a sixer of Beck's Dark from the grocery store. The cardboard carrier has the following claim on it--each line in progressively smaller script:

German Dark Beer

Well, golly gee. Can we make an even more specific claim to excellence? I think there are all of three imported German dark beers available in this country. They need to hang on to their #1 sales spot in that niche, otherwise they'll have to reprint the whole run of carriers to include an even smaller line at the bottom of the original claim. This one would have to read "that's called Beck's Dark".

Thursday, July 5, 2007

oh, the shame.

Today I managed to break a 1.2-million-dollar aircraft. (Thankfully, it was mine...and a digital rather than an actual aircraft.)

I spent my past forty-odd flight hours trundling about Europe in a Cessna 172, which has fixed landing gear. Today, I decided to do a leg of my pretend cross-Europe flight in my old pal, the Beech Baron 58...which has retractable landing gear. (Some of you may anticipate where this is going.)

So I come in for a perfect landing at Vaernes in Norway...80KIAS, two notches of flaps, textbook flare, and touchdown right on the numbers, smooth as silk.


"Hey, what are those sparks in front of my windshield?"


That'll damage your ego. Nailing the last twenty-odd landings with a fixed-gear C172, and then neglecting to hit the gear lever on final and ignoring the "GEAR UP" warning on the dash that's merrily blinking away. Put back the keys for the light twin and go back to the Sky Moped, rookie.

Light blogging...I've been busy juggling the kids. (Not literally, mind you.) I get a few hours in the evening, and maybe another hour or two in the middle of the day, during quote-unquote "nap time", which Quinn spends playing away in his room six days out of seven. The short one is putting on some weight, and now only wakes up two or three times a night as opposed to every hour and a half.

Mark Pixler, of Dillon's Blue Press catalog, has asked me for permission to run "Why the Gun is Civilization" in their September issue, which is enormously flattering. I may be able to contribute more to The Blue Press in the future, which is even more flattering. Their readership/recipient list constitutes a non-trivial amount of readers, which is an awful lot of exposure for a little niche blogger like myself.

Monday, July 2, 2007

tales from the place where great britain used to be.

In this month's Reason magazine, we learn that an English chap called Brian Seaton got in a bind with the law for forgetting a Swiss Army knife in his luggage when checking in for a flight to go on vacation. The police in Leicestershire charged him with "possessing a knife in public without good reason".

It took Mr. Seaton nine months and ten thousand quid to clear his name.

The kicker: the Swiss Army knife in question was a retirement gift from his employer of more than twenty years...the Leicestershire Police Department.


In other news on the subject, the U.K. now has more than 20 percent of the world's CCTV cameras, even though it constitutes only 0.2 percent of the world's inhabitable land. In another article in the same Reason magazine (entitled "Tony the Nanny"), Brendan O'Neill lists the shameful accomplishments of Tony Blair in the field of civil liberties erosions. As of July 1st, smoking is banned in all pubs, clubs, and workplaces in the U.K., there are "anti-youth gadgets" installed in some public areas to drive away "loitering" youth by means of high-frequency noise, and the police have the right to issue so-called "Anti-Social Behavior Orders", where a police officer can forbid a citizen from walking on a certain street, using foul language in public, or even wearing a hooded sweatshirt, all without the need for proof of any guilt or misdemeanor.

The article closes to say that Blair's legacy is "life in a permanent state of parole" for the citizenry.

That, of course, is the only difference between the liberal utopists and the conservative ones: one group wants the government to be your mommy, the other wants it to be your daddy. You can bet your behind that someone in Washington has been taking notes on the accomplishments of Blair's New Labour in the field of public order, and those ideas are going to make their way over here sooner or later. And don't make the mistake to think that only the liberals are going to try a page out of Blair's playbook--there are plenty of so-called conservatives on this side of the pond who see nothing wrong with that kind of degree of surveillance and police authority, as long as they get to determine which kind of behaviors to suppress.