Friday, November 30, 2007

how sad.

Evel Knievel, dead at 69.

I wonder if they're going to do something cool with the casket, like shoot it over the Grand Canyon or something.

loading up the iron pig.

I picked up the U-Haul moving truck yesterday evening. 

It's a freaking pig.  Huge, scuffed, with 150,000 miles on the odometer, and the handling characteristics of a dead sperm whale on a pair of roller skates.  The cargo box is 24 feet long, but it looks bigger, like we could park Robin's Neon in there and still get all the furniture in behind it.  Right now, that monster is parked on our two-car slab in front of the house, with the trailer hitch about four feet from our front door, and the nose of the truck sticks out into the street a good three feet.  With all our junk in it, and Robin's car hitched to the back, I'll be shocked if we get more than eight miles to the gallon or go faster than 55 miles per hour.

Today, we'll be packing up the rest of the house, minus the bare essentials for the last night in our old abode.  I have to return the DSL equipment to the Frontiernet office, so at some point today I'll have to pull the plug on Munchkin Wrangler Central, and box up the computers.  We'll be offline for at least a week, since that's how long it'll take to have new service established at the new place. 

The good news is that I've been in touch with an ISP up there that does wireless Ethernet, and it looks like we'll be able to tap into their network.  All the bandwidth of DSL, and none of the latency or expense of satellite...that'd be the best of both worlds.

So, this thing is going offline for the big move as of today.  If all goes well, I'll be posting again from the new place within a week.

(Oh, and CrankyProf?  Damn you all to hell...I've had an endless loop of the Ballad of the Green Berets with your alternate "Flying Baby" lyrics playing in my head since yesterday.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007


One of the folks commenting on my blog post about the current discontent in France said something that I'd like to address in a separate post. He claimed that Europeans were de-Christianized.

In reality, that's about the opposite of the true situation. You see, Europe is overwhelmingly Christian, at least on paper. Most European countries have something the US lacks (and that many evangelicals would love to see), namely an establishment of Christianity as the official state religion, codified into law.

Take Germany as an example. In Germany, you're sorted into Catholic or Protestant (Lutheran), depending on the professed faith of your parents (who are either Catholic or Lutheran depending on the faith of their parents, and so on.) The state takes "church tax" out of your paycheck, which goes to the church of your denomination directly. You can opt out of church tax by leaving the church altogether, but that requires some paperwork and an official declaration, so it's a bit of a hassle.

Most Germans are what I call "socially religious". Church membership is impressed upon you from birth, church taxes are withheld automatically, and most Germans don't think church to be a big deal. They merely congregate there whenever there's an official family occasion, like a christening, marriage, or funeral, but on the whole, Germans (and most Europeans) stay out of church for the rest of the year. Church is more a tradition and social convention than something into which you invest active participation and thought.

As a result, Christianity is not only the dominant faith in Europe , but also a stagnating faith. Almost everyone belongs to one of the Big Two denominations on paper, but the whole thing is just something to enjoy some tradition and ritual when the family gets a new addition. You see, the clergy get paid through the church tax, and they get the same monthly check whether they hold a good sermon, a bad sermon, or no sermon at all. This stagnation of religion is despite the official status of it, and probably because of the financial support of the state for it.

Contrast this with the United States, which has no form of direct state support for religion whatsoever, and the picture is a little different. In the US, churches are competing for congregations in a free market situation, and as a result, American Christians have far more choice, and far more active religious lives, than their European "paper Christian" counterparts.

It seems like the best way to have a faith stagnate is to intertwine it with government, rely on the state as a revenue intermediary, and then have the clergy get complacent because they no longer need to attract and hold a congregation. Looks like having an officially declared "Christian nation" isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

lordy, not again.

Another day, another genius arrested for trying to pass a million-dollar bill as legal tender.

What really slays me about this particular incident is the picture of the million-dollar bill in question:

There's not just one, but three marks from a counterfeit detector pen on that thing. Someone actually had to use the detector pen to ascertain the counterfeit nature of the bill.

I'm starting to think that we need to look into those Soylent Green factories, 'cause that's all some folks are good for. In this case, the folks on both sides of that bank counter would make fine candidates.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

score: citizen 1, robot revenuer 1.

I'm not a fan of the revenuers. That includes the red-light cameras at certain local intersections, which are not there for public safety, but for revenue generation.

However, I believe that you have to pick your battles, and that this particular battle turned out to be a really dumb one to fight.

On the minus side:

--Mr. Clark is charged with a felony, which will mean the permanent loss of his voting and Second Amendment rights. (No more guns, ever, and therefore no legal way to defend yourself or your family for the rest of your life.)

--The incident is likely to cost him a fair amount of money. There's the legal costs, the restitution he'll be ordered to pay (the shot-up camera), the $500-plus hunting rifle that's now KPD property, and the loss of income that'll result from Mr. Clark having to go to jail and/or losing his job as a result. There's also the reluctance of employers to hire folks with felony records, which may severely curb Mr. Clark's income potential for the rest of his life.

On the plus side:

One robot camera out of commission for a few days. The article notes that a replacement will be installed within a day or two.

Sometimes,a principled stand involves the risk of arrest and felony conviction. There are scenarios where I would gladly chance those. Seeing a red light camera out of commission for three days is not one of them.

Oh, and all the political/philosophical aspects aside: as a gun owner who considers himself responsible, I have to be appalled at the non-existent safety-mindedness of Mr. Clark. This is not about "Nerf World" and "safety Nazis", but about the judgment of someone who would shoot four .30-06 rounds through a thin metal box at an intersection which is ringed by businesses, residential properties, and a busy Interstate. Can you be 100% sure of your backstop in that kind of location?

ugliest bride ever.

Here's a picture of Haider al-Bahadli, terrorist suspect and Jihadi Master of Disguise.

He was busted in Baghdad by U.S. troops, who thought his "wedding convoy" a little suspicious. They stopped the convoy, and knew something wasn't quite right when the "groom" refused to unveil the face of his bride.

On second thought, can you blame him?

Either way, I wish the new couple the best of luck. Haider al-Bahadli's reputation among the Jihadist community may just get a little dented over the worldwide publication of pictures depicting the fearsome warrior in a lace dress.

news from surrender-monkey land.

The immigrant youths are rioting in the suburbs of Paris again, showing their host nation how truly grateful they are for the hospitality and all the free government stuff.

The reason for the latest riots?

Two immigrant kids ride an unregistered motorcycle at top speed, without helmets, and ignoring traffic rules. They run a red light, and crash into a police car that was inconveniently occupying the same intersection through which they had intended to zoom. End result: two dead kids, one dented police car.

Now the other immigrant youth are torching cars and throwing rocks at police because they feel that the police, rather than stupidity, killed their two buddies. Apparently, the infrastructure is to blame as well, because the rioters torched not only police cars and a police station, but also a library, a kindergarten, and a bunch of stores.

The French aren't exactly strangers to violent pogroms, and the current immigrant trend of pooping into (and torching) one's own nest may just have a severe backlash in a few years. Then again, the demographics in Europe are shifting to a point where it may just be the native French who will be at the receiving end when that happens.

Monday, November 26, 2007

the vw beetle of the skies.

You know you're beyond help when you geek out over something like this:

That is a screenshot of Flight Simulator X, specifically the virtual cockpit of a meticulously recreated Cessna 150L built in 1971. A bunch of French guys spent about 2,000 hours combined on the creation of that little two-seater, and the end result looks pretty much exactly like a well-used 150 with thirty-five years of flight school service and pleasure flights on its back. If you download the large version of the picture, you can see that the original dashboard is faded to a dirty gray in some spots, and that the 1970s salmon-colored trim is ripped near the top of the dash. Everything works like it does in a real 150--every switch and toggle. Even the key in the ignition has a well-worn Cessna factory fob that looks like the key's been changing hands frequently for a few decades. The key fob and the microphone wire even swing with the bank angle of the plane. That's attention to detail.

I guess I'm getting old. Tooling around the pattern in that beat-to-shit little C150, with its basic VFR instrumentation and complete lack of modern avionics amenities is more fun to me these days than loading up some combat simulator where you can strap on an F/A-18 and blot enemy fighters from the sky.

Oh, for those of you who have FS9 or FS X: that little Cessna 150 is freeware, available here.

t-5 days.

I'll be picking up the moving truck on Friday, and then we're rolling north on Saturday and Sunday. There's much packing to be done yet, but my brother is flying in for unpaid slave labor...err, a family visit on Wednesday, and he'll be a big help.

One fly in the ointment for us is the limited availability of high-speed Internet. We're used to our DSL connection, and out at our new place, the only options are dial-up or satellite Internet. I do have some dusty old 56k modems around, but I'd rather not revert to the computing Pleistocene. Satellite is fine and dandy for bandwidth, but it sucks for latency (big deal for World of Warcraft and Battlefield 2), and it comes with installation fees and monthly plans that are measured in "buckets of precious metals".

I was already resigned to having to dial into the Internets again like it's the frakkin' 1990s, but apparently there's a startup company in the area that provides wireless ethernet. The current owner of the place says that his neighbor has it (described as mysterious "waves from the sky" that are "not satellite"), so chances are good that we'll be able to tap into it as well. I dashed off an inquiry to the company in question, and their rate plans do not require metric tons of cash. We'll see.

Push comes to shove, we'll be back on dial-up, and chalk it up as a sacrifice in exchange for privacy, living space, and ten acres of Ours.

Friday, November 23, 2007

can't pick your family.

The Piece of Human Garbage Award for the month of November goes to one Mr. Stephen Gerard, from Nashua, NH.

Stephen's brother is serving in Iraq. In his brother's absence, Stephen pocketed a few items from the home while he was over to help his sister-in-law clean. One of the pocketed items was his brother's military ID.

Stephen used the military ID to make a dozen or so withdrawals from two different bank accounts. One was an account set up for families of military personnel, which he cleaned out to the tune of $1,012.82. The other was an account set up by the family for his 1-year-old niece, for another $325.

He also took jewelry from his sister-in-law to sell at local pawnshops, again using his brother's military identification for ID.

Let's hope Stephen's brother comes home safe and soon from Iraq, so he can have a word with his sibling, and maybe test the hypothesis that "blood is thicker than water".

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

this i believe.

I believe that profit is not a dirty word, and "making money" is not a low or dishonorable motivation. The desire to make a buck is what has driven progress throughout history. I believe that commerce, the voluntary exchange of goods and values, is the best motivator for peaceful cooperation, and that the restriction of commerce promotes strife and poverty.

I believe that my life is my own. I am no one's property or sacrificial animal. I have a right to exist for my own sake, and I don't have to be ashamed of it. I do not exist to be numbered, counted, categorized, stamped, herded, and milked. I am not a cog in a machine, a sheep in a herd, or a number on a census.

I believe that taxation is equal to forced labor. I believe there is no moral or practical difference between taking the wages of a day or a week from a person to pay for a schoolhouse, and ordering them at gunpoint to spend a day or a week building that schoolhouse directly.

I believe that property rights are the basis for all other rights. If I am not free to dispose of the fruits of my labor as I see fit, all other rights are meaningless. Those who deny property rights cannot claim to be defenders of individual rights.

I believe that the term "individual rights" is a tautology. Rights can only ever be individual.

I believe that there is only one proper role for government, and that is the protection of individual rights. I also believe that no government in history has ever limited itself to that role.

I believe that my neighbor has the right to worship God, Allah, Vishnu, Odin, the Great Pumpkin, or any other deity. I have the right to worship all of those gods, or none of them, and neither of us has the right to force our beliefs on the other. That includes trying to make me live by the tenets of your faith under the guise of "majority rights"--one man's pork dinner, bourbon, or steak is another man's abomination, sin, or blasphemy. Worry about your own standing with your deity, not mine.

I believe that a crime without a victim is no crime at all. If an action doesn't violate another's person or property, no crime has been committed.

I believe that thoughts can never be a crime, nor can they be an excuse for a more severe punishment. I believe that beating a person because you want their wallet is every bit as despicable as beating them because you don't like the color of their skin.

I believe that no group has rights beyond those of any of its individual members. There is no magic or alchemy that gives a mob special rights that trump the rights of the individual.

I believe that democracy and majority rule are not automatic mandates for anyone. Without a properly constrained government, fifty-one percent of the tribe can vote themselves the right to pee in the cornflakes of the other forty-nine percent. A tyranny of the majority is still a tyranny.

I believe that any economic system that isn't centered around rational self-interest is fatally flawed. No amount of altruism or appeals to charity will motivate a man like the prospect of making money for himself.

I believe that forced charity is no charity at all, and forced virtue cannot claim credit for itself anymore than a eunuch can claim credit for chastity.

I believe that it is not my right or obligation to raise and educate your children, nor is it your right or obligation to raise and educate mine.

I believe that it is none of my business what goes on in my neighbor's bedroom, nor is it any of his business what goes on in mine, as long as no one's right are violated. Bugger a goat for all I care, as long as it is above the age of consent.

I believe that you cannot have a right to anything that necessitates a financial obligation on the part of someone else. You have a right to life, liberty, and honestly acquired property, not to any sort of monetary or material thing. The former merely requires your fellow citizens to leave you alone; the latter requires them to work for you free of charge.

I believe that it is the height of ignorance to judge an individual not by their actions, but by their ancestry, gender, nationality, religion, dietary preferences, or the melanin content of their skin.

I believe that emotions are not substitutes for facts when it comes to describing and understanding reality. Wishing something to be something other than what it is won't make it so, no matter how many people wish for it.

I believe that the most effective way to ruin something is to put the government in charge of it. I also believe that the most effective way to corrupt a religion is to mix it with government.

I believe that the desire to become President should automatically be a disqualifying factor.

I believe that anyone in favor of "free" government services has no understanding of economics.

I believe that patriotism isn't measured by flags or bumper stickers, but by your willingness to defend the rights of someone with whom you disagree completely and profoundly.

I believe that freedom of speech especially extends to unpopular or repulsive speech. Popular and uncontroversial speech does not need protection; dissent does.

I believe that the IQ of a crowd is the IQ of its least intelligent member, divided by half. I do not believe in the wisdom of the masses--intelligence is not an additive quality, but force is, and the threat or application of force is the only tool available to any crowd.

I believe that I am the only person qualified to run my life, that I have the absolute right to be my own master, and that no amount of laws and Constitutions ever written can grant me that right or take it away.

This I believe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

gag me with a spoon.

SCOTUS is going to hear D.C. vs. Heller.

This will be the first time in seventy years the Supreme Court has considered a Second Amendment issue, and the decision in this case could have interesting implications for gun laws nationwide.

anyone have irwin mainway's number?

The holiday season is upon us, and with it the inevitable chorus of quavering voices from the consumer safety folks. I greatly enjoy their "Ten Most Dangerous Toys" list every year, as it serves as an excellent guide for holiday gifts.

I can't read articles about toy safety anymore without channeling Mr. Irwin Mainway, president of Mainway Toys, and his fantastic line of hazardous toys. My all-time favorites are his "Johnny Space Commander Helmet" (a plastic bag and a rubber band), Johnny Combat Action costume (with real M-1 Garand rifle), the "Invisible Pedestrian" Halloween costume, and the Johnny Human Torch costume (a bag of oily rags and a lighter.)

Here's one of the old Irwin Mainway appearances on SNL, back when the show was funny.

Consumer Reporter
: Good evening, and welcome to the holiday edition of "Consumer Probe". Our topic tonight is unsafe toys for children. For instance, this little bow and arrow set. [ holds up ] Pull the rubber suctions off, and the arrows become deadly missiles.

[ cut to full shot, showing Irwin Mainway seated to Joan's right ]

We have with us tonight, Mr. Irwin Mainway, President of Mainway Toys. Uh, Mr. Mainway, your company manufactures the following so-called harmless playthings: Pretty Peggy Ear-Piercing Set, Mr. Skin-Grafter, General Tron's Secret Police Confession Kit, and Doggie Dentist. And what about this innocent rubber doll, which you market under the name Johnny Switchblade? [ holds up doll ] Press his head, and two sharp knives spring from his arms. [ demonstrates ] Mr. Mainway, I'm afraid this is, by no means, a very safe toy.

Irwin Mainway: Okay, Miss, I wanna correct you, alright. The full name of this product, as it appears in stores all over the county, is Johnny Switchblade: Adventure Punk. I mean, nothing goes wrong.. little girls buy 'em, you know, they play games, they make up stories, nobody gets hurt. I mean, so Barbie takes a knife once in a while, or Ken gets cut. You know, there's no harm in that. I mean, as far as I can see, you know?

Consumer Reporter: Alright. Fine. Fine. Well, we'd like to show you another one of Mr. Mainway's products. It retails for $1.98, and it's called Bag O' Glass. [ holds up bag of glass ] Mr. Mainway, this is simply a bag of jagged, dangerous, glass bits.

Irwin Mainway: Yeah, right, it's you know, it's glass, it's broken glass, you know? It sells very well, as a matter of fact, you know? It's just broken glass, you know?

Consumer Reporter: [ laughs ] I don't understand. I mean, children could seriously cut themselves on any one of these pieces!

Irwin Mainway: Yeah, well, look - you know, the average kid, he picks up, you know, broken glass anywhere, you know? The beach, the street, garbage cans, parking lots, all over the place in any big city. We're just packaging what the kids want! I mean, it's a creative toy, you know? If you hold this up, you know, you see colors, every color of the rainbow! I mean, it teaches him about light refraction, you know? Prisms, and that stuff! You know what I mean?

Consumer Reporter: So, you don't feel that this product is dangerous?

Irwin Mainway: No! Look, we put a label on every bag that says, "Kid! Be careful - broken glass!" I mean, we sell a lot of products in the "Bag O'" line.. like Bag O' Glass, Bag O' Nails, Bag O' Bugs, Bag O' Vipers, Bag O' Sulfuric Acid. They're decent toys, you know what I mean?

Consumer Reporter: Well, I guess we could say that all of your toys are really unsafe and should rightfully be banned from the market. I guess I would just like to know what happened to the good ol' teddy bear.

Irwin Mainway: Hold on a minute, sister. I mean, we make a teddy bear. It's right here. [ picks up giant teddy bear ] It's got a nice little feature here, you see? I'll hold it up here. We call it a Teddy Chainsaw Bear. [ revs chainsaw in teddy bear's stomach ] I mean, a kid plays with saws, he can cut logs with it, you know what I mean.

Consumer Reporter: Well, this is certainly a very sad situation. One of the precious joys of Christmas warped by a ruthless profiteer like yourself.

Irwin Mainway: Well, that's just your opinion, you know what I mean?

Consumer Reporter: Well, I just don't understand why you can't make harmless toys like these alphabet blocks. [ points to blocks ]

Irwin Mainway: C'mon, this is harmless? Alright, okay, you call this harmless? [ holds block in hand ] I mean.. [ plays with block and fakes injury ] Aagghh!! I got a splinter in here, look at that! This is wood! This is unsanded wood, it's rough!

Consumer Reporter: Alright, that's enough of this ridiculous display. [ holds toy phone ] Here is another creative toy, safe enough for a baby!

Irwin Mainway: [ grabs phone ] You say it's safe, I mean, look at this cord.. the kid is on the phone - "Hello? Hello?" - then.. [ twists cord around his neck, screams, and falls backward in chair ] You know what I mean? It's an example! You see my point, a dangerous toy like that?

Consumer Reporter: Well, let's try this one. What about this little foam play ball? I mean, even you, Mr. Mainway, can't find anything dangerous about this. Huh?

Irwin Mainway: [ takes ball, bounces it on table, then shoves it in his throat and feigns choking ]

Consumer Reporter: That's all the time we have for "Consumer Probe" this week.

[ show fades black ]

Monday, November 19, 2007

on naming weapons.

JPG over at Expert Witness has a good piece up on the habit of some folks to name their weapons, and why he doesn't.

I've never given a name to any of my guns, because I've never given a name to any of my hammers or screwdrivers. They're tools, plain and simple. They may be more interesting, more important, and more fun than most of my other tools, but they're still mechanical devices designed for a specific purpose. It bothers me just a little when people name their guns, because it completely plays into the hoplophobe's mindset of the gun as a device with some sort of imbued and independent spirit.

For some reason, I don't mind the naming thing with swords. A sword is both more personal and more unique than a firearm. When the sword reigned supreme as the ultimate personal weapon, no two of them were ever alike, so I guess you could say that a sword has more unique attributes than the firearm. Mass-produced handguns, however customized, don't really strike me as having much of a unique character, however attached their owners may be to them.

In the end, however, even the most unique sword is merely a tool as well, just an inert piece of metal. It's the spirit, skill, and intent of the user that turns a gun or a sword into a weapon. To speak with Robert Heinlein, "there are no dangerous weapons, only dangerous men."

(Edit: Naming a gun "Vera", however, is totally cool and awesome.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

oh, the huge manatee.

I got word that Neal Boortz just read my essay "Why the Gun is Civilization" on the air during his nationally syndicated radio program...and attributed it to "Major Caudill."

*le sigh*

Thursday, November 15, 2007

discworld, eh?

Quite a few of the folks on my blogroll seem to be fond of Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" books. To my everlasting shame, I've never actually gotten around to those.

I'm currently finishing up Stephen King's Dark Tower opus, but will be in need of another multi-volume saga when I'm finished. All you Pratchett fans--why is it imperative that I read those books? Give me your best one-sentence salespitch to reel me in.

saudi justice.

A Saudi woman is gang-raped by seven of her countrymen.

The case goes to trial. The woman's rapists get two to ten years in prison.

The woman gets two hundred lashes and six months in prison...for violating the country's sex segregation laws, by being in the car of a man who wasn't a relative.

Why are these people our "allies" again?

I swear, that black shit in the ground has given wealth and influence to a dynasty and culture whose adherents would otherwise still live in tents and slurp goat eye soup. Somebody please invent a car that runs on nuclear fusion, so we can tell the Saudis--and the rest of the Middle East--to go hump some opposite-sex camels (wouldn't want to violate sex segregation laws!), and get their embassies off our soil.

These folks dabbled in algebra when most of Europe was still bashing each other's skulls in over the leftover scraps of the Roman Empire. Somewhere, somehow, their culture has taken a hard U-turn since then.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

notes from a weekday.

I didn't want to leave the house today, but Quinn kept bugging me to "go to the store, daddy?" all morning, so I finally caved in and saddled up the War Wagon just before lunch.

We went to the neighborhood grocery store, where I picked up some alibi Diet Rite, and some sandwich components. In the cheese aisle, where I was browsing for sliced Muenster, Quinn gazed at the variety of cheeses of all kinds, and kept repeating "Cheese!" in a hushed, reverent sort of tone.

After the tenth awed "Cheese!", I nodded and said, "Yeah. What a friend we have in cheeses!"

The older lady over by the yogurt section shot me a scandalized glance, but I think I heard her chuckle as we moved off with our sliced Muenster.

Other activities for the day: keeping the kids fed and content, making lunch for Quinn and myself, cleaning up the kitchen, and using the brief hour of "I can't believe they're both napping at the same time!" to practice ILS approaches with the Baron 58 in "pea soup" meteorological conditions. That's about a typical weekday for me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

mad mothers.

I've been noticing increasingly outlandish campaigns by MADD over the last few years, and I've come to the firm conclusion that the Mothers Against Drunk Driving have morphed into the new American Temperance Society.

I read about a recent court case where two parents let their son have a party for his sixteenth birthday at their house. Knowing that the kids would most likely drink clandestinely at a different house otherwise, the parents let the guests drink beer at their house. They collected all the car keys from the guests upon arrival, and the party commenced, roughly half the teenagers present having some beer in the course of the evening. Everyone was picked up at the end of the evening, and there were no accidents or drunk driving arrests.

Well, somebody told their parents about this event, someone called the cops on the parents, and they were charged with Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor, thirty charges. The parents were convicted and sentenced to two years in jail each.

Now, whether you think they did a smart thing or a dumb thing by letting those kids have beer in a supervised and controlled setting, think about the implications of that punishment for a moment. Here you have two adults who will go to jail for two years, most likely lose their house and livelihoods as a result, and two teenagers who will be separated from their parents and forced to live with relatives or in foster care. Now, if the original reason for the law was the avoidance of harm to children, can such a punishment truly said to be in their interest?

There was a "Point/Counterpoint" talk on one of the news networks, where an advocate for the family squared off against a representative from MADD. The MADD guy (huh? when did he become a mother?) basically parroted that it was a just sentence, because "they broke the law". His entire argument was centered around that mantra, and he repeated it as much as he could. He tried to back up his argument with the anecdote of a kid from the same high school as those partygoers, who had died recently in a drunk-driving accident, and therefore there was some sort of message that needed to be sent.

From where I'm sitting, it looks like the parents did their level best to prevent drunk driving, and they succeeded--none of the kids got behind the wheel of a car, whether they had been drinking or not. The absolute best way to increase the drunk driving fatalities among teenagers is to forbid them from drinking altogether, thereby assuring they meet in out-of-the-way places without supervision, and then get killed on the way home.

It's funny how many conservatives can get bent out of shape about the liberal approach to guns and gun safety education. That approach is "Don't touch it, don't even think about it, and pretend it doesn't exist until you're twenty-one." Well, many of the conservatives use the very same approach with alcohol and sex...they know it makes no sense to introduce the thrill of the forbidden and couple it with a lack of education when it comes to guns, but they're shocked and dismayed when the same approach results in the US having the leading rates of youth drunk driving deaths and teenage pregnancies in the industrialized world.

Anyway, MADD is no longer against drunk driving, they're against all forms of alcohol consumption that could conceivably result in someone driving while intoxicated--which means they're against alcohol consumption, period. If they were for the prevention of drunk driving, they wouldn't applaud two parents having their lives destroyed and getting locked up with drug dealers and rapists for two years--and their kids having to go into foster care--because they told themselves, "Hey, the kids are going to have beer anyway...why don't we make sure they do it without harming themselves or others?"

Monday, November 12, 2007


When I put my little "Five Airplanes" thingie together, I started thinking about what really made my particular choices stand out among all the other excellent aircraft I could have picked. Then I came to the conclusion that the same thing that makes these particular human-made tools remarkable is also the thing that makes any great human-made object remarkable, and that's intangibles.

Every once in a while, an engineer or artist manages to create something that is far more than merely the sum of its parts, something that performs far better than the addition of its specifications on a sheet of paper may suggest. Aviation is full of such creations, for example. There's no specific list of features that made the Douglas DC-3 the legend it is, but rather the way those features add up to something above and beyond sterile numbers about performance, cargo capacity, or range. A well-designed piece of machinery has much in common with a good musical symphony—you can dissect them into numbers and notes, but when you hear the thrumming of a DC-3s Cyclone or Twin Wasp engines, or the opening motif of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, you realize that you're witness to something significant.

Almost every one of us has favorites among our selection of tools, and most of the time, we can't precisely put our finger on the exact reason why we prefer our favorites over any other tool for a particular job. The more vital the task, the more attached we are to the tool in question, and there are few issues more vital and personal than self-defense. Therefore, people tend to get very attached to their choice of sidearm, for example, and that's the main factor behind the endless "brand war" discussions we see on the discussion boards dedicated to guns and self-defense.

A person's preference in personal sidearms is unassailable. You cannot convince a man of the inferiority of his pistol by dragging out sterile data if he's been carrying that pistol through thick and thin, war and peace, calm and danger, for the last ten or twenty or thirty years. Their reason for picking that particular gun might be insufficient for you, and your personal preference may beat theirs on paper when it comes to empirical factors like capacity, weight, or loading speed, but you cannot overcome intangibles with mere numbers.

Take my personal preference as an example. I've often talked about the virtues of my carry gun, the Smith & Wesson K-frame with a three-inch barrel. In a toe-to-toe battle of statistics, any Glock fan could beat me soundly with sheer numbers. A Glock 19, for example, is lighter, holds two and a half times more ammunition, and is much faster to reload than my S&W Model 13. On paper, the Glock 19 is the superior self-defense weapon, beating the Model 13 in nearly every category. So why do I carry the Smith instead of a Glock 19?

Why, intangibles, of course.

The M13 has a heft to it that's lacking in the Glock. It has just the right amount of weight—heavy enough to absorb recoil and make follow-up shots easy, and light enough to not be a burden on the belt. Yeah, the Glock is lighter, but the Smith is light enough, striking just the right balance between shooting and carrying comfort. It doesn't need to weigh twelve ounces, because it's not a pocket gun. (On a side note, if you can tell the difference between a 25-ounce gun and a 30-ounce gun on your belt, you need a better belt and holster, not a lighter gun.) Now, how do you quantify the "proper" weight for a gun? The simple answer is that you can't, because "proper" in this case depends on the purpose of the gun, and the opinion of the person who has to carry it. To me, a three-inch K-frame on the belt is just right, but to someone else, a fifteen-ounce J-frame in the front pocket is just right. Can you argue who's correct, armed with just a spec sheet with numbers on it? Of course you can't.

The M13 has other intangibles that make it superior to the Glock in my mind. It's more reliable—not hugely so, since the Glock is a very reliable design as well—but enough to make me trust it just a smidge more. It's more adaptable to my hand, and balances better because it's less top-heavy. It's easier to verify as loaded—all I have to do is to glance at the back of the cylinder. It's a self-contained system—there are no magazines to lug around, and no need to spend another $200 on a sufficient stash of them. It lets me keep all my brass, every last piece, and I don't have to bend down and spend fifteen minutes picking up empties every time I go to the range. It's less ammunition-sensitive—I don't have to spend any time trying to find a load that feeds well, and I can load and unload it a hundred times a day without having to worry about bullet setback and marred brass or bullets. It holds less rounds than the Glock, but I'm a better shot with it because it makes me place those fewer rounds more judiciously—with the Glock, I always have the thought of "I got plenty more" in the back of my head, and it's easier to get sloppy with shot placement. It's more monolithic in construction—you can't put it out of battery by pushing the muzzle into an assailant, and it makes a better impact weapon in a pinch.

All of these factors put together add up to something that I don't get with any other carry gun, and that's something you can't really express with cold, hard data. The M13 on my belt gives me the warm-and-fuzzies in a way the Glock doesn't, and you will not be able to talk me out of one in exchange for the other by talking about capacity, weight, reloading speed, or anything else to which you can attach numbers.

The next time you read a discussion about Glock vs. 1911, pistol vs. revolver, Ford vs. Chevy, Piper vs. Cessna, New England vs. Dixie, or any other attempt to quantify intangibles and determine that "A is better than B", look at it as if they're trying to establish whether Beethoven's Fifth or Mozart's Symphony No.40 are the better compositions. Could there be a bigger waste of time?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

a da vinci code.

Apparently, if you put Da Vinci's The Last Supper on a turntable and play it backwards, there's a hidden musical message or something. "Kill Your Parents", or "The Earth is a Sphere", perhaps.

Proof positive that people can read hidden patterns and messages into anything if they look at it long enough (and if they want to find something badly enough.)

five airplanes.

Edited and improved! Now with pictures!

I like airplanes. Since there's a "Five Airplanes" meme going around, I'm powerless to resist it. So, here are my five picks.

They're not in any order, though. There's a pure fighter, an attack jet, a piston-powered attack plane, a medium transport, and a light taildragger, so they all served a distinct purpose, and as such would be hard to measure up against each other in a "better than" contest. They're also largely planes that hardly ever make a "Top Five" list, except for the first one on the list.

Supermarine Spitfire

The sexiest fighter ever is the Supermarine Spitfire. There can be no argument about this; anyone who doesn't think that the Spitfire is to fighter aircraft what the Mona Lisa is to paintings simply has all of their taste in their mouth. It also had the capabilities to match its looks, which made it a supermodel with a punch. Fast, extremely maneuverable, and eminently adaptable, the various evolutions of the Spitfire were always at the top of the heap of piston-powered fighters in WWII, and with a good pilot behind the funny little ring-shaped stick, more than a match for anything the Jerries and Japs could put into the sky.

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

The little attack jet known as the "Scooter" or "Bantam Bomber" hardly ever makes any "Top Ten" lists, but it's one of those designs they got just right for the intended purpose. Small, simple, agile, and robust, the A-4 was much loved by its pilots. A quarter the cost of an F-4 Phantom II, and with a wingspan so small that folding wings were not required for carrier use, the A-4 is a lot of capability in a well-engineered and balanced little package. A Skyhawk was the first jet airplane model I ever put together as a wee lad, and I've had an affinity for the A-4 ever since.

Douglas DC-3/C-47

Sure, it's slow and lumbering, it doesn't carry bombs, and it can't shoot down enemy fighters, but the DC-3 brought the bullets and the other stuff necessary for fighting a war. The hero of the early airlines, the DC-3 was the first passenger plane to make a profit on passengers alone. The DC-3 revolutionized air travel in the 1930s, and it delivered the goods for the proper Hitler-and-Tojo ass-kicking less than a decade later. The old "Gooney Bird" may not be sexy, but she's a great aircraft by any definition of the term.

Piper J-3 Cub

The Model T of aviation, the little taildragger served as a trainer for more pilots than any other aircraft. Clad in olive drab paint, it served with distinction as a messenger, reconnaissance, and light transport plane in WWII. The Cub's STOL capabilities are unmatched, and there's simply no better fixed-wing airplane for flying in the weeds. Cubs soldier on as pleasure aircraft, and there's still a remarkable number of them delivering the goods up in Alaska, where its STOL capabilities make it popular with bush pilots.

Grumman G-21 "Goose"

The Grumman G-21 started out intended as a "flying yacht" commuter plane for wealthy Long Island businessmen in the 1930s. World War II intervened, and the little seaplane was put to use as a naval patrol and SAR plane. In British service, it acquired its nickname "Goose". The G-21 can haul a fair bit of cargo almost anywhere, not being constrained by availability of airstrips, and many ex-military Gooses were happily snatched up by civilian operators, especially in Alaska and Canada. The Goose is a sturdy "land anywhere" utility plane that has no equal to this day when it comes to sheer fuctionality.

Those are my picks. They are, of course, entirely subjective, but I tried to think of the kind of airplane that was simply a superior tool for the job at hand at the time, not just the best-looking one.

hours of entertainment!

In the wake of the latest Chinese toy recall ("Aqua Beads! Now with 150% more Date Rape Drugs!"), I'm fairly certain that if I had a buck for every stoner who rushed to WalMart to look for remaining Aqua Beads stock after hearing the news, I could probably buy some swank solid gold bathroom fixtures for the new house.

november 10, 1775.

Happy birthday, United States Marine Corps!

Friday, November 9, 2007

all the cool kids are doing it, part XVIII

Your Inner European is Dutch!

Open minded and tolerant.
You're up for just about anything.

I have to admit to a strong affinity there. Lovely country, free-spirited culture, and friendly people. If I were to relocate to Europe again, I'd probably live in the Netherlands, albeit close enough to the border to be close to the family in Germany.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

what’s so great about local rule?

One of the most pervasive beliefs in conservative circles is the concept of "States' rights", and by extension, that of "local control". The idea here is that power, political and otherwise, ought to lie with the states, and the communities within those states. The Feds, nosy and pushy bastards they are, seem to make everything their business, and over the years, they've perverted the Commerce Clause and exploited the power of the purse to take control away from the states and communities.

One thing I won't dispute here, and that's the tendency of the federal government to usurp powers that were not intended for it by the framers of the Constitution. The Commerce Clause in particular has been "the clause for the cause" of unlimited federal involvement, as nowadays you are held to influence interstate commerce merely by growing your own plants in the backyard and selling them right on your curb to residents of your town. Government is only good at few things, but among those are self-justification and expansion, and the Hydra that is our Federal government has had more than two hundred years to grow some new heads.

That said, I have a bit of a problem with the whole concept of "States' rights". First of all, States (or any governments at any level) have no rights. States have powers. In a Constitutional Republic like ours, those powers are enumerated in the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment reads: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

The federal government has, at least in theory, a very specific range of powers granted to it by the Constitution. It's essentially a "You May" list addressed to the Feds, and if a power is not listed on that parchment as having been delegated to it, the government may not engage in it, because it's not authorized by the States and the people to exercise it. (The Bill of Rights, as an addition to the Constitution, is a "You May Not" list, enumerating a bunch of things the government may not ever do.) Both those documents are a restriction on government, not on private citizens.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle routinely mistake the Constitution as a "You May" list addressed to the citizens, and that misconception is shared by the population at large, which is why even a Supreme Court justice can publically state that 'there is no Constitutional right to an abortion' without being laughed off the bench. Technically, he is correct, but conceptually, he's completely off the mark—citizen rights are not limited by the Constitution at all, only government powers are, and there's not a thing on that parchment about the government having the power to either prohibit or allow abortions. (I bet someone could pull some reasoning out of the hat in order to make abortion subject to the Commerce Clause, since damn near everything else falls under it these days.)

So far, so good. If the Feds don't have the power, then the States have it, or the people respectively, right?

The problem here is that states, counties, or even towns are no wiser than the federal government, and that a state legislature, county sheriff, or city council can—and will—trample an individual's rights just as effectively as a federal government, and maybe even more so. Local governments have given us Eminent Domain abuses (remember that it was Kelo vs. City of New London, not Kelo vs. The United States of America), slavery, denial of civil rights through Jim Crow laws, wholesale population disarmament in places like D.C. and Chicago, and a host of other abrogations of individual freedom. In many cities, the Good Ol' Boys' Club runs the show, and it's virtually impossible to get even into local government without being a member. The same holds true for counties and states, and it makes me wonder why people put so much faith into local government when they have such distrust of the federal bureaucracy. Government is a toxic mix of fiscal irresponsibility, self-interest, power lust, incompetence, and mediocrity. The question is this: if you don't trust one government to run your life, why trust any government to run your life? They're all the same in concept and execution.

Now, one thing many folks on the Right and Left have in common (as much as they hate to admit any commonalities) is the belief that a local government can effectively legislate itself whatever kind of society it wants, and that the Constitution and its Amendments only apply to the federal government. In other words, the Feds may not infringe on the right to keep and bear arms, but if a locality decides that it wants to ban guns, that ought to be its right. Conversely, if a locality wants to establish school prayer, ban abortion, or bar non-Christians from public office, then that too should be its right.

Fortunately, Article Six of the Constitution specifies that it (the Constitution) is the supreme law of the land, and that states and localities are only free to pass laws that do not conflict with the Constitution. In other words, if our Constitution prohibits an infringement on the freedom of speech or the right to keep and bear arms, and a state or city passes a law that infringes on those rights, the Constitution takes precedence, and the local law is null and void. (Don't ask me how the gun bans in D.C. and Chicago have managed to remain in place without being challenged all the way to SCOTUS and dismissed by the Nine Bench-Wraiths…then again, I have a good idea as to why that is. See "government" and "toxic mix" above.)

The supremacy of the federal Constitution makes sense—it's the only thing that makes sense. If the Constitution exists to limit government and protect the rights of the individual citizen, then it makes no sense at all to say that "States rights" or local rule can trump it. Every last one of us (except the folks in D.C.) is resident of a state and a city or town, and if those entities can override and contradict the Constitution willy-nilly, then the parchment is completely worthless. It would be like signing a lease for a house, and then violating the terms of the lease at will, claiming that the contract only applies to the house as a whole, and not to the individual rooms therein.

Conversely, if you trust your neighbors, townsfolk, or same-staters to run your life, what difference does it make to trust the folks in Washington as well? After all, the states are all represented in both House and Senate. Some of your neighbors sit in the House on behalf of you, and two of them sit in the Senate to represent your state. If you object to federal dominion just because you only get a 2% say on the federal level, why is it that you agree with yet another neighbor having the same power just because he drives to the Capitol in Nashville, Augusta, Atlanta, or Concord instead of Washington?

No, friends and neighbors, a few hundred career civil servants in your State Capitol or City Hall can step on your rights and take your stuff just as efficiently as a few hundred in Washington, D.C., and the only difference between those two groups is the accent. In the end, they're all after the same things—staying in office, serving their own interests at the public expense, and taking money out of your pocket to give it to someone else in exchange for votes and influence.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

new hampshire bound.

I've been sitting on some news for a while. Until today, I couldn't make it public, but Robin finally gave her notice at work today, so now I can blab.

In a few weeks, we'll load up a moving truck, and drive about a thousand miles north. Robin accepted a position in New Hampshire, and we purchased a new house there.

There are many reasons for the move--much better pay for Robin, more agreeable climate (yes, we both like our winters cold and snowy), and a much more convenient location for trips to and from Germany. The main reason, however, is our living situation.

We have a little two-bedroom starter home in the 'burbs of K-town. When I moved into this place with Robin five years ago, it was just the two of us and two dachsies, and the space was sufficient--not opulent, but workable. Since then, the family has grown in size by 100%, and the same two bedrooms and 1300 square feet are shared by two adults, two kids, and four dachshunds. Add all the stuff a couple accumulates over the years, consider the room required for kids to play, and the little brick house in the 'burbs is popping at the seams. We're at least one bedroom short, and that extra bedroom would just cover the adults and kids, with no room for guests or an office.

In addition, we're on a street where the houses are built elbow-to-elbow, with just enough space between the units for a tall guy to stretch his arms and just barely miss touching brick with his fingertips. The backyard is fenced, but with the neighbors right on top of us, there's really no privacy to speak of, unless we have the doors closed and the blinds drawn.

So, when Robin got a job offer in New Hampshire, we went house shopping, and she took a few days to see some places in person. We found a house we really liked, and made an offer on it. They accepted, the bank gave us the thumbs-up, and everything's signed. Barring any last-minute issues, we'll be taking possession of our new house shortly after Thanksgiving.

The new house has more than twice the square footage of our current one, close to 3,000 square feet, and it comes with over ten acres of land, on the outskirts of a village of 4,000 or so. It's close enough to work for Robin (a thirty-minute commute), and far enough away from everything else for us to not bother (or be bothered by) anyone. We'll have enough space for kids, dogs, and guests, and I can finally set up my own backyard shooting range. There's even a trail and a little campsite on the property, which will be nice in the summer and fall. Robin can finally have her vegetable patch, and we may even start keeping a chicken coop.

I'm not looking forward to the move. Hauling furniture is not my favorite thing in the world, and the two kids and four dogs will require numerous potty and feeding breaks along the way. We're both looking forward to the new place, however, and that'll serve as a good motivator for the journey. In addition, Robin's mom and my brother will be riding with us to help with the move, which will make things easier on us.

So, yeah, we're excited. The best thing about the place--other than the whole backyard range thing--is the fact that I'll be able to step out onto the front porch in my boxer briefs with a gun in one hand, and a glass of bourbon in the other, and nobody will be around to care...or call the SWAT team on me.

Not that I would ever do such thing, mind you. (Well, maybe once, just to celebrate our new solitude.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

do you bite your thumb at me, matey?

Anyone out there who's a.) handy with Photoshop, and b.) interested in getting in at the ground level of my groundbreaking "Romeo and Juliet" production?

To recap, I noted a while ago that nobody's ever done a buccaneer-themed version of Romeo and Juliet. Therefore, I came up with the concept of a Shakespeare adaptation featuring pirates and ninjas. Romeo is the son of a pirate, and Juliet is the daughter of a ninja. That's a recipe for high drama in my book.

"In fair Sarasota, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where Ninja blood makes Pirate hands unclean."

The fight scenes between the Montague pirate crew and the Capulet ninja clan will be like nothing ever seen on stage. We're talking flintlock pistols belching, shuriken flying, and cutlass clashing with katana.

To that end, I need a weathered-looking playbill that has a katana crossed with a cutlass. It should look like it was inked on parchment by some Elizabethan advertising guy working for the Globe. That would be awesome--and by awesome, I mean totally sweet.

Now, another question is...can we work in werewolves, too?

Monday, November 5, 2007

quinn and pals.

Quinn likes to go on errands with daddy. All I have to do is announce that we're going to the store, and he'll dash off to his room to get ready.

"Getting ready" entails grabbing a big armful of stuffed critters off the bed, and then waiting at the front door for daddy to catch up. Leaving the house without his fuzzy pals is unthinkable. There have been days where he's been content with just one or two of them in addition to the ever-present Schmusetuch, but on most days his stuffed posse needs to be at least three strong.

And don't think he'll leave them in the car once we're at our destination...they all have to ride in the shopping cart with him.

Here he is, ready to roll with his pals.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

guilty gun pleasures.

Here's my guilty gun pleasure: a ratty old Hi-Standard Double Nine.

It's a nine-shot .22 double action revolver, styled to look like a single-action sixgun. The frame is alloy, and the cylinder swings out for loading and unloading. This particular model was acquired as a bonus on a trade a few years back. (Note the faux pearl factory stocks, which drive up the Blue Book price a whole ten dollars.)

It's not the prettiest gun in the world. The double-action feature is kind of pointless, since the pull weight is well north of twenty pounds, and probably closer to thirty. Fortunately, the grip and hammer shape are well-suited for single-action shooting. Despite its homeliness and lack of dollar value, it's actually a ton of fun to shoot in that fashion. It sits in the hand and points just like most single-action revolvers. It's a dandy plinker with regular .22LR ammo, and it'll also shoot .22 Shorts and CBs. With the primer-only Colibris, it even turns into a respectable indoor gallery gun.

Book value of this thing is around a hundred bucks, but the fun I've had out of it adds up to many times that value. I suspect it'll end up in Quinn's or Lyra's possession in the's not like the recoil of the .22LR is likely to wear that ugly little thing out any time soon.

Friday, November 2, 2007

aviation trivia.

Arniotis Karamanlakis was a Greek aviation pioneer. He holds two claims to fame--the first private aviator in Greece (he purchased a Bleriot XI), and the first aviation-related fatality in Greece.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

keep your village away from my kid.

Over at Roberta X's blog, there's a good piece up on the morality of taking from others to pay for what you can't afford, even if it is your child's life on the line.

Keep your village away from my child, I say.

I love my children more than anything. I'd do anything to save their lives if they were in danger, up to and including giving up my own if necessary. To tell you the honest truth, if one of them was so sick that our own money and all our insurance couldn't pay for a lifesaving treatment, there's a microscopic chance I may even violate my own libertarian ethics and steal to get the money.

But in the highly unlikely event that it ever happens, you can be damn sure I'll have the decency to do the stealing myself, instead of using Uncle Sugar as an intermediary, and then feeling all entitled to the loot. At least I'd run the risk myself.

Theft is theft, even if it's "for the children", and no amount of fancy apologist language about "social contracts" and "fairness" can make it not so.