Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The weird thing about Arizona

A couple days ago, the temperature dipped down into the low 30's; and I thought maybe we might actually have a late fall/ early spring (we never actually have winter here).

In a little under ten and a half hours, it will be January 2009; and right now it's 74, bright and sunny out, and I have a very confused bee buzzing around my head.

The low tonight should hit somewhere around 45.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Most Basic of Differing First Principles

Yesterday during a conversation with Chris's mother, I came to a most unexpected realization.

She rattled on about some reality show she watched that showed real ER doctors in real situations, and how disappointed she was that these doctors didn't "do" more.

Mel: "What do you mean?"
Jane: "All they do is hand off patients to other doctors in other areas."
Mel: "And? That's their job. Take care of emergencies and send patients to the specialists best able to deal with the problem."
Jane: "But I thought they were gods. I thought they could handle everything, and knew everything."
Mel: "That's impossible."
Jane: "But that's the way its supposed to be."
Mel: "No, that's the way you think it's supposed to be."
Jane: "But aren't they supposed to know everything?"
Mel: "No, they can't. It's something of a minor miracle that they know enough to help at all, and there's still huge gaps in scientific knowledge."

And that's when it hit me. She and I were coming from completely differing first principles. She wanted everything to be perfect, where sickness was "something wrong" and if only the doctors put their unlimited knowledge to the problem, they could fix it. I was coming from the first principle that shit happens, the world is chaotic, and when the doctors could do something, it was because of a combination of medical knowledge and medical progress made over thousands of years.

Then I realized Og was having the exact same problem in his anarchy discussions. In fact, Jane's position and Billy Beck's position could be summed up as

The world is perfect. People are perfect. If we could just keep from messing things up, everything would stay perfect.

If we could keep from getting sick, things would be perfect. If we just didn't mess with other people and kept our own boundaries, we wouldn't need government because everything would be perfect.

If only evil man would stop polluting the planet and save the polar bears, everything would be BACK to perfect.

This entire principle assumes that there is such a thing as "perfect".

My position, however, and Og's position could be summed up as

The world is chaotic and shit happens. Nothing is intrinsically perfect. Deal with it.

Humans are prone to sickness, and the only thing that keeps up from dying is concerted effort on our part, and the accumulation of medical progress as applied by those who have studied the work of those before them. People are flawed, and a very few people would make life hell for the vast majority without some sort of outside interference. The world is constantly changing, and adapting, and all life must change with it. All order in this world is a direct consequence of seeing what works (i.e. living and surviving), noticing what doesn't work (death) and diligently replicating what works (i.e. adaptation).

These are the most basic of first principles. One can either assume the world is perfect and everything wrong is due to destruction of the perfect, or can assume that the world is flawed to begin with everything good is due to hard work, observation, and diligence in the War Against Entropy.

Where do you stand?

Mel

Cross-posted at Mrs. Anarchangel

Best "Modern" battle scenes

In my post on "The Lord of the Rings" the other day, I said:
I still think that the battle for Helms Deep is the best pre-modern battle scene ever put to film (the modern battle king is of course the opening of "Saving Private Ryan").
A reader, SS, respectfully disagrees:
Your main point here is LOR, but I take exception to your drive by comment that the best modern day combat scene is the opening of Saving Private Ryan.

Although good, it is by no means great.

At a minimum the true to life seizure of the field artillery battery during D-Day by E Co, 101st Airborne at Brecourt, in Band of Brothers is superior.

A. It is historically accurate, and actually happened, whereas Spielberg's depiction is a scene of chaos.

B. Although these actions almost certainly happened on Omaha Beach, it is as unlikely as the rest of Hollywood plot of SPR, that these events all happened to the Rangers at Point du Hoc.

C. Although I am no fan of Spielberg for his position on the 2nd Amendment, feel Dale Dye is over rated as a historical consultant, and there has been some recent controversy over Ambrose's work, in sum the wide lens of Band of Brothers at least tries to be accurate.

D. As to the scene itself, close in hand camera jerkiness should not be confused for depicting the "Fog of War" or the "View from the Trenches". This is a Spielberg trademark in his later works and the low camera angle lacks depth.

Again this is Hollywood focusing on the unfamiliar and not the routine. IMHO this is a trite contrivance.

It is the FUBAR that is routine and Courage that is uncommon. Please, irrespective of Hollywood, I have the utmost respect for the 2nd Ranger Bn, 5th Ranger Bn, and the 101st Airborne Div (506 PLR)."
This was my response:
SS. actually I agree that in general, Band of Brothers is superior to "Private Ryan". I just re-watched both scenes on DVD, and still feel the "Ryan" scene is the better modern battle scene by far; because of its scope, scale, and impact.

Yes, BoB was more accurate; but it was far "smaller". The scene depicted (in fact almost every scene from BoB, as well as most scenes other than the opener for Ryan) is a small unit action; whereas the Ryan opener captures at least some sense of the immense scale of the Omaha beach landing.
I felt like expanding that however; one because a comment response doesn't really cover it, and two, because this is a very interesting subject.

I should note that I was referring very specifically to the opening 24 minutes, portraying the landing at Omaha beach (as it happens, and not at all relevant to the quality thereof; some friends of mine are in that scene. The Irish Army made up the bulk of the soldiers; including some of my drinking and football mates).

Although the battle at the radar installation, and the push through St. Mer Eglise were good; they don't approach the opening sequence at all; and there are better scenes (in fact better scenes depicting the same events) in other movies.

In the Omaha beach scene, yes, the handheld camera action can be jerky and distracting; but it also represents the viewpoint of an individual soldier quite well. The scope and sweep of the thing is just crushing. The sound design is the best I've ever heard for ANY scene of any kind. The cinematography is perfect....

To my mind, there is no better single modern battle scene ever put to film.

At any rate, I thought I'd list my top five modern battle scenes here, and ask you for yours (I define modern in this case as post civil war, and not set in the future):
1. "Saving Private Ryan", Omaha beach landing
2. "Band of Brothers", artillery seizure at Brecourt
3. "We Were Soldiers", siege of IA Drang valley (admittedly, this is most of the movie, not just a single scene).
4. "Zulu", the battle for Rorkes drift (also my favorite Michael Caine performance)
5. "Tora Tora Tora", the bombing of Pearl Harbor
There are a lot of others that I could have put on this list. The airborne assault from "A Bridge Too Far" for example; or the landing in "the longest day".

Actually, five years after I first watched it, and at least two years after I last watched it, the battle for Bastogne from "Band of Brothers" still sticks with me; much more than Brecourt.

Then there's the river crossing in "Enemy at the Gates".

I can't watch Gordon and Shugart defending Super 64 in "Blackhawk down" without crying. No exaggeration; in fact just thinking about it now and I'm tearing up.

Speaking of tearing up; knowing about Rorkes Drift, and about Rick Rescorla (Ia Drang, and 9/11 both); I can't listen to this song without doing so:



Oh and when the hell is someone going to make a movie about Operation Hump? Yes I realize Viet Nam movies are unfashionable, but that's a story that should be told on film.

I LOVE the air cav assault on the beach in Apocalypse now; but it's not exactly a great battle scene... more of a crowning moment of awesomeness.

The battle for Hue city in Full Metal Jacket is a crusher. Sure it's all drama no accuracy; it's still amazing.

I could go on for hours. In fact I don't know if I can really make that list a "top five" or even a top 50, because some of these scenes are so different it's hard to compare them to each other.

So, what are your favorites?

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"

838 years ago, Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Moreville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton did; based on an offhand annoyed utterance by an absolute monarch.

Coincidentally, precisely 767 years later; the Irish (or rather 26/32nds of them) finally freed themselves of those meddlesome kings (though the process was significantly more difficult than that of the four knights, and poor Fr. Beckett).

Amazing Interview with George Carlin

Actually, it's an amazing series of interviews with many great actors, comedians, producers and other "television legends"; but Carlin is the gateway drug so to speak.

Unfortunately, they've disabled embedding for part 1, but I can link directly to it. I will however embed part 2 and 3 (combined):

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The 12 Hours of the Rings

So Mel and I did something we've been meaning to do for some time; but haven't had a chance to, since it takes a good 12 hours uninterrupted.

We watched the entirety of the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back; only breaking between films for a meal, a snack, and to use the facilities.

I have a few comments to make on the experience.

First, it was in no way boring or tedious. They really are great films, of a wonderful world and a wonderful story. I don't see how anyone could be bored by that.

However...

Peter Jackson does not know how to end a movie.

At all.

It's even worse in the extended editions.

Especially "The Return of the King"; which has four endings, all of them bad.

I still think the Return of the King was the weakest of the three; mostly because of the ending(s); but also because of the battle of Pelennor fields.

Both "Two Towers" and "Return of the King" suffer in the extended cuts from the interminable Sam and Frodo sequences.

In that vein, Peter Jackson really has some unresolved repressed homosexuality issues to work through.

I still think that the battle for Helms Deep is the best pre-modern battle scene ever put to film (the modern battle king is of course the opening of "Saving Private Ryan").

I really dislike the battle of Pelennor fields, and the siege of Minas Tirath; with an excessive and unnecessary use of non-canon deus ex machina (the armys of the dead). The only good parts of that whole sequence are Eowyn killing the witch king; and the Olyphant charge.

The extended versions are far better films in most every way; though there are some things which he should have cut. Some scenes either don't work, or just go on too long.

The way to watch them really is one after the other. I of course saw them one at a time as they came out; and had not done the marathon since; and it greatly improves the narrative and feel of the thing. The films were written, shot, and edited as one film; and only cut up for release... funnily enough much as "The Lord of the Rings" was written as a single book and split in three for publication... and the best way to enjoy the story is all in one.

The extended version has much better characterization and story arcs for Boromir, and Faramir. The theatrical cuts of the films I thought butchered them both. Also Sean Bean was great (as always), and in the extended edition David Wenham really shines; something he couldn't do with the nothing role the theatrical cut reduced Faramir to.

Frodo is simply poorly characterized throughout; more pathetic melodrama than character, and this is worsened in the extended edition. Sam (as is appropriate to the hobbits arc) is the true hero of the piece, more so than anyone else; and again this is very much emphasized in the extended edition.

Similarly, Gimli is still weak comic relief; an insult to a wonderful character (though I do enjoy Johnathan Rhys-Davies performance of him).

Orlando Bloom can't act, but that's OK because Legolas as written doesn't require any acting ability.

Liv Tyler also can't act; but Arwen as written (in the movie, not the book) actually needs some acting ability, and her lack thereof leaves the character as hollow. Again, this is much worse in the extended edition.

Eowyn was much better in the extended edition; unfortunately Eomer was still nothing.

Andy Sirkis was robbed when the academy disqualified him for an oscar nomination because his characterization was motion captured then animated over. That was Sirkis's performance, not the animators, and he deserved a best supporting actor nomination at least.

You can't bitch about the Balrog, because Tolkien himself had multiple descriptions for them, including one like that used in the movie. Besides which, the Balrog in the movie was pretty cool.

No, I don't miss Tom Bombadil, or the Scouring of the Shire; I think the movies are better without them (though you have to see the extended versions or leaving out the scouring makes no sense), ... and in fact the book would have been as well.

I hate adaptation purity nazis.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Man and Wife

As of 5 o'clock this afternoon, Mel and I are legally man and wife.

For those who don't know, Mel and I had a commitment marriage (a private ceremony) three years ago; but were unable to get legally married because of her ex in Canada drawing out her divorce to a ridiculous degree.

The final divorce decree came down a few weeks ago (unfortunately we are still battling over custody), and we decided to get legally married as soon as we could conveniently do so.

Understand that Mel and I have considered ourselves married since we swore our oaths three years ago; but the legal acknowledgment of our marriage is important for many reasons (legal, social, personal).

The day after Christmas just seemed like a good time. My grandparents were married on New Years day, we're legally married the day after Christmas... an eventful time of year.

So, this afternoon we swore before god, our friends Kristina and John, and the state of Arizona (in the person of Justice of the Peace C. Steven McMurry) to love, honor, and cherish each other from this day until the ends of our lives.

McMurry is a short, stout, red headed and curly haired Irishman; with portraits of Kennedy and Reagan up on the wall (as he said, "the two Irish presidents"); and a laugh, a smile, and a real love for his job.

It's funny, but I thought of what my grandfather would think, me being married by a redheaded Irish judge (as he was, 55 years ago)... I think he would have loved it.

McMurry conducted a truly beautiful ceremony. In fact, if you choose to have a civil marriage in Arizona, I would seriously encourage you to seek out his services as officiant.

After the ceremony, we had a celebration dinner at the newly opened Fogo de Chao in Scottsdale; eating our favorite type of special occasion meal, Churrascaria (Hmmm, meat... lots and lots of meat).

I kind of like things this way. Quiet, just a couple of friends, in the most wonderful time of the year (and no, I don't mean that in any kind of funny or ironic way). It just feels right.

We're still going to have a catholic wedding when Mels' annulment comes through; but that will take up to two and a half years (18 months is the minimum). We'll be doing the big wedding thing then (well, we're going to try to keep it small, but still more than a few guests); but I'm more happy than I can tell you, to be legal married today.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Prayers Tonight

Mels brother Tim moved to Dallas a few months ago. Tim has chronic kidney disease (technically IgA nephropathy), as a result of an infection inducing acute renal failure 10 years ago; which has left him with about 40% function of his kidneys.

Since he's moved to Dallas, he's had a problem receiving proper treatment. Tim has atypical drug reactions, and it took him and his doctors years to understand what worked for him and what didn't.

Unfortunately, many doctors seem to believe that their pronouncements are infallible dictats from god, subject to no disagreement, or even the actual reality of the patient in front of them. Thus, his nephrologist in Dallas has decided that it's not that the treatments are wrong, it's that Tim is not complying with instructions.

Tim is many things, some good some not; but what he most definitely is, is absolutely anal about following his treatment regimen.

It was NOT following proper treatment that killed his kidneys in the first place; and only through diligent adherence to his regimen did he not only survive, but improve his kidney function from around 20% to around 40%.

Yesterday, Tim went to the emergency room in Dallas with his blood pressure spiking to 200/120. Elevated blood pressure is one of many side effects of Tims treatment regimen; but that is dangerously high.

While there, his nephrologist insisted that the reason Tims blood pressure was through the roof, was because he was non-compliant, and that he didn't need any other treatment but to get back on his regimen.

Tim fired his nephrologist in Dallas yesterday and got on a plane this afternoon.

This was mostly because he is a stubborn idiot. I'm sure he can find a good nephrologist in Dallas, and flying with his blood pressure like that is dangerous and stupid... but he's here.

Mel picked him up about three hours ago, and they went straight to the hospital where he's been recieving treatment for years.

He was just admitted with a hypertensive emergency. It's a recurrence of acute renal failure, complicated by acute hypertension; with his blood pressure at 245/145.

The conventional treatment (SNP and Clonidine) isn't bringing his blood pressure down, and they're worried about trying anything else because of his atypical reactions, and his kidneys .

Because his BP is so high, they have to worry about ischemia, and because of his severely reduced kidney function they have to be VERY careful about what drugs to administer(captopril for example, another typical emergency hypertension treatment, could kill him). They're starting him on a slow Labetalol IV to try and bring his BP down over about 8 hours.

His old nephrologist will be seeing him in the morning.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas



Probably won't be posting anything 'til Monday. May god bless you and keep you, and you families and friends.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Saw Stop in Action

The SawStop is a great system. Really, it would be wonderful if it was widely available on every saw. Unfortunately, the owner of the technology won't license it to anyone for less than extorionate rates (as in doubling the cost of a table saw.

Ok, every inventor has the right to make money of their invention, and I wouldn't begrudge the man that, but for one thing: Hee's lobbying congress, and the CPSC (consumer products safety comission) to make SawStop mandatory on all tablesaws in the U.S.

Sorry buddy, it won't fly for the microstamping scumbags either.



The system works, very well in fact; though not with all saw blades (the blade has to be within a certain range of inductance). In fact, sometimesit works a bit too well, in that some woods with resinous saps; and wet wood; will set it off too.

Ooops.

Oh and when it goes off, the saw has to be rebuilt at the cost of from $80 to $300; plus the cost of the blade (and premium saw blades can be very expensive).

Truly, he is "The One"

One of the most amazing photographs I've ever seen

From Boston.com (click to enlarge):

Dunkin Donuts Christmas Blend

Yeah.... no.

If I'd wanted an amaretto cookie, I'd have asked for one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 28 - The Nog Abides

Ahhh, it's that time of year again; when families gather round, exchange gifts and insults, and get royally crocked in front of the tree...

And what holiday season would be complete without our alcoholic eggy friend, Egg Nog.

Not mine, I'll tell you that much.

Much is made of families secret Nog recipes; and how difficult it is to make good Nog.

Hooey.

Egg Nog is EASY; at least in these days of powered hand mixers.

Gather round children and take a listen from old Chris.

Ingredients:
2 quarts whole milk
1 quart heavy cream
8 large or jumbo eggs (or the equivalent thereof)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated white sugar (vanilla sugar preferred)
1 cup butterscotch schnapps, aged or spiced rum, brandy, or bourbon (to taste)
1/2 cup pure vanilla extract
2 tblsp ground REAL cinnamon (not cassia. Cassia will get gummy and bitter)
1 tblsp FRESH ground nutmeg (use a microplane. Jarred nutmeg is awful stuff).
Preparation:

The only real "secret", if it can be said to be a secret at all, is in the preparation.

First things first, you want all your liquid ingredients to be as cold as you can. They'll whip up better, and be more refreshing.

Now, take you 8 eggs, crack them into a large mixing bowl, and beat them until they increase in volume by 50% or so.

Next, slowly beat in the two cups of sugar. This should effectively double the volume of the eggs.

While still beating, add the vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Remember, use fresh here. The jarred powdered stuff is awful.

One caveat; make sure you add the nutmeg and cinnamon in a bit at a time and that it's to your taste. Nutmeg is pretty bitter stuff and some people don't care for more than a touch. Of course since you're adding it in at this stage, the flavor will be stronger in the egg base than in the final mix with the dream and milk.

If you want to get really fancy you can scald the cream with two fresh vanilla beans (seeded and with the seeds in the cream) in it instead of using extract; but you have to do that far enough in advance to allow the cream to cool.

Now whip the cream to a light foam in another large bowl, but not to whipped cream texture. You want to get it light and frothy, not stiff; and then slowly beat the egg mixture in.

Finally, while still beating, mix in your alcohol. Even if you aren't a drinker, you should include SOME alcohol in your nog, because of how it interacts with the flavoring oils and aromatics; and with the milk and egg proteins (though the alcohol in some vanilla extracts could be enough).

A sweet alcohol with a "warm" flavor characterisitic is best here. I personally like butterscotch schnapps.

So, what you have now is effectively egg nog base. Technically speaking, it's a raw custard. As such, you can make up large batches and keep it around refrigerated for about a week. It's also a pretty good base for a custard sauce, or a custard ice cream. It's a bit too thick for drinking however.

When you're ready to drink your Nog, what you want to do is whip up your nog base again to aerate it, then whip in approximately as much whole milk as nog base... maybe a bit less depending on how thick you like your Nog.

Serve cold, with a dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg over the top; or for a bit of extra flair, a float of warm liquor (slowly pour a half measure of a thick warmed liquor - like a rum, not something thinner or astringent - over the back of a spoon held over the top of the nog). Even better, make it a float of hot buttered rum.

How many does this serve? Well, I suppose it depends on how much Nog you like now doesn't it? Depending on how much you whip, the mix above will make about 5 quarts.

Update:

Reader Ted says: "You said it was easy, not that it didn't have calories. Wow. Sounds really good, though."

It is Ted, and it does... have calories that is, lots of them. unlike most of my recipes however, it uses discrete amounts of well known ingredients, so it's relatively easy to calculate the approximate calorie count. Also, Rumpshot asked for a carbohydrate count, and I'll throw that in too.

Perhaps it's against the ethos of the "Recipes for REAL men" to count calories... but I don't think so. In fact, the real ethos is in knowing how many calories are in it, and eating (or in this case drinking) it anyway.

So, lets see what we've got:

64oz milk - 20cal, 1.4gr carbs per oz - 1280cal, 89,6gr carbs
32oz cream - 110cal, .8gr carbs per oz - 3520cal, 25.6gr carbs
16oz sugar - 100cal, 28.4gr carbs per oz - 1600cal, 454.4gr carbs
8oz schnapps - 100cal, 7.3gr carbs per oz - 800cal, 58.4gr carbs
8 eggs - 90cal, 1gr carbs per egg - 720cal, 8gr carbs

Total - 7920cal, 636gr carbs
Volume - approximately 160oz
Calories and carbs - approximately 50 calories, and 4gr of carbs per ounce

So a single 16oz glass of Nog would be about 800 calories, and 64gr carbs.

For comparison, a 20oz imperial pint of Guinness runs about 220 calories.

Funny day when the Guinness is four times "healthier" a beverage eh?

And be sure to check out:
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 27 - That's too turducken hard

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 26 - Hot Smoke
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 25 - That's a Spicy Polpette
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 24 - It's Meat, in Loaf Form
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 23 - Some Like it Hot
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 22 - Full Fat, Full Dairy, All Killer, No Filler
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 21 - Forget About the Dough Boy
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 20 - QDCBS (Quick and Dirty Chili Bean Stew)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 19 - Chicken Salmonella
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 18 - I'll give YOU a good stuffing turkey (1)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 16 - DTG (Damn That's Good) dip
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 15 - More Chocolate Than Cookie
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 14 - Millions of Peaches
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 13 - Mels 10,000 Calorie Butter Cookies
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 12 - Lard Ass Wings
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 11 - Bacon Double Macaroni and Cheese
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 10 - It's the meat stupid
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 9 - Labor Day Potatos
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 8 - It's a pork fat thing
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 7 - It may not be Kosher...
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 6 - Andouille Guiness Chili
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 5 - Eazza the Ultimate Pizza
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 4 - Two Pound Meat Sauce
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 3 - Highbrow Hash
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 2 - MuscleCarbonara
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 1 - More Beef than Stew

Random English Punk

A bit of a mood lifter (and only sorta punk, but still fun):

Rest in Peace Mrs. Roddenberry

Also Nurse Chapel, Lwaxanna Troi, and "computer"...

Majel Barrett Passed on today.

From IO9.com:

"Majel Barrett Roddenberry, the most ubiquitous actor in Star Trek, died today at age 76. The wife of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, she also provided the computer voices on every version of Trek. And she played three pivotal characters: Number One in the pilot, Nurse Chapel in the original series, and Lwaxana Troi in TNG and DS9. She was providing the computer voices for the new Trek movie, and it's not clear if she had finished recording them."

It's gorgeous and I want one


Except I'd really like it with real wood and aluminum please. The imitation just doesn't cut it.

Oh and nixie tube numerals instead of multisegment LEDs.

Heck, I might just do that with one of the nixie clock kits.

Still and all though, not bad for 50 quid.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stupid? Evil? Yes We Can!

John Maynard Keynes... possibly the dumbest smart guy ever



Oh and follow that up with this collection of videos from economists (collected by Reason mag) about the bailout and the artifical non-recession recession we've got going now.

Laptop is No Compute... for good this time

Well, looks like my new (well, now six months old) laptop is kaput.

Thankfully, work sent me a new work laptop recently (After operating without one since May) so I'm not SOL there. Also I made a backup two weeks ago when I was having problems the first time around, so I'm good there. The only thing I'll lose is the couple days worth of files I didn't backup this weekend.

The laptop in question is an HP Pavilion dv9830us; one of the big monster "entertainment notebooks"; and it's been pretty good for me in general. It's certainly fast as hell, the display is gorgeous, it's got HDMI and BluRay etc...

Unfortunately, it also has nVidia disease.

For those of you not aware, the previous generation of nVidia video choips had a fabrication problem that causes many of them to get excessively hot; and by excessively I mean hot enough to warp circuit boards. This has happened in both laptops and desktops; but obviously is somewhat more serious in a laptop.

About two months ago my laptop started getting hotter than normal. Then the fan started coming on and going to high, basicvally all the time. Then the fan started to vibrate (probably a bad bearing), finally in the last week or two the fan has started to fail. This has caused the system to get hot enough to crash, which in turn has lunched the hard drive.

The only reason I haven't sent it back in to HP already... heck, a month ago... is because I was waiting for my work laptop to be fully functional.

Work bought me a brand new Dell Latitude D830, with the discrete Quadro graphics, fast processor, 7200rpm hard drive with hardware encryption, dvd burner, discrete 802.11A/B/G, bluetooth, 3g modem and 4 gigs of ram.

Then they did me the discourtesy of installing 32 bit XP pro on it, disabling the wireless, 3g, and bluetooth, and locking the system down so tight that I can't even create local directories.

Is every companies desktop IT this bad... oh wait, yes, it is.

I'm a designated homeworker, and I'm authorized local admin. I'm not supposed to get the super restricted build or local lockdown. Unfortunately, the system that is supposed to be used to fix this error isn't working.

What joy.

So I've been waiting for field service to allow me to fix my own damn laptop, so I could have a usable laptop before I sent my other laptop back in to HP.

Yesterday, my other laptop lunched itself. The hard drive is gone and it aint coming back. The shipping box is on its way from HP, with a 7-10 day turnaround (unless I want to upgrade to 3 year onsite service for $300... no thanks).

So for now, in order to work properly, I'm booting Linux on my work laptop on a live distro from a USB drive, then running virtualbox off that to run my virtual desktop for work.

It's slow as viking hell, but at least I can make local directories.

Update: Linux for the win. My windows based tools couldnt grab my unbacked up data from the last few days off the corrupted hard drive, but my linux based tools worked just fine, and I'm grabbing all my cuirrent data since the backup now (why did I even bother with the windows stuff, knowing that result was likely? Because windows based tools preserve windows metadata, permissions, and ownerships. Not critical, but helpful for things like iTunes).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ok, now that's just screwed up

The Man In The High Castle

Philip K. Dick would have been 80 today, had he not passed in 1982.

The BBCs documentary on the man is available in full on youtube:




Oh and read the book whose title I stole for this post. It's almost certainly his best work.

Propping up the corpse

There's an old comedic literary device, wherein the heroes of the piece end up with some critical third party dead in their hands; and in order to make their schemes go off right (frequently it's to make money, though sometimes it's to avoid being killed by goombahs or somesuch) they "prop up the corpse" to make him look like he's still alive and kicking.

The modern "classic" example of this is of course, "Weekend at Bernies"; though examples go back to Shakespeares time and before.

Unfortunately, in real life, it's an established practice in the publishing industry. Propping up the corpse.. or perhaps just the retired, or less capable, or couldn't be bothered... body of the writer to crank out yet another sequel and keep that revenue stream flowing.

The most egregious examples of this in modern literature (and I use the term loosely here) are of course V.C. Andrews of "Flowers in the attic" and the innumerable sequels; and Frank Herberts "Dune" series, which the publishers at least had the courtesy to not pretend it was Frank still writing them, and assigned a "co-author" to write them with Franks son Brian.

Arguably worse, is the case of Tom Clancy.

Fans of Clancy's "Jack Ryan" novels broadly agree that the last one Clancy actually wrote entirely by himself was most likely 1996's "Executive Orders", or perhaps 1998s "Rainbow Six".

Large portions of the follow-on book "The Bear and The Dragon" were written in an entirely different style, and with a very different use of language (including a lack of many of Clancy's characteristic uses; and numerous constructions that Clancy absolutely would NOT use). Worse yet, there were numerous technical errors that Clancy simply would not have made (indicating that Clancy never even bothered to proof the book).
An aside: Neither Fierfox nor Bloggers spellchecker understand proper apostrophe use. That's OK I suppose since neither do most people who speak English, but it irritates the hell out of me.
The damage only got worse; as it was abundantly clear that "Red Rabbit" and "Teeth of the Tiger" were entirely ghostwritten; with perhaps just an outline and a few paragraphs of description, plotting, and "mood"/flavor text contributed by Clancy.

There is at least an excuse for this I suppose; in that the Jack Ryan arc of the "Ryanverse" was intended to end with "Executive Orders" and John Clarks arc was intended to end with "Rainbow Six"; and Putnam (Clancy's publisher since "The Hunt for Red October") insisted on three more books to fulfill a contract obligation.

Also, it was asked by both the publisher, and the production companies for Clancys movies and video games that a "hook" to continue the series with Jack Ryan Jr. be added (this seems to be the sole reason for the entire book "Teeth of the Tiger").

The reason I say "Perhaps worse" in Clancy's case, is because the author is maintaining the pretense of writing these books himself; rather than creating a "House Name" or co-crediting a subsidiary author etc... as is the convention when the supposed primary author is still alive.

Clancy has been concentrating on his non-fiction for 10 years now, and can't very well turn his real name into a house name, and still publish his non fiction under it (well he could, but it would be absurd).

To my mind, the proper way to handle it would be but at least he could put in a "with" or "writing as" credit in there, or perhaps "Tom Clancys Jack Ryan in "whatever" by "whoever" as the continuing authors of the "James Bond" books have done for example.

Fleming wrote 12 Bond novels and three collections fo short stories before he died. Then, Kingsley Amis (who can be fairly said had as much a claim on Bond as Fleming did), John Gardner, Charles Higson, Raymond Benson, and now Sebastian Faulks have written further novels in the series, all under their own names; with either the "Ian Flemings James Bond" or "Writing as Ian Fleming" credit tacked on.

It lets you know what to expect, or what not to; at least as far as I'm concerned. I don't go into a John Gardner (the best of the continuing authors by far) Bond book expecting Flemings Bond. I don't read a Benson Bond book expecting Gardners (actually I'd prefer not to read a Benson at all).

Unfortunately, I am sad to report, there is another corpse being propped up; and this one, like Clancy is still alive. At least however unlike Clancy, they are honest about him having a co-author, supposedly his son.

I'm speaking of W.E.B. Griffin.

Now I know, some find Griffins stories repetitive, and some say it presents an unrealistic picture of the social strata of the military, and of the police. Certainly Griffin reuses both plot and character elements frequently; and perhaps his subjects are treated in an almost hagiographic way.

All that said, I have always enjoyed his writing. Griffin wrote good stories, with lots of great, snappy dialogue; and lovely insight and detail elements.

Unfortunately, my use of the past tense in "wrote" seems to be accurate.

The first couple of books where Griffin is credited with his son were reasonably good; though not up to his previous standard. This is understandable, as clearly Griffin was becoming less involved with the actual writing (he is after all, 79 years old). The beginnings of the "Presidential Agent" series were, if far fetched; at least greatly entertaining.

Unfortunately, the last several novels produced under their joint names, have been I think poor imitations of Griffins previous work.

Not only are they unoriginal and repetitive; but they are rife with mistakes that Griffin would not make, and would be certain to correct if he had even proofed the books.

For example, Griffins personal favorite scotch (and not coincidentally my favorite mixing whisky. I first heard of it as a teenager through Griffins novels) has been "The Famous Grouse" since world war II.

The Famous Grouse, is a fine blended Scotch Whisky; composed primarily of The Glenrothes, Highland Park, and The Macallan single malts (and others). It is not however a single malt whisky; and in the most recent presidential agent novel it is repeatedly referred to as "The Famous Grouse single malt". In fact it is always referred to as "The Famous Grouse Single Malt", which is quite stilted and jarring; not something you would expect in normal speech patterns.

This in and of itself is a jarring error, but not exactly ruinous to a book. The problem is that such errors are scattered throughout, and the same errors are repeated many times. In fact, it seems that stock "Griffin like" touches were added (and repeated ad nauseum), to "Griffinize" a text written by some other, less experienced and far less deft writer. The dialogue is missing it's characteristic punch, the plotlines are obvious and lack dramatic tension...

Simply put, Griffin didn't write this book; and I doubt his son did either (his son would have shown more respect for his fathers work).

The recent entries in the "Men at War" and "Honor Bound" books are significantly better in this regard. I believe that Griffin had a major hand in their writing; but again, the dialogue, plotting, and detail are simply not up to standard.

Worse still, each of these books seems written not as a standalone novel, but a bridge to further material; designed to boil the pot and generate revenue.

In fact, in the case of the "Badge of Honor" series, "The Corps" series, and "The Brotherhood of War" series; all had been brought to their natural and quite satisfactory conclusions; but were then re-opened with new books, only tangentially related to the original plotlines, series, and characters.

Please, William E. Butterworth the fourth, if you are writing these; protect what is left of your fathers legacy. If you must, re-read everything your father has written; study it carefully to maintain consistency, style and detail; then write one final concluding novel to each series, wrap up the plots left unresolved, and let them go.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Awesome!

Worf is president. How cool is that.

For those of you not pop culture addicts, disregard my previous.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The second biggest irritation about the iPhone...

Ok, so as I've noted before (several times), the iPhone isn't perfect, or anywhere close to it; but it is pretty damn good, even great sometimes.

The biggest irritation with it is the lack of cut and paste. That still irks me constantly; but it doesn't really cause problems for me.

The SECOND biggest irritation I have with the iPhone DOES cause me problems, and it's this:



That's the mute switch, and it's ENTIRELY too easy to accidentally flick on. In fact it will do it all by itself when jostled etc...

Worse, the lock function doesn't prevent the mute from being engaged. There is no way to stop this from happening.

I can't tell you how many calls I've missed because of this. Dozens certainly.

H-S Precision Update

Well, it appears that H-S precision has taken the "non-apology apology" down off their website. I can only hope it is because they understand that they've screwed up even worse, and are doing their best to fix things...

I hope... but I'm not optimistic.

Also, I haven't yet heard back from my contacts at Brownells or MidwayUSA as to what their final statements on the issue will be. Earlier this week they were both planning on releasing statements, but I haven't seen anything yet.

I'm hoping H-S isn't trying to play hardball and threaten lawsuits etc... if anyone releases a statement denigrating or condemning them...

Again, I'm hoping, but I'm not optimistic.

Just something for the way I'm feeling right now

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

If you don't know the rules of the game...

...then don't play...

I'm a bit miffed about something.

Earlier today, one of the parish moms, the mother of a couple of kids our kids go to school with; used the email address list she compiled as a homeroom mom to send out an unsolicited commercial email.

In this email, she informed us of the company she worked for, what they did, and asked that if we ever needed any of their services to please contact her, or check out their website.

Now I was somewhat shocked by this. At this point, doesn't everyone on the planet know that it is absolutely NOT OK to spam people?

Now, we come to a bit of a culture clash.

In internet culture, when someone spams a list, it is the convention for ONE person, to respond to the entire list of people spammed, correcting or castigating the spammer. It is intentionally public, to shame the person who transgressed into not repeating the act, to inform others who might be encouraged by that act to not do the same, and to prevent that person from receiving a storm of private emails saying the same thing over and over again.

This is well established in 30 years of accumulated internet etiquette.

However, this convention apparently isn't understood in "nice lady" culture.

I responded to the list with this email (sanitized to protect the guilty):
Mrs. Doe,

Although I am not one to deny someone the chance to develop professional contacts and business opportunities; I find your use of this mailing list, obtained through the auspices of our children and our parish, entirely inappropriate.

An unsolicited mass mailing for commercial purposes is not only rude, but in fact illegal under the CAN SPAM act; unless we have a prior business relationship, or we have opted in to a mailing list.

I say this not in anger, but in the hope that you sent this email without the knowledge or appreciation that what you were doing was considered rude, poor internet etiquette, and unprofessional; and in the hope that you would refrain from doing so in future.

If you wish to exchange professional contacts with me, I am entirely willing to do so, through an appropriate venue. I am a member of, and highly recommend, "Linked In" for this purpose.

Thank you

Chris Byrne
I thought it was a very polite, and restrained response. I realize that some people simply aren't as experienced on the net, or familiar with net culture and etiquette, and I wanted her to take this as a mild rebuke coupled with an appropriate alternative; which I believe it is.

Now, the first response I got was from one of the school administrators, who was on the list, and who thanked me and let me know that the school administration had already been notified. It is against school and parish policy that anyone use such a list or send any mass mailings, without clearing them through the parish or the school first. Kind of a big no-no really, even if it wasn't a commercial message.

However, the dozen or so messages I've received since, have uniformly excoriated me for having responded to this SPAM publicly. It seems to be the opinion in "nice lady" culture, that what I did was not nice, and mean, and counterproductive etc... That I was right in correcting her, but I should have been nicer about it, and done it in a private email.

I'm sorry, but that's just bull. If you don't know the rules of the game, don't play. The rule on the internet, is that spammers are one step below people who strangle puppies.

If it made her feel ashamed, or guilty, GOOD; that's the point. The fact is, she exploited our children to send out an advertisement. It's disgusting and she SHOULD be ashamed.

In the process she violated her ISPs acceptable use policy, parish policy, school policy; and committed a federal crime, punishable by up to 2 years in prison, and $11,000 per individual email sent (as in 1 email sent to 100 addresses, could be punished by a $1.1 million dollar fine).

After my email, and several responses, she sent out a non apology apology, saying that it was her personal mailing list, that she'd take me off so I wouldnt recieve and future mail from her, and that she was sorry if anything she did offended anyone.

Note here, she wasn't sorry for what she did; she was sorry if she had offended anyone; and explicitly planned on future emails.

Perhaps if she had been mortified and truly apologized I might feel a little bit guilty for making her feel bad; but given her response, I don't think so.

The argument in support of this woman appears to be that she's a nice lady who didn't really do any harm, but again I say that doesn't fly.

Spam costs organizations in the United States alone at least $20 billion dollars (those are conservative estimates. Some say it's as much as $80 billion) a year in wasted bandwidth, wasted infrastructure and capacity, and lost productivity. It is not just something you can excuse.

Just because you like someone, or they meant no harm, or they are nice people, doesn't mean it's OK for them to spam.

Even if it was by some perverse reasoning OK for her to have spammed us, it is grossly inappropriate for her to have exploited her connection through our children to do so.

As far as I'm concerned, she's lucky. If one of the internets many spam crusaders was on that mailing list, by now her ISP account would be terminated, and she would probably be reprimanded or even fired when they called her employer (a multinational corporation), and complained about one of their employees spamming.

But apparently, I'm the bad guy because I wasn't nice enough to her.

Can someone please tell me where in that email I was anything other than nice? Or have we lost all ability to take criticism in this country? Does our every tiny feeling have to be protected and coddled?

I don't think so.

These are the rules of the net. Learn to abide by them, or don't play.

UPDATE: You know, I just thought of something. Though it boggles my mind, I know that some business books tell their readers to do something like this. Email everyone in your address book with a commercial message etc...

Of course it's totally unprofessional and counterproductive in most fields (it would be a definite career killer in IT); but for some reason, some business books still give this advice to sales people, and to job seekers.

I wonder if perhaps this woman read one of those books...

Statistical Fallacy

Yaknow, maybe it's just me being anal, but there's a common joke/insight/sardonic musing out there that kinda bugs me:

"Remember folks, half of everyone you meet every day is below average".

It gets a quick laugh, and hits that little schadenfreude center in our brains; but it bugs me, because it shows how little most folks know about statistics.

Technically speaking, half the "people you meet every day" are below the median not the average; which is more properly titled the "mean".

Given a gaussian distribution, about 68% of values are within one standard deviation of the mean, about 95% of the values are within two standard deviations, and about 99.7% lie within three standard deviations.

That means, that about 32% of all people are within a statistically insignificant difference from "average" (1/2 a standard deviation or less).

The difference from 1/2 to 1 standard deviation from the mean is generally considered to have a mathematically relevant impact; but in empirical terms generally means very little. It is generally only variations of 1 standard deviation or more which have a significant practical impact.

Thus, only about only about 16% are "below average", to a significant degree (and conversely only 16% are above average to a significant degree).

However, I'd guess that you have to be at least one standard deviation above the median to have understood all that.

Ok, that's just me being a wanker.

Monday, December 08, 2008

No Philosophy?

Several times over the past few years, well respected and well known people, have written that the reason liberty oriented people fail in the political arena, or achieve limited results that they cannot follow up on or capitalize on; is because there is no coherent philosophy behind the notion of liberty.

In fact, the common notion is that liberty is antithetical to philosophy; a notion reinforced by many peoples conception of Ayn Rands book "Philosophy, who needs it"; which is in fact a philosophical tract (as are all her books).

The thing is though, it isn't true. There IS a philosophy of liberty. It's internally consistent, complete, and comprehensive.

It's also so simple, that many people ignore it, pass it over, or don't recognize it as a philosophy. So it irks me that otherwise quite intelligent folks write that there is no philosophy, when I KNOW that people have been talking about it in front of them, or even with them, for years.

It's called the non-initiation, or non-aggression principle, and it is the only philosophical framework and ethical system that doesn't require either an appeal to divine authority, or appeal to collectivism... (actually perhaps it should best be states as simply not requiring an appeal to authority at all), to be internally justified and consistent.

It is the core of libertarian thought and philosophy; and it's completely simple:

  1. You own your entire self (body, mind, and soul).

  2. You have the absolute right to:
    • self determination
    • freedom of conscience
    • your own property legitimately acquired (which includes your entire self) and the employment thereof
    • the efforts, products, and outputs of all the above

  3. You have the absolute right to defend those things, and the product or output of them; up to and including lethal force.

  4. There are no other rights. All other privileges, powers, and immunities, are less than rights; and are either derived from, or in opposition to them.

  5. You cannot initiate force or fraud against any other to abrogate their rights; or for any reason other than the defense of those rights; but including defending those rights for others who either cannot defend themselves, or those who delegate that defense to you.

  6. None may initiate force or fraud against you to abrogate those rights, or for any reason other than the defense of those rights; including defending others rights from you.

  7. There are no rights, privileges, powers, or immunities which are not derived from the rights of the individual. A collective cannot arrogate rights on itself which are not delegated to it by individuals; therefore no collective may exercise more or different rights than any individual, nor may it exercise those rights which have not been explicitly delegated to it.

  8. You have absolute responsibility for all of the above. All consequences are yours, good or bad.
It's very simple really; though as with so many simple things, it isn't necessarily easy.

Unfortunately different people/groups have slightly different definitions of force or aggression, and slightly different definitions of initiation.

For example: is pre-emptive self defense ethical? If so, how do you separate that from the initiation of unjustified aggression etc... etc...

So, the various liberty oriented subgroups spend all their time arguing about angels and pinheads.

I have said many times in the past that I am not what I have called "a non-aggressionist"; which to an extent is true; however I do subscribe to the philosophy above.

I state in my post "The Politics of Liberty":
"My beliefs on government are rooted in three core tenets.
  • The coercive restraint of human liberty is inherently evil. Control of ones person, property, and behavior should be the exclusive province of the sovereign man.

  • The only legitimate limitation of liberty is that which prevents transgression on the liberty of others, or which compensates those transgressed upon.

  • Without a disinterested arbiter, maintaining a monopoly of legitimate force with which it resolves disputes and enforces compacts between men, the liberty of the weak will be abrogated by the will of the strong."
And this is where my conflict with the non-aggressionists begins.

I subscribe to the philosophy of liberty, but exclude myself from the "non-aggressionist" description, because my definitions of "initiate" and "force" or "aggression", are considerably different from those who consider themselves strict non-aggressionists.

For example, I think it's perfectly reasonable to kill someone who is planning to kill you, before they ever pick up a gun. To a strict non-agressionist, this is unethical and morally wrong.

I also believe that you are responsible not just to yourself, but to your wife and children for example; and that they are responsible to you. I also believe that it is perfectly acceptable for you to make choices for your kids to protect them, until they are able to do so on their own.

Again, the non-aggressionists think that is wrong.

In fact, they would strongly object to the way I wrote points 5 and 6 above; because they would consider defending someone elses rights an unjustified initiation of force, unless that individual specifically and explicitly delegates that right to you.

I believe that without governments, at least as voluntary collectives; the strong will inevitably violate the rights of the weak; until the strong are too powerful to be resisted, at which point they will enforce tyranny.

Non agressionists believe that because no government can be perfect, according to their interpretation of the phlosophical system of liberty; all government is therefore illegitimate and cannot be allowed to exist.

Personally, I believe that strict non-agressionism is a voluntary mental illness.

(Oh and on a strictly personal basis, I'm a catholic... and I see no contradiction between Catholicism, and the philosophy of liberty. I'm also a veteran, and I see no conflict between voluntary military service, and the politics of liberty. Those two make most of their heads just explode.)

So, there must be some pragmatism involved; as there must be with any system of philosophy, morality, and ethics.

The problem with this philosophy of course is that it is SO simple, that it isn't sexy or saleable. There is no hidden advantage. There is no tribal secret. There is no group to identify with.

Of course, that is the point.

It's about individualism. Individual rights, individual responsibilites, individual rewards, and individual consequences. This is why I call myself a muscular minarchist individualist, and not a non-agressionist; or even a libertarian.

Amazingly to me, at least on an emotional visceral level; is that this whole idea is uncomfortable, or frightening, or simple preopsterous to many people.

I write, quite a lot, and I play games, and I instruct; and there's something I've found common to all those activities:

Most people, when given a broad base of possibilites with limited restrictions, have difficulty in orienting themselves, and deciding what to do.

Being put into such a situation makes them uncomfortable, or even fearful.

This is the problem the philosophy of liberty presents.

Those people inevitably do better, the more strictures and structures are put up around them. It helps them orient themselves, and constrains their analysis. It gives them something to hold on to. They lose their fear in the reassuring embrace of "the system". They get reassurance from "the system" that they are not at risk, and that they are doing "the right thing".

The ultimate examples of this of course are Fascism and Communism; both philosophies based on totalitarian control; and both very attractice to those who feel lost or frightened or paralyzed without such limitations.

It is my belief that there are essentially two types of individual: Those who do not wish to be controlled, and those who do.

The problem, is that those who wish to be controlled, almost univerally have a desire to control others; or at the least to force all others to be controlled. The rest of us just want to be left alone; but by nature, the former philosophies grow stronger the more adherents they get, until they, inevitably, impose tyranny.

I also believe that those who wish to be controlled FAR outnumber those who do not; perhaps as much as 20 to 1.

They construct philosophies and ethical systems which conform to their own personal desires; and then justify their coercive actions against others within the framework of those philosophies; so that it becomes legitimate to use coercive power against those who do not subscribe to that philosophy...

...and so the beast is born.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

William Shatner, has a talk show...

... and there is no punchline to that setup.

Amazingly to some, there doesn't need to be.

It's good.

In fact, it's great, as far as talkshows with celebrities as the guests go.

I just watched him do 30 minutes of "Raw Nerve" (on the biography channel) one on one with Tim Allen, and then 30 again with Valerie Bertinelli; and I haven't seen better celebrity interviews since Tom Snyder retired almost 10 years ago (though Charlie Rose has some good moments).

The reason why it's great is Shatners personality; but not in the way you probably think I mean. I had thought the show would really be about Shatner, more than anything, and the guests would be there sort of as his foils. It isn't... not remotely. The show is about his guests; and talking with them VERY intimately, about what makes them tick.

It works, because of who Shatner REALLY is, not his public image. This isn't James T. Kirk or Denny Crane, it's Bill Shatner.

This next part is going to sound fanboyish, but believe me it isn't. I'm no Trek fanboy, nor a Shatner worshipper; but I've always found him a fascinating man.

Shatner is... well, he's Shatner. There no way he could ever be anyone else; which is what makes him amazing. He is both larger than life, and still humble and personal at the same time (and yes, those ARE contradictory things). He's incredibly intelligent, quick, funny, amusingly self deprecating, and remarkably empathetic.

Amazing, for a man who for years had a reputation as an arrogant, inconsiderate, and ungenerous ass, among his former co-stars...

Funny though, the people he was actually working with at the time such acusations have arisen have always said otherwise; be it Adrian Zmed and Heather Locklear, or James Spader and Candice Bergen (two people who are not known as easy to get along with themselves).

I've met the man several times, at events, conventions, book signings etc... and randomly, once, at a shopping mall in Lexington Kentucky (we talked for a few minutes about his horses on that occasion). In person he is a man of great confidence, self assurance, and self posession.

Above I said that to some, all of this would be unexpected; because of his reputation, and the popular public image of him, as what is essentially self parody.

Simply speaking, Shatner is not remotely what people think he is.

A few years ago, I heard him speak for perhaps a half hour in an interview, about his experience with coming to understand what addiction was; and how he had never truly understood it, until he lived through it with his third wife, Nerine, who drowned in their swimming pool while under the influence of alcohol and sedatives.

As he talked about this horrible period in his life (and if you don't remember, the aftermath was truly offensive, as media vultures insinuated that he murdered his wife, or drove her to suicide); I was struck by a simple fact:

There is no filter to William Shatner. He is showing you everything, with complete honesty. Sure, there's charm and wit and social grace; but there is nothing being concealed there.

Which is why I am not surprised that he has a talk show, and that it is good.

In the hour that I've seen, he really went at it with his guests. No areas off limits, no questions out of bounds; and they talked with Shatner like he was a cross between a confidant, a lawyer, and a therapist.

The two interviews were among the most honest, and interesting, celebrity interviews I've seen; and they were so not because the people involved were particularly famous (Tim Allen and Valerie Bertinelli were never really "A list" by most definitions) but because they were real people, talking about things in a real way; and because Shatner has no filter, they responded to him without filters.

He talks about things that are interesting to him; and it's a conversation, not really an interview. It goes where it goes; without talking points or plugs or agendas.

I can't imagine a better kind of interview really.

I'm looking forward to his future guests, including Kelsey Grammer, Drew Carey, Howie Mandel, Judge Judy, and the kicker (I'm sure they'll save it for the last show of the season) Leonard Nimoy. He has even said that he's asked George Takei on (with whom he has had a long running feud, recently brought up again in the press due to Takeis activism on the gay marriage issue), and that Takeis people have tentatively agreed.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Precisely Wrong

Apologies, while they may hurt the pride (or the pocketbook) are easy.

A simple "I'm sorry. I screwed up. I'll fix it, and try not to do it again"... it isn't hard.

A sincere apology goes a long way.

Some people though, seem to be incapable of apologizing. Oh they may seem to say they're sorry, but... no that's not quite right is it...

"I'm sorry you were offended"... ummm, wait a sec... That's not actually saying you're sorry is it now... in fact that's rather saying "I'm sorry you were a whiny oversensitive idiot. It's not my fault, but I'm saying this to placate you"... or something like that anyway...

Last Monday, it came to the attention of the online gun community at large, that H-S Precision, a leading manufacturer of stocks for precision rifles, had sought out the endorsement of the former head of the FBI hostage rescue team sniper program.


This of course seems a natural thing, given that the FBI is a prestigious organization, HRT is an elite unite within the FBI, and that they use H-S precision stocks; this would be a great endorsement normally...

... but for one rather large thing; which has the online firearms community incensed, and calling for the boycott of H-S precision:

The former head of the sniper programs name, is Lon Horiuchi.

Why does this matter? What's in a name? Why are so many people so angry?

Lon Horiuchi is widely considered a murderer by American gun owners. He was in fact tried for manslaughter, but his bosses in the FBI and department of justice made charges go away by claiming a jurisdictional issue.

You see, Lon Horiuchi was the sniper who killed Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge, while she was holding her infant in her arms.

Some background on the incident from an earlier post of mine, "Murder by Incompetence" from August 23rd 2007:
Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the murder of Vicki Weaver by the FBI; and the day before, was the anniversary of her sons murder by US Marshals acting in concert with the ATF.

Yes, I said murdered by the government. Not just killed, but murdered. A crime was committed; and it has never been properly redressed.

Much of the attention and blame for this crime has fallen on Lon Horiuchi, the sniper who took the shot that Killed Vicki Weaver. I won't excuse what he did (he should have known better), but he was operating on very bad information, very bad orders, and under what I would consider clearly unlawful rules of engagement.

The greater culpability for this incident lies in the US marshals who were initially on scene; and from the FBI, HRT commander Richard Rogers, SAC Eugene Glenn, and deputy directory Larry Potts; who took over the scene after Kevin Harris killed deputy marshal William Degan in self defense.

On the morning of August 21st, during a botched surveillance operation; deputy US marshal Art Roderick fired at Sammy Weaver (Randy Weavers son) and Kevin Harris, or at their dog striker (this is unclear); killing the dog, and drawing return defensive fire from Weaver and Harris.

Deputy marshals Roderick, Degan, Frank Norris and Larry Cooper then opened fire on Weaver and Harris. Degan shot and wounded both Weaver and Harris, at which point Harris shot back directly at Degan, killing him. In retaliation, deputy marshal Cooper then shot Sammy Weaver; killing him.

At no time in this engagement, did the deputies serve a warrant, or identify themselves as marshals.

When the marshals called in the FBI, the situation they described to the SAC, was an outright lie. They informed the SAC and the HRT commander that the Weavers were radical religious fanatics, part of a white supremacist holy war cult; that all members of the family were armed and ready to fight at all times, and that they were going to kill their children and themselves rather than surrender.

The marshals also told the SAC that they had been pinned down for 12 hours by heavy small arms fire, and possibly automatic weapons; and that William Degan had been deliberately murdered.

Based on this outright lie, the FBI instituted rules of engagement to allow any adult with a weapon to be shot on sight. These ROE were clearly unlawful, and should have been rejected by the onsite agents (and a judge decided that as well later); instead HRT acted on them for a full day.

Within a few hours, the FBI chain of command knew that the marshals had lied; but they did not change the illegal rules of engagement until after Horiuchi had already fired several shots at Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris (wounding both). Horiuchis final shot at Harris missed him, and struck Vicki Weaver who was standing in the doorway that Harris was entering, holding her infant child.

I believe that Lon Horiuchi was negligent in his actions that day in firing through the doorway; and he was derelict in his duty to the constitution when he accepted the unlawful rules of engagement; but he did not commit deliberate murder.

It seems clear to me however that the marshals wanted revenge for the killing of William Degan, and to cover up their own unlawful acts and incompetence. In furtherance of this, they deliberately mislead the FBI in the hopes that the Weavers would be killed, and there would be no witnesses left alive to their crimes.

There is no doubt that Larry Cooper murdered Sammy Weaver, by shooting him (under whatever circumstances), while attempting to cover up the crimes and incompeteance of he and his colleagues. Further, there is no doubt that the US marshalls lied to the FBI in order to cover up their incompetence, and possibly their crimes.

At the very least, they should be tried for manslaughter, if not second degree murder; in the deaths of Sammy and Vicki Weaver.

Additionally, SAC Glenn, SAC Rogers and deputy director Potts knew that the rules of engagement instituted that day were illegal, unconstitutional, and unjustified. They should never have instituted those rules; but even in so doing, once they found they had been misled by the marshals they had an absolute duty to rescind them.

They did not do so, and their incompetence and misfeasance of duty directly caused the murder of Vicki Weaver.

Given these circumstances, Lon Horiuchi has been saddled, somewhat unfairly, with the majority of the burden of these crimes. I simply believe this is incorrect.

Horiuchi committed negligent homicide; but I believe his chain of command showed a depraved indifference to the lives of the Weavers, based on their political beliefs; and therefore committed second degree murder, or first degree manslaughter (depending on the laws of Idaho, which I am unfamiliar with).
As you can see, I don't personally consider Horiuchi a murderer; however it is abundantly clear, that he committed an unjustified homicide; which can be construed as several different crimes, depending on the totality of the circumstances, and the exact laws of the jurisdiction.

By the laws of most states, Horiuchis actions would be charged as manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or second degree murder (again, depending on the state, and the exact totality of the circumstances).

The standard by which criminal negligence is decided in most states is thus (or similar): If the defendant knew or should have known, that their actions could result in a criminal act or criminal harm, then they are guilty of criminal negligence.

Further, some states have a concept of depraved indifference; where if one could reasonably foresee unjustified grave harm coming as a consequence of an act, and does it anyway, one is either criminally negligent, or worse. Some states elevate depraved indifference homicide to the same level as deliberate murder.

Lon Horiuchi knew, or should have known, that his rules of engagement were unlawful and unconstitutional. You cannot excuse "just following orders" when those orders are clearly unlawful. He acted on those orders, even though he could reasonably forsee unjustified grave harm coming to those subjects he was engaging.

He acted on those orders, and an unarmed woman with a baby in her arms died.

Based on this, Boundary county Idaho prosecuted him.

They indicted him, and brought him to trial; however the trial was ended and charges were ordered dismissed by a federal judge, who ruled that Boundary county couldn't try Horiuchi because he was a federal agent acting in the scope of his duties as an FBI agent; and that any prosecution would have to be at a federal level (the supremacy doctrine).

Idaho petitioned the US attorney and attorney general to prosecute Horiuchi, but they declined on the grounds of sovereign immunity (an agent of the state - specifically in this case a law enforcement officer - cannot be criminally prosecuted for acting within their duties, so long as they acted in good faith, and without negligence).

Idahos argument was that sovereign immunity did not apply, because the shots taken did not follow the FBIs shoot/no-shoot guidelines, or lethal force guidelines, and because the rules of engagement were clearly unlawful; however the FBI formally disagreed, stating that it was the onsite commanders call, and that Horiuchi behaved appropriately and in good faith.

As charging is at the discretion of the US attorney of the state, or of the attorney general (at that point Janet Reno); and feeling that the FBI had adequately dealt with the situation internally, they declined to prosecute.

Idaho then appealed the judges decision on the supremacy doctrine, and won; clearing the way to try Horiuchi again. However, by this time, several years had passed, a new county prosecutor was in place, the FBI was stonewalling, and the justice department was pressuring the state and county very hard to drop the case; so Boundary county declined to refile.

I realize this is a lot of background matieral; but you need to understand why it is that so many people are so upset about this.

Lon Horiuchi killed a woman with a baby in her arms, without justification, while acting as a sniper during an unlawful operation; and acting under unlawful and unconstitutional orders. He was charged, and tried, but got off on an administrative technicality and through political pressure...

... and a company making equipment for snipers, published a full page endorsement from him on the back of their catalog.

As has been said, that's a lot like having Bull Connor endorse your brand of firehoses.

At best this endorsement is a major gaffe, and a bit tone deaf. At worst, it's a deliberate thumb in the eye to the millions (and it probably is in the low millions. It's certainly at least hundreds of thousands) of Americans who consider Horiuchi a murderer (or something akin to it).

Those people, who just happen to be H-S precisions core customer base. Precision shooting enthusiasts, competitive shooters, the military, and law enforcement. I think if you were to poll all of the above, all of us (and I'm certainly in that group), even the majority of law enforcement snipers (and yes I'm sure every last one of them is familiar with the incident), would find this endorsement at the least stupid, and more likely offensive.

As it turns out however, the president of H-S precision, Tom Houghton Jr., is old friends with Horiuchi. In fact, it was in part that friendship which led to the FBI using H-S precision stocks on their sniper rifles.

You might say that Tom Houghton "owes one" to Horiuchi.

Clearly, the company knew about the incident, and knew about the opinion of the gun owning public; and did it anyway.

Now I'm speculating here, but based on the companies actions I think I'm justified in saying they did this because as far as president of H-S precision is concerned, his friend did nothing wrong.

Of course they did not state this publicly, as this would be suicide.

H-S precisions single largest customer is Remington Arms; who use H-S precision stocks on their factory custom rifles, their special police and marksman rifles, and their tactical rifles. All in all I believe Remington accounts for about 1/3 of H-S precisions business.

Last February, a gentleman by the name of Jim Zumbo; a 30 year veteran writer and hunting editor for outdoor life, and television host for the outdoor life channel, who had been sponsored by Remington for over 20 years; wrote a post for his Remington sponsored blog, in which he described the most popular centerfire semi-automatic rifle in the united states, the AR-15, as a "terrorist gun".

In this article Zumbo said that there was no legitimate use for an AR (or other "evil black rifles") and called for the AR to be banned from civilian hands; because the mere fact that they are available threatens his own preferred "hunting" guns.

Within hours of the post going up, outdoor life and Remington had received tens of thousands of emails and telephone calls. Over the next few days letters poured in.

Zumbo made one of those non-apology apologies, basically saying "hey sorry I upset you, but I didn't do anything wrong".

The very next day, outdoor life canceled his longstanding column, terminated him as hunting editor, and dropped him from their TV network. Remington canceled Zumbos sponsorship deals; and all his other sponsors followed suit.

Last week, the CEO of Remington Tommy Milner said the following:
Because its thanksgiving and everyone is off, we have not made contact with HS. We have taken any reference to HS from our web site..

When you first emailed me I honestly did not recall horiuchi's name so you caught me unawares. I also do not read the blogs so the fact there was an issue came as a surpise.

In any event, HS makes a great product and we are a large customer of theirs. Why they would pick a super controversial spokesperson is beyond me. Doing this violates pure business common sense. Early next week we will use whatever persuasive powers at our disposal to get HS to do the right thing..

Do me a favor and tell those on the bolgs that Remington and I are now fully aware of the issue, in full agreement with the outrage, and will do what we can t exert pressure on HS to reverse course.

Thanks

Tommy
I happen to agree with Tommy Milner, H-S precision makes a good product. In fact, I had ordered a customized stock from them for my 1000 yard rifle project.

They have unfortunately been oddly silent.

The morning after the story broke (I read it about 9pm the day of) I called H-S precision, but got voicemail. I left messages for both sales, and marketing; explaining that I was a customer of theirs, and also a writer and editor of several web sites, and I wanted to hear from them regarding the endorsement as soon as possible.

I called back this week, and again got nothing but voicemail. They have not been granting any requests for comment, or interviews for the now thousands of inquiries they have recieved; apparently including not responding to their major vendors and customers (according to people inside said vendors and customers; of course unofficially).

In fact, they have said exactly nothing for nearly two weeks since the story broke... until yesterday.

I've been waiting to write anything about this story until we'd heard from H-S officially.

Yesterday, H-S Precision released the following statement:

To Our Valued Customers:

H-S Precision has received comments relating to individual testimonials in our 2008 catalog. All of the testimonials focused on the quality, accuracy and customer service provided by H-S Precision.

The management of H-S Precision did not intend to offend anyone or create any type of controversy. We are revising our 2009 catalog and removing all product testimonials.

Sincerely,

The Management of H-S Precision
Well, I can see a lot wrong with that statement... first, I think we should strike that "sincerely", because clearly there was nothing sincere about it.

Clealry they are saying "well, we don't think we did anythign wrong, but we're sorry you were offended".

To add insult to injury, they did not send this to anyone directly, nor respond to any questions. They quietly put up a small "news" link in the upper right corner of their website, and released that statement without fanfare... perhaps hoping no-one would notice?

We noticed.


In the mere hours since this statement was released, even those who had previously been defending H-S precision have been calling for a boycott of their products... even going so far as to call for a boycott on anyone selling H-S Precision products, or otherwise doing business with them (such as Brownells and Midway USA).

On my part, I'll be canceling my order with them on Monday. I was waiting for the statement, now I have it, and I'm showing them exactly what I think about it.

I can only speculate about what the reaction of the rest of H-S's customers will be; but I predict this will be the end of the company.

This non-apology is in fact WORSE than Zumbos, because it is insincere and disingenuous; and because H-S precisions KNEW exactly what they were saying and doing than and now, and knew what our reaction (and yes I share it) as gun owners would be.

I expect we'll hear from Tommy Milner on Monday, announcing they have canceled their contracts with H-S. There may be legal wrangling involved, but Remington knows that they won't be selling another precision/tactical rifle with an H-S stock on it; or at least not to the non-leo/military market (government contracts are a lot harder to change).

I expect we'll also hear from Midway USA and Brownells (their two largest distributors) shortly thereafter, announcing they are dropping H-S.

Right now, there is exactly one thing H-S precision could do to save the company, if they're lucky: They could issue a statement condemning Lon Horiuchi, and his and the FBIs actions at Ruby Ridge; and profusely and sincerely apologizing to the Weaver family, and to the gun owning public for being so stupid and offensive.

Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen. I think Tom Houghton really believes that he did nothing wrong, and neither did his friend Lon Horiuchi.

This mans pride is going to kill his company.

Oh and Jim Zumbo? He's back at outdoor life (though he's no longer the hunting editor) and he's back on TV. He educated himself about the issue, and made a sincere apology, and to an extent, he has been forgiven (he will never be totally forgiven, nor totally trusted. That's just the way gunnies are).

A sincere apology sometimes goes a long way.

Friday, December 05, 2008

National Parks Carry

Just recieved from the NRA:

National Parks to Allow Right-to-Carry

Fairfax, Va. - The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), through the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has announced the final amended version of its changes to rules on carrying of firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges.

DOI’s move will restore the rights of law-abiding gun owners who wish to transport and carry firearms for lawful purposes on most DOI lands, and will make federal law consistent with the state law in which these public lands are located. The National Rifle Association (NRA) led the effort to amend the existing policy regarding the carrying and transportation of firearms on these federal lands.

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of the Interior brings clarity and uniformity for law-abiding gun owners visiting our national parks,” said Chris W. Cox, NRA chief lobbyist. “We are pleased that the Interior Department recognizes the right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families while enjoying America's National Parks and wildlife refuges.”

DOI announced the rule change today and will publish the new regulations in the Federal Register. The new regulations allow right-to-carry permit holders to exercise their Second Amendment rights on national park and wildlife refuges in those states that recognize such permits. The move will provide consistency across our nation’s federal lands and put an end to the patchwork of regulations that governed different lands managed by different federal agencies. In the past, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands allowed the carrying of firearms, while lands managed by DOI did not.

The NRA has long held that amendments to those regulations were needed to reflect the changed legal situations with respect to state laws on carrying firearms. Earlier this year, fifty-one U.S. Senators sent a strong bipartisan letter to the DOI supporting the move to make state firearms laws applicable to national park lands and refuges.

“These changes respect the Second Amendment rights of honest citizens as they enjoy our public lands,” concluded Cox. “We applaud the Interior Department’s efforts to amend these out of date regulations".


I live in Arizona, and am surrounded by Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. Do you know how many national parks there are, and how much land that was excluded from right to carry in those states (I'm just going to ignore California here)?

This is spectacular news.

Now let's see Obama try to ban it by executive order so we can take THOSE toxic pieces of pseudo legislation to the Supreme Court.

The Single Best Statement I've Ever Heard on Terrorism...

... and it's from "The Daily Show"

Seriously, it is exactly and entirely correct in every way. No spin, no apologia, just raw unvarnished... welll... watch the video, you'll see.


I should note however, that there IS a rationale behind such acts; however flawed and vile it is.

A few years back I wrote a piece talking about what terrorism really was, how it worked, and what its goals were; in which I explained this rationale:
"[Terrorism is both] a tactic, and a strategy. In particular it's the tactic of forces that do not have the resources to mount a successful guerilla campaign; and the strategy of forces whose objectives are militarily impossible, but politically possible.

The objective of terrorism is to demoralize the civilan population that supports the controlling authority, and to provoke disproportionate and misdirected response from the controlling authority; which will tend to engender support for the terrorists from the disaffected population, and from outside groups opposed to the controlling authority.

Terrorism isn't about military targets, it's about violent politics and propaganda, and it works in this limited arena only. Terrorists arent trying to win wars, they are trying to gain enough support that they no longer need to be terrorists; or failing that, create enough chaos that the controlling authority collapses or loses control.

Once chaos has trumped control, the terrorists then have a better chance for conducting successful operations given their limited resources, which will allow them to take control."


Of course, it usually doesn't work; and in the mean time, a hell of a lot of innocent people die for no reason.