Saturday, May 25, 2002

IT'S JUST NOT THE WARM BEER THAT MAKES ME GLAD I DON'T LIVE THERE
Just came across this article in the Guardian. Seems that intruders broke in to the home of a 94 year old British woman named Ruby Barber 4 times in the past 18 months. That's not a typo, I said 4 TIMES IN THE PAST 18 MONTHS!!

So she had razor wire strung around the house, but the local city council ordered her to take it down for fear that the next intruder would be hurt. That's not a typo, I said THE CITY COUNCIL WAS AFRAID THAT AN INTRUDER WOULD BE HURT!!!

She told them to get bent. So now the council says that Ruby can have the razor wire as long as she puts up warning signs and takes responsibility for any would-be intruder who gets injured.

That bit about taking responsibility is something that resonates with me. I'll ALWAYS take responsibility if an intruder is injured in my house. That means that I have a responsibility to go to the range and improve my aim.

IT'S NOT EASY BEIN' GREEN
Just saw the new Star Wars film. Lucas moved away from Muppets this time around. Yoda is a CGI construct through most, if not all, of his shots. He looks great. But I did notice something that I hadn't before, and it got me to thinkin'.

Yoda's fingers are very big and thick, but his nose is this little button thing. How does he pick it? Does he use a stick or does he Force the boogers out or what?

I'm thinkin' that questions like this is how one embraces the Dark Side.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

THE CHINESE NAVY
One of the countries that has long interested me is China. A fascinating place, full of an amazing history. It's also the home of one of the last Communist regimes left on Earth, and certainly the largest.

I just read the the Chinese navy is getting more agressive. 'Course, this makes perfect sense to the Chinese. See, when the Communists took over in 1947, the old government escaped to Taiwan. The Communists have seen the existence of a seperate Chinese government as an affront. The only thing that's held them back has been the presence of the U.S. Navy, which would make any invasion of the island a very hazardous one indeed.

Take a look at the ships that make up the Chinese Navy. Considering that the submarine is the supreme weapon for destroying a surface vessle, notice how many the Chinese have. Also consider that they have a virtual swarm of small ships that are carrying anti-ship weapons and not much else. Looks to me that they've always geared up for one of two things.

The first thing they were considering was stopping an invasion fleet. Small cheap ships to launch missiles, submarines to destroy supply vessels and landing craft, and destroyers to provide moderate sized firepower when the missiles knocked out the big stuff.

The other thing they were thinking about was an invasion of Taiwan, but only after they got the Americans out of the way. Submarines to destroy aircraft carriers and their escorts, small missile boats to launch a storm of anti-ship missiles, and destroyers to provide a screen for the landing craft. If I'm doing my arithmetic right, the landing craft the Chinese have can place about 240 tanks and 10,000 men on the beach in pretty short order. Heck, Taiwan isn't that big. If they managed to place that much on shore unmolested they'd have a pretty good chance of doing some damage.

Another scenario has the Chinese starving Tiawan to submission.

Lucky for Taiwan that the U.S. doesn't like the idea of China invading the island.

P.S. An excellent site for info on anything Chinese and miitary is to be found here.
ENDING UP ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR
Courtesy of blog goddess Natalie Solent comes this little nugget. It seems that researchers at MIT have developed a system where the image of someone and the sound of their voice can be manipulated, via computer, to have the person saying anything. Anything at all. Ms. Solent is alarmed at this.

Not me. It's been going on for more than a century.

The Soviets were big on altering pictures. Politicians that had fallen from favor were carefully airbrushed from old photos of famous events. It was like they were never there at all. The Chinese did the same thing for the same reason.

Journalists are the masters of spin. Take a quote out of context and suddenly the Housing Secretary who's chatting about filling in a few gopher holes in his yard is a monster that wants to bulldoze the prole's only shelter.

Video has also been edited for content, even for newscasts. Timestamps on survelliance videos (the digital clock on the bottom of the image) has been tampered with as soon as the feature was available. Edit the tape right and a corridor that was full of thieves making off with the swag looks empty and silent.

Ms. Solent seems to feel dread because "the age of evidence is passing away". But visual images were never evidence that could be trusted, even though they're great theater for convincing a jury.

Every cop knows that twenty witnesses to a bank robbery will have twenty different versions of the event. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable. Image media (such as cameras) are fine as long as no one has any chance to alter the film and negative. Heck, this website even offers services to "fix" and "enhance" your family photographs.

So the techs at MIT managed to do it slicker and faster. Let's hope they thought to patent the process so they can sell it to Kodak and become millionaires.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

FLY THE UNARMED SKIES
It's just in. It seems that the Bush Administration has declared that airline pilots will not be armed.

Transportation Undersecretary John Magaw said "Pilots need to concentrate on flying the plane. Pilots should not have firearms in the cockpit."

American Airlines pilot Al Aitken; "How easy will it be for me to concentrate on flying the plane when a terrorist breaks through the cockpit door and tries to slit my throat?"


Damn straight! It looks like Mr. Magaw has never been involved in a violent confrontation before in his life. From my experience the only way to end such a conflict is by overwhelming physical force or the threat of such force. But someone who supports the idea of armed pilots, a Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), has probably had to deal with such a situation.

"If we have people on the airplane that are willing to die in the commitment of an act, I see no reason to believe they shouldn't die before they get it done."

The flight attendants are pushing for non-lethal weapons. I think this is a very good idea, just as long as they realize that these electric gadgets will stop someone and put them on the ground for only as long as the current is applied. Lose battery power or let the trigger go and the bad guy is up and on you in a second. What they really need is a taser to put him on the ground, and then something to keep him there.

Cockpit doors are to be reinforced. Fine, good idea. But it's an imperfect world and doors fail sometimes. Might as well let some of these ex-servicemen have the tools they need to protect themselves.

Flight attendants feel that they want something to stop an attack? Fine, good idea. What's the delay here? Non-lethal weapons aren't non-lethal enough? Someone's afraid that pepper spray will eat a hole in the side of the aircraft and cause explosive decompression?

There are two major positions on this issue. The first is that there shouldn't be any weapons on board an aircraft, just an armored door to protect the cockpit.

The second is that there should be escalating levels of force with non-lethal weapons to protect the passengers and attendants, an armored door to protect the cockpit if the flight attendants and passengers are overwhelmed, and firearms to deny the cockpit to terrorists if the door should fail.

Proponents of both positions claim that they're the only ones that see the issue clearly, and that opponents to their position are living in some fantasy world. I don't think I have to tell my readers which camp I'm in.
A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE
The post last week about women and guns has gotten me to thinkin' about the first time I taught a woman how to shoot. (This will take a while, so if you're bored just scroll on past. Plenty of other stuff below.)

It was nine years ago. She introduced herself as "Elizabeth call me Liza". She was around 65 years old, and two months after her husband died someone kicked in her front door. In broad daylight.

She grabbed a cordless phone and hid in her bedroom closet while dialing 911. When she heard the guy walk in to the bedroom she covered the earpiece with her hand and tried hard not to breath. Before he got around to opening the closet, sirens could be heard a few blocks away. So he cut and ran. They never found the guy.

Liza wanted to learn how to shoot. Good idea! But problems became apparent during the course. She had arthritis pretty bad, so much so that she had trouble closing her fingers around something as small as a single round. It took her forever to load a revolver, but she had (barely) enough strength left to work the slide of a autoloader. But the real problem was one of recoil, since she said that it hurt her hands. And it had to be a handgun since she was too intimidated by long guns to even pick one up.

So I needed to find a gun that was powerful enough to to be used for serious defensive work, but still fired a low recoil round. And the gun itself had to be large to damp muzzle flip. It took some doing, but I managed to find one of these. It fires a .380 ACP cartridge, which is about half the power of a full sized 9mm. And the gun was large enough so Liza's hands wouldn't be beaten to death. But the best feature was a tip up barrel. Liza could tip the barrel up and load a single round, so she wouldn't even have to work the slide. Pretty neat, huh?

Well, that was that. Except eight years later (a bit more than a year ago) I got a call from Liza. She wanted me to come over to her house and say howdy do. I found that the years had not been kind. Her arthritis had gotten worse, and her hands looked like bundles of walnuts held together with fishing line and parchment. She was confined to a wheelchair. But she had some saddlebags attached to the arms of the chair. In one she had her TV Guide, cough drops, stuff like that. The other one had her gun and ten extra magazines ("So I won't ever run dry.").

We did a few dry fire excercises. If anyone tries to get through her door I'm sure she can shoot at least three of them before they get to her. That's good enough for me.

I found out why she asked me over when her daughter and son-in-law showed up. They started to browbeat me while Liza huddled in her chair and didn't say anything. The kids wanted Liza to sign the house over to them while they stuck her in a nursing home. To try and convince me to help them they kept talking about what would happen if someone tried to break in. I had to say that anyone who broke in probably wouldn't live to regret it. After that Liza perked up and the kids shut up.

It's said that the teacher bears some responsibility for his students. I've been thinking about Liza lately, sitting so small and frail in her chair. I've been thinking about what would happen if someone did break in, and what my responsibility might be. So I went to an antique coin dealer and bought ten silver dimes. That way, should anyone be stupid enough to try and give her some trouble, I'd have something to put on their eyes just before the coffin lid comes down for the last time.

But don't tell Liza. She'd say that it would be a bad waste for good silver.
I'M GONNA WHACK MY GUIDANCE COUNSELER
According to this news article, the Mafia families in New York City have been hit with a series of setbacks. They've been so desperate for people that they started a recruitment drive.

This reminds me of one of my favorite science fiction novels, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. The story takes place after the United States has come apart and any group that can take and hold territory can declare itself a new government. The Mafia runs one of the most successful country franchises, mainly due to the fact that they have a monopoly on pizza delivery.

Read the book and see what I mean. But be warned that it's not for everyone.
THIS SHOULD SCREW UP THE PAYMENT SCHEDULE
I mentioned some weeks ago a deal where Argentina was buying some Cobra attack helicoptors from the United States. Back then I was wondering how in the world they'd ever be able to pay for them, considering the poor state of their economy.

Now it looks like conditions have deteriorated some. Although I bet the government would love to have the Cobras for serious crowd control, somehow I doubt they'll be able to come up with the down payment.
GETTIN' METAL FROM THE MOON
I've been interested for years with plans to set up a lunar colony. Opponents to the plan point out one very good reason why no one should bother: it would cost too much for too little gain.

The big problem is staying alive, something that I have to admit that I take an inordinate amount of interest in. The airless lunar surface has extreme variations in temperature, to take just one example of something that can kill you quick. Stand with one half of your body in sunlight and the other in shade and there could well be a 2000 degree temperature difference between each shoulder. Structures would have to be constructed of materials that can take that kind of abuse without undergoing fatigue from constant stretching and contracting. Burying the buildings is one solution, but it would take massive earth moving equipment some weeks to dig out the hole needed. Then it would take months (at least) to build the living structures and get all of the bugs out. And every bulldozer, every ounce of fuel, every sip of water or breath of air would have to be transported from Earth.

It's not that we can't do it, it's just that it would cost trillions. And why do it in the first place? Proponents point out that energy is cheap on the moon (just stick a magnifying glass in the sun and watch steel melt and boil). After digging ore out of the ground one can smelt it easily enough. And, without the impurities that an atmosphere brings, the metal would be very pure and very strong.

All fine and good, but we certainly don't have a metal shortage here on the big blue marble. Nor do we have an energy shortage (yet). There really isn't a reason to go, and there probably won't be a reason for another 50 years or more.

Proponents say that the first country to get there will rule the world. Besides the obvious military advantages to developing cheap and reliable space craft, the materials that will be flowing down from the sky will make everything in the lucky country so inexpensive that they'll be giving diamonds away for birthday presents. While the rest of the world is winding down after the fossil fuels run out (and they'll run out eventually), the people with the foresight and the will to do great things will be sittin' pretty.

One country with a decided lack of natural resources has long been planning to go to the moon for decades. It's Japan, and this website details the plans they had to go and get the goodies. But notice how old the dates are on all of the posts. The Asian economy meltdown from a few years ago tabled Japan's plans to go beyond the far horizon.

But not China's. Although they're overly optimistic about their timetable, they have taken a very cautious and common sense approach to the problems with building a Near Earth Orbit (NEO) craft. This is the first step to aseembling a cost-effective lunar vehicle, and you can read about their Shen Zhou spacecraft here.

But they've gone beyond that. It seems that the bug of Capitalism has bitten our Communist friends in the pocketbook. They've packed the unmanned craft with collectibles that theyre selling on the international market. You can own your very own piece of China space history. Scroll down to the third item from the bottom and you'll see that they're even packaging old screws and other trash from the returned craft and selling it for big money.

With this kind of commitment it's possible that the first permanent settlement on the moon will have green tea instead of tang.

Monday, May 20, 2002

AN OPEN LETTER TO SANTA CLAUS
Santa, you've been a stingy lard butt to me over the years. But now's the time to make amends.

I just came across a weapon system manufactured by Singapore Technologies Kinetics. They are marketing a full auto 40mm grenade launcher! Way kewl! James wants!

If you're really feeling generous for all of those times there wasn't enough room in the bag for my presents after packing it with my siblings', you can get me the 40mm air defense gun. It's not a grenade launcher per se, just a really really big machine gun that fires explosive ammunition. Stll, I'm sure that I can depress the barrel enough to effect infantry. I just want the option of shooting down helicopters if I need to.

In case you're wondering, Santa, I promise to never use it on reindeer drawn sleighs.
BIG GUNS, BIG NOISE
So far as failed weapons go, the Crusader system is generating surprisingly little controversy. Sure, some people in Congress are complaining about the loss of pork, and some heads rolled at the Pentagon when a few REMF's balked at the cancellation. Still, there's been little actual bitchin'.

Some of the reasons are given here. The main point of this article is that the Crusader system isn't really needed as long as the U.S. has air superiority. Heck, I said that myself last week here in this blog.

James Dunnigan, give me a job!