Friday, August 16, 2002

SO, YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY THAT CHARLES MANSON WANTED TO BLOW UP PARLIAMENT?

No, I'm not saying that. I said that Chuckie was trying to achieve similar results.

Look, I'd better start at the beginning.

Back in 1605 there was a plot by some Catholics to blow up Parliament in England. Seems that they were pissed about anti-Catholic policies, and they figured that the problem were the guys controlling the government. If they could kill the king and most of the members of Parliament then the army would be crippled. They thought that the majority of England was secretly Catholic, and with the government in disarray then the people would rise up and kick out the anti-Papists. They decided that the best way to do this was to pack a basement under Parliament with gunpowder barrels and touch them off when the King was there.

Of course the plot failed. Someone sent a letter to one of the guys who was going to be there when the gunpowder went off, telling him to call in sick or something. The barrels were found, people were arrested, and some of the conspirators took to the hills to whip up some home-brewed revolution. Didn't work big time. The last of them tried to hole up in this house and had to be pulled out of there by force.

Okay, so we have some in-bred rich guys from England. What does that have to do with Charles Manson?

Back in 1969 Charles Manson was some loser that headed a commune of even worse losers. He had this idea that there was going to be a race war in the U.S., and just about everybody and everything was going to be destroyed. Anyone who was prepared and had a group of followers could go out in this blasted landscape and set themselves up as, I dunno, a king or something. The only problem was that the race war never seemed to get started.

So some of Chuckie's followers decided to help things along. They decided to go to some rich people's houses and kill everyone in bloody and depraved ways. Then they'd steal some stuff and drop it in black neighborhoods. When the police arrested the black people who found the stuff the white community would rise up and try to destroy every black person they could. Hey, instant race war!

Of course the whole thing failed, just like the Gunpowder Plot. At least Chuckie was taking LSD pretty heavily and had an excuse. But both of them thought that their society was ready for violent change, that they could profit from the violence, and that the ball would start rolling if they could only find the right thread to pull. One tug and the whole sweater turns in to a pile of wrinkled yarn on the floor.

It's interesting to note that most fringe groups have the same idea. Take the white supremacists. Some of these guys think that there's eventually going to be some sort of race war. If they're ready for it then they can walk in and start a whole new kingdom using the survivors. I doubt they'd be too happy about being compared with Charles Manson, though.

Another group of whackos with the same idea are these terrorists we've been having trouble with lately. They actually think that, if they blow up enough innocent Americans, they'll start a war between Islam and everybody else. The idea that they have a prayer of winning a war with the U.S., let alone with everyone else, is sheer idiocy. But that doesn't mean that they stop trying. All they have to do is find the right thread to pull and they Rule the World!

So this brings us back to the Gunpowder Plot. The Islamic terrorist guys were smart enough to realize that the World Trade Centers were more influential in today's world then Parliament, but I can't help wishing that they'd blown up that building instead. The result would have been the same, with the United States gearing up and kicking terrorist butt (hey, who else could have done it?). But at least then the Europeans would have a clearer picture of whose side they were on.

OH INCONSTANT MOON!
The above quote was from Shakespeare. Kudos to anyone who can identify which play and/or sonnet it came from.

Dawn Olsen recently posted about the phases of the Moon affecting human behavior. Go out on the street and tackle 100 people and you'll wind up in jail for assault. Then you'll have plenty of time to poll the other prisoners about their views on the subject. I'm confident you'll find that the vast majority think that profound personality changes are caused by how much reflected sunlight shines down on the Earth from our small and dead satelite.

It's just not criminals who think that. Most of the world would agree that people act more irrationally than normal during a few days that the Moon shines the brightest. Not a gradual increase or decrease in criminality and insanity due to the changing level of Moonlight, mind you. Just an explosion of idiotic behavior during the one or two days that the light is at it's peak.

It's telling that people still believe this even though there's plenty of sources that prove that there's nothing to it. 'Course it's tough to blame anyone for this since there's a huge number of sources that claim there's something to the idea.

Look at the data and you'll see that those that say there's nothing to it are astronomers, scientists that are trained to observe the physical world as objectively as possible. Those that say the celestial bodies affect behavior are astrologers, people who come up with schemes to get people to give them money.

Many people who believe in this stuff will insist that the police and emergency rooms are swamped during a full moon. I can't say anything about emergency rooms, but I did once work for the police and I can say that the whole thing is bunk. There never was an increase of arrests or criminal behavior during the full Moon, or the dark of the Moon or any other phase of the Moon. But it's interesting that many people were desperate to believe it.

Every time there was a night with a large amount of arrests most people would insist that the full Moon was to blame, no matter what phase the Moon happened to be in. Sometimes they'd say this while looking straight at the non-full Moon, where you'd think that they could see what was going on. I suppose that they just didn't want the reality right in front of their face to interfere with a pet idea.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

I just thought I'd post a few thoughts about my dog, Hannibal.

I'd heard of an older couple that had a dog they wanted to give away. After calling them to set up a time I went over to their house to take a look. Seems the dog was a gift from some well-meaning relatives, but the old couple really didn't want it. They locked it in the basement and, because it would jump on them and beg for affection when they went down there, they'd only feed it once a week. When I got there he was almost dead from starvation, with leaking bedsores sticking to the bare concrete. How could I walk away without the dog after seeing that?

He was a tough pup. Instead of dying he recovered and started to fill out. I named him Hannibal in honor of that, but it was a misleading name. Instead of becoming mean or bitter he was desperate for people to like him. I taught him to kiss on command and he decided that big slobbery dog kisses were the way to get affection. If we were taking a walk and he saw a baby carriage he'd start to cry and tug at the leash, knowing that there was a baby in there that couldn't get away when he'd start kissin'. Other dogs drifted in to the house, all of them rescues, but he was never one to play dominance games. He'd sit quietly in the corner, content to wait and watch until I wanted to give him a pet or a hug. The other dogs were smaller and cuter so visitors would give them more attention, but I'd always point out that Hannibal was a better dog. "He's my best dog!", I'd say.

Two weeks ago I took some time off from work. I always go out of town for five days in August for a convention, but I decided to spend some extra time with the dogs. A week before I was to leave Hannibal had a Grand Mal seizure during a walk. He was up and about in 20 seconds, acting like nothing had ever happened. No matter what I tried I couldn't find any sign that there was anything wrong with him. Eyes weren't bloodshot, co-ordination good, he could see out of both eyes just fine, pupils the same size, no blood in his nose or mouth, no fever or other sign of sickness. I decided to keep a close eye on him and wait.

Nothing happened for a week. It was just a few minutes before I left for the convention when he had another seizure. Like before he was up and playing with the other dogs in less than 20 seconds and I still couldn't find anything wrong with him. The guy who was going to come over and feed them said he'd keep an eye on Hannibal.

When I got home late Sunday night Hannibal had yet another seizure. This one lasted far longer than the others did, and after it was over he was disoriented and in pain from the muscle spasms. Okay, we were going to be the first through the door when the vet's office opened in the morning.

Except the seizures wouldn't stop. It was obvious what was going on when I saw that they'd start when Hannibal moved his head too fast. Something was in his head, growing fast, putting pressure where no pressure was supposed to be. Every time he'd start playing with one of the other dogs or he'd hop down from the couch to go get a drink of water he'd flop over and start quivering. Every time he'd come to himself he'd be scared and crying from the torn muscles and sore joints. Things had deteriorated too fast for me to have any real hope that this was a minor problem, or even something that could be fixed without ruining his health. There was a decision to be made.

The one place in the world Hannibal loved more than any other was a big section of woods. Even though it took 45 minutes each way I'd load all of the dogs in the car and drive them up there every week. Once there they'd sniff everything, run around like mad little furry rockets and try to find a deer to chase. It was a little slice of heaven for a dog.

I kept thinking of the last thing he'd feel. It looked like it was going to be the needle while he lay on a steel table at the vet's. As soon as the sun rose I loaded Hannibal in the car and we went up to the woods, just a man and his best friend. One of my guns came along. I made damn sure he didn't feel a thing.

Then I just fell apart for awhile. I stood there and bawled like mad, telling him over and over how sorry I was and how he was a good dog. It was a good hour before I could walk away. There'd been a plan to bury him but I decided at the last minute that he would've preferred it this way. He's up there right now, dissolving in to the place where he was the happiest.

I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to that section of woods.

The relationships I have with people are much more complex, much more full, than those I have with my pets. But pets do enrich every owner's life a little bit. It's probably best that they don't live as long since they seem to become more attached than we do and the loss of the owner is harder on the pet. It takes a long time before saying that to yourself is any comfort, though.

Anyway, I just thought I'd say a few words about Hannibal. He was a good dog, my best dog.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO USE, HARSH LANGUAGE?
The main British combat rifle is the SA-80, a better view of which can be found here and here. It's an innovative weapon that incorporated an integral scope to aid aiming and the "bull-pup" design to shorten it and make it handier. ("Bull-pup" means that the magazine is behind the trigger instead of in front of it)

First designed in 1982, the British armed forces accepted the new rifle and it was in service by 1985. Many complaints about the performance, reliability and durability of the design were recorded. This didn't bother me too much, since every weapon system has some bugs to be worked out when it first hits the field (just think of the problems that the M-16 had when it was first introduced). Now the rifle has been in service for 17 years.

It might have been in service for 17 years, but it's still a peice of junk. Jane's Defence reports that the rifles are to be scrapped and a replacement bought. Right now the best canidate is the H and K G-36. This is a good choice, since the G-36 is available in several configurations. This means that the U.K. will save money by only buying one type of firearm for many different roles, instead of needing different types of weapons for different roles like the U.S. does right now.

So what was the problem with the SA-80 anyway? They had 17 years to make it work and they still couldn't work out the bugs. Was it shoddy manufacturing?

Probably not. The contractor that made the weapon for the British was the justly famous Heckler and Koch (the FLASH intro to their site is kinda cool). They're known for supurb precision engineering, so that's not it. I think that they just had a crappy design with too many problems to fix. That's okay, though. There's plenty of fine weapons to choose from out there. No reason to force the guys on the ground to make do with something that probably won't work.

I just wonder why it took 17 years before the British decided to scrap the whole thing and try again. Political considerations, maybe.

IT'S BEEN AWHILE SINCE BRITTINIA RULED THE WAVES
Over the past few years I've been keeping an eye on Britian's Future Aircraft Carrier program. It would seem that the British are concerned with projecting power past their own borders (good for them), and they realize that an aircraft carrier is the most efficient way to do this.

Billed as the "largest warships ever built in the U.K.", the Future Aircraft Carriers will displace about 50,000 tonnes and carry about 50 aircraft. The aircraft that the carrier will......uh, carry, will be the usual mix of fighters, strike aircraft and support airplanes. Jane's Defence reports that the project is too big for any single U.K. shipbuilder to handle alone, so they're dividing the project up in to smaller bites to make sure that there isn't a bottleneck in construction.

This is a radical leap forward for the Royal Navy. The carrier currently used is the Invincible class of carriers. A very capable design, the Invincibles displace about 20,600 tonnes and carry 21 to 25 aircraft. The main fighter aircraft carried is the Harrier jump jet. Realizing that the Harrier, while capable and interesting, really isn't suited for CAP the British have made some efforts to protect their Invincibles through on board anti-aircraft weapons.

Okay, so the U.K. wants to start building 50,000 tonne carriers that carry 50 aircraft. These new carriers will replace the old 20,600 tonne carriers that can only carry 21 to 25 aircraft. Pretty ambitious for the Brits. But what about the Americans?

Here are some photos of the USS Nimitz, which is currently the largest warship in the world. It displaces over 90,000 tonnes, carries 85 aircraft, and has about 5,500 people on board to sail the ship and keep the aircraft flying. This means that the U.S. has carriers in service now that are twice the size of the new, larger carriers that the U.K. wants to build. Although that's a point of pride for me since I happen to be an American, I also have to admit that the British don't really need anything larger than the Invincible class. Building the new Future Carriers means that the U.K. is thinking far ahead and trying to build an extra capacity in case of emergencies and changing conditions. I wish them all the best of luck and am eagerly waiting for the first of the Future Carriers to be launched.