Saturday, July 20, 2002

There's an editorial on the server that discusses reducing gun violence. The focus is (surprise, surprise) on restricting access to guns. The author seems to think that a good way to do this is to treat firearms as a form of disease, and the police and public health officials should work together to restrict sales.

"(Baltimore City Health Commisioner) Dr. Beilenson, acting as he would in any situation affecting public health, such as a restaurant serving unsafe food, shut down a west-side hardware store caught selling ammunition illegally to youths. To reopen, the store had to prevent illegal sales or stop selling ammunition.

Just as environmental contaminants are best abated by treating their source, Baltimore cannot make significant and sustained reductions in gun violence without targeting it's sources."

This would indicate to me that the guys who shoot other people should be "treated". Treated to a stay in the local jail, I mean. But the author seems to think that viewing illegal gun possession and use as a crime will somehow keep criminals from getting guns. The only logical way to do this would be to abolish guns entirely.

This is the same tired mantra we've heard from the medical community for the past few years. The Centers for Disease Control first came up with the idea, that since criminal use fo firearms cause injury than all firearms should be banned. The reasoning behind this was that, since firearms obviously cause injury, then it fell within the responsibility of the medical profession to make policy decisions. This has always puzzled both criminologists and people involved in law enforcement, since they don't wander through emergency rooms and arrest doctors when they can't save a patient. But the absurdity of their position seems to be lost on those who embrace the idea that doctors know best!

Friday, July 19, 2002

According to Jane's Defence, the role of the Main Battle Tank (MBT) is changing.

Well, when hasn't it been changing? When they were intoduced during WWI they were seen as a mobile machine gun nest. Just an armored box that could be used to attack opposing infantry while protecting the crew. Sort of like a lumbering giant robot combat suit, except that the tank couldn't pick anything up.

During WWII the Germans came up with a new tactic. The armor would still protect the crew, but tanks would be massed and used to punch through a single point in an enemy's defenses. Then the fast moving tanks would race for the unprotected supply lines, troop convoys and population centers in the rear. In this role they were more like a group of Roman chariots, using their superior mobility against enemy spearmen.

The Cold War saw a reduced role for tanks on the battlefield, mainly because the Korean War and the Viet Nam War didn't have terrain suitable for tank warfare. But plenty of tanks were built, mainly to counter the threat posed by Soviet built tanks (the U.S.S.R. built 30,000 T-72's, with 8,000 being exported). In this way the tank was seen as a deterrent instead of a weapon.

Now it would seem that the tank is to finally play a smaller role. Any large concentration of armor would probably be destroyed by specially designed aircraft, artillery firing improved munitions (or even MLRS systems), and even man portable anti-tank weapons. But some tanks should always survive this, and considering that the best defense against a tank is another tank, there will always be a few in the arsenal.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

MEMRI is an organization dedicated to translating Arabic media into English. News items, editorials and speeches from all over the Arabic speaking world are placed on their website so we can find out what they're really saying about us. The impression I've gotten so far is that they really aren't too fond of us.

Case in point is this letter to the Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London Arabic newspaper. It's from some guy calling himself Muhammad Amin Salameh, and he's not too enthused with what we Americans consider our heroes. Mr. Salameh states that Osama bin Laden is the guy he looks up to. He then states that he's a resident of California.

I'm not too up on Islamic culture in general and Arabic culture in particular so I don't know how common the name is. It could very well be that every Tom, Dick and Osama in the Arabic world is named Muhammed Amin Salameh. But the only guy I know of with that name was convicted of the World Trade Center bombings in 1994, and he's currently serving a 240 year sentence (third paragraph down).

So I can see why Mr. Salameh doesn't like Americans. If he should ever happen to read this then I'd like to give him one peice of advice to help improve his disposition.

Don't drop the soap.

Thanks to Jane's Defence comes this article. It would seem that China is concerned about it's law enforcement abilities. This sudden scrutiny of it's crowd control capability is due to the fact that China will host the 2008 Olympics.

For the past three decades or so China has had two levels of law enforcement; local neighborhood based policing and martial law. Local law enforcement is centered on a precinct or police station, much as it's done here in the U.S. The majority of crimes are investigated and arrests are made more or less autonomously from the station house. If there's anything too big for the local system to handle then the army is called out. China lacks an effective national agency, while the U.S. has more than you could shake a stick at.

One way that the Chinese gov has been trying to improve their performance is through an emergency response system modelled after the 911 system here in the U.S. (but the Chinese use the numbers 110). This has been a big success, but the governement in Beijing has been alarmed at the resources that are needed. Some of the bigger cities might have the money to make this work, but there's just not enough to put it in place everywhere.

This lack of ability is probably why China is so fond of capital punishment. They can't handle any sort of organized or wide spread criminal activity, so they try to end the problem before it gets to be too much for them. You can see this reflected in the crimes that carry the death penalty such as hacking, embezzelment, running prostitution rings and drug trafficking.

There's probably gonna be a bunch of protesters at the 2008 Olympics. It'll be interesting to see how they handle it.

It seems that the House of Representatives has voted to allow pilots to carry firearms. This hasn't passed the Senate or the White House yet, so commercial aircraft are still gun-free. And it's only a limited pilot program (if you'll excuse the pun). Only 1,400 pilots would be allowed to carry firearms after training. That's 2% of the pilots in the U.S.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I think this is a good idea. Not only that, but I think it's pretty obvious that having at least one firearm behind the locked cockpit door is the best hope to keep the guys flying the plane from being overwhelmed by an attack. Training in correct safety procedures and operaion would minimize accidents and risks. So why is the White House so reluctant?

It's mainly a matter of politics and perception. There's around 70,000 pilots in the U.S. That means that there's a potential for 70,000 guns to be wandering around airports across the country on any given day. Compare that number to the number of police officers in the U.S. (738,000 or so). While it's true that not every police officer is concerned with maintaining combat firearm skills and the discipline required to constantly keep track of their weapon, it's also true that they don't have to worry about such a complicated job as flying an aircraft. It's inevitable that a pilot will leave his gun lying around where it's not supposed to be. Just as soon as that happens the media flack will be heavy and thick, even if no one is hurt by the errant gun.

Another consideration is the "sterile environment" behind the security checkpoints. Pilots routinely pass through this area, where everyone is supposed to be free of any weapons. If a criminal ambushes a pilot and gains control of their gun they could kill until the ammo ran out. And this time there wouldn't be any armed security guards to end the rampage.

Yet another point. U.S. pilots also fly to foreign airports. Most countries have a very dim view of guns and don't like to see them around. The present plan would deputize the pilots that are to carry firearms in an effort to sidestep this difficulty. So far there isn't any outcry from the foreign press about this development, but that is sure to change if the plan is adopted.

While reading the Yahoo news server I came across this editorial. The author gives the NRA a good, pixel lashing. The new policy by Wal Mart to only sell guns when the buyer has passed a Federal background check is opposed by the NRA. The law only states that the forms need to be filled out and submitted. If no reply is sent back within 72 hours then the merchant is free to sell the gun. Wal Mart decided that the background check has to be completed or no sale, 72 hours or no 72 hours.

I don't really oppose this policy. The guns are the property of Wal Mart, and if they don't want to sell them until a certain condition is met then it's just fine and dandy by me. It would be different if the Mart was refusing sales to people of a certain ethnic background or religion but, even though some people have claimed that the new policy is discrimination, that clearly isn't the case.

So why is the NRA opposed to Wal Mart's new selling practices?

It all has to do with the idea of the "slippery slope". A few reasonable restrictions on firearms are good, gun opponents say, because public safety would be increased. Then things start to slide down that slick hill. If a few restrictions are good then a few more are better. Then a few more after that. Heck, why not ban firearms all together?

The NRA pretty much opposes any further restrictions on gun ownership or sales because of this. After all, why would we need any more restrictions? There's already plenty of laws concerning gun ownership, there's a system in place to make sure that criminals don't get guns (and increased penalties if they try), there's an entire Federal law enforcement agency dedicated to controlling access to firearms, sweeping laws have been passed controlling access to guns, certain types of guns are severly restricted, and some weapons are banned altogether even though all data indicates that these weapons are very seldom used for crime.

So why does the NRA oppose the policy? Why not?

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Instapundit has a link on his blog leading to this article. The author of the article quotes from a Pentagon report which states that China is planning to have a manned space launch by next year. Beijing's ultimate goal is to have a space station, military grade satellites and ground based anti-satellite lasers. The development of the space based military systems will be between 2010 to 2020.

I've mentioned China's space program before on this blog. I've always been fascinated with space, and I've been very impressed with China's methodical approach to putting a man in orbit. Nothing flashy, no unwarranted risks, first get everything right and tested with unmanned vehicles before putting anyone at risk. They're doing it right.

And there's nothing exceptional about the technology. America put a man on the moon over thirty years ago, and both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have had satellites in orbit for more than a decade before that. China may be rather behind so far as developing their country, but there really isn't any reason why they can't put a man in orbit, build a space station, or put a man on the moon if they want to.

But laser cannons? A regular shuttle service to a moon colony? An advance in space technology several orders of magnitude beyond the U.S. in just a few decades?

I remember during the Cold War the U.S. military would always talk about unobtanium, secret materials and technologies that the Soviet Union had developed that was far beyond anything seen in the West. After Glasnost it was obvious that this was all bunk, some hocum sold to the Congressional committees that held the purse strings so the budget wouldn't be reduced.

What's that old saying again? "The more things change the more they stay the same."

Monday, July 15, 2002

It would seem that the Euro is now worth as much as a U.S. dollar. This is the first time this has happened since the Euro was first introduced.

This isn't really a bad thing. The U.S. imports more than it exports, which causes the trade deficit. People who are paid in money that's worth less than the dollar don't like to buy American goods because they cost more than locally produced goods (to put it in the simplest terms). With a weaker dollar U.S. goods have a better chance to compete.

Opening new markets is a good thing, but read all of the article I linked to at the beginning. It's not that the Euro is getting stronger, but that the dollar has lost value due to the recent accounting scandals in American business. This situation probably won't last.

The good Captain has a few problems with a recent movie, one entitled Reign of Fire. He points out that any infestation of large, dangerous creatures would quickly be taken care of by the military. He wonders how they could possibly be a problem considering the effectiveness of modern weapons.

In the film, the one male dragon in all the world awakes and sends out a call to the female of the species. Millions of female dragons, hibernating for the last 50 million years (they destroyed the dinosaurs, you see), dig their way to the surface and lay waste to the planet. The stupid American military makes a bad situation even worse by using nukes against the fire breathing lizards.

You might think that I've just spilled the beans on the whole plot, and you'd pretty much be right. But all of the plot is explained in about 2 minutes of voice-over narration so you can rest assured that the movie isn't really plot driven. Instead it's just an excuse to see CGI dragons flying around. The dragons look great, by the way.

Steve said that he had a problem with the realism of the film. I say that any movie which features flying reptiles the size of elephants that spit flame isn't worrying about realism. Heck, one dragon is considerably larger than an elephant or even a blue whale. Yet it doesn't have any problem with flying with a grace that makes the Blue Angels look like penguins.

But, should millions of dragons suddenly dig their way to the surface, I really don't think the military would have to bother.

It would be convenient if the hunter could get the dragon to light the grill before slaying and butchering the beast.

What's the best way to cook a dragon, anyway?