Friday, January 17, 2003

It's very rare that I get a student interested in rifles, but I still have a bunch in the gun safe. (Mainly because surplus military rifles are cheap, but more on that in another post) When I get the budding long-gun enthusiast to the range to shoot some of these old war horses, the first thing they're impressed with is the sights. All of these old rifles are fitted with sights that are set at absurd ranges.

The best pic I can find online that shows an example is here, fourth picture down. Notice that the sights can be set to 2,000 meters. Considering that a mile is 1,600 meters it's no surprise that people assume that they're shooting a precision instrument that puts modern giant bore sniper rifles to shame.

I've mentioned before that the best general issue rifle for long range shooting was the M1 Garand, and it could only be expected to consistantly hit targets out to the 400 meter mark. These old bolt action rifles can only be expected to hit targets out to 300 meters, which is the range that the sights are calibrated to at the lowest setting. So why do thay have these sights that are set at insane distances?

The idea isn't that a single man can expect to shoot another man at those distances. The idea is that 100 or more guys in the trenches will be able to see large enemy concentrations at extreme distances. Then they set their sights at those ranges and start banging away. The bullets will be travelling about chest-high when they finally get there, but vagaries in air movement and bullet weight will have caused the shot to wander off from a perfect straight line. Sometimes the bullet will be 20 feet or more from the point of aim. Not a problem if you have a bunch of bullets zipping through the area where a mass of enemy are standing around. Those bullets will, every once in awhile, hit someone.

This doesn't stop my students from trying to do some long range shootin', though. They just get disappointed and discouraged when it doesn't work as well as they expected.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

While I was using the search engine to find links for my post on bananas I came across this webpage.

I gotta get to work and don't have time to look it over. It has a cute bunny on it, though. Hey, Anna, looks like something you'd be interested in!

I just saw a news story that claimed that bananas will be extinct in 10 years! (The story is on the Yahoo! news server, so it will rot in a few weeks)

I like bananas myself, especially if they're those little dried snack chips. They've even played a role in developing American foriegn policy. The United Fruit Company had a huge fleet of ships to collect the fruit from down south and deliver it to American markets. The U.S. gov started to meddle in South American politics to protect the investment. Now every time there's an impending trade war about produce they call it a banana war.

The expert quoted in the Yahoo! news article states that bananas won't survive unless helped along through technological means. Considering how much effort has been expended so far to keep the supply going, I have no doubt that we'll see heroic measures if they are truly necessary.


Pork Chop Hill (1959)
Plot- American troops during the Korean War are ordered to hold their ground to the last man.

This is one of several thoughtful war movies that Gregory Peck starred in. All of them focus more on the effect that combat has on the men living through it than the combat itself. In this film Peck gives another fine performance as the commander of a group of GI's that is told to hold a worthless, undefendable patch of mud against overwhelming odds. Repeated pleas for more men, supplies or permission to retreat are met with no reply. Unknown to the men in the field, their impending deaths are nothing more than a chip in a high-stakes game of political brinkmanship being played out across the bargaining table far behind the lines.

The performances in this one are uniformily excellent. One standout is Woody Strode, football player turned actor. Mr. Strode is well known as one of the first black actors to break out of the stereotypical roles that Hollywood forced on African Americans. Here he plays an angry soldier that questions why he has to do-or-die for his country when he never got an even break. It's a role that shows his true talent as the audience gains sympathy for a really unsympathetic character. It's also one of the few high profile roles that he was given during his career, which soon degenerated into cheapie Tarzan flicks,spaghetti Westerns and cheap Sci-Fi movies. It's worth a look just to see his finest hour, if nothing else.

So I'm at my local all-night grocery store and the person working the cash register was a woman from Tanzania. She's here in the States on a student visa, working her way through college.

When I asked how she liked America it opened the floodgates. She was most impressed with our wealth, describing how her family is in the top 1% or income in her country and that they were so rich that she was given a whole dollar every day to buy lunch at school. Seems that the majority of familes with a single child can't afford such exhorbitant excess.

She then started to talk about things that she admired about the U.S. The fact that people could speak out in a public forum such as the newspapers against people of influence with no fear of reprisal had made an impression. The fact that someone could start a business without bribign anyone or asking permission from the powers-that-be was also something that was different for her.

So I turned the concersation back to the matter of America's wealth. I tried to point out that we're wealthy because we're mostly free from interference from those in power, and that we keep the influential from having too much control over our lives through free speech.

She didn't understand. So I explained it simpler. I gave hypothetical examples. I thought I did a pretty good job. And you know what? She still couldn't grasp what I was trying to say.

Okay, why did she think that America was wealthy? Why, because we were rich! She more or less said that wealth just kind of happened. You lucked out with your family or friends and you prospered through their influence. One country was richer than another because of natural resources. Money literally springs out of the ground in her mind. If you own the right patch of ground you win the mineral rights lottery and that's pretty much that. Bill Gates and other people who obtained wealth through innovation and opening new markets were abberations, even though they acquire wealth and influence beyond the wildest dreams of the guy with the biggest gold mine in America.

Keep in mind that this is a woman from another country whose native language is not English. She's both smart and disciplined enough to work her way through college. But she just can't see something that most Americans grasp in a heartbeat (if they think about it at all). Her background keeps her from viewing the world in the right way.

Wonder why most of the rest of the world isn't doing as well as fast as the U.S.? Do you find the fact that the throw away pop culture from the U.S. that even Americans find cheap and without lasting value is sweeping the globe puzzling? Ever wonder why 3rd World countries can't pull themselves out of desperate poverty? I don't.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

So I'm over at one of my daily reads and I see that James Lileks removed any song by Sheryl Crow and Pete Townsend from his hard drive. He kicked Pete off because he admitted to paying for access to a kiddie pr0n site. Ms. Crow got the boot because she states that the way to avoid war is to not have any enemies.

So you decide that you don't want anything to do with Peter because of royalties and what he does with them. Every CD of his work you buy sends another nickle into his bank account, and he can use that money to indulge his sick fantasy. Don't have a problem with that.

So far as Ms. Crow is concerned there's no crime against being indescribably stupid. Her job is to look pretty and make sounds pleasing to the ear, which is also the job description of a parakeet. The fact that she found success as a singer of song doesn't suggest to me that she has any particular insights to share. In fact I usually think it means the opposite.

I have a hard time imagining what it is to be a big success in the entertainment or sports industry. Millions upon millions of people worship you, scream your name, beg for the merest touch of your hand or even a simple wave from across a parking lot. Since everything you do and say is on the lips of people across the world in a few hours it must seem that you're just oh so important. And that must mean that your opinions about subjects that you manifestly have no expertise in must be important too.

Don't get me wrong. Wisdom can be found almost everywhere. I'm sure that there are celebrities that are well read, thoughful people who can assess the issues and who have meaningful things to share. But we never hear anything from these people since the start of wisdom for them would be the realization that the attention they receive doesn't mean that they have all the answers.

Update Rachel Lucas is all over this story.

Monday, January 13, 2003


Battleground (1949)
Plot- American GI's during WWII, surrounded by a superior German force, prepare to defend themselves with the last bullet and the bayonet.

People have forgotten how controversial this movie was when it came out. Released just four years after the end of WWII, the film doesn't paint a rosy picture of heroic American heroes heroically performing heroic deeds to stem the tide of Nazi aggression. Instead it shows the average infantryman as being scared, concerned above all else with his own safety, and eager to find any excuse to be excused from combat. Added to that is the fact that the soldiers constantly lie and embellish when reporting to superiors in an attempt to make themselves out to be more studly than they really are. Just a glimpse of reality? Sure. But the movie going public wasn't any too happy about it back then.

The film focuses on a small group of soldiers trapped in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. As the film progesses it eventually dawns on them that they're completely cut off and there's no way out. No one seems to be very happy with this opportunity to be a hero.

This movie was the most realistic portrayal of combat ever seen up to that time. That isn't to say that there's plenty of blood and guts (it's 1949, after all). Pains are taken to show the wear that facing combat during winter conditions will place on a person. Take note of how the soldiers look at the beginning of the film and what they look like at the end. Frostbite, missing boots and frozen ammo pouches are some of the things that the soldiers have to deal with. That and the Germans, of course.

Another point in this film's favor is that one of the actors is Ricardo Montalban at the beginning of his career.

Swen has been posting about The Two Towers and various types of bows. He states that the longbow can be mass produced and supplied to a large number of people.

Well, yeah. Kinda.

See, the recurve bow is made up of layers of different materials glued together (the glue is usually boiled down horse hooves. Talk about a stink!). It's tough to make and repair, but it is recognized as the superior missile weapon of ancient times.

The longbow is nothing more than a shaped peice of wood from the center of a tree. The sap-impregnated "heart wood" has very dense, springy fibers that are perfect for making a bow. The Welsh longbow is the only natural bow that can match a recurve in performance, but it has to come from that very narrow section of heartwood. A 20 foot high tree might (might!) yeild two fine quality longbows. And some trees have extremely dense heartwood with plenty of sap and long fibers that hold together really well, like the yew tree. The only problem is that it takes a century or more to grow one of these trees large enough to get your bows.

But let's not forget what you're doing to that poor bow. You're flexing it and then allowing it to snap! back to it's original shape. If you're using a recurve then the glue holding it all together eventually starts to crack and the different layers start to seperate out. When this starts to happen you hold your nose, boil down more hooves and reglue everything back together. The different components can be used and reused many, many times. With a longbow the fibers eventually start to seperate and break, the bow loses it's ability to return to it's original shape, and the range and power of your shots falls off very sharply in a short period of time. When this happens to a longbow you throw it away, chop down a tree and cut out a new one. If archery is popular then eventually you start running out of trees that make the best bows.

So how long can a longbow last? I've made two of them and used them enough so they came apart on me. I'd have to say that I managed to get 1200 rounds off before they got all loosey-goosey on me. 'Course they were a bit shorter than they should have been, so I was probably bending them further than they should have been. Still, this should add a dimension to the whole "longbow vs. recurve" discussions. No one ever thinks about how many longbows you have to go through (or how many trees you have to cut down) before you manage to train a single bowman up to military specs.

Side Note While I was Googling around to find sites to link to, I came across this encyclopedia entry for the longbow. Can someone please tell me what the picture is? It's supposed to be a longbow and arrows, but it looks to me like a Sasquatch or something.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Prof. Reynolds has a post up pointing to this article which discusses the current problems that Germany is having right now. It's prestige and influence has severly waned, mainly due to the disasterous fumblings of the head German Gerhard Schroeder. The article states that Europe will never manage to gain prosperity or prominence to rival that of the US unless it's most populous country with the largest economy gets it's act together.

I say "So what?" The German people decided to elect Schroeder because he turned on the anti-American rhetoric. The fact that he turns out to be a completely ineffectual leader with no vision for the future and policies that do more harm than good is certainly no surprise to me. If Germany's weakness hurts all of Europe then I still can't generate much sympathy. Seems like every country in Europe except Britain has embraced "bash the US" as a national sport ever since 9/11.

This is a glaring example of how Europe's current problems are most definately of their own making. I fully expect the US to be blamed for it, though.

According to, a former foreign minister of Taiwan has admitted that around 100 US troops are serving on the island. It seems that they act as observers as well as aiding in training.

I expect one of two things to happen about this. Either China will ignore it and pretend that it doesn't really happen (what can they do about it, anyway?). Or they'll scream bloody murder and blow this up into a major stink.

Taiwan seems to be trying to downplay this. Every time I try to access the official Taiwan gov news server and search for "John Chiang" it cuts me off.