Saturday, March 01, 2003

Kim du Toit started this little discussion thread in the blogs about knives. Swen the Coyote ran with it, now I'm going to flog it like a dead horse.

What's the best depiction of swordplay in a movie? Well, it depends. Best portrayal of stage fencing is probably Scaramouche. None of it is accurate as a martial art, but it's real purty to watch.

So let's say that there's a real fight between two guys who're good fencers. They're both trying to kill the other guy, but they also have perfect form. What's the best example of swordplay as a martial art if no one ever makes a mistake? That would have to be the 1940 version of The Mark of Zorro. The fight between Basil Rathbone and Tyrone Power is just perfect, and you can tell that Basil was an Olympic level fencer in his earlier years.

Study the martial arts for a few years and you'll learn the right way to do things. Get into a real fight and things aren't as neat and tidy as they are in the dojo or salle d'arms. Which movie is closest to the chaos that a real fight would bring? No question, it's the Musketeer movies made in the 1970's, The Three Musketeers followed by the sequel The Four Musketeers.

The lightsaber fights in most of the Star Wars movies were mainly based on kendo techniques. The movie that is probably the most accurate portrayal of Japanese styles of cuttin' people up is The Yakuza. For a bonus it's also an interesting glimpse into the Japanese version of the Mafia. Rent it and watch it after The Sopranos.

All of the movies listed have something that makes the viewing worthwhile, but I'd have to say that my nomination for the all time best swordplay movie has to be The Duellists. Rent it and tell me of you disagree.

I just left a fascinating post at the Guradroom where I talk about a corpse in Philadelphia found with it's internal organs deliberately removed.

I'm too lazy to reproduce the post here, so you should go over there and read it.

According to, the US military's experience in the recent Afghanistan campaign has led to calls for a longer range and more lethal assault rifle. This has led to the development of replacement parts for the M-16 so it can fire an experimental 6.6mm cartridge.

I can't find any ballistic data on the new cartridge, so I can't tell you how effective it is or how much an improvement it might be over the standard .223 Reminton cartridge. The only reference I could find to a 6.8mm round was to some unpopular and rare pistols from the 1880's and 1890's, which isn't the same thing at all.

We're in an interesting phase of infantry weapon development and deployment. The old .223 was adopted in the reasonable expectation that America's greatest foe was the Soviet juggernaut. Rapid movement of troops was expected, and having a light cartridge fired fom a light rifle meant that the individual soldier would be able to carry more ammo and require resupply less often. It also made sense because it was expected that most of the fighting would be between aircraft and tanks. The infantry was supposed to advance with the big boys and hold the ground wrested from Communist control. If they were attacked they were supposed to dig in and call for artillery support.

Afghanistan showed that this isn't going to happen all the time. Chasing down some hillbilly yahoos who take to the wild country and hide in caves is probably the most dangerous job that the infantry is going to be called on to do, and they're probably going to do more of it in the coming decades. A rifle that has a longer accurate range, and which is more lethal at extended range, is probably the way we're going to have to go.

But we have all of these M-16A2 rifles, almost all of which were bought in the last ten years and are almost brand new. It would cost some major bucks to replace them with existing designs firing more potent cartridges. So the powers that be are looking to keep as much of the rifle as possible and just swap out a few parts. The 6.8mm is probably the most potent cartridge that they could come up with that wouldn't cause undue wear on the M-16's.

Found a neato site that has screen captures from a bunch of 1950's sci-fi movies. The pics are all of the rockets used in the films.

LOOKS LIKE A 1950'S SCI-FI SPACESHIP has posted some pictures of the largest and most powerful conventional bomb in the world. It's America's newest bunker-buster, the MOAB.

Follow the link and take a look at the pic. Does anyone else figure that there's a fan of 1950's science fiction movies lurking deep in the bowels of the USAF R&D structure?

THE FRENCH HAVE A STRATEGIC VISION? has an interesting post about why the French are trying to undermine our efforts to gain support for the pending invasion of Iraq (StrategyPage doesn't have permalinks, so please follow this link and scroll down to the post from Feb 14, 2003).

So why are they doing it? Is the support for murderous dictators and opposition to the most succesful democracy the world has ever seen a sign that the French are evil, or are they just greedy and stupid? Ted Wade, the author of the post, insists that it's the latter and not the former.

"The French have proven time and again throughout the 20th Century that their tactical and strategic vision is woefully outdated. During World War I, the French annihilated a generation of their own youth by relying on human wave attacks against machine-guns and modern artillery. Following the war, France used the peace process to so cripple Germany’s economy that the nation was ripe for Hitler’s hate mongering. The French insisted on carving up old empires and creating new countries that have lead to many of today’s problems in the Balkans and the Middle-East."

Pretty damning stuff. But there's more, much more. Go read it yourself and decide if Mr. Wade is on to something.

Friday, February 28, 2003

I mentioned in the post below that I used to fence when I first went to college. One of the things that frustrated me at the time was the way that it just wasn't geared towards teaching people how to fight! Not that I was expecting to wander around campus with a katana strapped across my belly, but it just didn't seem very historically accurate without the killer element.

This became increasingly absurd when they installed electric scoring equipment. The first fencer that slapped his point against his opponent's jacket won. So I would ignore the attacks that obviously wouldn't cause an injury if we were using real weapons....and lose when the buzzer went off.

Oh, well. Time to get involved in more effective methods of self-defense. Like guns, say.

But there are a few who feel the same way that I do. They've decided to start an organization dedicated to developing and promoting swordplay as a legitimate martial art.

Go on over to the ARMA site and look around. It looks developing these skills would be plenty of work, but it would be worth it if the Earth ever entered a section of space where guns didn't work.

Swen the Coyote has a very good post about choosing a knife for an alternative weapon. He says that, in the gravest extreme, he'd have his 1911 in one hand and a big ol' knife in the other. If someone manages to leap upon him in the dark and start to wrestle the gun away he'd just poke them a few times with the steel to discourage that sort of behavior. And no one will try to grab the blade out of his hand (well, not more than once at any rate).

Swen was a saber fencer in college, and he laments a lack of big ol' knives that are designed to his needs. He finally decided that this bad boy fit the bill. Nice and big, just what a saber man needs. But it's a bear to carry concealed in a comfortable way.

I've got a confession to make. I fenced when I first went to college (I just recently started going again in an attempt to finally earn the sheepskin). Instead of sabers I was an epee and foil kinda guy, mainly because I just though it was more effecient to give them the point. This means that I'm perfectly comfortable with smaller, more easily concealed designs. Not that I regularly carry a knife for self defense, but Swen's plan of having a knife in your off hand is a very good one.

Many people find a caliber of gun or a design they like and they stick with it. This makes sense, since you don't have to keep large supplies of different ammo on hand and all of the magazines will fit whatever gun you're using that day. I'd like to suggest that you should do the same thing when choosing your fighting knives.

If you're interested in knives, go on over to Kim du Toit's and read the post that started all of this sharp and pointed commentary. He's got links to some very good on-line knife outlets at the bottom.

Looks like some pirates near Somolia decided to attack a Russian tanker. Didn't work. The pirates didn't have anything that could do significant harm to the ship, and the captain of the tanker refused to stop when ordered.

The news article states that the captain of the tanker radioed the anti-pirate task force based in Indonesia. Nothing happened, which is no shock to me. Those guys are worthless.

Another article from Pravda. This one is a doozy.

It would seem that the Russians are still insisting that Bush is a moron. Whatever. They should suck back more vodka and leave the democracy building to the guys who've been the best at it.

They weren't happy when Bush said that Iraq was “a wealthy patron who offers rewards to the families of suicide bombers”. The Russkies say that Bush has it all wrong.

What he offers is a pension for the families of those who have lost their main breadwinner, an act of social solidarity that the USA would do well to copy, given the millions of its citizens who do not have access to healthcare because the “regime” provides them with nothing.

Yeah, that's it! The US should reward suicide bombers because we don't have socialized medicine.

They also say that the coming Iraq invasion is nothing more than an attempt by the US to control the world through controlling the oil supply (It's all about the oooiiiilll!!!). They go on and explain what America really is.

"Such regimes are authoritarian, fascist, imperialistic, reactionary and totally anachronistic in a world whose engine is its people, in a scenario of multi-lateralism, equal rights, collaboration and friendship between all the nations of the planet."

Yeah, that's right. The US is authoritarian, imperialistic and anachronistic. We should listen to Russkie wisdom about equal rights and friendship between nations. After all, they're the experts when it comes to authoritarian and anachronistic regimes, and they're experts when it comes to equal rights and friendship.

I just wrote a post over at The Guardroom about the proliferation of illegal drugs in Russia. Looks to me like drug use would fall off sharply if the staff at Pravda cut down some.

According to the muck-raking Russian rag Pravda, a German submarine was ordered to mine the Mississippi delta area. The U boat was destroyed by a Coast Guard plane after it sank the Robert E. Lee.

I didn't believe the story until I verified it with a more credible source (which would be almost anyone besides Pravda). But it does look like it really happened. We've got pictures and everything!

Thursday, February 27, 2003

I don't know what it is with Jane's Defense. They're a subscription service, that's how they make their money, but they also have free teasers on their server. Sometimes it takes a long time before they post more free stuff, sometimes it comes in a flood. This week it's advised to get out the waders.

Ten Pounds of Crap in a Five Pound Bag
Last week an Iranian cargo plane crashed, killing all 302 people on board. According to Jane's it crashed because it was overloaded.

Well, duh! 302 people with all their gear? Of course it was overloaded! It was also snowing at the time, with high winds. That doesn't make for a good day for flying even without all the extra weight.

Hey, I could have written the article that said the Iranians were trying to cram too much in that old, worn out Soviet plane. How come Jane's doesn't give me a job?

This Isn't Helpful
Some nutjob started a subway fire in Daegu, India that killed 120 people. He carried gasoline bombs down into the station and lit them off when the place was packed with people. Now Jane's is asking if the tragedy was avoidable.

Speaking as someone who used to work in law enforcement I'd have to say that it was. But that's not saying anything new, because everything is avoidable. Steps can be made, efforts can be expended, procedures can be implemented. But almost all of them just aren't all that practical, and every one costs money. No matter what you're not going to be able to catch all the nutbags. Tragedies like this are heart-wrenching, but there's always another bozo who is dedicated and has nothing better to do but sit around all day and try to think of ways to kill innocent people. Sad but true.

Fly the Expensive Skies
It would seem that air travel in the US is about to become more expensive (and, NO, it isn't because pilots are about to be able to arm themselves). It would appear that there's less air traffic because fewer people are willing to fly nowadays. The airports have to pay for maintenance and day-to-day expenses. Fewer flights means less planes to charge landing fees, which means that the fewer planes will have to be charged more to cover expenses.

This is what some people call a "ripple effect", and still others call "unintended consequences". See, after 9/11 less people were willing to fly because they thought that getting on a plane meant an increased chance of personally being on the receiving end of a terrorist attack. (Never mind that the chances were actually less than before 9/11 because the passengers would now tear hijackers apart. Perception is more important than reality.) One of the ways that the US gov tried to instill confidence was through increased security at airport checkpoints.

But it backfired. Some of the measures were designed simply to increase visibility of the security procedures, which is why little kids and aged people too feeble to be a threat are searched so diligently. This obviously did nothing to increase security, but it did increase the work load of the screeners. This meant more hassle, more waiting in line, and even some missed flights.

So people started to find other ways to travel. All of a sudden they figured that if you could drive anywhere in less than 4 hours instead of flying you actually saved time. This translated into an even bigger drain on potential passengers, which meant more flights.

Now the airports will have to raise their fees a whopping 40%. The airlines are in financial trouble now, they'll have to raise the ticket prices. Which means that even more passengers will find other ways to get there. Which means that there will be even fewer flights.

Anyone see a pattern here?

A Reasonable Cost/Benefit Analysis
One of the things that has frustrated those that are in favor of invading Iraq (like myself, big shock there, huh?) is the fact that Turkey has been shaking down the US for money before they'll allow our troops to land on Turkish soil. Many people are asking why they'd do something like this. after all, if Saddam is such a threat, why aren't they paying us to go in and get him?

The major threat posed by Saddam is his WMD's. He's contained so far as conventional warfare is concerned and no threat in that area. But he's been trying for years to develop a nuke and acquire the means to deliver it for years. One of these days he'll get lucky and be the proud owner of a shiny new atomic bomb.

So who will he use it on? I figure that the US is the biggest threat to him since we're the only power that can reign him in (heck, the UN is no damn help). So Iraq's priority one target would be Washington, followed by New York. After that, he'd be thinking of convinving his neighbors to submit to his rule, so Tel Aviv is number three on his list (it would demonstrate that he had a nuke as well as go a long way to getting those mullahs on his side).

Well, where's Turkey in all this? Oh, sure, Saddam would turn his loathsome gaze on Turkey sooner or later. But by then the US would have stomped him into dust for daring to vaporize one of our cities, and the Turks know it.

So why not hold out for some bucks? The risk is small on their side, while the need is great on ours. And we've got the money.

I Wish I Was Rich
Fascinating article about the doctrine of air power. I wish I had the money to actually pay to read the whole thing.

Around the Viet Nam era, the USAF had the idea that high tech was the way to go. Stand-off air-to-air missiles were the wave of the future in fighter planes, so they didn't need a gun to weigh them down. And they didn't need to be agile because the enemy would never get close enough to engage in a dogfight. So you might as well make the fighters bigger because they could then carry more missiles, and maybe a bomb or two to support ground ops.

Makes sense when you hear it put that way, right? And it did make sense if things had turned out that way. But there was a very vocal group of fighter jocks that started screaming for a small, agile air superiority fighter built for a dogfight. These guys were so relentless, so loud, and they used any tactic they could to embarrass the competition and make their voices heard that they became known as the "Fighter Mafia". Their efforts paid off big time with the development and adoption of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

But the first Gulf War showed that the F-16 might be able to dogfight really well, but it couldn't do much else. The Air Force even started to experiment with the F-16 filling ground support roles, a job that other aircraft could do better by far, even if these other craft wouldn't survive a dogfight.

So what's going to happen to the Fighter Mafia? Dunno. It would be a shame to lose our dogfighting capability. You never know when they'll be some dog that won't come to heel.

Running Out of Cash
It would appear that the UK gov is going to pay big bucks to keep it's Astute class submarine program and it's Nimrod maritime recon aircraft program going.

This isn't a bad idea, since both systems are needed. I just hope it doesn't slow down the Future Carrier project.

Well, that's about it so far as the free stuff is concerned. See you guys later!

So I see on the Yahoo! news server that the recent Security Council meeting didn't go to well. Seems that they couldn't agree on anything, not even when the inspectors should submit their next report.

There were a few things I thought told the story pretty clearly, but of course career diplomats like those that work at the UN aren't interested in clarity. Take the following excerpt, where Hans Blix's latest report is discussed....

Other sections of the report cited positive examples of Iraqi cooperation, but said it was "hard to understand why a number of the measures which are now being taken could not have been initiated earlier. If they had been taken earlier, they might have borne fruit," Blix wrote.

I like the way good ol' Hans says that. "Hard to understand..." Heck, I don't think it's at all difficult to understand, but then again I'm not working for the UN.

Hans is honest, at least. He admits that Iraq hasn't cooperated and that inspections haven't worked so far, and that they won't work unless the Iraqis get with the program.

The way I look at it, the inspectors had 7 years (1991-1998) to get it done and it didn't happen. The UN has passed 17 resolutions against Iraq and they didn't work.

So what's left? What other alternative do we have to make sure that Saddam isn't a threat? That seems pretty obvious to me as well.

I suppose I'm doomed to live my life without a job at the UN.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Anna has outdone herself with this post. Go read how Europe is in big trouble in the market place.

Personally, the only way that I think the Euros will be able to turn things around is by abondoning the majority of their social programs. This isn't going to happen for the same reason that anti-prostitution laws will never be overturned here in the US: any politician who advocates such a course will be committing career suicide. But as the economy shrinks there's going to be less money for the programs. What's gonna happen?

We've already seen some of that in France, where they've been busy the past few years shuffling things around in an attempt to hide the shortfalls. How long do they have?

Years, maybe. It probably will be a long, slow decline until they just can't keep things going. Like what happened in the old Soviet Union.

So I'm over at Innocents Abroad and I read this post by John Coumarianos. Mr. Coumarianos is discussing an article by Paul Berman where Mr. Berman basically discusses how Americans view democracy compared to the European view. From a philosophical standpoint, that is. According to Berman the Euro's weakness is due to a fundamental and subtle philosophy that views the world as open to reason, while the Americans view the world as dangerous.

One sentence from Mr. Coumarianos' post caught my eye...

"Berman cites as his evidence some remarks in Tocqueville's chapter on the three races in America, where he gives evidence of a majority (whites) tyrannizing minorities (blacks and Indians) -- the major problem of democracy, as Tocqueville sees it."

Berman is trying to say that we 'Mericans is just plain violent people, 'cause we force the minority to conform.

Whatever. But isn't the reflexive anti-American stance that most Euro countries assume due in large part to fear of their own unassimilated Islamic populations? Isn't, say, France worried about what would amount to a civil war if they didn't appease these guys? (Speaking as a gun nut, the tales I've heard of the type of heavy-duty hardware some of these guys are packin' would certainly worry me.)

What happens to democracy when you allow a small percentage of the population to run roughshod over the rest? Isn't that tyranny? And what does this do to the Euro's claims that they're more enlightened and more moral than America?

Regular readers of this blog (all 5 of you) are well aware that I'm concerned about acts of piracy. The ocean is vast, and all witnesses can be disposed of by simply dumping them overboard. If you're out of sight of land the chances of survival approach zero.

The International Chamber of Commerce does a pretty good job of keeping track of incidents of piracy, even though they've had a really tough time taking action against. In this article from their server they warn of at least one piracy ring operating out of Lebanon. The criminals haven't turned violent yet. Instead they're offering to ship cargo for bargain basement prices and then selling the goods somewhere else. Although a problem financially, these non-violent crimes in international waters are pretty much off of my radar.

The weekly piracy report that the ICC puts out has something that I haven't seen for a long time. Most pirate attacks (over half of the world's total) take place in Indonesian waters. The attacks have been more brazen in the last year or so, mainly because all calls for help from the crew are routinely ignored by the authorities on shore. Still, this is the first weekly report I've seen in over a year where there weren't any attacks reported on ships at Indonesia anchorages. Amazing!

I've long advocated arming some of the crew to stop these attacks. Shoot a few pirates and the rest will find something else to do, like run away. Unfortunately, the laws of the countries whose flags the ships fly prevent that. One solution is putting an electric fence around the ship to try and prevent boardings. The current is supposed to be non-lethal, but we all know that it's an imperfect world.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

One of the most interesting personalities in recorded history is probably Napoleon. He certainly made an impression, as this website from Japan illustrates. The absolute dictater of France from 1799 to 1814, he managed to win time after time against superior odds. When he was on the battlefield a French victory might not have been assured, but it certainly was the smart way to bet.

All through his career, Napoleon tried to find new ways to use what he had. Almost all of the battles that he took part in were decisive, and one or two are considered examples of genius at work. Yet most people today have a particular disdain for "Napoleonic Tactics". When you hear someone say that you know they're not filled with admiration.

One of the reasons that Napoleon doesn't get the respect he deserves is due to his influence. His impact on military thought and philosophy was so profound that, long after technology rendered his methods obsolete, generals were still trying to win by using the Napoleon playbook. Considering how often he won by using his methods and how often later generals lost using the same, one can hardly blame the source.

Generals who favored "Napoleonic Tactics" were usually concerned with packed infantry formations. This is why people sneer at them today, since having your guys stand around in a bunch means that they'll be killed in a very short period of time. But it was the only way to win circa 1800, and it made perfect sense when one considers the technology of the time.

Although artillery was improving around 1800, they didn't really have anything that would be small enough to haul around with the men yet effective enough to slaughter the enemy at range. It wasn't until 1853 that a cannon was developed that could fit the bill. 'Till then, artillery was useful but hardly the mass killer it was in later years.

The troops relied instead on the musket (you knew that I'd get around to talking about guns, didn't you?). As this page states, the effective range of these weapons was appalling. The page says that they weren't effective past 50 meters, but that's just against massed targets. If you wanted to hit an individual person you had to wait until you were within 50 or 60 feet! Everybody reading this who owns handguns has one in the gun safe that could do as well, which illustrates the fact that technology is a good thing.

So why did they bunch up like they did? Besides the fact that it wasn't as terribly suicidal as it is today, that is?

The idea was that you'd march your guys up to the enemy, iron discipline keeping your men in the ranks even though their buddies were getting shot all around them, and then when they got within optimal range they'd all unload at once into the massed enemy. If they were all shoulder-to-shoulder then all those bullets would just destroy anyone standing in front of them. Sort of like punching the center out of the enemy formation with a giant lead fist. Worked pretty good as long as the guns couldn't really hit anything that was farther away than the distance across the average high school cafeteria.

So far as tactics were concerned, Napoleon experimented with different infantry formations in an attempt to get the most out of his troops. He also recognized that cavalry weren't suitable to charging into a formation of troops with log knives attached to their rifles, which is how most of the rest of the generals did things back then. Instead he'd have them ride around to the rear of the enemy formations and start shooting them up, which was certainly effective even if it was considered unsporting.

Still, even with all of the scorn heaped on "Napoleonic Tactics" there's no denying that he managed to win more often than he lost.