Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Every silly season has its buzzword. The one for this cycle is change. If I hear one more candidate say they are for change, I think I'll... well nothing - I don't really listen to them anyway.

But I'd like to know what they want to change: The U.S., despite the best(?) efforts of some 500 or so economically illiterate legislators (more if you count statehouses)has the most powerful economy on the planet - they want to change that? We have more freedom than any other country - is this what they want to change? Our military has more combat power than the next dozen or so armies combined and whether you like it or not, it makes all of us safer by giving every tin pot dictator second thoughts - does that need changing? We live in a country where race and religion and place of birth are no impediment to getting fabulously wealthy - is that what they want to change? We have no ruling class, or caste, or hereditary peerage and all you need is the cash, and you are in with the elite (unlike every other nation where you must be born into status) - surely that must change right?

So when you see all the slack-jawed mouth breathers hanging on the utterances of the "fighting for change" candidate, know you are seeing the future - and a bleak and desolate future is what it will be changed into if they get their way.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


People of the Middle Ages existed under mental, moral, and physical circumstances so different from our own as to constitute almost a foreign civilization. As a result, qualities of conduct that we recognize as familiar amid these alien surroundings are revealed as permanent in human nature.
Barbara W. Tuchman
from "A Distant Mirror"

The first time I read that passage from the forward of Mrs. Tuchman's masterpiece, the light went on for me. It answered the question the history lover in me always asked... "why do we study this stuff?"

Poring obsessively over the details of past events is an interesting but ultimately empty pursuit, and attempting to divine the future using an analogy drawn from the past is futile. But seeing our fellow human beings today behaving in the same ways for the same reasons as their counterparts of centuries past, lends continuity - if not comfort, to our efforts at understanding our present.

Much of the material for Tuchman's book was drawn from the Chronicles of Jean Froissart. He was the voice of his era.

When reading his chronicles you have to be aware of his point of view: he was writing about the Nobility for the Nobility so do not expect commentary on the failings and foibles of the first estate. The serfs, merchants, and other riff-raff do not appear except as a faceless mass providing the backdrop for the performances of his glittering lords and ladies. Of numbers, the less said the better. Numbers existed to add scope and emotional force to his descriptions - a kind of literary shock and awe. If an army needed to be one hundred thousand strong to give his audience a proper sense of the occasion - so be it, and if it needed to be be one million strong for even greater grandeur, that was fine too.

To Froissart, numbers did not represent data, and trying to explain to a medieval chronicler that independent verification of facts was possible or even desirable would result in the utmost confusion. Numbers existed to amaze and appall, only God knew the truth, and it was hubris for mortals to try to see too deeply.

Which brings me to this article found at Instapundit
- it seems some people believe the famed Lancet study of civilian deaths in Iraq may be inflated by a factor of ten or fifteen, and our modern chroniclers are using their numbers for the same reasons as their medieval comrades.

The people who actually did the study are from Johns Hopkins and seem well intentioned - they actually went to hellish places and recorded the horrible things people do to each other. I will grant that these are better people than I.

They also have an agenda - fair enough. But the political leaders, newspapers, and television shows who uncritically trumpeted the findings of the study, deserve no such consideration. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and none such was demanded by the credulous press before an indictment of the United States was issued.

When our media and political stars use the nameless and faceless dead as stage props for their own aggrandizement - it is no compliment to consider them modern chroniclers, for like their fourteenth century brethren, they would rather have a good story than the truth.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Sometime in July of 1944, the German high command issued orders to the military units fighting in Normandy to break off their attempts to drive the allied invasion back into the sea and instead assume a defensive posture intended to contain the invasion.

Those orders were an admission by the Nazis that they had lost the war, and the questions were now how many lives would be spent to force them to surrender (a colossal number as it turns out) and where would the postwar boundary between the Soviets and the West be.

No one at the time knew it, though Stalin probably figured it out pretty quickly, Churchill soon after, and Roosevelt probably never got it – that day in 1944 was the beginning of the Cold War. The Germans had lost the ability to control their own fate; causes had become effects, and though rivers of blood would still be spilt to settle old issues, a new world had been born.

Harbingers of great events pass unnoticed.

Yesterday there was a great to do in Iowa, the results of which will be pondered, written, and screamed about for days to come. The only thing I know is that none of it means what the ponderers, writers, and screamers think it means, and if some portentous event occurred yesterday, it did not occur in Iowa.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Colt Python

I like shooting. I'm not a hunter at all or a target shooter much; I like taking my guns to the range and doing my best with them, but I'm not going to spend an hour taking ten aimed shots at bullseye. I'm a "the more booms the better" type of guy.

Don't get me wrong - I try to get better every time, and a crappy target is disappointing. But my idea of a good target is two rapid rounds of .357 on a three by five index card at 25 feet out of the double action only SP 101. I'll tack up five cards, fire off five rounds, reload, and fire five more. If all ten are on the cards I'm happy - not satisfied, but happy.

So two weeks or so ago, Breda and I met her friend the gun guy at the range for some fun. The gun guy is one of those rare folk who fortune seems to favor - at least in the firearms department. He is also one of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. And the gun guy likes to share his toys - he showed up at the range with two arm loads of rifles and pistols in various cases. The gun guy has a collection that frankly makes me envious.

We got to try the Kel Tec PF 9 (verdict: recoil is too sharp for Breda's liking and there were two failures to eject and one light primer strike -- would it clear up after break in? Maybe), and the Walther P99 in .40 cal. (not bad, but it has one long trigger pull), and finally the above mentioned Python.

Colt Python Stainless steel six inch barrel - the gun guy bought it in Florida back in the eighties from a dealer who was going out of business - got it for around five hundred (serious money in those days). It is a beautiful gun.

I loaded it up with six .38 specials and let fly...dear god

twenty five feet off hand - oh my. I read the gun magazines and see the groups they shoot and figure that's what years of shooting experience and a ransom rest will get you, but now I know what the finest handgun ever made will do for you. The one flyer was because I aimed at the hole left by the first shot. After I brought it back to my original point of aim shots three through six all touched.

It's funny, I always thought the gun didn't make all that much difference. A good pistol was a good pistol and it's mostly up to the shooter, but the Colt's trigger operates by thought and the sights seem to know what you want. Damn, I see how it happens that shooters get obsessed with accuracy.

I find myself noodling around on Gunbroker - you know, just looking. Colt Python ... $1500.00 I wonder if Breda would notice if all the furniture suddenly went missing?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Well, I'm Back.

Sorry about the absence, I really hate letting all my fan down, but I just got myself into a bad place back in the fall. A combination of reading Milton Friedman's explanations of how politicians will whore themselves out to whoever is buying, and then watching the dwarf campaign wherein the politicians spent every waking moment whoring themselves out to whoever was buying; seeing the congress screw up whatever they touched; and then catching the the bits and pieces of that Al Gore fellow telling a bunch of U.N. panhandlers in Bali that the U.S. in its failure to sacrifice its economy on the global warming altar has sealed the fate of us all, left me in a bleak mood. There's more to it than that, but that's all the excusing I'm good for right now.

I pulled the shades, unhooked the phone, and brought Bruce Catton's biography of U.S. Grant down from the shelf and said bah to the world.

Anyway, the Trophy Wife
actually spent time today finding the keys to this here blog and told me to snapthehelloutofit and get writing. How can a guy refuse? so happy new year and tallyho.

I once started an intro to psychology course at the local community college -- got through the first five minutes of it too. Right up to the point where the teacher reamed someone out for the use of the term "human nature". Told the poor kid in that lofty "I am the high priest of knowledge and none shall enter the kingdom of heaven but that they go through me" tone there was no such thing as human nature. First I wanted to play poker with the guy, second I thought, if there was no human nature, what the hell am I doing paying for a class the teacher has just admitted is about nothing, and third I dropped the class. Traded it for English 101 -- best decision I ever made.

You know the joke -- a guy is walking down the street one night and sees his friend on hands and knees patting around on the sidewalk. "What's up?" he asks.
"Dropped my keys," is the answer. And after twenty minutes of fruitless searching finally asks his buddy where he was standing when the keys were dropped.
"Over there in the bar," says the friend.
"Then why are you looking out here on the walk?"
"The light's better."

Old joke, not really funny, in fact pretty dumb -- but human nature in its purest form. We would rather spin our wheels in guaranteed, comfortable failure than take the hard, unglamorous choices required for success.

I've rambled enough and I'll be getting back to this theme a lot. But for now consider this: we need more oil, we need to build nuclear power plants, we need to increase our refining capacity. Congress has just passed and the president has signed a very costly energy bill that gives piles of cash to the agriculture industry to subsidize ethanol production (you burn far more than a gallon of gas to produce a gallon of ethanol so it needs your tax dollars to even come close to economic feasiblity). They have set aside another walloping huge mountain of cash for solar and wind and geo-thermal, and for all I know, they're giving Uri Geller some dough to spin generators with his mind. None of which has any chance of being worth much in our or our grand children's lifetimes, but it looks good to folks who don't want to make the hard choices.

They're looking for answers where the light is better.