Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy Patricia Quinn's birthday, everybody!

Raise your celebratory gallon jug of vodka in salute!

This will not be my boom stick

In moments of madness, I've occasionally considered buying a modern pump-action shotgun. They're cheap, readily available, versatile... Everything I hate about modern guns that try to woo me away from classic, blued steel firearms you can't get parts for any more.

In the current market, the cheap-ubiquitous-functional pump shotgun niche is filled by two guns: the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500. I'm told the difference is almost entirely a matter of taste, and have always figured I'd just try both at the store and walk away with whichever felt better.

But Mossberg's new presentation combat shotgun commemorating the government employees who've been killed trying to violently police what free citizens put in their own bodies leaves a bad enough taste in my mouth to make that decision a hell of a lot easier. Remington it is.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Random Thought:

It would be an unforgivable travesty if the morningbot at Atlanta's NPR affiliate has never said "You're listening to 90.1FM WABE Atlanta; we gyre and gimble so you don't have to!"

Do not puncture a loon

I just got a poorly machine-translated spam message in my work inbox.

Zinaida Golovnya from Tobolsk (who is 27 years old and 175 centimeters tall, with blond hair and green eyes) dreams about sensitive and strong man at once. She's very exacting, kind and open-minded, and thinks it is important to be in fit as though inner beauty if more important.

This, of course, hasn't been news since 1995.

But for some reason, five extra lines were inserted between the paragraphs, in white so that they wouldn't usually be visible unless highlighted. Put together:

But their search was all in vain;
Was ratified this way
Until he can a Maiden win.
Who, sleeping, went a little pale,
And that sad muse of mine

The lines are cut randomly from poems by Blake, Emily Dickinson, and Russian modernist poet Anna Akhmatova. It's surprisingly vivid and effective for machine assembled verse. The jarring transitions between expertly beautiful meter could almost be intentional.

Go, Daddy-O!

Anybody reading this should already be aware of the Zoot Shooters, a group of action-shooting enthusiasts who like to dress up and get their Prohibition on with 1920s firepower. fearsclave shared this video of them in action:

This video shows me that I absolutely must own a full-auto Thompson. With any luck we'll manage to defeat the Hughes amendment (which has artificially multiplied the price of Thompsons about a dozenfold) in the foreseeable future, so I'll only have to sell one kidney for the ammunition.

Also, I now have a second association with this song, which was previously uncontested:

Alert viewers can spot me (complete with pre-paleo gut) placing the tray table at the beginning of the video. The enviable gentleman at center stage is Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls. We still refer to the straight man in any number as "the Brian".

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Old gray mare...

You know that gun Zoe uses in Firefly? It's a cinematic creation called a mare's leg, made from a chopped-down lever action rifle. They're used occasionally in westerns, and in homages to westerns.

Despite their screen heritage, mare's legs are pretty useless. They're significantly less concealable than proper handguns, are harder to shoot accurately than proper rifles, require both hands to operate, and make you break your aim to cycle the mechanism. Even if keeping to the period, you'd be much better off with a .44 or .45 revolver, and when comparing with modern* handguns, there's simply no comparison. The mare's leg is a curiosity, nothing more.

But one use it has in in illustrating the screaming absurdity of US gun laws.

This is a .44-40 Winchester Model 1892:

From General interwebs

If I bought one of those and a hacksaw, and cut down the barrel and stock, I'd be committing a federal felony. A felony, meaning a very serious crime that requires vigorous government response. Clearly, by making a short version of this rifle I must be causing such an overwhelming danger to my neighbors that such an extraordinary government response is necessary, right?

From General interwebs

That right there is a J.B. Custom Mare's Leg, firing the very same .44-40 cartridge. It's identical in every way to a cut-down Winchester 1892, except that it was manufactured from the start as a pistol, not converted into one. And as a result, it's no more strictly controlled than any pistol; citizens of free states can buy them with no hassle beyond the usual silly paperwork they have to fill out for any gun.

The only rational explanation for this is that the ATF believes a rifle retains some element of rifleness, no matter how much it may be altered. It's an eminently human tendency, just like our predisposition to value the Zippo FDR was carrying when Giuseppe Zangara assassinated him over an identical non-historic Zippo. I don't know whether this particular case is homeopathy or animism**, exactly, but it's certainly no basis for a law.

[* - As in, any handgun made since 1900.]

[** - Probably this one. Quite frankly, the great majority of current support for gun control is based either on misinformation or on undiagnosed animism.]

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On the limitations of XKCD

In the alt text to a recent comic, Randall Munroe makes a bold guarantee:

Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at "Philosophy"

I tried it with Darmok, and ended up in a loop beginning at Knowledge.

It is the castle of my master, Guy de Lombard!

[h/t to Joe Hufffman]

The Mad Rocket Scientist speculates about physical countermeasures against overzealous drug-raiding SWAT teams that can't read maps:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, it’s not hard to harden the home, it’s just not affordable. I would just love to hear about one these RAIDS coming up short because the doors wouldn’t batter down and the windows just chipped instead of breaking. I can just imagine the SWAT team standing outside of the little bungalow they tried to force, a bit perplexed that they couldn’t get in, when grandma’s voice comes out of the intercom speaker by the door, "Can I help you?".

I'm not too proud to admit to having fantasized about this once or twice.

"I'm very sorry, officer; if you'd have rung the doorbell and demanded access under a lawful warrant, I'd have complied immediately. But your behavior is indistinguishable from a home invasion, so my house's security system has automatically locked the place down, called my attorney, and begun its irreversible data-purging routine on all our computers. I'll be happy to let you in as soon as the ten-minute time lock expires. In the mean time, enjoy some smooth jazz while I call your department and verify that you're actually sworn peace officers."

They'd most definitely find a way to charge me with Contempt of Cop after an embarrassment like that, but it'd be worth it, even if measured only in unshot dogs.

[More seriously, I've often thought that if I was building a house from scratch on a large piece of property, I'd love to follow the plan of a Roman domus: one strong exterior door, and outward-facing windows only on the second floor, but with airy windows, balconies, and patios opening onto a central courtyard garden. Excellent security against petty criminals and mutant zombie bikers, but without the feeling that you're living in a fortress.]

...he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder...

[h/t to fearsclave]

The Wall Street Journal has a neat article on modern primitive hunting.

I'd love to do this someday--and would especially love to live in a state that "has no hunting limit" on feral hogs. Imagine being able to shoot free-range bacon on sight! We would have one full freezer, lemmetellya.

On a political note, one small detail caught my eye. In the standard tradition of newspaper articles, the reporter has seen fit to include a paragraph by a media-courting loony from an extremist pressure group who's opposed to the subject of the article:

Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, says he worries about both ultra-modern and ultra-primitive hunting methods. High-tech gear, he says, can give the hunter an unfair advantage over prey. On the other hand, he says "archery equipment is very problematic" since animals are sometimes injured but don't die.

High-tech gear (century-old firearms technology) does too good a job, and low-tech gear doesn't do a good enough job. Were one the cynical type, one might get the impression that HSUS* is less interested in ethical hunting than in banning hunting entirely.

[* - Not to be confused--though their name is calculated to cause confusion--with the American Humane Association which, because PETA hates them, is probably a good organization.]

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Open Letter

Dear Team Bondi,

Congratulations on L.A. Noire. It's a wonderful game, and you deserve all the critical and commercial success you've gotten. Bully for you, putting so much work into a calculating, cerebral game that holds its aim so intently on its premise.

And don't get me wrong, I love the fact that you've decided not to inject modern paranoia about weapons into a game set in the United States in 1947. It's refreshing to see a games developer (one from Australia, no less) implicitly acknowledge that a gun is a normal thing to find in a mid-century man's bedroom.

But when searching the apartment of a suspected murderer, the model 1911 pistol sitting alone on the top of his dresser should probably be bagged as evidence, not picked up, dismissed as "circumstantial", and put back down. The same goes for the open switchblade I found tossed under a park bench twenty feet away from a mutilated corpse. It goes doubly for the stained baseball bat lying on the kitchen floor in the apartment of a man suspected of bludgeoning his wife to death. Please don't misunderstand; you made the right call, deciding not to clutter the Evidence menu with every irrelevant item I find*. But simply including some relevant monologue clips ("She was beaten, not stabbed. I'll have the techs bag it, but it's probably not related.") would really help head off this immersion-breaker.

(P.S.: If you double-dip with this LA city model and drop in a slightly smoother combat system and GTA-style open-world mission system, I will buy it on opening day.)

[* - Remember the enhanced realism of GTA: San Andreas, which required you to eat and exercise or suffer stat damage? Wasn't that fun?]

Friday, May 20, 2011

Signing off

Lapti Nek, Club Remix:

Good night, everybody!


Newsbusters reports on Ted Rall's recent reversal of fortune:

Ted Rall's cartoons and opinion pieces were all the rage when he was attacking George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and American soldiers.

But now that there's a man in the White House the press absolutely adore, the once syndicated polemicist claims he's having a hard time getting anyone to publish his work...

This is shocking. I am beside myself with befuddlement. I am agog. I have plotzed.


There are still liberals who adore President Obama?

You can take it on the chin...

I may bitch about the US and British mints producing ugly coins. But at least they haven't gone this far:

Dutch mint unveils commemorative coin with a photographic portrait obverse and a QR code reverse.


Random Thought:

If violent crime really is more common today than in the past; and if we want to try to blame a particular technological advance for it; then the relevant technology almost certainly isn't the development of firearms, the use of which in crime hasn't changed materially since the 1830s. Far more plausible a culprit is the development of battlefield medicine and its application to civil trauma treatment. Criminals traditionally attack victims they're confident can't fight back or victims they have outnumbered, making the difference between a five-shot revolver and a 33-shot semiauto fairly academic*. On the other hand, a 19th century criminal knew there was a pretty good chance a wound from an anemic .22 pocket gun would get infected and kill him, while a modern criminal knows that if he's shot in self defense, the police will do everything they can to keep him alive until the paramedics can load him into an ambulance full of trauma gear and race him to an emergency room where, if the damage is bad enough, he'll be flown by helicopter to be worked on by the best trauma surgeon available, all while getting pumped full of antibiotics.

If gun control advocates were serious about reducing violent crime and murder rates, we'd have Mayors Against Emergency Rooms. ;)

[* - Excluding mass shootings, which are traumatic to the community but are anamalous enough not to affect the actual murder rates.]


Gizmodo profiles an archival photo of a camera attached to a .38 revolver:

From General interwebs

The caption along with the picture only says it was used in 1938 New York. The picture looks legitimate as the gun, and camera technology match the time period. The few pictures taken by the gun make us think it was actually used by somebody at least once in its lifetime.

Looking at the pictures taken by the gun, the camera was cleverly tied to the trigger mechanism, so you could shoot a picture of your target before you shot them with your gun.

I suspect it was an attempt at documenting police shootings. It's an application far beyond the technology of the time, but I don't see why it couldn't be done today.

Quicker than a Ra of light

Apropos of yesterday's post, in a conversation with our friend Willow yesterday we came to a disturbing conclusion.

If, in fact, people start getting raptured tomorrow; and if, in fact, it happens at six o'clock local time, for each time zone; then the simplest explanation is not a resurrected Jewish prophet moving at precisely the rotational speed of the earth for some reason--it's a rapacious Sun god grasping humans for its own unknown purposes.

Danielle has decided it must be Ra. Just to be on the safe side, I'd encourage you all to make wax effigies of the snake-god Apep, and ritually destroy them tomorrow while chanting "Ra setteth; Ra setteth; Ra is mighty in his setting; Apep hath fallen; Apep the enemy of Ra is overcome". If tomorrow is going to be a climactic showdown between the Sun god and the chaos-serpent of the primordial Deeps, it couldn't hurt to stack the deck a little.

"Don't whiz on the electric fence!"

President Obama calls for peace in the Middle East.


If I understand correctly, President Obama's strategy for reelection is to open up an intractable, divisive, issue--something juicy, that better Presidents with stronger positions have been unable to make movement on--proclaim a high-minded position that everybody he knows agrees is the obvious solution, act surprised when the uneducated rubes and reactionary conservatives aren't instantly converted by his boldness in speaking truth--ah--from power, and start looking for another political third rail to piss on.

I expect in a month or so he'll be unveiling the New And Improved Assault Weapons Ban and Abortion Kiosks In Every School for American Progress Act.


Over at Stephen Bodio's Querencia, Cat Urbigkit posts pictures of some Turkish sheepdogs:

From General interwebs

We watched a cell phone video of two of the dogs killing a 450-pound wild boar. Impressive animals.

Daaamn... In addition to turning the odd rampaging porcine monster into a pile of bacon, these critters routinely deal with the local wolf population, for which purpose they wear spiked collars made of iron.

We must start breeding these sesquicanines as rapidly as possible as soon as possible. When the Cephalopocalypse comes, a pack of these Turkish lions would be a powerful countermeasure against the dreaded Land Squids.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Worst. Thief in the night. Ever.

You know that psycho-twinkie preacher who's all over the interwebs for predicting the end of the world on Saturday? In addition to being either a towering moron or an exploitative ass, he's also managed to inadvertently excise one of the prime motivators of Christian eschatological theology from his little Ragnarok soiree:

Camping is the self-taught biblical scholar and radio mogul who says the Rapture is happening on Saturday, May 21, at exactly 6 p.m. local time, whatever your local time is.

Local time?!

The whole point of the scare-'em-faithful branch of evangelism is to tell people that by the time evidence arrives, it's too late. "Nope--sorry; you've had your chance. Our omnibenevolent savior will only save the people who were fans before it was cool." If Jesus for some reason decides to rapture people at exactly the rate of the earth's rotation, then most of the world gets plenty of notice.

So on Saturday, just make sure you check the news by four in the evening. If Europe is gone, accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior.

Oh, fishy fishy fishy fish...

From Instapundit:

Funny, it’s easy for some people to accept that artistic freedom is good for art, but they still have trouble accepting that economic freedom is good for the economy.

It is funny; my assumptions about the ends of that analogy are the exact opposite. I tend to think economic freedom is better for society (not just for the economy), but it seems to me that the key to good art is the right restrictions. Shakespeare wrote some of the finest drama in English while he was being forced to satisfy all strata of the Elizabethan class system; keep to merciless deadlines; collaborate with the actors, directors, and investors in the King's Men; work in appearances by popular characters; and kiss the occasional royal ass. On the other hand, art removed from all restrictions seems to rapidly become so self-indulgent that it loses all value to anybody who isn't a member of the art community.

I suppose there's a distinction to be made between "freedom" from legal constraints and "freedom" from practical ones. Economic freedom doesn't mean businesspeople don't have to satisfy their customers, after all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

And speaking of John Moses Browning (pbuh)...

A full-auto 1911:

1911s converted to FA have a long and illustrious history. But for one to exist today, it has to have been converted before a New Jersey politician protected us from our civil rights in 1986. So this one is an awesome anomaly.

But you know what? I couldn't care less about a seven-round .45 submachinegun. What I lust after is the ability to attach a shoulder stock to a handgun. It's a quiet little love affair.

White Elephant cavalry division

You know how I go on about double rifles? Well brudder, this is an elephant gun:

From General interwebs

And as the source points out, that's a machine gun designed by John By-God-Moses Browning. The only way this photo could hold more awesome is if the soldiers were engaging waves of warriors of Kukuanaland while sipping gin and tonics.

Fair enough.

Thor was as good as it could be, I think. Previous Marvel films have shown that they can handle men-in-tights and robot suits, and know how to get characters you can care about into a superhero film. But making Jack Kirby's Technicolor Aesir to be anything other than tragically cheesy in live action? That's an acid test for the cinematic Marvel universe. The result may have been as good as it's possible to do.

That was one surprise. The other was Ray Stevenson, who I didn't know was attached to the production until Danielle said "Volstagg looks familiar..."

I'd like to welcome Stevenson to the world of non-awful Marvel films.

From General interwebs

The trailers now have me slightly less in dread of Green Lantern, slightly more in dread of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie (Tim Powers must be spinning in his grave!) and a hell of a lot more excited about Captain America. I'm sure the rest of the internet already knew it was a period piece about Nazi occultism and women in WWII military uniforms, but this experience of learning through cinematic trailers is one of the few advantages to being a crotchety, out-of-touch old man who doesn't understand kids today.

...a hard rain...

Another high point of L.A. Noire so far is the handguns, which are period-appropriate and rendered in exacting detail--visible detail, since you can examine evidence up close. This is a wonderfully immersive detail, and lets me show off and listen to myself talk, two of my favorite passtimes.

So far, the PC has used a service revolver (I'd bet a Smith & Wessom M&P, though it could be a Police Positive) and a 1911. As evidence, we've picked up a Registered Magnum and an FN 1922, in a detailed enough model to see the little retaining nub you hold back to remove the barrel extension for cleaning.

How well does this fit Danielle and me? We own versions of three of those guns, and I plan to get a fourth at some point.

This calls for some L.A. Noire Action Shooting!

It was raining in the city...

L.A. Noire is, so far, more linear than I was expecting, but is pretty incredible nonetheless. Incredible enough that I briefly entertained the thought of calling in sick today to stay home and play it all day.

But I'm running into an unexpected hurdle: this game is not designed for gullible, socially retarded nerds who can't tell when people are lying. Damn you, democratization of video games!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The terror alert level is at "Gray"

It's good to see my government finally getting serious about the real threats that face Americans today:

The CDC's preparedness tips for surviving the zombocalypse.

Of course, being a government organization they don't include weapons in the emergency kit, but that's to be expected. In the hysterical days after September 11, government-endorsed emergency preparedness lists pointedly refused to include even a Swiss Army Knife or multitool, presumably either for political reasons or out of simple fear of liability. Either way, it seems unlikely Uncle Sam will make suggestions on an end-of-the-world rifle any time soon.

So while the CDC list covers the really important essentials like duct tape and a copy of your birth certificate*, be sure to supplement with an appropriate battery of anti-zombie weapons. Your best options, in this blogger's humble opinion, are an AR-15 and a 9mm glocklike pistol--or, if you don't anticipate needing to fight humans, a semiautomatic rifle and pistol chambered in .22 magnum, fed from removable magazines if at all possible**. "Stopping power" is much less meaningful when only headshots count, and you'll be very happy with the light weight and compactness of your ammo when the horror-movie addicts you bug out with all give themselves hernias schlepping around their 12 gauge shotgun shells.

Note that many zombie wonks prefer to eschew guns in favor of melee weapons, because "blades don't need reloading". These specialists are a great asset to your group, and should be encouraged to travel with you. After they engage a threat, their delicious brains will provide the diversion your party needs to slip away from the feasting zombies.

[* - You won't be admitted to the Safe Zone if they think you were born in Kenya.]

[** - Finding such a .22 WMR pistol can be a trick. A revolver is an acceptable substitute if you're going the .22 mag route. It's a last-resort weapon anyway. Or just pair a 9mm pistol with your rimfire rifle.]

Ah, love, let us be true to one another...

The US hit the debt ceiling on Monday.

So we're spending much more than we make, owe cosmic amounts of money to our creditors*, and are printing money to pay the interest on our debt so that we can borrow more to pay our bills. And now we've reached the legal limit on how much we can borrow, and the debate is over how much to raise that limit by, and whose careers will suffer or prosper by the conditions.

Let's be honest here: the United States' economic crisis cannot be addressed without cutting back materially on Medicare, Social Security, and military spending, and probably raising taxes to boot. Anybody who declares any of those realms untouchable is not serious about averting this crisis.

The popular government programs that so many people have been made dependent on can probably be saved, at least in the short term, but not at their current levels. If we don't cut back intelligently on them while we still have the chance, targeting them to a narrower group of people whose survival is most dependent on them, they'll collapse entirely when we finally reach the point that we're out of money and nobody will lend to us**. It doesn't matter whether you believe government support is a human right when there's literally nothing to give. If we come to that point, you can blame the liberals who stomped their feet and refused to allow even modest cuts to the programs as much as you can blame the conservatives who pounded their fists and demanded they be completely dismantled.

[* - Calling it "astronomical" is grossly inadequate; we owe 3500 times more dollars than there are stars in our galaxy.]

[** - And, heartless libertarian that I am, I don't want to see elderly people dependent on government handouts dying for lack of them. Many good, productive, prudent people made informed decisions to rely on promises from our government, while said government was simultaneously confiscating the wealth they could have been using to plan for their own late-life needs. I wish we'd never gone down the mandatory-charity-at-gunpoint road, but here we are; given the choice between an incremental libertarian victory in a gradual scaling-back to a more efficient, sustainable system, or a crash into small government through bankruptcy and a sea of dead seniors, I'll take the former.]

Friday, May 13, 2011

Savage's Razor

It's possible there's a complicated explanation.

And it's possible it belonged to somebody else in the compound.

But honestly, anybody surprised that Osama bin Laden may have had a porn cache must also believe that Republican morality police were just seeing those gay prostitutes to minister to them.

I would walk five hundred miles

Just reached Manhattan. It's good to be out of Jersey.

Just a hair under a tenth of the way there. I've gotta pick up my pace.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

A mark, a yen...

Remember that hideous William and Catherine coin I was kvetching about a couple months ago?

Michael Alexander at coin Update has an interview up with the sculptor:

Mark Richards, a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors specializing in life size and over life size sculptures rather than coinage has presented us with an intimate depiction of William and Catherine and approached the task of coin design from his own unique take on the project...
"There are two reasons why the coin looks the way it does [Richards said]. It’s really a close-up portrait of them which is a very important part of demonstrating the intimacy of them as a couple. By positioning them in this way, I could capture their expressions and features. If I had chosen to create the design with two full heads, they would be very small and in the middle with space underneath. So, the impression that you are seeing them through a porthole or lens was an unintended consequence due to my aim of trying to capturing a real sense of intimacy which gives the impression of the viewer being quite close to them.

So the Royal Mint gave the task of a coin design to a monument sculptor who didn't know how to use the space on a coin, and made up a solution of his own. Which at least accounts for the godawful composition. Why he looks like a mannequin and she looks like a bad tattoo portrait... That's a question for another day.

The poor, pointless Oblio...

The BBC loses its shit over London Metropolitan Police using modern defensive ammunition:

The Metropolitan Police is to issue all its firearms officers with the type of ammunition used to kill Jean Charles De Menezes.

Hollow point bullets flatten and widen on impact, causing maximum damage to vital organs.

De Menezes was falsely identified as a suicide bomber by a Metropolitan Police officer, who shot him seven times in the head. It takes a very special kind of person to think the type of ammunition mattered much in that situation. But moving on:

"How can the police in the UK use bullets that the Army is not allowed to use?"
Former US mayor Rudolph Giuliani faced sharp criticism when he tried to bring in the ammunition in New York in the 1990s.
David Dyson is a barrister and ballistics consultant.

Asked whether the rounds were unsurvivable, he said: "Yes. They don't use these bullets in the anticipation that people will survive.

"They expand, so you get the mushroom effect when the bullet hits the body.

"Much more energy is being imparted into the victim."

Oh, fucking unclench already. Hollow-point bullets were briefly controversial in the US, but are now universal in law enforcement (including the NYPD, which quickly realized that coddling people who don't understand the role of guns in defensive violence is less important a goal than preventing hails of stray fire when solid, jacketed 9mm bullets zip right through their targets), and would be universal in civilian use if they weren't so damned expensive. In those cases when deadly force is needed to stop a violent criminal right now, hollow-point bullets maximize the chances of quick incapacitation and minimize the chances of innocent casualties. It would be irresponsible of the Metropolitan police not to issue them.

Expanding ammunition is banned in warfare by the Hague Convention, because when you're shooting at a first-world soldier across a nineteenth-century battlefield, a clean bullet wound is generally sufficient to make him say "goodness, I'd best toddle off to the infirmary" and stop fighting. Protective violence in a civilian context, on the other hand, is close-up, fast moving, demands much more decisive resolution, and shouldn't generally involve the same indifference to how many people in the direction of fire are injured by a given bullet.

London Metropolitan Police, well done. BBC, shame on you. You're muckraking up some attention at the cost of more risk to innocent lives.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nerdiest. Correction. Ever.

Mets pitcher and Big Damn Nerd R. A. Dickey evidently has a thing for mythological fantasy. He's named two of his bats Hrunting (after Beowulf's sword) and Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver. Explaining the names to a journalist, however, he misspoke, leading to the nerdiest correction ever to grace the NYT sports page:

An item in the Extra Bases baseball notebook last Sunday misidentified, in some editions, the origin of the name Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, which Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey gave one of his bats. Orcrist was not, as Dickey had said, the name of the sword used by Bilbo Baggins in the Misty Mountains in “The Hobbit”; Orcrist was the sword used by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in the book. (Bilbo Baggins’s sword was called Sting.)

Max Read ups the ante on them:

For extra-extra credit, note why "Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver" is not, technically, the name of Thorin Oakenshield's sword.

Because it isn't his sword! Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver was made by the elves of Gondolin for their lord Ecthelion of the Fountain, before it was looted by the worm Scatha during Morgoth's assault on the city, after which it was taken from his eastern hoard by the Men of Rohan, taken from them by the Dwarves, captured by ambushing forest trolls, and finally taken from the trolls' cache by Thorin Oakenshield and ultimately placed on his tomb in the Lonely Mountain, making the sword the legitimate cultural property of the surviving Gondolindrim in Valinor. The Elvish Antiquities Ministry should seek repatriation at once.

[He was evidently pointing out that Orcrist is the sword's technically name in Sindarin, and the Goblin Cleaver is its technically translation in English or Common or whatever the hell the PCs speak in Middle Earth. Very strictly speaking, the phrase should probably be rendered "Orcrist, 'the Goblin Cleaver'".]

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tam sums up why I'm so stubbornly opposed to government programs that everybody's sure are a Common Sense Good Idea:

...government gets big. There are two poles: Big government and No government. Being in favor of a little bit of government is like being in favor of the first trimester, but opposed to pregnancy on the whole.

You can craft, with the best intentions of the heart and the brightest minds in the world, a tightly-circumscribed severely-restricted government, and within barely three human lifetimes, you'll have an unrecognizable leviathan. How many times do we have to run this experiment to prove it?

You want government to seize your neighbor's property by force to pay your medical bills, and are sure you can prove it makes everybody's lives better. And I look at the countries with government medicine and see that they don't trust their subjects to keep and bear arms, and they prosecute people for offending others with their speech. And in my own country, whose Constitution demands a small federal government and respect for individual sovereignty, agents of government show a routine and casual disregard for the legal restraints on their power. City cops search people on the streets almost at will; you're sexually assaulted at airports as a precondition of exercising your right of free movement; my government is holding and torturing prisoners without charge or trial; our economic problems have been so entrenched through vote-buying and fearmongering on both sides of the aisle that they may be impossible to deal with; and the mainstream parties demand more, more, more government year after year... And it's hard not to think that maybe handing government the practical power to seize my neighbor's property to pay my medical bills is a really, really bad idea, however great the potential benefits.

You can't stop government at its most-beneficial point, because its nature is growth and bureaucratic entropy. When you fight for more government because you've decided that it's an inalienable human right to force other people to pay for your access to wundertechnology that was science fiction fifty years ago, you're enabling every tyrant and busybody who will use the same mechanisms of growth you've handed the government--but this time, they'll be telling you how you may use your own body, what kind of contracts you may sign, how you may travel, how much privacy you may have, what you may say, how you may conduct your sex life, how you may defend yourself, down to what year your ancient Italian coin collection must stop at...

Government can be slowly shrinking as the people fight against its growth, rapidly growing under its own power, or growing at a terrifying pace as the people hand it power to fix their problems for them. Those are your options. You can have government paying for your medicine, your education, and your rent; preventing development of wild forests; forbidding you to make agreements that it doesn't think are in your best interest; supporting unpopular art that can't compete when people have a choice not to buy it; and forcing people to leave their old houses unrenovated because you like the old-fashioned look of the street. And these things may very well improve the quality of your life. But the price of a government that cares for you as a parent is a government that controls you like a parent.

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom — go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.


Libertarian WHAARRGARBLE aside, much like Tam I'm not ashamed to admit that the ideal is unworkable. But fighting hard enough for the ideal of of a truly libertarian state might just--if I'm stupidly optimistic for a moment--get us to a place with a small, more-or-less controllable government that only flagrantly ignores the Constitution once a month or so. That possibility, to be perfectly blunt, is more valuable to me than the promise that government will give me some of your money if I fall on hard times.

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's a quirk of the American character.* Even those of us very critical of our country's direction tend to react very defensively when outsiders criticize it, even when we might not actually disagree.

[* - And many, many others, of course. I've been told more than once that the English character is often the polar opposite: strong internal commitment to the nation, with lots of public self-deprecation.]
There are some times when you have to realize the person you're talking to cannot be pleased.

For example: a vicious terrorist orders the murder of thousands of Americans. He's hunted down and killed. In a less civilized nation, his head would be rotting on a pike outside the Capitol building. Instead, after identification, his body is washed in accordance with his religious tradition, prayers appropriate to his religion are said in his language, and he's given a respectful burial at sea by American personnel who must have been biting their tongues until they bled. They acted with professionalism and respect for somebody who deserved none, because our nation's leaders wanted to send the message to other people of the murderer's region and religion that we don't consider ourselves at war with them or with their religion.

Al Jazeera quotes some commentators from Egypt:

Dr Ahmed El-Tayeb, the head of al-Azhar, Egypt's seat of Sunni Muslim learning, said the disposal of the body at sea was an affront to religious and human values.

Muslims set great store by interment in permanent graves on land and accept burial at sea only in cases where the body cannot be preserved intact aboard ship until it reaches shore.

A prominent Egyptian Islamist lawyer said bin Laden should have been buried in his native Saudi Arabia.

"Isn't it enough that they killed him and displayed their joy to the world?" Montasser al-Zayat told Al Jazeera.

Partying in the streets after an unprecedentedly brutal act of terrorism is barbarically "displaying your joy to the world". So is beating Americans to death and dragging their bodies through the streets. We've demonstrated that we're willing to put down a rabid dog, but that ghoulishly gloating about it isn't part of our culture. I'd say that's exactly the right place to be on the barbarian-to-pacifist spectrum.

Someday I gotta get me a Model 1907

"Aww, man! At the convention, the NRA let bloggers with media passes handle guns from the Firearms Museum. One of them was a Savage .45 from the Army's 1911 tests! ... That's like going to a neo-Weimar convention, and getting to cuddle Amanda Palmer!"

Me, to Genevieve
[some quotes edited to make me seem cleverer]


The meme of potential US wrongdoing with regard to killing bin Laden is so pervasive, it even pops up in a story about President Obama meeting with the SEAL team:

Meanwhile, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights called on the U.S. to disclose details surrounding the killing of bin Laden.

"In respect of the recent use of deadly force against Osama bin Laden, the United States of America should disclose the supporting facts to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards," the commission's special investigators, Christof Heyns and Martin Scheinin, said in a joint statement.

"For instance, it will be particularly important to know if the planning of the mission allowed an effort to capture bin Laden."

On the one hand, in a society of law, it's essential to extend the protections of due process to all people, however universally despised and however certain we are of their guilt. The principle exists for a reason, and compromising that principle even in the clearest circumstances has the potential to erode the protections most important for guaranteeing the freedom and liberty of all individuals.

On the other hand, kiss my ass. The fucker needed killin'.

They choo-choo-choose us

Al Qaeda considered attacking the U.S. rail sector on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

U.S. government officials said...some evidence was found [in Bin Laden's compound] indicating the al Qaeda leader or his associates had engaged in discussions or planning for a possible attack on a train inside the United States on September 11, 2011.

When the TSA extends its loving attention to the rail system, the same ridiculous children who say "you don't have to fly!" will be saying "you don't have to get on a train!".

When it starts trying to "secure" the interstate highway system--which, by its nature, will necessarily be a halfassed program with maximum intrusion and minimal benefit--they'll say "I don't know what the problem is; this is standard procedure at airports and train stations".

People who think the slippery-slope argument is a fallacy aren't paying attention.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Interesting times

Silver is down to thirty-six dollars an ounce, from a hair under fifty bucks just last week.

The High Cost of Scrivving

Neil Gaiman wants to do only so many speaking engagements.

Many want those engagements.

Demand exceeds supply; engagements priced accordingly.

Small-town library is given Other People's Money to hire speakers, distributed in a way that incentivizes burning it all at end of fiscal year.

Small-town library hires Neil Gaiman to speak to 500 people for $45,000.

Big-city newspaper blows whistle on program, swells with righteous indignation, calling for end to wasteful misuse of Other People's Money in time of economic crisis.

They'd rather it was spent on a new stadium.


[If there's anything redeeming about this picokerfuffle, it's Gaiman's perfect response to the snotty Star Tribune columnist:

"$45,000? For a Sci Fi Author? I’ve never heard of you."

That’s okay. I’ve never heard of you either.
"Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle! Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

-- Frederick Douglass, escaped slave and superhero.

[h/t to JWR.]

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I would walk 500 miles

Got in a lot of good walking between last time and yesterday. I'm now past Jersey City, which beats the hell out of being in it.


My hobby:

Tautological insults:

"You son of a motherfucker!"

Who wears short shorts?

In the US, short-barreled rifles and shotguns are strictly controlled at the federal level, making them an expensive headache to own even in the states that don't ban them outright. Yes, this makes very little sense in a nation where the people have a Constitutional right to own handguns. If I understand correctly, the argument in favor of the restriction consists mostly of jumping up and down shouting "SAWED OFF SHOTGUNS!" while waving around pictures of doe-eyed children.

I bring this up because at the NRA Annual Meeting, I had an opportunity to fall in love with the single-shot guns made by Thompson Center. The TC guns are wonderful little sporters that use a break-action mechanism with interchangeable barrels: you buy one gun, and can get additional barrels for any cartridge you want, from .22lr to .357 magnum to rifle cartridges*. They can be used in the standard pistol configuration, or fitted with a stock and long barrel to make a rifle.

You can see where this is going. The conversion kit's stock is stamped with a warning instructing the user not to attach the stock before attaching the long barrel, lest the Nanny Gods wax wroth. But as far as the ATF was concerned, owning that conversion kit at all constituted "constructive possession"--evidence per se that the owner intended to assemble a short-barreled rifle.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court before the ATF was forced to back off.

Still, the Court didn't rule against the law itself, so to sum up:

--Rifle-caliber pistol: Perfectly legal
--Assembling rifle kit barrel-first: Perfectly legal


If you ever hear anti-gun advocates talking about how we need common-sense gun laws, understand that we hardcore gun nuts agree completely.

[* - I want a .45-70 shoggoth-pistol.]

From the NRA annual meeting:

Weerd: I was in the men's room when somebody came up to the urinal next to me. I looked to my right, and there was R. Lee Ermey.

Me: Did you compare?

Weerd: I did not look. I didn't want him to beat me to death.