Friday, August 31, 2007

You know society's priorities have got completely out of whack when... is taken to point out that the diamonds glued to an anonymous human skull are "ethically sourced".

A: "Who's the skull?"

B: "We don't know. Some guy. It was lying about in a taxidermy shop since the 19th Century."

A: "Isn't that a little... wrong?"

B: "Well, the diamonds are ethically sourced!"

A: "Oh. Well that's okay, then."

Ham-handed foreshadowing...

They say that J. Paul Getty knew it was time to get out of the market when his shoe-shine boy started giving him stock tips.

I should have known the real estate market would implode when I overheard the night stock guy at the grocery store talking to his fellow stocker about how he was securing financing on the house he was 'flipping'.

Nerf finances.

In effect, Bush's scheduled speech this morning acknowledges the fact that there is a segment of the populace holding a figurative hostage: "Subsidize my ignorant financial screwup, or the economy gets it!" I thought we didn't negotiate with deranged hostage takers?

Geez, why don't we just give people houses as rewards for fiscal irresponsibility and not reading before signing and then provide cover for lenders making iffy loans at Vegas-like risks? I want me some of that action...

Today In History: Flying abomination.

On this day in 1965, mothers turned their children's eyes from the sky as the first Super Guppy waddled aloft.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blog Stuff: Shed a tear...

One of my most beloved tee shirts has the little stick figure guy from the old Volkswagen ads staggering around with a mug in each hand beneath the word "Farfrompukin". Just this morning I noticed it has started to develop holes in it. :(

This is why I have multiple Kalashnikitty tees. :)

Books: A confession...

I have never read Terry Pratchett.

I just started Monstrous Regiment.

Pretty droll thus far.

Blog Stuff: Five years?!?

That's like a hundred in people years!

Congrats to SayUncle on five years of righteous bloggery.

Today In History:..and it just got worse from there.

As the opening maneuvers of the Great War got underway, Imperial Russia launched what was intended to be a decisive blow at the German holdings in East Prussia. Two huge Russian armies, 190,000 men in total, closed in a vast pincers on the Jerry forces near Tannenberg on the Polish frontier.

When the dust settled on 30 August, 1914, 30,000 of those Russkie troops would be casualties and another 95,000 would be on the wrong side of the barbed wire in German POW camps. Then things really started to go downhill for the Czar...

Bleg: Book ping.

Since all the likely suspects read this space, does one of y'all have my copy of The American Zone?


Guessing through their teeth.

We've had a lot of fun with the recent study claiming that there were 90 guns for every 100 Americans. Now let's point out the truth: That number has got to be waayyyy low. Think about it: How can they make any reasonably accurate estimate? Guns are pretty durable artifacts; they don't just dry up and blow away after X number of years. (I have 120-year-old relics that are still in excellent shape and quite shootable.) Hardly any record-keeping at all was required for firearms in this country prior to 1968, so anyone claiming to know a total number of weapons extant by extrapolating from current sales or production figures is talking through her hat at best or, to use the scientific term, just making stuff up.

As most readers know, one of my hobbies is collecting old military rifles. Maybe a quarter to a third of my rifles show the importer markings required by the Gun Control Act of 1968. This means the remainder found their way into the country by a variety of means before that date. Some may have been imported by big surplus houses like Bannerman's, some may have come in via the dufflebags of returning GIs, and some may have come in individually thanks to tourists. Any attempt to make a meaningful guess as to how many guns like this are in the country is just that; a guess.

My other love, old S&W revolvers, would be just as hard to count using current sales numbers as any kind of marker. The mean date of manufacture for revolvers in my collection is 1968, the year the current system of Federal Firearms Licenses and their attendant sales restrictions came into practice. Prior to that date, there was no requirement to keep retail-level records of guns sales. Some of these guns have never had the slightest attention paid to them by the government at all, having gone from the manufacturer into the mail, from the mail into the owner's sock drawer, and from the owner's estate into a private collection. Once again, any claim to know how many of these old guns linger out there is idle speculation that can't be dressed up as science no matter how starched the lab coat in which we outfit it.

No doubt this study made someone feel better, but its statistical underpinnings make Birnam Wood look deeply rooted. This is why gun confiscation schemes are always so funny. Not only do we not know where they all are, we have no idea how many to look for. I hate to break it to the more idealistic folks that think some kind of magic complete gun ban would somehow solve anything, but this genie is well and truly out of the bottle. You might as well try rounding up sand.

Boomsticks: A good question.

Joe of Joe's Crabby Shack has a request:
The Republican YouTube debate is coming up soon and two of my most favorite people have submitted the mother of all Second Amendment questions.
RTWT. I'd like to see this one asked and answered.

Sometimes the jokes write themselves...

In comments to a Larry Craig post at Varifrank, Clayton E. Cramer wrote:
"He's my senator, and it hurts to see a strong defender of the right to keep and bear arms going down."

These are the jokes, folks. I'll be here all week. Try the veal.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Weird book fad.

Lately there has been an odd fad going on in the history section at bookstores. It started with histories of inanimate objects. Tea: A History. Gold: A History. Coffee. Phosphorus. Salt. Stuff like that.

Now it's branching out into intangible concepts. I'd picked up Honor: A History earlier, but set it down only a couple chapters in to finish off the Vorkosigan Saga. Now I'm back to read it through, and it is fascinating. In the on-deck circle is Doubt: A History.

Slow motion garage sale...

In order to stave off the owie, empty, hurty feeling in my tummy, I am offering for sale one very slightly used AR optic. To wit, my Leupold CQ/T. I had it parked on the .300 Whisper gun and was planning on keeping it and selling one of my EOTechs, but I realized it made more sense to keep the same optic on both my remaining AR carbines, so it's a moderately reluctant farewell to the Loopy. (I'll wind up getting another one someday, I'm sure.) How does $675 shipped sound? I know they sell for seven bills on line, but this one is LNIB, and it comes with the ARMS #12 throw-lever mount (a $135 value), plus all proceeds go to a good cause (if there's a better cause than my bank account, I'm unaware of it.)

EDIT: Sold pending funds.

No wonder I'm always tired...

According to that report from the pinkos in Geneva, I'm carrying the load for 118 people.

Between me and a half dozen friends, we're probably picking up the slack for a whole Manhattan high-rise.

You know you're a pathetic gun geek when...

Lots of people have little wish lists of stuff they're looking for for their guns. A scope for a Marlin .30-30. Some nice grips for their Ruger Blackhawk. Night sights for their Glock. An M1 Carbine bayonet. I envy them. They will probably find happiness.

Me? I'm stuck wandering gun shows looking for the following:

1) Un-bubba'ed military stocks with the proper barrel bands for: A Ross Mk.II, a Berthier Mle.1907/15 M16, and a Mauser Karabiner 71.

2) The extractor for a Frommer Stop.

3) Extra magazines for a Radom, a Frommer, and a Webley auto.

4) A bayonet for a Portuguese Mauser Vergueiro.

5) Correct grips for a Polish M48 Tokarev (no goofy thumbrest.)

6) A titanium firing pin for a MAS 49/56 that doesn't cost the moon.

Google is frequently no help. I have guns obscure enough that when I Google them, my own blog is the first thing that comes up. So I'm doomed to trudge the gun show aisles...

*Sigh.* Diogenes had it easier than this. Maybe I need a lamp?

What is a felony?

There's an interesting discussion running over at Oleg's LiveJournal regarding felons and rights.

Most folks have a knee-jerk positive reaction to taking rights, such as voting and gun ownership, away from felons. However in a world where carrying a slingshot in New Jersey or selling a dildo in Texas are felonies, does this make sense?

How can someone commit a felony without even knowing that they are committing a crime? In red-tape swaddled America, this is easier and easier to do, and while a hardened violent felon probably has no qualms about re-arming himself shortly after leaving prison, the otherwise law-abiding Texan dildo seller is probably, er, screwed when it comes to self-defense. Is this right?

EDIT: Digital Falcon with further riffs on the topic.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Courtesy of Beck...

...and Matt:

Forces of evil on a bozo nightmare
Ban all the music with a phony gas chamber
’cuz one’s got a weasel and the other’s got a flag
One’s on the pole, shove the other in a bag
With the rerun shows and the cocaine nose-job
The daytime crap of the folksinger slob
He hung himself with a guitar string
A slab of turkey-neck and it’s hangin’ from a pigeon wing
You can’t write if you can’t relate
Trade the cash for the beef for the body for the hate
And my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite
who's chokin’ on the splinters

Soy un perdedor

I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?
(get crazy with the cheese whiz)

(Noodle around in the lyrics with your mouse pointer for the link. You'll find it in the relevant place.)

I almost felt so sorry for him that I sent him my phone number. Then I remembered I have cats.

Better luck next time, Mr. 8th Level Ogre Mage...

I'm not buying it.

A recent banner ad I saw touted the back-to-school savings in the Junior's department at Target. The girl in the photo was entirely too happy looking about her new yellow bag. I'm not buying it. If you show up for the first day of school here in Nu-Perfect America looking that gleeful, they'll have you peeing in a cup faster than you can say "Jeff Spicoli".

Riddles for the day all answered.

1) Yes, my Frommer will feed a Winchester Silvertip from the magazine.

2) Yes, my Frommer will ignite the primer on a Winchester Silvertip.

3) Yes, there is an amazing amount of monkey motion you can feel in your hand when a long-recoil pocket pistol is fired.

4) No, a long-recoil pistol will not work without an extractor, unlike most blowback or short-recoil pistols.

So now we know.

I'd put a Frommer Stop extractor on my Amazon Wishlist but A) I don't have a wishlist, B) Amazon doesn't carry Frommer Stop extractors.

PS: Now I want a Gabbet-Fairfax Mars. And people in hell want ice cream.

If I can just scrounge up another 504 hits...

...VFTP will finish its second year with a nice, round 550k.

You should email your grandma. Tell her to poke around a bit. She'd love the place. :)

It's getting harder to be controversial and slanderous.

I haven't had a good hair-pulling knock-down drag-out in the comments section in, oh, two or three days. Yesterday morning I probably could have stirred something up with the more conventional conservative readers by saying "Larry Craig is gay!", but yesterday's schoolyard snark is today's old news.

However, there's an actual post on this matter roiling around in my noggin at the moment...

Boomsticks: Gratuitous Gun Pr0n #46

The Frommer Stop is a long-recoil operated pistol. The tube over the barrel contains two recoil springs; one for the barrel and one for the bolt. The bolt and barrel travel rearward locked together, at which point the barrel is freed to return forwards. The extractor holds the spent shell against the breechface as the barrel springs forward and as soon as the spent shell is free of the chamber, the ejector kicks it out. Then the bolt travels forward, stripping a fresh cartridge from the magazine.

The operating principle seems so normal in a Browning shotgun, but to see it in a little .32 pistol is superweird.

(PS: If anybody wants to add this photo to the currently unillustrated Wikipedia entry, you have my express permission, as long as credit/linkage/attribution is given.)

Aunt B. and the Doctor.

Or, "The Roadblocks To Matrimony".

Sort of.

Just read it. It's great. I can't comment without ruining it.

Books: That went entirely too fast.

On the evening of Friday the 17th, I started reading Threshold. I polished off Low Red Moon last Saturday evening around sunset. This morning, about 0045, I finished Daughter Of Hounds.

Dammit, that was over too soon.

To me, that's when you know you're reading a great read; when you notice the part of the book in your right hand is noticeably slimmer than that in your left, and you slow down as much as you can to stretch out the magic of the story.

As the ever-wise PhlegmFatale once pointed out, that's a wonderful metaphor for life when you think about it. :)

I'll get around to an actual review-type post here before too long...

Okay, Marko, but what does it mean...

...if the first thing I did was check to make sure the guy had his optic mounted right way 'round?

He's leaving something out.

Grant Cunningham has a lengthy, erudite, educational, and thoughtful post on why he feels the Colt Python is such a beautiful piece of industrial design.

What he fails to mention is that, if it had a full underlug, even the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would be ugly enough to make a freight train take a dirt road.

Another observed S&W lock failure...

Gun writer Michael Bane reports a failure of the internal lock on his Model 329PD. It will be interesting to see how Smith & Wesson attempts to respond to this.

The internal lock on handguns is something that will probably not go away for the foreseeable future. They are standard on Taurus, HK, Bersa, Springfield Armory 1911-pattern guns, some Rugers, S&W revolvers, and optional on Glocks and some S&W autoloaders. I'm fairly agnostic on the whole concept; from a philosophical standpoint it's no better or worse than a separate locking device like the cable or trigger locks that some folks use religiously to store guns and others ignore. My main objections are aesthetic and mechanical.

The best lock would be one that is invisible, or nearly so, on the exterior of the firearm, especially on guns that are frequently bought for their aesthetics, such as revolvers or 1911-type guns and can be removed and replaced with no permanent alterations to the firearm. Probably the winner in this category is Springfield's ILS, which is contained entirely within the mainspring housing of the pistol, and can be swapped out with a standard 1911 MSH if one is so inclined. While some have complained that Springfield should make it optional, from a business standpoint it's probably cheaper to have one part and one box label and let the customer decide if they wish to leave it on the gun.

The one that has drawn the most fire is Smith & Wesson's revolver lock, and it's because of both aesthetic and mechanical reasons. First, S&W revolver buyers are generally a conservative lot, and aesthetics enter into their purchasing decisions; many of them will defend their loyalty to S&W revolvers over their Ruger counterparts on looks alone. Smith's lock design puts a keyhole right on the side of the revolver's frame, just above the cylinder release. While not particularly noticeable on a blued gun, it sticks out like a sore thumb on a stainless piece, and is also fairly disharmonius on the newer lines of "retro" revolvers S&W has been hawking.

Worse, from a mechanical standpoint, the lock requires internal bits to rotate towards the rear of the gun to engage the lock. On the new flyweight Scandium magnums, several bazillion "Gees" of energy are jumping the gun to the rear under recoil and reports have come in, Mr. Bane's being merely the latest, of that force being sufficient to partially engage the lock, thereby tying up the gun in a manner that requires tools to unjam. I myself have seen it happen to a customer's Model 357PD, a sub-2-pound flyweight shooting middling-heavy .41 Magnum ammunition.

I personally own two Smiths with the lock, a 432PD and a Model 21 Thunder Ranch, neither of which I'm particularly worried about as neither generates the sharp recoil that seems to cause this, and it never happened on my long-gone Model 325PD as apparently .45ACP in a 21.5 oz. package doesn't have the wheaties, either. I'd be leery, though, of the Scandium .357 J-frames and the .41 and .44 Magnum N-frames with the lock. Not good, as the former is designed as goblin-repellent and the latter two are marketed for self-defense in bear country. Were I to, for some unfathomable reason, wind up with one, I'd probably eighty-six the lock. Some things just don't need built-in failure modes, especially when a grizzly is gnawing on your ankle...

It is somehow fitting...

...that the very last customer at PDB's House Of Blinking Diversions was a drooling imbecile, allowing us a swan song of snark, so to speak.

That sound you hear is a gauntlet hitting the ground.

From Unix Jedi comes news of this challenge:

You have a standing offer from me: Just sue me here in Houston for defamation. After all, I've republished most of the SwiftVets' claims here on my blog, and I've made many of them again in my own voice. I use a pseudonym for my blog name, but it's not anonymous — my name and address are linked on every page of this blog, and have been since the day it started. I'll waive any statute of limitations defense. I'll waive service of process. Hell, I'll meet you at the federal courthouse doors for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division (you have diversity jurisdiction), and I'll even pay your filing fee!

...and it just gets better from there.

Not that anything will come of it, but it was fun to read.

Go Team Me!

Today is the second Blogiversary of View From The Porch.

If you like it, it was all me.

If you don't, I was just trying to be cool like Les, Unc, and Countertop. ;)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Oh, the fun I could have had...

...with some Clorox and a plant mister.

(H/T to Jeff The Baptist.)

How friggin' embarrassing...

I'm trying to check my Frommer Stop to see if it's delivering a good lick to the firing pin.

The problem? It's a .32, so the old trick of dropping a pencil or ballpoint pen down the tube won't work, and I have not found a single piece of dowel or anything else to use for a substitute.

I'm probably going to wind up doing something insanely elaborate, like priming a case, (only I just realized I don't have a shell holder...) or trimming down a piece of plastic sprue to fit.

Or maybe I'll try and make Instant Gratification Tam act like Patient Mature Tam and wait 'til backyard shooting hours tomorrow and then I can just step outside and bust a cap in the yard...

The driver loves the car loves the road loves the driver...

Via Dustbury, we get a link to a column in which a Dr. Orbuch claims that your car is not only a public statement of the inner you, but tells the world what you'll be like in a relationship.

Since she doesn't say that "2-seat roadster" = "Moody loner who wishes the passenger seat was a credit delete option", I wouldn't give it too much credence.

Ooh, my head...

My eyeballs feel like they've been inflated to 200psi and I don't have an aspirin in the house...

Look! A post! Another one! And here's a politician fibbing!

I'm taking my headache back to bed for an hour or so.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A caption contest I couldn't resist...

Seen at Cowboy Blob's:

"NBA scout George Jablonski thanked his lucky stars for the day he joined the National Guard on a dare."

Crushed by the absence of you.

Dang. Yesterday broke my 30-day-plus streak of over 1k hits/day.

Shattered, I tell you, shattered!

View From The Desk.

I have stared blankly over the top of this monitor long enough for this morning. I'm going to take a Sierra Nevada and Daughter of Hounds out on the porch until I can't stand the heat any more.

I need more bookshelves.

A couple of things I don't understand...

1) You can abuse your significant other, do drugs, pump yourself full of 'roids, get busted on weapons charges, drive drunk, and remain a Jock Hero. As long as you're nice to doggies.

2) The MPAA apparently penalizes films that use "nontraditional sexual positions". I am at a loss as to how they determine "traditional" and "nontraditional." Is there a list somewhere? Can I get a copy?

Today In History: A storm of arrows.

On this date in 1346, the French nobility decided that charging uphill through the mud at English longbowmen would be a swell idea.

They got their crepes folded for their efforts.

Apparently slow learners, they tried the exact same thing again some sixty-nine years later with (no surprise) the exact same outcome.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

These are the jokes, folks.

"There are circumstances beyond our control, and I think I am better able to handle things I have no control over," -Hillary Clinton
Well, she did get a lot of practice with her husband.

Sorry I'm late...

Just got back from the National Automatic Pistol Collectors Association show in Chattanooga. Neat! Neat! Neat!

I saw more absolutely beautiful old Lugers than you could shake a stick at. (When's the last time you saw a pistol just sitting there with a $15,000 price tag on it?) There were Colts and Walthers and Roth-Steyrs and Dreyses and you name it. There was the absolute most perfect Polish Eagle Radom I have ever seen, and I got to hold it! I had no Idea the pre-War ones were that pretty, with nitre-blued screws and pins and even the end of the extractor visible in the slide. Oh, and I got to hold a Colt 1911 with Serial No. 12XX, from the very second batch of guns to come out of the plant.

The old guys were all pretty friendly, at least the ones who talked to me enough to figure out that I hadn't been dragged reluctantly to the show when I would've rather been out shopping. (Actually, one man there said to me "My wife's out shopping," to which I replied "Really? So am I. Do you have any Radom magazines?")

There were no Frommer Stops.

PS: My Colt Pocket Hammerless was older and way nicer than any of the ones I saw there. I'm beginning to realize what a great score that was...

Today In History: MSM...

They haven't become too much more reliable.

Quote of the Day:

"Showing up at school already able to read is like showing up at the undertaker's already embalmed: people start worrying about being put out of their jobs." -Florence King

Friday, August 24, 2007

Boomsticks: A Chore.

In the museum is a Mauser Kar. 71, made by C.G. Haenel & Sohn in Suhl, Germany back in 1877. The guy from whom I purchased it said his great-grandpa brought it back as spoils of war after the first Great Unpleasantness. It's in the same sporter stock it was in back in 1919, as is evidenced by the wood shrinking away from the metal fittings.

Today, I believe I'll take a toothbrush and some Hoppes #9 and attempt to scrub away almost 90 years of dried varnish left behind by 3-in-1 oil and WD-40.

Maybe I'll take some before & after pics...

Livin' in a geeksta's paradise...

Since we were talking about books, a view of a slice of VFTP Command Central:

Today In History: The Fires of Vulcan.

On this date in 79AD, real estate speculators in the beachfront communities of Herculaneum and Pompeii took it in the neck when their investments (and sometimes their selves) were buried under as much as 75 feet of red hot ash from Mount Vesuvius.

Testing. Testing. Two. Three. Is this thing on?

I know you're out there; I can hear you breathing.

More book ramblings...

...sort of tied in with yesterday's post.

1) I'm not really sure I completely trust someone who doesn't read for pleasure. It's unnatural. Like not liking music. I mean, sure, you say you're human, but isn't that just what one of them would say to keep people from looking for its pod?

2) For some reason, reading from electronic media isn't the same. Vishnu knows I do plenty of reading and writing on a phosphor screen myownself, but it just ain't the same. It's like empty calories from rice cakes and lettuce. It's like decaffeinated coffee or alcohol-free beer. It's like driving down a challenging and curvy road in a sports car with an automatic transmission. It's like nicotine from a plastic patch. There's Just Something Missing from the eWord, something fundamentally less satisfying about pushing a button or scrolling a wheel than turning a page.

Don Gwinn tees off...

...on celebrity "experts" (always a fun topic.)

Apparently Jodie Foster thinks that, since noted biochemist Meryl Streep can testify before Congress on the Alar scare, then folks should listen to her own Oscar-heavy opinions on weighty political matters like gun control.

Don disagrees.

Blog Stuff: Car wish.

You know, if I could find a first-generation MR2, one of the little wedgy atomic doorstop looking ones, with less than 100k miles that hadn't been autocrossed to death, I'd probably sell the Zed Three to buy it. I just saw one go-karting around town the other day, and I had completely forgotten just what cute little rides those were.

Headline of the Month:

One can only hope that they will verify this under laboratory conditions using a live therapod and a live (for now) Beckham.

Politics: Can you drown in irony?

Former Senator and Vice Presidential Candidate blasts "establishment insiders".


You can look it up.

Pot, meet Kettle.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The return of Kalashnikitty.


Horrible ramen-flavored burps.

I could just die.

Obscure humor, but maybe someone will get a chuckle...

Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones has had so much success against the New York Mets at their home ballpark that he named his son "Shea", after the Mets' home turf, Shea Stadium.

Last night, Atlanta catcher Brian McCann hit a home run in his third consecutive game against the Cincinnati Reds. The announcers flashed a graphic on the screen showing that McCann has a four-sixty-something lifetime average in the Cincinnati stadium, with a whole bunch of home runs to his credit.

I looked over at Gunsmith Bob and said "His kid is going to get the crap beat out of him at school with a name like 'Great American Ball Park McCann'."

Boomsticks: Miniature machineguns.

See live-fire footage of super-clever miniature Gatlings and M1919s in .22LR here and here.

Intarw3bz funny #3:

TD was all excited that VH1 had done a documentary on the dawn of punk. Imagine how excited I was when Jeff the Baptist linked to a Behind The Music episode on my favorite childhood band...

Intarw3bz funny #2:

Found somewhere in the wilds of cyberspace:

Intarw3bz funny #1:

Found at The Unforgiving Minute:

zomg that's funny.

"I am very good at pwning n00bs with my bow..."

Eutopia minding other people's business...

Via KdT, I read a whine & cheese fest from the EU, carping and moaning about Texas whacking a guy more or less caught red-handed in a bit of cold-blooded murder.

I'm ambivalent on the death penalty. Not that I'm against the idea of seeing evil goblins die, mind you; hell, I think they should sell popcorn for the event, like they did in the old days. I don't object to the whacking, I just wish we had a more reliable institution making sure that the right guy was getting whacked, not the same .gov that can't run a whorehouse at a profit. It's kinda hard to say "Whoops! Sorry 'bout that!" after you've barbecued the wrong guy.

My favorite bit in the article was this, though:
"There is no evidence to suggest that the use of the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime," the statement said
Whether it does or doesn't makes no nevermind. I'll tell you this: It cuts the recidivism rate way the hell down.

Today In History: Quick on the uptake.

On August 23rd, 1775, noticing that we'd been shooting up his troops for some three months, King George III declared the American colonies to be in a state of open rebellion.

Boy, nothing slipped past him!

It has come to my attention via SiteMeter...

...that I should probably stay the heck out of Campbell County.

News Flash: People are ignernt.

I'm very fond of the observation that goes "You know how dumb the average person you meet is? Well, by definition, half of everybody is even dumber than him." Folks go so far out of their way to prove it true on a daily basis all around me that I find myself thinking I'm unable to be shocked by new evidence. And yet here we are:
One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday.
I mean really. Not reading? Why? One of the guys they interviewed actually said "I just get sleepy when I read," which I guess was a less embarrassing admission than "I'm actually dumber than a bag of hammers."

It gets worse. Among those who admitted to having actually cracked a tome in the last year, the average number of books read was seven. In a whole year. How can you do that? How can you only read seven books in a year? In the past week I've read (or re-read) Shards of Honor and Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold and Threshold by Caitlín R. Kiernan for entertainment; Crap Cars and The Action Hero's Handbook off the stack in the... er, reading room; I'm about a third of the way through Our Kind and a quarter through The National Pastime, both for edification; and I've read British Enfield Rifles, Vol. I and re-read The Mosin-Nagant Rifle and about half of Collecting Classic Bolt-Action Military Rifles for research. Even if I'd been pulling down the hours at the old job, the only difference in that list would have been that it would have contained one novel instead of three. You'll note that of those books, only three are completely fictional works read purely for enjoyment; the rest might actually learn me something. Not only have I been entertained, I also know a bit more about baseball, cultural anthropology, and old military rifles than I did this time last week, plus all the peripheral subjects touched on in those books.

The owner of a gun shop at which I worked a couple of years ago was, well, let's put it charitably: He wasn't what you'd call the intellectual type. His son got all the Harry Potter books as soon as they were released. He didn't actually read them, mind you, nor was he encouraged to, but at least when kids at school asked "Did you get the new Harry Potter book yet?" he could hold his head up and answer in the affirmative. One morning at a gun show, just before the show opened, my boss noticed me with my nose in a book and asked "Whatchoo doin' there? You a bookworm?" Not ten minutes later, someone strolled over to our tables and asked an obscure technical question. Without looking up, I piped up with the answer and my boss, completely without irony, asked "How do you know all that stuff?" I nearly bit my lip off choking back the cascade of smartass replies that sprang immediately to mind. "See the squiggly black marks between the covers here? They're a secret code that conveys information."

This, in a nutshell, is why folks don't read. We live in the Nation of the Jock, where the cult of the anti-intellectual has more adherents than the Southern Baptist denomination and where William Jennings Bryan was a viable political figure, where "book smart" is an insult delivered with a wink. We grow up in the soft electron glow of a TeeWee screen watching sitcoms and movies in which anyone with any brains at all is portrayed as a social misfit at best, a hopeless loser at worst. Mencken's "Sahara of the Bozart" has expanded north of the Mason-Dixon and engulfed the old Yankee domains, even bleeding across the Canadian border. There's no one thing to point a finger at; not the .gov education system, not TeeWee or movies, not the intarw3bz; it's all around us here, pervading our culture like some horrible brain-leech Matrix, and, like The Matrix, most folks just don't want to wake up. So what can you do? Me, I'll just continue to point and laugh.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Funniest thing I've ever heard during a baseball game.

While the Braves were busy losing another one to Cincy, the camera panned across the scoreboard in the outfield that was keeping track of the day's other Major League games. It paused abruptly at the legend reading:
TEX: 30
BAL: 3

There was silence for a second before the sportscaster said "It's a good thing the Ravens kicker got that one through the uprights or they'd have been blanked."

He's right. That sure didn't look like a baseball score.

Today In History: I don't have anything flippant to say, for once.

On this date in 1992, an FBI sniper named Lon Horiuchi shot Vicki Weaver in the head, killing her. She was holding her infant daughter.

Blog Stuff: Behold...

...the power of the intarw3bz.

They do make a cute couple, don't they?

Chinese Response: "I'm rubber, you're glue. What bounces off me...

...sticks to you."

I'm unconvinced.

Context sensitive ads?

I just noticed that the GoogleAd atop my page asked "Want to live in Ecuador?"


Whereinnahell did that come from?

I'm honor-bound not to read it to find out, but I haven't been this puzzled since the "Maternity Swimwear" ad. You could write everything there is to know about my maternal instincts on the back of a postage stamp and still have room for the Magna Carta. In Sharpie.

Today In History: You may not believe this...

...but on this date in 1798, the Frogs invaded Ireland. Sort of. Actually, it was by invitation. Then they left.

You keep using that word...

...I do not think it means what you think it means.

Some marketing guy doesn't understand that maybe I don't want the "RedShirt Treatment".


Found the neatly folded bills underneath the car. I had shifted my flashlight into my (shallow) pocket to rearrange some stuff when I got home last night. Apparently, when I tugged it back out it took the money with it and I booted the ducats under the Zed Three all unnoticed.

Princess to pauper to princess again, all in the space of an hour or two. I could do without this kind of excitement...

Now, what was it I was going to blog about today? I was thrown a bit off my feed there.

Pardon the interruption...

...but blogging will be briefly suspended for the morning.

I'm trying to be as calm as someone who has just discovered $300 (pronounced "tire money") missing from her pocket can be. I've got some phone calls to make. I'll be right back...

Some memery while I wake up...

...found here.

The rules are simple, if you have "Auto Complete" turned on, just type the letters of the alphabet, one at a time, into your browser and confess to what comes up.

I think it's a lot more revealing than those "Tell 8 MORE things most people don't know about you" chain letters. If I come visit you, while you're in the kitchen or the restroom, I'm going to be perusing the titles on your bookshelves and CD/DVD racks. Better (and more accurate) than psychoanalysis for peeking into someone's noggin. If you don't have bookshelves, I'll have left before you return to the living room. ;)

A =
B =
C =
D =
E =
F =
G =
H =
I =
J =
K =
L =
M =
N =
O =
P =
Q =
R =
S =
T =
U =
V =
W =
X =
Y =
Z = Nothing, actually.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

If I had to guess, I'd say it's August.

I was over at Gunsmith Bob's tonight, watching the Braves prove that they need at least one more good starter. Despite being staked to a three-run lead in the first, the wheels came off JoJo Reyes in the third inning, and the Braves wound up losing 8-7. I left to drive home at quarter after ten, and the thermometer in the Zed Three still read 85 degrees. I'm good and ready for a day with a high in the eighties, thankyouverymuch.

Wending my way through the woods out on the peninsula on the way home, the high beams caught a glint of yellow in the underbrush on the right side of the road. I slowed the car to a crawl and was rewarded with a brief staring contest with a fair-to-middlin' size whitetail buck. Nice antlers. After a couple seconds, he decided that my hrududu was a bit too close and bounded into the woods in two truly amazing leaps.

And now to bed with a book (Our Kind, by Marvin Harris), now that the A/C is catching up after the heat of the day...

I was at the used book store today...

...trying (and failing) to find some out-of-print stuff by an author I'm getting into, when I noticed that one of the cashiers was wearing a "Dendarii Free Mercenaries" tee shirt.

I actually used "zomg!" in a spoken sentence.

She told me where to find it online.

Sometimes you wonder how they remember to breathe.

Cops at a Taxpayer-Funded Civilian Disarmament Scheme, er, "Gun Buyback" in Florida nearly soiled themselves at the sight of a fiberglass-and-aluminum transport tube for a TOW missile.

Not a missile.

Not even an empty missile launcher.

Just an inert tube used to carry a missile around. Kind of like the container in which you get posters mailed to you, only olive green with some numbers stenciled on it and it once upon a time held something even cooler than a Kill Bill poster. The only way it could possibly be dangerous is if you beat somebody with it, but it would take a fair amount of beating to get anything done since it has the density and drag coefficient of one of those big kiddie whiffle bats, only more awkward to hold. Actually, if you wanted to kill someone with it probably the easiest way to do so would be to take some heavy-duty scissors, snip off a piece, and stuff it down their throat in hopes that they choke.

But the news article said it was a weapon "designed to blow jets out of the sky".

I don't know about "blown out of the sky", but you could cut your finger on the aluminum end cap, I suppose, and die a horrible death if you weren't up to date on your tetanus shots, and if the end came while you were flying a jet, that would be bad. Or maybe you could run up into the cockpit and wave it around in front of the pilot's face, obstructing his view on short final and cause him to make like a Texas lawn dart.

Anyhow, remember: If it's green and tube-like, it's probably dangerous and is made for bringing down airliners. Better call the cops!

They're so cute at that age...

I went to visit Marko yesterday so he could play Tech Support for VFTP Command Central. While he was futzing with the computer, I was entertained by the eponymous munchkin of The Munchkin Wrangler, Quinn, who was delighted to have a fresh audience.

He's at that age where he's often unintentionally hilarious with his grasp of language. I mean, he's got the whole subject/predicate thing down, and figured out nouns and verbs and adjectives. He can tell you that the circle is blue, or the number five is green, or go get the sippy cup off the high chair. It's cause and effect in social language that still confuses him. He knows that if he does certain things, or certain things happen to him, then there are words that people say. He doesn't, however, seem to grasp that these are social words that other people say to you. Hence we get Quinn saying "Watch your noggin!" then head-butting the wall and exclaiming "Goodness!" or throwing himself full length on the floor in a belly flop and saying "Careful! Are you okay?" The best was when I walked into the room and spotted him flipping pages in my Mosin-Nagant book while delivering a running monologue of "Tamara's book. Don't touch the book. Don't touch it!" It is nearly impossible to keep a deadpan expression in the face of that.

I am still tickled pink that he didn't think my name was "Crazy Gun Store Lady", despite Marko's best efforts...

Today In History: God bless America and her 49 50 wonderful states.

On this date in 1959, the Federal government moved to prop up a sagging flag-making industry by adding Hawaii as the 50th state.

(There's a fun plot: Suppose 'Manifest Destiny' and westward expansion was a secret scheme, a meme spread by a hidden cabal of flag-makers to keep their business profitable. Maybe they were opposed by the Rosicrucians, who assassinated the Flag Cabal's then-leader, JFK, when they discovered that he intended to make South Vietnam the 51st state! Hey, it could happen!)

Just how drunk do you have to be?

Okay, it happened during a beer festival, but still...
A 23-year old Serb was found dead and half-eaten in the bear cage of Belgrade Zoo at the weekend during the annual beer festival.

The man was found naked, with his clothes lying intact inside the cage.
How do you say "Hey, y'all! Watch this! " in Serbian?

I'd like to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation: "I bet I could streak through that bear cage."

"No way you could."

"Do you dare me?"

"I double dare you."

"Hold my beer."

They must've been from southern Serbia, because I can think of no more perfectly redneck way to go than nekkid, blotto, and devoured by bears.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Today in History: All you need is love. And anti-tank rockets.

1967 was the Summer of Love in the US, with hippies trying a bit of 'shroom-tinged communism in the trendier parts of San Francisco.

In 1968, the Czechs tried for a bit less communism and a bit more Western-style freedom, only without quite so many drugs or non-bathing hippies and more fun consumerism.

The Soviets were not amused.

On the night of August 20th, the tanks of five Warsaw Pact nations rumbled across the Czech border, shot up a few people, parked a toady of Moscow in the driver's seat, and shut down the borders (but only when they realized that about 70,000 people had split.)

So remember, kids: All you need is love!

And an RPG.

It's okay, they were just ordinary schmucks.

After a whole bunch of people spilled out of a moving vehicle on the set of the latest Tom Cruise flick, a Boche police spokescop said:
"We have no findings to suggest anyone famous was involved in the accident,"

Well, that's okay then...

The global village...

The early morning shift here is pretty cool. It's like the International Hour on the SiteMeter here at VFTP Command Central. What's neat is that most of that is bookmarked regular readers, and not random Google searches.

So, uh, a shout out to my peeps in Bratislava, Canberra, Hamburg, and Stockholm! You there in Brussels and Paris, keep it real! Or something...

Anyhow, I think it's neat. :)

Slightly delayed due to the gun show...

...Sunday Smith #10 is up at the other place. The pictured revolver is one of the contenders for crown jewel of my collection.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Boomsticks: Mosin quiz...

Your knowledge of the Mosin Nagant is 50%!

I guess you collect South American contract Mausers, huh? Well it's high time you got online and ordered a few more of those cheap Mosins.

Mosin Nagant Knowledge Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes

"I guess you collect South American contract Mausers, huh?"
Why yes, yes I do. I'm branching out into tomato stakes, though. ;)

Boomsticks: And on the rebound today...'s pronounced "Vergueiro".

Sold off some other stuff, and picked up one of these as a consolation prize. :)

Boomsticks: The score thus far...

I parted with my FrankenAR in .300 Whisper and my tricked out stainless Colt Delta Elite. In return, I got a 1930-vintage 5" S&W Military & Police, a 1905-vintage Colt Pocket Hammerless, a Finnish capture Mosin M91, and a bayonet for my Brazilian Mauser. Plus plenty of ducats left over.

Doing good so far...

Boomsticks: Been around the world.

Among my acquisitions yesterday was a Mosin Nagant M1891 infantry rifle. It had been made on contract for the Czar's armies in New England Westinghouse's plant in Chicopee Falls, MA back during World War One. At some point, it fell into the hands of the Finns, who re-stocked it and added their own "SA" stamp in the metal. Most recently, it was sold off as surplus and reimported into the US through St. Albans, VT, where yet another stamp was added.

Ninety-two years and a lot of miles later, it's come to rest in my hands. Oh, if only it could talk...

The rich are different from you and I...

...they don't stop shopping because of "downturn" fears.

This is why I used the strategy of putting, instead of a price tag, a sign next to my custom Delta Elite that said "If you have to ask..." at the gun show yesterday. I had a lot of fun fielding questions for the hour or two until it sold.

"...then you don't know what you're looking at."

"...then you're not the target market."

"...then you don't know what it's worth."

"...then you can't afford it."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Boomsticks: It's barely half over...

...and I've already had a damn good show.

Without spoiling the surprise, I can throw out some hints: 1) It was made by Colt's, 2) Before 1911, and 3) It's not a revolver.

I am madly, madly in love...

Saturday Funnies.

Mauser*Girl gets a... well... interesting Google search.

News: Putin rattles rusty saber.

The 37th Strategic Air Army of the Russian air force has been activated, and is resuming Cold War style patrol flights. It has a formidable TO&E (Table of Organization & Equipment),
including 64 Tupolev-95 "Bear" aircraft and 16 Tupolev-160 "Blackjack" planes
which is really scary when you just look at it. Military aviation nerds are probably chuckling by now, and we should let the rest of y'all in on the joke. The Tu-95 is a bomber that was state of the art at the time of its first flight, in 1952. An aircraft that makes the equally geriatric B-52 look sleek and modern by comparison, the Tu-95 Bear hasn't been a viable strategic threat since before JFK took office. The Tu-160 Blackjack, on the other hand, is state of the art circa 1970. Designed to fly really high and really fast, the "B-1ski" was a white elephant even before the end of the Cold War, since Surface-to-Air missiles fly higher and faster. In this instance, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was right on target when he said
"If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision,"
Whatever gets you through the night, Vlad.

Fred grabs his ankles for the Fundies.

A Constitutional amendment Fred?

Et tu?

Needless to say, I'm not with Fred. Playing with the Constitution to appease the whims of the moment is asinine.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Today In History: Shame.

I grew up in Marietta, Georgia.

August the Seventeenth is not one of its prouder moments.

Remember that, when someone goes on about the Good Ol' Days.

Why I need to get into BPCR reloading.

BPCR, for those uninitiated, is "Black Powder Cartridge Rifle"; those quasi-modern pieces from the latter 19th Century that use metallic cartridges but still use good old fashioned black powder instead of modern smokeless for a propellant. I've got a few now, and I'm hoping for more (a Rolling-Block Remington or a Trapdoor Springfield would be oh so cool.) Reloading for these is borderline mandatory, though. It's not like you can't get commercially-loaded ammo, it's just that:

1) .43 Mauser (11mm Mauser): $53.00/20

2) 11x59R Gras: $68.00/20

3) .577-450 Martini-Henry: $105.00/20

So, yeah. Yikes. And you thought your .300 Win Mag was 'spensive to shoot...

Gun show weekend...

There'll be a show at the Expo Center here in town this weekend and, as per usual, I've given up my free time in exchange for an exhibitor's badge.

Since it looks like I won't be buying any .30-caliber cans any time soon, I'll be dragging along Project Whisper and hanging a $750 tag on it just to see if I get any bites. The extra jingle wouldn't hurt, and I could turn a small part of it into a Mauser or an old Smith or some other old relic I'd enjoy more anyhow. (The Leupold doesn't come with it at that price, of course, although the Badger Tac-Latch and ErgoGrip do.) I'm even... and this feels a little whacky, so I may not do it... considering bringing my Delta Elite along. Not to put a price tag on, but just to see what kind of offers it gets. It's got a lot of work in it plus, like, nine or ten extra mags and I'm not dying to part with the thing, but if someone were to offer me Luger-shopping money for it, I'd be sorely tempted.

Anyhow.... Yay! Gun Show Weekend! :)

So I'm nosing through SiteMeter this morning...

...and I notice someone had been surfing from Smyrna, GA, and I think to myself "It'd be kinda cool if someone was surfing my blog at Glock."

Then I thought "You know what'd be really cool? If my blog was banned at Glock!"

It's time for a new annual award.

I'm calling it the "Annie Donnelly Memorial Award", and it goes to the most brazen example of thievery or embezzlement every year. Accountants are not eligible, as this is an amateur award. Bonus points are awarded if the arresting officer says something like "Did you really think you were going to get away with this?" when the contestant is inevitably caught with their hand in the cookie jar and Oreo crumbs smeared all over their face.

Last year, the eponymous winner walked away with the award thanks to the chutzpah she showed in walking away with 2.3 million dollars from the medical group for which she worked. Over three and a half years, those checks for bogus tongue depressor orders can really add up. She blew the wad on Lotto tickets.

Ms. Donnelly wouldn't have stood a chance this year, however. This year's winners, Darlene and Charlene Corley of Lexington, South Carolina, discovered that when their parts business filled small parts orders for the military marked "priority", nobody gave them any guff about shipping costs. Realizing that they weren't going to get rich selling $0.89 split washers to the Air Force, they decided to get rich by billing the USAF $293,451 to ship said washer. Hey, it was priority. In six years' time, they managed to ship $68,000 worth of screws and washers to the military for only $20,500,000 in shipping costs. Eventually somebody noticed, of course, and the joyride at taxpayer expense came to a screeching halt in the grey bar motel, but you have to admit that the brazenness of the thing was just breathtaking.

It's not too early to start working on next year's award. Remember, brazenness and "How in the name of all that's holy did you think you were going to get away with that?" count the heaviest in scoring. Professionals need not apply.

Pugsley makes his move.

He wants to amend the Venezuelan constitution to lengthen presidential terms and do away with term limits, but he says he doesn't want to be known as Maximum Leader For Life Chavez.

(Also, judging from some of his other requests there, if you're unfortunate enough to have anything remotely asset-like in Venezuela, you might want to get it out. Now.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I can't decide which I'd rather do...

...go to the post office, or rip a couple of fingernails out with a pair of pliers.

Ah well, the latter, while probably less unpleasant, won't get any letters mailed.

UPDATE: Got stamps at Kroger and coming home I caught the mailman exiting the neighborhood. I flagged him down, affixed stamps to my letters, and passed them from my car to his. Mission accomplished without having to enter the post office. Go Team Me!

We're the only ones qualified enough... shoot ourselves right in the neck.

What was he engaged in? A "How Many Of The Four Rules Can You Violate At Once" contest? Looks like he managed to break all four, with predictably fatal results.

Pop quiz.

What's wrong with this picture?

It's not the data, it's how you present it...

Here's the headline:
Got that? Got the proper train of thought going? Oh my god, our poor boys are killing theirownselfs! Dammit, Mr. Cheney, you bring them home right now!

If you get riled up enough, you might not even read to the last 'graph...
In 2006, the overall suicide rate for the United States was 13.4 per 100,000 people. It was 21.1 per 100,000 people for all men aged 17 to 45, compared to a rate of 17.8 for men in the Army.
Y'know, I don't mind being jerked around a little bit, Mr. Reporter, but if you want your propaganda headline to work better, you really shouldn't include the raw numbers. It makes me feel like you think I'm dumb.

Regardless of your feelings on the issue, folks, you should feel a little insulted.

How about a little fire, Scarecrow?

You know those hand-held bug zapper tennis racquet thingies? They will do a number on a Hobo Spider.

I %$^&ing hate spiders.


This Is My Life, Rated
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

That's an oddly high "spirit" score for someone who doesn't have one...

(Found at The Munchkin Wrangler.)

Today In History: Enough to put you off your feed.

Today is Children's Day in Paraguay. Sweet, isn't it? Nice, wholesome holiday...

Do you know why today is Children's Day in Paraguay? Gather 'round, children; Auntie Tam has a story to tell.

In the early 1860's, Paraguay was a little, insular, paranoid country ruled by a little, insular, paranoid dictator named Solano Lopez. Lopez was a forward thinking guy and, during a time when most of the world was reveling in the free-wheeling days of Victorian laissez-faire, he instituted mandatory conscription, with state-run factories to arm the troops, state-run railroads to transport them, and state-run telegraphs to send them orders. He even set up a state-run shipyard for constructing naval vessels. When someone pointed out that Paraguay was landlocked and had no seaports, he took his army (which had been largely trained by advisors from his ally, Brazil) and set out to steal a Brazilian seaport by marching through Uruguay, which was currently under attack by Brazil.

Uruguay's new leader decided that maybe Brazil wasn't all bad, and the two nations united against Paraguay. In an attempt to outflank them, Lopez asked permission from Argentina to move troops through Argentinian territory. When permission was refused, Mad Dog Lopez declared war on Buenos Aires and did it anyway. Now little Paraguay was at war with the Triple Alliance, including the two largest nations on the continent. The outcome was sort of a foregone conclusion.

By late 1868, the Paraguayan army had been handed a stomping and the fighting was entirely on Paraguayan territory. In December, the Alliance occupied the Paraguayan capital and sent a surrender demand to Lopez, who instead bolted for the hills. The Brazilian commander, Caxias, sent a note home to the emperor pointing out that, since they had occupied Asunción, run Lopez out of town, and killed pretty much every adult Paraguayan male of military age, the war was technically won and could they please come home now? But Pedro II wanted Lopez's head on a pike and Caxias resigned his command for "health reasons" and was replaced by the emperor's son-in-law who continued to chase Lopez into the mountains.

The Paraguayan forces, by now consisting largely of boys too young for military service, were brought to bay at Campo Grande on the 16th of August in the battle of Acosta Nũ. Twenty thousand hardened veterans from Argentina and Brazil faced some 6,000 little boys and old men, including a "Children's Battalion" of kids ranging in age from six to fifteen, and killed over two thousand, capturing 1,200 more. The Alliance forces somehow suffered 26 KIA during the lopsided butchery. Seven months later, Lopez was finally run to ground and killed, marking the end of the war. The country he had led into war had a population of over half a million. By 1871, there were barely over 220,000 people left in Paraguay. Ninety percent of the male population had died in the conflict, and it would be generations before the nation was even partially recovered from the devastation.

And that's why August 16th is Children's Day in Paraguay.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bleg: Who out there has BPCR experience?

I'm thinking about attempting to do some loading for a couple of my 19th Century rifles. (Specifically 11mm Mauser. Probably 11mm Gras and .577-450 Martini at some point, too.)

I had this really cool thing I was going to write...

...that I was bouncing off Marko yesterday, more about the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act and pendulums and ratchets, but all my piddling around in Roman history this morning has left my skull hoovered bare. Zilch. Nada. Tabula rasa. Bupkis. I know my super eloquent and totally convincing argument is still in there somewhere, because I remember I had one, but I'll be damned if I can remember the words.

I'm taking Barrayar out on the porch with a beer and a cigarette and see if anything bubbles to the surface by this afternoon.

Baseball: Home runs? Who cares?

A major league milestone occurred last night: In the fifth inning of the Braves-Giants game, Bobby Cox was tossed by umpire Ted Barrett, moving Cox past John McGraw into sole possession of first place on the "Ejected From Most Games" list in Major League Baseball.

They did not play a congratulatory video message by McGraw, since he died over 42 years before VHS was introduced.

Politics: That metaphor's getting stretchmarks.

I was going to title this post "Oh, really? Where are our foederati then?", but most folks aren't literate enough on the topic of the late Roman empire to know what "foederati" are. Apparently you can count David Walker, the comptroller general of the U.S., among that number. In an attempt to add pizazz to his "We're All Gonna Die" evaluation of the nation's future prospects, he claimed striking similarities between the U.S.A. of today and the last days of the Roman empire. (I'm assuming he's referring to the fizzling out of the Western Empire and not the storming of Constantinople by the Turks in the mid-15th Century.) According to him, these similar factors are
“declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

Where to start? As far as "declining moral values" goes, I can't see that the Western empire was any more decadent in the 5th Century AD than it was in the 1st Century BC. Heck, by the early 400s, gladiatorial combat had been outlawed after declining in popularity for half a century, monasticism was increasing in popularity, and Christianity of an early and austere form was the state religion. This tends to come as a surprise to people who hear "Rome" and immediately think of that bootleg copy of Caligula they watched on their parents' Betamax back in the day. As far as "political incivility" goes, "politics" as we know them were largely unknown in the late empire; the Senate had devolved into a senescent gentleman's club, and the imperial administration was thoroughly autocratic. Rome's military was overstretched, but it was overstretched within its own frontier and not in foreign lands. The manpower shortage in the legions became acute, with citizens of the empire going so far as to cut off their own right thumbs to avoid conscription. Recruits had to be branded to reduce desertion. The desperate gambit of forcing the sons of the men who served in the limitanei, or border militias, to be literally born into the garrison didn't even help. Which brings us back around to foederati.

The Roman army was stretched too thin to prevent constant incursions by Germans, most of whom were less interested in plunder than they were in settling down in Roman territory and enjoying the good life, which they didn't understand came with things like property deeds and taxes attached. Thus came the foederati system. Tribes would be allowed to cross the border and live under their own laws, speaking their own language, in their own areas within the empire, on the condition that they signed a treaty of friendship with Rome and that they provided troops for the army. These troops used their own equipment, fought in their own style and under their own leaders, and by the time of Stilicho or Aetius, it could be hard to tell a Roman army from the Germans or Huns they faced.

In the end, the Roman empire in the west never really fell. It just sort of dissolved, with tribal areas growing like inkblots, and tribes moving into the empire without asking permission. When all was said and done, they just sent the crown back to Constantinople, as there wasn't really an empire in the west any more, only a bunch of Germanic kingdoms with Roman priests and merchants and clerks. So, yes, the end of the empire in the west is fascinating history. I just wonder how much of it Mr. Walker has studied.

(H/T to Cameron Bailey.)

Today In History: ...- .---

Happy VJ Day.


So, like I do every day, I went to Wikipedia to check on the date for any good "Today In History" post ideas. I noticed that today was the day that the treacherous Basques bushwhacked the army of Chuck the Main at Roncevaux Pass, killing one Roland. It turns out that "Roland" was just the nom de legend of one Hruodlandus, who had the job title of Brittannici limitis praefectus, or Guy In Charge Of The Border With Brittany.

One of the interesting bits of terrain in the area that the now-deceased Hruodlandus was in charge of was the island of Mont Tombe, or as it later came to be called, Mont Saint-Michel. Mont Saint-Michel has become distinctly less islandy as the surrounding bay has silted up, but French taxpayers are going to fix that by taking it in the shorts to the tune of a hojillion Francs or Euros or whatever the hell they're using for money over there this week.

Anyhow, Wikipedia notes that a movie, entitled Mindwalk, was filmed on this island. I remember my dad speaking pretty highly of this flick some years back and it looked to be right up my alley, since I loved What The Bleep Do We Know? and The Turning Point. Only it's not available in DVD and old VHS tapes are priced like imported sin. (I saw some going for over a C-note in my searching.) Le sigh. Hopefully it will have a DVD release before too long.

...and that was my Wikiwandering for the morning. :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Ask not what your country can do for you..."

Okay, I won't.

Actually, short of the whole "Keep the heathen Chinee fleet away from the coasts", I'd really rather my country not do anything for me.

But since it insists on trying to do all kinds of stuff for me anyway in its inept but well-meaning way, I'll settle for asking my country not to do anything to me. Can we compromise on that?

K Thx.

Oh really? How nice!

A friend called recently to let me know that they were about to be published in dead tree format. "Oh really? Now nice!" I replied, and then was forced to share this joke:

Two Atlanta matrons are sitting in an airliner on the Hartsfield tarmac, bound for a holiday season junket to London. One looks at the other and says "Did you know, my Edward bought me this trip for Christmas. Paid for the whole thing."

The second woman looked at her and replied "Why, how nice! How very, very nice!"

"And do you know what else he got me for Christmas?" continued the first, waving a digit sporting an enormous rock around "This beautiful diamond ring!"

"Why, how nice! How very, very nice!" said her seatmate.

"To top it all off, he gave me this grand fur coat, to keep the awful English chill away," finished the first lady, beaming smugly as she patted the luxurious mink.

Dutifully, the second responded with "Why, how nice! How very, very nice!"

"And what did your husband give you for Christmas?"

"Oh," was the airy response "Just a book on etiquette."

"A book on etiquette? Whatever good is that?"

"Well," said the long-suffering woman with an air of great patience, "It taught me to say 'How nice! How very, very nice!' instead of 'F&*$ you.'"