Friday, March 28, 2008

The primary has returned to the safe house, repeat, primary in safehouse

To explain the recent lack of blogging:

Last week, in accordance with an urgent summons, I mounted my brave steed (the wife's Forrester actually) and ventured to the barbarian south of my birth (Oregon). There I did manly battle with hippies and yuppies (well, those were mostly in Seattle and I more hissed at them than did battle) and was reunited with my long lost siblings (fairly true, actually).

It was the first time since my sister's wedding that all three of us were under my parents' roof at one time and the first time in seven or eight years where we actually got to spend more than a few hours together. The happy coincidence of our visit covering Easter was a bonus as well.

The circumstances concerning our visits weren't so serendipitous. Rotten daughter #2, aka. the middle child (my middle child), was taken to Doernbecher's, by her biological father, with dizziness spells and vomiting. Spent a few days at the hospital while she returned to normal. Her shunt was adjusted (she has hydrocephalus) and we were able to take her to my parent's house.

Other reasons for the reunion are personal to someone else and not mine to post about, so I won't.

The good news is, the whole family got to spend time together. Mother and I patched up an old dispute sans rancor, I learned a few rather interesting things, and my brother finally got to get to know our brother-in-law.

I'll be posting more about some things that happened, including a really odd dream, later. I have a bit of long put off computer maintenance to attend to first.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Introducing the poetry corner!

I know, I know, poetry is for sissies, etc. Whatever, it's my blog.

The Commando's Prayer
Give me, my God, what you still have;
give me what no one asks for.
I do not ask for wealth, nor success,
nor even health.
People ask you so often, God, for all that,
that you cannot have any left.
Give me, my God, what you still have.
Give me what people refuse to accept from you.
I want insecurity and disquietude;
I want turmoil and brawl.
And if you should give them to me,
my God, once and for all,
let me be sure to have them always,
for I will not always
have the courage to ask for them.
Corporal Zirnheld
Special Air Service
Hardly what I'd call a sissy poem. More will follow.

The Model 1216

I found this on Defense Review, and I really want one, conditionally.

While I've never been as big a fan of shotguns as most firearm enthusiasts, even I think they're the best thing for home defense. Far more power than a pistol, without the over penetration worries of a rifle (assuming you use buck, which you should).

The Model 1216 is an attempt to solve two of the biggest complaints about shotguns. First, the limited magazine capacity and, secondly, the time consuming reloading process. This thing has four mag tubes, as opposed to one, and the whole works can be detached so you can quickly swap in another loaded assembly.

I'd be bound and determined to buy one if it weren't for one little concern. The mag tubes have to be manually rotated. So, you can fire however many round you have in a given tube, then rotate a fresh one in to resume fire. I see a little problem with that.

Ever seen a movie where, in the midst of the dramatic fight scene, someone goes to take a shot that would certainly kill a more important character, and instead the weapon goes 'click'? I've been that guy. Granted, hearing a 'click' on an empty tube with this shotgun wouldn't be as bad as with a pump gun. Just rotate the next tube and go to work, as opposed to having to load the tube one shell at a time (or combat load while fighting, which is way worse).

I'd have to take one to the range and try a few things out and see how they worked. I think I'd try rotating after each shot, train the muscles to rotate the tubes as soon as you feel the recoil. In any event, even if I decide I liked it and bought one, it'd be one of those guns you have to completely retrain yourself to use effectively.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke

The last of the big three has died. While of the three (Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke) he was my least favorite, that's hardly a condemnation considering his contemporaries. He wrote 2001, A space Odyssey, 2010, Rendezvous with Rama, and many other greats. He even originated the idea of geosynchronous orbit.

He was a visionary and he dared us to look beyond the horizons of our little planet and into space.

Writer's block

Despite valiant effort, my recent writing has produced nothing worth posting. I've tried four times now to finish a post titled 'Fear is the mind killer' and have thus far failed consistently to present my points in anything resembling a clear concise manner.

So I shall place it on the back burner for another day.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sugar and spice and everything nice...

You may have heard about the Target under-the-skirt-cameraman. Rachel Lucas has an excellent post on it here. While I'm just as repulsed by the pervert's actions as anyone else, I seem to be lacking in sympathy for the victim. Lucas makes some very good points in the same vein, I highly recommend you read her entire post, and the comments.

I told the wifey about the whole sordid tale and told her I lacked sympathy for the victim. She looked at me like I'd grown horns (happens a lot). Then I asked her, "Could that happen to you?" She seemed shocked I'd even ask and then my point of view clicked with her. Of course it couldn't happen to her, if some stranger tried to get that close to her she would have noticed it instantly and tried to move away, if that failed, she'd have told him to back the hell off.

Which brings us to the point of this little offering. It's bad enough that women are, on the average, smaller and physically weaker than men, but the blatant inattention to their surroundings combined with the ingrained 'be nice' reflex is what really makes them likely candidates for victimization.

Bollocks to that!

I understand fully well that from a young age little girls are, again, on average, less aggressive than boys and that's perfectly normal and I have no problem with it. Also, children are taught not to settle disputes on their own, to get a teacher, parent, adult. I don't disagree with that either to a certain extent, but no one is taught what to do when no one else is available. The rough and tumble nature of coming of age as a boy traditionally (not so much any more) has taught young boys how to deal with bullies and other predators. Not so much with little girls.

Which leads to a phenomenon I've noticed a lot. It's not true of everyone (nothing ever is), but a great many women refuse to confront someone until it's way too late. In the example of the Target pervert, she may, or may not, have noticed the guy standing way to close to her, but if she did, she didn't say anything about it or try to get away. A lot of women would have noticed, and not done anything about it. It's not because they're too scared, it's because they don't want to be mean.

Let me kick a much abused equine corpse here. There is absolutely nothing wrong or mean about defending your personal space. Nor with watching someone your instincts have tagged as a threat. If someone gets within arm's reach (yours or theirs, whoever has more reach) move away. If they don't let you or you don't have room, TELL THEM TO BACK OFF. If that doesn't work, push the issue. No one has any business invading your personal space uninvited. If they're there and you don't want them there, get them out of there.

Your personnel space is your early warning system. The bad guys know psychology just as well as we do. They know that if they invade your personnel space and you don't challenge them, you may feel complicit in your own attack. It is next to impossible for a women to fight effectively when she has feelings of complicity. It's why repressive regimes will force a female prisoner to strip herself prior to questioning. Your personal space is sacred and inviolate, don't let anyone into it without your permission.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A visit to the bookstore

I love going to bookstores. Neurotically so. The simple pleasure of being able to sift through shelf after shelf of nothing but books is why I almost never order books online, even if it is easier and often cheaper. I always have a few books I'm looking for in particular (and if I can't find them I'll get the store to order them) when I'm at a bookstore, but I always find one or two I would have never looked at while scanning the book racks.

Alas, there is only one bookstore worth mentioning (ie. the only one with a sci-fi section) here on my little island. The good news is, it has a huge section of used books. I love the old sci-fi and I feel like I'm digging up buried treasure as I sift through finding the occasional golden age classic (still haven't found Time enough for love though).

But today was something beyond just a normal visit to the bookstore. Oh, I picked up some of my usual fare; Pyramid Scheme by Eric Flint, another of his rather tongue-in-cheek surrealist stories, Star Strike by Ian Douglas, the first book in the third trilogy of his space marines stories, Celestial Hit List by Charles Ingrid, third book in the Sand Wars which has eluded me for a few weeks now, Anvil of Stars by Greg bear, a dimly remembered favorite from childhood. The real treat, however, was the smallest and cheapest book I bought.

Shortly before I joined the Navy (about a decade ago), I read a brief reference to another Greg Bear book called Hard Fought. At the time, I didn't think much of it, I just made a mental note to pick it up sometime. Boot camp came and went, then in A-school I remembered it and figured I needed some recreational reading anyway. Except, I couldn't find it. Not a big deal, even the three large bookstores at the local mall couldn't have every book. Then they couldn't order it because their distributors didn't have it either. The heck? About that time my training schedule began getting increasingly hectic and as I endured my whirlwind of a training pipeline I had to put it out of my mind.

It was two years after joining the navy that life calmed down a little bit (briefly) and I remembered having looked for this one book. I still knew very little about this book except that it had eluded me. That seems to be the single motivating factor here. So I checked the bookstores around my new command. Nope, of course not, and none of them could order it either. That seems to have done it. I got online and looked for it. Zip. When the Navy had me travel I would visit any bookstore I came across, if I had the time, and look. After awhile of doing that, I made up some contact cards and started giving them out to anyone who might come across a copy along with a twenty dollar bill and the promise of more, all over the world. The harder I looked for this damn book, the worse I wanted it. I even joined several internet groups that specialized in rare books. Four or five years into this sad tale, I even paid to have professionals find a copy. Nothing. One of my forum buddies did find a copy once, a few years back, but it was gone before he got a hold of me.

The worst part about it was, I heard from a few people who started looking after I did and managed to get a copy. So while it was rare, it wasn't that rare.

This carried on for ten years. TEN YEARS. I didn't even specify a first edition or anything else, just a copy, any copy, of the damned book.

You see where this is going, right? Of course you do.

I walked into my local bookstore today, looked around in sci-fi section (not sure the store has any other sections) for about thirty seconds and, yeah, there it was.

Bribing bookstore owners the world over: $20 (x?)
Contracting finder’s agencies: $50-150 (x4)
Finding the damn book for $2.00 at the local bookstore: priceless

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax, rest in peace

A paragon of the geek world died today. Gary Cygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and the father of tabletop role-playing, was 69 and is survived by his wife and six children.

Why do I care? Because Gary Cygax shaped an entire generation of geeks (self included) who are now the ones making movies, writing books, and programming video games. Role playing games forced us normally anti-social geeks to band together so we could play, more, that it was okay to be a geek.

Hard to thank someone enough for that.

Everybody was kung-fu fighting...

I suppose that title probably dates me a bit. Oh well.

A lot is made these days of studying martial arts for self defense and I'm inclined to think of this as a good thing. However, there is a great deal myth, balderdash, and outright untruths associated with them and learning effective fighting techniques from a martial art is rarely as straightforward as it should be.

I shall endeavor to dispel some of these myths first:

1. Martial arts are useless in a fight. I list this one first because, like many myths, there's a kernel of truth to it in many cases. In fact, this one would be a truism if it weren't applied with such a broad brush. However, the right system with the right instructor can be a devastatingly effective means of defense. More on that later.

2. Martial arts are just for kids. This, of course, comes from the fact that children and teens are much more likely to be interested in them than adults. Kids are naturally more energetic and rough-and-tumble than adults, but that's hardly an effective condemnation. If you want to learn to protect yourself, you're going to have to work at it and be willing to take some knocks.

3. If I have a gun (knife, baton, OC spray), I don't need to know how to fight with my hands. Sheer and utter balderdash. I've been carrying firearms and other weapons the entirety of my adult life and I've had many occasions to defend myself with my hands. I've had to break a hold, kick my attacker in the knee, and then back up to draw my sidearm, just to give one example. Just talking to some of the people I've worked with, I could come up with two dozen other example at a minimum.

4. This particular style is the only effective one, or that particular one is totally useless. While I've been guilty of thinking that way at times, the fact is the effectiveness depends largely on the instructor, and how much he emphasizes defense, and the student, and how much he takes from it. While certain martial arts are certainly less likely to be useful than others, they all have something to offer.

5. I'm a small person and could never fight off an attacker, or I'm big and don't need any training to defend myself. Again, a kernel of truth. (Another myth is that size doesn't matter, but I'll cover that here.) There's an old joke among martial artists, 'Size doesn't matter, unless the other guy is bigger.' In other words, just because your opponent is smaller, doesn't mean he can't beat you, or if you're smaller, well, you may be in trouble. Size does matter, but it doesn't necessarily trump all other factor. With two people of equal skill, speed, and fitness, yeah, the bigger one will probably win, but how often does such a match up happen? In the extreme, can a tiny little girl beat a huge, muscular man? Yep, I've seen it both in the dojo (where I was the big muscular guy) and in the real world (where I saw a female cop throat punch a suspect armed with a knife and follow it up with a shot to the wedding tackle). Above all else, the will to win/live is the most important thing.

To my way of thinking, there are two basic schools of martial arts. Man-handling and skull-cracking (apologies to SJ games).

Man-handling is largely about subduing your opponent with a minimum of injury to your attacker. It's primarily useful for police, prison guards, and others who may want to subdue a subject with minimal injury. To my way of thinking, this makes it inappropriate for self defense, despite the popularity of 'soft' martial arts for just that purpose.

Skull-cracking is about taking a perfectly healthy human being and reducing him to a quivering mass of shattered bones and burst internal organs. That alone highly recommends for defensive usage. Soldiers, defensively minded citizens, street fighters and many others primarily will use skull-cracking.

The distinction is a bit blurry as most martial arts will include elements of both, but if you look critically, you can usually distinguish a particular move or series of moves as one or the other. It is not striking vs. grappling, it is the results they deal with. While pretty much every strike is a form of skull-cracking, I've seen, and used, a lot of grappling techniques that pull joints out of socket or out right break them.

If you have to defend yourselves with your hands, obviously you want use whatever will give you the best chance to emerge intact. This is why I strongly discourage people to grapple with their attacker. Most people, when grappling, will do just that, grapple. An experience street fighter may tackle you and try to take you down, but he's also going to try bashing your head into the ground, head butting, punching, kicking, or whatever else he can to hurt you. Without experience, it's very hard to grapple effectively against someone who doesn't follow sparring rules. If you can fight on the ground like that, hey, go for it. Otherwise, you're best bet is to break contact, get enough distance to safely draw a weapon, and do so. Breaking contact and getting distance will almost certainly mean getting your hands dirty as your attacker is unlikely to want to let you move away. Hence the skull cracking. Hurt him and then you can move away unhindered.

All that having been said, if you want to learn to defend yourself, you have to find someone who will teach you how to fight. Maybe they won't share my exact views on how to best defend yourself, but they should at least have the same mentality. The problem is, with the commercialization of the martial arts, especially Asian arts, there has been a drive to make them more 'kid-friendly' and kinder/gentler. While any training is probably better than none, you should try to avoid these instructor like the plague. You want an instructor who believes in teaching fighting, not sparring. They can be very hard to find, but they are out there.

How do you tell a good instructor? Well, you want someone who encourages full contact sparring, does his best to minimize injuries, but understands you need to learn how to take a hit and keep going. Minimal or no emphasis on forms or katas (I know I'll get flamed for that, but so what, I'm fair sure I know what I'm talking about). A really good sign is an instructor who occasionally will bring in a red man suit and allow the students to practice the really damaging techniques. An emphasis on the proper execution of move is not, however, a bad sign. Power comes from leverage and technique, so it's a good sign if he wants you to do it a certain way. Lastly, an instructor should know that real fights never occur in a semi-scripted manner, ie strike, counter/block, back off, strike, counter/block, lather rinse repeat. It looks pretty and allows people to show off their more complex moves, but very poorly simulates a real fight.

Where are you most likely to find these instructors? Well, I can tell you generalities, but the fact is you just have to go see for yourself. Tae kwon do is, in my mind, one of the most commercialized, nerfed martial arts in the US and your odds of learning effective defense from it are tiny. However, when I was taking it as a kid, I did meet a few instructors how taught how to fight and fight to win. Not my own instructor, although he wanted to, because he was part of a multi-national school that wanted to encourage kids to join up. On the flip side, of the many Jujitsu instructors I've met, I'd say slightly more than half of them were the right kind of instructor and while I have yet to take Krav maga (it's on the list), I've never even heard of an instructor for it who doesn't teach how to defend yourself very effectively.

In the end, however, you just have to find the right instructor.

Edited to add:

It occurred to me, a bit late, that the above post makes it seem like I disdain any martial art's school that doesn't teach effective self-defense. I didn't mean to. The above was written from the perspective of learning effective self-defense from martial arts. There is nothing wrong at all with going to a dojo, with your kids even, for fun, competition, getting in shape, being part of a tradition, or for any other reason.

Also, the 'softer' methods I refer to as man-handling are perfectly appropriate for use in self defense against someone who you don't want to hurt and can subdue gently without placing yourself in undue risk. Again, I was speaking in the context of life threatening danger.