sneak and peak
Kerry trashed the Patriot Act for allowing "sneak-and-peak" searches. Blaster's Blog
has some fascinatnig history about Kerry and these kinds of searches.
blood for oil
This discussion on Roger L. Simmon
is terrific. Be sure to read the comments to learn how France and Russia were bribed by Saddam --the governments
were bribed-- and yet the New York Times is only interested in reporting that a few American companies took relatively trivial kickbacks.
One of the biggest corruption scandals in history isn't worth covering. But if a few American oil companies were involved at the fringes, well that's news.
Cluebat is pretty upset
with this woman
who divorced her husband while he was in Iraq and tried to get his parental rights dissolved on the grounds that he hasn't been doing his parental duties since he's been in Iraq.
I think it's a good idea to avoid jumping to conclusions here. Just because the guy is in Iraq doesn't prove that he's a fit father. Maybe the woman is a unbelievable bitch, but maybe she's just trying to protect herself and her daughter.
But obviously as a general rule, this kind of thing ought not to be allowed. And if it's at all possible, the judge ought to slap down her attorney for trying it.
Robert Franklin responds to my doubts about his ship identification
It seems after reading about the flag issue that I was also incorrect. That pic is the prototype Philip Roberts used for the HMS Grasshopper...the USS Washington. Same basic ship...different flag. Attached is another of her stern. Notice that the main mast (the one in the aft postion) has yards on top. The main on the Prince does not. Also the brig and the Prince have a different set up for the jib sails on the bow. There are many other things that are different to include the hull shape, the sails, the paint scheme, ships boat and armorment....etc.
and in another note
Just a side note...captured ships often changed owners/flags after being re-crewed and re-fitted. Some also flew the flag of the enemy to gain an advantage or just to make an escape. Not that American crews would think of doing it.....hehehehehehe....Don't Tread on Me!
He sends these pictures:
Surprise, Washington and Prince
Washington and Prince
I just saw my first presidential debate of the season. Well, more heard it than saw it. The CSPAN on-line video wasn't much use.
I thought Kerry was the more appealing character because I tend to value calmness more than intensity. But I'm extremely atypical in things like that.
The best line was where Kerry told the audience that he could tell by looking at them that they weren't in the same league with him and the other two on stage with him. The audience had to love that.
Next best was the meandering answer that could have been reduced to, "I deeply respect your beliefs about how abortion is murder, but I'm going to force you to help pay for them anyway, but I'm real sympathetic." Unfortunately, I think he may have separated the "I deeply respect" part from the "I'm going to force you to pay" part enough that a lot of viewers didn't quite get it. Especially since he didn't say it outright. He just said he thinks poor people have a right to abortion that is so profound that, well, we as nation just can't let them go without.
Bush had a funny response to that answer, but I think he would have been better off if he had bluntly translated it for the audience like I just did.
Kerry did give Bush some well-deserved zingers on spending and the deficit. If I thought for a minute that Kerry was serious about balancing the budget and not co-opting the entire medical industry into a federal bureaucracy, I'd be tempted to vote for him. Of course I could never actually do it. His betrayal of our country in Vietnam and Iraq makes him unfit for any office, much less president.
Kerry at one point said that he wasn't going to "take over" health care --you could go on using your more expensive private alternatives if you wanted. What he didn't mention was that you would be subsidizing the federal plan whether you joined or not. It's sort of like public schooling. You're paying for public schooling whether your kids go there or not. But that doesn't mean we're taking away any choices. Oh, no. You are perfectly free to pay for schooling twice.
That's how people like Kerry want it. Only the rich can afford something better than average. Everybody else gets crammed into a one-size-fits-all box. We non-rich have no choice about how to allocate our own resources to fit our own priorities.
maybe Bush isn't so bad
George Will's latest column
suggests that Bush is more economically conservative than I thought. It would be nice to believe this...
Here's something that I wrote many years ago as part of a novel. I liked the character development so I thought it would make a good post.
Daniel is an elderly gent I've been building up as an extraordinarily gentle and thoughtful guy. This is a flashback to Daniel's younger days.
Daniel pulled himself up into a crack in the rock where he could wedge his body and rest. He swung his rifle around in front so as not to crush it between his back and the rock. He then braced himself in a near-sitting position to free his hands. He was breathing heavily, the hot desert air scalding his throat. His shirt was barely damp even though he was sweating copiously, because the dry desert wind sucked away the moisture as soon as his sweat glands produced it. But now that he was in the crack and out of the wind, he was starting to feel sweat trickling down his forehead and into his eyes. He pressed a damp sleeve against his forehead to dry it.
The rock he was climbing was an outcrop of shale near the top of a jagged cactus-covered hill. He was several hundred feet above the desert floor. Up here the gusts of wind actually felt cool. To the men crawling on the desert floor below him the wind would feel like it came from a blast furnace. It was an early afternoon in late summer in the Sonoran desert, near the US-Mexican border. The temperatures hovered around 115 degrees in the shade. This was a good time for a sneak attack, when the target unit may be letting down on security due to the heat.
On the un-shaded desert floor where Daniel's company crawled, the temperature would be closer to 180 degrees, but the men could not stand up or they might be seen by the target unit. The enemy was an encampment of Mexican troops on the other side of the hill, a couple of tanks and around 40 troops, according to satellite data. Daniel's company numbered only 28, but they had the advantages of surprise, better training, and better equipment. The Americans could also call in reliable support in the form of artillery and air strikes, while the Mexicans were pretty much on their own. The American forces had complete air superiority, and when there where no Mexican planes around, the American pilots amused themselves by beating up on Mexican artillery units.
The Mexican troops would be largely drawn from the poverty-stricken masses of Mexico City and forced into service for a dictator that they hated. They were pawns in the truest sense of the word, pieces thrown into the middle of the board to draw an attack, and hopefully to leave the attacking unit vulnerable. Daniel felt sorry for them, but they were a danger, and could not be left where they were. The tanks had anti-aircraft capability, so it was not considered worth the risk to just send in the choppers to take them out. That left the job to the nearest ground unit.
Daniel looked up to see how far he had yet to climb the dangerously flaky rock. Not far. He felt the shale digging painfully into his back and left knee, but he ignored it as he pulled out his canteen and drank deeply. In such intense heat it is necessary to drink enormous amounts of water. He gazed down the vertical fifty foot cliff that he had climbed. The height did not bother him at all. Odd. If he were standing on a balcony at this height he would be feeling a tightening in his stomach, and it would take a real act of courage to lean on the rail. But for some reason, when he climbed a building, tree, or rock face there was no fear at all. He had always liked climbing.
Again, Daniel wiped his forehead with a sleeve to dry the trickles of sweat, then brought his rifle scope to his eye to examine the terrain below him. The company seemed to be making good progress, it looked like the attack would go off as scheduled. This was his first battle and he felt his heart thump every time his thoughts turned to wondering if some other sniper might be at this very moment centering him in his sights.
As this thought occurred to him again, he brought the scope forward to where the troops were heading. He should not be able to see any of the enemy yet from this point, but it couldn't hurt to check. He scanned the desert landscape, verifying that the only soldiers on the field were on his side.
As he examined the battle field he thought about how this company was not the one the one he had trained with. Normally, a sniper would return from sniper school to the unit he had gone through basic training with, but the soldiers who had gone through basic training with Daniel had requested that he not come back.
Daniel noticed a bit of movement and focused on it. It was an American soldier crawling through an arroyo. The sides of the dry stream bed would offer some shade, but there would be no wind at all down there, it must be miserable.
Daniel had not really cared that he was not liked by his fellow soldiers, it was a common enough pattern in his life. He never understood it, but it was a fact. He supposed that it was partly his own fault, since he never had made any effort to fit in.
He scanned up the arroyo to spot a few more American soldiers.
What bothered him most about the re-assignment was what his basic-training sergeant had told him: people thought he was cold and distant. He didn't understand that. Sure, he was quiet and not very expressive, but people around him almost seemed to be afraid of him, like he was a psychopath or something.
Another bit of motion caught Daniel's eye and he increased magnification to identify what looked like a Gila monster -- a large poisonous lizard.
His sergeant had recommended Daniel for sniper school because he thought Daniel had no empathy. He thought Daniel could kill without hesitation or remorse, just like a sniper ought. "It's different from real combat," the sergeant had told Daniel, trying to be helpful, "It take a special kind of soldier to look at a guy close-up in your sights and pop him. Some men hesitate. Some can't do it at all. But I've known men like you, private. Cold eye. No hesitation. No empathy."
Daniel had been hurt by the sergeant's words. Just because a man doesn't party with the others. Just because the chanting and inter-platoon competitions and other team-building exercises annoy him. Just because he doesn't smile a lot or scowl or show emotions. That doesn't mean he lacks feelings. Daniel had as much empathy as anyone.
Now, the newly trained sniper focused on another bit of motion, and saw something so unexpected it took him a moment to recognize what he was seeing. It was another sniper. And the other sniper was scoping right back at him.
The face behind the scope belonged to a young Mexican soldier who could be no more than 17. He looked just as frightened as Daniel felt. The young Mexican soldier was already doomed as Daniel noticed this, because Daniel had squeezed the trigger the instant he recognized the threat.
An touch later, the other rifle flashed and Daniel ducked down as much as he could. At these ranges it took bullets almost a second to travel, so he was already keying his microphone as he heard a crack on the rock behind him. ``Contact. Contact.'' he announced on the general channel.
Then he straightened up to re-acquire the sniper he had shot at. As he had expected, the boy who was too slow to fire was also too slow to dodge. There was a nasty hole in the middle of his face.
Daniel began scanning for other enemy soldiers. Distant machine guns open up. Daniel keyed his mike to his designated spotter channel: ``Emergency. Emergency. Two hard strikes needed this position, ten-second delay on second strike. Two hard strikes. This position. Ten seconds between strikes. Emergency.''
As he talked he was scanning for the tank that mounted the machine gun. By now there were shots all over the battle field. He spotted another sniper, so he squeezed the trigger and watched the man die. Then he scanned quickly on for the tank so that he could paint it for the anti-armor artillery that was on its way.
Daniel spotted the first tank just as his earphones beeped with a signal telling him that the artillery was on its approach and needed terminal guidance. As he had expected, the machine gun was mounted on the tank, and it was being fired from inside by camera. He painted the tank with his targeting laser. Since he had to keep his aim on the tank for a few seconds anyway, he shot out the camera.
A few seconds later, the tank's 185mm cannon boomed. The tank commander knew he was spotted when the cameras was destroyed, so he was going to get off a shot and then scramble. But he did not know that the artillery was already on its way. The tank was just starting to move when an armor-piercing shell smashed into the dome.
Daniel barely registered the destruction of the tank before he was methodically searching for the other one to paint for the second artillery shell. He didn't find it, but he took out two more enemy soldiers as he was passing by.
There was a sharp cracking sound behind him and he felt shale fragments pattering the back of his neck. Daniel hurled forward, clutching the front of the crack he was in. He curled as far in as he could.
Another sniper had spotted him. Fortunately, a poor sniper. Daniel had no hope of finding the other sniper before he was killed, so his only choice was evasion. Another crack testified that the sniper could still see part of his body. Luckily for him the guy was really
Daniel could not go down without coming further into the open, so he began scrambling up the crack. The crack deepened quickly and as he hugged the inside, he heard no more near misses. He hoped that he was out of sight.
As he neared the top, he glimpsed motion above him and quickly wedged himself in the crack, pulling his rifle into position. Just as the scope came to his eye, a Mexican soldier looked over the edge. Another 17-year-old pawn. Daniel shot him in the face. The boys brains spattered and some of them fell down on Daniel who hardly noticed as he pulled a grenade, jerked out the pin, and clicked the button twice for a 4-second delay.
He hurled it up onto the top of the hill to destroy any more dangerous children that might be up there. He lurched up two more hand-holds, before bracing himself and covering his head. The grenade went off above and before the dust cleared he was at the top of the cliff.
There were two more bodies on the crest, and one of them was moving. Daniel saw the face of the moving one and could tell that this boy was no more than 13 or 14. He shouted in Spanish for the boy to drop his weapon and hold his hands up. But the young soldier tried to point his rifle, and Daniel killed him.
"Danny?"' Daniel looked up, startled to see Sarah looking at him, he had been so lost in his memories that he had no idea what the conversation was about.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. When Zareda mentioned my combat experience, I got to thinking about the war." After the battle, one Corporal Daniel Greaves, rookie sniper, was decorated for neutralizing 14 enemy soldiers and one tank, as well as having detected an ambush and saving the company.
"I was just saying that it's hard to believe you were ever a sniper." Sarah repeated. "You're so gentle and tender-hearted, I can't imagine you ever taking a cold deliberate aim and killing another human being."
After the battle, Daniel had heard someone describe him as a cold-blooded killer, and his feelings were hurt. He certainly didn't enjoy killing, and he felt sorry for those Mexican soldiers. How could anyone call him cold-hearted?
"It was war, Sarah. I guess we all did what we had to."
"Didn't you just agonize every time you had to ... you know?" she asked, determined to be sympathetic. "I just can't see you killing someone in cold blood like that. Not you!"
Daniel paused to search for an answer that would be both honest and diplomatic. He didn't want these new friends to know what he was really like, what he had come to admit about himself as the war progressed. His eyes were far away again, and his voice quiet when he finally answered, "I never wanted to be a cold-blooded killer."
stooping to their level and having fun while doing it
Roscoe has some pertinent observations
on blogger qualifications. He quotes Nick Colman in an MSM column:
Bloggers are hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.
Then he gives a pretty devastating counter-example.
Personally, I am
one of those hobby hacks, but some bloggers are a lot more qualified than the journalist in question, so I get to say "Nyah, nyah! You're stupid!" to the columnist in question in virtue of my fellow blogger's expertise.
Whose the respectable one now, Nick Coleman? Huh? Your newspaper sucks and
blows. Nyah. Nyah. Nyah.
See, some of us can even do childish insults better than Coleman. We've got it all
over those guys.
has a list of recent incidents of violence against Republicans.
You know, it's considered rude among most of the non-nuts on the web to compare people to Nazis. But let's not forget who the brownshirts were: they were a gang of Nazi thugs who used violence to intimidate political rivals. The only people using and condoning tactics like that today are the leftist Bush-haters.
These people say it's dangerous hate-mongering when you say anything negative about homosexual activities. Supposedly, just the expression of disapproval can encourage violence against gays. But then they say that Bush stole the election, that Bush is killing people for his own financial gain, that Republicans want to starve children and leave old people to freeze, that Republicans hate gays and blacks, that Karl Rove lies and uses dirty tricks, and lots of other inflammatory things.
If just observing that homosexual activity is wrong constitutes an incitement of violence against gays, what are these other statements? Well, now we know.
Those smart guys in Congress have taken my advice
on the bill to reinstate the draft (link from Milblog
As expected, the press is spinning this as much against the Republicans as they can, talking about how scared Republicans are of the rumor and pointing out gratuitously
The vote, however, doesn't prevent the issue from returning in the new session of Congress in January.
This is just the first stage of the response though. The next stage is for Republicans to start mentioning this in all their speeches. And if CBS doesn't pick it up, to start asking why it was a big story when it was an unfounded rumor, but not that Congress has spoken nearly unanimously on it, CBS doesn't want to talk about it any more. That's assuming that CBS doesn't do a segment on it, of course.
Unfortunately they haven't announced the first step in my plan, elimination of the Selective Service Commission. I think that step is essential to show that they are serious. Otherwise more snotty newsmen are going to finish stories on this by saying thing like "of course they can always bring it up again".
Yeah, when 402 of them are on record voting against it. That's going to happen.
teachers and politics
has an interesting story of a teacher and her conflict with school administrators (link from Michelle Malkin
). There are two radically different stories being told about what happened. The teacher says she was fired for having a picture of the president and his wife on a bulletin board. The administration says she had several other pictures up and that she was using her position as a political soap box and that they didn't fire her.
I don't know what the truth is here. If the administration is right, then something needed to be done. But I can't help thinking of all the high school and junior high kids in the Bay Area who were given school days off to attend the peace protests in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
You don't think those kids were subject to some partisan political indoctrination? Why weren't there any teachers pressured over that? I suspect this has to do with the deepening divisions in the country and who is really causing them. The left blames Bush for the divisions, and yet it is the left that can't seem to be civil. It's the left that has tried to stop the right from speaking.
In these two cases, the teacher in the story and the entire school systems in the peace protests, Democrats saw fit to complain about political speech they didn't like and Republicans saw fit to live and let live. Who is it that is causing partisan divisions here?
Tom Harrison has a great summary
of the Cheney/Edwards debate.
The third Storyblogging Carnival
is coming. Get your entry in!
I'm still working on mine...
Haliburton vs. personal injury
Mostly Cajun has some interesting points
on the Haliburton smear.
an X prize for the X-15?
on the X prize competition mentions that the world altitude record for an aircraft was set in 1963 by an X-15. It reached an altitude high enough to win the X prize. So, why didn't someone try to just buy an old X-15 to compete for the X prize?
science fiction and Schlock
I've been wasting way too much time lately reading through the Schlock Mercenary
archives (thanks a lot, Donald
). Although it is silly in a lot of ways, the comic strikes me as real science fiction, compared with Star Trek which often doesn't. I've been trying to understand what it is that gives me that impression and I think I've finally got it.
What leads to the confusion is that science fiction is a genre, not just a setting. A setting is the world in which a story happens. For example, a western happens in the United States, ca. 1880. That's the setting, but the plot is not distinctly a Western plot unless it has lots of action. Westerns are really just action stories in a particular kind of setting. "Little House on the Prairie", for example is not a true western. It takes place in the right setting, but it isn't an action story.
The situation is similar for science fiction. The high tech is not sufficient, you need to have science fiction plot elements as well. The essential plot element in science fiction is adventure. Not just action --fighting and chasing and escaping and such-- but the adventure of seeing new places, of finding out new things, of encountering novel problems and finding novel solutions. It's all about exploration and discovery. And part of what you discover is the technology and aliens races and planets.
Fantasy literature is characterized by the same element, and I think that's the real reason that the two are often categorized together as speculative fiction. But adventure literature doesn't have to be science fiction or fantasy. "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Treasure Island", and "Swiss Family Robinson" are all adventure literature. Adventure literature is the real genre of which science fiction is just a class of settings.
The genre of adventure competes with other genres such as action, romance, intrigue, mystery, and horror. Westerns, for example, are really just action literature in a western setting. Other common settings for action literature are feudal Japan, feudal Europe, and modern times.
Since action, romance, and the rest are plot elements that can be mixed up at will. It is probably more accurate to say that they are plot elements and that the genre is just literature that heavily emphasizes a particular plot element.
In the case of action, romance, intrigue, mystery and horror, it is usual to categorize the stories by the primary plot element. You can have action stories that take place in tenth century India, romances in Elizabethan England, mysteries in the roaring 20's, and everyone recognizes them as action stories, romances, or mysteries, respectively. But with science fiction, fantasy, and westerns, the stories are categorized by setting instead. That is what leads to the confusion of setting with plot elements.
It doesn't make sense to categorize books based on setting. There aren't a lot of people who are perfectly happy with either romance or action, just so long as there are lots of aliens. Different people prefer different plot elements. Romance scenes have me quickly flipping forward to the end of the scene. I imagine other people do the same with detailed technology descriptions.
That's how science fiction/fantasy and westerns ended up as a fairly pure genres even though they were (unwisely) categorized by setting rather than genre. They couldn't build up a customer base by cramming a half-dozen different genres onto one shelf, so the most fit genre for the setting survived. In the case of westerns, the most fit genre was action. In the case of speculative fiction, the most fit genre was adventure.
Adventure is the most fit genre for science fiction and fantasy settings because those settings add novelty. They add exotic peoples and locations and events --the stuff of adventure. Advanced technology (or magic) is just another thing to explore and in real science fiction --adventure fiction-- you explore those things.
That's how Star Trek fails as real science fiction. Teleporters, phasers, warp drive, photon torpedoes; those were things to explore for a real science fiction author. What's the limitation on the range of a teleporter: energy or processing power or something else? Does it work (as it appears) by disassembling and reassembling the person? If so, can you make a copy? How can one device be used to stun, kill, or vaporize, and why do the characters decide to use one instead of the other? How fast does warp drive go and are there any other kinds of star drives? What is a photon torpedo and what are the trade-offs between photon torpedoes and ship's phasers? How can something that uses as much power as a phaser be as small as something that uses as little power as a communicator? What do tricorders record? How many hours of recording to they have? How do sensors work? How do the medical instruments work?
Star Trek authors had no interest in any of these questions. The answer was always "whatever the plot requires". Teleporters were nothing but a plot device to move the story along quickly. Their unique powers were almost never exploited. Phasers killed, stunned, or vaporized as the plot called for: you want a dramatic end? Vaporize. You want a body to mourn over? No problem, we'll invent a setting that kills without vaporizing. You want some moralizing about crime and punishment or a returning enemy? No problem, we'll invent a new setting that just renders the victim unconscious. You want to heat up a rock? Why shouldn't a weapon that vaporizes, kills and stuns also heat things up?
A real science fiction author would have had some reasoning behind this --probably different weapons-- but Star Trek authors didn't think of technology at that detail. There were just guns. Just one kind of gun, but it was a science-fictiony gun. A --you know-- ray gun that would do whatever the plot called for. They weren't even there unless the plot needed them. A real science fiction author would have realized that if you have enough energy available in a tiny weapon to heat a rock red-hot, you ought to have heating elements in the uniforms themselves. But that removes a high-tech survival-oriented activity from the script.
And the ship. Star Trek treated that ship like it was a common, every day naval vessel. If you want to know what it's like, look it up in the encyclopedia. They'd hop in an elevator to get from place to place. Like the transporter, it was designed to avoid exploration. Just get from scene A to scene B as quickly as possible. There was no curiosity about the ship's organization. Rooms popped up as the plot called for them. You need to lose control of the bridge? No problem, we'll grow an auxiliary bridge.
And what about the Federation? You never did know how big the federation was, how many species were in it, or how it was organized. It wasn't even clear that there were any other species in it. Were the Vulcans in the federation? If so, why did we need a Vulcan ambassador? The only thing we ever learned about the Federation was that the people in it were perfected human beings with no selfishness or other character flaws. How that miracle happened is yet another thing that the authors didn't bother to explore.
And then there were the alien planets and species. You'd get a quick and unenlightening description of an entire new race at the beginning of the show, and then they'd go off into a plot that could just as well have happened in 19th Century Europe (except for the special effects). You never learn anything new about the species except for surprise plot elements. Planet explorations consisted of a small team wandering around in homogenous terrain for a few minutes until a red-shirt gets scragged, and then you go on to the plot. It's just a setup for the adventure, not exploration.
Star Trek is a space action show, a future fable. In fables you have magical powers and beings pop up at will to provide a background for the action or romance.That's how Star Trek treated hi-tech. It isn't true science fiction because there is no significant amount of curiosity about the universe. And what exploration there was is all external. There was no attempt to explore the exotic technology. And that is directly counter to the spirit of science fiction: the whole point of the exotic technology is to give you something else to explore.
Star Trek is popular among science fiction fans. That's not because it's science fiction. It's because most science fiction fans also like action. And even though there was no exploration of the setting, it was still a fun setting. And television does action well. I don't care for pure action books but I like pure action movies and television because the visuals and sound make it more interesting. That's why science fiction fans like Star Trek, not because it's science fiction but because it's good action in a science fiction setting.
Contrast this with Schlock Mercenary. Even with just three panels per day, you learn more about Schlock's universe than you ever knew about Spock's. If you read the text addendums, you learn even more (although I'd like to know more about galactic politics). It's clear that the Howard Tayler, the author of Schlock Mercenary, likes to explore, and he takes us with him. That's what makes good science fiction.
I was out for a couple of days because I hurt my back and couldn't sit up. Had lots of fun trying to find a way to get into my car (a Firebird, low seat) without feeling like someone was jabbing a knife into my back. Dropped a microwave sandwich and couldn't bend over to pick it up so I had to kick it over to the chair. You haven't lived till you've played soccer with your food.
Anyway, I'm ready to start back to work so I'll be blogging again.
ruin your day
This depressing article
by Orson Scott Card will probably ruin your day, but it's worth reading anyway.
Every civilization seems to itself to be indestructible -- even in the midst of self-destruction. And those who call attention to this fact, and point out the great danger the civilization is in, are generally resented, hated, despised, or ridiculed.
(link from milblog