"Anarchy At Sea"

I came across an article by that title from a 2003 copy of The Atlantic. It's a fascinating story, which turns out to be available here. JHD will appreciate it, if he hasn't read it already. It's the story of ships at sea, merchants under false flags, and the perils they often meet:

The Flare was a dry-bulk carrier, flagged in Cyprus, and it had a multinational crew of twenty-five. The voyage was extremely rough, with waves exceeding fifty feet. For two weeks the Flare slammed and whipped, flexing so wildly that, according to one survivor, the deck cranes appeared at times to be touching. As it was approaching the Canadian coast late one night, the Flare broke cleanly in two. The entire crew was on the stern section, which listed to the side and began to sink. Strangely, the engine continued to turn, slowly driving the hulk on an erratic course through the night. The crew managed to launch one lifeboat, but it broke away before anyone could climb aboard. The men were panicked, and ultimately twenty-one of them died. But before the end on the sinking stern, there was a moment of savage euphoria when a ship floating in the opposite direction suddenly loomed out of the darkness ahead, as if it were coming to rescue them. The terrified men cheered. To their horror they then saw the name FLARE written on the side. It was of course their own detached bow section, and it passed them by.
There's quite a bit more, for the interested.

HOT STOCKS: Revolutionary Rifle Ball Stock

Wild: has a fascinating article today on a new type of rifle stock -- one that would be modular, with a major part of it permanently mounted on your body armor. It would connect to the part remaining on your rifle via a ball-and-socket system. And, it would tie into an "augmented reality" system, serving to connect you and your rifle without the need for a tether cord.

This is the kind of thing I'd really like to try out sometime. It sounds good -- but will it work, or will that extra data become confusing? Only one way to find out.


New House:

Daniel has moved his virtual house. He's also welcome to post here, though -- in fact, aren't we due a lecture on tactics, Daniel?

365 and a Wakeup: Return to Namelessville


Has a beautiful post today.

Galley Slaves: Liberal Blog Ascendancy

On Ascendancy:

Galley Slaves cites super-liberal blog MyDD (also cited today by Southern Appeal). The argument is that the liberal blogosphere is outpacing the conservative blogosphere, because right-wing blogs don't allow comments:

Unless right-wing blogs decide to open up and allow their readers to have a greater voice, I expect that the liberal and progressive blogosphere will continue its unbroken twenty-month rise in relative traffic. Conservative bloggers continue to act as though they are simply a supplement to the existing pundit class, without any need to converse with those operating outside of a small social bubble or any need to engage people within the new structure of the public sphere.
I've always thought of Grim's Hall as a "virtual mead hall" for warriors -- not just fighting men, but people with the fighting spirit. The comments have always meant more to me than the posts, and I'm glad to talk to any of you. As I noted, I pass out "keys" to military men sometimes. Perhaps I should be doing more of that. I prefer to do it with folks who've hung around and commented for a while, so we know you and know you'll be a good mead-bench companion. If you think you'd like one, though, email me.

However, my initial reaction to this story is the one that Mr. Last gets around to after a while: as important as blogs are, unless they translate into physical reality at some point, they don't mean much. If you spend two hours a day reading blogs, but you take the information and put it to practical use in the world, it's an extraordinary and powerful tool for you.

On the other hand, if you spend five hours a day reading blogs, commenting, arguing, refining positions, etc., with people who more or less agree with you already, you're wasting a lot of energy and time. It's distracting you from achieving anything in reality. You'd be doing more for your cause if you took a second job, and donated the money to a charity that supports your interests.

So, you know, it's nice to have big blog hits. On the other hand, does it impact the world in which you live -- or does it become the world in which you live? If the latter, it's hurting rather than helping you.

John Wayne - The Early Years Collection | - Movies, Music and Television on DVD


I rented a copy of "John Wayne - The Early Years Collection" the other day. It consists of a number of movies made from 1934-1936. These were "early" years for John Wayne, but not all that early for movie making: a whole generation of earlier stars and directors had come and gone, whose names we have already almost forgotten.

Wyatt Earp had come to know several after 1901, when he returned to California from the Alaska gold rush. At that time, he was telling them stories and tales of the West that were already not fresh. The shootout at the O.K. Corral had happened in 1881, twenty years earlier. In the interval, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show had fixed the popular image of the West. Earp helped them make movies that had the right feel.

Tom Mix starred in over 300 such movies, most of them made before sound came to film. Most of his films do not exist any more. By the time John Wayne's early movies were being made, the Western was thirty years old, with well-established forms. These changed little until the 1950s.

What we today think of as "the classic Western" is probably High Noon. But High Noon was almost a complete rejection of all the Western's standard modes. The lawman, who wears a black rather than a white hat, enjoys no support from the people; in the end, though he has done what they dared not, he has lost their respect and has lost respect for them. He leaves the town in disgust, rather than riding into the sunset. John Wayne, by then a veteran star of twenty years' experience, called the movie "un-American."

But Wayne made a similar movie himself ten years afterwards -- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It is in some respects even darker than High Noon. The upstanding Western hero of the film, played by Wayne, is a white-hat wearing cattleman of the classic mold. But when he shoots Liberty Valance, it is from ambush with a rifle; and doing so is the ruin of his life, as he loses his girl, burns his home in drunken misery, and dies in poverty. Meanwhile, a good-hearted lawyer from the East gets the credit, wins elected office, and gets the girl as well.

We today would probably think of these as classic Westerns, because we have even more radical changes to compare with them: the Clint Eastwood Italian westerns, for example, in which the hero is largely amoral. If you were going to say two things about Westerns that made them Westerns, it would be these: 1) The movie is set at least partially in the American West, and 2) it is a film about morality. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a film about morality -- sort of. A Fistful of Dollars isn't even that. The success of these movies inspired a score or more of (mostly lousy) Westerns about amoral or immoral "heroes," including what must be the least probable portrayal ever of Doc Holliday, by Stacy Keach (later to do a pretty good Mike Hammer, though he was limited by the need for his scriptwriters to write for pre-cable television).

Clint Eastwood came around to making Unforgiven, which he designed to say "everything I've always felt about the Western." It turned out to be the best Western in a generation, because it returned the moral structure that underlies the Western. This was not, exactly, what Eastwood intended to do -- if anything, he wanted to show how that moral structure gave itself over to barbarism. Nevertheless, because his characters were interested in morality, aspiring to it or rejecting it, Unforgiven is powerful as no Western had been in a long time.

There have been several more recent Westerns, and they've been good by and large. They've also been a return to roots. In some respects, Open Range is almost a reversal of High Noon: the entire town comes out with rifles, unasked, to defend strangers they really aren't sure about; and in the end, the ability of one of those strangers to do violence for justice is enough to win him a place in their hearts. Where Gary Cooper left in disgust, Kevin Costner found a home and the respect of a people.

Tombstone, of course, returned the Wyatt Earp legend to its traditional form.

Meanwhile, Tom Selleck has made some great Westerns lately. Though his first -- Quigley Down Under -- was unusual for being set in Australia, it was a solid Western. His later ones are a complete return to roots, usually including even the white hat, and being based on long-beloved stories by famous writers. Crossfire Trail, Last Stand at Sabre River, and Monte Walsh, the last one an ode to cowboying.

I think this underlines a great truth about art. The changes in the Western are similar to the changes in the wider art world, except that they started later and ended quicker. It was not until the 1950s that the structure of the Western felt so stale that directors set out to shake it up, in ways that were shocking at the time ("unAmerican"), but now seem like a classic part of the genre. Like visual artists, the makers of Westerns became excited by the idea of playing with the structure, and they did some great things by thinking new thoughts about the old modes.

But then came a generation of artists who knew little about the classics, and had only studied the rejectionists. They did not understand that the power lay in the eternal form -- the great truth that was being explored by the art. The rejectionists had been able to achieve great things because they involved the audience in thinking about that great truth in new ways. The later generation, never knowing what the truth was, never having learned the basics of the art, made spirtually empty garbage.

It was only through a return to the traditional forms that we could escape that, and recover the meaning and power of the art. This is a lesson that the Western seems to have learned quickly -- perhaps because it was lucky to have Eastwood, one of the first rejectionists, still around to remember what the genre had originally been about. Unforgiven did a lot to set the Western back on track.

The remaining arts must learn the same lesson if they are to survive. If poetry and orchestral music, painting and sculpture cannot learn these things, fewer will study them, and fewer will care to hear or see the works of those who do. The Western points the way for them.

It does that for us, too. That's why it survives, after Tom Mix, after John Wayne, after the 'Old Chisholm trail is covered in concrete,' and "cowboy" is considered an insult in lands that once sent them forth.

Speaking of weapon physics, a friend sent me this link: The Box of Truth.

It is entertaining, if nothing else, but like the guy says. "Shooting stuf is fun".

I hadn't ever given the properties of dry-wall much thought.

Knife Review : commentary on knives, sharpening equipment and related products.

More on Knife Physics:

For those interested, it turns out that the Physics department of Newfoundland's Memorial University has a page devoted to knife reviews. I have to say that I'm impressed:

Graduate programmes are offered at the M.Sc. and Ph.D. level in Atomic and Molecular physics, Condensed Matter Physics, and Physical Oceanography. Experimental, theoretical and computational research topics include non-linear dynamics, membrane biophysics, polymer physics, magnetism, strongly correlated electron systems, optical and vibrational spectroscopy, atomic collision, ocean acoustics, and ocean circulation.
And yet they still found time to test fighting knives to see how well they penetrate phone books.

I do love a practical scientist.

eBay item 6539278490 (Ends Jun-15-05 11:51:03 PDT) - Stek Damascus Cowboy Fighting Knife

I Wish I Had $255:

Yeah, I know. I've got a lot of knives. But if I had the "buy it now" price for this in my wallet, I'd snap up this beautiful knife. This guy really knows what he's doing. It's not only top quality pattern-forged steel, it's exactly the optimum length: eight inch blade, four inch backstrap, thirteen and a half inches overall.

Now that's a fighting knife.

Immigration Law as Anti-Terrorism Tool

"Immigration Law as Anti-Terrorism Tool"

Perhaps you saw today's front-page article in the Washington Post:

Whereas terrorism charges can be difficult to prosecute, Homeland Security officials say immigration laws can provide a quick, easy way to detain people who could be planning attacks. Authorities have also used routine charges such as overstaying a visa to deport suspected supporters of terrorist groups.
Once everybody gets finished muttering, "Well, so the Bush administration is finally doing something right," I should point out that this paragraph isn't the lead, though it is the lede. It's actually paragraph number six.

Paragraphs one through five are a sympathetic portrayal of a poor Lebanese fellow who was arrested by a vicious, arrogant, masked Federal agent in a surprise raid on his home. Grim's Hall hates that: police should neither be allowed to wear masks, nor conduct military-style raids. Nevertheless, they do.

Paragraphs eight through ten are given over to "Muslim civil liberties activists" who charge the following: "They argue that authorities are enforcing minor violations by Muslims and Arabs, while ignoring millions of other immigrants who flout the same laws."

Paragraphs eleven through sixteen point out that Muslims were rarely the focus of immigration law before 9/11. Ahem. You don't say. (There is also a note to the effect that certain roundups have been "controversial," and there is a gratuitous description of our intelligence and law-enforcement services as inhabiting a "murky" world.)

There follows then a long series of paragraphs providing another sympathetic portrayal of a poor Muslim immigrant who came under Federal scrutiny for donating to one of bin Laden's charities. She claims she is innocent, and perhaps she is; but the government, heavy-handed thugs that they are, decided after watching a few jetliners slam into our buildings that they wanted to be sure.

Finally, toward the bottom of page three, someone from DHS is actually allowed to respond to the charge: "Are you thugs targeting Muslims?"

In the interest of balance, they are permitted to cite two success stories to go with the two examples proposed by the Post at the beginning. Here we are:
For example, Nuradin Abdi, a Somali immigrant living in Ohio, was locked up on an asylum-fraud charge in November 2003. He was subsequently charged with plotting with an al Qaeda member to blow up a shopping mall. He has pleaded not guilty.

ICE officials also point to cases in which they have deported active supporters of terrorist groups, including at least two men who had attended guerrilla training camps in Pakistan.

That's all that is said about these cases, after two and a half pages of intense beating on DHS for the two cases the Post didn't like.

There are two more pages in the article. The first one is devoted to the government's case, which is presented thus: 'It's hard to charge people with terrorism, but we can easily deport them if they've violated immigration law. National security is "guesswork," so we're doing our best with what we've got; and anyway, we ignored counterterrorism in the 1990s, and look how that worked out!'

The last page, to bring the article to a circle, is devoted to another sympathetic portrayal of a Muslim immigrant.

I am left drawing these conclusions:

1) The Post is opposed to using immigration law to address counterterrorism issues, on the grounds that it might not be completely fair to all parties involved.

2) The Post, while willing to conceed that these national security issues exist, weighs the whole mess of those issues as being somewhat less important than the handful of cases anti-enforcement advocates pointed out to them. The Post dwells on those cases for three and a half pages of the five page article. It gives less than two paragraphs to the cases cited as successes by DHS, plus another paragraph to a third case later on.

3) Neither the Post, nor the anti-enforcement advocates for whom it is carrying water, actually intend this claim to be taken seriously: "They argue that authorities are enforcing minor violations by Muslims and Arabs, while ignoring millions of other immigrants who flout the same laws." This is not a call to enforce immigration law in an evenhanded fashion.

It is a call to stop enforcing immigration law at all.