Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Geuda Kansas

I've been away for a while, so hadn't heard of this law requiring households to keep a firearm and ammunition. I'd have to say my opinion of it is mixed - I applaud this city during a time when gun control and guns in general are thought to be the bringers of chaos and crime. (Not my opinion on guns, but the opinions of my civilian co-workers) I think it's a step in the right direction to reduce crime and provide a positive stance on the second ammendment. No criminal in their right mind will try to break into a house in that city when he/she knows they have a gun and ammunition.

I'm also glad to see that they have made considerations for the poor and for the mentally/physically disabled. I'm not sure how this law would be enforced - I see it as Tim and others have suggested - that it's reminiscent of a law passed in Kennesaw, Georgia, a law to show the city's pro-gun stance.

My one big concern is this: gun safety through gun instruction or certification. I am an avid believer in gun rights, but also an avid believer in gun safety. In my opinion, many accidents that occur at home with a gun could have been prevented if proper gun safety had been followed. For those citizens of Geuda who are familiar with guns and gun safety (and I can imagine that most are if it is a pro-gun city) they will already know gun safety, but for those who are not familiar with guns, I believe a course of instruction or certification should be offered to teach correct gun safety. Any thoughts on this?

Other than that, huzzah to Geuda Kansas!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Kucinich tries out his dramatic reading...

Dennis Kucinich on NPR's All Things Considered right now. The interviewer brings up the Medicare bill and says that the Bush plan might as well have been "drafted on a different planet" than Kucinich's socialized medicine plan (not the interviewer's words, of course). I love Kucinich's reply:

"You're right. The Bush health plan was drafted on a different planet. It's the planet...[dramatic pause]...Greed!"

Oh, boy...this guy provides no end of entertainment.

Monday, November 24, 2003

More on Geuda Springs

Joel, over at Southern Appeal, is still skeptical of the wisdom of the city law mentioned just below, and he's got a point. I'm a conservative, and I don't like the government compelling my behavior over much of anything, even if it is behavior that I think is good and should be encouraged.

But I just thought of something: I seem to remember a comment by George Will (?) a few years ago that, if you read the Second Amendment the way liberals read the rest of the Constitution, keeping and bearing arms wouldn't be merely allowed, but compulsory. Maybe the city fathers of Geuda Springs, Kansas, are just consistent and honest liberals!

Can a city require you to keep a firearm?

There's been a decent amount of coverage recently on the decision by Geuda Springs, Kansas, to require most households to keep a firearm and ammunition. NPR covered it this morning, surprisingly with little editorializing.

Southern Appeal's Joel Foreman asks whether or not this is a requirement that can be legally imposed. For the record, Foreman is a strong supporter of gun rights, but he doesn't think this is a good idea.

I was already thinking about this question, and I believe that this is a legitimate use of legal authority, ignoring the wisdom of the law for the moment. Think about it--what the city has done is perform a partial military draft. The citizenry is (are?) not being mobilized but simply required to keep arms, the means to carry out their job.

Now, some would argue that this is illegitimate because they're not being made to fight an external military enemy. But the National Guard is activated very often without an actual military purpose but rather to maintain order and prevent looting during emergencies. Wouldn't this be essentially the same thing?

True, it is, in theory, a permanent call to duty, rather than for a fixed term. But I don't think that that is a legal objection. We could, if we wanted, require a lifetime commitment (well, an "until old age" commitment) to military service of some kind (reserves or guard for most of that time), and some countries do.

I also have in mind the arrangement of Switzerland (as I understand it), in which the citizen-soldiers keep their arms at home. The benefits of such an arrangement undoubtedly extend to discouraging crime, even though that is not the primary reason.

Furthermore, I was at first worried that this could be an expensive requirement for the poor. A decent modern pistol will probably run you $300, after all. But according to this story (link via Southern Appeal), they explicitly exempt the poor. They also exempt those with physical or mental problems, as well as those with a conscientious objection to firearms.

As some have mentioned, this is reminiscent of a law passed in Kennesaw, Georgia, some years ago, although I seem to remember that that law specifically stated that it would not be enforced. It was more of a strong statement in favor of gun rights, and it was a public rebuke to the city of (I think) Morton Grove, Illinois, which had effectively or explicitly outlawed handguns shortly before.

Thoughts, anyone?

Robert S. McNamara--spin doctor extraordinaire

I don't have a link to this, but surfing the cable channels late Saturday night, I came across Robert McNamara on the History Channel, talking about the erection of the Berlin Wall. According to him, this was a great victory for the Free World!!

Boy, that's some pretty serious spinning! Now, he had an actual argument for this--that the political crisis over the Berlin occupation was building up to war, and our only credible defense was nuclear. Thus by letting the Soviets have a free hand in East Berlin, we defused the situation. And when they built the wall to keep the population imprisoned, it showed the whole world how massive a failure their system was.

Yes, and the world tolerated that imprisonment for nearly four more decades.

I can believe that the Kennedy administration saw this as a victory over short-term, but serious, dangers. But didn't they see what it meant to the people behind that wall? Did they give any thought to what they would endure? This was, I suspect, part of the strategy of "containment"--don't try to roll back the Soviet grip, just keep them from taking more countries captive. Thank goodness for Reagan's (and others') rejection of this pessimistic philosophy.

Christopher Hitchens is glad for the "fading" JFK cult

"Where's the aura?", he asks in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. Hitchens is an iconoclast, I reckon we could say. He enjoys bursting the public image of prominent politicians and others. I don't always agree with him (he's very liberal, overall), but he's got a good article on John F. Kennedy, here.

I've got mixed feelings about JFK. On one hand, I don't think his actions deserve to rank him among our greatest Presidents. One accomplishment would certainly be his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and many or most would argue that saving us from a nuclear war alone makes him deserving of such praise. Quite possibly, although I think there are probably good arguments that he in fact mishandled the situation or invited it by his earlier actions. I don't have a well-developed opinion on this and will have to read more.

But aside from this, I think it is undeniable that he was an inspirational leader. As a friend of mine from grad school noted, you've got an entire generation of (now) little old ladies with plaster busts of Kennedy sitting on their mantles. They adore him! That inspiration came from somewhere. And the idealistic spirit his administration was publicly infused with was probably very catchy. (I mean that in a good way.)

And I'll say this on his behalf, that as a conservative, I can really appreciate his appreciation for low(er) taxes, even while I am turned off by many of his other actions.

Hmmm...certainly several sides of him to consider.

Friday, November 21, 2003

The Day After

NPR's "Fresh Air" last night was talking about the 1983(?) TV movie, The Day After. I never saw it, although I remember the ads on TV at the time. One ridiculous comment from the NPR show was that the effect of The Day After wasn't an unalloyed good, because the big public debate on nuclear war that came from the show might have convinced people that problems were being taken care of, so they didn't need to "act," themselves.

Wait a second--debating an issue is a bad thing? So, the more we debate a contentious issue, the worse off we are, because the less people will get involved in it? Huh?! The logic here astounds me.

Of course, this strikes me as all being argued from the point of view that the public should "get involved" by being in a nuclear freeze protest or some other such silliness.

Aurorae

I got a beautiful look at the northern lights last night. They appeared as white, cloud-like shapes from at least as early as 7:00 (when I first looked) until 9:30 or later. They were arrayed in an east-west line, broken into fuzzy imitations of cumulus clouds. They would fade and brighten and reform over a timescale of about a minute or so, faster than I thought they would.

I saw them for the first time in my life last month, when these same sunspot groups first made their appearance, but the show wasn't all that good here. Then, they appeared as a red glow on the horizon, but this time they were right over my head.

I took several photos, and if they come out, I'll post some online.

WWII: The 60-year war?

According to The Scotsman, there are still Japanese soldiers hiding out in the Philippenes! The last Imperial Japanese soldier to give up returned in 1974, after a long and difficult search for him and a tough time convincing him that the surrender was a valid order.

Now they're investigating reports that as many as four soldiers remain in the jungles. Two of the men searching are veterans themselves, and one of them kept fighting for five years after the surrender of Japan. Now I'm curious--how many Japanese soldiers surrendered more than a year after the formal surrender, and when did they come in?

I've got to say I'm impressed by these guys, in a way. They're an extreme case, but they're definitely tough. Or crazy. Well, even if they weren't crazy to begin with, living alone in the jungle for 60 years might do things to you.

Hmmm...I just realized that this means the Japanese military presence in the Philippenes has outlasted the American military presence!

(via Instapundit)

In a related story, Al Gore refuses to believe the 2000 election has ended...

For the man who has everything this Christmas...

Get him the one-and-only (literally) double-barrel cannon!

The idea was to kill enemy troops more effectively by firing two cannonballs, connected by a length of chain. They'd spread out and cover more area, dragging the deadly chain between them. It's actually a good idea, and this kind of thing was used, principally in naval warfare to cut down enemy rigging. But it found its way into land combat as well, only the standard method was to fire both balls from the same barrel. They'd be placed in with the chain between them. I imagine the trajectory would be a bit unpredictable, and perhaps that's why John Gilleland got the idea to use two barrels.

But the test-firing was a disaster. The trouble is in the timing: if the barrels don't fire at exactly the same time, one ball will wind up dragging the other along, possibly snapping the chain. According to the article in Wired,

Screaming spectators ducked and covered as the twinned, spinning projectiles plowed through a nearby wood and destroyed a cornfield before the chain connecting the balls broke. One of the cannonballs then collided into and killed a cow; the other demolished the chimney of a nearby home.


Well, if at first you don't succeed, don't aim it near my house!

I enjoy Wired's take on this--"It is a monument to every geek who ever had what seemed to be a really good idea at the time." Yes, it reminds me a lot of ideas I sketched out as a kid. And some from last week.

Be sure to check out the nice photos of it on the second page of the article.

UPDATE: I forgot to thank my friend, Charles Danforth, for the story!

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Master and Commander, Rupert Brooke, and Richard Halliburton

I just got back from watching the movie Master and Commander. It's just as good as I'd been told it was--exciting and entertaining. There were some very stirring lines in the script. One passage in particular that I can remember has the ship's captain, Russell Crowe, addressing his men, as they are about to face a French privateer during the Napoleonic Wars:

England is under threat of invasion. And though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is our home. This ship is England.

Even being an American (or partly because of it), I had shivers down my spine then. It reminds me of my reaction from reading Rupert Brooke's sonnet, "The Soldier":

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


Not quite the same tone, since the movie line is an encouragement to men before battle to defend their ship, while Brooke's poem is more of a reflection. I remember reading in one of Richard Halliburton's books that Rupert Brooke was his favorite poet. Halliburton was at his heyday in the 1920s and '30s, a decade or two after Brooke wrote this in 1914.

Richard Halliburton was a great Tennesseean (a Memphian, in particular) who deserves to be more widely remembered. Maybe he is, more than I realize. He was a rich playboy (as my dad described him) who decided to occupy his time by having adventures and writing about them. He traced the steps of Odysseus, the Conquistadores, and others, writing about his journeys in several books. I read The Glorious Adventure in college, at Dad's suggestion. About that time I found out that "Halliburton Tower" (in the background of this photo) at Rhodes College (my alma mater) is dedicated to this same Richard Halliburton. It bears a bronze plaque in his memory, describing his death in 1939, lost at sea while on another adventure. Probably the most fitting way for him to go. After all, this was a man who swam the entire Panama Canal, including through the locks. He slept high above the Urubamba River another night, curled around the intihuatana at Macchu Pichu. He swam the Hellespont (imitating Leander...and Lord Byron, later), and he climbed to the top of Mount Olympus, only the third expedition ever to make it. Not a bad life for a fellow Tennesseean!

I've read The Glorious Adventure, in which he follows Odysseus, and New Worlds to Conquer, where he takes the routes of the Conquistadors. Both of my copies are originals, but he's still in print. I still have to read The Royal Road to Romance, which I don't know anything about.

Well, I've rambled on enough, now.

Hussein / al Qaeda connection for real?

The Weekly Standard has obtained a secret memo from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith sent to the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. This memo, dated October 27, 2003, details several pieces of evidence, some of them very explicit on this point, that bin Laden and Hussein had a working relationship well before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I had believed this was possible but assumed that there just wasn't much strong evidence such a relationship actually existed. If our sources on this are good, though, this looks pretty convincing. It will also be a pleasure to watch the reaction of those on the hard-line anti-war side who have taken such arrogant attitudes that no educated person could believe that "fundamentalist" al Qaeda and "secular" Iraq could ever possibly work together!

We still have to weigh the quality of the sources, of course, and see if the memo's conclusions hold up. I don't want to proclaim this as the absolute and final word on the topic, just in case, but it's intriguing.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Kagan on Revolutions in Military Affairs

Frederick W. Kagan has a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal from November 12, with a similar version at The New Criterion.

He gives us a lot of history on the various attempts to impose business or information theory models on warfare (often with tragic outcomes), as well as the concept of "Revolutions in Military Affairs" (RMA). An example of the former includes Robert McNamara and his "whiz kids" approaching the war in Vietnam through game theory. One of the ideas was that (as I understand it) by varying the military force applied to the enemy, you sent him "messages," and from game theory you could predict his response to them.

Kagan is probably correct to be critical of this method. I honestly haven't studied much about the Johnson administration's approach to the war (aside from the problem of micromanagement from the White House), and I know only a tiny bit about game theory. The concept intrigues me, but the problem is that it must be too abstract to apply in real life, with all of the unknown variables there are in human behavior, especially in wartime.

I remember that game theory was also discussed back in the '80s, in the context of Cold War nuclear strategies and the effect of a national missile defense system. What I remember about that came from an anti-Reagan, anti-missile-defense article in a science magazine. Probably Discover.

Kagan gives a wide-ranging discussion of this idea of RMAs--events that so change the face of warfare that everybody has to start over from scratch in figuring out how to fight one. Essentially. The advent of tanks, machine guns, and especially nuclear weapons could all qualify as RMAs. Apparently, the latest nominee to be an RMA is information technology, but Kagan seems skeptical about this. Or at least skeptical of taking the conclusions too far.

He says that the military predominance the United States enjoys in the world today is unlikely to last forever. Those who claim that our technological advantages will essentially prohibit any other state from even trying to challenge us (now or for many years in the future) are forgetting lots of details. Computers are increasingly cheap and can be obtained by even our poorest enemies. Our global positioning system, developed at great cost over many years, could be done today by smaller countries more easily. Because we've broken the technological ground to gain the position we have, we've made it easier for other countries to follow in our footsteps--they don't have to spend nearly as much on R&D, since it has already been done.

I don't have the background to tell if he's right on all points, but he makes a persuasive argument.

Ninth Circuit ruling on machine gun possession

I was happily shocked to read today that the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Congress cannot ban possession of a machine gun under the guise of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. I haven't read up on the ruling in detail, and I imagine that the summaries could miss important points, but this is an encouraging step in restricting Congress' abuse of the Interstate Commerce Clause. I'll note that this only applies to possession itself, and not to sales, even intrastate sales, so I don't believe this ruling goes far enough, but it's a step in the right direction as far as the concept of federalism goes.

Now, the question of whether or not the private ownership of fully automatic weapons is appropriate is entirely irrelevant here. I am only dealing with the Constitutional question of whether Congress can legislate a ban under the guise of regulating interstate commerce.

One further thought before I actually read the decision: Some commentary on this case misstates a critical fact (as I do, above). Congress has never actually banned machine gun ownership. Instead, it has imposed a tax on them. Machine guns, and all fully-automatic firearms, are considered "Class III Weapons." Anyone wishing to own one must pay a one-time tax of...I think about $200 (last time I checked) and fill out a lot of paperwork. But as far as I know, anyone who is eligible to own a firearm (i.e., someone without a criminal record, etc.) is also eligible to own a Class III weapon.

Now, this use of taxes can be an abuse of power when it's done as a way of getting around Constitutional prohibitions. I imagine that if Congress were to impose specific taxes on speech, for instance, that might be ruled unconstitutional by the courts, as well. I'm curious to read the exact reasoning of the court in this case. The Ninth Circuit isn't exactly known as a bastion of logic and careful interpretation of the Constitution, but on the surface, this seems like a correct decision to me.

Eugene Volokh comments on this here.

Alternative meaning of "fisking"?

David Pryce-Jones, writing in the Spectator today...er, actually tomorrow, given the date on their website, gives a definition of "fisking" that I had not heard of: "...the selection of evidence solely in order to bolster preconceptions and prejudices."

He is referring to the use of the word on the web, but I only understood "fisking" to mean the process of dissecting, phrase by phrase, a writer's badly-reasoned political screed that was passed off as news reporting.

Either way, of course, the word was directly named for British "reporter" Robert Fisk, whom I first noticed when he visited Afghanistan immediately after that recent war. He was nearly beated to death by an angry mob of Afghans, and he wrote that he understood why they did this and would probably have done the same thing himself, if he were an Afghan. And, of course, it was all George W. Bush's fault.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

How do you test scientific reasoning?

We're winding up the quarter here at State, which is just as well, since I think I'm coming down with the flu. Final exams are next week, and I've been teaching two classes this term--Scientific Reasoning and Astronomy. Astronomy is easy enough. I've taught it a few times before and can go through the material without needing much review. And I'm really impressed with how well many of the students are picking up some very difficult concepts, such as the curvature of the universe, the effects of relativity (such as on time, length, and mass), and how black holes "work." I had students staying after class today to debate things like the features of a small, closed universe (everywhere you looked, you'd see the back of your head, magnified!).

The troublesome one is Scientific Reasoning. We're supposed to teach methods, not content, but that's tricky to do and still have something you can grade them on. My approach has been to look at this as a philosophy class, a kind of history of cosmology, since cosmology involves how we look at the entire universe.

But that just makes the testing all the more difficult. I was originally thinking of giving them an oral exam. I'd have in mind some alternative universe, and the student would have to figure out a model for how that universe worked by proposing observations and experiments. I would tell him what he would find in each case. But here again, this could be hard to do without requiring specialized knowledge about astrophysics. And then there's the fact that it would have taken me about 8 hours just to get all of the students through the door, seriatum (as Dr. Taylor would say).

So I've just given them an essay assignment again. Today's discussion was mostly on the "Anthropic Principle" and other ways of interpreting what we know about the make-up of the universe. A critique of this is one option they have for a paper.

Re: Death in Iraq

Sorry to hear about your classmate, E. And yes, God bless them all over there.

Death of a Classmate

The war on terrorism and the conflict in Iraq has been going on for many months now. After the "war" in Iraq was officially stopped in the spring, every day we've heard of a soldier killed here, a convoy attacked there. My reaction thus far has been a sigh that a good soldier and an outstanding citizen of the U.S. lost their life, a prayer for their families, and the knowledge that the soldier died defending his/her country and its principles. But I never knew the soldiers that died in action, I don't even remember their names.

That all changed for me when I was told (by email) one of my classmates had died in action. I never knew him very well, I had talked with him on occassion throughout the 4 years together, but we weren't good friends. I sat at my desk thinking...wow...is this really happening? It made me realize how precious life is, and how we should treasure every special moment. This taught me not to be afraid to do what I want to do in life, and more than ever, to pursue my dreams. My classmate was survived by his recent wife, who is also in the army, and also over in Iraq. I cannot imagine the pain she's going through, or the pain of his family. It's a terrible loss to the community, yet I am so proud of him. He died with honor, defending his country in a cause greater than himself. God bless the US, god bless our soldiers, and gold bless Josh Hurley.

Here is the announcement of his death:

"TAPS
Lieutenant Joshua Charles Hurley, VMI Class of 2001

The Superintendent regrets to inform the VMI community of the combat death of Lieutenant Joshua Charles Hurley, United States Army Corps of Engineers, VMI Class of 2001, on Saturday 1 November 2003 in Iraq. He was serving with the 326th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division west of Baghdad. According to official reports, the vehicle in which Lieutenant Hurley was riding was destroyed by an improvised explosive device detonated by an unknown terrorist in an ambush.

Lieutenant Hurley entered VMI from Clifton Forge, Virginia and was graduated with Distinction in May 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. He was selected as a Distinguished Military Graduate and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers upon graduation.

As a Cadet, Hurley was a participant in a wide variety of intramural sports, played on the VMI Varsity Golf team as a Rat, was active with the Cadet Program Board, held Cadet rank his Second Class year, and earned status on the Dean's Academic Honor List six consecutive semesters.

Just before being deployed to Iraq, Lieutenant Hurley was married to Army Lieutenant Teresa Vaughan Hurley. They were deployed to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom together.

In addition to his wife, Joshua Hurley is survived by his parents, Charles and Christine. Hurley, II of Alvin Texas, a married sister, Amanda, and his Brother Rats of the Class of 2001.

Funeral service arrangements are to be announced. The Virginia flag has flown at half-staff in his honor since notification of his death, and will continue to be flown thus until his interment.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Long time, no post!

Hi, E, readers, et al.

Sorry I've been AWOL for a couple of weeks. Thanks for taking up the slack, E! I've literally had Four Weddings and a Funeral over the past five weeks, so things have been hectic. And then a few days ago I was back and ready to post again, but I'd forgotten my login name... Man, I'm getting the absent-minded professor bit down pat.

More fascinating thoughts soon to come...

Monday, November 03, 2003

Online Games

There hasn't been a lot of political and/or space related topics that haven't already been hit by Tim or Jeff, so I thought I'd delve into something completely different, and mostly new to me - online games. Specifically, the new game Final Fantasy XI.

I was never into computer games, I grew up on a farm, and we were lucky to have a computer. But times are changing and nowadays almost everyone has access to a computer in some way. So bear with me if I don't show as much knowledge about computer games as peers of mine.

MMORPG's, or Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games have become extremely popular lately. These games allow you to create a character and play with other people in real time. I myself have tried out Anarchy Online, Ultima Online, Asheron's Call 2, and of course Final Fantasy XI. These are just a sampling of the numerous games out there to play online.

I have found Final Fantasy XI to be heads above any game I've played so far. As with other games, you get to select your race (hume, elvaan, galkan, mithra, or tarutaru) with each race having their own traits, and you can select your job (numerous jobs, too many to list here.) Not to mention you can choose your face, hair color and build of your character to make it unique to you. There are 3 nations in the online world, so large that you must use an airship to travel from one to the other. Cities are so far apart that it takes 15 minutes to travel by chocobo (means of transportation) from one city to the next. The game is very well planned out - I can't even begin to describe all the possibilities for players. You can be an adventurer and hunt, or you can set up your own shop as a blacksmith, carpenter, etc. You have your own house which you can decorate.

Because this game has been up and running already in Japan, most bugs are fixed and the game economy is established. Graphics are excellent, music is well thought out (and enjoyable) and the players are all very friendly. If you have never played an online game, I recommend this one. If you are a computer game aficionado (like my fiance) I still recommend this one.

Good luck, and if any of you out there have tried it, let me know your thoughts.

-E