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User Journal

Journal Journal: Texas vs. California

Obligatory post...

I am literally surrounded by moving boxes here in Texas having just relocated from Southern California. First, let me say that Texas/Louisiana is home. I was raised here and my heart NEVER left, in spite of some lengthy stays in California, Minnesota, Maryland, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, Nevada and Florida. After travelling all over a bunch of other places and living in quite a few, I have literally concluded there is no other place on Earth I would want to live than Texas. As far as I am concerned, this poll is flamebait intended to stoke up the Slashdot masses against President Tweedledee so they will elect Tweedledumb. Fifty years from now, the Republic of Texas will be as Texas as ever and nobody will be able to spell Cheney.

California on the other hand is a never-ending drama of lurching from one bunch of stupid silliness to the next. OJ Simpson, Scott Peterson, Gray Davis, rolling blackouts, a useless assault weapons ban, worker's compensation insurance as high as my state income tax each paycheck, NIMBY, say No to Wal Mart, etcetera, etcetera. The place is beautiful with dramatic, contrasting landscapes, but the people seem to be in an alternate reality from the other 49 states. I'm not even counting the Northern Californians who are in an alternate dimension. As soon as a news story caption says "San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Walnut Creek, etc", I brace myself for more insanity. "Money grows on trees, XXXXXXXX is a racist, save the YYYYYYYYY, the U.S. is ruining the planet, and now let me get back to my racist, stereotyping publication that wraps itself in an absurd patina of liberalthink and this overpriced cup of shade-grown, Fair Trade, coffee." Details at 11.

Honest to God, I just couldn't take it anymore. My children were showing signs of becoming backtalking brats more likely to say "Yeah" to a senior citizen than "Yes, sir." Mama and I decided enough was enough and we are back in the bosom of Texas. Country music on the store soundtracks, warnings about where you can't carry in your concealed handgun on the store entryways, people who don't stare at Western hats and boots, cheap everything, low taxes, and an independent, self-reliant spirit that doesn't go running to Austin for another government program every time another challenge comes down the pike. If you need help, go to your family, friends, neighbors, church, and then the government. That might occur to Californians more if their families didn't live in the Midwest or East Coast, their friends weren't their real estate agents/mortgage bankers, their neighbors weren't erecting barriers everywhere, and their church wasn't in court for offending atheists with religous symbols. California is great for many people, but if it was THAT great, it wouldn't have such a phenomenally high turnover rate. You will now officially need to pull up in front of my house with an Armored Car full of cash to get me out of Texas. After one month in California, I was convinced I had "idiot" stamped on my forehead as I was suddenly being charged a 25% or higher premium for EVERYTHING. For those of you still getting fleeced by the Golden State, I just moved another Native Californian away... The sooner you get out of that nuthatch, the sooner you can apply some of that home equity to an actual home, as opposed to a 1600 square foot poker chip.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Origins of the American Empire

Actually, the Republic came to an end in November of 1860. Forget the pablum you learned about the American Civil War in school and see if some of this version might sound more plausible.

Before the Lincoln Administration: the USA was far less "united" than it is now. Technologies like railroads, mass production, and the telegraph were causing tremendous changes in the Northern states, less in the South. The country was still legally structured for wagon transport of goods, farming, and couriers on horseback. A corporation wishing to buy farm goods in Indiana and then ship them to Philadelphia faced many hurdles. Favorable prices in Philly could be telegraphed quickly to buyers in Indiana, the goods could be shipped to Philly within two days and a major profit could be reaped. Unfortunately for the corporate types, the banks of the time each issued their own paper currency that had the full backing of that particular bank. To cope with this, there were a few banks that were legally allowed to accept out-of-state bank currencies and allocate them a value based on the perceived ability of that bank to meet its' obligations. In other words, the "American Dollar"essentially had to be excahanged like a foreign currency just to buy and move goods 50 miles quite often. It would be like having to wire transfer cash to your seller after buying something on the Internet. The US Dollar was not the only currency in use, either. British pounds and Spanish pesos were routinely used for buying and selling goods, especially in the South which exported tremendous amounts of cotton to Europe. There were no Federal banks and there was no Federal Reserve bank. Andrew Jackson had destroyed the original Federal Reserve bank which had been started by early Big Business interests that had backed his predecessor. Jackson had been the advocate for the expansionist, Western and farming interests. Additionally, to man all those factories up North, immigration policy was set to wide open; Northern Europeans poured into the major Northern port cities. They were changing the character of the country to a more industrial, multicultural one.

The agricultural, tradition-minded South and its' horrible, legally-sanctioned practice of exchanging human chattel stood in sharp contrast to the rapidly-evolving Northern states. Indentured servitude was still legal in the North, and working conditions in many of the Northern factiories were appalling. At least the Northern laborers could not be legally whipped to death. The rapid growth of the American economy called for vast pools of low-cost labor and both North and South had found ways of getting it. Fortunately, the South's pool of labor was static as the English had outlawed the slave trade around 1830 and the Royal Navy was able to enforce that against the Boston slave merchants who carried the slaves from West Africa. It was the children of these Boston slave merchants who had grown up in houses built on the profits from slave trading who spearheaded the abolitionist movement. These Abolitionists eventually became the moral force of the Republican Party which had picked up the corporate and Unionist support left high and dry by the dissolution of the Whig Party. The Republicans united the worthy goal of ending slavery with the crass goal of making America safe for the McDonalds, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Fedex's of the future. And so the stage was set for the Election of 1860 as a political party bent on turning the US into a single trading zone seized the reins of power it won that November. Five years later, we had a Federal Reserve banking system, a national trade school system (the Agricultural and Mechanical colleges mandated under the Morrill Act of 1962), and over a million people had died. The war itself had been a huge boon for nationalization and corporate profits. The corruption of much of the Lincoln Administration was so bad that soldiers would find in the heat of combat that their blackpowder had been filled out with dirt. At least slavery had been abolished, but the freed slaves were left high and dry to rot under the apartheid system of "separate but equal" which was given the Supreme Court seal of approval in Plessy v. Ferguson of 1894. This may sound strange for America, but the corporations got their way during and after the war while the freed men had to wait until the 1960's for real freedom.

Once the consolidation of power was completed in the late 1800's, America moved on to Empire under the initial leadership of Teddy Roosevelt. Under George W. Bush, the Empire seems to have reached its' zenith. Many historians believe America would be anything but "the world's policeman" if the Civil War/War Between the States had not happened. The American Empire is centered on trade, much like the British Empire, but is less oppressive overseas.

An irony of the current "atmos-fear" is that the danger of world annihilation has faded with the end of the Cold War, but thanks to the occasional terrorist mass murder incident, there are still dangers for this empire. When the Cold War ended, experts were polled to rank the world's intelligence agencies. The finish was: KGB #1, Mossad #2, MI-6 #3 and CIA #4. Al Qaeda is a serious threat to this Empire, especially as its many enemies may coalesce into alliances. The difference from earlier rivalries is all the trade links between nations that might otherwise be obvious foes. Maybe the victory of the corporation (a.k.a. "globalization") can prevent widespread future wars.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Re:One good thing about Bush

Once every 224 years is still too often.

Please check out the following elections: 1876:2000 [harpweek.com] and 1796:2000 [wikipedia.org]. See also 1960:2000 [wikipedia.org]. If Nixon had demanded recounts in Texas and Illinois, that election may never have ended. If those recounts revealed the massive election fraud widely rumored in relation to Democratic Bosses Richard Dealy of Chicago and LBJ of Texas (the VP candidate), Nixon would have won in a sqeaker. Rumor had it that JFK may have been elected by a lot of dead people. Many Americans have forever been grateful to Nixon for going away quietly (at the time). Those are just the three elections that jump out of my memory right now. The Mess of 2000 was hardly the only messy, tight Presidential race in 224 years. Might as well revisit the 2000 election too: 2000:2000 [wikipedia.org]. Very impressive article on that most recent mess. It lists seven "close elections", including all of these I have listed and more.

BTW, another little-known fact is that Vice Presidents routinely try to succeed their President when his 8 years is up. Question: How many have succeeded lately? Answer: Martin Van Buren and George H.W. Bush. Their successful elections are separated by 152 years. Check out Van Buren's election. [wikipedia.org] Interestingly enough, both were ousted after only one term. No sitting VP has succeeded his President directly other than these two guys since 1836. Nixon doesn't count since it was 8 years after he had been VP before he was elected President.

Looks to me like people generally get tired of the same old faces in the White House after 8 years and throw the VP rascal out too. This was no doubt part of Gore's fate in 2000. Gore didn't help himself by appearing as a different characters in each of the three debates. I really thought that hurt him, especially in light of his existing reputation as a bit of an automaton.


Journal Journal: Automotive blackboxes and The Accident

In 1997, my wife and our two year old son were approaching a large, busy intersection at the speed limit. There were three lanes going in each direction, east and west, two more lanes southbound only. Needless to say (you would think), there was a traffic light above the intersection of the eastbound and southbound lanes. A driver turned from the westbound lanes into the southbound lanes and just kept right on going through the red light. She told the police she didn't realize there was a light there! She struck our 1991 Honda Accord in the left rear wheel area with the wheel absorbing most of the impact. The Accord was spun at least 180 degrees by the impact and my son's carseat was tipped over, but he was unhurt. My wife suffered a spinal injury that still impinges on her spinal cord and caused the doctors to recommend she refrain from lifting anything over 15 pounds. This pretty much ended her career as an RN. Now she is having trouble with chest and hand pain related to the nerve impingement. She has had extensive physical therapy and chiropractic care for 7 years now. Thanks to listening to my idiot brother-in-law, I had reduced our underinsured motorist coverage a few months before this accident and we ended up with about 35,000 USD cash for a lifetime of reduced mobility and pain. Nationwide Insurance deliberately dragged their feet trying to get us to accept a reduced settlement. We finally sued them near the lawsuit deadline and they settled within two months thereafter. The mitigating factor was their idiot driver had blabbed about being "100 percent responsible" for the accident. Thank God! Even with that, Nationwide jerked us around for an extra year and a half beyond what they should have. I loathe them. They sent their adjusters here to Southern California in the wake of our wildfires last fall and my coworkers overheard them laughing about underpaying claims and dragging things out.

My point here is that when a driver royally screws up, blackbox evidence can help settle the matter clearly and quickly allowing everyone to get on with their post-accident lives. If the driver who rammed my wife had not blabbed, the blackbox could have blabbed for her. Everyone, please be safe out there. When we are approaching an intersection that has been green for 10 seconds or more, but are the only car approaching at that point, my wife and I both slow down and look around carefully now since another fool may "not realize there is a traffic light over that intersection". That was how my wife was hurt. We don't drive smaller cars anymore either. She has an airbagged minivan and I have an airbagged half-ton pickup. Our next vehicle will be a 3/4 ton Suburban. It tows our big trailer well and protects my wife and three children. We'll buy more energy-efficient vehicles when they get safer and can tow 8,000 pounds over the Rockies.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Thoughts on the M-16 Squirrel Rifle

The post below is a couple of mine from the Slashdot Discussion related to the article - Future Army Battle Uniforms - Wired, Lethal. To view the full article, just check Google, they seem to index all of Slashdot.

The M-16 spokesman here says that it works fine if kept properly lubricated. I NEVER lubricated my M-16 during PGWI because I couldn't. The first (and last) time I did, it became utterly encrusted with sand. There was no escaping the sand in the Arabian deserts as it is a fine powder easily blown into the air or stirred into the air by vehicles and troops moving about. I wiped it down to a "near dry" condition and it was still caked in sand. It was only after a few more days and wipedowns that it finally dried out and quit being covered in sand. From then on, I just wiped it down with a dry cloth every day. Assuming the Marine above is correct, my M-16 was rendered just about useless. Basically, I would have had to begin dousing it in lubricant right when I actually needed it. Hopefully, that would not have been during one of the frequent "shamals" (sandstorms) we endured.

The most egregious design flaw of the M-16 is the reloading arrangement to support semi-automatic fire. A small gas tube taps the barrel near the front sight and carries some of the hot gas from the cartidge's detonation back to a very short tube or "catcher" just above the rotary bolt that houses the firing pin. This means you have crappy, government gunpowder blowing crap right into the most critical part of the weapon. This residue rapidly gums up the area where bullet meets bolt and firing pin. (This area is called the firing chamber.) This problem calls for either frequent lubrication to loosen the deposits or a tolerance for the occasional jam. An old neighbour of mine was fortunate enough to not have his M-16 jam when he found himself three feet from a Viet Cong in the jungles of Viet Nam. In that case, the M-16 beat the Kalashnikov.

Another M-16 design flaw is the weak recoil spring that pushes the bolt back into place to chamber the next round after one is fired. This spring and the earlier-mentioned fouling problem caused the addition of the "forward assist" for the M-16A1. Inevitably, experienced shooters will forget that forward assist at the wrong moment because no other weapon I know of has such a jury-rigged loading process as the M-16. Talk about cruft... The operator's manual for an M-16A1 or the current M-16A2 recommends the forward assist be pushed forward with the heel of the hand following each loading of a fresh magazine's first round. The M-16's predecessors; M-14, M-1 Garand, M1903 Springfield, the Krag- Jorgensen and "Trapdoor Springfields" had no need for such a procedure to be followed in the middle of a firefight.

The Kalashnikov designs use a metal rod to collect the gas from a bullet's detonation to push the bolt back. This small but significant difference from the M-16 means the vast majority of the gunpowder residue never reaches the firing chamber of an AK. This is a huge help in not gumming up a Kalashnikov when it is being used. Another tremendous advantage of the Kalashnikovs on campaign is the small number of parts they have. Having field stripped AK's and M-16's many, many times, an M-16 has about three times as many parts. These parts are typically much smaller and more prone to breakage on the lighter M-16. Some of those parts are not "idiot proofed" either. When it's 3 am and you are running on six hours sleep in the last three nights, the last thing you need is to be sure to put some cotter pin in only from the right as the weapon won't fire if that pin was inserted from the left. Weight has always been the major complaint of Kalashnikov-toting troops. The fewer parts for an AK is a logistical advantage as well. Give me a heavy, but reliable AK any day over a dainty little M-16.

Finally, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, show me the numerous copies of the M-16 made overseas comparable to the Kalashnikov experience. I know for a fact that Israel has a Kalashnikov clone called the "Galil" and the South Africans have a Kalashnikov clone (with improvements) as well. I know of no design that copies the M-16.

In case you suspect I am a shooting incompetent, I can assure you I am not. I began shooting at age six and served as rifle team captain in high school. I shot a perfect score in my final annual qualification before leaving active duty. The soldiers were in awe since most of them think officers can't shoot. Army officers don't wear their marksmanship badges as some sort of gentlemanly statement about being above such mundane concerns. In Viet Nam, a platoon leader normally fired only tracers to mark target areas for his soldiers. If I had been enlisted, I would have been a sniper.

I must respectfully disagree with my Marine Corps fellow traveller here. As a former U.S. Army officer, I wielded an M-16A1 in the first Persian Gulf War. I found my M-16 was okay during peacetime, but had some doubts about it for wartime, due to my copious research beforehand. When the more senior officers traded in their M1911A1 Colt .45 ACP pistols for M-16A1's, I acquired one of those pistols as an addition to my personal armoury. I wanted the .45 with me on the off chance that I got into a firefight and the M-16 jammed.

There is a new controversy going on regarding the M-16 and it's degree of rifling. The M-16A1 has a 1 in 12 inches rate of twist while the M-16A2 has a much tighter 1 in 7 inches rate of twist. Increasing the rate of twist increases the range over which the bullet will travel with stability. This has increased the effective range of the M-16 by quite a bit, at the expense of the degree of impact on soft targets. To exaggerate a bit, the M-16A2 reminds me of some of the older, small-calibre weapons that would fling bullets right through their victims with rather minimal impact. The French had accounts of shooting rebels stoned on hashish in North Africa as many as 17 times before bringing them down. That may have been the old Lebel rifles. My suggestion: try to hit a bone...

I stand by my earlier contention regarding the designs of the M-16 and the AK. The M-16 is designed to foul the firing chamber. The "gas" you described in lieu of the propellant is produced by the rapid burning of the propellant. Your description reads as if all the gas (and propellant) follow the bullet out of the muzzle. Obviously, a little of it must be tapped off to cause the next round to be chambered. Inevitably, some of the unburnt propellant will even "turn the corner" and come back down the gas tube right along with all that hot gas headed for the bolt carrier key. Yes, any rifle will foul quickly when using blank ammunition, but the M-16 fouls more quickly than the AK because as soon as the rotary bolt rotates and begins to retract, the gas pushing it has an opening to vent downwards into the firing chamber. You seem to think the gas disappears somehow once the bolt begins to retract. As for the Kalashnikovs, I have had a few at different times and have disassembled and cleaned them many times. They definitely have FEWER moving parts than an M-16 and those parts are sturdier and less prone to breakage. I just spoke recently with a former Israeli tanker who said most of his fellow troopers preferred the M-4's because they are lighter and handier than the Galil, but they aren't as reliable- his words. Some troops can live with the occasional jam if it saves them from lugging around an extra two pounds everywhere they go. The thing I don't understand about the M-16 design's lack of a gas piston rod is that we used them on the M-1 and M-14. Hardly anyone complains of their reliability.

Actually, my final qualification on active duty was fired using the same Colt-manufactured M-16A1 I carried to Saudi and Iraq, not an ink pen. BTW, I was picky about getting an actual Colt M-16 when I first reported to my unit.

I only implied that the M-16 had not been copied because I was unaware of any other nation having copied it or produced it under licence. Surely you understand that the ones produced under licence overseas may have been produced for other than strictly military reasons. Politicians and businessmen don't necessarily produce ideal military weapons, especially when their nations are not in immediate peril. Apparently, you are much more of the military firearms expert and I respect that. Just because you are anonymous (for now) does not mean you should be so insulting. Perhaps you view these "anti-M-16 posts" as endangering your livelihood?

User Journal

Journal Journal: SPOILERS- More thoughts on Matrix: Revolutions

Saw Matrix: Revolutions on opening day and have some observations to share. First, my mind was blown by the flight of the hovercraft all the way up and through the permanent, dark, cloud layer into the beautiful blue sky above that layer. The first implication of this is that all of the electrical interference in that dark layer is keeping the machines from climbing high enough to learn of the blue sky far above. If the machines knew, presumably they could set up solar power collectors and stop having any "need" for the humans in their pods. One could also see this as a new layer to the Matrix universe. One can think of all the elements of the Matrix universe as existing within envelopes going from a smallest envelope at the center placed into a next-size larger envelope which is in a still-larger envelope... The most-enveloped are the humans plugged into the Matrix, the second-most enveloped are the machines keeping the humans cocooned, the third-most enveloped are the humans in Zion, and the least-enveloped of all are Neo, the Oracle and the Architect. The three most-enveloped groups have been kept in permanent ignorance that the "scorching of the sky" has not actually trapped all of them in their cycle of interdependence. Second, perhaps this glimpse is a foreshadowing of the eventual peace and the blue sky visible at the very end of the movie.

I really enjoyed the advertisement for "Tastee Wheat" that I noticed in the train station when Neo, Trinity, and Seraph were chasing the Trainmaster. Next time I see the movie, I will look for more such visual delights.

I really liked the battle in the rainstorm near the end of the movie for two reasons. The first was it was reminiscent of all the rain in Matrix I, such as when Neo was first picked up in the black, Lincoln Continental. The second thing I liked about the rain is it was kind of a tangible version of the streaming, green code that Neo perceived so much in Matrix I & II. The accompanying thunder and lightning were of course used to melodramatic effect during the fight sequence.

Another treat was the black cat used when the little girl is revived on the sidewalk near the end of the movie. Of course, that bit of "deja vu" with the black cat had been in Matrix I.

In the final analysis, Man and Machine need each other. Man will make the choices and the Machines will follow directions and serve their well-defined purposes.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Immediate impressions of Matrix: Revolutions (SPOILERS!!!)

1. Trinity dies for no reason, as they don't use her death in any meaningful way.

See other posts. Trinity's death frees Neo to serve his purpose.

2. The scene with the machines entering the outer hull of Zion was drawn out needlessly, as it contained no switching between the fight at Zion and Neo's plight (think: middle/end of ROTJ)

The fight for the Zion Dock was extremely predictable, I thought, but much of this movie as a whole was rather predictable. Once I concluded that Zion would survive the simplistic attack from the Sentinels and that the real struggle would be Neo's, I was ready to move on. This did not necessarily hurt the scene for other viewers however. In fact, this whole thing is just a gigantic scale rehash of the climax of the original Matrix where the Sentinels are trying to destroy the Nebuchanezzer while Neo is battling the three agents in room 303.

3. The fight scene with Smith/Baines and Neo in the Logos was completely extraneous.

Hardly. Neo's loss of eyesight was shocking after watching him survive innumerable ammo crates of hot lead up to this point. The worst injury I think he had exhibited was coughing up some blood. Then whamo!, he's blind. Wow. It began setting up the following scenes in which there would really be finality brought to this trilogy.

4. Neo's death in the end leaves the humans without a powerful weapon against the machines if they were to decide to attack the humans again. Contrast this with Star Wars and LotR, where the playing field is leveled at the end, or slightly in favor of the protagonists.

Neo's not dead, for heaven's sake. We even see him pulling away from the camera on that Wachowski version of a pickup truck through Neo's own red-tinged "sight". It is only through Neo's "eyes" that we saw the world in that way in this movie. This post reminds me of the goofy ones after Reloaded that said Zion had been destroyed. Like the title of the song that began rolling the credits in the first Matrix; Wake Up!

5. Keanu Reeves performance was subpar, even for him. In the climactic battle with Smith at the end, he looked drugged and was not convincing as the leader of the free world. He had no fire, and it was the machines and the Oracle that actually spurred him on to defeat Smith (esp. the machines, as they revived him after being consumed by Smith).

Umm, Keanu HAS been drugged a time or two. You're totally missing the points of that scene. Everything has a purpose. The purpose of a virus (Smith) is simply to spread. "Humans are a virus that consumes everything and then must move on." Once Smith spreads to his last bit of opposition, his purpose has been fufilled and the virus collapses. Neo's purpose is to continue to exhibit freewill. Smith had no freewill but could only go on annihilating everything around him until it was gone. Once the virus collapsed, all the beings simply returned to their previous state, like a community returning to health. On the other hand, Neo's purpose can never be exhausted as long as there are choices to be made.

6. In the beginning, he was trapped in the train station for no conceivable reason but to lengthen the movie. It served no purpose, benefitted the movie naught and did not lead to any great discoveries that were used later in the film. Likewise, how we could be jacked in without being jacked in was never satisfactorily addressed.

The train station conversation with the Indian family served the very important purpose of showing one of the overriding themes of the trilogy; that Man and Machine need one another. Neo sees machines that are embracing elements of humanity. How the heck were we supposed to get this message otherwise, while Neo was dangling from a helicopter skid and dodging bullets? The quiet, antiseptic get-together was reminiscent of Neo's meeting with the Architect in Reloaded or Neo's conversation with that Minister-guy about Zion's water purification system in Reloaded. As for Neo being jacked-in, for heaven's sake the rest of the humans are virtual pygmies, save for Morpheus. Do they really think they can win a war against a bunch of self-replicating robots through attrition? Neo steadily moves towards a full enlightenment (a la Siddhartha) through the three movies. None of the other humans can so much as stop a bullet in midair by the end of the trilogy. Neo simply sticks up a hand and stops a salvo of flying Sentinels. Eventually, he doesn't even need his eyeballs to get around and master that which nobody and nothing else in this Universe could; the Smith's. Why are you nitpicking about Neo no longer needing a needle in his head to function in the Matrix? Didn't you notice him knocking out Sentinels in Reloaded without using Kung Fu? Come on man, Free your Mind! Or at least suspend some disbelief.

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We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"