Thursday, March 31, 2011

OK, this is insane!

I'd never before heard of the hillclimbing event for motorcycles held at Rachau, Austria, every year from 1995 to 2004. Apparently it was regarded as the toughest hillclimb of them all, bar none.

I found this video of the 1998 Rachau event via an e-mail from Tim G. After viewing it, I can only boggle in amazement. Apparently the object was to ride your bike up the mountainside as far as you could before you fell off. The winner was the person who reached the highest point.

It's now discontinued, so the Rachau Hillclimb is no longer the 'toughest of them all' - but it certainly seems to have been the most insane!


"Mass Migration of America's Golden Geese"

That's the title of an article by Thomas Sowell in Investors Business Daily. He opines:

The latest published data from the 2010 census show how people are moving from place to place within the United States.

In general, people are voting with their feet against places where the liberal, welfare-state policies favored by the intelligentsia are most deeply entrenched.

When you break it down by race and ethnicity, it is all too painfully clear what is happening. Both whites and blacks are leaving California, the poster state for the liberal, welfare-state and nanny-state philosophy.

Whites are also fleeing the big Northeastern liberal, welfare states like Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as the same kinds of states in the Midwest, such as Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.

Although California has long been a prime destination of Asian immigrants and the homes of their descendants, the 2010 census shows a striking increase in the Asian American population of Nevada, more so than any other state. Nevada is adjacent to California but has no income tax or the hostile climate for business that California maintains.

The movement of the black population - especially educated young blacks - is the most striking of all.

. . .

In short ... those with better prospects are leaving the states that are repelling their most productive citizens in general with liberal policies.

. . .

Treating businesses and affluent people as prey, rather than assets, often pays off politically in the short run - and elections are held in the short run. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is a viable political strategy.

As whites were the first to start leaving Detroit, then-mayor Coleman Young saw this only as an exodus of people who were likely to vote against him, enhancing his re-election prospects. But what was good for Mayor Young was disastrous for Detroit.

There is a lesson here somewhere, but it is very doubtful if either the intelligentsia or the politicians will learn it.

There's more at the link. He makes a telling case.

The more I read Thomas Sowell, the more I regard him as one of the most clear-headed thinkers of our generation. I note that the late, great Jeff Cooper believed him to be "the most perceptive of current commentators". I wouldn't put Mr. Sowell on that pedestal alone, but he's certainly right up there.


That's one way to clear the river!

The leaves may fall in the autumn, but in the spring, it's time for bombs to fall . . . in northern China, at any rate. StrategyPage reports:

In what has become an annual event, the Chinese government has ordered the army and air force to try and prevent flooding on the Yellow river, near the Mongolian border, by using bombs and shells to break up the temporary ice dams that sometimes form near there, and cause Spring melt water to back up and flood towns and farms along the river.

Xian H-6 bomber

The 5,500 kilometer long river, the second longest in China, has this ice dam problem in 800 kilometers of the river that flows through chilly Inner Mongolia (the Chinese province, which is next to Mongolia the country). This year, the air force sent three H-6 bombers on March 22nd, which dropped 24 half-ton bombs.

There's more at the link.

One can only hope that they confine their bombs to the northern reaches of the river, and don't get too far south. The Three Gorges Dam might not take kindly to a few large bombs on its sluice gates . . .


The myth of handgun "stopping power": Part 2 of 3

In the first part of this three-part series, we saw that there's no such thing as 'stopping power'. It can't be quantified; therefore, it can't be measured; therefore, it has no objective existence. We went on to examine bullet energy as a primary factor in a round's effectiveness for defensive use. In this article, I'd like to examine how a bullet performs in flesh, to affect its target, and how this affects its ability to prevent an attacker from continuing his assault.

A bullet can be constructed of various materials, in different shapes and forms. The subject is far too complex to deal with here; those wishing to learn more should refer to the very useful introductory article on Wikipedia. Suffice it to say, for our purposes, that almost all effective handgun defensive loads use hollow point bullets.

A hollow point is an expanding bullet that has a pit or hollowed out shape in its tip, generally intended to cause the bullet to expand upon entering a target in order to decrease penetration and disrupt more tissue as it travels through the target. It is also used for controlled penetration, where over-penetration could cause collateral damage (such as on an aircraft). In essence, the hollow point bullet has two interrelated purposes: to increase its size once within the target, thus maximizing tissue damage and blood loss or shock, and by remaining in the target to expend all of its kinetic energy in the target, some of which will be lost if the bullet continues through the target. Jacketed hollow points (JHPs) or plated hollow points are covered in a coating of harder metal to increase bullet strength and to prevent fouling the barrel with lead stripped from the bullet. The term hollow-cavity bullet is used to describe a hollow point where the hollow is unusually large, sometimes dominating the volume of the bullet, and causes extreme expansion or fragmentation on impact.

Hollow point bullets: from left to right, .45 ACP, .38 Special, .44 Special, .44 Magnum (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

When a hollow point ... bullet strikes a soft target, the pressure created in the pit forces the material (usually lead) around the inside edge to expand outwards, increasing the axial diameter of the projectile as it passes through. This process is commonly referred to as mushrooming, because the resulting shape, a widened, rounded nose on top of a cylindrical base, typically resembles a mushroom.

The greater frontal surface area of the expanded bullet limits its depth of penetration into the target, and causes more extensive tissue damage along the wound path.

There's more at the link.

Remember what we said about bullet energy in the first article in this series? We want to dump as much of it as possible into our target. A solid bullet that punches a neat, knitting-needle-type hole, in one side of our assailant and out the other, hasn't expended much energy in doing so. It takes most of its energy with it as it leaves his body. On the other hand, a hollow point bullet expands, giving it a wider frontal area and creating more drag, more friction, against body tissues. This slows it down more rapidly. Ideally, it will come to a stop within the body, thus transferring all its kinetic energy to the target; but even if it doesn't, it'll still dump a lot more energy into our assailant than a solid bullet that didn't slow down so much.

This offers another advantage: it reduces the risk of over-penetration. Remember, in the eyes of the law, you're responsible for every shot you fire. If one of your rounds misses its intended target and strikes an innocent person, you're liable for that. If one of your rounds goes right through the person attacking you, and strikes an innocent person behind him, you're liable for that. You will be held accountable for the results of such shots. Therefore, it's better to use ammunition that minimizes the risk of over-penetration, so as to minimize the danger to innocent persons who may be within your line of fire beyond your target.

Over and above transferring more energy, a hollow point bullet can potentially inflict more damage on organs, blood vessels and tissues in the body. This may be vitally important for your safety. Let's say, for example, that you fire a shot to stop a criminal attack. Your pistol fires a 9mm. Parabellum bullet, which is 0.355” in diameter. This gives it a circular cross-section, or area, of almost exactly one-tenth of a square inch (0.099 square inches, to be precise). If it doesn't expand, that's going to be the largest area it directly impacts in its passage through the attacker's body. If it passes even so close as a quarter of an inch from a major blood vessel (e.g. the aorta), it might not affect it at all, which will do little or nothing to incapacitate your opponent. On the other hand, if it expands to one-and-a-half times its original diameter (something most good-quality defensive hollow point bullets should accomplish), that makes its diameter 0.5325”, which translates to a cross-sectional area more than twice as large (0.2227 square inches). That might be sufficient for the edge of the bullet to scrape against the aorta and cut it, leading to very rapid internal blood loss that will incapacitate your attacker in a matter of seconds.

Unfired .40 S&W cartridge plus expanded hollow point bullet (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Of course, that also supports the argument for cartridges with bigger – i.e. larger-caliber – bullets, if you can control the recoil they generate. A .45 bullet, which is .451” in diameter, is going to have about sixteen hundredths of a square inch of circular cross-section, even if it doesn't expand. If it expands to one-and-a-half times its original diameter, as is likely with modern hollow point bullets, that increases its frontal area to more than a third of a square inch, making it even more effective. That can potentially do much more damage to an assailant than the 9mm. projectile we analyzed in the previous paragraph.

These reasons explain why hollow point ammunition is almost ubiquitous for defensive and law enforcement use. In fact, I can't think of a single major US law enforcement agency which does not issue, or require the use of, hollow point handgun ammunition for on-duty carry. There may be a few, but if so, they'll be a very tiny minority compared to the rest. This has another advantage for civilian shooters: we can find out what ammo is carried by our local (or State, or Federal) law enforcement agency(ies), and buy a few boxes for ourselves. You may be sure that the authorities have tested it carefully for performance (or relied on exhaustive testing by others), otherwise they wouldn't be buying it. If it's good enough for them, it's likely to be good enough for us, too!

(A word of warning: do not, I repeat, do not be taken in by wildly extravagant claims about bullet performance made by certain manufacturers or their dealers! Two current examples of the breed are Extreme Shock USA and RBCD Performance Plus. These and similar vendors offer [extremely expensive] ammunition, advertising it in high-blown, pseudo-scientific language as if it were the best thing since sliced bread. However, independent testing and analysis of such ammunition has produced disappointing results, to put it mildly: so I can't recommend it. Stick with conventional hollow point loads, as used by local, State and Federal law enforcement authorities. If anyone tries to sell you something that they claim is umpteen gazillion times better, ask them why, if it's so great, the cops or the armed forces aren't using it. If they claim that they are, insist that they identify the agency(ies) concerned, and verify their claims. Odds are they'll refuse to name their law enforcement or military customers “because we have a confidentiality agreement with them”, or something along those lines. If you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you. Cash only, please, and in small bills.)

We've discussed why hollow point bullets are our preferred option for defensive ammunition. However, there are a couple of potential disadvantages to them as well. First, they may not feed reliably in some handguns. Semi-automatic pistols must strip a cartridge from a magazine, slide it along a feed ramp and up into the chamber, fire it, then extract it from the chamber and eject it from the weapon before replacing it with a fresh cartridge. This makes them much more ammunition-sensitive than revolvers, which rely on the shooter to insert and remove rounds manually. In fact, Massad Ayoob (one of the foremost authorities on self-defense issues in the USA) recommends that those choosing semi-auto pistols should shoot two hundred rounds of their chosen defensive cartridge, through their actual carry weapon, using the magazines they will carry for defense, without experiencing a single malfunction, before trusting that weapon/cartridge combination as reliable. I entirely agree with him, and I've followed his prescription faithfully for many years. Good defensive ammunition isn't cheap (it can cost a dollar per round or more), so this is an expensive proposition: but I believe it's worth it. It helps me sleep better at night to know I can trust my weapons and ammunition.

Another potential disadvantage of hollow point ammunition is its use in cartridges of low power (e.g. .25 ACP, .32 ACP, etc.) These may not impart enough energy to the bullet for it to reliably penetrate to the assailant's vital organs; so a hollow point, which will increase the drag on the bullet in human flesh and slow it down more quickly, may make it even less effective! For such cartridges, the use of solid or 'ball' ammunition is worthwhile, to give the bullet the best possible chance to penetrate to vital organs or nerve centers – although you'll have to shoot as accurately as possible to hit them. It may lead to over-penetration, but that's a risk you'll have to take . . . bearing in mind, of course, that you're liable for every round you shoot, as mentioned above. (That may be another very good reason to carry a more capable weapon/cartridge combination, so as to take advantage of hollow point ammunition's advantages!)

A quick word about handloaded or reloaded ammunition. Many shooters load their own ammunition as a way to save money, or tailor a particular load to a specific gun. I've done so myself, and enjoyed it. However, many authorities suggest (and I agree) that, for defensive purposes, you should use factory-loaded ammunition. There are three reasons. First, ammunition from a reputable manufacturer is likely to have undergone stringent quality controls, minimizing the risk of any problems. Unless one's careful and painstaking in one's reloading habits, it's hard for a private citizen to match that level of care. Second, the factory has tailored the bullet, propellant and primer to work well together. They've probably conducted extensive testing before settling on a final combination. Again, private citizens seldom have the time or the resources to test and experiment to the same degree. Finally, if one uses the same ammunition for defense as that carried by major law enforcement agencies, this may help to avoid (or defeat) any lawsuit filed by Joe Scumbag, alleging that you shot him with an excessively evil, damaging and injurious bullet. If you can demonstrate that you're carrying what the cops carry, the members of the jury are likely to take a dim view of Mr. Scumbag's attempt at legalized extortion.

Let's talk for a moment about terminal ballistics, which is “the study of the behavior of a projectile when it hits its target”. A hollow point bullet is designed to expand as body fluids and tissue are forced into the cavity in its nose. The pressure pushes the sides of the cavity outward, expanding the bullet and sometimes causing fragmentation as well. However, the human body isn't homogeneous. It's comprised of materials of different densities and consistencies: bone, muscles, tendons, flesh, fat, internal organs, etc. Each type of tissue or material may affect the bullet differently. (Note, too, that bullets can glance off bone, or tumble to one side if part of the bullet is affected by denser material than another, so that they may not pass through the body in a straight line. They may even ricochet around the torso cavity, or inside the skull. It's been known to happen.) Furthermore, the hollow point cavity may be blocked or clogged before the bullet enters flesh (for example, by a heavy winter coat worn by the assailant). If it's plugged by an unyielding material like that, the bullet may not expand at all, and may instead behave like a solid or 'ball' round. (This is yet another reason why, more often than not, multiple shots are necessary to stop an attacker.)

Many authorities agree that the faster a hollow point bullet is moving, the more likely it is to expand under the pressure of bodily fluids in the nose cavity. Unfortunately, no handgun round moves very fast, particularly in comparison to a rifle bullet. Examine the muzzle velocities listed in the table in Part 1 of this series, and you'll see what I mean. Manufacturers have worked hard to improve the design of defensive handgun bullets, so that today they're more likely to expand than earlier versions; but they're still not foolproof. In general terms, a slow-moving hollow point bullet is less likely to expand than a faster one, so it's not a bad idea to select the highest-velocity, highest-energy round one can control in rapid fire.

Some argue that a speeding bullet can inflict hydrostatic shock, adding to its wounding potential. The subject is controversial. I accept that hydrostatic shock is a real phenomenon, but I question whether relatively slow-moving handgun bullets can produce enough of it to matter. In my opinion, based on fairly extensive experience, high-velocity rifle bullets are more likely to generate hydrostatic shock on impact, contributing significantly to their wounding effect. I suggest you read the available material for yourself, and make up your own mind. Meanwhile, don't let the debate on this issue cloud your selection of defensive ammunition. You already have enough information to select an appropriate cartridge and bullet. Hydrostatic shock, if any, is a bonus.

Another problem affecting hollow point ammunition is the need to defeat intermediate obstacles before striking the target. For example, if someone's trying to run down a police officer with a motor vehicle, the officer may have to fire at him through the windscreen. Auto windshields are a notoriously difficult obstacle for bullets. Their glass is so tough, and the lamination holding its layers together is so tenacious, that bullets have been known to change course by forty degrees or more after passing through it. This may make it difficult to hit a driver who's a foot or more away from the glass! Multiple rounds will almost certainly be necessary under such circumstances, to ensure that at least some of them strike home.

Bullet penetrating four panes of glass (image courtesy of reader Derek W.)

As civilians, we're much less likely to face such a situation (although it's not impossible). However, if we have to defend ourselves in our homes, we may find some of our bullets passing through drywall or furniture before hitting our assailant. These obstacles can divert projectiles, too, and can clog up the bullet's hollow point, or 'mash' it closed, preventing the bullet from expanding. Under such circumstances, one does the best one can with what one has.

To close, let me reiterate what was said last night: no matter what handgun, cartridge or bullet you use, multiple shots are probably going to be necessary to stop an assailant. Don't be surprised by this. Choose the most effective combination of weapon, cartridge and bullet that you can control; practice until you're competent with them; and be prepared. If trouble comes, do the best you can. As Clint Smith so memorably advises: “Shoot what's available, as long as it's available, until something else becomes available!”

In the final part of this series, we'll discuss bullet placement: where and how to shoot an assailant in order to stop his attack.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why they fought

Courtesy of Radney Balko, we're treated to this musical reminder of why (allegedly) our forefathers fought for our freedom.

Trouble is, I'm not so sure it's satire! Altogether too many people in these United States appear to think like that!


Giggle of the day

Received via e-mail from Miss D., who got it in turn via e-mail from Alaskan Geek, Montana Architecture Student:

The irony! It burns!


Doofus Of The Day #459

Today's award goes to the unnamed 'star' of the video clip below. The Dorsal Fin describes it as follows:

YouTube user dnahoghunter recently posted the ... video to demonstrate how NOT to handle a juvenile blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus). The video description points out that this incident was the result of improper safety and the shark was "simply doing what nature intended".

While the blacktip shark is generally viewed as harmless toward humans, this video shows that even small wild animals can inflict quick damage on a person, given certain circumstances.

I recommend The Dorsal Fin to anyone who wants to learn more about shark attacks and such things. It's an interesting site.

On to the video!

Anyone would think the shark wasn't grateful for being caught! Who would have guessed?


Was there a major security breach at AT&T last week???

I'm intrigued by a report from Barrett Lyon.

Quietly this morning [March 22nd, 2011] customers of AT&T browsing Facebook did so by way of China then Korea. Typically AT&T customers’ data would have routed over the AT&T network directly to Facebook’s network provider but due to a routing mistake their private data went first to Chinanet then via Chinanet to SK Broadband in South Korea, then to Facebook. This means that anything you looked at via Facebook without encryption was exposed to anyone operating Chinanet, which has a very suspect Modus operandi.

. . .

What could have happened with your data? Most likely absolutely nothing. Yet, China is well known for it’s harmful networking practices by limiting network functionality and spying on its users, and when your data is flowing over their network, your data could be treated as any Chinese citizens’. Does that include capturing your session ID information, personal information, emails, photos, chat conversations, mappings to your friends and family, etc? One could only speculate, however it’s possible.

This brings up a lot of questions:

  • Should Facebook and or AT&T have notified their customers that their personal information was flowing over a network that they may not trust?
  • Should Facebook enable SSL on all accounts by default?
  • Was this actually a privacy breach or just the way the Internet functions?
  • Does Facebook have an ethical responsibility to buy additional IP connectivity to major broadband and mobile networks to prevent routing mishaps?
  • Is it time to focus on new options within BGP to prevent high profile sites from routing to non-authenticated networks?

There's more at the link.

This raises all sorts of questions! Who authorized this re-routing? Was it, in fact, authorized at all, or was AT&T's network 'hacked' by outsiders to re-route this traffic? Why haven't we heard more about this in the mainstream media?

If anyone has any more information about this incident, or links to Web sites with more information, would you please post it as a comment? I'd love to know what happened.


The myth of handgun "stopping power": Part 1 of 3

(This is the first of three articles that will address this subject. Part Two may be found here, and Part Three here.)

I've been reading several articles, forum threads and other sources that are re-hashing the tired old subject of a handgun's 'stopping power'; the ability of a handgun bullet to stop an attacker with one or two shots. There's so much nonsense out there that I thought I'd tackle the subject myself, since I've needed it on more than a few occasions!

The first thing that worries me is that all too many people, including some who should know better, actually believe that 'stopping power' exists. Let's be blunt.

If you can't quantify something, you can't measure it.

'Stopping power' can't be quantified. It can't be assessed in feet and inches, or gallons and pints, or pounds and ounces. You can't say that weapon X, or cartridge Y, or bullet Z, have this or that many units of it. That means it cannot be measured; and, if it can't be measured, it doesn't exist as an objective reality. It's purely a subjective concept.

What we can quantify, and measure objectively, and assess experimentally, are a number of factors which can be used to assess the relative effectiveness in combat of different handgun cartridges, calibers, bullet types, etc. However, even these factors can't be combined into a single measurement that equates to 'stopping power', because there are many variables affecting each defensive situation and every shot fired.

The first factor to consider is the kinetic energy of the bullet. Energy is "the capacity to do work", according to the classic scientific definition. The bullet's energy must cause sufficient injury to an attacker, and/or cause sufficient pain, to stop his/her attack on us. Clearly, the more energy a bullet has, the more "capacity to do work" it possesses. A low-energy round may do more to annoy the target than to stop him! For example, earlier this month, two men chased down and captured their attacker after he'd shot them multiple times with a low-power handgun. Initially, they didn't even realize they'd been shot!

Two Live Oak men chased down their alleged assailant after being shot Friday, said LOPD Chief Buddy Williams.

The men, shot a total of five times with a .22-caliber handgun, apprehended the alleged gunman, 30-year-old Omar Garcia of 13567 116th Place, Live Oak, just as police arrived, said Williams.

. . .

Police say the men did not know they had been hit ...

. . .

Both victims, who remain hospitalized in Gainesville, are expected to survive, said Williams.

There's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.

(This isn't to say that a low-power cartridge such as a .22 Long Rifle can't kill someone. Clearly, if it hits a vital organ or blood vessel, it most certainly can! However, the report above illustrates that a low-power cartridge doesn't impart much of a shock to the human body. It can't be relied upon to stop [i.e. incapacitate] an attacker. No bullet, no matter how powerful, will do so if it only inflicts a flesh wound - i.e. one that affects a non-critical area of the body, missing all vital organs and/or blood vessels and/or major bone structures. Such injuries are unlikely to cause either death or incapacitation. We'll have more to say about that in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.)

So, our first 'rule of thumb' is that the more energy a bullet has, the greater its potential to effectively stop an attacker. Here's a table of a number of common handgun, shotgun and rifle rounds, showing the energy each produces at the muzzle. (Being in the USA, I'm measuring velocity in feet per second and energy in foot-pounds. For the benefit of readers in countries using the metric system, I've provided conversions to, respectively, meters per second and joules.) All figures have been drawn from the Web sites of various ammunition manufacturers (e.g. Remington, Winchester, etc.), and are representative of similar loads from other manufacturers in the same cartridges/calibers and bullet weights.

(Click the table for a larger view)

You'll notice at once that even the most powerful handgun round listed (the .44 Magnum) has less than half the muzzle energy of the least powerful shotgun round (20 gauge #3 buckshot) and only a little over half the energy of the least powerful rifle round (.223 Remington/5.56x45mm. NATO). Briefly, the energy of almost any handgun round pales in comparison to the energy of almost any rifle or shotgun round. The only reason we'd use a handgun in a fight, in preference to a much more powerful long gun, is that the latter are much more difficult to carry around with us. A handgun can be readily and discreetly carried on our persons. Thus, its availability compensates (to some extent) for its deficiency in projectile energy. "A gun in the hand is worth two in the safe", as the saying goes.

Handgun cartridge size comparison. From left to right: an AA battery for reference purposes;
.44 Magnum; .357 Magnum; .38 Special; .45 ACP; .38 Super; 9mm. Parabellum; .32 ACP; .22 LR.

These energy figures are useful in comparing defensive cartridges to those that have a good track record of stopping aggressors in real life. I'm not going to go into the perennial controversy about 'one-shot stops'. It's both pointless and useless. The odds of stopping any fight with a single shot from a handgun are very slim indeed. It's normal for multiple shots to be needed, so I don't understand why so many shooters argue whether this or that round is more likely to stop the fight with a single shot. One of the top firearms instructors in the United States, Jim Higginbotham, has this to say on the subject:

I can find no real measure - referred to by some as a mathematical model - of stopping power or effectiveness. And I have looked for 44 years now! Generally speaking I do see that bigger holes (in the right place) are more effective than smaller holes but the easy answer to that is just to shoot your smaller gun more - "a big shot is just a little shot that kept shooting". True, I carry a .45 but that is because I am lazy and want to shoot less. A good bullet in 9mm in the right place (the spine!) will get the job done. If you hit the heart, 3 or 4 expanded 9mms will do about what a .45 expanding bullet will do or one might equal .45 ball . . . IF (note the big if) it penetrates. That is not based on any formula, it is based on what I have found to happen - sometimes real life does not make sense.

. . .

Circumstances in a real gunfight are unpredictable ... In real life, your gunfight may be dark, cold, rainy, etc. The subject may be anorexic (a lot of bad guys are not very healthy) or he may be obese (effective penetration and stopping power of your weapon). There are dozens of modifiers which change the circumstance, most not under your control. My only advice on this is what I learned from an old tanker: "Shoot until the target changes shape or catches fire!" Vertical to horizontal is a shape change, and putting that one more round into his chest at point blank range may catch his clothes on fire, even without using black powder.

We tell our military folks to be prepared to hit an enemy fighter from 3-7 times with 5.56 ball, traveling at over 3,000 feet per second. This approach sometimes worked, but I know of several cases where it has not, even "center mass".

With handguns, and with expanding bullets, it is even more unpredictable, but through years of study I have developed a general formula, subject to the above mentioned unpredictable circumstances.

  • 2-3 hits with a .45;
  • 4-6 with a .40;
  • 5-8 with a 9mm.

There's more at the link.

I wholeheartedly endorse Mr. Higginbotham's conclusions from my own experience of handgun combat (which spanned 18 years of severe civil unrest in another country). I'll add this to them: the more energy a round is able to transfer to an assailant, the more effective it's likely to be at neutralizing him. Note that mere possession of energy does not guarantee that a round will be more or less effective than another: it has to actually transfer that energy on demand. Remember, energy is "the capacity to do work". Unless that energy is dumped into the attacker, it can't work on him.

The 'average' standard-pressure .45 ACP or .45 Colt round will offer between 350-425 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle; a .40 S&W will offer 375-450; and a standard-pressure 9mm. will offer 325-400. If we average out these figures, we get a range of 350-425 foot-pounds of energy (or 474-576 joules, for those who think in metric terms). If our selected cartridge falls within this range, and is able to transfer that energy to the target, it's likely to be a reasonably effective defensive round, given a few good, accurate hits on the assailant. Less than that, and it may not be as effective as we'd wish. More than that, and it may be even more effective: but there's a flip side to the energy 'coin'.

Remember Newton's third law of motion?

"To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction: or the forces of two bodies on each other are always equal and are directed in opposite directions."

The energy imparted to a bullet by the burning propellant in a cartridge case is matched by the energy imparted by that same propellant to the gun from which it's fired. If the bullet's leaving the barrel with an energy of, say, 400 foot-pounds, the gun is going to recoil in your hand(s) with the same 400 foot-pounds of energy. Now, because the gun's a lot heavier than the bullet, its weight absorbs much more of the recoil energy, reducing the amount that reaches your hands; and it spreads that energy out over the area of the grip, meaning that much less of it affects any particular point on your hand. Still, you have to control the gun against the 'kick' of that recoil energy, and bring it back into line for a follow-up shot if necessary (and, as we've seen, that's more likely than not to be required!).

Clearly, the heavier the handgun, the more recoil energy it will absorb; but, the lighter the handgun, the more recoil energy it will make you absorb. Similarly, the more surface area there is on the grip for your hand to grasp, the more the recoil impulse will be spread across your hand; while on a smaller grip, the recoil impulse will be more concentrated, and you'll feel it more. This is illustrated by the picture below, which depicts all five semi-automatic models of Glock pistols chambered in the 9mm. Parabellum caliber. Clockwise from top left, they are the Model 17L, Model 19, Model 26, Model 17, and Model 34.

(Image courtesy of Ken Lunde)

It will be readily apparent that the full-size frame of the Models 17, 17L and 34 will spread the recoil across more of your hand than the compact frame of the Model 19, and far more than the diminutive frame of the sub-compact Model 26, which is so small that it offers only a two-fingered grip. As a result, even though they fire identical cartridges, the felt recoil of the Model 26 will be considerably greater than the full-size models.

Weight and size considerations should directly affect your choice of a handgun and the caliber or cartridge for which it's chambered. It's counter-productive (even dangerous) to select a handgun with more recoil than you can effectively control. If you're not going to shoot it often, a lighter-recoiling gun is almost mandatory, because it takes regular practice to control a hard-kicking weapon. Even if you're going to practice regularly, your physical size and build, muscular strength and dexterity, and any injuries or infirmities, will directly affect 'how much gun' you can control. I've trained many disabled and/or handicapped shooters who were unable to handle anything more than the minuscule recoil of a .22 Long Rifle cartridge. Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings, by learning to shoot it fast and accurately, they became better able to defend themselves against attack.

Therefore, before investing your hard-earned money in a handgun, learn how it fits your hand, how it recoils when shooting good defensive ammunition (which is usually more powerful than cheaper 'range' or 'practice' ammo), and whether or not you can control it in rapid, accurate fire on a target. Ask your friends with guns to let you shoot their weapons; patronize a shooting range that rents out various kinds and calibers of handguns; and attend a suitable introductory training course where you can ask questions.

That's enough for the first article in this series. In Part 2, we'll examine how bullets cause injury, and how to select ammunition that's suitable for defensive use. In Part 3, we'll look at bullet placement, and why that's the most critical aspect of all when it comes to using a handgun for self-defense. Only when all these factors are considered together will we be able to draw any conclusions about handgun 'stopping power' (or, rather, the myth thereof).


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Building Castells in the air

Back in 2008 I wrote about the Castell festival troupes in Catalonia, Spain, which compete with each other to see who can build the tallest 'human tower'.

Thanks to a link provided on an IRC chat forum this morning, I came across this video clip of a recent Castell festival in the city of Tarragona. It's one of the best I've yet seen celebrating this gymnastic art form.

The celebrations after the festival are also great fun . . . although your head might not agree, next morning!


World's oldest jokes prove our sense of humor hasn't improved!

Reuters reports that a collection of the world's oldest jokes clearly demonstrates that the human sense of humor hasn't evolved all that far.

The world's oldest recorded joke has been traced back to 1900 BC and suggests toilet humor was as popular with the ancients as it is today.

It is a saying of the Sumerians, who lived in what is now southern Iraq and goes: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."

It heads the world's oldest top 10 joke list published by the University of Wolverhampton Thursday.

A 1600 BC gag about a pharaoh, said to be King Snofru, comes second -- "How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish."

The oldest British joke dates back to the 10th Century and reveals the bawdy face of the Anglo-Saxons -- "What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before? Answer: A key."

There's more at the link.

Looks like scatological humor has been with us for at least as long as eschatological speculation!


Iowahawk does it again!

The inimitable Iowahawk has reduced me to fits of laughter yet again. He's composed an ode to US peacekeeping operations in Libya, set to the tune of 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' from the 1964 movie 'Mary Poppins'. Here's the first verse:


In trying to explain himself when bombing foreign lands,
It behooves a modern president to keep his prose in hand.
One little slip in lexicon accounting for the rubble
Will end up in congressional investigative trouble.

I must admit the messaging is really quite atrocious
But if you say it soft enough, you'll always sound precocious,

The rest of the song may be found at the link. Wonderful stuff!


Doofus Of The Day #458

Today's award goes to Senator Schumer of New York.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Democratic Senate leadership, got on a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning without realizing the reporters were already listening in. Schumer thought he was on a private line with four Democratic senators who were to talk with reporters about the current budget stalemate.

Schumer instructed the group . . . to tell reporters that the GOP is refusing to negotiate.

He told the group to make sure they label the GOP spending cuts as "extreme."

"I always use extreme, Schumer said. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use."

Someone must have finally told Schumer that the media were listening and he stopped talking midsentence.

. . .

The four senators came on the call after Schumer abruptly went silent and followed Schumer's script closely.

Coordinating the message is common in both parties, but it's uncommon for reporters to actually hear them rehearsing.

There's more at the link.

Way to go, Chuckie . . . letting your dirty tricks hang out for all the world to see!

(Not that he's alone in that, of course: I'm quite sure exactly the same tricks are used by Republicans as well. Honesty, ethical conduct and morality were abandoned long ago by virtually all of our 'professional politicians'. Senator Schumer merely happens to be a particularly egregious example of that breed.)


Happy 100th birthday to the 1911 pistol!

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the formal adoption by the United States Army of the "United States Pistol, Caliber .45, M1911".

Colt M1911 pistol (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Cutaway drawing of 1911 pistol from 1920's War Department field manual

The pistol's design (and that of its .45 ACP cartridge) predated its adoption, of course. John Moses Browning's earliest patent for the pistol was issued on April 20th, 1897, as US Patent #580,924. His second, more developed patent was issued on February 14th, 1911, as US Patent #984,519.

The pistol served with great success through World War I, and was modified to incorporate various improvements suggested by service during that conflict. The modified version was known as the M1911A1, and entered service in 1924.

M1911A1 pistol of World War II vintage

Cutaway drawing of M1911A1 pistol (click the image for a larger view)

The Model 1911 pistol, in various forms, has been continuously in production since 1911, and it's still selling like hot cakes. It's been manufactured in many countries, and has been adapted from its original caliber of .45 ACP to shoot other cartridges, including (but not limited to) the .455 Webley Auto Mk. I, .38 Super, 9mm. Parabellum, and even the .22 Long Rifle.

The 1911 has been an iconic weapon in the hands of American fighting men, perhaps most famously Sergeant Alvin C. York during World War I. In specialized form, it's still the standard-issue sidearm for Force Recon elements of Marine Expeditionary Units of the US Marine Corps. It also arms the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. In competition, it's claimed that 1911 pistols have won more pistol contests than all other types of pistols put together. I'm not sure how that could be verified, but based on the number of 1911's produced, for so great a length of time, it's certainly feasible.

Today, the 1911 pistol is available for a wide range of purposes, competitive or defensive, at widely varying prices, depending on the level of fit, finish and accessories desired. Options range from what I personally consider to be the best 'value-for-money' entry-level 1911, the STI Spartan, retailing for about $700:

(Picture courtesy of STI's Web site)

to what I think is the most eye-catching 'barbecue gun'-style 1911 pistol generally available, the Limited Edition Les Baer Presentation Grade 1911, listed at $6,590.

(Picture courtesy of Les Baer's Web site)

(Wipes drool from keyboard . . . )

That's one heck of a track record! I wonder how many criminals, enemies and others have been dispatched to their eternal reward by pistols of this design? I have a feeling the number is probably mind-bogglingly large . . .


Monday, March 28, 2011

Cthulhu cupcakes!

I'm sure fans of H. P. Lovecraft will agree that these are too cute for words.

They're Cthulhu cupcakes, made by Raquel, who describes herself as "a girl from Portugal who enjoys video games, comic books, fantasy and sci-fi among other geek stuff". You can read more about them on her blog. (I came across them via a link at The Lovecraftsman.)


Not your average Royal Wedding souvenir!

I'm a bit boggled by the range of tatty, tawdry, thoroughly disreputable 'souvenirs' being hawked by vendors trying to make a fast buck out of the forthcoming Royal nuptials in England. Among the items you can buy, if your sense of the aesthetic and appropriate permits:

Crown Jewels condoms (most emphatically not by Royal appointment!)

A Royal Wedding fridge/freezer combination (do they expect frigidity to be a problem?)

As if there wasn't already enough saccharine sweetness gushing forth
about the wedding, how about some souvenir clotted cream fudge?

There are more weird, wonderful and wacky gifts at the link, if you're interested.


Japan, two weeks after the earthquake

More and more information is coming to light about the devastation left by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan two weeks ago. The Atlantic's photo blog, In Focus, has a series of very moving photographs of the ruins left behind, and the recovery efforts. Here are three examples, reduced in size to fit this blog.

Burying the dead in a temporary mass grave in Higashi Matsushima, northern Japan.
The death toll at the time of writing stands at 10,901, with an additional 17,649 missing.

A 150-meter section of the highway linking Tokyo and the quake-damaged Ibaraki prefecture,
shown on March 11th and (after repair) on March 17th. Fast work by anyone's standards!

A piano rests forlornly in floodwaters in Rikuzentakat

There are many more photographs at the link. Sobering and recommended viewing.

The heartwarming story has also emerged of Hideaki Akaiwa, a man who wouldn't give up. When the earthquake struck, followed by the tsunami, he was not at home; but he knew his wife would be in danger. He donned a scuba-diving outfit and set out, swimming through the tsunami to his home, where he was able to rescue his wife and bring her to safety. Not content with that, he swam back into the disaster zone to find and rescue his mother as well!

That took an awful lot of guts and determination. I'll buy that man a drink any time!


Say what???

I've had dealings with many law enforcement officers and agencies in my time . . . but I've never before heard of something like this! State Police in Connecticut have applied for a warrant to arrest a Superior Court judge . . . because she refused to sign a warrant they'd filled out to arrest someone else! They've accused her of "coercion and hindering a police investigation of an assault".

Surely it's a judge's responsibility (not to mention her right) to refuse to sign a warrant if she believes that it's not justified? I can accept that in a case of judicial misconduct, or where other aggravating circumstances exist, action against the judge might become necessary: but that usually happens after an investigation, and is justified by abundant evidence that the judge in question is way out of line. In this case, no such evidence has been publicly reported. On the other hand, if the State Police want to arrest the judge purely on the grounds that they believe their initial warrant was justified, and she refused it out of pique, or spite, or general lack of co-operation, that's a matter for the State's government and its Supreme Court. If necessary, they can remove her from office and/or impeach her - and/or do the same to any officers of the State Police who've overstepped their boundaries.

This smells to high heaven. Can any readers in the area shed any more light on the subject? If so, please tell us about it in a comment.


Glad for a friend, sad for her car

My friend FarmGirl had a close encounter of the less-than-desirable kind with a Colorado elk on Friday.

She's all right, but her new-to-her Ford Crown Victoria is totaled - and the elk is just a smear on the road! To add insult to injury, the title for the car arrived by post today. She seems to be OK, apart from a long list of bruises, bangs and scrapes. I'm very happy she's still around, to put it mildly!

This accident is the perfect illustration of my concerns with modern 'econocars'. They may be light and economical, but in an accident, they crumple up like tinfoil. Despite all the safety devices like airbags, crumple zones and the like, graphically illustrated in video clips of crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the occupants of these small vehicles are at significant risk of injury. A couple of weeks ago, Miss D. and I passed the scene of an accident on a local interstate. A Nissan Cube had been struck from behind by a heavy truck. The whole rear of the light car, from rear gate to halfway along the front doors, had crumpled into a flattened sheet of tinfoil and shattered glass. I don't know what the injuries might have been to anyone in the front seats, but I suspect anyone in the rear wouldn't have lived long enough to know what hit them.

That's one reason I drive a 2005 Ford F150 pickup. After my spinal injury in 2004, followed by two surgeries (including a spinal fusion), the neurosurgeon told me very, very seriously that if I ever injured my spine again, in the same location, I'd either be paraplegic, or dead. His advice was to drive something that offered adequate protection, in case of an accident . . . to use his words: "Something with enough metal beneath you and around you to take care of business".

I listened.

FarmGirl just found out the hard way how good his advice was. I shudder to think of the condition my friend might be in right now if she'd been driving an econocar! Go read all about her adventures at her blog. There are lots more pictures, too, if you scroll down.


(P.S.: Ignore the 2007 date on the photograph - the date in her camera was off.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Monday morning Awwww!

Here's your dose of cute kitty overkill for Monday morning.

All together, now: Awwww!


Yet more ways for Big Brother to find you

I'm continually impressed by new developments in the field of tiny unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) and their technology; but this one is especially eye-opening. Ares reports:

California-based TiaLinx has launched a mini-UAV carrying a miniature millimeter-wave radar able to detect someone hiding motionless behind a wall - by sensing their breathing. The Phoenix40-A UAV carries a "fine-beam ultra-wideband, multi-gigahertz radio-frequency sensor array" designed for standoff surveillance of compounds and other premises.

The TiaLink UAV hovering over a concrete roof, and (right) the output from its sensors. (Images courtesy of TiaLink.)

According to TiaLinx, the RF scanner transmits highly directional wideband signals that can penetrate a reinforced-concrete wall at an extended range, The system will detect someone hiding behind the wall by sensing the motion of their chest as they breathe, the radar's developers say. Less ominously, such a sensor could be used to find people buried in collapsed buildings after an earthquake.

There's more at the link.

Nor is such technology limited to UAV's. Attach that sensor payload to something like the iRobot 110 FirstLook:

and you'll have something that can crawl through corridors, penetrate wreckage, etc. to find anyone, anywhere. I can see police departments absolutely loving this technology to help them locate armed suspects and neutralize them without having to send their officers into harm's way. On a less happy note, Big Brother-style governments will love it for the same reason . . .


The media war hots up again

I'm depressed to read that Media Matters is at it again. Politico reports:

The liberal group Media Matters has quietly transformed itself in preparation for what its founder, David Brock, described in an interview as an all-out campaign of "guerrilla warfare and sabotage" aimed at the Fox News Channel.

The group, launched as a more traditional media critic, has all but abandoned its monitoring of newspapers and other television networks and is narrowing its focus to Fox and a handful of conservative websites, which its leaders view as political organizations and the "nerve center" of the conservative movement. The shift reflects the centrality of the cable channel to the contemporary conservative movement, as well as the loathing it inspires among liberals - not least among the donors who fund Media Matters’ staff of about 90, who are arrayed in neat rows in a giant war room above Massachusetts Avenue.

"The strategy that we had had toward Fox was basically a strategy of containment," said Brock, Media Matters’ chairman and founder and a former conservative journalist, adding that the group’s main aim had been to challenge the factual claims of the channel and to attempt to prevent them from reaching the mainstream media.

The new strategy, he said, is a "war on Fox."

In an interview and a 2010 planning memo shared with POLITICO, Brock listed the fronts on which Media Matters - which he said is operating on a $10 million-plus annual budget - is working to chip away at Fox and its parent company, News Corp. They include its bread-and-butter distribution of embarrassing clips and attempts to rebut Fox points, as well as a series of under-the-radar tactics.

Media Matters, Brock said, is assembling opposition research files not only on Fox’s top executives but on a series of midlevel officials. It has hired an activist who has led a successful campaign to press advertisers to avoid Glenn Beck’s show. The group is assembling a legal team to help people who have clashed with Fox to file lawsuits for defamation, invasion of privacy or other causes. And it has hired two experienced reporters, Joe Strupp and Alexander Zaitchik, to dig into Fox’s operation to help assemble a book on the network, due out in 2012 from Vintage/Anchor.

Brock said Media Matters also plans to run a broad campaign against Fox’s parent company, News Corp., an effort which most likely will involve opening a United Kingdom arm in London to attack the company’s interests there. The group hired an executive from to work on developing campaigns among News Corp. shareholders and also is looking for ways to turn regulators in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere against the network.

There's more at the link.

I can't help feeling that this polarization of radical opinion - on both sides of the political aisle - is very harmful to open debate and free speech. We've gone from Voltaire's tolerance of opposing views (ably expressed by one of his biographers, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in the famous phrase "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it") to applying to politics Conan the Barbarian's view of what is best in life: "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!"

I'm afraid this tendency can't be productive in the long term, if we want to keep our multi-party, multiple-perspective approach to politics. I have my own firm political views, but that doesn't mean I hate or detest those with different ones; nor does it mean that I'll spend my time attacking anyone and everyone who supports those differing views. If I can convert them to my views through rational, reasoned argument, that's one thing (and, of course, they have the same potential to convert me through the strength of their own arguments). To 'trash' them, and everyone supporting them, is quite another.

For those who support such intolerance, I'd like to propose the following food for thought:

"Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred." - Jacques Barzun

"Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself." - Robert Green Ingersoll

"What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly - that is the first law of nature." - Voltaire

Of course, if you really want to 'dish' your political opponents (or colleagues), no-one ever did it better than Winston Churchill.

On Lord Charles Beresford: "He is one of those orators of whom it was well said. Before they get up, the do not know what they are going to say;when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying;and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said."

On Gladstone: "Mr Gladstone read Homer for fun, which I thought served him right."

On Lloyd George: "The happy warrior of Squandermania."

On John Reith: "There he stalks, that wuthering height."

On Clement Atlee: "A sheep in sheep's clothing", and "A modest man, who has much to be modest about," and "An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street, and when the door was opened, Atlee got out."

On Stafford Cripps: "There but for the grace of God, goes God."

On Stanley Baldwin: "He occasionally stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened."

On Neville Chamberlain: "He looked at foreign affairs through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe."

On General Montgomery: "In defeat unbeatable, in victory unbearable."

Somehow, I doubt Media Matters' anti-Fox campaign will be conducted with such epigrammatic class . . .


Shoes for hoofers?

According to the dictionary, a 'hoofer' is "a professional dancer, especially a tap dancer". That being the case, are these shoes just what hoofers have been waiting for?

The BBC reports:

A carbon-fibre hoof and up to 5,000 individual horse hairs make up the £1,300 shoes which were created by a team of fashion designers.

The knee-length and ankle-length shoes were commissioned to celebrate 100 years of the famous National Hunt festival, which begins on Tuesday.

There's more at the link.

Apparently three pairs were made, each expected to fetch over US $2,000. At those prices, they'd better come with free horseshoes for life - or, as my friend Dave commented, with the horse still attached!


A road trip, and some sobering economic realities

Miss D. and I have just returned from a brief road trip, heading up through Kentucky to Ohio and back again. We took the opportunity to visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, which was very interesting indeed.

My major complaint about the Museum is that parts of it are not very photographer-friendly. For example, the Cold War display is very dark (including a black-painted ceiling), with spotlights illuminating the aircraft. That makes it very difficult to take pictures, as this one I took of the Convair B-58 Hustler bomber illustrates.

I can only contrast this with the brightly-lit, almost overstuffed National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, which is very well-lit from a photographic point of view (and has a massive and most interesting collection of aircraft). This general view of a small part of the NNAM illustrates the point.

So far, of the major aviation museums I've visited in this country, the National Naval Aviation Museum takes first place in my affections, followed by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, with the National Museum of the USAF taking third place on the strength of its varied collection (which is, regrettably, not matched by the way in which they're displayed).

Following our visit to the Museum we spent time with Miss D.'s parents . . . and that's where I ran into the 'sobering economic realities' I mentioned in the heading. They live in a small town on the banks of the Ohio River. Apparently a recent survey showed that 70% of the area's population - yes, seven out of ten residents! - are dependent on the Government for their income, either through Social Security, or through welfare, or through Government jobs or pensions. The economy of the area is (not surprisingly) stagnant, with little or not improvement seen for many years. Given the minimal impact of private enterprise on the region, the reason isn't hard to see! It's an ancient and time-honored truism that government consumes wealth, but cannot create it. Furthermore, government cannot create economic growth - it can only put in place the conditions that facilitate economic growth, so that entrepreneurs are encouraged to do their thing. If the latter are driven out, or find better conditions elsewhere . . . the result is inevitable.

The same applied to many areas we saw in southern Ohio, from larger cities to small communities. They seem mired in poverty and depression, with little or no evidence of new companies starting up or moving in. If there's an economic recovery going on, as some claim, it's going to be a long, long while before it's evident in those areas.

We made it home safely this afternoon. It's good to be back.