Thursday, February 15, 2018

Golden Mikaela

I suppose it helps that a victorious young woman is holding it, but to see the American flag displayed with such zest still makes my eyes tingle. I'm also impressed by the way skiers -- American skiers, anyhow -- manage to display the flag while also keeping their sponsor's skis front and center. Do they have a training program for that? (And for the flag, come to think of it. It's not intuitive, to hold an object with the field of stars at the left and top when it's behind one's back!)

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Three cheers for Elon Musk!

No, that's not Mr Musk at the wheel of the red Tesla roadster, but he is certainly taking a victory lap today. His company SpaceX has successfully launched the Falcon Heavy, the largest rocket to hoist a payload beyond the earth's atmosphere since the Saturn of half a century ago. And he did it with private money!

On Twitter (where else?), Mr Musk tells us that the Tesla roadster is heading for the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.

The main rocket, alas, crashed upon landing back at Cape Canaveral yesterday. The two boosters however did gracefully return to their designated landing spot. That the rockets should be reusable is an important element of the Space X business plan.

I was curious as to where the names "Elon" and "Musk" come from, so I checked his biography online. He was born in South Africa, and his father has some Afrikaner (i.e. Dutch) in his background, while his mother is Canadian. What a triumph for merit-based immigration!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A pleasant sight

This is a shelf at the Maxwell Air Force Base library. Not only are there five copies of Flying Tigers on offer, but there appears to be a sixth copy that has been checked out. (Thanks to Ward Rogers for the photo!)

Friday, September 01, 2017

Trigger warning: this is a blog. Blogs contain opinions!

Really, this is the trigger warning to end all trigger warnings! (And wouldn't that be a wonderful outcome?)

Ken Burns, who reinvented the documentary with his great Civil War series, has now turned his attention to the Vietnam War. (As Americans call it. The Vietnamese call it the American War.) Wars, of course, involve at least occasional violence, and most of them involve atrocities on one side or the other, or more likely both.

Television and online programming begins on September 17 and continues for the next nine Sundays. But I just got an email from New Hampshire Public Television informing me that for $10 or so I could actually attend a preview in a theater. Not only that, the email promised, but the screening would be accompanied with this bonus:

Screenings will include trained facilitators to ensure a safe, welcoming, and inclusive conversation.
Isn't that the height of 21st Century culture? The Good People have invented war with a safe space! 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Texas triumphs

What a great photo! I am generally skeptical of militarizing the police, but Houston yesterday showed us that SWAT teams have other uses than breaking down doors and deploying armored vehicles against civilians. Here Officer Daryl Hudeck rescues Connie Pham and her son from their flooded home. If the photo doesn't win the Pulitzer Prize, there is no justice!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A homicide detective in Hitler's Germany

I don't often buy hardcover novels, but I made an exception for the latest in the fabulous Bernie Gunther series, called Prussian Blue. (Like Lee Child, Philip Kerr favors obscure titles that I am apt to forget.) For one thing, it has caused book reviewers to hyperventilate, and for another it cost me only $14.16, or 17 cents more than the e-book. And, unlike the ebook, I can pass it on! For the ignorant (a group that included me until a couple weeks ago), Bernie is a wise-cracking, left-leaning detective in Berlin of the 1930s. Either trait could land him in a concentration camp, of course, and his dance on the precipice is part of the fun. Alas, time passes, and this particular story begins in France, in the 1950s, with the Nazi era handled in a lengthy flashback. Personally, I prefer to start and finish in the 1930s, when we don't know what will become of Bernie and Nazi Germany. So I suggest that strangers begin with the early thrillers that are bundled as Berlin Noir, three for the price of one. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Farewell the AK-47!

The Soviet Union mostly produced famine, purges, and rubbishy consumer products, but one of its products was arguably the best-ever assault rifle, the immortal AK-47. Though heavier than modern western weapons, it was cheap to manufacture and almost impervious to abuse, and it became the favorite of rebels around the world, from the Viet Cong to Osama bin Laden. (When I was in Vietnam in 1964, captured examples were known as the "Chicom carbine" and were a knock-off manufactured in China.) But in the Wall Street Journal, I read that the AK-47 is no longer manufactured in Russia, though the Kalashnikov Concern still manufactures rifles, and its most famous product is no doubt still being built somewhere in what we used to call the Third World.

Like most things in Putin's Russia, Kalashnikov is closely tied to the country's president-for-life. The company pretty much fell apart when the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, and by 2014 was building weapons with a depleted workforce using outdated equipment under a leaking roof. Then some friends-of-Vlad put it back in business, making shotguns, biathlon rifles, and military weaponry. The last includes the AK-74M assault rifle (standard for the Russian army) and the AK-100 series of carbines sold abroad, variously chambered for 5.45 and 7.62 mm cartridges.

But if you want a genuine AK-47, you'll have to shop elsewhere.