Thursday, December 30, 2010

Apologia is Back!

It's like the arrival of a long-awaited sequel (except there's no Jar-Jar Binks).

For their grand reopening they're discussing Sam Harris' latest book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

It's good to have most of the old gang reassembled and in fine form.

Give a listen.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On Scout Rifles

There was a limited production run of the Jeff Cooper Scout Rifle by Steyr on the market this year. Some may not be familiar with the Scout Rifle concept so here's a primer and a few links...

Jeff's Handy Little Rifle

Jeff Cooper developed his concept of the Scout Rifle in the late 1960s and throughout the 70s. Doctrine was refined at several scout conferences convened by him in the 80s. A scout rifle was to be a light (3kg), short (1m), bolt-action chambered for the 308 Winchester cartridge (or perhaps the 243 or 7mm08 as needed), fitted with a forward mounted scope of low magnification. There are other desirable, but not mandatory, features such as reserve iron sights, carriers for extra ammo, integral bipods, magazine cutoff, stripper clip guides, or removable box magazines.

Origins and Inspirations

So where did the idea for the scout rifle's criteria come from? The Old Man was impressed by a variety of details found on several classic rifles of the 20th century. From the late 1960s through the 90s his ideas of what constitutes a proper general purpose rifle evolved.

Jeff spoke highly of the Winchester 94 which was light, short, and possessed excellent ergonomics. However he observed that the 30 WCF cartridge lacked the power and trajectory needed in a general purpose rifle.

Likewise, Jeff was impressed by the work done by adventurers, explorers, and hunters using the Mannlicher-Schoenauer 1903 chambered for the 6.5x54 cartridge. Again this rifle was light, short, handy, and had a buttery smooth action. The 6.5 cartridge's 160 grain "pencil" bullet at 2300 fps was more effective in the field than the ballistic charts suggest and was used successfully on every game animal in the world, yes, even elephant.

There were two WWII-era rifles that contributed to the scout concept. The first was the No.5 Enfield, the so-called "Jungle Carbine," essentially a shortened and lightened No.4 Enfield chambered for the 303 British cartridge. The Enfield had excellent battle sights, a ten round magazine, a very quick action, a reputation for rugged reliability, and it weighed several pounds less than the No.4 or the earlier MkIII. Regrettably, it had a reputation for a wandering zero as it heated up during extensive firing, but the Colonel reminded us that most rifle engagements should only require a cartridge or two. It was also thought to be hard kicking and prone to a larger flash signature than the full-size rifle so a recoil pad and flash hider were fitted.

The other WWII rifle introduced the idea of the forward mounted optical sight. The Mauser 98k ZF41 was essentially standard German service rifle except that a long eye relief 2x scope was attached to the rear sight base on the barrel. It was not a sniper rifle per se, but intended for use by regular soldiers acting as designated marksmen. It was not popular with the troops, but it apparently got a few American manufacturers thinking.

The 60s Were Good to Us: Origins of the Scout Scope

While a scout rifle is much more than just a rifle with a forward mounted scope it is certainly the signature of the breed. Jeff Cooper didn't invent the idea of mounting an intermediate eye relief scope on the barrel instead of over the receiver but the notion would have been a long forgotten experiment but for his efforts.

In the 1960s Redfield offered a FrontIER scope and base system that placed an Intermediate Eye Relief (IER) 2x scope on the barrel ahead of the receiver of the Winchester 94. They later improved on the idea with their Model 294. In 1964 they adapted the system to the Remington 600. Leupold offered a Detacho mount and a LER 2x scope for the M600. In many of their print ads for their new rifle Remington featured forward mounted scopes by both makers.  The Colonel chose a Buehler forward mount when he scoped his M600.

The Remington 600

In 1964 Remington introduced a new bolt action rifle, the Model 600.  It weighed but six pounds and had a slim barrel only 18-1/2 inches in length which wore a plastic ventilated rib (according to some, meant to distract the observer from the skinny barrel).  It came in 308 Winchester and a variety of other conventional cartridges.  In 1965 Remington brought out the Model 600 Magnum chambered for two new cartridges - a 350 that ran with the then wildcat 35 Whelen and a 6.5mm meant to chase the 270 Winchester - in a carbine-sized package.  The stock was made of laminated walnut and maple planks for strength.  They would shortly introduce the Model 660 and the 600 Mohawk, featuring longer, heavier barrels but no rib.  

Jeff started using the Remington 600 in 1967 and was quickly enamored of its attributes.  He used a Buehler forward mount to attach a 2x Leupold IER scope to his M600 and "Scout I" was born.

The Super Scouts

There was another category of scout rifle, the "Super Scout," intended for very large game. The first of these was Colonel Cooper's Fireplug, a Remington 660 Magnum wearing a 2-3/4x Bushnell scope mounted in the conventional position, chambered for the 350 Remington Magnum.  Fireplug offered 35 Whelen ballistics - a .358 250 grain bullet @ 2400 fps - from a seven pound rifle less than a meter long.

Jeff's second rifle of this type was his "Lion Scout" a full on custom scout built up on a Brno ZKK action, again in 350 Rem Mag.  Its slightly longer magazine allowed him to claim an honest 2500 fps from its 19 inch barrel - that and Jeff used the stiffly loaded brass only once.

When Steyr introduced the Scout Rifle they also offered a version chambered for a new cartridge, the 376 Steyr. The 376 produces 35 Whelen or 9.3x62 performance, but as its bullet was .375 diameter it was legal for large or dangerous game in many African countries.  Jeff referred to his as "The Dragoon."

Custom Scout Rifles

Those who had scouts custom built in the pre-Steyr days spent several thousand dollars for the privilege. Many of these scout owners seem even happier with them than the Steyr shooters so there won’t be many custom scouts on the used rack. Jeff's Scout II, "Sweetheart," was a custom built by Robbie Barkmann on a Sako 308-length action. 

As mentioned above, his second Super Scout - “Lion Scout” - was as custom a scout as was ever made, especially its extended magazine which Jeff proudly declared made it a “six-shooter.” There are several makers who continue to offer custom scouts. Until recently Grizzly Custom Guns did some beautiful work with some premium actions.  They appeared to "get it."

Scout III

Scout III was a Ruger M77 Ultralight 308 with a scope base from their No. 1 single shot fitted to its slender 20 inch barrel. I used Scout III at my first Gunsite API-270 rifle class in 1988 after my 1903 Springfield suffered several parts failures. It was handy, slim, and light. I used it to break a clay target in the air. Legend has it Scout III was shown to Bill Ruger "who just didn't get it" so the project went nowhere.

More than a decade later, long after they gave up the chance to totally own the off the shelf scout rifle market, Ruger introduced the M77 MkII Frontier rifle. It was a mixed bag. They made the barrel a needlessly stubby 16 inches and shortened the stock to a youth length of pull, and the factory rings put the scope a quarter inch too high.  Still, in stainless with a laminated stock it makes a sturdy little scout. Some folks add backup iron sights and a recoil pad. Alas, the Frontier was discontinued in 2009.

In 2010 Ruger took another, more serious stab at the scout concept by introducing their Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle. It's an interesting mix of features, compromises, and questionable touches. Personally, I have no use for the protruding single stack magazine, the five and ten round versions of which interfere with one of the scout's nicest features, the ability to grasp the rifle around the action.  Nonetheless, the RGSR has sold by by the pallet load since its introduction - coming in blue or stainless, with laminated wood or synthetic stocks, on right or left handed actions, wearing short or shorter barrels, and with or without a threading for a factory provided flash hider or muzzle brake.  I wonder (a little) what Jeff would have said of it.    

The Other Scout Rifle

Until the Ruger 77 Frontier and then the RGSR came along, the only commercially available alternative to the Steyr Scout was the Savage Scout, the 10FCM. The Savage is less expensive than the Ruger Frontier was or the RGSR is. Jeff was not enamored of it, regarding it as the scout concept executed on the cheap. In fact its earliest iterations did come across as a little flimsy - especially the stock. The 10FCM has been improved of late and now leaves the box wearing an AccuTrigger (which really is amazing) and the AccuStock (which appears to correct the shortcomings of the original handle). Until the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle came along it was the only factory-made scout that could be ordered with a left-handed bolt.  Versions I and II needed a third swivel stud to use a Ching Sling (our friend Andy Langlois will set you up) but iteration III comes from the factory with the middle swivel.

The Remington Seven

Until the Savage Scout and the Ruger Frontier came along about the only way to assemble a scout rifle for under $1000 was to do it the “Scout I” way, by refitting a Remington Seven (the successor of the M600). About the nicest example I've seen was made for the late Eric Ching. Eric had his done as a 260 Remington, which "violated" doctrine, but hearkens to the days of the 6.5 Mannlicher, one of the progenitors of the concept. I can assure you it killed whitetails quite neatly. It may be just a little over weight, but Jeff was the only person especially dogmatic about the 3 kg limit (and he only until he revised it to seven pounds when the Steyr came along). Replacing the injection molded factory stock with a hand-laid kevlar job, such as the KS from the Custom Shop, would fix that were it truly important. The Seven shares the design flaws some see in the M600 and M700 family of rifles, but the Colonel never seemed to have broken either of his early scouts.

Eric's scout wears a Burris scout scope in Weaver rings on a Ching Ring mount done by Geoff Beneze. The Ching Ring, as briefly manufactured by Geoff Beneze and Andy Langlois, or the commercially successful XS implementation of the same idea, the XS/Clifton, makes for a very nice aftermarket scout mount, with none of the multi-year waits for an accurate "buggy whip" pedestal mount barrels once part of the pilgrimage. Remove the stock, turn the barrel to a cylindrical section close to the receiver, and glue the mount in place with AcraGlas or some other miracle adhesive, and you have a forward rail. I’ve only seen a couple of Ching Rings in person - on Eric’s Model Seven, a Mauser, and a SMLE - but they seemed very solid and the rear bells are very close to the receiver, as they should be. It works as Eric intended.


Jeff allowed that there might be some scouts that departed from doctrine in order to make use of some special advantage, such as using the 30-06 cartridge or the 1903 Springfield action in particular. Such rifles usually did not meet the scout rifle criteria for length or weight and were dubbed "pseudo-scouts."

I have a 1903 Springfield pseudo-scout, initial gunsmithing and integral bipod stock by Clifton, finish by Robar, scout scope mount and rings added later by the Gunsite ‘Smithy. (A garage burglar stole the original Burris scout scope and its very expensive Talley rings years ago, so my 1903 has served as my iron sighted "rain rifle" for some time now.) It is light enough to be unpleasant for extended shooting. Mine is slightly muzzle-heavy, what with it wearing a bobbed GI barrel. It wears an M14 National Match front sight on a customized base out at the end of the barrel where it belongs and a Williams receiver sight with target knobs that tore at my thumbnail while I learned the bolt flick. Its aftermarket Timney trigger releases a striker that has the lock time of a doorknob, but there are no light strikes.

The 1903 action, as delightful as it is, is only a few years less obsolete than the Krag and parts are growing scarce and more expensive. Synthetic stocks for it were never common. The Clifton bipod stock is the stuff of legend (and a few border skirmishes) but is now long gone. The Springfield was my first centerfire rifle, bought in the days when a "sporterized" 1903 wearing a Redfield receiver sight could be had for $50 1974 dollars, so I’ll be holding on to it, but I wouldn’t do it again.

Lever Scouts

These days there's the Browning BLR. The BLR is chambered for the 308 Winchester and other modern, high intensity cartridges using spitzer bullets. This version of their BLR lever gun can be had as a take down rifle with a scout mount for optics. This is their current, somewhat chubby, alloy-framed rifle rather than the svelte steel-frame originals. Their 325 WSM version might even be regarded as a lever action Super Scout.  If the Browning take down system is accurate there are some serious advantages to explore here, especially in these days of carefully weighed and measured airline luggage.

More than a few Winchesters and many Marlin lever actions have been fitted with forward optics and dubbed Lever Scouts. The Colonel was not fond of them.  He thought anything the sportsman or gunfighter could do with the 30 WCF cartridge could be done with iron sights.  There are some cartridges - such as the 307 Winchester and 308 Marlin Express - that run with the 308 Winchester, and some leverguns might "make weight." I tried a scout scope on Mjolnir, my 45-70 Guide Gun, but the sight line was too high for my cheek weld so I went back to irons. Brockman will attach a scout scope to your Marlin if you like. Off the shelf mounting solutions include Wild West Guns (gunsmithing required, but it seems to allow a very low sight line) and XS (only a screwdriver is needed).

Poor Man's Scout

There have always been folks attracted to the scout rifle idea but who couldn't afford a doctrinally correct custom job, or a Steyr Scout when they became available. Apparently some would be riflemen cannot even scrape together enough cash for a Ruger or the Savage. Thus, there is no end of ugly old milsurp rifles fitted with forward mounted optical sights.

Some are made by replacing rear sights with aftermarket scope mounts that hearken back to the M98k ZF41 setup, but without the provenance. If any of these solutions put the scope very close to the barrel they might, at best, serve as an inexpensive method of attaching optical sights to rifles handicapped by straight bolt handles or safeties that were difficult to retrofit. As it is most put the scope way too high where they are clumsy or fragile in appearance. War weary surplus Mausers and Mosin-Nagant rifles are seen wearing these mounts more often than others. Still others are made by using the XS mount on cut down SMLEs, Enfield No. 4 and 5 rifles, and Mausers. Some are cobbled together using whatever works, regardless the appearance of the final product. The line between a pseudo-scout and a poor man's scout may exist in the eye of the beholder, but most riflemen can recognize a poor example when they see it.

Jeff cared for cheap scouts not at all. A man of his generation, he thought that any serious rifleman would do without a good many creature comforts long enough to save the cash for a serious rifle, or buy an Enfield No. 4 and make do.

Experts Will Disagree

Not everyone cares for the Scout Rifle. Some think they look funny. Can't help you there, but the saying "Pretty is as pretty does" comes to mind.  Personally, I find well done examples quite appealing.

Some are concerned a short skinny barrel and a little scope can't shoot as well as a "real" rifle. In the days we attended Gunsite on a regular basis we saw some pretty fancy shooting with scout rifles. I witnessed Naish Piazza using his early numbered ZKK scout from sling prone to shoot a five round group at 400 meters that measured three inches. That precise work can be done with 2-3/4 power optic should be no surprise considering how well competitive shooters do with iron sights in many games.

A more serious criticism comes from some who have hunted extensively with scout rifles. As Jim Dodd and others have pointed out, the scout scope's greatest disadvantages are in low light and at dusk and dawn, when sunlight on the rear lens can interfere with one's view through the scope.

Legendary gunstock builder Gale McMillan once opined that the Scout Rifle was "a pistol expert's idea of a rifle." I don't know if Mr. McMillan was personally acquainted with Jeff Cooper or the depth of his fascination with rifles, but his quip rings hollow to those of us who knew The Old Man, trained with him, and have actually carried the Scout Rifle afield.

The Scout Rifle is very usable general purpose rifle, an accretion of many fine details which add up to something better and sweeter than the sum of its parts. While the system may not be perfect it has many fans. Thanks to The Colonel we'll enjoy the concept for some time to come.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sometimes the Worst Day Hunting Is Not Better than a Good Day at Work

The view from the stand...once I got there.

I drove solo from Minneapolis through a snow storm to get to the family farm in North Dakota Thursday evening.  I'd be home alone at my Aunt's place in Norway Township so I bought some groceries at the Gas N' Sip.  A DiGiorno Three Meat pizza would be my Christmas feast.  Two plastic-wrapped prefab sandwiches would make satisfactory lunches while out bowhunting Friday and Saturday.  I white knuckled my way through the drifts down the half mile long driveway from the county road to the farmstead.

Friday morning I was ready to hunt.  Problem was I couldn't get out of the yard with the 2WD truck or the front wheel drive Volvo.  I called my cousin's son, Troy, to ask if I could borrow his 4WD pickup.  He said "Sure."  I soon learned the battery was dead.  The jumper cables wouldn't provide enough boost.  I put the charger on the five year old battery for an hour.  The truck finally started.  I drove to town to find a new battery.  It was 1:15 PM when I arrived.  My home town of Mayville, North Dakota, rolled up the sidewalks and shuttered all business establishments at precisely 1:00 PM the afternoon of Christmas Eve.  I turned around and made for the interstate.  Grand Forks is only 30 some miles away.  The quarter tank of gas was rapidly consumed by the vintage pickup's engine in throaty gulps.  As the needle dipped below "Empty" I switched to the second tank.  I was greeted by sputtering, surging, ca-chugging noises.  The backup tank was empty.  I switched back to the other empty tank as the truck decelerated on interstate 29 halfway to Grand Forks...65...55...45...35...sputter, Vroom!  The remaining gas took hold.  I took the next off ramp for the prairie community of Thompson.  The gas station was closed but the pumps were open.  A polite stranger complimented me on my "beauty of a truck" and asked me what year it was.  My reply of "I have no idea" earned me a puzzled glance.  Refueled, I drove back to the interstate and again turned north.  I exited and drove to the first open auto care location, the WalMart.  "I need a new battery" I said.  "What year, make, and model?" the helpful clerk inquired.  "I have no idea" I replied "It's some sort of Chevy."  "Guess we'll have to go look" she smiled.  In about 30 minutes I was back on the road. 

It was approaching four in the afternoon.  If I hurried I might still sit the woods for an hour or so.  I drove south toward the Goose River and turned on to the minimum maintenance road.  Yeah, this time of year minimum maintenance means approximately no maintenance but I was driving a gas guzzling four wheel drive pickup with really big noisy, knobby tires.  Within ten minutes I was stuck but good.  I called our local hunting buddy.  I'd been told he was in Washington state visiting family for the Holidays but I hoped he could refer me to a neighbor with a tractor who wouldn't mind coming out to help a stranger on Christmas Eve.  "Where are you?" Tim asked.  "Just off the main road, halfway down the hill by the old culverts" I groaned.  "I can come get you after church" he said.  "You're in town?" I suppressed a squeal of joy, well I think I did.  "Yeah, see you in an hour or so."  I took a nap lying on the monster truck's bench seat.  The tractor's light and the gaping maw of it's snowblower attachment were a welcome sight.  I was released in no time.  The rescue complete, Tim invited me to his home for a splendid Christmas Eve meal with him and his extended family.  I was so tired even the lutefisk tasted good.  As I left he said he'd blow out the road coming in to his river bottom from the east. 

Christmas Day I slept in despite the best of intentions.  Come mid-morning I packed my kit, loaded up the truck, and made for the woods.  As I made my last turn I realized I had everything I needed in the truck except my bow...  I returned with my bow and made my way to the stand where I spent a quiet day.  Toward quitting time I saw a nice doe - the only deer of the day - coming in from the west.  The wind had been from the north all day so she should have crossed right in front of me.  She didn't.  She crept around, looked my way for a long while, then trotted into the trees to the north of me.  The sky darkened, the white snow became gray.  The day was over.  As I began my half mile walk back to the truck I realized the wind had shifted during the day.  The breeze from the southeast had carried my scent directly to the doe.  Hmmn, guess that's why we call it hunting.

I got back to the truck, loaded up, and climbed in for the drive home.  I turned the key and nothing happened.  The brand new battery was dead.  As I checked all the dials, levers, and gauges I found I had left the lights on, which was really frustrating because I had driven to the woods in broad daylight.  I called Tim again.  "I'll be right there" said the saint.  When he arrived I apologized that my hunting trip had been more work for him than for me.  "Are you going out in the morning?" he asked.  "No, my head is not in the game." I said "I'll think I'll get a good night's sleep and roll for home."  I drove back to the farm and put the charger on the battery.  I baked my pizza, cranked back the Barcalounger, and watched Bladerunner for Christmas.  Peace on Earth to Men (deer, and replicants) of Good Will...

200 Posts and Counting...

As I approached the 200 posts mark I revised my labels and adjusted other minor details... Thanks Sam!

The labels now include anthropology, astronomy, blogging, compassion, critical thinking, education, ethics, firearms, friends, humor, hunting, law, leadership, medicine, memoir, movies, natural history, outdoors, politics, reading, religion, risk, science, security, service, skepticism, woo.  Added are anthropology and natural history.  Gone are alt med (there being no such thing), bicycling (the single entry now covered by outdoors), evolution (covered better by anthropology, natural history, or science), pseudoscience (there being only good science and bad science) and strange (still addressed by woo).  I've revised the labels assigned to many posts appropriately.  I'm still trying to whittle down the label categories.  Are there other labels you'd apply?  Are they any others you'd remove?

I've also given in to market realties and will link book titles to instead of always appears on the first page under when I Google book titles, but Barnes and Noble rarely does, so switching the online retail source will save me some keystrokes.  Yes, and if I ever monetize The Breakfast Amazon has comp programs that BN doesn't.

I've taken to linking the credit for Sam Mugraby's wonderful photographs back to his royalty free photo site  Again, if you need stock photos of the highest quality, check out Sam's work. 

Now, if I could only figure out why my readers never leave any comments about my posts...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

a subtle knife: reflections on myth, politics, and desire

A very interesting blog from Cape Town, South Africa...

wikimedia commons

I came to this site via a link to Andries Du Toit's marvelous review and analysis of the 2009 science fiction movie District 9.  I sensed there were currents running through that movie that I only just perceived due to my brief exposure to South African politics and sociology as the country prepared to emerge from the apartheid era in the mid-90s.  Du Toit calls out in detail currents, sub-currents, and threads that may not have been apparent to most American viewers of the film.  Thoughtful and provocative.

Imperceptible Speeds, Meeting Human Needs

Time does fly...and we along with it.

from wikimedia commons

We've begun another 365.25 day trip around our favorite star. We can't feel it but the Earth is rotating at 1040 miles per hour. The Earth is zipping along its 600 million mile long orbit of the Sun at 67,000 mph. Our solar system is circling the center of our Milky Way galaxy at 483,000 mph. The Milky Way itself is clipping along through the universe at 1.3 million mph. There's a lot going on up there.

Here on Earth, at velocities we can more easily perceive, it's been another difficult year for many. The challenges may not be over but if we work together - as friends, social networks, families, work teams, congregations, and communities - we can make 2011 a better year for everyone.

Godspeed, one and all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Another Three and One Half Hour Commute

iTunes U to the rescue...

Six inches of snow here in Minneapolis this afternoon made the driving positively glacial.  Fortunately I had plenty of podcasts to keep me company while I whiled away the hours

I've been working my way through Professor Terrence Deacon's very nice undergrad course in anthropology posted on iTunes U by UC Berkeley.  Thanks to the 2x button on my iPhone I listened to three lectures in about two hours.

Then I caught up with the rogues at Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.  They were almost as excited about the status of Voyager 1 as I am.

And I listened to a nice panel discussion hosted by Kylie Sturgess of the Token Skeptic podcast.  This episode was a recording of a panel discussion held at Dragon*Con this past September.  This Skeptrack topic was women, feminism, science, and skepticism.

Now it's time to shovel the driveway.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Grandmother of all Seasonal Holidays

Winter Solstice occurs Tuesday the 21st at 23:38 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)...

photo from Wikimedia Commons

Winter Solstice is the moment the earth's axial tilt (23 degrees 26 minutes) points the furthest away from the Sun. Observed and celebrated since prehistoric times (as the ancient pagan or modern Wiccan holiday Yule, for example), in the northern hemisphere it marks the shortest day and longest night of the year and the official start of winter (thanks, we might not have noticed otherwise).  The Sun will rise and set as far south as it will for another year. There will be no Sunrise north of the Arctic Circle. These effects are reversed in the southern hemisphere. In recorded history Winter Solstice has been an auspicious holiday for many religions , most notably the Christian holiday Christmas, which has celebrated December 25th as the day of their savior's birth since the 4th century.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Bravest Person in the Room

Was Ginger Littleton, the Panama City school board member who tried to fight back...

This week's hostage drama at the Bay City School Board meeting on Tuesday evening was illustrative in many ways - most of them bad.  There were examples of profound denial, lack of situational awareness, failure to take control of the scene, persons taking inappropriate action, the consequences of inaction, and one case of courageous action.

Clay Duke, the gun-wielding hostage-taker was clearly disordered.  He had a history of violence, criminality, and mental health issues.  His back story will no doubt be done to death, in lurid and ill-considered detail, by a sensation-seeking media in the days and weeks to come.  Perhaps we'll even learn why he still possessed firearms. 

When the board and attendees of the meeting noticed that Duke had a gun there were several reactions.  Some immediately fled the room.  Some immediately "ducked and covered" - within sight of the gunman!  Some remained in their seats, as though awaiting further instructions.  When told by Duke to leave, those remaining stood up, collected their things, lined up, and left the room without so much as a backward glance.

Security Officer Mike Jones, retired cop and former school board member, entered the room early in the incident and asked Duke, "Is that a real gun?"  He left the room "to get more ammo," he explained later.  Jones returned as Clay began shooting and engaged him with pistol fire.  Depending on which story we read, Clay was struck once in the leg or three times in the back.  Clay fell to the floor and shot himself in the head.

Superintendent Bill Husfelt complied with Duke's instructions, excusing the audience and the female members of the Board.  He attempted to negotiate with Clay.  He attempted to trade his life for the release of the others.  He admitted he had signed the paperwork terminating Clay's wife without knowing her, the details of her case, or even what he was signing.  When Duke pointed his gun at Husfelt the superintendent resorted to begging and pleading not to be shot.  When Duke fired two shots Husfelt clutched at his chest and fell from his chair.  He had not been hit, but he collapsed.  Husfelt credits God with saving his life - not Mike Jones.  He apparently does not credit his God with putting him in harm's way in the first place.

One school board member joined in the arguing, pleading, and begging.  He also fell sideways from his chair when the bullets began to fly, looking very much like he'd been shot.  Four other male members of the school board sat in stunned silence throughout the entire incident.

But the most interesting moment in the video - seen only in the long version - is when Ginger Littleton, a school board member who had been granted safe passage by Clay, sneaked back into the room behind him and attempted to knock the gun from his hand with a blow from her large purse.  Her attempt failed.  She was knocked to the floor by Clay, who swore at her, but again let her leave unharmed.  If the male school board members had joined her attack Clay might have been disarmed.  If only she'd had pistol in that purse this crisis might have ended before it got rolling...

Even if you are unarmed there are several ways to deal with an armed hostage taker; you can run, you can summon help, you can hide, you can bar the door, and when all else fails you can fight back, with your bare hands - or your purse - if necessary.  But if you spend your last moments begging for your life you most likely passed up these better options and gave all the decisions to your killer.

A selfless act taken at risk to oneself in service of others is bravery in my book.  Nice try, Ginger!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Voyager 1 Another Step Closer to Interstellar Space

After traveling through our solar system for 33 years the Voyager 1 spacecraft is now passing through the "heliosheath."

The heliosheath is a region surrounding our solar system where the pressure of the solar wind from our Sun is equal to that from interstellar space.  Voyager 1 is currently 10.6 billion miles from our Sun (on Earth we're only 93 million miles from the Sun) and is traveling at 38,000 mph (yeah, that's a little over 10 miles a second).  Light from the Sun takes ten hours to reach Voyager 1.  Launched in 1977, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are still returning useful scientific information to Earth.  The plutonium-powered radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) will supply enough electricity to operate the instruments and transmitters for another decade or so.  Both carry a copy of the famous golden record containing the sounds of Earth, encoded images, and pictograms, just in case either craft is encountered by others in the interstellar void.  Can't do anything but watch, but this stuff is pretty cool.

UPDATE: 20 June 2011, the news is always surprising at the edge of the solar system.

On Pink Microscopes

Token Skeptic Kylie Sturgess posted a very nice essay on women and science education.

I've asked her if she's posted the text anywhere I can link to it for you.  Until then you can download it from iTunes or as an mp3 here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The 100 Best Science Fiction Films Of All Time

Seems I watch most of the same movies as the pollsters and pundits...

For the record I've seen 96 of Total Sci-Fi Online's The 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Movies,

97 of the Rotten Tomatoes' 100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies [As of December 2014 the list has I have seen on 92 of 100]

99 of Digital Dream Door's 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Films,

and all of Sci-Fi Lists Top 100 Sci-Fi Films.

Between those they recommend I have yet to watch:

Delicatessen (1991) is in my Netflix Watch Instantly queue. [A wry treat. Check it out!]

Open Your Eyes (originally titled Abre los Ojos when released in 1997) is in my Netflix queue.  Yes, it's the inspiration for the so-so American remake Vanilla Sky, which starred Tom Cruise. [Check this one off my list.  Nicely done!  This was a much better movie than the Tom Cruise version.]

Quatermass 2 Enemy from Space: (1957) [On 26 December 2014 I watched the (1955) BBC television version presented in six 30 minute segments. Still need to watch the Hammer adaptation.]

Stalker (1979) is in my Netflix Watch Instantly queue. [Check! Tarkovsky is not always my mug of chai, but this one ranks with his adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris.]

Save The Green Planet! (2005) is in my Netflix queue. [This is one very strange and mostly unpleasant movie.  It couldn't decide whether to be a sci-fi thriller, a black comedy, a surreal portrayal of a man descending into paranoid schizophrenia, or a long nasty example of serial killer torture porn.  Icky.]

Seconds (1966) is in my Netflix Saved queue.

WALL-E (2008)  I tried to watch this but couldn't keep my eyes open.  I'll have to try again some day. It's in my Netflix queue, but way down towards the bottom.

I'll get back to you...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cancer Sucks

...and having John Edwards for a husband was no prize either.

We note the passing of Elizabeth Edwards, aged 61 years, after a long fight with cancer.  She was a mother who buried a teenage son, a tragedy without solace.  While she freely chose the life of a politician's wife, that task appears to be a tremendous burden even when things go well.  In the midst of her dire struggle with cancer she suffered public humiliation at the hands of a philandering husband.  She suffered more, and more publicly, than her share I think.

May memories of better times be a comfort to her family and friends.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Vacations, Weekend Getaways, and Overnights

First as a couple, and then as a family, we've done some pretty cool stuff for our annual vacations, three day weekends, and other getaways over the years...

1986 St.Orres Inn in Gaulala, California.  There are other inns in the area but this is one we visited again.  Perfect spot for a romantic getaway.

1986 Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California.  Nice camping and hiking.  Beware the Banana Slugs...

1987 Grand Portage, Minnesota in winter.  Scenery awesome, rental skiis mediocre.

1988 Virgin Islands by way of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises.

1992 Cabo San Lucas on the Baja peninsula.  Almost got sucked into a timeshare.

1994 and 1996 Yosemite National Park in California.

1995 and 2002 Hawaii, Maui and The Big Island, respectively.

1997 Nordic skiing in Bear Valley, California.  After we struggled back to the lodge through a whiteout seven year old Erik threw off his gear in disgust and swore he would never ski again.  We're glad he changed his mind in time for a fine career as a high school nordic athlete.

1998 Death Valley National Park in California.  In the spring, so it was cool enough to do some backpacking, even though the kids were 7 and 9 at the time.

1999 Black Hills of South Dakota for Independence Day and to bicycle two hundred miles in two days with my brother who was doing the Big Ride that summer.

2000 Yukon River in Alaska for Summer Solstice.  Scarcely dark and mostly warm.  Brought a bear gun, didn't need it.

2000 Barrow, Alaska for Winter Solstice.  Cold and dark.  Saw polar bears, didn't have a gun.

2001 and 2003 Playa del Carmen.  Much less commercial than Cancun; at least it was then.  The adventure tourism was fun, so was lying on the beach.

2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).  Be sure to pay extra for a kevlar boat!

2003, 2005, 2007 Superior Hiking Trail on the north shore of Lake Superior.

2005 Yellowstone National Park.  We backpacked into the wilderness.

2007 Italy.  Mostly staying with family friends in Napoli and doing the Roman archaeology thing.  Then a few days in Roma, where our hotel was at the top of The Spanish Steps.

2009 Camping on Madeline Island in Wisconsin.