Archive for November, 2009

A Few Points On That Climate Thingy

November 30, 2009 - 5:32 pm Comments Off

So, the hacked e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have been news for awhile now and I haven’t said a damn thing about it. Partly it’s because I don’t like talking about the subject very much because it’s a big complicated ball of snakes, of scientific, cultural, economic, and political varieties and it gives me a headache, and partly it was because I wanted to see how reactions went and what would emerge as people more industrious than me dug into the data; either way I didn’t want to comment at the time.

There was a Vicious Circle on the subject (yes, I know, a finer panel of expertise has never been assembled), in which Unix-Jedi mentioned that I had been wrong about one thing, which was that at the time we talked about it, I thought it would amount to roughly nothing. I figured it didn’t really fit well into the media’s narrative- and while various media outlets are definitely biased in their respective partisan ways, nothing can get one to ignore a story faster and more thoroughly than not fitting well into established narrative- and scientists would shrug it off, because detractors would pick up on all the wrong things in the e-mails and make stupid points. As it turned out, I was about half right, but definitely wrong about it turning out to be a nonevent. So since I don’t have much of a narrative myself beyond, a few bits and pieces.

1. The damning thing in the e-mails isn’t the language, like “trick”- it doesn’t really mean the same thing within that kind of scientific circles as it does in, say, running the con game. And it isn’t that it catches a bunch of senior scientists behaving like catty sorority sisters, either; despite the white idealistic edifice of Science, there are a lot of rivalries and bitter enmities within disciplines, and people defintely have their own agendas. If anything, this prevents huge conspiracies from being formed; nobody would be able to resist the temptation of showing up that bastard Doctor Brandx well enough to maintain them. And the peer-review process is sadly political, though it usually doesn’t go to quite the lengths described. I say this not to defend that sad reality, but to say it’s not really that extraordinary. The lengths gone to in the e-mails are unusual, they’re just not fantastical.

2. The damning thing *is* the deletion of the raw data. The space-saving excuse is just unfiltered bullshit; you just don’t dump your raw data like that. Especially not when it’s as critical to the other people working in your field as it is.

3. The damning thing is also the code for the modelling and the data it was based on found, which is a complete spaghetti mess. The now-infamous in programming circles HARRY_READ_ME file is a rather poignant account of a programmer faced with producing project-dependent results from buggy, poorly documented code with sometimes-missing and sometimes-invalid data. If you’re going to rely heavily on computer modeling.. it should fucking well be a well-constructed model.

4. The general response from the scientific community as a whole has been a giant scoff, pointing out that just because this one dataset (though it was a dataset from which a great deal of work has been done) is compromised doesn’t mean the earth isn’t warming. And the thing that a lot of skeptics are missing is, they are absolutely right. Recent warming over the past century HAS been corroborated by a vast number of other data sources, both direct and proxies like melting ice. Saying that global warming is a sham based on Climategate is like saying evolution is bullshit because of Piltdown man. (Which doesn’t stop a ton of creationists from doing just this, but never mind.)

But here’s the other thing: that’s not the issue. If I were continuing to use evolution as an analogy, let’s say that I was a scientist in an alternate universe where Charles Darwin went into the clergy and Alfred Russel Wallace was fatally bitten by a viper and no naturalist with any real observational skill to speak of had ever followed them. Say I were a naturalist who had observed what I believed to evidence of species changing over time, and that ever since my mother was raped during an itinerant carnival when I was small, I had a tendency to relate everything surprising or bad in my life to clowns in some fashion. I develop a complex theory statistically relating the practice of dressing up in makeup for entertainment over the course of history to change in species over time and show their relationship, and arguing that societies being able to afford more luxuries to support more full-time clowning as they became richer would lead to catastrophic and grotesque mutation in the species.

At that point, if you were seeking to support or refute the Theory of Clown Corruption of The Kinds, you would have deep and multiple wells of data supporting the idea that species changed over time, and you would probably also be able to find a higher rate of mutants near sources of industrial (rich-society) waste- but the actual relevant point you would need to attack or defend would be their link to clowns and the strength of the statistics supporting a direct causal relationship between clowns and change in species.

The argument between serious people isn’t about whether the world is warming or whether climate modellers tried to “hide” the recent slowdown in warming- which climate scientists themselves readily accept is due to solar activity at this point. It’s not even about whether human-generated CO2 causes warming; both of these things are, in fact, “settled science”. What it’s about is how much warming it can cause, and what drives natural variations in climate, and whether the current warming trend is being *dominated* by human sources or natural variation. That’s what makes the models important: they help us tease out the variables involved in something that doesn’t offer historical data as nicely as the fossil record does for vertebrate evolution. And that’s what makes the integrity of the modelers- and how well they’re looking after that historical data that we do have- important, and why this IS a big deal, even if a lot of people who should really know much better are playing see-no-evil, speak-no-evil.

5. On that last point: again, they’re not doing it because there’s a conspiracy. Some climate researchers have a lot to gain in grants from the catastrophic anthropogenic scenario, but a lot of others could make an insta-reputation tearing it apart, and a lot more than that work in some other physical science altogether. They act like they do because virtually to a man, CAGW opponents act like just about every other variety of anti-science loon there is. In a great many cases they’re even the same people. They use the same kind of arguments, the same kind of paranoia-mongering, the same kind of ignorance of basic facts well-known within physical science, and generally look, act, flap, and quack just crackpot ducks. Shrugging off this breed is reflex at this point.

6. I should reiterate: “the establishment” of whitecoats is right in that this doesn’t actually invalidate anything or prove any kind of conspiracy; what it DOES is suggest that the various organizations and major researchers involved need to voluntarily commit to transparency at all levels if we want to get data we can trust to both demonstrate what is happening and plausibly demonstrate why. And so far they seem more interested in denial games.

I’d finish this off and say THAT’S the damning part, but I can’t feel any sense of triumph or vindication over this. Because there’s still the chance they might be right anyway, as a thousand jackasses before them were right for the wrong reasons or behaved badly with their information. That’s the tragic part.

Black Weekend

November 27, 2009 - 7:53 pm Comments Off

Turkey day went fine, including the actual turkey, which was deliciously tender and flavorful. That “BB” ale, for those who remember it from Blogorado, may not be much to drink but makes one hell of an addition to a brine.

We ourselves are generally thankful for family, friends, and the metric ton of leftovers about the house, on which we graze like particularly plump Eloi.

Actual content when the Thanksgiving Weekend case of extreme laziness wears off, which will happen who knows when?

Cooking Noob: Biscuits and Grits

November 25, 2009 - 8:26 pm Comments Off

Continuing the theme of cooking things that I’m generally much more enthusiastic about than Stingray, eating the fabulous cat’s-head biscuits at the Longhorn cafe at Blogorado re-awakened in me a ravening craving for some of the grub I used to breakfast on when I was living in New Orleans. My other half is, as a whole, not nearly as enamored with Cajun-creole fare as I am, but as biscuits and grits are more of a general Southern theme of the overall school of “everything the American Heart Association doesn’t want you to eat”, I figured they would probably get a thumbs-up if prepared well. I felt both things were a bit too simple to get an entire post out of- especially grits, which require about one more order of skill to make than making toast in a toaster- I’d do both at once, stick Stingray with the protein for the evening, and write them both up.

I would have used Farmmom’s recipe, but I am a blushing virgin to the arcane world that is biscuits- which are a short and simple ingredient list whose results are almost entirely up to the maker’s technique- and I figured it was time to put to use the huge DVD library of Good Eats episodes we have on hand. (I gave pretty much every set ever released to Stingray as a Christmas gift one year. They’ve gone to good use.) So after I went back over that episode, here’s the recipe to use: Alton Brown’s southern biscuits.

Ingredients

* 2 cups flour
* 4 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 2 tablespoons shortening
* 1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that’s life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

For the grits, I went ahead and snagged a recipe for shrimp and grits; since they don’t combine until served, I figured Stingray could handle the seafood and I’d make the grits. Here’s the entire thing, for those of you that actually want to use the recipe rather than laugh at my flailings. Shrimp and Grits:

Ingredients

* 4 cups water
* Salt and pepper
* 1 cup stone-ground grits
* 3 tablespoons butter
* 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
* 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
* 6 slices bacon, chopped
* 4 teaspoons lemon juice
* 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
* 1 cup thinly sliced scallions
* 1 large clove garlic, minced

Directions

Bring water to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Add grits and cook until water is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese.

Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned; drain well. In grease, add shrimp. Cook until shrimp turn pink. Add lemon juice, chopped bacon, parsley, scallions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes.

Spoon grits into a serving bowl. Add shrimp mixture and mix well. Serve immediately.

Since the grits procedure that I’d actually be responsible for amounted to about three steps if you count boiling the water as a separate step, and no one really minds eating room-temperature biscuits as opposed to room-temperature grits, I started with the biscuits.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. This time, double check that this instruction is in degrees Fahrenheit. Then double check that there is nothing in the oven and all the racks are in the correct position to admit a tray of baked goods. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and proceed with your preheating.

2. Assemble your cast of characters. Mixing bowl, baking sheet, cutting board, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt. Butter and shortening and buttermilk stay in the fridge until needed. Squint worriedly at the “double action” notation on the baking powder can. Does that mean it acts as both baking powder and baking soda? The recipe didn’t say “double action”. Retire to Google to check. You still need both, you may proceed without fear that the biscuits might react like the baking soda volcano you made when you were little.

3. Explain to your chef’s knife that you are very sorry, but you won’t be needing it today, but this doesn’t mean anything, and you’ll get back together real soon. Explain to your Kitchen Bitch that we’re baking, which means no dropped peels or pieces of vegetable or fat scraps.

4. Locate your donut/biscuit cutter and attempt to remove the “hole” portion of the cutter. At this point it’s really not worth wasting time wrestling with recalcitrant kitchen gadgets like a monkey with a puzzle board; hand it to your spouse and let him deal with it with the giant Leatherman that lives on his belt. (Along with enough other hardware to conduct a successful NASA orbital mission.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.)

5. Dump flour into the mixing bowl. Note that doing anything with a quantity of flour larger than a teaspoon will largely take care of flouring surfaces that need to be floured, as well as all other surfaces, you, and Kitchen Bitch. Add the other white powders. Remove the butter and shortening sticks from the fridge. Slice off about two tablespoon’s worth of butter. That’s a pretty big hunk of butter, and we’re supposed to distribute it among the dry goods until it forms very small balls surrounded by dry good. As your spouse passes you in the process of whittling chips of butter off the hunk and into the bowl with a paring knife, you’re allowed to stab him if he makes a crack about misunderstanding “cut the butter into the dough”.

6. Scoop out two tablespoons of shortening and attempt to distribute them into the dough. Now is a good time to meditate on the strange paradox that while all other fats act as lubricants even when solid, shortening in its unmelted form sticks to everyfuckingthing. Resist the urge to wash your hands again since now you have to give your fats and dry goods a massage.

7. Prod, rub, and fiddle your fats into your dough. Stop sometime in between “oh god it has chunks some of the biscuits won’t have butter and the others’ll be greasy” and “oh fuck I think it might be melting what if it’s melting”.

Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

8. Dig a little well. Now at this point you have to reach into your clean refrigerator to get your clean bottle of buttermilk, but… we need floured hands for the step after this, and wasting this thorough coat of flour (with extra fat) would be kind of a waste. Deal with the handprints later and hope you didn’t get too many grains of flour in the buttermilk itself later. Dispense your cup of buttermilk into the well in the center.

9. Stir. Stop at some point in between “it’s mostly just powder” and “so much gluten forms that the dough refuses to give back your spoon”. Try to err on the side of too unmixed and not fret too much about unincorporated flour, because it turns out you’re going to have to cover the whole mess and everything else in about as much flour as you used for the dough just to stop it sticking.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round.

10. Scrape the sticky-as-advertised dough onto your floured cutting board. Sprinkle the top with flour. Start pressing it into a roughly round, flat shape. Stop pressing when you realize either your right hand or the surface of that side of the dough was inadequately floured and a substantial amount of dough is now stuck to your hand and will stick most vigorously to any further dough you apply that dough to. ABORT, RETRY, FAIL?

11. Sacrifice the dough bonded most thoroughly to your hand and your previous flour coat and wash it. Re-flour your hand. Cover the surface of the dough with more flour. Resume attempting to turn the thing into a roughly one-inch thick round flat shape. Briefly pause and wonder something along the lines of “wasn’t there another step?”* before shrugging and retrieving your biscuit cutter.

Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting.

12. Start slicing out rounds of biscuits. As you attempt to remove them from the cutting board and transfer them to the baking sheet, discover that the cutting board, despite being covered in flour, was still somehow inadequately floured. Develop a trick of twisting the biscuit cutter up and out so that the rounds come with the cutter rather than staying on the cutting board. Deposit biscuits directly from cutter to sheet.

13. Reform a dough ball from the scrap material with all and care and delicacy as if you were bathing an infant. Re-smoosh and cut rounds out of the remaining dough. You’ll still have a few stray scraps; you can give at least one to Kitchen Bitch if you like. More would probably have unfortunate digestive consequences. As a side note, if you’re using our cutter, this recipe makes a baker’s dozen of biscuits rather than a dozen.

14. Wash your hands and dump your baking stuff into the sink. Wash the measuring cup and get down a saucepot for the grits. Dispense the water and start that boiling. Dry off the measuring cup and fill with a cup of grits. Get the pepper-and-salt mix out. Finally, stick the biscuits into the oven and set the timer.

Bring water to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Add grits and cook until water is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes.

15. Once the water is boiling, throw in three generous pinches of salt mix, then add the grits. Back the heat down from high to somewhere between medium-high and medium after the grits attempt to climb right back out of the pot.

16. We’ve only got the one kitchen timer and you have no idea if the grits are going to attempt another escape, so… it’s time to stand around aimlessly for awhile. Stir the grits every once in awhile and wonder what, exactly, constitutes “done” with grits, since you’ve been served them at almost every consistency from “nearly liquid” to “wallpaper paste” in the past. Optional: do as the radio suggests and “jump, jump, jump to tha rhythm”.

17. Extract the biscuits once twenty minutes have passed and tack another five minutes onto the timer. Occupy yourself for the next five doing dances around your spouse and handing him things as you both attempt to work at the same time. Decide the grits have achieved a sufficient unitary quality after the five minutes and stir in the butter and salt, being sure that all the butter melts. Bugger off for a few minutes so Spouse can finish up with the shrimp and bacon. Let him serve, why not. Add a biscuit to the side of your plate. Nom.

The grits turned out very tasty indeed, and made a rapid convert out of Stingray, though he opined that crab might actually have been a better accompaniment than shrimp. The biscuits mostly turned out curiously flat, and to my puzzlement, the ones from the second pass rose much more than the first row and were lighter. Then it occurred to me as I was sitting down to write this that I’d never given it the initial “5-6 folds” mandated in the recipe; I’d gotten distracted by the dough sticking to my hand and skipped a step unconsciously. The thing about biscuits is that working the dough at all forms gluten; in order to get the big, light, fluffy biscuits that are the best kind, you have to get enough gluten that the dough has some strength and can rise, but not so much that it becomes too dense to rise much, let alone give to tooth. My biscuits were certainly not dense, but they hadn’t been worked enough to be of proper dimension. This is easy to fix next time, fortunately.

*Yes**.
**Yes, TD, my footnotes are still not hyperlinked. I’ll figure it out later. Or NEVER. Muahahahaa so there.

Quick link

November 24, 2009 - 11:06 pm Comments Off

Didn’t manage to come up with anything to say today, so you get the latest thing to make me laugh.

My opinion of the relevant issue at hand doesn’t align with the poster, but the parody was so spot-on perfect that I actually got theme music and visual montages in my head: The Secret Life of Climate Researchers.

Stray Shots

November 23, 2009 - 6:58 pm Comments Off

Substantial content will have to wait for the removal of the railroad spike that, judging by the feel of things, has been embedded in my temple since noon. Until then, an assortment of things not worth more than a few lines that have run through my head recently.

– I either need to play fewer video games or drive more often. My reaction to several people at once approaching a poorly signed four-way residential intersection was “Crap, this is going to be a nasty pull.” At least now that my current favorites have changed around some I no longer get the urge to roll up vehicles smaller than mine.

– Why don’t more people chicken-fry venison? As a solution to irregularly shaped, tough cuts of meat it’s a classic, yet it sometimes seems that the only possible solutions presented to cuts that aren’t backstrap is to stew it or grind it.

– So supposedly the President is “speechless” over the outrage at him doing a deep lowered-head bow to the Japanese Emperor, since it’s only respectful to follow local custom. Look, our relations with the Japanese won’t suddenly turn hostile because a President screws up protocol and symbolically “submits”, but it’s bad diplomacy because he DIDN’T follow local custom. Rules in Japanese culture covering who bows to whom and how low and for how long are pretty complex, and suffice it to say world leaders do not shoegaze to emperors. Hirohito might have gotten a kick out of it in 1940, but Akihito was embarrassed. Either follow previously established State Department protocol, or actually learn the fucking custom before you start improvising, ‘kay? I’d say he needs to fire his Chief of Protocol, but apparently he doesn’t feel it necessary to bring her and has announced they’ll be creating a new position that travels with the President. Awesome.

– I’m with Holly (apparently so much so that I’m borrowing the format). What the hell is up with guys thinking a dick picture is a fantastic way to advertise themselves to the opposite sex? I’ve got news for guys: this will never, ever get a reaction you want. Puzzlement is most likely. Laughter is next most- I hate to break it to you, but male genitalia look a little bit silly to women when taken out of a context that is not her being already interested in having sex with you. And we WILL be debating with our female friends what your dick most resembles, with options ranging from “baby mouse with eyes not yet open” to “skinned hot dog”. Aside from being tacky and creepy, it’s just a bad plan overall.

Atheist Rant

November 20, 2009 - 8:13 pm Comments Off

More often than not it seems I’m usually taking a swing at “my” side (if one can define a shared absence of a particular sort of belief as any sort of side) and bitching about rude, entitled atheists, but today I’m going to bitch about a meme I’ve gotten really fucking sick of hearing from believers having an attack of smug.

The meme is this: atheists are people that don’t/can’t/don’t want to believe in anything greater than themselves, therefore they can’t/won’t accept God- or, in the most Chickian extreme, that they believe THEMSELVES to be godlike.

And it’s complete fucking bullshit. I’ll grant you that I can definitely come up with certain individuals that have disappeared nearly completely up their own assholes and seem to have found it divinely glorious, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in believer status there- the smarmiest and most ego-tastic of them merely speak as though they were the nearest earthly approximation. (They certainly don’t seem to mind handing out judgments as though they were.)

It’s trivial to anyone who’s advanced beyond the mental age of two to recognize that there are things greater than themselves. Start with family, move on up to community, then we’ve got nation, the world, and the entire sweep of human history, culture, accumulated wisdom (and folly)- and all that’s just a brief little infinitesimal blip compared to the history and diversity of life, or of the earth, or try the universe’s vastness that’s almost impossible for the human mind to even contemplate, before even moving on to “infinity”.

What I don’t believe in is an omnipotent intelligence that is even vaster and more incomprehensible than the universe itself. If you want to get more specific about what I don’t believe in, I don’t believe that such an entity then spent a few thousand years involving itself in tribal politics in the Middle East before redeeming all of humanity via blood sacrifice- or, for that matter, in any of the other accountings of its various deeds that do not happen to be the majority faith in my culture.

I believe that I am little and not remotely godlike and the things I do not know- and my capacity to be vile if I do not consciously exercise the choice not to be- are vast and great and will remain so for my entire life and probably the entire span of our existence as a species. I just don’t believe in God.

I'd add /b/tards, but they'll probably be obsolete by then.

November 19, 2009 - 6:45 pm Comments Off

The other day I read a lady gamer detailing how her relationship with someone who turned out to be a callow and self-absorbed young man started deteriorating extra-quickly after they started playing a MMORPG together; watching him be a jackass to other players in-game helped highlight for her all the ways in which he was a self-absorbed jackass in other aspects of his life as well, just with greater subtlety.

When I was young, my mother advised me to keep an eye on how anyone I dated behaved toward waiters and waitresses in restaurants, as well as any other service personnel, because that would tell me if he were a decent person period or just capable of putting on the act when I happened to have or be something he wanted at the time.

We hear an awful lot about how easy it is to be functionally anonymous on the internet, in the sense of frequently interacting with people who have no idea who you are and would have little to no chance of ever recognizing you again should you not want them to, and how this brings out all sorts of bad behavior, as though ordinary good people were turned werewolflike into churlish idiots by this factor. I don’t really see it that way; I think there are simply a lot of people whose otherwise civil behavior is driven less by their fundamental decentness than it is by a wish to avoid social punishment. (Or, more charitably, that the civilizing process takes longer for some than for others, and that anonymity allows them to express their immaturity without immediate retribution.)

It occurs to me that in addition to technology having given us a thousand ways to be exposed in ways great and small to human pettiness, vindictiveness, and just plain nastiness, it’s also given us an unprecedented way to see how the people we DO know behave when given the opportunity to truly interact with no risk of social retribution whatsoever. And how they then choose to conduct themselves.

Should I ever change my mind and reproduce- or should my brother happen to produce an heir- rather than telling him or her to get the hell out away from anyone who abuses the waitress, I’ll probably tell them that nothing good ever comes of associating with trolls, loot ninjas, or sockpuppets.

A Brief Meditation On Masculinity

November 17, 2009 - 5:49 pm Comments Off

Although it is not any date or occasion on which I’m normally inspired to apply a fresh coat of butter to my other half, I’ve run across just about enough of a certain genre of writing that makes me really, really appreciate something about Stingray that I’m increasingly coming to realize is not sufficiently common a virtue among men.

For as long as I’ve known him, he has always acted as though it were a long-since forgone conclusion that his testicles came factory-equipped and were, are, and ever shall be firmly attached to his body, no matter what happens short of a purely literal castration event.

He doesn’t feel the need to check and see if they are still there, or re-bolt them back on later if he is served an egg pie. The presence of homosexual men within his zip code, or even living room, does not cause him to curl into the fetal position and cradle them lest they scamper off over the horizon. He can wash his face with something gentler and more scented than a bar of lava soap and still rest so secure in the assumption that the testosterone-producing apparatus that will still require him to shave it the next morning is still hanging in there that he needn’t even make a few precautionary laps around the block in a pickup. Likewise he seems entirely capable of trying new and different things without needing to look up their gendered implications in a checklist or guide before deciding whether he enjoyed it or not.

More that that, he also takes it for granted that I don’t have the power to affect the security of that oneness with his nuts, at least with anything more metaphorical than boltcutters. “Allowing” me to use the remote to channel-surf or drive a car with him in the passenger seat or contradict him in public does not seem to cause any state of gender crisis whatsoever. While we’ve had the same conflicts all couples do, the stated problem has never been that I am in any way threatening, undermining, or making off with his masculinity in the middle of the night just by going around having two X chromosomes and a mind and will independent of his.

A great many self-advertised Real Men appear to be quite adamant on the point that Real Men DO worry about these kinds of things and you cross them at your peril (lest they slap the ovaries back into you, or something)- to which I’ll simply note that all the other brands I know of that market themselves as Real Noun- such as Realtree and RealDoll- are explicitly about being the absolute most real-looking fake that can be conjured. Apparently for some, the only possible reason you wouldn’t be vigilantly guarding the integrity of your testicles from any and all existential threat must be that you have given them away.

Thankfully for womankind or at least that slice of it represented by me, there is a third option*.

*Nothing worth linking to specifically set me off. More like the effect of the last retarded little snowflake that sets off the avalanche of all those previous.

What It's About

November 16, 2009 - 7:25 pm Comments Off

One thing that I probably don’t need to explain to most of the people who read this, but sometimes find myself floundering to explain to others, is why I enjoy shooting and why I refer to it as a stress reliever. The people who do shoot are already giving the blank look and the “duh”, but it always feels like, when I try to explain “had a terrible week, but now I’m off to burn some brass at the range” to someone to whom guns are something that exists in the news and fiction but not in a way that really relates to them at all, that they’re getting completely the wrong idea even if they know and like me.

I like to think I’m a good person, but I also know I’m not really what you could fairly call a nice person in a lot of ways. I don’t suffer fools gladly, I’m introverted as hell and I find the company of most other people draining rather than refreshing or desirable, and you won’t find being inoffensive anywhere on any of my priority lists. I play Violent Video Games ™ (scare chord). The only sport I enjoy watching (boxing) could fairly be termed a blood sport.

So, to a person to whom guns and violence are a peanut-butter-and-jelly pairing inside their head, and who know I’m no one’s Mother Theresa, I always get the nagging suspicion that they think that, when I head to the range after a frustrating day/week/whatever, I’m acting out some kind of violent fantasy in a safe environment, or purging violent urges. And nothing could be further from the truth.

Oh, I’m not going to sit here and give you doe eyes and claim I’m above that sort of thing or never do it. It’s just that when I do, I jump into a game and tear the elf ears off somebody, or work it out with free weights, or anything else that allows me to do just that- safely and in a socially acceptable fashion act out aggression until I’m too damn tired or mentally fried to have any anymore.

The thing is, even if I wanted to have a fantasy about shooting people that frustrate me (which, for the record, I have never had and don’t expect to have any time soon, if you’re worried about me flipping out spree-killer style- I heavily favor the imagined slap upside the face over BOOM HEADSHOT), actually shooting at the range would make it very difficult to do that. The mindsets are incompatible.

The truth is, if I’m one the firing line with a pistol, a rifle, or a shotgun, I’m too damn mentally busy to fantasize about anything other than putting the shots in the black or knocking down the steel or busting the clay. What needs to be in my head is my sight picture, my stance and what I could theoretically be doing to improve it, not slapping the trigger, not limp-wristing, and all the rest of the things that go into making a projectile go where I want it to, which is a damn sight harder than the movies make it look. Even if I practiced as much as I should/would like to and all of that were long sunk into muscle memory, the mindset is *still* basically incompatible; the combination of focus and ritual is inherently calming, and just doesn’t let you sustain that adrenalined, aggressive jangle that makes catharsis possible and rewarding. From the Four Rules to the set of range commands that allow for safe conditions and a fast-paced, efficient running of a class or training session or sporting event or whatever, everything involved in shooting is highly ritualized.

Shotgun is even more pronounced in this respect- if rifle and pistol force you to focus just on stance and sight picture and all the rest of it, just about any form of shotgun sport will force you to stop thinking altogether, because you only have a few seconds to react in and if you waste that time on conscious activity rather than swinging your gun, acquiring the target, and firing, you are going to miss. You might not even get around to firing at all before the clay lands. And contrary to what sometimes seems to be the popular belief, firing a gun is not an inherently violent or aggressive act- just an inherently loud one.

That’s why I like shooting when I’m stressed; short of tranquilizing drugs I haven’t yet found a more efficient way to force my mind out of an angry or anxious little rut and my body out of that reinforcing set of stress hormones. It’s especially good for an introvert like me that tends to occasionally need rescuing from my own head, especially in a group where I’m often at a little bit of a loss because socializing isn’t always that natural to me- which is why it was a big part of why I was able to easily relax and joke and chat with a bunch of people I’d never met in person before last weekend. At least one person commented that they didn’t expect me to be like that given my prickly persona, and the truth is- in a lot of situations, I’m not. But range time can be a better social lubricant for me than alcohol, minus the hangover. (But just as expensive if not moreso, sadly.)

Shooter ready.

Blogorado Recap (Non-Quickie) Pt. 3- The Good Story

November 13, 2009 - 6:24 pm Comments Off

“Gawd, I love rednecks!”
LawDog

SUNDAY
Astute readers may have noticed that I just skipped entirely over Saturday. Saturday was awesome, and featured less interruption from that damn train, more appearance of LawDog and Phlegmmy, yet more utterly amazing food from the FarmFam, and more shooty goodness than you can shake a stick at. Seriously, someone shook a stick, then someone else yelled “Throw it down range!” and then the stick had a very bad day. Most folks probably turned more money into smoke and noise in one day than in the last several months to years combined. And it was awesome. But everybody else has covered that, and I figure if I keep dragging this out it’ll be worse than those interminable slide-shows your Aunt Gertrude shows of the time she and Uncle Trappedinalovelessmarriage took a cruise.

So we’re skipping that.

Well, almost. It’d be a shame not to include a quick aside about everybody’s favorite doing it wrong shooter, Breda. See, LawDog and Jim (hey, we’re going shooting in 20 minutes!) opted to add a little to some of the targets. You know, just to keep things interesting.
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Breda stepped up to the plate.
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And promptly sent all six shots of full-house .44 mag right where they needed to go.
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What’s that? That’s only five and one is missing? Well, I suppose you could say one is missing…
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Right, moving on.

Sunday was more of the same. Salamander sadly had to depart early to tend a sick newt, but not before we got pictures of his epic kneebeards:
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And if that doesn’t sound like an excerpt from a Glen Baxter cartoon to you too, then I’m gonna have to wonder. Matt and his dad Johnny rolled in early in the morning and joined us out at the range for yet more time making Sarah Brady cry and Paul Helmke crap himself with terror. I’m reasonably sure there have been actual war zones that saw less fire than the range we were on. As it tends to, however, the sun sank low and we were forced to gather up, pack in, and call it a day. A little thousand(ish) yard plinking had everyone in fine spirits (even if he did neglect to mention my score in there). The FarmFam had more food ready, and there was still plenty of beer left waiting in town. Being rather hungry at this point, after we finished cleaning up the range and getting everybody’s gear sorted out, I was following hard on the heels of FarmGirl while everybody else took a more sedate pace.

Thus it happened that as we were rolling up to the main highway back to town, we were a mite perplexed when FarmGirl pulled her full-to-overflowing pickup over and rolled down a window. The road being otherwise empty, we pulled up even and likewise lowered the glass.
“Anything wrong?” I called over.
Kelly hit a deer. Can y’all fit his gear in your truck and give him a tow back to town? Everybody else is full up.”
I was a little dubious about the “back to town” part since we were still more than a few miles away from what could be called “town,” but the gas tank was mostly full and I wasn’t about to leave one of our own up shit creek just because the paddling might be a touch inconvenient. We reversed course and headed back.

Fewer miles back than I was fearing, we saw a collection of flashing hazard lights. Pulling up, we found a whole pack of shooters gathered around one wounded Dodge Dakota and one very nice buck (blood warning) that was having a worse day than the stick someone waved at the range. Matt covers the parts we were driving for here. Since the unnecessary bureaucracy proper authorities informed us that Kelly wouldn’t be able to keep the head (of, by his own admission, the biggest buck he had ever taken) for mounting, we did the next best thing and started acting like a bunch of punchy, cold, hungry jackasses looking for fun instead of just sitting around being glum about the delay. A Sawz-All was produced from the FarmFam truck, the head removed in remarkably short order, and the abundantly horned Ram emblem on the hood of the now crippled Dakota received one hell of an upgrade (decapitated head and ruined Dakota grill warning).

With the now headless deer pointed downhill to drain while we waited, an observation was made. When in the midst of a good number of people walking around openly armed, having a great time at the site of an accident it does not leave the greatest first impression with the responding officer when the first sight is a very nice buck head wearing a blaze orange hat and smoking a cigarette. The impression is further not served by finding one of said armed and happy folk standing over the ass-end of a headless deer, thrusting his hips in the air, and proclaiming loudly “THIS *thrust* IS WHAT *thrust* YOU GET *thrust* FOR NOT *thrust* HAVING *thrust* OPPOSABLE *thrust* THUMBS!”

Kinda makes the officer look askance at things. Honestly, I’m amazed we weren’t all breathalyzed.

As the red tape spooled along, we were finally given permission to quarter out and skin the deer. Since luck was (uh, kinda?) on the gunbloggers’ side, the intestines hadn’t burst, and there was nowhere near as much damaged meat as there could have been. More bad advice, questionable practices, general ribbing, and flat out heartfelt laughter has to my knowledge never before been present at the side of the road dealing with an accident. LabRat suggested that Kelly, ah, “mark” his kill, performing an act of questionable hygiene with the creature’s esophagus. Kelly noted a preference for the trachea, as it would be ribbed for his pleasure, at which point, while pulling one of the hind legs into a better butchering position, LawDog offered the opinion gracing the very top of this post. Then there was the part where we had a recreation of the scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where the chimp figured out how to use a bone for a club, improvised with the lower chunk of the deer’s leg, but that was just silly.

The meat was all bagged (this being the most perfectly, if accidentally, equipped game harvest ever), and we started moving things from small Dodge to big Dodge, and located a tow strap. MattG approached as LabRat and I arranged cargo under the illumination of the rearward facing light on the cab.
“Do you finally feel validated for having this big a truck?” my ever so loving and never mocking bride inquired.
“Yes. Yes I do.”
“Every truck owner lives for this,” Matt commented. “I did when I had one, I know that much. The day comes when someone has a lot to haul, or needs a tow, and the truck owner can stand proudly and say ‘Yes, I can help.’ It’s a bit like being superman. You’re thrilled about this, aren’t you, towing and hauling in one event?”
“…yeah.”

Cargo transferred, we hooked up the radiator-less Dakota and set off for a FarmFamily storage outpost, thankfully much closer than the main town. Over the course of the weekend, much fun was had by all commenting on the peculiar rail accessory hanging off my AR-15, here wielded by Alan.
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Well, walking into the FarmFam garage, Kelly turned out to trump me, and offered to our recalcitrant gourmand a superior set of fuzzy dize to mount to a rail.
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And just as one final note, I’ll probably get a rather large boot applied to my posterior the next time we meet up with him, but in the process of all this Kelly threw down and served notice to every plumber in the world. A true challenge has been issued, and the master of roadside charcuterie himself laid down the law about just how some things are done. I’d offer a link, or a jump cut or something to move this out of direct sight, but all of us at the side of the road had it etched into our minds, and it’s scientifically proven that the best thing to do in this sort of situation is to sear the image on as many minds as possible, sort of a shared pain is less pain thing. Enjoy.
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