Historical note, emphatically NOT suitable for use in schools.

February 1st, 2018

I didn’t realize this until I got a chance to look at today’s WP, but:

50 years ago today, Eddie Adams took that photo.

He believed he had taken far more worthy pictures, and that the execution photo was viewed out of context by most people: The slain Viet Cong prisoner was captured after he reportedly killed a South Vietnamese officer, his wife and six children.

Small update.

February 1st, 2018

More from the WP on “Fat Leonard”:

Officers from the Blue Ridge consumed or pocketed about $1 million in gourmet meals, liquor, cash, vacations, airline tickets, tailored suits, Cuban cigars, luxury watches, cases of beef, designer handbags, antique furniture and concert tickets — and reveled in the attention of an armada of prostitutes, records show.

Things I wish I hadn’t read, after the jump (so you can skip it)…

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Random notes: February 1, 2018.

February 1st, 2018

There’s a really good profile in The Guardian of Mary Beard, Cambridge professor of classics and noted historian.

The timing on this amuses me, as I just finished SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome earlier this week. (And Amazon now has the paperback for a shockingly low price.)

The early history of Rome, the era of its fabled seven kings, is notoriously difficult to untangle. There are few, if any, contemporary sources. The whole story slides frustratingly away into legend, with the later Romans just as confused as we are about how an unremarkable town on a malarial swamp came to rule a vast empire. One way of handling this material might have been simply to have started later, when the historian’s footing among the sources becomes more secure. Instead Beard asked not how much truth could be excavated from the Romans’ stories about their deep past, but what it might mean that they told them. If the Romans believed their city had started with Romulus and Remus, with the rape of the Sabine women – in a welter, in other words, of fratricide and sexual violence – what can we learn about the tellers’ concerns, their preoccupations, their beliefs? According to Greg Woolf, “One of the things Mary has taught is to look at the window, not through it, because there isn’t really anything behind it.”

I’d love to meet Dr. Beard and spend some time talking to her. I suspect we’d disagree on a lot of contemporary issues, but I think she’d be a fun person to talk history with. One of the things I loved about SPQR was how much time she spent on things other authors don’t talk about: the daily lives of the poor, middle class, and other people who didn’t write long letters to their friends, to take one example. For another example, her discussion of the ancient bar in Ostia, with pictures of the “Seven Sages” and their profound advice. Or the discussion of early Roman dice games.

And some of Dr. Beard’s views on contemporary subjects are a bit surprising, at least to me:

She doesn’t feel damaged by scenarios that would plainly be unacceptable today, she said, though “on the other hand you’d have to be blind as a bat to see it didn’t work like that for everybody”. One of the great problems of today, she said, was deciding how far current rules of behaviour could be projected back on the past. This question also informs her academic work: she is more likely to point out how different we are from the Romans than how similar. “As soon as you say things were different 40 years ago, people start to say you’re a harassment denier. But actually, they were. I do not think that the lives of women of my generation as a class were blighted by the way the power differentials between men and women operated. We wanted to change those power differentials; we also had a good time.”


Llano is a town northwest of Austin, about 90 minutes away. It’s a small town (a little over 3,000 people in 2010). It is perhaps most famous as being the home of Cooper’s barbecue, one of the top 50 joints in Texas.

As a small town, Llano has a small police force. Which can be…a problem.

Chief Kevin Ratliff and officers Aimee Shannon, Grant Harden and Jared Latta — who make up almost half of the police department in Llano, a town about 60 miles northwest of Austin — were indicted on a charge of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor. Harden also was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record to defraud or harm the person he arrested, court records say.

The four officers are currently on leave. Another former officer was also indicted “on a charge of tampering with evidence and accused of destroying a digital recording of a drug crime scene on March 26”.

So what the hell happened?

The indictment regarding the chief and the three officers accuses them of unlawfully arresting Cory Nutt on May 2. Harden failed to state in his police report that “Nutt was inside his residence when he was arrested” or “that Cory Nutt was forced out of his residence and arrested,” the indictment says.

Officer Shannon allegedly threatened to tase Nutt as well. Nutt was charged with public intoxication, but the charges were dropped.

It sounds like the dispute boils down to: Nutt was drunk and probably making a scene, the officers responded, he stepped outside of his camper briefly and then went back inside, and the officers stepped up into his camper and arrested him for PI. At least, that’s the spin that two of the defense lawyers are putting on it.


Harden was already on leave after a grand jury indicted him in December and accused him of tampering with dashboard camera footage during a DWI investigation in June 2017, according to a report from The Picayune newspaper in Marble Falls.

TMQ Watch: January 30, 2018.

January 30th, 2018

Ah, the week between the end of the playoffs and the Superb Owl: or, as we like to call it, “the most boring week in sports”.

What does TMQ cover this week? Would you believe there’s almost nothing about television shows?

After the jump, this week’s TMQ

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Obit watch: January 29, 2018.

January 29th, 2018

Mort Walker, creator of the “Beetle Bailey” comic strip. NYT. WP “Comic Riffs”.

Brian Walker said that the strip will continue, and that he and his brother Greg had been working on it with their father for decades.

Quaint and curious

January 28th, 2018

Lawrence forwarded me a link to a website that looks interesting, and that I hope to be able to explore further in the near future: targetballs.com.

Yes, yes, I know: you didn’t know targets had balls. Ha ha, very funny. But seriously: targetballs.com is “the online presence of On Target!, The International Journal for Collectors of Target Balls”. “Target balls” being what exhibition shooters used in their demonstrations if they weren’t shooting live birds, and before the “clay pigeon” was introduced.

Quoth the “About” page:

These balls, similar in size and appearance to today’s glass Christmas tree ornaments, were the “only substitute ever invented for the living bird,” something that Annie Oakley is said to have had silk streamers stuffed inside, something that in one summer the Bohemian Glass Works (in New York City) was making at the rate of 1,250,000 over six months’ time, something Buffalo Bill Cody chased after on horseback, “old ladies” darned socks on and babies allegedly cut their teeth on — all according to an 1878 ad! In their heyday, target balls sold for a little over a penny each; today one ball has sold for as much as $28,500, although “common” balls, generally in amber or blue, can be acquired for as little as $100.

Of course, you can’t really talk about target balls without talking about the people who used them. Which is why On Target! tickles my fancy: I’m going to have to scrape up the bucks for a subscription and set of back issues.


Found at Half-Price Books a few days ago:

Precision Shooting at 1,000 Yards, edited by Dave Brennan. I’ve written before about the late and much lamented Precision Shooting magazine: I think I’ve also mentioned that there was a small press associated with it. I try to snap up books from that press whenever I find them, because:

  • they’re usually jam-packed with information
  • Even if they are old, the fundamental principles of accuracy don’t, and won’t change, barring some major revolution in arms technology (like caseless cartridges and electronic ignition systems, both of which have been ten years away for the 45 years I’ve been an avid person of the gun).

This is a collection of articles from the magazine. I paid $40 minus a 10% coupon for it, which is a little more than I usually like to spend on gun books. But asking prices for used copies on Amazon are in the $75 and up range, and the condition was good…

…and what made me pull the metaphorical trigger, so to speak, was the two-part article included in the volume, in which a small handful of eccentrics (and I mean that in the best possible way: I want to hang out with these guys) attempt to recreate Billy Dixon’s legendary long shot at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls in 1874.

Whodewhatnow? Billy Dixon was a buffalo hunter. He was part of a small group that was attacked by Comanches at Adobe Walls, Texas. They were besieged for the better part of three days (the Comanches initially intended to slaughter them in a sneak attack, but rolled a critical fail on initiative): on that third day, Mr. Dixon, encouraged by other members of the party, took a shot at a group of mounted Indians about 7/8ths of a mile away (remember, he was using an 1874 vintage Sharps rifle, with black powder cartridges, and no telescopic sight)…

…and knocked one of the warriors off his horse. The Comanches broke off the siege shortly afterwards.

For the rest of his life, Billy Dixon never claimed that the shot was anything other than a lucky one; his memoirs do not devote even a full paragraph to “the shot”.

(Side note: the Dixon memoirs are available from Project Gutenberg.)

(Side note 2: Mr. Dixon sounds like another person I’d love to have a few beers with. I love one of the things the authors of the Precision Shooting article say about him: to paraphrase, he didn’t hunt buffalo for the money, but because he loved long range shooting. Hunting buffalo was a great way to indulge that passion, and by the way make a few bucks on the side.)

Last time Mike the Musicologist was in Austin, this came up in discussion, though I disremember exactly how: I think we were discussing contemporary makers of falling block rifles, which led to a Google search, which led to me finding either this one or this one.

One other thing I find intriguing about this article: the shooters used rifles and bullets as close to Dixon’s as you could get at the time of their experiment, but used a modern smokeless black powder substitute instead of actual black power. Their reasoning for this:

What many modern shooters might not know is that black powder was, in that era, as highly developed as today’s best smokeless powders. Produced in England, Curtis & Harvey’s Diamond Grade was the world’s best, likely because of a superior charcoal root stock and extended blending time. As folklore had it, their charcoal came from a certain type of willow tree that grew only in one locale. Further, C&H could afford to prolong the blending operation because they could get a premium price for the superior product they produced. Serous target shooters widely acclaimed Kentucky Rifle from a United States producer, Hazards, as the best alternative choice but, nonetheless, a second-best choice. Behind these two premier powders came an entire plethora of brands, manufactured in various places around the world.

The author goes on to note that, if there was sufficient demand, someone somewhere would be turning out super-high-grade black powder today. But there isn’t enough demand, so the quality smokeless BP substitutes seem like a good choice for consistent results.

This casts a new light for me on a quote of the day I highlighted a while back from another buffalo hunter: “…by then I had begun to use the English powder…and it added 10 to 30 percent efficiency to my shooting.” I suspect this might have been a reference to the C&H product. Sadly, the Mayer book does not appear to be on Gutenberg, so I haven’t been able to confirm this.

History repeats itself…

January 25th, 2018

…first as tragedy, second as farce.

TMQ Watch: January 23, 2018.

January 24th, 2018

After the jump, this week’s TMQ

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Ken is the man that we all need.

January 24th, 2018

Ken White is my new favorite person in the world.

At least, for the rest of the day today.

(Subject line hattip. Yes, I realize it’s about a vastly different Ken in a vastly different context, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to reference one of Kate’s more obscure but still rocking songs.)

Nostalgia is a moron.

January 24th, 2018

When I was a teenager shooting the (stuff) out of BB guns in my backyard, I wanted a LARC M19-A “Annihilator” badly.

I’m not sure why I never got one: as I recall, they were around $35 in 1983 money (about $86 in today money), and I’m pretty sure I had that from my lawn moving ventures. It may have been some other minor petty inconvenience, something like parental permission.

In retrospect, that was probably a good thing, since:

  • I probably would have gotten into trouble with it somehow.
  • I would have had to feed it BBs and Freon. And while BBs were readily available at the places we shopped, I don’t remember if Freon cans were. I know you could get them at auto supply stores, but those were sort of off the beaten path for me.
  • I hear in retrospect that the M19-A had some QC problems.

(Side note: that review the writer talks about? It was written by Peter Hathaway Capstick, and is reprinted in one of his collections.)

Anyway, I have a job now, and can drive. And the world has changed, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better.

On the better side: the Crosman DPMS SBR Full-Auto BB Air Rifle.

Completely useless for any purpose other than fun, and it probably eats BBs and CO2 cartridges like they’re going out of style. And I plead guilty to kind of wanting one anyway.

(Hattip: Say Uncle.)

…you can’t authentically get your ‘80s Miami Vice LARP on without 10mm Auto.

I’m kind of glad to see the 10mm is making a comeback: maybe this will lead to cheaper ammo, and more loadings for the caliber. But none of the guns Tam discusses really turn my crank.

Then again, I’m still hoping to find a reasonably priced S&W 1076 before May, so take my opinion with a few grains of salt, some lime, a little Cointreau, and some tequila.

Obit watch: January 24, 2018.

January 24th, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin, the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the Earthsea series, died on Monday at her home in Portland, Ore. She was 88.

Edited to add: David “Cloud Atlas” Mitchell on A Wizard of Earthsea.

No kidding.

January 23rd, 2018

Jason Kidd was fired yesterday as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.

In case you were wondering, this is a NBA team.

ESPN says this is the third NBA firing this year. (Memphis and Phoenix were the other two.)

He was 139-152 overall.