Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 21st, 2009

Implications of the Baber weapons

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The article in the New Yorker on new weapons for warfare is fascinating. I highly recommend the article. What Jerry Baber has done is to create a lightweight fully automatic 12-gauge recoilless weapon, the AA-12. It fires 5 rounds/second and the 12-gauge shells can be loaded as need requires: solid slug, pellets (each around .20 caliber), mini-grenades, or non-lethal loads. The only thing missing that I can see is a suppressor. You can see it in action here.

Because the weapon is a) lightweight, b) recoilless, and c) is incredibly powerful, he came up with the idea of mounting it on small (about the size of a Radio Flyer wagon) unmanned robots and helicopters along with controls and a camera. In fact, the little robot carries dual AA-12s. With a remote control that includes a viewscreen, the robot (ground or helicopter) can provide surveillance and firepower without exposing a soldier to the enemy. The article talks about a larger ground robot, armed and carrying six of the smaller models. The larger robot could breach the enemy’s defenses (e.g., break through a wall), and then the smaller robots roll off into action and suddenly there are six highly armed and controlled robots wreaking havoc behind lines. The helicopter could be enlarged so that it, too, could transport round robots behind enemy lines and let them loose, under the control of soldiers safely behind their own lines.

The AA-12 is made of stainless steel and requires little cleaning or maintenance. If the gun gets blocked with mud, for example, you just rinse it off with water, including sloshing water down the barrel to clean it out.

One immediately thinks how this could change warfare and what would drive it. First, it would be fantastic in urban warfare, allowing our Marines and soldiers to check out—and clear out—buildings without exposing them. The machines are not terribly costly (though the Army is likely to change that), so that if one is destroyed, it is not like losing a soldier. Moreover, the arms industry would love to keep selling replacements as units are destroyed in battle. So, first: more ways to transfer money to arms firms.

In addition, with lower casualties among our troops, it’s possible that our military actions would find more support among the public, though that depends on re-establishing some trust in the government’s decisions and actions.

However, the Army is not enthusiastic. First, the Army really doesn’t know how to handle tactically innovative weapons—that takes time and must overcome resistance. The greater resistance will be because the Army did not invent it. The AR-15 is a great example: a fine weapon for the war we were fighting (Vietnam), but the Army hated it because it was not invented there, and the Army made changes to make it an unreliable and ineffective weapon, whereupon the Army said, “I told you so.” (The most serious change was changing the powder in the cartridge, which led to the weapon jamming in action. Lots of deaths can be laid at the feet of Army Ordnance developers who insisted on the changes. James Fallows tells about this sordid story in National Defense, as I recall.)

So the Army’s first reaction will be denial: test the weapon, point out all flaws, and do nothing. If forced to adopt the weapon, the Army will then insist on modifications (to try to make it “invented here”), which (if history is a guide) will reduce the weapon’s reliability and effectiveness. It’s likely that the Marine Corps will do a better job (the Marine Corps is a better learning organization, as described by Tom Ricks in his exceptionally fine book Making the Corps).

If the State Department would allow it, foreign governments have already shown considerable interest and seem ready to buy and deploy—Israel is one. But the lethality of the weapon means it probably won’t be approved for export, so the Army will probably continue to fight it.

Extremely interesting article, well worth buying the magazine for.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that running one of those little robots would, from the controller’s viewpoint, be more or less the same as a video shootemup game. Indeed, if the Army does field such a unit, one would expect videogame simulations to appear on the market within months if not weeks. The result, of course, is a tremendous pool of already-trained potential operators who have honed their skills in simulations and networked combats. Thus, when the units start to appear on the black market, as they inevitably will, anyone will be able to operate them. Hmm.

UPDATE 2: I highly recommend that you read National Defense, by James Fallows. It’s old, but fascinating, and every American should know the grim story of how the Army ruined the AR-15 and sacrificed the lives of hundreds if not thousands of American soldiers just to protect some internal turf. At the link, you can find copies for $1.

UPDATE 3: I wonder what a Gatling shotgun would be like.

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2009 at 11:49 am

What happens when reporters do their job

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Very good article on how investigative reporting can actually work:

A Sacramento TV station is reporting that Chandra Levy’s parents received a call from authorities Friday afternoon notifying them that an arrest would be coming soon in the 2001 murder of their daughter.

A Washington, D.C., station says D.C. police "submitted evidence to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in an effort to get an arrest warrant" for Ingmar Guandique, identified in a 13-part Washington Post series as a suspect whose possible role in the crime was given less attention by law enforcement than the possible role of then-California representative Gary Condit. 

In published notes about the series, the Post says, "The reporters discovered that the police investigation was overwhelmed with the white-hot media coverage fueled by the possible involvement of Rep. Gary Condit, a congressman from California."

Condit granted his first interview about the Chandra Levy case to Post reporters Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham for their series, published July 13-27, 2008.

The reporters also spoke with officials involved in the original investigation, two women attacked by Guandique, and Guandique himself.

In their Reporters’ Notebook, they list all the new information published in their series, including that as of July 27, "D.C. police and the prosecutors working on the Chandra Levy case have never interviewed the two women who were attacked in the park by Guandique."

The Washington Post reports that the investigation has recently focused on Guandique:

Continue reading. When reporters don’t simply accept and print "official views," their work can be very powerful.

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2009 at 10:55 am

Shaving supplies site in the UK

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I just learned about SafetyRazors.co.uk, which has a nice line-up of new, new old stock, and refurbished safety razors for the guy who wants a shave that’s both good and enjoyable. They also carry a complete line of traditional shaving equipment and supplies: brushes (Simpsons and Salter); shaving soap and cream (Taylor of Old Bond Street); Merkur, Wilkinson, and Derby blades; and new Merkur and Parker safety razors. Take a look, especially if you live in the UK.

UPDATE: He can also replate nickel-plated razors to make them look like new. Take a look at his work.

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2009 at 9:07 am

Posted in Business, Shaving

School meals and the Food Lobby

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Very interesting post by Stephen Greenstreet:

Who decides what our children are eating? To a large degree, it is the Federal Government. Congress and the Department of Agriculture approve what foods can (and can’t) be served to over 30 million American school children who get daily meals from the National School Lunch Program. The government gets a ton of pressure from a food and beverage industry frantic to keep kids hooked on a diet of sodas, snacks and hot dogs. The competition for a piece of this $10 billion market is particularly fierce right now because this year the School Lunch Program is being reviewed and revised. Despite the enormous nutritional and financial stakes at play, ANP was the only media to cover a recent panel set up to discuss the school menu [see video above – LG]. While nutritionists outnumbered the press, corporate lobbyists outnumbered everyone.

Coincidentally, this op-ed by Alice Waters and Katrina Heron appeared in The New York Times today.

That op-ed begins:

This new era of government bailouts and widespread concern over wasteful spending offers an opportunity to take a hard look at the National School Lunch Program. Launched in 1946 as a public safety net, it has turned out to be a poor investment. It should be redesigned to make our children healthier.

Under the program, the United States Department of Agriculture gives public schools cash for every meal they serve — $2.57 for a free lunch, $2.17 for a reduced-price lunch and 24 cents for a paid lunch. In 2007, the program cost around $9 billion, a figure widely acknowledged as inadequate to cover food costs. But what most people don’t realize is that very little of this money even goes toward food. Schools have to use it to pay for everything from custodial services to heating in the cafeteria.

On top of these reimbursements, schools are entitled to receive commodity foods that are valued at a little over 20 cents per meal. The long list of options includes high-fat, low-grade meats and cheeses and processed foods like chicken nuggets and pizza. Many of the items selected are ready to be thawed, heated or just unwrapped — a necessity for schools without kitchens. Schools also get periodic, additional “bonus” commodities from the U.S.D.A., which pays good money for what are essentially leftovers from big American food producers.

When school districts allow fast-food snacks in the lunchroom they provoke widespread ire, and rightfully so. But food distributed by the National School Lunch Program contains some of the same ingredients found in fast food, and the resulting meals routinely fail to meet basic nutritional standards. Yet this is how the government continues to “help” feed millions of American schoolchildren, a great many of them from low-income households.

Some Americans are demanding better…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2009 at 9:00 am

Good breakfast idea

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The Simple Dollar has an excellent post on fixing the week’s breakfast burritos on Sunday, to freeze and then microwave each morning before going out the door:

I’m a big believer in eating a good breakfast to start your day. A healthy, high-protein, low-fat breakfast provides the fuel you need to get going in the morning.

The problem is that most mornings are really busy. When your alarm goes off, you have to take a shower, get dressed, find your stuff, complete a little task or two, and if you have kids, help them get ready for the day as well. To put it simply, most mornings we don’t have time to prepare such a breakfast.

Of course, one could stop by a fast food place or a coffee shop for a quick breakfast, but that eats five or ten minutes during the commute – and is ridiculously expensive, too. A tiny breakfast burrito from a fast food restaurant costs two bucks, is pretty unhealthy, and doesn’t taste all that great, either. A cup of coffee and a pastry from Starbucks might hit the spot, but is it really worth five or six bucks every day?

My solution to all of these problems is pretty simple: just make a big batch of healthy breakfast burritos during the weekend and freeze them up. Not only are the burritos really healthy, they’re also very cheap to prepare, and they’re very convenient in the morning since you can microwave them as you’re getting ready and eat them on the go.

You can make a big pile of healthy, tasty breakfast burritos for less than seventy five cents a pop in less than an hour. In fact, I recently did it myself and I’ll walk you through the whole process…

Continue reading for the entire illustrated process, step by step.

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2009 at 8:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes & Cooking

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Traditional shave

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It felt very traditional this morning, for some reason. The old reliable Simpsons Emperor 3 Super, the D.R. Harris soap in the bowl, my fine Gillette NEW with a Wilkinson Sword blade: very smooth, very nice shave. And the Arlington aftershave was quite a nice finish.

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2009 at 8:25 am

Posted in Shaving

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