Better And Better

If you don't draw yours, I won't draw mine.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stand at thy right hand.

To those of us who like a little classical history mixed with our modern guns and science fiction, there are few more beautiful stories than "Horatius," as told by Thomas Babbington Macaulay in Lays Of Ancient Rome. Whether or not the tale of Horatius Cocles is true, it should have been. I've always liked the concept of the valiant captain of the guard, but too have also liked the concept of his two buddies.

"Who?" you might well ask? "Horatius stood alone." Well, yeah, sort of. Actually, he stood first, and two other Roman citizens volunteered to stand with him: Titus Herminius & Spurius Lartius. You never hear their names, do you? Horatius fought with them at his side, and finally sent them away. But they also served. Their names are just not remembered.

Proud, honorable, anonymous service is a trait that I very much admire, in life as well as in literature. For the past few years, my email address has come from a line uttered by Lartius: "'Lo, I will stand at thy right hand, And keep the bridge with thee.'"

While I'm not such a geek that I sit around constructing GIF animations to show the battle at the gate, I will admit to smiling a little bit smugly that, one time in my early twenties, I seduced a chick with my reading and partial recitation of "Horatius."

And as they: Any lady who would be seduced by such a thing, is worth seducing. :)


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Saturday, June 27, 2009

This Just In:

Generalissimos Miguel Jackson and Francisco Franco are still dead!
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Hat Tip to Tam.

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Shame.

I shot yesterday's P.D. match with my M37 Airweight again. Mostly.

I took three HKS speedloaders. I took a Safariland Comp1 speedloader. I took along a dump pouch and two Bianchi SpeedStrips. I had 80 rounds of 158g LRNs for a match that you could shoot clean in 40 rounds. I had my holster, and my M36 in it, which I have qualified with. The M36 is quite a bit heavier, being steel, so it should be easier to shoot well. What the heck-- it's still quite a handicap.

Halfway through the first stage, I realized that I had made a huge mistake, shooting the steel-framed M36. While it had the same frame size, similar stocks, and identical sights and barrel length to my M37 Airweight, it was lacking for the great trigger on the Airweight that comes from untold thousands of cyclings. I found myself trying to stage the trigger, and. . . BEEP! Time was up before I could finish firing the stage. I dropped 7 rounds.

I asked the rangemaster if I could change guns halfway through, to use my airweight. He said okay, if I wanted to go get it. No, I actually had it in my pocket. I pulled it out, dumped out the duty load and pocketed it, and loaded it with the match loads.

I shot the rest of the match with the old Airweight, shooting far better, but discovering that I really, REALLY need to practice on my speed reloads. What with the Hogue stocks and the tiny crane, things are tight, and require some repetition to reload the little J-frame with any fluidity. Absent that practice, well... it's embarrassing.

Also, mental note to Matt: on the falling plate matches where they penalize you 30 seconds per missed plate? Don't get cocky and start double-actioning the 15 yard plates with your 2" 15 oz revolver. That's expensive, when you miss. Just single action them, just like you did the 20 yard ones. Oops.

Next match, I'm going to cheat.

I'm going to practice.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Remember friends, don't forget to tip your snarker.

Friend Tamara is marooned 400 miles from home with near catastrophic brake problems and no money to speak of, and is making crazy talk about selling off guns.

I can't help but notice that she's got a little yellow Tip Jar button. I was impressed at how easy it was to use. For those of us who check into Tam's site for free every day and pay nothing, dropping a sawbuck or two is cheap, for the entertainment that we get.

You might help the lady out.

EDIT:
I noticed that the link to the little yellow tip jar button didn't work, probably because each click creates a discrete transaction number, which is how they keep things safe. Anyway, it's a yellow button to the top right (no, LabRat, your other left) of Tam's blog. Well, here-- it looks like this:

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P.S.A.

Natchez has centerfire pistol ammo available, at what I suppose is now considered "reasonable" prices. (I.E., almost twice what it was a couple of years ago.)

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Belize, with some Guatemala.

Travelers Of The People, Pt I.

When we crossed the river from Belize into Guatemala, we were taken aback by the "Exit Fee," which was $37.50 Belize, or that amount in US for both of us together. Seems strange to be charged a fee to travel, but we weren't charged again on re-entry, nor were we charged again when we flew out of the country.

We walked up the hill to a gas station past many money-changers, and bought a few quetzals from them at 7.5 Q : $1 US. We bypassed the rather aggressive taxi drivers, and bought a Pepsi, noting the slightly different taste of sugar-based syrup, as opposed to high-fructose corn syrup.

After a bit, a minivan full of people came by, and asked us if we wanted a ride. Sure. We wanted to go to Tikal. Well, he was going to Flores, but could drop us off at the crossroads for 20Q. Done. We shoved in, and thought that, now that the minivan was really full, we would have an express route to the crossroads. Eh, not so much. A 20 mile trip turned into a 2 hour trip along their highway, made up of well-grated gravel. Following distances are poorly thought of, in Guatemala. More stops were made, and more people were squeezed in, with more and more baggage put on the luggage rack on top. We finally stopped at 17 passengers, all of whom were polite, exchanged pleasantries, and generally were of good spirits, despite tropical heat and no air conditioning.

Here's a minivan that is at its least-full status. Note that they guy to my left is practically in my lap. I've got two adults to my right, and four or five behind me.

A boy always minded the door. We boarded different vans in Guatemala, but it was always the same: the boy whose age was closest to 12 years old would sit closest to the sliding side door, and open it and scramble out to assist with luggage and such at each stop. Although he handed the money to the driver, and returned change, I never saw the boy tipped, and never saw any expectation of him that there might be a tip. When he got off the minivan, the next closest-aged boy took over the duties. The boy didn't seem to get any break in price for his services; he was just a passenger. I never saw anyone direct the boys to take these actions, and heard no one comment on them, which leads me to believe that this is simply expected behavior. If so, then I find it to be one of the most charming aspects of Guatemala.



Here the boy is inside, holding the door open after pulling it open.

Eastern Guatemala seems to run on the backs of the little mid-engined diesel mini-vans. They all had cargo racks welded to the top, with some kind of customization made to the window tinting and to the seat upholstery. Not one had a clear field of view in the windshield.




This was one of the newer minivans that we saw.


Speaking of windshields, I noticed that one of our minivan drivers had decorated his windshield with a series of small decals of motorcycles. Victory markers?

_________________

My wife and I believe that a good way to see a country and understand its people is to ride its public transportation. In Belize, we first walked, took taxis, and then took water taxis from Belize City to the cayes. Water taxis are basically used like bus lines, and are essential to the economy of the cayes. They deliver people and goods very quickly to the docks, and are surprisingly punctual, despite the rest of the islands being on "Caribbean time," a.k.a. "Belize time."



Looking aft in a water taxi. The locals sit in the shade. The tourists sit in the sun.

The ride from Belize City to Ambergris Caye is about 50 minutes, with a short stop on Caye Caulker while en route. Because the drone of three outboards running full-throttle makes it a little too loud to talk, most people on the water taxis read books, listened to iPods (EVERYONE has earbuds for their MP3 players there. Most just use their phones for this. Hell, I don't even have earbuds for my cell phone, yet.), watched movies on their iPods (my wife did this), or, like the dork that I was, stared out the windows at the reef going by, and at the Caribbean Sea beyond it. I even took pictures of just... open water. I'm certain that the locals rolled their eyes at this. I thought about how, the first time he went skiing, a friend from Houston spent an entire roll of film photographing every snow bank he passed, much to his fellow travelers' amusement.

Looking out over the bow on our last ride back to Belize City.

I tried various ways to get my crappy point-and-shoot camera to capture the true blue of the Caribbean waters, and the reef below. I found that the lens could actually sort of see the reef just 10 to 15 feet below, if I shot through my polarized sun-glasses, which caused a little distortion of the horizon.

I simply cannot represent here the blues that we saw.



More later.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Back from Belize.



Back from Central America, that is.

I discovered a few things, to my pleasant surprise, about Belize:

It's not a Latin American country; it's a Caribbean country. Yeah, a goodly number of the people (especially in the west) speak Spanish, but EVERYONE speaks the Caribbean Creole that is based on English, but which most English-speakers will not be able to understand until it's been slowed down and repeated three or four times. Think Jamaican accent, spoken very quickly and with lots of contractions.

Like many tourist-friendly countries, it's a dichotomy of very nice houses and accommodations, against complete abject poverty. But then you go west to Guatemala, and learn that in fact the Belizians have it pretty good; even the poor ones.
The Belizian dollar is fixed to the U.S. dollar (which I'll bet they're questioning the logic of, now), at a rate of $2 BEZ to $1 US. All of the Belizian money has Queen Elizabeth II on it, though Belize has been fully independent since 1981. The Belizian dollar is a a thick coin that reminds one of an octagonal English pound coin, but has no writing on the edge. The Belizian quarter dollar is the same size and shape and color as a U.S. quarter, but the locals call 'em shillings.

Everyone is friendly there. Wear a hat, because the sun is outrageous, and because you'll need it to tip to everyone you pass on the street. If you don't want to exchange pleasantries with strangers, do me a favor and don't tell 'em you're from the U.S.-- they are very courteous, and I like to think that my wife and I acted as responsible ambassadors while there.


Cabbies there, who are courteous, helpful, and honest, are clinically insane as soon as they sit behind the wheel of their vehicles. Several cab trips involved me spending several minutes shaking blood back down into the knuckles of my hands after reaching our destination.

On Ambrgris Caye (pronounced "key"), a can of tuna can run $5.00 US/ $10 BEZ in the grocery store. Find out where the locals shop, and you can maybe get that cost down to just under a dollar for your cat-food-worthy tuna.


In San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, 90% of the traffic is in golf carts. The streets are narrow and usually sand, so they sport knobby tires. Gasoline carts are most common, and they sport full-sized license plates, front and back. Traffic laws are completely ignored, except that people drive (generally) on the right. Strangely, on the second half of the month, they swap sides of the street on which to park. I have no idea why.

Caye Caulker, which is halfway between Ambergris Caye and Belize City, is slower, less populated, and more laid-back. It's more of a backpacker's destination, and is your weed-smoking headquarters. Or so they say. I never saw a single joint smoked, though I saw a LOT of people who are tokers and make no bones about it. I'm so square-looking, I was never offered drugs in 8 days, while my wife was offered drugs 2 or three times. Wearing a backpack seems to help you get offers, if you're into that sort of thing.

The second largest barrier reef in the world is about a mile east of the coast of Belize. You don't have to be a diver to enjoy it; I'm not, and did. It seems like everyone's a snorkeling guide there, and you'd be amazed at how easy it is to intentionally lose yourself, kicking two to 20 feet above the corral reef, among stingrays, conch, nurse sharks, grouper, blue tangs, sea cucumbers, tuna, barracuda, and (once for us) manatees. I saw all types of physiques and ages doing this. Our last trip, on an old Rastafarian sailboat, I assisted an older man with his strong right arm in a sling, in getting back up into the boat at each location. While in the water, he had no problems.





At the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich, I observed well-camouflaged soldiers with rifles up among the trees that grow among some of the mounds. Seems they've had some problems in the past with bandits robbing the tourists, so they hide up there to try to pick 'em off as they storm out of the jungle. My guide was very uncomfortable with my question about them, preferring to ignore them, but I just wanted to know: A: were the guys hiding in the bushes with guns on our side, and B: what was the likelihood of exposure to the bandits. He assured us it had been a year since the last such robbery there. As I carried nothing more than a small-ish Columbia River lockblade in pocket, I didn't figure to do more than find a hidey-hole for my wife and me, should festivities erupt. We of course carried a bit of cash in our pockets, with our passports and main cash and checks hidden elsewhere on persons.



Everything in Belize is made of mahogany. If you would use pine for it here, they use the hardwood there. Thus stair risers look delicate and insubstantial, because the hardwood is much stronger than the softwood that we use to build, here. Bathroom doors on outhouses are even made of the beautiful rain forest wood.

Belizian sewage technology hasn't advanced enough to handle paper. There are signs everywhere reminding the tourists to dispose of paper in trash cans provided. That said, Belizian bathrooms, on the average, smell better and are better cleaned than American public restrooms. They are not open to the public, though. Want to use the potty at a Belizian restaurant? Better buy a drink. TANSTAAFL. I'm actually cool with this, because:

The beer of Belize is Belikin. It comes in four basic styles: regular, served in 9.5 oz bottles that are very thick-walled and look like 12-oz bottles, Premium, that tastes a little different but gives you a full 12 oz bottle, Lighthouse, which is I think a cream ale in 7.5 oz bottles, and Stout, which is sold in the same 9.5 ounce bottles as the regular, but has a blue cap instead of the green one. Belikin beer is good. All of it is good. My wife and I preferred the Premiums, though, because of the value. ($3 BEZ at a bar.) Belikin also is licensed to bottle and sell Guinness Extra Stout, strangely. There is some Heineken found in Belize, in little cans. I drank a LOT of Belikin on this vacation. In Belize, they think nothing of drinking beer on the bus, or on water taxis, or before breakfast. It's hot-- have a cold beer. The drinking age is 18.

The local rum in Belize does not seem to make you go blind, which is the best thing that I can say about it. Oh, and it's cheap. But I didn't price it against their local paint thinners, where you might get a better deal. When there, be sure to call for a brand of rum that tastes good.

Coconut palms, which are not indigenous, are everywhere there. They are picturesque, and useful. After seeing several locals do it, I finally had to try getting a drink myself, by knocking down a brown coconut, smashing it once against the tree trunk, and drinking long from the several ounces of coconut water that drains out of the nut. The locals swear that it is a secret to longevity, and I have to admit that I routinely under-estimated ages there. In fact, the average coastal Belizian, especially on the cayes, is very good-looking, and typically in good physical shape.

The local fruit is fantastic. Bananas picked ripe from the tree are generally 5 for a dollar (BEZ), and limes are about 10/$1 BEZ. The limes are so sweet that you can eat them alone, like oranges. There are mango trees everywhere.

Every restaurant seems to serve ceviche. I was indifferent to the conch ceviche, but the shrimp stuff, made with lots of fresh cilantro, is out of sight. Never tried it made with snapper.

Belizian food that the locals eat is good, but it's hard to get it in the resorts. We finally got adventurous enough to hit the street vendors on their bicycles and the street stalls. Fantastic tamales made in the Yucatan style, made flat and steamed in banana leaves, were all over. The standard Belizian dish is beans and rice (more rice than beans), sold with your choice of meat (usually chicken), with the incredibly hot local habenero sauce for condiment. Sometimes this would come with a fried plantain atop the rice. This stuff was cheap, filling, and plate-licking good.



At the border with Guatemala, the guards carried cruiser-stocked Mossberg and Remington pump shotguns and belts with extra shells. In a jungle environment, this made since. Then, further into the country, I found that the Guatemalan country seems to have gotten a real deal on pistol-gripped shotguns; they were everywhere. Soldiers had them. Police had them. Guards had them. The guys at the ticket counter at the Tikal Mayan ruins had them. They guy who came to take our ticket in the jungle had one.

Upon return to the main park from the walk among the ruins in Tikal (Guatemala), I noticed also a couple of guys in beige t-shirts with chromed or polished-stainless round-butt K-frames either stuck in their waistbands or discreetly in their laps. I stopped to chat with one, who admitted that he was with the Guatemalan national police.

The only cops in Belize that I saw openly wearing sidearms were either customs types at the airport, or were wearing the enormous British-style sergeant's stripes on their khaki uniform shirts. They carried Hi Powers.
They don't serve fresh coffee there. Everyone makes instant. Strange, because they grow it there. Who knew?

Okay. Gotta run shave off my vacation beard to go testify in court. More later. Sorry for the Vacation Chat, but I'm really kind of doing this as a travel journal for myself. Hope it's not too boring. Many more pics later, some from underwater film that I took.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

On vacation.

In 25.5 hours, my wife and I expect to be wheels-up on our first international excursion together.

I shan't be live-blogging any of this.

I suspect that I will return sunburned, poorer, laden with extra zeros and ones on my memory chips, and with my liver slightly the worse for wear.

Mind yourselves in my absence. I'll be back in a bit.

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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Maybe he reads LawDog.

At the last Police Pistol Match put on by a local medium-sized P.D., Dad and I noticed that the rangmaster was efficiently replacing targets rapidly, using 3M spray adhesive , a method recently featured on LawDog's blog.

This stage was the accuracy portion, which was what kept me above the middle of the pack, as I was shooting my beloved Kimber 1911.

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Policy.

I didn't recognize the car before I stopped it, but something about it piqued my interest, and I turned around on it, and started my video. When it made a left turn without signalling, and I noticed an equipment violation, I lit it up.

When I made contact with the driver, I recognized him immediately. An out-of-town professional small-time thief, driving his aunt's car with out-of-state plates, staying at his sister's house. I asked him for his license and insurance, and he produced one, claiming the other was misplaced. His license was from out of state, though he had been in state for most of a year.

He was dressed in gangsta chique, with a scarf tied around his head and his pants belted around his junk, and a shirt that somehow managed to engulf his portly frame. I checked him for weapons visually, and began writing him some citations, and we talked as I did so.

"Why you gotta always be harrassin' me? You know I used my turn signal."
"Nope. None was visible from the rear. You were in a passing zone driving slowly. I might have passed you. Dangerous. Maybe it's broken?"
"Naw, it works fine."
"Then perhaps you didn't operate it correctly. There was no turn signal. I have video to prove this."
"I wanna see that."
"You certainly may, at your trial."
"You're gonna take this to trial?"
"Only if you wish to do so, in traffic court. I'll be sure to save the video."
"So I have to take your word for it now?"
"Yes. Which the court has found to be credible."
"You sayin' I'm a liar?"
"Nope. But I will note that the first time I met you, you lied about the items you had just pilfered, which were in your pockets."
"That was harassment, too. You took me to jail, on a little Theft Under $50 charge, which you could've just given me a ticket for!"
"Oh, that was policy."
"Your department has a policy to take someone to jail for something you could've given a ticket for?"
"No, my department does not; I do. If you steal something, and then lie to me about it when confronted with stealing it, and then continue to lie about stealing it*, then you will go to jail. Don't feel harassed; I'd take anyone else who did that, too. Per my policy."

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*At the time, he had contended that the batteries in his pockets had come from another store, even though they were store-brand batteries from the complainant's store, which I had just seen him walk out of.

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