Monday, August 31, 2009

We interrupt this program...

I promise, I started working on this week's Historical Event. However, something has been nagging at me, and I want to write it down.

It's about Ted Kennedy.

He's dead, and he was very controversial in life, but boy, is he ever controversial in death. I started by looking on the internets (perhaps you've heard of this series of tubes?) for people, the religious right, thanking God for his death. Plenty of them. But then I found something else. A very interesting trend to condemn Kennedy for his actions surrounding the infamous Chappaquiddick Incident.

That word is so famous in the US that it shows up as a word in the freaking dictionary. For those of us who are unfamiliar with this event, Ted Kennedy drove a car into the Chappaquiddick River, and the lady in the car with him, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. There are a lot of questions around it, but I want to point you here for all the details. Kennedy plead guilty to leaving the scene of an accident causing injury, and it followed him his entire career, up until his death, and beyond.

For all his faults, Ted Kennedy was a great man. Now, great does not mean good - great means that he had, and wielded, large influence in the world. I shall leave the judgment of Kennedy's goodness to others. But I will admit, this blog post bothers me somewhat.

It bothers me for a few reasons, and all of them are probably controversial. I do enjoy reading Womanist Musings from time to time, when I see an interesting title on Jen's blogroll. I'm a late-comer to learning about Kopechne's death, because, as the guest author of this post points out, it's something often ignored when discussing Kennedy's life, or often referred to as just "Chappaquiddick". This is wrong. Kennedy's actions resulted in the horrific death of a woman in the prime of her life, and he should always be tied to it.


Reading this post, which did not have a link back to the original site, I felt quietly angered by the tone of it. I think the bulk of my anger, originally, came from the thought of "disrespect" to Kennedy's legacy, but I have realized that he deserves to be mentioned as the man who allowed a woman to die. A woman, who by all accounts was beautiful, vibrant, and intelligent.

But I think the guest poster makes many mistakes in their analysis of the situation. The facts of Chappaquiddick can never be known, as the only man who was there and lived is now dead. We have only suppositions. There can be no doubt that the lack of a strong investigation into Kennedy's actions is a result of the preference shown to the Senator and his family name in Massachusetts. But that doesn't change that we do not know what happened.

Condemnation in the eyes of the law without evidence beyond the shadow of a doubt should be impossible. This evidence was never gathered, or at least, not publicly revealed if it was. Kennedy claimed to have a concussion. Medical records were never released proving it; however, the same sort of behaviour that a drunk person shows can be shown during a concussion. The end result? We cannot know which is true.

I am not trying to suggest Kennedy was innocent of a thing, but I am saying that there are two possible explanations for his behaviour that night - one, he was under the influence of alcohol, and chose to avoid the consequences of his actions. Two, he was concussed, and didn't know what exactly was going on. It's probably the former, but it can't be proven - and that's how our system is supposed to work.

If there was another thing that bothered me, it was how the author of the guest post supposed that there would be no mention of Mary Jo Kopechne. She was, in fact, mentioned in every biography and obituary of Kennedy that I read. Taegan Goddard put up a good summary of it. It was mentioned by commentators at Kennedy's funeral and burial. She'll forever be linked to that woman who made the unfortunate mistake of getting in the car with Ted Kennedy.

Ted Kennedy's life after Kopechne died as a result of his actions was markedly different. I think there was a certain new nature added in. Yes, he ran for president, but he didn't seem to know why he did. He seemed content to serve in the Senate, and probably, in doing so, was more important than either of his brothers. Kennedy spoke in favour of civil rights for everyone he could; the Irish, the Bengalis, blacks in both the USA and South Africa. He fought the very conservative Robert Bork, knowing that Bork's opinions would lead to a loss of civil rights - especially women's rights and minority rights.

If I had driven that car in 1969, I probably would have gone to jail. For a variety of reasons, Ted Kennedy didn't. Because he was a Senator. A Kennedy. Famous. Knew the right people. A young woman died a horrible death. But, having said that, he took a life that should have been spent in prison and worked tirelessly for the rights of others. He spent it in the service of people, and probably made more of his life than any other could have. He took the same things that kept him out of prison - being a Senator, a Kennedy, knowing the right people - and put those things to work for the underprivileged in America and around the world.

You can not bring anyone back from the dead, and nothing can excuse Kennedy's actions on that night that killed someone with great, absolute great potential and possibilities, that horrifically destroyed a life. But just perhaps, if you're willing to make the leap of faith that Kennedy was a drunk who destroyed Kopechne, maybe you can make the same leap of faith that he tried to make a difference in the lives of everyone, to make up for the one life he was so callous over.

Historical Event of the Week: Burning of Washington, DC

This week's historical event was a product of the last war between the USA and Britain, and is important only as a historical note for most people, though of late, it has been an element of pride in common Canadian culture. The War of 1812 was a war fought for misguided reasons by the Americans against the British Empire, an Empire entirely distracted by the Peninsular War in Spain against Napoleon. During the war, York (now Toronto) was captured and the Parliament there burned. So in return, the English decided to strike back and perform:

The Burning of Washington

At the time, Washington, DC wasn't quite what it is today. The government of the US was oft spread, as travel times from the capital to the states wasn't a train or a plane ride, but oft a long slog down the coast on a ship, or a horse or wagon ride of a lengthy period of time. There was no Pentagon at the centre of American military operations to strike out, and none of the famous memorials or museums had of yet been established.

Yet the English undertook to attack Washington - to damage the credibility of the young American state, and to prove to them what sort of fools they had become. In order to understand why this move was important, we must quietly examine the War of 1812 and what it came from - especially important for my European friends.

The War of 1812 was fought over the right of America to trade with Europe, free of the restrictions of the massive European wars that had raged on the continent since the arrival of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. In addition, the Royal Navy had been impressing US sailors who were supposedly escaped or mutineed men from the RN. Then the British had also been supplying arms to Native Americans fighting American expansion into the eastern frontiers.

Some said the war's real motivation was to snag the land now comprising Ontario and Quebec, as well as the lucrative and powerful British base in Halifax, whilst the British were busy fighting the French. Many Canadian historians have this opinion. My opinion is that the Americans simply wanted to prove they could fight the English, and probably wanted to secure their expansion westward, rather than northward. However, as the men who were the chief masters of the war never left any real indication, we'll likely never truly know.

What we do know is that nobody really won the war, because all it ended up being was a series of short-lived invasions on each side. The English never conquered anything of note in the US (just Detroit, nothing important at all); the US never held any English/Canadian territory for very long. Indeed, the most lasting legacies of the war have been symbols - the Star Spangled Banner is about the defense of Baltimore by the Americans, the USS Constitution was a famous frigate in the war, and Canadians have latched onto the concept of burning down the White House as a defining moment in our combined history.

Of course, the entire war was viewed by the English as a distraction; when Napoleon was captured in 1814, they actually started to send over regulars. The Americans quickly decided to look for peace once Napoleon was out of the war. The first, and only large-scale engagement of the British Army was at New Orleans, a battle easily won by Andrew Jackson. However, there can be no doubt that if the full scale of the British Army and Royal Navy was brought to bear on the US after Waterloo, that men like Wellington and his hardened regulars would have shown, and the US may very well have been crushingly defeated. I don't blame them for pussying out.



Washington was literally undefended. It was a civilian capital, and landing and occupying it was easy. A few partisans shot at the Brits, and that enraged the soldiery. The torches came out.

Some buildings were spared. The US Patents Office was spared by the impassioned pleas of its superintendent, who said the contents were important to both Americans and British. The Marine Barracks were spared because, unlike the rest of the American soldiers, the Marines were seen as honourable foes.

Everything else was put to the torch. White House? Burned. Capitol? Burned. Treasury Building? Ooohyeah she burned. Navy Yards? Burned like a bitch, including the USS Columbia, currently under construction. Basically anything the government built went up in flames.

A hurricane came through the next day, spawned a tornado, put out most of the fires and killed a few soldiers, convincing the English to gtfo. Really, no major military victory came from the attack - at most, it was a minor embarrassment to the USA. But in recent years, it has been seized upon by Canadians as a point of pride.

Here's the rub: we didn't do it. It was the English.

So, let's take it for what it was. A burning of an enemy capital that wasted time and lives and accomplished nothing militarily. The end.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Movie Review: The Great Raid

The Great Raid is a 2005 war movie starring Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Joseph Fiennes, and a few other decent bit players scrabbled together in an attempt to recreate the January, 1945 raid on Cabanatuan Camp. It shows the depth of success of the mission, which saved 514 soldiers from near-certain death at the hands of the vicious Japanese prison camps, and was not a bad movie. Though there were some things that truly bothered me. Regardless, that is what a review is about. Yarrrr.

The raid at Cabanatuan brought the 6th Ranger Battalion and allied partisan Filipinos through Japanese-occupied territory to the Cabanatuan camp. There was some disagreement between the principle commanders of the raid - US Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, US Captain Robert Prince, and Filipino Captain Juan Pajota - over how to make it go down. Pajota, being on the scene for much longer than either American, was the best help possible, and they delayed the raid for a day to make the necessary arrangements.

This raid was thought as necessary because it turned out the Japanese were summarily executing all their POWs as the Americans got close, throwing them into air-raid shelters, dousing them in gasoline...and burning them alive, to dispose of any evidence of their war crimes. Lovely people, the Japanese were. So this mission was out of desperation. Tens of thousands of Americans had surrendered to the Japanese, but only a few thousand were left alive, and those who were were malnourished, underfed, and diseased.

Pajota suggested that the Americans attack the camp while he and his partisans held off the Japanese at a nearby bridge. In order to let the Rangers approach the camp, Pajota suggested an American plane buzz the camp, distracting the guards. A P-61 Black Widow performed this task, lingering over the camp and eventually faking an engine failure, while the US Rangers crawled close. At sundown, they established a base of fire on the Japanese garrison, killing and wounding the majority of the 700 guards (523 casualties), while freeing the prisoners.

Two US servicemen and a prisoner died, and a couple dozen Filipinos were killed, but we don't have exact numbers for them. But 514 US servicemen were saved from the hell of Japanese prison camps - and the shorter-lived but ever so final hell of burning alive.

The movie did a very, very good job recreating the history leading up to the raid, especially the interactions between Mucci, Prince, and Pajota. The movie also tried to link the story of Margaret Utinsky to the camp by romantically linking her to Joseph Fiennes's character, who was mostly fictional. This part particularly failed to be accurate, but was effectively dramatic.

The assault was very, very well done. It showed the true power of an American platoon in combat in World War II - semi-automatic rifles, Thompsons, and BARs brought a huge amount of firepower to battle that the Japanese could not handle with their bolt-action Arisaka rifles. The amount of lead the US guys could throw out, wow. It was a very well done recreation of a set-piece company-level battle.

There was some additions to the battle; tanks that likely weren't there, added for the pure explosion and adrenaline factor. The movie didn't rely on shaky-cam technology, so that I found it easy to watch. The torture of the characters felt very real. Martin Csokas (Celeborn from Lord of the Rings) played a captain who was Joseph Fiennes's friend in the camp, but he was a real hardass who wanted to escape. When the Kempeitai threatened to execute 10 men for every one who escaped, he expressed that he didn't care. When he was caught, and 10 men were shot before he was, you could see the defiance just leeching out of him. A very good performance by a less famous actor.

Overall, I wasn't too sure what the movie was trying to say on the subject of religion. Benjamin Bratt's character, Mucci, declared that he didn't "want any damned atheists on this mission". Mucci was a fan of taking everything on faith. The faith of the prisoners was in focus; the common funerals were given by a prisoner padre. Men crossed themselves before being executed. Priests gave Margaret Utinsky shelter, believing in their faith, and were executed for it. Martin Csokas's character thought aloud, "I can't believe he still believes in god."

The other contrast was with men like Prince and Pajota, both of whom were against a headstrong attack, like Mucci wanted, and trying to plan everything out. Prince was shown as restraining the aggressive Mucci, but there was never a flat-out denial of religion. As an atheist, I would like to think that faith isn't needed to save people from hell on earth, but that seemed to be a requirement. It is possible they were trying to make a point about the pointlessness of faith, but I don't think it was well made.

Overall, it was an enjoyable movie. It was better at history than allegory, and I give it a solid 3.5/5.

Hockey Player of the Week: Rick Nash

This week's hockey player will be the first current player I've profiled. In addition, he's an established superstar, but not because he has always been in the upper echelon of players, but because he has been the only established player at all on a team that has historically struggled. He bore this burden alone until very recently, when a new GM and new coach brought in players and a system that is turning the franchise around. Pound for pound, he's one of the best pure goal scorers out there today and is a power forward through and through. He's been one of Team Canada's most consistent contributors, and I thought he was the best guy at the Olympic camp that just finished. He is:

#61, Rick Nash

Rick Nash is 25 years old. He's only a couple months older than I am. But so far he's had a great NHL career. His first year, as an 18 year old, wasn't as impressive as was hoped, but he won the Rocket Richard Trophy in his second year with 41 goals scored. Since then, Nash battled injuries on a yearly basis, it seemed, but finally had a full season last year, where he again scored 40 goals.

Although Nash has played 441 NHL games, he has managed to score 194 goals - or about a goal ever 2.1 games, which is a pretty impressive rate. Especially when you consider he's never played with a top-flight centre. Columbus has been dedicated to finding someone to centre Nash - that's why they got themselves Kristian Huselius, that's why they rolled the dice on R.J. Umberger, that's why they traded for Antoine Vermette. But more importantly, that's why they drafted Derick Brassard, who has the possibility to be a big, aggressive centre to play with the big, aggressive Nash.

Nash's numbers are even more impressive when you consider that lack of support. His first 4 seasons in the NHL were on teams that were pure garbage. As a result, Nash has been the Blue Jackets' representative at the All Star Game four times, as he's been clearly the best player. Now as the Jackets are finally starting to pick up steam, it is obvious that he won't be alone. Young Steve Mason seems sure to represent the Jackets soon - Brassard and Jakob Voracek and Nikita Filatov are all incredible prospects. Nash finally has a team.

But I'm here to talk about what Nash does when he's on a good team, and not just hope about the future of the man. Rick Nash is one of the best forwards that Canada's ever produced. This has never been more obvious than when he's playing for Team Canada. Excepting the terrible year in Torino, Rick has accumulated 39 points in 27 games for Canada, including 21 goals. The difference, of course, is he plays with a top-flight centre. Guys like Ryan Getzlaf, Derek Roy, Eric Staal, and Sidney Crosby.

This is what has me excited about the upcoming Olympics. We're not sure who's going to play on the right, but Crosby and Nash are guaranteed to play together. They had electric chemistry in the Red-White game on Thursday, and Nash was easily the best skater on the ice. He destroyed Brendan Morrow with a huge hit, just because he's aggressive and strong. I'd love to see him bring that aggression to the ice in Vancouver.

We'll be playing on the small ice, but that hasn't been a disadvantage for Nash in the future. The 2008 Men's World Hockey Championships were held on small ice (for the first time, like, ever), and Rick still marked up 15 points. He's got so much potential, that till recently, hasn't been realized.

Watching Nash tear up the ice with Sid the Kid and another top-flight winger, like Jarome Iginla, Dany Heatley, or Martin St. Louis, is going to be a treat at Vancouver. This guy is electric whenever he wears the maple leaf on his sweater. Not the blue one, the red one, and he should be a dynamo in the 2010 Olympics.

We haven't seen what Rick Nash is truly capable of, yet. But I have a feeling we very soon will.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ship of the Week: The Golden Hind

Today's Ship of the Week was a sailing ship originally called the Pelican, that set out in 1577 to circumnavigate the globe. Led by the incredible captain and privateer (and future Dude of the Week) Francis Drake, the Pelican would take some millions of pounds stirling worth of gold bullion from heavily-laden Spanish galleons during her trip around the world. As Drake passed through the Straits of Magellan, he renamed the Pelican to her rather more famous name:

The Golden Hind

The Golden Hind was the galleon that Drake took around the world on the behest of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I, with the purpose of proving the ability of the English to do so; in addition, Drake was authorized to pirate any and all Spanish vessels he could find. Drake's famous circumnavigation was not an easy task, but0 the Golden Hind found herself up to the task.

Drake and company set out with five ships, the Pelican leading, in December of 1577, with the goal of raiding the here-to-invulnerable Pacific coast of the Americas, where Spanish ships trucked about silver and gold with impunity. Their first victory was over the Santa Maria, a Portugese ship, off the Cape Verde islands. Drake had to scuttle or burn three of his ships by the time he reached Argentina; rot and loss of crew had taken its toll.

As the smaller convoy crossed the Straits of Magellan, Drake rechristened Pelican as the Golden Hind, in a dramatic gesture meant to appease his sponsor, Sir Christopher Hattin, who's coat of arms had a hind of gold upon it (hind is medieval English for doe). Then he was through to the Pacific, and it was time to get down to business.

Basically, Drake and the Hind kicked ass all the way up the Pacific coast. Remember, no pirate had struck the Spanish on the west coast of the Americas, so they thought they were pretty much immune there, using the west coast to ship from Peru and Mexico, towards Panama, where they'd hike over the isthmus, and hook a ship to Spain. So, they probably shit their pants when they saw the Golden Hind coming for them.

The Hind took a few ships, and got tens of thousands of pesos of Spanish gold, but most importantly, they captured a ship named Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. Sure, this ship was full of gold and stuff, but more importantly - it was full of 26 tons of silver from the Far East. The Spanish had been sneaking across the Pacific and trading in the area that was specifically set aside for the Portuguese. This would start a war between Spain and Portugal, and would embarrass Phillip II of Spain and make him look like a dick.

The Hind served well, taking Drake and co. up to the west coast of what is now the USA, which he named "Nova Albion". They then sailed across the Pacific and had a fairly boring journey home. I assume they spent the time swimming in the gold and silver in the hold, Scrooge McDuck style. Sure, only like 57 of Drake's men returned, but a legend was born - and those who invested in Drake's adventure got a return of £47 for every £1 invested.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Aircraft of the Week: Fokker D.VII

Today's aircraft of the week hearkens back to the early days of air combat, and was the last great biplane produced in the Great War. Airplanes, during World War I, developed in stages. The first airplanes were slow biplanes, wherein the pilots would shoot at each other with pistols and throw bricks at the canvas-covered wings of their enemy aircraft, and try and drop sticks of dynamite or Mills bombs on them from above. Then we mounted machine guns on them - rear-mounted guns for observers.

And then came a new type of airplane - the fighting scout. Scout airplanes had a forward mounted machine gun, shooting through the propeller. This was a very sketchy business, as if the bullets hit the prop, it could send the scout spiraling to the ground. The next big invention was a synchronization device that ensured the bullets sped through the prop without hitting the wood of it.

Finally, there were leaps forward in airplane design. The canvas-and-wood airplanes were challenged by the Fokker Eindecker - the first all metal monoplane, with cantilever wings. The Fokker Triplane and Sopwith Camel engaged in vicious battles - specifically when Billy Bishop's flight met up with a combat group of Jasta II, led by Von Richthofen. But the pinnacle of design came after Von Richthofen's death. It was so good that it was the only airplane the Allies specified in the Treaty of Versailles as war reparations. It was the:

Fokker D.VII

Before we discuss exactly how good this airplane was, it's important we look at how it was developed. Tony Fokker was an airplane pioneer. The major airplanes Germany deployed in World War I were of his design, though probably more Albatrosses flew than Fokkers. The most lethal German ace of the war, Manfred von Richthofen, flew a Fokker airplane for many of his kills, and championed the D.VII.

The D.VII was designed to get the most possible performance out of the outdated engines Germany had to work with. Fokker's chief designer, Reinhold Platz, took the platform that had worked well on the Eindecker and decided to make it a biplane, specifically, the cantilever wings. A cantilever wing is designed for monoplanes, using a thick spar to mould the wing around. The end result is that instead of having two thin, unstable wings strung together with wire, the D.VII had a pair of strong wings that worked without the wire. This meant that if the D.VII lost control or went into a spin, the wings held their form.

It also meant the airplane was fast and manouverable. It was a stable gun platform. It was incredibly lethal, and if von Richthofen had got his hands on it...but he didn't, as he died in combat just a few days before it came out.

The D.VII did make it to some very, very lethal men. Folks like Hermann Goering and Ernst Udet. Goering was the man who succeeded von Richthofen as the head of the Flying Circus, and was a very talented pilot, who would eventually lead Hitler's Luftwaffe. Without the D.VII to push him to national prominence, perhaps he would not have had that role. And the Luftwaffe might have had a good leader.

1700 D.VIIs were produced in the time Germany had left until the Armistice, and it very quickly became a feared sight for all Allied pilots. Will Barker's famous one vs. fifty fight was against D.VIIs - he knocked out six of them in a Sopwith Snipe and won the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in action. That was a rarity; the D.VII outclassed everything the Allies had in the sky.

When Germany surrendered, everyone wanted to get their hands on the D.VII. And who can blame them - it was the finest airplane of the war, and would lead directly to many airplanes following in all the major Allied nations. Cantilever wings would be used in the monoplane designs slowly evolving in the 30s. Boeing would put the design to use in the P-26 Peashooter fighter for the USAAC, as an example. The D.VII itself went on to be used in Hollywood - pretty much every scene with an airplane from 1925-1945 had a D.VII in it.

In the end, it was a safe airplane that proved you could have hot performance and controllable characteristics, a combination that few, if any, pilots imagined could exist. The Germans loved it, the people who took possession of the D.VII after the war loved it, and it was a seminal moment of perfection in the aircraft industry. Not a pioneer in innovation, but a pioneer in excellence.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

THIS is why natural resource revenue should be kept out of the general coffers.

The CBC is reporting that Alberta's budget deficit for this fiscal year will be 6.9 billion dollars. For those of you who are generally unfamiliar with the Canadian situation provincially, Alberta for the last decade was considered the darling of provincial financial situations. The booming oil and natural gas industry gave Alberta a strong, powerful economy that the government tapped for gain.

The money was directly shunted into the government. As a result, Alberta became a province without a debt, and a province without sales taxes. In fact, Alberta became the least taxed province in Canada, with an assumption that this state of affairs would always continue. The overage in government spending was placed into a sustainability fund, and some of it was given back to the people. Overall, it seemed like a good arrangement.

One year of a bad market for oil and natural gas has eaten up almost half of the sustainability fund. While Alberta can continue to operate at its normal pace this year, the simple fact is that by relying on natural resources for revenue, there is no substitute for that amount of money. Jobs did not magically appear in Alberta due to lower taxes but due to the resources. It's really a running example of how "trickle-down" doesn't work. Economies are based on realities like resources and factories, not taxes.

As an example how much money Alberta lost, check out this article from last year, exactly one year before the previous article I mentioned. Alberta went from an 8.5 billion dollar surplus to a 6.9 billion dollar deficit, a total swing of $15.4 billion. That's a huge amount of money to lose just because the gas market didn't work out for you.

Nova Scotia had a similar debate about natural resources. John Hamm wanted to put the natural resources money directly on the debt. It was his reasoning that we can't count on the natural resources at any time, so it should be used entirely for relieving the government of the debt burden. By doing so, it would free up money from interest payments, allowing the government to have more revenue for whatever it wanted to do.

"Rocket" Rodney MacDonald changed that and shunted our resource money into general revenue to pay for his various schemes. The end result is that we're in the same position Alberta is now in - we're facing a huge deficit because we relied upon natural gas money that has dried up. Unlike Alberta, we're a province that is already heavily in debt, and we don't have a backup fund.

I wish politicians would look to the future. Rodney MacDonald has retired in disgrace, and I say good-fucking-riddance. He'll likely be considered one of the worst premieres Nova Scotia ever had, and honestly, it's well earned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dear Maine

Dear Maine;

Hi there. I'm Benjamin, and I live in Nova Scotia. We're pretty close together. I can get to you in five hours if I drive the limit. I can take a pretty ferry across the Bay of Fundy to Bar Harbor and we can even sneak in some good Canadian beer. But you know what? We're not here to talk about that.

That's right. Maine, from what I understand, you guys and girls are getting ready to have a proposition on your 2009 electoral ballot to overturn the recent legislative decision to allow same sex marriage within the state. It's been an up and down ride for proponents of equal rights in the US over the last year. There was that powerful victory in the California courts, so heavily crushed at the ballot box; there were court victories in Connecticut and Iowa, and legislature victories in New Hampshire and Vermont, and of course, Maine.

Maine is a state with a great history. When the Republican Party of the 1800s started to advertise a new brand of politics, a new brand of equality, Maine was the first to vote for this new style of human treatment. In the Civil War, one of the greatest Union heroes was a Maine man - Joshua L. Chamberlain, who saved the Union flank at the Battle of Gettysburg and was later governor of the state for eight terms.

This progressive history should be noted, because although Maine did not have much in the way of black residents, Maine fought like a lion for the abolitionist cause in the Civil War, because it believed it was the right thing to do. The right thing to do in November of 2009 is vote "no" on Proposition 1.

As a Canadian, I have lived in a country that has allowed gay marriage for some time now. The world has not ended. There is no great wave of evil that washed over the barriers of marriage and swept it away. Rather, there are a few inquisitive children wondering why one of their friends has two daddies or two mommies, and that's the worst of it.

My Maine friends, I urge you to show the world that the morality of a few will not trample the rights of all. Do not repeat the mistake California made. Every first for equal rights in the Union has been an important one. Massachusetts was the first to allow gay marriage. Vermont was the first to legislate it. Maine, you can be the first people in the United States to accept it publicly.

Vote No on Proposition 1, and prove to the United States - to the world - that Maine is a place where all can have the freedoms promised by the Founders and the Framers - the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Dude of the Week: Chuck Yeager

If there was ever a pilot for all-time, this is the guy. Today's Dude of the Week is one of the most famous airplane pilots to ever hop in a cockpit, up there with Lindburgh and von Richthofen. He served with the United States Army Air Forces and the United States Air Force from 1941-1975, winning a plethora of medals. He was a World War II fighter ace, flew over a hundred missions in Vietnam, and was the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. He is:

Major General Chuck Yeager, USAF

Chuck Yeager was a high school graduate from West Virginia who enlisted in the US Army Air Forces before World War II came to US shores, in September of 1941. Though he wasn't a university graduate, once war came, Yeager trained as a flight officer. He flew P-39s and P-51s, being shot down once and scoring 11.5 kills - including 5 in one day, and he snagged a Me-262. So, he's badass already.

After the war, Yeager decided that he needed to get the reputation as being the most awesome fucker who ever flew a plane, and he flew the Bell X-1 "Glamorous Glennis" to Mach 1.07, breaking the sound barrier for the first time in a manned aircraft. He did this with two broken ribs, and he couldn't even close the aircraft canopy without a jerry-rigged handle.


Yeager did his best to keep his title as the fastest man alive. When Scott Crossfield became the first person to punch through Mach 2, Yeager planned to take the record from him, just before Crossfield was honoured as "the fastest man alive" at the 50th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight from Kitty Hawk. So, Yeager basically took a giant dump on Crossfield's head. Awesome.

As an accomplished fighter pilot, Yeager realized that if he flew fighter planes in Vietnam, it would just be too easy for the US to win, so he completely switched professions and became a bomber pilot, flying B-57s and F-4 Phantoms. He then hooked up with the Pakistani Air Force as a liason, helping their air force fight the Indians, spending his time fucking off in a F-86 Sabre for shits and giggles.

Since retiring, Yeager has gone off and set records in every airplane they'll still let him fly, usually light civilian types. He set speed records, distance records, and endurance records. In 1997 Yeager flew a F-15D to celebrate the anniversary of him ripping the sound barrier a new one. That's right, they let him fly a $30 million aircraft at age 74, because he is awesome.

In conclusion: Chuck Yeager is allowed to bone your girlfriend.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Here's the thing. XP sucks.

OK. As everyone knows, I have a fair bit of experience in the tech industry. I'm no Albie, I'm no Zare, but I'm pretty good too. I have extensive experience with DOS 6, Windows 3.1, Windows 98SE, Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Mac OS X 10.3, 10.4, 10.5. I haven't had a chance to play with Windows 7 nor Ubuntu yet, but one day I will. So I can say this with pretty good experience: Windows XP fucking blows.

A lot of people LOVE Windows XP. I understand why. It's dead simple and it seems to work. But it's also old. XP is 8 years old as of 3 days ago. It's the equivalent of if I bought a Mac and it was running OS X 10.0. It's that fucking old. It's a geezer.

When Windows XP came out we were cruising along with a smooth Pentium 3 1.2 ghz processor on 256 mb of SD-RAM, MOTHERFUCKER. Yeah, that's right. That was a hot computer when XP came out, not to mention the sweet Rage 128 Pro with a smokin' 16mb of VRAM. Fuck yeah. Let's play some Age of Empires II!

Anyway. What the hell is wrong with people who think that because their computer could run XP it should run fucking Vista. No wonder there was a huge backlash against Windows Vista. People were still running computers from the Clinton era and expecting it to work.

A comparison.

Recommended specs for XP:
300 mhz processor
128 mb of RAM
Video: 800x600 resolution minimum

Recommended specs for Vista:
1 ghz processor
1 gb of RAM
128 mb of VRAM; DirectX 9 support.

Chances are the average computer from when XP came out couldn't touch Vista.

Oh, sure, some rigs that can run XP can run Vista fine. But here's the deal. XP and Vista are from two different generations of computing. XP was a good system for its time, but we're moving to a new era: 64 bit computing. XP can't. XP 64 bit is terrible, and it just can't get the job done, plus no driver support.

Here's the problem.

Vista handles newer hardware better by far. Device support for XP is non-existent - for Vista it's honestly world class. Vista, however, is overloaded with crap. It has SO much crap on it. Aero is only the start. I've cut mine down using the instructions at some website I stumbled on, though, and it's beautiful.

I've never had it crash. Except for when I've been randomly shutting off services in task manager. But I've stressed the system out hardcore, and never had an issue. It handles two cores pretty much seamlessly, and can handle RAM quite well. It's an over-loaded system, but when you get it paired down, it's actually...great.

Now...why Windows 7? Windows 7 is just Windows Vista with one or two new goodies and all the crap turned off. I'm not even joking a little, based on what I've read. It doesn't offer anything just offers a more system-friendly and minimalistic user experience.

I'm actually not sure if I'm gonna go to 7 or not. If I can get a 64 bit version of 7 on the cheap, possibly. Otherwise?

I think I like Vista.

Historical Event of the Week: Operation Jubilee

This has nothing to do with the X-Men character of the same name. Operation Jubilee is the codename for a raid that occurred on the coast of France on August 19th, 1942. It was the largest seaborne raid of World War II that wasn't intended to make a lodgement, and also failed spectacularly. In Canada, this operation is synonymous with waste and failure. It's better known as:

The Dieppe Raid

This mission was a clusterfuck from the beginning. Basically, the idea was to use a major raid to capture a French seaport from the Germans to see what the reaction time of German High Command would be; in addition, the Allies wanted to see what the reaction of the Germans would be to a raid in force, and hopefully draw the Luftwaffe into a battle where the RAF would apply overwhelming force and cripple the defenders of German-held France.

None of this worked. First of all, the mission was originally set up to go in July, but the Germans figured the damn thing out, and hit the buildup with bombers. So, the Germans had a pretty good idea something was coming. Secondly, Mountbatten (the guy in charge of the raid) didn't really have much permission to launch the attack, so his intelligence was out of date. Thirdly, the forces brought were wholly insufficient to pierce Hitler's Atlantic Wall.

Let's talk about the Atlantic Wall for a moment. This was one of Adolf Hitler's little projects wherein he thought the Atlantic Coast of the Reich should have an impenetrable wall build up upon it. It wasn't a reality, but most French ports were already fortified, and so Hitler added a bit to them, specifically in the form of German soldiers. The Allies targeted Dieppe because, quite frankly so they could blow stuff up as they withdrew. They were to find out that hard targets were a poor choice for an amphibious assualt.

Finally, the plan needed soldiers. Canadians were chosen, for no better reason than they hadn't been in a fight in too long. Add in some commandos to take the flank, a few tanks, and no direct fire naval support, and you have a huge recipe for disaster and damnation.

As you can see, Dieppe is surrounded by fucking cliffs. Brilliant, isn't it? Fucking cliffs! Rule 1 in amphibious warfare: DON'T ATTACK FUCKING CLIFFS.

Rule 2 in amphibious warfare: have direct fire support from the fucking navy! It's not like Canada was bobbing around in rowboats, anyway. They were being brought along by the Royal Navy. They had ships. They just didn't care to use them.

Rule 3: air support is a good thing. The RAF sent in like 70 squadrons, most of which were Spitfires operating at their maximum range, and completely outclassed by the Fw-190s they came up against. With little time to linger, they had to bug out or be shot down after a very short engagement. Longer range fighters would be needed in order to support future raids.


So, the attack went down, and was a total clusterfuck. The commandos did their job pretty well, but the Germans in the centre, where the Canadians were attacking, held and inflicted around a thousand fatalities on the day. The landings were delayed, letting the Germans take all the time in ze veld to get ready for the attack. Adding on to that, the Allies had no idea what the beach conditions were like - no tanks got off the beach past an anti-tank barrier.

It would have been nice to blast open the anti-tank barrier, with say, naval support, but six destroyers just didn't have the short-support capacity needed to effectively blow shit up for the landing. In the end, the boys barely got off the beach, and the Canadians took something like 60% casualties in the raid.

Dieppe changed the way the Allies looked at amphibious assault. It became obvious that you couldn't do this on the cheap, that you needed to plan and plan and plan. Future assaults would have prodigious aircraft cover and direct fire support; save for the Torch landings in November, there would be no more attacks on harbours. There would be airborne and better tank support. Armoured vehicles designed to clear beach obstacles were designed.

Still, though, 907 Canadians died on the beaches of Dieppe, a cost far too high to pay for lessons that should have been well-known already. A damn tragedy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hockey Player of the Week: Vladislav Tretiak

This week's Hockey Player was the first non-NHLer to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is one of the winningest players in international hockey, and first came to prominence as a 19 year old in the famous 72 Summit Series. If I had to pick the greatest non-Canadian hockey player, he would be in the top 3; if I had to pick the best Russian or the best non-Canadian goalie, he'd be the clear winner. He retired at 34 after the USSR refused to let him play for Montreal in the NHL. He is the current head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. He is:

#20 - Vladislav Tretiak

To get things started, yes, that is Phil Esposito being stoned by Tretiak in the Summit Series, Phil "I scored more goals than God" Esposito being stoned by an unknown 19-year old goalie. When the scouts went out to see the Russian's practice, they recorded Tretiak as being average with a weak glove hand. Unfortunately for them, Tretiak had been married the night before and was still feeling the effects of the prodigious amount of vodka he drank.

And this is how Tretiak met the world. His brilliance was deployed in Montreal in Game 1 of the Summit Series. Sure, Espo scored 30 seconds in. But then Tretiak started turning away everything the Canadians had to offer. The Russians won 7-3. Sure, the Canadians won the series in the end, but Vladislav Tretiak had arrived.

Tretiak took the USSR to three golds and one silver in the Olympics during his career, and the silver wasn't his fault, it was the coach's fault. He actually benched Tretiak against the Americans after Tretiak let in one goal. And then history was written by Kurt Russell, or something similar. Tretiak was just as good in World Hockey Championships: 10 golds, 2 silvers, and a bronze. He also brought Russia a gold in the 1981 Canada Cup.

The Red Army team he played for in Moscow was the best team outside of the NHL, and in several exhibitions during the 80s proved they were just as good as any NHL team. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall the NHL has accepted many great players from Russia - Alexander Mogilny, Pavel Bure, Sergei Federov, Nikolai Khabibulan, Andrei Markov, Alex Ovechkin, and more - but although Montreal drafted Tretiak in '83, he was denied permission to go to Canada. He retired from hockey shortly thereafter.

You might think this was the end for a young hockey player. But oh no - the Soviet Union fell, and Tretiak came to North America as a goalie coach. He worked for the Devils and the Blackhawks, and mentored fellows like Martin Brodeur, Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek. Tretiak, at age 38, was so good in practise that the Blackhawks considered offering him a contract.

Since then, Tretiak has gotten into politics, serving in the Russian Duma, and has founded a Canadian charity to bring Russian and Canadian hockey players closer together. He organized the 2007 Super Series and is known to favour another Summit Series between Canada and Russia's best. His attempts to bring Canada and Russia closer together were rewarded with the Meritorious Service Medal from Canada, the first Russian so honoured.

It's hard to explain how brutally awesome Vladislav Tretiak was as a goalie, so we'll let his stats speak for themselves. In international play, Tretiak had a 1.78 goals against average. That's better than Patrick Roy's career totals. That's better than Marty Brodeur's playoff totals. That's better than...well, any other goalie out there.

Basically, if Tretiak had played in the NHL in the 1970s, whatever team who had him would have won Cups. He was better than the best NHL goalie, Ken Dryden. He was better than Tony Esposito. He was the best goalie anywhere in the 70s. And he is surely one of the greatest hockey players ever to hit the ice.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ship of the Week: HMCS Halifax

Today's ship of the week is a more personal mention for me. This ship was launched when I was four years old, and commissioned when I was eight - I was there for the latter ceremony. She isn't a flagship, nor historically significant (not yet), but she is one of the best frigates in the world, pound-for-pound. This is the ship that took my father to war after September 11th, 2001 changed the world forever:

HMCS Halifax

Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Halifax was commissioned on 29 June, 1992. I was seven years old at the time, and she was absolutely gorgeous. I'll never forget seeing this particular ship for the first time, complete, flying all the semaphore flags and the Maple Leaf and the Canadian Naval Ensign snapping in the brisk breeze, and 230 men in their dress whites aboard. If I could scan dad's wall, I'd show you, but he's Ottawa or something.

Halifax was the first of her class of twelve commissioned between 1992 and 1996 and that are now around halfway through their service life. As a modern ASW vessel, Halifax has performed a vital role in any number of NATO fleets over the last 17 years. As an anti-air weapons platform she is well-armed with sixteen Sea Sparrow anti-air missiles and a Phalanx cannon (which I have played with!), though it's not her primary function. Halifax (and all ships of her class) embark a CH-124 Sea King flying wreck.

Hey, that's no helicopter! It's 10,000 parts flying in loose formation!

Since being launched, Halifax has been at the head of her class in performance. She's been called on in every major operation we've done since then, including Operation Apollo, Canada's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 (I hate those cheesy US names). Dad's served on her twice - once as Commissioning Crew, and once from 2000-2003ish, and he was overseas with a NATO task force when the Twin Towers were struck on 9/11, and deployed to the Persian Gulf immediately.

Halifax is a fine ship. I've been on her, so I can say with some accuracy that she sails smoothly. Her engines are one of the first combined diesel or gas turbine systems with Integrated Machinery Control. This computer-controlled mixture device is now standard on Arleigh Burke-class ships in the USN and stands to be NATO standard in all modern fossil fuel-powered warships. Halifax makes thirty knots as her official full speed, but I am quite sure she can develop a fair bit more.

The Halifax-class ships are designed to last at least 30 years; the first refit will last the Halifax through till around 2023, and it is entirely possible that the versatile ship will be extended for another 20 years. I think she is majestic in the Canadian manner - she's quiet and doesn't drip of power like an American carrier or cruiser, but she looks competent. Halifax is a ship you call on to get the job done.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Aircraft of the Week: MiG-15 "Fagot"

It wasn't the first or finest jet airplane ever, but this week's example is the first mass-produced jet fighter made anywhere in the world. It is not a pretty airplane (see the Spitfire from 2 weeks ago, which is a beautiful machine, or the Me-262, or...well, lots more), but it got the job done. In the Korean War it went up against the best that the UN force had and held its own. Revolutionary in every sense of the word:

The MiG-15 "Fagot"

I will admit it took me some time to decide on an airplane this week. I wanted to choose one that was fairly revolutionary, but one that didn't fall neatly into the "Allied Fighter" slot. I was looking at quite a few airplanes, but then I realized, why not an early jet plane? And why not the first successful jet fighter?

The MiG-15 changed the face of warfare forever when it shot down a P-51 over Korea. It wasn't the first victory of a jet airplane over an in-line engined plane, but it was the catalyst that led to the first jet-v-jet warfare. Some believed that the roll of the in-line engined fighter wasn't over, that such an airplane would be more maneuverable or reliable than jet fighters, but the pure dominance of the MiG-15 would necessitate the US bringing in their jet planes. The F9F Phantom naval fighter and the F-80 Shooting Stars would fight the MiG-15 first, but neither airplane were truly equal to the MiG=15. It was the F-86 Sabre that would successfully duel the Fagot in the skies over Korea.

Let's talk about the MiG-15 for a bit. First of all, I didn't call it the Fagot. NATO did. Since it's a fighter plane, the name starts with F. That's just how it is. Don't get mad at me.

Secondly, the MiG-15, like many early jet fighters, is a creature of simplicity. It combines the swept-wing style developed by Willy Messerschmidt when he was working on the Me-262 with a British engine (the Rolls-Royce Nene) into a package that slaps a pilot on top of the engine and sends him into battle. Equipped with three cannons and rockets, the MiG-15 could bring a large amount of power to bear on its foes.

The Fagot was placed into war for the first time in Korea. It was notably superior to the American jet fighters of the time (the aforementioned F-80s and F9Fs), and completely outclassed the propeller-driven airplanes (only two kills of a MiG-15 were recorded by a propeller-driven plane, the first by a Hawker Sea Fury and the second by an F4U Corsair) that still existed at the time.

Up against the F-86 Sabre, the Fagot met its match. The two airplanes were evenly matched and duelled to a draw over Korea. However, the MiG-15 was rather more adaptable than the F-86 - it became a dangerous night-fighter that threatened the waves of US B-29s bombing North Korea, and destroyed many of the overhead airplanes.

While the MiG-15 was retired from combat duty by the USSR by the end of the 1950s, but it lived on in many other countries for some time. Egypt used MiG-15s during the Suez Canal Crisis, and it was the mainstay of the Chinese Air Force until the 60s, and remains in service as a trainer.

The USSR used the MiG-15 UTI as a trainer as well. Famed cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin died flying a UTI, but it remained in service for some time. The entire MiG line of fighters for over 30 years were influenced by the Fagot; and as a result, it changed the way the world views fighter airplanes. It is an influential aircraft - and with over 15,000 produced, the most produced jet of all time.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fuck You Glenn Beck

Seriously. Fuck you Glenn Beck.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dudette of the Week: Dr. Roberta Bondar

I've been trying to decide whether or not to use "dudette" or "chick" for the female portion of this segment. I guess "chick" can be considered more derogatory, so we'll go with "dudette" this week. I want to know what you folks think.

This week's dudette is someone nobody has probably heard of, unless you follow the space program closely. She is an accomplished scientist and neurobiologist, holding a M.Sc, a PhD, and an MD. She won NASA's Space Medal for her work on STS-42 aboard Discovery. Currently, she works as a business consultant, applying her life skills to the business world. She is:

Dr. Roberta Bondar

Dr. Bondar began her journey through life in Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, where she was born. She took her B.Sc in zoology and agriculture from the University of Guelph, then earned a M.Sc in experimental pathology from Western, then a Ph.D in neurobiology from UofT, and finally a MD from McMaster. So she spent like 13 years in university alone, pretty much owning every branch of medicine as she went.

So, not content with holding every possible degree in medicine available on this earth, Dr. Bondar decided...let's fucking go to space and be the first neurologist in orbit. So she joined the Canadian Space Agency and was promptly referred to NASA as a payload specialist, leading the first International Microgravity Laboratory Mission, dealing with all sorts of cool biology stuff. She spent 8 days in orbit on Discovery. For reference, Discovery was made of leftover parts after Challenger blew up, which makes her the redheaded stepchild of space shuttles.

She never flew in space again, but that's okay, because she became even more awesome: Dr. Bondar became the head of Space Medicine at NASA for 10 years. I don't even know what space medicine is, but damn, she was head of it. And it sounds awesome on a resume. Apparently she developed techniques now used at Harvard, so, it can't be that bad.

What I do know is that, while being head of Space Medicine, Dr. Bondar, as the first Canadian woman in space, became a huge influence to thousands of people of my generation. She proved that the final frontier is accessible to Canadians of any gender, and has shown an excellence in every aspect of her professional life.

Since retiring from NASA, Dr. Bondar has become a business consultant and motivational speaker. I can't imagine anyone more inspiring than a woman who beat up medical school for 13 years, rode a rocket into space, and has since been inducted into the International Women's Forum Hall of Fame and the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, and had 5 schools in Canada named after her.

Dr. Bondar, for me, was rather inspiring when I was 12 or so. The appearances I saw on TV were very humble, but she was so awesome. It didn't rub off (the humbleness), but it sure has made me think about how anyone can really do...anything.

And so, Dr. Roberta Bondar is the Dudette of the Week...for being fucking amazing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Historical Event of the Week: Fall of Tenochtitlan

Hernan Cortes was a Spanish conquistador who came to the New World with intentions of forging a new empire for Spain. Famously, he showed up on the shores of Mexico with his small army of cannon, horse, and musketmen and put the entire Aztec Empire to the sword. Burning his ships, Cortes showed there was no way out except victory. Within three years, the capital of the Aztec Empire would be conquered, in:

The Fall of Tenochtitlan

Hernan Cortes had formed an alliance with the native city of Tlaxcallan, combining his technical superiority with the numbers Tlaxcallan could offer. This helped to alleviate the difficulty that Cortes had originally faced: the Aztecs outnumbered him something like 200:1. The two allies then set out to divide and conquer, knocking out as many of the Aztecs' allies as possible before laying siege to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in May of 1521.

Cortes's plan was fairly simple. He sent his Spaniards to block off the three causeways that were the only route into Tenochtitlan, and to take out the water supplies by Tlacopan. The Aztecs used canoe-warriors to outflank the Spaniards and won the Battle of Tlacopan, stopping that advance. So Cortes opened up a causeway to allow his brigantines access to the lake, letting him dominate all the waterways around Tenochtitlan.

The Spaniards attacked the Aztec positions on the causeway during the day and fell back during night, but this led to very little motion in the end. However, Cortes was wearing the Aztecs down; dysentery and smallpox were ravaging Tenochtitlan, and no reinforcements were coming from the few Aztec tributary cities left, as they feared being left open to Spanish attack. However, the Spanish did receive more soldiers and ammunition from their port at Vera Cruz.

Eventually, with extra reinforcements, Cortes broke the Aztecs and entered Tenochtitlan. After the Spanish encountered a traditional "Aztec Owl-Warrior" and failed to kill him, the Aztecs took this as a sign that though defeated, they would live on. They surrendered.

Yeah. Right. Cortes killed the Aztec leader, Cuauhtémoc, and sacked Tenochtitlan. Something like 240,000 Aztecs died during the siege. And Cortes laid the foundation for New Spain, a colonial empire that would last until the 1800s and exploit the New World for pretty much everything it could.

Also, the conquest of the Aztecs set a dangerous precedent of "the savage" that would be popularized in Europe, leading to similar treatment of Native Americans for hundreds of years. While the various anti-native atrocities of the European settlement of the Americas likely still would have happened, Cortes was part of the first major extermination of a native group; and many more would follow.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hockey Player of the Week: Ray Bourque

For this installment of "Hockey Player of the Week" we shall be focusing on someone who is widely considered to be one of the greatest defensemen who has ever played hockey. He is one of only six NHL players to have his number retired by two teams - Colorado and Boston. He was the heart of the Boston Bruins for 20 years; and they cheered and cried when he won the cup with Colorado in 2001. One of the classiest leaders to ever play hockey:

#77, Raymond Bourque

Ray Bourque was drafted 8th overall in 1979, after such major names as Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg, and Keith Brown. He was considered to be a great prospect, but nobody was sure how good he'd be. Bourque won the Calder Trophy in 1980 for best rookie; he won his first of five Norris Trophies in 1987. He became captain of the Bruins in 1985 (co-captain with Rick Middleton until 1988) and led them until his famous trade in 2000.

Ray never had huge, great scoring years like Paul Coffey did, but that didn't stop him from being considered the best defenseman on skates. Ray only had two seasons in the minus end of the plus/minus, both with the flagging Bruins of the late 1990s. He was never a huge goal scorer, not like Coffey; but he did break 30 goals once, and he racked up 410 goals during his career.

Bourque was best known as a passer - he set up 1,169 goals during his time on the ice, second to only Wayne Gretzky when he retired (since surpassed, I think, by Moose and Super Joe). But he was a steadying anchor, who deserved to win it all. That's why when he requested a trade from Boston in 2000, he wasn't seen as a traitor, but as a departing hero, off for his last quest.

Colorado traded for the 39 year-old defenseman, and they didn't win the cup that year. But in 2001, Ray and the Avalanche went to game 7 in the Pepsi Center. Ray was no mere tagalong - in that last season he was +25 and had 59 points. When the final buzzer sounded in game 7, the Avalanche won. Gary Bettman gave Joe Sakic the Stanley Cup, but instead of immediately hoisting it over his head (like every captain had in history), Joe gave it to Ray, who threw it up over his head, victorious, at last.

The conquering hero brought the Cup back to Boston, where the people celebrated his victory as if it were their own. There may never be another Ray Bourque, a man who embodied the goodwill of an entire city, but there will always be his victory - and his #77 hanging from the rafters in Boston.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ship of the Week: HMS Hood

No ship was larger when she was launched; since then only a handful have ever superseded her. She had the speed of a cruiser, and the armament and armour of a battleship. She was tougher than a battlecruiser, and she sank in her only engagement on the high seas. She was the HMS Hood, pride of the Royal Navy, who blew up and died battling the Bismarck in one of the last battleship vs. battleship battles ever fought.

HMS Hood

Hood was the first of four planned Admiral-class battlecruisers commissioned by the Royal Navy during World War 1, designed to counter the Mackensen-class German battlecruisers being launched in Germany. However, only Hood was completed; the other ships of her class were broken up, as the Mackensen-class was never completed. Despite this, Hood quickly became the jewel of the Royal Navy.

Named for Admiral Samuel Hood, HMS Hood was the largest ship in the world when she was launched, and held that record until her future nemesis Bismarck was launched. She remains the longest ship to ever serve in the Royal Navy; her length and her low, sleek superstructure gave her a graceful, fast look. Her prime armament was eight 15" guns capable of a broadside weight of 15,360 lbs with a preferred armament of armour-piercing shells, and she had around four dozen supporting batteries in secondary, and tertiary mounts.

Hood had thick armour for a battlecruiser; many battlecruisers bore an armour belt of around 8" - proof against a cruiser's guns, but not a battleship's. However, Hood had 12" of protection in her prime belt, giving her additional resilience. The armour was one of the first arranged after the individual ship disasters that occurred at Jutland; the vertical and horizontal belts didn't necessarily work together and provide adequate protection from all angles, and future developments (additional torpedo rooms that were later removed, new magazines) weren't intended, but occurred. Eventually, this poorly-designed armour would lead to Hood's fate.

Despite her status as a battlecruiser, given her increased armament and her thicker armour, she was more of a fast battleship. Hood's engines were incredibly powerful, and she could develop 31 knots on two turbines totalling 113 megawatts of work (approximately three times the potential work of a Saturn V rocket's first stage). This speed, the heavy (for the time) armament, and the general beauty of the vessel led to her being known as the "pride of the Royal Navy".

In this role, Hood took on a greater job in the public relations department. She would visit various ports-of-call and host tours, or moor for festivals. Such a job kept her working almost constantly - in the end, she barely had time for refits, even in the leadup to World War II.

Hood was kept in service following the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. She saw her first action when attacking the French fleet at Oran, developing heavy fire against the French ships there, to deny them from falling into German hands. Italians ran a bombing mission against her, and she shot down one of their bombers. But overall, Hood had a quiet first two years of war. She returned to Scapa Flow and moored with the Prince of Wales as part of the Home Fleet.

When Bismarck and Prinz Eugen made their famous sorteé, Hood and Prince of Wales were immediately dispatched to intercept. Prince of Wales was the newest ship in the Royal Navy, and the Hood was generally considered the best ship. They intercepted the Bismarck on the 24th of May in the Denmark Strait.

The battle was quick and fierce. Hood engaged for eight minutes, but due to the way Hood and Prince of Wales approached, neither ship could bring all of their gun batteries to bear on the German ships, while both Prinz Eugen and Bismarck had free reign. In addition, the Hood (with her suspect armour) was in the van, and she became the natural target for both German vessels.

While attempting to turn to engage the Germans with all guns, Hood was straddled by a volley from Bismarck. There was a gout of flame and the Hood exploded, breaking in two. At the time, it was assumed the Germans snuck a shell into one of the stores of cordite, but later examination of the wreck suggests a 4-inch battery blew up, igniting the main fuel line that caused a fuel tank to blow. Regardless, the Hood sank in three minutes - with only three survivors.

It was a shocking blow to the Royal Navy, as one of her finest and most famous ships was suddenly, completely gone; Prince of Wales was badly damaged. The entire Royal Navy set off in pursuit of the Bismarck, and she was sank some days later. But the loss of the Hood left a stain on the Royal Navy's record that would not be expunged.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Good thing there's no Hell...

...'cause I would have just punched me a ticket.

Me: Hey, Stephen Hawking just won the Presidential Medal of Freedom!
Adam: Really? What does that mean?
Me: I dunno, but it probably doesn't mean he'll walk again.

Silence, followed by extreme laughter.

Aircraft of the Week: A-10 Thunderbolt II

Welcome to the second installment of the Airplane of the Week. Today, I'll be discussing one of the ugliest airplanes ever flown, so ugly that the men call it "The Warthog". Its designers at Fairchild-Republic named it after the P-47 Thunderbolt, but it is really not a true fighter airplane in that vein (though it can hold its own). A sturdy, reliable weapons platform that can bring fire support in any situation:

The A-10 Thunderbolt II

This profile shows the A-10's uniquely ugly frame. It has a small snout, wings that look cut out by a five year old, and two turbofans unceremoniously mounted on the tail like huge deformities. Despite looking extremely un-aerodynamic, the A-10 will do around 700 kph, and is known for being very manouverable - very important for a ground attack aircraft.

The A-10 is extremely stable and can carry a huge amount of firepower into a situation. The Avenger gatling cannon holds around 1,200 rounds of ammunition with the power to penetrate all but the toughest armour. The A-10 has 11 hardpoints and can haul into battle 8 AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles, a large amount of rocket pods for direct fire support, or any number of bombs & armament up to around 12,000 lbs.

But what makes the A-10 an undeniably great airplane is its success rate. For thirty-two years the A-10 has been the prime vehicle of the USAF in destroying the crap out of enemy ground vehicles and hardpoints. In Gulf War I, A-10s accounted for 900 Iraqi tanks, for a loss of only 4 A-10s in 8,100 sortees. The 95.8% success rate of the A-10 caused the Air Force to abandon plans to replace it. The A-10 is currently slotted to remain in service till 2028.

Why is the A-10 so good? Check this out:

The A-10 can fuckin' take it. The A-10 can fly with one of its huge turbofans disabled. The A-10 can fly with a quarter of one of its wings shorn off. The pilot sits inside a titanium enclosure, and is almost immune to enemy fire. Basically, the A-10 can linger, take whatever the ground has, and blow the shit out of the enemy. It's the ultimate power platform.

Let's talk about the cannon. This thing is an absolute beast. Sure, you think a 30mm cannon is nothing, but it'll pound out 3,900 rounds per minute, specifically designed to punch through tank armour. Check this out:

It's a monster. A huge fucking monster cannon. I don't care what tank I'm in, if that thing is coming after me, I'm damn scared.

The A-10 can carry more air-to-air missiles than any other US aircraft, which means in an air support role it can throw out a hella lot of firepower. With other aircraft nearby to do the dogfighting, the A-10 can knock enemies out of the air. And if you get too close to the Hog, the pilot can stand it on its tail and spray that vicious cannon at you. It's absolutely no slouch against other airplanes.

The USAF intends to operate this plane for at least 51 years. In comparison, the F-14 Tomcat had a lifespan of 34 years; the F-111 strike aircraft lasted 31 years; the amazing F-4 Phantom II lasted 36 years in US hands. The A-10 will be around for 15 more years than the famous F-4. That shows you how utterly irreplacable it is. A lot of talk is made of the F-35 replacing it, but I can't see it - the A-10 can deliver more ordinance than the F-35 and can take a beating while doing it. Another ugly, rough, mean sonofabitch will need to take its place. There's going to be no other solution.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top California LGBT group to push back vote to 2012

Via Reuters

Basically, Equality California (one of the largest, if not the largest, LGBT groups in the state) has decided that they will not press for a ballot initiative to return marriage rights to same sex couples until 2012. Many smaller groups are upset at this and want to get back on the ballot this year, or next year at the latest.

I am of the opinion that if these groups push it to the limit, they'll be walking on a razor's edge. 2012 will remain the big crowd - if a ballot initiative in 2010 trumps Prop 8 from 2008, then the people who hate gays will be back in 2012, and the LGBT community will be exhausted from two fights within four years. Financially and mentally. Presidential election years have a mental stigma with them, as well. When things happen those years on ballots, they have a firmer implant in our minds - we know that there were more voters that year, that more democracy happened, as it were.

It makes sense to move in 2012 when there is the possibility of stronger candidates at a state or national level to ally with. In 2009 there will be no such candidates. In 2010, there will be Barbara Boxer and whoever runs statewide, but in 2012 you'll have the Senate and the Presidency. The President's support for LGBT groups is waning, and I'm not a fan of that. It's my least favourite part of the O-Man so far. However, he still has 3 years to get his act together. I'm waiting.

By 2012, there won't be just one fight going on - the fight in Iowa might be brewing (depending on a lot of things), there may be more pro-ssm fights in a few places. The more this community combines its efforts the stronger it becomes. Colorado is a new target, so is NY. It can be done, but you need to be smart and pick your battles. Don't fight because you're angry - fight when you're smart enough to know you can win.

In 2008, the LGBT community didn't get to pick the fight; they were on the defensive, clawing with tooth and nail to defend the rights given unto them by the courts. If they lash out in 2009 or 2010, they'll end up weakening themselves, by being divided. Fight in 2012. Fight when you can win, and win big.

PSA: Not All Traditions Are Worth Keeping

Check that out.

John Adams, Part 1.

John Adams is the newest major miniseries from HBO. HBO has a tradition of putting out fantastic and award-winning minis, such as Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon. John Adams stars Paul Giamatti in the title role, with Laura Linney as his wife Abigail. It's an examination of the life of one of the most influential men in the formation of the United States of America.

Episode 1 starts with the Boston Massacre. The captain in charge of the detail responsible for the Massacre is to be put on trial, and it is certain he will be found guilty of murder and hanged. He pleas for the best lawyer there is - John Adams. Adams thinks the men are probably guilty, like most, but he believes that the captain and his men deserve a fair trial and legal representation.

Adams becomes convinced the men were innocent and acting in self-defense, and he establishes a defense, using his personal contacts and his strict belief in justice to convince witnesses to tell the truth. He shows physical facts such as bullet marks on clothing and wounds on the accused to support his version of events. The men are found innocent.

John Adams is oft shown at odds with his cousin, Samuel Adams (yes, the beer guy). Samuel is a leader of the Sons of Liberty movement for independence from England; John believes in the rule of law, though both agree that the level and type of taxation is completely unfair. Samuel would prefer a rash action; but John shows that sort of dedication to human rights that will later define him, and the United States: that it is better to let a thousand wicked souls go free than condemn one who is innocent.

Later, Adams is offered posts, both in the government of Massachusetts and as an extension of the Admiralty, but he refuses both. He witnesses a man ordering a fellow named John Hancock to unload his illegal goods; Hancock incites the crowd to tar and feather the man. Adams is moved to tears, as he believes those actions to be worse than the crime of repressive taxation, and extols Samuel as such.

It turns out that Samuel Adams has listened to his brother, and as a result, has moved to nominate his cousin for the Continental Congress; Adams wins appointment, along with Hancock and others. He pledges, emotionally, to the cause of liberty for all, and departs with Samuel for the First Continental Congress.

I am very thoroughly impressed by this first episode. Giamatti is utterly fantastic as John Adams, a man who may one day rank in the top level of important people to walk this earth. I believe firmly in Adams's place, moreso than George Washington or Benjamin Franklin or many of his contemporaries, because he established so many of the ideas on which the US was built.

The first episode stuck quite closely to history; Adams was involved in the Boston Massacre trial (though two of the men were found guilty of manslaughter); Adams was offered many posts in government. Was Hancock a smuggler? I don't know, but the scene felt right - it felt that Adams would have reacted like that to this sort of thing. established, fully, that John Adams is a man who loved and desires liberty, freedom, and equality for all - that he would set such things above life itself. true bravery and dedication.

I like the man already.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Response from DART

Well, I got back the response from DART, Des Moines bus authority. It is obviously professionally written and sent to a lot of people, but here it is.

Thank you for your email regarding the recent advertisements that the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers had on some of the DART buses.

The recent controversy around the ad campaign that was accepted by our regional bus service has pointed out the need to update our advertising policies to better align with:

1) Our many other clearly stated policies regarding civil rights,
2) The state’s obscenity and profanity laws,
3) The diversity of a growing cosmopolitan region, and
4) DART’s objective to be the most progressive, growing transit system in the Midwest.

We never intentionally tried deny a person’s civil liberties and we are updating our policy to reflect our acceptance of advertising that is not obscene or profane (as defined by Iowa law). By honoring the freedoms protected through our shared civil liberties, DART, like other businesses that accept advertising, will be in the position of displaying messages and images that may be controversial or uncomfortable to some, but legal and protected by civil rights.

As a result, we are taking two actions you may have seen publicized:

1) The Iowa Atheist and Free Thinkers group ads that were contracted for and previously developed will be displayed on DART buses.

2) The DART Commission will receive a presentation from our legal counsel on creating a new DART advertising policy that very clearly communicates our position to uphold both civil liberties and the protection of citizens from that which is obscene or profane.

The Des Moines region, and the entire state of Iowa, is developing a positive reputation as a place that accepts diversity, new ideas and is civil in its discourse of even the most controversial of topics – for example, same sex marriages. DART demonstrated this same advancement on Monday by unveiling the first hybrid-electric bus in the state, so it is altogether appropriate for our policies to keep pace with this progress.

Regarding this issue, what groups choose to say or advertise may be of concern, but their right to say it – or in this case to advertise it - is a protected right. Our policy will be changed to reflect this stated belief.


The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority

Well done, Iowa. You did something wrong and owned up to it. I wish I could be at the next meetup of the IAF to shake hands and say congratulations.

Dude of the Week: Bruce Campbell

Welcome to the last "of the week" featurette: Dude or Dudette of the Week. Each week I'll pick someone who doesn't fall into the hockey player category to focus on. I'll try and alternate between guys and girls as best as I can. For the first option, I don't think I had a choice. The Dude of the Week:

Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is the ultimate B-movie actor. Star of the cult Evil Dead movies by Sam Raimi, Campbell has been interested in making movies since he was a child. One of Raimi's friends growing up, Campbell was involved with any number of early home movies made with Sam & Ted Raimi, as well as Rob Tapert and other friends who entered Hollywood the hard way. The group made "The Evil Dead", a horror film that eventually made money after being debuted overseas and getting Stephen King's thumbs up.

Sam and Bruce stuck together for awhile, but eventually they went their separate ways. Bruce ended up as supporting actors in gigs like Congo, Escape from LA, and McHale's Navy, whereas Sam went on to direct the Spider-Man movies. Bruce, however, has persevered.

I was first introduced to Bruce Campbell when my friends in high school made me watch Army of Darkness, a beautifully arranged over-the-top horror/adventure movie where Ash, the star of the Evil Dead movies, was blasted back in time to battle the undead a thousand years ago...and somehow in England. That's not important.

What is important is that the movie is loaded with the sort of catchphrases that stood out in my mind. "Yo, she-bitch! Let's go." "It's a trap. Get an axe." "Good, bad...I'm the guy with the gun." It goes on from there, but doesn't stop being awesome. They're the sorts of lines only Bruce Campbell can deliver.

I haven't gotten me a copy of the full Bruce library yet, but he has given good performances in drama too. "Brisco County" was apparently quite good, if had low ratings and was sadly canceled. But Bruce is getting his best reviews yet for his appearance as series regular and supporting co-star in Burn Notice as Sam Axe.

Sam Axe is an ex-Navy SEAL who did covert ops for awhile. He's a boozing man who romances older divorcees on the Miami beaches for favours, but has a seemingly unlimited supply of buddies in the various services he can tap for information. He occasionally gets Bruce Campbell-esque lines, too. "Okay, Mikey, I'll help you out, but next time there's a tour of rich divorcees stuck in a burning brewery, you better be there for me!"

Bruce also played the recurring character of Autolycus in Hercules and Xena; directing several episodes of both series (including the last episode of Herc). Autolycus was the Prince of Thieves, and the episodes with Bruce were best known for their comedy and physical humour. His buddy Rob Tapert was the producer of both shows (and husband to the gorgeous Lucy Lawless, who would have a guest appearance in Burn Notice), and gave Bruce a pretty good gig he writes highly of.

Bruce's autobiography "If Chins Could Kill" is a hell of a read. It's the story of a guy who tried to make it in Hollywood and almost pulled it off, having some interesting adventures along the way. It makes me laugh every time I pull it off the shelf and open to a random page. I really respect Bruce Campbell, not just for the roles he's done, but for still seeming to be the same guy after all the hell he's been through just to get a bit role in Spiderman IV.

"Oh look, a quarter!" -Bruce Campbell playing Bruce Campbell in "My Name Is Bruce", written, directed, and produced by Bruce Campbell.