Monday, July 30, 2007

Wait, there was a weekend in there?

City of Heroes just released Issue 10, the latest patch/enhancement for the MMORPG. It's a blast. The former Rikti Crash Site has now also become the Rikti War Zone thanks to the nasty aliens deciding to invade us for reasons known only to those who have gone through the entirely new story arcs. I haven't finished them yet. The Rikti have also been visually upgraded as well, to include clothing. So now we all come to the realization that we've been fighting alien nudists all this time, and it's made a few heroes shudder. However, that attitude won't stop the invasion and now villains have a chance to get into the act as well. The Rikti War Zone is a hero-villain cooperation zone where heroes and villains can fight side-by-side in homage to the old comics trope of teaming up the likes of the Fantastic Four with Doctor Doom to save the world from one threat or another. And yes, there's still PVP zones so you can get back to doublecrossing each other like it ought to be.

The rest of the game world hasn't been left unaffected, either. Any team that successfully concludes the Lady Grey Task Force against the Rikti will trigger a zone invasion whereby a fleet of dropships will send hundreds of bombs to the ground and blast everything left and right. Shortly thereafter, hordes of Rikti will show up and attack everything in sight. The only major problem I've had with this is that if you get hundreds of heroes all firing off their powers while the aliens are firing off their powers, your computer and graphics card will start to lag behind. I had a case of powers not firing off until up to 2 minutes after pressing the keys. That was on the first day, and things have dropped down to a three to five-second delay. Also, there's no need to worry about zone-dpendent creatures, either. What will target "red" (fight at three levels higher than you) on a Level 1 hero will now target red on a Level 50 hero as well. The damage will scale so that you can team up with any mix of levels and powers. That part is a lot of fun.

Finally, we have a new raid option: the Rikti Mothership. Put together a team, conglomerate into a huge mass of teams, and set out to destroy the shield generators the surround the mothership. Once that's done, your teams have to scramble to set enough bombs to damage the Mothership so that it can't repair itself, return to its homeworld and bring back another army. Keeping it damaged will allow Vanguard, a shadowy multi-national anti-alien combat team, enough time to examine the mothership and find its major weaknesses. The ship is also swarming with the Rikti's elite troops and these guys are tough even for Level 50 heroes to fight. The average villain level is 53, so these guys are dangerous to everyone. If you get all the bombs set, you then have to deal with the Master of Weapons U'con G'rai, a Rikti general. He's a bit tough, much like how Siberian winters are a bit cold.

I have enjoyed this latest upgrade as much as when City of Villains came out. There's all kinds of great stuff to do. I'd love to see a few decision-tree-based "mysteries" included some time for the detectives among us, too. You'd have to figure out how to randomize the "who" in the whodunit, though.

With this, the police radio/newspaper, task forces/strike forces, and trials, you can breathe new life into old heroes and experience all kinds of new content with your newer ones as well. I'm keeping my subscription current.

Friday, July 27, 2007

No Bowling Night Report This Week

I apparently left my competitive mindset at work last night. I'll have to make up for it with a range trip this weekend.

I also got my front sight adjuster and "Oh Shoot" spring and pin kit from Rock River Arms. A quick test on the sight this morning shows that the adjuster works perfectly and will be going in the range bag in a place of honor with the handguard removal tool. The spring and pin kit stay in the case with my rifle.

It has now gotten much easier to zero in my rifle. This makes me a happy shooter.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gun Shop Owner IDs VT Wannabe?

It looks like a student at Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville decided that he wanted a whole bunch of guns all at once. That's not a problem, normally. It is a problem if you get all twitchy about it at the store. The problem is compunded further if you've written something that threatens a campus shooting spree if you don't get money in a certain amount of time. It's even worse if you abandon your car and leave the note where it can be found.

There's something else here that doesn't add up. He's under investigation for fraud and theft in regards to making a false online sale at a gun auction site. He's acting like he's trying to be some kind of gunrunner, but failing miserably at it. I suppose we should be glad for such small favors. But he's also got the whole double life thing going: two passports (American and Nigerian), two places of residence (Englewood NJ and St. Louis) and two seemingly distinct personas (the nice guy persona is posted on Facebook, the angry college student on MySpace). His friends all deny he could do something like that, as he's a nice guy around them. He's also a fraternity president who apparently is a self-styled rapper, writing lyrics typical of the genre.

So, we've perhaps got a guy here who has some kind of split personality problems, or we're faced with a guy who's a thug using a nice guy act to cover his trail, or even a Walter Mitty-type character who conflates fantasy with reality. I definitely want more information on this. It's a shame we can't trust every gun owner to be responsible, but it's better to weed out the miscreants instead of punishing the entire group.

Oh, before your anti-gun friends freak out over online gun sales, remind them that in order to receive a gun via the mail you MUST have a valid Federal Firearms License. Those things aren't cheap and you do get a lot of regular scrutiny (and if the local agents are dicks, regular harassment, too) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. If I were to make an online purchase of any gun, I would have to have it sent to one of the local FFL holders. These FFL holders are mainly gun dealers with their own shops and stock, so in my case it's just easier to order something directly through the shop owner. Besides, transfer fees have gone up recently because of people trying to pull crap like what happened downstate. So, try as you might, you can't just go to the internet, order an automatic rifle and have it shipped right to your doorstep without there being some kind of government observation. Mail-order gun sales were prohibited with the Gun Control Act of 1968. You don't break that law unless you really like the idea of spending time in federal prison.

Also, the Saluki alumnus in me says "Thank God it didn't happen in Carbondale! They have enough problems down there!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The sun is out, the birds are singing

...and I'm stuck in the office. Today looks like perfect weather for outdoor shooting. I guess I'll wind up doing what I normally do instead: practicing my draw and initial aim for tomorrow night's IPSC match. Fifteen minutes of doing nothing but draw, bring the gun to eye level and point at the target.

I'd also love to talk about my job. Suffice it to say that the thrill has not yet left the job, despite being here almost a year. Most of my other jobs had the enjoyment crushed out of them long before this point in time. On average, my old customer service jobs burned me out in about five months. Here I am at almost eleven months and I'm loving the job, despite taking phone calls that range from assuring campaign treasurers that we don't arrest people because of paperwork mistakes (my agency doesn't have that kind of power, we give it over to the State's Attorney if we see something that is truly criminal in nature) to giving software tutorials over the phone to first-time electronic filers. It seems sometimes like those are the only calls we get, but they're a lot more fun now than similar working with similarly-upset callers in the private sectors.

My job has also been a wonderful lesson in keeping political opinions to oneself and getting the job done. Sure, I'd love to berate some state and local politicians for their pin-headed ideas on how to govern, but I may work with the treasurers of those pols' campaigns whenever a phone call comes in. I have to put everything aside and be politically neutral. I can't favor one group over another. I also can't work on any political commitees for candidates or referenda due to those creating conflicts of interest with my job.

That's why my blog has become more or less a shooter's diary with the occasional Second Amendment-related post thrown in. Gun ownership is a non-partisan issue, despite how political parties in general line up in regards to ownership issues. It's something that is every American citizen's right to learn to the best of their ability. I don't sympathize with people who choose not to exercise this right, but I have no problems with letting them continue their existence. I only have a problem when people who wish to eliminate gun ownership decide to force others to take the same position as they do. Said anti-ownership types should not mistake the kindness and good nature of gun owners for weakness. Likewise, gun owners should remain polite if not outright neighborly with the anti-ownership people. Being polite and neighborly doesn't mean being passive, either. You can still defend your right to own a gun without yelling. It's appropriate at times to be angry and make snide remarks to get your point across, but not every time. Constant anger about a subject isn't a sign of moral purity or zeal, I know this much from experience in my blogging. It's a sign that you're investing too much of yourself at that moment, and that you need to go and relax.

I suggest taking a trip to your local range to relax. Plinking with a .22 rifle is more relaxing for me even than fishing.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Well, I feel awful thanks to someone giving me a cold in the summer. But enough about me. There really isn't a lot to talk about today. Guns? Nah, not right now. I'm in no shape to go shooting at the moment. I'm not in the mood for discussing Catholic stuff, either. Politics had to go by the wayside, too. I guess I could talk about history, but I haven't found anything new on the various layers of Chinese bureaucrats during the various dynasties. Today is a lovely day to be outside and I think I'd like to be out there. This assumes, of course, that my sinuses don't decide to drain all in one go when I'm talking to someone. I guess I won't be going anywhere, then.

Whoever gave me this cold deserves a good dose of the plague in return.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bowling Night, 07/19/07

I would have done much better had one of my magazines not misfed three rounds. Other than that, it was a pretty easy stage. A nice trick for those of you who are cross-eye dominant: tuck your chin into the shoulder of your shooting arm and look down your arm that way instead of trying to rely on your non-dominant eye. It really helped me out tonight.

The magazine misfeed is kind of troubling. I think a good cleaning should sort it out. It looks like there's a hairline crack in the back of the magazine, but I don't think that's the cause of it. Overall, though, the failures to feed really annoyed me tonight and ruined my scores. Oh well, there's always next week.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

At a Private Range, No One Can Hear You Swear

So, I found this super-secret local range thanks to my dad getting a membership there. Eventually, I'll be able to join as well but for now I've got to pester him so I can go to an outdoor range. I took the new AR out to see how rusty my skills are at firing that type of gun. And wow, are they ever rusty. It didn't help much that the front sight post notches are so small that you can't keep the nose of a .223 round in it long enough to make one "click," but my zeroing targets were nothing short of awful. My best work was at 100 yards, and even then I was hitting high and to the left. The AR was pretty much an exercise in frustration as I couldn't make any adjustments like I'd hoped. All I want is a simple sight zero at 100 yards. Of course I find out later I'm using the short range sight, when the proper sight zero uses the long range sight. Feh! Foiled by a simple piece of metal and over a decade of not shooting an M-16! Well, there's always the next range trip.

I also made sure to take out the .22 rifle that Dad gave to me recently. It's a Marlin 60 that had been sold under the Revelation brand at Western Auto back in the early 60s. We took that to the 25-yard range. My dad hadn't fired the gun since 1963, shortly after he bought it. The sights are still dead-on after 44 years. The only flyers we had outside the 10-ring and the x-ring were due to twitching or sweat. It was quite hot out at the range. But oh, what a wonderful feeling to just do some plinking and realize that I'm only out of practice with one long gun, not all long guns.

I've also picked up a few new gadgets for the AR that will help me with maintaining it. I already had the Boresnake that I needed to keep the barrel nice and clean, but a lack of decent brushes for the bore, the bolt and the inside of the upper receiver have made cleaning them a nasty chore. So, I've got some new brushes made for the AR's design quirks. I also have one of those handguard tools to remove the handguards for cleaning now. You run part of it into the magazine well and push down on the frame, and it provides enough leverage and force to allow you to separate the handguard halves. It's like a magazine loader; you don't realize how much you needed it until you finally got one.

Hmm... I just noticed that one of the spare Palm Pilot styluses I have would look to be about perfect for adjusting the front sight post. And... it is! The plastic tip is going to get shredded, so it doesn't look like it'll last too long. However, it ought to last long enough until I can procure a proper sight adjusting tool. Between that and improving my draw from the hip for the upcoming IPSC matches, things are looking pretty good. I hope the luck continues through my shooting tomorrow night.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bowling Night- 7/12 edition

I think I need to pick up a left-handed holster. I shoot all right with both hands but lately my eye dominance has been switching from my right eye to my left. It goes back and forth. I thought I was right-eye dominant, but it's not working out very well at the moment. I switched over to shooting right-handed because my right eye became dominant as I was learning to shoot. Now it's switching back.

I'm also getting a bit more body awareness; that is, where my hands and feet are, how my weight is shifted in my stance. Having the foot that is opposite my shooting hand forward really helps out. Plus I still find myself locking my elbows more often than not.

I still manage to get plenty of scoring shots, though, so I'm pretty sure I'm improving. I've set a goal of getting at least a B classification by next year, and I think that's possible.

In non-IPSC competition news, I also got my recent order of 400 rounds of .223 Remington. Yep, I bought an AR clone from Rock River Arms a few weeks back. It shoots pretty nicely, though I need to take it to an outdoor range to really put it through its paces. I hope I remember my M-16 familiarization enough to shoot properly.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bowling Night, 7/5/07

Thankfully this time the scenario didn't require as much pattern-recognition as last week's, but there was still a no-shoot target blocking a good portion of two targets. I hit the no-shoot target once, which cost me points of course. Overall, though, I did pretty good. I think my shots all went into targets as opposed to missing completely.

I'll say this much, though: I'm not crazy about Winchester ammunition. I shot a total of 32 rounds of their 165-grain FMJ (full metal jacket, it doesn't expand like a hollow point or soft point) and when I went to clean it there was all kinds of crud in the barrel. I don't know what CCI/Speer does with their Blazer Brass ammunition or what Black Hills Ammunition uses in their cartridges but I have never had such a dirty barrel before. The 165-grain rounds were kind of snappy. I hoped they'd produce a bit less recoil, but it was about the same.

Cleaning my handgun also became a bit easier thanks to judicious use of a Hoppe's Boresnake. It's a woven cloth tube with two copper brushes embedded within the tube itself. Basically what you do is spray your bore cleaner into the barrel and swirl it around to get the best coverage. Wait for the cleaner to do its thing, then pass the boresnake through 2 to 4 times. I followed it up with a dry patch to see if I could pick up any remaining grime, because the Boresnake seems too good to be true. It worked as advertised. The inside of the barrel was gleaming and free of crud as it should be, and I essentially pushed a clean patch all the way through. I finished up with a light coat of oil for the barrel and then cleaned the slide and frame as normal. So, my XD40 is once again ready for next week's shooting match.

Now I just need to lavish further attention on the rest of my collection. Guns are nice to look at but if you aren't at the range, competing in a sport event or hunting they're just pieces of art you keep in a box.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

I got to thinking how best to explain the concept of America's problems with immigration, the Catholic concept of charity, and how such things can be resolved. So I'll use a bit of storytelling here to explain the problem of illegal immigration as I see it.

In the middle of the night, you're woken out of a deep slumber by a frantic ringing of your doorbell, pounding on your door and all kinds of shouting. You grab a shotgun, crank up the lights as you go and investigate. You open the door to find a stranger at your door, rather fearful of the gun in your hands. "Please," he says, "I've been thrown out of my home and I fear for my life because my father says I should give him all of my paychecks without regard for my welfare. If I don't he'll kill me. I've been on the road for a few weeks now and I'm starving. Will you please give me something to eat?"

Well, if he's asking for food and not cash, that's a good sign he's not trying to find the alcohol section of the local convenience store. So, you warm up some leftovers or grab a frozen dinner out of the fridge and give the stranger something to eat. You're probably wired from all the commotion, so you know it's going to be a long night. Eventually, though, you're able to find shelter for him even if it's only getting some sleep on the couch before getting him to a social services group for their assistance. The stranger thanks you, and gives you his name so you can find him again, because he wants you to see how he's doing, and so you know he can repay you. You've done what is right.

A week later, another stranger knocks on your door shortly after dinner. "Hello," he says, "Sorry to bother you, but I'm Mr. So-and-So from another neighborhood and I was hoping to move in next door very soon. I need to make some extra money, so do you know of a business that could use an extra licensed plumber on its staff?" You say you're not sure, but you take his business card and give him some leads, saying to use you as a reference if those businesses ask how he heard about them. You send him off armed with leads to a new job.

The next night, you're walking down to the basement when you hear a creaking noise that sounds like one of your basement windows opening and shutting. Again, you go for the shotgun and the lights. There's another hungry-looking stranger in your basement who you've caught as he's setting foot on your basement floor. "Oh, hi," he says, "Yeah, about this. I was, uh, looking for a job at two in the morning when I thought it would be nice to find a place to sleep. Your basement window had a dodgy spring on it so I just sort of slipped in." You ask him why he didn't knock on the door and you get the first answer "Well, I didn't want to bother you."

It's funny how this stranger says that sneaking into your house, making you grab a gun and investigate a place that should be safe for you isn't a bother. So, you point the gun at the stranger, tell him to leave and not come back and follow him out of your house and watch him walk out of your neighborhood. You secure the window and go back to bed.

The next night, it's the second stranger again. Same window, same deer-in-the-headlights look at your shotgun. This time he says "You really need to get that window looked at. I know I was told not to come back, but hey, that's not very nice. So, I'm going to go upstairs, order a pizza and hang out until it gets here. Then I'll, uh, clean your carpets or something as payment. How does that sound?"

It sounds like he's broken into your basement again. Even though this is your property this stranger isn't too keen on respecting your rights as a property owner. So, you march him out again.

Yep. Third night in a row, this stranger comes in through the basement window. However he's got his girlfriend with him this time. How she got through the window in the 9th month of pregnancy, you're not sure, but they found a way. "Hey, I know what it looks like, but you're wrong. I just want my girlfriend to have a comfortable place to give birth, all right?" You call an ambulance and the stranger yells out "I'll have them bill you! It's cool, right?" as he rides away in the ambulance. So you secure the window again and put up some boards and a sign that says "No Trespassing."

Why is it that four nights in a row this guy has decided to break into your house? "Oh, well, I've always lived here," he says, "even before you did. Really. So, uh, get off my grandpa's property!" Shotgun, march out, you know the drill. This time though, he called a press conference to show you, the quite torqued-off homeowner as you throw him out. "Why aren't you being nice to this guy? He's got a girlfriend and a new baby registered at this address!" the news reporter shouts at you. "Are you trying to evict him through violence? How cruel! What a horrible person you are! He came to your house looking for help and this is how you repay him?"

So you show the reporter your busted-out window and the No Trespassing sign. "Well, you should have fixed that. And that sign doesn't mean anything. It's a free country, he can go where he wants. Why do you hate this guy who has to squeeze through that tiny window just to live here?" You explain that he never announced himself, that you found him there uninvited. "Oh," says the reporter. So, he calls the police and you wound up with the pastor doing his ride-along tour tonight. "So, this guy keeps breaking into your house? Well, you never called us, so it's obviously okay for him to stay. And we won't ask if he belongs here or not." The pastor looks at you and says "Where's your sense of mercy for this poor unfortunate?"

Yeah. You've had it. So, you ask everyone to leave because you're tired, you want this stranger gone, and you just want one night of peace. The cop tells you not to tell him how to enforce the law and starts looking around your house for stuff, the reporter screams that your shotgun can jump out of your hands and cause others to go on killing sprees, and the pastor names you at Mass on Sunday as a horrible monster who would rather shoot at strangers than help them out of their awful situations.

And all through this the stranger is flipping you off from behind their backs, but plays innocent whenever they turn around.

THAT is the problem right there. No one sees a repeated break-in, they just see a a guy in a bathrobe holding a shotgun and telling some other guy to stay out of his house. America is a wonderful place if you can present yourself as the noble underdog. We love our underdogs here, as they struggle to gain something that they can call their own.

However, we've gotten so blinkered by the concept of the noble underdog that people we put in leadership and informational roles have decided that anyone who is struggling for success should be rewarded at the expense of people who haven't had so difficult of a time. This is stupid, flat out stupid.

The first stranger understood that his need was desperate and was willing to brave your anger to get some food and directions on where to stay to turn his life around. These are our political refugees, ones who truly realize they're desperate and are willing to beg you for help regardless of how much it hurts them. All you can do is hope that he'll get back on his feet.

The second stranger didn't want to stay a stranger for long; he announced his intention to become your neighbor and asked for help in finding more work so he could pay his own way. These are our economic immigrants. They understand what makes this country the way it is and they want to be part of it from the beginning.

The third stranger? He breaks into your house, uses your services to make his life easier, brings his girlfriend, bills you for her medical problems, then goes and cries to the authorities hat you're hurting him when you try kicking him out of your house one final time. This ingrate is an illegal immigrant. He breaks into your house, inconveniences you, tries to kick you off of your property and make you pay for the privilege.

This is where the Catholic concept of charity comes in. "Charity" comes from the Latin "caritas," or love that is directed outward. The food, the shelter and the opportunities you provided to the first two strangers are acts of Charity. You were helping them because of their situations because it was the right thing to do.

The third stranger? When someone breaks into your house, the nicest thing you can do is tell them to leave and not come back. When they come back again despite your attempts to patch the things they've broken. You hoped he'd learn it was bad to break in the first time and not do it again. Instead he broke in again and you acted in a manner you thought was charitable by not calling the cops. No, you lulled him into thinking that he'd just get off with another warning whenever he did that. Charity would be bringing in the police to cart him off and let him realize the error of his ways. It didn't happen that way, though.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops refuses to see this for what it is: breaking into someone else's house. Instead they blur the line between the desperate immigrant and the illegal immigrant. One is here because it's his last hope, the other is here because he has no respect for us. We ask him to identify himself and what happens? He sneaks in through the basement window instead of knocking on the door, then gets angry once he's caught. We're told that every human being is equal in the eyes of God. This is true. But why is the guy who is coming into my country illegally being treated better than me, the guy who is already here and asking people to make their presence known beforehand so I can get the place ready?

While a human being might not be illegal, his actions can certainly be illegal. We should be able to punish people for their actions against established laws. These laws aren't just fun little guidelines, they're designed to keep some amount of public order and safety. Why do we reward those who openly act illegally? That's what has disappointed me with the USCCB position. The Conference has refused to accept that we are punishing people for their illegal actions, and instead say that we are punishing them for being poor and hungry.

That President Bush refuses to see this as well is saddening. In our current war, I have supported him as Commander-in Chief. As Head of State and Chief Executive, I have supported him against detractors. When he put forth policies that would benefit my retirement savings, worked on cutting taxes further, allowed me to defend my home with more ease and agreed that the lives of the innocent are inviolate, I supported him. I cannot support President Bush on the issue of immigration. This has been as much a failure as letting No Child Left Behind, the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Safety Authority become bloated mockeries of what were presented as lean frameworks to assist communication, provide oversight, and enforce what was already stated law. I will still support my President, but I will do so conditionally.

We are mistaking Charity for handouts. There are grave differences between the two. Why do our legal and spiritual authorities insist on blinding themselves to those differences?