Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Day! Finally!

It's Opening Day, and naturally Our Heroes The St. Louis Cardinals get rained out. However, we did get to see Albert Pujols belt a single-run homer and Rick Ankiel continue his progress in the major leagues. I remember watching him self-destruct as a pitcher in the 2000 NLCS against the Mets and thinking that his career was done, kaput, finito. I'm pretty happy to say that I was wrong. He's turned into a decent outfielder and isn't too shabby with his bat. Considering we saw the team lose a lot of steam in 2007 and collapse further in the off-season with the losses of defense players David Eckstein and So Taguchi and Scott Spiezio's major troubles with chemical addiction and problems with obeying laws, the team has nowhere to go but up. I wonder if Tony LaRussa is going to continue with the small-ball strategies now that he's got a little more oomph in his lineup? I hope to see the game continue tomorrow.

Oh, and the Cubs snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Opening Day once again. Here's to a Century of Consistency, Northsiders!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bowling Night, 3/27/08

I think I'm really beginning to like switching up to Limited from Production. Being able to use my magazines at full capacity is really nice in terms of balancing the gun and while my aim still isn't the best on run-and-gun courses, it's getting better. Last night showed that speed isn't always all it's cracked up to be. My second run on the stage was five seconds faster, but I missed two shots. The saying goes "You can't miss fast enough to lose" and I saw how that can happen.

The shooting club also had about four or five new shooters last night. It's good to see more people come in who are interested in taking up the sport. Practical shooting competitions really add to the fun of a day at the range.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Taking a big step, or at least a few thousand of them

So, I signed up for the yearly 10K run in my hometown. I have three reasons for this. One, I want to see if I can even run 10 km in one go. I rarely ran more than two miles prior to this, either in school or in the Air Force. Two, I want to lose weight, since I’m carrying a lot of extra flab. Extra weight can lead to all kinds of health problems that I don't particularly want to deal with. I have a feeling I’ll be running slowly for a while. Three: I figure that being lighter and faster will help my IPSC times on both the stationary and the run-and-gun stages, and I’d like to get a B classifier sooner rather than later. I think switching to Limited is going to be my best bet on that. (Production is geared towards 9mm shooters, as everything is scored as minor. Compared to the .40 S&W round, the standard 9x19mm/ 9mm Parabellum/ 9mm Luger round has milder recoil.)

Why did I pick running out of all the other aerobic activities such as hiking, walking, cycling and such? The only aerobic exercise that will keep my attention is running. Stationary bikes, treadmills, all the various other types of aerobic exercises including regular cycling bore me after about two or three minutes. Boredom leads to going back to the computer to play City of heroes for hours on end. While that isn't a horrible thing, it's not exactly getting me a lot of exercise. I need to do something that will keep me occupied, and running is good for that. I also fully intend to blame every pound lost on my co-workers and their contagiously healthy lifestyles. I'll get around to telling them that sooner or later.

Thankfully there’s a group training program for new runners that goes with this run that starts in May. I’m starting this week on just some basics, as my good running shoes won’t be in for another week. It sucks having short and wide feet, as most regular shoe stores here don’t carry running shoes in double-E widths. It’s either D width or EEEE width, with nothing in between. I’m just glad there’s a specialty shop in town that can find the right shoes and get them in quickly. That was a nice surprise. Usually, I either have to go with larger than normal shoes to get the width I need or I have to wait for weeks on end to get a properly-fitted pair of shoes.

Well, here’s hoping I don’t place last. I'm sure I'll post a few things here and there about this as my training progresses.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bowling Night Report, 3/20/08

The stage had 10 Steel targets tonight. I really hate steel targets as I tend to hit low on them if I hit at all. Well, tonight I did pretty damn good on them. I still hit low, but I knocked them down quickly. My second run through the stage was better than my first. I was still slow but more accurate. For some reason, switching from Production to Limited class has really helped me relax, and I'm not sure why. My shots score as a Major power factor (the bigger and faster the round, the more likely to cause a stopping shot on a person, thus you get more points for using a bigger bullet. Most shooting games like this tend to favor .45 handguns.) but I only get two more shots per magazine, from 10 to 12 rounds. Well, whatever it is, I'm digging it. I definitely need to get a practice day in every week in addition to my weekly shooting match. I want to see what I'm doing wrong with my aim.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

DC v. Heller Heard Today

I had a chance to listen to the oral arguments for this case over lunch today. C-SPAN is a greater asset than people realize because of things like this. The Justices were pretty fair to both sides, though they really seemed to treat Walter Dellinger, counsel for the District of Columbia, like he was very slow on the uptake. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg got into the act, sounding very incredulous about the logic behind the handgun ban in Washington D.C. In return, they grilled Alan Gura, the attorney for Richard Heller, on the arguments made to remove the ban. Their tack seemed to be focused on the plaintiff's historical arguments, and whether he submitted that "reasonable regulation" could be considered. He listed what can be considered reasonable regulations, which is sure to anger more than a few "no rules no way no how" gun owners. The "well-regulated militia" clause was well-argued by Gura, stating that certain weapons should be beyond the purview of bans, but that handguns are not one of them. I could see perhaps no crew-served artillery, mortars or grenade launchers as destructive devices needing more scrutiny than a personal rifle or handgun.

Oh yeah, the "plastic handgun" scare tactic came into play again. Like "assault weapons," the term "plastic handguns" is pretty nebulous. For example, my XD40 has a plastic frame that holds the trigger assembly, magazine release, sear assembly, slide stop and slide rails. Everything listed there that isn't the plastic frame is steel or aluminum. My slide is steel, the barrel is steel, the springs, extractor, and firing pin are all steel. If my gun goes through a metal detector, it will be detected. The infamous Glock handguns are exactly the same. The parts where the cartridges are held and fired is all steel. Why? There aren't many cheap polymers out there that can handle the levels of pressure generated when firing a bullet from its cartridge casing.

In short, the attorneys for the District of Columbia tried to stir up scare tactics about easily concealed guns showing up everywhere. Dear leaders of the District of Columbia: that is ALREADY HAPPENING! Criminals are ignoring your handgun ban regardless of what you do to the people who do obey the laws there! All it does is make more targets of the people you are supposed to protect. The defendants mentioned the shrinking crime rate, and that's fine. They have to realize that the murder rates grew in DC despite the Brady Bill of 1993-2004 and despite their handgun ban of 1976.

As I'm not a lawyer, I'm keeping my guesses on the results to myself.

Monday, March 17, 2008

So, yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the Halabja massacre in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein thought that chemical weapons and defenseless Kurds made a great combination. Remember that mass attack by a government on its own people when deciding where you come down on the 2nd Amendment. Heller vs. DC starts tomorrow in the Supreme Court. Sometimes creeping incrementalism leads down a slipperier slope than normal.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bowling Night Report, 03/13/08

Clever folks will notice that there's no report for last week. Why? Last week sucked as far as shooting went.

This week, though, I shot amazingly well. I wasn't rushing myself like I do in qualifiers and it showed. There weren't any misses at all, and even the steel dropped faster than normal. I'm pretty happy with tonight's results.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, dead at 69

(Hat tip: Jonah Goldberg at The Corner.)

Holy smokes. Another one of the people who shaped my outlook on life has died within the week. Gary Gygax is best known for creating the Chainmail miniatures rules system with Dave Arneson in the late 1960s-early 1970s. In 1974, the two revamped the system further into the game we know as Dungeons and Dragons.

The company co-founded and fronted by Gygax, TSR (for Tactical Studies Rules, for those of you who wondered), quickly became the first 900-pound gorilla of the gaming world. Other game companies such as Steve Jackson's Metagames (later Steve Jackson Games) and Champaign-based GDW (creator of such RPGs as Traveller and Twilight: 2000)were able to ride the wave of fame and infamy created by this wonderful game. These games became the road to ruin for many a young man in the Midwest, spending most of his hard-earned coin on books, books, and more books to add excitement and novelty to the role-playing games. There were and still are people who will refuse to have any contact with role-playing games in the belief that such games are Satanic. The urban legends of game-related suicides (hyped by Rona Jaffe's book Mazes & Monsters) and the shoddily-researched Pulling Report (written by Patricia Pulling, whose son's suicide was blamed on the occult influences in D&D) added to the notoriety of these games. Even Jack Chick, that ever-tolerant illustrator known for his religious tracts came up with Dark Dungeons, a tract that is now a rightly-lampooned joke. Nevertheless it was suddenly becoming dangerous to be a nerd. It wasn't dangerous because you'd go out and kill someone, but that your mortal soul was in danger just by reading the charts on what a fighter needs to hit a monster with Armor Class 6. You were on the road to spiritual ruin by playing these games.

Vae mihi. (That's the approximate Latin for "Oy gevalt!") Look, folks, D&D isn't a horrible gateway to Satan. It and the games spawned to compete with it were great ways to get together with friends on a cold February day to hang out and have fun. Any spiritual ruin was brought on by other things in this world, but not by a game where evil appears and your fictional characters go forth to whoop up on it.

Now, I got a chance to meet Mr. Gygax when I still lived in Wheeling. One of the major gaming stores in the suburbs (in Mount Prospect) was hosting a games day. Gary was running his new game for a group of local players and they seemed to have a lot of fun as he wove a pretty-decent story of the land and creatures the characters faced. Myself, I opted for a different game, focusing on superheroes in World War 2. With the first sessions done, we took a break and headed to a local place to get something to eat. I got a chance to talk to Gary.

He was full of himself, in a good way that a person can be full of himself. A cynic would say he loved to hear himself talk. He's a gamer. Gamers love to talk about the games where they took part. They're fishing stories, hunting stories, and general yarns meant to entertain others. Sadly not every gamer is as self-possessed or as well-versed in public speaking as Gary. That is, Gary also knew when to stop talking. He wasn't without fault, though, as he did one-up a gamer at this lunch break. Competition is a human thing, after all. He loved playing the games he made, though I wonder if even he could wrap his head around the system he created for the game "Cyborg Commando."

I can't say what kind of bad blood went on between him and TSR or him and Dave Arneson other than what I've read on the internet, and I wasn't about to ask him, either. That's something you save for when business proposals are on the line. He loved his work, though, and the huge number of add-ons to the games he made showed what a good cottage industry came from gaming. It was capitalism in action.

Much like William F. Buckley, Gary Gygax increased my love of reading as a young man and expanded my vocabulary. Where else would you hear the word "millieu" on a regular basis outside of the literary world, and D&D proved that the dodecahedron isn't just for math majors anymore. I'm also indebted to him for a love of history. If it wasn't for Gary Gygax, I wouldn't have read Greek myths of heroes like Odysseus and then read further to find out about the people in Homer's day and age. I wouldn't have read about kings and knights and how the world of high fantasy was very different from historical reality. I probably would have watched a lot more television as a child, or at least done more homework.

Albert Einstein once said that God does not play dice with the universe. God has a sense of humor, so I could easily see Him rolling a d20 for initiative now that Gary has brought Him a full set of polyhedrals. Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax. You'll be missed at the head of the gaming table.
Late for practice? Just fly there!

I usually try not to link to the Trib, since it often requires registering to read articles. This one was too good to pass up, though. In order for his son to get to a tennis practice match, a Lake Villa resident flies from his home to the country club in Lincolnshire. I know you're probably thinking "hey, it's this guy's money, if he wants to fly, let him."

Now, if this was a club with a private landing strip, there'd be no problems. However, said aerial genius landed across the street from the country club, which just happens to be one of the fairways on the Lincolnshire Marriott resort's golf course. Like the article says, it's as if people were supposed to ignore a small plane circling at low levels over a place that isn't an airport. Now, if this guy had flown to nearby Palwaukee Airport, rented a car and driven, he'd be normal. But no, this mental giant decides that he's going to get his darling boy to tennis practice, respect for others' property and federal aviation laws be damned!

So, this guy breaks trespassing laws, laws dealing with filing false flight plans (or worse, no flight plans) as well as possibly damaging private property. And what's the kicker? The kid didn't even make it to the match, having to watch as his Dad got perhaps the best "Why did you stop thinking?" speech ever.

That all of this happened in my old stomping grounds is pure comedy gold to me. I used to live in Wheeling and Palatine, and worked near the Lincolnshire resort where this happened. Some of the well-to-do had the "What's the harm?" attitude it takes to pull a stunt like this. I have a sneaking suspicion that this guy would be very angry if people started using his home as a skydiving target, and might even rail about how no one respects property rights. He deserves more grief than he'll probably get over it, though. To paraphrase Don King, "Only in the Northwest Suburbs!"