Sunday, December 17, 2006

Winter Windstorm Aftermath

It was no Hurricane Katrina, but the worst winter storm in more than a decade hit us last Thursday evening, eventually turning out the lights on more than 1.5 million people in the Pacific Northwest.

You don't realize how much modern society depends upon electricity until you are forced to do without it for several days. It looks like our power won't be on until at least tomorrow (Monday) and perhaps even Tuesday, and many people have been told that it will be until after Christmas. We who are without power are not the unluckiest ones; several people were killed by falling trees.

The picture to the left shows a house in our subdivision that was hit by a falling tree. Luckily, no one was hurt but the house was extensively damaged. The woman who lived there with her family had arranged to have the remaining trees on her lot removed. She told me that the falling tree had hit her children's rooms and scared everyone to death, and that she was cutting every tree on their lot down. "It's going to look like a desert." I can't say that I blame her.

Why do so many trees fall? The Pacific Northwest's ubiquitous evergreen is the fir tree, and these trees have evolved to survive in thickly-timbered forests. The root systems of these trees goes maybe a foot into the ground, but spreads out to the diameter of the widest limbs... wide but shallow. Fir trees survive windstorms because a grove of them have interlocking roots so each helps support the other. However, all bets are off when people come along and thin out the trees in order to put things like houses and roads and powerline right-of-ways.

The reason we are without power for so long is shown, to the right. The high voltage feeder lines that run into the area substation were knocked out by several falling trees in a quarter-mile stretch. The damage was extensive; a couple of poles will need to be replaced and several of the feedlines will need to be re-rigged. This will take a couple of days and only started this morning.

The strategy for coping with widespread power outages is to go for effectiveness... make the quick fixes that will restore power to the most people with the least amount of work. The harder problems, or those that affect fewer people, are handled later.

Our problem is a time-consuming mess, and affects a few thousand people, so it had to wait while the easier or more wide-reaching problems were taken care of first.

Even though this is an inconvenience, it does point out some things I need to add to the emergency kit. The number one item is going to be a generator, followed by an electric cooler. The food in the fridge was the first thing to go; opening the door on Friday morning quickly let the cold air out and the milk spoiled by the evening. We have natural gas, but the furnace is useless without the blower motor, so the second thing is to get an electrician to set up the breaker panel so we can run a few things off of the generator. It would be nice to be able to do a couple loads of laundry, or run the dishwasher, or watch the television, and we don't need to do everything at once.

This was a good wake-up call, for those of us who are only inconvenienced. My condolences go out to those who fared worse.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

This article was inspired by a fellow blogger's post about her latest present.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on knife fighting (far from it). But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

In all the hoopla about the utility of guns, particularly handguns, for self-defense, many seem to forget about knives.

We've all heard the old saw about "bringing a knife to a gunfight" as a warning about being outgunned, as it were. However, knives do have a place in one's defensive armory, and every professional man-at-arms that I know carries a knife at all times. Especially when they can't carry a gun.

Knives have many characteristics that make them as good, or perhaps even better, than a gun for close-range self-defense. These include:
  • A knife never runs out of ammo
  • A knife never jams (especially a fixed-blade knife)
  • A knife is quiet
  • A knife is scary, because everyone has been cut and we all know it hurts
  • A knife is seen by many as not as dangerous as it truly is, making its possession less threatening to the general public
Knives has some disadvantages, as well:
  • You must be within arm's reach to strike your opponent
  • Using a knife effectively requires a modicum of training (as much as a basic handgun course)
  • Most people find that stabbing or cutting an attacker to be much harder from a psychological viewpoint than shooting an attacker, because knife fighting is up close, personal, and brutal
  • You will get bloody, even if you don't get injured
  • If the other person also has a knife, you both will be cut; the winner just gets cut less.
In other words, if you intend to use a knife as one element of your self-defense plan, then you need to be tactically and psychologically prepared to have a reasonable chance of success.

While the use of the sword reached its peak in Renaissance-era Spain, the development of knife fighting techniques and tactics reached its zenith in the Phillipines during the first part of this century when, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent suppression of the Moro Rebellion, practitioners of Escrima, the Filipino martial art of armed and unarmed combat, traveled, interacted, and competed thus exposing each subgroup's unique techniques to examination and adaptation by all. During four centuries of Spanish rule, the open practice and instruction of Escrima was punishable by death. As a result, Escrima practitioners trained with sticks of varying lengths, first as a substitute to knives and swords and later in addition to them as the utility and effectiveness of stick fighting became apparent. The real beauty of the style is its superficial simplicity and adaptability of the techniques to swords, knives, and the empty hand; a true Escrima master is always armed.

Escrima spread to the Hawaiian Islands and then to the US West Coast via Filipino workers, where it was generally only taught to persons of Filipino descent. Eventually, the style was learned by dedicated Western martial artists.

An Escrima master is someone that you certainly don't want to anger. The speed and skill of a true master is extremely scary, and very effective. Take, for instance, the elderly Filipino man who was accosted by a gang of youths who attempted to rob him a few years ago. When the police arrived, they found one innocuous-looking unharmed old man with a bloody pocket knife, and a half-dozen bleeding youths, each bearing numerous assorted painful yet superficial knife wounds. The old man was arrested and charged, but was found not guilty at his trial by a judge who couldn't fathom how a slight aged senior citizen could defeat several juvenile delinquents with extensive violent criminal records. Before letting the old man go, the judge asked for, and received, a short demonstration of Escrima from the old man in open court, and acquitted him after realizing that the master could have easily killed all of his attackers if he so chose.

So, bringing a knife to a gunfight isn't always a losing strategy... especially if your opponent doesn't realize that you have a knife, and you can lure him close enough to eliminate the advantages of a gun. Tactics, not weapons, win fights.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Final Solution: Will It Be Ours, or Theirs?

We're never going to have peace in the Middle East until we get rid of the problem.

That means getting rid of present-day Syria and Iran, the financial and logistical supporters of terrorism in the Middle East and the world.

That means killing the leadership of these two countries, and anyone else who just doesn't get it.

That means actively helping Israel hunt down and kill Nasrallah and his Hezbollah henchmen hiding like cockroaches.

That means killing Hezbollah fighters. No quarter asked or given.

The US should use Syria's continued support for insurgents and terrorists who kill American in Iraq as the cassus belli and do a little dance on Damascus.

If we're lucky, Iran will honor its mutual defense pact with Syria, and we can go there and rearrange the furniture, B2-style. But, I think the Iranian mouth has written a check its ass can't cash. A couple of days after we went into Syria, sitting in Baby Assad's former throne, the Iranians would be scared shitless, cringing in fearful anticipation of the upcoming bitchslap. They wouldn't be talking very tough then.

Could the US and Israel do this? Militarily, yes. Who's going to stop us? Not the mullahs. Not the Russians... they'd probably take the opportunity to smack Chechnya. Not the Chinese. They're not going to get started in a war they can't win.

I'd tell you who'd stop this, though. The American Left. There'd be screams about impeachment, massive (paid) protests by International ANSWER and their fellow-travelers, and of course the media would happily equate Bush with Hitler.

Never mind, of course, that the course of action described above IS going to happen... it's just a question of when, not if. And, the longer we wait, the readier they'll be and the harder it will be.

It's 1938 all over again. Except the starting gun isn't going to be the invasion of Poland. It's going to be a mushroom cloud over a Western metropolis.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Casus Belli

While most in the West have been going about their business, enjoying the summer, and generally living their lives, momentous happenings have occurred in the Middle East.

The Iranians, having stalled for as long as they could, have finally run out of time diplomatically. The US-led diplomatic efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions has reached an impasse due to Iranian intransigence, and the European powers have finally admitted that the matter must move to the UN Security Council and sanctions imposed on Iran.

The Iranians know that at the end of the day they'll lose in the UN, despite the assurances of their Russian and Chinese protectors. Therefore, anything must be done to move the story of Iran and its nuclear weapons program off of the world stage. Anything, that is, except stopping their development of nuclear weapons.

So, the puppetmasters start pulling the strings. North Korea launches numerous mid- and long-range ballistic missiles in an impromptu test. Hamas terrorists dig a tunnel under the border with Israel, attack an Israeli army outpost, and kidnap a soldier, dragging him back through the tunnel into Gaza and into hiding, and Hamas spokesmen claim responsibility, offering to trade him for hundreds of Hamas terrorists that Israel has imprisoned. Israel launches a massive military strike into Gaza, destroying Hamas-occupied Palastinian government offices, destroying infrastructure, and dividing the territory, as they search for their missing soldier.

The Israelis have tried bargaining with the Palestinians, and that didn't work. They've tried disengagement, withdrawing from Gaza and building a wall to separate the two sides, and that didn't work. The Palestinians, or enough of them, don't want peace or coexistence; they want to look out over the Mediterranean and see miles of Jewish corpses floating in the surf, and that is clearly untenable to Israel. I believe that Israel is going to try their only remaining option: killing enough angry Palestinians so that the rest are frightened enough to leave Israel alone. After all, what have they got to lose?

Iran, unprepared for the scale of Israeli operations against Hamas, and besieged by calls for assistance from its Hamas proxies, instructs Hezbollah, its proxies in Lebanon to conduct a similar operation on the Israeli-Lebanon border, which proves equally successful in that two Israeli soldiers are kidnapped and brought back into Lebanon and eight are killed. The escalation is designed to force Israel into diverting some of its forces from Gaza where Hamas is hard-pressed... but again Iran miscalculates. Israel has already mobilized considerable reserves, and these are unleashed against Lebanon while the pressure is increased in Gaza.

Iran has also miscalculated world opinion. Arab countries, after their pro-forma criticism of Israel, hold Iran and Syria and their terrorist proxies primarily responsible for the outbreak of hostilities. In Lebanon, most blame the incidents on Hezbollah and support for disarming the Iranian- and Syrian-backed terrorist group grows both inside and outside the government. The Lebanese have few illusions about the capabilities and will of the Israelis especially after such a provocation, and wish to have no part of war with Israel.

In Europe, support for Palestine is tepid, and most countries condemn Hamas for starting the conflict. The US, under George Bush, issues a terse statement holding Syria and Iran directly responsible for the crisis. The message to Israel is unspoken but clear: there will be no consequences for destroying Hamas and Hezbollah.

Make no mistake: this is a very dangerous time for the world. Hamas and Hezbollah will be devastated. Syria will see Hamas- and Hezbollah offices, and the homes of leaders, bombed. Syria is defenseless against Israeli air attack, and the Israeli Army would be in Damascus within days should the Israelis launch a ground attack. The Iranians realize this, and have warned Israel that any attacks against Syria would result in an Iranian counterstrike. However, Israel already believes itself to be under attack by Iran thru its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies, and the recent rocket attack against Haifa is believed to be the result of Iranian rockets launched by Iranian Revolutionary Guards units located in Lebanon. Israel will do what it believes is necessary to end the threat of Hamas and Hezbollah once and for all, and that will most likely include at least air attacks on Damascus targeted at Hezbollah leaders.

What will Iran do? Expect to see further escalation, perhaps by North Korea, perhaps in Iraq (al Sadr is Iran's proxy here). This crisis is the result of another miscalculation on its part; Iran truly thinks that the civilian populations of Israel and the West are timid, the leadership is politically constrained, and therefore we are unable to respond effectively. As to why Iran believes this, we have only to look at our own press and the attacks against the current Administration by the Democrats. Iran believes that Western media sentiment reflects popular sentiment and this popular sentiment, especially in America, has politically damaged George Bush to the extent that it has removed his ability to respond military to any threats, in the same way that popular sentiment crippled Lyndon Johnson and removed the US's ability to respond effectively on a strategic level against North Vietnam. Iran believes wrongly.

Most wars are started by miscalculations; one side believes that the other won't fight and so it escalates in an attempt to achieve its goals via intimidation. When the other party escalates similarly, the first party continues until the first blow is struck. By that time it is too late: both sides are committed to a course of action which involves fighting which continues until the conflict is resolved. Hitler didn't think the West would fight for Poland; Japan didn't think the US had the stomach to fight after the blow struck at Pearl Harbor; Saddam didn't think the US would respond military to his invasion of Kuwait, or to his refusal to comply with UN resolutions. Oops.

The Iranians didn't think the Israelis would fight, and they don't believe the US will, either, hence their clumsy attempts at intimidation. What will they do when, shortly, Israel destroys their proxies and kills its leaders, and then punishes Syria for its hand in the attacks? They will be facing considerable loss of prestige and power, and the eradication of two decades worth of work as the terrorist organizations they've invested considerable amounts of time and money are destroyed. They may even face attack from Israel, which may decide to strike Iran's nuclear sites as retaliation for Iran's support of Hamas and Hezbollah. Count on this happening if Israel has solid proof of direct Iranian attacks against it. And, the Israelis may get help in their strikes via the use of Iraqi airspace for refueling... and perhaps even US airbases in Iraq.

The Iranians, seeing the rest of the Moslem world through their malevolent eyes, overestimate the hatred of Israel and the US throughout the Middle East. They believe that if Israel and/or the US strikes Iran, fellow Moslems will arise by the millions to declare jihad against the Great and Lesser Satans. In their hatred of us, they overlook the fact that most of the Middle East, unlike Iran, is Arab, and that there is a considerable level of animosity against Persian Iran by its Arab neighbors. The Iraqis especially, both Shia and Sunni, have no love for their Iranian neighbors. If Israel or the US is legitimately provoked to strike Iran as a response to aggression, most Arabs will rationalize it away as "They deserved it." Iran is on its own here.

Machiavelli wrote, "Never do your enemy a small harm" and "If you go to stab the king, make sure that you kill him." The warning here was to finish what you start, because it is very dangerous to act so as to leave a slightly wounded and greatly angered enemy. This is the situation we face with Iran today. We need to finish what we start. We need to stab our foe, and ensure that he is dead. We need to realize that Iran is the heart of the terrorism problem against the US, the West, and the rest of the world. We need to cut out this heart, or put a stake through it, and end the threat once and for all.

And we need to do it sooner rather than later, before Iran gets nukes.

See this for more on Iran

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Quick Note to the Netroots

You guys are nuts.

Let me rephrase that; you guys are perfectly, splendidly, logical... but your worldview is hopelessly skewed. Your worldview doesn't comport with reality, but you keep insisting that you're right and reality is wrong.

In your worldview, 'facts' like everyone wanting to get US troops out of Iraq ASAP, people think that war profiteering is a huge problem, the economy sucks, etc., are valid reasons why people will overwhelmingly arise and throw the Republican scoundrels out. Unfortunately, for you, the majority of voters don't agree with your 'facts' and see things a little differently.

Why have the Dems gone from running every branch of government to running nothing in a decade? Because the majority of Americans have seen the Dems govern... and didn't like it. Make that "were deathly afraid of it."

Between Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and the obstructionist Democrats in the Senate, the American voter has seen a party that is indecisive, delusional, myopic... a party that thinks that having good thoughts and good intentions is all that matters. A party that truly thinks that issues like North Korea were better when the Dems ruled... and did nothing. A party that thinks Bush is a greater evil, and a greater threat, to America than bin Laden. A party that, when at the reins of power, ignored bin Laden and Hussein and any other problem it could because dealing with those problems might make some people uncomfortable. A party that views leadership as merely the ability to take a poll, gauge public opinion, and then run to get in front of it. Even worse, a party that uses loaded questions and skewed polls and the 'bandwagon' approach ('most right-thinking people believe we should do X', so come join us!') on everything from gun control to tax policy to education to whether lying under oath is perjury (yes for Scooter Libby, no for Bill Clinton) to the Iraq War to manipulate the voters. The American voter has seen how the Democrats operate, and he doesn't like it.

Face it: your party is in denial. The American voter may be somewhat disappointed in Bush, but perhaps that disappointment isn't that he's gone too far... but that he hasn't gone far enough. The American voter wasn't upset about Abu Graib. Heck, worse happens in San Francisco on a Saturday night. The American voter isn't upset about Guantanamo, he's upset that we let these bastards live instead of killing them on the battlefield as the Geneva Convention specifically allows. The American voter isn't upset about going to war in Iraq, he's wondering why we're not kicking Iran's butt. The American voter isn't upset because the Bush Administration immigration plan is too tough, he's upset because it's too lax.

You guys all hang around together, and talk to each other, and you all agree... but that doesn't mean the rest of the world agrees with you. Get out, travel, and hang with people who DON'T normally associate with you. Maybe then you'll understand that, unlike the '90s when Democratic power was at its peak, the American voter isn't going to buy your nonsensical talking points.

Maybe then you'll start to understand why a Dem majority just isn't going to happen until the Democratic Party leadership changes, and definitely not towards the netroots.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Shiitake Mushroom Cloud!
Hundreds of WMDs found in Iraq!

Just checking Drudge before I trundled off to bed, and Wow! what a headline! "Report: Hundreds of WMDs Found in Iraq..."

Turns out the US has found more than 500 artillery shells that contained either mustard gas or sarin gas. This information was released earlier today in a press conference called by Senator Rick Santorum and Representative Peter Hoekstra, both Republicans. Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and Representative John Murtha also received this information from John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence. Figure the odds of the Democrats would call a press conference to announce the discovery of WMDs in Iraq... that would be right after the Democratic press conference to apologize to Bush for calling him a liar.

The document received from Negroponte is basically a one-page summary of a classified intelligence report that goes into great detail on what has been found in terms of WMDs and WMD programs, and only scratches the surface of the contents of the classified report. Even that much would not have been declassified without the strenuous efforts of Santorum and Hoekstra.

From the Santorum/Hoekstra press conference:
HOEKSTRA: Thanks, Senator, and thank you for your help.

You know, as we've been continuing the work and the research on WMD and what existed when, it's been interesting. We spent a lot of time working or people have been coming to the committee, what we call unconventional sources.

The senator has indicated that a few months ago, an unconventional source went to Rick and said, You ought to look for this report. And the senator spent some time looking for it, couldn't get his hands on it and called over and said, Can you help get this report? And we went looking for it, and we found it.

[...]From the Kay report and the Duelfer report, the conclusions that they reached indicated that during that period of time from the Gulf War to Operation Iraqi Freedom, there was evidence of continuing research and development of WMD, an ongoing effort with various kinds of chemicals, research programs and those types of things.

The piece that still remains unanswered, or remained unanswered, was that piece of exactly what, other than the programs, what existed in Iraq in 2003?

The Iraqi Survey Group, or the impression that the Iraqi Survey Group left with the American people was they didn't find anything.

The report that Rick and I reference -- and I'll have to tell you that I'm disappointed in the summary that was provided for us in an unclassified version from the intelligence community because I think you lose some of the context of exactly what Rick and I and others on the committee have seen from that report.

But this says: Weapons have been discovered; more weapons exist. And they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone, that there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq.

And I think what that points out to us -- and remember, the Iraq Survey Group was in Iraq for about 16 months, employing up 1,700 people. They didn't find many chemical weapons.

And since that period of time, we have found hundreds. This assessment says more exist. And I think what that points out is that there's still a lot about Iraq that we don't fully understand.

The Iraq Survey Group suspended field visits five months after they were there. So they stopped field visits in October of 2003. So what we're now finding are our troops stumbling across these as they go into Iraq.

The full-blown effort to discover these caches of chemical weapons stopped a year and a half ago. And this is the kind of stuff that we are still finding.

[...]Some of you may have the question -- and we had the same question -- if this report was completed in April, why couldn't a senator receive it for six weeks and why did it take eight weeks for it to be brought to our attention and finally put into our hands? What other reports exist about either the existence or the nonexistence of chemical weapons in Iraq?

That information is information that we need to have and is information that needs to be brought to the American people.

So we are working on the declassification of the report. We are going to do a thorough search of what additional reports exist in the intelligence community. And we are going to put additional pressure on the Department of Defense and the folks in Iraq to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war.
What else is interesting about all this: an anonymous Defense Department downplayed the announcement:
"This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," the official said, adding the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war."
Uh... excuse me, Yes they are! One of the primary reasons given for invading Iraq by President Bush in his letter to Congress was that, in a post-9/11 world, we couldn't trust Saddam Hussein to resist the temptation of slipping a WMD or two to an al Quaeda-type to use against us if he thought he'd have plausible deniability. We invaded Iraq not only because of the considerable evidence that Saddam was continuing his WMD research programs (evidence confirmed after the invasion), but that he retained stockpiles of chemical weapons in defiance of UN resolutions and the Gulf War ceasefire agreement. So, the sketchy information released by the evidently unwilling intelligence organ of this country vindicates Bush and the decision to go to war.

All of this begs the question: why did the Bush Administration have to be forced into releasing even this small bit of information... information that cuts off the "Bush Lied!" folks at the knees?

The Real Ugly American (ht: Ed Morrissey) says:
General Tom Mcinerney is reporting on Fox Hannity and Colmes right now that that the administration has been keeping this low profile to avoid exposing 3 of the 5 members of the UN Security council; Russia, China, and France. McInerney says these weapons will be traced to these countries, and asserts it is well known that Russia helped Saddam move most of his WMD stockpiles out of Iraq before the war.
Here's what I can't figure out: why does the Bush Administration give a flying fig about exposing Russia, China, and France as violators of the very UN resolutions they helped pass? It's not as if these are America's three great allies. To the contrary, they are the biggest pains-in-the-youknowwhats we have to deal with in the Security Council, and they've certainly been no help dealing with Iran, North Korea, or Iraq. I can't believe Bush and Company are so stupid as to have risked the 2004 election or the ability to govern in the second term to spare these countries a well-deserved public humiliation.

I think the answer lies elsewhere... in the executive branch. Specifically, I think it lies at the feet of unelected bureaucrats who do not support the President or his policies (both foreign and domestic) and who are willing to manipulate information in order to harm the Administration. Maybe it's the same people who have been responsible for all of the anti-Bush Administration leaks... yet who can keep a secret that exonerates the Bush Administration from even the Senate and House Intelligence committees.

Isn't it interesting? Or, rather, unsettling? Would it be paranoid to think that perhaps there has been a concerted effort by unelected officials to sway public opinion by releasing or withholding information, in a manner that threatens to destroy the political effectiveness of the elected chief executive?

The truth needs to come out. It's obvious that the Iraq Survey Group, rather than answering whether or not WMDs existed in Iraq, refused to do the work that would reach a definitive yea-or-nay conclusion and instead issued a report buttressing an anti-Administration view... a report that turns out to be made up.

Negroponte needs to declassify the entire report covering post-ISG WMD finds in Iraq. And then, there needs to be some housecleaning in the executive branch.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

What The Hell Is Natalie Maines Upset About?

"Taking the Long Way," the new Dixie Chicks album, premiered at #1, making them the first female group to have three albums debut at the top. (Premiering at #1 means that retail stores have ordered large quantities of their album in anticipation of strong sales; it does not mean that there is strong customer demand for the album.) However, there is still a lot of anger over Natalie Maines' anti-Bush comments in front of concert audiences in London, England and other venues during the Chicks' last tour. Many country music stations are refusing to play the first two singles released from the new album.

I was never a Chicks fan; my apathy towards country music generally combined with my disgust at Maine's public immaturity extinguished any fleeting desire in me to listen to their work. However, a fellow blogger commented on the new album and piqued my interest. A blurb on AOL Sessions piqued it further, and what the hell, I didn't have to give them any money to listen....

"Not Ready to Make Nice" is a excellent song, and Natalie Maine's performance is powerful. There's no doubt that she feels she has been wronged, and that the reaction of her fans both angered and dismayed the group. In a vacuum, the song and the group's rendition of it is extremely compelling from an artistic viewpoint. But watching Maine's answer to the question of what the 'Bush comment' and its repercussions meant to the group, makes it clear that the woman, brilliant singer and songwriter that she clearly is, just doesn't get it. Not only is she clueless about current events, she just doesn't understand why her fans were alienated. Her fellow Chicks seemingly suffer from the same shortsightedness, chortling at the coincidence of their album release occurring at the same time Bush's poll ratings are at a low. (Not that I care about poll ratings or anything, but the overt schadenfreude is symptomatic of the immaturity that got the Chicks into their mess.)

Ms. Maines evidently doesn't understand that words have consequences. Instead, "Not Ready to Make Nice" is an in-your-face to all of her fans; how dare they stop buying Dixie Chicks albums and concert tickets! The fans' reaction "...turned my whole world around... and I kinda liked [my life the way it was]" sings Ms. Maines. Well, then, at the risk of saying the obvious, perhaps you should have kept your kept your political observations to yourself.

"Forget... I'm not sure I could." That's Natalie Maines' view, but it also is a view shared by many of her former fans. The latest news reports indicate that the Dixe Chicks are cancelling several concerts on their current tour due to poor ticket sales.

"Not Ready to Make Nice" finishes with Ms. Maines' hubris. She sings, "They say... time heals everything... but I'm still waiting," implying that her fans who abandoned her owe her an apology.

Based upon lackluster ticket sales, the dismal Billboard performance of the two singles released to date, and the continued boycott of their songs by a large number of country and western radio stations, the fans evidently are, in the words of Ms. Maines, "...not ready to back down, still mad as hell" and believe Ms. Maines and the Dixie Chicks are the ones who need to apologize.

The Dixie Chicks need to realize that they need their fans more than the fans need them, and that people don't buy their CD or go to their concerts to hear their political opinions. If they're waiting for an apology from the fans, they'll be waiting a while longer yet.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For...

This year, my sister-in-law expressed an interest in riding in the Seattle-to-Portland (STP), a one- or two-day, 206 mile bicycle ride between (obviously) Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. I've done the ride twice now, and last year my wife and my in-laws met me in Portland and we spent the next week vacationing on the Oregon coast.

I didn't want to push her into it, because I know how hard this ride can be, especially as one gets older. The first year I rode it, back in 2004, I hadn't trained at all and decided a couple of days before Why not? Let me tell you; 'why not' is one of those phrases that you pay for later, in spades. It was very tough, physically and especially mentally. There's nothing worse than being totally exhausted with 30 more miles to go, up hills and into headwinds. Last year I did train moderately and had several 50+ mile rides under my belt, and it was still hard. My Polar heart rate monitor showed that I burned over 14,000 calories in the two days; I believe it, because I was down over 2 lbs after a couple of days of recovery and full hydration. You simply can't eat enough to replace the calories you burn on such a ride.

Nevertheless, my sister-in-law was determined to do it, and so we went bike shopping for her in February, got her outfitted by early March (she picked up a Specialized Roubaix Elite), and we've been going on training rides since mid-March. All of this bicycling piqued my wife's interest in bikes again; we used to ride years ago before we got married but both quit for a while due to computer industry-related health issues (carpal tunnel syndrome) that made cycling too uncomfortable.

My solution to the discomfort problems was to go 'bent. I purchased my first recumbent, a Vision R32, back in 2003, and a year later bought my current bike, a Rans V-Rex. These short-wheelbase (SWB) bikes are very agile and fast, but also are different enough from a regular diamond-frame "wedgie" bike that there is a learning curve. Plus, unlike a regular bike, you cannot stand while climbing, meaning you have to spin, spin, spin! up hills.

To make a long story short(er), my wife saw how much fun we were having and wanted in on it. No problem I thought, and I went out and bought her some 1.5" slick tires for her mountain bike. They worked great, but the comfort issue was still there; she found cycling for more than 30 minutes uncomfortable and had the wrist and shoulder problems the next day that had caused her to quit years ago. What she needed was a new bike. So we went bike shopping.

She rode a SWB recumbent (a Bachetta Giro), and although she did well on it (she's very coordinated), it was different enough from a regular bike that she didn't want it. We looked at Rans' new line of crank-forward bikes next... and it was love at first ride. Although we both loved the Fusion, she realized that if she wanted to go for longer rides she needed the most efficient bike in the line, and chose the Zenetik. We've been going on rides for a couple of weeks now, whenever we can get someone to watch our son, and she's very happy with her choice.

Which leads me to the subject of this post: be careful what you ask for. My sister-in-law and I had made plans well in advance to get in a 50 mile ride early on Mother's Day so we could be back in time for the barbeque at their house. Then my wife threw a monkey wrench into our training schedule because she wanted to go on a ride, too, but not a long one. Okay I said, I'll ride on Sunday morning with your sister, and we'll get her to babysit while you and I ride Sunday afternoon.

Of course, things never go as scheduled. We got a late start on Sunday morning; I had to feed Las Tres Primas and fix my riding buddy's bike. A quick, and hard, 50 mile ride (with the last mile and a half being up a very steep hill) brought me home to one frowning spouse. Two granola bars and a bottle of Gatorade later, I threw our bikes in the back of the truck and off we headed for a local rail-trail (the Centennial Trail). A quick 10 miles up from Snohomish, yet another granola bar, and a quick 10 miles back.

By the time we got back I was pretty whupped, as they say where I was raised. Both sisters had no pity, and took great pleasure in teasing me about having to keep up with them. My reply: this isn't quite what I imagined when I fantasized about having two beautiful women arguing over who got to wear me out first.

I'm either going to be very fit, or very dead, in a very short while. As I said, be careful what you wish for....

Sunday, May 07, 2006

What If...

Whenever I have a problem that could be solved by more than one choice, I use the "What If..." method, as in, "What if I did this?" or "What if I did that?" I then look at the outcome, and use that outcome to rank my strategies, eliminate the losers, and then determine whether or not the solution fixes the problem at an acceptable price.

So, in an attempt to chase my blue funk away (a blue funk caused by the idiots running things), let's play "What If..." for a bit.

What if... Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives? Well, according to the Washington Post, Democrat leaders, joyfully anticipating just such a return to power through the combination of energized Democratic and disaffected Republican rank-and-file voters, are planning to use their regained authority to bring down the Bush Administration. How? By endless investigations and the filing of articles of impeachment. If the Democrats regain control of the Senate, then a conviction is a certainty.

What would this do to the country? I believe it would result in a civil war. The Democrats aren't looking for justice, just power, and as we learned during Monica Gate an impeachable offense is in the eye of the beholder. If the Majority Party has the political support from their base to impeach and convict, they will and whether or not justice is being done is irrelevant.

What would this do to our efforts in Iraq and elsewhere? That's a no-brainer. We'd be out of Iraq, and out of the Middle East, quicker than Teddy Kennedy could pull a twist-off from a bottle of Budweiser. The Iranians would move in almost as quickly, brutally suppressing any opposition, and replacing one form of dictatorial hell (Saddam's) with another. Iran would shortly thereafter control a swath of the Middle East stretching from Lebanon to the Pakistani border. They'd establish hegemonic control of the Gulf states via the threat of invasion. Israel would soon thereafter find itself fighting for its life, with Hamas leading the charge from the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah leading the charge from Lebanon. With no support from the US to fall back on, Israel would go nuclear, most likely after a first strike by the mullahs. What's that, you say? Iran doesn't have nukes? You're right... but Pakistan does and how long will the present government under Musharef last once we pull out of the Middle East?

What would this do to the War on Terror? Hmmm... an emboldened Iran, controlling 25% or more of the world's oil reserves plus the strategic chokepoint of the Straits of Hormuz, no US to oppose them, no counterbalancing Gulf states, the EU (as usual) as useless as ever... anyone want to bet that we wouldn't get another attack from a resurgent al Qaeda within a few years? Not to mention the hit we'd get from an Iranian-imposed embargo, or over $100-per-barrel price hike on oil, with all the money going to fund more weapons that will be used against us.

Here's my final "What If"... What If the Democrats actually cared more about doing the right thing than trying to seize power by any means available?

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Solving The Immigration Crisis

Yesterday, Hispanic immigrants (both legal and illegal) engaged in a multi-city organized effort (organized by leftist groups including International ANSWER and the Socialist Workers' Party, eager to support and exploit any cause that weakens America) to demand a relaxation of US immigration laws and for unconditional amnesty for illegal aliens.

The worst thing we can do at this point is to accede to their demands. However, this view is not universally held; news sites have been reporting the Senate is evidently considering another attempt at "revamping" our immigration laws (ht: Drudge Report). What is wrong with our leaders... of both parties??!!

This country doesn't need uneducated workers who are a drain on the social welfare system. This type of immigrant only benefits the exploitative employer, while the rest of us subsidize that employer due to higher social services costs. We may save on produce and landscaping, but we pay higher taxes.

What we need are, often times, the very workers who are disadvantaged by our immigration laws and policies. Here's one example: an Indian software engineer with a post-graduate education is severely restricted by our immigration policies. If she obtains a job in America's high-tech industry, she is locked into that one job and, if she wants a green card (permanent resident status) or US citizenship, the waiting period will be reset if her job title changes. That means she cannot switch jobs, and she cannot accept a promotion. She must work at least seven years at the same position, at the same company, before she can apply for a green card. Meanwhile, she must pay thousands of dollars each year in expenses to maintain her H1B visa, in fees to Indian companies to fill out paperwork and file forms, and in lost work time and travel expenses to return to India to visit the US Embassy in order to extend her visa.

Nearly all of the legal immigrants I know, especially the more-educated ones who want to become US citizens and who are following the rules, are incensed at the protesters, and the protests. They wonder why they should follow the law, especially when they think of the possibility of illegals getting a jump on the all-important green card, and they feel like fools. It's not a laughing matter; many of these people who are trying to obtain the American Dream the right way through hard work and education become clinically depressed when they realize that at least a decade of their lives must be spent 'on hold' in a stagnant career position if they wish to follow the path to citizenship.

My solution:

  • Build the damn fence, already!
  • (here's the big one) Change the law so that only children born to parents who are legally in the US as permanent residents or US citizens are themselves granted US citizenship.
  • Force state and local authorities to enforce existing immigration laws, or lose all federal funds. That means police must ascertain whether people are legal immigrants, must detain those who aren't, and must turn these people over to US Immigration for deportation. That also means that employers must be held civilly and criminally responsible for hiring illegal workers.
  • Allow legally-employed H1B visa holders to switch positions or employers without having to restart the waiting period for a permanent visa. This encourages educated, professional immigrants to become stakeholders, and eventually citizens, in the US.
  • Restrict permanent visas to those who have held gainful, legal employment for a period of seven consecutive years, and who have made high enough wages to be required to pay income tax, with an exemption for those who have served in the US military. Each day of unemployment adds a day to the waiting period, and unemployment for sixty days, or one hundred twenty days in two years, results in cancellation of your H1B visa and deportation. If you can't find a job, we don't want you.
  • Only US citizens can draw Social Security, but all employees must pay Social Security taxes. Legal immigrants' contributions to Social Security are credited to them upon achieving citizenship.
  • Once all of this is done, then we need to create a guest worker program so that foreign nationals can come for a limited duration to work in our country and then return to theirs.

We need to remove the incentives for illegal immigration and increase the penalties, and we need to make it harder to get away with.

The only question is, do we as a country have the decisiveness to pull it off? Or, have we lost the national will to insist that foreigners obey our laws, or leave?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Famous Last Words...

“I’m the only one in this room, that I know of, professional enough to carry this Glock .40.”

Those are the words of DEA agent Lee Paige immediately before shooting himself in the foot in front of a classroom full of at-risk youth during a drug education presentation. The video is here.

Mr. Paine is suing his employer, the DEA, and by extension the U.S. government, for “emotional and mental pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of reputation, loss of opportunity, loss of money, embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety.” From the video, it seems apparent that the only person to blame for Mr. Paine’s humiliation, embarrassment, etc., is himself.

My first question, after watching the video, was “What in the Hell was a trained law enforcement agent doing handling a loaded firearm in a classroom full of children??!!” My second question was “Why on Earth was this clown ever tasked with talking to children about drugs and guns?”

I watched Mr. Paige clear his gun. He walks off stage after he racks the slide, but I never see him withdraw the magazine. Obviously, all racking the slide is going to do is eject the chambered round, and when Mr. Paige closes the slide in front of the class he chambers the next round from the still-loaded magazine. Mr. Paige doesn’t visually or tactilely verify that the chamber is empty and the magazine is removed, nor does he bother to check the chamber again before pulling the trigger on his ‘assumed-to-be-unloaded’ Glock. Thank God he had enough sense to point it away from the children before he pulled the trigger, but I guess he didn’t care enough about his own personal safety to refrain from pointing the gun at his body.

Pride goeth before a fall; we’ve all done things that we wish we hadn’t. However, Mr. Paige did many things that he definitely shouldn’t, most likely because he was feeling a little too full of himself. We all know people like this, but when it comes to gun safety don’t be “that guy.”

Remember the Four Rules of Gun Safety:

• All guns are always loaded.

No one ever got shot with an unloaded gun, but many people have been shot with a gun that was assumed to be unloaded... including Mr. Paige. Treat every gun as if it’s loaded regardless of whether you just cleared it and you know there’s no way on Earth it could be loaded. The life, or foot, or embarrassment you save may be your own.

• Never point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to see destroyed.

If you value your TV set, or your friend, or your foot, then don’t point a gun at them. You can’t call a bullet back, and while you can replace a TV set and, perhaps, heal from a bullet wound, you can’t bring back life either, or recover from a crippling wound. Especially when dry-firing, or decocking an unloaded gun, remember Mr. Paige, and point that gun at something that doesn’t matter if it gets hit by a bullet, and that will capture that bullet.

• Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

Guns are like computers, in that they do what we tell them to do instead of what we want them to do. Pulling the trigger tells a gun to fire; touching the trigger is confusing to a gun... do you want it to fire, or not? Don’t confuse the gun, or yourself. Don’t touch the trigger unless you are sure that activating the firing mechanism is okay and the gun is pointed at an appropriate target (backstop, target, bad guy) so if it discharges no harm is done.

• Be sure of your target, and what is behind and beyond your target.

Is that a bad guy you’re getting ready to shoot, or your teenage son who stayed out a little late and had a few beers? Is your hunting partner on the other side of that bush the pheasant is flying past? Where will that bullet end up if you miss your target, or if you hit your target and the bullet penetrates? Know where your bullet will end up before pulling the trigger... or don’t pull the trigger.

All of these rules are simple, the simple distillation of six centuries of bitter experience. Break any one of them and you’re likely to inadvertently discharge your firearm. Break more than one and you’re likely to kill someone, or yourself, when you inadvertently discharge your firearm.

Accidents are the result of a chain of events that end at the incident. Break the chain and you prevent the incident. Mr. Paige broke two of these rules and ended up with a battered ego and a painful injury. He was lucky. Don’t count on luck.

If I were Mr. Paine, I’d quietly abandon my lawsuit, and work within the Law Enforcement community as an evangelist for gun safety. I’d use my misfortune as a learning experience so others wouldn’t make the same mistake. Mr. Paine was a high school and college football player, deputy sheriff and DEA agent, a physically big man... and he needs to be a bigger man and accept the responsibility for his problems.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Thousandth Woman: Dana Reeve 1961-2006

I saw the news report about the death of Dana Reeve earlier this week, and was shocked and saddened. Fate never went halfway with the Reeve family, nor did it give them a break.

They were two people who had everything: fame, wealth, athletic good health, career success, a happy marriage and a healthy child. And then, one day, you go out to ride on your horse the way you've done it for years, and you don't ride back home because you've fallen and broken your neck. You'll never ride, or walk, again. You're stuck in a wheelchair, a prisoner of your useless, paralyzed body; what was once finely-tuned muscle and bone is transformed into so much useless meat. You don't even have the ability to take your own life. You are totally at the mercy of others.

I understand that, sometime after the realities of the situation sank in (he was doomed to live a few years at best, as a quadraplegic with many health problems, any one of which would most likely kill him sooner rather than later), Christopher told his wife Dana that she should end their marriage, take their child and the vast majority of their assets, and try to start her life again with someone else. She reminded him of their wedding vows of "for better or for worse," turned down his offer, and stuck with him to the end.

Kipling's "The Thousandth Man" begins, "One man in a thousand... will stick more close than a brother." Finding someone you can truly count on in life is that rare, but by all indications Dana Reeve was that "Thousandth Woman." Rest in Peace.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Mental Gumbo

I haven't blogged as much as I should be, so here's some ponderings that have occupied thirty seconds here or there recently, all thrown together.

What on Earth is up with those Muslim idiots who are rioting all over Europe and the Middle East because of a few cartoons lampooning Mohammed? Don't they realize how ironic it is for people who protest the depiction of their Prophet as a man who encouraged violence to go around rioting and threatening violence? I guess if the shoe fits.... And what is up with the Iranian government lauding a newspaper contest that lampoons the Holocaust? Do they think the Jews are going to start burning down embassies in Tel Aviv, or have large protests in Miami Beach or Westchester? I know a few Muslims and, to a person they're appalled at this behavior. When will the rest of the Muslim world grow up? (When the rest of the civilized world stops indulging them and instead tells them this behavior will not be tolerated. What's up with Britain allowing Muslims to march with signs that incite violence? Why weren't all those Muslims arrested?)

I really felt for President Bush and his wife Laura, having to sit there quietly at Coretta Scott King's funeral while Jimmy Carter, the man who is really trying to ensure that Bill Clinton is not the most ridiculous living ex-president, a man whose performance as president was so woefully lacking, and so widely recognized, that he carried only one state in his contest for re-election, a man whose bumbling put the Ayatollahs in power in Iran and allowed North Korea to develop nuclear weapons unimpeded, impugned his judgement and character. Of course, you have to consider the source: Jimmy Carter loved Yassir Arafat, praises Hugo Chavez, and respects Fidel Castro. On second thought, maybe having Jimmy Carter insult you is a sign that you're doing something right. Question: how do you know if something is a good idea? Answer: If Jimmy Carter is vehemently opposed to it.

I haven't commented on the sordid Senate performance during the Alito confirmation, and this week's hearings on the NSA terrorist surveillance program is equally distasteful. Two months ago the Democrats were giddy with expectations of taking control of at least one house of Congress; today all of that joy has turned to ashes. They haven't got a snowball's chance in Hell of regaining political power at the federal level, and they realize it, and so do their large donor supporters (that's why the DNC has $5 million in the bank as opposed to $35 million for the GOP). But they don't understand why. Sure, they realize that America doesn't trust the Democrats when it comes to national security, but they just think it's a perception problem... that if people really knew in their hearts how the Democratic Party leaders really cared about national security then everything would be okay. They just don't get it, and I believe they're psychologically incapable of 'getting it.' That's why the Republicans, despite their screwups, will most likely win even more seats in both the Senate and House. Remember, you read it here first. What about the Abramoff scandal, you ask? That's going to die down, because the Republicans have Kryptonite in the form of two simple words: "Harry Reid." Glass houses and all that....

How about New Orleans? Mayor Nagin's on a roll... first declaring that the city must remain "chocolate" and then threatening to get aid from other nations, among them France. Someone needs to get the recall petition drive in high gear before the Mayor makes even more of an ass of himself... if that's possible. The Democrat-controlled city and state governments deliberately held back food and water to increase the suffering of those trapped at the Superdome immediately after Katrina in the belief that it would motivate them to want to leave New Orleans as quickly as possible without resistance... and they got what they wanted in spades. Here's what Nagin doesn't seem to understand: you have a lot of "chocolate" ex-New Orleaneans who don't want to go back because what they left wasn't all that great in terms of quality of life, opportunities, or respect. They've lost everything, and this seems like as good a chance as any to start over somewhere, perhaps in a city where they're not stereotyped as "chocolate" and can aspire to something besides low-level service jobs in the tourist industry. It will be decades before New Orleans recovers, if ever. And, by the way, if Nagin is waiting for France to bail him out... well, just ask Saddam what happens when you place all your hopes in the French.

And finally, Iran. What can I write about Iran that I already haven't (here and here)? A showdown's coming, because Iran wants a showdown. The ayatollahs really think we'll fold when the pot gets too big; in fact, they're counting on it. They don't understand America, and Americans, and George W. Bush. The Chinese thought we'd fold, too... and lost a million men including Mao's son in a year's combat in Korea (that's why they didn't get involved in Vietnam). Saddam thought we'd fold, twice. I can understand the first bluff, but after we totally kicked his butt in 100 hours one would think he'd learn not to underestimate the Americans. Didn't he also realize that, while the French and Germans could be bought, George W really didn't give a fig what they thought? And, the jury's still out on WMDs, by the way. I think he had 'em, and either they're still buried (likely) or that the Syrians got 'em (likely). Saddam didn't have tens of thousands of chemical weapons suits and nerve gas antidotes stockpiled for nothing.

Back to the subject at hand. Iraq is going to do their durndest to get a nuke as quickly as possible. The lesson they learned from the two wars in the Gulf and watching North Korea was that the only way to keep the Americans out of your country was to have a nuke to threaten us with. But, they don't get it either. The very thing they're trying to stop (us attacking them) is what they're provoking. They don't seem to understand that the US, now joined by the EU, realizes that if Iran is allowed to develop a nuke without serious consequences, then every dirtbag country with a two-bit dictator is going to want one. The West has drawn a line in the sand, and we have to stand up now and back up our words with actions or accept the fact that backing down means we will suffer a nuclear attack in the near term.

In my opinion, things are going to get worse before they get better, but sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Thank God I was born in America!

Friday, February 03, 2006

How Important is the Lens?

If you're into photography, like I am, you will notice that photographers have a tendency to get tempted into believing that the quality of one's equipment has a direct correlation to the quality of one's photographs. Like golfers who are sure that breaking 90 is just a matter of picking up the latest and greatest set of clubs, or who marvel at Tiger Woods and then run down to buy the titanium driver he used to eagle at the Masters, many photographers invest several thousand dollars in expensive cameras and glass in the belief that only equipment separates them from making photographs that will have "National Geographic" beating at their door.

I think this is mostly a male phenomenon, and it is seen widely at sporting good stores, at the Snap-On Tool truck, and at gun shops. Men, as opposed to Man, seem to have a lust for tools that you just don't see in women. I plead guilty as charged; I like fine mechanical objects, and have a variety of expensive gadgets from custom bicycles to beautiful shotguns to expensive fly fishing reels. None of these make me a better cyclist, shooter, or fisherman (none of them make me worse, either). All of them give me extra enjoyment of the activity. It's just nicer to ride along listening to the sound of a well-made derailleur clicking away, or to shoot a round of sporting clays while looking at a beautiful crotch walnut stock, or to pull line from a silky smooth reel.

I've never known a woman who really cared one way or another about her tools. As long as they were functional, they were good enough. The women I've known also don't seem to take care of tools, whether it's being careful to use wooden or plastic utensils with non-stick cookware, knocking the dirt off of gardening tools so they don't rust, or even maintaining a car. I fully expect my fine tools and toys to outlast me, and to look as good decades from now as they do today; any sort of tool or utensil that my wife also uses inevitably ends up dying a premature death from neglect or abuse. It's not a matter of ignorance, either; how many times do you have to replace a skillet before you figure out that using a metallic spoon to stir sauce is suboptimal? Or that screwdrivers and chisels, while superficially similar, are not to be used interchangeably and that neither is a substitute for a hammer. Even a disposable razor displays the difference; the man's lives on for a week or two, being rinsed out carefully with hot water so it dries without rusting, while a woman's is left inside a damp shower and corrodes to dullness in a day or two.

But I digress... back to the subject at hand.

When it comes to photography, 90% of a photograph is the subject and composition. If your images are crummy, then it's probably not your equipment. As the saying goes, "a poor craftsman blames his tools."

However, that remaining 10% is the image quality, and if it isn't there, the 90% is worthless. For example, there are a lot of moon shots on the Internet, taken with a variety of different cameras and lenses. Some are obviously much better than others, and since the subject is a glowing object surrounded by black, composition isn't much of an issue. What is the difference? Image quality.

As we all know, image quality is affected by several things, including the film/sensor size and resolution, the resolving capability of the lens, and the photographer's technique as applied to steadiness, proper exposure, and proper focus. I have found that the secret to obtaining 'good' images is a tripod, a quality lens stopped down a couple of stops, and careful attention to composition, focus, and exposure. Given that everything else is the same, better lenses make better pictures.

How much better is 'better'? Well, I for one can see the difference between my Sigma 18-50 DC 'kit' lens @ f/8, and my Sigma 50/2.8 EX pro-level lens (or my Pentax SMC Takumar 50/1.4) at f/8. The prime lenses are noticeably sharper. The same was true when I compared pictures from my 55-200 DC 'kit' lens @ f/8 and my 70-200/2.8 EX pro-level lens at f/8. You can see the difference that better optics make, even though it's a small difference. (As an aside, I've looked at a couple of full-sized images from Sigma's new 18-125 DC lens, and while the focal length range is compelling, the lens just isn't as sharp as the EX series. It would be great for snapshots... if you're into snapshots... which I'm not.)

Now, I will further qualify 'better' as being a noticeable improvement. Even though the images from the better lenses look better on the computer monitor when viewed full-size, when I make 5x7 prints it's darned hard, if not impossible, to tell the difference. However... I didn't buy my SD10 dSLR to make 5x7 and smaller prints. My personal standard of a 'good' image is one that looks good when sized and printed to at least an 8x10.

Post-processing is important, and it is surprising how much a marginal image can be improved, but nothing beats an image that was 'good' at the moment the shutter closed.

I am also a competitive marksman, and shooting and photography have one thing in common; average shooters occasionally make a good shot, good shooters can shoot up to the capabilities of their equipment, and great shooters are limited only by their equipment. If you aspire to be great, don't let your equipment be the limiting factor when it comes to the quality of your performance. Buy good (not necessarily expensive) lenses!

And, for Pete's sake, take care of your equipment!