August 26, 2006

Definition : Mushin

Mushin no Shin

Translated : "Mind of no Mind".

Originating from Japanese modes of Zen thought, Mushin is a state where actions occur without a thought being required. It is best known for martial arts training, and most references to 'being like water' on the silver screen are related to it, whether the author knew it or not.

While Mushin is most often described and noticed in combat states - likely due to the increased awareness during such things - it can be cultivated and maintained in other areas. In fact, it often manifests in abilities as basic as computer typing and food prep, although such "Everyday Mushin" is often ignored as mundane.

August 24, 2006

Media : Embryonic Stem Cell Research

I'll keep this short, as I have neither the morality to state right or wrong, nor the knowledge to give sermons.

Today's media swarm has noticed an older study showing that embryonic stem cells could be produced without destroying the embryo. In many ways, this is the 'Golden Apple', with all the benefits of totipotent stem cells without the moral muss and fuss of.

Or at least it looks this way, or close enough for the vaunted Instapundit and many other bloggers and all members of the mainstream medias. Unfortunately, there still remains no free lunch.

All stem cell treatments have one major problem, the possibility of host-versus-graft disease, where the immune system fights against the injected cells. It can result in cellular damage, rejection of the donor cells, scarring, and in some cases, death. This results when donor cells are significantly different from those of the host. In bone marrow transplants - the first adult stem cell treatment - this occurred with as small a difference as one genetic base pair off.

This is not an insurmountable problem, but the solutions are far from simple. The most obvious one is also the reason that the ethics of embryonic stem cell research are far from cut and dry : simply make stem cells that match the host genetically.

Doing so will require either accepting therapeutic cloning - farms of embryos produced and destroyed to provide the subject cells - or reproductive cloning, with the same farms producing 'child' after 'child' with inherent cellular degradation.

I can't say if this is right or wrong. But I can say that it leaves ethical issues left to be discussed.

Communityism Vs. Self-Reliance

While I will try to avoid bringing events from my work to this blog, today just bugged the hell out of me. Names have been changed to protect the innocent stupid.

I was working in a vent pulling out decade-old thicknet and, low and behold, a "Priority One" call for tech support to paged in. This isn't rare - at least once a week we get a mid-level manager that doesn't quite understand that his computer needs electricity to work, or a secretary who deletes some of the wrong data. It's usually a nice, quick fix - nearly nine out of ten issues we run into are OSI layer 1 problems : loose cords or no power - and you don't want either of the above waiting.

This specifical call came from a break room, which typically means some type of wireless connection problem. Today wasn't typical, and there weren't any laptops or PDAs in the break room.

Instead, I viewed a nice fire.

While The Company provides styrofoam cups and plastic spoons for our usage (praise the evil overlords and their free caffeine!), it's not unusual for these to be depleted by noon, and as a result, most people bring their own containers. One individual, faced with cold coffee and nothing but the insulating mug she brought and a microwave, decided to combine the three.

Metal, combined with plastic, in a microwave, can lead to some interesting results. This particular situation lead to a small fire which melted the cup completely, and lit several napkins also in the microwave, at least the parts that weren't wet from the drink.

I grabbed a plastic spork, parted the crowd staring at and debating the molten plastic, tossed the whole melted mess in the sink and turned on the water, then stumbled back to work.

So, other than the hidden lesson about keeping a knife concealed unless you need to use it, what's the point of this story? Putting metal in a microwave is a bad accident, but it's just an accident.

Two grown women and five grown men, all of whom had not only graduated from high school but also had a college degree of one form or another, when confronted with a problem with a simple solution, couldn't figure it out in the time it took me to cross half a building. The sort of puzzle that Wile E. Coyote figures out after a stunned two or three seconds. Why did this stumble them so?

I'm not a student of the human mind - I barely have one to call my own. These are smart people. They're certainly smart enough to figure this out. This is Ohio, far from a bastion of either political side, and there was no overwhelming disparity of gender or race. Why?

Communityism. Or, to be more exact, they stared at each other and all, at the same time, asked what the others thought would be a good idea.

When did self-reliance, the ability to solve your own damn problems and only asking for help after you've tried yourself, go the way of the dodo? Why is there this psychological need to disperse potential failure or success across the whole group?

Who started it? I'm sure the schools and both political parties had a part, but they're only means, not an end.

Can we stop this sort of thinking?

August 22, 2006

Laws : Can't Carry Money?

Although not a recent event, the Emiliano Gonzolez's case in the Eighth Circuit Court and resulting decision are well worth the attention of you or I.

The short and ugly truth is that a Mr. Gonzolez, without being charged or convicted of a crime, and without a preponderance of evidence or even proof that a crime had been done, was stripped of his private property permanently under the force of law. For carrying too much money and confusing a police officer, Mr. Gonzolez had 124,700 dollars confiscated. Outside of tortious action, he is not expected to have the currency returned.

In fact, Mr. Gonzolez never went on trial : the actions of the courts were against not he, but 124,700 USD in U.S. Currency.

An obvious violation of the Constitution, 18 USC 242, and common decency. Spread the word, and hope that we can get this sort of vile act stopped. Hat Tip to Xrlq, saysuncle, and countless others.

August 09, 2006

Media : McCain - Feingold

While I'm hopeful that those reading this blog have seen this elsewhere, it doesn't hurt to repeat for emphasis.

Two caveats : first, your ad must brush against McCain-Feingold (by naming a candidate up for election within 60 days), and, secondly, sanity test pending. Yes, I'll even take a Brady Bunch ad or something from PETA, just has to be safe for work and otherwise be 'normal' outside of the timeframe.

McCain-Feingold isn't the single most unConstititional law on the books today. I'd have to give that to the "Violent Crime Control" act, which pretty much tried to erase not just the 2nd Amendment, but also all of the 1st and parts of the 5th. However, McCain-Feingold is not just evil, but also has vast and deep support from the conventional media, who love the potential it holds for further journalistic shield laws for "defenders of free speech" like Al-Rueters, and the ACLU will not consider it dangerous until it is far too late.

If this is going to be stopped, it must be done by those who will benefit most from free speech : the normal populace. The media doesn't want us normal folk stepping on their turf. The politicos love having a huge advantage in any race where the opponent doesn't have major name recognition to start with. And big lobbying groups aren't willing to waste the millions they've spent on grooming a candidate just to help the little guy.

August 08, 2006

Self-Defense : Why Not "Non-Lethal?"

It's not unusual for a gun or knife nut to be asked the question. Coworkers, politicos, or friends, who think that defending yourself with lethal force

So, why not?

  • "Non-lethal" weapons aren't. Chemical sprays can be deadly to individuals with asthma. Tasers have killed people with preexisting heart problems, and multiple applications in a short period of time can do the same to healthy individuals. Blunt weapons can break bones, or, again, kill. That's why manufactors of these tools are trying to get the name "less-lethal" to stick.
  • They aren't always, or even often, effective. Blunt weapons and chemical sprays disable through the application of pain - eventually an opponent is overwhelmed and will do something else to make the pain stop. As a result, they are not effective on those that won't register pain, such as drunks or druggies. Tasers require a conductive surface, and as a result, will 'bounce' off those who are. Low-voltage tasers (under 200kv) will only incapacitate an opponent for seconds, while high-voltage tasers are increasingly risky.
  • Control is significantly more difficult. A can of CS spray can be knocked out of your hands very easily, even in situations where a gun would not be. Many touch tasers sacrifice their grips for increased concealability, and thus you risk tasering yourself. Comparatively, an opponent trying the same thing to a blade will end up ginsuing their own fingers.
  • Legally speaking, using a less-lethal weapon such as CS spray or a taser is battery with a dangerous or deadly weapon depending on state. Use is justified only as self-defense if your opponent has the ability, opportunity, and capability to cause significant harm to you. In short, by the time you are justified in using a less-lethal weapon, you probably need to be using a gun.
So, you pick up a less-lethal weapon and you now have a tool that is not perfectly adapted to your plan of use, at more personal risk, and negate no legal risk. Did I miss anything?

The biggest danger is that individuals will use non-lethal weapons as toys. This is already a significant problem in the police forces, where nearly a hundred individuals have died after the use of tasers, in some situations where the use of force was not justified.

That's not to say less-lethal weapons don't have a place. They're a good option to have. But they can no more replace a gun or knife than a Post-It note can replace a notebook or computer.

August 06, 2006

Media : Civil and Human Rights

Another day, another article where these two differing terms are used as synonyms.

Human Rights are rights which result simply from status as a human. They are free, and apply regardless of citizenship or argueably age. In fact, human rights can not be earned, given, limited, or revoked. They can only be recognized or (in the case of abusive governments) infringed. Human rights usually consist of understood common law, and as a result aren't given much attention -- since everyone knows about them, they're not debated or discussed.
Which human rights are recognized depends greatly on location and politics, but examples include the right to freedom of speech, or the right to self-defense.

Civil Rights are rights that are given by the government to inhabitants, as part of an understood or signed social contract. Typically this only includes citizens, although some other legal inhabitants are given similar social contracts. Civil rights are naturally limited : while you have the right to vote, you only have the right to vote once for a specific election issue, and can be required to register beforehand. While you have the right to not be discriminated against at a job due to race, gender, or other attributes, this right does not extend to those who have violated their social contract in the past.

Those who intentionally confuse civil and human rights do so in order to reduce the understood value of human rights. An attentive reader will note that such people often discuss how the Constitution gives rights stated in the 1st or 2nd Amendment.

Possible reasons, such as to turn all human rights given by nature and the human mind into civil rights dependant on the government, are not very pleasant to think about.

August 04, 2006

Serving the World at the UN

Or, at least part of it.

This image is copyright of Jed Babbin's Inside the Asylum, from 2004.

Blades : Blade Snap Open

Blade Snap Open, ocassionally known as the New Jersey Open or the New York Open (why does NY get all the good moves?), is one of the two best known techniques for opening a folding knife with one hand. The technique is fairly basic, although it can be dangerous to practice - a training knife (knife with an ultradull, non-cutting blade) can be purchased for very little cost and is recommended for those who are new to this technique. Citizen's Arrest is not responsible for any damage caused while working with knives.

The first step is to pick up a closed folding knife by the side of the blade. Ideally, you should do so between the thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand, as far from the knife's joint as possible. Get a very tight grip, and try to get as much of your thumb's surface on the flat of the knife as possible. While holding the blade tight, flick the knife down with your wrist, as hard as you can while still keeping your grip. You will end up with an open (and ideally locked) blade. By shifting back to your last three fingers, you can easily translate to a grip that is useful for slashes and stabbing motions, although it does leave your first two fingers exposed.

The blade snap open usually works best on knives with heavy handles and light, well-exposed blades. It is useful to pick a blade with an easy-open stud or hole, preferably between one inch and two inches from the folder's joint.

This technique has some benefits compared to the better known 'wrist snap' open. It's faster, and even if you don't get the necessary momentum to get the knife completely opened, you still have a functional pointy object (as opposed to the flat of the blade a 'wrist snap open' results in). It is very easy to pull a knife from complete pocket concealment regardless of orientation without having to shift your grip. And as a majority of knives have lighter blades than handles, it is usually easier on those with less wrist strength.

It also has some costs. If you don't have the hand strength, you can drop your blade or cut yourself doing this, both of which are very bad things (and why I recommend doing this with training blades first). It is very hard on the blade and locking mechanism. While you won't destroy a decent blade doing this, try it too often and you will add to normal wear and tear, shortening a knife's lifespan or adding 'play' to a previously secure lock. The New York Drop can also cause some to confuse a basic folding knife with a switchblade or gravity knife, and as a result, isn't recommended for use around police or known KFWs.

The blade snap open is fast and reliable, making it an excellent choice for use in utility situations, and while it's usually not as good as the wrist snap open for self-defense situations (as you do not keep a natural grip nor the full length of the blade available), it still has its uses, and is certainly worth knowing.

Guns : Defending the SoBs

Small of Back and Middle of Back carry, a form of concealed carry where the gun is holstered right above the base of the spine, gets a lot of flack. The GunZone seems to house the single most commonly quoted complaints about this choice, but the same general complaints have been stated elsewhere to no end.

I won't deny that the complaints can be valid. Small of Back carry is not the fastest draw, and for those in good physical shape, it is not as concealable as most forward IWB carry. Bending over can result in significant printing. And I can't deny that it doesn't provide much in terms of protection against theft of firearms.

But many of these issues can be countered, and many benefits of small of back holsters are ignored in such debates.

For example, there are ways to safely draw and holster a gun from the small of back position : take up a tucked in Weaver stance and you never have to point the barrel anywhere but downrange or at the ground next to you. This is little more dangerous than the alternative waistband holsters, and less so than examples like pocket holsters or (both of which point the barrel directly at flesh when being holstered). With skill, they can be made significantly less dangerous than offside carry, which I've found it near impossible to draw without swiping a good third of the location or dislocating your shoulder.

I find it to be a very strong concealment solution. With a loud Hawaiian shirt, a loose blouse, or a long suit jacket, the gun remains covered fairly well, and does so without unusual printing. As long as you bend with your knees, the most significant printing I've seen is no worse than a cell phone.

The risk of injury during a fall, I will admit, does exist, but is fairly exaggerated for normal carry. Normal civilians aren't likely to start brawling with another human - in the situations which justify a criminal knowing about your gun the least of your worries is being knocked backwards. With larger guns, the majority of pressure goes onto the buttocks and lower left side. Smaller guns can easily be placed at a 5 or 7 O'clock position on the waist, removing the issue entirely.

But Small of Back carry has advantages to make up for these faults or the time spent to counter these faults. SoB can hold guns that are too large to conceal on the side or even wear. It supports weight evenly on both legs, again an advantage for larger gun carry. Another big advantage is that is draw is not as hugely telegraphed as conventional side and front draws. While a strong side holster is so well known for its draw that many knife instructors warn against carrying there (or risk being seen as drawing a gun), drawing from a small of back carry is nearly identical to pulling our a wallet.

It is not a good method of carry for those who are planning to sit in a car for hours. I wouldn't suggest it if you can reliably conceal and comfortably carry the same gun in a strong side holster. But it remains a valuable choice that many are far too willing to brush over.

The above is an editted version of a post from the day before, which I realized was far too confrontational.

August 02, 2006

Media : Lasers and Laws

In today's news, a young man by the name of Anthony Pepe allegedly decided to point a laser at a police helicopter, temporarily blinding the pilots. As you might guess, he's been arrested. Interestingly, some news services, all getting their info from Associated Press, seem to be unable to figure out what for.

The Seattle PI (screencap) and Yahoo News (screencap) suggest that Anthony earned "charges of reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon".

Newsday (screencap) and ABC7 (screencap) seem to feel differently, that Mr. Pepe has only earned charges of "reckless endangerment, menacing and unlawful use of a laser pointer".

The story itself is minor - this is not the first nor most significant time it's happened. To a degree, the fact that a laser pointer, even a powerful one, is being considered a weapon is worthwhile, but this is New York, where a shoe or a knitting needle can be a weapon.

The ease with which an incorrect assumption can spread through the big media, despite the delicate checks and balances, is fun to observe, though.

Glossary : Tip Up/Tip Down

Tip Up
Tip Up describes a folding knife with a pocket clip on one side which, when set down with the clip facing away from the table and the joint to left side, will have the closed blade on the top. When clipped on a right hand pocket, a Tip Up knife will have the blade forward and the handle back.
[edit : August 6th, 2006]
Tip Up is also used to describe folding knives which have a clip on the opposite end as the knife's joint, so that when clipped into a pocket, the knife's tip will be at the top of your pcoket. This is often very fast to draw, but can be dangerous if the knife is not very secure when closed.

Tip Down
Tip Down describers a folding knife with a pocket clip on one side which, when set down with the clip facing away from the table and the joint on the left side, will have the closed blade face downwards. When clipped on a right hand pocket, a Tip Down knife will have the handle at the front end of the pocket, and the blade at the back.

For those who are right-handed, a tip up knife is faster to draw, particularly for blades too light to effectively wrist snap open, and incredibly fast to blade snap open. They are, however, much easier to cut yourself when drawing the blade. A tip down knife is easier to draw, but requires much more commitment of momentum, as well as being dramatically slower for both blade snap and wrist snap opens.

For those who are left-handed or store their knives in the left-hand pocket, the above applies in reverse.

Blades : Linerlock

When picking a folding knife, a big concern should be the existence and quality of a locking mechanism. No fear is more common among new knife owners than that of chopping their fingers off by closing the knife wrong. A good lock will prevent that from occurring in any circumstance. Note that some areas do regulate the carry of locking folder knives, as they may be considered straight knives (such as in the United Kingdom).

The most common type of true locking blades I see today is the 'linerlock'. It's not quite as simple as the lockback or as secure as a framelock, but it is fairly inexpensive and reliable. And, unlike the ubiquitous slipjoint, a well designed linerlock is secure enough to be used without risk of removing digits.

A linerlock knife snaps open a piece of the liner (the metal care the knife normal rests in), usually through spring or metal memory action, to lock the tang and shoulder of the blade in place. The linerlock is then shut back by pressing the liner back in place by the frame and applying pressure to the knife. This can be done fairly easily one-handed, although for safety's sake, I suggest doing so very carefully until you've mastered it.

How do you look over a linerlock?

First, ask if the knife's current owner would mind. It's just polite : you don't handle someone else's property without permission.

Second, look the knife over. The blade should open smoothly, with no grainy spots or strange points of higher resistance. Linerlocks should make an audible click sound when opened - this is not just a safety feature to tell you the knife is or isn't locked, but also a sign that the lock is opening instantly. When closing, it should make a similar sounding, if softer, click. The blade should not show any lateral movement no matter the position, and when locked, should not move at all. If any of the above are not true - it doesn't "walk and talk", or it has significant play in the joint - put it down and walk away.

Next, grab the knife between the thumb and forefinger of your non-dominant hand (as if it were a pen) with the blade pointed upwards and the joint right next to your thumb. Carefully open the blade with your dominant hand, and lock it open. Keep the path of the blade, were it to close, clear. Press gently but firmly against the spine of the knife, and watch the linerlock for any deformation. You shouldn't see anything significant, even in beat knives.

Finally, after you're sure the knife is satisfactory otherwise, lock it open. If possible, find a magazine or pull out your wallet, if not, the arm works. Continue holding the blade by its sides, and keep your fingers outside of the blade's path if it were to shut. Gently rap the spine of the blade with your magazine or wallet, or against the back of your arm. Don't hit anything hard: a bad linerlock will either fail with a small amount of pressure, or you'll be fine with it until you're reaching forces where the metal is about to break (at which point the knife's condition is not going to be at the top of your list, compared to the condition of your fingers). This is called the "spine whack test", usually attributed to a Joe Talmadge.

For the last two tests, be gentle. A lot of force there can be very hard on your blade even when it survives them - the majority of folding knives are not intended for use as hammers. For all normal situations, you do not need to know the strength of a lock, only that the knife's lock is reliable. A knife that will pass the above tests won't close on your hand when a bad slip causes your hand to hit a wall or board, and won't slam back on you should you need to thrust with the blade. It even mirrors a majority of the typical counters to a folding knife, such as a koppo stick to the spine.

A good knife doesn't have to be expensive, nor can you assume that an expensive knife will be good. Only by testing can you feel secure.