Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I'm Tired of these Motherfucking Snakes in my Motherfucking Desert

I've had two snake encounters with the dog so far this spring and summer. So I got a pack of CCI shotshells. They are designed for killing snakes and other small pests, and have 1/8 oz of #12 shot in the form of 230 pellets. You can fire them from any 9mm pistol, including my Glock 26. From the dispersal patterns I've seen, this round will play perfect hell on a snake at 5 feet, and still kill it at 10 feet. Beyond 10 feet, I don't feel the need to kill a snake just for being a snake. Beyond 15 feet this round is pretty much harmless, which is good for not hurting other hikers.

Glocks are famous for always working no matter what, but these rounds won't cycle properly in any automatic pistol, even a Glock. But they will feed and and eject in my Glock if I manually rack the slide, I tested that today. That means I can clear a jam in a few seconds, especially if I am expecting it as I will be. Good enough. Plus, if I can't hit a snake with one shot from a mini shotgun at 5-10 feet I probably deserve a nasty bite, and it would be my own fault for going where the snakes are.

The real mission here is to prevent Phoebe from getting bit; dogs can easily die from a rattler bite. Humans almost always survive.

With the failure to feed/failure to eject issues, this type of round cries out to be used in a revolver, which I want anyway. In case I can't rack the slide on the Glock, I can always fire a revolver with my remaining good hand, presuming I have one. And what better revolver than one that fires shotgun shells, .45 Colt, and .45 ACP?

I handled that gun today, a Smith & Wesson Governor when I was picking up these 9mm snake rounds. It's a lot lighter than the crap Taurus Judge that it copies and improves on, and has S&W build quality. It takes six .410 shotgun shells, .45 Colt, or .45 ACP or any combination of those. So it's great for snakes with a light .410 load, and loaded with these wicked Winchester PDX .410 rounds, alternating with normal 000 buckshot, this looks like a perfect weapon for dealing with a home invader. I know I would go for the Governor loaded that way first for that fight, backed up by bigger magazine pistols if it turned into a longer thing.
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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Philbrick's "The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn"

It's all over now except for the finger pointing, and me reading through the notes that are almost a book on their own. I've finished this great read from Nathaniel Philbrick, and it's on a par with his Mayflower. This is a more challenging subject, because no one really knows what happened to Custer's wing, or battalion as they called it.  All we know for sure is that they all died, some by their own hand. "Save the last bullet for yourself" was a cavalry maxim during the Indian wars. But Philbrick does a good job in speculating about the Last Stand, based on good evidence.

The campaign against the Sioux in 1876 was conceived and executed by some of the American Civil War's (ACW) most effective leaders - Grant, Sheridan, Terry, Crook, Gibbon, Custer, and others.  Most Americans probably know who Grant was as a general, and that he was president of the United States. Few know who Gen'ls Sheridan, Terry, Crook or Gibbon were. But I'd bet that if you asked a typical American about Custer's Last Stand, they'd have at least an inkling of what happened at the Little Bighorn. And they'd know nothing of how Custer planned the battle, how he split his command, and how two-thirds of his forces  failed to execute that plan. I didn't know these things before I read this book.

Part biography of each important player in this story, part who shot who, when, where, and why, this book tries to explain the character of the people involved. And it succeeds. From the lowliest cavalry private, to Grant; from the mentality of young Indian warriors eager to prove their courage, to Sitting Bull, a political as well as military master, to Crazy Horse, the Patton of his day; to Custer - that rare thing, a successful, hyper-aggressive leader (but aren't all successful leaders aggressive?).

Philbrick does explain the character of these men in wonderful detail, and, while not pulling his punches, these are sympathetic explanations. Even Major Marcus Reno, commander of one of the three battalions Custer split the 7th Cav into for the attack, and who blatantly disobeyed his orders, is given a fair treatment. A fair treatment still leaves Reno looking pretty bad, as it should. Reno's Monty Python's Holy Grail-esque "Run Away!" retreat from the western valley that he later characterized as a "Charge" is damning, particularly since he never actually carried out the attack on the village, stopping short to conduct an indecisive, out of range demonstration that accomplished nothing but to bring a lot of Indian warriors his way with bad result.

To be fair, the situation Reno's wing found itself in after this poor deployment was more than many in Reno's command could bear, Reno included. As is often the case in extremis, leadership fell to subordinates with natural abilities, who stepped up and did their best as their appointed leaders did nothing of substance. Lt. Luther Hare's actions are worth investigating, as are private Thompson's.

Custer's other battalion commander, Captain Benteen, doesn't fare much better, although he does salvage his hapless superior officer Reno's tactical mess when he arrives on scene, and can be credited with saving their two wings (Custer's wing was killed to the man, as you know). But Benteen is certainly guilty of purposefully moving slowly, in an effort to undermine Custer's plan for the attack. Philbrick can't rehabilitate Benteen despite Benteen's oft-demonstrated ability as a tactical commander; the eveidence is too strong against the man at the Little Bighorn.

At the end, Custer rode into the huge Sioux/Cheyenne village expecting similarly audacious and aggressive coordinated attacks and support from his subordinate commanders, but there was none of that to be had on June 25, 1876, from Benteen or Reno.

We expect to see from others our own qualities, and expect from them our own reactions to events, and this was, I think, Custer's undoing. He knew his subordinates Reno and Benteen hated him, which they did, but I think it was impossible for Custer to conceive that they would not do their duty, and I think that he fully expected that they would charge in with him. They didn't, because they weren't at all like Custer.

Custer's mistake of judgement was that he expected his subordinate commanders to be more like him than they had the ability to be, had they even wanted or intended to do what what Custer had ordered that day.

I could write more about this great book about a complicated battle, but if you've made it this far I'm certain you'll read it yourself. I'm going to read more and try to figure this out. There is a lot of source material out there.

But I don't think we'll ever know for sure the details about the demise of Custer's wing.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stuffed Quahogs a la Pojoaque

The market during an unfortunate zombie flare-up

Bucatini al a Matriciana from Babbo
Our local grocery store, the Pojoaque Supermarket, is no Wegmans, but it's a short walk or bike ride from our apartment, and has what I need for several dishes I make. They have delicious enchiladas on their hot lunch bar, a huge selection, half an aisle, of salsa red and green, mole and other sauces, dozens of different brands of tortillas, lots of pork with fat so it actually tastes like pork, all kinds of things you'd expect in a store where on most days when I go there every customer is speaking Spanish.

In their tiny selection of pasta, I'm amazed one day to find bucatini, used to make Bucatini al a Matriciana, a dish I'm usually forced to make with spaghetti, since even big markets back east rarely have bucatini. But tiny Pojoaque Supermarket has it, every day. Go figure.

Another oddity in a store with maybe one-third the number of items of a normal sized supermarket is clam juice. Pojoaque stocks two kinds, one a gourmet type from Maine that the Boston Globe called "The Sea in a Bottle". And there's not even a single fish market in all of Santa Fe.

Next thing you know, we discover canned cherrystones in Trader Joes. Cherrystones are usually eaten raw on the half shell, but they are nothing more than young quahogs. And what do we do with quahogs? We stuff them, that's all you can do with the big tough things. I can't do my normal stuffed quahog recipe, but I can certainly do something with these ingredients.

Since I can't steam these canned quahogs to get them to release their delicious juices, I buy two bottles of the Pojoaque clam juice. I use bottled clam juice in my fish chowder, it's good stuff. It turns out the canned clams have about a cup of very good clam juice too.

There's certainly not even one big quahog shell set here, so I'll use muffin tins. Everything else is the same as my east coast recipe except the quahogs. Being that they are central to the recipe, I wonder how it will turn out.

The stuffing (Pepperidge Farm Herbed, the one kind the market has, and the best one for this recipe) calls for two cups of liquid, but I give it half a cup more because it's going in the oven to crisp up.

Trader Joe's Whole Cherrystone Clams are really more the size of littlenecks, that is, smaller. No matter. I turn them into stuffed quahogs, and cook them up.

Verdict: Very good. Less intense than live quahogs, but well worth the 30 minutes of prep.

Friday, July 06, 2012

It's a Wild World

Once, when I was surfing at Nauset beach as a boy on Cape Cod I noticed my fellow surfers all catching not necessarily good waves and belly-boarding in to the beach. All of them. This was because a big shark was swimming down the line of us, deciding in turn whether each us was a surfer or a seal. I finally saw it coming and in to the beach I went, on my belly, and I didn't get the nerve to go back out for a good while.
bethany hamilton and white shark

The swallows that nest around here have fledged their nestlings, but they all can't really fly so well yet. We came upon one on our morning walk that couldn't get airborne and escape, and the next thing you know Phoebe is being attacked by a couple of swallows.

That night, as we're walking on our paved walking trail that's ostensibly part of the civilized world, Kim came up one step short of stepping on a non-venomous snake of some kind. Scared her, scared me. Rather than take a long detour, I scared him off from a distance and we pressed on.

Then in the paper today a front page story about several incidents of people hiking in the Santa Fe ski basin with their dogs being attacked by single coyotes, and in one case a women and her dog were surrounded by four coyotes and had to fight them off with her hiking stick. Good for her.


Me, I'm starting to feel like I need to carry a S&W Governor with me, loaded with shot for the snakes, and .45 ACP for the coyotes.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Cool Photographic Technique

I use Picasa as my ordinary photo tweaking tool. It's not Photoshop, but it does do stuff.

Now I only do photography for fun, so I've been fooling around with some of the transformations available in Picasa. This one is called "Orton-ish", after Michael Orton's slide overlay work. His stuff is more complicated than what Picasa does to mimic it, but it's still way cool. At it's simplest, it's stacking slides of the exact same shot, but of different sharpness to make a composite image. You can google Michael Orton if this technique  interests you.

I'm old enough to have tried Ansel Adams "dodge and burn" techniques in the darkroom. He was a better photographer and printmaker than me, so it worked great for him, less so for me. I mention this because I have no problem with using whatever tool is available to change a photograph. We all shoot a bit wide and then recompose by cropping, although I know one photographer who consistently composes brilliantly at shoot-time. I'm not that good and never will be. But why not use anything to create the image you imagined when you shot it? The craft of making a photograph is the craft, but the pre-visualization of the image is the real work, the hard work. I know I'm not there yet, but I keep at it.

So here's how Orton-izing a couple of photos I like went.

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As Above, So Below

In January, walking our dog with our friend Catherine (who has a chow, wow) we discovered a dog that was being kept locked in a car. Catherine said she had seen it left in there for three days as she walked her dog past. I called the tribal police. They got Santa Fe animal control on scene who freed the dog, and when the owner came rushing down from his apartment, protesting that he "had just put the dog in the car a few minutes ago", the animal control officers gave him a ticket and a summons to court for animal abuse, based on my story. The dog owner was pretty pissed off at me. Too bad.

Fast forward to April. I'm walking the dog a couple of days ago, and our route takes us past the same location, where I see the same dog locked in a pickup truck. I call animal control and the tribal police - it's hot here now, 80's that day, and we needed to get the dog out of the vehicle before it died.

The same guy from the January incident appears and verbally assaults me. He knows who I am, and that I ratted him out back in January, and also now. I stand my ground, he gets in his truck and drives off, flipping me off and cursing me.

As I read The Right Hand Of Command I'm reminded of my time under the command of Cabalists and how they stressed physicality and control of our bodies to us neophytes, in addition to all the book reading. I hated exercise and physical work back then, and was a bad candidate for advancement beyond Man of the Earth grade as a result. (I've since escaped their control)

Physical courage isn't my strong suit, but the confluence of reading about command and control, remembering the phrase "As Above, So Below", and thinking about how to manage my ability to defend myself unarmed got me thinking about the physical side of things. You can't carry a gun in my pueblo, and that hamstrings me as far as defense against assholes like the dog guy goes. So I need an alternative. I have one.

Right now I am really liking exercise, for several reasons. It feels good doing it. I feel better and stronger as a result of the resistance work I do. I can walk a long way. My upper body strength and hand grip strength is improving.

So resisting a physical assault from the dog guy who hates me doesn't seem like much to worry about. I still can carry edged weapons in the pueblo, but I don't don't feel like I'd need them to stave off a simple physical, weaponless assault. Getting stronger every day is a good thing.