Saturday, March 28, 2020

TV: Elizabeth I

The coronavirus pandemic has left me with a lot more indoor time than usual, and while I don't have any problem with the content on your average streaming service (hey, it's "The Rocketeer"!), I do try to get in at least a little education with my binge-watching. That's what drew me to "Elizabeth I" on PBS - it's part documentary, part costume drama:

Co-written and hosted by historians Dan Jones and Dr. Suzannah Lipscombe, the three-part series touches upon the Virgin Queen's early life, her political struggles with Mary, Queen of Scots, and (of course) her triumph over the Spanish Armada. Lily Cole does a pretty good job in the lead role, all furrowed brows and pursed lips, but the focus is squarely on the history; there's more narration from the hosts than anything else.

One caveat - this is a Channel 5 production, so the darker parts of Elizabeth's reign (brutal tactics against Catholic Irish rebellions, for instance) are only lightly touched upon.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Books: Queen of Katwe

In the grand scheme of things, the temporary sacrifices Americans are being asked to make due to COVID-19 are pretty minor: getting takeout instead of dining in, watching Netflix instead of going out on the town, seeing Grandma over FaceTime instead of visiting. Anyone who thinks the country's current semi-quarantine is at all a hardship should read, "Queen of Katwe," an extraordinary story about an unlikely chess champion.

The book is nominally about Phiona Mutesi, a young Ugandan chess prodigy who becomes a Woman Candidate Master, but it's really about the people living in the Katwe slum, one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest countries in the world. The conditions in Katwe are almost unimaginable - no electricity, no running water, starving on streets filthy with raw sewage. Yet Phiona, her coach, her mother, and the many other hardscrabble folks the book describes fight through each day nonetheless. If they can continue on in a country where 20,000 people die of AIDS each year, having enough toilet paper seems like a small worry.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Pandemic Playlist, Part 3: Music

If you're staying inside to stop the spread of COVID-19, you'll need entertainment, so I've put together a "pandemic playlist" of disease-related media for your consumption (of course, while this list is lighthearted, do please heed the health and safety recommendations of the WHO and CDC).  Anyway, it's time to kick up your feet and relax with some plague-related tunes...

"Down with the Sickness" by Disturbed

This track fittingly played during the end credits of Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" remake, and it's also on the playlist of my local Krav Maga gym. As I understand it, it's one of the band's signature tunes. Aside from the chorus, the lyrics honestly don't have too much to do with infection, but whatever.

"Bat & Pig" by Cliff Martinez

I'm most familiar with former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez from his moody soundtracks for Nicholas Winding Refn's films ("Drive," "The Neon Demon").  It turns out, though, that Martinez has actually worked with Steven Soderbergh more than any other director, including his throbbing synth score for "Contagion."

"The Last of Us" by Gustavo Santaolalla

Coronavirus or not, Naughty Dog devs are reportedly crunching nonstop for "The Last of Us Part II," so it's a fine time to reminisce about the first game. A big part of what made "The Last of Us" special was its music - the title track, covered above by Taylor Davis, starts out small but builds to a plaintive crescendo befitting Joel and Ellie's cross-country trek through a fungus-infested America.

"Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley and the Wailers

The best part of the film adaptation of "I Am Legend" is the first half hour or so, before CGI "Darkseekers" and Alice Braga ruin the conceit of Robert Neville being the last man on Earth. The best part of that first half hour is this quiet scene with a diegetic play of Bob Marley's classic reggae track.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Pandemic Playlist, Part 2: Movies

If you're staying inside to stop the spread of COVID-19, you'll need entertainment, so I've put together a "pandemic playlist" of disease-related media for your consumption (of course, while this list is lighthearted, do please heed the health and safety recommendations of the WHO and CDC). Here are some movies to watch while you hunker down:

12 Monkeys

This is easily Terry Gilliam's most commercially successful film, and it's not hard to see why: you've got a star-studded cast (Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt - heck, even Christopher Plummer) and a pleasingly baroque time travel tale about a man forced to choose between salvaging a future devastated by a killer virus, and the literal woman of his dreams. You could say it doesn't end well, but really, it doesn't end at all...

Day of the Dead

George A. Romero's "The Crazies" is certainly a better fit for this list, but it's not half as good as Romero's third Dead movie, "Day of the Dead." Originally intended to be the "Gone with the Wind" of zombie flicks, budget constraints trimmed the story and cabined the setting into a dreary underground lab, where desperate scientists try to find a cure for the undead plague. While not as good as "Night" and "Dawn," "Day" is still fun since it has the most over-the-top characters and lines of the entire series (yes, even including "Land of the Dead," which has a character played by John Leguizamo).


The tips for fending off the coronavirus are a lot more straightforward than the cryptic advice doled out in "Pontypool," a very low budget, very Canadian horror movie that does a good job of riffing on zombie movie tropes. The film is about a radio shock jock (played by veteran character actor Stephen McHattie) who finds the world crumbling around him due to a mysterious virus - to say more would be to spoil the surprise.

Links: Blogroll Update

Gun Culture 2.0 - Wake Forest professor David Yamane's blog covers the sociology of the modern American gun culture, one centered around concealed carry and self-defense and less around hunting, due to the ever-increasing urbanization of our country. This is content you just won't find anywhere else, so if you're tired of caliber wars and reviews of the newest Blastomatic 2000, stop by Professor Yamane's place and grab a seat.

Swift, Silent, Deadly - Most of the gun blogs you read are authored by people who don't have any practical experience in teaching people how to fight with a gun (this blog most definitely included), but "Swift, Silent, Deadly" is different. The author (a DoD instructor) writes posts that are designed to impart quantifiable knowledge, not just platitudes and anecdotes.

The Perry Bible Fellowship - Growing up, one of my favorite comics was "The Far Side" by Gary Larson. TBPF is a modern take on the concept - just as surreal, but gorier and bawdier thanks to being freed from the shackles of newsprint. Creator Nicholas Gurewitch regularly pushes the envelope of both taste and art (cf. the current strip, copied above and posted in the midst of the coronavirus crisis), and the results are usually worth a chuckle.

A Pandemic Playlist, Part 1 - Books

If you're staying inside to stop the spread of COVID-19, you'll need entertainment, so I've put together a "pandemic playlist" of disease-related media for your consumption (of course, while this list is lighthearted, do please heed the health and safety recommendations of the WHO and CDC). We'll start with some good old fashioned books:

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton: After I read "Jurassic Park" at a way-too-young age, I took a deep dive into Crichton's oeuvre.  One of my favorites was "The Andromeda Strain," a sci-fi thriller about a group of scientists who race to contain a deep-space microbe. The science is less believable than "Jurassic Park" (the titular microorganism breaks the laws of physics in several ways), but the story builds to a pleasing crescendo.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman: Out of the many, many post-apocalyptic books out there, "Bird Box" perhaps best replicates our current plight - there are no zombies or aliens breaking down our doors, only an invisible and inscrutable killer spreading around our communities, forcing us inside. The book got a big-budget Netflix adaptation starring Sandra Bullock, but the semi-ridiculous premise (everyone who sees some mysterious something goes homicidally insane before committing suicide) obviously works best in print. 

The Stand by Stephen King: The Mack Daddy of all plague books, and for good reason - it presents a memorably nightmarish world devastated by "Captain Trips," a bioweapon superflu that kills 99.4% of the human population. I remember working through a phone book-thick paperback copy in middle school with the cover depicted above, and marveling at the foreboding ending in the expanded edition.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Miscellany: Notes from the D-Dey Response "Emergency Life Saver" class

It had nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic/hysteria that's sweeping the globe, but I did take an emergency medical course from D-Dey Response Group, a veteran-owned and operated company that connects experienced instructors (basically all former military and/or fire rescue) with the general public. Here are some notes from the half-day trauma class:


Are you safe when treating the patient? You can't rescue anyone if you become another casualty, and there's a fine line between "hero" and "stupid." Protective measures can include anything from wearing gloves to taking cover.

Get Help

Call 9-1-1, or make sure someone is actually doing it.

The MARCH Algorithm

Massive Hemorrhage

You can black out from blood loss in as little as 30 seconds...maybe less.

Stopgap measures - use hands, knees to apply direct pressure to or above wound. Frees your hands up to return fire or open your medical kit.

Arterial bleeding - bright, red, spurting. But venous bleeding is life threatening, too. Internal bleeding can't really be dealt with out in the field.

The CAT Tourniquet: Apply high and tight, avoid joints. It's gonna hurt when applying.

To apply:

1) rip apart the packed tourniquet and tighten the loop around the limb
2) secure free end to the "C" holder
3) tighten windlass until the bleeding stops
4) run excess material through the "C" holder
5) TIME... and keep checking that it's tight

Self-application - manipulate it so that you pull inward toward your chest. Bulky clothes may interfere with the tourniquet, but water does not; works fine while diving.

Leg application - you will probably need to undo the loop, slip one end underneath the leg at the knee, then "saw" the tourniquet strap up. Works better than trying to slip the injured leg through a closed loop.

Junctional bleeding: armpits, shoulders, groin/pelvis, neck, etc.

Celox Rapid is recommended to pack the wound. Can also use Curlex, an ETD bandage, a cotton shirt, etc.

1) make a wad with the hemostatic dressing first
2) push it on the wound in the direction of the heart
3) keep pressure on it, thumb over thumb, and fill the void with material
4) should not feel sponge-y at the end, should be a tight wad...push on the dressing, and if blood oozes out, wrap more on it.

Technique for bandaging armpit or neck wound:

Airway and Respiration

Stopgap here is hand over chest.

Slap on a chest seal.

Don't take anything impaling out unless it's occluding airway.

Recovery position:


(This step is where medical personnel start putting blood back into the body. For the average citizen, it's more of a chance to reassess and check for other wounds)

Are they pale, lightheaded, or cold? May be internal bleeding.


Blood loss makes you cold, even in warm environment.

Keep a space blanket or other stuff in your kit for warming someone.

Treating a Patient under Stress

Auditory occlusion

Loss of fine motor skills

It's okay to take a breath

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Guns: Cumberland Tactics Tactical Handgun 101 - "Randy, I can't wait to take your advanced course"

I learned a lot from the Cumberland Tactics Carbine 1 course, so when I had the chance to take Tactical Handgun 101 with instructor Randy Cain a couple years ago, I jumped at it. Here are my notes of the class:


The first thing Randy emphasizes is that there are no "advanced techniques" - only fundamentals applied skillfully under pressure. The joke Randy gives is that people always want to take the "advanced course," but there is no such thing - the basics of getting a good sight picture and pressing the trigger smoothly apply everywhere, and will win gunfights on the battlefield or on the street with the right mindset.

The class starts with a detailed safety briefing on each of the Four Rules, including how they apply to the range's outhouse ("All guns are always loaded"...especially with your pants down):

Randy shows several ways of press-checking a pistol, which sounds trivial until the first time I duff a range drill because I forgot to load my gun before stepping up to the line. For the class, I use my full-size stainless steel Dan Wesson Valor 1911 in good old .45 ACP, Wilson Combat and Chip McCormick mags, and plenty of Winchester 230 grain hardball:

The first morning teaches gunhandling in a deliberate, systematic fashion. You learn little tips like touching the front of the top round in a magazine with your left hand to ensure that it's seated all the way back, using the end of your thumb (the bony part) to hit the mag release, and inserting the mag carefully one inch into the magwell, and then pushing it up fast the rest of the way.

Randy runs some diagnostic shooting demonstrations with the class, with the ultimate goal being the "compressed surprise break" and clear front sight picture necessary for good marksmanship. He tells a story of a shooting he was involved in, a "suicide by cop." The man was shot at 23 times (9 hits and 14 misses) by several police officers at conversation range, yet there were no Hollywood squibs and no big red bloodstains on his shirt. The moral of the story: the only indication of where the rounds are going is your sights, so you better see them when you shoot.

Randy goes through the ready positions, including why he doesn't like the center chest ready (sweeps too much) and why the "Sul" position is not a ready position, but a hack for Brazilian cops with no holsters.

We cover reloads, including the "tactical reload," as it's not a good idea to throw out mags with good ammo in them for no reason. You never know how long your gunfight will last (think Mogadishu). I find the relatively thin 1911 mags are easy to hold between the fingers and dump into a pocket for later use.

As the day wore on and we got more comfortable, we added movement, including the "step and slide" (sort of feeling your way on the ground with your feet) and shooting on the move (don't run, keep the knees loose, heel to toe, but not too slowly - if you're moving that slowly, you might as well stop and shoot).


Like Tom Givens and every other great trainer I've learned from, Randy emphasizes precise, surgical hits - either to the chest between the armpits, to the nose and eye sockets, or to the pelvic girdle.

Much of the day is spent teaching and refining the drawstroke. Randy teaches a standard 4-count stroke - 1) firing grip, 2) draw up to retention, 3) bring the hands together, 4) push out and take up the slack. We count out and back, again and again ("ONE! TWO! ONE!"), trying not to "porpoise" the gun. According to Randy, five minutes of drawstroke and dryfire practice at home per day will do more than hours of banging away rounds at the range.

We cover some prone pistol shooting, which is not something I get to do very often. Randy teaches Chapman rollover prone, where your left foot hooks behind your right knee, your hands are on the ground, your head is on your bicep, and your natural point of aim is centered on the target:

Speed reloads are covered briefly, and in on-the-numbers fashion - 1) finger on the release, left hand on the spare mag; 2) dump the mag in the gun while beginning to insert the fresh one; 3) seat the mag and reacquire the grip. The rhythm for the three steps is FAST-SLOW-FAST.

Randy covers clearing malfunctions, but says he hates teaching the subject since it's a bit boring. We cover the standard Type 1, 2, and 3 malfunctions using the standard tap-rack-ready method, but there are other types that you can't clear (a catastrophic parts failure, etc.). We end the day with a fun man-on-man plate rack competition.


Randy promised us to cover flashlight use, and he does so on the final day, including tactical reloading with a flashlight (you curl your hands like Spock) and the downsides of using a flashlight lanyard. We then move on to lateral movement and various cadences of fire, as well as shooting deliberate pairs (3 sight pictures), dedicated pairs (2 sight pictures), and hammers (one sight picture).

We cover shooting from retention, which Randy says is a "hammer solution" to a "screwdriver problem" (you are better served with close quarters empty hand skills). You either shoot in retention, or out of it, but not in-between, since you need a consistent body index point.

The last portion of the class is a mindset lecture, which is hard to capture in a blog post but probably the most important part of the class. Randy goes through an abbreviated version of Jeff Cooper's Principles of Personal Defense, sprinkled with some of Randy's war stories from his law enforcement career. Randy discusses eliminating the useless mental responses to a violent attack - "Is this really happening to me?" and "I can't believe this is happening to me" - in favor of decisive action.

Better to be the grandma in the Luby's cafeteria who made a half-assed plan to run than the war hero who froze behind cover. Above all, you cannot fight halfheartedly - what is it going to take to stop this guy, and remember that they will finish you if you don't finish them. Having confidence in your skills can help you maintain your cool, but you don't and won't react the same way in a future fight, no matter how many people you've arrested or how many fights you've been in.

All in all, it was a great class, and highly recommended for anyone interested in using a handgun for self-defense.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Miscellany: 2020 EDC

For 2020, I'm changing around some of my everyday carry tools based on the training I've received in the past year. For example, instead of carrying a spare magazine for my handgun (which is only useful in incredibly rare situations), I'm making a concerted effort to carry medical gear like tourniquets and hemostatic gauze.

From left to right:

Keys (with Leatherman Squirt PS4 multitool, Fisher Trekker Pen, and Maratac AAA flashlight) - I lost my Rambler to an overzealous security guard at Universal Studios, so I replaced it with the Squirt. It's more useful since it has pliers and scissors, but it's also quite heavy (2 ounces) and bulky.

SOF Tactical Tourniquet (Gen 3) in PHLster Flatpack tourniquet carrier - I think the C-A-T tourniquet is easier to use, especially with one hand, but it's too bulky to carry on the belt for me. In contrast, this setup fits in at about 10 o'clock, right to the left of my...

ShivWorks Clinch Pick in Dark Star Gear sheath - In my experience, extracting and opening a folding knife while you are grappling, either standing or on the ground, is unlikely.

GLOCK 43 in Blackpoint Tactical Mini Wing IWB holster - I usually carry appendix nowadays, but this gun and holster combo works too well to ditch.

Surefire E1D LED Defender - A discontinued model; if you want something similar, look at the EDCL1-T or the E1B Backup.

Leatherman Skeletool - Slightly duplicative of the Squirt (I never need two sets of pliers), but it's one of the few five-ounce mulitools with a pocket clip, so it gets carried a lot.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Books: My top books of 2019

As Shangrila Towers passes into the futuristic year 2020, I'm recapping my top picks from 2019. Note that these titles weren't necessarily released in the past year, but they're what I happened to enjoy in 2019 - you might like them too...

The Last Policeman - This was one of several speculative fiction books I picked up from my visit to Powell's in Portland, Oregon. Author Ben Winters's premise is killer - an asteroid will obliterate the Earth in six months, prompting the semi-breakdown of society as people quit their jobs and go "bucket list," join apocalyptic cults, or fall into despair. Amidst this chaos, a rookie homicide detective investigates a hanging that everyone else assumes is a suicide. Of course, the case has more than meets the eye, but does that matter, when everyone will be gone soon anyway? If you like existentialist sci-fi dread mixed in with your crime fiction, this is a good read.

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems - This is the third nonfiction title from xkcd creator Randall Munroe, and it functions as the inverse of his first book, "What If?" - rather than present a ridiculous situation and try to explain the consequences with real-world physics (e.g., what would happen if you had a mole of moles), "How To" presents a common situation and applies a roundabout, Rube Goldberg-esque solution that would "solve" the problem under physical laws, but which would be insane in practice (e.g., skiing by hooking up snow machines to blow snow in front of you).

Frozen Hell - This is an expanded version of John W. Campbell, Jr.'s classic novella, "Who Goes There?," working in several opening chapters unearthed from draft manuscripts that Campbell had sent to Harvard. I think the expanded version is actually worse than the original (Campbell wisely excised the opening for pacing reasons), but it's still well-written, and I liked seeing how one of the greatest sci-fi editors of all time ruthlessly revised his own work.

Concealed Carry Class: The ABCs of Self-Defense Tools and Tactics - I really got a lot out of my pistol class with Tom Givens, and this book repeats and condenses a lot of the material Tom teaches in the class and previously wrote about in his book "Fighting Smarter," except this time with high-quality photography and more professional editing. It's not perfect (some of the statistics Tom mentions are a bit suspect), but the core of the book is excellent and grounded in his decades of experience as a law enforcement officer and trainer.

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