Carry Knives

Via Insty, there’s this interesting article about the proper knife to carry on one’s person, and how to carry it, etc., with all the caveats about legality and such.

However, the writer’s basic premise is that nobody should leave home without carrying some sort of blade, and it’s a sentiment that I wholeheartedly support. Honestly, I’ve been more likely to forget my 1911 than my carry knife, especially when I’m in a dead hurry. Hell, I’ve forgotten my wallet but still had a knife on me. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to use my blade just in the past year, whether it’s cutting fruit (often) or a stick of dried meat (very often), or cheese (almost every other day, on the way back from the supermarket when the urge to taste the cheese can be overwhelming). And, of course, there’s always that stubborn piece of knotted string, or an over-wrapped package that needs a little coaxing.

As to which blade, of course, we are going to have all sorts of interesting discussions, you betcha. I have two favorites, both presents from The Mrs. from her various business trips: a beautiful Al Mar “Secret Service” from Tokyo, and my favorite folder of all, a Julius Herbertz from Ahrweil, Germany. Here they are, top to bottom as mentioned:

Here’s the thing: I’m aware that the Cold Steel this and the Gerber that are probably “better” knives than these two in terms of fighting or survival or whatever. I don’t care. If there’s going to be a fight, I carry a 1911 for that purpose; and in a survival situation, one razor-sharp blade is going to be pretty much as good as another.

I prefer to carry beautiful knives; and in my opinion (and remember, beauty is the ultimate subjective opinion), the Al Mar with its simple yet elegant pointed blade, and the Herbertz with its swooping edge are more beautiful than any Cold Steel / Gerber knives ever made. Here’s another pic of the Herbertz which shows off its walnut grip a little better:

In any company, that’s a knife which frequently draws ooohs and aaaahs from people who appreciate fine cutlery. (I apologize for the picture quality, by the way; I’m still getting used to the smartphone camera instead of my old Canon, which was already packed for the move.)

And I refuse to apologize for the rather battered state of my carry knives. They may be beautiful, but they have to work for me — which is the ultimate criterion for any tool, right?


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My Friends, Part 1: The Yanks

Today is the day I finally move out of the Plano house where Connie and I spent the last dozen or so years of our lives together, raised the kids into adulthood and ran two consultancies as well as my blog and our podcast. We loved the place — actually, Connie found it in the online listings, loved it, ran through the numbers to make sure we could afford it, then found us another house to look at first just so I could say that I preferred the second one, and she could get the one she wanted in the first place. Sneaky? No, respectful. She knew that as much as I respected her judgement, I’d want to be part of the decision-making process, and she engineered the thing so we could both get what we wanted. Did I care when she later confessed her little subterfuge? Of course not; on the contrary, I was grateful for her consideration. And I wasn’t the only grateful one: for the first time in their lives, the kids were living in a house that wasn’t rented, and it gave them a solid grounding and foundation — a place to call “home” — at last. And they flourished.

Now they’ve all left home, and Connie’s left as well. And finally, we get to the point of this post.

The generous people who have contributed to my GoFundMe appeal have helped me take care of many of my outstanding financial obligations stemming from Connie’s medical condition, and at least my financial condition is no longer the looming disaster it was — THANK YOU. I know some of you quite well — we’ve met in person, even if just briefly — and of course there’s been that relationship with my Loyal Readers developed over many years. (As one Longtime Reader put it when I wrote to thank him for his large donation: “Let’s just call it a late payment on all those years of enjoyment you gave me with your old blog. Now get going on the new one.”) What the appeal has done has taken the burden of financial ruin away (mostly, anyway; I’ve got a little way to go still — if you haven’t been there yet, please consider it). But I have to tell you all, the incredible and generous response to the appeal has lifted my spirit beyond measure, and the horrifying prospect of utter destitution has been staved off. Thank you all, again.

Then we have my close friends.

I have spoken of these friends in the past, and it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that without them, I have no idea what I’d have done in the dreadful month following Connie’s death — or, for that matter, what I’d do with the rest of my life altogether. I’m going to list my closest American friends first — we’ll get to the Brits in another post — and use their online handles to spare them any embarrassment (and if you know their real names, please avoid using them if you go to Comments). They have been astonishing — “they” being Doc Russia, Combat Controller (CC), and Trevor (my South African buddy of over thirty years). They’ve called me daily with sympathy, support and advice, and sometimes just to check up on me, despite their own hectic schedules, and if I’ve called them in varying stages of despair and melancholy to bleat out my woes, I’ve never hung up the phone at the end without feeling better, more hopeful and less lonely than when I dialed.

We all know the part about actions speaking louder, right? CC and Trevor both live in Austin, but they come up to the Big D fairly often, and always spend time with me.
Trevor canceled a business trip (to Tokyo, I think) to be with me the week after Connie’s death, and helped me with the funeral home arrangements as well as with countless other painful details.
CC has been a voice of commonsense in financial advice — in my fucked-up state I would have made some appalling screwups  without him — and on more than one occasion his level-headed analysis has saved my bacon.

And now we come to Doc.

When the oncologist gave us Connie’s final, dreadful diagnosis, Doc told me in no uncertain terms that he was not going to let me move into some tiny little apartment and stare at the wall all day and night; instead, he told me (and I mean ordered me) to move in with him for a whole year so he could help me get through this horrible shit storm that was going to be my life. Clearly, he knew better than I how much Connie’s death was going to devastate me, and he was not going to allow bad things to happen to me. (He’s divorced, so there’s no wifely issue on me moving into his house.) When I feebly protested his overwhelming generosity, he basically told me to shut up. “I work long hours in the E.R., and it’ll be good to have someone look after the place. Also, when I go on my African safari in the spring, that means the house won’t be empty. And in any case, I’ll always have a hangout buddy, a companion to go shooting with, and a drinking partner when I feel like going to the bar. Believe me, there’s no downside to this.”

So today I move not into the apartment I rented in downtown Plano — Daughter’s living there and paying the rent until I’m ready to claim it back — but into the guest suite in Doc’s house.

As I said earlier, I’ll get to the Brit contingent in a later post; but it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that Doc, CC and Trevor have literally saved my life, in just about every sense of the word. They have been friends in need, and friends in deed.

“Thank you” can’t even begin to cover it.


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Not That I Care, But

According to some smart guy, here’s how you know that you’re genuinely intelligent:

  1. You learn from mistakes
  2. You read for fun
  3. You can argue from multiple perspectives
  4. You think before you speak
  5. You don’t care what others think.

Well, duh.

  1. If you don’t learn from your (and others’) mistakes, then at best you’re like the socialists, who never acknowledge the failure of their pet philosophy, but keep on repeating it in the vain hope that this time it will work. It’s also one of the main reasons I’ve always studied history, especially European history, because they’ve made more mistakes than just about anyone else — or at least, they wrote about their mistakes, unlike some African societies I could mention.
  2. Anyone who doesn’t read for fun had better have a decent excuse, or be thought stupid. When we homeschooled our kids, three hours’ reading a day was mandatory. Now they read more than I do, which is a little scary. This is why when I see the moronic expression “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) in any forum, my response is inevitably “ts;dd” (too stupid; don’t debate).
  3. If you can’t argue from perspectives other than your own, then you’re going to lose the argument. Every single one. Knowing the other guy’s thoughts is critical to rebuttal.
  4. Gotta say that I don’t always think before I speak. Generally, however, that’s in response to an insult or a threat; in genial discussion, I always consider not only the words I’m going to use, but the effect they may have on others, just out of politeness. This is true when I’m with friends; with strangers, I’m a lot less careful.
  5. Guilty as charged. I found out that caring about the opinions of others makes one too vulnerable, and it also makes one’s writings and arguments less compelling. Not caring also makes one impervious to insult, which is why all those screams of misogyny and racism hurled at me by liberals and other twerps had (and have) no effect on me whatsoever. I especially love it when they call me “stupid”.

This doesn’t mean I’m “genuinely intelligent”, however. It’s just wisdom learned from experience, which I guess is just an encapsulation of all five points. No intelligence necessary, just common sense.


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Mourning Has Broken

I wish. To turn the passive into the active, mourning has (almost) broken me.

Here’s the thing. I’ve always been a strong man, both physically and mentally. I lost my own father at age twenty-one and in retrospect, got on with life with the callousness of youth to help me overcome the loss of the man who helped guide me through my tormented adolescence into young adulthood. I’ve been a rock to friends when they’ve been in trouble, and was always the first to open my big mouth or use my fists when I saw some kind of injustice. And I brought security and peace to Connie who, despite her own strength and toughness, was fearful of men because of her own troubled background. I was always, in other words, the tough guy, the independent guy who bulled his way through life and did it all by himself, if no one else wanted to join in the fun.

What has disturbed me the most about mourning is that it has weakened me so much. For the first time in my life, I’ve come across a situation that overwhelms me, and although I’ll survive it, there are times when I frankly don’t care if I do or not. I’m not being melodramatic, either. There are times when I just want to curl up in some lonely corner of the world and never leave, let the whole fabric of my life crash and burn, the hell with it all. For the first time in my life, I truly understand the situation of hobos and tramps, the people who just say “Fuck it,” and leave society, to sink themselves into drunkenness and drug addiction because the pain of everyday existence is just too much to bear. These are not people who willingly drop out; these are people who are pushed out by the demons inside their own head — and for the first time ever, I too have those demons in my head.

But that passes. I have discovered that apart from the responsibility I have to my family, my friends and all the other dear people in my life, I have an even greater responsibility to myself — that stubbornness which says, “You can’t just walk away from it all, and you can’t escape it either. So… waddya gonna do, Tough Guy?”

There’s really only one thing to do:

I hope so. If I survive this thing it’ll be through my sense of humor, although believe me, right now I have absolutely no desire to laugh. When that comes back, then I’ll know that morning has broken.

 


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Oglaf

A Loyal Reader was scanning my blogroll over on the right, and sent me an email with a single question: “WTF is up with that Oglaf link?”

I discovered the Oglaf cartoon series on one of my several Intarwebz Wanderings, blown hither and yon by random electronic breezes and brain synapses — you know how it goes.

I think it’s as funny as hell — if I could draw and was interested in the fantasy genre, I’d do something very similar to Oglaf, only with more boobs.

Be warned: it’s as racy as hell, and funnier than Hillary Clinton getting her tits caught in a blender. I love it.

…and if you’re wondering what a “throwing anus” is, you’ll just have to find out in the series.


Update: The link was to the very first cartoon in the series, instead of to the new daily one. Duly fixed. Thankee to Alert Reader eatonrapidsjoe for pointing it out.


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Great War Rifles (Again)

[Note: please forgive me for re-publishing this old piece. The past week has been absolute hell — I thought I was going to pass out from exhaustion from all the house-clearing-out activity, and a new post just didn’t suggest itself in time for publication. That said: of all the hundreds of posts I’ve written about guns, this is my favorite.]

 

May 19, 2007
2:00 AM CDT
We know all about WWII-era rifles, and of course the more modern ones. But let’s step back just a tad earlier, and consider the ones from my Grandfather’s generation: the bolt-action rifles which functioned, and functioned superbly, in the mud of Flanders and Verdun, in the deserts of Mesopotamia and Palestine, and the snows of Italy, Austria and Russia. I’m not going to look at all the rifles used, just the principal ones.

Germany

Of course, the Mauser K98 needs little introduction to any longtime Reader of these pages, but its precursor, the Gewehr 98 (or Model 98, as it’s sometimes called), was an excellent rifle by any standards, even modern ones.

The Gewehr 98 can be distinguished from its successor by its straight bolt, longer barrel (29”), and in earlier variants, by the “ski-jump” rear sight, which was graduated out to 2,000 meters (!). Add a 17” bayonet to this beauty, and the Imperial German Army had a weapon of outstanding value. Chambered for the fine 7.92x57mm cartridge (aka. 8mm Mauser and 8x57mm Mauser), this is a rifle for the ages.

The Mauser bolt action is still the most reliable ever made, as evidenced by its many copies, some of which we’ll see below.

Austria-Hungary

If the Mauser action is the zenith of bolt-actions, the Mannlicher action would be the next best, and not far behind, either. Imperial Austria-Hungary’s Mannlicher Model 95, chambered for the hard-hitting 8x50mmR cartridge, was characterized by its straight-pull bolt, and the self-contained clip which ejected itself from the magazine when the last round in the clip had been fired. The sights were graduated using the archaic schritt measure (0.75 meter), to a maximum of 2,400 schritten (1,800 meters).

 

If the Austro-Hungarian Army left a lot to be desired, it was certainly no fault of its main battle rifle. The later rework of the Model 95 into the M95 “S” carbine (which paralleled the change of the Mauser Gew. 98 into the K98), and its re-chambering into the 8x56mmR cartridge, simply turned a fine rifle into an excellent one.

Russia

Essentially unchanged since the 19th century, the Mosin-Nagant Model 1891/10 was the perfect rifle for the Russian Army and its unsophisticated soldiers. It was reliable to a fault, used the wonderful 7.62x54mmR cartridge, and while not as smooth an action as the Mauser, the Mosin’s clunky action could not be broken—as evidenced by the number of old “91s” still in action today. Like the abovementioned Austrian M95, the Mosin 91’s sights were graduated in an archiac measure—the Russian rifle sights being measured in arshins, or .71 meters.

The 7.62x54mmR cartridges were loaded with a five-round stripper clip:

…but the WWI-era bullets were not pointed, but roundnosed (top):

Unlike what the Germans and Austrians did with the Gew. 98 and M95 respectively, though, when the Russians improved the 91 into the 91/30, they retrofitted and rebuilt their existing arsenal rather than reissue new rifles, so original 1891 or 1891/10 models are extremely rare today. Not that it matters much. The 91/30 is a fine rifle, and has all the qualities of the old one (and its sights are graduated in meters, withal), and the carbine versions (M38, M44 and the like) are still faithful to the old principles of simplicity and durability.

Great Britain

When the German Army was first repulsed by British defensive fire at the Battle of Mons in 1914, the Germans believed that they were being fired upon with machine-guns. Not so. The withering rapid fire came from professional British soldiers armed with the Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield Mark III Number One rifle (known then and now as the SMLE or “Smelly”), issued to all British and Commonwealth troops from 1907 onwards. Sights were graduated in yards, and the maximum (and optimistic) setting was 2,000 yards.

To work the butter-smooth bolt action of the SMLE is to fall in love with it. Also, unlike all other rifles of the era, which only had four or five rounds in the magazine, the SMLE’s magazine contained ten rounds—hence the volume of fire which a group of experienced soldiers could put down onto the foe before needing to reload. The SMLE’s mag is removable for cleaning purposes, but troops were only issued with one, which meant that reloading was done with stripper clips—and because said stripper clips were five-round clips, the mag had to be reloaded twice. Regardless: chambered for the powerful .303 Enfield cartridge, and with that action, the SMLE hit hard and quickly.

When the SMLE was later “improved” to the No.4 Mk.1, the action was left more or less untouched (thank goodness), but the rear sight was improved, from the barrel-mounted “V” sight to a receiver-mounted peephole, with two settings of 300 and 600 yards, and accuracy (the only knock against the SMLE) improved immensely as a result.

Italy

Amazingly, the Italians in WWI did not have their own bolt-action rifle, using instead a modified Mannlicher action in their Mannlicher-Carcano Model 91, which sported a 31” barrel.

Unlike the Mannlicher, though, the Carcano action was turnbolt (like the Mauser), and not the straight pull of the Steyr-Mannlicher Austrian rifle.

All other European (and American) rifles were chambered to shoot 7mm/.3xx bullets, but the “Carc” fired the smallest diameter bullet in Europe, the 6.5x52mm Carcano round, which was actually not a bad choice. The smaller, lighter bullet meant less recoil and its long, thin dimensions guaranteed excellent penetration.

Like almost all the other European nations, Italy would modify their WWI battle rifle between the world wars: the M38 (as the M91 became) had a shorter (21”) barrel and was re-chambered—I think, needlessly—for the heavier 7.35x52mm cartridge. The sights for the new rifle, instead of being adjustable, were fixed at 300 meters.

France

Of all the Great Powers, France alone came to WWI with an outmoded and obsolete battle rifle. The original 1886 Lebel rifle still fired the 8mm Lebel (8x51mmR) rimmed cartridge. Because the original Lebel had a tubular magazine, not a box, the bullets were roundnosed, not spitzers. Even when the Lebel was later transformed into the Lebel-Berthier Mod 1907/15 (below), with a three-round (!) Mannlicher-style magazine, French military doctrine still insisted that soldiers load cartridges one at a time, and use the magazine only under attack, when heavier volumes of fire were called for. The newer Mod 07/15 was only issued to the Army in large numbers in 1916.

A later version allowed for a five-round clip to be loaded in an extended magazine. Here’s what it looks like:

Only well after WWI did France introduce a brand-new bolt-action rifle, the MAS 36, in the new 7.5x54mm chambering—only to find that it, too, was soon out of date compared to the new wave of semi-automatic battle rifles.

Japan

In 1906, Japan introduced the Type 38 rifle to replace their Murata Type 22 rifles (which fired the 8mm black powder cartridge). The Type 38 was mostly derived from the Mauser bolt action, and had a 31 ” barrel. Called the “Arisaka” after the man (Colonel Nariake Arisaka) who headed the Army’s commission to test and adopt the rifle, the Type 38 was chambered for the rather weak 6.5x50mmSR (semi-rimmed) cartridge.

The Type 38 was known chiefly for its bolt carrier dust cover, which was supposedly added to protect the bolt action’s workings from dust and especially moisture, but which rattled alarmingly in action, and most soldiers simply removed and discarded them.

In the late 1930s, the Japanese would replace the Type 38 and the 6.5x50mm Jap with the shorter Type 99 (26” barrel) and much more powerful 7.7x58mm cartridge (a rimless copy of the British .303 Enfield).

United States

Alone among the Western Allies, the United States issued two rifles to their doughboys: the Springfield M1903 (top), chambered for the fine .30-06 cartridge, based on the Mauser 98 design, and the M1917 Enfield (also known as the Pattern 17 or P17). The latter was based on the Lee-Enfield Pattern 13 (itself a Mauser-like design), and like the ‘03, chambered for the .30-06.

The ‘03 had problems because of inferior metallurgy (later improved) in the receiver—that, and the shortage of ‘03s, resulted in more doughboys using the P17 than the Springfield. Like almost all the WWI battle rifles, the ‘03 was later modified/improved as the ‘03-A1, except that unlike the other rifles, this one saw service as late as the Vietnam War. The P17 pretty much disappeared after the war, but lived on in gun safes and hunting lodges all over the United States. Both are superb rifles, as much for their respective heritages as for their reliability, accuracy and efficiency.

As the saying goes: “In the First World War, the Germans had the best hunting rifle, the Americans the best target rifle, and the British the best battle rifle.”

I think, however, that it also behooves us to look at two European rifles of the same era which saw no combat: the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin K11, and the Swedish M96 Mauser.

First introduced in 1896 and improved in 1911, chambered for the powerful 7.5x55mm Swiss cartridge, the K11 had a straight-pull bolt action, and was unquestionably made to the highest quality standards of any rifle of the time (and higher even than many production rifles of today).

The K11 is a marvel of functionality, its workings intricate and precise, its accuracy outstanding. Interestingly enough, the Swiss would do to the K11 what the Germans would also do to the Gew 98: shorten the action a tad and shorten the barrel to carbine length, but retain the original chambering (7.5x55mm for the new K31, and 8x57mm for the K98). Both rifles were immeasurably improved by what was basically a simple set of changes.

The Swedish Army issued their soldiers with the Model 1896 in that same model year, choosing to chamber it in the superlative 6.5x55mm cartridge (probably my favorite medium-caliber cartridge of all time), and they didn’t change anything about the rifle (other than creating a carbine version) until they changed their entire infantry philosophy and armament to semi-auto rifles in the mid-twentieth century.

If I’d had to go to war in those times, I would have felt quite comfortable being issued with either the Mauser-action Gewehr 98/Springfield ‘03, or the Enfield-action SMLE/P17.

As a “second-tier” choice, I wouldn’t have felt that short-changed with the Steyr M95 or Schmidt-Rubin K11 either.

But of all the rifles issued to soldiers of that era, the one I’d have chosen to go to war with would have been the Swedish Model 1896 Mauser. It has moderate recoil, yet the bullet travels flat and hits hard. The rifle is also fantastically accurate: consistently-placed head shots at 400 meters and torso shots at 600 meters are quite possible even for an average shot like myself.

It’s too bad the rifle itself never saw service, because it would have acquitted itself well against any of the others.

Here’s the interesting thing about these rifles as a group: all performed well in the horrible conditions of First World War trench warfare; all provided their owners with excellent striking power (as witnessed by the millions of soldiers felled by them), and all were, essentially, first-generation bolt-action rifles shooting smokeless powder cartridges. Later on, faced with the next world war, all would be improved, whether in length or (occasionally) in caliber. The WWII generation of these rifles would be better than their forebears—but not that much better.

Only the advent of a revolution in infantry tactics and the introduction of the semi-auto rifle would finally put these fine old bolt-action rifles to rest. But despite all that, most are still capable of working as effectively today, over a hundred years later, as they did on the day they were issued.

We should all be so well-made.


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