Much Ado About Who Gives A Crap?

The biggest story in the world today?   As ISIS saws off Christians’ heads, and Planned Parenthood does the same for babies, and the nation lurches toward a Presidential election that, if it were held at this moment according to the results of junk media polls taken six months before caucuses and 15 months before the election, would be a contest between the star of a real reality show and the co-star of a virtual reality show?

Ashley Madison’s data breach.

Ashley Madison is, of course, a website purportedly devoted to helping married people find extramarital amoreuses.  And the hint that some of the people ostensibly busted in the breach were famous “family values” crusaders (notwithstanding the high likelihood that they were fake accounts) had the usual social-lefty suspects aroused to a fever pitch; social conservatives straying from their message is the social-lefty’s hard-core pornography.

What this episode shows us is that lots of Americans – including many who design and build websites – are illiterate about data security.

Among other things:

Tech tabloid editors are foaming at the mouth, just thinking about finding something that’ll implicate someone they know. You’ll have hundreds, if not thousands, of people downloading the torrent file to see if their loved ones, or boss, local priest, sister, father, scout leader, or public figure’s names are in the cache. It’s hard to feel even a morsel of remorse for any cheating hack husband, wife, or partner who gets caught out.

But, even the worst people in this society should expect — and deserve — privacy.

It’s certainly hard to defend a cheating spouse.

But I’d nominate a few other people – drug-cartel hit men, late-term abortion providers, serial killers, Sidney Blumenthal, pedophiles, people who hack off other peoples’ heads – for “Worst People In Our Society”.

 

Visualization

When I was in high school, I may have been the last generation to actually spend any time watching instructional films.  Not videos – productions shot on film.

Now, my beef is not with the medium on which the production was shot; video versus film is an aesthetic argument, and not one that I’m particularly involved in.

But along about time time video supplanted film, computer animation began to replace an older, more fascinating art – the building of explanatory models.

Explaining complex processes, equations, and mechanical concepts is difficult.  And in a way, I’ve found the plethora of computer-based animations used to do the explaining today are almost too accurate to do a job of explaining complex concepts.

Filling that gap, long before there were any computers, was the operating model.

An operating model took a complex concept, mechanism or process, simplified it, magnified the important stuff while omitting (or deferring) the minutia, and explained it.

And it’s kind of a lost art.

Which was why I loved this film – which explains the function of the auto differential, a bit of mechanical engineering that always amazes me…:

…and this one, which is as good an explanation of pretty much every firearm operating system in the business:

And I can watch them for hours.

Build It And They Will Come

If you follow Great Britain at all, after a while you start to realize that if there’s one thing they’re short of, it’s enough alcohol in their lives.

And you wonder; if there was only a way Brits could only get more booze, faster.

Well, fear not.  While Britain may be a shadow of its former political, military, industrial and social self, when it comes to finding ways to ingest alcohol, Britannia still rules the waves.

Hot Gear Friday: The Four Engined Bomber

It was about this time seventy years ago that World War II was heading toward its climax; Germany had surrendered;  Marines and soldiers were mopping up on Okinawa.  The world didn’t know about the atomic bomb yet.

And the idea of Air Power was at its peak; after three years of strategic bombing over Europe, and about a year’s worth over Japan, the idea that one could bomb ones’ opponents out of a war – very much in vogue before the war – still held great sway.

Of course, strategic bombing over Europe had had a ghastly toll; the US Army Air Force lost more men in the air than the Marines did in the entire Pacific War.

And the bulk of those casualties came among the crews of the roughly 6-7,000 bombers lost over Germany (among the Americans alone; the Brits also paid a horrific price).

There was the most famous, the Boeing B-17…:

…with its legendary toughness without which the toll might have been vastly worse.

And the B-24 Liberator – newer, faster, but less popular, and generally regarded as less tough…

…and the B-29, which costs as much to develop as the entire Manhattan Project, carried most of the weight in the Pacific.

Why do I bring it up?

Because as we discuss the idea that our younger genration of twenty somethings, raised during the Obama economy by helicopter parents and made into a cause – the “Millennials” – by a generation of Baby Boom media who want to have someone to poke and prod the way they were poked and prodded and examined – many of whom are out in the streets protesting for $15 an hour to run a shake machine (for a while, maybe), it’s worth remembering this;  the officers, the pilots and navigators and bombardiers who flew these planes, averaged 22 years old.

Their enlisted crewmen?  The flight engineers and radiomen and 3-4 gunners on each plane?  They averaged 19 years old.

And this was what they did just to get the planes – in this case, the B24 – into the air.

Pretty amazing.

A Dilemma

As the sales of my first book, Trulbert!, continue to outpace my meager expectations, the question “what next” is occupying more and more of my time.

I’ve been thinking about compiling my Twenty Years Ago Today series into an e-book, for all the people who’ve asked me about it over the past decade (and there have been quite a few).  I am strongly thinking about putting that out this September, in time for the tenth anniversary of the series.

But in terms of original books, as opposed to “Hewitts” (books compiled from blog posts)?

There are a few contenders:

  • “An Accidental Conservative”:  how a guy who by all rights should have been a liberal, became a conservative.  Then a libertarian.  Then a libertarian-conservative again.  And why.   Pros:  that book is largely also already written.  Cons:  I have to dig through a little over 12,000 blog posts to assemble it.
  • “Josef Sklrbczsz, American”:  The story of a young man from an Eastern European goat-town whose entire knowledge of America comes from the mass media.  Then, he comes to America.
  • “Purple Sunset”:  An expansion of my “Secession Diaries” stories, from ten years ago.  Pros:  It’d be a fun piece to write.  Cons:  What?  Me, write a book of absurdist speculative political fiction?

The Twenty Years Ago one is kind of a no-brainer.

Beyond that?  The sky is the limit…

Settled Science

Spotify put together of the top Fourth of July music in their playlists.

And some of the results are a little surprising:

Click to see full-size.

Click to see full-size.

The heartland is, perhaps a little unsurprisingly, into Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”.

I was a little surprised to see Illinois go for “ROCK in the USA” by John Mellencamp – while Mellencamp’s native Indiana chose Greenwood over their rabid-blue favorite musical son.

A bit less surprising?  California and Florida chose “America!  F*** Yeah!”, from Team America: World Police.

The high-quality shock?  West Virginia going with “American Girl” by Tom Petty.  West Virginia – f*** yeah!

And while New Jersey went with Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”, I was gladdened to see New York State opt with “Fourth Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”, from Springsteen’s 1974 The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle  album.  Kudos, WV and NY!

But the one that opened my eyes?  North Dakota, New Hampshire and Maine going with Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”.

This struck me as odd.  So I dug deeper.

And I found this map:

Click for full-size image.

You’ll note that these are three of the five states in the lower 48 where Spanish isn’t the second most popular language.

The inescapable conclusion?

Latinos hate Miley Cyrus.

Rage For The Machine

Ben Beaumont-Thomas of the Guardian on the Roland TR808 drum machine, which turns 35 this year:

It struck a chord as an instrument that truly reflected the 80s. “Home computers were coming on the scene, and it just fitted in with that,” says Joe Mansfield, a drum machine collector who wrote this year’s pictorial history Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession. “It sounded futuristic, what you thought a computer would sound like if it could play the drums.” It began to seep into the mainstream, as the backbeat to Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, and across the Atlantic to the UK into, firstly, the industrial and post-punk scenes, where Graham Massey of Manchester acid house act 808 State first encountered it.

 “It had that industrial heritage, but had that soul heritage,” he says. “The Roland gear began to be a kind of Esperanto in music. The whole world began to be less separated through this technology, and there was a classiness to it – you could transcend your provincial music with this equipment.” Massey made hip-hop with the 808, and then, because he couldn’t afford anything else, used it for house too, making “dense, jungle-like” tracks that also deployed the 909. “On the 909 the kick was a bit more in your chest, a bit more of an aggressive drum machine. The 808 almost seems feminine next to it … the cowbell on the 808, that’s the thing that says mid-80s R&B to me – SOS Band, big dancefloor anthems, which were a massive thing in the north-west of England. It wasn’t just nerdy DJ culture, it was a ‘ladies’ night’ kind of music.”

It was a commercial flop – but the TR808 has influenced music of the 1980s through 2010s the same way the Fender Stratocaster influenced the fifties through the seventies.

No, really; you’ve heard it, whether you know it or not:

When I bought my first multitrack recorder (a Fostex four-track cassette machine), I got the next generation – smaller and cheaper, not more authentic-sounding.  And while the sound quality of digital sampling drum simulators, software and hardware, has improved, they haven’t done much to improve the control a producer has over the way his “drummer” plays.  Trying to make drum “loops” on a computer just isn’t the same.

iNtelligence

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Didn’t read this article in The Economist about Artificial Intelligence, what caught my eye was the photo.

Soon as I saw it, I thought to myself: “You must know Apple’s version will be a proprietary, non-standard size plug.”

Joe Doakes

and it will largely be used by espresso guzzling hipsters with ironic granny glasses.

The Hail Mary Shot

There’s nothing shooters like more than a good fish story.

And there is no group of shooters that participates in legend-mongering with as much glee as partisans of the Colt M1911A1, which was the service handgun of the US military for over eighty years, and over 100 years after its development is still one of the world’s premier defensive firearms. 

But 72 years ago today, this story – possibly but probably not aprocryphal – may have established itself as the grand-daddy of all handgun legends.

In 1943, the Tenth Air Force was the smallest, most isolated, and most under-reported unit in the US militiary.  Flying out of airfields in rural India, they hauled supplies over the Himalayas – “over the Hump” – to support US and Chinese troops cut off from the coast by Japanese invaders; they also harassed the Japanese supply lines. 

On one of those raids, by the 9th Bomber Squadron of the 7th Bomb Group, was against a railroad bridge between Rangoon (today called “Yangon”) and Mandalay, in Japanese-occupied Burma.  One of the planes – at the right wing of the squadron leader – was a B-24 “Liberator” flown by 1st Lieutenant Lloyd Jensen.  His co-pilot was 2nd Lieutenant Owen Baggett. 

On the approach to the bridge, the formation was attacked by Japanese fighters.  The squadron leader was badly wounded; Jensen’s plane took severe damage.  After an uncontrollable fire broke out, Jensen ordered the crew to bail out.  Five of the nine man crew escaped before the plane exploded.

The Japanese pilots then began shooting at the airmen in their  parachutes, killing two of them, and grazing 2LT Baggett’s arm with a bullet.

And then…:

The pilot who had hit Baggett circled to finish him off or perhaps only to get a better look at his victim. Baggett pretended to be dead, hoping the Zero pilot would not fire again. In any event, the pilot opened his canopy and approached within feet of Baggett’s chute, nose up and on the verge of a stall. Baggett, enraged by the strafing of his helpless crew mates, raised the .45 automatic concealed against his leg and fired four shots at the open cockpit. The Zero stalled and spun in.

Jensen, Baggett and one of the gunners were captured by the Japanese.  And it was in a POW camp that Baggett learned the unbelievable:

A few months later, Col. Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group who had been shot down, passed through the POW camp and told Baggett that a Japanese colonel said the pilot Owen Baggett had fired at had been thrown clear of his plane when it crashed and burned. He was found dead of a single bullet in his head. Colonel Melton intended to make an official report of the incident but lost his life when the ship on which he was being taken to Japan was sunk. Two other pieces of evidence support Baggett’s account: First, no friendly fighters were in the area that could have downed the Zero pilot. Second, the incident took place at an altitude of 4,000 to 5,000 feet. The pilot could have recovered from an unintentional stall and spin. Retired Colonel Baggett, now living in San Antonio, Tex., believes he shot down the Japanese pilot, but because that judgment is based on largely indirect and circumstantial evidence, he remains reluctant to talk much about it. We think the jury no longer is out. There appears to be no reasonable doubt that Owen Baggett performed a unique act of valor, unlikely to be repeated in the unfolding annals of air warfare.

Try that with a .357 Magnum!

Hot Gear Friday: The Energizer Machine Gun

Between its partition from the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918, and its down-the-river sale at the hands of Neville “Like Obama, Only Just Clueless Rather Than Malevolent” Chamberlain twenty years later, Czechoslovakia actually had a brief vogue as an a-list industrial economy, backstayed by a weapons industry that rivaled Europe’s most legendary names; Brno, Czeskoslovenska Zbrojovka and Skoda were in the same league with Krupps, Enfield, Bofors, Hotchkiss, and Springfield.

They were behind some of the premier weapons of the inter-war era.  The Skoda Model 38 tank was among the best in the world at the beginning of World War II

So superior was it to contemporary German designs that after the annexation, the Wehrmacht took the tank into service; they played a major role in the conquest of France (Rommel’s 7th Panzer, which led the charge to the Channel, led it in Panzer 38s) and the first part of the invasion of Russia.  Outmoded as tanks by 1943, the Germans converted them to self-propelled artillery, anti-aircraft vehicles, and the famous “Hetzer” tank destroyer, which served into the 1970’s in Switzerland.

In the early 1930s, the world’s armies were starting to re-arm; war was clearly imminent, and their stockpiles of World War I-vintage weapons were old and wearing out.

During the war, machine guns were either heavy, water-cooled weapons fed by canvas or metal-link belts, capable of immense sustained fire but weighing 80-150 pounds loaded…:

A British “Vickers” heavy machine gun. Eighty pounds, with a jacket full of water but without ammo loaded. Ammo, and a water condenser can that accompanied the gun in action, not shown.

…or “light” guns extemporized during the war for infantry to haul around more handily.

The French Chauchat light machine gun. With its clunky, complex long-recoil system full of fragile moving parts, and its open-sided magazine practically designed to scoop up the mud that is synonymous with “trench warfare”, it may have been the single least reliable firearm ever issued in numbers.  And it was close to 30 pounds – a heavy “light” gun.

The products of desperation, the “light” guns were rarely especially light, and often frighteningly unreliable, and incapable of much sustained fire before their barrels overheated, stopping them entirely.

The Czech Zbrojovka Brno – “Brno Weapons” –  works developed a light machine gun in the mid-twenties which served as the starting-point for a new line of design.   The “VZ26” was light enough for an infantryman to haul around…

A VZ26 in Czech service.

…but heavy enough to remain accurate when firing full-automatic, it had one other radical feature; a quick-change barrel.  After a few magazines of sustained fire (interrupted by magazine changes, which slowed the overheating process a bit), the assistant gunner could unlock and (while wearing an asbestos glove) remove the barrel, and replace it with a spare that he carried for the purpose.  If the crew was in heavy action, they could swap the two barrels back and forth, allowing one to cool while the other was firing.

The British Army, looking for a new light machine gun to replace its World War I-era Lewis guns, held trials in the mid-thirties – and the ZB26 swept the field (as it did for armies all over the globe; it still serves, in modified form, in the Paraguayan Army).

The British made two key modifications; they added a handle to the barrel (in case a gunner lost his asbestos glove in the heat of battle), and they rechambered it to their .303 Enfield round – a clunky old round with a rimmed base that necessitated the curved magazine on top.

And, using the peculiar British habit of the day of making new compound words for their weapons, they named it the “Bren” gun – short for “Brno”, where it was designed, and “Enfield”, where it was built in the UK.

The Brits had intended to adopt a rimless round – like the German 7.92 Mauser (which the ZB 26 used) or the American 30.06 – but their staff judged, correctly, that time didn’t permit such a radical change before the war would likely start (they didn’t finally retire the .303 from front line service until 1957).

No matter – the Bren worked just fine with the new round.  They were built in mass lots, and equipped the British Army (and the parts of the Canadian and Australian armies that went into action) by the beginning of the war.

Reliable, relatively simple to manufacture, and ideal for its role – providing covering fire to a squad of 8-12 men as they leapfrogged forward and backward and around enemy positions, the Bren served out the war.

And then, like most “light machine guns”, it was supplanted by the latest military fad.  The German military had dispensed with the separate categories of Heavy and Light machine gun, and generally equipped the Wehrmacht with just one machine gun – the MG34 or, later in the war, the dreaded MG42:

The MG42. Remember the machine gun in “Saving Private Ryan” that fired so fast it sounded like ripping carpet? That’s this one. The post-war German army kept the design, and it serves to this day in the German, Norwegian and (I think) Spanish armies.

That was it. They hung a tripod from the barrel, and issued it to their squads (of 8-12 men) for relatively light close-up covering fire; they’d mount it on a tripod, and issue it to crews of 3 men to haul it and its ammo around as a heavier fire-support weapon for companies of 160 or battalions of 800 men.

The world’s militaries jumped on that bandwagon hard.  When the Brits re-tooled their ammunition and retired the Bren and Vickers guns, they adopted the Belgian FN-MAG as a “General Purpose Machine Gun”…:

The FN-MAG. It serves in most of the western world’s militaries today – including the US, as the M-240, as a company-level support weapon.

…capable of going into the field with a bipod as a squad support gun and a tripod in the weapons platoons of larger units.

The US adopted the M-60, which served from the early sixties into the nineties, but is probably most famous to non-serving Americans of a certain age range…:

Admit it.

…in Sylvester Stallone’s hands.

But along the way, an interesting thing happened.

During and among the world’s various brushfire wars of the sixties and seventies, infantrymen had a word or two with the world’s military theorists; the “light” version of the General Purpose Machine Gun wasn’t all that light when one was hauling it, a load of person gear, and a few belts of ammo through a jungle, or through the backstreets of Belfast.

And quietly, some of the world’s military units that had the clout to do so (or, conversely, the lack of clout that allowed them to get away with it), went back to the past.  The British military – especially the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines – who depended on foot mobility, and needed something lighter than the clunky MAG for use in their rifle squads, quietly pulled the Brens out of the armories, and re-chambered them for the modern 7.62x51mm NATO caliber (same as the MAG and M60), and built some straight-walled magazines, and re-issued the Bren to elements of the British Army that needed a light, light machine gun:

A British Marine, armed with a rechambered Bren, in action in the Falkland Islands in 1982. An MAG gunner is in the background.

And it served in British reserve units through the 1990s, and in reserve units of the Irish army until 2006.

And that bit of tapdancing to fill a need for lighter, handier, but still reliable and powerful weapon at the squad level led to a wave of design of genuinely *light* machine guns, including the US’ modern “M249 Squad Automatic Weapon” – which is another light machine gun.

“But wait, Mitch”, you may say.  “Hot Gear Friday is supposed to refer to hot gear – guitars and firearms, mostly – that you’ve personally used, yourself.  What gives?”

Well, you’re right.  But we’ll be fixing that tomorow, with any luck.  Rumor has it that a .303 Bren is among the pieces for rent at Bill’s Gun Shop and Range – where I’ll be tomorrow for the Shooter Show.  And I’ve been putting away a couple bucks a months since last March, getting ready to light up some targets with it, about this time tomorrow.

From The Boneyard

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

We’re restoring an airplane that was built in the 1950’s and parked in the desert for a decade . . . because we don’t have enough flyable airplanes to defend the nation without it.

What. The.

Joe Doakes

look at the bright side – and there are some bright sides. A government program – “The Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona – worked as designed; an aircraft in long-term storage is actually brought back from reserve. And it cost far, far less to do it then it would have to build a new airplane…

… even if the American defense industry were capable of building another aircraft like it. Which it’s not, without going through the Pentagon’s long, costly and disgracefully wasteful procurement process.

Fishing I Could Live With

Call me un-Minnesotan if you’d like – I’m fine with that – but the idea of standing on a dock, sitting in a boat, or huddling in an ice house watching for a line to bob for hours on end doesn’t especially grab me.

I joke I’m not much of a fisherman because “the heavy shot loads destroy too much meat, and the light loads skip off the water”.  It’s tongue-in-cheek, of course…

…but I read about this take on fishing, and think “this actually sounds like fun“.

 

A Legal Matter

It’s been a long, long time – but I’ve codified a new Berg’s Law.

It’s Berg’s Sixteenth:

Berg’s Sixteenth Law of Cognitive Dissipation:  The percentage of “progressives” outside of academia who can make it to the second round of a debate without running out of “facts” and having to switch to deflection, ad hominem and straw man arguments is within the statistical margin of error.

And I’m working on a corollary to deal with the academics, who aren’t actually much better – just a little more polished.

And of course…:

The McFeely/McNeill Corollary to Berg’s Sixteenth Law:  Especially in Minnesota.

It’s the law.  I don’t write ’em, I enforce ’em.

OK.  I write ’em too.

Winging It

There’s an old Hungarian saying; “the best way to become wealthy is to appear is if you already are”.

It’s true – and it applies far beyond wealth.  One good way to get promoted is to dress, and perhaps act, like your boss.  Acting as if one is happy in a relationship can make you…happy with the relationship.

Amid all of the squawking and clucking about college educations and credentials – how little we got for all of Barack Obama’s education, how much Scott Walker has accomplished without a formal piece of paper – one of the most important lessons for people to learn, especially younger people just starting out, is how to take what you do know and turn it into something useful.  And sometimes, it’s more a matter of taking what you think you know and you’re sure you can do.

I’ve told a few of those stories; how I wasn’t actually formally qualified for either of my post-radio careers, technical writing and user experience; I’d had no formal training in either.  I just found opportunities, did what it took to get hired, and then worked like a sled dog to deliver the goods.

I love a good Horatio Alger career story; I’m drawn to them.

And NPR gave us a great one over the weekend – the story of Adrián García Márquez, who’s been a spanish-language sportscaster for, well, pretty much every spanish-language sports broadcasting operation the past decade and change; he’s pretty much turned into the Jack Buck of spanish sportscasting.

And he had a start for the record books; he started out as a strugglingl minor leaguer – until he and his girlfriend got pregnant:

So he got a part-time job with the promotions department of San Diego radio station Jammin’ Z 90. A few months in, he started DJing overnight.

“In my heart, I didn’t want to be a hip-hop disc jockey,” he says. “I mean, I loved it. But I wanted to go to sports.”

But a radio station was a radio station, and working there was better than nothing.

Actually, these days it’s frequently not.  But this was still the nineties, and Spanish radio still makes decent money, so let’s rejoin the story:

Then, he remembers, a colleague told him, “I have a buddy of mine who told me that he has a buddy that knows this guy” who wanted to broadcast a handful of San Diego Flash games in Spanish on TV. (At the time, the Flash were an A-League soccer team — basically a minor league team, Garcia says.)

There was a problem, though. To get a sportscasting job, he says, you have to have a demo tape of yourself actually calling a game — a college game, a high school game, any game.

“How do I get a demo, on the fly, out of nowhere, having zero experience? Make one. Fake one, basically.”

I did the same thing, back in 1986, to cajole my boss at KSTP into letting me have a talk show.  It worked – although not as well as it did for Márquez.

But Garcia didn’t have one.

“So how do I get a demo, on the fly, out of nowhere, having zero experience? Make one. Fake one, basically.”

He looked around the house to see what he could use.

“I did have a Sega. I did have [the video game] FIFA Soccer, 1995 edition,” he remembers. “So I pop that into the console, I recorded the beautiful crowd chants that they had. Because technology was advancing, so it sounded like a real soccer game. So I figured, I’ll grab that crowd noise, and put it on the tape.”

He put the soccer chanting in the background, called the video of a recorded soccer game, turned it into a tape…

…and the rest is history.  More or less.  Read the whole story.

And pass it on to a kid.  Because ones own ingenuity is as important as ones credentials, unless you’re trying to be a cardiac surgeon or an engineer.  And college (and education in general) these days seems to do a fine job of squeezing that out of kids.

The Strat Turns Sixty

2014 was the sixtieth anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster.

You may not know guitars – but you’ve heard them.

NPR did a pretty decent story on the the anniversary, and the guitar, last week.  Leo Fender designed the “Strat” as the followup to the much-more-conventional but also legendary Telecaster.

A “Telly”

The thing that jumps out at the non-guitar player is the body shape – a radical double-cutaway design (allowing the guitarist to easily get to the highest notes on the neck).

For the musician, there was the vibrato bar – the “whammy bar” – at the bridge, immortalized by a generation of surf-rockers and, in a much-modified form, Eddie Van Halen:

The “whammy bar”, up close

And for guitarists who really, really dig into it?  The “Strat” was an incredibly versatile instrument.

The Strat’s pickups, switch, “pots” (volume and tone knobs) and wiring, from the inside.

Its three “pickups” – the three little oval bars, basically microphones that turn the vibration of the strings into electrical signals that are sent to the amplifier – are connected to a five position switch that allows the guitarist to select which of the three pickups, or which combination, are live.    The one closest to the bridge picks up more treble, and is most useful for playing solos; the one closest to the fingerboard is usually lower and bassier, and is usually used for playing rhythm.  The one in the middle is…well, in the middle.

The cool part is that the “in between” positions, 2 and 4 respectively, the signals from the fingerboard or bridge pickups are out of phase with the middle pickup.  It gives you a funky, reedy tone that is hard to describe, but impossible to miss (think “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits, or “Smoking Gun” by Robert Cray, or “The Core” by Eric Clapton).

The Strat has been the instrument of choice for an army of guitarists, all over the spectrum; from bluesmen like Eric Clapton (who has been pretty exclusively identified with Strats for the past forty years) and Robert Cray, through rockers like Jimi Hendrix, to peripatatic fretboard stylists like Mark Knopfer and Richard Thompson, to jazz and big band players, the Strat has been there and done that.

And it almost didn’t turn out that way.   The Strat’s first couple of years of sales were disappointing; Leo Fender fielded criticisms of the Strat’s bright, sharp sound, causing him to design a followup,  the “Jazzmaster”:

A Jazzmaster – most easily identified with Elvis Costello, J Mascis, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, Mick Jagger (during his brief, late-seventies flirtation with playing guitar) and…yours truly, whose primary axe has been a Jazz for, um, 36 years. Mine is heavily modified, by the way – I have a third, Gibson “Soap Bar” pickup between the two stock pickups, wired out of phase, like a Strat – which actually gives a version of the Strat’s signature sound. It’s complicated – but sounds pretty awesome. But I digress.

The “Jazz” was designed to address the Strat’s “shortcomings”; the pickups were wired for a thicker, warmer sound, with more muted trebles and fuller bass and midranges. It was a more conservative design, both aesthetically and electrically.

But in the interim, rock and roll happened.  And the Strat – a relative bargain at the time – became, sharp tone and all, the preferred instrument of a generation of rock and rollers.

So successful was the Strat, of course, that the Gibson company – which had been producing the iconic, heavier, more-expensive “Les Paul”, reacted by producing a “Les Paul Junior”, with a lighter double-cutaway body; it’s better known today as the “SG”:

SG, Les Paul and Strat. I’ll take one of each, thanks.

And, notwithstanding a brief flash of Beatles-driven popularity for Rickenbacker guitars (brought back by Tom Petty in the late seventies), that’s been pretty much bedrock of the rock and roll guitarist’s arsenal ever since.

I’ve never owned a Strat – yet.  Someday.

The 2014 Shootie Awards!

We wait a full year for the Shooties – my annual award ceremony for all that is awful about Twin Cities blogging and alternative media.

And yet it’s always so very, totally worth it.

So let’s start making the sausage, shall we?

The Sominex Award:  This year, this award goes to the leftyblog that bored me completely stiff.

And this year, the award goes to:  The Entire Twin Cities Leftyblogosphere!

Look – Twin Cities leftyblogs are almost always dumb.  Most of the smart ones – and there have been a few – have moved on to greener pastures.  And what’s left?

When Sally Jo Sorenson is the cream of the remaining crop, you know you’ve got a problem.

The “Oceania Has Always Thought Eastasia Acted Perfectly Normal” Award:  For the fifth straight year, the Twin Cities media – the so-called “fifth estate” that ostensibly keeps an eye on government – asked not a single question about the physical or mental health of a governor who disappeared for weeks, and seemed to barely be in the office when he was in the office.

The “Fonzie Is Up On His Skis” Award:  The entire political “fact-check” genre jumped the proverbial shark long ago, lost in a welter of bald-faced left-wing biased capstoned by “Polifact”, the putative flagship of the genre, flagging a “Lie of the Year” that turned out to be as true as mom’s apple pie in 2012.

But MPR’s “Poligraph” feature broke new, er, ground this past year – “fact-checking” one of Jeff Johnson’s purely-subjective statements about the governor’s race.

The “That Bludgeoned Feeling You Get” Award:  There was a national wave for Republicans – one of the biggest in history.  It was a wave that largely vindicated the Tea Party – the fiscally-conservative, socially-libertarian asymmetric grass roots movement that rocked official Washington in both parties back on its heels in 2010, and got pushed back after a massive nationwide campaign of demonization in the mainstream and left alt-medias (pardon the redundancy).

And the wave conquered the Minnesota House – at least in Greater Minnesota.  The DFL Machine held most of the Twin Cities metro, but for a stubborn seat in Burnsville that finally fell to Roz Peterson.

And yet the Minnesota GOP didn’t get even one solitary statewide office.  Not even the Secretary of State, which polls in the weeks before the election showed as a likely pickup for the MNGOP’s Dan Severson.

Let’s reiterate this:  in the midst of a nationwide wave of revulsion for the Obama Administration, where Republicans took the governors offices in Maryland and Illinois, to say nothing of decisively taking hold of the US Senate, the MNGOP laid an egg statewide.

It’s enough to try the patience of even a Saint Paul republican.

The “Nothing Here But Us Davids!” Award:  This one goes to the entire Minnesota Second Amendment movement.

After being humiliated by the shooters in the 2013 session, the gun-grabbers came back with hundreds of thousands of dollars of Michael Bloomberg’s money, hiring a platoon of top-flight lobbyists to supplant the hapless Heather Martens and the demented Jane Kay at the Capitol.

And even though the entire Legislature was controlled by the DFL, with a DFL governor, the antis got absolutely nothing.  Michael Bloomberg’s money was as wasted as John Bonham, Keith Moon and Ronnie Van Zant in a Motel Six in Houston with an unlimited bar tab.

The Back To The Future Award:  The Star/Tribune, in an effort to buff up its online presence, added some new blogs.

And when I say “new”, I mean “pretty much exactly the ones that anyone who is deeply cynical about the Strib’s relentless editorial left-wing slang would expect them to hire”.

You’ve got Mark Andrew, former state DFL chair Minneapolis mayor candidate and self-appointed giver of scarlet letters.  You’ve got Molly Priesmeyer, a woman whom the Twin Cities leftymedia takes inexplicably seriously (even though we surely do not).  There’s the perfectly capable Aaron Brown – one of a very short list of Minnesota liberal bloggers who don’t deserve to be under police surveillance.  And there’s my old friend and former NARN colleague Michael Brodkorb.  Michael’s a good writer and great reporter, but let’s be honest; before he started straying from the GOP line, the Strib wouldn’t have collectively urinated on him if he had been  on fire.  Now that he’s a little more, I think it’s fair to say, unattached?  Suddenly the Strib bites.

I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you.

The Benito Mussolini Award:  In 2014, the Met Council opened its second light rail line, drilled straight down the middle of University Avenue, at a cost of $1.4 Billion.  As has been noted in this space in the past, it was the wrong kind of train in the wrong place (“light rail” is supposed to jet along at 55MPH along routes with stops roughly every mile, like the “Blue Line” does; if you’re going to go down the middle of a busy urban street, you should build a trolley).

So last June, the Green Line, connecting the downtowns, opened with suffocating fanfare and cloying adulation…

…and, as it happens, not much speed.   It took over an hour to go from downtown to downtown – about the same as the limited-stop 50 Bus that the train replaced (which did the route in about an hour), not much  faster than the local 16 bus (about 90 minutes), and much, much slower than the 94 Express, which did the route with very limited stops in about 25 minutes.  (The Met Council responded by eliminating the 94 Express outside rush hour).

So bad was it that even the transit fans at MPR, who had been cheerleading the Green Line since its inception (except for the part where it went past the MPR studios), were unamused to the point of taking the car.

I rode the Green Line once and once only – on its debut night.  I rode from Hamline down to the Union Depot; it took about an hour and fifteen minutes, counting walking down to University and waiting for the train.  That compared to about 40 minutes if I took the 67 bus (25 minutes) and walked from Cedar down to Union Depot, or 30 minutes if I biked it, or maybe fifteen by car, counting finding a parking spot.

I calculated that if they get the “Southwest Light Rail” built, it’ll mean someone can go from Union Depot to Eden Prairie Center in three hours.

The Charles Townsend Award – In 1765, British parliamentarian Charles Townsend, in noting the Colonies’ protests against the Stamp Act, said:

“And now will these Americans, Children planted by our Care, nourished up by our Indulgence until they are grown to a Degree of Strength & Opulence, and protected by our Arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from the heavy weight of that burden which we lie under?”

Townsend’s statements sum up the arrogance of the professional bureaucrat, the institutional utopian, the Masters of the Universe who believe they were sent here to keep us peasants from crapping in our beds.

And the winner this year?  The entire Democrat “Farmer” Labor Party, as well as the entire machine that supports it in this state – Alliance for a “Better” Minnesota,  Take Action Minnesota, the Star-Tribune and other left-leaning non-profits – who, after two years of blatantly carrying the DFL’s water on their signature pledge in the 2012 election (“We’ll lower property taxes for the middle class!”), promptly…

presided over massive increases in property taxes for the middle class.

Which somehow got less media coverage than Teddy Bridgewater’s choice of sneakers.

OK, that’ll do it for this year!  See you in 2015!