Is democracy in crisis?

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Is democracy in crisis?

All around the globe, people are feeling increasingly skeptical and mistrustful of their leaders. According to one global trust barometer, only 52% of survey respondents said that they trusted their government to do the right thing in 2011 and, in 2012, the number plummeted to 43%. As recent surveys reveal, only 18% of Italians believe their vote matters, just 15% of Greeks says that pulling a lever makes a difference and a scant 20% of Americans agree that their government makes good decisions. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea suffered 26- and 17-point declines in government trust ratings this year, respectively.

These are all democracies. Which means that citizens do not trust the very people they voted into office.


Our societies are more democratic than ever but our public institutions are less trusted; the citizens in the West are freer than ever before but voters feel less powerful than yesterday.

It’s hardly clear that the citizens in the West are freer than ever before — or that voter power leads to freedom.

Ivan Krastev explains how he became interested in democracy:

It’s very personal. I was 24-years-old when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. And on one level, of course, democracy was extremely important for our generation. But on the other hand, we learned in 1989 how fragile the world is. For a long time, in my youth, we had been told that the problems of socialism could be cured with more socialism. So when I hear people talking about their problem with democracy, but we’re curing the problems of democracies with more democracy, I decided that I needed to look at what we’re talking about.

A Word About Peace

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

The Assistant Village Idiot offers a word about peace — noting that people see what they want in Scripture:

Again, I ran across the idea that the Scripture about beating the swords into plowshares means that God is telling us to do that now (and you, you naughty children, are ignoring that Scripture and disobeying God’s plan for humanity).  That’s from Isaiah 2, describing what the world will be like under the reign of Christ.  It is echoed in Micah, with the same predictive, not commanding intent.  In Isaiah 11 there is a similar passage describing how lions will lie down with lambs, and young children will safely put their hands in snake’s dens.  I’m pretty sure God isn’t commanding that we bring the lambs and children to such places now.

Just for good measure, the prophet Joel also tells of a time when people will beat their plowshares into swords, in preparation for the final battles of the world.

Ahmed Dogan Assassination Attempt

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

Ahmed Dogan, the ethnically Turkish leader of Bulgaria’s Movement for Rights and Freedoms, just survived an assassination attempt:

It would appear that the assassin’s (tiny) pistol malfunctioned. Then Dogan (inexpertly) deflected the gun away from his face. The assassin gave up without much of a fight — and then took a beating from just about everyone present.

On the one hand, he was already subdued. On the other hand, it’s human nature to kick an attempted murderer when he’s down. It just is.

(Hat tip to Michael Yon.)


Saturday, January 19th, 2013

I finally got around to watching Restrepo — Sebastian Junger’s depressing documentary about the US Army platoon holding an outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley — a couple months ago, but I didn’t get around to sharing my rather scattered thoughts.

It’s hard to watch the film without finding their predicament ludicrous. Who thought these kids should be sent to gain the trust of the local population? Would you send your local community college rugby team to do that? That’s basically who these kids are.

Less strategically and more tactically, the combat footage reinforces how rare it is to see the enemy — and I can’t imagine that assault rifles and light machine-guns are terribly effective against enemies with good cover, somewhere out there.

If the real role of small arms in combat is to suppress enemy infantry, then perhaps we also need weapons better designed to neutralize troops behind cover. Back in World War I, sniper H.W. McBride lamented that he didn’t have a rifle that shot a slow enough round with a high enough trajectory to plunge down into trenches.

Speaking of WWI, I also find it odd that we don’t have weapons better designed to shoot from cover. Wouldn’t a telescopic and periscopic sight go a long way?

And if you don’t have the high ground, and your barriers don’t provide cover from all angles, how about draping some camouflage netting or tarps for concealment?

And how about taking camouflage seriously?  I hear the Army is finally moving away from black rifles and toward camouflaging its carbines.

And, as always, there’s nothing light about our light infantry.  It would be funny, watching them waddle through wadies, if they weren’t our guys.

(I made some of these points while discussing the Battle for Marjah.)

Who “needs” more than 10 rounds?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Who “needs” more than 10 rounds? Ordinary people defending themselves:

Defending oneself against criminal violence is a very different phenomenon from an active shooter situation. Any review of security cam footage or dashcam footage that shows gunfights will make this abundantly clear, but just for the sake of clarity let’s look at this video.

In the video we see two attackers attempting to rob a jewelry store. One is armed with a handgun, the other with a crowbar. The intended victim was also armed, apparently with a handgun. In the thirty one seconds of video you see a firefight from beginning to end. Despite the fact that the jewelry store owner was armed and actually fired at the bad guys multiple times, they both stuck around and fought! They didn’t wet their pants and run away immediately like bad guys are rumored to do when presented with a gun, instead they hung around for as long as the robber armed with a handgun had bullets. (Also note how many times the handgun-armed robber actually pointed his gun at his accomplice in the process of trying to murder the good guy) In the video you can clearly see the robber armed with a handgun fire his revolver until it’s empty in the effort to kill his victim.

The intended victim fires his weapon at the robber… how many times is hard to tell from the video footage. It’s important to note how the robber responds to the shots fired at him. Watch his movement. Watch how the robbers duck and move and try to avoid the incoming fire using obstacles for whatever cover they will provide. This is not trained behavior, either; it’s instinctual. If you were ten feet from me and I started throwing rocks at your face, you’d instinctively begin to dodge and weave to avoid getting hit. Surprise, surprise, people do the same thing when bullets are being fired.

Facing multiple determined attackers who were moving and using cover to try and kill him, the owner of this jewelry store needed to outlast the bad guy’s ability to shoot to have a hope of surviving. If you’re the first one to run out of ammo in a gunfight against multiple armed opponents, it’s generally not good for your health. Even if the good guy here was an exceptionally good shot with clear lanes of fire, the number of documented instances of police having to shoot someone multiple times to get them to cease threatening actions is legion. In real life, bad guys do not fall down and die if they are hit once, and as you can see from the video, hitting a threat even in a tight enclosed space is not the easy task some believe it to be. I could post any one of hundreds of videos online that demonstrate these same principles or break down any one of literally thousands of lethal force incidents that have the same lessons in them. The chosen video is literally the first one I clicked on when I searched for “gunfight” and “camera” on youtube.

Now all of those statements concern a gunfight. Gunfights bear exactly zero resemblance to a slaughter of innocents. The key factor is that in your typical active shooter scenario the victims cannot shoot back. This renders capacity meaningless. The key predictor of body count in every active shooter scenario we’ve seen is how long it took for a good guy to show up with a gun. This isn’t really surprising when you think about how active shooters work.

Some Thoughts About The Kingdom of Thailand

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Michael Yon shares some thoughts about the kingdom of Thailand:

Thailand enjoys freedom of the press.   Few topics are off limits.  Pornography is off limits.

An insult to the Royal institution can get you imprisoned.  If you disparage the Royalty on Facebook while in Kansas, and months later fly to Thailand, you may be arrested and jailed.

A task force in Bangkok combs the Internet for acts of lèse majesté.  I took a drive recently with one of the officers who works on that task force.  He said that offenders residing in the United States commit most violations.

If you are an American and you commit lèse majesté, the King may pardon you after some time in prison.  If you are fortunate you may be sent back to America and blacklisted.  You will not be tortured or beaten.

You will endure the same penal conditions as any other convict, which in Thailand, as anywhere, can be unpleasant.  You will be declared persona non grata, and you will not be welcome to return to the Kingdom.

His Majesty King Bhumibol of Thailand is an excellent man of peace, and he is revered as a grandfatherly figure here.  I could easily leave Thailand and write otherwise, but this is true.

The King is highly respected by American military and government officials.  I was invited to a private clubhouse for American military veterans, and they had a portrait of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen on the wall.

Behind closed doors, amongst themselves, the veterans of our military hold King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the highest esteem.  The King earned respect through hard work for his people.  He is beloved.

The King spent much time in the United States in his youth.  He is always welcome in America.  The King will never go thirsty when I have water.

Criticizing the King of Thailand is not like disparaging the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of Thailand.

It is permissible to criticize the Prime Minister of Thailand.  The Thai often do it, no matter who he or she may be.  Thai people criticize their leadership with passion and imagination.

The current Prime Minister of Thailand is a woman.  The United States has never had a female president, while Poland, Germany, the UK, and Pakistan all have had female leaders.  South Korea just elected a woman.

While the gender of the chief executive may not be a critical matter, it is clear that America does not have a patent on “democracy,” and in some ways, compared to other countries, Americans are not as free as we like to believe and advertise.

But insulting His Majesty the King is like insulting the beloved grandfather of millions of proud Thai people.  I doubt that the King himself cares about such comments, but millions of his subjects do, and passionately.

My Thai friends will defend the King with their lives.  The same way that we would protect our grandparents.  These many words are meant to underline a matter of utmost seriousness.

Jew Without a Gun

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Screenwriter Robert J. Avrech was at a terrible movie premiere, when things got almost funny:

The film, a real stinker, at long last cuts to its final fade to black. Everyone is now mingling in the reception area. Guests congratulate the producer, director and stars, assuring them that the film is: ”great, just great,” and “the best work you’ve ever done,” all the expected and acceptable lies we tell each other.

Suddenly a chill sweeps through the room.

Something is happening.

It’s happening outside.

I step towards the large plate glass doors of the theater. The security men, two burly rent-a-cops, deeply alarmed, start locking the row of doors.

Snap, click.

Snap, click.

Snap, CRACK!

Mesmerized, I stare as something hard bounces off the thick glass. There is a tiny white wound.

“Step back from the doors,” the security men say.

I stay put. I want to see what’s happening.

“Please, step away from the doors,” they plead as more guests press forward trying to glimpse the fearful gathering outside.

I see it happening. A classic shot unwinding in slow motion: the mob swarms towards the DGA building, towards us: a thick wave of fury marching with a terrible velocity towards this cocoon of—there’s no way around this—Hollywood liberals.

Sheesh, talk about a target-rich environment.

It’s almost funny.

Here we are, inside, raising funds for inner city youth, and —

— and the inner city youth are outside trying to get in.

Not, mind you, to express their ever-lasting appreciation for our spectacular generosity. Nope, hard as it is to believe, but it looks as if the objects of our charity would like to lynch us.

Or maybe burn us to death.

Almost funny. But not quite.

Hey, This is Just Like the Movies, Only Not Really

Abruptly, we are plunged into darkness.

And as if on cue, a woman screams, just like in the movies.

It’s Wednesday evening, April 29, 1992. Read the whole thing.

(Hat tip to Greg Ellifritz.)

Sikh Temple Shooting

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Lieutenant Brian Murphy was the first officer to arrive at the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin last summer:

There’s a very long driveway that goes in off the main avenue to the temple. My thought was Shut off your lights and siren just before you get there. Pull in quiet. Park sideways, give yourself some cover just in case. We have AR-15′s in the squad car. But there was a malfunction with the switch that releases the AR-15. That’s Murphy’s Law. If I’d had that semiautomatic rifle…

Anyway, when I pull up, I see two guys lying on the ground. There’s a ballistic shield in the back of the car. I should’ve grabbed the shield. But I wasn’t thinking that way. When I came upon the men, I went straight to them to see if I could save them. I got within ten feet. Two male subjects, one lying on top of the other. Top subject, his eyes were open. They were fixed. Both guys looked deceased to me. At that point, I thought, I’m gonna try to get that AR-15 out of the car.

As I started, I caught a movement out of the side of my eye. A guy was running in front of the temple. He wasn’t Indian. He wasn’t Sikh. He had no headgear. He was a white male, wearing a white shirt. He was all inked up, and he had a holster on his right side. I knew that was the guy. No question. He’s running to his truck, which is in the parking lot. I already had my gun out. I raised up, yelled at him to stop. His hand came up. We probably shot at the same time. The distance was thirty to forty yards. I missed. He hit me right in the chin. It felt like a hell of a punch to the face and it ripped up my larynx.

After that first shot, goddammit, I put my head down for an instant and lost him. I got behind the car and ducked down. I turned to where I thought he was gonna come from, went to attack him, but he flanked me. I shouldn’t have let that happen. I kick myself in the ass for letting that happen. I heard more shots. They were getting closer, but they were echoey, and it was hard to tell exactly where they were coming from. I stopped for a second, looked back to where I thought he was. But he was behind me.

The gunman shot Murphy in the chin with a pistol from 30 to 40 yards away? Yeesh.

(Hat tip to Greg Ellifritz.)


Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Sarah Fox found herself in a school lockdown drill as part of an active shooter defense course:

‘You are going to do a lockdown drill just like your kids do it’ our instructor said. Ok, let’s see what this is like, I thought. If it’s supposed to be good enough for my child then it should be good enough for me.

I will admit our drill was a little different then the way most schools drill this scenario. In my drill their was going to be a gun man with an air-soft gun. We were told in advance to wear protective clothing and were given a protective mask to wear on our face. If you have ever been hit by an air-soft gun you know you have been hit. We sat in the classroom as students just like millions of kids do everyday. Our teacher was at the board discussing some scientific notion when we got the alert ‘LOCKDOWN‘ we heard and followed the procedure and instruction of our teacher.

The teacher locked the door, turned off the lights and we all went to the corner of the room, got low to the ground and were told to be quiet. There was a bit of whispering and chuckling that went on. Its hard not to travel back to your former school- age self. This visit to our school-age behavior went on for what seemed like a long time and then we heard it. The gun-fire.

A room full of adult participates including school principals, assistant principals, teachers, administrators, school resource officers, police officers and parents went immediately silent. It sounded far away. Our teacher whispered, ‘be quiet’ which frankly I thought was odd since no one was making a sound at that point. Maybe they just didn’t know what else to say. We heard several shots and each time we heard a few go off it wasn’t hard to tell they were getting closer. The anxiety that had started in me before we even entered the room from the thought of being tagged by an air-soft bullet had now jumped so high that my stomach cramped enough to bend me over to where I couldn’t sit up. These shots were coming down the hall.

The self talk started in my head with my imagination running wild thinking of the event as real and with one statement that became like a repeated mantra or silent prayer, ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die. I am going to sit here and die’ Its like I was trying to convince myself of a fact I didn’t want to believe. I couldn’t believe it was happening like this but at the same time I couldn’t deny the gun-fire. I felt sick to my stomach and thought I was going to throw up when I saw my son’s face. He had entered my mind as a participant. What if this was my son? What if he was in this situation? What would he be thinking right now? Probably the same thoughts I was thinking, ‘I’m going to die. I’m never going to see my family again. I’m going to die in my school room.’

Then a few shots happened right outside the door and I felt in one collective movement 25 people take a deep breath and brace. He was coming through the door. I heard him try the handle on the door, which was locked. He took one shot at the lock on the door and it opened immediately.

He shot the teacher first, who was in front of us and then he opened fire on us. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I just couldn’t. And I lowered my head and curled up into a tight ball. He fired shot after shot at the mass of bodies in the corner. I knew when each of the people next to me got hit I could feel their bodies react to it. He just kept shooting. It went on and on and on. My repeated prayer had changed ‘please stop, please stop, please just stop.‘ He final did when he moved on to the next room.

We were told after the drill that the gunman was in the room with us for exactly 30 seconds. I couldn’t believe it was only 30 seconds, it seemed like forever. He shot 17 people most of them multiple times. But I knew if this had been real that number would have been higher.

Air-soft guns can hurt. They shoot tiny little plastic balls that can sting even through clothing. Our gun man was told for safety purposes in this exercise to only aim for extremities and definitely not the head or face. After we went back to the library of the school to discuss to drill people were asked to raise their hands if they got shot and who got shot multiple times. The gunman spoke up and told us he could have shot more but some people were buried behind others and lowered down so low he didn’t want to go against the safety instructions.

So even with 17 people being shot in only 30 seconds in a real situation that would have been much higher since an active gunman doesn’t have any level of compassion, feeling or remorse and they certainly don’t follow any of the rules.

(Hat tip to Greg Ellifritz.)

Emergency Psychiatric Care and Guns

Monday, January 14th, 2013

The Assistant Village Idiot has worked for years in emergency psychiatric care:

People come to me because they have been dangerous due to mental illness. That can mean dangerous to themselves or to others, and sometimes “dangerousness” stretches as far as self-care: wandering in the street, not eating. But in both the first two categories, harming self or harming others, guns are often involved.

I’ve met a lot of people who have threatened to shoot someone, and some who actually have. It is sometimes part of my job to call family, police, or neighbors and try to figure out whether there was actually a gun to start with, whether someone has removed it, whether the police have taken custody of it. I am very familiar with that sickening feeling, hearing someone’s story and thinking “Oh crap. This person should absolutely never be allowed near guns.”

One category of people I work with are seldom gun-people. Social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and the various rehab groups don’t hunt and don’t tend to have been in the military. They are more likely to come from urban or suburban backgrounds. Whether they got their deer this year never comes up. The other hospital staff, the nurses and psych techs, the environmental services and dietary folks, the medical records and administrative people are more like the general population, some hunters, some not. The professional staff think that gun ownership is itself a worrisome sign. They say they don’t, and many go out of their way to be understanding and recognising cultural differences and forcing themselves back from passing judgement. But it’s clear what they think. They say stuff that offends the others, but the others are pretty used to it by now and shrug it off.


You should be more worried about what mentally ill people in crisis are going to do with their cars than their guns. A lot more. Some of that is greater availability, and that people spend many more hours holding a steering wheel than a pistol. But greater safety per minute used isn’t really the point, because that increased time is part of everyday life and isn’t going to change. Given that greater danger, what do you want to do about that? Remember that you want people who have been in crisis to be able to resume normal lives, going to work and visiting relatives, getting themselves to appointments, living where they like. So sketch out a mental-health, dangerous-driving statute if you can, just to see the possible obstacles and difficulties.

Now understand that it’s much the same for guns.

Second, there is a federal law that prohibits any person who has been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution from acquiring a firearm. Two problems. There is no enforcement mechanism set up, because no one wants to give gun sellers or local police access to confidential medical information, for good reasons of privacy. It gets sticky, and there is no national registry of the involuntarily committed. Next, that word “acquiring” looms large. What about guns already owned? What about borrowing your brother’s rifle to hunt or target shoot? What do you do when Sam says he wants to shoot someone and has access to a gun, but next day says he was lying, that he’s never owned one and has no friends who have them? Where do you search? How were you planning on wording that warrant when it’s not illegal to own that gun?

Third. People who had a suicidal crisis are often extremely willing to turn in their guns and have already done so by the time they talk to us. They are relieved. “I called my wife and told her to get both guns out of the house — give ‘em to anyone. I never want to go through that again.” People who were threatening others are less likely to do this.

Fourth, even with all those people who scare the bejeesus out of me, we have very little gun crime in NH — and a lot of what we do have is coming up out of Lynn, Lawrence, Lowell, and Haverhill, MA. That caught me by surprise when a friend who went to become one of the prison psychologists told me that a lot of our prison population were not NH residents. He said almost half, though I can’t back that up. So even our low rate of gun crime is inflated. Yet NH is a high gun-owning state. The words of Howard Dean come to mind, when he was explaining his state to national Democrats. “You have to understand that this is Vermont, where even liberals own 2-3 guns.” There’s some other reason — something other than legislative strictness and mere possession — that drives actual violence. I have my theories.

Fifth, some gun owners are yahoos. So what? Give me measurables. It does strike me as weird that people would want more advanced weaponry. I immediately grasp the argument that “they really don’t need that.” But you can also hear people say “They really don’t need those big SUV’s.” “They really don’t need…” those jetskis, more miles of hiking trails, expensive cars, hundred choices of shampoo, video games, free condoms — you get the picture. You have to be able to show, not just hypothesize or imagine, that there is some ill effect that requires intervention. As far as I know, that isn’t there. Gun laws don’t seem to move the dial much one way or the other.

Sixth, based on no knowledge other than history, I predict that the Obama administration will (perhaps already has) propose sweeping legislation that includes the entire wish-list of gun control advocates. He’s not an incrementalist. (Washington in general prefers comprehensive solutions for several reasons, all of them bad.) Using a crisis to manipulate people’s emotions is SOP.

Please Stop the Aid

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Spiegel interviews Kenyan economist James Shikwati on aid to Africa:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa…

Shikwati: … for God’s sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.

Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there’s a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program — which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It’s only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it’s not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa …

SPIEGEL: … corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers …

Shikwati: … and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN’s World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It’s a simple but fatal cycle.

Religion for Atheists

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Ben Casnocha shares some highlights from Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists:

We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: first, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And second, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.

For instance, much of what is best about Christmas is entirely unrelated to the story of the birth of Christ. It revolves around themes of community, festivity and renewal which pre-date the context in which they were cast over the centuries by Christianity.

One of the losses modern society feels most keenly is that of a sense of community. We tend to imagine that there once existed a degree of neighbourliness which has been replaced by ruthless anonymity, a state where people pursue contact with one another primarily for restricted, individualistic ends: for financial gain, social advancement or romantic love.

All buildings give their owners opportunities to recondition visitors’ expectations and to lay down rules of conduct specific to them. The art gallery legitimates the practice of peering silently at a canvas, the nightclub of swaying one’s hands to a musical score. And a church, with its massive timber doors and 300 stone angels carved around its porch, gives us rare permission to lean over and say hello to a stranger without any danger of being thought predatory or insane. We are promised that here (in the words of the Mass’s initial greeting) ‘the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ belong to all who have assembled. The Church lends its enormous prestige, accrued through age, learning and architectural grandeur, to our shy desire to open ourselves to someone new.


Saturday, January 12th, 2013

A few years ago I mentioned Soviet propagandist Yuri Bezmenov, who defected to the US and then explained — to no effect — how he and his colleagues had been manipulating our schools and media for decades.

When I mentioned this, the YouTube videos of his long, early-1980s lectures were broken up into many separate, short videos. Now, our Slovenian guest has informed me, they’re available in an undivided format:


Saturday, January 12th, 2013

The classic revolvers of the Old West were single-action revolvers. Pulling the trigger released the hammer and fired a shot, but the shooter had to cock the hammer manually, which also advanced the cylinder to the next round.

Later models were double-action. Pulling the trigger cocked the hammer, advanced the cylinder, and then released the hammer.  This made for a long, “heavy” trigger-pull.

Then semi-automatic pistols started using the energy of one shot to load the next.

It turns out that some revolvers were designed to do this too, like the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver:

Semi-automatic pistols were just beginning to appear when Colonel Fosbery (1832–1907) devised a revolver that cocked the hammer and rotated the cylinder by sliding the action, cylinder, and barrel assembly back on the frame. The prototype was a modified Colt Single Action Army revolver. Fosbery patented his invention August 16, 1895 and further improvements were patented in June and October 1896. [...] Webley further developed the design and the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver was introduced at the matches at Bisley of July 1900.

The Webley-Fosbery makes an appearance in the classic film The Maltese Falcon. It is the gun linked to the killing of Sam Spade’s partner, Miles Archer. Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart, erroneously identifies the gun (and mispronounces the name as “Foresby”), saying, “It’s a Webley-Foresby, .45 automatic, eight shot. They don’t make ‘em anymore.” While the .38 caliber did have an eight-round capacity, the .455 (not .45) did not. And though some .455 Webleys were modified to fire the more common .45 ACP cartridge by use of half-moon clips, unless specially modified on an individual basis, there was never a .45 caliber eight-shot Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. In the original Dashiell Hammett novel the gun is correctly identified as a “Thirty-eight, eight shot”.

Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver in The Maltese Falcon

The Webley-Fosbery also makes an appearance in the motion picture Zardoz, where it is used by Sean Connery’s character “Zed”. The two-handed method of manually cocking the revolver can be seen several times in the film. As a movie prop firing blanks and not live ammunition, the absence of adequate recoil would not allow for automatic recoil cocking.

Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver in Zardoz

Modern metallic cartridges feed just fine from a spring-loaded box magazine, but revolver cylinders still make some sense for finicky ammo, like shotgun shells. The Pancor Jackhammer was designed as an automatic revolver shotgun.

Pancor Jackhammer Drawing

Made by Hand, Learned Online

Friday, January 11th, 2013

The creators of Sympoz found that demand for quilting tripled that of any other class they offered, so they spun off Craftsy:

Unlike some other online-education services, which offer back-of-the-auditorium access to university lectures, Craftsy spends upward of $15,000 to develop and film each class. Most courses, which last several hours and are broken up into lessons, are targeted at intermediate-level to advanced quilters, embroiderers and bakers.

The company has invested more than $5 million in technologies meant to mimic the live classroom experience, the founders say. For example, a single-click, 30-second repeat feature allows students to back up and catch any bits they might have missed in a fast-moving video. Videos are layered with 3-D models and magnified graphics that help explain important words and methods.


Craftsy concentrates on helping people master hobbies that many have spent considerable sums of money on already.

“When you’ve bought a sewing machine, the cost of failure is high,” says Mr. Scott, a co-founder. “Spending $20 to get better is a small investment.”

To date, Craftsy users have paid for 410,000 classes and thesite had 50,000 paid enrollments just this past November. Fifty percent of students who have paid for a class go on to pay for a second. The company says nearly all of its users are women, 83% are over 41 years of age and 75% attended college. Their average household income is more than $80,000.

Craftsy also sells materials like knitting yarn and fabric for quilting. Nearly a quarter of the company’s 2012 revenue of about $12 million came from this e-commerce, Mr. Scott says. November was the company’s first profitable month, Mr. Scott says. It hasn’t touched its latest venture-capital investment of $15 million, and plans to reinvest profit.

The site can be a lucrative outlet for craft teachers. Stefanie Japel, now a Craftsy staffer who helps find other instructors, has taught three knitting courses, including “Circular Knit Lab: Hats Four Ways.” More than 20,000 students have paid to take her classes and she has netted more than $60,000. Teachers get between 10% to 15% of the revenue from a class.