Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Warrior: Continued.

A few years back I wrote a piece titled 'The Warrior' which described my late summer evening battles against the damnable beasts otherwise known as horseflies.*
In recap, we live in a hole in the woods, we are inundated with the critters and crawly beasts that thrive in those environs. Most of them harmless, many are at least little more than a nuisance. A few however, are vicious. Thankfully it's not bears, wolves or dinosaurs I'm talking about. Mosquitoes plague Angel. She's a dog trainer and is outside a lot on most days, everyday, winter, summer, autumn, etc. She has several sprays and even a hooded, mesh mosquito jacket. She still gets bitten though.
Not as numerous, but certainly more dreaded, are the horseflies. Female horseflies suck blood from animals in order to reproduce. They must do this about once per week. Otherwise they and the males exclusively, harmlessly feed on plant nectar. The males completely lack the requisite  mouth parts, the grotesque jagged daggers that the females use for this demonic  task.
A horsefly bite is really, really awful. The female rips  open holes in your exposed neck or legs and uses its sponge like mouth parts to soak up your blood. What you are left with is a painful, burning itch and a large, hard, easily infected, welt. It burns and itches for over a week and there's very little that you can do about it. Of course this also means that she can inject you or your dog with whatever diseases she's happened to come in contact with.
Cattle, deer, horse, dog, human, any animal will do. It's for the sake of the dog/human victims that  I decided to retaliate with unfettered violence rather than run away.
A lady fly got me on the neck one evening while I was walking a perfectly innocent dog. I didn't notice she was there at first, because another couple of the flies, males probably, were harassing the dog, buzzing, landing, buzzing off again, the dog was going nuts trying to make it stop. That's when the lady fly got me, while I was distracted trying to control/rescue the dog.
I had a zapper-swatter that I carried with me the next outing. Useless.  Horseflies have evolved to see a swat or tail swish motion coming from a mile away. Swinging something at them is exactly the one thing they know how to avoid. We can't broadcast poisons on our five acre lot because of the many dogs that come and go from our compound. So I devised a tactic that may seem a little out of the box. A BB gun. I owned an old, seldom fired, Daisy Red Ryder model, just like the one that dorky kid envied in that stupid Christmas movie.
It's a lousy inaccurate and under-powered weapon in general, but I knew I cold get really close to the hovering pests lined up along the driveway in the evening, and BB's are dirt cheap.
Most summer evenings, starting around mid-July and at around eight o'clock, the flies will gather along the driveway, a dozen or two per day. I kill most of them. Sure, every night there are more, but the cycle simply repeats itself. I don't give up on things simply because of overwhelming odds or patently obvious futility. Just ask Angel, my third wife.
Since my original story I've studied and learned more about my adversary and have evolved my tactics to become even more of an industrial killer than the raving, angry savage I'd started out being several summers ago.
A very important thing I've learned is that the bugs that hover and dive along my driveway before sundown are pretty much all males. You know, the ones that do not bite and suck blood. Among them, even a furious 3D jousting  match of a dozen or so of them, I have nothing to fear.  They are not tossing and turning, swooping and soaring to get to me. No, they're trying to get a date.  They swoop in together each evening and wrestle each other for prime position and to display their sexiness to  the smaller, less numerous, but bloodthirsty females.
During the initial stages, the first five or ten minutes, the females don't even bother  to show themselves. That is my window of opportunity, all offense, no defense. In four seasons  I've only had one more near-bite from a female. I'd hung around too long that evening.
You don't have to know a lot about bugology to tell the difference between male and female. The females are  a bit smaller and, unlike the head diving males, will usually aim lower, neck or  leg. They also tend to be more independent and stealthy than the loud, raucous and braggadocious males. Think inebriated frat boys when a pretty coed arrives at the party.
Once the initial scuffling for position starts to settle into a lineup, the ritual killing can begin. The bugs do not recognize me or my weapon as any sort of threat. They are obviously far more concerned about the other males and of course, looking fine for a female. I can and do walk right up to them, within inches, and fire away. They don't often even flinch when I miss.  They will occasionally perform a throttled up diving maneuver, more for show as far as I can tell, than for defense.  It is very similar to the aeronautical 'Immelmann turn'. If you've ever watched a war movie that included a formation of attack aircraft, this is that rolling, off-the-top, banking dive that the hero's plane always leads off with. It even has a similar sound. If a male does this after I've fired, I know I've missed. That's  okay, because they will make this move in a near miss and then return to almost the exact same spot  a few seconds later. I've seen the same bug dive and return to the same exact spot, under fire, a half dozen or more times. I just patiently hold my aim.
Yeah, it sounds very stupid of them, I know. But see, the horny boys have fought furiously for their particular positions. Lust rules the male brain. Alert the media!
I've even been able to locate the most prized positions, those sweet spots,where even on a light night the randy boys will furiously fight over. A few particular clusters of leaves at the end of a low branch. This is actually a very shrewd tactical position. They can be seen by the lower flying female, but are pretty much safe from a male horsefly's only real natural enemy, birds.
Each evening as I venture up into position I can see  a few birds, swooping in on the sunny, sloping, roughly east-west corridor that is my driveway. They are diving in for a snack. For other bugs as well, I'm sure, it's a very busy travel lane for flying and crawling bugs. So the two or three most prized positions for these guys are very near these few leaf clusters.  Indeed, I have made that cool Hollywood shot, just once though, through the leaf and into the bug for a kill.
So why kill the males if the females are the scary ones?
Well, simply put, to make my driveway a far less romantic hot spot. They are gathering there to mate. I am interfering with that ritual. (Coitus Interruptus?)  A female likes a wide sampling of suitors to pick and choose from. By the time she finally pokes her head out here, most of the males here are either dead, quivering and broken on the pavement or in the ditches, or hiding deeper into the woods.
Does it work? 
In the original write up, I spoke a lot of the 'ground troops' that populated the lower section of my driveway, right in front of the house. For the past two years they have not returned to that area. Will it stay that way? Well, as I've said, I'm no bugologist, I'm just a killer.

*There is debate and disagreement about whether 'horse fly', 'horsefly', or 'horse-fly' is more correct. I decided to just pick one and stick with it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A well regulated militia. . .

Though billions of impassioned words have been spewed debating the intent/meaning/limits of the second amendment to this nation's constitution, relatively little is said about the first dozen or so words:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a
free State. . . 
I'll not take a stand in the overall gun control debate for now. . . No, I just want to pass on what I have researched and learned about that particular part of this very controversial 'right'.
Though it may not seem so clear to us now in modern times, I can assure you, the Founding Fathers (FF's) were very familiar the term 'militia'. Perhaps so much so, that they felt no further elaboration was necessary.
Pop quiz, hotshot:
What is the 'militia' they were referring to, translated into modern terms?
A. National Guard.
B. Groups like those armed extremists/patriots that recently took over the Oregon bird sanctuary.
C. ROTC/Military Academies.
D. Military 'Reserve' forces.
Answer: E. None of the above.
This is perhaps why many of us don't often get it. It doesn't really exist anymore as it did at the time.
You've heard the stories though, these were the non-professional, citizen-soldiers that fought and won the Revolutionary War, then went back to their farms and families.

Each of the 13 colonies sponsored militias. Prior to the actual war, they were pretty much placeholder organizations and maybe occasionally, ceremonial. Poorly trained and equipped, lacking in nearly every necessary military resource, including professional leadership.
They were farmers mostly, and certainly not plantation owners in the rank and file. Poorly compensated, bringing their own muskets and knives, rarely even issued a uniform. Usually they were only deployed for a few weeks or months at the most, rarely did they venture far from home.
In 1775, the Continental Congress established a Regular Army. Not to replace the militias, but to provide a small, stable, trained core of soldiers and officers to train and command those militias in wartime.
Most of the FF's absolutely abhorred the idea of a large, standing military. i.e.:

"Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all
Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people"    - James Madison -

“The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.”   - Thomas Jefferson -
Sorry, I don't want to belabor this missive with a pile of archaic quotations, but these are just to highlight the point made, to peek into the mindset of the people that actually drafted the constitution.
So the 'intent' of the FF's was perfectly, undeniably clear. Maintain only a small standing military and when needed, conscript the civilians!
Yes boys and girls, we're talking about 'the draft.'  In Revolutionary times, up until the American Civil War, conscription was managed entirely by individual states.  With the outbreak of that latter war, both the Union and the Confederacy legislated 'national' conscription. It was no more popular then, on either side, than it was in the heady days of the late Vietnam conflict. Rioting, demonstrations, civil unrest, rampant draft dodging and desertion. Precisely because of all that noise and violence, the U.S. switched to an 'All Volunteer' policy in 1973. However, registration is still a requirement and a call up could occur should the need arise. The draft has not been eliminated, just shelved.
But that's a whole 'nother essay.
In those early days (1700's) most of the population (around 2.5 Million) of the U.S., were stretched out thinly across the colonies. Not so much crammed into cities, mostly on small farms. Away from the cities there were lots of things to be wary of. 'Savage' indigenous peoples, wolves, bears, mountain lions, etc. One simply didn't set up a homestead five miles into the the wilderness and away from the nearest neighbor without packing some form of 'protection' from these and other certain hazards. Yes friends, nearly everyone had guns in their homes, times were very, very different then. It is not hard to imagine that the FF's assumed that an already armed populace would not need additional weapons provided to them in wartime. Practically every farm boy and even girls had several years of experience shooting, something. Hunting back then wasn't a 'sport', it was a vital necessity, a near daily chore out in the woods. 
On paper and in times of non-war, the militia idea, hardly a new one, worked . . . okay. 
These colonial and state militias provided the boots on the ground for several major and minor battles and skirmishes. The Revolution, 1812, etc. 

In 1792 Congress enacted the Militia Act, which left the militias firmly in the control of the states, but outlined certain minimum requirements and definitions. Formalizing the existing concept of militias and setting more uniform standards. It called for:
" . . . each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia. . ."

Okay, pretty much every white male between 18 and 45 (later expanded to 'all' males and to age 54).
Now the meaty bit:
". . . every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch (etc). . ."
There it is, 'bring your own weapon.'
This is exactly the 'well regulated militia' that needed to be perfectly free to own and 'bear' arms. 

Our FF's not only knew that a large percentage of the population was armed, they counted on it. Heck, they mandated it. If you think about it, even though at the time of the drafting of these acts, there were few, if any high-powered, rapid fire 'assault' weapons, I imagine a local banker-temporarily-turned-Captain hastily called up to guard a railroad bridge during the Civil War would have been absolutely delighted if a couple of his local boys showed up for muster with AR-15's and boxes overflowing with shiny ammunition. 
The FF's themselves were not thinking only about single-shot muskets used only for sport or hunting or home defense. Effective national security as they envisioned it actually counted on these militia men having powerful and fast weapons available, the more, the merrier. 
So in historical context, the wording of the second amendment was not at all vague, peculiar or misunderstood. In time of war, regular gun totin' civilians would be called up in the form of state-run, well regulated (structurally/uniformly defined) militias and turned over to the Fed for its defense.

The Militia Act of 1792 was amended many times throughout the remainder of the 18th century and through the entire 19th, until it was all but completely superseded by the 'Dick Act' (I'm not making that up) or 'Militia Act of 1903'.
The Spanish - American War, which we rushed into in 1898, really highlighted, once again, many of the problems with a conscript dependent military. Low levels of training and readiness, lack of uniformity of command and leadership skills, non-standardized equipment and weaponry, etc. It was really hard to pull boys off the farm and get them up to speed for big combat if they were needed in a hurry.
The Dick Act formed the more professional institutions that we know now, the Reserves and the National Guard. This, and many subsequent amendments to that act, created and fixed budgets, created ROTC, set policies in place for the use of 'Federalized' Guard units, set standards for uniforms and equipment, etc. It also did away with all those archaic, self-equipped, state militias as they existed in the 18th and 19th centuries, those familiar to the FF's..

Thus, the Dick Act of 1903 pretty much eliminated the need for conscripts to own and bring their own weapons.

So what about the second amendment?
Well, this all shows how outdated the wording/concept may be. The only stated reason given at the time for that unconditional right to bear arms, simply no longer exists. However, legally, the amendment stands on its own. It doesn't cease to be the law of the land simply because nobody bothered to update it. (Speed limits don't go away just because the signs have been knocked down.) Quite the contrary. In order for the various anti gun movements to ever be ultimately successful, they are going to have to get that amendment changed. Pretty much every attempt to sneak under or around it has been slapped down by one Supreme Court decision or another. 

It was, simply, an idealistic, perhaps unrealistic effort to create a new nation without also requiring/allowing a large standing military to 'protect' it.
Does it need to be changed/updated? If so, there's a mechanism for that. I didn't say it would be easy.

For those who occasionally wonder why cars have to be registered and drivers licensed, hairdressers must be licensed, many, many businesses can require drug testing and background checks, etc. but guns are somehow, magically, exempt from any of those types of requirements and inconveniences:
Simple, because hairdressers, cars, drivers and corporate employees do not have an entire line item devoted to specifically singling them out, right there in the bill of rights. Guns do.
There's your problem!

* Interesting factoid that would have many of the 'small-army' FF's rolling in their graves: The current Active duty/reserve military headcount in the U.S. is around 2.5 Million, roughly the same as the entire population of the U.S in 1776.

* * * No, I am not at all interested in debating the merits/problems of personal gun ownership, good guns vs. bad guns, mental health issues, WMD's, open carry/concealed carry, etc. The only purpose of this whole exercise was simply to try to understand the meaning and intent of the second amendment.