Scimitars and bayonets

Nikolas Lloyd in The Scimitar suggests how it might have been used in battle. It is partly speculative, but a compelling idea. I’ll assume you’ve read the linked article or watched the video, which is certainly worth the two and a half minutes:

The anecdote Lloyd presents supports his point about the bayonet, which is basically that bayonets are good:

If the British soldiers he tells about had been armed with bayonets on their rifles, the guys with the scimitars either would not have attacked, or would have been dispatched instantly. The British soldiers would not have had to worry about shooting into a crowd of by-standers.

My father also maintained that bayonets were good, especially for crowd control. As the second world war was ending, he was sent to the Pacific. Because the Japanese finally surrendered after President Truman dropped a second atom bomb on them, my father was part of the occupation force instead of part of an assault force, and he was assigned to crowd control (and I’m here to tell you about it.) Dad told me the bayonet was great for crowd control, not because he wanted to kill Japanese civilians, but because he didn’t. If there was civil unrest, all his infantry company needed to do was form up, point their bayonets at the crowd at head height, and march forward in line toward the crowd. The crowd departed. My father was a machine gunner, and he regarded it as sub-optimal to fire his .30 caliber machine gun into a crowd of hungry civilians outside the food warehouse. Fortunately, the bayonets always worked.

Later when I was in the army, a sergeant who had done crowd control in the early 70s explained why he disliked the M-16 (9 pounds, 40 inches, plastic stock). It was too light, too small, and insufficiently threatening, even with it’s short bayonet fixed. The only thing you could do if worse came to worst was shoot. The older M-14 (11 pounds, 44 inches, hardwood stock) looked like a serious weapon for grown-ups. It was much more intimidating to the crowd; and if that wasn’t enough you could butt-stroke the loud mouth at the front, and the smelly hippies would get the message without anyone dying.

Drafting technology

From Instapundit, video of a factory. It looks like the late 50s or early 60s. Around 30 seconds in there’s a man using a drafting machine. After learning mechanical drawing with T-square and triangles, I took a summer job where I got to use one of these, and I thought it was fantastic – amazingly faster and better than the old way. Until the late 90s I used drafting machines occasionally, and then took a job using Autocad. After drawing with pencils and pens and using things like this polar planimeter, using a real CAD package was amazingly faster and better than the old way. What’s next – a holodeck? Whatever it is, no doubt it will be amazingly faster and better than those primitive CAD packages from the turn of the century.

Vectra and Herculon

Wonder twins of synthetic fiber

Vectra, amazingly, was used for ladies stockings before it “began showing up in carpeting and upholstery in the 1960s, then faded from view.” Those must have been some rugged stockings. At least one chair, reupholstered with Vectra around 1968, stubbornly refuses to fade away. The Herculon on a non-matching couch is still in good shape too. The fabric on both these pieces of furniture is bound to outlast the frames, springs, and cushioning.


Dominating the conversation pit

“The tripod was certainly important in pagan antiquity; but I cannot help thinking that its modern representative, the three-legged stool, has rather come down in the world. Evolution and the Struggle for Life (if I may mention such holy things in so light a connection) seem to have gone rather against the tripod; and even the three-legged stool is not so common as it was. Victory has gone to the quadrupeds of furniture: to the huge, ruthless sofas, the rampant and swaggering armchairs.” — The Number Three, by G.K. Chesterton

My own sofa is modest and aged, but tough:

Army wristwatches

My army unit had a dozen of these tritium-lit U.S. military wrist watches. They really were very nice. Tritium has a half-life of about 12 years. As I recall, the watches had a wear-out date after which we had to turn them in so they could give us new ones. We kept them locked up in a safe with the fancy knives, a couple of compasses, some kind of beryllium gizmo, and the pistol lanyards. Once a month the Property Book Officer (me) and a witness opened the safe and counted the watches and other stuff. Once a year for the big inspection a Major came down from headquarters and counted them. Because, you see, those watches are radioactive and expensive.

We could have, in theory, issued them to soldiers in the unit. But watches get lost, or they break, or they get stolen (or “stolen”) and turn up in a pawn shop in Phenix City leaking tritium. With these there would have been a pile of paperwork to fill out because of the radioactive material; and the soldier would have been billed an enormous sum for the watch.

If you haven’t been in the military, you might think we could just not have them; return the watches to the supplier and get the taxpayer some money back. No such thing was remotely possible. We had to possess them to pass the annual inspection. Well, I did my job. The inspections went smoothly when I was there, except once when an extra pistol lanyard appeared somehow. Fortunately, a resourceful Specialist made it disappear again. The watches were in the safe when I left.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer publish a print edition. You can still get the 2010 edition, and some years of update volumes, but the 2010 will be be last print edition.

We had a Colliers Encyclopedia when I was a boy. I used Britannica at the library, but never liked Britannica’s division into three parts – Macropedia, Micropedia, and an Outline of Knowledge. Colliers was simply alphabetical.

Our Colliers Encyclopedia had acetate transparent overlays of the internal combustion engine, of the human body, and of a frog; maps of everywhere; articles on everything important (by definition); and an update volume every year for 10 years – an under-rated and under-used feature. I would have kept the Colliers but for the space – 24 or so large heavy volumes plus annual update volumes takes up a lot of shelf, and the encyclopedia was inevitably out of date on many topics.

Since then I’ve had Britannica on CD ROM and DVD, a free copy of Encarta (not a bad product, as I recall), for 5 or 6 years a personal subscription to Britannica Online, and since then varying levels of library data base access to Britannica Online and other things. The local library has a copy of Britannica, which I have occasionally consulted.

I’ll use Wikipedia for casual look-ups – what country is north of Zimbabwe; what’s Upper Volta called today; who plays Raj on Big Bang Theory? But for anything important I follow the reference (if there is one), find the answer in some reliable reference source, or go to the library.

Good penmanship

My late aunt, a Dominican sister, retired from teaching back in the sixties. I can barely remember going to visit the elementary school of which she was principal (They had a globe!) She kept up on trends in education, and years later we were talking about some aspect of it. She said the root problem was that students didn’t learn good penmanship anymore. I was dubious. It turns out the nuns were right.

Reading curriculum

From Reading Is Elemental, by Helen Vendler, (seen here) here’s the way to do it:

  1. “engage in choral singing of traditional melodic song (folk songs, country songs, rounds);
  2. “be read to from poems and stories beyond their own current ability to read;
  3. “mount short plays—learning roles, rehearsing, and eventually performing;
  4. “march or dance to counting rhymes, poems, or music, “reading” rhythms and sentences with their bodies;
  5. “read aloud, chorally, to the teacher;
  6. “read aloud singly to the teacher, and recite memorized poems either chorally or singly;
  7. “notice, and describe aloud, the reproduced images of powerful works of art, with the accompanying story told by the teacher (Orpheus, the three kings at Bethlehem, etc.);
  8. “read silently, and retell in their own words, for discussion, the story they have read;
  9. “expand their vocabulary to specialized registers through walks where they would learn the names of trees, plants, flowers, and fruits;
  10. “visit museums of art and natural history to learn to name exotic or extinct things, or visit an orchestra to discover the names and sounds of orchestral instruments;
  11. “learn conjoined prefixes, suffixes, and roots as they learn new words;
  12. “tell stories of their own devising;
  13. “compose words to be sung to tunes they already know; and
  14. “if they are studying a foreign language, carry out these practices for it as well.”

I agree wholeheartedly. This curriculum describes my school from Kindergarten through third grade, plus SRA but minus the foreign language. We did learn a few children’s songs in French: Frère Jacques, Alouette, Sur le pont d’Avignon. Professor Vendler continues:

“Later in my ideal schooling, a familiarity with authors would arise as three successive cycles of literary acquaintance would take place. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, the students would read short excerpts in chronological order from major authors A, B, C…Z. In the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades the very same authors would appear, but in longer or more complex excerpts. And finally, in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades the same authors would again recur, but now in larger wholes.”

The next years followed her plan as well, and it was great, except for a massively annoying pedagogical failure that caused us to read The Red Pony three years in a row. Around this time foreign languages became available. I took French because they told me that was the language of international commerce and diplomacy, and then took Latin, because that was the language to study if you had professional ambitions. I’ve never used either, except to order coffee and a sandwich once, but Latin has been the more rewarding.

It all fell apart in the next-to-last year of high school when we “read” Julius Caesar, stopping every line to explain the hard words:

Student, reading: “Oh pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth, tha…”
Teacher, interrupting: “Now class, who is speaking?”
Student: “Marc Antony.”
Teacher: “And what is he saying? Anyone? Marcel?
Marcel, visibly grinding his teeth: “Can’t tell yet.”

So that was my last year of formal instruction in literature. This gave me an extra period in study hall in senior year, where I was left alone to read, or to wander the school at will, because of another pedagogical failure.

Hot Stuff, 1971

Hot Stuff is a short animated cartoon I remember seeing on Curiosity Shop, a children’s educational program from the early seventies.

The dialogue is exactly what I remember (“No! Not the fork!”). The animation seems different, but I may be conflating it with something else. For a long time I searched for this without success thinking it was Fire! by Michael Glyn, made in 1969.

I was only able to get this by asking a librarian. If you go the the cleaners and say, “I lost my ticket, but it’s a blue sport coat” they can’t do much for you, and may well show a bit of annoyance. (Surprisingly, they don’t sort them by color). If you go to a librarian and say, “I’m looking for that one video with the fire demons and the toaster,” they’ll keep at it until they track it down.

Hot Stuff, by Zlatko Grgic, is a nine-minute educational cartoon from Canada, designed to promote fire safety. It’s pretty funny. The site, by the National Film Board of Canada (Office National du Film du Canada) has other good stuff too, for different age groups.