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The New York Reload in the Civil War

This colorized tintype Union trooper may just be clowning with all these weapons, but a lot of cavalrymen on both sides weren't.

This colorized tintype Union trooper may just be clowning with all these weapons, but a lot of cavalrymen on both sides weren’t.

You all know what a “New York Reload” is, right? That’s when you let an empty pistol drop and pull out a second entire spare pistol so that you can continue blazing away. The name, and the practice, was popularized in the 20th Century by Jim Cirillo. Now, you can go down the rabbit hole of YouTube, and find all kinds of videos trying to “prove” that the New York Reload is faster, or slower, than a regular reload. But that’s in 2014, when the most common carry pistols all reload from standard-capacity box magazines. Go back to hundred and 50 years, when the Civil War raged, and reloading was a little more problematical.

In the Civil War, the revolver was primarily a cavalryman’s weapon. Infantrymen often started the war with privately owned pistols, but came to discard or trade them. (Things that are heavy and of little immediate use quickly become surplus to a foot soldier). Whether were various exotic pistols used in small numbers by both sides, and early in the war single shot percussion and even flintlock pistols were issued to some cavalry units, the standard pistol of both sides in the Civil War was the six shot Colt revolver in .36 or .44 caliber. (Fun fact: from that day to this, the vast majority of defensive pistols have fired bullets in that caliber range. Old Sam was on to something).

Reloading a percussion revolver was a great deal more complicated than reloading a semi-automatic pistol. You need several tools and pouches. First, the gun is placed on half-cock to allow the cylinder to spin free. has to be filled with a single measured charge of loose black powder; each ball (there are minie balls for revolvers now, but there weren’t, then) has to be individually placed, the cylinder rotated, and the bullet rammed with the underbarrel ramrod; if not firing immediately, each chamber must be sealed at the muzzle end with wax, tallow, or some kind of lube/sealant (and even if you’re firing immediately, it’s a good idea to do this to prevent flashover aka chain fire). And each chamber must have a percussion cap attached (and the fired one removed, if it’s still there). If you actually do this, you’ll find that a stick or dowel helps in getting the caps fully seated.

Did we mention that you’re supposed to do this on a moving horse? This raises the appeal of anything that would speed reloading. But the most common loading aids available to the Civil War trooper were paper cartridges (that he would make himself during down time) that contained the powder charges, or powder flasks that incorporated a measure. You’re still looking at about three minutes from empty Colt to having six shots at the ready again.

This piratical-looking fellow was probably the real deal.

This piratical-looking fellow is more likely to have been the real deal, rather than a kid who grabbed every prop at hand in the photographer’s studio.

There are also many things that go wrong with a Colt 1851 or 1860 revolver. Misfires are very common, and while a lot of them can be touched off with a second strike to the cap, getting that cap under the hammer means you have to either cycle the gun five times or put it back on half cock and move the cylinder by hand. And apart from misfires, jams are common. Carbon will jam a cap and ball revolver somewhere between 10 and 30 shots fired, although that’s more reloading than you’ll actually do in combat. But even before that, the hammer occasionally pulls off an expended cap and drops it into the revolver’s mechanism, at which point you are the proud possessor of Colonel Colt’s War Club.

Remember, you’re on a horse. With the Rebels (or Yankees if that’s how you roll) blazing away at you. This is not optimal.

Bilby Small Arms at GettysburgThe men of 1860 were as smart as the men of today (maybe, on average, smarter), and they knew this wasn’t optimal, so their idea of “the next six shots” was “Revolver No. 2.” And some of them did not stop there: Joseph Bilby, a scholar of this period, in his Small Arms at Gettysburg: Infantry and Cavalry Weapons in America’s Greatest Battle (p. 220), states flatly that, “Given the chance, any sensible Horsman and hostile territory carried more than one handgun.” Bilby notes that running your revolver dry was not only a hazard if you faced the other side of the Civil War, but could be non-habit-forming if you did it in front of hostile Indians, also.

The all-war champs of revolver toting were probably the irregulars. John Singleton Mosby disparaged the saber as a cavalry weapon, and insisted on his men carrying multiple revolvers. Bilby (pp. 218-219):

Some of the most significant devotees of the sixgun during the Civil War were the irregular warriors of the border states. In contrast to Mosby, whose men were enlisted in a recognized unit and whose partisan operations had a clear military purpose and value, Kentucky, Missouri, And Arkansas guerrillas, whether they professed loyalty to the union or Confederacy, were often little better than bandits — a trade many adopted is a postwar career. Like Mosby, however, the guerrillas found sixguns ideal for ambushes, where a blizzard of bullets rapidly delivered at close range was superior to either an impressive array of massed drawn sabers glinting in the sunlight or the longer-range accuracy advantages of rifle muskets or breech-loading carbines.

Men who depended on the revolver as a primary weapon often carried a number of them. Many of Mosbys troopers holstered two handguns on their belts and another two in their saddles. Private Joseph Edwards of Mosbys Fourth-third [sic, should be 43rd - ed.] Battalion, Virginia Cavalry declined to surrender his weapons at the end of the war and rode home with four .44 caliber model 1860 Colt Armies[sic], a Colt shoulder stock, and a Sharps carbine. Rebel guerrillas in Missouri outdid the Virginia partisans often carried as many as six sixguns.

Bilby goes on to recount many, many period accounts of various cavalry troopers (or maybe, in some cases, land pirates) with four or six revolvers about them, and he examines the common myth — for myth it turns out to be — that cavalrymen carried spare cylinders for reloading. He explains why this was a rare thing, if it existed at all (he can find no proof for it whatsoever). Nope: the cavalryman’s reload was what would come to be called, a century later, a New York Reload.

Bilby’s book Small Arms at Gettysburg is very highly recommended. You can get it at, but why don’t you go through someone’s site that’s an Amazon affiliate, like Forgotten, so that you can support what they are doing? It won’t cost you a penny more and you’ll ensure the survival and success of liberty a website that you enjoy.

NYPD Commissioner Flunks Statistics 101

NYPDCrime is in decline nationwide, but the crime declines more slowly in jurisdictions where the police concentrate on hassling legitimate gun owners and ignore violent gangs. Like New York.

Shootings are up in New York over 9 percent, but the Commissioner, multi-city retread and enthusiastic gun banner Bill Bratton, says that it’s OK, because murders are down.

The number of shootings jumped from 32 to 41 last week, a 28 percent increase from the same period in 2013 and part of a 9.3 jump for the year, the latest statistics show.

The number of shooting victims is up 9.5 percent for the year — while the number of guns recovered dropped 5.8 percent. There have been 11.7 percent fewer gun charges so far, too.

So the cops are seizing fewer guns and charging fewer gun violations. That’s because they’re laying off the professional criminal class.

Still, murders were down 9.5 percent — part of a “continuing overall decline in crime,’’ Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

via Shootings keep rising as NYPD turns to high-tech help | New York Post.

How is it possible that murders are down while shootings are up? We have a theory that fits better than Bratton’s self-congratulation: steadily improving Emergency Management Services and Emergency Room procedures. For one thing, the bolances and at least some of the po-po cruisers in NYFC are now running with tourniquets, so they lose fewer patients to exsanguination; the paramedics are using needle decompression for tension pneumothorax, another thing that was a killer of patients with chest GSWs relatively recently.

So, more New Yorkers are getting transected by bullets, but fewer of them are croaking of it. Credit should go where it’s due — and it’s not Bratton’s hands-tied police.

Sunday in Perfect Summer

Our summers are short and sweet; we’ve had a heat wave which had the TV people predictably crying about Global Warming, but thanks to some shifts in the jetstreams we’re going to have really perfect weather for the next few days. Much of yesterday was spent on the repaired Bike-E, checking out our homemade seat clamp to replace the one that broke in the railroad-tie collision. (Lesson learnt, small tires and abandoned railroad tracks make bad traveling companions).  It’s still a bit squirrely to ride, but the seat is fixed.

So far, it’s about a minute a mile slower than our usual round-town ancient Raleigh hybrid (6:20 versus 5:20 a mile, so we’re not burning up the streets, and everybody on a bike overtakes us), it’s a handful at low speed, and it doesn’t care for steep turns… the rear wheel kicks out. But there’s something charming and addictive about it. It’s a good bike for a guy who has a new Glock and an old standby M9 but carries the region’s most beat-up CZ. It’s an attention magnet, even in a town gone blasé about Maserati roadsters and Cobra replicas. It also helps that CPSC hates it.

Today, the mission is…? We’re not entirely sure. We probably will spend some time in a pool, some more time on the Bike-E which probably deserves a name, some time doing research, some time queueing up Monday’s posts (we’ll be at a funeral and possibly an investment meeting on Monday) and plugging in the missing posts from the past week.

What the mission should be involves tearing up the office until some missing documents (like a pilot’s logbook, d’oh! It was supposed to be in the flight bag) are found.

But outdoors sings its siren song;

The day is long, and short the night;

To stay indoors cannot be right;

The summer’s here, but not for long.

See you all on the other side of the weekend.

Dunning-Kruger Media Effect, and “RIP Ammo” hype

OK, there are rounds that can produce guaranteed death. They just don't fit in pistols.

OK, there are rounds that can produce guaranteed death. They just don’t fit in pistols.

Blue Nation Review is a newish website, dedicated to the proposition that the liberal message (including enthusiasm for gun bans, a frequent theme) has no way of reaching a misinformed public. And apart from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, the Times, the Post, and all the journalistic farm teams populated by eager and callow youths aspiring to those major leagues, they have a point. It came to our attention because they’re spending enormously on ads with Taboola, and the ads kept appearing on major media websites.

But the essence of Dunning-Kruger, as stated in the brilliant paper “Unskilled and Unaware of It,” is a near-Rumsfeldian tautology: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” In the case of BNR, they don’t know a damned thing about firearms or ammunition. So, after listing a bunch of nonfatal accidents from the twitter feed of gun-ban activist David Waldman, and seeing some assclown’s promo video, they be terrorized (warning, site’s privacy-invasive wrt your location):

But if one Georgia company is successful, accidental shootings that injure people may become a thing of the past. That’s because if people start using their bullets, pretty much every person who gets shot will die.

G2 Research’s “Radically Invasive Projectile” (RIP, get it? — because shooting people to death is hilarious) is a copper bullet that explodes when it hits a target (i.e., a human being) sending pieces screaming through vital organs and clearing a path for the bullet’s core to travel deeper through a person.

via New Bullets Mean Certain Death – Blue Nation Review Blue Nation Review.

Except, they’re hyperventilating over hype. As we wrote six months ago, “The claims were so over-the-top, we dismissed the round as snake oil.  But we weren’t going to debunk the claims. Fortunately, someone else did.”

Our conclusions then bear repeating:

Look, there’s no magic ammunition: nothing you can chamber in a barrel is going to do to a bad guy what you’d like to do to him (unless your barrel is 155mm and tows behind an LMTV, which limits your concealment options). Ammo vendors have been making big claims about ammo forever, and in all that time, guys (good and bad) have been surviving hits of “killer” ammo — we personally met two guys who took 12.7 x 108mm rounds and survived, and a friend took a 5.56 point blank through his brain housing group, and he’s still with us. And in all that time, guys (good and bad) have been taking the “golden BB” from a .22 LR or an even-more-anemic .25ACP and they’re now singing in the Choir Invisible.

It was probably predictable that the marketing hot air generated by the RIP ammunition would wind up being used by those who would leave us, disarmed, at the mercy of their fellow liberals, the violent criminals. (We’re not saying the authors of BNR are criminals, we’re saying that they and the criminals share a position that’s soft on crime and hard on self-defense, and we give them the benefit of belief that their motivations and the criminals’ for arriving at the same position are different).

In all of the nonfatal cases the editors of BNR reference, we can assure them that RIP ammo would not be significantly more damaging than common self-defense JHP ammo or even the 19th-Century ball ammo required by military conventions. Indeed, the lower penetration of the RIP fragments and reduced mass (and therefore penetration) of the central penetrator make things easier on the ER docs and surgeons, although it will doubtless be a hassle chasing down all the little copper fragments.

More of our February wisdom:

You can only be sure a threat is negated if the guy is killed, in our opinion. (You can be pretty sure if his condition is, “not dead… yet.” And the only way to put the guy in that state for sure is with hits in the human’s X-ring, the central nervous system. You do your part, and even FMJ will punch the guy’s ticket for him.

And, while we may not agree with the authors of BNR or with the extreme Waldman on much of  anything else, we can find common ground in contempt for most of the people having negligent discharges. Honestly, folks, tighten up your shot group in that area, because you’re giving way too much glee to people who do not have your best interests in mind.

But then, we don’t think there’s a big intersection between the set of readers of this blog, and people committing some of those egregious ND’s. How do you reach people who already know it all? Because those are the guys having the accidents.

In the meantime, most of what the general media, old and new, writes about firearms and ammunition is purest tosh. Case in point.

Ruger Clone, Receiver 3D Printed

This was not made with high-end 3DP technology, but with cheap hobby equipment. And it works.


The genie is out of the bottle.

Do you think Buck Ofama is the guy’s real name? He sounds like the canned text reader built into computers these days.

By the way, this is far from the most interesting thing happening in additive these days. We’ll get to that. But probably not before something else supplants it as “most interesting!”

When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have a roadway handy

Perps Jared (l) and Gerald (r). Video still.

Perps Jared (l) and Gerald (r) Smith. Video still. They sure look like a couple of upstanding citizens, eh?

This crime is a case study in the truism that no good (unarmed) deed goes unpunished. Naturally, the mother of these twin murderers defends them, and suggests the good Samaritan they beat and hounded to death had it coming. In case you were wondering how two teens can be raised to be callous murderers, a mother like that probably helps.

There’s no mention of any father, so one suspects that, as so often with the criminal class, his work on this planet was finished when his demon seed was deposited in that lousy excuse for a mother.

A good Samaritan who came to the aid of a woman being assaulted by twin brothers was brutally beaten by the suspects before being run over by a driver, police said.

Jared's mugshot.

“Unnecessarily beat this victim”: Jared’s mugshot.

Nathan Halsted, 49, died in the early Monday morning incident. At a news conference on Thursday, Fresno police played video from a department surveillance camera that shows Halsted being punched, kicked and stomped on for several minutes before being run over. Police said Halsted was unconscious in the street, and the driver did not see him.

The two suspects, 18-year-old twin brothers Gerald and Jared Smith, fled the scene but were arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of assault and murder, police said. The boys’ mother, Lou Ann Smith, told KFSN-TV her sons were the ones who got jumped.

Police, however, said the teens attacked Halsted after he came across them assaulting a 35-year-old woman at a gas station while riding his bike and told them to leave her alone. The brothers also fought a driver and pedestrian who tried to intervene in the attack on Halsted, police said.

"Animal pursuing prey": Gerald's mugshot.

“Animal pursuing prey”: Gerald’s mugshot.

“Like an animal pursuing prey, and that’s what they were,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said. “If one person walked by, they went after them.”

Lou Ann Smith said her boys did not run over Halsted, so the driver should be the one arrested on suspicion of murder.

Dyer disagreed, saying the driver, who was on his way to work, was despondent after hitting Halsted and was not at fault.

“The people that are responsible for this are Jared and Gerald Smith, who are the ones that unnecessarily beat this victim, left him in the roadway, ultimately allowed him to be run over by a vehicle and killed,” he said.

via Police in California say good Samaritan beaten by twin brothers, then run over by driver | Fox News.

That’s remarkably clear thinking for a California lawman. How soon before he’s driven out of office?

Solitude and SF

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upDr Helen Smith, who has specialized in the analysis and treatment of violent children, has an interesting take on a UVA/Harvard psychology study that AFP reports as concluding that, “Many people would rather inflict pain on themselves than spend 15 minutes in a room with nothing to do but think.” It reminded us of one of the surprising causes of attrition in SF training in the 1980s. First, she quotes the gallant French reporters of AFP:

After the participants felt the shock, which [a researcher] described as mild, some even said they would prefer to pay $5 rather than feel it again.

Then each subject went into a room for 15 minutes of thinking time alone. They were told they had the opportunity to shock themselves, if desired.

Two-thirds of the male subjects — 12 out of 18 — gave themselves at least one shock while they were alone.

Most of the men shocked themselves between one and four times. However, one “outlier” shocked himself 190 times.

A quarter of the women, six out of 24, decided to shock themselves, each between one and nine times.

There might be other things going on here, and we want to read the original study, not react to some newsman’s idea of what the study says. Reporters usually haven’t had a science course since middle school, and have no more understanding of statistics than a small child. That’s part of why most TV, newspaper, and wire-service science reporting is Scheißdreck. 

That said, homo sapiens sapiens is a social animal, and is most content around other related or friendly homo sapiens. A significant percentage of men lose their ability to function when separated from their fellows. That was an empirical discovery by the men developing the original Special Forces Qualification Course, and every subsequent edition of =SFQC has included some type of isolation period. In the 1970s and 80s, until the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course was embedded in the SF pipeline, Phase I of the course included, after a short and intense gut-check period and a difficult land-navigation exercise that drove the majority of those lacking motivation and fitness out of the program, a just over one week Survival training and exercise period. In the field exercise portion, soldiers were isolated in the woods for approximately five days and four nights. There would always be a number of people who had never been alone before for a single night of their young lives, and who found this aspect of the survival training extremely difficult. Some would endure. Some would fire the flare that would draw instructors to their location and write an ignominious end to their Green Beret aspirations.

Dr Smith’s conclusions, which seem more tentative and guarded than those of the reporters, follow:

There was speculation from the study results that people in today’s over-stimulated world need that stimulation and have a hard time sitting alone. A few thoughts: I wonder if the men simply shocked themselves for “shock value” — that is, rather than being afraid to be alone, they did it to entertain themselves by doing the rebellious thing to shock the researchers. Perhaps. Or perhaps they really are that afraid of being alone. The elderly were also willing to shock themselves. Perhaps we treat our elderly like such pariahs that they would rather feel something than nothing.

Perhaps it has as much to do with politics and our socialized view in a “progressive” society that it is better to be an extroverted sort who is a collectivist. Those who are independent-minded and don’t need others are seen as suspect. Probably because they are not dependent on the government and might be harder to control. I could go on, but I will stop here with my speculation. Maybe the people in the experiment just need to read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking to get some perspective.

via Dr. Helen » The Politics of Sitting Alone.

Certainly the introverts and the self-sufficient (two sets with a large intersection, but not entirely the same) did well in the old survival exercise, at least on the isolation axis of measurement. It wasn’t the sole purpose of the drill. One also had 14 or 15 mandatory tasks to accomplish, some of them difficult and time-consuming, and had to obey rules like not linking up with other students — or at least, avoid getting caught breaking the rules. But it was one important aspect of Special Forces training that produced operators capable of individual operations, although  those were almost never done deliberately. It also identified for SF men for whom the de facto isolation of being the only American amid a group of strange foreigners of different race, language and culture, would not be too stressful.

Needless to say, those who came through the isolation exercise best  were usually those for whom being isolated and alone for several days was nothing new, including hunters, hikers, single-hand sailors, and other adventuresome youth.


According to a UVA press release, the paper is to be published in the presitgious journal Science. The comments in the press release indicate that the AFP report may not be too far afield of claims made in the paper, which we still want to read.

OT: Hairy-Armed Feminists Get Extra Credit

Breanna_FahsYou know we’re going to write some words about this, but really, words fail. But you don’t want to see the pictures. We’ll limit the collateral damage to your retinas and optic merves to that produced by a head and top-two-of-three-chins shot of the professor in question.

Female Arizona State University students can receive extra credit for defying social norms and refusing to shave for 10 weeks during the semester.

Women and Gender Studies Professor Breanne Fahs, encourages her female students to cease shaving their underarms and legs during the semester and document their experiences in a journal.

Student Stephanie Robinson said it was a “life changing experience.”

Participant and student Jaqueline Gonzalez said the experience allowed her to start on a path of activism.

“The experience helped me better understand how pervasive gendered socialization is in our culture. Furthermore, by doing this kind of activist project I was no longer an armchair activist theorizing in the classroom.” she said. “So much is learned by actually taking part in the theory or idea we learn in the classroom, and we could benefit from this type of pedagogy being taken up by similar classes.”

via University offers female students extra credit for not shaving their armpits.

In case you wondered why the recent college graduate you hired lacks an 8th Grade knowledge of history, science and especially math, this is part of why. Employers, you might want to file this one away for the day when some applicant shows up trying to trade on a fresh and shiny ASU degree. This class makes basket-weaving look academically rigorous.

Sure, it takes all kinds to make a world, but….

But don’t think that Professor Fahs discriminates against men. They can get extra credit in her content-free classes by bending their secondary sexual characteristics the opposite way and shaving off their armpit, chest and genital hairPresumably, she braids it into her own armpit wigs. Or has the students do it for her. For credit.

Is it just us, or is asking the sort of women who take Women and Gender Studies classes to grow armpit hair, kind of like asking bears to you-know-what in the woods? A picture of some of the participants in Fahs’s class is at the link — we spared you it here. The only way a guy would say “I’d hit that” is if he was holding a clue-by-four.

OT: What we’ve been doing

Stupid_PeopleIt’s been one of those days. The dead Iraq contract has risen from the grave, and if you know anything at all about Hollywood tropes of resurrection, that augurs ill. A multinational training organization that asked for our wisdom did the exact other thing, and didn’t notice until their corner-cutting left them with unsafe personnel (which they sweat too much) and excessive retraining and retesting (which they did sweat, as they are losing vast quantities of money because they programmed training on the assumption that everyone was going to be a first-time go at all stations). And now they want one of our partners to fix it. Fact: you can’t fix stupid, you can only drown it in a babbling brook.

Even usually reliable escapes like lawn mowing and bike riding turned on us. The lawnmower, fresh from its second round of warranty repair in a month, shucked off its muffler. Rather than send it back again, again, we went to the shop and found and made the missing parts. Then we interrupted the lawnmowery to go to the beautiful grass airfield two towns over, and watch the Cubs and Champs rocking 65 to 85 horsepower off 2000-odd feet of turf on a 90-degree day. 1930s tech FTW. We met folks for lunch there and ate watching the same planes that have lifted off here since the 30s and 40s.

This BikeE is for sale in Corvallis, Oregon, but is similar to ours... not living in the Oregon mists we don't have or need fenders.

This BikeE is for sale in Corvallis, Oregon, but is similar to ours… not living in the Oregon mists we don’t have or need fenders, but ours is a blue hardtail BikeE CT like this. Impression so far… weird.

Since we have a new-to-us BikeE recumbent bike, had to try it out, and that’s how we went to chow. Got to lunch hot and dehydrated, but better able to manage the squirrely handling of the BikeE at low speed. So far, so good. After lunch decided to try this rail trail, that isn’t exactly finished or open yet. It runs right by the airfield, and we confess, it tempted us. After a mile, we realized that loose sand and gravel and a bike with a 16″ front wheel and neutral (if not divergent) directional stability were a bad combination. Gave it up as a bad job and turned around. On the way back up the trail to paved roads (it’s always the descent from the summit that gets you) a patch of sand launched the bike into a railroad tie. The impact was pretty low speed but over we went, and off came the seat. (Wait, what?)

We guess we just answered the question about whether the seat-retainer recall had been complied with. (Nope. We had the retainers that fail in a crash, Q.E.D.). Bad news, and there’s worse news – BikeE went tango uniform in 2002, so there are no spare parts. Good news — we can make replacements either by molding them with RTV (we have to figure out what durometer they need to be) or machining or 3D-printing them from some type of polyacrylate nylon, probably Delrin, again, once we know the durometer of the originals. Or maybe we want to make them a little harder, and more rigid. Hmmm…. Meanwhile, though, we’re 6 miles from home with a busted bike.

Improvise, adapt, overcome. We make a couple of the wrong things fit right and the seat’s in place for the ride home. There are also a few other tuning problems with the bike, which we’ll take up with the bike shop that sold it. (Like, the hub won’t go into low gear). Given the seat issue, we rode home pret-ty gingerly, but managed to arrive completely dehydrated and cramping. Good ride, then, yes?

The bike works different muscles than our usual uprights, an ancient 1980s Raleigh hybrid and a Montague Navigator folder to take along on travel (it still has dust from Afghanistan on it, and that was over 10 years ago. Damn stuff won’t clean off, it’s the very Tar Baby of dust). The Raleigh is in for a tune and tires, so while we were in the shop the BikeE followed us home. We always wanted to try one. Now that we have we want a higher seat back (will probably have to fab that too) and we’re still very non-confident at slow speeds. The thing does not like being off road, it does not like being on a verge, it absolutely does not like steep turns (the rear wheel skids!) So it’s taken rather a lot of learning so far.

With the bike safely put away and enough cold water slammed to produce the agonies of brain-freeze, we returned to the lawn, now under a bit of time pressure as Arthur was coming. Tropical Storm Arthur, that is. So we got the lawn done, mower washed, mostly air dried, and put away and the house battened down before the storm front blew in with a welcome cool breeze.

Then the power went out, and the frantic calls started. News had reported a tornado here, was Hog Manor — yes. Next caller — yes. Next caller — sorry to disappoint you, we’re still here at Hog Manor. The rain and hail did get heavy, but the only damage was a couple hundred pounds of expensive fill from a neighbor’s yard now piled in our front yard by a flash flood of storm water. Turns out the “tornado” was a reporter getting it wrong anyway, what was sighted was a “wall cloud” and the reporter wanted to be the first one with the story, so he made stuff up. They do that.

All this is by way of explaining why you didn’t get afternoon posts or much interaction today. Tomorrow may be just as bad. Family Members have roped us into the utterly brain-dead idea of traveling to inspect and inventory the property of a hospice-bound relative, so that we can properly take care of her heirs (not us, but nieces and nephews in England). We remonstrated and re-remonstrated with the others involved that (1) making a long highway trip on the busiest travel day of the year, the Friday of the 4th of July Weekend is going beyond Full Retard, and (2) neither great-aunt Mildred nor her stuff are going anywhere soon, and the urgency of this task is zero.

We got outvoted, and so will spend many hours tomorrow in stop-and-go traffic. We will, however, be sharing the Avalon Hybrid rather than driving there in the Gaia-choking Impala SS, so we’ll combust far fewer dead dinosaurs. We will lay on some scheduled posts for the day.

Lord love a duck. Wasting a whole day and being Carbon Conscious, too. How are we ever going to show our face around here again.

That Others May Live

PJs Mark Crawford (l). and Brian Stephens (r.), 1984.

PJs Mark Crawford (l). and Brian Stephens (r.), 1984.

As part of CNN’s dawn-to-dusk-to-dawn-again Malaysian Airliner obsesssion, they have, however accidentally, printed a good story. Former Air Force PJ Brian Stephens writes about a mission where there turned out to be no hope of fulfulling the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service motto: “That Others May Live.” Instead, he found himself working just as hard for another objective: that the families of crash victims might have closure.

It was 29 years ago this week. I was a member of the U.S. Air Force’s 67th ARRS Pararescue team. I was trained to find survivors anywhere on Earth and bring them back alive. Sometimes that wasn’t possible. Instead you came back with the only thing you could — closure for the victims’ families. You brought home the bodies.

That was the case for Air India Flight 182 that Sunday in June 1985. Stan Sanders called me that morning and told me to “get to work and get ready, there’s a 747 down off the coast of Ireland.”

Watching the world’s rescue efforts this year in the desperate search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 brought these 29-year-old memories to the surface for me. As we mark the anniversary of the Air India crash, we should remember those 329 individuals lost.
“So That Others May Live”

So there’s your obvious Malaysia 370 reference, probably the only thing that interested CNN’s embarrassingly monomaniacal editors in the story.

It was a six-hour helicopter ride from RAF Woodbridge to the crash site. I sat in the back and watched as the sun flickered through the rotors with a strobe light effect. The cabin vibrated, it was hot, and it smelled of hydraulic fluid and jet exhaust. We prepped our gear.

The atmosphere was hopeful. Surely with 329 people on board there would be survivors? I imagined life rafts full of survivors waving. This is why we became PJs. Our unit’s motto was the definition of service: “So That Others May Live.” With fewer than 500 team members, Pararescue is one of the smallest Special Forces units in the United States military. The selection process is considered one of the toughest. As an indicator of the high regard for Pararescuemen within the Special Operations community, the Navy’s SEAL Team Six incorporates PJs for their unparalleled rescue expertise.

During the flight, we discussed deployment scenarios. We’d focus our efforts on the survivors first and then bodies. That hope disappeared when we reached the debris field. Our full crew of seven knew it instantly. Nobody survived this.

I leaned my forehead against the scratched oil stained Plexiglas window to get a better look. The debris scattered on the water looked as if someone had crushed the airplane into a bowl of soup. No single piece was larger than two seats floating together. I could feel the excitement we had for the mission give way to the recognition of the human tragedy we were witnessing. It was gut-wrenching.

The HH-53 flew across the debris field. On one pass I saw something brown and white floating on the surface. Was it a body? As we got closer the details became clear, puffy ears, dark eyes, arms outstretched — a teddy bear — floating face up. We looked at each other.

“A body,” someone said over the intercom. “Right side, close in.” That’s when Stan and I went into the water and swam to her.

She was a young Indian woman, in her early 20s. Her clothes were in shreds; a thin white blouse with a white camisole tank underneath. Her hair and the remains of the blouse undulated in the water. She floated face down between us. I touched her arm. No reaction. Her skin was cold and hard. I looked at her and wished she would turn her head and take a breath. It seemed very strange to me that she wasn’t breathing.

The trauma she suffered became evident. I could feel fractures in her vertebrae grating as the swells lifted us up and set us back down. The three of us rose, and fell rhythmically, suspended in 6,000 feet of water. We were 90 miles off the coast of Kerry, Ireland.
Stan and I held her in the water between us. We waited for the helicopter to come back.

I learned that injury patterns determined that the plane had broken up at altitude, tossing bodies into the sky at 31,000 feet while moving at 580 miles per hour. None of the 131 bodies recovered was wearing a life jacket. The victims had no time to prepare.

As Stephens knows well, loss of consciousness would have been functionally instantaneous, for any passenger who was not killed by the violent acceleration forces of the airplane’s in-flight breakup. Tables that describe a time of useful consciousness of a minute or more at that altitude presume a slow and steady decompression, not a violent one.

It seems probable that none of them would have known a thing. Any who were not killed may have regained consciousness briefly when passing through 10,000 feet or so, but would likely have been extremely disoriented in the seconds remaining before impact.

The helicopter flew directly over us and the crew lowered a steel-tubed litter wrapped in a chicken wire skin. It had flotation devices and carabiners attached to metal lift cables. We fumbled around, moving straps and opening the cables. It wasn’t easy controlling the body in the swells as the helicopter created chaos around us.

After a few failed attempts, Stan had had enough. In one explosive movement, he pulled the body by the hair, face down, across the length of the litter. I cringed thinking how it would have felt. It was brutally effective. It was not the way we’d practiced hundreds of times with live volunteers. Stan had shown me in an instant what we had to do. We didn’t have time to be gentle.

via Stephens: Jumping into a search for India Air survivors –

The casualties Stephens and his crew helped recover were victims of a Sikh terrorist attack. The responsible individuals have, mostly, never faced justice. Stephens seems to have taken a lot of time, but he finally came to the conclusion that, however imperfect the rest of the world may be, and however fruitless the search for survivors, he and his fellow rescue men did something worthwhile in those days.

He’s right.