Sunday, February 22, 2015

American Sniper Movie Review (Sort Of)

I watched the movie American Sniper almost a week ago, so if you've been living under a rock and haven't heard of it, or are somehow on the fence about the most controversial film in years, allow me to make things clear as mud.  You're welcome!

American Sniper brought to mind two movies.  The first is fairly obvious - Lone Survivor.  Unlike Lone Survivor, I haven't read the book on which American Sniper is based, thereby violating my own rule (I'll get to it, dammit!), so I can't say how closely the movie follows the book.

The second movie American Sniper brings to mind is - shockingly - The Deer Hunter, minus the anti-war, anti-American propaganda.  It left me wondering what movie American Sniper's "Liberal" critics saw, because the movie I watched is a realistically brutal portrayal of the price war exacts from the people involved in it.  Obviously, the movie deals with the price Chris Kyle paid fighting in Iraq, but it also portrays the damage done to his family (especially his wife, Taya), his friends, his brother, fellow servicemen and - to a lesser, but dramatic degree - Iraqi non-combatants.

In fact, I'd say it's the most personal and realistic portrayal of one human cost of war - the price paid by the living - that I've ever seen.  This is truly a great movie.  It was also very difficult for me to watch.

Bradley Cooper, by the way, was outstanding in the lead role.  He put on a lot of weight, grew a beard, changed his voice and mimicked Kyle's accent.  He pretty much disappeared into the role.  I never once thought, "oh yeah, that's the dude from The Hangover".

Like most books made into movies, I suspect some of American Sniper is embellished.  For example, Mustafa, the sniper, was a real person.  You can probably still find - in the darker corners of the internet - the videos he and his associates made of Mustafa shooting American servicemen.  I doubt, however, that there was a snipers' duel (like Zaytsev vs. K├Ânig in Stalingrad, or Carlos "The White Feather" Hathcock vs. "The Cobra" in Vietnam) between Mustafa and Kyle in real life.  Unfortunately, embellishment is always a part of Hollywood movies.

If you want to read two great, real life stories about Chris Kyle, by the way, check out this article.

Anti-war protesters in San Francisco, 2003.
The controversy:

As I stated in my Lone Survivor review, Leftists can only abide portrayals of American servicemen as either victims or monsters, often simultaneously.  American Sniper, presents us with a deeply flawed - but undoubtedly heroic - Chris Kyle making split second, life and death moral choices in the worst possible circumstances.  That is unacceptable to the Left.  American servicemen must only be portrayed positively when killing their superiors, deserting their units or committing treason.

That's why this movie is controversial.

Why American Sniper Is Important:

You've probably heard of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.  You may not know that they've been around a lot longer than the talking heads on TV let on.

The enemy portrayed in the movie is Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Later in the war, they began calling themselves The Islamic State in Iraq.  Their stated goal was to create an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, starting with Iraq.  AQI/ISI members that survived the war in Iraq went to Syria to fight in that civil war and began calling themselves The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or the Levant, depending on whom you believe).

Apparently, they hate the name Daesh, so that's what I'll call them from now on.

Daesh is nothing new.  Any defense, intelligence or diplomatic official who "didn't see [Daesh] coming" is either lying or incompetent.

AQI Torture Manual
The movie portrays their brutality accurately.  The mutilations, the use of power tools in torture, the murder of children, the use of children as cannon fodder - it all happened.
Such a lead brought soldiers earlier this month to the hidden room in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Thursday. Graffiti on the building proclaimed "Long Live the Islamic State" - a reference to the Islamic governance, or caliphate, sought in Iraq by Sunni extremist groups that include al-Qaida
Scrawled in white paint above a bed in the torture area was a Quranic phrase in Arabic normally used to welcome a guest. But the context suggested only sadistic mockery: "Come in, you are safe." 
The floor was littered with food wrappers, plastic soda bottles and electric cables that snaked to a metal bed frame, presumably where detainees were shocked, according to the U.S. account of the discovery during a Dec. 8-11 mission. 
The rooms "had chains, a bed - an iron bed that was still connected to a battery - knives and swords that were still covered in blood," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, the top U.S. commander in northern Iraq. 
Nearby were nine mass graves containing the remains of 26 people, he said.
Elsewhere in Diyala...

Soldiers from 5th IA said al Qaeda had cut the heads off the children. Had al Qaeda murdered the children in front of their parents? Maybe it had been the other way around: maybe they had murdered the parents in front of the children. Maybe they had forced the father to dig the graves of his children.
In Baghdad...
A raid on a major al-Qaida hideout north of Baghdad has uncovered evidence of a network of child suicide bombers who have been coerced into launching terror attacks across Iraq. 
The use of children had been seen as a way to bypass security checks that have gradually become more stringent nationwide.
And it's all happening again.  Because it's the same people doing it all over again.
In reference to Iraq, at least, the U.N. report found that the terrorist group is resorting more and more to brutal acts such as enslaving, raping, beheading, crucifying and burying people alive. Some of those affected are children. 
"We have had reports of children, especially children that are mentally challenged, who have been used as suicide bombers, most probably without them even understanding what has happened or what they have to expect," said Renate Winter, an expert with the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. 
Some as young as age 8 are getting training to become soldiers, she said.  
Son of Australian Muslim, Khaled Sharrouf, holds the decapitated head of a soldier in the Syrian city of Raqqa.
"Children of minorities have been captured in places where the so-called ISIL has its strength, have been sold in market with tags, price tags on them, have been sold as slaves," Winter said. 
People of the Yazidi faith -- which draws from Christianity, Judaism and the ancient monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism, and which some Muslims consider devil worship -- have long faced persecution, though by comparison ISIS' cruelty to them has been extraordinary. Kurdistan Regional Government adviser Nazand Begikhani, for instance, has said Yazidi "women have been treated like cattle, ... subjected to physical and sexual violence, including systematic rape and sex slavery." 
Yazidi children haven't fared much better at the hands of ISIS. An earlier U.N. report described how militants rounded up all Yazidi males "older than 10 years of age at the local school, took them outside the village by pickup trucks, and shot them."
In light of current events, American Sniper serves as a stark reminder of what happens when we knock an enemy down, then fail to follow through.

I highly recommend American Sniper, although I don't know if I'll ever watch it again.  Be warned, it's tough to watch, especially if you fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.  If you have loved ones there now, you may want to wait until they're home safe.  Or, like my wife, refuse to watch it... ever!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Best Defense Against a Violent, "Unarmed" Bad Guy...

Is a good guy with a gun.

“This large gentleman just pounding on this lady, closed fist you know multiple times and heavy heavy elbows to the face and neck” says Kreag. 
Kreag has a license to carry a concealed handgun and he served in the U.S. Army for eight years. He worked as a private security contractor in Iraq and he’s a firearms instructor. 
“I was yelling commands at him to stop assaulting her, stop assaulting her.”
"He stopped attacking her and she was screaming, yelling for help and very much hysterical” says Kreag.
The man got out of the car but he was still very angry. 
“Then he turned his attention to the fire arm and was saying ‘don’t shoot me, don’t shoot me.’ I said I’m not going to shoot you, just stay still, don’t do anything crazy. The cops will be here any minute.”
The "large gentleman" (Mr Kreag is clearly being too kind) is MacMichael Nwaiwu.

By the way, is this an unfortunate coincidence?

I put "unarmed" in quotes in the title because the word seems to imply that the person is harmless, which is false.  According to the FBI's annual crime report, in 2012, murderers killed 678 Americans using only their hands and feet as weapons.  That same year, murderers killed 322 Americans using rifles - even those scary "assault rifles".  That's less than half.  Obviously, that doesn't mean that hands and feet are more dangerous than rifles, but it does mean that one should always assume that a violent person is capable of killing, even if that person possesses no weapon other than his/her own body.

It's fortunate that Mr Kreag had his gun at the time of the incident.  Without it, Mr Kreag may have chosen to not intervene.  We don't know how much damage Mr Nwaiwu inflicted on his victim, but it's clear that he would've inflicted much more damage had Mr Kreag not intervened.

If Mr Kreag had intervened without a gun, on the other hand, it seems clear that Mr Nwaiwu would have turned his wrath onto Mr Kreag.  We don't know what would've happened then, but real life isn't a Bruce Lee movie.  Good guys sometimes get curb-stomped.  A gun makes that far less likely.

That being said, good guys with their concealed weapons permits must always remember that a gun is no guarantee of safety either.  It's a tool, not a talisman.  And like every tool, it has limitations.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Strength Training Beats "Cardio" for Fat Loss

We know that strength predicts health and longevity much more accurately than BMI.  And we know that - within a surprisingly broad range - body fat doesn't make much of a difference to health.  Now we have further evidence that strength training is more effective than "cardio" at keeping body fat within healthy levels. 

2014 CrossFit Games Masters Competition: Deadlift Ladder Event
...weight training is the most effective way of keeping abdominal fat in check, compared to other activities such as running or cycling. 
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health measured the activity levels of over 10,000 men aged 40-plus, monitoring their weight and waist circumference over a 12-year period.
2014 CrossFit Games Masters Competition
I'm glad that the researchers chose to conduct their study on men 40 and older, although I wish they'd conducted the study on women, too.  Most researchers conduct fitness studies on healthy young men - typically in their 20s.  People in their 20s don't need as much help staying healthy as people in their 40s.  And the kind of physical activity that produces improvement in a young, healthy 20-year-old may not work for an older person, because the older person can't recover as quickly as a younger person.  As a general rule, older people simply can't handle the kind of training volume younger people can.
They found that those men who spent an extra 20 minutes a day weight training gained less abdominal weight over the course of the study than men who increased the amount of time they spent doing aerobic exercise.
2014 CrossFit Games Masters Competition

 Guess what's even better than strength training alone.
Combining weight training with aerobic exerise led to even better results, the study found. 
Frank Hu of Harvard School of Public Health said: "This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly. 
"To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise."
2014 CrossFit Games Masters Competition

It seems intuitively obvious, doesn't it?  Our bodies are designed to move themselves slowly over long distances, quickly over short distances, and to move heavy external loads over even shorter distances.  It simply makes sense to train the body the way it's designed to work, as opposed to limiting the body to only one time domain and/or modality.

Now, guess which training program covers all those time domains and modalities.  That's right.  CrossFit.

2014 CrossFit Games Masters Competition: Sprint Sled Event.

Unfortunately, although the article's title is "Why weight training is better for your waistline than running", it doesn't actually explain why.  The following video does.  I encourage you to watch the whole thing, but you can skip to the actual explanation at 7:28.

The short version is that when you do "cardio", you burn fat during your training session.  So, if you do "cardio" for an hour, you burn fat for an hour.  When you train for strength, and even more so when you perform high intensity training like CrossFit, you burn sugar during the training session, but you burn fat for hours following the training session as you recover.

The photos I linked above are from the Masters Competition of the 2014 CrossFit Games.  All the athletes that compete in the Masters Division are in their 40s, 50s and 60s.  The video below is a good summary of the competition, and the kind of training these athletes do.

Stay healthy, my friends.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Obamacare Architect Says "Liberals" are Stupid

You may have heard, or read, by now about the controversy surrounding Obamacare (and Romneycare) architect Jonathan Gruber.  If not, here's a pretty good summary in video form.

If you follow the video link to YouTube, you can watch much longer versions of his remarks in context, which makes them even worse.

Most of the controversy surrounds Gruber's insults directed at American voters.  He called American voters stupid and economically illiterate, and accuses Americans of not caring about the uninsured.  His solution, then (in his own words) was to "[exploit] the lack of economic understanding of the American voter", and to use the "tortured way" in which the bill was written, and the bill's "lack of transparency" to trick American voters into accepting a law they would have otherwise rejected.

Gruber's statements shouldn't be controversial.  Gruber is right.  Sort of.  If you actually believed that "if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor", and "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan", and that Obamacare would cover the supposed 40 million uninsured Americans, and that Obamacare would cover preexisting illnesses, all while "bend[ing] the cost curve down" and not "add[ing] a dime to the national deficit", then you sir/ma'am really are naive, gullible, economically illiterate - and yes - stupid.

In other words, Gruber is saying that "Liberals" are stupid, because "Liberals" swallowed every lie that Gruber - and more importantly, every Democrat politician - sold them, hook, line and sinker.

Ladies and gentlemen: Gruber is referring to you.

Conservatives and Libertarians have been warning the country about all of Gruber's and the Democrats' lies since 2009.  Conservatives and Libertarians aren't Gruber's "stupid", economically illiterate, stingy voters.  "Liberals" are.

Possibly the most important part of this whole controversy is that Gruber unintentionally gave the whole world a glimpse into how Leftists think.

Leftists believe ordinary people are too stupid to make decisions for themselves, and too stingy to care for the needy through voluntary charity.  Leftists therefore believe that ordinary people need Leftist elites - like Gruber and all the Democrats who forced this monstrosity on the rest of us - to make decisions for ordinary folk and force them to care for the needy at gun point, through taxation.

The fact that charity provides politicians with no opportunity for graft, and taxation offers myriads of opportunities for graft, never enters the Leftist elites' minds, of course.  It's all for the children, you see.

So, thank you, Jonathan Gruber, for being honest.  Even if you never meant to be. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Best Defense Against Three Bad Guys With Guns...

Is a good guy with a gun.  Even if he's 67 years old.  
According to witnesses, a man, his wife, and his 19-year-old granddaughter were home on Yedda Road in Lumberton when a black male knocked on their door and asked for water for his mechanical problems with his car. 
Two other people entered the home wearing black clothing, ski masks and gloves asking for money. All three suspects also had handguns, according to the release. 
The release states that the man and his wife were forced into the back of the house and advised to open the safe while the suspects attempted to rape the 19-year-old granddaughter. 
The man was then able to retrieve a weapon and several shots were fired between the man and the suspects in the house. The man was struck multiple times by gunshots and the suspects then fled the scene in his vehicle. 
Brandon Stephens (L), Jamar Hawkins (C) and Jamie Lee Faison (R): Source

The man was transported to Southeastern Regional Medical Center and later airlifted to another medical facility where he remains in serious condition, according to the release.
Officers later received a call from the McLeod Hospital in Dillon and discovered that Stephens and Hawkins had been shot. Both were airlifted to another medical facility for emergency surgery. 
Jamie Lee Faison, 20, was later found in the man's stolen vehicle deceased, where he had been shot, according to the release. 
During their first court appearances Friday, Stephens and Hawkins were each charged with first-degree burglary, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, possession of a firearm by a felon, first-degree sexual offense, kidnapping, and two counts each of robbery with a firearm and felony conspiracy. Bond for each suspect was set at $1 million secured. 
Stephens, Hawkins, and Faison are possible persons of interest in other home invasions, according to the release.
Another story from the Robesonian states that the grandfather is 67-year-old Kenneth Byrd.  Mr Byrd is still in serious condition after surgery, but is expected to recover.  "Recover", in this case, is a relative term.  I know several men who were shot in combat.  None of them ever fully recovered their health, and they were all young men when they were shot.

Mr Byrd is a hero.  He successfully defended his wife and granddaughter at the cost of his health, if not his life.  And, as the Robesonian points out, he was able to do so because he was armed.
We would never advise folks on how to protect themselves, but we think it’s fair to say that Kenneth Byrd and his loved ones are alive today because he had a weapon in the home and knew how to use it.
Thieves typically break into empty houses because doing so minimizes their probability of getting caught.  A criminal who invades a house he knows is occupied probably wants more than money.  A group of criminals who force their way into a house they know is occupied, beat up an elderly woman and attempt to rape a teenage girl probably want to eliminate witnesses, and that means murder.

Mr Byrd was able to prevent that because he was armed.  Suppose that, by some miracle, the confiscation crowd could make every gun on earth disappear and prevent anyone from making any more guns.  Imagine if the three criminals that invaded Mr Byrd's house had done so wielding knives and/or clubs, and Mr Byrd had no gun with which to defend his family.  How would a 67-year-old man defend his family against three much younger, stronger attackers?

He couldn't.  It's that simple.  Guns make it possible for the older, weaker and less numerous to defend themselves from the younger, stronger and more numerous, even when the attackers themselves have guns.

The Best Defense Against a Bad Guy With a Gun...

Is a good guy with a gun.  Even in Canada
By all accounts, the white-haired grandfather, a decorated veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, kept cool amid the chaos as dozens of bullets flew in the corridors, went to his office, retrieved his weapon and with a firm hand and a steely eye shot a killer before he could kill again. Vickers, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, then walked away, gun-in hand, having “taken care of business,” as one news outlet put it. 
And then he called his mother to say he was safe.
The National has a pretty good breakdown of the shootout.

This is the man himself.

Doesn't quite look like the stereotypical Hollywood hero, does he?  That's okay.  Most heroes don't.  Anyway, this is my favorite online tribute to Mr Vickers.

Hell yeah!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Vegetarians & Vegans Have Lower Sperm Counts

I'm sure you're as shocked at this confirmation of stereotypes as I am.
Researchers at Loma Linda University Medical School, in southern California, embarked on a four-year project to find out how diets affect sperm.
Vegetarians and vegans had significantly lower sperm counts compared with meat eaters, 50 million sperm per ml compared with 70 million per ml. 
They also had lower average sperm motility – the number of sperm which are active. Only one third of sperm were active for vegetarians and vegans compared with nearly 60 per cent for meat eaters. 
Those are significant differences.  The average vegetarian in this study produced 16.7 million viable sperm per ml, compared to 42.0 million for the meat eaters.  That means the vegetarians produced about 60% less viable sperm per ml when compared to the meat eaters.

Even if a man isn't interested in procreating, sperm counts and sperm motility are indicators of a man's overall health, especially his testosterone levels.  Why might vegetarians and vegans produce less viable sperm than their meat eating peers?
One factor could be diets rich in soy, the researchers hypothesis [sic.]. Soy contains phyto-oestrogens which have similar properties to the female hormone oestrogen. 
“The theory that we have come up with is that vegetarians are replacing meat with soy, which contains phytooestrogens and could be affecting fertility,” added Dr Orzylowska. 
“For children who have grown up with those kind of diets, it may have impacted on sperm quality from puberty. 
That seems like a terrible thing to do to a growing boy.  The researchers propose another possible reason.
The researchers also think that vegetarians and vegans may be deficient in vitamin b12. 
The article also references another possible reason from a separate Harvard study.
“We found men who had the highest intakes of fruit and vegetables high in pesticide residues tended to have lower sperm quality, specifically lower total normal count and mobile count” said Dr Chavarro.
My unscientific observation indicates that vegetarians and vegans tend to buy into the "organic" food (as opposed to inorganic food?) hype.  That might actually reduce the amount of pesticide residue they ingest, which would make the pesticide hypothesis invalid.

Every time I read about one of these studies comparing vegetarians to the general population, I wonder how they would compare to the strength training, paleo or primal eating segment of the population.  My unscientific observation also indicates that vegetarians and vegans tend to live healthier lifestyles than the overweight, sedentary majority of the population.  It seems more useful to compare them to other health-conscious people, rather than to people who place little to no emphasis on health and fitness.  I suspect that the differences referenced in the article would be even greater if the study compared vegans and vegetarians to paleo or primal men.

Humans are omnivores.  We're designed to eat a wide variety of foods from both vegetable and animal sources.  One can certainly live on a diet that deprives the body of one or the other, but it's far from optimum.

Meanwhile, back on the subject of stereotypes...