Blog Archives

Colonial-era Weapons of The Patriot

I wrote the following essay a few years ago after seeing the Mel Gibson movie about the American Revolution, The Patriot.  Enjoy!

The Patriot, as a Revolutionary War movie, mainly depicts black powder rifles and cannon in the battle scenes. However, two edged weapons that are prominent in the movie are the sabre, used especially by the evil British Col. Tavington, and the tomahawk, used by the hero Ben Martin. We know, in fact, that the crucial juncture in Martin’s decision to enter the war has arrived when he brings out his old tomahawk from storage. The final battle between him and Tavington, of course, is fought hand-to-hand with these weapons. Let’s take a look at these early American weapons.

The sabre (or saber–both spellings are used) was the standard sidearm of the officer corps on both sides during the Colonial/Revolutionary era. The sabre is a curved, single-edged weapon about 2 1/2–3 feet long. It can be used for stabbing, to a limited extent, but is principally a slashing weapon. This makes it ideal for use from horseback, which is why it was mainly a weapon of cavalry and officers. Foot soldiers used mainly bayonets or knives (the precursors of the Bowie knife). The movie is very accurate in its portrayal of sabre use. The sabre was reserved until the charge. The idea was that both sides would line up on the battlefield and fire several rounds at each other in turn. When one side was confident that the foe was getting the worse of it, the general would command a charge. If all went well for the charging side, the enemy would break and run. Whether they did or not, bayonets and swords were used at this stage because the rifles and pistols of the era were impossible to reload on the run. Thus, like the Roman gladius or the modern service pistol, the sabre was used in the hand-to-hand phase of battle, which usually came near the end of the engagement.

Read the rest of this entry


This post was written a few years back, hence the reference to old news as if it were newly breaking.  I’ve edited it lightly, but left it as is, by and large.

The horrendous collapse of the I-35 W bridge in Minneapolis is still all over the airwaves and cyberspace.  I don’t watch TV that much and hadn’t been online most of the evening last night.  Thus, as it happens, I found out when my sister, who lives in Minneapolis-St. Paul, called to tell me she was all right.  My first response was a confused, “Well, that’s good…”  She realized I didn’t know what was going on, and explained.  My wife turned on MSNBC and we saw the footage.  Truly awful.

Infrastructure is one of the hobby horses I keep returning to here.  In addition to the original post, I have discussed aspects of the issue here and here.  My basic thesis has been and still is that to most people infrastructure is A) a matter of no concern whatsoever and B) indistinguishable from magic.  B is of course a reference to Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum about a sufficiently advanced technology, but the sad thing is that here I’m talking about current technology.  The point is that we have power grids, plumbing and water systems, roads, bridges and so on that are forty, fifty, or even over one hundred years old in this country which have had little but the most cursory and cosmetic overhaul throughout most of their lifespan; and people in this country are OK with that! Read the rest of this entry

2+2=…uh, wait, let me grab my calculator….

This is an essay originally written about seven years ago.  The subject matter is just as pertinent, if not more so.

Over the last month I have been working every other day as a substitute teacher.  I am currently working towards secondary school certification so I can teach full-time in the public schools at the high school level.  Of course, I’ve taught for seventeen years, but I still need that piece of paper for the public schools…but don’t get me started on that….  Anyway, most recently I taught for six years at a proprietary (i.e. for-profit) two-year college.  It was during this time that I discovered that proprietary colleges are the tool of Satan.  Don’t get me started on that, either.  Anuway, as you may guess, doing the proprietary college thing didn’t work out, and it’s time for a change.  Thus, partly for continued income (always a good thing, especially if you’ve got a mortgage, a toddler, and four cats!) and partly to get my foot in the door, I’ve been subbing at the high school and middle school in the town where I live.  Next semester, when I will be taking all night classes at college, I hope to substitute every day, rather than every other day, as now. Meanwhile, even subbing every other day has provided some interesting insights.

My field is mathematics–let me point that out right away.  Also, let me point out a few other things.  First, I’m a mediocre mathematician–I’m not even fit to unlace John Nash’s shoes, mathematically speaking.  I’m a damn good math teacher though.  Though I actually am an arrogant bastard, that’s not boastful blather, but a reasonable hypothesis based on seventeen years of consistently good performance evaluations–except for one from the aforementioned Satanic college, which according to a friend in the know there, was political; but don’t get me started on that!–and testimonials by former students.  I know my weaknesses, though, and as I said, I am a mediocre mathematician.  I graduated from a state university not known as a training ground for great mathematicians, and before that I graduated from a high school of only about 800 (graduating class of 160).  I was raised in a very small town of a population roughly equal to the student body of my high school (which was, obviously, in a different town).  The point is, mathematically, both in aptitude and training, I am nothing special, to say the least. Read the rest of this entry

Poetic Prufrockian Purloining

Madison Cawein in 1905

I was fooling around on Wikipedia awhile back. It’s a really good site, I might add–free content, wide variety of subjects, and for the most part the material’s accuracy is comparable to that of the mid-range print encyclopedias. I read it for entertainment on a regular basis (yeah, I’m the kind of geeky guy who read World Book and Britannica for recreation in school–so sue me!). Anyway, I was reading the article on T. S. Eliot, and it mentioned something I had never heard of before. Apparently in the 90’s it was pointed out that some of the imagery and the very name of his poem “The Waste Land” bore a striking resemblance to that in a poem written about 1913 by an obscure poet from Louisville, Kentucky (of all places!) by the name of Madison Cawein (this was an earlier edit of the article; I think this particular reference is no longer there).

I linked off to Cawein’s poem forthwith, of course, and read it. Now, I actually had to read Eliot’s “Waste Land” in a college honors class I took about twenty years ago, and haven’t reread it since. I do have the iPad app that has the full text and various recitations of it, and I’ve skimmed parts of it; I just haven’t re-read the whole thing.  Moreover, I make no claim to having understood it that well in college, at least from a straight reading–certainly the edition we had contained copious footnotes, which helped. Still, the poem does have more than a little obscurity in it. Eliot’s habit of referencing every writer in the Western canon and some from the Hindu tradition as well, at the rate (seemingly) of a dozen allusions per line didn’t help, even for a fairly bright and well-read 21-year-old! The point is that I found it obscure then, and that was twenty years ago, so I really don’t remember enough to make a comparison (although I may re-read Eliot’s poem). Read the rest of this entry

True (?) Identities

One thing that has always fascinated me is the dichotomy we observe with writers and other creative people.  That is, the dichotomy between the author’s persona, as he or she comes across in his (I revert to the masculine pronoun henceforth for simplicity–no sexism intended) works, and the author as he actually is as a flesh-and-blood person.  Specifically:  Often the works of an writer or director or actor or other artist may move us profoundly and deeply.  They may contain wisdom and insight, compassion and breadth of spirit; reading or watching them may change our lives.  We come to see the author (or the projection of him we derive from his works) as a kindred spirit, or a teacher, or a friend, or even a brother or sister.

Then reality breaks in.  We read about the author, or see something about him in the news, or (in rare cases) meet him in person.  So many times, the person in real life is so far from what we have perceived through the mediation of the art:  nasty, vulgar, unkind, boorish, you name it.  The man who writes with insight and compassion about women may be a womanizer and misogynist in life.  The writer of children’s books may be a childless child-hater.  The sculptor of wise and compassionate prose may be a boor.  The unerring guide may be a two-bit drunk.  I think the awareness of this dichotomy is why some people (my wife included), so far from being of the fanboy mentality, actually prefer not to meet their favorite writers, performers, or artists, even in the rare cases in which this is possible! Read the rest of this entry

Heading Down the Roller Coaster

Last time I essentially argued that the 90’s were the best decade, objectively speaking, of the 20th Century, perhaps of all human history.  I’d like to try to finish it now.

Basically, I argued that pretty much every decade except perhaps for the 1920’s had some major negative thing going on–world wars, depressions, social turmoil, the Cold War, and so on.  Those of us who came of age in the 60’s and 70’s (in my case, the latter, having been born in the same year as President Kennedy’s assassination) had it easy in a lot of ways–we never knew real privation, there were no draft and no wars to speak of, and it sometimes seems that the 70’s and 80’s served as backdrops to our parties.

Nevertheless, as I tried to point out in the earlier post, it’s hard to get across to those born after about 1970 or so just what it was like to live even during the tail end of the Cold War.  Maybe I was oversensitive, but the possibility of the Big One was always at the back of my mind.  Every time there was a news flash, a little knee-jerk reaction deep inside screamed “Omygod!  They’ve launched the missiles   We’re all done for!!!”  One of my most distinct memories of this sort occurred in the late evening in December of 1980.  The newsflash logo came on, my innards twisted in their usual fashion, and when the announcer came on, it was not the beginning of Armageddon, but the murder of John Lennon.  Tragic, but considering the alternative, a relief, relatively speaking. Read the rest of this entry

A View from Just Past the Top of the Roller Coaster

Several years ago, when my daughter was about three or four,  I was rocking her to sleep, and as is often the case, my mind was drifting around randomly.  I was thinking about the last century and the way things have been going in this one so far.  Having a child makes one think about such things, I guess (being forty-something probably contributes, too).  It was both interesting and tragic to think that I may have lived through the greatest and most hopeful decade of our country’s history, perhaps of the world’s history.  That decade is over and has been for many years; wherein the tragedy.

If you consider, the 20th Century was pretty much a mess:  the two bloodiest wars in human history, the increasing prevalence of full-scale genocides, the worst pollution the planet has know, global warming, &c. &c. &c.  We all know that already.  There were also good things, too–I’m aware of that.  Think of it, however, by the decades (a very 20th-Century way of looking at history, in fact, so appropriate here!). Read the rest of this entry