Sunday, April 13, 2008

A New Kind of War?

From an email forwarded by my mom:
New Direction for any war: Send Service Vets over 60!

I am over 60 and the Armed Forces thinks I'm too old to track down terrorists. You can't be older than 42 to join the military. They've got the whole thing ass-backwards. Instead of sending 18-year olds off to fight, they ought to take us old guys. You shouldn't be able to join a military unit until you're at least 35.

For starters:

Researchers say 18-year-olds think about sex every 10 seconds. Old guys only think about sex a couple of times a day, leaving us more than 28,000 additional seconds per day to concentrate on the enemy.

Young guys haven't lived long enough to be cranky, and a cranky soldier is a dangerous soldier. "My back hurts! I can't sleep, I'm tired and hungry" We are impatient and maybe letting us kill some asshole that desperately deserves it will make us feel better and shut us up for a while.

An 18-year-old doesn't even like to get up before 10 a.m. Old guys always get up early to pee so what the hell. Besides, like I said, "I'm tired and can't sleep and since I'm already up, I may as well be up killing some fanatical son-of-a-bitch.

If captured we couldn't spill the beans because we'd forget where we put them. In fact, name, rank, and serial number would be a real brainteaser.

Boot camp would be easier for old guys. We're used to getting screamed and yelled at and we're used to soft food. We've also developed an appreciation for guns. We've been using them for years as an excuse to get out of the house, away from the screaming and yelling.

They could lighten up on the obstacle course however. I've been in combat and didn't see a single 20-foot wall with rope hanging over the side, nor did I ever do any pushups after completing basic training.

Actually, the running part is kind of a waste of energy, too. I've never seen anyone out run a bullet.

An 18-year-old has the whole world ahead of him. He's still learning to shave, to start up a conversation with a pretty girl. He still hasn't figured out that a baseball cap has a brim to shade his eyes, not the back of his head.

These are all great reasons to keep our kids at home to learn a little more about life before sending them off into harm's way.

Let us old guys track down those dirty rotten coward terrorists. The last thing an enemy would want to see is a couple of million pissed off old farts with attitudes and automatic weapons who know that their best years are already behind them.

If nothing else, put us on border patrol....we will have it secured the first night!
Though I'm sure this was intended purely as humor, there's a germ of truth in this, as well. The notion was explored in a science fiction novel I read recently (Old Man's War by John Scalzi). The sheer physicality of combat ensures that it's a young man's profession – but the technology of modern warfare is making some dents in that requirement. I suspect that wars of the future will be less and less fought by the young, an military organizations will increasingly need brains over brawn...


All of our normal hummingbird species are back, though not in full numbers yet. Right at the moment, they're eating 3 to 4 quarts of “hummer juice” a day, up from a pint or less in mid-winter. In the peak of the hot summer, we'll probably get up to 7 to 10 quarts a day.

The little lady at right, looking at me as I snapped her picture, is (I think) a female Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna). She's got her make-up on: a dusting of golden pollen clearly visible just behind er bill, between her eyes. The males of all the hummingbird species are much more showy, but the females are beautiful, too, in their own way...

Trying to capture these absurdly zippy little creatures on film is a real challenge. These photos are about 10% of the photos I took. Back in the bad old days of silver-halide film, this would have been an expensive morning! The series of male black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) below is a good example. These sorry excuses for photos are the very best of about 40 that I took over a period of about 30 minutes. During that entire period, there was no moment when there were less than a dozen or so of these gorgeous birds buzzing around me to get to the feeders – so there was no lack of opportunity. But these little guys move so fast, and so rarely hover for more than a second, and flash their purple band so infrequently, that to get it all right (in flight, in focus, and showing purple) approaches impossibility. I've never done it yet, in several years of attempts...

The fellow at right is a male Anna's hummingbird, not fully in mating plumage yet (this develops over the period of a few weeks each spring). The males don't all develop their mating plumage at exactly the same time; some individuals in our area look like they're already finished, and some others have barely started.

I couldn't identify the female at left, below, but I enjoyed the way she was watching my reflection in the feeders.

What do we feed our hummers? That's easy: a mixture of 4 parts water to 1 part ordinary cane sugar (by volume, in both cases). We put orange food coloring in because it helps attract orioles to the feeders (they are noticably partial to the color orange). Sometime last year it dawned on us that the food coloring was actually the most expensive part of making hummer juice – so I went a-googlin’, and found several online sources for bulk food coloring. We bought a gallon, along with a nice dispenser that makes it simple to measure (2 squirts per quart!) as well. This has worked out great.

In addition, once the volume the hummers are eating picks up a bit we will start making hummer juice in 5 gallon batches. Last year this greatly reduced the labor for us to keep the feeders full; we only needed to make a batch about once every three days. The large batch also cuts down on another problem: when we made the hummer juice a feeder or two at a time, there would inevitably be small differences in the sugar content at each feeder – and the hummers would show a clear preference for one (I'm guessing the one with the highest sugar content). They'd abandon all the other feeders until their preferred feeder ran dry, and they they'd go to the next best one. Now with all the feeders filled from the same batch, they spread out more evenly amongst the feeders (we have as many as nine up at a time).

The little lady at right is one I can't identify Her chin is strikingly white, and she's got a distinctive dark patch in front of her eye – both of which features don't match any of the hummingbirds in Sibley's. Sigh...

These photos were all taken with a Canon 10D, using a Canon 100mm macro lens. Most of these were taken at a range of between 2 feet and 4 feet. The hummingbirds at our feeders are quite used to Debbie and I; we can stand directly next to a feeder and have our eyeballs just a few inches from the hummingbirds feeding or buzzing around. Sometimes they even land on us! But the camera – especially the mirror noise as I take a picture – seems to spook them, and they often scoot right out of my photo before the shutter opens...

The batch below are all male Anna's hummingbirds – the showiest of them all right at the moment:

The fellow at right is a male black-chinned hummingbird, in profile with no flash of purple (though it's certainly there, if the light is right). The black-chinned males are the smallest of our male hummingbirds, but they are notably aggressive – routinely chasing larger hummingbirds away from the feeders, sometimes whole groups of them at once.

The black-chinned males also have particularly showy and aggressive display (to court females): they zoom up 50 feet or more high, then fly at full speed nearly straight down. Just before they hit the ground, they do an incredibly tight U-turn – I think in less than a 5 foot radius – and zoom almost straight back up. They make a distinctive sound as they make that U-turn, so it's easy to know when one of them is displaying, so you can watch (they repeat the display many times). Usually the bottom of their course ends up just in front of some manzanitas, in which a gaggle of females will be watching, swivel-headed. It's almost as much fun to spot them as it is to watch the male displaying!

Finally, a couple of females at the feeders...