Indian food at CVS

So while walking through CVS to get medicine the other day, and by medicine I mean some cheap beer, I grabbed a plastic jar of Indian food off the shelf. Heck, it was only a dollar. And, by Indian food, I mean crackers with ranch-style flavoring. Mmmm.

You see, they’re made in India. I didn’t know that until I started eating them, and I thought, “This is the worst imitation of imitation ranch-style flavore dust I’ve ever tasted on a cracker.”

So, I looked at the plastic jar. It was made by someone called ‘Global Brands,’ and beneath that was printed, ‘An Imported Fine Product.’ This name conjured up vague images of the New World Order taking over our food supply, so I looked on the back. “Product of India.” It also said that the contents might have settled while shipping, and that if it doesn’t look full when opened, that’s why.

I went to their website, but it looked like an empty storefront.

Learning that I’d just eaten food manufactured between 17,500 and 21,500 miles from where I was enjoying it, I naturally wondered how long it took to go from production to my mouth. It didn’t say when the crackers were made, but it advised me to enjoy them before 06.27.2014. The fact that they actually wrote out ‘2014’ instead of just ’14’ made me wonder if these things were so well preserved that my great-great-grandchildren, should they somehow come across a jar of this crap, might accidently eat them in the early years of the 22nd Century.

Anyway, I guess I’m really wondering how one turns a profit by putting crackers in a plastic jar and sending them, literally, across the globe, so they can be stocked and sold for $.99. Is this why Hostess went out of business?

I’m not completely against the idea of eating Indian crackers, but if I’m going to eat Indian food, can’t they at least give me nom bread crackers? How about curry crackers? Are people in India looking at the ranch-style flavored dust and thinking, “Wow, we’ve been eating curry our entire lives? Ranch dust, where have you been?

I guess I feel a little guilty, having polished off my Global Brands crackers. Such a concept is anathema to my wife’s outlook of eating locally. And thinking globally. I’m eating globally, and thinking locally about my desire for ranch dust. I like eating locally. I guess. Actually, I don’t care. I’m pretty sure my genetically-modified pig grown in Laconia is going to taste like my genetically-modified pig grown in… Botswana, for example. Yes, I know, I should care. It wastes resources to fly ranch dust and other semi-edible foodstuffs around the world. But, I’m not that good a person. Since my wife does all the shopping, except for my occasional splurge on Indian food, I let her be good for me.

Anyway, if I go into the CVS and can’t find Chinese twinkies next week, I’m going to complain to the head of Global Brands.






Armor my Horse!

Heavily armored knight. Unarmored horse. Guess who gets the short end of the deal in combat?

Heavily armored knight. Unarmored horse. Guess who gets the short end of the deal in combat?

European knights in the Middle Ages were enjoying the benefits of technological advances in personal body armor. The pinnacle of the era’s armor technology, circa 1550, produced suits like this Maximilian piece, which offered full-body protection with steel plate:

Maximilian armour, circa 1550.

Maximilian armour, circa 1550.

(The armor’s curves and polish aren’t just for show – it helped deflect blows and make projectiles ricochet.)

But, the horses that bore their metal-clad masters into battles were naked, except for their fur, which provided no protection against the weapons of the time, such as arrows, quarrels, swords, halberds, pikes, lances, and maces.

The focus of fire and attacks on mounts instead of their armored riders was instrumental to victory in the battles of Legnica, (1291) Bannockburn (1314), and Agincourt (1415).

Knights quickly realized that there was no point in wearing a custom-made suit of armor that cost as much as 1,000 of their serfs could make in a year, if their mighty steed could be brought down by anything from a lice-ridden Frisian peasant with a pitchfork, to a smelly Englishman with a longbow.

So, knights across Europe got sick of having their prized mounts shot and slashed out from beneath them. They went to their armor smiths and commanded: “Armor my horse!”

Thus, barding (horse armor (or, ‘armour,’ if you’re a silly English ka-nig-ette)) took off.

But the truth is, barding has been in use for many thousands of years, since any attempt at up-armoring one’s steed fits the definition. Just as the oldest piece of body armor for humans is the helmet, so it is for horses. Except, for horses it’s called the chamfron, (or champron, or chamfrein – barding terms have never been definite in English).

The chamfron covers the horse’s head, from his ears to his muzzle, and in some cases there’s even a hinged jaw piece, which must make the animal look like Robohorse. It’s important to armor this piece of a horse, since a horse’s head is an obvious target, and a horse’s neck is so strong that merely armoring their head makes it a dangerous melee weapon. (If you’ve ever been struck senseless by a nag’s un-armored, wagging head, you can imagine what they’d do if they were coated in bronze or steel.)

The Ancient Greeks used the chamfron on their cavalry horses. But the most famous ancient chamfron was produced by the ancient Celts, circa 200 BC, before the invasion of the Romans, and it certainly embodies the beauty and mystery of that culture – just look how they armored their horses:

Tors pony cap.

Tors pony cap.

Upon seeing that, the average Roman Legionnaire must have thought he was about to fight people from Mars. (But, I’m sure they were less afraid of them, than they were of their Centurion.)

Textile covers on horses are also called barding, and they’ve been used for many thousands of years, by almost every horse-riding culture.

But, until around the year 1200, barding didn’t advance much as a martial technology, until the armor of knights became so tough that they couldn’t be killed until they were dismounted.

Barding culminated around 1600, but declined rapidly thereafter, just as body armor did, because firearms made armor redundant. There’s not a lot of sense in dressing your army in full armor if a supersonic ball of lead can punch right through it. (Though some steel body armor capable of deflecting shot was used by elites right into World War One, but more on that some other day.)

Examples of barding from its heyday (hay day?) are rare, because barding itself was rare, and because barding, when it wasn’t used, was no doubt quickly reused in a world hungry for processed iron and steel, which was a valuable commodity. The costs of barding were incredibly high. By some estimates, a custom-made suit of Maximilian or Gothic armor worn by a knight, or protecting a member of royalty leading his forces into battle, as well as his horse and its barding, was as costly as a modern-day fighter jet.

For your average European peasant, who would be lucky if he had shoes in the winter, the sight of an armored knight on an armored horse must have been like a modern-day kid seeing an F-22 fighter zoom overhead on full afterburner. Except, the F-22 wouldn’t be piloted by the kid’s fellow citizen, but by his feudal lord and master.

This is all to say, it was expensive to armor a 150-pound man (The ‘high’ average weight of a healthy male in that era!) but armoring a 1,500-pound horse was pricey, indeed. Still, some examples of plate armor barding still exist, and they’re exquisite:

Horse barding and armored rider.

Horse barding and armored rider.

Horse barding and knight armor.

Horse barding and knight armor.

Armor and barding of a Swedish King, circa 1600.

Armor and barding of a Swedish King, circa 1600.

All of these examples are from the 1500’s, up to about 1600. At the peak of the technology, the horse would be covered from muzzle to tail in plate, mail, and leather armor called cuir bouilli, or ‘boiled leather.’

This made the animal and rider combination little more than a biomechanical tank, almost invulnerable to anything except knockout delivered by another mounted warrior via a lance, or close combat. The only other thing that could take down such an armored war machine was simply an overwhelming swarm of infantry bearing pikes. When you read the Tales of King Arthur, the knights were so seriously protected that they usually didn’t die until overcome by fatigue and blood loss, sometimes after fights that lasted days.

King Arthur’s tales didn’t talk about horse armor. Usually, combat in those tales started on the horse, but transitioned to the ground after the riders were dismounted. (For an example of this, and a demonstration on the mastery a rider has over an opponent on foot, watch this clip from the flawed, but amazing movie, Excalibur.) But, I can only imagine full plate barding only extended its protection – or misery of mounted knights.

The armored segments of horse barding, from front to back, were:

Chamfron: As discussed, it covered the head. The champfron often had a decorative dagger on the nose, called a rondel.

Crinette (or, criniere): This is a segmented armor piece that covered the horse’s neck, especially the back of the neck, which is a prime target for the downward swing of a sword.

Peytral: The peytral covered the horse’s chest, and was often the heaviest piece of armor. Just as modern tanks have the majority of their armor on the front, so did horse barding. This is because the rider can point the horse toward the enemy, and the majority of blows will come from that direction – especially if you have to charge into an infantry formation. A horse equipped with a peytral that is entering an infantry formation can act, literally, like a snowplow.

The peytral sometimes extended back to the saddle, and it was connected to the flanchard.

Flanchard: The flanchard was the mid-segment between the peytral and the rear portion, called the croupiere. The flanchard was usually made of boiled leather, or mail. A difficulty in armoring this section of the horse is that a rider’s legs have to bear pressure on the horse for the animal to respond to direction. Sometimes, open segments allowed the rider to press his spurs to the horse’s flanks.

Croupiere (also, crupper, crupiere, or bacul): The croupiere covered the horse’s hindquarters, and extended from the saddle back to the tail.

Caparison: The caparison is a decorative cloth covering that extended from nose to tail, and went all the way down to the horse’s hooves. It’s not known if the caparison served more than decorative purposes, but if it was made of silk, it could, since silk cloth has been used since time immemorial as a means of protection against arrows. Silk fiber is so dense that it’s difficult for a warhead to penetrate it, and if it strikes a body, be it human or horse, the warhead will drag the silk in with it, limiting penetration and infection, and facilitating removal.



In my epic war fantasy novel, Mark of the Legion, the Cavaliers of the Imperial 1st Heavy Cavalry Division employ full plate horse barding, in the style pictured above. In researching this technology, I discovered that many features of horse barding never acquired common names, but the equipment is nonetheless on display in modern museums, such as the Wallace Collection in London, as well as the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

Some of these unnamed items of barding are:

The segmented, or mail, armor for horse reins. A tactic of fighting on mounts was to chop away the rider’s leather reins, which extend from his hands to the horse’s bit, in his mouth. In my book, the cavaliers use reins protected by plate segments.

Stirrup cages. Stirrups are traditionally made from tough leather. And while stirrup straps are protected by the knight’s armored leg, the stirrup itself, which loops around the foot, can be chopped through. Without the stirrup to stand in, a knight would be at a severe disadvantage in combat. So, knights used stirrup cages made of steel rods, like a thick bird cage, to keep those pesky infantry grunts from cutting through the stirrups. I can only imagine they were also handy for kicking grunts in the face.

Hamstring and forelock protection: While the croupiere and peytral provide major coverage for the horse’s body, they leave the legs exposed. A major target on a horse is the rear of his hind legs, attacking the major tendon popularly called the ‘hamstring.’ In fact, the tactic of attacking this area gave rise to the use of the verb, ‘hamstringing.’ I couldn’t find any examples of the hamstrings being protected, but in my novel, the Cavaliers covered their horse’s legs with mail to protect against hamstringing.

Horseshoes: Horseshoes in one form or another have been around since nearly the domestication of the horse, however, by the time that horse barding became popular in Europe, steel horseshoes with nail holes, nearly identical to those used today, were in frequent and widespread use. Any knight who valued his steed enough to armor it would certainly have a ferrier shod his horse’s hooves.

Why do I include this in barding? Because, in combat, horses will rise on their hind legs and box with their front hooves, and when they’re on all fours, they’ll kick with their rear legs. Imagine getting punched in the face by the heavyweight champion of the world, but instead of boxing gloves, he’s wearing brass knuckles. Now, imagine eight heavyweight champions punching you simultaneously, wearing steel knuckles. That’s the amount of force a kick from even a plow horse can deliver – with one rear leg. Even a body blow would simply crush your rib cage, or break your spine. While steel horseshoes aren’t technically barding, they definitely add to the combat effectiveness of a horse.

How much did barding weigh? This varied, quire a bit. But a fully-armored horse would be wearing around three hundred pounds of armor, including sections made of plate, mail, and leather. Saddle and armored rider would be another two-hundred and fifty pounds. The thickness of the plate varied depending on position, but it was built like human armor. The thickness varied from just under a millimeter, to several millimeters. Before you laugh at the thinness of that armor, go out and hit the quarter panel of your car with a sword, and see if it goes through. (It won’t.) The average thickness of a steel body panel on a modern car is .75 millimeters.

Because this is a significant load, the knights only had their battle horses armored just before a fight. Out of battle, they didn’t even ride them. They rode less expensive mounts, and carried the barding on ponies or pack horses, or in a wagon driven by a squire or page.

The types of horses that bore knights into battle, and how animals were trained to wear barding, and fight and maneuver in combat, I’ll cover in another post.

If you like barding, knights, and are interested in how they were used in combat, you might want to check out my epic war novel: Mark of the Legion, for the story of armored Cavaliers. Available on Amazon Kindle.

'Mark of the Legion' - available on Kindle.

‘Mark of the Legion’ – available on Kindle.

‘Mark of the Legion’ – my first Kindle book

busted knuckle

Lessons 1 – 11 (I’m sure more will come.)

Lesson 1: Working in the auto trades teaches you that in comparison to steel, your flesh is like warm butter, and your bones are like jello.

Lesson 2: It teaches you that no matter how strong steel is, steel is actually less strong than it looks. Steel is not permanent. It turns to rust, which falls away like dirt. In the right shapes, like the flatness of a leaf spring, or the coil of a suspension spring, or even the length of a box-shaped lift arm, spring bends and bounces and sways. Some steel bends. Some steel breaks. Some steel is cheap crap that strips when you look at it.

Lesson 3: No matter how tough it looks, When touched by an oxy-acetalyne flame, steel becomes melted butter. If you hit it hard enough, it folds, sometimes, like cardboard.

What’s harder than steel? Chemistry and physics. Physical laws make steel look like confetti.

Lesson 4: Working in the auto trades teaches you that nothing is more wrong than doing it wrong. You learn that every single muscle in your body is not enough force to force it, and if it is enough force, you’re gonna break it. You learn that if it’s done right with the right tools, it can be done by a ten-year old girl with arms like soda straws. You learn that your biggest tool is your brain, but once you learn how to do it, you barely need your brain. Until you do.

Just as physical law is stronger than steel, knowledge is stronger than muscle.

Lesson 5: It teaches you that there is nothing more immutible than physical law: Friction always makes heat. Rust is always attacking. Vapors will always ignite. Current will always flow to ground.

Lesson 6: Mother Nature hates cars.

Lesson 7: You learn that safety rules are written in blood. You never push a wrench if your knuckles can hit something. You never pull a wrench if your elbow can hit something. Current doesn’t tell you it’s there, until it’s flowing through you. An angle grinder doesn’t care whether it’s removing rust, or your skin. A tire repair punch will happily go through your hand. A vehicle will not tell you if it’s going to come off a lift. Gravity moves faster than you can. An accessory belt will keep moving even if you put your clothing in it. See: Lesson 1.

Lesson 8: You learn that the service manager and the customers will always complain, but listening to them will distract you from the vehicle. The vehicle will never complain, but if you’re distracted, you can break it. So you have to ignore those that complain, and listen to the vehicle that doesn’t.

Lesson 9: Everyone wants it done for free. Everything you do is a ripoff. If anything goes wrong on the car, even if you changed the oil and a year later there’s a flat tire from a nail picked up on the highway, it’s your fault.

Lesson 10: Working in the auto trades teaches you curses and swears you would never utter in a million years of normal company, and you don’t even learn it from other mechanics – the vehicles teach you these things.

Lesson 11: Working in the auto trades teaches you that if it might happen, it’s going to happen, so you can’t let it happen, or it will.

‘Mark of the Legion’ – my first Kindle book


“Why’s this thing so rusty? What’s my car made of, anyway?”

A customer at the garage asked me that the other day. I said, “Your car is mostly made of steel.”

“Mostly? What else?”

I didn’t have much time, and replied: “Plastic and glass.”

That definitely covered most of the rest. But as I thought about it, the variety of metals in a vehicle is extensive. Here’s a list, in alphabetical order.

Aluminum: Aluminum serves many purposes in a car, due to its light weight, conductivity, and high resistance to oxidation (rusting). Here are the places it is (or might be) used in your car:

Wheel rims.
Radio antennae.
Engine block head.
Heat shielding, to protect the underside of the car from the exhaust pipe and catalytic converter.

Brass (Zinc and copper alloy): Battery terminal leads, due to anti-corrosive properties. On older cars, the radiators, but now all radiators use aluminum fins. In all cars, in brass is used in bi-metalic conductors, which are used as fuses and relays.

Boron: Used in neodymium-boron magnets in electric motors, some speaker magnets, and in almost all starter motors.

Cerium: Used in the catalytic converter that keeps our air quality clean.

Chromium: Used in some spark plug tips.

Copper: Copper is used in all the vehicle’s wiring, and is also used in brake lines. Copper is used in the windings for all the vehicle’s electric motors, from the starter motor to the window motors. Copper is used in the windings for the alternator.

Gold: Malleable, non-corrosive, conductive. Sometimes used as very high-end spark plug tips. Some sporting applications or after-market car parts use gold-plated connectors for eletric applications, such as spark plug connectors.

Iron: Iron is the main component of steel, but (mostly pure, some silica and carbon) cast iron is used on the exhaust manifold, which has to conduct incandescent gasses burning at 800 degree F. This is because pure cast iron can withstand the metal fatigue caused by constant heating and cooling, whereas steel is more likely to crack. The exhaust manifold is the set of tubes connected to your engine that always looks rusty. It actually always is rusty, but due to the fact that water never stays on it long, and its placement in the engine, it’s never anything more than surface rust.

Lead: Lead is used in your car’s battery, where the chemical reaction of lead combining with sulfuric acid to create lead sulfate and water creates current to start your vehicle, and where the application of current from your vehicle while its running turns lead sulfate and water back into lead and sulfuric acid.

Lead is also still used in (some) wheel weights, which balance wheels. Since lead is immune to oxidation, and its ductile and dense, it’s the perfect wheel weight material. It’s just not great for the environment, so most wheel weights are now steel with an anti-corrosion coating.

Lithium: Lithium is used in lithium-ion batteries in modern hybrid vehicles.

Magnesium: Lightweight metal used in expensive car wheel rims, as well as in some very high-end engines, such as the BMW N52 engine.

Neodymium: See Boron.

Nickel: Used in Nickel-Iron for spark plug tips.

Paladium: Used in the catalytic converter – see Platinum, below.

Platinum: This precious metal, far more expensive than gold, is used in the vehicle’s catalytic converter. The ‘cat,’ as its called, prevents unburned fuel from entering the atmosphere.

Rodium: Also used in the cat.

Steel: Steel composes roughly 85% of a car’s weight. Steel is used in all components of a car’s engine, from the pistons to the crankshaft to the valve springs to the tne engine block itself.

Steel is used for all major components of the transmission, the transmission housing, the engine cradle, the vehicle frame, the transaxles, the driveshaft, all suspension components, whether they be torsion bars, springs, or leaf springs. Steel is used in brake shoes and brake rotors, as well as all the pedal levers under the dash. Steel is also used for the vehicle body, which includes things like the hood, doors, quarter panels, etc.

Tin: Tin is used in heat shielding, as well as in some vehicle brake backing plates or heat shields, to keep the hot brake components from radiating heat into the wheel well.

Tungsten: Dense, tough metal with a high melting point, used as filament in some headlights.

Yttrium: Rare earth element. Sometimes used as a spark plug tip.

Zinc: See Brass.

Zirconium: Zirconium dioxide is a major component of the oxygen sensors in a vehicle, which controls fuel trim to ensure good fuel economy, low emissions, and prevent engine knock.

So, gearheads, what did I miss? I know there have to be a few things. Some I know I left out, from vehicles of yesteryear.

Whenever I finish a novel, even if it’s a first draft, I feel like I’ve just snorted a line of coke as long as a baseball bat, and topped it off with a couple bowls of crystal meth. I’ve never done those drugs, but, why would I? Apparently, all I have to do to get their effects is crank out a novel.

I”m not sure what causes it. Maybe it’s the fact that all the novel’s ideas, scenes, and dialogue have finally been liberated from my brain, and committed to something more static than the sparks between my neurons. Maybe it’s the burden of obligation to write lifted from my shoulders. Maybe it’s an ego stroke.

On the day I finish a novel, I walk around like an idiot, grinning, absent-minded, replaying the written scenes in my head, and eagerly snapping up reviews and opinions from others. Sometimes, it feels like I’m walking on air, or I’m in love. Maybe I’m in love with the creation I’d poured so much of myself into.

I just finished my novel for National Novel Writing Month this morning at 2:30. It’s rough around the edges, in some spots the names of characters change spelling, and in others, the typos jump off the page more than the action. But, it’s a cohesive story. All the loose ends are tied together in the end, with a prolonged and satisfying climax. “It is finished.”

I’m gonna ride this high all weekend, and then it will fade by Monday. The only way to get another fix is to finish another novel. Or sell this one.

Bring it on.

Toiletbowl Tone Lock

Any guy who’s ever seen an air combat movie such as ‘Top Gun’ or ‘Iron Eagle,’ knows about tone lock. That’s the sound that the air-to-air missile makes as it locks onto an enemy’s heat signature. As Tom Cruise jockeys for position on the MIG’s six, the warhead’s tone lock is going: ‘beep beep beep BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.’ Once you hear the tone lock, he fires the missile.

This strikingly similiar to how men use the bathroom at night.

Tone lock is something all men are familiar with, because they learn it from childhood. When you find yourself in the bathroom at night, you don’t always turn on the light. Or even if you do turn on the light, it’s blinding, and you can barely see. So you stand in the usual spot, aim, fire, and listen for the tone. Silence: Adjust fire, slowly. Slight hiss: Getting warm. Slight trickle: Close to target. A deep, pouring sound means you have tone lock, and can fire away.

Any warmth on the legs means cease fire.

Often, leaning forward with one hand on the wall helps close the gap, and ensure a clean shot. This brings me to the Mandle.

The Mandle is the porcelain bathroom fixture that has yet to be invented. Many times in a bathroom, there will be a darker-than-usual spot on the wall, above and to the left of the back of the toilet. This is where a guy might seek toilet support while urinating. There should be a handle there. Or, more accurately: A Mandle. I’m kind of thinking it would be a large knob, like the top of a pistle. That way, you don’t have to get the wall dirty, or risk knocking a picture off in the dark.



How to Shoot People. (In Movies.)

Using a firearm in a movie is a great way to increase the drama of a scene. For some genres, like war, or action, firearms are almost mandatory in every scene. But the big difference in their use between the war and action genres is that in war films they’re props, and in action movies they are there to heighten tension with the threat (or promise) of violence.

Over the decades of gun use in movies and television, a convention on how to use to shoot people has been developed. It’s now clichéd and old, but it never changes, so here’s a quick guide on how to shoot people and use guns (In movies).

1.)    ‘Cocking’

Once a character has withdrawn a firearm, the threat has reached a plateau. But there is one more step a character can do to escalate the tension a bit more, without actually discharging the firearm, and that’s to cock the weapon. Cocking the weapon, be it pulling the hammer back on a revolver, or pumping a round into the chamber on a shotgun, is a little action move with the familiar sound of steel sliding and clicking. It gets the viewer’s attention.

But. You will certainly never see a character remove the safety from a firearm as a means of increasing tension, because that’s just a little move of the finger, and the safety is much quieter than cocking the weapon. It’s more realistic to remove the safety than cock it, but, oh well.

In many movies, ‘cocking’ will happen up to half a dozen times before a round goes off. It’s as if no bad guy in the world carries a live round in the chamber of their weapon. Sometimes, they will cock their weapon multiple times in one scene, but the weapon never ejects an unspent round. I’ve seen some bad action movies in which a shotgun is cocked six times before it’s fired.

2.)    How Bullets Work

The thing about how bullets work in movies is simple: They do more damage to non-living objects than they do in real life, and they do less damage to living objects than they do in real life. This way, a .357 Magnum can be used to blow up a car by shooting it in the gas tank, Dirty Harry (1971) and a .357 Magnum used by someone to shoot themselves in the head just makes a small hole with a drip of blood coming out. Eraser (1996).

In reality, shooting a .357 Magnum into the gas tank of a car would do nothing but put a hole through it. The car would drive away until it leaked out all its gas. Likewise, in reality, a .357 Magnum fired through the mouth of a suicide victim would leave a gaping hole in the back of the head and a river of blood coming out the front via the eyes, nose, and mouth.

3.)    The Best Places to Get Shot

A person with the slightest understanding of how the human body works, when asked where they would most prefer to get shot, would say, ‘Nowhere.’

However, most people in the Western world have witnessed dozens, if not hundreds (dare I say thousands?)  of gunshot wounds and injuries thanks to their screen time. From this, they have most definitely learned that there are preferable places to get shot. Perhaps the people who write action scenes, too, have learned from Hollywood the best places to take a bullet.

The best place for your hero to take a bullet is in the shoulder, between the shoulder joint and the neck, and right beneath the clavicle. This ensures that the bullet hits somewhere on the body, but not anywhere where anything will get seriously injured.

Other places to get shot safely include: Either foot. The thigh. On the edge of the abdomen. The arm. And, in Fight Club (1999) you can even shoot yourself in the mouth, and you’ll be ok as long as the bullet exits through your cheek. Heck, you won’t even bleed that much.

This is all, naturally, bullshit.

The human body is an extremely efficient device. There isn’t an inch of wasted space on it. And if there is, that’s your waist, storing food for bad times. So that’s not even wasted.

(Getting shot in ‘the fat folds,’ in which the bullet never hits a major artery, nerve, muscle, or bone, but only performs a kind of supersonic hydraulic shock liposuction, never, ever, happens.)

The problem with getting shot in the ‘safe zone’ of the upper pectoral muscle, beneath the clavicle, is that that area contains a very thick artery that feeds your right (or left) arm, along with a thick bundle of nerves that controls the entire arm, as well as a bunch of minor arteries going everywhere. It also is home to the muscles that allow your shoulder to remain upright. And any shot in that area is sure to absolutely pulverize the scapula. If it goes a tiny bit further in, it pierces the top of the lung. Nothing like a sucking chest wound to slow down an action hero.

But, when the movie hero gets shot in the safe zone, they usually just grin and bear it until they get a bandage. In reality, they wouldn’t be able to move their arm, they would be racked by immense pain, and they would be bleeding to death and / or dying of shock. They could also have a perforated lung, meaning that when the diaphragm tries to draw air into the lungs, it comes in (and exits) through a hole in your chest.

But, we can always increase dramatic tension by shooting someone in the foot. Then they have to limp, right?

Wrong. The foot has more bones in it than any other limb on your body except your hand. Actually, it has more than your hand. None of them are like your appendix – you need every single one. If even a few of those tiny bones are smashed by a speeding bullet, the foot will not operate normally – most likely, ever again. And certainly not without major surgery. The hero won’t even be able to put any weight on it. If you even lose your little toe, you have to majorly rearrange the way you walk and balance yourself.

How about the thigh? Well, the thigh is home to several major muscle groups, all of which look like big ‘meaty’ targets for a bullet to go through without actually messing up the hero too bad. However, the thigh is a bad contender for the ‘shoot me here’ award. Not only is its only bone, the femur, the very thing that keeps you standing, but all of those muscles take a lot of blood. That means there are a lot of arteries and veins there. You also have a highway of blood going right next to the thigh called the femoral artery. You might recall Black Hawk Down (2004) in which a Ranger dies because a bullet severs his femoral artery, and a field medic cannot clamp it shut. That’s probably the most realistic way a movie has ever shown a thigh shot, because it was a true story.

How about the near-suicide shot in Fight Club?

I can’t even imagine the trauma that would be caused by shooting a bullet through your cheek at point-blank range. No  – actually having the muzzle of the gun inside your mouth. The thing is, guns don’t shoot just bullets. Guns also shoot highly-pressurized incandescent gas expanding at many times the speed of sound. That’s what propels the bullet. That’s what makes the ‘big bang,’ and the muzzle flash. You might recall that pressure and heat go together. Thus, anything in the vicinity of a muzzle when a bullet is fired – like a human mouth – is going to get a supersonic, superheated muzzle blast – along with a bullet. If you want to know what the guy would look like after shooting himself through the cheek, well, just imagine Harvey Dent’s cheek from The Dark Knight. You know, with the big hole in it, and only his mandible tendon connecting? Make that both cheeks. Hell, it might even kill him due to the shock of the pressure going down into his lungs, and blasting up and through his sinuses. It could even destroy his eardrums – blowing them from the inside out. He might live, but Edward Norton wouldn’t be in any shape to get up and stand with Helen Bonham-Carter and watch the corporate credit world implode.

But I’m getting sidetracked.

4.)    How People Act When Shot

Getting shot is kind of like having a Double-A battery pushed through your body by a locomotive, except it happens as fast as a summer storm lightning strike. If you are shot by something within a few feet, you’re going to get seriously burned, too, from the muzzle-flash thingy we talked about. There’s other stuff in a round besides a bullet. There’s ‘wadding’ which protects the bullet from the charge, and there’s the charge itself, which mostly burns up, but not entirely. So when you shoot someone really close, their clothes or flesh get burned and spotted by the superheated, burning charge, along with the impact of the wadding. This is besides the hole from the bullet, that is.

Now, when you shoot a minor bad guy, the rule is simple: They die immediately. They might make a little ‘grunt’ of pain on their way to the floor, but that’s it. One shot, one kill.

If you shoot a minor nice guy, you can have them cry about it a little more, and maybe a medium range shot of their face in agony, but only for a split second.

If you shoot a medium-level bad guy, they probably shouldn’t die with one shot. It’s best to give them a couple shots. Often the handy thing to do is shoot them so they drop to their knees in pain, look up at the good guy, and he sends them off with a one-liner and a second shot.

If you shoot a medium-level good guy, you usually want them to die after they take down a couple low-to-medium level bad guys. The can have a close up. Usually they want their wife and kids to know they love them.

If you shoot a top-level bad guy, a boss, it will NOT kill him. It will only wound him so that he then has the chance to be killed in a more brutal, unusual, and deservedly dramatic fashion. Like, getting crushed by a falling shipping container Eraser (1996) or blown out into the low-pressure atmosphere of Mars to die of horrible asphyxiation Total Recall (1990).

Breaking this convention has been used to great comedic effect in Austin Powers (1997) in which Dr. Evil’s henchman Mustafa is offscreen. Before Dr. Evil can continue with his master plan, he’s waiting for the ‘bang’ of a gunshot to signify the clean execution of Mustafa. But, after the ‘bang,’ Dr. Evil is interrupted by Mustafa’s rant: “Ow! You shot me! You shot me right in the leg! Why would you do this!”

Guns are not the best way to kill people in action movies. Not the best people, anyway. Guns only finish the minor guys. The only real exception is in sniper movies, where the bad guy has to be shot in the head by a high-powered rifle, be it at long range Sniper (1993) or short range Enemy at the Gates (2000). Other times, though, you want the main bad guy and the main good guy to fire at each other for the whole movie, and then at the end the bad guy takes a human shield and says, “Ok, Arnie, put down the gun or she gets it!” And then the hero does a turnabout, and kills the bad guy without a gun.

5.)    Spontaneous Protection from Gunfire

There are many ways an action hero can avoid being shot. Well, shot to death, that is. The first, of course, is the bulletproof vest. The first use of the spontaneous bulletproof vest was probably Fistful of Dollars (1964) in which the antihero uses the top of a steel stove beneath his poncho. Of course, the deadeye rifle shot firing at him didn’t realize his target was immortal until he ran out of bullets. He should have just shifted his aim to the space between his enemy’s eye. At least after three shots.

Extemporaneous bulletproofing of the body was also done in Batman (1988), when Michael Keaton’s Mr. Wayne put a silver tray under his shirt before walking into certain death.

Another way you can bulletproof a hero is by giving him or her a keepsake that they like to wear in their breast pocket, like a silver whiskey flask, a thick pocket Bible with mysterious metal covers, etc. These are great because they can protect your hero from a center of mass kill shot. As long as the bad guy doesn’t check their pulse, that is. But for awhile, the drama is there because the hero looks like he’s toast.

Body armor. The truth is, bulletproof vests are actually portrayed somewhat realistically in most movies. This is because the actual events that occur when someone wearing one gets shot fit well into dramatic scenarios. A bulletproof vest like the ones in most movies, made to be worn beneath street clothes, is a fibrous material that ‘stops’ a bullet, but the force of the bullet itself is transmitted to the wearer. If you recall my analogy of the Double-A battery pushed through your by a locomotive, you can imagine that getting shot while wearing a vest is highly uncomfortable. It’s akin to being hit with a sledge hammer swung by a Major League batter. Bones can break. Bruises will certainly form. The target might be knocked down, not so much by the bullet – the bullet transmits the same amount of force to the recipient as it does to the shooter, but by the shock and surprise of taking a bullet, and the impact of that bullet’s point.

This works for drama because the audience, or reader, might not know for certain that the hero was wearing a bulletproof vest. Even if they suspect he or she was, they have to wait a few seconds while this is revealed. The bad guy will usually assume they didn’t have a vest, and run off, giving a short break to the action.

A great use of guns and bulletproof vests was in Point Break (1991), easily one of the best action movies of the 90s. Woah – Keanu Reeves starred in the first awesome action movie of that decade, and the last: The Matrix (1999). But in Point, his undercover FBI agent takes some awesome shots right to the chest, and writhes in agony as he recovers from the impact transmitted to his torso through his vest. Likewise, Patrick Swayze gets blown straight off a bank teller counter by a shot that hit him square on, and survives due to his vest. However, their compatriot Roach died a slow, leaky death from the shots he took without his vest (later dying of blood loss and shock – completely different from the usual low-level bad guy death) and Agent Utah’s mentor dies an atypical death from point-blank shotgun fire to the chest. (His last words were just ‘Utah…’)

Now that I think of it, The Matrix had a great mix of the usual gunfire deaths, along with the awesome demise of Neo, who took about 15 rounds, point blank, to the chest, from a .50 caliber Desert Eagle pistol. And to top it off, Agent Smith ordered his henchman to ‘check him,’ meaning to check the pulse!  Despite the bloody carnage that had been Neo’s chest, the henchman obeyed, and smugly reported, “He’s gone.”

But of course, what happened next cannot happen in any other movie, ever again.

Other  means of protection include: Ducking behind cover (naturally) or standing behind cover, as Tom Arnold did in True Lies (1995) when he stood behind a steel I-beam to avoid being shot by the 7.62x39mm rounds from an AK-47. But we can’t dismiss the best spontaneous protection from gunfire, which was never shown on screen until Total Recall – the human shield. It’s often best to use a corpse as a human shield, but if a corpse is not handy, just use a bad guy, by handling his body with some martial arts move. However, since human shields are actually alive, or just were, you have to use some rules with them. They can’t be women or children.

Well, actually, they can be women or children, as long as it’s a bad guy using them as a human shield. And if it’s a child human shield, you know the bad guy will get away.

There’s also dodging bullets. Though this was done famously in The Matrix, it’s actually the usual fare – the target runs, dodges and turns, and bullets plink all around him. This is, in some ways, realistic, because hitting a moving target can be incredibly difficult, given some circumstances. But when the hero uses dodging to escape a pistol pointed directly at him, it’s pretty unrealistic – a real cop out. A great example of an impossible dodge move is from A History of Violence, (2005) in which Vigo Mortgenson’s character escapes from the pistol sights of his old boss by getting up and running will dodging and turning like a running back returning a punt. That was pretty insane, but then again he was Aragorn.

You also have disarmament – having the hero snatch the gun from their enemy, which also is a nice way of bringing a turnabout, like in The Book of Eli (2009), or in The Matrix when Carrie-Ann Moss’ Trinity flips a soldier’s shotgun around and dispatches him with it. However, the fact that she shot directly into his bulletproof vest didn’t prevent his instant death, which leads us to a side note on the use of bulletproof vests: For minor characters, bulletproof vests or body armor are just costumes. They have all the bullet-stopping power of paper bags.

The combination of dodging bullets and disarming, or, blocking (by manually sweeping away an enemy’s pistol) was actually conceptualized as a martial art called ‘Gun Kata’ in Equilibrium (2002), performed by a special class of government agent called a Grammaton Cleric, who worked for the Tetragrammaton. (The fact that the Tetragrammaton is actually the technical word for the Biblical ‘name’ of God -YAWHEH – has nothing to do with the movie, except it’s an awesome-sounding word.)

Your hero can also jump into water. Water doesn’t, of course, block bullets. But, bullets slow down very fast in water. They also make very dramatic trails of bubbles from the bullets’ cavitation. You can always chalk up the misses to the lack of visibility. Sometimes you get shot underwater. Actually, that’s only happened once on-screen, in Saving Private Ryan (1998), but then again, that was a real story. Most of the time the hero swims away through a stream of cavitating bullet trails, like in, well, too many movies to name.

What water never protects a hero from, however, is the shockwave transmitted through water by an explosion. This is absolutely devastating. But, I’m getting off track again.

6.)    Sidenote: Ricochets

Ricochets are a minor, but significant, source of gunshot wounds that have only been used as a cause of death in a very small number of movies. This is because it’s difficult to use ricochets to dramatic effect – death by ricochet is much less deliberate a death delivery method than aiming and shooting. However, it was used in Iron Man (2008) when a minor bad guy tried to execute Tony Stark as he wore his prototype Iron Man body armor, with a point-blank shot to his helmet, but was instead killed when the bullet ricocheted into his own, unarmored, head. A ricochet was also used to comedic effect in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), in which an entire tank full of enemies was taken out by one shot bouncing around the interior of the steel-walled combat vehicle.

7.)    Blinking

When you are using a firearm, the worst time to blink is when the gun goes off. This is because you will momentarily lose sight of your target, and you will not see where your shot hit. You want to keep your eyes open through the moment when the gun goes off. This goes against your body’s instinct to flinch, and blink, when a large explosion goes off near your face, which is essentially what happens when you pull the trigger on a live round.

However, most of the time, you will see your favorite actor or actress blinking – even squeezing their eyes shut – when they pull the trigger. You can see it even better in slow-motion firefights.

The best example of this is Mila Jovovich when she plays Alice in the endless Resident Evil series of zombie movies. Alice has been blinking and squinting her way through firefights – some of which last for 89 of the 90 minutes in the movie – since the early 2000s.

Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t love Mila Jovovich. I love her even more because you can see that while she’s playing Alice in these endless movies, she’s really trying her best to do a great part in a crappy (but oddly entertaining) B movie. It doesn’t help that 90% of those movies are done on a green screen, which is why it never really looks like she’s actually in the environment she’s in. (You can always tell by how her gaze is never quite on the action, that someone is telling her, “Ok, Mila, now, you’re aiming both your pistols at a giant half-human, half-rhinoceros zombie, and you’re shooting it the head, and, you’re shooting, shooting… Jump out of the way!”)

But what I mean to say, is that ever since she started using guns, no one told her to keep her eyes open when they’re going off.

8.)    Dual-Wielding Weapons

There’s a reason why you never see professional gun-wielding warriors, like the members of Delta Force, or the Navy SEALS, walking around with a pistol in each hand, and that’s because dual-wielding is stupid. The only movie to ever have dual-wielding in a semi-plausible way was Under Siege (1990) in which Steven Seagal’s Navy commander was walking down a narrow corridor, with bad guys to the front, and bad guys in the rooms on his left. So he walked with one pistol pointed forward, and one pointed left, held over the forearm of the gun pointed forward, while he searched for targets in a temporary situation.

But, the problem with dual wielding is that winning a gunfight or coming out alive in a shooting scenario requires great accuracy. It’s impossible to aim with two guns at the same time, and it’s more stable to hold one gun with two hands. You also have to reload a gun sometimes, and this requires two hands. Dual-wielding firearms only works in movies.

It looks awesome, though.

Especially in the climax of Equilibrium, in which Christian Bale’s Cleric Preston simply hoses down scores of enemy soldiers with an automatic pistol in each hand.

9.)    Disarming Shots

Sometimes a hero will disarm a bad guy by shooting a gun out of his hand. Yeah, I suppose it can happen – people win the lottery, too.

10.)   Sighting a rifle

We just watched Get the Gringo (2012) the other night. While it was great, it had its own magical firearms, like any movie. One of the magical firearms was a sniper rifle. Now, Mel Gibson’s character was an ex-sniper, and he was a good shot. However, the un-cinematic truth is that a rifle has to be ‘zeroed,’ or, its sights adjusted, for the individual shooter. This is best done on range of known distance, and there’s a procedure for it for each rifle. Basically, the shooter will use a stable firing position to shoot the weapon, and once they are certain they are getting a good group (meaning that the shooter is using proper form to fire accurately) they will adjust the weapon’s sights so that it fires true. The reason that it’s a little different for every person is because everyone holds their weapon a tiny bit differently.

If the rifle is not zeroed, its accuracy will suffer. But, you never see this in a movie. For all intents and purposes, every gun in every movie is capable of shooting straight.

You also never see a person cleaning a gun in a movie. The truth is that if you’re rolling around in the dirt with a weapon, the weapon is just a magnet for mud, leaves, sticks, small animals – you name it. Ever try to sight a target when there’s a dead leaf smashed into the front sight post? You might as well be wearing a blindfold.

11.) First-Person Aiming

Movies often show the first-person view through a sniper scope. Everyone knows what that looks like – from a movie perspective, anyway. But the thing the movie cannot show is that what you see through a sniper scope is still damn small. A person at 600 yards away might look like nothing but a tiny black dot in some bushes, and the sniper would realize that the tiny black dot is an enemy’s hat. But this doesn’t work cinematically, because film lacks the ability to convey the idea that the tiny black dot is an enemy. So, targets always look huge when they’re seen in the first-person sniper scope view in a movie. They look so big that the target is actually in iron sight range.

There is one movie – just one – that I’ve ever seen that shows what it looks like when a shooter is peering through the iron sights of a weapon, and that movie is Casualties of War (1986). During a firefight, Michael J. Fox’s character is looking through the sights of his M-16. The film clearly shows the rear sight ring and the front sight post, it shows the soldier trying to line up his sights and put them on moving targets, and the targets that he’s aiming at are so far away that the front sight post covers the targets. (Even though ‘far’ is only about 300 meters, in this case.) This is all done to great dramatic effect, because it shows what a difficult job that actually is, but because the camera shot was so unconventional, I have a feeling only veterans know what was being conveyed.

Bonus: Bows and Arrows

Some people would rather be shot with a gun that a bow. At least, shot with a razor-blade arrowhead fired from a compound bow. That’s because while guns kill from massive trauma to bodily organs and / or the central nervous system and / or brain and / or exsanguinations, arrows kill almost solely through exsanguinations. That means bleeding to death. This can take awhile, and is in contrast to the quick deaths by arrow shown in almost any movie.

An important aspect of arrows is the warhead. There are two major types: Bodkins, which are points, and broadheads, which are the flat, sharp, wide triangles. Bodkins penetrate armor, and were used in warfare until firearms took over all ranged fighting. Bodkins won Agincourt. Broadheads cut blood vessels, and are equally effective at cutting down either game, or fleeing, unarmored peasants.

Well, just keep in mind that whenever you see Robin Hood, or Geronimo, or Katness Everdeen, taking down enemies with an arrow, that death by arrow is a slow, painful affair in which the victim bleeds to death. Sometimes, bleeding to death can take days. There’s lots of groaning and yelling involved. But death by arrows is in movies is always clean and fast – the exact opposite of how it is in real life. Unless you happen to sever someone’s carotid artery with a speeding broadhead.

Oh – one note about arrows in movies. Sometimes, they show them moving in slow motion. The arrow should be spinning, just like a bullet. The arrow’s fins are at a slight angle to impart spin, because spin creates stability. The Book of Eli has a slow-motion arrow flight in the beginning of the movie, but the arrow doesn’t spin.

Another weakness of arrows in movies is that the archers always have a never-ending supply of arrows. In the movie Prince Caspian, (2008) Susan’s quiver never goes empty – it always has three or four arrows in it. Well, maybe it was magical. Oh well.

Well, ta ta for now. In the meantime, try not to get shot. Maybe you should learn Gun Kata.

Christian Bale’s as Preston in the climax of ‘Equilibrium.’