Saturday, January 20, 2018

An "emotional support chicken"???

I think I've heard it all now.

The day of the service duck and emotional support chicken on airlines may be drawing to a close.

Delta Air Lines Inc. said Friday it will more thoroughly vet passengers’ efforts to fly with all manner of unusual animals, which often board U.S. airlines under the guise of psychological or medical support.

“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” the airline said Friday in a news release. “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”

There's more at the link.

The only sort of "emotional support" I need from a chicken is in the form of comfort food.  That's why my emotional support chicken's initials are "KFC"!


That thing could take your leg off!

If this isn't the biggest snapping turtle ever, it'll do until a bigger one comes along.

It's swimming beneath the ice in an Arkansas lake.  It was spotted last week.  The article has a picture of another big one after the text.

That image should make anyone think twice about swimming in some Arkansas lakes . . . you could lose some vital assets, up to and including a leg!


Friday, January 19, 2018

He needs to buy a lottery ticket!

With luck like that, this Chinese motorcyclist is sure to win . . . unless he's just used it all up.


When money becomes worthless

I was reminded of my younger years when reading this article about inflation in Venezuela.

A friend recently sent me a photograph ... [of] the detritus left behind after a store was looted last week in San Felix, a city in the country’s southeast ... strewn about in the trash are at least a dozen 20-bolivar bills, small-denomination currency now so worthless even looters didn’t think it was worth their time to stop and pick them up.

. . .

Hyperinflation is disorienting. Five or six years ago, the 500 bolivars on the floor would’ve bought you a meal for two with wine at the best restaurant in Caracas. As late as early last year, they would’ve bought you at least a cup of coffee. At the end of 2016, they still bought you a cup of café con leche, at least. Today, they buy you essentially nothing ... Prices are now rising more than 80 percent per month, according to the opposition-led National Assembly’s Finance Committee. (The government itself stopped publishing official inflation data long ago.) At that rate, prices double every 34 days or so. Salaries lag far behind, leaving more and more of the country to face outright hunger. Thus, the looting.

Rule No. 1 of surviving hyperinflation is simple: Get rid of your money. Given the speed with which money is shedding its value, holding on to it means you’re losing out. The second you’re paid you run out as fast as you can to buy something – anything – while you can still afford it. It’s better to hold almost any asset than money, because assets hold their value and money doesn’t.

. . .

Under hyperinflation, money no longer works. It doesn’t store value. It just stops doing the basic things people expect money to do. It stops being something you want to have and turns into something you’ll do anything to avoid having: something so worthless you won’t even bend down and scoop it up off the floor while you’re looting.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

In South Africa, during my formative and young adult years, inflation was running at a steady 10%-20% per year.  As a result, one's wealth eroded steadily, but in a way that was more or less manageable.  One's salary increases every year had two components;  one to compensate for inflation, and the other to reward performance.  It wasn't unusual for people to get at least a 10% increase every year (at least, in the commercial sector).  Top performers might double that, and get a bonus on top.  Workers in the mines or in agriculture, occupations largely reserved for races other than white, were worse off, getting little or no increase to compensate them for inflation.  As a result, their already appallingly poor standard of living eroded steadily, adding to the social and political unrest sweeping the country.  It was one of the factors that brought an end to apartheid.  Those policies had simply become unaffordable.

Just to our north, in Zimbabwe, hyperinflation arrived during the late 1990's.  It's a well-known story, so I won't go into it here.  Suffice it to say that "Zimbabwe's peak month of inflation is estimated at 79.6 billion percent in mid-November 2008".  Those figures are, of course, meaningless.  Once one's dealing with billions of percent, one's basically guessing, sucking the numbers out of one's thumb.  There are no economic measurement systems adequate to come up with hard and fast numbers, and monetary systems become meaningless.  To illustrate, the banknote below is from the third series of Zimbabwean dollar bills, issued in January 2009.  It has a face value of one hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollars, but was equivalent, at the time of issue, to only about thirty US dollars at the official exchange rate - and only $1.40 on the black market.  This, in a currency that in 1983 traded at par with the US dollar (i.e. one-for-one).

Another well-known example of hyperinflation is Weimar Germany.  Venezuela is merely the latest country to go down that path.  It likely won't be the last.

The frightening thing, to me, is the number of governments (including our own) that are deliberately understating the rate of inflation for their own purposes.  If the US government accurately calculated the rate of inflation, it would have had to raise inflation-linked payouts such as Social Security, etc. by up to 10% every year since the 1980's.  That's why it doesn't calculate it accurately, of course.  It can't afford to pay out that much - so it deceives the electorate by lying to it.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  The facts speak for themselves.  I discussed them in a two part article in 2016.  Follow those two links to learn more.  It really is worth your time to do so.  The second part of that article discusses how to cope in a high-inflation environment.  It dovetails neatly with what's happening at present in Venezuela.

Hyperinflation creeps up on us unawares.  I'm sure those currently experiencing it in Venezuela would never have dreamed, ten years ago, that they'd be in this situation today.  I'm equally sure that in Zimbabwe, no-one saw it coming - certainly not my friends and former comrades-in-arms.  In South Africa during the 1970's and 1980's, we all complained about double-digit inflation, but no-one thought much about what it would mean if that continued over an extended period.  Today, it's all too clear.  To illustrate:
  • My monthly starting salary when I entered the workforce in the 1970's - a salary on which, at the time, I could afford to own a motorcycle, and pay all my routine expenses - would today be sufficient (but only just) to buy me four entry-level burgers and fries at a South African restaurant, with a soda - nothing special, just cheap burgers without toppings.  Call it one meal per week.  There'd be nothing left over for other expenses.
  • In my top earning year in South Africa, in the late 1980's, when I'd just been appointed as a director of the small company I worked for, I made a little over one hundred times more than that 1970's entry-level salary.  Today, that same amount, in the same country, would be considered a lower-middle-class level income - probably a supervisor-level salary.

Inflation that bad hasn't struck here, yet, but it might.  It's bad enough as it is.  To take just one example, let's price the Ford F150 XL regular-cab pickup - the entry-level base model, to compare "apples to apples" - over the past 20 years.  According to Motor Trend, in 1998 the manufacturer's suggested retail price was $15,865.  Ten years later, in 2008, it had increased to $17,900 - a rise of just 12.8% from 1998.  However, this year, 2018, the manufacturer's suggested retail price is no less than $27,380 - an increase of 53% from 2008, and of 72.6% from 1998.  That illustrates how inflation in vehicle prices over the past 10 years has become significantly worse than during the previous decade.  The rate of increase is accelerating (you should pardon the expression).

I've challenged my readers before to compare the cost of your typical weekly grocery shopping bill in (say) 1998, and in 2008, and today in 2018.  If you kept accurate records, I think you'll find that grocery and household goods prices doubled every decade.  If your expenditure didn't go up that much, it was probably because you became more frugal in your buying habits, and bought less of what you really wanted, because you could no longer afford as much.  Go on, try that price test for yourself, and let us know in Comments what you found out.  The results should be interesting!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Lawdog has a voice!

Last year, my buddy Lawdog published two volumes of his memoirs.  The first, "The Lawdog Files", dealt with his law enforcement experiences.  I wrote about it at the time, here and here.  The second, "The Lawdog Files:  African Adventures", dealt with his upbringing in Africa, and added a few more modern stories to his tally.  I had the honor of writing the foreword for that volume.  I discussed it here.

Now an audiobook version of "The Lawdog Files" has been released - and it's gone straight to #1 in's "Business & Professional Humor" category.

I repeat what I said about this book last year:

I can't recommend 'The Lawdog Files' too highly.  Miss D. and I have been part of the friends-and-editors process in bringing it to life, and we've found ourselves howling with mirth at frequent intervals while reading excerpts.  Be careful where you read it.  As many early reviewers have pointed out, explosive bursts of laughter are guaranteed!

If you're looking for an easy-listening audiobook with lots of laughter, you won't do much better than this.


All together, now: Aaawwwww!

Shamelessly stolen borrowed from Wirecutter:

They're just too darned cute, aren't they?


"Shoddy" in more ways than one

The term "shoddy" originally referred to wool salvaged from used clothing.  Wikipedia describes it as follows:

Benjamin Law invented shoddy and mungo, as such, in England in 1813. He was the first to organise, on a larger scale, the activity of taking old clothes and grinding them down into a fibrous state that could be re-spun into yarn. The shoddy industry was centred on the towns of Batley, Morley, Dewsbury and Ossett in West Yorkshire, and concentrated on the recovery of wool from rags. The importance of the industry can be gauged by the fact that even in 1860 the town of Batley was producing over 7,000 tonnes of shoddy. At the time there were 80 firms employing a total of 550 people sorting the rags. These were then sold to shoddy manufacturers of which there were about 130 in the West Riding. Shoddy is inferior to the original wool; "shoddy" has come to mean "of poor quality" in general (not related to clothing), and the original meaning is largely obsolete.

In the 19th century, it was unusual for anyone except rich people to have more than one or two changes of clothes.  Middle-class families might have three or four.  However, as clothing costs came down in the 20th century, thanks to the invention of artificial cloth made from nylon and polyester, clothes became more and more affordable.  Nowadays it's unusual to find anyone in the First World with less than a dozen changes of clothing, and most have a lot more than that.  Many homes have built-in closets to make it possible to store so many clothes - and many of them are overflowing.

As usual, with abundance and affluence comes excess supply.  A lot of us have far more clothes than we need, and the fashion industry is eager to make us buy more every year - but what do we do with the old ones?  The answer, for many of us, is to donate them to charities such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other organizations.  However, we seldom think about what happens to them from then onward.  It can be a blessing - or a curse.

According to various estimates, here's what happens to your clothing giveaways. In most cases, a small amount of the items, the best quality castoffs -- less than 10 percent of donations -- are kept by the charitable institutions and sold in their thrift shops to other Americans looking for a bargain ... The remaining 90 percent or more of what you give away is sold by the charitable institution to textile recycling firms.

. . .

Most of the clothes are recycled into cleaning cloths and other industrial items, for which the recyclers say they make a modest profit.

Twenty-five percent, however, of what the recycling companies purchase from charities is used not as rags, but as a commodity in an international trading economy that many American may not even know about. Brill, from the textile association, picked up the story. "This clothing is processed, sorted and distributed around the world to developing countries," he said.

Take that pair of bluejeans you may have recently donated. Your jeans are stuffed with others into tightly sealed plastic bales weighing about 120 pounds and containing about 100 pairs of jeans.

The bales are loaded into huge containers and sold to international shippers who put them on ships bound for Africa and other developing regions. Again, the price of your old jeans has increased a bit because the shipper had to buy them.

By the time the bale of jeans is unloaded from a container here in Accra, Ghana, it is worth around $144. That's $1.30 per pair of jeans. But when the bale is opened up and the jeans are laid out for sale in the so-called "bend over" markets, customers bend over and select their purchases from the ground for an average price of $6.66 per pair of jeans. That's a 500 percent increase in value just by opening up the bale of clothes.

. . .

There are two ways to look at all this. One view is that ... African textile industries are closing their factories and laying people off because they cannot make clothes as cheaply as those American items found in the bend over markets.

. . .

Neil Kearney, general secretary of the Brussels based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation says the practice is exploitative, "It is neo colonialism in its purest form. It's exporting poverty to Africa, a continent that is already exceedingly poor."

. . .

The other view is that the donated clothing market is actually the American way, that your old clothing is used at every step to create new wealth and to help people who are less fortunate.

There's more at the link.

Two things have now begun to disrupt this trade.  One is that newly manufactured cloth has become so cheap as to make it uneconomical to recycle older clothes into the modern equivalent of "shoddy".  The other is that new clothing has become so cheap that it undermines the sale of used clothing.  The result may be an environmental nightmare.  Bloomberg reports:

For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing.

Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making.

. . .

Between 2000 and 2015, global clothing production doubled, while the average number of times that a garment was worn before disposal declined by 36 percent. In China, it declined by 70 percent.

The rise of "fast fashion" is thus creating a bleak scenario: The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar.

. . .

The question is what to do about it. Some brands ... are experimenting with new fibers made from recycled material, which could help. But longer-term, the industry will have to try to refocus consumers on durability and quality -- and charge accordingly. Ways to do this include offering warranties on clothing and making tags that inform consumers of a product's expected lifespan. To satiate the hunger for fast fashion, meanwhile, brands might also explore subscription-based fashion rental businesses -- such as China's YCloset -- or other more sustainable models.

Again, more at the link.

I've seen at first hand the impact of used clothing on Third World economies.  In Africa, many who depended on making or fitting clothing to make a living have lost their jobs.  Other jobs, sorting and selling used clothing, have replaced them - but what will replace them in their turn, if used clothing becomes less freely available?  A sophisticated economy may be able to absorb such shocks, but a primitive one is far less resilient.  Many nations have no support networks like welfare or social security.  The loss of a job can literally lead to starvation.

There's also the question of our own consumption habits.  Some say that if we can afford them, that's all that matters - anything else is not our problem.  Those "downstream", who are affected by those problems, might disagree.  With some sources claiming that clothes are worn as few as seven times before being discarded, it's no wonder that the "affluent society" is producing a downstream "effluent society", where everything must be either reprocessed or recycled, or discarded altogether.  We already export a large proportion of our garbage to the Third World.  Our used clothes may become part of that garbage in due course, rather than being resold or recycled.  Even the modern equivalent of "shoddy", until recently used to make things like disaster relief blankets or moving blankets, has to a large extent been replaced by new synthetic fabrics mass-produced in modern factories.  Fleece fabric relief blankets are now manufactured by the tens of thousands for aid agencies and organizations.

As I said earlier, I've seen this dilemma playing out in the Third World.  I don't have any answers, except to be responsible in my own purchasing and disposal of clothes.  I think it at least helps if we're aware of the problem.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More about those "Third World s***holes"

Last week I pointed out that many so-called "Third World s***holes" were perfectly accurately described by that label.  They were, and are, s***holes - literally as well as figuratively.

Now a former Peace Corps volunteer adds her perspective.

In plain English: s--- is everywhere.  People defecate on the open ground, and the feces is blown with the dust – onto you, your clothes, your food, the water.  He warned us the first day of training: do not even touch water.  Human feces carries parasites that bore through your skin and cause organ failure.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a few decades later, liberals would be pushing the lie that Western civilization is no better than a third-world country.  Or would teach two generations of our kids that loving your own culture and wanting to preserve it are racism.

Last time I was in Paris, I saw a beautiful African woman in a grand boubou have her child defecate on the sidewalk next to Notre Dame Cathedral.  The French police officer, ten steps from her, turned his head not to see.

I have seen.  I am not turning my head and pretending unpleasant things are not true.

Senegal was not a hellhole.  Very poor people can lead happy, meaningful lives in their own cultures' terms.  But they are not our terms.  The excrement is the least of it.  Our basic ideas of human relations, right and wrong, are incompatible.

As a twenty-one-year-old starting out in the Peace Corps, I loved Senegal.  In fact, I was euphoric.  I quickly made friends and had an adopted family.  I relished the feeling of the brotherhood of man.  People were open, willing to share their lives and, after they knew you, their innermost thoughts.

The longer I lived there, the more I understood: it became blindingly obvious that the Senegalese are not the same as us.  The truths we hold to be self-evident are not evident to the Senegalese.  How could they be?  Their reality is totally different.  You can't understand anything in Senegal using American terms.

There's more at the link.

Those of us who've been there, know what such places are like.  When President Trump (allegedly) describes them as "s***holes", he's speaking nothing more or less than the truth.  They are precisely that.  Anyone trying to deny that is living in cloud cuckoo land - or deliberately lying to you.

I stand by what I said last week:

I think President Trump's point may have been unfortunately phrased;  but I think it is nevertheless accurate.  The USA does not need to be overrun by people who are not capable of becoming Americans.  It needs immigrants who are able to make that adjustment.  For those who are not, by all means let us help them;  but let us do so in their own countries or regions, and help them to improve the quality of life there for everybody.  That's the only practical solution that's fair to everyone, IMHO.


Pick your fights carefully . . .

. . . because you may lose.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Saving Rosa Parks' house - by moving it to Europe???

This happened some time ago, but I only just read about it in this article.

The project came about [in 2016], when Rhea McCauley, Ms. Parks’s niece, met Mr. Mendoza in Detroit. As part of an art project that explored his own sense of home, as well as the American subprime mortgage crisis, Mr. Mendoza successfully transported an abandoned house from Detroit to Europe, winning the trust of Detroit community members along the way. Ms. McCauley told him she had managed to buy back the family house for $500, but she could not find anyone interested in saving it from demolition.

Mr. Mendoza, who makes his living as a fine-arts painter, agreed to help. He raised a little over $100,000 by selling some of his paintings, and set out for Detroit. There, he worked with a local team to take apart the house, which had fallen into extreme disrepair.

He then shipped the wooden exterior to Berlin, where he spent the winter painstakingly rebuilding it, mostly alone, by hand. “It was an act of love,” he said.

That the house had to be shipped to Berlin to be saved is extraordinary, said Daniel Geary, a professor of American history at Trinity College Dublin, given that, “in general, in the U.S., with public heroes, there is an attempt to preserve anywhere they lived.”

Mr. Geary said that to him, the neglect of a house like this one speaks to a contemporary American unwillingness to deal with racism’s legacy.

“People like to remember Rosa Parks for one moment, when she wouldn’t stand up on a bus,” he said. “They don’t really want to grapple with the rest of her life. The death threats, the fact that she had to leave Alabama and go to Detroit. It’s a more complicated story with a less happy ending. She suffered for her decision.”

There's more at the link.

It's a pretty shameful thing that the home of such an icon of the civil rights movement should have to be disassembled and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in order to save it for posterity.  She worked as the secretary and receptionist for Detroit congressman John Conyers.  Could his colleagues and/or successors in office, and/or the Democratic Party organization in Detroit, not have done something to save a building like this?

It was reported late last year that the house would be returned to America.  I hope it happens soon.  You can read more about the house, and the effort to save it, here.


I'm not a fan

I was more than a little mind-boggled to learn that Alien Gear plans to introduce an inside-the-waistband holster with a fan in it.

I can only assume this is some sort of advertising gimmick.  For a start, the fan couldn't push cooling air through the holes at the rear of the holster, because your body will block them!  It'll just push air uselessly against your skin, then blow it out the top or bottom of the holster.

There's also the question of security.  If you're carrying inside-the-waistband, presumably covering the gun with an outer garment, you don't want it to be noticed.  However, if there's the constant whine of a fan coming from your holster . . . doesn't that defeat the object of the exercise?

On the other hand, taking up a 'bladed' stance with your firearm now takes on a whole new meaning - and I suppose it makes it easier to plead self-de-fan-se . . .


How about this in the hands of terrorists?

We had some spirited discussions in these pages a few days ago (follow those three links to find the articles), concerning terrorist attacks on a Russian airbase in Syria, using 'hobbyist'-style quadcopter drones as well as some homemade larger models.  Some people are still unconvinced that the former pose any realistic threat.

Now Boeing has announced the development - in just three months from 'clean-sheet' concept to a flying prototype - of an octocopter that can carry payloads of up to 500 pounds.

Octocopters big enough to carry a human passenger have already been announced.  If Boeing can build something like that shown above in three months, using off-the-shelf components, I'm willing to bet a backyard mechanic team can do something similar in a year or so.  Given that sort of payload capability - 500 pounds is the weight of a standard USAF Mark 82 bomb - there are all sorts of nasty weapon and target combinations that come to mind. is already talking about using UAV's to deliver parcels and packages.  UPS and FedEx are doing the same.  We'll soon be seeing something like this drone in the skies around our homes.  Terrorists are sure to figure out that by painting their drone in familiar colors, and sticking a couple of commercial logos on it, and wrapping its payload in cardboard or plastic to resemble a commercial delivery, they can operate their drones with virtual impunity.  I damn well guarantee it.  This genie is well and truly out of the bottle.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Hypocrisy, thy name is politician

The latest political hypocrite (but by no means the only one):

It's becoming something of a miracle to find any politician, from either side of the aisle, who isn't a hypocrite.  I'd love to see a law that says any politician caught in such duplicity would not be permitted to run for re-election during the next term of office.  It's a pipe-dream, I know, but it's a pleasant one . . .


Looks like Puerto Rico's endemic corruption has struck again

For decades, it's been alleged that Puerto Rico's government is at least as corrupt as any other third world nation, if not more so - despite its US government oversight.  For example, in 2001 corruption scandals led to indictments against about 40 officials.  In 2010, 89 Puerto Rican law enforcement officers were among about 130 people charged.  Global Security claims that the seemingly endemic corruption is largely rooted in the drug trade, as drugs from South America are smuggled into the USA via Puerto Rico.

Last year, famed investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson produced this report on corruption in the island, noting that even before Hurricane Maria's devastation, the economy there was in tatters.

Last week came news that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority might be involved in a new corruption scandal.

On Saturday, a day after becoming aware of a massive store of rebuilding materials being held by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the U.S. federal government — the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with their security detail — entered a Palo Seco warehouse owned by the public utility to claim and distribute the equipment, according to a spokesperson for the Corps.

Rumors of a tense standoff had been circulating on the island, but the encounter was confirmed to The Intercept in a statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Asked if the federal officers were armed when they entered the warehouse, USACE spokesperson Luciano Vera said they were indeed accompanied by security detail and quickly began distributing the material after seizing it.

. . .

“Warehouse 5” — the one which USACE and FEMA entered Saturday — “falls under the control of the [PREPA] transmission division and has lacked transparency in inventory and accountability,” the email from Vera continued. Carlos Torres, appointed by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to oversee power restoration, was on site as well.

“Due to the size of the warehouse,” Vera said, accounting for everything contained therein is still underway days later. Among the materials recovered so far are “2,875 pieces of critical material to contractors” along with the sleeves of full-tension steel, a component of Puerto Rican electrical infrastructure required to erect new power lines. PREPA did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment, though in a statement to the Associated Press, it rejected allegations that it had failed to distribute the warehouse’s contents. The AP only reported that “officials over the weekend also discovered some needed materials in a previously overlooked warehouse owned by Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority.” How they discovered them and how they were obtained is a story that has not been fully told.

There's more at the link.

The island's governor has 'ordered an investigation' into the discovery of the materials.  However, one possible reason for their existence being hidden has been advanced by a former Puerto Rican Secretary of State.

Kenneth McClintock, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 and president of the island’s senate from 2005 to 2008 told Mother Jones on Wednesday that PREPA, the US Attorney’s Office, and the FBI should investigate the incident as evidence of corruption.

“If the US Attorney and the FBI are not currently investigating corruption at PREPA, which has been going on for 70 years, this incident—with such a huge amount of materials has been kept away from plain view for so long—would be a good point to begin,” he said. “This was not a mistake. This is corruption.”

. . .

“What they’ve been doing is creating a huge hidden cache of the materials that are needed to do repairs. And then for lack of access to repair materials, the outside crews from the states have been waiting at the hotels with their trucks parked,” McClintock says, adding that the power authority’s local employees and their unions do not want outside crews “doing the job that they can do with triple-pay overtime.”

Again, more at the link.

President Trump allegedly referred to certain Third World nations in uncomplimentary terms last week.  I wonder whether he might not wish to employ the same language about Puerto Rico, and its clearly inept, irresponsible, incompetent government?  Seems to me we need to 'clean house' there even before we worry about immigrants from elsewhere.  I wonder how many Puerto Ricans currently moving to the mainland will bring with them a culture tolerant of such corruption?  Will we see it spread to Florida and elsewhere?

I'm not being racist in the least - I'm being realistic.  The color of the skin of those involved, or the language they speak, is irrelevant.  Once you allow corruption to become so entrenched in society - any society - it's almost impossible to uproot it.  As evidence, I submit New York City, Chicago, Detroit, or New Orleans.  Examples there are so immense in number and in scope that there's really no reason to say more, is there?


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday morning music

Let's have a change of pace.  So-called 'spirituals' or 'negro spirituals' grew out of the experience of slaves in America, and have become a recognized music genre in their own right.  They also informed and influenced the folk music revival of the 1950's and 1960's, to such an extent that there's hardly a single folk music 'great' who didn't also record spirituals.  There are so many of them it's impossible to do them justice in a short blog post, but here are half a dozen classics, plus an updated one.

Let's start with a 1920's recording from Paul Robeson of 'Go Down Moses'.

Here's Bob Gibson and Joan Baez in a remastered 1959 recording of 'We Are Crossing That Jordan River'.

And who can forget the great Louis Armstrong with 'Ezekiel Saw de Wheel'?

The Weavers were one of the earliest groups in the folk music revival, and leaned heavily on spirituals for their repertoire.  Here they are in 1963 with 'Sinner Man'.

Patsy Cline and a young Willie Nelson collaborate in this rendition of 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee'.

Here's Australian group The Seekers with 'Come The Day'.  It's an original composition, but heavily influenced by the many spirituals the group performed.  I've included it as an interesting example of how spirituals influenced the new folk music of the 1960's.

Finally, the old classic spirituals have lent themselves to some reinterpretation down the years.  Here's Pete Seeger with a humorous, tongue-in-cheek look at 'Old Time Religion'.

I'm not sure how many of the original singers of spirituals would have reacted to that version!


Saturday, January 13, 2018

You never know where you'll run into those pesky polar bears . . .

Norway is giggling at Australia's expense.  The Telegraph reports:

Norwegian diplomats have poked fun at official Australian travel advice on how to avoid a polar bear attack in the Scandinavian country.

Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) softly dismissed tips from Australia's Smartraveller advisory and consular information service with a light-hearted Twitter response.

“Thank you Australia for your concern,” Norway’s MFA posted. “We can assure you that in mainland Norway all polar bears are stuffed and poses only limited risk.”

Officials followed up the sarcastic response with a photo of a stuffed polar bear on display in the office of Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg.

The Australian advisory’s Twitter post had failed to clarify that the warning was actually for travellers visiting Svalbard, an archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, which has a population of around 2,000 polar bears.

There's more at the link.

Oh, well.  I suppose it's a natural enough mistake for an Australian to make, from the far side of the globe!  "Down under" indeed!


The "fake news" people are getting desperate, aren't they?

Just in the last 24 hours:
  • The US ambassador to Panama was claimed to have resigned because of President Trump's alleged "third-world s***holes" comment.  Unfortunately, that's not true.  He resigned two weeks before that;  and his resignation was announced about 24 hours before the President allegedly made the comment.
  • A porn star was alleged to have been "paid off" by the Trump campaign, to the tune of $130,000, to keep silent about an alleged "affair" or "sexual encounter" with Trump the year after he married his present wife.  That's not true either.  The porn star concerned has issued, in writing, a vehement denial that anything of the sort ever took place - affair, sexual encounter, or payoff.

One wonders why the mainstream media appear to have gone into meltdown, and why the "fake news" people are getting so desperate for material.  Could it be they're terrified of the real reasons behind the tapping of then-candidate Trump's communications, and the truth behind the so-called "Trump dossier", getting out at last?  Are they trying to find anything that might distract attention from what's increasingly looking like meeting the definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors" - if not actual high treason - on the part of some FBI and other Obama administration officials?

Makes you think, doesn't it?


Friday, January 12, 2018

An abandoned patient? Not so fast . . .

I'm sure many readers have been horrified by headlines blaring that a Baltimore hospital allegedly "abandoned" an older and/or indigent patient at a bus stop in freezing weather.  Unfortunately, the reality is likely to be very different to what's being presented by the news media.

Under the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, popularly known as EMTALA, any hospital accepting Medicare funding must provide emergency medical assessment to anyone, irrespective of their ability to pay.  The law is very specific in its requirements - but it makes no provision for funding those requirements.  Basically, hospitals are on their own.  If they don't provide the required facilities and/or investigations, they can be stripped of Medicare funding.  If they do provide those things, it's on their own dime - which is one reason why hospital charges have skyrocketed since EMTALA was introduced.  They're not charities.  They've got to cover those costs somehow - and our politicians weaseled out of paying them out of government funds, by forcing the hospitals to recover them from all their other patients.  In so many words, EMTALA is blackmail, forcing hospitals - i.e. you and I, their other paying customers - to pay for what the government is not willing to fund.

As inevitably happens, indigent people have learned to "game the system".  I've been on duty as a pastor and a volunteer in emergency rooms when such people come in, loudly complaining of this or that or the other imaginary ailment - usually something that's hard to quantify or assess.  When tests are inconclusive, they demand to be admitted, fed, and treated like guests at a hotel, without paying a penny for it.  Sometimes hospitals are forced to comply, particularly in cities where social justice warriors make it very difficult for them if they don't.  In other cases, particularly when they're swamped with truly ill people, hospitals simply can't cope.  They're forced to turn away such people - and if they won't leave voluntarily, they have to be evicted.  That's one of the functions of hospital security staff.  It happens on a daily basis, across the country.  There's nothing unusual about it.

In the case in question, we don't know exactly what happened;  but I'm willing to bet the lady's "symptoms" could not be adequately assessed, and medical staff had concluded that there was basically nothing they could do to help her.  If she then refused to leave, because it was cold and nasty outside, what was the hospital supposed to do?  Allow her to take up space and facilities required for someone who truly needed them?  That's not on - so they probably tried to move her on in the most human manner open to them.  The hospital is not a charity, and not a shelter for the homeless.  It can't be.  It has to serve its primary customers - patients - not the indigent.  This makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  I'm sorry about that . . . but it remains the truth.

Aesop, who works in an ER, points out (rather profanely - I've had to censor his post to reproduce it here):

This only happens about daily to weekly in every ER I've worked in, going back a mere twenty years, especially from October to March.

And the ****wits that complain about this kind of bull**** without knowing their ***** from a hole in the ground can't figure out why they're still sitting their fat ***** in my waiting room 6-8 hours later, because I can't get a fat troll like this to put on her clothes, gather her forty-seven shopping bags of ****, and GTFO so I can decon her room and see a real patient, until three security guards and two techs "help" her hit the bricks.

And if she had met the criteria for a mental health hold, the same ***holes would be bitching that she was incarcerated against her will and her civil rights violated for keeping her in the hospital.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't ... Thank your congress ****weasel for voting EMTALA into law.


She should be chained up in leg irons, and forced to shovel snow on the public roads to pay her bill and fine and cover the cost of green bologna sandwiches, in lieu of six months' jail time.

There's more at the link.  He's largely right.  I've been there, and seen it for myself.

Whenever you see a hullabaloo about hospitals allegedly "dumping" patients, ask yourself why any sane, normal person would do that.  A sane, normal person wouldn't.  Neither would a sane, normal hospital.  They're doing it because they're caught between a rock and a hard place, thanks to EMTALA and the refusal of our politicians to pay for care for the indigent.  They'd rather blackmail hospitals into doing it "free" - meaning, at our expense, because we're the ones ultimately picking up the tab.


About those "Third World s***holes" . . .

. . . allegedly described as such by President Trump:  allow me to say, I've been in far too many of them for comfort.  They are precisely as described:  s***holes.  They smell of s***.  All too often, the food tastes of s***, and/or is prepared in circumstances so unhygienic I have no doubt whatsoever that it is actually full of s***.  (Ever been in a tribal village where they kill a hog or cow to celebrate your arrival?  I've personally watched as a pig's intestines were taken out of its stomach, stripped of their vile contents by hand into a bucket, without benefit of soap or running water or anything else, and then dumped straight into a cauldron of boiling water to cook.  The instant they were regarded as cooked - not even halfway, I can assure you! - a chunk was hacked off and offered to me.  I had no choice but to eat it, otherwise I would have given enormous offense to those who'd prepared it for me.  Hello, huge prophylactic doses of Ciprofloxacin twice a day for the duration of the trip!)

I have no problem whatsoever providing aid to people living in such conditions, particularly when wars or natural disasters are added to the mix.  However, I think President Trump is right to be concerned about allowing large numbers of people from such backgrounds to enter the USA.  We do not want people from such backgrounds immigrating to First World countries, because they are almost completely incapable of fitting into our societies.  They don't even understand such basic concepts as the germ theory of disease!  I don't blame them for that;  ignorance is not their fault, but the result of a lack of education.  However, it is simply not possible for the first generation of people from such societies to become integrated into our society in any meaningful way.  The hurdle is too great to cross.  If you're in any doubt, look what has happened with ethnic communities who've arrived on our shores in the past.  None of them can be faulted for their lack of education or understanding when they arrived here.  However, the bulk of the first-generation arrivals have not assimilated, in the sense of becoming Americans, adopting this country as their own without reservation.  Their children have;  but not the parents.  The burden of providing major assistance for the new arrivals has been a drain on US resources for decades.

I am an immigrant to the USA, but I arrived with the confident expectation of assimilating into the culture, traditions and outlook of my new home.  I have done so.  Many of those from the Third World do not arrive with that expectation at all.  The same applies in Europe, where right now the immigrant tide is provoking serious concern about the future of that continent as a whole.

I think President Trump's point may have been unfortunately phrased;  but I think it is nevertheless accurate.  The USA does not need to be overrun by people who are not capable of becoming Americans.  It needs immigrants who are able to make that adjustment.  For those who are not, by all means let us help them;  but let us do so in their own countries or regions, and help them to improve the quality of life there for everybody.  That's the only practical solution that's fair to everyone, IMHO.


Writing as a vocation, not artsy-fartsy pretentiousness

I've been getting very annoyed by the efforts of many self-described 'experts' to bemoan the growing number of self-published books, and the lack of intellectual rigor they see in them.  Frankly, I think it's BS from start to finish.  It's yet another example of social justice warriors taking over a field and demanding that it conform to their expectations, rather than to reality.

This morning, I approach that topic in my monthly column for Mad Genius Club.  If you're interested in the subject, click over there and see what I have to say, then join the discussion.  I suspect it'll get interesting!


Thursday, January 11, 2018

This flu season is looking bloody dangerous

Miss D. and I are both on the mend after about ten days of being pole-axed by the current flu virus.  We both ended up with incipient bronchitis, despite doing our best to follow medical instructions and safeguard ourselves.  It's been a very unpleasant experience, one neither of us would like to repeat anytime soon.

Unfortunately, we're far from alone in having been laid low.  Local hospitals have been overwhelmed by patients streaming (literally and figuratively) to the ER with flu symptoms, so much so that they've appealed for people to go to their primary physicians first, rather than swamp all other emergency facilities.  It's reported that 15% to 20% of those going to the ER with flu symptoms end up being admitted, filling all available beds to capacity, and leading to a backlog of patients waiting for the next bed to open up.  Cases are up tenfold from this time in 2017, and deaths from flu and pneumonia in Texas are reportedly skyrocketing - 1,155 from October 1st, 2017 until January 3rd, 2018.

I hear that a big part of the problem is that many people simply can't afford to stay home when they feel flu symptoms coming on.  Too many families have eaten up their financial reserves, and also are now in lower-paying jobs than they may have had before the economic crisis of 2007/08.  They can't afford to be without income for a week or so while they get over the flu.  It's the difference between being able to buy food for their children, or not.  That means they're spreading the infection far and wide, which is bad enough;  but it also means they're getting worse, rather than better, and ending up in the ER instead of being able to recover from a lesser infection at home.

I don't have an easy answer for that.  It's all very well to say that food banks and other charities should take up the slack;  but around here, such facilities are already short-staffed and under-supplied.  How will they cope with a sudden, drastic increase in demand, when there's no corresponding increase in supply?  Your guess is as good as mine - but my guess is, they won't be able to cope at all.  Also, if sick people have to congregate at such places to get food, or volunteers have to deliver food to them, you've just got a brand-new vector for the spread of the disease.

Folks, please be careful.  If you find you're getting even the initial symptoms of a cold or flu-like infection, please consult your doctor ASAP, and do everything you're told.  Aesop has a very good list of precautions and prophylactic treatments we can all follow, if necessary.  They're worth reading in full, and applying.


This should keep bush pilots happy

This takeoff was filmed in the village of Frijol, Venezuela, but I've known a few like it in parts of Africa.  Definitely butt-clenching stuff!

The pilot describes it like this:

Because of the uneven strip at the end it is hard to get turned around and not get stuck in the mud. With a good size hump at each end I take off down hill and get in the air using ground effect to get out of the water and mud. Then stay right down in ground effect and get all the speed I can before the end. Most the time I can get all the way up to 65 MPH and that is 5 mph over stall speed and then you are never going over the mountain so I turn between the trees and head out. After you pull it out of there you have to keep nose down and let air speed build up and then you can climb. I had a C-172 in there a few times before aquiring the current C-182 and the first time it took me a while to figure out how to get back out of there. Did it the same way I take off now with the 182. Just lots better with the [more powerful] 182!!!

After experiencing that sort of thing a few times, no commercial airliner takeoff has ever seemed particularly challenging . . .


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A prescient warning about drone warfare - from 2014

Back in 2014, T. X. Hammes, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. and a 30-year veteran of the US Marine Corps, wrote an extended overview of the threat from small, smart, cheap UAV's and other drones.  In the light of recent events, as discussed here yesterday and today, it makes chilling reading.  Here's an extended extract.

The last decade has made the global public familiar with expensive high end drones.  Yet, perhaps the most interesting developments have taken place at the low cost end of the spectrum.  In 1998, an industry/university consortium flew a composite drone from Newfoundland to Scotland on two gallons of fuel.By 2003, a hobbyist launched a GPS-guided model airplane/drone that flew autonomously from Newfoundland to precisely the right landing point in Ireland.  Built of balsa and plywood with a tiny gasoline engine that burned less than one gallon of fuel in the 26 hour flight, it was cheap enough that the hobbyist built 23 to ensure he could be the first hobbyist to fly across the Atlantic.  He made it with the third launch.  In the intervening 12 years, governments, hobbyists, and businesses have steadily increased the range and capability of these platforms.  Hobbyists and businesses have made use of the rapid technological convergence to decrease the cost of long-range, autonomous systems at least an order of magnitude.  Today they are routinely flying smart systems with intercontinental range — they lack only a payload to be a precision weapons system. Their composite construction and very low energy usage mean they will be very difficult to detect.

Of even greater concern, these small, inexpensive drones are designed specifically to be used by people with no particular skills and no in-house maintenance system. Most still require a remote human operator.   But flying them has become so easy that realtors and wedding photographers are using quad-copters with stabilized camera mounts to film properties and events.  Industry has already taken the next step and provided farmers with inexpensive autonomous drones to monitor their crops.

. . .

Since air is the simplest environment, it is not surprising that fully autonomous, cheap, and long-range drones emerged there first. They will be followed quickly by maritime and ground systems. In 2010, Rutgers University launched an underwater “glider” drone that crossed the Atlantic Ocean unrefueled.  This year, the U.S. Navy has launched an underwater glider that harvests energy from the ocean thermocline and plans for it to operate for five years without refueling.

In short, small air and sea platforms have demonstrated the capability of achieving intercontinental range while producing very little in the way of radar or heat signatures.

. . .

The primary driver of how many systems are purchased is cost.   But additive manufacturing is driving down the cost of many manufactured products.   Today researchers in England have prototyped a printed drone that will cost roughly $9 a copy.  And additive manufacturing is not only low end products.

Mark Valerio, vice president and general manager of military space for Lockheed, told Reuters, “In the next decade, we will completely change the way a satellite is designed and built. We will print a satellite.”

Valerio suggests such a satellite will cost 40% less than current models.  These trends indicate that dramatic cost decreases will be the norm for these widely used and increasingly capable commercial drones.

We don’t have to wait for additive manufacturing, either.  The U.S. Navy has announced it will repurpose the commercially produced Slocum Glider – a five foot long, autonomous underwater research vehicle.   The glider can patrol for weeks following initial instructions, surfacing periodically to report and receive new instructions.  Such drones are being used globally and cost about $100,000.  Clearly such drones can be modified into long-range autonomous torpedoes or mine delivery vehicles.  For the cost of one Virginia class submarine, a nation could purchase 17,500 such drones. Additive manufacturing can and likely will reduce the cost of these systems even more. And the skills needed to build and employ a glider are orders of magnitude less than those needed for a nuclear sub.

“Smart” sea mines should be a particular concern for the United States ... Since 1950, mines have become progressively smarter, more discriminating, and more difficult to find. They have sensors which can use acoustic, magnetic, and other signals to identify and attack a specific kind of ship, allowing – for example – commercial vehicles to pass unmolested.   As early as 1979, the United States fielded CAPTOR mines.  These are encapsulated torpedoes that are anchored to the ocean floor.  When they detect the designated target, they launch the captured torpedo to destroy it out to a range of 8 KM. Today China possesses “self-navigating mines” and even rocket propelled mines. We are seeing early efforts to use unmanned underwater vehicles to deliver mines.  Since commercially available drones are already crossing the ocean autonomously, pairing drones with mines will almost certainly make it possible to mine sea ports of debarkation and perhaps even sea ports of embarkation.

Ashore, mobile land mines/autonomous anti-vehicle weapons are also under development. The natural marriage of IEDs to inexpensive, autonomous drones is virtually inevitable.  The obvious targets are parked aircraft, fuel dumps, ammo dumps, communication sites, and command centers.  Non-state and state actors alike will rapidly transition to drones that can hunt even mobile targets.

Today’s inexpensive drone systems mean states and even non-state actors can afford large numbers of lethal air, sea, and ground drones.  Within the decade, U.S. forces should expect to be attacked by these weapons on every combat deployment.

We can also expect the inexpensive autonomy seen in today’s agricultural drones.  The autonomy has been made possible by impressive technological advances combining tiny sensors, GPS modules, microprocessors, and digital radios, all of which are dropping in price and are commercially available.

These same technologies can be applied cheaply to military systems.  While the Pentagon faces the “Innovator’s Dilemma” and will be severely challenged to keep costs low, other nations, start-up companies,  and non-state actors will not face the same bureaucratic hurdles and thus are likely to produce cheap, smart, and deadly drones using commercially available parts.  They won’t be highly reliable or reusable. They won’t need to be.  If only half of a swarm works correctly, it may be more than sufficient to overwhelm advanced defenses.

. . .

The convergence of technologies and techniques is already producing small, smart, cheap, and long-range drones capable of carrying significant payloads.  Fuel gels and nano-explosives will increase the range and lethality of these commercially available systems.  Additive manufacturing will dramatically reduce the costs.  The Pentagon needs to rethink the exquisitely capable but extremely expensive weapons procurement programs it is pursuing.  While these systems were a major factor in the tactical successes of the last 24 years, the United States needs to think hard about the shift from exquisite and very few to cheap and very many.

There's much more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.


Drone warfare: it should be all about facts, not opinions

Yesterday's post about a jihadist drone attack on a Russian base in Syria has produced just as much handwavium as last years' articles on the same subject.  There are those who simply, flatly refuse to believe that small hobbyist UAV's can pose a threat.  There are others - including myself - who point out that they have already become a threat, with multiple attacks in Ukraine, Syria and Iraq to their credit.

I've been following the unfolding of the story about the drone attacks on Russians in Syria.  Last night the Telegraph in London had this to say about another, even larger one.

Thirteen attack drones were launched against the Khmeimim air base and a naval facility in the city of Tartus on Syria’s western coast, the Russian defence ministry said.

Russian forces shot down seven of the drones with anti-aircraft missiles while the other six were hacked by a cyberware unit and taken under Russian control, the ministry said. No damage or casualties at the two military bases were reported.

The attack appears to be the largest example to date of insurgents using a mass of primitive drones in combat and Russia said it had never before faced such an attack.

“It was the first time when terrorists applied a massed drone aircraft attack launched at a range of more than 50 km using modern GPS guidance systems,” a defence ministry spokesman said.

Defence experts have long predicted that drones will become an increasingly common feature of the modern battlefield, employed by both sophisticated nation state militaries and by low-tech rebel groups.

Three of the drones were recovered by Russian forces, the ministry said, and photographs showed a small aircraft made partly of wood and held together with masking tape. Another picture showed a row of small explosive.

There's more at the link, including photographs.

This attack does not appear to have succeeded:  but it's a new and dangerous landmark.  Thirteen drones, bigger than hobbyist size (images appear to show home-made aircraft types), launched at least 30 miles away from the target (so that the operators could get away cleanly before they could be targeted), and equipped with GPS so that they were at least semi-autonomous, and could reach their target without a human operator constantly guiding them.  The next step will be to make them fully autonomous, perhaps with some sort of heat-seeking target sensor, to enable them to go to a position, then seek out anything giving off heat (a stove chimney, a vehicle engine, an aircraft, whatever) and automatically home in on it.

The fact that all thirteen attacking drones were disabled or destroyed in this attack speaks well of Russian defenses.  I'm not sure the USA would have been able to do as well, since we don't have sophisticated mobile point-defense missile and gun systems like the Russians do.  There's also the issue that such attacks can be launched from anywhere, against anywhere.  If jihadists were to do so inside the USA, or from a cargo ship sailing in international waters, they could home on any suitable target (say, a coastal city stadium housing a football or baseball game, or a military base such as a port or airfield, or a row of tanks at a refinery containing petroleum products) and do their thing with no opposition to stop them at all.

Those who decry that as being a pipe dream, a ridiculous shibboleth, are ignoring reality.  They're not confined to the Middle East.  Ukraine lost two ammunition dumps to such drone attacks last year.  Here's the first attack, at Balakliya in July.

And here's the second attack, at Vinnytsya in September.

If it can happen to them, it can - and probably will - happen to us.  It's just a matter of time.  This genie is well and truly out of the bottle.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Weaponized "hobby" drones take a toll of Russian aircraft in Syria

Twice last August, and again in October, I mentioned that Islamist militants were 'weaponizing' hobby-type drones and using them as weapons in the Middle East, and that such drones would probably pose a threat in the US soon.  A spirited debate ensued in the comments sections of those posts, with some proclaiming loudly that this was technically impossible.  Unfortunately, no-one told the militants that:  so they've continued to rack up successes using their modified drones, most recently several Russian strike aircraft and two of their servicemen.

Following a deadly attack on Russia's Khmeimim Air Base in Syria on December 31st, which killed at least two servicemen and damaged or destroyed aircraft based there, it now seems as if the base is coming under attack on a fairly regular basis according to reports.

Days before the deadly New Years Eve attack that we still know little about, on December 27th, another onslaught of artillery occurred. Two of the rockets were supposedly shot down by Pantsir-S1 point air defense systems while at least one other impacted outside the base.

Just hours ago, on January 6th, 2017, reports of another attack on the base began emerging, this one supposedly coming from weaponized drones.

Although these aren't the first attacks on the base, three attacks in ten days seems like a significant uptick in enemy action for an installation that is supposedly situated in largely non-hostile territory. And these are only the attacks that have been more widely reported, some sources say there have been multiple weaponized drone attacks just in a single day.

. . .

Weaponized drones are especially attractive for this type of warfare because they can be built in large quantities clandestinely in an urban environment and they are a standoff weapon that allows the user to have a high chance of survivability after their employment. They also put high-value targets that are well defended against a ground infiltration within a single operator's reach. Russia's main base in Syria is clearly the juiciest of almost all targets imaginable for such hostile actors. If these factors are indeed at play, these attacks are likely to become even more frequent as time goes on.

There's more at the link.

Photographs of damaged aircraft and downed drones have since emerged, offering visual confirmation of at least some jihadist successes.  Here's just one example, greatly reduced in size.  Follow the preceding link for more information.

If anyone thinks such attacks aren't inevitable on US shores, sooner rather than later, I have this bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills.



Here's an older video, from 2007, that I hadn't seen before.  It shows a Boeing 737-800 operated by an unnamed Chinese airline making a very, very late takeoff.

I think that wasn't so much a late takeoff, as an attempt to harvest the grass at the end of the runway using the aircraft's wheels!


Monday, January 8, 2018

So, where are the charges against the Bureau of Land Management and Federal prosecutors?

It will come as no surprise to many people that US District Judge Gloria Navarro today threw out all charges against Cliven Bundy "with prejudice", meaning they can never be re-filed.

Navarro ruled a mistrial in the Bundy case last month after prosecutors “willful[ly]” withheld exculpatory evidence favorable to the four men on trial: Cliven Bundy, his two sons and one other person. The judge found that prosecutors had violated the defendant’s civil rights and violated federal law by hiding evidence from the court.

. . .

The Department of Justice, under order from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is currently investigating the federal prosecutors involved in the 2017 Bundy trial for misconduct.

Prosecutors, led by Myhre, dismissed several claims from Bundy attorneys that evidence was being hid from the court during the trial.

The defense claimed FBI snipers and surveillance were monitoring the Bundy household prior to the 2014 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) raid to remove the rancher’s cattle from federal land after decades of unpaid grazing fees. Cliven Bundy sent out a plea for help based on the snipers’ presence, prompting dozens of armed militiamen to meet at the ranch.

Prosecutors said snipers were not involved, called the claim “fantastical” and the defendants’ request for the evidence, a “fishing expedition.” However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office possessed video evidence the entire time, The Oregonian reports.

Prosecutors also withheld federal assessments that found the Bundy family was not likely to be violent, but only “get in your face.” Other federal assessments of the BLM revealed the agency was targeting the Bundy family, “trying to provoke a conflict.”

Defense attorneys asked federal prosecutors to hand over Inspector General reports on BLM agent Dan Love, who directed the agency’s raid on the Bundy ranch. Love was fired from the agency in September for corruption and unethical behavior.

There's more at the link.

So far, so good.  Now, I want to see every one of the Bureau of Land Management agents and supervisors, and every one of the prosecutors, who lied, misled the court, hid evidence, and generally tried to set up Cliven Bundy to take the fall for their misconduct, tried on as many charges as can be laid at their door.  Furthermore, I'd like to see them sentenced to at least as much jail time as Mr. Bundy would have received if he'd been found guilty as a result of their machinations.

Well done to Mr. Bundy's defense team for sticking to their guns;  and very well done to Judge Navarro, for refusing to be intimidated and sticking up for the rule of law.  It's about time!


Crud report

If you haven't yet suffered from this year's flu bug, allow me to assure you:  it's a nasty one.  I was laid low on Tuesday last week.  I ran a fever until Thursday evening, along with blocked sinuses, post-nasal drip, aching joints and all the usual miseries.  Things began to ease up after that, but by yesterday the crud had settled into my bronchial passages, with a rasping, painful cough and lumps of yuckiness coming up.

I went to the doctor this morning, and got two shots in rapid succession;  an antibiotic, and a steroid.  I'm on a Z-pack, starting tomorrow, plus double-strength Mucinex to dissolve the crud as fast as possible.  My rear end now hurts on both sides, making sitting at my desk a lot of fun (NOT!).  Moan, moan, whinge, butthurt (literally as well as figuratively), and so on.

Do please be careful, people.  This year's flu bug is causing doctors a lot of trouble, from everything I'm hearing and seeing locally.  It's not to be trifled with.  Miss D. and I had the flu shot back in December, but it doesn't appear to work very well against the current strain, so be warned.


Political correctness strikes again in entertainment

I consider myself at least a well-informed amateur historian.  I've studied the subject for, literally, decades, and of the books in my personal library, I'd guess a good half of them are concerned with one or another historical incident, accident or trend.  I use that background to inform a lot of my own writing.

One of the cardinal rules of the historian is that one should never, repeat, NEVER evaluate an earlier period of history through the 'filters' of the customs, attitudes and morals of a later period, including one's own.  For example, it's useless to categorize all slave owners as 'immoral' when, by the standards of their own time, what they were doing was not considered immoral at all - so much so that even the Bible does not condemn slavery, but encourages slaves to be obedient servants of Christ as well as their masters.  George Washington owned slaves, and saw nothing wrong in the practice.  Today, in a more enlightened time, we condemn it out of hand - justifiably so, as I'm sure you'll agree - but we can't expect people of a bygone age to see it our way.

That's why any reinterpretation of a historic event, or legend, or fable by the entertainment industry has to be approached with dire suspicion.  Those who may be 'authorities' in that industry are seldom, if ever, sufficiently well informed and/or qualified to evaluate history correctly.  There have been innumerable lapses of judgment that have almost (if not entirely) ruined history 'for the masses' by deliberately changing events, cultures and rationales to fit modern sensibilities.  (Remember 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', where much of the action was switched from the Crimea to India?  Or the myriad historical inaccuracies in 'U-571', perpetrated in the name of increasing its box-office appeal?

It looks like this entertainment-driven reinterpretation of history is about to be repeated in a new version of the Robin Hood legend.  The Telegraph reports:

A new version of Robin Hood, destined for release this year, is to reveal a rather different side to the beloved outlaw: a “seriously militarized anarchist revolutionary” returning from an unjust Crusade with PTSD.

The 2018 Robin Hood, played by British actor Taron Egerton, will see a hardened crusader believing he has been deceived into fighting for a “bull---t” cause, returning to England full of resentment.

There, as he observes a “fractured” society, he is moved to his famous ambition to steal from the rich to give to the poor after observing the inequalities in society.

Newly-released pictures show the cast, which includes Jamie Foxx as Little John, using bows and arrows which, the actor said, have been computer-generated to make them “rapid-fire, almost like an AK”.

The Sheriff of Nottingham, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is seen in a very modern steel-grey coat, flanked by a futuristic army wearing heavy metal armour and appearing to wield guns.

There's more at the link.

Let's just run down a few points, shall we?
  • "The term 'anarchist' first entered the English language in 1642, during the English Civil War, as a term of abuse, used by Royalists against their Roundhead opponents."  That puts it several hundred years later than the Crusades - and makes it an entirely inaccurate label for Robin Hood.
  • The Crusades were perceived by Christians at the time as righting injustice, not perpetuating it!  (Muslims, of course, had a different perspective.)
  • PTSD was an unknown term in those far-off days, although its effects were doubtless known.  Life in medieval Europe was extremely dangerous from birth to death, no matter what one's station in life.  Life expectancy does not appear to have been much over 40 for even the upper classes - and it was probably significantly worse for the poorer, lower-status classes.  Everyone would have been aware that life was uncertain at the best of times.
  • "Bull****" causes" have existed throughout history, as has the judgment of those encouraged (or forced) to fight in them.  The Crusades were often reassessed in that light by their survivors.  So was the American Revolution, the American Civil War, even the First World War - see Smedley Butler, for example.  That a mythical Robin Hood might have thought likewise is not surprising, and hardly worth trumpeting as a major new perspective on his character.
  • Society was not "fractured" - it was remarkably cohesive, for its time.  Class structure was, of course, dominant, and there was little or no social mobility.  Today we regard that as an evil.  In its day, it was regarded as being as natural as breathing.
  • There was, and is, no such thing as a "rapid-fire bow" as described.  Ancient China developed a rapid-fire crossbow, but it wasn't very effective.  The English longbow is anything but rapid fire, because it demands enormous strength and energy to draw and loose repeatedly.  It took years to learn to use it properly.  A top archer might loose six to eight arrows in a minute, for two or three minutes, but after that he'd be so exhausted that his rate of fire would drop significantly.
  • As for the Sheriff's period-inaccurate dress and his "army's" equipment (particularly bearing in mind that Sheriffs did not command "armies" at all) . . . need one say more?

I can't take this adaptation seriously, based on this report.  It's just another Hollywood mishmash, with no historical accuracy whatsoever.  On the other hand, I'll agree that Robin Hood may have had PTSD.  He was an archer, after all, so of course he'd be highly strung!