Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A hole lot of eatin' goin' on . . .

Since, as a retired pastor, hole-iness was once my business, it behooves me to put up this video for your spiritual health.  Yeah, that's it - spiritual!  Forget the yumminess, and the postprandial dieting!


The danger of Big Business schmoozing with President Trump

I'm watching the meetings between President Trump and leaders of big business with interest.  They appear to be supporting his plan to return manufacturing to the USA from offshore, and are talking big investments in infrastructure . . . but let us not forget, they're primarily there to make decisions in their own best interests.  Harvard Business Review pointed out last year that a large slice of corporate profits depend on lobbying government.

Lobbying and political campaign spending can result in favorable regulatory changes, and several studies find the returns to these investments can be quite large. For example, one study finds that for each dollar spent lobbying for a tax break, firms received returns in excess of $220.

It is less obvious, however, that regulation in general should be associated with higher profits. Indeed, critics of the regulatory state regularly decry the costs imposed by regulations. Yet even regulations that impose costs might raise profits indirectly, since costs to incumbents are also entry barriers for prospective entrants. For example, one study found that pollution regulations served to reduce entry of new firms into some manufacturing industries.

. . .

Firms influence the legislative and regulatory process and they engage in a wide range of activity to profit from regulatory changes, with significant success ... the link between regulation and profits is highly concentrated in a small number of politically influential industries. Among non-financial corporations, most of the effect is accounted for by just five industries: pharmaceuticals/chemicals, petroleum refining, transportation equipment/defense, utilities, and communications. These industries comprise, in effect, a “rent seeking sector.” Concentration of political influence among a narrow group of firms means that those firms may skew policy for the entire economy. For example, the pharmaceutical industry has actively stymied efforts to address problems of patent trolls that affect many other industries.

There's more at the link.

Business leaders meeting with President Trump certainly fits into the 'regulation and lobbying' category.  I know that 'the art of the deal' will be a cornerstone of this administration, but it has to be the right kind of deal - good for the country as a whole, not just Big Business.  It's not like the movies used to portray it:

We've learned better than that.  This is a situation that will bear watching.



Courtesy of Old NFO:

Kinda puts last weekend's anti-Trump women's protest marches in perspective, doesn't it?


When the will of the people is secondary

Readers are doubtless aware by now that the UK Supreme Court has ruled that the British government can't withdraw from the European Union without an authorizing vote in Parliament.  This is despite the fact that the British people voted for such a withdrawal in a referendum last year.  The Telegraph reports:

A group of campaigners, led by businesswoman and philanthropist Gina Miller, asked the High Court to rule last year on whether the Government’s proposal to invoke Article 50 using the royal prerogative was legal.

The High Court ruled in November that using the royal prerogative did not follow the correct parliamentary process, meaning that only a vote in Parliament could give the Prime Minister authority to trigger Brexit.

Because the referendum on Britain’s EU membership last June was not legally binding, it was treated by the court as a consultative exercise, and the judges decided that an Act of Parliament was required to make Brexit legal.

The Government appealed against that ruling, which has now been decided by the highest court in the country and has set a legal precedent for generations to come.

There's more at the link.

What this means, in so many words, is that even if the British people express their will in a referendum, that popular vote can be overturned if the Members of Parliament decide, in their wisdom (?), to vote for something else - something other than the result of the referendum.

We've heard much talk about the 'establishment' in this country.  Here you see the 'establishment' in Britain at work.  Their attitude is clear.  "The will of the people?  That's subject to what we have to say about it.  Who do these commoners think they are, anyway?"  (Forgetting that the British parliament is known as the 'House of Commons' for a reason!)

I think this decision is breathtakingly arrogant, and perfectly illustrates how the political class have lost touch with the people.  I hope the Commons votes to implement the will of the British people, as stated in the referendum result.  If it doesn't, it'll precipitate a far worse constitutional crisis, one where the will of the people is revealed to be of secondary rather than primary importance, advisory rather than binding.  If that happens, it will reveal clearly that Britain is no longer a democracy at all . . . and that will have repercussions all over the world.


Monday, January 23, 2017

My wife has an assistant

Ashbutt's helping her fold the laundry.

Well, what else would one expect from a seven-month-old Maine Coon kitten?  (Yes, there's half a basket of formerly clean laundry underneath him, still warm from the dryer.  Irresistible to a cat of any age, I should think!)


Interesting times for the Democratic Party in California

It might be time to pay careful attention to the political entertainment in California.  The Hill reports:

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) turned out en masse at ordinarily sleepy party caucuses earlier this month, electing a slate of delegates who could be poised to take over the largest Democratic Party organization outside of Washington, D.C.

As final vote totals trickled in, Sanders backers claimed to have elected more than 650 delegates out of 1,120 available seats chosen at this month’s caucuses. Those delegates will choose the next state Democratic Party chairman, along with other party officials.

Sanders supporters say they hope to change the very nature of the Democratic Party.

. . .

California’s legislature has been at the vanguard of some of the most liberal policy programs in the nation, on everything from climate change to immigrant rights. Sanders supporters hope to leverage their newfound power to convince Democratic majorities in the state Assembly and state Senate to embrace even more aggressive progressive positions.

. . .

California is not the only state in which Sanders backers are trying to take over Democratic parties. The group is also organizing in Florida, Iowa, Colorado and Michigan, Jackson said.

“Hopefully, within a year or two, we’ll have a majority of the states covered,” Jackson said.

There's more at the link.

I find this very interesting, for a number of reasons.

  1. The Sanders bloc in the Democratic Party was actively sabotaged by the party establishment during last year's presidential election.  Its activists were deliberately sidelined by operatives favoring Hillary Clinton.  That's backfiring on the party right now, as the anger engendered by such discrimination is being funneled into this takeover attempt.  I think it has a good chance of succeeding in at least some states, and possibly nationally as well, given time.
  2. It's going to pose a real challenge for the Democratic Party leadership in Congress and the Senate, which has just re-elected its old leaders again and sidestepped younger, more politically astute challengers.  In other words, its political leaders no longer reflect the motivations, desires and policy positions of many younger Democratic Party activists.  I think a clash may be inevitable.
  3. There's also the question of how to square a more activist, progressive, left-wing Democratic Party with the desires of voters, who clearly turned away from such positions to elect President Trump last year.  How that will play out is anybody's guess, but I'd expect the Democrats to lose more elected positions and offices in the short term, before they can rebuild around their new core constituency.

It's going to be fun to watch.  Pass the popcorn!


This was my war

I haven't said very much about my experiences in the South African Defense Force, or in supporting industries, through the 1970's and 1980's.  Part of that is because I signed the South African Official Secrets Act of 1956, the Protection of Information Act of 1982, and other security legislation.  They govern much of what I did during that period, and I haven't (and won't) renege on my undertaking of secrecy.  As my father used to say, "If your word is no good, then you are no good."

Nevertheless, a lot of information has come out in the years since then.  Perhaps the best book (in my experience, anyway) about the climax to South Africa's Border War is Fred Bridgland's "The War For Africa", which is very hard to come by and very expensive when you can find a copy, but is the best summation of the final battles of 1987/88 that I know.  (It's due to be republished later this year, which is very welcome news.  I'll have to buy a couple of extra copies to lend to friends.)

I was pleased to find an article by American scholar Robert Goldich on a South African military history blog, giving a strategic overview of the conflict.  Here's how he begins.

There aren’t many truly unknown wars these days. Military history writing, scholarly and popular and in between, has mushroomed over the past several decades. But military events under the Southern Cross receive much less attention, because the vast majority of the developed countries are well north of the Equator.

Reading South African accounts of the 23-year long Border War between South Africa and the Angolan liberation movement UNITA on the one hand, and the Angolan government and army, supported by large Cuban forces on the other, is almost hypnotically compelling. This is not only because for most of us north of the Equator it is so distant. The names of both natural features and people involved, and the range of cultures they represent, sound exotic to our ears, and hold one’s attention.

The tactical and operational lessons from the Border War are mostly variations on usual military themes — solid and relevant training, doctrine, and attitudes — but that the most significant lessons of this conflict for the United States are far broader, and sobering, in nature.

There's much more at the link.

If you'd like to learn something about one of the lesser-known parts of the Cold War (which seemed pretty damned hot to me on occasion, as my scars will testify!), I recommend the article to your attention.  To learn more, I highly recommend Fred Bridgland's book.


Snow and ice FAIL! - lots of them

Let's start the work week off with a seasonal giggle.

It hurt to watch some of those . . . but I still laughed.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

An ingenious way to clear heavy snow off your roof

I wouldn't have thought of this method, but it seems to work well.  The only tricky bit would be to get up to the top of the roof to lead the string or rope.

Ingenious!  Just stand well back when you tug on that line . . .


A sad reminder of the human cost of war

Yesterday I put up a link to a collection of photographs of aircraft and ships from World War II.  As part of the research that collection inspired, I came across the story - and a video - of Loyce Edward Deen, a gunner aboard a Grumman Avenger torpedo-bomber.

Aviation Machinist's Mate 2nd Class Deen was aboard an Avenger of Navy torpedo squadron VT-15, flying from the aircraft-carrier USS Essex, when his aircraft was struck by anti-aircraft fire over the Philippines on November 5th, 1944.  From a Web site set up in memory of Mr. Deen, we learn:

That day, Lt. Cosgrove received tail number #93 - an new plane just acquired in Ulithi Atol a few days ago. Lt. Cosgrove's orders were to go after the Japanese cruisers in Manila Bay.  After the briefing, Lt. Cosgrove joined his crew, Digby and Loyce, and they went topside to their plane. Loyce climbed into his gun turret for the final time. The VT-15 group took off mid morning and It would take about two hours to get to the Manila Bay and release the ordnance.

There, they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire from a Japanese cruiser and Loyce was killed from two AA shells. In the 2001 History Channel documentary film  "Battle Group Halsey" interview, Capt. Cosgrove recalled, "Denzek told me over the intercom that Deen was hit bad.Then, Densek came back up thru the small passage way to sit in the cabin behind me. He stayed there until we landed."

There's much more at the link.

Here's an image of Lt. Cosgrove's aircraft after it was hit.  The pilot is struggling to keep it flying, despite damaged controls.  Although the image is a little fuzzy, the damage to the crumpled ball turret at the rear of the cockpit can be clearly seen.  Mr. Deen, who was killed instantly, is still inside the turret.  (Click the image for a larger view.)

The pilot managed to land his damaged aircraft aboard USS Essex, where it was learned that his rear gunner was dead.  Mr. Deen's body was so badly mangled by the exploding anti-aircraft shells that it was decided it could not be removed from the aircraft.  Fingerprints were taken for identification, and his dog-tags were removed from around his neck.  The aircraft was then wheeled down the flight deck to the stern, without being stripped for parts (as was customary with damaged aircraft before they were pushed over the side, due to the shortage of parts and materials).  After a brief funeral service, attended by then-Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, Commanding Officer of Task Group 38.3 of the Pacific Fleet, who was flying his flag aboard USS Essex, the entire aircraft was pushed over the side, forming Mr. Deen's coffin.  Two Avengers from his squadron flew overhead in salute.

The episode was captured on film by combat cameramen aboard the Essex.  Here's the description of the video clip from YouTube.

A Grumman TBF avenger torpedo bomber of VT-15 Torpedo Air Group, approaches and lands on the deck of the USS Essex (CV-9) during the Battle of Manila Bay, in World War 2. Upon landing, Lt. Robert Cosgrove (Pilot) and Sailor Digby Denzek (Radioman) can be seen in their respective forward and middle crew positions. But the rear gunner position, occupied by Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class,Loyce Edward Deen (Gunner) has been completely destroyed by enemy 40mm shell fire. As the aircraft is parked amongst others, with wings folded, sailors of the Essex take fingerprints and cut dog tags from the body of AMM2C Loyce Deen in the gunner position. Captain Carlos W. Wieber, Commanding Officer of the Essex, and her crew, participate in funeral services on the deck. A chaplain conducts the services from beside the aircraft, where Loyce Deen's remains in the gunner's position have been shrouded. Closeup view of Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman during the burial service. A bugler sounds taps. Beside the bugler is David L. McDonald, who was XO of the USS Essex (and later Chief of Naval Operations in the 1960s). Deen's remains are then buried at sea in the TBF avenger in which he perished. The aircraft floats off the fantail for a short time before sinking from view. Two TBF Avengers are seen flying overhead , in tribute. Crew members then disband and return to their duties. Location: Manila Philippines. Date: November 5, 1944.

Here's the video.

May the souls of Loyce Edward Deen, and of all those who died in defense of freedom in World War II, rest in peace.


The sounds of . . . sausage???

Well, this certainly falls under the headings of 'artistic' and 'creative' - not to mention 'digestive'!

What does a currywurst sound like? The Konzerthausorchester Berlin, a symphony orchestra based in the capital, has answered that question with a new video recreating the preparation of the famous snack through music.

Using only their instruments, the musicians evoke each stage in the careful preparation of the spicy sausage.

. . .

The grilling and slicing of the Wurst, the shaking of the salt, the squirting of the ketchup, and not forgetting the clink of coins in the tip jar are all replicated through different instruments.

Then it's onto the sizzle of the fries, the wiping of the table, and the chink of beer bottles being opened. Close your eyes, and you can almost taste the food...

. . .

This is the first of a planned series of pieces from the orchestra inspired by sounds of Berlin, with 12 more to follow.

There's more at the link.

Here's the video.

That's great!

The first six of the videos in the promised 'sounds of Berlin' series are already on the orchestra's YouTube channel.  Click over there to enjoy them.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

This is why you don't take all your medicine at once

As part of my research for my current work in progress (the second volume of my Western series, the Ames Archives), I came across this gem.  It's from page 67 of the first edition of 'Fifty Years on the Owl Hoot Trail' by Harry E. Chrisman.

[In the early 1880's, in what is today the Oklahoma Panhandle], Old James (Medicine) Steadman ... was a town character who had earned his nickname when he prescribed some physic pills for a sick Indian a wandering tribe had left in Benton.  Before leaving, the Indian's friends administered the entire package of pills Steadman had sold them, and the brave nearly died.  After three days sitting in the sod john, back of Tom Parker's saloon, the brave left, following the trail of his friends.  "White man heap run 'em, stink 'em, kill 'em sick Injun," he told Tom, who had let him sleep in the saloon's bullpen.  "Me go die with good Injun friends."

I've had days like that, but never three of them in a row!  Whatever that 'physic' (i.e. laxative) was, it seems to have worked exceptionally well - but then, I'm sure one wasn't supposed to take all the tablets at once.  Talk about kill or cure!


Islamic terrorists in the Philippines find the going tough

Austin Bay points out that in the Philippines, President Duterte's tough anti-drug, anti-crime rhetoric is being matched by equally tough anti-terrorism measures.

The war on Islamic terrorism in the south continues with growing intensity. The government wants to end the years of Islamic terrorists sustaining themselves through kidnapping and piracy. The president told the military to shut down Abu Sayyaf by mid-year and do whatever was needed to get it done. The president discussed the major problems the security forces have encountered. First there is the ransoms. Military intelligence estimates that Abu Sayyaf took in over a million dollars a month from ransoms during the first six months of 2016 and that the Abu Sayyaf move into piracy off the south coast was based on the need to keep that money coming. Now the military has been ordered to ignore the presence of hostages when attacking or bombing Abu Sayyaf camps. He urged foreign nations to not pay the large ransoms, which have long been illegal in the Philippines. In the meantime foreigners are urged to avoid the southeastern areas of the Philippines, especially Sulu and Basilan, where the kidnappers (mainly Abu Sayyaf) are most active. Without those large and continued infusions of cash the Islamic terrorist activity sharply declines because all that ransom money makes it possible to outlaws like Abu Sayyaf to survive even though local political and religious leaders condemn them.

Martial law is also available as an option to ensure that Abu Sayyaf is done by Filipino Independence Day (June 12th). For most of 2016 the government has had 10,000 troops and police carrying out more aggressive operations against Abu Sayyaf and that has caused the Islamic terror group a lot of losses. Since July this has cost the Islamic terrorists nearly 200 men, most of them killed but about a third of them lost to capture, desertion and illness. These non-combat losses are a direct result of the constant pressure. The government has offered to hold peace talks with Abu Sayyaf, but on condition that the Islamic terrorist group cease all kidnapping activity. Abu Sayyaf has made it clear it would never do that because they need the cash to exist. Abu Sayyaf is feeling the pressure and captured members and documents, as well as intercepted messages indicate that the group is burning through their cash faster than expected because of the growing pressure from security forces and pro-government locals.

This last group has been growing as local civilians complain about the disruptions in their lives because of the increased efforts to shut down Abu Sayyaf. Some of the locals have been urging Abu Sayyaf to move or do something to give their traditional supporters some relief. Meanwhile a lot of locals are just quietly, often via some discreet (often anonymous) texting to the local military base (local police are less trustworthy) with useful information of Abu Sayyaf activities. This has forced Abu Sayyaf to release some hostages alive, without ransom, when the security forces get too close. This is especially true if the hostages are Moslems, It’s one thing to execute a foreign kaffir (non-Moslem) but casually slaughtering Moslem captives is not good for the image (of being protectors of Islam). Families of some foreign Moslems held hostage report getting phone calls from the kidnappers (who put their kin on the line to encourage cooperation) offering freedom for much less ransom if they can pay real soon.

There's more at the link.

I can't say I'm in favor of President Duterte's flagrant disregard of even the most basic of civil and human rights.  However, I have to admit that he's getting results in his war on drugs and crime - and those results have the resounding support of a good two-thirds of Philippines citizens.  I'd hate to live there under such a government, but if the people approve, he's probably going to go right on doing as he's done for some time now.  If he can produce similar results in the war against home-brewed Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, he'll doubtless become more popular than ever.


A great collection of World War 2 aviation photographs

The good people at Vintage Wings of Canada (whom we've met in these pages several times before) have published a wonderful collection of rare and historic photographs of aircraft, ships and personnel from World War II.  Here's a small selection to whet your appetite, all reduced in size to fit this blog.  Each image is followed by its description.

The timing of this photograph of an HMS Tracker-based Avenger (either from 853 or 846 Squadron) striking the water is impeccable, if rather frightening. The Avenger's propeller is just striking the surface of the water as the large torpedo bomber and its three-man crew hit the surface inverted. It is not known the exact circumstances of the crash or if the crew survived.

The day before the amphibious assault on Iwo Jima, the starving and doomed Japanese garrison on Chichijima, the next island in the archipelago, came under attack by carrier-based aircraft of the United States Navy. The island was used as the primary site for Japanese long-range radio relay operations and surveillance activity in the Pacific. Avengers were used to take out the two radio stations on the island, but they faced anti-aircraft fire. This Avenger from USS Bennington, flown by Lieutenant Robert King, was one of three Avengers attacking Chichijima's airfield. Another of the Avengers was hit by flak which blew it right wing off. That Avenger rolled hard right and into a spin, hitting King's Avenger. The left wing of the dying Avenger struck and crumpled the rear fuselage of King's “Turkey” and its propeller chewed off half the port wing. With the aircraft out of control at 9,000 feet, King ordered his two crewmen (Jim Dye and Grady York) to bail out, but, as he was attempting to get out himself, the aircraft righted itself and he regained control. The other Avenger spun out of control into the sea, killing all on board. The two crewmen landed close to the shore of Chichijima, waded ashore and were captured. Sadly, they were later executed by the desperate and unstable Japanese, as were six other US Navy airmen shot down in the same period. King made it back to the carrier, escorted by squadron mates, ditched and was picked up. He was however, devastated by survivor's guilt. In this photo we can see the tension in his shoulders as he fights the controls with both hands.

Some carriers, like the Essex Class carrier USS Yorktown (above) could land aircraft from the bow while steaming in reverse. Who knew? It makes some degree of sense however, if the aft flight deck is on fire from a bomb or crash and aircraft need to get down. Essex Class carriers could steam 20 knots in reverse and had arrestor wires on the forward flight deck. Here, a Grumman Avenger lands on over the bow, while Yorktown steams in reverse in the summer of 1943 in the protected confines Gulf of Paria (between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago) during her shakedown cruise.

While most of us are familiar with aircraft taking off from or being catapulted from the flight deck of Second World war carriers, it's a little known fact that some of these carriers (Essex-class in particular) also had a starboard hydraulic catapult (known as the H-IV-A (H-4A) catapult which could launch an 8-ton aircraft to 85 mph in 72.5 feet) from which fighters could be launched in the event of an emergency in which the flight deck was completely fouled, or simply to increase launch rate for standard operations. In the top photograph, a Hellcat is launched from USS Hornet (CV-12) in February 1944.

An Avro Anson (top) rests atop an Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley at No. 19 Operational Training Unit, a Whitley conversion base at RAF Kinloss, Morayshire, Scotland. On the night of October 19, 1943 the pilot of the Anson (XF-K) misunderstood the light signals from the control tower and proceeded with a landing whilst the pilot of the Whitley (UO-O) was still warming his engines for a take-off. The Whitley was damaged beyond repair, but the Anson was soon back in the air. Accidents like these were not common, but there are other photos of similarly mated aircraft at training bases from Canada to Australia.

There are many more pictures at the link.  Highly recommended viewing for aviation and military history buffs.


Trump Derangement Syndrome, anyone?

Dayum.  I mean . . . just . . . dayum!

Her name, apparently, is Jessica Starr.  I wonder if she's related to Trigglypuff?


Friday, January 20, 2017

Thunderstruck indeed!

Since today seems to have been a video-clip day here, let's finish off with a Spanish bagpipe band.

People often forget that bagpipes are a widely used instrument in Europe.  They're not just Scottish or Irish, but also found in France, Spain and elsewhere.  This is the group Rondalla Santa Eulalia de Mos (link is to their Facebook page) performing a rather unique version of the AC/DC hit 'Thunderstruck'.  Love the massed castanets providing an assist to the percussion section!

It would have been fun to hear that song performed in Washington D.C. today.  It's probably a pretty good summation of the feelings of all the nefarious denizens of the Washington swamp, who've just seen their nemesis take the oath of office.


This is so over the top, it might as well be Bollywood!

I laughed out loud on viewing the trailer for the new Vin Diesel movie, 'xXx: Return of Xander Cage'.  It's so over-the-top in almost every way that it could come from any of the Bollywood movies we've profiled here over the past few weeks.  See for yourself.

Some of those scenes are so ridiculous, I've already said to Miss D. that we need to plan on watching that together.  Neither of us are movie addicts, to put it mildly (the last time we went to a movie together was to watch 'Act of Valor', back in 2012, about which I wrote here), but this looks like it'll be a hoot.

(No, I'm not advertising the movie.  I merely have a well-developed sense of the ridiculous!)


Ice-skating on a frozen peat bog

Since the last two videos I've posted, yesterday afternoon and this morning, both dealt with cold, icy conditions, why not make it a threefer?

The De Weerribben-Wieden National Park in the Netherlands is the largest bog in north-western Europe.  It was used for peat production before the Second World War.  This has left large segments of open, very shallow water throughout the bog.  Naturally, these freeze over in cold winters, offering wonderful opportunities for long-distance ice skating.

Here are some Dutch skaters taking full advantage of this year's cold weather.  Watch the video in full-screen mode for best results.

Beautiful scenery!  It looks like they're having a great time.  Personally, I think I'd prefer to stay warmer than that . . .


A car, three moose, and a snow-covered road

A Canadian motorist recently encountered three moose on a snow-covered road where his car didn't have enough traction to brake in time.  The result was filmed on his dash camera.  Watch it in full-screen mode for best results.

That's about as close an encounter as I ever want to have with a moose!  You can read more about the incident here.