Friday, June 24, 2016

Another feel-good announcement that will accomplish nothing . . .

. . . except to add another burden to the lives of good priests who don't deserve it.  The Guardian reports:

Catholic priests in Montreal will be banned from being alone with children to provide a “safety net” against allegations of abuse.

. . .

Implementation of the policy is to begin with a pilot project involving a dozen parishes from September, and will subsequently be rolled out across the diocese.

The policy would cover anyone “in the orbit of the church” to create a “safety net”, Canon Francois Sarrazin told the Canadian Press.

“Imagine if you are alone in a room and a child accuses you of hitting them, how will you react?” Sarrazin said. “Whether it’s true or not, you need a witness. Not being in the room alone with someone who is vulnerable is simply being prudent.”

. . .

The policy was dismissed as “window dressing” by David Clohessy of the US-based Snap (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) ... “We’ve literally seen hundreds of policies, procedures, protocols and pledges like this that sound good on paper but are virtually never enforced. So we are extremely sceptical.”

There's more at the link.

Mr. Clohessy is exactly right.  This is nothing more or less than pious window-dressing.  Bad priests will be able to avoid detection and get around this prohibition without much difficulty - just as they always have.  If they're not obeying the commandments of God and refuse to heed Christ's explicit warning, what makes the Archbishop of Montreal think they'll obey him?  Moreover, good priests will now have their lives made much more difficult.  How, precisely, are they supposed to provide confidential counseling, or sacraments such as reconciliation (i.e. confession), to younger people if they aren't allowed to be alone with them?  It also tars them with the same brush as priests guilty of child abuse;  in other words, they're regarded as guilty until proven innocent.

Those are two of the bigger reasons why I walked away from the priesthood in 2005.  Celibacy had nothing to do with it;  nor did doctrinal disagreements with the Catholic Church.  I simply refused to accept being regarded, officially, by my religious superiors, as 'guilty until proven innocent', merely because of the fact that I was a priest.  Furthermore, I refused to lie to the faithful, and tell them (as I was instructed to do) that the bishops were handling the child sex abuse scandal in an orderly and proper manner, and that the people of God could trust their leadership.  I knew at first hand - and had evidence to prove it - that this was false.

It's absolutely tragic that nothing seems to have changed.  The people of God deserve better . . . but they're not getting it.  If this is an example of the official attitude of the Catholic Church, I fear they never will.


When you don't care about international reaction . . .

. . . sometimes you can get away with murder.  Almost literally.  The Telegraph reports that Russia has been caught using incendiary weapons against civilian targets in Syria.

Russia has been caught using incendiary weapons in Syria by its own TV channel Russia Today, which later tried to edit the footage out of its broadcast.

The Kremlin has previously denied that its warplanes were carrying these bombs, which are restricted by an international convention.

The English-language news station, which is funded by Moscow, broadcast footage of Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, visiting Hmeymim airbase in the Syrian province of Latakia last Saturday.

A pilot can be seen next to a plane loaded with munitions marked with identifying numbers.

Experts from Human Rights Watch, and Conflict Intelligence Team, an open-source intelligence group based in Russia, concluded that it showed incendiary weapons mounted on a Su-34 ground attack aircraft – specifically RBK-500 ZAB-2.5SM bombs.

They said they believed the weapons contained a metal powder fuel known as thermite that ignites while falling, which has led witnesses of attacks to describe them as “fireballs.” It is the hottest burning man-made substance in the world.

. . .

The use of thermite has been reported in civilian areas of Aleppo in northern Syria, where Russia has been conducting regular air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad in anticipation of a ground assault to retake the city from rebel groups.

A day after the RT broadcast, a residential neighbourhood in Hayan was hit by what appeared to be a “fireball” explosion.

“It looked like a bright shower raining down,” an activist in Aleppo told the Telegraph, which was backed up by a video recording.

“It happened at night and the whole sky lit up. The buildings were burning for many hours after.”

. . .

The use of air-dropped incendiary bombs on civilian populations would be a violation of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, of which Russia is a signatory.

There's more at the link.

I've been in the (too) close vicinity of one of those things when its contents landed.  They're not fun . . . and that's putting it very mildly.


So it's Brexit - but what next?

I note that Britain has voted - very narrowly - to leave the European Union and reclaim its independence as a sovereign state.  I think this is a good thing, but it raises many issues that are going to come to the fore in the months and years to come.

This represents at least a temporary (and hopefully a longer-lasting) disruption of the overwhelming move by the powers that be - the top economic, political and cultural leaders of the First World - towards greater union, centralizing power under their (supposedly enlightened and benign) leadership.  They routinely pay lip service to democratic values, but just as routinely ignore them in favor of pronouncements and edicts from the self-proclaimed cognoscenti.  (A good example of this is the rejection of the proposed European Constitution by citizens of France and the Netherlands in referenda.  This should have meant that it was abandoned:  but the EU's leaders and bureaucrats ignored that democratic requirement.  They simply incorporated all its major proposals in the Treaty of Lisbon, which was subsequently ratified by most EU nations without democratic referenda.)

Examples of such attitudes are typified by George Soros, who has openly supported greater European union and helped to fund many organizations promoting refugee access to Europe.  He said last year of Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán's views on the crisis, “His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle.  Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle.”  He's also championed liberal and progressive values in the USA, and is widely believed to be one of the éminences grises behind the Obama administration.

For such people and from their perspective, the revival of nationalism and regionalism are viewed with real concern, if not fear, because such attitudes are seen as antithetical to multiculturalism and closer political union.  On the other hand, many (including myself) who've experienced and been exposed to multiple cultures and peoples around the world, tend to believe that there are so many conflicting values, norms and expectations that it's simply impossible - not to mention irrational - to try to homogenize them all in a single nation or over-arching überkultur.

People with the latter perspective regard the EU as increasingly less rational in its incessant drive towards greater corporate control over its member nation-states, and in the open ambitions of its bureaucrats to dictate to national courts and administrations what they may or may not do.  (For example, EU regulations on the shape and size of fruit - which "dictate the shape, size and appearance of 36 fruits and vegetables. For example, it is illegal for supermarkets to sell a cauliflower less than 11cm in diameter, carrots that are forked (with more than one root) or onions with less than two-thirds covered in skin" - are merely one outlying aberration underlining this ambition.  Of much greater concern is the EU's overriding of the laws - and the courts - of member nations to impose its edicts on matters of formerly national concern, such as human rights, immigration, refugees, etc.)

One commenter has already stated:  "As long as there is a small core of countries willing to go the whole hog -- that is, move toward a version of the United States of Europe -- the European dream will be alive."  On the other hand, for a significant proportion of European citizens and residents, that dream resembles nothing so much as a nightmare.  For a narrow majority of Britons, the latter perspective led them to vote "No" yesterday to continued EU membership.  I'm very glad they did, and I hope to see the trend continue in other EU nations as well.  I suspect the people of France, Italy and Greece - at least - will support the exit of their own countries from the EU as well . . . if - if - they're given a chance to vote on the matter.

I don't believe that a 'one world' government will suit us at all, just as I don't believe for a moment that Washington can reliably make policy, laws and regulations concerning local or regional affairs across the USA.  It's too remote, too disinterested in what affects the lives of ordinary, everyday residents.  That's why our Founding Fathers restricted the size and scope of the central government in the US constitution.  Tragically, that's observed more in the breach than the observance these days (witness the habitual, cynical use of the 'commerce clause' to override such restrictions).

Britain's withdrawal from the EU is a blow against such over-centralized union.  May there be more of them - and soon! - and may the same caution influence the attitude of American voters in this year's (and subsequent) national elections.  Liberals and progressives demand that we respect and celebrate diversity, do they?  Then let's do so in politics as well, and vote against enforced homogeneity!


Thursday, June 23, 2016

I think Bach would have liked it

Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is probably the best-known musical work for organ in the world.  It's routinely used as the 'acid test' for newly-constructed and rebuilt pipe organs;  if they can't play it well, they need re-tuning or more extensive rebuilding.  No self-respecting classical organist would omit it from his or her repertoire.  Here's a good version from YouTube (one of many).

Courtesy of Grouchy Old Cripple, I came across this rock/metal version that's a remarkable transcription of the piece.  I'm generally suspicious of such transcriptions of the classics, but this one is good enough that I think J. S. Bach himself would probably have nodded approvingly.

The guitarist calls himself 'Johann Sebastian Orpheus'.  He has his own YouTube channel, and has released a CD that looks very interesting.  I think I'm going to listen to a few of its tracks on YouTube, and if they're all as good as this one, I'll be buying it.  (No, he's not paying me to advertise for him;  I just like his music - at least, what I've heard so far.)

I guess J. S. Orpheus is operating in the same tradition as Jerry C's justly famous rock version of Pachelbel's Canon.  In case you haven't heard it, here's the original version of that much-copied transcription.


Birds of discerning taste

I had to laugh at this report.

Rare birds of prey have been caught stealing the underwear of skinny dippers at a popular wild swimming spot in a Highland glen.

The red kites have taken pants and socks to line their nest, including designer brands such as Armani, which have helped keep four chicks warm this summer.

Dave Clement, a gamekeeper on the Gannochy estate in the Angus glens, made the discovery after contacting the RSPB to have the kite chicks ringed and recorded.

It is the second year in a row that he has found a variety of underwear in the nest, high in a larch tree, not far from a gorge in Glen Esk where walkers often strip off to have a swim.

Mr Clement, a member of the Angus Glens Moorland Group, which promotes the benefits of grouse estates, said it appeared that the kites had become more discerning this year by choosing more expensive pants.

He added: “The licensed ringer who went up the tree to the nest said there were Armani pants and another brand as well as socks, which they must have pinched off the swimmers at the local gorge.

“It seems they will take anything to line the nest, then lay the eggs on top, and someone must have gone home minus some underwear.”

. . .

The red kite’s habit of "stealing" to make its nest is well known, and nests in England have been found to contain items including England flags, handbags, tea towels, lottery tickets and frilly knickers.

There's more at the link.

So, add that to the list of hazards encountered while skinny-dipping. Since it was in Scotland, perhaps the birds might be the answer to the traditional question about Donald's nether attire!


So much for the unemployment figures

I've complained many times in these pages about how unemployment statistics are deliberately falsified by the bureaucrats who generate them.  Now comes this.

... a close reading of the data suggests that economic growth is negligible, and the real unemployment rate is about 23%.

That is the Shadow Government Statistics alternative unemployment rate for May 2016. Quite a contrast with the headline “official” unemployment rate of 4.7%.

But upon inspection, you can see that the alarming 23% ShadowStats unemployment rate is merely unemployment calculated as it was until the Kennedy administration, when out-of-work Americans who had suspended an active search for jobs — primarily because none could be found — were relabeled “discouraged workers” and dropped from the tally of the unemployed.

The Clinton administration widened the memory hole further.

In 1994, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) redefined the workforce to exclude all but the small percentage of the discouraged who had been seeking work for less than a year. The longer-term discouraged — some 4 million U.S. adults — disappeared into a statistical black hole.

Clinton also reduced the sample-sized employed in the household survey that determines the unemployment rate — excluding a disproportionate share of inner-city households who were less likely to have jobs.

Over the years, American politicians have used statistical sleight of hand to protect themselves from the angry mobs of voters in a way that the witch doctors and high priests of the past could only envy.

In the old days, when the rains didn’t come and the crops failed, the high priests could not fool anyone by merely issuing a proclamation thanking the gods for bumper crops.

Today, Obama proclaims a “vigorous recovery” and The New York Times pretends to believe it.

. . .

Notwithstanding the fact that the BLS has been adding an average of 200,000 fake jobs to the monthly payroll report in recent years (as confirmed by the March 2015 benchmark downside revisions that subtracted 206,000 jobs), the actual employment picture has become so weak that they have brazenly added additional monthly upside biases.

That’s why Donald Trump says: “Only ‘dummies’ believe Fed’s unemployment figure”.

Donald Trump has tried to advance the national conversation by underscoring a point that should be evident to any thinking person. Namely, that the “recovery” the establishment is so keen to have you embrace is a fraud.

If elected president, Trump promises to draw back the veil of statistical flummery that disguises reality for credulous people. Trump is the first candidate in my memory to say he “will investigate the veracity of U.S. economic statistics produced by Washington — including ‘the way they are reported.’”

No wonder the establishment hates him.

As George Orwell, the author of 1984, put it: “The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”

There's much more at the link.  It's well worth your while to read it in full.  It's important.

We're being consistently, systematically lied to by the 'establishment'.  They've done so for so long that we've grown accustomed to it, and we tend to let the lies slide.  It's my hope that the support being shown for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is, at least, an indication that more and more Americans are seeing the lies for what they are, and getting fed up with them.  If they are . . . there may be hope for the Republic yet.


Misprints that cost big money

The Telegraph has an amusing gallery of misprints that ended up costing the perpetrators big money in fines, court judgments and other losses.  Here are a few examples.

Last year, the High Court found Companies House liable for the downfall of Taylor & Sons Ltd, the Government website mistakenly recorded that the Cardiff engineering firm had been wound up.

It was actually another company, Taylor & Son Ltd, that had gone bust. The error – just one pesky little "s" – caused the Welsh company to lose a lot of business, including a £400,000-a-month deal with Tata Steel, as partners assumed it had gone under, and cost Companies House £8.8m ($12.9m).

. . .

In 1631, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the Royal printers, were stripped of their publishing licence and fined £300 – worth tens of thousands today – after missing out three small but crucial letters in a version of the Bible.

The seventh commandment, in this run of 1,000 copies, instructed its readers: "Thou shalt commit adultery".

King Charles I ordered the "Sinners' Bibles" to be burnt, but nine copies are believed to exist today, with one put to auction for £15,000 last year.

. . .

In 2007, a bottle of Allsopp's Arctic Ale, brewed specifically for Sir Edward Belcher's Arctic Expedition in 1852 by the company that would late evolve into AB InBev, was auctioned on eBay. The rare beverage, which was carried on the ship that was later turned into the US President's desk in the White House, attracted 157 bids and eventually sold for $503,300.

That was a big return for the seller, who had bought it on eBay just weeks earlier for $304 because the original vendor mistyped the name "Allsop". By losing one "p" the seller missed out on more than half a million dollars.

There are more mistakes at the link.  Amusing reading.

(By the way, that Arctic Ale apparently tastes pretty good, even after so long in the bottle.  I wonder what the original seller - who misspelled the name and so lost out on over half a million dollars - used to drown his or her sorrows?)


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"His Tremendousness"???

Looks like politics as usual in Italy - on a small scale, at least.

Seborga is a hilltop village overlooking the Italian Riviera that for half a century has proclaimed itself a self-governing principality, independent of the rest of Italy.

Locals insist that when it was sold in 1729 to the Savoy dynasty, the deal was not registered properly, so that when Italy was unified in 1861, Seborga was left in a legal twilight zone, belonging to no state.

For the last six years the village of 320 inhabitants has been ‘ruled’ by Marcello Menegatto, 37, a businessman who styles himself His Tremendousness Marcello I, along with his wife, Princess Nina, who is originally from Germany.

His Tremendousness was elected after the death of the principality’s first ruler, a flower grower called Giorgio Carbone who styled himself Prince Giorgio I and declared independence from Rome in the 1960s.

But the peace and tranquility of the five-square-mile kingdom, which lies close to the French border, has been upset by a challenge from a pretender to the throne, a Frenchman called Nicolas Mutte who has given himself the title of His Serene Highness Nicolas I.

Seborga's monarchy is not dynastic, and elections are held every seven years. Prince Giorgio was re-elected every time, but mutterings about Prince Marcello's frequent absences from the village mean his re-election is by no means assured.

With an election due next year, 'Prince' Nicolas has declared that he would do a much better job, enraging Marcello I and his loyal subjects.

. . .

Italy has no intention of recognising Seborga’s independence and firmly disputes its contention that it was not included in the country’s reunification in 1861.

Regardless of the outcome of the princely spat, the true winners are likely to be the inhabitants of the village, who are basking in the attention and confident of drawing more visitors to a region that largely lives off tourism.

There's more at the link.

The 'principality' has its own Web site and its own 'gazette'.  Clearly, those involved in 'running' it take it seriously enough.  However, not everyone does.  According to Wikipedia:

In June 2006 a minor controversy arose when a woman calling herself "Princess Yasmine von Hohenstaufen Anjou Plantagenet", who claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne of Seborga, wrote to Italy's president offering to return the principality to the state. Her claim was contested by the then-prince, Giorgio I (Giorgio Carbone), who asserted that there were no credible sources supporting her.

Gotta love the lady's mixed-up dynastic inheritance!  See:

If she managed to accumulate genes from all those houses, her ancestors must have been busy little bees . . .


Looks like San Diego has a compassion deficit

When you try to save taxpayers' money by tearing down the facilities supposed to care for those unable to care for themselves (particularly the mentally deficient or incompetent) and force them out on to the streets, that's bad enough . . . but when you deny them the streets as well, what does that make you?

In late April, after jagged rocks were installed along a freeway underpass to drive out homeless encampments, a city spokesman told reporters the project was at the request of residents of Sherman Heights, a working-class neighborhood just east of the 5 Freeway, who felt unsafe walking down Imperial Avenue.

Turns out, it had more to do with San Diego’s upcoming time in the spotlight as the host of baseball’s All Star Game at Petco Park on July 12.

. . .

John Casey, who up until March was the city’s ballpark administrator and liaison with the Padres ... included the rocks in a checklist of work to be done before the All-Star Game. Emails also show that initial plans called for rocks along the base of a wall at Tailgate Park, between 12th and 14th streets and outside the New Central Library — which overlooks the ballpark — to keep away homeless people.

. . .

In a later email, Casey emphasized that the rocks needed to be of different heights so that no one could put down a plank of wood to try to sleep.

The city ultimately went with Casey’s choice of rocks, the records show.

There's more at the link.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at this.  I've worked with and in homeless shelters on two continents, over a period spanning four decades.  It's always the same.  If you try to help alleviate the plight of the homeless, the local authorities will be happy to help you - provided that your help includes moving them away from their area, preferably never to return.  If you try to help them where they actually are, there will be all sorts of official obstacles placed in your way, up to and including ordinances declaring some types of assistance an offense.  "We want them out of sight so they can be out of mind" just about sums up the attitude of most authorities.

There's also the NIMBY syndrome, of course.  Home-owners and businesses might consider themselves to be compassionate, but only to the extent that it doesn't impose any inconvenience on them (let alone any actual burden).  They don't want to see the homeless anywhere near their homes, shops or offices.  They'll actively support the authorities' efforts to move them on - and the authorities know this.  (Some unscrupulous businesses will even welcome the homeless, for as long as it takes them to buy rubbing alcohol or any other form of temporary intoxicant.)

Meanwhile, those who truly need help are denied it by officialdom, and those who try to provide it privately through charitable resources are at best frowned upon, at worst actively discouraged.

For those of you who want to tell me how unpleasant it is to have homeless people urinating and defecating on the sidewalks, or panhandling from passersby . . . I agree with you.  It's unpleasant, and it can be dangerous in many ways.  However, when the authorities provide no other place for them to go, and officially discourage any means of assistance, what else are the homeless supposed to do?  Kindly answer that question before you sound off about them being shiftless, lazy and bone idle.  Most of them have serious personal problems and 'issues' that put them on the streets.  Society's answer, increasingly, is to put them in jail rather than allow them to stay there - which does nothing to improve the situation.

The spread of quality-of-life policing, which targets low-level offenses like aggressive panhandling, public urination, and littering, has brought a more mentally unstable, troubled population into jails—one that mental hospitals would have treated before the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1960s and ’70s shuttered most state mental hospitals. In fact, jails have become society’s primary mental institutions, though few have the funding or expertise to carry out that role properly. Mental illness is much more common in jails than in prisons; at Rikers, 28 percent of the inmates require mental health services, a number that rises each year.

More at the link.  I have all too much personal experience of this aspect of the problem.

Dealing with homelessness and its associated issues is a huge problem, to which there are no easy answers.  The 'rock solution' implemented in San Diego will do nothing whatsoever to help.



Shamelessly stolen borrowed from Daily Timewaster:


Doofus Of The Day #913

Today's award goes to the journalist(s) and/or editor(s) responsible for this utterly ludicrous headline:

It is, of course, complete and utter bull.  Naturally (and I mean that both literally and figuratively) women are, indeed, the only people who menstruate!  It can't possibly be any other way.  Those responsible for this absurd headline are stretching reality in such a pretzel-like fashion that it's grotesque to the point of ridiculousness.

From the article:

When Thinx launched their line of absorbent underwear for periods, they used a slogan that seemed to make sense: “For women with periods.” But as they heard from more and more customers who felt left out by that branding, they realized that women aren’t the only ones who menstruate.

“We kept getting gentle reminders from people that it’s not just women with periods,” Miki Agrawal, founder and CEO of Thinx, tells Yahoo Canada. In response, the company spent a year developing a boyshort product in consultation with trans men and non-binary people who might use it. The resulting underwear, which resembles men’s boxer briefs but has the same absorbent fabric as their more traditionally feminine underwear, is meant to be worn instead of pads or tampons, or as back-up for those products.

Now the new slogan for Thinx is “For people with periods” and one of their campaigns features model Sawyer DeVuyst, who is a trans man. And the company is working on introducing more gender-neutral products in the future, Agrawal says.

The Thinx campaign is one of few acknowledgements from the sanitary products industry that menstruation doesn’t just happen to cisgender women. There are trans men who have to deal with their periods as well as non-binary people who menstruate.

There's more at the link.

Look . . . if a woman chooses to self-identify as a man, but chromosomally, genetically and otherwise is female to the point that she still has periods, THEY ARE NOT A MAN.  THEY ARE A WOMAN.  PERIOD.  (Pun intended.)  Even if the relevant organs are surgically removed, so that periods are no longer physically possible, that won't change the reality of the situation.

It doesn't matter what such people feel like, or what they want to be, or what their friends tell them they can be.  Their bodies, their hormones, their chromosomes, and Mother Nature - all are telling them the truth.  If they choose to deny that truth and pretend to be what they aren't, they are clearly in serious need of psychological and/or psychiatric help - but that does not make them male.  They need not expect anyone with any respect for the truth to aid and abet their delusions by treating them as if they were real.

This is political correctness gone mad, and should be treated as such.  To do otherwise would be dishonest - and the hallmark of a doofus.  It's as simple as that.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A new perspective on the urban jungle

Photographer Andy Yeung offers us a whole new way to look at cities with his pictures of Hong Kong.  Here's just one example.  Click the image for a larger view.

There are more pictures at the link.

Yeung's photographs offer an interesting perspective on how hundreds of millions of people live today.  I can't help but look at them and wonder how much extra stress and strain it causes to have to live under such surreal, artificial conditions - something for which Mother Nature surely never designed us.  That may have a lot to do with the urban crime problem we discussed this morning.


Living his dream - but is it worth it?

I was sent the link to this video clip via an e-mail list to which I belong.  Watch it, then we'll talk.

I'm sure he's enjoying himself.  I'm glad he's able to live his dream so young . . . but what will his future be?  Is there a future in bumming around the ocean on boats, in this day and age?  Is there still room for the footloose and fancy-free life, or is the modern world antithetical to it?

In my younger days, I'd have been all for something like this.  Nowadays?  I'm not so sure.  What about you, readers?

(Hey - at least he's not carrying on like the feral urban youths referred to in the previous post!)


Chicago and other big cities - havens for criminals?

More and more reports out of Chicago suggest that the city - or, at least, parts of the city - are becoming havens for the lawless, secure areas for criminals to prey on others as they please.  Furthermore, it's apparently not alone in that.

Heather MacDonald recently reported on 'How Chicago's streets became the Wild West', and claimed that pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement and the ACLU was responsible.

Someone was shot in Chicago every 150 minutes during the first five months of 2016. Someone was murdered every 14 hours, and the city saw nearly 1,400 nonfatal shootings and 240 fatalities from gunfire. Over Memorial Day weekend, 69 people were shot, nearly one an hour, topping the previous year's tally of 53 shootings. The violence is spilling from Chicago's gang-infested South and West Sides into the business district downtown. Lake Shore Drive has seen drive-by shootings and robberies.

The growing mayhem is the result of Chicago police officers' withdrawing from proactive enforcement, making the city a dramatic example of what I have called the Ferguson effect. Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014, the conceit that American policing is lethally racist has dominated media and political discourse, from the White House on down. Cops in minority neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities have responded by backing away from pedestrian stops and public-order policing; criminals are flourishing in the vacuum.

. . .

Police officers who try to intervene in this disorder often face virulent pushback. "People are a hundred times more likely to resist arrest," a police officer who has worked a decade and a half on the South Side told me. "People want to fight you; they swear at you. 'F--- the police, we don't have to listen,' they say. I haven't seen this kind of hatred towards the police in my career."

Antipolice animus is nothing new in Chicago. But the post-Ferguson Black Lives Matter narrative about endemically racist cops has made the street dynamic much worse. A detective told me: "From patrol to investigation, it's almost an undoable job now. If I get out of my car, the guys get hostile right away." Bystanders sometimes aggressively interfere, requiring more officers to control the scene.

. . .

On Jan. 1 [Chicago's Police Department] rolled out a new form for documenting investigatory stops to meet ACLU demands. The new form, called a contact card, was two pages long, with 70 fields of information to be filled out. This template dwarfs even arrest reports and takes at least 30 minutes to complete. Every card goes to the ACLU for review.

The arrangement had the intended deterrent effect: Police stops dropped nearly 90% in the first quarter of 2016. Criminals have become emboldened by the police disengagement. "Gangbangers now realize that no one will stop them," says a former high-ranking official with the department. People who wouldn't have carried a gun before are now armed, a South Side officer told me. Cops say the solution is straightforward: "If tomorrow we still had to fill out the new forms, but they no longer went to the ACLU, stops would increase," a detective said.

There's more at the link.

Even upscale areas of the city are vulnerable to the upsurge in crime.  CWB Chicago reported earlier this month:

A robbery crew targeted people along the Lakefront Path near Belmont Harbor yesterday afternoon—repeatedly tossing bikes in front of oncoming bicyclists in an effort to knock people down so they could be robbed according to multiple witnesses and one known victim.

Again, more at the link.

Karl Denninger's response was trenchant and uncompromising:

Why would anyone continue to live in such a ****hole?  Why does anyone put up with the wildings on Michigan Avenue, assaults near North Avenue on the beach, problems at Navy Pier and now, it appears, the inability to ride a bike worth more than $100 on the Lakefront path -- unless you want to be assaulted and robbed.

Time to leave folks, if you're one of the producers, and let the city implode into a writhing mass of dependency, rot, ruin and crime.

More at the link.

Back in 2013 Chicago Magazine claimed that 'Chicago’s Criminals Are Getting Away With Murder'.  Looks like they weren't just reporting current reality, but prophesying future trends as well.  Chicago's far from alone in facing that problem, of course.  Large cities all over the country are facing an upsurge in violent crime - and their law enforcement departments and officers are often hamstrung by 'politically correct' leadership.

I ascribe a lot of this to what I've come to call the 'entitlement generation' - those who are used to having everything given to them, and who've been brought up without even the faintest concept of a sense of responsibility for their actions.  That's spread down even to young criminals, who seem to genuinely believe that if they want something, it's all right to simply take it, or to steal something from others, sell it, and use the money to buy what they want.  Witness the complete lack of respect for the law, or conventional moral or ethical standards, in the reaction of his cousin to the death of a teenage thief, earlier this year, at the hands of his intended victim:  “You have to understand, you have to look at it from a child's point of view that was raised in the hood. How he gonna get his money to have clothes to go to school?"

Contrast that with the attitudes of this young man - also black, also from an economically stressed and socially challenged area, but doing things the right way.  I wish there were more like him . . . but I fear there aren't enough.  The moral and mental vacuum demonstrated by the two girls in the video above is becoming more and more prevalent.  It - and the ACLU's support for and tolerance of those who espouse it - is, I submit, a big part of the reason why Chicago's crime figures are going through the roof.

That sort of social abyss is one of the most important reasons why Miss D. and I moved away from a big-city environment earlier this year.  We now live in a smaller community, in a much more self-reliant area with pretty solid attitudes towards crime, law and order, and we feel much more secure for it.  If any significant group of people around here began to behave as the hoodlums in Chicago appear to be doing, they'd damn soon be straightened out - not by the cops, but by local residents, who wouldn't tolerate such conduct for a skinny minute.  They'd only call the cops to clean up the mess after they'd finished!


Monday, June 20, 2016

Investing: cash versus stocks & bonds - who wins?

The Telegraph highlights a very interesting piece of research.

Detailed analysis of real-world cash returns versus shares over the past 21 years has shown bank accounts left savers better off than stock markets in most scenarios, leaving investors to ask, “have we had it wrong all these years?”

The work by Paul Lewis, financial commentator and long-time host of the BBC Radio Four programme Moneybox, contradicts much of the received wisdom of financial professionals, as well as various respected studies into long-term returns from different asset classes.

His research is unique because it uses returns taken from actual savings accounts and investments available to savers, rather than theoretical figures that don’t take account of charges and market-leading rates that influence returns.

. . .

As its starting point, it looks at all the five-year periods within the 21 years between the start of 1995 and the start of 2016 – there are 192, beginning one month apart – to see in how many of them a saver would have been better off in cash, and in how many they have been would be better off in shares.

Mr Lewis found that in 109 of the 192 scenarios, 57pc, cash won. What’s more, in 46 scenarios, or 24pc, an equity investor would have lost money, something that can’t happen to cash savers as long as they keep within the limits of deposit protected accounts.

This result does not mean, however, that over the entire 21-year period you would have been better off in cash. The annual compounded return from shares was 6pc, versus 5pc for cash accounts.

This is because the gains in the scenarios when shares won were greater than those when cash won.

Even here, though, the return from shares seems unimpressive given the extra risk taken versus cash.

. . .

The confusing picture defies much of the conventional thinking around investing, which has generally been that shares will give better returns the longer you hold them, and that they will easily beat cash in the vast majority of cases if held for more than about five years.

Mr Lewis’s work suggests that, in fact, this only applies over time periods far longer than previously assumed, more like 18 years, and that for holdings periods shorter than that, the results are very mixed with cash generally ahead.

There's more at the link, and at the original article.

That's certainly thought-provoking.  I'm not holding any stocks or bonds in accounts I control at present - I went to all-cash holdings a couple of years ago, because of the volatility in the stock market and the uncertainty over the future of the bond market.  I've also diversified into precious metals, although being a very small investor, my holdings aren't worth much at all.  Nevertheless, I think this reinforces my skepticism over stocks and bonds under present conditions.  I think that, unless one's investing for twenty to thirty years or more (something I'm now too old to do with any confidence), they remain at best an uncertain bet.


Now that's worthy of the name "assault rifle"!

My mind boggled when I saw this range of accessories for the AR-15 rifle.

There are thousands of AR-15 accessories on the market, but none are cooler (or more absurd) than Tracey Copeland and Andrew BeGole’s “Firearm-Mounted Rescue Tool.”

Their patent, which they received earlier this month, describes multiple accessories first responders can affix in place of an AR-15’s buttstock and buffer tube. These accessories include a fireman’s ax, a crowbar end, and other tools designed to breach doors and windows.

“We both had friends that are special forces, friends that are SWAT, friends that are firefighters, and we were just thinking: What if we could put some kind of breaching tool, some sort of halligan tool, on the back of an AR,” Copeland told “That’s just kind of the idea behind it was to see if that’s even feasible.”

There's more at the link.

I know they used to refer to the Thompson submachinegun as a 'chopper', but isn't this taking the meme a little too far?


It's like a jigsaw puzzle in steel

Here's a time-lapse video of the construction of Aida Cruises' new flagship, AIDAPrima, in Japan.  The ship entered service in April this year. Watch in full-screen mode, and set the resolution to 2160p/4K (using the gearwheel icon at the foot of the video), for best results.

Looking at how they lower the engines and other major components into position, it's clear they don't expect to remove them during the life of the ship.  They'd have to dismantle the vessel around them to get them out!


David beats Goliath - booze edition

It's nice to see small fry beat the industry giants.  The Telegraph reports:

Two friends are celebrating after they scooped the global drinks industry's top gong - with a gin they made in the spare room of their two-bed semi-detached house.

Martin Jennings and Lukasz Dwornik decided to dip their toes in gin-making after one too many sub-par G&Ts in their local pub.

The pair couldn't afford to open a specialist distillery so they bought a 35-litre copper still and made space for it in the spare room of Martin's house in Bournemouth, Dorset, by moving the sofa bed out. Martin, 50, and Lukasz, 35, had to wait seven painstaking months while HMRC debated whether to grant them a licence to start their unusual distillery.

After finally being given the green light they began experimenting with more than 100 different ingredients for their gin while still juggling their day jobs.

The pair did away with many common botanicals like coriander before settling on an unusual combination including lavender, mulberries and tilia flowers.

Despite not having a bottle label for their creation they entered it in the San Francisco World Spirit Awards, considered to be the most respected and influential spirits competition in the world. To their surprise the gin - called Pothecary - won a double gold, the competition's highest accolade, seeing off competition from the world's top gin producers in the process.

There's more at the link.

I enjoy a gin and tonic now and again.  I'll have to look for a bottle of Pothecary.  Sounds like it'll be worth trying.  Meanwhile, you can read more about it here.