Thursday, August 21, 2014

Challenging cops - it's about time!

I was more than a little disgusted to read a self-serving screed in the Washington Post from Prof. Sunil Dutta, a professor of homeland security and a serving police officer.  It was headlined:  "I'm a cop.  If you don't want to get hurt, don't challenge me."  Here's an excerpt.

Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?

There's more at the link.  It's nauseating, but I do urge you to read it in full, if only to understand the utter stupidity of current US police perspectives.

Such attitudes are, of course, completely unacceptable.  As Ken White (a lawyer and former prosecutor) points out:

Would we accept "if you don't want to get shot, just do what the EPA regulator tells you"? Would we yield to "if you don't want your kid tased, do what the Deputy Superintendent of Education tells you"? Would we accept "if you don't want to get tear gassed, just do what your Congressman tells you?" No. Our culture of individualism and liberty would not permit it. Yet somehow, through generations of law-and-order rhetoric and near-deification of law enforcement, we have convinced ourselves that cops are different, and that it is perfectly acceptable for them to be able to order us about, at their discretion, on pain of violence.

It's not acceptable. It is servile and grotesque.

Again, more at the link.

Prof. Dutta, apart from obvious emergency situations, I will challenge you if you're in the wrong.  I'm getting to the point that I'm seriously considering installing cameras and recorders in my vehicles and around my home, because of the growing likelihood of encountering police misconduct and needing to prove it in court if necessary.  I've seen far too many police officers try to intimidate citizens rather than treat them with respect.  I know I'm law-abiding - since coming to this country almost two decades ago, I haven't had so much as a traffic ticket.  I've also served as a duly sworn member of the law enforcement profession.  I will not permit, and I will not tolerate, the kind of attitudes I'm increasingly seeing on the part of jackbooted thugs masquerading as police officers.  Treat me with respect and politeness, and you'll receive a similar response.  Treat me like dirt and I'll respond in kind.  I do not and will not respect your authority if you prove yourself unworthy of it.  Your badge doesn't impress me in and of itself - not when so many of those wearing it think nothing of shooting dogs at the drop of a hat, or injuring babies during drug raids (and then refusing to cover their medical expenses), or conducting illegal searches, or threatening to kill a journalist, or whatever.

Mark Steyn put it well:

To camouflage oneself in the jungles of suburban America, one should be clothed in Dunkin' Donuts and Taco Bell packaging. A soldier wears green camo in Vietnam to blend in. A policeman wears green camo in Ferguson to stand out - to let you guys know: We're here, we're severe, get used to it.

This is not a small thing. The point about "the thin blue line" is that it's blue for a reason. As I wrote a couple of months ago:

"The police" is a phenomenon of the modern world. It would be wholly alien, for example, to America's Founders. In the sense we use the term today, it dates back no further than Sir Robert Peel's founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Because Londoners associated the concept with French-style political policing and state control, they were very resistant to the idea of a domestic soldiery keeping them in line. So Peel dressed his policemen in blue instead of infantry red, and instead of guns they had wooden truncheons.

So, when the police are dressed like combat troops, it's not a fashion faux pas, it's a fundamental misunderstanding of who they are. Forget the armored vehicles with the gun turrets, forget the faceless, helmeted, anonymous Robocops, and just listen to how these "policemen" talk. Look at the video as they're arresting the New York Times and Huffington Post reporters. Watch the St Louis County deputy ordering everyone to leave, and then adding: "This is not up for discussion."

Really? You're a constable. You may be carrying on like the military commander of an occupying army faced with a rabble of revolting natives, but in the end you're a constable. And the fact that you and your colleagues in that McDonald's are comfortable speaking to your fellow citizens like this is part of the problem. The most important of the "nine principles of good policing" (formulated by the first two commissioners of the Metropolitan Police in 1829 and thereafter issued to every officer joining the force) is a very simple one: The police are the public and the public are the police. Not in Ferguson. Long before the teargassing begins and the bullets start flying, the way these guys talk is the first indication of how the remorseless militarization has corroded the soul of American policing.

More at the link.

Another aspect of this, as Karl Denninger rightly asks, is:  why have the police who behaved in a blatantly felonious and unconstitutional manner in Ferguson, Missouri, in recent days not been arrested and charged?  The fact that they're police is irrelevant.  If I behaved like that, I would (rightly) be in custody right now.  Why aren't they?  If they can get away with such crimes, why should we have any respect for them when they try to give us orders?  They're nothing but felons on the hoof!

Prof. Dutta, I don't care how you see yourself, or how other cops see themselves.  I know there are good ones out there - I'm privileged to call some my friends, and I share e-mail correspondence with others whom I'd trust with my life.  Unfortunately, I know how badly too many other so-called 'law enforcement officers' behave.  I find it sickening and completely unacceptable.  I swore the same law enforcement oath of office as you (and they) did, and I have upheld that oath.  Why have so many of them abandoned it?  And since they have abandoned it, why should they be entitled to the respect that a real peace officer should receive?  They haven't earned it and they don't deserve it.  Let them prove they're worth it by treating us with the same respect they want from us.

(There's always the obvious exception that in emergencies, there may not be time for courtesy and consideration up-front;  but explanations can follow, and apologies be made.  Sadly, in many cases of which I'm aware, no such explanations or apologies are ever offered - yet another black mark against US law enforcement.)


More from the USS Carl Vinson

A couple of days ago I put up a video showing flight operations aboard the USS Carl Vinson.  Here's another video clip from the same source, concentrating on the ship rather than its aircraft.  It's worth watching in full-screen mode.

Impressive stuff.  I haven't had the privilege of being aboard an aircraft carrier during flight operations (only during port visits), but I imagine it's as specialized (and sometimes as dangerous) as military service gets, in its own way.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I used to think I was good at this . . .

. . . at least when I was in school, but after watching this video of Gentry Stein winning the 1A category of the 2014 World Yo-Yo contest, I think I'll just go hide in a corner somewhere.

The man's got some mad skillz, all right!


Reactions to my article about Muslim fundamentalist terrorism

I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that there was a mixed response to my article yesterday about Muslim fundamentalist terrorism.  Many people have already made their minds up about that issue, and don't wish to reconsider their position.  Others waver, wanting to think the best of people, but afraid that the all-too-many examples of Muslim fundamentalism are sufficient to warrant a stronger response irrespective of other considerations.

I'd like to make just one observation.  My response to any issue in the world is, first and foremost, rooted in and grounded on my Christian faith.  If you aren't Christian, fair enough - you'll approach the issue from a different moral perspective, so I suggest you skip the rest of this article.

I take the Golden Rule as a command endorsed by Christ, not something optional or conditional (as in, "Sure, I'll do unto you as I want you to do unto me - but you've got to do it first!").  Jesus attached no conditions.  He told us to do it.  End of story.  Remember the famous prayer of St. Ignatius, sometimes ascribed instead to St. Francis Xavier?

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.

That's the Golden Rule in action, right there.

That reality means that any suggestion of eradicating Islam, or nuking Muslim states, or waging 'total war' against that religion, is simply off the table.  Can you really see Jesus, who once said “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven”, approving of even the thought of wiping out an entire nation - including its children - because of the faith of their parents, which they can't even understand at their young age?  He gave us the answer to our problem in the Great Commission:  "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations".  That does not include nuclear weapons as an aid to evangelization.

There are those who claim that Islam is very well suited to manipulation by the Devil.  I can see why they would say that.  It's been distorted very often over the centuries to justify this group destroying that group, or whatever.  Unfortunately, precisely the same accusation can be leveled against Christianity!  It, too, has been used to justify murder, mayhem, massacre and all sorts of crimes that must make Jesus wonder whether it was all worthwhile.  (To cite just one well-known example, "Kill them all - God will know his own!"  Want another one?  How about the sack of Constantinople?  No, not the one when the Muslims conquered it in 1453 - the [equally savage] one perpetrated by Christians in 1204.)  As soon as we start saying that this religion, or that religion, is somehow less 'Godly' or 'moral' or 'legitimate' than ours, we put our feet on the slippery slope to perdition.  There's no other way to put it.

Our job as Christians is to live up to the example of Christ and observe the way of life he taught us, both by example and with his words.  That doesn't prevent us defending ourselves if and when attacked;  but it does mean that we aren't allowed to flout Christ's law in our response to threats.  If we do that, we no longer have the right to call ourselves Christian.  That may not be a very comfortable thought, but it's reality - and Christ didn't come to make us comfortable, but to challenge us.

The majority of Americans profess to be Christian in one form or another.  I wonder how many of them have thought through the implications of their faith for their attitudes towards Islam and Muslims?


EDITED TO ADD:  A couple of readers have commented that Christianity's 'dark moments' occurred centuries ago, whereas Islamic savagery occurs to this day.  This is partially correct (although there are areas of the world where Christians can be as savage - see Rwanda in 1994, or the situation in Nigeria at present).  Nevertheless, an important factor to bear in mind is that Western civilization went through the Renaissance and Reformation (including the great wars of religion), followed by a few centuries of development, before it could reach that stage.  Islam has not yet experienced such influences.

What's more, a large part of the blame for that can be placed (IMHO) on the colonial powers who occupied Muslim countries for decades, even centuries, but made little or no effort to educate the locals and precipitate a Muslim Renaissance or Reformation when they had the chance.  That neglect is now coming back to bite all of us.

Just a few additional thoughts.

Love notes from kids

I had to smile at an Australian photo essay titled '11 love notes from kids'.  My two favorites:

There are more at the link.  Cute and fun!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The fundamentalist Islamist terror threat

Following news of today's murder of a kidnapped US journalist by Islamic State (IS) terrorists, I've seen several comments that IS poses a real threat to our security, yada yada yada.  As a matter of fact, IS as such isn't much of a threat at this time.  It's busy trying to establish control over the territory in Syria and Iraq that it's annexed (at least temporarily) into its so-called 'Caliphate'.  Its main tool in doing so is terrorism, because it has no infrastructure set up and few (if any) trained, experienced administrators in its ranks.  It can only try to cow the conquered towns and villages in its domain into compliance with its wishes.

However, the loose alliance between fundamentalist Islamic terror groups in different nations is a different matter.  As the President of Somalia said last week:

Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, all of them, these are terrorist organizations — they are linked, they live for each other, they support each other and they are connected globally,” President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud told PJM in an exclusive interview on Friday. “It’s not just an issue of one country or one region — it’s a global phenomenon that needs to be addressed globally.”

“That’s why at the regional and continental level the African Union is supporting Somalia and, globally, that’s why the United States is supporting the African Union to support Somalia and defeat these terrorists,” Mohamud added.

. . .

“Al-Shabaab is a group based on an ideology, and we all know that ideologies have no citizenship and have no boundaries,” he said.

“Al-Shabaab is Somali for one reason only — they operate in Somalia, they have their base in Somalia, they have training camps in Somalia.” And, he added, they ably use Somalia as a transit hub for terrorists, linking Asia and Africa — “the terrorists move here and there.”

“And these organizations, although they have different names, they’re all linked in some way or another.”

The president stressed to the crowd the concern of Al-Shabaab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram training together even though they’re physically a continent apart.

“There are more non-Somalis than Somalis at the highest level” of Al-Shabaab now, he said. “We have people from North America, people from Europe, people from Asia, the Gulf… we have all kinds of people in place but still Somalia has the name associated with Al-Shabaab.”

There's more at the link.

I have personal experience of this.  In South Africa during the 1980's, certain Muslim individuals of a more militant persuasion went to Afghanistan to join the mujahedin in fighting the Soviet occupiers.  When some of them came home, they helped to form PAGAD (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs), which rapidly degenerated into a criminal and terrorist organization.  Other, primarily Shi'ite Muslim fundamentalists formed Qibla, modeled after the Iranian revolution and aligned with Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.  I had run-ins with both of them, some of which got rather ... er ... exciting.  Let's just say that I'm not exactly a novice at dealing with militant Muslims.

I think it's highly likely that IS will establish (probably has already established) liaison with groups such as Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and similar organizations around the world.  Don't forget the growth of fundamentalist Islamic activity in the area where the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet - so much so that it's been called 'the Muslim triangle' by some sources.  (See this 1994 Seattle Times report for an indication of how long the area has been under investigation.)  I think it's highly likely that terrorists and their sympathizers, fund-raisers and other supporters have already entered the USA from that area, or through the joke that is our southern border security at present.  I wouldn't be surprised to find plans afoot to smuggle more terrorists and their weapons into the USA right now.

We're frighteningly unprepared for a major terrorist attack.  The Department of Homeland Security is a joke - I don't think it has a hope in hell of detecting, let alone preventing, an attack by determined terrorists with even a modicum of security-consciousness.  The TSA is absolutely useless - security theater at its most futile.  A few DHS agencies such as the Coast Guard do a good job, but they're starved of manpower and resources.  I think it'll be risibly easy for terrorists to strike hard - and there are many vulnerable targets for them to choose.  My greatest fear is that they'll bring a Beslan-type massacre to our shores, and perhaps in more than one place at once.  If they attacked up to a dozen elementary or middle schools across the country on the same day, the carnage would be immense and the impact of their terrorism magnified beyond their wildest dreams.  (I'm not breaching security by saying this, or giving them ideas - we know it's already been discussed in terrorist circles.)

(EDITED TO ADD:  Some readers apparently found the paragraphs below condescending or 'sneering', to quote one commenter.  That was not my intention, and if I gave that impression, I apologize.  I've edited them slightly to (hopefully) make that clearer.  Nevertheless, I stand by my (extensive) earlier arguments on the subject, as listed in the sidebar under the heading 'Discrimination, distrust and xenophobia'.)

I have to add that for me, an equally great fear remains the unthinking, knee-jerk classification of all Muslims as potential terrorists by so many Americans.  Many people have very little real understanding of Islam.  Even those who parrot what they regard as "proof" in the form of selected verses from the Koran, or demand that those of us who differ in our opinions should refute their accusations on their terms, are at best ill-informed.  Very few of us have the education, intellectual resources and personal experience of Islam as it is actually lived (rather than in a purely theoretical context, or limited to one or two places or sects out of the dozens in the Muslim world) to properly understand it, as I've pointed out before.  That includes myself.  That's like trying to judge all of Christianity on the actions of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence or the Dove World Outreach Center.

However, if a major Muslim fundamentalist terror attack takes place on US soil, I fear that logic and reason will be ignored yet again.  If we paint all Muslims in the same shade of "terrorist red", it's more than likely that even the (many) moderates among them (such as, for example, the President of Somalia, quoted above, who is our ally in the war against terrorism) will, in their anger and bitterness, end up supporting the radicals because we've driven them to it.  Wild talk of using nuclear weapons to convert entire Muslim nations into "a radioactive glass-topped parking lot" - innocents and children right along with the guilty - is a good start to doing precisely that.  In fact, of course, that would make us terrorists too.

The world is a far more complex and multi-hued place than most of us would like to admit.  In our (entirely legitimate) outrage at terrorism and our determination to stop it at any cost, let's not "throw the baby out with the bathwater" and do things that prejudice or negate our own constitution and civil liberties, or risk alienating a quarter of the world's population because we refuse to think before we emotionally react.  The Golden Rule is still a Biblical as well as a pragmatic standard.


Carrier operations, beautifully filmed

Here's a great video clip of flight deck and aircraft operations from the USS Carl Vinson.  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

Some great photography there.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Been there, but not gone that far - yet . . .

Shamelessly stolen borrowed from The Lonely Libertarian.


The shooting of Michael Brown and the fault lines it's revealed

I've been withholding most comments on the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, while waiting for the facts to become clearer.  They're still not completely laid out, but enough has become known to be able to say a number of things with some certainty.  In this article I'll try to touch on the highlights.

1.  Police attitudes and conduct.

The local police in Ferguson appear to have handled this entire incident with abysmal incompetence.  What's worse, they've displayed what appears to be an arrogant (and entirely wrong) assumption that no matter what happens, they're in charge and it's the job of everyone else to obey them - or else.

Their actions have tarnished the reputation of the Ferguson police, perhaps indelibly.  Consider just a few points:

It's clear that Peel's principles of policing have long since been honored more in the breach than in the observance in Ferguson, Missouri.  (See Lawdog's essay on the subject, and Marko's, for additional material.)  Kudos to the Governor of Missouri for stepping in before local cops made a bad situation even worse . . . but sooner or later the state police will have to withdraw.  Will local law enforcement ever be able to re-establish a good working relationship with the community?  I venture to doubt it.

2.  Racial polarization.

This is nothing new in the USA;  but the situation in Ferguson has thrown it into sharp relief, because this is a relatively small, unpoliticized community.  The shooting of Mr. Brown has politicized it overnight, particularly given police reaction.  I think the iconoclastic Fred Reed has analyzed this problem better than almost anyone.  Rather than try to quote excerpts from his article, or write my own, I'll simply ask you to click over to his place and read his words for yourself.  I think he's nailed it.

3.  Economic factors involved in the situation.

Zero Hedge has given us a valuable perspective on the crisis in Ferguson, pointing out that it's a microcosm of economic influences that are widespread throughout America.  Here's a brief excerpt.

... the unpleasant reality is that much of what has transpired not only in the small 21,000-person St. Louis suburban community, but what is taking place across all of America has to do with a far simpler phenomenon: the rise of poverty and the destruction of America's middle class.

. . .

The biggest concern ... is that Ferguson is merely the canary in the coalmine. According to Brookings, within the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, the number of suburban neighborhoods where more than 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line more than doubled between 2000 and 2008-2012. Almost every major metro area saw suburban poverty not only grow during the 2000s but also become more concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods. By 2008-2012, 38 percent of poor residents in the suburbs lived in neighborhoods with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. For poor black residents in those communities, the figure was 53 percent.

Like Ferguson, many of these changing suburban communities are home to out-of-step power structures, where the leadership class, including the police force, does not reflect the rapid demographic changes that have reshaped these places.

. . .

And as concentrated poverty climbs in communities like Ferguson, they find themselves especially ill-equipped to deal with impacts such as poorer education and health outcomes, and higher crime rates. In an article for Salon, Brittney Cooper writes about the outpouring of anger from the community, “Violence is the effect, not the cause of the concentrated poverty that locks that many poor people up together with no conceivable way out and no productive way to channel their rage at having an existence that is adjacent to the American dream.”

There's more at the link.  It's worthwhile reading.

4.  Lessons learned from this crisis.

  1. We can't rely on police and law enforcement authorities - whether local, state or federal - to obey the constitution and laws of this country, despite their nominal subordination to them.  When push comes to shove, they may - and probably will - try to exercise unconstitutional and blatantly illegal authority.  What are we going to do about it?  We need to consider our response now, before the heat of the moment prevents clear thought.  I'm determined not to submit to such quasi-official bullying.  I will resist it, and refuse to submit to it, and do whatever it takes to stop it.  What about you?
  2. Equally, I won't permit or tolerate attempts by radical rabble-rousers to use incidents as an excuse for rioting, looting and mayhem.  If any such attempts appear to offer any threat to me or mine, I will employ any and all force necessary to stop them.  I won't tamely surrender and agree to be a victim.  Fortunately, I'm in a position to give expression to my determination.  If you feel the same way but aren't adequately equipped to do that, you might want to remedy that situation at once, if not sooner.
  3. I've already taken care of emergency supplies, so that if something like the situation in Ferguson should blow up near my home, we can hunker down and live off our stores for a month or more.  It's not a good idea to be out and about when mobs are on the prowl.  However, I know that many others haven't prepared for such an eventuality.  I'm not about to share my essential supplies with others who haven't taken basic precautions themselves - there's no future in allowing others' lack of forethought and preparation to deprive me and mine of what we need to survive.  However, I'll make sure to have a few supplies "in plain sight" that I can "show willing" by sharing, while keeping the bulk of my emergency supplies out of sight so that others can't covet them (which includes using them in as low-profile a way as possible).
  4. I'm going to become more active in challenging and questioning the ongoing militarization of US law enforcement.  Having worked in the field, I can bring a certain 'legitimacy' to the table that might gain me more of a hearing.  I intend to use it.

Those are my thoughts thus far.  How about you, readers?  Let us know your reactions in Comments.


For "Doctor Who" fans

I'm not a great fan of 'Doctor Who' myself, but I know several other bloggers who are (yes, Paul and Brigid, I'm referring to you, among others!)  To my surprise, one of them admitted recently that she'd never seen Rowan Atkinson (better known as 'Mr. Bean') as the Doctor;  so, to remedy the situation, here he is.  This is from a Comic Relief broadcast in 1999, titled 'Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death'.

Now, if all the Doctors had been like that, perhaps I'd be more of a fan!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Progress report

I know many readers have been wondering where my weekly 'Around The Blogs' features have been for the past three weeks.  The answer is that I've been too hectically busy to take the time to compile them!  They're pretty time-consuming, what with bookmarking candidates for each issue, then re-opening them and linking every one.  A typical ATB post takes one to three hours to prepare, and that kind of time's been in short supply, as I'll explain.

Miss D. and I moved into our new place - a duplex - at the beginning of the month.  It's nice to be on our own after several years of sharing the house of a friend, but it's a lot of work.  My fused spine and nerve-damaged left leg mean that I can't be as energetic as I would wish in moving things around, although I can unpack and sort and put away stuff if I take it slowly and easily.  I get on with that while Miss D.'s at work.  To add to the fun, we've moved over half our 'stuff' (mostly things I accumulated before we married, and brought here with me) into a storage unit.  Over the next two to three months I'm going to face the challenge of getting rid of about 70% of my library and the same proportion (or even more) of everything else.  The challenge is to fit everything we own into this relatively small duplex before Christmas, so that when we move again (which is likely next year), we'll have much less to move and the process will be much easier.  (Besides, that'll spare me from having to listen to Miss D. staring balefully at some cherished possession of mine and muttering disdainfully, "Stuff!"  As most male readers will doubtless have discovered by now, women have different priorities to ours when deciding what's important to keep, and what can be discarded.)

It's painful having to cut back so much.  I used to have over 4,000 books in my library, but my goal is to cut back to no more than 1,500.  Fortunately, e-books have come a long way since I started building up my library;  so if a book's available in electronic form, generally the hard copies will go on the discard pile.  Even so, there are many no-longer-published books that I can't find in e-book format, so they'll stay on my shelves.  As for firearms and ammunition, I'm going to reduce my collection still further, largely to consolidate ammo stocks into fewer (and, hopefully, lighter) cartridges.  When one realizes that one has (literally) a ton of ammo to move (as was the case when I came here from Louisiana) it's a shock!  If one takes (for example) the .45 ACP handgun cartridge, its 230-grain bullet is twice the weight of a standard 115gr. bullet in 9mm. Parabellum.  Similarly, the standard 55gr. or 62gr. bullet of a 5.56mm. round is less than half the weight of the standard 123gr. 7.62x39mm. round.  Multiply that difference by several hundred or several thousand rounds (or reloading components) and the weight differential becomes significant.

Fortunately, we don't have to move everything at once - my back and Miss D.'s knees would never cope!  We're moving one section of 'stuff' at a time, so that by early September everything should be out of the old place.  Our former housemate is getting married at the end of the month, so it's a good thing we were able to synchronize everything in this way.  At least he can bring his bride home to an empty house!

My writing has suffered, of course;  one can't very well churn out deathless prose while unpacking boxes and putting furniture in place.  I hope to get back to a daily writing schedule during the coming week.  Maxwell Volume 4 is still tentatively scheduled for release during September, but it'll slip from early in the month until the last week, I think.  I hope I can work fast and smart enough to have the second volume of the Laredo Trilogy out in December, as planned.

Considering that the last time I moved house on my own, I ended up in hospital with a heart attack, I have to say that this time it's a case of "So far, so good".  I hope it stays that way!


Tips for computer users to reduce eyestrain

As a writer I probably spend far more time in front of a computer screen than most people.  I've had problems with eyestrain for  years, and developed certain tricks and used various products to alleviate them.  I thought some of my readers might be able to put what I've learned to good use.

First, try the basics.

  • If you use reading glasses, try half-strength reading glasses at the computer (for example, if you use 1.5X reading glasses to read a book or newspaper, try 0.75X or 1X readers at the computer;  if you use 2X readers, try 1X or 1.25X readers at the computer;  and so on).  Alternatively, have your optician measure your reading needs at the same distance at which you sit from your computer monitor, and prescribe lenses optimized for that specific range.  That's what I did recently, and the results are slightly (but not vastly) better than using half-strength readers.  (This may be the best solution if your left and right eyes have different prescriptions.)
  • Try different display color schemes.  A lot will depend on your color vision (everyone sees colors slightly differently, and some are color-blind in some parts of the spectrum, but not others).  Choose a color scheme that offers the best contrast for your vision needs - but be aware that may cause difficulties for others who use your computer.  If there are several regular users of one system, it's probably best to set up login ID's for each of them, with every ID having its own color scheme to suit that user.
  • Make sure your monitor is at a height level with or slightly below your eyes, so that you don't have to look up or very far down to see it;  and set it at a distance from your eyes that allows you to focus easily when sitting in a normal upright position, so that you don't have to bend forward, lean back, or crane your neck and shoulders to read it clearly.  One can develop serious posture problems over the long term if one doesn't address these issues.  I know.  I've got some myself, that I'm going to have to work on eradicating before they turn into a permanent (and premature) "old man's stoop".
  • If you find it difficult to put a laptop at the ideal viewing height and distance because you need to use the keyboard, try using an external keyboard and mouse instead.  That way you can position the laptop itself at optimal viewing height, while positioning the keyboard and mouse closer to you (and further away from the computer).  That may be the best ergonomic solution, as well as offering the opportunity to use more specialized keyboards and mice or trackballs (for example, because I touch-type at up to 100 words per minute, I prefer the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 - I have three, and I'd hate to be without them!).
  • If you find your eyes get tired and strained, use moisturizing eye drops;  and at night, when you go to bed, consider using an overnight lubricant eye ointment.  I use both as and when required, particularly the ointment when I'm on a tight schedule and writing ten to twelve hours a day.  They're life-savers.

There are two more tips that can make a big difference.  One is to adjust the 'color temperature' of your screen to reflect the difference between day and night.  A free software program, F.Lux, does this very well, and I use it on all my computers.  The producer offers interesting information about how light affects our eyes and sleep cycle.  I recommend F.Lux very highly.

The other solution is for Windows users.  I only recently discovered it, because my hardware configuration hid it from me for some time.  If you look in the Windows Control Panel, there's a heading called 'Appearance and Personalization'.  Within it there's a 'Display' section, beneath which is a command titled 'Make text and other items larger or smaller'.  When you select that command, you may find that you see a slider marked from 'Smaller' to 'Larger', and beneath it an empty check box marked 'Let me choose one setting for all my displays'.  While that box was unchecked, I couldn't move the slider on my laptop - I was stuck with the standard size display.  However, when I checked that box, the selection changed to two check boxes, one marked 'Smaller - 100% (Default)' and the other marked 'Medium - 125%'.  When I clicked the 'Medium' box, my display instantly 'grew' to show larger icons, text and images on the Desktop and in all applications.

The important thing with this setting is that your screen remains at its highest possible resolution.  I'd previously experimented with reducing the resolution in order to enlarge text and graphics, because (for example) reducing resolution by 20% means that fewer pixels are displayed per inch, so a graphic of (say) 50 pixels across now occupies more of that inch than it did before.  Unfortunately, reducing the resolution makes text 'fuzzier' and less crisp and sharp, adding to eyestrain.  By using the Control Panel as described in the previous paragraph, one can get larger, easier-to-read display elements at the full screen resolution, with no increase in 'fuzziness'.  This has reduced my eyestrain problem.

Using larger text and graphics does, of course, reduce the amount that can be displayed on one's screen.  On (say) a 15" laptop screen, one will have to scroll back and forth, and up and down, more frequently in order to view the full display (and possibly change your mouse settings to reduce the number of lines moved up or down with each click or turn of its wheel).  However, to me the reduction in eyestrain is worth this minor drawback.  I'm typing these words on a display-enlarged laptop screen, and the text is much easier for me to read at my normal distance from the monitor.  (On my desktop system I'm still experimenting with the best option:  but there I use 23" high-resolution screens, which are a whole different ballgame compared to a much smaller and lower-resolution laptop display.)

I hope these tips and tricks help you make the most of your computer.


Poking fun at the unions . . .

I had to laugh at this report in the Telegraph.

When a French rail worker got so drunk last month that he burned down a signal box near Paris, embarrassed state railway officials sent out a memo reminding staff to exercise "common sense" concerning aperitifs during work hours.

To stop staff drinking on the job, managers were asked to “inspect fridges” for alcohol and “if necessary to conduct surprise checks with breathalisers at their disposal”.

But that may not be enough to placate one disgruntled passenger, who became so fed up with problems on France's railways he has decided to create a satirical board game in which players seek ways of creating the maximum number of delays.

In Cheminot Simulator ("Rail Worker Simulator"), unionised rail staff with cushy conditions seek to work as little as possible and make life hell for passengers in a variety of ways, from strike action and work stoppages, to snow on the line and assault.

The player who wreaks the longest delays wins the game – a concept that has created a buzz at a time when millions take to the railways during the holiday season.

Jérémie Paret, 29, the game's inventor and a frequent rail user, said the idea came to him "when there was an incident on one line and the drivers in mine (a different one) decided to stop working."

"They caused so much hassle for so many people that I decided to laugh about it rather than cry," he told Le Parisien.

There's more at the link.

I think I've run into unions like that myself . . . or, rather, not run into them, because their members are usually so seldom at work that encountering one in the flesh is a major achievement!  I wonder if someone in Detroit could come up with a similar game about the UAW?


Another beautiful piece from Lindsey Stirling

We've met violinist Lindsey Stirling in these pages several times before.  Here's her latest release, 'Master of Tides', from her new album 'Shatter Me'.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode - with the volume turned up.

She's developed a remarkable following in her independent music career.  As an independent author, I can only applaud her success;  and as a fan, I love her work!  See her Web site and her YouTube channel for more information.