Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Still enjoying the frozen North

I'm having a lot of fun, visiting with friends (some old, some new), discovering local coffee shops and pastries (many, varied and very tasty!), and generally seeing a place that's new to me. The volcano, Mount Redoubt, continues to spew smoke and ash South-West of Anchorage, but most of it's blowing off to one side, so we're not too badly affected.

Today we had lunch at a Thai restaurant. Lovely! I miss good Thai food, and the only Thai restaurant near my home (well, within a twenty-mile radius, anyway) doesn't have that great a selection. This was a real treat! I've been demonstrating some of my cooking, and it's been generally well received. Tonight I made fried tomatoes with herbs, spices and goats' milk cheese, served on toast with pickled onions. Tasty!

Another five days to enjoy myself before I leave the snow and ice (Mount Redoubt permitting) and head back to the warmth of Louisiana. I shall miss this place, though, and the friends I leave behind (although not for long, I hope!).


The zoo's ready for April Fool

With April 1st being April Fool's Day, a zoo in Des Moines, Iowa is getting ready for a rush of prank phone calls.

If you get a message to call a "Mr. Don Key" on Wednesday, the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines is one step ahead of you. The zoo, in an effort to stop the numerous prank calls it typically gets on April Fools' Day, has set up four hotlines for pranksters looking to dupe others. Numbers have been set up for such April Fools standbys as "Mr. Albert Ross," "Mr. C. Lyon," "Ms. Anna Conda," and the aforementioned "Mr. Don Key."

Each number has a prerecorded message letting callers know they'd been fooled.

Marketing director Ryan Bickel says the lines are a proactive attempt to stop the zoo's switchboard from getting flooded with prank calls without dampening the mood of the day.

Not a bad idea, I guess - although it might be more fun to actually broadcast the sounds of the animals concerned when someone calls 'their' number!


Of technology and superstition

Modern technology is spreading like wildfire in the Third World - but it's not always having the desired effect.

Some scientists suspect that the radiation in mobile phones may be having all kinds of detrimental long-term health effects. But it seems that mobile phones may be deadlier than any of us ever suspected. They may, in fact, cause instantaneous death.

However, it's not microwaves that are to blame but text messages. At least that's the theory according to a rumour that has been circulating in Egypt.

The word is that SMSs from "unknown foreign quarters" – although rumour has it that they originated in Saudi Arabia – are killing their recipients. But who could be sending them out?

. . .

Despite the sheer farfetchedness of death by text, apparently enough people believed the rumour to prompt the Egyptian health ministry to take the extraordinary measure of issuing a statement in which it assured the public that "these rumours contradict all scientific facts".

Despite the comical element of this episode, it does reflect a worrying trend. Undereducated, sceptical of the lies they are fed by their government, feeling disempowered and disenfranchised, certain segments of Egyptian society treat the rumour mill as a reliable source of information.

Of course, there are some rumours which are harmless urban myth. For instance, one old legend has it that some Cairo kebab joints, in order to save money, cooked up feral dogs for their customers. This could have something to do with all the food scandals that have shocked Egypt and the kelabgi pun, which combines "kebabgi" (kebab maker) with "kelab" (dogs).

However, there is a more serious side. The knowledge that the government routinely lies to the people means that some Egyptians will believe pretty much any dastardly motives and conspiracies attributed to it, including the death of the president and his replacement by a body double.

Sometimes this can have deadly consequences. During the bird flu epidemic, when the government banned the raising of poultry on city roofs and balconies, many people moved their birds inside, despite government warnings that it could kill them. "The problem is people think we fabricated the whole bird flu thing to cover up the ferry disaster [which killed over a thousand people]," admitted the head of the health ministry's bird flu committee back in 2007.

Egyptians are just as distrusting of the designs of foreign powers as they are of their own government. For instance, there is a belief, like in may parts of Africa, in some Egyptian quarters that Aids is a western conspiracy to destroy Egypt's moral and social fabric.

Also related to sex, some years ago, there were rumours that Israel, in order to corrupt Egypt's youth, was secretly distributing chewing gum that made them horny. In fact, there is an entire sideline in Israel-related conspiracy theories, including radioactive seatbelt buckles, shampoo that makes your hair fall out and creams that gnarl the skin.

The media has also remarked a worrying growth in superstition in recent years. In fact, it has become a booming industry. One study estimates that it is worth about 10bn Egyptian pounds annually and employs some 300,000 people. And aimless and silly superstition is creeping even into the media.

For example, rather than call for scientific funding into serious and useful issues, Zaghloul El-Naggar, a religious affairs columnist at the semi-official al-Ahram, last year called upon the Saudi authorities to analyse parts of the black stone in Mecca to prove that it originated in paradise and not on earth.

Sahar El-Gaar, a columnist at the independent al-Fagr, hit back at what she saw as superstitious and unscientific nonsense. "I support El-Naggar's call to analyse part of the Black Stone. However, he must bring us a sample of the soil of Paradise to draw a proper comparison with the Black Stone"

"Superstitions spread in societies in times of difficulty and distress, when problems afflict them and life becomes unbearable. Superstitions also spread when there is political and social oppression," Nabil Sharefeddin opined in the independent weekly al-Dustour.

Truly, the mind boggles. It's worth remembering that a veneer of civilization or technological sophistication, in any society (including our own), doesn't necessarily indicate an advanced society!


A Presidential presence abroad

It seems that President Obama has inspired a demand for look-alikes to promote goods and services in other countries. The Phuket Gazette of Thailand reports:

While your average Southeast Asian would struggle to make his way in the world as a Gerorge W Bush lookalike, America’s dashing new president is providing some exciting new career prospects for some men across the region.

One Indonesian has already found fame in the Philippines owing to his uncanny resemblance to President Barack Obama. He was well compensated after being flown over to the Philippines to do a commercial for a stomach-ache remedy with a rather less-convincing lookalike of Filipino President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Now Thailand has its very own Obama in the form of 50-year-old Saraburi resident Suphoj Bunseupwong.

Like President Obama, Mr Suphoj will be spreading a message of hope – not through rousing speeches, but through cheerful luk-thung country music songs.

Mr Suphoj, or “Obama Thailand” as he is now known in his village, was until recently preoccupied with running the sports store he owns in Ban Mor District.

A sports fanatic, he shot to local fame after taking part in a football tournament where the announcer pointed out how much he looked like the new US president.

News travels quickly in a Thai village, and before long curious locals were calling in at his shop to see for themselves.

“At first I was a bit shy with everyone calling me the ‘Thai Obama’ all the time. Then I got used to it and changed from wearing my usual open-necked shirt to wearing a navy blue blazer with a neck-tie. At every event I went to, people turned to look at the Thai Obama,” Mr Suphoj said.

. . .

Mr Suphoj is now working on 10 songs for his highly anticipated debut album. He says these will be cheerful luk-thung numbers that you can dance to and sing along with to forget your worries – not a bad formula in these trying economic times.

Thailand’s Obama counts among his influences not left-wing radicals or fire-and-brimstone preachers, but popular Thai music artists such as Chatri Srichol, Sayan Sanya and Yodrak Salakjai.

The CD, which should be hitting the shelves in the near future, will be released under the artist name “Barack Obama”.

It was not reported whether a complimentary copy will be sent to the White House.

Nice to see that President Obama's giving at least one person an economic stimulus! Too bad his policies appear likely to give the rest of us an economic enema . . .


Monday, March 30, 2009

From Southern spring to Alaskan winter

I'm still struggling to adjust to the very, very different weather and climate conditions up here. I left Louisiana on a warm spring day, with temperatures forecast to be in the high 70's (Fahrenheit, of course): and landed in Alaska in bright sunshine, but with drifting clouds of volcanic ash threatening the city, and with the temperature at a moderate (or so everyone tells me) 28°! It's been pretty steady at that level since Saturday evening.

I woke up this morning to find that a further 3" of snow had fallen overnight. Very pretty, but to my delicate Southern sensibilities, very cold! Here's the early-morning view from the front door.

Later this afternoon, Miss D. took me into town to do some shopping. She warned me not to think of Anchorage as a dirty town: it's just that they use dirt and gravel on the roads here, not salt. (Salt lowers the melting temperature of ice, she tells me: but when the temperature of air, road and everything in between is much, much colder than freezing point, it doesn't help to use salt, as the ice won't melt at all. Instead, the main roads are snowplowed, and minor ones scraped, then a layer of dirt and gravel is spread on the ice and snow to provide at least some grip. Most vehicles also use winter tires, studded for greater traction. As a result, the roads are very dirty, and so are the vehicles, as shown below: but that simply can't be helped. The rains of spring and summer will clean things up for a few months - until next winter . . .

We're home again for the evening, and I'll be helping to make egg-drop soup and salads and garlic bread for some visitors, friends of mine who're arriving to renew old acquaintance. It's going to be another cold evening. Arriving a few minutes ago, I photographed new icicles on the eaves over the garage. If you look closely (click the picture for a larger view) you'll see some of them look rather dusty. That's the volcanic ash from Mount Redoubt, which has fallen, been covered by new snow, and is now melting into the icicles.

Now to cook something nice and warm!


Light posting tonight

Hello, all. It's been a fairly pleasant day here in Anchorage, at least by late-March Alaska standards - three inches or so of snowfall overnight, and today' s high was in the upper 30's! I'm shivering at the moment, because I've just come in from outside: but everyone here is well bundled up against the cold (while ignoring the snow-clouds above - it's Alaska, after all!). Having traveled light, I'm not bundled up so warmly: but I think I'll cope for my short time here.

I'm going to be making more posts, but as I write these words, the Internet connection (wireless) is very tenuous, and is cutting out repeatedly - makes for difficult posting, to put it mildly! Therefore, I'm going to abandon further posts until I can be sure that what I write will be what comes out on the Internet. I'd hate to publish gibberish!

I'll try to post more late tonight or early tomorrow morning.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Safely in the frozen North

I made it in to Anchorage about fifteen minutes ahead of the ash cloud from the latest eruption of Mount Redoubt, about 100 miles South-West of the city. After connecting flights to Houston and Seattle, our flight to Anchorage was delayed for a couple of hours while the weather prophets and others tried to figure out whether we could get in safely (and, just as important for the airline, get out again!). My host tells me that volcanic ash is like powdered obsidian - fragments of glass, not stone, and very, very scratchy. Apparently, if it gets into an aircraft engine, down you go. She says that if driving with volcanic ash on the roads, she has to change her engine oil and oil and air filters, every fifty miles, or risk the destruction of her car's engine. Scary stuff!

Anyway, we finally got in at just after 4.30 p.m. As we walked off the plane, ground staff were frenziedly refilling her with fuel, and passengers were lined up ready to board and get off the ground as fast as possible. Continental didn't want their nice new 737-900 stuck on the ground in Anchorage, that's for sure! Minutes after it took off, the airport closed again, and stayed closed overnight until this afternoon.

Today we went shopping for food, and this evening I cooked supper - swordfish steaks, accompanied by a melange of onion, mushroom and artichoke heart, with fresh asparagus on the side and home-made bread (the latter two provided courtesy of Miss D., my host). We're both sitting back now, replete, our stomachs making little moaning noises of satisfaction. It's nice that both of us enjoy good food, and cooking it! Now it's her turn to come up with something tasty.

I'll be gallivanting around here for the rest of the week, discovering a little about a State that's new to me, and enjoying making new friends and meeting old ones. Ash clouds don't make for good photographic scenery, but if I get some good pictures, I'll post them.


The unintended consequences of 'green' laws

I'm cynically amused by a report from Washington State in the Houston Chronicle.

Spokane County became the launch pad last July for the nation's strictest ban on dishwasher detergent made with phosphates, a measure aimed at reducing water pollution. The ban will be expanded statewide in July 2010, the same time similar laws take effect in several other states.

But it's not easy to get sparkling dishes when you go green.

Many people were shocked to find that products like Seventh Generation, Ecover and Trader Joe's left their dishes encrusted with food, smeared with grease and too gross to use without rewashing them by hand. The culprit was hard water, which is mineral-rich and resistant to soap.

As a result, there has been a quiet rush of Spokane-area shoppers heading east on Interstate 90 into Idaho in search of old-school suds.

Real estate agent Patti Marcotte of Spokane stocks up on detergent at a Costco in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and doesn't care who knows it.

"Yes, I am a smuggler," she said. "I'm taking my chances because dirty dishes I cannot live with."

(In truth, the ban applies to the sale of phosphate detergent — not its use or possession — so Marcotte is not in any legal trouble.)

Marcotte said she tried every green brand in her dishwasher and found none would remove grease and pieces of food. Everybody she knows buys dishwasher detergent in Idaho, she said.

Supporters of the ban acknowledge it is not very popular.

"I'm not hearing a lot of positive feedback," conceded Shannon Brattebo of the Washington Lake Protection Association, a prime mover of the ban. "I think people are driving to Idaho."

There's more at the link.

Yes, that's what happens when a well-intentioned few push through a law that's intended to achieve something good . . . but they fail to think of all its implications. If you don't have something equally effective to replace what you've just banned, of course people will disregard your cherished law!

I wonder what the greenies will try next? Inspection Confiscation stations on the roads coming in from out-of-state shopping centers?


Flushed with (marital) success?

The Times of England reports on a novel incentive in India to install indoor plumbing.

Courtship can be an intricate business in India, but the mothers of the northern state of Haryana have a simple message for men who call on their daughters: “No toilet, no bride.”

The slogan - often lengthened in Hindi to “If you don't have a proper lavatory in your house, don't even think about marrying my daughter” - has been plastered across villages in the region as part of a drive to boost the number of pukka facilities. In a country where more households have TV sets than lavatories, it is one of the most successful efforts to combat the chronic shortage of proper plumbing.

. . .

In India it is estimated that more than 660 million people still defaecate in the open - a big cause of a host of diseases, from diarrhoea to polio. It is women, activists say, who suffer the most. “Women who must go outside have to do so before sunrise or after nightfall so they can't be seen,” said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh, which has built toilets for ten million Indians, and the recipient of this year's Stockholm Water Prize for developing ecofriendly and cheap lavatories to help to improve public health.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, said: “I come from a village and I know that if there is no sugarcane or wheat in the fields women may have to walk very far to find privacy. It's inconvenient, undignified and, at night, it's not safe.”

Those behind the “no toilet, no bride” scheme in Haryana are pleased with the results. About 1.4 million lavatories have been built in the state since the campaign began in 2005, many of them with significant government subsidies. “We have more toilets, less shame among women and less disease,” S.K.Monda, the official in charge of the programme, said.

. . .

There are pockets of resistance, however. Some upper-caste communities are not happy having lavatories in their homes because tradition dictates that such an arrangement is unclean.

Mr Monda said: “People do not want to go to the toilet in the home where they cook food. And many old people enjoy the opportunity to go for a walk. It gives them the opportunity to check on their fields.”

There's more at the link.

One does wonder what happens if the marriage ends in divorce. Who gets the toilet?


For California readers - eat hearty!

I've just learned of Oakdale, CA's annual 'Testicle Festival'. According to Yahoo! News:

The fundraising idea may seem a little nuts, but Oakdale's annual Testicle Festival is always a big hit. On Monday, volunteers with the town's Rotary Club plan to fry up 400 pounds of the private parts of bulls and serve them to diners who pay $50 apiece for the sit-down meal.

The event, whose proceeds also benefit the Oakland Cowboy Museum, has drawn an average of 450 people and last year raised $28,000.

It's common practice on cattle ranches for young male bovines to be castrated into steers, which after the initial loss, eventually makes them more docile and easier to handle. Fans of the delicacy, also referred to as "mountain oysters," come from around the state.

According to Rotarians, everyone who buys a ticket is guaranteed to "have a ball."

The festival benefits the Oakdale Cowboy Museum, which has this delightful drawing on their Web page:

Now that's a sad steer!

I trust readers who find themselves in the Oakdale area tomorrow will partake of the festivities (and the food), and tell us of their experiences in Comments.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Not your ordinary Fight Club!

Fighting rabbits meet their come-uppance.

Clearly, fowl play was involved!


When you 'take it to the limit', sometimes the limit bites back . . .

I've posted about base jumping before, notably a video of wing-suit base jumpers leaping off Norwegian mountains, and a nasty accident involving parachute base-jumpers leaping from a bridge.

One of the leading lights of 'extreme sports' was Shane McConkey. He won many competitions, and was renowned among his peers.

He combined mountain skiing with base-jumping, and was well-known for pushing the limits of both sports. This video shows him in action.

Sadly, we learn that Mr. McConkey died in Italy last week. According to The Inquisitr:

McConkey experienced problems in the air after launching off a cliff with the expectation of deploying his parachute canopy and then gliding down to the ground. A witness said a ski failed to come off in the air, causing McConkey to spin out of control, preventing him from deploying his parachute.

McConkey is survived by his wife, Sherry, and their 3½-year-old daughter Ayla.

That's the terribly sad thing about such sports. I accept that anyone has the right to indulge in them, and enjoy them, and even make a living from them: but are the risks, and the enjoyment, and the rewards, worth leaving a young wife a widow, and a young girl an orphan?

I hope you'll join me in offering a prayer for Mr. McConkey's soul, and for his wife and daughter.


New world speed record

Talk about hi-tech! A British engineer has just broken the world speed record for a wind-powered vehicle. The BBC reports:

Richard Jenkins reached 126.1mph (202.9km/h) in his Greenbird car on the dry plains of Ivanpah Lake in Nevada.

Mr Jenkins told the BBC that it had taken him 10 years of "hard work" to break the record and that, on the day, "things couldn't have been better".

American Bob Schumacher set the previous record of 116 mph in 1999, driving his Iron Duck vehicle.

"It's great, it's one of those things that you spend so long trying to do and when it actually happens, it's almost too easy," Mr Jenkins told the BBC.

The Greenbird is a carbon fibre composite vehicle that uses wind (and nothing else) for power. The only metalwork used is for the wing bearings and the wheel unit.

The designers describe it as a "very high performance sailboat" but one that uses a solid wing, rather than a sail, to generate movement.

Mr Jenkins, from Lymington, spent 10 years designing the vehicle, with Greenbird the fifth vehicle he has built to try to break the record.

Due to the shape of the craft, especially at such high speeds, the wings also provide lift; a useful trait for an aircraft, but very hazardous for a car. To compensate for this, the designers have added small wings to "stick" the car to the ground, in the same way Formula 1 cars do.

"Greenbird weighs 600kg [1,323 pounds] when it's standing still," said Mr Jenkins. "But at speed, the effect of the wings make her weigh just over a tonne [a metric tonne is 2,204 pounds]."

"Now that we've broken the record, I'm going back on to the ice craft. There's still some debate as to whether travelling on ice or land will be faster," he said.

There's more at the link, and the Daily Mail has another article with photographs.

The thought of a wind-powered vehicle doing 126 mph is mind-boggling! I'll be interested to see whether it can go faster on ice. Congratulations to all concerned.


Friday, March 27, 2009

On the road

Friends, I'll be leaving in the small hours of the morning to journey a long way North - to Alaska, in fact. There's a volcano erupting there at the moment, which may make air travel a bit hit-and-miss, but I'll just have to take my chances.

I'll be gone for about ten days. I'll be blogging 'on the road', but at times posting may be light, depending on what I'm doing. Watch this space for photographs and interesting tales.

Say a prayer for safe travels for me, and you stay safe, too.


2009 Diagram Prize awarded

Earlier this month I wrote about the Diagram Prize, an annual award to the book with the strangest title published during the previous year. You might want to check that article for background information, and links to the prize Web site.

The winners of the 2009 competition have just been announced.

First place: The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais, with 32% of votes cast.

Second place: Baboon Metaphysics, with 22% of votes cast.

Third place: Curbside Consultation of the Colon (my personal favorite), with 18% of votes cast.

These fine volumes join previous winners such as Living With Crazy Buttocks, High Performance Stiffened Structures (no, not that - it's an engineering textbook!), and the ever-so-intriguing If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs.


So that's what it means!

I was surprised to read a very short NPR news report about the almost-completed fourth volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English.

The makers of the Dictionary of American Regional English have nearly finished their latest edition. They've traveled the U.S. for decades noting regional dialect. A potluck dinner may be called a scramble in Illinois, or a pitch-in in Indiana. Then there's bobbasheely, a Gulf Coast noun meaning good friend. And there's the middle-American phrase once used by Bill Clinton, who said a critic of his "doesn't know me from Adam's off ox."

I'd never heard of this book before. Intrigued, I investigated further. It seems that the Dictionary project, known as DARE for short, has its own Web site., which describes the project as follows:

The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) is a reference tool unlike any other. Its aim is not to prescribe how Americans should speak, or even to describe the language we use generally, the "standard" language. Instead, it seeks to document the varieties of English that are not found everywhere in the United States--those words, pronunciations, and phrases that vary from one region to another, that we learn at home rather than at school, or that are part of our oral rather than our written culture. Although American English is remarkably homogeneous considering the tremendous size of the country, there are still many thousands of differences that characterize the various dialect regions of the United States. It is these differences that DARE records. Volume I, including extensive introductory matter and the letters A-C, was published in 1985 to the acclaim of scholarly and lay reviewers alike (it had gone into a fifth printing within a year of publication). Volume II (D-H) came out in 1991, Volume III (I-O) in 1996, and Volume IV (P-Sk) in 2002. Volume V, containing the remainder of the alphabet, is presently scheduled for publication in 2009. This will be followed by a volume containing the bibliography, maps, responses to the questions in our questionnaire, etc.

The Dictionary of American Regional English offers new discoveries on every page for most of us, making it clear that regional expressions still flourish throughout the United States. Following are some examples from Volume IV.

You might know that on pump means 'on credit' if you live in Nebraska, but do you know that a spring peeper or young frog on Nantucket, Massachusetts, is a pinkletink?

Depending on where you live, your conversation may include such beguiling terms as si-fog (Arkansas), pirok (Alaska), or pestle-tail (North Carolina); if you're invited to a potluck dinner, in Indiana you're likely to call it a pitch-in, while in northern Illinois it's a scramble; if you have a scrap or small piece of something, it's a scrid in New England, but in the South and South Midland it's a scrimption; if your youngsters play hopscotch, they may call it potsy in Manhattan, but sky blue in Chicago.

... More than sixty-five hundred entries pinpoint where you might live if your favorite card games are schafskopf or sixty-three; if you eat plate pie or potato bargain; if you drive down a pent road or run into a pogonip; or if you see a scaper or a scrunt.

The language of our everyday lives is captured in DARE, along with expressions our grandparents used but our children will never know.

Having long been interested in British regional dialects (see this article for a recent look at some very strange English expressions), the news of DARE makes my linguistic mouth water. I think I'm going to have to invest in a copy, if only to baffle my friends in conversation!


Fancy a drive and a sail - in the same vehicle?

A firm in Malta has introduced a coach that can do double duty - as a boat!

The brainchild of Scotsman George Smith, the aluminum 50-seater vehicle can glide on fresh or seawater.

Built in Malta, the metal has a corrosion barrier and the company claims the bus can withstand 3,500 hours of constant use without any adverse effects.

After a six-year development period, the AmphiCoaches are now on their way across the world, with the first boats already shipping out to Belfast and Budapest.

Managing director Steve Smith said: 'Since the first pictures of the AmphiCoach showed up on the Internet, interest has gone through the roof - out website visitors have gone up from 700 a month to more than two million, and we're getting inquiries for orders from companies wanting to 20 or more across the globe.

'We just need to be able to match the demand.'

As a coach, the vehicle can travel at normal road-speeds up to 70 mph. The excitement comes when it gets to water - the coach can simply drive into the sea where, with a flick of a switch and without stopping, the wheels retract into the hull and an air-piston begins powering the boat across the waves.

With the wheels out of the way, the coach is now the equivalent of a fully-fledged catamaran, with a stable base, with a cruising speed of six knots and a maximum of eight knots.

Mr Smith said: 'It's a seamless transition from road to water.

'Once at sea the steering wheel makes way for a joystick and there's no need for the vehicle to stop while the wheels lift and the jet propulsion takes over.

'The boat is well-weighted in the water and the passage is smoother than being in a boat of the equivalent size.'

Each of the vehicles costs £280,000 [about US $400,000] and Amphicoach say they can build 12 ship-shape roadsters every year.

There's more at the link. Here's a video from the manufacturers showing the coach/boat in operation.

What'll they think of next? A coach that drives, swims - and flies, perhaps?


The Geek makes a good point

My online blog-buddy Geek With A .45 makes a good point in his latest post. Speaking of the new US administration, he points out:

... all contracts are now at the whim of a thugocratic government that can use intimidation and populist frenzy to get what it wants, so it can avoid having to pass and enforce blatantly unconstitutional legislation.

To see what he means, and read a linked news report, see his post. It's worth reading - and very sobering, for those of us who take the Constitution seriously.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

A most intriguing denial

I can't help but wonder what prompted a public denial from the headmaster of a Boston school.

The headmaster of a Boston private school says contrary to rumors her prestigious institution is not home to so-called vampires.

Boston Latin School administrator Lynne Mooney Teta said in a notice Thursday that despite recent rumors of so-called vampires being present at her school, Boston Latin is free of any of the fictional blood-sucking undead, The Boston Globe said.

"I seek your cooperation in redirecting your energy toward the learning objectives of day. Please do not sensationalize or discuss these rumors," Teta said in a notice to staff members, along with students and their parents.

Specific details of the vampire rumors were not reported.

Most intriguing! Why no further details of the rumor? Why the mystery? I hope we learn more, as I daresay my author friend Larry could incorporate this as a chapter in his next volume of Monster Hunter International.

One can only assume that some of the students dressed in a sort of "Goth Vamp" fashion . . . either that, or a student named Buffy went all medieval on her former boyfriend!


Some things just ain't meant to be . . .

I think I've developed a sudden case of indigestion after reading this story in the Houston Chronicle.

An inmate's attempt to heat up sausages in his toilet went up in smoke when the cooking fire forced a unit evacuation at a Washington prison.

Clallam Bay Corrections Center spokeswoman Denise Larson says 130 inmates were evacuated to a dining hall when smoke was spotted coming from a sewer vent pipe Wednesday evening.

She says the smoke was traced to the inmate's cell and he admitted to trying to heat up snack sausage bought from a prison store in the stainless steel toilet. The inmate's identity has not been released.

The toilet chef has been placed in segregation pending discipline at the prison on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

Y'know, I've been hungry before . . . but I've never been so desperate for hot food that I'd try to heat it in my toilet!!!

Ye Gods and little fishes . . .


A less-than-successful gambling habit!

I bet a gas station clerk in Hempfield, PA is feeling rather sorry for himself tonight.

A Hempfield service station clerk made a bet with a customer and ended up losing the $60 in an alleged theft.

State police said at 3:20 a.m. March 9, a 33-year-old customer complained to a clerk at Snooky's Sunoco about the price of cigarettes at the store at the intersection of Route 30 and Georges Station Road. The clerk took $60 out of his pocket, placed it on the counter and bet the customer that he could not find cigarettes cheaper at another store, according to police.

The customer allegedly grabbed the money and fled.

Moral of the story: don't offer a bet unless you know you can trust the other person!


The Seven Deadly Sins in the USA

I'm sure readers are familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins - either through hearing about them in church, sometimes ad nauseam, or through committing them!

Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) - The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things

Now a team from Kansas State University have analyzed the 'sinfulness' of the United States in terms of each of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Geographers have mapped the sinfulness of the United States, attempting to come up with numbers for each of the seven deadly sins.

Thomas Vought and colleagues at Kansas State University devised indexes for sloth, gluttony, lust, greed, wrath, envy and pride ... Sloth was based on spending per capita on arts and entertainment compared to the employment rate, gluttony on fast-food outlets per capita, lust on rates of sexually transmitted disease, greed on average incomes compared to the number of people living below the poverty line, wrath on violent crimes per capita and envy on property crimes.

The researchers decided that pride is the master sin and therefore merged the rates of the lesser sins.

Vought presented the findings at the American Geographers' meeting Tuesday in Las Vegas, a city sometimes regarded as the sin capital of the United States.

Intrigued, I investigated further, and found the charts of each Deadly Sin. Here they are, in alphabetical order of sin. Click each one for a larger version.

I regret to say that my county scores high on Lust, Pride, Sloth and Wrath. Clearly my saintly example hasn't been working very well!


The sickening reality of urban social polarization

I'm sure many readers are familiar with the tragedy in Oakland, CA earlier this week, in which four police officers were murdered by a felon, recently released from prison, who also died in the exchange of gunfire.

What's truly sickening is the outburst on the part of the felon's community. A local news station reports:

With the Oakland Police Department mourning the violent deaths of four of its own, a group Wednesday staged a vigil for the man authorities say gunned down the fallen officers.

Dozens of loved ones and supporters gathered for the evening march, organized by International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, that took participants near a police substation within sight of the two locations where Lovelle Mixon allegedly shot the veteran officers. Mixon, 26, also was killed in the confrontation.

"I don't condone what he did, but it's bringing to light the frustrations between the community and the police," said Uhuru Movement member Kihad Deen. "This gives people a chance to speak their minds."

As mourners walked through the streets, they chanted, "OPD you can't hide, we charge you with genocide!" There were no officers patrolling the march route.

Mixon's cousin, Dolores Darnell, 26, addressed the small crowd, calling him "a true hero, a soldier."

"This is the real Lovelle," she said, holding a picture of a smiling Mixon with his wife. "We do apologize for what he did to the officers' families. But he's not a monster."

The event took place a day after a city-sponsored gathering drew about 1,000 people to the crime scene to honor the slain officers: Sgt. Mark Dunakin, 40; John Hege, 41; Sgt. Ervin Romans, 43; and Sgt. Daniel Sakai, 35.

Pleasant Hill Police Chief Peter Dunbar, who spent almost 25 years working as an officer in Oakland, said that while the Mixon vigil was bound to chafe emotions already rubbed raw from the officers' slaying, the police would handle it with professional detachment and "shrug things off."

"You can't let that get to you," Dunbar said, adding that in its hiring the department looks for individuals who exercise restraint in volatile situations. "People are waiting for someone to go off, ready with cameras and everything else. But that department is much more professional than these activist agitators think."

There's more at the link.

These agitators really make me see red. For a start, they know as much about 'Uhuru' and democracy as I know about the sex life of the Polynesian parrot! I was born and raised in Africa, and understand the continent and its tribes very well. I've been frankly sickened by the hate-filled, racist, completely false propaganda put out in US Black communities by those purporting to promote a sense of "African-ness" or "Afrocentric" community spirit. These folks simply don't know what they're talking about. They're spouting what amounts to radical Left-wing propaganda, cloaked under the guise of African nationalism - to which it bears as much resemblance as I do to Mata Hari!

The tragedy is, they and their ilk have been allowed to dominate inner-city Black communities in the USA for so many years that they're now firmly entrenched there. Remember Al Sharpton and the Tawana Brawley case? Has he ever apologized for his false and hate-filled accusations against the prosecutor in that case, even though a court found him guilty of slander? Like hell he has! He, Jesse Jackson and others are, in my opinion, as bad as the Uhuru agitators in Oakland. They and others of their ilk appear willing to twist, manipulate and distort anything, provided they can use it to further their objectives.

I suppose those agitators can think themselves fortunate that they didn't try their antics in the area where I live. Had they done so, after the deaths of four local officers at the hands of a convicted felon, I suspect their reception might have been significantly less . . . shall we say, peaceful . . . at the hands of local residents - of all races!



Remembering Tenerife

The worst accident in aviation history occurred 32 years ago, on March 27th, 1977, on the island of Tenerife, part of the Spanish Canary Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Several aircraft were diverted to Tenerife because of a bombing at Las Palmas Airport, their original destination on Gran Canaria island. The Tenerife airport had only one runway, and limited apron space, so the visiting aircraft were forced to park on the taxiway as well. After an extended delay, during which heavy fog enveloped the airfield, the first aircraft ready for departure were instructed to taxi to the end of the runway, move down its length, and do a U-turn to point back into the wind for take-off. (The taxiway, remember, was occupied by other, parked aircraft.) The first aircraft to move, a KLM Boeing 747, did this, and waited at the end of the runway. Meanwhile, a Pan Am Boeing 747 was moving down the runway, having been instructed to take the third turnoff and wait there until the KLM aircraft had taken off.

KLM Boeing 747, registration PH-BUF, destroyed at Tenerife (click to enlarge)

Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that the KLM pilot was impatient and rather arrogant in his approach to his crew and the airport authorities. Without proper authorization, he released his brakes and began his takeoff run - while the Pan Am jet was still taxiing towards him, having missed its turnoff point. In the fog, neither aircraft could see the other until it was too late.

Pan Am Boeing 747, registration N736PA, destroyed at Tenerife (click to enlarge)

In the words of the surviving First Officer of the Pan Am aircraft, Robert L. Bragg:

We were looking very hard for our taxiway on the left so we could depart the runway. As we began to see the taxiway we were looking for, I looked up and saw the nose of the KLM B-747. This was not immediately surprising as we knew the plane was there, supposedly waiting for us to depart the runway. I then noticed his landing lights shaking and very excitedly said, ‘I think he’s moving’. It was then very obvious that he in fact was moving at a very rapid rate directly toward us. I started yelling, ‘GET OFF, GET OFF!’ The captain had made the same decision at exactly the same time I shouted.

He immediately applied full power and turned the plane hard left. We were told later the plane turned about 27 degrees to the left before being hit by the KLM B-747. The captain, by his quick action, saved the Pan Am crew and the few passengers who survived the crash.

As we were turning left, I looked back to my right out of the cockpit’s right hand window. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – that the KLM B-747 was actually taking off. In a second or two, the KLM plane had rotated and the entire fuselage had lifted off the runway. The last thing I remember seeing was the red rotating beacon on the bottom of the fuselage.

I ducked, closed my eyes, and prayed, ‘God, let him miss us…’ When it did hit our plane, it was only a very short, quiet shudder. I actually thought that he had, in fact, missed us – until I opened my eyes. The first thing I noticed was that all of the windows in the cockpit windshield were completely and totally gone. I looked to the right and saw that the right wing was totally engulfed in flames.

I looked to the left and saw that the entire upstairs lounge and its 28 passengers were gone. The cockpit floor and upstairs lounge floor were also gone. I could see all of the way to the very rear of the cabin of the plane. I have always thought that it looked as if someone with a giant knife had simply cut the entire top of the cabin off.

I immediately looked and reached up to pull the fire-control handles which shut down the engines in addition to accomplishing several other functions. After I noticed that the entire top of the cockpit was missing, I reached down and shut off all four of the engines’ start levers. Nothing happened. The engines were operating at full throttle prior to our being hit, and they continued to operate the same way after the impact – at full power. I again started yelling, ‘Get out, get out!’

At that point, I decided it was time to heed my own call and get out of the cockpit. When I stood up, there was only about a foot of the cockpit floor still in place. I stood on that and, facing left, held on to the back of the captain’s seat, placed my foot onto the cockpit side and, without even thinking of the distance to the ground – which was about forty-eight feet – I jumped.

It was an awfully long way to the ground. I really think I’m the only crewmember ever to have actually jumped from a B-747 cockpit to the ground, and I sincerely hope I continue to hold that record forever.

. . .

When I hit the ground, I hit on grass. The very last thing I remember hearing prior to our being hit was the planes nose gear dropping off the runway unto the grass. I did the same. Landing on grass was very lucky for me. I’m sure if I had landed on the cement that I would have broken a lot of bones.

I immediately looked back at the plane and it was burning furiously, especially the section over the central fuel tank. What was most surprising was that a large number of passengers had made their way out onto the left wing of the plane.

I also remember that the engines were still running at full power when I went back up to the plane, as close as I could get, and started waving and yelling to the passengers to jump off the wing, as I expected the entire plane to explode at any minute. All of the passengers did as I had hoped. They jumped from the wing – which was about 25 feet above the ground.

I saw one male passenger running as fast as he could, dragging a lady by the ankle. I found out later that the woman was his wife and that she had broken both legs, both arms, as well as her back when she jumped from the wing. She had been among the first to jump and nearly everyone behind her landed on top of her when they jumped.

All during this time, I was motioning for the passengers to get as far away from the plane as they could. At one point I stopped to see what I thought were passengers coming back up to the plane and I wondered why in the world they were doing that. Then, I stopped and took a better look. I soon realised that these people were local inhabitants, whose homes were located near the airport, who had voluntarily came out to the crash site to assist in any way they could.

Of the Pan Am passengers, sixty-five managed to survive the crash, as did the three cockpit crewmembers, four flight attendants, and two Pan Am staff members who were in the cockpit. No one in the KLM plane survived. When it hit us, the plane severed its landing gear, exploded, and crashed back to the runway some 1500 feet beyond our plane. The total loss of life was 583 people.

A memorial stands on Tenerife today to commemorate those who died.

Let's remember them in our prayers - and those who survived them, and will be mourning them on this very sad anniversary.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another funny commercial

This one's for a Dutch insurance company. Despite initial appearances, it's safe for work - at least, for most work! Enjoy!


Improvements to blog navigation

You'll notice that there's a new addition to this blog's sidebar. It's a list of blog topics, or keywords, in alphabetical order. If you click on any one of them, you'll be shown a list of all posts, from newest to oldest, which use that key word to classify them.

For example, if you want to look at the whole series of "Doofus Of The Day" posts, simply click on the word "Doofus" in the list. For all "Weekend Wings" posts, click on that category.

I'm also working on a "Best Of" list: three or four blog posts from each month that are, in terms of reader response and number of views, the best of that month's output. I'll list them in a separate blog post, and update it each month. I'll put it up as a permanent link in the sidebar as well, in due course.


A bank robber's equivalent to a 'bad hair day'?

I was going to make this another in the 'Doofus Of The Day' series, but it was so pathetic - as well as funny, at least in parts - that I decided Mr. David Maksimik, of Connecticut, really didn't need a 'Doofus' label to add to his woes! (I'm generous that way . . . )

January 29 won't go down as one of the best days of David Maksimik's life.

Set aside his admission that he was the man who entered the People's United Bank on Old Kings Highway north, in Darien, with a fake grenade strapped to his waist and a gun. He escaped from the bank, located in the Greenwives Shopping Center, with $3,745 in cash shortly after 11 a.m..

But from there Maksimik's day got much worse.

Fleeing the scene in his 1992 Toyota Tercel, Maksimik, 59, formerly of 246 Glenbrook Road, Stamford, rear-ended another car at a stop sign on Old Kings Highway north. The front end damage to his car caused him to ditch it in Norwalk. So he took a bus, and then a taxi back to Darien. Then he called his sister for a ride back to his room.

Once inside, Maksimik found his 53-year-old roommate unconscious on the floor. So he did what any concerned citizen would do: He called 911.

Not only did Stamford police find his roommate dead, an apparent suicide, but they became suspicious of Maksimik's story. They knew Darien had sent out a bulletin on the bank robbery, so they contacted that department. Police discovered the bank's $3,745 still inside a binocular bag on Maksimik's bed.

Maksimik then waived his right to an attorney and gave a full confession, according to an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Fred Reeder.

On Tuesday, federal authorities took over Maksimik's bank robbery case bringing him before U.S. Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons. She advised him of his rights and told him he is charged with bank robbery by force, which carries a 20-year prison term.

. . .

He also faces state charges of first-degree robbery, third-degree larceny, criminal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, reckless driving and evading responsibility.

Maksimik previously was convicted on a 1991 Stamford bank robbery. He was released from federal prison on Jan. 7, 1997.

Well, if Mr. Maksimik didn't learn from his first term behind bars, he'll have a lot longer to learn from this one . . . and given the lack of probation or parole in the Federal prison system, and only very limited time off for good behavior, he'll be at least 77 years old when he gets out. I suspect his bank-robbing days will by then be far behind him!


The Great Escape - 65 years later

65 years ago, in March 1944, 76 Royal Air Force and Allied airmen escaped from Stalag Luft III prison camp in Sagan, Germany, through a tunnel they'd nicknamed 'Harry'. Their feat would become known as 'The Great Escape'.

Some of the few surviving prisoners of war who were incarcerated at Stalag Luft III have just revisited the site to remember their fallen comrades.

British veterans from the WW2 prison camp that featured in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Great Escape’ returned to the site of the getaway tunnel yesterday on the 65th anniversary of the breakout.

At the mouth to tunnel dubbed ‘Harry’ – carved from beneath the sand and soil of Stalag Luft III – the men who aided the escapers toasted absent comrades 65 years to the day that history was made.

And they bowed their heads too in respectful memory of the 50 Allied airmen escapees who, having been recaptured, were murdered on Hitler's orders.

At the memorial marking the exit of tunnel "Harry"

The Great Escape from the camp in Poland – German territory before the war – was the single greatest flight for freedom attempted by POWs during WW2.

Seventy six men made it out of the tunnel christened Harry that ran for 348 feet from hut 104 to the woods beyond on the night of March 24-25 1944.

Among the 50 who were shot was Roger Bushell, the mastermind of the escape plot planned to free over 200 men.

Twenty six others were returned to the camp while three made ‘home runs’ back to the UK. All those 29 have since died.

But they were remembered yesterday by the group who travelled to the site to mark the anniversary, including Frank Stone, 86, from Hathersage in Derbyshire who was in hut 104 from 1943 onwards.

. . .

Also there yesterday was Alfie ‘Bill’ Fripp, who was married one month before he was shot down in October 1939, and remained a prisoner of the Germans until May 1945.

Alfie Fripp - then (above) and today (below), circled in white.

He was unable to stop himself shedding a tear as he drank a glass of champagne to the memory of the murdered men.

Now 95 and living in Bournemouth, he was shot down in Holland returning from a trip to reconnoitre German marshalling yards near Hamburg.

He acted as a spy for the escapers – and a thief. In his job in charge of collecting Red Cross parcels for the prisoners from a depot in the nearby town he found the opportunity to ‘liberate’ numerous items to help the tunnelers, such as wire cutters, files and other tools.

Later he learned with anger of the murder of the escapees – one of them Mike Casey, the pilot of his plane.

“When I saw the site of Harry the tunnel, I thought of Mike and said a prayer for him,” he said.

There's lots more - and more pictures - at the link. Recommended reading.

The prisoners at Stalag Luft III erected a memorial to their 50 murdered comrades, with the permission of the German camp authorities. It still stands today on the road to Sagan. Click the picture for a larger view.

From this veteran of a younger generation, and a different war, to those of World War II, a heartfelt and grateful "Saaaa-lute!"


Feel like laughing helplessly?

If so, I recommend reading an hysterical article in the Daily Mail about - of all things - tantric sex. Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite.

What splendid news - I am a goddess. I am a divinity. I am the greatest and most beautiful goddess in the world.

I know this because a short, bare-chested man, who looks like a hirsute Gandhi, and whose name is Tony, keeps telling me so. I am sitting on a chair, which a woman clad in a diaphanous dress and with hair to her waist calls my throne.

Tony, meanwhile, is prostrate at my feet, grovelling. I have never had a man grovel before.

Nor am I prepared for his next words: 'Goddess, would you do me the honour of allowing me to wash and massage your feet?'

Though I have a healthy sense of my own worth, this is going too far. I am not, after all, Jesus. Nor are we sweltering in the Middle East. We are in a smartly decorated 17th-century manor house in the middle of Bedfordshire.

Tony prostrates himself once more, begging. 'Er, OK, then, if you insist,' I finally say.

Welcome, reader, to the weird world of tantric sex. Until now, tantric sex, which is based on pre-Christian Chinese and Tibetan rituals called tantra, has been the province of away-with-the- fairies pop stars such as Sting.

. . .

The society bible, Tatler, published a feature on Tofte Manor, a place where toffs and businessmen, who find themselves frustrated in the boudoir, can achieve a state called 'blissed'(as opposed to p****d).

Tofte Manor is owned by Suzy Castleman. She offers courses in tantra to single people and couples. When I phone to investigate, Suzy says my experience will be life-changing.

Moreover, she adds, the credit crunch means we will all be concentrating less on material things and more on emotional and sexual well-being. (I am not so sure about this, as she charges £500 [US $727] per course.)

. . .

When I arrive at Tofte Manor, I am not reassured. Though it is only nine degrees, there are three scantily clad people (a woman and two men) dancing about in the grounds.

The woman with long hair, called Hanna, turns out to be my teacher. The short man, Tony, is my tantra partner. The third man, whose name is Sean, is a baldie. He is wearing a huge crystal ring.

Hanna, who sports a large crystal around her neck, says Sean, who is a banker-turned-party planner, is there in case I want a change.

'It's OK, we're not swingers,' she says. 'People think we're dippy,' she adds, playing with her crystal.

'But it's all about losing your mind and finding your senses.'

'Righto,' I answer, unable to make head nor tail of all this. We retire to a converted stable which has four mattresses on the floor. Tantra, she says, is about 'surrendering your ego to your love partner'.

Once you have done this, there are rituals and meditations which will allow your sexual energy to be channelled in a 'meaningful and blissed' way.

I will learn to reject today's 'fast-food sex' in favour of sustenance that will nourish my soul. Hanna puts on some of that plinky-plonky music that they play in expensive beauty salons during a massage. I am told to remove my shoes and tights.

She says we will start with a special dance that will transform us into divine beings.

'You are a diamond,' she tells me, 'Even if you are covered in mud.' I look anxiously at my skirt. 'I meant in a metaphorical way,' she says.

She instructs Tony and me to stand with our spines touching.

'Your sacrums must be rubbing,' she commands as I recoil. 'This will take you to a secret place. The spine is the channel of sexual energy.' I am to breathe through my mouth, as an open mouth allows sexual energy to rise to my head.

With my mouth open and my head lolling on Tony's head, I resemble a startled haddock.

As my friend Lawdog would say: *Gigglesnort!*

There's lots more at the link. Enjoy!


Parking frustrations

I was cynically amused to read this morning of how Chicago motorists are taking out their frustrations at soaring parking meter costs - by trashing the meters.

You think eight is enough? How about 12? That's how many quarters buy an hour of parking time in some places now. And its why some people have had enough.

. . .

LAZ is a Chicago company which collects the money for the New York owner which paid the city $1.2 billion to lease the city's 36,000 meters for 75 years. They've pasted new stickers on them, doubled the rates to as much as a quarter for five minutes in the Loop. That's $3 an hour to $2 an hour in many other neighborhoods. People are angry.

"People come into this neighborhood for entertainment reasons, and you can't anymore because meters are so expensive," said Joe DiSalvo.

And people are frustrated.

"It's jammed," a woman said.

CBS 2 called the company, too; twice to New York, another to Chicago. They didn't call back. We also called the city. They called back but basically said, 'not our meters anymore, not our problem anymore.'

Enter a guy who calls himself 'Mike The Parking Ticket Geek.' He contacted us via Twitter and showed us his website, theexpiredmeter.com, which he used to give people advice on how to beat parking tickets. The site has become a lightning rod for peoples' complaints about the new rates and operators.

Mike says the people who are writing to him have a sense of "anger, frustration, rage in some cases."

To the point where some, it appears, are vandalizing the meters. Pictures on Mike's website show meters deliberately smashed, taken apart, spray-painted, or deliberately jammed.

Photographs courtesy of http://theexpiredmeter.com

"People suggest taking a quarter, putting some super glue on it, and putting it in the coin slot," Mike said.

That jams the meter and everyone parks for free. Or not at all.

More at the link.

This whole mess illustrates the fecklessness of Chicago's municipal authorities - and many others like them around the country. They've gone for short-term cash, taking $1.2 billion from a company in return for letting that company 'milk' all parking meter proceeds for the next three-quarters of a century. What did they expect the company to do? Be a beneficent, generous, charitable institution and not put up parking rates? Like hell! If that company has a $1.2 billion financing charge to pay, they're going to soak motorists for all they can get!

One can't blame the company for doing what comes naturally: but one can certainly blame Chicago authorities for putting their short-term financial welfare over the long-term welfare and convenience of their citizens. Perhaps someone should point that out to Chicagoans before the next municipal elections . . . although, given the endemic corruption of Chicago politics, I daresay the incumbents would still win, no matter what the will of the electorate!

I recommend visiting The Expired Meter. It's a very interesting Web site to illustrate the follies and foibles of a feckless administration. (Or is that too many effs?)


High-speed photography of bullet strikes

I'm sure many of us have seen examples of objects being struck by bullets, filmed in slow-motion by high-speed movie or video cameras. Now the Daily Mail publishes still photographs, triggered by laser beam, of objects being shot with an air rifle.



Christmas tree ornament

More pictures at the link. Great photography!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #190

Today's award goes to Nevada State Senator Bob Coffin for his latest proposal - to tax prostitution (which is legal in Nevada). According to the Las Vegas Sun:

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, proposed a tax on prostitution today that he says could raise $2 million a year for the state.

Patrons of prostitutes — both legal and illegal — would pay an extra $5 tax per session under the bill, which Coffin said was his idea alone.

. . .

Coffin said he had considered applying the state’s live entertainment tax to prostitution, but encountered some constitutional questions.

Information received by the state Department of Taxation in collecting the proposed tax would be confidential, he said. The department could publish how much it took in, so long as it didn’t identify an individual business.

Part of the receipts would be used to finance an “ombudsman for sex workers” who would help prostitutes who have complaints or want to leave prostitution and enter another profession.

Asked how the state could collect the tax from the independent street walkers, Coffin said that the business tax, when first imposed, wasn’t collected from all of those who were required to pay it.

More at the link.

A few questions for the good Senator:

  1. Is the tax per 'booking', or per act? Do multiple sex acts during a single booking qualify for a further tax? Would that be a luxury tax, an excess tax, or a nuisance tax?
  2. Just how do you propose to ascertain how many 'bookings' or sex acts a given prostitute or brothel has undertaken, in order to tax them? Will you hire inspectors to police the transactions? I foresee an avalanche of job-seekers . . .
  3. What if the customer isn't satisfied, and demands a refund? Will this be a case of 'no deposit, no (tax) return'?
  4. What about those requiring artificial assistance to cope with the demand, so to speak? Will Viagra, Cialis and Levitra become deductible expenses for the purpose of this tax?
  5. What will you call this new tax? I suggest adapting an ancient name, that of the poll tax, and - in honor of the portion of anatomy concerned - christening this one the 'pole tax'.


A 'green' experiment backfires

It is to laugh . . . A German report shows that politically-correct environmental experiments can sometimes backfire - with unexpected results!

The German-Indian polar experiment LOHAFEX, where iron sulphate was dumped into the ocean to foster the growth of carbon dioxide-absorbing plankton, has proved ineffective in mitigating global warming.

The Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research explained that the addition of iron to 300 square kilometres of the South Atlantic did promote plankton growth, but they were unexpectedly eaten by small crustacean zooplankton before they could absorb more of the greenhouse gas.

“Nevertheless, despite the hard work under difficult circumstances, LOHAFEX has been an exciting experience laced with the spirit of adventure and haunted by uncertainty quite unlike other scientific cruises,” said Dr. Victor Smetacek, co-chief scientist from the Alfred Wegener Institute, which took the German research boat Polarstern on the journey.

Based on the preliminary results, the team doubts that iron fertilisation will lead to a removal of significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, the statement said.

Such experiments are called geo-engineering and have been highly controversial among environmentalists because of their unpredictable results.

. . .

Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute said that the experiment had left behind “no trace other than a swarm of well-fed amphipods.”

Bold print is my emphasis. There's more at the link.

Nature eats scientists' experiment! I love it! I trust the amphipods were duly appreciative of their newly-provided food source . . .


Boys and their (very big) toys!

The BBC reports on the world's largest model railway.

Rail enthusiasts can now enjoy views of Scandinavian fjords, the Swiss Alps, and even Mount Rushmore - in Germany.

Twin brothers Frederick and Gerrit Braun have built the world's longest model railway in the city of Hamburg.

It has six miles of track, cost £8m to build and its 1,150 square metres (12,380 square feet) take in the US, Scandinavia and the Swiss Alps.

By the time the layout is completed in 2014 it will be twice as long and will take in France, Italy and the UK.

The Braun brothers, 41, began work on the Miniatur Wunderland project in 2000.

Their model railway now comprises 700 trains with 10,000 carriages, 900 signals, 2,800 buildings and 160,000 individually designed figures.

It even includes scale models of the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rushmore, the Swiss Matterhorn, and a Scandinavian fjord complete with 4ft cruise ship.

The scenery took 500,000 hours, 700kg of fake grass and 4,000kg of steel to build.

So large is the layout that 160 staff are employed to show visitors around the railway.

Intrigued, I investigated further. The Miniatur Wunderland has its own Web site, and claims to have attracted over five million visitors so far! They've even made this video demonstrating the place.

Fascinating! Certainly one of the ultimate expressions of 'toys for boys', to put it mildly!


A very old world speed record is challenged

A British team is about to mount an assault on a 103-year-old speed record.

A plucky band of British enthusiasts are gearing up to break a 100-year-old land speed record in a 21st century steam-powered supercar.

They are aiming to break the existing 127mph record in a 25-foot-long vehicle they have already dubbed 'the fastest kettle in the world'.

Designed to top 200mph, the supercar is attempting a record which has stood since 1906.

Back then, daredevil driver Fred Marriott drove a 'steamer' built by two enterprising brothers called Francis and Freelan Stanley.

Their water-powered supercar - called the Stanley Rocket - achieved an astonishing record speed of 127.659mph in Florida.

It made it the fastest car in the world at the time, beating rivals with internal combustion engines that were soon to become the norm.

The new British 21st century challenger is a sleek, streamlined car weighing just over three tons.

The vehicle is a mixture of lightweight carbon-fibre composite and aluminium wrapped around a steel space frame chassis.

It is fitted with 12 boilers containing nearly two miles of tubing.

. . .

Like a giant kettle on a camper stove, Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) held in on-board tanks in the supercar is ignited to fire up burners producing three megawatts of heat - equivalent to 1,500 domestic kettles and capable producing 9,000 cups of tea.

This is used to heat 140 litres of distilled water which produces steam under pressure.

The distilled water is pumped into the boilers at the rate of 50 litres a minute, where steam is superheated to 400C and injected into the vehicles turbine at more than twice the speed of sound.

The sheer force produces the thrust that will propel it from rest to more than 200mph - pouring a jet of white condensed steam out of the back like an angry kettle.

The vehicle even incorporates the elements from two real kettles, used to warm up the liquid petroleum gas used to fire up the boilers.

Massive Goodyear tyres and disc brakes bring it back to a stop - with a parachute system just in case.

The actual record attempt is to take place on a dry lake bed on land at Edward's Airforce Base in California's Mojave desert in June, the scene of space shuttle flights and the base for countless military operations.

. . .

The British Steam Car team are based in Lymington, New Forest in Hampshire and, with minimum funds by maximum British ingenuity and pluck , they have constructed the car in farm outbuildings belonging to Mr Burnett.

'It is a 'garden shed' enterprise operation,' admitted their spokeswoman.

'The project has a fraction of the funding of some world speed record attempts. But we still aim to bring the steam powered world record back to Britain.'

. . .

Project manager Mr Candy said: 'We are doing it on a shoe-string and have been donated parts and paint which has kept the show on a road.

'We've even called referred to the car as being "essence of E-Bay." It's a real garden shed enterprise.'

He added:'There are two real kettle elements at the hear to the car, so if all else fails we can at least make a cuppa.'

However when they did approach tea giant PG Tips for sponsorship, they weren't offered any help.

'I thought that showed a bit of a lack of imagination. Imagine the fun they could have had,' Mr Candy said.

'A giant knitted tea cosy to cover the car or staging the biggest brew up in the world using the car. Maybe we should try the Tetley tea folk next?'

There's more (including many more photographs) at the link.

Full marks for enthusiasm and ingenuity to the team. May they attain success!