Friday, July 31, 2009

World's fastest delivery van?

I'm hugely amused by the ingenuity of an Italian rally team. They've mated the engine and chassis of a Ferrari F355 Berlinetta:

with the body of a Citroen 2CV delivery van:

to produce this:

According to the Daily Telegraph:

The bizarre hybrid took the pair five years and cost more than £150,000 to put together.

They took the chassis and engine of a speedy Ferrari F355 Berlinetta and combined it with the body of a 12bhp Citroen 2CV Fourgonnette bread-van.

To finish it off they gave the 2CV's ageing white body a glossy Ferrari red paint job.

And they stuck the iconic prancing pony logo on the front above the famous Citroen double chevron emblem.

The result of their efforts is a striking vehicle that can accelerate from 0 to 60mph in less than five seconds.

The car was put together by Nicolo Lamberti, 35, and Milko Dalla Costa, 51, who run the Italian Nimik rally team.

. . .

The team at Nimik modified and widened the 2CV's body, and added a giant air vent to either side.

They mounted the Ferrari's huge V8 engine in the middle of the rear wheel drive car, which still features the 2CV's familiar circular headlights.

Beneath the giant wheel arches the car proudly boasts the original alloy wheels from the Ferrari.

Inside, the car's two seats are decked out in plush black leather and there is even the polished silver gear stick from the F355.

Mr Lamberti added: "It took us so long to build so at the moment we are just enjoying it and showing it off to people who are passionate about this kind of work.

"But if we meet someone willing to offer us an interesting price then we could sell it."

There's more at the link.

Here's a video clip of the beast in full song on Italian roads. Just listen to that engine!

Music to the ears! I wonder what sort of deliveries one could make with it? Time-critical stuff, that's for sure . . . although I daresay the delivery charge would have to include an allowance for speeding tickets!


Taking a stand in New York City

New York City's firearms regulations are amongst the most draconian in the land. It's virtually impossible to get a permit to carry a weapon for self-defense, and almost as difficult to get a permit to keep one in your home. Now a Brooklyn man is standing up for his rights - and seems to have found a convenient loophole in the law.

Like America's first soldiers at the Battle of Brooklyn, Michael Littlejohn is fighting for his right to bear arms.

The Revolutionary War buff charges the Bloomberg administration with tyranny for trying to seize his handmade flintlock rifle - a dead ringer for the weapon once used against the redcoats.

"This is the last legal gun that you can have without registration in New York," Littlejohn said. "And yet Mayor Bloomberg is driven crazy by my flintlock gun - the one that won the American Revolution."

The social worker is ... clinging to a little-known exemption in the city's strict gun laws.

The loophole allows license-free ownership of "antique firearms" - defined as rifles that require the bullet and gunpowder to be loaded separately.

Littlejohn's rifle appears to fit the bill.

Loading the weapon, he explains, is a multistep process that takes several pokes with a ramrod and up to a minute to complete.

To fire, the rifle relies on a sharpened piece of flint that produces a spark when the trigger is pulled. That point is moot, Littlejohn says: He doesn't own gunpowder or bullets.

That's not enough to make the NYPD retreat.

The cops visited Littlejohn's apartment and sat down this month with the Tennessee blacksmith who forged the rifle.

The lead detective on the case told Littlejohn's lawyer that he had orders "from higher-ups" to pursue the case, according to an e-mail the lawyer sent to Littlejohn.

There's more at the link.

Good for you, Mr. Littlejohn! I'm proud of you for taking a stand on your rights. You're clearly within the law to possess this rifle - so don't let official intimidation and overbearing arrogance get to you. It's time the bossy bureaucrats of NYC were shown the finger.


Can migraine headaches be cured by surgery?

I'm amazed to read an article in the Daily Mail, in which a plastic surgeon claims that a relatively low-cost, one-hour operation, severing a muscle in the forehead, has reduced or even eliminated migraine headaches in the majority of his patients.

Dr Guyuron, a director of the American Board of plastic surgery who has published more than 150 articles in respected medical journals, stumbled on the idea while carrying out forehead lifts for cosmetic purposes. He realised the removal of the 'frown muscle', or corrugator supercilii, seemed to stem migraines in those prone to them.

Dr Guyuron believes that many migraines are caused by nerves in face, neck or scalp being irritated by over-tight muscles, and that removing or loosening these eases the pressure and therefore the pain.

He has carried out numerous studies into the technique and regularly trains other surgeons in the procedure.

The 'frown muscle' is most commonly operated on, providing the added benefit of a smoother forehead. Other migraine hotspots include the temporalis muscle, which is found in the temples and plays an important role in chewing.

Stopping it from triggering migraines results in the eyebrows being shifted slightly to the side - and a more youthful look.

In his latest study into the subject, Dr Guyuron has compared the surgery with a dummy treatment in which patients were operated on but their muscles left intact.

Forty nine men and women with severe migraines had the proper operation and 26 the other procedure.

A year later, 57 per cent of patients who had the full operation had been cured, compared with just 4 per cent in the other group. In all, 83 per cent of those who had muscle removed said their migraines were much less severe or had stopped altogether.

But when other studies involving more than 400 patients are taken into account, the success rate soars to above 90 per cent.

Dr Guyuron said: 'Patients are back to work in a week or less and the benefits last for the rest of their lives.

There's more at the link.

This is very promising, if true. (I'm not knocking Dr. Guyuron, you understand, just waiting for his technique to be tested more widely, to see if its initial promise holds true over a larger sample.) I've seen people absolutely prostrated by migraines, to the point where their work, their relationships and everything in their lives suffers. No medication seems to help them. If so simple a procedure can cure many of them, Dr. Guyuron will be hailed as a savior.


One reason I drive a pickup truck

Thanks to Mike B. for sending this photograph (click the picture for a larger view). It illustrates very graphically why driving a smaller vehicle in US traffic isn't such a great idea.

I was a Sector Officer in the Civil Defence corps of a major South African city for several years, and also a volunteer medic with St. John Ambulance in that country. I've seen enough car wrecks to know that the smaller and lighter your vehicle, the more likely you are to suffer serious or fatal injury in a wreck.

Small cars may offer great fuel economy . . . but that's not the only consideration (or even the most important consideration) to take into account. As far as I'm concerned, safety's more important. I want a solid chassis under me and/or my loved ones, thank you very much, and enough metal to provide as much 'crumple zone' as possible. I'll pay the higher fuel bills for a larger vehicle without a second thought.

May God have mercy on the soul(s) of anyone caught in that vehicle at the moment of impact. For sure, the medics wouldn't have been able to do anything for them.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

A happy video to start your day

I love this video! It's of an elderly lady who's been driving the same car for over half a million miles and several decades. Note how she always bought 'lifetime guarantee' spare parts, and has benefited from free replacements ever since!

I hope I'm as spry when I'm her age! Thanks to Marc D. for e-mailing the link.


A rather unique scarecrow!

It seems a Chinese farmer has invented a unique form of that ancient technology, the scarecrow.

A peanut farmer claims to have discovered the perfect way to keep birds off his plants - by flashing them with a pair of large white breasts.

Farmer Wing Fu said: "I had tried everything else. If I fired a gun in the air they were always back minutes later - then I used the scarecrow but they weren't worried and just sat on the scarecrow's head to survey which peanuts they were going to eat."

He said he had come up with the idea to use the breasts after travelling into town at Wuhan in eastern China's Hubei province and spotting an old clothes mannequin that had been dumped beside the road.

He said: "It had no head and no arms but it was bright white and I thought to myself why not give it a try."

He added that ever since the pair of large white breasts had been stationed in his field he had few problems with the birds and has now ordered another dozen white mannequins with extra large breasts to be stationed on the other peanut fields.

Fu said: "Other farmers have already asked me about boring them and I even go into the scarecrow press business."

Sounds like his cup(s) runneth over!


Whales are even more amazing than we thought

An article in the Daily Mail by the author of a new book on whales makes some rather extraordinary, but soundly-argued claims about whales and their abilities. Here's an excerpt.

We find whales and dolphins endlessly fascinating not only for their innate beauty, but because we know them to be intelligent creatures. And the more we learn about them, the more marvellous and intriguing they become.

Experiments conducted around the world have shown that they cannot only respond to spoken commands, but (almost uniquely among the animal kingdom) can recognise themselves in a mirror, and even in pictures held up against the glass wall of aquariums.

This displays a degree of intelligence and self-awareness that is truly awesome - and raises awkward questions about the morality of keeping animals such as these in cramped water parks, where they have no freedom to express their natural behaviour, however miraculous it may be to observe.

I have been privileged enough to see that intelligence on display in the wild. For the past eight years, I've watched and studied whales for my book, Leviathan. I've seen many different species, from the tiny harbour porpoise, barely bigger than a rugby ball, to the huge fin whale, which, at 85ft, is only just smaller than a blue whale.

I've seen humpback whales leap into the air, launching their entire 50ft bodies out of the water. I've even swum with sperm whales, close enough to feel their sonar (the sound waves they emit) reverberating through my skeleton like an MRI scan. It was almost as if they knew their place in the world - and mine. And that may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Sperm whale. (Image courtesy of Max N. via e-mail.)

... the crucial point, says Dr Whitehead, is the complexity of the animal's neo- cortex - a highly developed part of the brain which, in humans and primates, is known to be the centre of intelligent thought, memory and speech.

Dr Whitehead's studies show that cetaceans have the ability to solve problems, to exhibit joy and grief, and live in complex societies.

That would have come as no surprise to the whale-hunters of centuries past, who often saw the emotions expressed by their quarry. A harpooned sperm whale, for instance, would soon find its mates rushing to its aid, even if it resulted in their own death.

It may even be that cetaceans have a sense of altruism. For example, the tusked narwhal of the Arctic have been observed to use the tips of their own tusks to plug the aching gap in another's broken tusk to help ease the pain.

Narwhals 'tusking'. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

... even more extraordinary is the theory put forward by Russian scientists in the Seventies. They concluded that sperm whales have a 'third eye'.

They suggested that the animal's spermaceti organ, housed in its bulging forehead or nose, works as a 'video-acoustic system', transferring sound energy into images.

I think I can confirm that from my own experience. When I swam with sperm whales, I felt that they were recreating my shape in their own head; that they had the measure of me. In the silent choreography of the sea, a new balance was being struck. I was no longer in control. In that profound environment, it was the whales who were the master species.

Which brings us to a final tantalising prospect. If you are an animal with that kind of intellectual capacity, what do you do with your brain? After feeding, and mating, what else is there to think about?

Dr Whitehead's research indicates that sperm whales use their almost telepathic ability to communicate for what he calls 'cultural transmission', passing on information from generation to generation.

Could it even be, as Dr Whitehead suggests, in his most astounding proposition, that sperm whales might even rationalise about their place in the world? That they might even have evolved some kind of religion? This theory might seem extreme, but we are still in the infancy of whale studies.

We know more about the surface of the Moon than we do about their environment, the ocean.

There are still entire species of large deep-sea whales, such as beaked whales, which have never been seen alive, and are known only from dead specimens. Scientists speculate that there are other whale species yet to be discovered.

There's much more at the link. Fascinating reading, and highly recommended. I note that Mr. Hoare's book, Leviathan, won the Samuel Johnson prize this year. I'll be adding it to my 'books to buy' list, that's for sure! (And no, I don't get any commission on it - I just like to recommend books that capture my imagination.)


El Capitan does it again!

El Capitan, the fiendish mind behind Baboon Pirates, has come up with something new.

The Organic, Holistic Path To Natural Bowel Cleansing!

So, a high-fiber diet got you a bit constipooted?

There you sit, brokenheated... Came to s*** and only farted?

One too many slices of extra-cheese pizza and a heaping bowl of Grapenuts, and now your colon feels like the Hoover Dam?

Relax!! At HamFisted Plumbing, Dental Supply and Homeopathic Health Spa, we have the solution you need!

For the solution, click here and prepare to laugh. Hint: it involves bacon-flavored lube! Breda, don't read any further, whatever you do!


For those bored with mere guns and knives

Need a new form of self-defense? Bored with guns? Knives lost their cutting edge?

You should get in touch with Urban Armory. Here are a few of their suggestions for that certain something you've always wanted. Regrettably, their spelling and grammar aren't always up to speed, but I'll leave them verbatim.

First, a working flame-thrower:

This is a US GI COMPLETE flame thrower set up our last one comes complete uncut and ready to roast, with instructional DVD on how to use with a New made wand updated so you do not need to find those old matches on the net !!! Remember NO LICENSE NEEDED !! ships to your home!

Price: $8,500.00

If that's a bit short-ranged, how about this Mk 19 fully-automatic grenade launcher? It's the only example legally registered and transferable for civilian ownership.

Price: $425,000.00

For defending a larger area, requiring mobility, Urban Armory offer this T-34 tank:

1954 chech manufactured live and rolling Tank . Live breech with subcaliber kits!!!

Included in the sale is a perfect running British ferret armored car see the pic!!

Price: $79,000.00. (The Ferret armored car alone is $28,000.00.)

Of course, if your neighbor gets something like that, you'll need to visit Urban Armory yourself for the antidote:

U.S T8 90 MM anti tank [gun]. The most comprehensive package we have ever seen! Be the only one on the block! Free freight in the U.S.

Price: $99,000.00

Seems to me we could have a pretty riotous arms race between neighborhoods!


Doofus Of The Day #248

Today's doofus is from Oregon.

An Albany, Ore., man was cleaning out a deceased relative's home in Eastern Oregon when he discovered what he thought was a bomb, police said. So he put it in his vehicle and drove it back to Albany, where he delivered it Friday to his hometown police station.

The Albany Police Department closed its station lobby, called the state bomb squad, notified the Linn County sheriff's office next door and blocked the station parking lot off with cones. Police did not evacuate. The bomb squad arrived, decided it was indeed a bomb and took it away to destroy it.

Albany police Capt. Eric Carter said that while he was glad the man involved police, anyone making a similar discovery should simply call local law enforcement. As he put it, "Putting explosive devices in your car and driving any distance is not advisable."

No s***, Sherlock!

I'd have liked to have been a fly on the wall of that police station when they first saw it, though . . .


Some magnificent photography!

The volcano of Krakatoa in Indonesia, which erupted in such devastating fashion back in 1883, killing an estimated 35,000 people around the world, is doing it again. The Daily Mail reports:

The ticking time-bomb can be seen spewing ash into the Indonesian sky between Java and Sumatra where it lies on the Sunda Strait.

Lava can also be seen trickling down the side of the new slopes that have quickly grown to a towering 360 metres. It now measures half of the size of the original mound that ended so many lives.

Marco said: 'These volcanos repeat explosions like that of 1883 many times during their life. The common opinion is that Krakatoa will become again really dangerous when it reaches the size it had been in 1883. It was two-times taller than now.'

Simmering Anak Krakatoa - translated as 'Child of Krakatoa' - is the offspring of the original giant cone which snuffed out over 36,000 lives in a single super-eruption over 100 years ago.

In an ongoing saga Anak Krakatoa is a new volcano that is emerging from the remains of the former giant beast which blew itself apart.

The colossal 19th century disaster is so renowned it has featured in movies and is regarded by many as the most famous on earth.

The explosion was so devastating it equalled 13,000 times the power of Little Boy - the American A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in World War II.

There's more at the link, including some absolutely spectacular photographs (in much larger versions than those on this blog). It's well worth your time to click over there to look at them. For all its danger, the volcano is strangely beautiful.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

US Special Forces air support - back to basics?

I'm intrigued by a program currently under way in the US Special Forces, examining whether a simple propeller-driven strike aircraft, such as were used in World War II and Korea (and, to a lesser extent, in Vietnam) might be a viable option for certain operational environments. Defense Tech reports:

In a move that harkens back to the days of recycled World War II torpedo bombers sheep-dipped as close air support planes, the Navy intends to field a limited number of turbo-prop attack planes outfitted with the most modern surveillance, tracking and weapons systems to help special ops forces keep track of bad guys and, in a pinch, put warheads on foreheads.

Call it an A-1 Skyraider on steroids – a “Back to the Future”-resurrection of a kind of plane last seen pounding enemy positions with rockets, guns and bombs over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1960s.

Code named “Imminent Fury,” the classified, year-long program has so far produced one fully-outfitted plane and is set to field four more to directly support SEALs and other operators on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

According to a source close to the program who declined to be named, the Navy has leased an EMB-314 Super Tucano for the job. Made by the Brazilian aerospace company Embraer, it is now being tested on desert ranges in California and the service’s top test facility at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md. The Navy loaded it up with sensors and weapons systems that “would make an F-16 pilot blush,” the source said.

With top end electro-optical and infrared sensors, laser and GPS-guided bombs, rockets, twin .50 cal. machine guns, encrypted radios – and even the capability to tie in UAV surveillance feeds – the Super Tucano outfitted for the SEALs is a ground-pounder’s angel from above.

There's more at the link, and also here and here.

Strategy Page describes the EMB-314 Super Tucano as follows:

The Super Tucano is a five ton, single engine, single seat aircraft. It is basically a prop driven trainer that can be equipped for combat missions. The aircraft can carry up to 1.5 tons of weapons, including 12.7mm machine-guns, bombs and missiles. The aircraft cruises at about 500 kilometers an hour and can stay in the air for about 6.5 hours per sortie.

Colombia is already using Super Tucanos for counter-insurgency work, which is where American SOCOM operators saw it up close. They liked what they saw, and persuaded SOCOM to lease one and try it out. For some older SOCOM operators, the Brazilian aircraft is yet another attempt to revive the legendary Vietnam era A-1 Skyraider. This was the most popular ground support aircraft during the 1960s. Developed at the end of World War II, the A-1 was an 11 ton, single seat, propeller driven aircraft that carried 3.5 tons of bombs and four 20mm autocannon. Cruising speed was 475 kilometers an hour, and the average sortie was about four hours. Ever since World War II, ground troops have been agitating for another A-1. The A-10 came close, but did not have the persistence (long time over the combat area) of the A-1.

The Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano costs $9 million each, and come in one or two seat versions. SOCOM wants the two seater, with guy in the back running sensors. The bubble canopy provides excellent visibility. This, coupled with its slow speed (versus jets), makes it an excellent ground attack aircraft. The SOCOM aircraft could be equipped to fire Hellfire missiles and drop smart bombs. SOCOM wants to lease four Super Tucanos as soon as possible.

Again, there's more at the link.

I was interested to see the role of the EMB-314 spelt out in an official Navy Irregular Warfare Office briefing earlier this year. The slide below is taken from that briefing, and is self-explanatory. (Click it for a larger view.)

In environments where ground-to-air missile defenses are relatively scarce, or primitive when they exist at all, and where massed anti-aircraft fire is unlikely, such aircraft are likely to prove very useful indeed. I'll be interested to see how the 'jet jockeys' of the USAF and USN will react to the intrusion of such low-tech, non-stealthy solutions onto their 'turf'. Considering that at present and predicted prices, one can buy more than a dozen EMB-314's for the price of a single F-35, I think economics alone will force them to accept it!


Saving money in these hard times

I'm sure there are many of us who are tightening our belts, economically speaking, and trying to spend less in these difficult times.

One way to save a whole lot of money is to look at refurbished equipment, rather than brand-new. I've done this for years, and on average find that I spend less than half the price of new equipment to buy something just as good. After all, a factory-refurbished item has been through the manufacturer's test procedures twice, not just once. It's more likely to be trouble-free than a new item!

Case in point: a camera I've just bought. I gave my old point-and-shoot to a friend who needed it more than I did at that time, and I needed to replace it. I wanted something extremely simple and very compact, that I could carry anywhere, and that wouldn't cause financial heartburn if it got lost or damaged. I narrowed down my search until I decided that the Nikon Coolpix L15 was what I wanted.

I started to compare prices. New, it's in the $230-$250 range (for example, on Amazon): but refurbished, it's available with precisely the same accessories for $69.95 from retailers such as Adorama, B&H Photo, etc. That's three-tenths of the price of a new unit on Amazon! Putting it another way, I can buy three refurbished units, and still save money, compared to buying one new one! The refurbished unit only has a ninety-day warranty, but an extended two-year warranty from Nikon USA costs a mere $12.95, if you want that peace of mind.

Electronics is a particularly viable field for such shopping, with everything from computers to cameras available in refurbished form. There are other areas too. Just a thought - if you want to save money, have a look at what's available in refurbished form. You might be surprised.


Let's expand this idea!

I note that New York City is providing free tickets to the homeless to return to their places of origin - provided they promise never to come back. It's not heartless: they make sure that there's a family member or friend to accommodate them, and that they won't be dumped on the streets once they get there.

If this works so well that NYC is willing to invest its dollars in it, how about expanding it to deal with our illegal immigration problem? If illegals volunteer to return to their homelands, and undertake never to return (and we have some way of detecting them if they do - fingerprints, an electronically-readable implanted chip, something like that), why not pay for their tickets? Heck, we could even give them a little spending money! It'll still be a whole lot cheaper than using law enforcement personnel and facilities, and our court system, to accomplish the same result.

This bears further examination, methinks.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #247

Today's Doofus is from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Jerome Blanchett took a loaded handgun into the Holiday Inn-Harrisburg East on Friday, passing dozens of unmarked police cars in the parking lot and a sign at the hotel's entrance welcoming 300 officers to the Pennsylvania Narcotic Officers' Association conference, police said.

Nevertheless, the 19-year-old Harrisburg man went into the men's room and waited to rob the next person who walked through the door, police said.

Unfortunately for Blanchett, that person was John Comparetto, a retired New York City Police Department lieutenant.

"He chose to rob a cop in a place where there were 300 cops," Comparetto said afterward. "He's not very bright."

Comparetto said he walked into the bathroom about 8:15 a.m. and noticed a man in baggy blue jeans and a dark coat washing his hands. Comparetto went into the stall, and when he walked out three minutes later, he was staring down the barrel of a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun, he said.

Blanchett demanded money, and Comparetto handed over $138, police said. Blanchett took Comparetto's cell phone, told him to drop his pants and threatened to kill him if he tried to follow him, police said.

Seconds after Blanchett left the bathroom, Comparetto pulled a handgun from his ankle holster and went after his attacker, he said. Their guns drawn, he and other officers took Blanchett into custody as he was trying to get into a taxi outside the Swatara Twp. hotel.

"He's yelling, 'Don't shoot me,' and I said, 'If you move your hands, I'll kill you,'" Comparetto said. "He was almost crying."

There's more at the link, and more here.

To cap it all, from the second link above:

Blanchett, 19, ... was charged with robbery, making terroristic threats, reckless endangerment, simple assault, carrying a firearm without a license and illegally possessing a firearm.

When asked for comment, Blanchett said, "I'm smooth," as he was being led from [the] court.

Smooth??? Just how dumb can a crook get?


The newest Witch of the West

A few weeks ago I mentioned that the Wookey Hole Caves in England were advertising for a new witch.

Auditions were held yesterday. According to the Daily Mail:

And the Hex Factor winner is... Carla Calamity.

The former estate agent (real name Carole Bohanan) was yesterday named the new 'resident witch' of Wookey Hole Caves near Wells in Somerset.

She beat 300 other finalists who queued for hours to take part in X Factor-style auditions. In total, 3,000 men and women applied for the job.

Armed with broomsticks, they had 60 seconds to wow the caves' managers and the outgoing witch. Carla said after her win: 'Going from an estate agent to this is a natural progression I suppose. You need a bit of magic and witchery to sell houses.'

The job comes with a salary of £50,000 pro rata based on work during school holidays and at weekends. Carla Calamity will teach visitors about witchcraft and magic.

In busy times, she will have to leave her rented Shepton Mallet home and sleep in the caves.

There's more at the link, including many more photographs. Looks like a good time was had by all!


Wish I was in London to see this!

The Science Museum in London, England is holding a special exhibition entitled 'Cosmos And Culture: How Astronomy Has Changed Our World'. It's an in-depth look at the last four hundred years of astronomy, and what we've learned during that time.

Some of the exhibits are absolutely fascinating. For example, here's one of the first maps of the Moon, drawn by Thomas Harriot, who used an early model of telescope to produce it, four hundred years ago.

Here's a replica (copied from the original in an Italian museum) of one of Galileo's telescopes, with which he first studied the heavens and came to support Copernicus' heliocentric theory of planetary orbits.

And speaking of Copernicus, here's a page from his book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, in which he posited that the planets revolved around the Sun, rather than the Earth, as had previously been believed.

And here's the telescope of Sir William Herschel, who used it in his garden to discover what he at first thought was a comet, but which turned out to be the planet Uranus.

Fascinating stuff! I wish I could be there to attend the exhibition. I hope those of my readers who are able to do so will post comments here, to let us know how they found it.


Things doctors learn from their patients

Via Ken of the group blog Popehat, we learn of an interesting thread on the Student Doctor Network entitled 'Things I Learn From My Patients'. A few examples:

  • Tonight I learned yet another helpful life lesson from one of my patients. If you're on the street corner selling coke and you see the cops coming to bust you don't eat all your coke. Having been taught this valuable lesson I will now know better than to do this and wind up going to the ER in handcuffs, seizing uncontrollably, aspirating my vomit and doing all of this with a white powder moustache looking like and ad for "Got Coke?"
  • Always pay your drug dealer! Bad things happen when you don't pay.
  • Never, ever leave flashlights, shampoo bottles, beer bottles or any long, circular object on the floor because someday you will fall on it and it will somehow, work its way up your rectum.
  • Always wait until finishing your woodwork with the skillsaw prior to using your meth.
  • Don't road surf on the top of a moving stickshift car driven by your younger sibling with a learner's permit.
  • Latex paint, despite being thick and creamy, does not coat your stomach and provide the same relief as pepto bismol.
  • No matter how tough you are, don't cross the street when you are drunk because the moving vehicle always wins.
  • No matter how badly constipated you are, a vodka enema is not a good idea.
  • Whether the person hits the train or the train hits the person, it's bound to be bad for the person.
  • When attempting a self-circumcision do not use dry ice to numb the area... and when the dry ice sticks to the... a.... area, do not attempt to remove the ice with boiling water.

Those are just from the first page of the thread - and it's currently 51 pages long! Go read the whole thing, and have a good laugh.


The Gun Fairy smiled on me today!

Oh, boy, Tamara's going to be so jealous when she hears about this . . . she collects, shoots and writes about old Smith & Wesson revolvers, you see.

I dropped into my local gunshop today for a friendly cup of coffee (and promptly got invited to lunch - jambalaya, salad and garlic bread. Ooohhh, the food in Louisiana . . . it definitely helps to compensate for the heat and humidity!) Anyway, he had a .44 Special revolver, model undetermined, and asked if I wanted to see it. When he brought it out, I did a double-take, and with bated breath, asked the price. He named a figure, and my hand probably broke the sound barrier on its way to my pocket to get out my wallet!

What I came home with was a pre-World-War-II (1939 production) Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector, also known as the 'Triple Lock'. This one's an example of the Third Model. Tamara's given a good description of the Hand Ejectors on her weapons blog, so if you don't know much about them, you can read her article for more information. Suffice it to say that a Hand Ejector, any model, in really nice condition, is one of the Holy Grails sought for by US arms collectors - and I have one sitting on my desk as I write this. (Click the pictures below for a larger view.)

The grips aren't original - these ones look like target grips from the 1960's or 1970's. Apart from that, however, the gun's in superb condition. It appears to have been re-blued at some point, but the work was very well done, with the rollmarked letters still crisp and readable. In a way, I'm sorry it was re-blued, as that instantly chops 50%-60% off the value of the gun: but since I got it for a remarkably low price anyway, I can't complain! I'm already getting e-mails from friends, offering three times what I paid for it.

It also has the relatively scarce 5" barrel (most were 4" or 6½"), which makes it a bit more sought-after.

I'm going to enjoy shooting this gun - something I can do with a clear conscience. If it were in original condition, its 'collectability' would probably render it too valuable to be shot! I daresay I'll part with it after that, as I have other things I need, and I have friends out there who'll give it a loving home. Still, I'm thoroughly enjoying having a piece of classic Americana and shooting history on my desk. Luck like this doesn't come every day!

It's my birthday soon, so I think I'll regard this as my birthday present to myself.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #246

Today's two Doofi come from Swansea, Wales, UK.

After stealing about $1,154 in liquor, two burglars decided to celebrate and got so drunk they fell asleep instead of escaping, police in Swansea, Wales, said.

Burglars Keith Cullen and Paul Wiggins stacked up the stolen booze outside the store and then went in to have a drink. Police found them asleep in the store the next morning, The Sun newspaper reported.

A Swansea prosecutor said closed circuit television recorded the entire theft of the Kuehne Nagle Drinks Logistics depot.

Police said Cullen turned up for his hearing at Swansea magistrates' court so drunk he was prohibited from entering the building.

There's more at the link.

Note to burglars: it's best to consume the fruits of your theft after you've left the scene!


So much for modern education!

It's now affecting some businesses in Wisconsin, it seems.

A sign pointing southbound travelers onto Business Highway 51 in Rothschild and Schofield bears an incorrect spelling for every word except “exit.”

David Vieth, director of the bureau of highway operations for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the mistake was made by Decker Supply Company of Madison, which printed the sign.

“How do I politely say it shows some incompetence on someone’s part?” said Rothschild Village President Neal Torney.

There's more at the link.

You know, it's all very well for Mr. Vieth to complain that the fault lies with the sign-making company . . . but why did his department then proceed to put up the sign? Surely someone must have thought that it would be better to get it right first?



Now that's a new low in labor relations!

I'm stunned to read of the results of a talk given by the CEO of a Chinese steel firm to the workers at a plant his company was about to take over.

Chinese officials have scrapped plans to part-privatise a state-owned steel plant after rioting workers killed one its managers.

An emergency notice announcing the end of the deal was made after thousands of steelworkers clashed with police on Friday.

The protest was sparked by plans for Beijing's Jianlong Group to take a majority stake in the Tonghua Iron and Steel Group.

Workers beat Jianlong executive Chen Guojun to death outside the plant in Tonghua city, Jilin province, after he announced that only 5,000 out of 30,000 workers would be retained after the merger.

. . .

The protest forced the steel plant to shut down for 12 hours on Friday, but operations have been back to normal since Saturday, Zhao said.

The China Daily newspaper said crowds dispersed after the announcement about the end of the deal was made.

Jianlong had a stake in Tonghua since 2005 but suffered losses after steel prices dropped and jettisoned the company, the paper said.

It said Jianlong revived the takeover plan after steel prices rebounded, making the business profitable again.

Both Xinhua and China Daily reported that workers also blocked ambulances, police and government workers who had tried to rescue Chen.

There's more at the link.

I've heard of labor unrest, but this lends a whole new meaning to the term 'strike'! Not surprisingly, the take-over plans have been rescinded. No word on any arrests as yet.


Iowahawk does it again!

The ever-brilliant Iowahawk weighs in on the Gates controversy with a side-splitting commentary, written from the point of view of - as he puts it - a 'Harvard faculty asshole'.

An excerpt to whet your appetite:

Our table exchanged knowing glances, for we knew immediately that Skip was only the latest victim of a system that singles out the Harvard faculty asshole for stigmatization and unequal justice. It is a system that all of us knew too well, and provided an opportunity for an open conversation about our shared experiences as Harvard faculty assholes in America while waiting for Sergio to bring the dessert cart.

One after one came the cascade of stark stories: the rolled eyes of our department secretaries. The Spanish language mockery of our office janitors. The foul gestures of drunken strap-hanging Red Sox lumpenproles aboard the MBTA. The frequent police stops on the highway to Cape Ann and Martha's Vineyard for "Volvoing While Asshole." And then there are the insulting media stereotypes, where we are routinely caricatured as pompous, effete, self-important, irrelevant elitists. All, I might add, by a motley collection of lowbrow inferiors, few of whom have ever published in a peer-reviewed journal. Let alone edit one.

Sometimes it even comes at the hand of self-styled "peers" from D-list state ampersand institutions. One colleague recounted the tale of his restroom confrontation with a Texas A&M professor at a national academic conference last year. After relieving themselves at adjacent urinals, my colleague noticed the oaf leaving hastily for the plenary session and decided to gently point out his hygienic forgetfulness. "A Harvard man washes his hands after urinating," he said. "And an Aggie don't piss all over his hands, asshole," came the reply.

A female colleague from the English department recalled a recent incident along the Charles River jogging path during her regular morning run. A confused passer-by rudely interrupted her progress and requested directions, as if my colleague were some sort of lowly campus guide or untenured adjunct. "Where does this street go to?" she demanded. Naturally, my colleague took the opportunity to correct her, noting that "at Harvard we do not end our sentences in prepositions."

"Okay, Where does this street go to, asshole?" barked the interloper. Needless to say, my colleague's daily morning runs have since been replaced with tear-filled visits to the Faculty Asshole Self Esteem Counseling Center.

There's much more at the link. Wonderful, laugh-out-loud reading. Highly recommended.



I've been thinking about the situation in Afghanistan for some months, and watching US policy there with growing concern. The current 'mini-surge', adding almost 20,000 to the forces already in that country, is not a bad idea: but it's a bandage on a festering wound. Unless the underlying infection is dealt with, the wound can still kill, regardless of the bandage.

The US appears to think that it can achieve, if not a military victory, at least a military dominance in Afghanistan, with or without the co-operation of the Taliban and local tribes. I have news for those who think this way. Britain tried to achieve precisely that for something like one and a half centuries . . . and failed miserably, sacrificing tens of thousands of her troops and administrative personnel in the process. After independence, both the Afghan and Pakistani governments tried to achieve the same result . . . with equally miserable results. To this day, the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan (bordering Afghanistan) is a hotbed of tribalism and fundamentalism. The Taliban are merely the latest in a long line of fundamentalist movements and individuals to arise in the area. They won't be the last.

Kabul cantonment, 1839 (image courtesy of Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.)

For an excellent overview of the history of the area, I highly recommend Charles Miller's book 'Khyber! British India's North West Frontier: The Story of an Imperial Migraine'. It's long out of print, but used copies are freely (and cheaply) available. I submit that any US soldier deploying to the region needs to read this book before leaving, and probably should take it along to refresh their memories at appropriate times. There are many other good (indeed, excellent) books on the subject, but none as easy to read or as comprehensive in a short overview as this one, IMHO. Recommended.

The book includes this quotation from Mountstuart Elphinstone, who visited Afghanistan in 1809:

If a single traveller, endeavours to make his way through (the Khyber Pass) the noise of his horses feet sounds up the long narrow valleys, and soon brings the Khyberees in troops from the hills and ravines. If they expect a caravan, they assemble in hundreds and sit patiently, with their matchlocks in their hands, watching its approach. Such are their habits of rapine that they can never be entirely restrained from plundering passengers. On the whole, they are the greatest robbers amongst the Afghauns.

Afghan tribesmen in the Khyber Pass. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.)

Judging by the fate of so many convoys of military supplies over the past few years, little has changed in the passes leading into Afghanistan! Incessant colonial and post-colonial wars, skirmishes, engagements and patrols could not dominate the area. At best they could achieve a temporary, grudging 'solution' by force of arms: but within a few years, the situation would return to normal. It's been that way since time began in that part of the world. It's going to stay that way.

There are some who are shocked by suggestions that the West should be talking to the Taliban, trying to negotiate a solution. I'm afraid there's no real alternative. We're not going to win in Afghanistan, because a clear-cut military victory isn't possible. Sooner or later, negotiations are going to have to happen. Unless we grasp that reality, and learn from history, and do something about it, we're going to go on losing our servicemen and -women to no good purpose. Some of our allies already understand that, British commentators in particular: but then, they've got all that history at their fingertips. They understand the Taliban better than we do.

Rudyard Kipling, the quintessential soldiers' poet, understood this as well. His famous poem Arithmetic On The Frontier says it all.

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe —
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villanous saltpetre!"
And after — ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station —
A canter down some dark defile —
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail —
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares — shoot straight who can —
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.
The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap — alas! as we are dear.

US troops are now echoing those words, reckoning in dollars and cents rather than pounds, shillings and pence. The arithmetic hasn't changed - nor have the results.

It's time for a new approach.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

How not to launch a yacht

I gather the yacht was being unloaded from a cargo vessel. Wonder what the insurers thought when they saw this?

Oooops . . .


Monster Hunter International

I've blogged before about the novel Monster Hunter International, written by my online buddy, Larry Correia. I had the pleasure, this afternoon, of walking into our local Books-a-Million store and finding it on the shelves, published now by Baen Books (Larry initially self-published it). Of course, I bought a copy, and took it home to re-read.

It's as enjoyable on this, my sixth or seventh reading, as it was the first time (I was one of those who helped Larry with his proof-reading during the writing process). It really is an extraordinary first novel. I find it difficult to compare Larry's style to other novelists. He's a bit like Jim Butcher in some ways; akin to David Drake (particularly in his action sequences) in others; and not unlike John Ringo in parts - but he's not like any of them overall. His style is his own, quirky, interesting, humorous, and very readable.

It helps, of course, that Larry knows firearms inside-out and back-to-front. Weapons enthusiasts will find a wealth of detail in his work, all accurately portrayed and true to life. No vaporware here, no descriptions of 'revolvers with safety-catches' or 'automatic revolvers'. The technical detail is excellent.

If you haven't read Monster Hunter International yet, you're in for a treat. It's available at a bargain price from Baen. You'll find it at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Amazon and other online and bricks-and-mortar retailers. Go read. You'll enjoy it. I promise.

(Larry's blog includes a sample chapter from MHI.)

I'm very pleased that comments from Lawdog's and my reviews of MHI were selected by Baen Books to put on the front and back covers respectively. Also, one of the minor characters is modeled on me. Those who know me, and have read the book, will recognize who I'm talking about. I'll have to bribe Larry to build up his role in the sequel - and certainly to avoid killing him off!


End-of-life care - the English dilemma

Earlier today I posted some remarks about the proposed US State medical health system with regard to the elderly. Today, an article in the Daily Mail points out that in England, precisely the same implications have already come to pass, with pressure to allow assisted suicide mounting and care options declining. A few extracts:

... the law is there to protect the vulnerable. And the awful possibility now looming is that we may make those who desperately need such protection more likely instead to be exploited or manipulated.

They may come under pressure to end their lives by relatives who are either unscrupulous or simply unable themselves to cope with the pain and distress of seeing their loved ones suffer.

In such a situation, very sick people may well want to end their lives; but crucially, with better care and support they may discover a purpose in continuing to live.

That is what happened to motor neurone disease sufferer Sarah Ezekiel, the central figure in a charity appeal that is controversially deemed too harrowing to be transmitted on TV.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of showing the advertisement, the point is that Ms Ezekiel changed her mind about wanting to die.

Even though her disease is so far advanced that she has no capacity for movement and can now communicate only through a computer, she has movingly observed that whereas once she wanted to be 'put down' like an animal, better care helped her out of this depression and to realise that she could have a productive life that would give her enjoyment and satisfaction.

This is not to minimise the impact of this awful disease. But people's feelings about their predicament do change.

. . .

It is the assumption that such people cannot be helped that is so shocking about the attitude taken by the Royal College of Nursing, where 49 per cent of those who voted were in favour of assisted suicide compared with 40 per cent who were opposed.

This suggests that something has gone very badly awry with the ethical foundations of nursing, with the majority of nurses apparently now putting individual 'rights' above the overriding duty to care for the vulnerable and help them cope with their lives.

That's why Lord Falconer was also terribly wrong. While compassion dictates that any prosecutions should be rare, the law prohibiting assisted suicide is an important signal that it is wrong. It is a line in the sand that prevents us crossing into a culture of death-dealing.

We should also stop talking about 'helping someone to die'. People don't go to Dignitas to die but to be killed. And killing can never be a therapeutic act.

This distinction has been muddled ever since the Tony Bland case in 1993 legitimised the withdrawal of feeding and hydration tubes from patients in a persistent vegetative state.

The slippery language has itself helped erode protection for the very ill. Baroness Campbell, a Commissioner of the Equality And Human Rights Commission, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative disease that means she is immobile without help.

When she fell victim to a serious chest infection and lost consciousness, her doctors decided it would be kinder not to resuscitate her and 'allow her to die'. It was only because her husband told them very firmly that she didn't want to die that her life was saved.

Speaking powerfully against Lord Falconer's amendment, Lady Campbell warned: 'Those of us who know what it's like to live with a terminal condition are fearful the tide has already turned against us.'

Assisted dying, she said, was 'to abandon hope and ignore the majority of disabled and terminally ill people'.

It would also send us down a slippery slope, which could lead all the way from assisted suicide to euthanasia by lethal injection, from helping the terminally ill to end their lives to killing people suffering from Alzheimer's or depression.

The law is there for a purpose. It marks a boundary against intentional killing that we cannot cross without the most fateful consequences. To do so would brutalise our entire approach to the vulnerable and the physically imperfect, and to life itself.

Arguably we have already crossed that boundary - and, as public pressure mounts, are sleepwalking relentlessly into barbarism.

There's more at the link. It's worth reading, and thinking of the same thing happening over here. Think it won't? Think it can't? Guess again . . .


New balloon world record

The annual Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons rally in Chambley-Bussieres, France, is described as the largest gathering of hot-air balloons in the world. It attracted no less than 326 balloons in a mass take-off today, to establish a new world record for the most balloons to do so at one time. Thanks to Eugenie L. for e-mailing these pictures to me (click them for a larger view), and also the link to the video.

The video below was taken by one of the participants from the basket of their balloon at the start of the mass lift-off. This is a high-definition video, so it may be a little slower than usual to load, but the picture quality's worth it.

Beautiful! I'd have loved to have been there, to see it in person.


Now that's an extreme sportsman!

Thanks to Charl M. du T. for e-mailing me a link to an article in the Missoulian newspaper, plus links to photographs and a video clip.

Back in April, US canoeist Tyler Bradt set a new world record by kayaking over the 186-foot Palouse Falls in Washington state.

Palouse Falls, WA (picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

It took him almost four seconds to fall from the lip to the base of the falls, and a further seven or eight seconds to fight his way through the roiling water at the base and emerge into clear water beyond.

Here's a short video clip of his preparations, and making the run. I recommend watching it in full screen mode, to get some feel for the scale of the challenge.

Congratulations to Mr. Bradt - and no, I don't think I'll try that myself! You can hear an extended interview with him here.


A hidden danger in Government health care

Old NFO has discovered a little-discussed provision in the omnibus health bill now being argued over in Congress and the Senate. It involves medical care at the end of life. You can read his whole post here, and the full Bill is online here in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format. Pages 425-430 are the important part. They're worth reading.

In brief, shrouded in legalese and wordiness, the Government will require - yes, require - that you have an "Advance Care Planning Consultation" every five years concerning the end of your life. During that consultation, you'll be informed by your physician (or physician assistant) about all relevant issues (there's a long list), and the practitioner will make 'suggestions' and 'recommendations' as to which would be appropriate in your situation. Furthermore, such a consultation "may include the formulation of an order regarding life sustaining treatment or a similar order" (quoting verbatim from the Bill, page 429).

As the Bill stands at present, the wording is pretty innocuous. However, what the practitioner can or will tell you about end-of-life options can, at any time, at the stroke of a pen, be restricted to those choices that the State is prepared to make available to you, or pay for. The Bill doesn't spell this out, of course, but if you read between the lines, the law would not have to be changed to permit that, once it's passed. It would be a purely administrative and/or regulatory decision. If there are options that might cost too much, or which the State decrees are not 'appropriate' for some reason, then the State - i.e. the bureaucrats running State-controlled health care - can simply order practitioners to exclude them from the options discussed, or eliminate them from the care order they prepare and sign.

Think that's far-fetched? Think that's Orwellian? Think again. On Page 432 of the Bill, we read the following:

IN GENERAL. — for purposes of reporting data on quality measures for covered professional services furnished during 2011 and any subsequent year, to the extent that measures are available, the Secretary shall include quality measures on end of life care and advanced care planning that have been adopted or endorsed by a consensus-based organization, if appropriate. Such measures shall measure both the creation of and adherence to orders for life sustaining treatment.

Yep. Practitioners will be required to report annually on what measures they're recommending and/or providing for end-of-life care. Are you willing to bet that some, but not all, of those measures will end up on an "approved" list, and others on a "not approved" list? The State can very easily decide what it will, and will not, pay for, just as your medical insurance or HMO does now. If you happen to need a very expensive end-of-life care option to extend your life for a few months, or alleviate chronic pain, or whatever . . . are you sure the State will fund it? Or will the response be, "Sorry, but we need those funds to pay for toe fungus treatments. You'll just have to die early. Here, have an aspirin. Now go away and stop bothering us."

What about your doctor? If a practitioner persists in recommending or ordering treatments that the State doesn't want to provide, how regularly are his payments going to come through? Administrative delays? Bungled paperwork?

"Oh, we're sorry, Texas Doctor - your payment was misdirected to a clinic in Alaska by mistake. As soon as we recover the money from them, we'll send you another check. You should get it within six months, I'm sure."

"But how am I supposed to pay my staff, and the rent on my offices, until then?"

"I'm afraid we don't have any spare funds for that sort of thing. Of course, if you stopped prescribing such expensive interventions for your patients, that would free up funds. It's in your hands, really."

"But - but - even if I start doing so now, I'm still out a whole quarter's payments! What will I do until they arrive?"

"We all have to make sacrifices for the greater good, Doctor. It's for the children, you know. May I suggest you talk to your bank manager about extending your overdraft? Oh - and while you're talking to him, would you please ask for a larger overdraft, so you can pay back your medical study loans as well? Our records show you still owe us $80,000 or more, and we're having to recover those debts faster to pay for training new doctors. You'll be getting a note in the mail with your new repayment schedule. I'm sure you understand."

Yes, there are ways and means to ensure compliance . . .

Another absolute no-no for me, from a moral perspective, is that the Bill would not exclude abortion (in the sense of using abortion as 'after-the-fact contraception') from State-funded medical care. This is a non-starter for me, and for those who believe, as I do, that human life begins at conception. I will not - repeat, will not - permit my taxes to be used for what I regard, from my moral perspective, as legalized murder. I know there are millions of Americans who feel as I do on this issue. I can see a monumental Constitutional lawsuit brewing right now over this, and a tax revolt as well.

I'm slowly reading my way through the whole Bill. All I can say is that it's a nightmare of verbiage and bureaucratic phraseology. I've actually resorted to re-typing some sections in their entirety, using correct indentation, so that I can be sure what sub-sections fall under what super-sections. It's that bad. Suffice it to say that quite apart from what one may feel about 'socialized medicine', and even knowing that our present system is broken and must be fixed, I believe that this particular Bill will only make matters worse. It's poorly thought out, a bureaucratic nightmare.

What's even worse is that this Bill is so overarching in its implications that volumes and volumes of regulations will have to be written to implement its measures. Those regulations will not - I repeat, WILL NOT - have to be passed by Congress and the Senate. They'll be written by faceless bureaucrats, and take on the force of law. We'll likely have little or no input to them; but political, social and economic pressure groups will make sure they do. Once the regulations are in place, we''ll be stuck with them.

This is no way to treat a free people - and no free person should be willing to accept it.