Monday, August 31, 2009

Now that's low flying!


The man standing beneath this US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II jet (not an F/A-18 Hornet, as the video title claims) is lucky to be alive! He didn't flinch as the aircraft flashed over him . . . but if that pilot had been only five or six feet out in his height estimation, he wouldn't have had a head left on his shoulders!









Peter

The truth is spreading . . .


I posted on this blog last week about the ten-billion-dollar handout to trades unions concealed in the health care reform proposals being bandied about in Washington. I'm pleased to see that other news media are beginning to publicize this boondoggle. The Washington Examiner ran a piece about it today. However, most of the mainstream media are remaining deaf, dumb and blind to it. It's a sickening display of partisanship and abdication of responsibility. One hopes they'll learn from the Examiner's example . . . but I won't hold my breath waiting.

Also, Mark Steyn is caustically concise in his coverage of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. I've written about it in two articles during the past week. He concentrates on Chappaquiddick, regarding it as an indictment both of the Senator and of those who continued to elect him regardless. I couldn't agree more.

The mainstream media may be largely in the pocket of this Administration and the left wing of US politics, but there are still voices out there who have the courage to speak up and not be silenced. For the sake of this great nation, let's hope they continue to do so - and let's hope that the average American continues to seek out the truth for him- or herself, rather than rely on the insipid pablum being dispensed by the mainstream media.

Peter

Dame Vera Lynn


This being the anniversary of the beginning of World War II (see the post below), I spent a while today thinking of my late parents (my mother died a few years ago, and my father in July this year).

They met in 1940, married in early 1941, and were immediately separated for three years while Dad went off to fight the war overseas. I've written about his service in Weekend Wings #9, so I won't repeat the story here. Suffice it to say that he had an interesting and sometimes dangerous war, matched by my mother on the home front, who had to stay up many nights to fight fires caused by German incendiary bombs, and work to support the troops.

The songs of Vera Lynn meant a great deal to both of them. Her music seemed to capture the mood of the British people in a very special way, and she became justly renowned for her efforts to build up morale and 'keep the home fires burning'. She was justly raised to the Order of the British Empire after the war as a reward for her efforts.

In later life, my folks kept a couple of long-playing records of Vera Lynn. They would listen to her songs now and again, and I saw both of them surreptitiously wiping away a tear or two when they thought no-one was looking.

On this anniversary of the start of World War II, and in memory of my parents, here are three of Vera Lynn's best-known songs, courtesy of YouTube.











Dame Vera is still alive and well. A BBC report and video interview with her, filmed on August 24th this year, may be found here (I can't embed it on my blog, because embedding has been disabled for it). At the age of 92, she's just entered the British Top 20 charts yet again, with the release of another compilation of her wartime hits. In doing so, she's beaten U2, Eminem and other modern hit groups and artists. Way to go, Dame Vera!

Peter

September 1st, 1939


On this date, seventy years ago, World War II began. According to a BBC report at the time:

German forces have invaded Poland and its planes have bombed Polish cities, including the capital, Warsaw.

The attack comes without any warning or declaration of war.

Britain and France have mobilised their forces and are preparing to wage war on Germany for the second time this century.

Just before dawn today, German tanks, infantry and cavalry penetrated Polish territory on several fronts with five armies, a total of 1.5 million troops.

Soon afterwards German planes bombarded the cities. They have been making swift progress in penetrating Polish defences which are heavily outnumbered in artillery, infantry and air power.

The cities of Katowice, Krakow, Tczew and Tunel were attacked with incendiary bombs. Air raids on Warsaw began at 0900 local time.

. . .

The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, held a meeting with King George today in Downing Street.

Later this evening Mr Chamberlain told a packed House of Commons that British and French Ambassadors in Berlin had given German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop an ultimatum.

He was to tell Berlin that unless the Nazis withdraw, Britain and France would fulfil its promise of support to Poland.


There's more at the link.

The BBC has also published an article recounting the memories of one of the Polish garrison of the fortress of Westerplatte. The fortress was shelled by the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein, then assaulted by a brigade of troops.



The battleship Schleswig-Holstein shells Polish positions on September 1st, 1939
(image courtesy of Wikipedia)



The two-hundred-man garrison, who were not expected to be able to hold out for longer than twelve hours, managed to resist for an almost unbelievable seven days, killing several hundred Germans for the loss of no more than a score of their own men. Their achievement remains a shining memory in Poland, where it helps to compensate for that nation's otherwise humiliating defeat at the hands of the first-ever Blitzkrieg campaign.

The war would grind on for a few days short of six years. Over one hundred million people would be mobilized into uniform, and more than twenty-four million of them would be killed. There would be a further fifty million or so civilian casualties at least - the precise number will never be known.

Peter

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Is this a case of 'ass-king for trouble'?


Hat-tip to Marc D. for e-mailing the link to this story.

According to Iraq The Model, there's a new danger facing our troops and allies - the IRED, or 'Improvised Rectal Explosive Device'.

The suicide bomber who tried to assassinate a Saudi prince used an unusual place to conceal his explosive charge; his anus.

Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television network, said the attacker concealed the explosives in his anus, allowing him to evade detection. The network also quoted an expert as saying that the method of concealment aimed the blast away from the target, while blowing the bomber to bits.

Gladly the attack failed, otherwise Iraqi officials would freak out and demand that all visitors to government offices have their anuses probed before entry.


There's more at the link.

Quite apart from the effect on one's digestion (isn't one supposed to wait an hour after eating before blowing up?), there are all sorts of other complications. A few examples:

  • Would this make the bomber Public Enema No. 1?
  • If the device works, could the assassination be described as 'effartless'?
  • If procrastination is the thief of time, would constipation be the thief of life? (For the bomber, at any rate, not to mention his victim[s]!)
  • Are laxatives now a recommended accessory for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) experts and teams?
  • If the bomb goes off while the suicide bomber is facing you, wouldn't that direct the blast in the opposite direction to that desired? On the other hand, how the hell is he going to get you to allow him to turn around, bend over, and point his backside at you?
  • If a bomber's rectum explodes, how will you be able to tell whether he had explosives up there, or had simply eaten a bowl of some of the hotter Texas chilis I've had the misfortune to sample on occasion?


I can see a whole new field of inquiry opening up here!



Peter

Red faces at Democratic Party HQ?


It appears that the Democratic National Committee's Web site has been adopted by scammers to send out all sorts of unwelcome e-mail to unsuspecting - and unhappy - recipients.

Scammers pumping out emails that try to trick recipients into parting with large sums of cash are getting a helping hand from the Democratic National Committee.

According to a researcher with anti-spam company Cloudmark, 419 fraudsters have been relaying a "significant" amount of messages through the democrats.org domain name. The abuse, which dates back at least to the beginning of this month, helps evade filters that internet service providers employ to block the messages.

"Unfortunately, because they're able to relay mail through the Democratic Party server, it does affect the Democratic Party's IP reputation, as well as their domain sending reputation," Jamie Tomasello, Cloudmark's abuse operations manager, told The Register. "I was surprised."

One such message purports to come from Mrs. Amina Adan and seeks help in recovering $25m in assets belonging to her late husband, said to be the former Somalia security minister who died of an explosives attack in Central Somalia in June.

A second email carries the subject Sign up to volunteer for the Democratic Party and claims to be sent on behalf of a "a wealthy white farmer who was murdered on the land dispute in Zimbabwe." Other messages try to con recipients with a Microsoft lottery scam.


There's more at the link.

I took a look at the Democratic National Committee Web site to confirm this report. The page in question has now been changed to include Captcha authentication, but originally looked like this:




I'm afraid that was a wide-open door for scammers to walk through! Hopefully the introduction of forms of verification will slow, if not stop, this abuse.

(Oh - and this isn't a dig at the Democratic Party as such. There are many other Web sites with similar lapses in security. It's a good reminder to all of us to be aware of such dangers, and be careful how we set up our internet security.)

Peter

A Mediterranean diet - in a pill?


I'm intrigued by an article claiming that a single pill can provide health benefits equal to eating three kilograms (over 6½ pounds) of tomatoes.

British scientists have developed a groundbreaking pill which provides all the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

One capsule of Ateronon taken daily can break down fatty deposits in the arteries and help prevent heart disease and strokes, potentially saving millions of lives.

The supplement, which costs £35 [about US $57] for a month's supply, contains lycopene, a chemical found in the skin of ripe tomatoes.

Each pill provides the equivalent of eating three kilos of ripe tomatoes. Studies have shown eating an Italian-style diet rich in tomatoes, fish, vegetables, nuts and olive oil can significantly reduce cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular diseases.

. . .

An initial trial in 150 heart disease patients found that taking the pill once a day could not only halt but even reverse the buildup of fatty deposits on artery walls in just two months, without side-effects.

Large-scale trials of up to 10,000 patients will begin this year at Cambridge, as well as in the U.S., Italy and Finland.


There's more at the link.

Looks promising! I've been aware for some time of the health benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet. If this can synthesize those benefits into a more-easily-available form, I'll be lining up for it. Now, if I can just stay away from the Big Macs and other temptations while I'm using it . . .

Peter

Now that's a big "Oops!"


An e-mail was circulated today to a list of which I'm a member. Dan B. sent us a Powerpoint presentation of a rather nasty accident involving a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. It was so graphic that I thought other aviation enthusiasts might enjoy seeing it too.

The indented text below was included with the photographs in the presentation. Click each picture for a larger view.

This is an example of what happens when we do not pay attention to detail, and do not follow instructions and checklists!






A KC-135 aircraft was being pressurized at ground level. The outflow valves which are used to regulate the pressure of the aircraft were capped off during a 5 year overhaul and never opened back up. The post-investigation revealed that a civilian depot technician, who "had always done it that way", was using a homemade gauge, and no procedure.




The technician's gauge didn't even have a max 'peg' for the needle, and so it was no surprise he missed it when the needle went around the gauge for the first time. As the technician continued to pressurize the aircraft, and as the needle was on its second trip around the gauge, the aircraft went 'boom' - the rear hatch was blown over 70 yards away, behind a blast fence!




An incident like this is never funny and is further regrettable when we consider that this mistake is one that we (the taxpayers) will end up paying for. Fortunately, no one was reported as being injured.




This was a good 'Lessons Learned' for making sure we have trained people, who have the right tools, and who are following detailed procedures. And it should serve as a reminder that just because you've always done it that way, it does not make it the 'right' way!


Now that's an impressive amount of damage! I hadn't realized that explosive decompression could occur like that at ground level . . . but I guess the blocked outflow valves, referred to above, must have allowed the pressure to build up far past the point at which it would normally have been safely vented.

I guess that's one KC-135 that won't be flying again!





Peter

Bolivian Baroque?


I was intrigued by the title of a BBC news report: 'Why Bolivian Baroque Rocks'.

With the Bible in one hand and a flute in the other, Jesuit missionaries played a unique role in bringing not only Roman Catholicism to South America but also baroque music.

And in the nearly 250 years since the Jesuits were expelled from the region, it seems the tradition of baroque is still thriving.

The musical legacy is tangible in the small town of San Ignacio de Moxos, located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest where the heat is sweltering, the roads muddy and the mosquitoes are huge.

. . .

This place was one of the very last Jesuit missions in South America, and home to thousands of local people. As well as religion, the Jesuits also taught European music and how to make instruments, such as the cello, harp and violin.

After the Spanish expelled the Jesuits in 1767, the indigenous population preserved the music and re-wrote the scores with lyrics i their own language.

Yet it was not until a few years ago that much of this music came to wider notice, when a cache of 10,000 baroque music scores were found in a number of mission churches. They have now been restored and archived by the local music school.

"Religion and music helped each other survive to the present day. The instruments, the dances survived thanks to the path opened up by the Jesuits; it is deeply embedded among the local indigenous people," explains Raquel Maldonado, director of the San Ignacio School of Music.

"Some of the Jesuits came with a deep knowledge of musical arts and others with a more popular knowledge. All of that musical influence started to flow... mixing with local languages, dances and music," Ms Maldonado adds.

"Musical scores were copied numerous times," she says.

Inspired by a Basque nun, the local indigenous population has now created a school. As well as schoolrooms, there is a concert hall built with murals depicting monks playing instruments and local people copying them.

The school is thriving, with some 200 students.

"We teach and play the music that is still alive here, 'missional baroque' as we call it," says Edgar Vela, a very talented violinist and one of the school's teachers.

"Basically, European Baroque was taken by indigenous people, who then made it their own, and it is what now identifies us."

There is a natural, joyful allure to this native Bolivian baroque and the school's San Ignacio ensemble has become famous, travelling all over Latin America and Europe.

As Celsa Callau, a soprano and soloist at the ensemble explains, it was important for the music to "go native".

"If this music managed to survive it is because we are isolated, in the middle of the jungle," she says.

"Moxos has always been off the beaten track, so we were free of slavery, of the white people. That is why this music has been preserved and why it is still alive - and we will keep it alive."


There's more at the link.

Fascinated, I searched for more information. I found this three-part video documentary (in Spanish, with English sub-titles) on YouTube, describing the genesis of this 'colony' of Baroque musical influence in Bolivia, and how it's survived for hundreds of years, being adopted and 'indigenized' by the locals. Don't be put off by the discordant violin tones in the beginning of the first part - it gets much, much better! All three parts are very interesting viewing, if you're a music-lover like me.











Having watched the documentary, I searched for some examples of Bolivian Baroque music. I found three on YouTube that particularly took my fancy, and I'd like to share them with you.

The first is a promotional video for a past Baroque Music Festival in Bolivia (which has become an annual occurrence, I understand). The pictures show the area and people involved, with a background of music from the festival. Note the combination of traditional European instruments and Bolivian instruments.





Next is an improvisation by a Bolivian musician, Henry Villca, on a Baroque theme.





Finally, here's 'La Folia', a piece by an anonymous Bolivian composer, for two violins. It's in three movements, each having its own video clip below: 1 - Allegro, 2 - Largo, and 3 - Allegro. This performance is by the Florilegium Musicum Ensemble of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.











Wonderful music! I had a most enjoyable evening, researching Bolivian Baroque, and discovering all this information and these performances. I hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as I have.

Peter

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Daylight robbery FAIL!


I'm obliged to Don Z. for e-mailing the link to the video clip below. It uses footage from four separate security cameras.

It seems that two thugs decided to break into a shopping center and rob a jewelry kiosk. They arrived on two motor-bikes, driven by accomplices, and tried it on - only to be driven off by the kiosk owners/staff and others from neighboring shops. What Don refers to as a 'combat fire extinguisher' came in rather useful, too!





Well done to all involved. Resistance is the only way to treat muggers like these. If they'd been armed with more dangerous weapons, stronger resistance would have been warranted, too. After all, as the late, great Colonel Jeff Cooper once said: "One bleeding-heart type asked me in a recent interview if I did not agree that ‘violence begets violence’. I told him that it is my earnest endeavor to see that it does. I would like very much to ensure — and in some cases I have — that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy."

Peter

An interesting discovery


Speaking as a former prison chaplain, I'm intrigued by a discovery in England.

A perfectly preserved iron ball and chain found on the banks of London's River Thames is causing a stir among archaeologists who say the 300 year-old artefact may have a gruesome tale to tell.

The leg irons, believed to date from the 17th or 18th century, were pulled from the mud with the lock fastened, suggesting a convict could have drowned while trying to escape.

. . .

'Nothing like this has ever come across my desk before,' [Museum of London archaeologist Kate Sumnall] said, adding that to find a complete set of irons was very rare.

She said the fact that the device is made of high quality iron made it very valuable at the time suggesting that it was unlikely to have been discarded.




'And we also know from the lock design that it was not a slave ball and chain,' she said.

The padlock is skilfully made with the screw-thread carved after the padlock had been cast.

English padlocks of this time were not made in this way suggesting it was made somewhere in continental Europe, possibly Germany.

The long spike on the padlock would have pointed towards the other leg when it was fitted around the ankle, Sumnall said.

The device, which weighs 17.64 lb, has been preserved by the thick black mud of the Thames whose anaerobic properties protect metal, ceramic and even leather finds exceptionally well.


There's more at the link.

An interesting archaeological find, to be sure . . . but also an unsettling one. Imagine if it had been worn by a convict trying to escape. Who was it? What drove him to try to escape, restrained as he was? Was he dragged down by the ball and chain into the mud on the bottom of the Thames, to drown in despair?

Peter

Some great aviation pictures


The Big Picture at Boston.com has published an article with 40 great photographs of aircraft and aviation. Here are a couple of them (in reduced size) to whet your appetite.



The new 90 foot high tech catamaran belonging to America's Cup defender Alinghi
is airlifted on August 7, 2009 near Aosta, Italy,
flying from Switzerland over the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea.




Eurocopter EC120 Colibri helicopters from the Spanish Air Force's aerobatic team Patrulla Aspa
perform during an aerial exhibition
over San Lorenzo beach in Gijon, northern Spain July 26, 2009.




The Virgin Galactic WhiteKnight2 mothership "Eve" makes its first public debut at the world's
largest air show at Oshkosh, Wisconsin July 27, 2009. WhiteKnight2 is the largest composite
aircraft ever built and will be the aircraft that ferries the first commercial SpaceShip2 aloft
for passenger flight to space.



There are 37 more photographs at the link, and larger versions of these three. Recommended viewing.

(By the way: can anyone tell me what those strange devices are on the wing of WhiteKnight2 in the last photograph above? I'm referring to the flaps open on the upper central portion of the wing, with red interior showing. They're facing into the airstream, which must cause significant drag, and I can't figure out why they're open or what purpose they're serving. Anyone know?)

Peter

Alleged reincarnation of a fighter pilot, revisited


Last night I posted about a young boy who allegedly exhibited knowledge, memories and other 'symptoms' of a US Navy fighter pilot killed during the invasion of Iwo Jima in World War II. I confessed that

A commenter on that post, Andrew C., pointed me to another Web site that casts doubt on the authenticity of the story, as it was reported on the ABC television network. Here's an extract from what they have to say.

Looks pretty conclusive from the way it was presented on ABC, yes? Actually no. The TV company, looking for ratings rather than the truth, didn’t tell the full story. In particular, they missed this rather important piece of the timeline, as reported by the Pittsburgh Daily Courier:

At 18 months old, his father, Bruce Leininger, took James to the Kavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas, where the toddler remained transfixed by World War II aircraft.

A few months later, the nightmares began.

(My bold. Note: this information came from the child’s mother.)

According to the ABC special, the child “was only watching kids' shows… and they weren't watching World War II documentaries or conversing about military history”. Really? Yet somehow they forgot to mention the WORLD WAR II AIR MUSEUM he had visited. Sheesh! Don’t you think that revealing this information might have made a slight difference to the story?

It gets worse:

Andrea's mother suggested she look into the work of counselor and therapist Carol Bowman, who believes that the dead sometimes can be reborn.

With guidance from Bowman, they began to encourage James to share his memories — and immediately, Andrea says, the nightmares started to become less frequent. James was also becoming more articulate about his apparent past, she said.

(My bold.)

I’d like to suggest a slightly different version of this story that is entirely consistent with the facts, but doesn’t require us to believe the extraordinary claim of reincarnation.

It starts when this child’s parents take him to a WWII air museum. Now, the article says this was the “Kavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas”, but I presume it meant to say the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas. And at this place they have on display a WWII Corsair (the plane James will later say he flew). According to the museum’s Corsair web page:

The famous gull-wing design of the F4U Corsair makes the plane one of the most distinctive fighters of World War II

This young boy, not unusually, is excited by the planes, and remembers the name of the distinctive Corsair he saw with the unusual gull-wing, plus many other details, including things his mother didn’t remember, such as these drop fuel tanks that are also displayed at the museum.

Naturally, this small boy was fascinated by warplanes and he remembered obscure details about them that his mother didn’t. Of course, he enjoyed showing off this knowledge to her, later.

However, although he was excited by the planes, the images of WWII battles also frightened him, and they soon began to give him nightmares about being trapped in a plane on fire.

This is when the real problem starts. The child’s grandmother, for no obvious rational reason I can think of, suggests he is remembering a past life. She brings in Carol Bowman (an author of several books on reincarnation), to “affirm” James' nightmares. (Bowman is said to have been influenced by Ian Stevenson – another reincarnation proponent who is known to ask leading questions of young children.) Bowman “encourages” James in his fantasies, also with leading questions. Unsurprisingly, the child cooperates in this fantasy building. After all, they’re telling him he was a real pilot.

. . .

Considering how his mother has apparently “forgotten” about the museum visit that started the whole thing off, I am disinclined to take either of James’ parents’ word for it that the child “remembered” these items exactly as claimed. This is hardly extraordinary evidence for such an extraordinary claim.


There's more at the link.

So, without wishing to cast aspersions on the young man concerned, it appears that there may be factors not mentioned in the original report that may have affected his 'recollections' and warped his understanding of what was going on. I guess each person will have to make up his or her own mind: but I'm satisfied there are sufficient grounds to question the report.

Many thanks to Andrew C. for pointing me in the direction of the Skeptico post on this matter.

Peter

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ever heard of 'free running'?


I hadn't, until I came across the video clips below. According to Wikipedia:

Free running is a form of urban acrobatics in which participants, known as free runners, use the city and rural landscape to perform movements through its structures. It incorporates efficient movements from parkour, adds aesthetic vaults and other acrobatics, such as tricking and street stunts, creating an athletic and aesthetically pleasing way of moving. It is commonly practiced at gymnasiums and in urban areas that are cluttered with obstacles.

The term free running was coined during the filming of Jump London, as a way to present parkour to the English-speaking world. However, free running and parkour are separate, distinct concepts — a distinction which is often missed due to the aesthetic similarities. Parkour as a discipline emphasizes efficiency, whilst free running embodies complete freedom of movement — and includes many acrobatic maneuvers. Although the two are often physically similar, the mindsets of each are vastly different. The founder Sébastien Foucan defines free running as a discipline to self development, following your own way.


The video clips below show the recent World Championships of free running, held in Trafalgar Square, London, England. First is an overview of the Championships as a whole.





Next, here's footage of the World Champion, Tim Shieff, during his medal-winning performance.





I can't help but wonder whether Mr. Shieff has ever considered taking up traditional gymnastics. With his strength, grace and smoothness, I think he'd be gold medal material at the next Olympic Games!

Peter

Stunning satellite photographs of Earth


Web Designer Depot has published 60 amazing satellite photographs of the surface of the Earth. Clicking on any photograph at the link will take you to a high-res version, suitable for use as desktop wallpaper.

Here are four reduced-size examples to whet your appetite.




Alluvial Fan, China
- A vast alluvial fan blossoms across the desolate landscape between the Kunlun and Altun mountain ranges that form the southern border of the Taklimakan Desert in China’s XinJiang Province.





Delta Region, Netherlands
- Along the southern coast of the Netherlands, sediment-laden rivers have created a massive delta of islands and waterways in the gaps between coastal dunes. After unusually severe spring tides devastated this region in 1953, the Dutch built an elaborate system of dikes, canals, dams, bridges, and locks to hold back the North sea.





Desolation Canyon – Utah’s Green River flows south across the Tavaputs Plateau (top) before entering Desolation Canyon (center). The Canyon slices through the Roan and book Cliffs – two long, staircase-like escarpments. Nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon, Desolation Canyon is one of the largest unprotected wilderness areas in the American West.





Kamchatka Peninsula – The eastern side of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula juts into the Pacific Ocean west of Alaska. In this winter image, a volcanic terrain is hidden under snow-covered peaks and valley glaciers feed blue ice into coastal waters.


There are 56 more photographs at the link. Very highly recommended viewing - and worth downloading in hi-res format, if you like that sort of thing. I certainly do!

Peter

A puzzling and remarkable story


EDITED TO ADD: With information provided by a commenter on this article, I've written a follow-up post which questions some of what is said here. Please read the follow-up post before making up your mind.)


I don't know what to make of this news report. Read the extract below and judge for yourself.

The agonised screams pierced the air. 'Plane on fire! Airplane crash.' In the dark, a two-year-old boy was just visible, writhing on his bed in the grip of horror. 'He was lying there on his back, kicking and clawing at the covers like he was trying to kick his way out of a coffin,' remembers the boy's father.

'I thought, this looks like The Exorcist. I half expected his head to spin around like that little girl in the movie. But then I heard what James was saying.'

Over and over again, the tiny child screamed: 'Plane on fire! Little man can't get out.'

For his shocked parents, these nightly scenes were traumatic.

For experts, they were baffling.

As the nightmares became more terrifying, the child started screaming the name of the 'little man' who couldn't get out of the plane. It was James - like his own name. He also talked in his dreams of 'Jack Larsen', 'Natoma' and 'Corsair'.

James Leininger's father, Bruce, was flummoxed. In a desperate attempt to find an answer to his son's troubled nights, he embarked on an obsessive three-year research project, armed only with the outbursts and names his son had been shouting in his disturbed sleep.

What he discovered astonished and perplexed him, and drove him to an extraordinary conclusion.

A lifelong Christian, it was not the answer he had sought for his son's behaviour. But he came to believe James was the reincarnation of a World War II fighter pilot; a man who had been shot down in his plane and struggled to escape as it caught fire; a hero.

The idea seems so preposterous as to be unbelievable. Yet in their new book, Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation Of A World War II Fighter Pilot, Bruce and his wife, Andrea, lay out some compelling evidence.

It all began on May 1, 2000. James, just three weeks past his second birthday, was a happy, playful toddler living in an idyllic home in southern Louisiana. That night, his mother was woken by his screams. She held him in her arms as he thrashed around.

Soon, however, James was having five nightmares a week. Andrea was worried. Her little boy began to talk during his bad dreams, screaming about an airplane crash and writhing as if he were trapped in a burning aircraft.

At a toy shop, they admired some model planes. 'Look,' said Andrea. 'There's a bomb on the bottom.'

'That's not a bomb, Mummy,' he replied. 'That's a drop tank.' Just a toddler, he was talking like a military historian. How had he known about the gas tank used by aircraft to extend their range?

As the nightmares continued, she asked him: 'Who is the little man?'

'Me,' he answered. His father asked: 'What happened to your plane?'

James replied: 'It crashed on fire.'

'Why did your plane crash?'

'It got shot,' he said.

'Who shot your plane?'

James made a disgusted face. 'The Japanese!' he said, with indignation.

He said he knew it was the Japanese, because of 'the big red sun'. Was he describing the Japanese symbol of the rising sun, painted on their warplanes, called 'meatballs' by American pilots?

Tentatively, Andrea began to suggest reincarnation; perhaps James had lived a past life? Bruce reacted angrily. There must be a rational explanation for all this.

He questioned his son further. 'Do you remember what kind of plane the little man flew?'

'A Corsair,' replied the two-year-old without hesitation - repeating the word he shouted in his dreams.

Bruce knew this was a World War II fighter plane.



FG-1D variant of Chance Vought F4U Corsair (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

'Do you remember where your airplane took off from?' he asked.

'A boat,' said James. How did he know that these planes were launched from aircraft carriers? He asked the name of the boat.

His son replied with certainty: 'The Natoma.'

After James was in bed, Bruce researched what he had heard. A naturally sceptical man, he was amazed to find the Natoma Bay was a World War II aircraft carrier.



USS Natoma Bay (image courtesy of Wikipedia)



James even began to don an imaginary pilot's headset when his mother strapped him into his car seat. And when Bruce ordered a book for his father's Christmas present - The Battle Of Iwo Jima - James pointed to the picture and said: 'Daddy, that's when my plane was shot down.'

Bruce, who works in the oil industry, rushed into his office, where he had a dictionary of American naval fighting ships. Natoma Bay had supported the U.S. Marines' invasion of Iwo Jima in 1945.

Bruce was mystified - what was coming out of the mouth of his two-year- old? Next, the little boy named his nightmare alter-ego's best friend. He was Jack Larsen.

'He was a pilot, too,' he said. Bruce decided that he had to find Jack Larsen to prove his point to his wife - Larsen would tell him that James had invented the whole thing, and there was no such thing as reincarnation.

He decided to go to a reunion of veterans of Natoma Bay, pretending he was writing a book.

. . .

Bruce finally managed to find Jack Larsen - and uncovered an awful secret. It turned out Larsen's friend James Huston Jnr died when his plane was shot in the engine and caught fire, exactly as described by two-year-old James.

Bruce found Huston's name on the list of 18 men killed in action on the Natoma. The discovery finally made him ask: Could this be the man who inhabits my son's soul?

He sifted through a thousand combat mission reports to find where Huston had been killed.

. . .

The veterans' association reported that James Huston's father had even attended their reunions. But the old man died in 1973, never learning any specifics of his son's death.

Next, little James unnerved his father by telling him: 'I knew you would be a good daddy, that's why I picked you.'

'Where did you find us?' asked a shaken Bruce.

'In Hawaii, at the pink hotel, on the beach,' he replied. Eerily, he described his parents' fifth wedding anniversary - five weeks before Andrea got pregnant - saying it was when he 'chose' them to bring him back into the world.

Something new emerged every day. On a map, he pointed out the exact location where James's plane went down. Asked why he called his action figures Billy, Leon and Walter, he replied: 'Because that's who met me when I got to heaven.'

Sure enough, on the list of the Natoma dead, alongside James Huston, were Billie Peeler, Leon Conner and Walter Devlin. Uncannily, photos of the men showed their hair colour matched those of their GI Joe dolls.

. . .

Not long after, the family had a phone call from a veteran who had seen Huston's plane being hit. He kept his knowledge to himself for more than 50 years. He described seeing the aftermath of Huston's crash on the sea below.

'He took a direct hit on the nose. All I could see were pieces falling into the bay. We pulled out of the dive and headed for open sea. I saw the place where the fighter had hit. The rings were still expanding near a huge rock at the harbour entrance.'

Huston's plane was hit in the engine and the front exploded in a ball of flames - exactly like James's account. It explained why he always knocked the propeller off his toy planes.

. . .

For his part, Bruce has found peace after his exhaustive search for answers. He says: 'God gives us a spirit. It lives for ever. James Huston's spirit had come back to us. Why? I'll never know. There are things that are unexplainable and unknowable.'

Meeting Huston's veteran brothers in arms, little James was disappointed, saying: 'I'm sad that everyone is so old.' Did he truly remember them as dashing young pilots?

. . .

The Leiningers eventually went to drop a bouquet of flowers at Huston's ocean grave, making the long voyage to Japan.



The Leiningers today. James is now 11 years old.



James's nightmares continued until he was eight, but they were gentler than his early terrors - he woke sobbing softly. Whatever the truth behind the young boy's extraordinary dreams, James Huston now seems able to rest in peace.


There's more at the link.

Most intriguing . . . and doesn't fit the mold of anything I've encountered before.

Perhaps Shakespeare had it right:

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."


Certainly, the Leiningers' book goes on my 'To Buy' list!

Peter


EDITED TO ADD: With information provided by a commenter on this article, I've written a follow-up post which questions some of what is said here. Please read the follow-up post before making up your mind.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Well done, that lady!


I'm delighted to read of the courage, resourcefulness and determination of a victim of rape in California.

The Riverside County District Attorney's Office said Monday that a judge in Murrieta ordered Ronald Douglas McGowan, 32, to trial after a preliminary hearing on 12 felony counts, including rape, forcible rape, assault with a deadly weapon and assault causing serious bodily injury.

Prosecutors say one of the victims bit off part of McGowan's tongue in self-defense during a June 5 rape at her apartment. McGowan, of West Covina, was arrested at an emergency room where he went for treatment. His tongue could not be reattached.


There's more at the link.

Oh, well done, Ma'am! I wish I had a million dollars to award you for your courage, or a great big medal to hang around your neck! Thanks to you, a rapist has been caught, and other women won't have to suffer what you did. I'm sure you hated the experience, but your assailant will have a long time - hopefully, the rest of his life - to think about the error of his ways, behind bars. The absence of a chunk of his tongue will be a permanent and salutary reminder!

This is the kind of story that gives me hope for the future of the human race.

Peter

All this, and a traitor too!


My article on the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy attracted some negative comments from one reader. He's entitled to his own point of view, of course, and I replied as courteously as possible.

Another reader pointed out:

"Lets not forget Ted writing to the Russian and offering to sell America out."


I recalled something about that episode, but since I wasn't in the USA at the time, I didn't know much about it. I did a bit of searching on the Internet, and what I found made my opinion of the late Senator even lower than it was already.

It appears that Senator Kennedy wasn't above approaching the enemies of the United States to conspire against its President for the sake of political expediency. In a letter dated May 14th, 1983, preserved in the archives of the KGB, the following is stated:

Special Importance
Committee on State Security of the USSR
14.05. 1983 No. 1029 Ch/OV
Moscow

Regarding Senator Kennedy’s request to the General Secretary of the Communist Party Comrade Y.V. Andropov

Comrade Y.V. Andropov

On 9-10 May of this year, Senator Edward Kennedy’s close friend and trusted confidant J. Tunney was in Moscow. The senator charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts, to the General Secretary of the Center Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Y. Andropov.

. . .

Kennedy believes that, given the current state of affairs, and in the interest of peace, it would be prudent and timely to undertake the following steps to counter the militaristic politics of Reagan and his campaign to psychologically burden the American people. In this regard, he offers the following proposals to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Y.V. Andropov:

1. Kennedy asks Y.V. Andropov to consider inviting the senator to Moscow for a personal meeting in July of this year. The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA. He would also like to inform you that he has planned a trip through Western Europe, where he anticipates meeting England’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Mitterand in which he will exchange similar ideas regarding the same issues.

If his proposals would be accepted in principle, Kennedy would send his representative to Moscow to resolve questions regarding organizing such a visit.

Kennedy thinks the benefits of a meeting with Y.V.Andropov will be enhanced if he could also invite one of the well known Republican senators, for example, Mark Hatfield. Such a meeting will have a strong impact on American and political circles in the USA (In March of 1982, Hatfield and Kennedy proposed a project to freeze the nuclear arsenals of the USA and USSR and pblished a book on the theme as well.)

2. Kennedy believes that in order to influence Americans it would be important to organize in August-September of this year, televised interviews with Y.V. Andropov in the USA. A direct appeal by the General Secretary to the American people will, without a doubt, attact a great deal of attention and interest in the country. The senator is convinced this would receive the maximum resonance in so far as television is the most effective method of mass media and information.

If the proposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interview. Specifically, the president of the board of directors of ABC, Elton Raul and television columnists Walter Cronkite or Barbara Walters could visit Moscow. The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side.

Furthermore, with the same purpose in mind, a series of televised interviews in the USA with lower level Soviet officials, particularly from the military would be organized. They would also have an opportunity to appeal directly to the American people about the peaceful intentions of the USSR, with their own arguments about maintaining a true balance of power between the USSR and the USA in military term. This issue is quickly being distorted by Reagan’s administration.

Kennedy asked to convey that this appeal to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is his effort to contribute a strong proposal that would root out the threat of nuclear war, and to improve Soviet-American relations, so that they define the safety of the world. Kennedy is very impressed with the activities of Y.V. Andropov and other Soviet leaders, who expressed their commitment to heal international affairs, and improve mutal understandings between peoples.

The senator underscored that he eagerly awaits a reply to his appeal, the answer to which may be delivered through Tunney.

. . .

We await instructions.

President of the committee
V. Chebrikov


The full text of the letter may be found at the link.

If Senator Kennedy's proposals (as documented in this letter and subsequently confirmed by journalists from the Times in London) were not treason against the United States, what is?

It's worth recirculating this information, in the light of the sickening hagiographies being spouted about the late Senator from Chappaquiddick. The real Kennedy was nothing like the saint currently being described by adoring lap-dogs in the media and Democratic political establishment. Let's make sure people are reminded of that reality.

Peter

Forget the Da Vinci Code - this one is real!


I'm amazed to read about an ancient piece of music, discovered by chance on a carving at Stirling Castle in Scotland.

In 2004 a master carver called John Donaldson, now 62, was employed to copy the series of carved wooden portraits mounted in roundels on the ceiling of James V's bedroom in Stirling Castle.

. . .

Donaldson familiarised himself with the carvings as he took on the job. One roundel immediately stood out - number 20.

One of the finest in terms of craftsmanship, like other roundels it had a series of decorative cuts around the border.

What was unusual, though, was the particularly coherent order in which they were arranged.




But what really pricked his curiosity was the fact that the evidently capable carver seemed to have made a mistake.

'On the inner border, the craftsman seemed to have messed up,' says Donaldson. 'In a cone-and-petal relief, he had to crush in a petal in order to make the alternating border work.

'I thought it was strange that someone of this calibre would make a fundamental error such as that.

'Then the realisation dawned on me that the petal indicates the start of the code around the rim.'

When Donaldson wrote out the code, he noticed that, in what seemed to be nine separate phrases, one was repeated three times.

'That's when I thought that something was being communicated. It wasn't just a series of incoherent marks. It was something meaningful.'

Donaldson was instantly enthralled, but without any apparent means of breaking the code.

Over the next four years, as he gave talks about the copying project to visitors, he would make a point of asking if anyone might know what the code might mean.

. . .

The markings seemed destined to remain a mystery until, by an extraordinary fluke, Donaldson filled a spare hour one evening by watching a TV documentary about the medieval harp.

In the programme, Catrin Finch, the royal harpist, had a tutorial with a medieval specialist.

'He said: "Just remember, all string music in medieval time was written in ones and nothings - in binary."

'I leapt off the settee. Here was the answer. I realised we had some sort of clue to what was in this code.'

Donaldson contacted the harp specialist Paul Dooley, from Ireland, where there is a long tradition of the harp. He was curious to know how the marks might translate into music.

Dooley told him to think of the ones as a major chord and the zeros as a minor chord. Having no instrumental ability, Donaldson asked his son Gregor, who plays guitar and piano, to see if he could make head or tail of the code.

Within an hour, Gregor had recorded a guitar tune based on the binary code.

'I was amazed. It sounded just like I thought 16th century music would sound like.'

The other thing Dooley said was that the notation looked more Scottish than Irish - this despite the fact that there is no evidence for notation in Scotland back as far as the dates of the carvings.

So in January, Donaldson made contact with Barnaby Brown, a specialist in early Scottish music, who lectures at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Edinburgh. Brown was thrilled by what he saw.

'I had that seed of hope immediately,' he says. But he couldn't be sure about the marks' meaning until he'd spoken to experts in other fields.

'The Renaissance world is remote, enigmatic and very different to our own.

'I wanted to ask whether it could be something else I knew nothing about, such as a game or a dance or an allegory.'

So what was it that convinced Brown he might be looking at music?

The carvings were made in the reign of James V, who occupied the Scottish throne from 1512 to 1542, roughly coinciding with the reign of Henry VIII.

We know a great deal more about singing than instrumental playing from those decades. The choral music of the English Renaissance composers - Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and John Taverner - was all written down. Immensely sophisticated, their songs are still sung in churches all over the country today.

But from the written evidence, 16th-century instrumental musicians don't seem to have been in quite the same league.

This turns out to be quite untrue - they were just masters of improvisation who rarely wrote down their compositions.

According to a document recording the training of a 16th-century court musician in Wales, true mastery was equated with learning a wide variety of 'measures' - what we might nowadays interpret as chord sequences.

These were written in the same 'binary' code of ones and noughts as used in the Stirling carvings, and provided a basic outline around which the musician could then improvise.

'They played sophisticated music that they did not write down,' says Brown. 'They were probably much like jazz players playing fabulously complicated tricks that require great training and expertise.'

It sounds like a lost skill, but this week, a group of ten-year- olds from Allan's Primary School in Stirling visited the castle and used harps to perform their own version of the musical sequence carved into the King's Bedroom ceiling.

'Listening to the music for the first time was a really emotional experience,' says Donaldson, who last month finished the job of copying the carvings.


There's more at the link, including more pictures.

I'd love to hear that piece of music! It raises all sorts of questions. Who wrote it? Why was it preserved in a carving in the King's Bedroom? Who ordered it done? Why?

There's no word yet on whether a recording of the newly-discovered piece will be released. In the meantime, to give you an idea of the 'musical atmosphere' at Stirling Castle, here's a short video clip of medieval music being played in the Great Hall there.





What a fascinating discovery!

Peter

EDITED TO ADD: Thanks to a comment from Simon, I was able to find a recording of this music on the BBC Web site. Click here and scroll down to the end of the report - the link is in the sidebar. The harpist playing it is singing along in Gaelic. Thanks very much, Simon!

When the news media become propaganda lackeys


I'm disgusted with ABC and - to a lesser extent - NBC for their pathetic, spineless, abject surrender to the interests of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party in the debate over health care.

Not only did ABC air a special in support of Obamacare from the White House - and prohibit opposing voices from being heard during the broadcast! - but it and NBC have now gone even further. According to a Fox News report:

The refusal by ABC and NBC to run a national ad critical of President Obama's health care reform plan is raising questions from the group behind the spot -- particularly in light of ABC's health care special aired in prime time last June and hosted at the White House.

The 33-second ad by the League of American Voters, which features a neurosurgeon who warns that a government-run health care system will lead to the rationing of procedures and medicine, began airing two weeks ago on local affiliates of ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS. On a national level, however, ABC and NBC have refused to run the spot in its present form.

. . .

"The ABC Television Network has a long-standing policy that we do not sell time for advertising that presents a partisan position on a controversial public issue," spokeswoman Susan Sewell said in a written statement. "Just to be clear, this is a policy for the entire network, not just ABC News."

NBC, meanwhile, said it has not turned down the ad and will reconsider it with some revisions.

. . .

[Dick] Morris, a onetime advisor to former President Bill Clinton, said he was particularly troubled by ABC's decision not to air the spot.

"It's the ultimate act of chutzpah because ABC is the network that turned itself over completely to Obama for a daylong propaganda fest about health care reform," he said. "For them to be pious and say they will not accept advertising on health care shuts their viewers out from any possible understanding of both sides of this issue."


There's more at the link.

I don't particularly like or respect Mr. Morris, for a number of reasons: but in this case, his comments are spot on. If a national news network refuses to air both sides of the story, how can it possibly claim to be a 'news' network? It's become nothing more than a propaganda shill for one side of the story.

This is only the latest in a series of reporting scandals, errors and omissions that have plagued most of the US news media in recent years. The lesson to be learned from all of them is simple. If you want honest, accurate news, forget most of the major media outlets. They're partisan to the core - rotten with it.

When I want news, I use a couple of major outlets, then do an Internet search on the stories that interest me, so that I can gather in articles and reports from all sides of the spectrum. When I've read half a dozen different ones, from different perspectives, I'm in a position to glean the core truth of what's happened.

Without doing that, without making that effort, I'd be effectively left in the dark, to be led by the nose by those with ulterior motives - like most of the US news media.

Peter

Obamacare: the legalized theft of public finances?


I'm growing more and more angry about the abomination of desolation that is the health care reform package being advocated by the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. I've written about various aspects of it before on this blog.

The latest hidden corruption to emerge from this legislative sewer was exposed by the Detroit Free Press in an article published on August 24th.

Antilabor forces say it's welfare for the UAW and Democrats' union allies. Labor supporters say it falls short of what's needed as tens of thousands of union members are pushed into early retirement as employers cut back health care coverage.

They're both talking about a $10-billion provision tucked deep inside thousands of pages of health care overhaul bills that could help the UAW's retiree health-care plan and other union-backed plans.

It would see the government -- at least temporarily -- pay 80 cents on the dollar to corporate and union insurance plans for claims between $15,000 and $90,000 for retirees age 55 to 64.

Big businesses with union workers are twice as likely to offer retiree benefits as nonunion ones.

Greg Mourad of the National Right to Work Committee called it "a shameless case of political payback," saying Democrats and President Barack Obama are trying "to force the rest of us to pay billions to cover those unions' health care."

Labor advocates say even more funding may be needed.

"It is not enough money," said former U.S. Rep. David Bonior, a Mt. Clemens Democrat who chairs the board at Washington, D.C.-based American Rights at Work, a labor advocacy group. "That will have to be supplemented to fill the gap."

The health care debate roiling the nation promises an even greater impact in Michigan: It could determine whether the UAW's gamble that it can insure 850,000 retirees from Detroit's automakers pays off or goes bust.

Thanks to Detroit's twin auto bankruptcies and other concessions, the UAW's voluntary employee benefit association, or VEBA, had to take stock of unknown value for $24 billion in claims, while adding thousands of early retirees to its rolls.

Outside experts estimate the funds have about 30 cents in cash for every dollar of future claims, with no guarantee of what its stock assets will be worth. Lance Wallach, a New York-based VEBA expert, says if the funds "don't get something, they're out of business in 12 years."

That something may be national health care reform.

Key provisions in House and Senate proposals set aside $10 billion to pay some claims for early retirees covered by employers and VEBAs, before other cost-saving measures kick in. Critics call it a union giveaway, but the union says the money would keep companies from further slashing coverage.

. . .

Labor unions, including the UAW -- which has taken on about $90 billion in health care liabilities for its retirees from the three metro Detroit automakers -- have fought hard for the so-called reinsurance provision that would cover 80% of early retirement claims between $15,000 and $90,000.

. . .

Stephen Diamond, a professor at Santa Clara (Calif.) University and a VEBA expert, said the UAW helped get Obama elected; now the union owes its membership to make sure that whatever reform is crafted "protects the interests of their members and their retirees."


There's much more at the link.

So there we have it. Obamacare turns out to be not only a massive boondoggle, socializing much of private medicine and foisting billions and billions in dollars of future costs onto the taxpayer; it also seeks to aid political allies of the Obama administration and Democratic party from the taxpayers' pockets, to the initial tune of about $10 billion - and who knows how much more later? If this isn't theft from the public purse, I don't know what is!

Are we going to stand for this rape of our public finances in the name of political payback and expediency?

If we do, then America deserves all she gets - because we'll have turned her from the great republic that she once was, and still is to a large extent, into a nation populated by idiots and run by charlatans.

Obamacare delenda est!

Peter

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

They did it!


A few days ago I wrote about a British team that was about to attempt to beat the land speed record for a steam-powered vehicle. The current record of 127.659 mph was set as long ago as 1906.

Well, they did it! They set a new mark of 139.843 mph (averaging two runs in opposite directions) on a specially-laid-out course at Edwards Air Force Base in California.




You'll find full details and more pictures at the link.

Congratulations to all concerned. I understand they're going to use their last day at Edwards AFB, tomorrow, to see if they can lift the record even higher.

Peter

The sting in the 'Cash For Clunkers' tail


It seems many of those who took advantage of the 'Cash For Clunkers' program didn't think about the tax implications.

Yep. That US Government rebate of $3,500 or $4,500 is counted as cash in your hands, thereby attracting at least State income tax, if not Federal as well (I don't know if C.F.C. money is exempted from Federal taxation). Furthermore, it's not treated as a trade-in for purposes of sales tax. If you traded in your old vehicle in the normal way, and got (say) $4,500 for it, that would be deducted from the total price of the new vehicle you wanted to buy, and you'd pay sales tax on the difference. On the other hand, if you take Cash For Clunkers money instead of a trade-in, that doesn't get deducted from the retail price of your new vehicle, and you pay sales tax on the entire amount.

For folks in more-highly-taxed states, this combination may mean that they have to find several hundred dollars out of their own pockets to pay for the 'help' that Uncle Sam handed out so generously. I'm sure they're really happy about that.

Karl Denninger adds a final observation:

I have also received several emails informing me that dealers had customers so giddy over the "free cash" that they were selling cars at full sticker price besides - effectively, in many cases, turning the entire "cash for clunkers" money into pure dealership profit and managing to charge you tax (twice) on it as well. Ain't car dealers grand (several grand out of your pocket, that is!)


Why am I not surprised to hear this?

Moral of the story: Beware of a socialist Uncle Sam bearing gifts!

Peter

Senator Chappaquiddick - dead at last


I note with no sadness whatsoever that Senator Edward Kennedy, of Chappaquiddick fame, died last night.

I may be criticised for saying it, but if anyone left the world a better place by leaving it, he did. I can only hope that Mary Jo Kopechne was there to greet him appropriately when he arrived on the other side.

It wasn't only because of Chappaquiddick that I say this. Senator Kennedy was an amoral, completely cynical politician who laid waste to any and every cause he touched. He denied and rode roughshod over the moral teachings of his purported religious faith (but still had the gall to write personally to the Pope a few weeks ago); he was one of the most Left-wing individuals in the Senate, laying waste to the Constitution and perjuring his oath of office in much of the legislation he sponsored; and he epitomized the 'do as I say, don't do as I do' school of politics, putting on a brave front of moral indignation when necessary, but behaving utterly amorally when out of the public eye.

It's a devastating commentary on the quality of the people of Massachusetts that they continued to elect him to office for over four decades.

He avoided, evaded and dodged justice for all these years on earth. May he finally be brought to account now, before the Judge to Whom all of us must one day answer. I'll pray for mercy for him, just as I will for any dead or dying person: but in his case, it'll take an awful lot of it to counterbalance the scales of human, cosmic and even Divine justice that he perversely and cynically warped for so very, very long.

I suggest the late Senator be buried at sea. There's a tidal channel off Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts that might be the perfect location . . . and sea-water's good for fighting fires, too. For Senator Kennedy, wherever he is now, that might come in very useful.

Peter

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blogging will be late tonight . . .


. . . or, rather, early tomorrow. I'm utterly exhausted after a long, draining day. This lil puppy's going to bed. I'll try to put up my regular three or four posts early tomorrow morning when I wake up - I'm just too tired to do so tonight.

Sleep well, y'all.

Peter

Monday, August 24, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #259


Today's Doofus title goes to the winner of a recent eBay auction.

On August 16th, I reported that the grave directly above that of Marilyn Monroe was being auctioned by the widow of the person now occupying it. She wanted to raise money to pay off the mortgage on her house, so as to leave it to her children unencumbered by debt.



The vault containing Marilyn Monroe's crypt (circled in red)



Today comes the news that the crypt has been sold - for an unbelievable $4,602,100!

Let me spell that out. Four million, six hundred and two thousand, one hundred dollars.

For a grave???

More accurately, for a crypt measuring what looks like about 7'x3'x3'?




That would make it about 63 cubic feet overall . . . and the buyer's just paid $73,049 and some cents for every one of those cubic feet!

And to make matters worse, the buyer won't even get to enjoy their presence in his or her purchase! After all, they'll be dead! They won't exactly be throwing parties there, will they?

A Doofus, indeed . . .

On the other hand, congratulations to the seller. She had a mortgage of $1.6 million to pay off on her home, and she's raised almost three times that amount. I daresay her children will be happy!

Peter

The future of knowledge and education?


The Christian reconstructionist author Gary North, who's published many articles and books, poses an intriguing vision of the future dissemination of knowledge, and the means of learning, in two articles on LewRockwell.com.




His first article, Wikipedia And Google Will Bring Down Establishments All Over The World, examines how knowledge has been disseminated traditionally, and shows how technology is changing that. An excerpt:

It is possible to have a book scanned and converted to a Google-searchable PDF file for 16 cents a page if you allow the outfit to cut the spine of the book. It's 36 cents if you don't allow this. You can set up a website for $10 a year for domain name hosting, plus an extra $10 if you want your identity as the owner concealed from snoopers. Use Hostgator or Hostmonster to host an unlimited number of domains for $8 a month. You can post PDFs.

In every language these books will be online. They will eventually be translated digitally "on the fly."

Then will come archive collections of letters. They will take longer to convert to searchable typeset words. But that day will come.

The cost of writing history will fall. It is costly to do research in a major research library. You must pay for the plane fare, overnight housing, and a rental car. This can easily cost $300 a day – or three times that in cities like London or Berlin. Only a few people can afford this, and only for short visits.

If the library's pre-1923 books and archive materials were online, anyone could do it at home. The little guy would be able to compete.

Say that you want access to all academic journals. These are all on-line. It is expensive to access them. You must be an enrolled student or a faculty member to access them. Solution? Hire a student intern who has on-line access to the library. Then have the student look up the articles you want to read and send PDFs to you. Or just use his access code to do your own research. "That's cheating," says the librarian. But taxpayers pay for the library. I suffer little guilt.

Every time you find a Google link to a locked article on JSTOR, you contact your intern. Presto. Unlocked!

Some interns work for free to gain college credit. Do I have access to such an intern? To ask this question is to answer it.

Soon, brains and insight will rule, not bank accounts and official accreditation by state licensing bureaus. The Establishments will all be in defensive mode.

It is happening today. This is going to increase.

Truth will fragment. New paradigms will emerge from the competition. The quality of thought will improve when bank accounts are not major barriers to entry.

The gatekeepers can no longer control the flow of information. This has never happened in man's history. Gatekeepers still control the gates. But the walls have holes in them. These holes are widening.

The gatekeepers control accreditation. They no longer control content except where it is very expensive to do primary research, such as nuclear physics. In the social sciences and humanities, it's just about over.


There's more at the link.

In a second article, M.I.T. Calls Academia's Bluff, he examines the future of university-level education. An excerpt:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has begun the most revolutionary experiment in the history of education, stretching all the way back to the pharaohs. It now gives away its curriculum to anyone smart enough to learn it. It has posted its curriculum on-line for free. These days, this means a staggering 1900 courses. This number will grow.

This is proof to the academic world that MIT regards its program as the best, and dares any other institution to prove otherwise, where everyone can see and compare. The free site validates the MIT T-shirt: "HARVARD: Because not everyone can get into MIT."
. . .

MIT has up-ended several millennia of higher education. Let me explain.

For as long as there have been priesthoods, there has been formal classroom education.

. . .

This is what the college diploma has always done. It has created a guild that restricts entry by non-certified people. This keeps wages high.

To obtain the diploma, a person must pay money to the trainers. The trainers are located at one center or special regional centers. Journeying to the center adds costs. Quitting a full-time job back home also adds to the expense. Forcing students to attend pre-requisites adds to the cost. Everything is done to screen access to the knowledge.

So, the knowledge does not spread. This is the crucial function of the academic screening system, especially for practical knowledge: healing people and building things.

For the first time in the history of man, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has opened the gates to all comers. It has said, "You won't get certified by us, but you can get the classroom knowledge. If you are smart enough to teach yourself, you will have the knowledge."

MIT has now removed the most important layers of bureaucracy: the layers associated with classroom instruction.

1. The fee to obtain the training
2. The cost of journeying to a training center
3. The pre-requisite system
4. The cost of quitting your job

This has de-mystified the entire guild procedure. It says this: "If you are smart enough, you can master the initial content."

. . .

The next step in the liberation of society is the introduction of certification by examination without diplomas. There would no requirement to attend a school. Just pass the exam.

This terrifies every guild. Smart people could get in just by passing the guild's entry-level exam.

The ultimate breakthrough would be a requirement that every certified member of a guild would be required to pass the guild's entry exam every five years or else lose his official license to practice. That would mean the end of exams that screen for wage reasons rather than for technical reasons. The members would demand easier exams, so that they could pass. More students would pass. Wages would decline.

Finally, there would be a removal of state-chartered systems of professional licensing. It would not be illegal to sell any services at any price.

Combine these, and the bureaucratization of society would end.

If you think, "This is utopian," consider this: MIT has removed the crucial initial layer, which imposes the greatest financial burden.

A student in India who understands English and who has access to the Web can get an MIT education.

If other universities imitate MIT, the world of higher education will be radically changed for the better.

. . .

Parents who send their children off to Podunk College are behind the technological curve.

First, about half of college freshmen don't graduate, even after six years. Second, those who do graduate enter a job market in which only 20% of graduates can find a non-minimum wage job.

The graduates are four to six years older, minimally educated, have no full-time work experience, and have forfeited four to six years of income. I call this "formally certified stupidity." What would you call it?

A college could easily provide free on-line guides to passing the Advanced Placement, CLEP, and DSST exams to quiz out of the first two years. Total cost: under $2,000 for the exams. That would save parents at least $60,000. The school would provide conservative guidelines for free on-line in PDF. It would also provide free YouTube or Blip.tv video courses.

If the school were interested in educating people, it would do all this. But Podunk College is interested in selling accredited degrees at above-market rates. It is not interested in educating people.

. . .

Could a college make its money by teaching upper division courses on-line for 25% of today's tuition – $5,000 a year instead of $20,000 – with no room and board costs? Yes. Will any of them do this? Of course not. Why not? Because they are in debt up to their ears for educationally unnecessary real estate. They adopted a technologically defunct model before the Web.


Again, there's more at the link.

North makes compelling arguments. Certainly, looking at the average American university student, I can't think of a single one who wouldn't benefit from the system he advocates.

I have personal experience to back this up. I hold four University qualifications - every one of them obtained through distance education and/or part-time study. I could never afford to attend university full-time. Are my degrees of lower quality than those obtained by full-time students? Like hell they are! I worked as hard, if not harder, to earn them: and because I was investing my scarce time and money in them, and working while studying to be able to afford them, I valued the educational experience rather more highly, I think.

I strongly recommend reading both of the above articles in full, at the links provided. They offer a great deal of food for thought, particularly if you're a student, or have children who are or will be students.

Peter