Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bollywood does Terminator?

Bollywood, as the Indian film industry is known, has long been notorious for over-the-top action scenes and special effects (we've seen one example here before). The latest in this tradition is a film called 'Enthiran'. IMDB summarizes its plot (not always grammatically) as follows:

Location Chennai 2010 Mission Creating a andro-humanoid robot Chitti Purpose to help the society Development time 10 years Configurations Speed One terra hz, memory one zeta byte, processor Pentium ultra core millennia V2, FHP 450 motor from Hirata, Japan Special Features A human who is not born but is created. He can dance, sing, fight, is water and fire resistant. He can do all that a human can and more. He feeds on electricity. He takes instructions literally. Where a human can lie to save himself this andro-humanoid robot Chitti cannot lie. Troubleshooting Where he has a razor sharp memory and can memorize an entire telephone directory by just running through the pages, he cannot understand human emotions. Dr. Vasi upgrades Chittis processor and simulates human emotions without realizing the repercussions. Chitti gets transformed. He can now feel, and the first feeling that he discovers is love. Will this love come in the way of Dr. Vasis purpose of creating Chitti? Will Dr. Vasi's own creation destroy him?

The trailer for the movie is pretty spectacular. I particularly like the robotic snake (or is it a worm?) that can eat cars! (The trailer occupies the first 1 minute 22 seconds of the clip, and is followed by a few shorter clips from trailers in other Indian languages.)

Hmm . . . if we blended this with one or two of the 'Terminator' movies, just think of the fun we could have!


Advances in rifle technology

The Modern Day Marine expo at Quantico, Virginia, has displayed some interesting innovations in ancillary equipment for rifles. One in particular caught my eye. Britain's Ultra Sonar, known for its submarine systems, has produced what it calls a Rifle Mounted Gunfire Locator (link is to an Adobe Acrobat product brochure in .PDF format).

The company describes it as follows:

The Gunfire Locator sensor uses patented, frequency domain signal processing on characteristic acoustic signals to determine the range, bearing and elevation to the source of hostile gunfire. An advanced algorithm isolates the fire position in the complex battlefield environment and minimizes false alarms. Target data is intuitively displayed on the screen and using an inertial compensation system, it is continually updated to track rifle movement. The process culminates with the display and rifle pointed directly at the target.

That's a pretty nifty invention! Similar technology has been used in systems like ShotSpotter, which can be mounted on lampposts in cities to triangulate on the sound of gunfire and alert police to where it's coming from; but this is the first time (as far as I'm aware) that it's been applied to a weapon sight. The information displayed on the weapon sight is shown below.

I can see this being very useful for rapid reaction to incoming fire on the battlefield. In fact, it'll make it very dangerous to shoot at a patrol equipped with this technology, because it's a virtual certainty that one will come under fire oneself within seconds of starting to shoot. That should prove a real disincentive to aggressive types!

Ares has a report on this and another interesting rifle system. Worthwhile reading.


That sinking feeling . . .

It seems a BBC experiment to test a World War II theory didn't quite go as planned.

When ideas are left on the drawing board, it is often with good reason.

But that didn’t stop the BBC testing out one of the craziest proposals of the Second World War...a boat made from ice and wood pulp.

Maverick inventor Geoffrey Pyke claimed his five and a half ton craft would both save on steel and be impossible to sink.

Yet a mock-up of his brainchild took on water and melted within minutes of its launch in Portsmouth harbour yesterday.

Experts said that the experiment for science show Bang Goes The Theory probably failed because the boat was too small, and so less resistant to melting, and because the water they tested in was far warmer than the Atlantic - where the invention was designed to be used.

In the event of steel stocks running out in the 1940s inventor Geoffrey Pyke suggested it was possible to make an unsinkable aircraft carrier using a material called Pykrete, made of both ice and wood pulp.

The bizarre mixture could be moulded into any shape and, with a slow melting rate, it was thought perfect for seafaring vessels.

The BBC decided to put Pyke's theory to the test by mixing 5,000 litres of water with the hefty material hemp and freezing it in a 20 feet-long boat-shaped mould.

It took three weeks to freeze it in one of the UK's largest ice warehouses, in Tilbury, Essex, before it was ready for launch in Gosport, Hants.

The team made it in to Portsmouth Harbour where they were saluted by members of the navy stationed on destroyer HMS Diamond.

But shortly after that, after just over an hour in the water, it began to take on water and capsized.

Four BBC presenters, who had hoped to make it all the way to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, had to abandon ship and swim to rescue craft.

. . .

Jon Edwards at the Royal Society of Chemistry said 'It’s hardly a surprise that the boat sank – the temperature in the Solent is probably a fair bit higher than the middle of the Atlantic, where Pyke designed his material to be used.

'He also used enormous cooling units to keep the pykrete in his tests below zero degrees centigrade. If they didn’t use those refrigerators, the intrepid ice-sailors from Bang never stood a chance.'

He added: 'The size of the boat may have added to their problems, too. A huge aircraft carrier, as Pyke envisioned, would have been more resistant to melting – a larger surface area of ice requires a lot more energy to start melting, so the non-surface ice stays cooler for longer.

'A 1000-ton test boat, built out of normal ice on a lake in the Rockies, lasted a whole summer.'

There's more at the link.

I'm familiar with Pykrete, and plans to use it in Project Habbakuk. It's one of the more fascinating and bizarre episodes of World War II . . . particularly when British Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, wishing to demonstrate its strength, fired a .45 pistol at a block of Pykrete during a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Canada. It certainly proved its strength! The bullet ricocheted off it and around the room, narrowly missing a large number of very senior Generals and Admirals (grazing the leg of US Admiral Ernest King, Commander-in-Chief of the US Navy and Chief of Naval Operations, in the process), and ended up in a wall. One gathers that the demonstration was . . . ah . . . somewhat less than well received!

It appears, from experiments at the time and subsequent research, that the concept of immense Pykrete 'aircraft carriers' would, indeed, have worked: but the investment required was so great, and the demand for materials from other sectors of manufacturing so great, that it proved impracticable.


Traffic stops that aren't what they seem

Via BoingBoing, we learn of a traffic stop technique that's out to con the criminal . . . and perhaps the law-abiding as well.

Returning from a trip along one of our nation’s most highly trafficked interstates, I-20, I happened across this foreboding sign. I didn’t have any bud on me at the time, but if you’re anything like me, you usually take a few bowls with you on road trips. Almost instinctively, I pulled over.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. They were going to shut down the entire interstate to check for suspicious vehicles and persons, as if crossing into Louisiana were crossing the Mexican border? Bienvenue en Louisiane, indeed.

After snapping a few shots of the sign, I pulled back onto the highway, ready to take additional pictures once I arrived at the checkpoint. However, the checkpoint never surfaced. Now I understand why:

The local sheriff’s office had established the signs as a “ruse” to direct motorists to exit off the highway after viewing the warning of the upcoming DUI/Narcotics checkpoint. In fact, there was no checkpoint further down I-40. Instead, the sheriff set up a checkpoint at the end of the ramp of the first exit available to motorists after the posted signs, an exit not frequently used since no services were offered at the exit.

There's more at the link.

A Federal court has found some serious legal issues with such ruses:

We believe that the danger inherent in pretextual roadblocks is the potential for giving police the authority to stop every car on the road, question its driver and passengers under the guise of a legitimate traffic related purpose, and then claim enough reasonable suspicion through, for example, the driver’s expression or answers, to conduct a more thorough search of the stopped individuals and vehicles for drugs with insufficient limitations on police discretion.

Again, more at the link.

I'm sure none of the fine, upstanding readers of this blog would dream of using illegal narcotic substances. Nevertheless, if you come across such a sign on your travels . . . now you know. I have grave reservations about just how big Big Brother's intrusiveness is getting, and this is yet another sign of it.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Men in the kitchen

So that's how you peel potatoes!


Brigid's guide to romance

Brigid, of Home On The Range, has published a point-system guide to romance - just what we poor, ignorant, misguided males need! Go on over and take a look.

If you treat your wife like this, and things don't improve . . . don't blame me - blame Brigid!


When unions become a millstone around the economy's neck

I don't know whether readers have been following the shenanigans in Europe, where trades unions and Left-wing organizations are protesting furiously against economic austerity measures that threaten the feather-bedded privileges that they've built up in that haven of Socialist thought over the past decades.

Angry workers mounted mass street protests against spending cuts across Europe Wednesday, bringing cities to a halt, clashing with police and even ramming the gates of Ireland's parliament.

In Brussels, the heart of the European Union, tens of thousands of people from 30 countries joined the city's biggest march in a decade as riot police barricaded the EU headquarters against the backlash to brutal spending cuts.

Spain staged its first general strike since 2002 and thousands more also rallied in cities from Portugal to Poland, although leaders such as France's Nicolas Sarkozy pressed on with a "historic" attack on soaring overspending.

The focus of the protests was the Belgian capital, where a sea of marchers snaked past heavily guarded banks and designer stores to say "No to austerity".

Between 56,000 and more than 100,000 took part in the giant cortege that crossed half of the city, according to various sources, and police said 218 "troublemakers" were detained.

"We're here to say 'no' to the multiplying number of austerity plans, whether adopted by governments or by European institutions," said Bernard Thibault, head of the major CGT French trade union.

"Our message is to avoid adding an unprecedented social crisis to the financial crisis, with the workers paying the cost."

. . .

"This is a crucial day for Europe," said John Monks, British general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.

"Our governments, virtually all of them, are about to embark on solid cuts in public expenditures."

As Europe tries to clean up its post-recession books, the backlash has focused on feared vast numbers of public sector job cuts.

Millions of jobs fell off the European map in the global downturn and many more look set to be squeezed as governments axe public spending.

There's more at the link.

Note that the protesters aren't concerned about other people, or other sectors of the economy, having to pay for the present mess: they just want to make sure that their jobs, and their benefits, aren't affected. It's unabashed, in-your-face selfishness.

Precisely the same thing is evident in US trades union protests against certain policies, and in support of others. The New York Post reports:

The Tea Party movement may have arisen to protest rising deficits and increasing federal control of everything from health care to the auto industry -- but the big-government coalition it's fighting wasn't born in Washington. The federal agenda that the movement is now battling to overturn originated in state capitals like Albany, Trenton and Sacramento.

This agenda has been promoted with growing success in the last 50 years by a self-interested coalition of public-sector unions and social-advocacy groups that benefit from bigger government, higher taxes and more public control of the economy. Merely "taking back" Congress on Election Day won't stop the relentless rise of this coalition, which has at its disposal enormous resources.

President Obama is an expression of the big-government coalition, and his election to the White House was a signature event in its rise to power. He began his public life as a Chicago community activist heading a nonprofit funded heavily by government to organize neighborhood residents into a political force.

As a young college graduate immersed in the world of tax-bankrolled activism, Obama learned a lesson that many other activists also absorbed: To protect the funding that created and nourished their groups, community organizers like him had to head into politics.

. . .

In New York, government-funded activists long ago took the same road into politics as the young Obama. Organizers like Ramon Velez (who ran a vast, government-funded nonprofit network in The Bronx), Pedro Espada (who founded and ran Bronx health clinics) and Vito Lopez (who built a Queens social-service empire) all leapt from community activism into state and local politics.

By the early 1990s, in fact, a fifth of all New York City Council members and 15 percent of state legislators had come out of the social-service world. They could be counted on to advocate for higher taxes and more money for government services.

Over time, these activists partnered with another growing force in local government that shared their affinity for bigger government -- public-sector unions. These groups became important players in city halls and state capitals starting in the late 1950s, when then-New York City Mayor Robert Wagner gave public employees the right to collectively bargain in order to win their support in his battles with the Tammany Hall political machine.

Quickly, other big-city mayors and governors also began granting employees the right to negotiate with government for wages and pay -- ignoring the critics who pointed out that because government was a monopoly, public workers could hold cities and states hostage by going on strike.

. . .

The rise of these groups coincided with a growing public-sector ability to win big pay and benefit raises, including pension benefits. One startling result: Today, states and cities face an estimated $3 trillion in unfunded pension and retiree-health benefits for public employees -- a burden that will squeeze budgets for decades.

The big-government coalition heavily supported candidate Obama for president, and he has rewarded them. The various stimulus packages of the last year and a half have included hundreds of billions of dollars to preserve state and local government jobs. Much of this aid came with huge strings attached: Local governments that took the money committed to not cutting their program spending or reducing their workforce.

But perhaps the biggest boost to this coalition has been ObamaCare. Public unions heavily lobbied for the plan, even though most of their members already have health coverage. Their leaders know it will be good for the unions' "business": As government has increased its involvement in health care through programs like Medicare and Medicaid, politicians have written rules and requirements for these programs that make union organizing easier.

Again, there's more at the link.

Also of note in the US political landscape is that public sector unions are increasingly taking over the political lead from those in the private sector. The former are also more likely to push for higher taxes, forcing the productive sector of the economy to pay for their economically non-productive salaries and perks. As Real Clear Markets has pointed out:

When the union movement in America crossed a crucial threshold recently, as membership in public sector unions surpassed private sector union enrollment for the first time, the event signified deeper changes in labor in America. The new labor movement, dominated by government workers, is an increasingly white-collar interest group, culturally progressive and fiscally liberal, and it has become the chief organizer of efforts to raise taxes in America, especially at the state and local level, where these government worker unions wield their greatest influence. Their efforts have helped boost local taxes this year more than any year since 1979.

Find a tax increase campaign and you're almost certain to find a government union behind it. The California Teachers Association, for instance, is the chief force behind a November ballot initiative in the Golden State which would raise business taxes. The CTA alone has contributed some $6.4 million of its members' dues money to the campaign, according to filings with the California Secretary of State's office. Other public unions have anted up another $2.5 million.

In fact, since the budget squeeze hit states and municipalities starting in 2008, such tax and spend campaigns have been typical. Researchers at the Heritage Foundation counted some 25 public union-driven efforts in that time. They include successful efforts by Arizona's unions to raise the state's sales tax earlier this year, a ballot initiative in Oklahoma sponsored by the state's teachers' unions to raise education spending by $1 billion, a successful $8 million campaign in Oregon by public unions to defeat initiatives seeking to roll back corporate and personal income tax hikes, and a $4 million advertising effort this past spring designed to pressure New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to raise taxes in his state, which failed.

Again, more at the link.

The real-world effects of union influence are being felt in cities all across America. One of the most startling occurred recently in Indianapolis, Indiana. General Motors closed a major body plant there, threatening the loss of up to 2,000 unionized jobs. Another company offered to buy the plant and continue employing the workers, but not at their unionized pay scales. Result? The local workers and businesses supported the offer, wanting to keep jobs in town and attract investment: but GM workers who'd come to the plant from other towns, moved there as part of their union employment contracts, rejected the deal. Their votes swamped those of local workers. They actually preferred to see the plant closed rather than lose their inflated, feather-bedded union benefits. Their short-sightedness and selfishness are almost unbelievable, given the economic realities we face; but they don't care about those realities. They want to keep things the nice, comfortable, unionized way they've been for so long, and they'll happily go on unemployment benefits and deny others a job rather than see things change.

I think many unemployed people would do almost anything to be guaranteed a job at $15.50 per hour . . . but not these self-satisfied unionistas. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Trades unions originally served a useful and valuable purpose to halt the exploitation of workers by rapacious owners and managers. However, in today's world, they've become a stumbling-block, an anachronism. They've become as rapacious as those they were established to resist. Not content with holding companies and employers to ransom, they're now intruding on the political sphere and trying to hold entire nations hostage.

It's time this was stopped . . . one way or another.


A solution to our economic woes?

I was first amused, then thoughtful, when reading a suggestion from Straight From The Snark's Mouth about how to deal with our economy. She found it using StumbleUpon, and I reproduce it here, with a grateful nod o' the head in her direction.

Dear Mr. President:

Please find below my suggestion for fixing America 's economy.

Instead of giving billions of dollars to companies that will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan.

You can call it the Patriotic Retirement Plan:

There are about 40 million people over 50 in the work force.

Pay them $1 million apiece severance for early retirement with the following stipulations:

1) They MUST retire. Forty million job openings - Unemployment fixed.

2) They MUST buy a new American CAR. Forty million cars ordered - Auto Industry fixed.

3) They MUST either buy a house or pay off their mortgage - Housing Crisis fixed.

4) They MUST buy their own health insurance. - Health Plan for seniors just fixed!!!

It can't get any easier than that! If more money is needed, have all members of Congress and their constituents pay their taxes.

If you think this would work, please tell everyone you know.

If not, please disregard. Then shoot yourself!!!! - 1 job opening

God Bless America.

Y'know . . . the more I think about this, the more I wonder . . . is there any reason why this program wouldn't work? Think about it. Instead of splurging billions, even trillions of dollars on bailouts and buyouts and entitlement spending, we simply give a chunk of US taxpayers enough money to sort out their economic woes, set themselves up for retirement, and make way for everyone else to do the same.

A million bucks per head, for 40 million people, would total 40 trillion dollars. Sounds like a huge amount, doesn't it? Unfortunately, if we leave things as they are, paying out Social Security and Medicare and other entitlements, we're headed for a national deficit much larger than that. I mentioned it earlier this week. I agree, finding 40 trillion dollars in the short term is impossible: but we could reduce the amount up front, and pay some over time. We could also pay workers as they turn a certain age, perhaps in exchange for canceling future Social Security and Medicare coverage. There are ways to do this.

A million bucks wouldn't go too far, of course. We can allow a quarter of a million for a house, another twenty-five grand for a car, and (say) six hundred thousand into annuities to produce an income of two to three thousand dollars a month (perhaps supplemented by private pension arrangements and/or Social Security and other income). That'll leave just over a hundred thousand as a cash 'cushion' for emergencies and other needs. That won't make for a luxurious retirement . . . but it'd be a darn sight better than most of those eligible would do under present circumstances.

Dammit, this might have been meant as a sarcastic series of suggestions, but I can't think of any reason not to try them!


The reality of Afghanistan

I've written many times before on this blog about the situation in which the USA finds itself in Afghanistan. In June I pointed out that the dilemma remains: no military solution is possible in that country. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Ain't gonna happen. For the best part of three millennia, invaders have tried to subdue Afghanistan and the North-West Province of Pakistan. None have succeeded, from Alexander the Great to the British Raj (and, most recently, the Soviet Union in its full Cold War might, followed by ourselves in a post-9/11 flush of enthusiasm and righteous fury). In all that time, no-one's ever been able to subdue and hold that territory. We're no closer to doing so than any of our predecessors.

The question must therefore be asked: Why are we still in Afghanistan? If we can't win, why do we continue to pour American blood and hardware and treasure into a bottomless pit?

I'd like to give my readers some useful background information that will help in understanding the difficulties we face in Afghanistan. First, STRATFOR recently published a very interesting article, "Pakistan and the U.S. Exit From Afghanistan". Part of it is republished below with permission from STRATFOR.

Nietzsche wrote that, “The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place.” The stated U.S. goal in Afghanistan was the destruction of al Qaeda. While al Qaeda as it existed in 2001 has certainly been disrupted and degraded, al Qaeda’s evolution and migration means that disrupting and degrading it — to say nothing of destroying it — can no longer be achieved by waging a war in Afghanistan. The guerrilla does not rely on a single piece of real estate (in this case Afghanistan) but rather on his ability to move seamlessly across terrain to evade decisive combat in any specific location. Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism is not centered on Afghanistan and does not need Afghanistan, so no matter how successful that war might be, it would make little difference in the larger fight against transnational jihadism.

Thus far, the United States has chosen to carry on fighting the war in Afghanistan. As al Qaeda has fled Afghanistan, the overall political goal for the United States in the country has evolved to include the creation of a democratic and uncorrupt Afghanistan. It is not clear that anyone knows how to do this, particularly given that most Afghans consider the ruling government of President Hamid Karzai — with which the United States is allied — as the heart of the corruption problem, and beyond Kabul most Afghans do not regard their way of making political and social arrangements to be corrupt.

Simply withdrawing from Afghanistan carries its own strategic and political costs, however. The strategic problem is that simply terminating the war after nine years would destabilize the Islamic world. The United States has managed to block al Qaeda’s goal of triggering a series of uprisings against existing regimes and replacing them with jihadist regimes. It did this by displaying a willingness to intervene where necessary. Of course, the idea that U.S. intervention destabilized the region raises the question of what regional stability would look like had it not intervened. The danger of withdrawal is that the network of relationships the United States created and imposed at the regime level could unravel if it withdrew. America would be seen as having lost the war, the prestige of radical Islamists and thereby the foundation of the ideology that underpins their movement would surge, and this could destabilize regimes and undermine American interests.

The political problem is domestic. Obama’s approval rating now stands at 42 percent. This is not unprecedented, but it means he is politically weak. One of the charges against him, fair or not, is that he is inherently anti-war by background and so not fully committed to the war effort. Where a Republican would face charges of being a warmonger, which would make withdrawal easier, Obama faces charges of being too soft. Since a president must maintain political support to be effective, withdrawal becomes even harder. Therefore, strategic analysis aside, the president is not going to order a complete withdrawal of all combat forces any time soon — the national (and international) political alignment won’t support such a step. At the same time, remaining in Afghanistan is unlikely to achieve any goal and leaves potential rivals like China and Russia freer rein.

There's more at the link. Highly recommended reading.

Apart from the political situation in the region, there's also the reality 'on the ground'. David Axe, a very well-known war reporter and blogger, has produced four short video reports for World Politics Review on what he found in that country during a visit earlier this year. He titled the series "Losing Afghanistan". The four videos may be found here, and are very highly recommended viewing.

Finally, there's the conflict in Washington between political and military imperatives. Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars", has some very interesting information on this aspect of the conflict. An article in the Washington Post summarized some of what he learned.

President Obama urgently looked for a way out of the war in Afghanistan last year, repeatedly pressing his top military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him, according to secret meeting notes and documents cited in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Frustrated with his military commanders for consistently offering only options that required significantly more troops, Obama finally crafted his own strategy, dictating a classified six-page "terms sheet" that sought to limit U.S. involvement.

. . .

"This needs to be a plan about how we're going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan," Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. "Everything we're doing has to be focused on how we're going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It's in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room."

Obama rejected the military's request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. "I'm not doing 10 years," he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. "I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars."

. . .

... most of the book centers on the strategy review, and the dissension, distrust and infighting that consumed Obama's national security team as it was locked in a fierce and emotional struggle over the direction, goals, timetable, troop levels and the chances of success for a war that is almost certain to be one of the defining events of this presidency.

Obama is shown at odds with his uniformed military commanders, particularly Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command during the 2009 strategy review and now the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Woodward reveals their conflicts through detailed accounts of two dozen closed-door secret strategy sessions and nearly 40 private conversations between Obama and Cabinet officers, key aides and intelligence officials.

Tensions often turned personal. National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama's political aides as "the water bugs," the "Politburo," the "Mafia," or the "campaign set." Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president's senior adviser David Axelrod to be "a complete spin doctor."

During a flight in May, after a glass of wine, Petraeus told his own staffers that the administration was "[expletive] with the wrong guy." Gates was tempted to walk out of an Oval Office meeting after being offended by comments made by deputy national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon about a general not named in the book.

. . .

By the end of the 2009 strategy review, Woodward reports, Obama concluded that no mission in Afghanistan could be successful without attacking the al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens operating with impunity in Pakistan's remote tribal regions.

"We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan," Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009. Creating a more secure Afghanistan is imperative, the president said, "so the cancer doesn't spread" there.

. . .

Obama kept asking for "an exit plan" to go along with any further troop commitment, and is shown growing increasingly frustrated with the military hierarchy for not providing one. At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military's open-ended approach.

In the end, Obama essentially designed his own strategy for the 30,000 troops, which some aides considered a compromise between the military command's request for 40,000 and Biden's relentless efforts to limit the escalation to 20,000 as part of a "hybrid option" that he had developed with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a dramatic scene at the White House on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, Obama summoned the national security team to outline his decision and distribute his six-page terms sheet. He went around the room, one by one, asking each participant whether he or she had any objections - to "say so now," Woodward reports.

The document - a copy of which is reprinted in the book - took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy's objectives, what the military was not supposed to do. The president went into detail, according to Woodward, to make sure that the military wouldn't attempt to expand the mission.

After Obama informed the military of his decision, Woodward writes, the Pentagon kept trying to reopen the decision, peppering the White House with new questions. Obama, in exasperation, reacted by asking, "Why do we keep having these meetings?"

Along with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time, they kept pushing for their 40,000-troop option as part of a broad counterinsurgency plan along the lines of what Petraeus had developed for Iraq.

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: "In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, 'We're doing fine, Mr. President, but we'd be better if we just do more.' We're not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] . . . unless we're talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011."

Petraeus took Obama's decision as a personal repudiation, Woodward writes. Petraeus continued to believe that a "protect-the-Afghan-people" counterinsurgency was the best plan. When the president tapped Petraeus this year to replace McChrystal as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus found himself in charge of making Obama's more limited strategy a success.

Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying, "You have to recognize also that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It's a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

Again, there's more at the link.

I'm hardly a political supporter of President Obama, but he has my deepest sympathy for the dilemma he confronts in Afghanistan. The war there is not winnable by military means. The very best result that can be achieved, militarily speaking, is a stalemate: the Taliban and its allies can't take over the country, but the nation can't be secured against ongoing infiltration, instability and terrorism. Such a stalemate is unsustainable over the long term . . . but the only alternative is to ensure political, social and regional stability, which is - at least at present - only a pipe-dream.

We're stuck in a quagmire in Afghanistan. Let's pray that our leaders can find a way out, with as much honor as possible, and as much security as possible for the innocent people of the region, before the drain on American lives and resources becomes insupportable.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The worst tattoo customer in history?

Via Buzzfeed, we have this edifying agonizing ridiculous spectacle.


Around the blogs

A number of articles and entries have caught my eye on other blogs over the course of the day. I thought I'd share a few with you.

Quote of the day must surely come from The Mad Lemming. In a comment to an article on Tamara's blog concerning the US political and electoral system, he opines:

For what it's worth, I like Vader's standing on defense, though I think the Death Star is way over budget, but I feel Cthulhu has a better grasp of domestic issues.

Next, Daddybear shares "Rum And Propellant", a tale of his misspent military service involving heavy artillery, illegal booze, and what happens when these elements are combined . . . Definitely giggleworthy!

Finally, I don't regularly read too many hard-left-wing blogs, because they're not exactly in alignment with my political compass. However, now and again I flip through several of them to get a feel for what's going on on that end of the spectrum. I found two articles today that interested me very much. I disagree profoundly with the perspective from which the authors are arguing, but I find several elements of truth in their observations.

The first is Peter Daou, who argues that "a handful of liberal bloggers are bringing down the Obama presidency".

Virtually all the liberal bloggers who have taken a critical stance toward the administration have one thing in common: they place principle above party. Their complaints are exactly the same complaints they lodged against the Bush administration. Contrary to the straw man posed by Obama supporters, they aren’t complaining about pie in the sky wishes but about tangible acts and omissions, from Gitmo to Afghanistan to the environment to gay rights to secrecy and executive power.

The essence of their critique is that the White House lacks a moral compass.

. . .

Some will dismiss them as minor players in the wider national discourse, but two things make them a thorn in the administration’s side:

a) they have a disproportionately large influence on the political debate, with numerous readers and followers — among them major media figures

b) they develop the frames and narratives that other progressive Obama critics adopt and disseminate

I’ve argued for some time that the story of Barack Obama’s presidency is the story of how the left turned on him. And it eats him up. You know it from Robert Gibbs, you know it from Rahm Emanuel, you know it from Joe Biden and you know it from Obama himself.

The constant refrain that liberals don’t appreciate the administration’s accomplishments betrays deep frustration. It was a given the right would try to destroy Obama’s presidency. It was a given Republicans would be obstructionists. It was a given the media would run with sensationalist stories. It was a given there would be a natural dip from the euphoric highs of the inauguration. Obama’s team was prepared to ride out the trough(s). But they were not prepared for a determined segment of the left to ignore party and focus on principle, to ignore happy talk and demand accountability.

There's much more at the link - and some of the points over which the Left takes President Obama to task should be of at least as much concern to those of us of more conservative persuasion. They're issues of genuine Constitutional importance. It may sound odd to say that we should be working together with our hard-line political opponents to deal with them, but truly, we should.

Finally, Truthdig highlights the excessive and overbearing role of corporate influence in America. It's couched in hyperbole and emotion, but again, there's a kernel of truth there that should resonate with those of us to the right of the political spectrum.

There are no longer any major institutions in American society, including the press, the educational system, the financial sector, labor unions, the arts, religious institutions and our dysfunctional political parties, which can be considered democratic. The intent, design and function of these institutions, controlled by corporate money, are to bolster the hierarchical and anti-democratic power of the corporate state. These institutions, often mouthing liberal values, abet and perpetuate mounting inequality. They operate increasingly in secrecy. They ignore suffering or sacrifice human lives for profit. They control and manipulate all levers of power and mass communication. They have muzzled the voices and concerns of citizens. They use entertainment, celebrity gossip and emotionally laden public-relations lies to seduce us into believing in a Disneyworld fantasy of democracy.

The menace we face does not come from the insane wing of the Republican Party, which may make huge inroads in the coming elections, but the institutions tasked with protecting democratic participation. Do not fear Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Do not fear the tea party movement, the birthers, the legions of conspiracy theorists or the militias. Fear the underlying corporate power structure, which no one, from Barack Obama to the right-wing nut cases who pollute the airwaves, can alter. If the hegemony of the corporate state is not soon broken we will descend into a technologically enhanced age of barbarism.

Again, more at the link - and well worth reading, if only to see where and why we disagree. Food for thought, certainly; and I'm not convinced that the author isn't more right than wrong when he emphasizes the danger to 'government of the people, by the people and for the people' represented by such corporate dominance. I think he may have a point. What say you, readers?


Doofus Of The Day #396

Today's winner is from Switzerland.

Driver Robert Ziegler, 37, found himself stranded near the peak at Bergun, Switzerland, after he was directed [by his satellite navigation system] up a 'glorified goat track'.

Unable to go forward or turn around to go back the way he came, he was forced to call the emergency services.

Rescue workers scrambled a heavy lifting helicopter to carry the van and its driver to safety after he dialed for help on his mobile phone.

'I was lost and I kept hoping that each little turn would get me back to the main road. In the end it told me to turn around but of course I couldn't by then,' Mr Ziegler told police.

A fire brigade spokesman said: 'He claims he didn't see any footpath signs but he must have been a pretty fair driver to get that far up a glorified goat track.'

There's more at the link.

This is far from the first case of which I've heard, where a driver steadfastly concentrated on his GPS system instead of looking out of the bloody window! How one can be so blind to one's surroundings escapes me . . . but in this case, it seems the driver was eventually forced to notice them!


The last act of World War One?

It was reported today that on Sunday, October 3, 2010, Germany will make the final payment on reparations due to the victorious Powers in terms of the Treaty of Versailles that concluded World War I.

World War One finally ends for Germany on Sunday with the last payment of nearly £60 million [almost US $95 million] of a mammoth £22 billion [almost US $35 billion] debt imposed for starting the Great War.

The reparations were set at the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, by the Allied victors - mostly Britain, France and America - as both compensation and punishment for the 1914-18 war which, before World War Two, was the bloodiest in history.

Most of the money was intended to go to Belgium and France, whose land, towns and villages were devastated by the war, and to pay the Allies some of the costs of waging it.

The initial sum agreed upon for war damages in 1919 was 226 billion Reichsmarks, a sum later reduced to 132 billion. In sterling at the time this was the equivalent of some £22 billion.

The German Federal Budget for 2010 shows the remaining portion of the debt that will be cleared on Sunday, October 3.

The bill would have been settled much earlier had not one Adolf Hitler reneged on reparations during his reign.

Hatred of the settlement agreed at Versailles, France, which crippled Germany as it tried to shape itself into a democracy following defeat in the war, was of significant importance in propelling the Nazis to power.

West Germany, formed after defeat in 1945, took on responsibility for most of the outstanding principle and interest, settling the bill in 1983.

But there was a clause in the so-called London Debt Agreement of 1953 that interest on multi-million pound foreign loans taken out in the Weimar Republic era, to pay off the reparations bill, should themselves be repaid if Germany were ever reunited.

Payments on this interest began again in 1996.

'On Sunday the last bill is due and the First World War finally, financially at least, terminates for Germany,' said Bild, the country’s biggest selling newspaper.

Most of the money goes to private individuals, pension funds and corporations holding debenture bonds as agreed under the Treaty of Versailles.

There's more at the link.

It's an odd feeling to read this news, and realize that payments were continuing even after so long. My grandfathers both fought in World War I. As a very young child, I can recall my maternal grandfather coughing and spluttering through his final years of life - the result of injuries sustained in a German gas attack on the Western Front, from which he never fully recovered.

Gas attack during World War I (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The fallout from the Treaty of Versailles led inexorably to World War II, in which my father fought, and my mother went through years of German air raids, standing watch at night with a stirrup pump and a bucket to extinguish incendiaries before they could burn through roofs and set fire to buildings.

I suppose Sunday's payment will, in one sense, also be a closure for my family, even though neither of my parents or any of my grandparents are alive to see it. I'll hoist a glass to their memory on the occasion, for old times' sake.


Larry's new book is out!

Regular readers will be familiar with Larry Correia and his first novel, Monster Hunter International, about which I've written here in the past. Well, the sequel, Monster Hunter Vendetta, is now available - and it's even better than the first volume, in my opinion. I mean, how can you not like a hero whose life is threatened because a poorly-coordinated Government agent clobbered an Old One in a different dimension with a badly-aimed nuclear device launched in this one? And said Old One just happened to get the impression that our hero was to blame for the irritation caused to his sensitive skin by kiloton-range damage, and has therefore demanded that his minions in our dimension deliver said hero into his hands for suitable and condign punishment?

The possibilities for mischief, mayhem and sheer bloody-mindedness are immense, and Larry takes full advantage of them, heavily seasoned by his real expertise with weapons, his awful abysmal quirky delightful sense of humor, and the input from his team of commenters, reviewers and editors (of whom I'm honored to be one - that way I get to read the books before you do!). If you'd like to know more, Larry did an interview with Elitist Book Reviews about his new book, which will give you additional background information.

Seriously, Monster Hunter Vendetta is a great read. You can find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble (click either link), or at your local bookstore (and if they don't have it, be sure to pound on the desk and demand to know, "Why not?!?!?").

Highly recommended - and no, Larry doesn't pay me any commission or give me free copies for recommending it. He's just a damn good writer whom I'm delighted to call my friend.

(A double, thanks, Larry - and yes, I'll have a cherry in it, please . . . )


Monday, September 27, 2010

A back massage with a difference

I'm sure Christina will be intrigued by this technique . . .


The cold, hard reality politicians ignore

I'm sure readers are as fed up as I am with the bleating cries of politicians wanting more stimulus spending, more taxes on the rich, and more entitlement spending. I thought it might be instructive to take a look at the cold, hard reality of where our Government spending is right now.

These graphs from the Heritage Foundation all use official economic statistics - there's nothing made up or guessed at. They give a true picture of our financial situation in all its grimness. I've only used four of them. There are many more at the link. Highly recommended reading.

First, let's look at the growth in Federal government spending versus the growth in US household income since 1970.

Clearly, such growth is absolutely unsustainable. Even present levels of expenditure are causing real harm to US taxpayers, forced to pay for them willy-nilly.

If Federal expenditure continues to grow, there will be a couple of really disastrous consequences.

Unless we radically change direction, that's what's staring us in the face right now. If those deficits and debt levels come to pass, they'll make our present economic woes seem like a Sunday school picnic by comparison.

Given those realities, what about cries that the 'rich' should 'pay their share', and that tax breaks should be given to the middle class, but not to the rich? Let's look at who pays what in current taxation, shall we?

In other words, the 'rich' are already paying through the nose for our Government's profligacy. If they're made to pay even more . . . how long, do you think, will it be before many of those 'rich' people decide that they'd rather earn less, and keep more of what they earn? Or, failing that, how many of them will take their capital and invest it - and themselves - overseas, in countries that value their economic contribution sufficiently highly to allow them to keep more of it for themselves, without trying to tax to death 'the goose that lays the golden eggs'?

Next time someone tells you that we aren't taxing the rich enough, show them that graph. Next time someone calls for more Government stimulus spending, add it to the levels of indebtedness already incurred, and ask them how that's going to help us in the long run. It can't, of course - it's a recipe for disaster . . . but far too many of our politicians seem to ignore that reality.

Remember in November. If any of your elected politicians supported the policies that have got us into this mess, vote the bastards out! And make sure that when you elect others, who promise to fix this mess, you hold their feet to the fire and make sure they act on their promises!

There's simply no way in the world that our current major entitlement programs - Social Security and Medicare - can survive in their present form. We don't have the money to pay for them (see above). If you're relying on them to secure your future, you need to be making alternate plans, right now.


More about Houston voter fraud

A couple of months ago, I wrote about apparent voter fraud in Houston, TX. Now news has emerged confirming what I feared at the time - only it's a whole lot worse than we thought.

When Catherine Engelbrecht and her friends sat down and started talking politics several years ago, they soon agreed that talking wasn’t enough. They wanted to do more. So when the 2008 election came around, “about 50” of her friends volunteered to work at Houston’s polling places.

“What we saw shocked us,” she said. “There was no one checking IDs, judges would vote for people that asked for help. It was fraud, and we watched like deer in the headlights.”

Their shared experience, she says, created “True the Vote,” a citizen-based grassroots organization that began collecting publicly available voting data to prove that what they saw in their day at the polls was, indeed, happening -- and that it was happening everywhere.

“It was a true Tea Party moment,” she remembers.

Like most voter watchdog groups, she said, her group started small. They decided to investigate voting fraud in general, not just at the polling places, and at first they weren't even sure what to look for -- and where to look for it.

“The first thing we started to do was look at houses with more than six voters in them" Engelbrecht said, because those houses were the most likely to have fraudulent registrations attached to them. "Most voting districts had 1,800 if they were Republican and 2,400 of these houses if they were Democratic . . .

"But we came across one with 24,000, and that was where we started looking."

It was Houston's poorest and predominantly black district, which has led some to accuse the group of targeting poor black areas. But Engelbrecht rejects that, saying, "It had nothing to do with politics. It was just the numbers.”

. . .

“Vacant lots had several voters registered on them. An eight-bed halfway house had more than 40 voters registered at its address,” Engelbrecht said. “We then decided to look at who was registering the voters."

Their work paid off. Two weeks ago the Harris County voter registrar took their work and the findings of his own investigation and handed them over to both the Texas secretary of state’s office and the Harris County district attorney.

Most of the findings focused on a group called Houston Votes, a voter registration group headed by Sean Caddle, who also worked for the Service Employees International Union before coming to Houston. Among the findings were that only 1,793 of the 25,000 registrations the group submitted appeared to be valid.

The other registrations included one of a woman who registered six times in the same day; registrations of non-citizens; so many applications from one Houston Voters collector in one day that it was deemed to be beyond human capability; and 1,597 registrations that named the same person multiple times, often with different signatures.

. . .

"The integrity of the voting rolls in Harris County, Texas, appears to be under an organized and systematic attack by the group operating under the name Houston Votes," the Harris voter registrar, Leo Vasquez, charged as he passed on the documentation to the district attorney.

There's more at the link.

One thing I've noticed. In every published report about alleged voter fraud of this kind - false registrations, multiple registrations, etc. - the beneficiary of the fraud has been the Democratic Party. Organizations allied with the Democrats - ACORN, the SEIU, etc. - are almost always involved, and the fraudulent registrations have been in overwhelmingly Democratic districts.

I've never seen a single report that a Republican-linked organization has been caught red-handed, or that voter fraud like this has benefited a Republican candidate. Can anyone point me to a report that would counter that perception? Have Republican-linked groups ever been found out in this way? I'd love to hear about them in Comments, please.


If you were 'stop-lossed', you may have money coming

I understand that military personnel who were prevented from leaving their service at the scheduled time due to a 'stop-loss' order, anytime from September 11, 2001 through September 30, 2009, are eligible for a special payment.

The 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Act established Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP), providing $500 for each month/partial month served in stop loss status from September 11, 2001 through September 30, 2009. Being in "stop loss" status meant that the affected troop could not leave active service when his or her tour of duty ended. This typically extended tours of duty by several months for each troop affected.

Service members, veterans, and beneficiaries of servicemembers whose service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009 are eligible for RSLSP.

To receive this benefit, those who served under stop loss must submit a claim for the special pay. Throughout the year, the services have been reaching out to servicemembers, veterans and their families through direct mail, veteran service organizations, and the media. But there is still money left to be claimed, and the deadline is approaching. The average benefit is $3,700.

Individuals who meet eligibility criteria may submit an application between Oct. 21, 2009 and Oct., 21 2010. By law, there is no authorization to make payments on claims that are submitted after Oct. 21, 2010, so apply NOW.

Eligible members should print, complete and sign Department of Defense Form 2944, Claim for Retroactive Stop Loss Payment. (Link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format.)

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

I urge any readers who may qualify for this payment to apply while there's still time; and please pass the word to any of your friends and family who may qualify.


Privacy and the law

I'm cynically amused by the efforts of law enforcement authorities and the Federal government to argue, on the one hand, that citizens have no expectation of privacy in a public place, and on the other hand, that they and Government officers do have such an expectation.

You've doubtless read about the Justice Department's argument to a Federal appeals court concerning privacy in public.

The Obama administration has urged a federal appeals court to allow the government, without a court warrant, to affix GPS devices on suspects’ vehicles to track their every move.

The Justice Department is demanding a federal appeals court rehear a case in which it reversed the conviction and life sentence of a cocaine dealer whose vehicle was tracked via GPS for a month, without a court warrant. The authorities then obtained warrants to search and find drugs in the locations where defendant Antoine Jones had travelled.

The administration, in urging the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reverse a three-judge panel’s August ruling from the same court, said Monday that Americans should expect no privacy while in public.

“The panel’s conclusion that Jones had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the public movements of his Jeep rested on the premise that an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the totality of his or her movements in public places, ” Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Smith wrote the court in a petition for rehearing.

. . .

The government said the appellate panel’s August decision is “vague and unworkable” and undermines a law enforcement practice used “with great frequency.”

There's more at the link.

Needless to say, I disagree profoundly with the Justice Department's argument. What's so onerous about having to obtain a warrant before initiating such surveillance? Without that safeguard, who knows what abuses of power might take place? (And if you think that such abuses don't happen, go and read the FBI's record of bypassing and/or ignoring US law in its surveillance activities on numerous occasions.)

However, what's sauce for the goose doesn't appear to be sauce for the gander. Numerous law enforcement agencies have harassed members of the public for recording (audio and/or camera and/or video) the former's activities, up to and including bringing charges against them. You'll find many cases documented here.

In one of the most recent cases, Maryland charged a motorist with violating that state's wire-tapping laws for videotaping a state trooper who was arresting him.

That Anthony Graber broke the law in early March is indisputable. He raced his Honda motorcycle down Interstate 95 in Maryland at 80 mph, popping a wheelie, roaring past cars and swerving across traffic lanes.

But it wasn't his daredevil stunt that has the 25-year-old staff sergeant for the Maryland Air National Guard facing the possibility of 16 years in prison. For that, he was issued a speeding ticket. It was the video that Graber posted on YouTube one week later -- taken with his helmet camera -- of a plainclothes state trooper cutting him off and drawing a gun during the traffic stop near Baltimore.

In early April, state police officers raided Graber's parents' home in Abingdon, Md. They confiscated his camera, computers and external hard drives. Graber was indicted for allegedly violating state wiretap laws by recording the trooper without his consent.

Arrests such as Graber's are becoming more common along with the proliferation of portable video cameras and cell-phone recorders. Videos of alleged police misconduct have become hot items on the Internet. YouTube still features Graber's encounter along with numerous other witness videos. "The message is clearly, 'Don't criticize the police,'" said David Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland who is part of Graber's defense team. "With these charges, anyone who would even think to record the police is now justifiably in fear that they will also be criminally charged."

More at the link.

Fortunately, a Maryland judge today threw out the wire-tapping charges.

A Harford County Circuit Court judge Monday dismissed wiretapping charges against Anthony Graber, a motorcyclist who was jailed briefly after he taped a Maryland state trooper who stopped him for speeding on I-95. Graber used a camera mounted on his helmet, then posted the video on YouTube.

In April, a few weeks after the traffic stop, Harford County state's attorney Joseph I. Cassilly charged Graber, a staff sergeant in the Maryland Air National Guard and a computer systems engineer, with violating the state's wiretapping law. That law dates back to the 1970s and was originally intended to protect citizens from government intrusions into their privacy. If convicted on all charges, Graber faced up to 16 years in prison.

Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr. had to decide whether police performing their duties have an expectation of privacy in public space. Pitt ruled that police can have no such expectation in their public, on-the-job communications.

Pitt wrote: "Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation. 'Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes' ("Who watches the watchmen?”)."

Graber was also charged with possessing a “device primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of oral communications" -- referring to the video camera on his helmet. The judge disagreed with the prosecutor that the helmet cam was illegal, and concluded the state's argument would render illegal “almost every cell phone, Blackberry, and every similar device, not to mention dictation equipment and other types of recording devices."

Once again, more at the link.

We owe Judge Pitt a debt of gratitude for enforcing common sense over an overweening, power-hungry authority structure that sought to intimidate through prosecution, rather than acknowledge the indefensibility of its officer's actions. Unfortunately, there are too many such agencies - and officers - out there. They tarnish the good name of the worthy officers who serve us in law enforcement, and are an embarrassment to their agencies. One hopes that this ruling, plus cases such as the Washington GPS tracking incident, will clarify the extent of our right to privacy in public, and uphold our Constitutional protection against unlawfully intrusive investigation.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pogo stick FAIL!

A pink pogo stick fail, no less . . .


Talk about a living miracle!

I'm amazed to read of the strength of will and determination shown by a Canadian woman in the face of adversity.

Three years ago, [Janis Ollson] was pregnant with her second child and had been suffering years of horrible back pain when Canadian doctors diagnosed her with bone cancer, chondrosarcoma.

Sarcoma experts in Toronto said they'd literally have to cut her in half to get at the untreatable cancer, remove her leg, lower spine and half her pelvis.

The problem was they didn't know how to put her back together again.

They certainly didn't know how she would have a decent quality of life. They consulted with the Mayo Clinic and the Rochester, Minn., doctors decided to try something new.

Ollson became the first person to receive a "pogo stick" rebuild, with her one good leg fused to her body with the reshaped bone from the amputated leg.

Three years later, she is alive and kickin' -- snowmobiling and grocery shopping -- with her husband and two kids on their half acre in Balmoral.

"Where we live, we use ATVs and snowmobiles. I use my ATV to take my daughter to school... There really isn't a whole lot that stops me," she said.

"I don't like to be left out."

Today, she's cancer-free, although she lives with the knowledge it could return at any time.

She uses a prosthetic pelvis and leg, wheelchair, crutches or walker, depending on what she's doing and where she's going.

"I have no problem getting around. If I need to, I'll crawl (up stairs) or scooch like a kid," she said.

"I don't want people to think 'we can't invite the Ollsons because they can't get in here with a wheelchair.' "

"I want to live life to its fullest."

. . .

Ollson says she's never dwelled on "why me?"

"We don't know when it started... It's not known why anybody gets it. There's no cause for it, no genetic link," said the woman with no cancer in her immediate family.

"There's some purpose to all this whether I know it or not," she said.

. . .

Janis Ollson's first surgery to remove the cancer, her leg, part of her pelvis and lower spine took 20 hours, 12 specialists and 20 units of blood. She spent a week out of it and then had a second surgery to put her back together. That took eight hours and more than 240 staples. The surgeon put her back together, attaching the bone to her spine with pins and screws, close to her centre, almost like a pogo stick.

Since her groundbreaking surgery, three other patients have had it. Only one has survived, a young woman in Ohio. Ollson mentors her from afar and benefits from having someone to talk to who gets her daily reality.

"There was no one else like me until she came along... It makes me proud to be a survivor and doing so well I can help others."

There's much more at the link. Highly recommended reading.

Kinda makes our routine, mundane little problems of living seem trivial by comparison, doesn't it? Congratulations to Mrs. Ollson for her courage in the face of adversity, and helping others so generously when most of us, in her shoes, would be demanding help for ourselves!


Doofus Of The Day #395

Today's winner is from France.

Glamorous French politician Rachida Dati has been forced to issue a public apology after confusing oral sex with inflation.

The 44-year-old former justice minister and MEP is frequently nicknamed ‘Rachida Barbie’ because of her poor understanding of complicated political issues.

But nobody expected her extraordinary mistake on the national Europe 1 radio station on Sunday.

Asked about overseas investment funds profiteering during a period of economic uncertainty, she said: ‘I see some of them looking for returns of 20 or 25 per cent, at a time when fellatio is almost non-existent.’

In French, fellatio – a sex act performed on a man – is ‘fellation’, which sounds a bit like inflation, which is the same word in French and English.

Apologising for the hugely embarrassing slip on her Facebook site, Miss Dati said: ‘This kind of thing happens if you speak too quickly on this kind of programme.’

There's more at the link.

Now that's an 'oops' and a half, all right!


Poems from the edge

My online buddy Strings, who's active in Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), has published several poems written by a victim of such abuse. You'll find them in two entries on his blog, here and here. They're pretty chilling, particularly the last one, which I'll reproduce here: but they tell a true story. This is what far too many young people have to go through. I've worked with some children who've been through this particular hell, and I can promise you, some of them never get over it. The scars run too deep.

What's even worse is to work as a prison chaplain, having to minister to the animals who commit such crimes, and restrain oneself from ripping their throats out in righteous fury at what they've done. Needless to say, they never (or almost never) admit culpability or responsibility. They're all about how the kids actually enjoyed it, and it was really, truly love, and people like me just don't understand . . . Some even try to legitimize their warped and twisted passions by setting up or supporting organizations such as NAMBLA.

As far as I'm concerned, Jesus' warning in Matthew 18:6 is as much as they have to hope for in the hereafter . . . and the sooner they get there to receive their promised reward, the better for the rest of us.

To illustrate the sickness and barbarity of such people, here's the poem "Every Night", by a victim. DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU'RE SQUEAMISH OR CAN'T FACE REALITY. It will break you. If you think you can handle it, click here to read it.

I applaud Strings and his buddies for what they're doing to help, and I invite all of my readers to support their efforts, and get involved with this and similar efforts to help those who are too young to help themselves. At the very least, say a prayer tonight for those who are still trapped in this hell on earth.


The polar bears of Cross Island

On his blog, photographer Bill Hess has posted a series of pictures of the fishermen of Cross Island, Alaska - and the polar bears who share the small island with them.

Sometimes the 'sharing' is a bit too close for comfort . . . as when a bear decided to enter a cabin and investigate the smells coming from it. He didn't bother using the door - he made his own!

The story of the bears may be read here, and the pictures seen on that page may be viewed in a larger slideshow version here. Click on the first picture at the second link to enter the slideshow. There's some outstanding nature photography there. Highly recommended, as is the rest of his blog.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Football FAILS!

Here are three video clips of football fails. The first was mentioned in an IRC chat session, and I found the other two by following links from the first.

I don't think any of the principals are candidates for the Player of the Game award . . .


Play me again, Sam!

It seems that we now have an interesting alternative method to dispose of our ashes after cremation. Discovery News reports:

Andvinyly, a UK-based outfit, has this offer: after you die, you can have some of your cremated ashes pressed into a vinyl record. (A tagline on their website says, "Pressed for Time.")

There are many different packages available. You can choose your own music, or none at all. You could even put the audio from your very best Powerpoint presentation. Think of the possibilities!

There's more at the link. Andvinyly says on their Web site:

When the album that is life finally reaches the end wouldn't it be nice to keep that record spinning for eternity? We offer you the chance to press your ashes in a vinyl recording your loved ones will cherish for generations.

Record a personal message, your last will and testament, your own soundtrack or simply press your ashes to hear your pops & crackles for the minimal approach.

I can see all sorts of possibilities here . . . not all of them welcome. I'm sure my mother would have loved to leave me a recording of her ashes nagging me to wash the dishes or change my socks! I suspect there'll have to be some negotiation as to the content of the messages from the grave before survivors will consent to keep them around, instead of using them as frisbees or clay pigeons for target practice!