Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A centenary, an aircraft and a landscape, set to music

The Royal Norwegian Air Force celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.  As part of the commemoration, it's released this short video clip of one of its F-16AM aircraft maneuvering over several scenic parts of Norway.  I particularly like it because the F-16AM is one of the first models of the famous F-16 Fighting Falcon, in its original 'slim-and-trim' form before it grew fat with bulges and excrescences to accommodate all the additional equipment that's been shoehorned into the airframe over subsequent models.  I recommend watching the video in full-screen mode.

The music is called 'Vidda'.  It's composed and played by Norwegian trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen, who also conducts the Norwegian Air Force Band.


Cyber-security and cloud computing

Two recent articles have highlighted the threat posed by foreign cyber-espionage, and the security difficulties of so-called 'cloud computing'.

First, AOL Defense warns that 'China and Russia are stealing our lunch'.

While Chinese threats have gotten the most attention, the rat in the kitchen is just as likely to be Russian, said Smith, a former ambassador who worked on arms control negotiations with the then-Soviet Union and who now spends about half his time in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which suffered a Russian cyberattack alongside a conventional invasion in 2008. The Russians have a well-educated population with computer skills and a thriving underworld with government contacts, so the Kremlin can mobilize legions of online scammers as "a vast cyber reserve force" for online campaigns, Smith said, pointing to the attacks on Georgia and on Estonia in 2007.

"The difference is the Russians don't get caught" as often as the Chinese, Smith said. But hackers from both countries are going after American intellectual property on a grand scale that goes beyond individual larceny to a national strategy.

"What you have underway right now is systematic espionage against the United States," said Smith. "This is not intelligence agencies stealing this or that secret, this is not industrial espionage where some company in another country wants to get the process for something or other. We're talking about a systematic effort to equalize the technology edge that the United States enjoys over every other country in the world by stealing US intellectual property.... This is strategic."

There's more at the link.

Next, DefenseNews warns of the vulnerabilities of cloud computing for Department of Defense applications.

The argument in favor of private cloud systems rests on three assertions about how the architecture could improve DoD systems:

• The cloud is more secure than less consolidated data systems.

• The cloud will require fewer talented cyber experts to protect.

• The cloud can save the department large sums of money through fewer hardware requirements and more efficient operation.

The third argument, that the cloud would save money, is widely recognized and accepted by experts, although the magnitude is disputed. The other two, however, are the subject of heated debate.

“There are specific vulnerabilities associated with cloud architecture that, as far as I can tell, have not been fully and adequately addressed,” said Moulton, who previously served in the U.S. Air Force doing special operations communications.

The simplest and most frequently cited argument against the assertion that the cloud is more secure is the risk of centralization. DoD networks are still largely fragmented, which can make information sharing difficult. But that fragmentation means no individual breach would compromise the larger data mass.

“When there is no centralized control of all those systems, there is no central place to [get] access to everything else,” Bejtlich said. “Is it better to have everyone decide how to deploy their systems independently, or is it better to have one super-image that we believe contains the best security posture?

“With the former, the bad guy who gets onto the system or is trying to get onto the system doesn’t necessarily know what the victim is running. With the latter, he knows exactly what they’re running, and he can tailor his research efforts to that.”

The complaint about the fragmented approach has been that maintaining decent security at each individual outpost was both expensive and difficult. By consolidating systems, DoD could be more confident that its systems are properly designed.

But with cloud architecture, even if the protection is better, once an attacker is in, the loss is much worse.

“You’re putting all of your eggs in the same basket,” Moulton said.

Because of the added risk, the exterior defenses and network monitoring need to be even better to guard a more valuable system, probably meaning as many experts as are employed across networks now, Moulton said. And because of the lack of expertise in cloud architecture, building and protecting cloud systems could be far more expensive than has been predicted, he said.

“There’s the rush to this, and everyone thinks they’re going to save so much money and manpower,” he said. “I don’t agree with that broad assumption.”

Again, more at the link.

Of course, if those security risks and vulnerabilities affect military systems, with their institutional emphasis on confidentiality, what does that imply for our commercial systems?  I use a 'cloud computing' backup service to store copies of critical documents (manuscripts, personal data files, etc.).  What happens if someone takes down that cloud, or disrupts access to it?

Not a comfortable thought . . .


Instant justice - or crime in answer to crime?

I note that a rape suspect was shot dead moments after committing his crime in a North Carolina town.

A 16-year-old girl was raped Sunday night, and her attacker – whose criminal history spans more than 20 years – was shot to death as he walked down the road away from her Richburg home, Chester County authorities said.

Sometime between 9 and 10 p.m., deputies were called to the home to investigate a sexual assault.

A woman there told them that Michael Jermaine Terry, 39, of Lancaster had raped the girl and walked away, Sheriff Richard Smith said.

The girl called her mother, who was at work at the time, and told her about the assault, Smith said.

When deputies went down the road looking for Terry, they found him a half-mile away – lying in the road, covered in blood and not breathing.

. . .

Chester County Coroner Terry Tinker said Terry, who lived at 205 N. French St., died of a gunshot wound. Tinker would not say how many times or where on his body Terry had been shot.

In the 1990s, according to the State Law Enforcement Division, Terry was convicted of several assault and battery and disorderly conduct, drug and weapons possession, and copper theft charges. For his most recent conviction, a nonviolent burglary in 2007, he was sentenced to three years probation.

Sheriff’s investigators spent much of Monday following leads and searching for suspects, Smith said, but they had not developed anything “concrete” by the end of the day.

“This isn’t the average murder,” he said.

Deputies didn’t find any shell casings or a weapon at the scene, Smith said. They also didn’t find any witnesses to the shooting.

“If there are, they haven’t come forward,” he said.

There's more at the link.

Theoretically, at least, this is morally wrong.  The alleged rapist was just that - an alleged offender.  He'd left the scene of the alleged crime, so he no longer posed a danger to his alleged victim.

On the other hand, if his guilt was and is certain (and DNA evidence should easily prove that), and given his criminal record, I'm glad I didn't have to choose between holding him at gunpoint until arresting officers arrived, or letting them find him lying dead in the street.  It appears someone made exactly that choice last Sunday.  As someone who tries to live a moral and at least moderately upright life, it's not a comfortable thought . . . particularly because I doubt whether many parents would have any difficulty in understanding and/or condoning the shooter's choice!


California - 'Mad Max' on steroids?

The horror story that is California has been going downhill for years.  The signs of decay and collapse have now become so widespread that the inimitable Victor Davis Hanson sees it as a living incarnation of the 'Road Warrior' movie.

Sometimes, and in some places, in California I think we have nearly descended into Miller’s dark vision — especially the juxtaposition of occasional high technology with premodern notions of law and security. The state deficit is at $16 billion. Stockton went bankrupt; Fresno is rumored to be next. Unemployment stays over 10% and in the Central Valley is more like 15%. Seven out of the last eleven new Californians went on Medicaid, which is about broke. A third of the nation’s welfare recipients are in California. In many areas, 40% of Central Valley high school students do not graduate — and do not work, if the latest crisis in finding $10 an hour agricultural workers is any indication. And so on.

Our culprit out here was not the Bomb (and remember, Hiroshima looks a lot better today than does Detroit, despite the inverse in 1945). The condition is instead brought on by a perfect storm of events that have shred the veneer of sophisticated civilization. Add up the causes. One was the destruction of the California rural middle class. Manufacturing jobs, small family farms, and new businesses disappeared due to globalization, high taxes, and new regulations. A pyramidal society followed of a few absentee land barons and corporate grandees, and a mass of those on entitlements or working for government or employed at low-skilled service jobs. The guy with a viable 60 acres of almonds ceased to exist.

Illegal immigration did its share. No society can successfully absorb some 6-7 million illegal aliens, in less than two decades, the vast majority without English, legality, or education from the poorer provinces of Mexico, the arrivals subsidized by state entitlements while sending billions in remittances back to Mexico — all in a politicized climate where dissent is demonized as racism. This state of affairs is especially true when the host has given up on assimilation, integration, the melting pot, and basic requirements of lawful citizenship.

Terrible governance was also a culprit, in the sense that the state worked like a lottery: those lucky enough by hook or by crook to get a state job thereby landed a bonanza of high wages, good benefits, no accountability, and rich pensions that eventually almost broke the larger and less well-compensated general society. When I see hordes of Highway Patrolmen writing tickets in a way they did not before 2008, I assume that these are revenue-based, not safety-based, protocols — a little added fiscal insurance that pensions and benefits will not be cut.

A coarsening of popular culture — a nationwide phenomenon — was intensified, as it always is, in California. The internet, video games, and modern pop culture translated into a generation of youth that did not know the value of hard work or a weekend hike in the Sierra. They didn’t learn  how to open a good history book or poem, much less acquire even basic skills such as mowing the lawn or hammering a nail. But California’s Generation X did know that they were “somebody” whom teachers and officials dared not reprimand, punish, prosecute, or otherwise pass judgment on for their anti-social behavior. Add all that up with a whiny, pampered, influential elite on the coast that was more worried about wind power, gay marriage, ending plastic bags in the grocery stores — and, well, you get the present-day Road Warrior culture of California.

There's much more at the link.

I'd love to say he's wrong - and as far as the more rural northern parts of the state are concerned, I think he still is - but judging by the many other reports coming out of California, as far as its major urban areas and southern half are concerned . . . I fear Mr. Hanson is prophetically correct.


Agricultural driving?

Yes, it's another rally clip - this one of highlights from the 2011 season.  There appear to be a large number of farm drivers in these cars, judging from their agricultural off-road excursions . . .  It's worth watching in full-screen mode.


Oh, no, Peter Jackson!

I'm extremely disappointed to hear that Peter Jackson and the companies involved have decided to release three, not two, instalments of the movie version of J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit".  I can't think of a single valid reason for this move other than particularly crass hucksterism.  Others appear to have similar views (see, for example, this comment in the Los Angeles Times).

I absolutely don't believe Mr. Jackson's protestations that:

We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance.  The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth.

(More at the link.  Italic print is my emphasis.)

Professor Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit" as a children's book.  It ended up much less complex than his "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy, and probably less than a quarter as long as the later, more developed work.  I simply can't see any logical, rational reason from an artistic perspective to take an earlier, less developed story and bloat it into a movie series of similar length to that based on the later, much more intricate story.  I don't care what extra material Mr. Jackson wants to include from other sources.  The resulting film won't be faithful to "The Hobbit" as Professor Tolkien conceived and created it.  It'll be something else entirely.  (For example, the 'Battle of Dol Guldur' to which Jackson refers is nothing more than a footnote in Tolkien's work - and Bilbo Baggins has no involvement in it whatsoever - but I bet it'll become a major setpiece in the movie version, grossly distorting its place in the story, just as Jackson did with the Battle of Helm's Deep in his movie version of "The Two Towers".)

I believe this is about money, pure and simple.  In fact, let's be honest and call it greed.  I can't think of a better name for it.  My high opinion of Mr. Jackson's artistic merits (which are considerable) has now been diluted with a very large dose of cynicism and disappointment.  I think he's done Professor Tolkien's work, and the movie-going public in general, a grave disservice.


Doofus Of The Day #626

Courtesy of a link provided by Australian reader Snoggeramus, we learn of today's winner.

A MAN who suffered serious burns when friends lit a firecracker in his bum says he was just showing his visiting mates a Territory good time.

Alex Bowden, 23, of Wagaman, Darwin, put a spinning "flying bee" winged firework in his butt crack during a party at a rented house on Rossiter St, Rapid Creek on Saturday night.

. . .

"It didn't burn my balls or my back," the fitter and turner said. "Just my fingers and my arse. "It was a pretty loose one, hey."

The cracker burned his bum cheeks, and his index, middle, and ring fingers on his right hand - which he used to pull the cracker from his crack.

Mr Bowden was not bleeding after it and he could walk afterwards.

His mate Reece McEwen said: "He screamed a little bit and there were a fair few f-words".

But Mr Bowden denied that there were tears.

"You can't sit here crying," he said.

His sober mate then drove him to the Royal Darwin Hospital burns unit where he is expected to remain for a few days.

There's more at the link.

One can only hope the nurses at the burns unit dress his blistered bum with something particularly painful - just to drive home the lesson that stupidity has consequences!


Fred Reed hits another one out of the park

I'm sure many readers are familiar with the iconoclastic, biting columns of Fred Reed.  He's just penned one on the demagogues he calls 'Race Hucksters'.

I read, with the joy that I usually reserve for recurrent migraines, that Precedent Obama will establish an Office of African-American Education, thus furthering the racial Balkanization of the country, providing makework jobs for useless bureaucrats and, predictably, accomplishing nothing.

. . .

Racial discrimination pervades American society, apparently ineradicably, rising over window sills, clogging storm drains—and all of it in favor of blacks. Try:

Head Start, the federal Department of Education, NCLB, forced integration, forced busing, free after-school programs, Youth Scholars, welfare, grants given to universities, medical schools, and law schools for developing minority outreach programs, affirmative action in school admissions, government contracts, government and private-sector jobs, unidirectional hate-crime laws, and so on. And on. And on.

. . .

No nation has ever made such desperate, soul-wrenching efforts to convince a large minority to for God’s sake do your homework. And this is what it comes to. I say to black parents: Your kids do not do poorly in school because of discrimination, but because they don’t know the answers. We evil whites can give you schools and books. We can’t read them for you. And we can’t make your children read them. That’s your job.

... The schools in DC are entirely under the control of blacks, and the per capita expenditure is very high. Yet the schools are almost the worst in the country ... Might it—just conceivably, you understand: I don’t want to fall into wild speculation—have something to do with the quality of teachers hired by the black government, the degree of orderliness required of the black students, and the degree of insistence by their parents that they do their homework?

. . .

And I know that anyone who really wanted to improve education for blacks could look to the Catholic schools of Washington, which do, or did when I last looked, a far better job than a dimwitted, vote-for-me Office of African-American Education. How did the artful mackerel-snappers do it? By demanding courtesy, expelling trouble-makers, insisting on done homework, and assuming that students were capable of it. Duh.

There's more at the link.  Gloriously politically incorrect, but depressingly accurate . . .


TV ratings - the best that bribes can fix?

There's an interesting lawsuit in New York concerning TV rating problems in India.  It may reveal a great deal about how TV programs and channels are rated in the USA as well.  The Hollywood Reporter informs us:

In a 194-page lawsuit filed in New York court late last week, [New Delhi Television Limited] accuses Nielsen of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by manipulating viewership data in favor of channels that are willing to provide bribes to its officials.

. . .

Tampering with data is said to have been a known problem since 2004 and discussed in industrywide public meetings.

For example, during a November meeting in Mumbai of the board of directors of News Broadcasters Association, NDTV's executive vice chairperson Narayan Rao presented a report about the fiddling of PeopleMeters, the company's audience-measurement tool. Rao said some were "subverting the ratings system by 'discovering' the panel homes that have PeopleMeters installed in them, doctoring data emerging from 'parallel homes,' providing a separate TV in select panel homes for viewing while the TV linked to the meter was tuned to specified channels [and] misusing the guest button where up to 10 guests can be shown watching even when there is no one there."

These acts are allegedly happening as TV channels in the country are covertly providing monetary inducements for the manipulation of data.

. . .

If that's not enough, the complaint ... suggests that similar bad activity is happening elsewhere -- in Florida, Turkey and the Philippines.

There's more at the link.  It's well worth reading the whole article to get a sense for how easy it may be to manipulate the ratings.  If the allegations are true, it would seem they're not worth the paper they're printed on - which means that advertisers who are charged by networks according to those ratings are being ripped off left, right and center.

Is it just me, or can anyone else sense the impending approach of a shark lawyer feeding frenzy?


Monday, July 30, 2012

Another late night

Lots of work, sore back, very tired.  Me go bed now.  Look for blog posts tomorrow morning.


What your phone company knows about you

This highly informative (and very worrying) talk was given by Malte Spitz, a German politician of the Green Party, at a recent TED conference.  It's well worth your time to watch it.

You can read more about the problem, including viewing an animation of how much his phone company knew about Mr. Spitz, by clicking here.

I knew that all sorts of people, companies and agencies were watching almost everyone . . . but I never knew their information about us was so detailed and intrusive.  The question is, how can it be reversed - if at all?


Doofus Of The Day #625

Today's award goes to the security personnel at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Three peace activists -- including an 82-year-old nun -- infiltrated the highest-security area of the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in a predawn protest Saturday, reportedly evading guards and cutting through three or four fences in order to spray-paint messages, hang banners and pour human blood at the site where warhead parts are manufactured and the nation's stockpile of bomb-grade uranium is stored.

It was an unprecedented security breach at the Oak Ridge plant, which enriched the uranium for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II and continues to be a mainstay of the U.S. nuclear defense program.

. . .

Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration at Y-12, declined to discuss details of the early-morning events at the Oak Ridge, but he acknowledged that the unapproved entry into the plant's inner sanctum -- a high-security zone known simply as the Protected Area -- was unprecedented.

"There's never been a situation like this before to my knowledge," Wyatt said Saturday afternoon.

If unarmed protesters dressed in dark clothing could reach the plant's core during the cover of dark, it raised questions about the plant's security against more menacing intruders.

. . .

Saturday's intrusion at Y-12 comes just a few days after the WSI, the government's security contractor in Oak Ridge, confirmed plans to eliminate about 50 security jobs in Oak Ridge -- including 34 security police officers at Y-12.

There's more at the link.

Let's see now.  We trust you to keep out Russian and Chinese spies, Al Qaeda terrorists, and others of their ilk . . . but you can't keep out an 82-year-old nun armed with banners and spray paint???

Doofi indeed!


The littlest room - in space?

Courtesy of a link at Dark Roasted Blend, I was amused to come across an article titled '6 Incredible Toilets in Space'.  I must admit, the mechanics of a No. 1 or a No. 2 in weightlessness hadn't weighed heavily upon my mind (or anything else) . . . but I'm now enlightened!  Here's an example.

This, we’re reliably informed, is the toilet that went up with the Soyuz rocket circa 1967.

Thankfully, technology has moved on since the inception of this thing, but even so, it shows that removing waste has been a puzzle for astrophysicists since the dawn of space flight.

There's more at the link.  Interesting and quirky reading.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Light blogging tonight

I'm feeling very tired, but also rather triumphant.  I've just finished a 135,000-word military sci-fi manuscript, of which about half is new work and the other half revised older work.  It's taken me five weeks of flat-out hard work, but it's been worth it.  I think the elements that have been incorporated into this MS will lead directly into the next three books in the series.

Now comes the fun part of sharing the MS with alpha and beta readers, correcting errors, polishing language, fine-tuning characterizations, and getting it ready to go.  In the meantime, I've already begun work on revising the second book in the series.  I wrote it some time ago, but it'll change radically with the new elements I've brought into play, so it'll take another couple of months to get into shape.  Hard work, but I'm enjoying the renewed creativity after a long dry spell.

I'll put up more blog posts early tomorrow morning.  In the meantime, please amuse yourselves in the archives, or at some of the other blogs linked in the sidebar.

Sleep well, y'all.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

That's one way to cadge a quick meal!

I was amazed to come across this video clip of whale sharks feeding from fishermens' nets in Cenderawasih Bay on the coast of West Papua.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

The whales are resident in the region and the local fishermen have established a relationship with them ... The locals view the whale shark as a good luck omen.

Whale sharks eat a diverse array of zooplankton, including small crustaceans, jelly fish and coral spawn - and easy feeds of fish when they can get them.

There's more at the link.

Here's the video clip.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

Amazing!  It's almost as if the net is an udder from which the whale sharks feed like calves!


Curvaceous indeed!

I note that the almost-completed Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada has been awarded the title of Best Tall Building in the Americas for 2012.  It's certainly a departure from your average skyscraper!

Due to its curves, it's been dubbed the 'Marilyn Monroe' building.

There are many more (and much larger) photographs of these unique buildings at the link.  Very interesting from a design standpoint.


Another old-fashioned business model runs headlong into reality

We've previously looked at how the publishing industry in general is being upset by the advent of e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and reading apps for smartphones and tablets.  Indeed, the e-readers themselves are rapidly becoming something of a 'loss leader' compared to the content sold for consumption using them.  For example, some market analysts derided Amazon for selling what they claimed was 'only' about three-quarters of a million Kindles during the first quarter of this year, after the Christmas rush was over.  However, if the commonly quoted figure is correct of plus-or-minus $120 in profit on the sale of e-books to be read on each of those Kindles, that means Amazon's in line to make $90 million in profit on that quarter's Kindle sales alone.  Averaging that over a year and adding the Christmas rush, and it's clear the company may be making between half a billion and three-quarters of a billion dollars in annual profit off e-books alone.  No wonder traditional publishers are hurting!

The same trend is beginning to affect academic and scientific publishing.  For decades specialist and professional journals have charged subscribers exorbitant amounts, because they were the only place that the latest research was published.  It was literally a seller's market.  Now governments and consumers are putting their foot down.  The Economist reports:

IF THERE is any endeavour whose fruits should be freely available, that endeavour is surely publicly financed science. Morally, taxpayers who wish to should be able to read about it without further expense. And science advances through cross-fertilisation between projects. Barriers to that exchange slow it down.

There is a widespread feeling that the journal publishers who have mediated this exchange for the past century or more are becoming an impediment to it. One of the latest converts is the British government. On July 16th it announced that, from 2013, the results of taxpayer-financed research would be available, free and online, for anyone to read and redistribute.

. . .

Criticism of journal publishers usually boils down to two things. One is that their processes take months, when the internet could allow them to take days. The other is that because each paper is like a mini-monopoly, which workers in the field have to read if they are to advance their own research, there is no incentive to keep the price down. The publishers thus have scientists—or, more accurately, their universities, which pay the subscriptions—in an armlock. That, combined with the fact that the raw material (manuscripts of papers) is free, leads to generous returns. In 2011 Elsevier, a large Dutch publisher, made a profit of £768m on revenues of £2.06 billion—a margin of 37%. Indeed, Elsevier’s profits are thought so egregious by many people that 12,000 researchers have signed up to a boycott of the company’s journals.

. . .

Support has been swelling for open-access scientific publishing: doing it online, in a way that allows anyone to read papers free of charge. The movement started among scientists themselves, but governments are now, as Britain’s announcement makes clear, paying attention and asking whether they, too, might benefit from the change.

. . .

A revolution, then, has begun. Technology permits it; researchers and politicians want it. If scientific publishers are not trembling in their boots, they should be.

There's more at the link.  It makes interesting reading, particularly for those in the 'publish or perish' professions.

I think this change is long overdue.  Amazon and its imitators have already revolutionized general publishing;  why should scientific publishing be immune?


Friday, July 27, 2012

Exercise is bus-ting out all over!

The BBC reports:

A bus has been transformed into an exercising artwork that can perform push-ups.

Artist David Cerny created The London Booster by attaching huge arms, suspension mechanics and adding groaning sound effects to the 1957 double decker bus.

The Czech artist said the piece could be seen as ironic because push-ups are "a common exercise for every sportsman" but also punishment.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that, but it's real!  Here's footage of the bus at 'work'.

Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .


Doofus Of The Day #624

Today's winner comes from Australia.

One man probably has learned a costly lesson about where he hides his cash.

The unidentified father from Sydney, Australia, sold his car last weekend. The $15,000 (approximately $15,652 in U.S. dollars) in proceeds was earmarked for his mortgage payment and other bills, according to Australian media. Opting not to squirrel away the loot in a mattress or bury it in his backyard, he decided to hide it his oven, which rarely gets used.

Bad move: Turns out, his wife decided to use the oven that day, preheating it for chicken nuggets for their two children and, yes, cooked the cash.

"It was everything I had," he told the news station. "I've got nothing to my name. That money was supposed to go towards my mortgage."

His wife was equally distraught and, reportedly, could not stop crying when telling her husband after she discovered what happened: The cash was baked into a colorful burnt mess.

There's more at the link.

It turns out that if the notes are still recognizable, the Australian Reserve Bank will replace them, so he may be able to get most of his money back.  Still, I bet he won't put it in the oven for safekeeping next time . . .


The very first helicopters

The very useful Aviastar Web site bills itself as 'All The World's Rotorcraft'.  It has many fascinating details of helicopters past and present from around the world.

To illustrate its breadth of information, among the listings is a very interesting catalog of European helicopters built between 1907 and 1935.  Here are a couple of examples.

Breguet-Richet Gyroplane No. 1, 1907

The site notes:

When it rose vertically from the ground with its pilot in the late summer of 1907, the Gyroplane No.1 built by Louis and Jacques Breguet in association with Professor Charles Richet had to be steadied by a man stationed at the extremity of each of the four arms supporting the rotors. It cannot, therefore, take the credit for being the first helicopter to make a free flight, even though the ground helpers contributed nothing towards the lifting power of the rotors; but it was the first machine to raise itself, with a pilot, vertically off the ground by means of a rotating-wing system of lift.

There's more at the link, and in an article about its successor, the Breguet-Richet Gyroplane No. 2 of 1908. Wikipedia has a short article about them, and Flight Global published an article earlier this year mentioning them in the context of the French Helicopter Association's celebration of 100 years of rotary-wing aircraft.

Louis Brennan's experimental helicopter of 1924

The Web site reports:

The 1360kg [2,992 lb.] empty weight machine used a single 18m [58½ feet] rotor. Propellers at the rotor tips produced torqueless rotation and were powered by a 230hp Bentley BR-2 driving transmission shafts that ran down the length of the rotor blades. Compressed air was used to control the rotor pitch angle, effecting translation through cyclic control. Tethered flights were conducted during 1924 in a hanger with free flights the following May. Power was sufficient to lift four "passengers" when tethered, but stability and control were still very poor. Over 80 take-offs were made, but the maximum altitude was only 2.4m [just under 8 feet] and maximum distance only about 183m [just under 600 feet]. The machine crashed in 1926, ending the tests.

Again, more at the link. An interesting short biography of Mr. Brennan may be found here. He was an avid inventor and experimenter in many fields.

Of course, none of these early aircraft could be considered successful helicopters;  but they paved the way for more successful designs to follow.  The first helicopters to actually prove themselves as viable, capable aircraft were the German Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 and the American Sikorsky R-4, both of which saw service in the latter part of World War II.

US Sikorsky R-4 helicopter on Iwo Jima, 23rd March, 1945

I recommend the Aviastar Web site to all aircraft aficionados.  It contains some fascinating material.


450 years of compound interest sure adds up!

All the talk of a European economic crisis has obscured the fact that Germany's capital city, Berlin, has a debt problem all its own.

The sleepy hamlet of Mittenwalde in eastern Germany could become one of the richest towns in the world if Berlin were to repay it an outstanding debt that dates back to 1562.

A certificate of debt, found in a regional archive, attests that Mittenwalde lent Berlin 400 guilders on May 28 1562, to be repaid with six percent interest per year.

According to Radio Berlin Brandenburg (RBB), the debt would amount to 11,200 guilders today, which is roughly equivalent to 112 million euros ($136.79 million).

Adjusting for compound interest and inflation, the total debt now lies in the trillions, by RBB's estimates.

. . .

Schmidt and Mittenwalde's Mayor Uwe Pfeiffer have tried to ask Berlin for their money back. Such requests have been made every 50 years or so since 1820 but always to no avail.

. . .

The debt-laden German capital would have difficulty meeting Mittenwalde's demands anyway. According to a report released by the senate finance administration in June 2012, Berlin is already close to 63 billion euros in the red.

There's more at the link.

Wouldn't it be fun if Mittenwalde sued Berlin for payment - in a European court rather than a German one?  It'd be even more fun if the little town won . . .


Has technology killed gun control?

There's growing evidence that technology has made political gun control obsolete and irrelevant.  I've written here before about so-called '3D printing', a technology that allows you to build up almost anything you can think of in your own basement if you can afford anything from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for equipment.  Designs for firearms components using this technology are already freely available over the Internet, and have been discussed on firearms forums.  A member of AR15.com (a.k.a. 'Arfcom') has just built and test-fired his own AR15 lower receiver using that technology.

I have an old Stratasys 3D printer (mid-to-late 90s machine, but works fine) and early last summer I printed a modified version of the lower from cncguns.com (I beefed up the front takedown lugs, bolt hold lugs, and added an integral trigger guard).

I assembled it first into a .22 pistol.

It's had over 200 rounds of .22 through it so far and runs great! To the best of my knowledge, this is the world's first 3D printed firearm to actually be tested, but I have a hard time believing that it really is the first (if anyone can point me to earlier work, it would be much appreciated).

. . .

Last weekend I finally re-assembled a .223 upper and gave it a go.

No, it did not blow up into a bazillion tiny plastic shards and maim me for life - I am sorry to have disappointed those of you who foretold doom and gloom.

However, it is giving me feed and extraction issues. As these issues persisted when I switched over to a standard aluminum lower, my problems appear to be with the upper. I'll give it a good cleaning/oiling and try it with some brass cartridges instead. Nevertheless, yes - a 3D printed lower is entirely usable. My model could stand to have a little more material on the buffer tower, but I'm extremely pleased with how well it's working so far.

More at the link.

3D printing isn't necessary for (or even the optimum solution to) home gun production.  Older metal-working technology is becoming more and more affordable and easy to use.  As Popehat pointed out last year, even regular machine tools can be purchased cheaply and converted to CNC operation.

Bring some steel up to temperatures that you can reach in your basement with an oxy cutting rig that you can buy for less than the cost of taking your wife to dinner and a show then plunge it into cold water, and you've got a nearly diamond-hard object where the carbon atoms have been do-si-doh-ed into proper body-centered cubic alignment . . . and then throw it in a $20 toaster oven from Target and you can relieve some of the internal stresses and create a cutting tool that can slice through regular steel . . . and cut through aluminum like Tipper Gore through the 1st amendment.

The point of all of this being that working metal is not magic, and if more of us saw our dads building mufflers from scratch instead of building bird houses from scratch, the mental block on home-building stuff from metal in modestly equipped shops wouldn't exist).

. . .

So how much does it cost to start cutting metal at home, using all the power of Jacquard, Jobs, and Moore?

If you want to do it right it's still not cheap.

. . . but if you're willing to go small, crappy, and scrappy, the options are there.

If you're content with laying down lines of extruded hot glue, the friends-and-family of the Bng-Bngers will sell you a device.

If you're a bit more roll-your own, you can cobble together your own glue-extruding mess from instructions .

If glue is a bit too shoddy to build with and you want to turn work wood, people are rolling their own machines for about $1.5k.

If you want to take a step up to working metal, that's about $2k . . . or closer to $1k if you already have an old box sitting around that you can install Ubuntu on. (Side note: How did it get so cheap to build machine tools? By taking the labor out of the process and using automated metalworking machines to build automated metalworking machines.

If you really want to carve big metal, you can pick up a 2-ton, full-sized Bridgeport milling machine with a J head off of Craigslist for less than most folks spend on cable TV over the course of a year and follow instructions on how to CNC-ify it.

There's more at the link - it's an excellent article, and well worth reading (as always from Popehat's contributors).

Having worked as a prison chaplain and seen what gang-bangers can cook up in their mommas' back yards, and coming from Africa where home-made and home-repaired firearms are very common, I can assure you that to produce a makeshift, cobbled-together firearm isn't particularly difficult (although some of the quality control I've seen - frequently conspicuous by its absence - leads me to believe that actually firing the damn things might be more hazardous to the shooter's health than to his intended victim's!).  I've personally seen a single-shot weapon made from a length of plumbing pipe, a rusty nail and spring to serve as a firing pin, and a shotgun cartridge.  There are many pictures of similar weapons out there.  There was even a case where a super-soaker was converted into a shotgun!

Today, with high-technology manufacturing solutions becoming cheap enough to be purchased and used by the average backyard mechanic or DIY enthusiast, I think the 'gun control genie' is well and truly out of the bottle.  With a modicum of skill, plus the purchase of a few complicated components from suppliers (which typically cost only a few dollars, and can be stockpiled easily for future use), it's now entirely feasible to produce the functional (if not cosmetic) equivalent of a Glock pistol in one's home workshop.  Provided one has access to ammunition (and home reloading of ammo has been commonplace for many decades), one can build up an arsenal without too much trouble, and supply others as well.

That may be illegal, but it's eminently feasible - and if the authorities try to crack down on the sale of firearms, it will become much more widespread.  That's historically been the case every time authorities have tried to ban weapons.  (It also gave rise to many of the Oriental martial arts, as a means of defense when peasants and others were denied the right to own weapons.)

What makes gun-banners think it'll be any different this time, if they succeed in their objectives?


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Transporting lumber, Russian style

Had a busy day and evening.  I'm too tired to put up blog posts now, so I'm going to hit the sack.  I'll put up more posts early tomorrow morning.

To keep you occupied until then, here's how one enterprising Russian motorist carried a stack of 2x4's home to mother.

Clearly, Russian traffic cops are as seldom there when you need them as their US counterparts . . .


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Isle of Man TT in slow motion

I've twice mentioned the 2012 Isle of Man TT motorcycle race in recent months.  It's probably the world's premier event of its kind - not to mention probably the most dangerous motorcycle race in existence, as this 2005 article makes clear.

I just came across this video clip of the 2009 race, showing what happens to motorcycles as they negotiate some of the most tricky parts of the course.  It's in very slow motion, so you can see details as small as the deformations in the tires as they come down after a jump, or the impact of a rider's knee on the tarmac as it sends ripples up his leg.  I strongly suggest watching it in full-screen mode.

As a commenter said about the video, it 'captures the true essence of the [race]'.  I think so too - and also its danger!  Remember that you're not watching motorcycles on a purpose-built racing circuit, but on regular, narrow streets.  They're re-paved before the race each year, but as the close-up shots make clear, that doesn't remove all the bumps.  Hazardous indeed!


Doofus Of The Day #623

A tip o' the hat to reader James G. for sending the link to this news report.

Richmond Co. Sheriff's Office investigators say 36 year old William Bonner of Thomson was highly intoxicated late Friday night, and had a friend pour a shot of high-proof alcohol, Bacardi 151, over his head, then another friend set him ablaze.

And what started it may shock you.

"He actually bet the people he was with that he could do this," says RCSO Investigator Lt. Blaise Dresser.

. . .

Bonner ran around, trying to pat out the flames. After the fire was out, he walked out of the bar.

"His face was red, real glistening almost," says Birmingham. "It had the consistency of melted plastic. It didn't look good at all."

Birmingham and the RCSO deputy working security that night offered to call an ambulance, but Bonner got into the car with his friends.

They drove him to Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center, and he was airlifted to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital from there.

He was released Monday. No word on his condition when he arrived or what kind of injuries Bonner sustained.

There's more at the link.

If you drink so much you actually make bets about this, then proceed to do it . . . words fail me!  Perhaps we should have a special Drunken Doofus category?  (Although this bozo would undoubtedly be classified as a representative of the regrettably-not-rare-enough über-Drunken-Doofus variety!)


The Penn State scandal

I've refrained from saying much about the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, largely because I was absolutely sickened by it.  Considering the difficulties I found within the Catholic Church, and that organization's dilatory and wholly inadequate response to a much more widespread scandal until it was far too late to mitigate the damage, you'll understand, I'm sure.  (See the sidebar for my articles on that subject, if you're interested.)

I found the 'punishment' meted out to Penn State by the NCAA to be pathetically inadequate.  All the tens of millions of dollars in 'fines' they imposed won't undo the harm done to a single child, let alone the dozens, perhaps scores that were victimized.  To my mind, the only punishment that would fit the crime is something like this:

  • The dismissal of every person in authority at Penn State who knew about the situation, but did nothing to prevent it from continuing;
  • Those persons' loss of every benefit from Penn State, up to and including their pensions;
  • Criminal charges against them wherever sufficient evidence is available to prove their criminal neglect;  and -
  • A total ban on Penn State's football activities for a period corresponding to that during which the neglect took place.  If University authorities knew about the abuse 12-14 years ago, but did nothing, then Penn State should be barred from intercollegiate football for a similar length of time.

I was pleased to read two other bloggers' perspectives on the issue tonight.  Jennifer and Labrat have both come out swinging against those who are protesting that the NCAA penalties levied against Penn State are somehow excessive.  I fully support these two ladies' position that they're not only not excessive - they are, in fact, wholly inadequate, given the magnitude of the crime.

I'd like to think that other collegiate football teams have something of a sense of honor.  I'd like to hope that they'll refuse to play against Penn State.  Unfortunately, since most college sports administrators are probably all too similar to those at Penn State, they'll probably 'follow the money' rather than following ethical and moral considerations.  Pity about that . . . and about the message it sends to their players, their supporters and their students:  namely, that child sex abuse is of no importance compared to making money.

I don't want to suggest that all who think like that - or whose behavior suggests they think like that - should themselves be rampantly and repeatedly sexually abused by bigger, stronger assailants until they're bleeding and begging and weeping and pleading for mercy.  I really don't want to suggest that . . . but, dear Lord, I'm tempted!


Criminal gangs spread to smaller cities

Last year, in an article titled 'The changing urban self-defense environment', I pointed out (amongst many other points) that:

  1. One is now more likely to be confronted with crime, whether at home, in the shopping mall, in parking areas, or at large gatherings;
  2. One is more likely to have to defend oneself and/or one's loved ones against danger from multiple directions and multiple attackers;
  3. The crime is more likely to be violent, with little or no verbal or other warning before escalating to blows or the use of weapons.

There's much more at the link.  If you haven't read that earlier article, I suggest you do so before continuing with this one.

In the light of that article, I wasn't surprised to read this report at PoliceOne.

Gangrelated crimes rose nearly 25 percent across Tennessee in 2011, but much of the illegal activity is happening away from big cities.

. . .

Since 2005, cities with fewer than 50,000 residents saw gang crime more than triple.

Gangs are becoming problems in places like Springfield, a town of about 16,000 people 30 miles north of Nashville.

In the past two months in Springfield, three suspected gang members were arrested in the armed holdup of a bank, and a 20-year-old man was found dead with a bullet wound to the back of his head near a youth center.

"By and large, the average citizen, I don't think, sees or knows what's really going on," said Springfield police Chief David Thompson.

"There's a lot of people that are just in denial or unaware. If it doesn't impact them directly, they wouldn't know about it. We've reached a space now where you can't ignore what's happening."

But rural towns often have small and sometimes ill-equipped police departments, which can make the communities vulnerable and attractive to young criminals trying to dodge larger cities with more sophisticated gang units. Also, gangs find rural areas to be full of eager, new drug customers and devoid of competition from other gangs. For a while, at least. The FBI's annual National Gang Threat Assessment in 2011 was blunt in its appraisal of gangs' interest in these untapped areas.

"Gang members are migrating from urban areas to suburban and rural communities to recruit new members, expand their drug distribution territories, form new alliances, and collaborate with rival gangs and criminal organizations for profit and influence," the report said.

Again, more at the link.  If you're at all interested in your security, I highly recommend clicking over to PoliceOne and reading the whole thing, as well as the 2011 FBI National Gang Threat Assessment.

Don't think this problem is confined to Tennessee - it's not.  The same trend is visible in almost every state, as gangs try to get out from under the increased surveillance directed at them in larger cities.  Another factor is the spread of drugs and drug money from Mexican cartels to local gangs, which are increasingly acting as distributors.  They've got enough money backing them to spread their nets wider now.

Forewarned is forearmed, friends.  I can only suggest that each of you carefully examine your family's residential, work, commuting, education, shopping and entertainment environments, and take appropriate precautions to ensure your safety as best you can.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A parade float that says it all!

I received these photographs via e-mail.  They apparently show a float from a recent parade in Bessemer, Michigan.  The e-mail notes:

Bessemer, Michigan is a small community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, located near Ironwood and Wakefield, Michigan and Hurley, Wisconsin.  For those who don't recognize it, the trailer behind the tractor is a manure spreader.

I guess at least some people in Bessemer don't like what the current POTUS has done for their economy - and I'm willing to bet that float will prove prophetic if President Obama wins a second term!  The phrase 'economically illiterate' seems tailor-made for this Administration . . .


The most risky airports for the spread of disease

The 'house journal' of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT News, has published a very interesting study on which US airports would be the principal nodes from which an outbreak of infectious disease would spread via travelers.  Here are a few excerpts from their report.

... a new study by researchers in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) shifts the focus to the first few days of an epidemic, determining how likely the 40 largest U.S. airports are to influence the spread of a contagious disease originating in their home cities. This new approach could help determine appropriate measures for containing infection in specific geographic areas and aid public health officials in making decisions about the distribution of vaccinations or treatments in the earliest days of contagion.

Unlike existing models, the new MIT model incorporates variations in travel patterns among individuals, the geographic locations of airports, the disparity in interactions among airports, and waiting times at individual airports to create a tool that could be used to predict where and how fast a disease might spread.

. . .

Juanes' studies of the flow of fluids through fracture networks in subsurface rock and the research of CEE's Marta González, who uses cellphone data to model human mobility patterns and trace contagion processes in social networks, laid the basis for determining individual travel patterns among airports in the new study. Existing models typically assume a random, homogenous diffusion of travelers from one airport to the next.

However, people don't travel randomly; they tend to create patterns that can be replicated. Using González's work on human mobility patterns, Juanes and his research group — including graduate student Christos Nicolaides and research associate Luis Cueto-Felgueroso — applied Monte Carlo simulations to determine the likelihood of any single traveler flying from one airport to another.

. . .

For example, a simplified model using random diffusion might say that half the travelers at the Honolulu airport will go to San Francisco and half to Anchorage, Alaska, taking the disease and spreading it to travelers at those airports, who would randomly travel and continue the contagion.

In fact, while the Honolulu airport gets only 30 percent as much air traffic as New York's Kennedy International Airport, the new model predicts that it is nearly as influential in terms of contagion, because of where it fits in the air transportation network: Its location in the Pacific Ocean and its many connections to distant, large and well-connected hubs gives it a ranking of third in terms of contagion-spreading influence.

Kennedy Airport is ranked first by the model, followed by airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago (O'Hare) and Washington (Dulles). Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is first in number of flights, ranks eighth in contagion influence. Boston's Logan International Airport ranks 15th.

There's more at the link.  Very interesting and highly recommended reading.

Here's a video animation showing traffic into and out of US airports, based on MIT's new model.  It's immediately obvious which are the major threats for contagion.

It looks like a fascinating study!  It's very interesting what you can do when you combine all sorts of different datasets and run them through a common filter.


The old is new again . . .

Aviation-minded readers will recall that prior to World War II, most aircraft were constructed from wood or metal frames and ribs, covered with fabric.  Even some of the better-known combat aircraft of World War II, such as the Hawker Hurricane fighter and the Vickers Wellington bomber, used this construction technique.

Damaged tail of Vickers Wellington bomber, showing burned fabric over
the aircraft's geodesic airframe (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Indeed, it sometimes gave such aircraft an unexpected advantage in combat - German cannon shells, designed to explode on impact with the metal skin of an aircraft, would sometimes pass right through the fuselage or wings of such planes without exploding, provided they didn't hit a rib or frame beneath the outer fabric coating.

Of course, metal-skinned aircraft came to dominate, because fabric-skinned planes couldn't fly at the high speeds and g-loadings required for modern combat, much less withstand pressurization at high altitudes.  Fabric-covered fuselages and wings therefore faded from the military and commercial aviation 'scene', although they remained (and are still) popular among light aircraft owners and builders.  Several companies offer modern synthetic cloth for this purpose, replacing the older 'Irish linen' material and its equivalents used in times past.

However, news from Sikorsky makes me wonder whether fabric coverings for at least some combat aircraft may be making a comeback in a new, high-tech form.  Aviation Week reports:

When Sikorsky launched its online Entrepreneurial Challenge to identify small innovative firms it could help incubate, I was intrigued. Now they have announced the first winner ...

Pankl Aerospace Innovations is a company established by Austrian automotive and aerospace manufacturer Pankl Racing Systems, a supplier of transmission components to Sikorsky through its California-based Pankl Aerospace business.

Pankl is working on several rotary-wing technologies it has packaged together in a concept called HERO, for Helicopter Equipped with Reconnaissance and Onslaught (sic). The concept combines new materials, drive train and cockpit philosophy.

There's more at the link.  Here's a diagram of Pankl's concept.

Note that their proposed combat helicopter uses a 'light fabric skin'.  Shades of combat aircraft from times past!  I'll be intrigued to see if this ever flies.  I'm not sure the USAF or other services even have personnel any longer who know how to apply and/or repair fabric coverings for aircraft!  Wouldn't it be fun if they had to approach the Experimental Aircraft Association to find people with that skill set to maintain their aircraft?


Security clearances - the madness intensifies

Last year I asked 'Security clearances - has Washington gone mad???'  Judging by this news, it's at least unbalanced . . .  security clearances are sprouting like weeds and multiplying like mosquitoes in stagnant water!

The number of people who held security clearances for access to classified information increased last year to a new reported high of more than 4.8 million persons as of October 1, 2011, a new intelligence community report to Congress said.

Last year’s annual report, the first official count of security cleared personnel, had indicated that there were over 4.2 million clearances in 2010.  That number astonished observers because it surpassed previous estimates by more than a million.

But it turns out that the 2010 number itself underreported the number of clearances, and the new report to Congress presents a revised 2010 figure of 4.7 million.  Even so, the number of clearances rose in 2011 by about 3% to 4.86 million, the new report said.

. . .

The total clearance figure is composed of cleared government employees and contractors, at all clearance levels — Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.  (The number of Top Secret clearances alone was over 1.4 million.)  It includes all persons who have been cleared for access to classified information whether or not they have actually been granted such access.

There's more at the link.

For the life of me, I can't begin to imagine why any national state would need more than 1.4 million people security-cleared to Top Secret level!  It's absolutely insane!  I offer here and now, without any hedging or weaseling, to bet my entire income for the rest of my life, against the same from any reader who cares to take my bet, that at least 1% of those currently holding Top Secret clearances are compromised in some way from a security perspective, and that at least 0.1% - one in a thousand of them - are currently engaged in and/or guilty of felony-level criminal (perhaps even treasonous) activities.  (Judging by my experience in security-cleared posts in another country, I think that's probably a very conservative estimate.)  I don't suggest anyone take the bet, though.  For a start, there's no way to verify that.  Furthermore, any security specialist reading these words is undoubtedly already nodding his head in agreement with my figures - if not rebuking me for being too conservative in my estimates!

Reader comments in response to last year's article were informative and sometimes amusing.  What do readers think of this latest report?


Talk about red tape!

Yesterday, talking about the reality of today's economy, we mentioned in passing regulatory overhead costs for businesses to hire more employees.

Today, over at Theo Spark's place, I came across this diagram labeled  'Red Tape vs. Small Business'.  I had no idea the situation was this bad, but I've no reason to disbelieve the diagram - in fact, judging by what small businessmen such as Warren Meyer frequently have to say, it may be over-simplified!

Open the image in a new browser tab or window to see it full-size. Scary!


Monday, July 23, 2012

More world rally car action

I've posted video clips before of rallying cars in action.  I recently came across this short video of highlights from international races.  I can't get over the sheer skill of the drivers.  To cover such shockingly bad roads at such high speeds is truly death-defying!



Doofus Of The Day #622

Today's award goes (yet again) to the British legal system, in particular the idiots who inflicted this on British taxpayers.

Lifelong criminal Mark Hook, who caused a political furore when he was sent on safari in his teens to steer him away from a life of crime has been jailed for committing his 112th offence.

Two decades on, it has clearly not worked.

. . .

Before Thursday he had made 32 court appearances over the last 20 years comprising 111 offences, 43 of which were thefts.

His latest brush with the law involved him mugging a woman shopper last September and handling credit cards stolen from another woman, and at aged 35 the fear is that there’s plenty still to come.

Jailed for 18 months, though having served nine on remand he will be free again soon, his appearance at Gloucester Crown Court had an air of familiarity about it.

Judge Jamie Tabor QC said: ... “You have an appalling record. You are a perpetual villain.”

. . .

If the authorities had had their way, it would never have turned out like this. In 1993, aged 17 but already transgressing the law, Gloucestershire County Council sent him to Bryn Melyn, a North Wales therapy centre for troubled youths.

The principal, Brendan McNutt, had not long before hit upon the idea of taking persistent offenders out of their criminal environment and abroad; where they would not know the culture, money or geography; where they could build a relationship with their guide and crucially, where they would be unable to run away.

Funded by the money the centre was receiving from social services, Hook went on an 88-day visit to Egypt and Kenya to visit places where people were worse off than him.

Whatever the immediate outcome was meant to be, it did not work. Hook began offending again as soon as he returned, continuing on an almost non-stop crime spree which has never stopped.

A descendant of Private Henry Hook, the Rorke’s Drift VC hero of the Zulu Wars, Hook is not the only youngster to be sent abroad, but is certainly the most notorious.

When word got out about his safari, it caused such a national outcry that John Major, then Prime Minister, put an end to such foreign trips.

His Home Secretary Michael Howard, accused the authorities of having “more money than sense” whilst Virginia Bottomley, then Health Secretary, waded in, saying that “children involved in wrongdoing should not feel rewarded for their actions”.

At the time Gloucester County Council argued that the £7,000 bill for Hook’s safari was good value compared with the £1,800 a week it would have cost him to stay put at Bryn Melyn, the rehabilitation centre in North Wales that organised the trip, and scarcely more expensive than the £500-a-week bill for putting him in ordinary custody.

By 1999 they had changed their mind, saying that “persistent young offenders who attracted media interest in the early 1990s are now in their late teens or early 20s. Some have continued to commit crime and have received custodial sentences. It is unfortunate that we have to acknowledge that some young offenders are unable or unwilling to change”.

There's more at the link.

What can one say, except "Your tax dollars at work!"


Of taxes, tax avoidance, and socialist greed

The BBC reported yesterday that the Tax Justice Network is at it again.

A global super-rich elite had at least $21 trillion hidden in secret tax havens by the end of 2010, according to a major study.

The figure is equivalent to the size of the US and Japanese economies combined.

The Price of Offshore Revisited was written by James Henry, a former chief economist at the consultancy McKinsey, for the Tax Justice Network.

. . .

Mr Henry said his $21tn is actually a conservative figure and the true scale could be $32tn. A trillion is 1,000 billion.

Mr Henry used data from the Bank of International Settlements, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and national governments.

His study deals only with financial wealth deposited in bank and investment accounts, and not other assets such as property and yachts.

The report comes amid growing public and political concern about tax avoidance and evasion. Some authorities, including in Germany, have even paid for information on alleged tax evaders stolen from banks.

. . .

Mr Henry said that the super-rich move money around the globe through an "industrious bevy of professional enablers in private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries.

"The lost tax revenues implied by our estimates is huge. It is large enough to make a significant difference to the finances of many countries.

"From another angle, this study is really good news. The world has just located a huge pile of financial wealth that might be called upon to contribute to the solution of our most pressing global problems," he said.

There's more at the link.

Note the arrogance of the TJN's researcher.  No sooner does he 'uncover' that rich people allegedly have all these trillions of dollars squirreled away somewhere than he blithely assumes it can be taken away from them and used for 'the solution of our most pressing global problems'.  The fact that it's someone else's property doesn't bother him in the least.  Can anyone say 'socialism'?  Can anyone say 'Marx'?  I figured you could . . .

The Tax Justice Network says of itself:

The Tax Justice Network promotes transparency in international finance and opposes secrecy. We support a level playing field on tax and we oppose loopholes and distortions in tax and regulation, and the abuses that flow from them. We promote tax compliance and we oppose tax evasion, tax avoidance, and all the mechanisms that enable owners and controllers of wealth to escape their responsibilities to the societies on which they and their wealth depend.

Again, more at the link.  Bold print is my emphasis.  If that doesn't remind you of President Obama's fatuous claim last week that entrepreneurs and businessmen didn't become successful from their own efforts, it should!  It's drawn from precisely the same sort of ideological background.

I'm not surprised that wealthy people are seeking to protect their assets from a rapacious taxman.  As Ari Fleischer pointed out in the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

... consider the top 20% of [US] income earners (over $74,000). They make 50% of the nation's income but pay nearly 70% of all federal taxes.

The remaining 30% of the tax burden is borne by 80% of the taxpayers, those who make less than $74,000. In short, this group's share of taxes paid, 30%, is lower than the share of income they earn, 50%.

Yet President Obama says that "for some time now, when compared to the middle class," the wealthy "haven't been asked to do their fair share."

He's right that the system isn't fair, but not because the top 1% pay too little. It is because they pay too much.

More at the link.

The only surprising thing about the report is that it couldn't estimate with any accuracy precisely how much has been hidden from taxation.  (Then again, if I were rich enough to be worried about tax [sadly, I'm not], I'd make damn sure the taxman - not to mention nosy researchers - couldn't find it at all!)