Monday, September 30, 2013

Has the Marine Corps lost its soul?


Events over the past couple of years have made me angry, and left me wondering whether the US Marine Corps has lost its sense of honor and its 'band of brothers' commitment between Marines.  On three occasions I've raised hell about incidents that would have outraged the Marines of yesteryear, but which apparently have become the norm today.

Most recently I asked whether the current Commandant of the Corps would resign over allegations that he interfered in the judicial process affecting some of his subordinates.  Far from resigning, the Washington Times reports that the officer who raised the issue is now facing retaliation.  Here's an excerpt from the report.

Retired Marine Col. Jane Siegel, who is representing Maj. James Weirick, said superiors have subjected the major to retaliations since it became known that he filed a whistleblower complaint against Gen. James Amos, the commandant and Joint Chiefs of Staff member.

“Headquarters Marine Corps is undercutting a hero,” Col. Siegel said. “He did the right thing, and they are trying to bury it and him.”

. . .


Marine higher-ups responded Tuesday with a series of retaliations against Maj. Weirick, Col. Siegel said.

  • Marines escorted Maj. Weirick out of his office and seized his government computer.
  • He was transferred to a nonlegal job as a training officer.
  • His new commander suggested that he get a mental health evaluation and report for an interview with a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent, to whom he refused to talk.
  • The major was ordered not to communicate with officials, including Gen. Amos, and was denied leave.
  • He was told to turn over his licensed personal firearms kept at home, which he did.
  • The Corps also is doing a risk assessment to determine whether Maj. Weirick is a danger to himself or the base.

“These steps are all designed for a single purpose and that is to undermine the credibility of Maj. Weirick, the credibility of his complaints to the [Defense Department inspector general] and to push him very close to the very edge of being able to drum him out of the Marine Corps,” Col. Siegel said. “I’ve been practicing military justice exclusively for 40 years, 25 of which were in the Marine Corps, and I have never seen anything quite this destructive carried out by people who I considered to be heroes, the commandant of the Marine Corps.”

Seizing his computer is a way to find out what he has been telling the inspector general during its investigation, she said.

There's more at the link.  I urge you to follow the link and read the entire report.  I think it's essential reading for anyone who cares about the honor of our armed forces.

I was furious when I'd read it, so I contacted a friend, a USMC field-grade officer, and asked him for his reactions.  He told me three things.

  • He's no longer sure that it's worth trying to qualify for further promotion, because political correctness now outweighs combat effectiveness as a primary criterion for selection.
  • He can no longer in good conscience recommend the Corps as a worthwhile, viable career to his son, and to the children of his friends.
  • One of his senior NCO's had just come into his office, shown him a copy of the above article, and told him that he would not be re-enlisting when his current term expired.  He was too sickened to see the 'betrayal of trust' being perpetrated by the Marine Corps' top leadership.

I know this man well.  He's earned multiple combat decorations and has (as far as I know) a stellar record . . . but he's had it up to here.  Speaking as a combat veteran myself, I can't blame him in the least.

It may be too late for General Amos alone to resign.  It begins to look as if every General Officer in the Corps needs to get the hell out of the way, so that they can make room for successors who will rebuild its top leadership with less focus on politics and more on warfighting.  If they don't, the Corps will no longer be the Corps.  It's that simple.  If you doubt that, just ask yourself . . . what would Chesty do?






Peter

A call to artists and graphic designers


I'm working hard on the third book in the Maxwell Saga, and have many more books planned or under consideration.  Until now I've used stock images for my covers, with editing and graphic design input by Oleg Volk (who's done an amazing job - check out the covers in my sidebar for examples - and who will probably continue to design my covers, using author-supplied images).  However, I'm finding it difficult to locate cover art that meets my needs for future books.  Stock images are OK at a basic level, but not much further than that.  I know that other authors and would-be authors are having the same problem - I'm in touch with at least five or six of them.

Trying to find someone to produce custom artwork for book covers is very frustrating.  All too often one provides ideas - even a rough sketch - to an 'artist', only to have them insist on interpreting that according to their vision of how it should look.  They've got it all wrong.  If I'm paying, I decide how it should be interpreted.  I want to hire someone who'll work with me to make my vision a reality.  I don't want to waste my money on someone who tries to do it their way!  If they have good, creative ideas to suggest, that's fine with me;  but in the end, it's my judgment that counts.  (Of course, that may sum up the difference between an 'artist' and a 'graphic designer'.  One is motivated by personal creativity first and foremost;  the other primarily by commercial considerations.)

Be that as it may, I've decided to try to find someone - or more than one person - who'll produce custom images for my book covers.  I've priced that sort of thing carefully.  I can hire someone like Luca Oleastri, a.k.a. 'Innovari' (whose images I used for the first two Maxwell book covers) for about $200 to produce a single custom image of the type and size required.  He works fast (turnaround time is usually 1-2 weeks for the initial image, plus a couple of days for edits and changes), and delivers a ready-to-use 300dpi JPEG or TIFF image file.  That's affordable, and a very reasonable rate compared to some other 'big-name' artists/designers.  I don't want to go higher than that, because I'm not selling huge quantities of books, and I can't afford to pay the sort of rates a large publisher would be charged.  For a 'beginner' artist, still making his or her reputation and wanting to build up a portfolio, I'd look to pay less than that per image;  but I understand they have to eat, too, so I won't be unreasonable.

I know at least one other author who's looking for a cover artist right now.  There are more - I'm in touch with at least half a dozen, and for the right person with the right attitude at the right price, I'm willing to help sell their services to everyone (because it's in all our interests to have a good artist/graphic designer available at a reasonable price).  That number of authors might produce a steady income stream for the right person, perhaps 1-2 covers every month.  I also know a small press imprint that might be interested in good artwork for their covers, if the price is right.

The covers have to meet the following criteria:

  • They must fit the genre in question (in my case, science fiction, but other authors will fall into different categories).
  • They must have a central, eye-catching image or theme that stands out and is easily recognizable in thumbnail size, and even in reduced-thumbnail size, on Amazon.com (see my covers in the sidebar for an idea of what this entails).  Call it 'visual branding' for want of a better word - a central image that catches the eye.  They must use text fonts, color, light and shading to be eye-catching and easily understandable in a row, or multiple rows, of other thumbnail cover images, so as to attract the attention of potential readers.  (Go to a few Amazon.com book pages and look at the 'Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought' recommendations - an example is shown below.  Look for images that have a clear central feature, easily identifiable despite their small size.  Look for fonts that are easy to read, even when the text is tiny.  Look for colors that jump out at you, catching the eye.  Now look at those covers where the colors are washed-out or too dark, or titles are hard to read, or images have no central feature that expresses and encapsulates their subject matter.  Makes a difference, doesn't it?)


  • The images and artwork can't be overly gaudy or flashy.  They have to be professional.  They're going to appear alongside tens of thousands of other books with professionally-produced covers, and must be able to bear comparison with them.

If you're an artist or graphic designer who can produce computerized images of the size and quality required, and interpret either detailed instructions from an author and/or the plot of a book to design suitable images, and are willing to work for the amounts I've mentioned earlier, please contact me, either by e-mail (my address is in my blog profile), or by leaving a comment beneath this post.  You should be able to provide samples of your work.

(Also, if any reader has friends or acquaintances who possess the necessary skills and experience to do this, please ask them to read this post, and suggest that they contact me.  I'd love to hear from them.)

Thanks.

Peter

Sunday, September 29, 2013

So much for the minimum wage


I note that the minimum wage is again in the news, both in Washington DC, where an attempt was recently made (but vetoed) to force big retailers to pay a higher minimum wage, and in California, where a bill to increase that State's minimum wage awaits the Governor's signature.

As ammunition when you discuss the issue with your family and friends, here are two classic videos exposing the fallacy of the minimum wage issue.  The first is from famed economist Milton Friedman.





The second is from well-known reporter John Stossel.





There you have it.  Those who support a minimum wage are actually supporting a job-killing measure.  Ironic, isn't it?

Peter

Looking to things rather than people for solutions - again


Yesterday I pointed out that banning guns, or alcohol, or whatever, because they are misused by people, is missing the point.  If people's choices, characters and behaviors are the problem, banning an object, a thing, won't solve it.  Only changing the true underlying cause(s) will cure it.

Today we see yet another example of that.

It’s the most devastating mistake imaginable: Parents killing their own children when they accidentally back their vehicles over them.

Dozens of children have died in such accidents this year alone. Technology exists that could eliminate drivers’ blind spots and prevent the accidents from occurring — so why hasn't the government required it?

Six years ago, Congress mandated a new rear-visibility standard for all new cars and gave the U.S. Department of Transportation a 2011 deadline to get it done. But the reforms have been delayed four times now, and the DOT says it needs until 2015 to put requirements in place.

Now safety groups and victims’ families are teaming up to fight for faster results. On Wednesday morning, they are filing a federal lawsuit demanding that the DOT require rear-view cameras in all new vehicles.

There's more at the link.

Friends, allow me to assure you of one thing.  If those parents had made damn sure they knew where their kids were at all times;  if they'd bothered to do a walk-around of their vehicles before getting in and starting them;  if they'd made sure that their kids were supervised, and not free to wander where they pleased;  then none of those fatalities would have occurred.  If rear-view cameras are mandated on all vehicles, as they want, some children will still be run over by their parents from time to time, because some of the latter will still be bloody irresponsible!

I know many will say that the cameras may save a proportion of those who would otherwise be run over.  That's true.  Some irresponsible people may be saved from the consequences of their irresponsibility in some instances.  However, the cure for the problem is not to burden everybody with increased costs and vehicle complexity.  The cure is to get parents to be responsible adults . . . but that's a pipe-dream.  It will never happen.  There will always be irresponsible parents, and as a result, children will go on dying in this way, rear-view cameras or no rear-view cameras.

That's the way it is.  It's been that way since the dawn of time, and it'll be that way until the heat death of the universe.  Human nature remains as fickle as ever it was.

*Sigh*

Peter

Karl Denninger is 'going Galt'


To my sorrow, but hardly to my surprise, the inimitable Karl Denninger (whom we've met in these pages on many previous occasions) has decided to 'go Galt' as far as future income-producing activities are concerned.  This appears to include a drastic reduction in the amount of material he makes available to his readers.  Here's an excerpt from his announcement.

We all have our point at which we simply refuse to consent.  A few, like Joe Stack, take that refusal and turn it into acts of violence.  Singularly such acts are futile and amount to nothing more than martyrdom at best and a waste of human capital at worst.

But others, like myself, are unwilling to waste our lives.  One can recognize there is a non-violent means of refusal that no government can counteract or put a stop to.  It is far more effective and personally-satisfying than active, violent resistance, especially when the latter is singular and most of America is busy watching Dancing With The Stars, unworthy of anything more than being sheep to provide warmth for the "leaders" and occasionally a plate full of mutton.

. . .

I refuse to continue to silently accede to, and actively fund through my drive to acquire that measured in and rewarded by "wealth", the rampant theft and fraud that has and continues to take place in the economic sector, especially in the banking and health care areas of our economy.  None of this could ever exist except through the insertion of the guns of government up the noses of the American people.

I can no longer live with being one of the better sources of funding for these abuses.  This decision did not come lightly, easily or quickly.  But I'm convinced it's the right choice as things stand today.

In short, if you want it in two words, it's this: I'm done.

I choose instead of either active participation through funding of our government's BS or violence to peacefully withdraw my consent.  To refuse to labor.  To make do with less -- a lot less.  I choose to reduce my voluntary contribution to the tax hoard that is misspent or forms the foundation against which our government borrows, giving the proceeds to those who think that doping it up is a grand past-time or shoveling guns, missiles and money to terrorists while groping our grannies, using the very existence of the terrorists we gave the guns and missiles to as justification for what any civilized society would call sexual assault.

The portion of that which I earn by my efforts that I am able to retain in real terms shrinks by the day, and I have concluded that the balance of benefits and harms, especially the harms done to others using my tax dollars, is no longer acceptable to me.

My decision will not change until America changes.  Until it wakes up.  Until the people demand and the government of this county, this state and this nation recognize everyone's fundamental rights -- that shall not be infringed means what it says, that shall pass no law means what it says and all branches of government stop using taxpayer dollars to arm terrorists, maintain and promote medical monopolies, promote and empower banking cartels while excusing violence and fraud, both financial and corporeal, committed against the people of this nation by those entities and the agents of government itself.

There's much more at the link.  Recommended and thought-provoking reading.

I'm very sorry, from a personal standpoint, that Mr. Denninger has made this decision, because it'll reduce the amount of information on which I've come to rely from him.  However, I applaud his honesty and personal integrity.

I'm in no position to 'go Galt', as I don't (and probably never will) earn enough to be in Mr. Denninger's tax bracket;  but I hope I can set an example of what's right by living off the sweat of my own brow, of doing whatever it takes to earn my own way in life and not rely on the taxes of others to support me.  I've been accused of being an idiot, of being 'disgustingly old-fashioned', and a few other things, for holding such views.  Nevertheless, with my books now selling moderately well and the prospect of more sales in future, I think I'm on an increasingly sustainable path towards that objective.  As I said on another blog:

I can foresee the day when I’ll earn enough from my writing to be able to terminate my disability pension. That means a great deal to me. I was raised to believe that one shouldn’t ‘suck on the public teat’, as my father rather picturesquely put it, except in dire need, and then only for the shortest possible time. Back in 2004, a neurosurgeon predicted I’d never recover sufficiently from my injuries to earn a living through my own labor. I may not have recovered any better than he foresaw, but nevertheless, the prospect of proving him wrong is very satisfying!

With so many actively seeking to 'suck on the public teat' their whole lives long, perhaps the best that those of us who can't afford to 'go Galt' can manage is to provide a counter-example.  It may not be much . . . but it's something.

Peter

A whole passel of Doofi!


I don't think I can confer 'Doofus Of The Day' awards on so many entries simultaneously, but I think many of these folks would qualify!  The Vine, an Australian Web site, has published a pictorial list of 28 Hilarious Police Reports, culled from newspaper columns all over the world.  Here are a few to whet your appetite.

  • Police receive a report of a newborn infant found in a trash can.  Upon investigation, officers discover it was only a burrito.
  • A woman called police when she found an upside down turtle on her front lawn at 11 a.m. June 1.  The officer told her to turn the turtle right side up.  She did but called back to report that the turtle had no arms, legs or a head.  The officer told her not to worry, and the turtle fled in an unknown direction before police arrived.
  • During a disturbance call a man gave an officer a false name and was arrested after he was found to have warrants for both names.
  • 10:05 p.m. Police received a call from a woman who said her juvenile granddaughter was at the ski area last week and ran into a person who was selling bags of what she thought were portobello mushrooms dipped in chocolate for $30.  Police said the granddaughter further informed her grandmother that giraffes were chasing her down the hill after she ate the mushrooms.
  • A man called Erie police at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, to report a suspicious peanut in his back yard.
  • 10:10 p.m.:  Suspicious people were reportedly doing something with flashlights by the side of North 5th Street in Custer.  A deputy checked and found the people were not suspicious, but merely Canadians.


There are many more at the link.  Hilarious indeed!



Peter

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Is this the end for the Martin Mars?


Readers may be familiar with the Martin Mars, the largest flying-boats ever built in the USA.  The prototype first flew in 1942.  Only seven were produced, the last of which is still flying as a water-bomber in Canada.







Now comes news that its days may be numbered.

Nearly a dozen jobs are on the line at The Coulson Group of Companies aviation division after news that the provincial government has cancelled a direct award contract for the Martin Mars waterbomber.

Coulson’s flying tankers unit employs up to 20 people during the height of fire season.

Wayne Coulson bought both Martin Mars waterbombers—the Hawaii Mars and the Philippine Mars—from TimberWest in 2007. He has had a direct award contract since 2007 and has worked on more than 20 fires across B.C. since then.

The Martin Mars has also fought fires in California and Mexico.

. . .

Coulson said he’s … looking at his options, which would include selling the Hawaii Mars if someone made an attractive offer.

“We sent out e-mails on the weekend, to some of the Red Bull folks and Virgin Air folks to see if there’s any interest. We may advertise it for a time to see if we get some interest.

“Whether we operate it for them or look at selling it, or if everything fails it will be time to retire it,” he said.

“The worst thing you can do with an aircraft is let it sit.”

There's more at the link.

It'll be a sad day if this 'gentle giant' is no longer to be airborne.  It's the last survivor of its kind in airworthy condition, using the same engines that powered the B-29 Superfortress and other giants.  There's a lot of history in that airframe.

Peter

Stupid and sage advice on security


I've been struck by two articles that landed in my e-mail inbox today.  Both have implications for our personal security.  One is very silly in parts;  the other, very wise.

The silly article concerns a study by Northwestern University's Medical School.

A person near a liquor store or tavern on the West Side or South Side of Chicago is up to 500 times more likely to be shot than others in these neighborhoods.

. . .

"It makes sense," said lead investigator Marie Crandall, M.D., associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

"You're adding alcohol to an already volatile situation in a distressed community," Crandall said. "If you light a match in the rainforest and throw it on the ground, the match will go out. If you light a match in a haystack in the middle of a drought, a powder keg will go off. These neighborhoods are powder kegs because they are challenged with high rates of unemployment, faltering economies, loss of jobs and institutionalized poverty and racism."

A solution could be closing liquor stores in certain areas or replacing liquor stores with food stores, Crandall suggested.

There's more at the link.

Note the proposed solution:  ban or remove a thing (alcohol) rather than seek to change individual and social character.  That's exactly the same solution proposed by gun-banners, and it'll work just as well - that is, not at all.  You already have a 'powder keg' neighborhood.  Removing alcohol and/or guns won't change that . . . but it's easier to get rid of alcohol or guns than it is to remove the social and economic conditions, and work to change the individual characters, that make the neighborhood a powder keg.  Talk is cheap.  So are 'panacea solutions' like this.  So are gun bans.  None of them will get rid of the powder keg . . . and those living it it will simply find different matches to throw.

(I note that another academic asserted that banning certain types of alcohol, such as 40oz. bottles of malt liquor, would help.  Such assertions are nothing more than the same syndrome at work, and they'll have as much success.)

The second article is a sobering look at why one must resist criminal attack, whether by hoodlums in your neighborhood, or by terrorists as in the shopping mall massacre in Kenya this week.

The first phase of surrender is failing to be armed, trained and committed to fight. We are prepared to surrender when we are unprepared to resist. The second phase of surrender is failing to be alert. You must see trouble coming in order to have time to respond. The warning may be less than one second but it will be there and it must be recognized and acted upon immediately.

The Third phase of surrender is giving up your weapons.

The last phase of surrender is up to the monsters who have taken control of your life and perhaps the lives of your loved ones. The last phase of surrender is out of your hands.

. . .

The “Onion Field Murder” in California was a wakeup call to Law Enforcement Officers everywhere. On March 9, 1963, two LAPD Officers were taken prisoner by two criminals. The Officers submitted to capture and gave up their weapons. They were driven to an onion field outside of Bakersfield. One Officer was murdered while the other Officer managed to escape in a hail of gunfire. The surviving Officer suffered serious psychological problems, having been unable to save his partner. As a result of this incident, the LAPD policy became, “You will fight no matter how bad things are.” “You will never ever surrender your weapons or yourself to a criminal.”

Consider the Ogden, Utah record store murders. Read the book if you do not know the story. The manner in which the criminals murdered their young victims cannot be described here. Resistance might have been futile. Compliance was definitely and absolutely futile.

. . .

The Doctor and his family in Connecticut complied and cooperated, meeting every demand of the home invasion robbers to whom they had surrendered. The Doctors wife and daughters were tortured, raped, doused with gasoline and burned alive. How did surrender and cooperation work out for them?

. . .

Handing over your life by surrendering to someone who is in the process of committing a violent crime against you is a form of suicide. Some survive but many do not. The monster gets to decide for you.

. . .

We each have a duty to ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors, our community, our city, our state and our country to resist criminals. Reasoning with a thug who believes that his failures are because of people just like you is not likely to be helpful. Pleading with a terrorist who has been taught from birth that his salvation depends on murdering people like you is a doomed plan. Resist!

Resist! His gun may not be real. After you are tied up it will not matter. His gun may not be loaded. After you are tied up it will not matter. He may not know how to operate his gun. After you are tied up it will not matter. Resist!

Statistically if you run and your assailant shoots at you he will miss. Statistically if you run and he shoots and hits you, you will not die. Bad guys shooting at the police miss 90 percent of the time. The odds are on your side. Better to die fighting in place than to be tied up, doused with gasoline and burned alive. There are things worse than death. Surrender to a criminal or a terrorist and you will learn what they are. Resist!

If you resist with a commitment to win you may well prevail, especially if you are armed and trained. If you lose it is still better to die fighting in place than to be taken prisoner and have your head cut off with a dull knife while your screams gurgle through your own blood as we have witnessed on numerous videos from the “Islamic practitioners of peace,” as well as the Mexican drug cartels.

. . .

How will you respond if you are confronted by evil as some of us have been in the past and some of us will be in the future? If you have not decided ahead of time what you will do, you will likely do nothing. Those who fight back often win and survive. Those who surrender never win and often die a horrible death. Have you made your decision? Remember, no decision is a decision to do nothing.

Again, more at the link.  I highly recommend clicking over there to read the entire article.

I fully endorse the conclusions of the second article.  Never give up;  never surrender.  Fight back, because if you don't, you may never be able to fight again - and when you're gone, who'll defend your loved ones?

Evil is and will always be among us.  We must resist it whenever and wherever we encounter it, otherwise we make ourselves complicit in its spread.  Don't be afraid to do so, even if it may cost your own life.  As Shakespeare said:

… a man can die but once: we owe God a death … and let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next.

Better to die bravely, defending what is good and right and just, than to allow those who are evil to murder you without lifting a finger to defend yourselves and/or your loved ones.

Peter

I've got this particular crud real bad . . .


Received via e-mail, origin unknown:







Peter

Friday, September 27, 2013

A future Olympic competitor, perhaps?


This made me giggle, particularly because the cat's so obviously enjoying itself.








Peter

Shooting frozen flowers


I have to admit, I'd never have thought of it - and still less described it as 'art' - but this is strangely fascinating.

German photographer Martin Klimas has a thing for explosions. Previously, he’s made art by photographing shattered fragile ceramic figures as they hit the ground and firing projectiles at onions, pumpkins and ears of corn.

Now, he’s brought this explosive approach to a new medium: flower blossoms in full bloom, frozen by liquid nitrogen.




“I was inspired by the blossoms themselves,” he says of his new project, “Exploding Flowers,” which he worked on for nearly a year and publicly debuted about a month ago. “There are so many different forms and species on the planet. I was interested in the blossom’s architecture, and I tried to make that visible by breaking the blossom into as many pieces as possible.”

To achieve this, he sought out flowers with particularly complex internal structures and froze them to -200° Celsius in liquid nitrogen. Once they were frozen, he had to be careful. “They’re as fragile as raw eggs,” he says. “You can destroy them by sneezing.”

After the flowers were frozen, he brought them to his set and placed the stem in a vice to hold the blossom in front of a white background. He used a normal air gun rigged with a device that let him remotely pull the trigger, and took a series of shots right at the moment of impact.

There's more at the link, including many more photographs.  Recommended reading.

I'm honestly not sure whether this is 'art' as I understand that concept;  but it's certainly a unique visual experience.  What do you think?  Let us know in Comments.

Peter

Lovely music!


The medieval/Renaissance/traditional/folk rock group, Blackmore's Night (whom we've met in these pages before), released their latest album, 'Dancer And The Moon', earlier this year.  I've been enjoying it very much, particularly the guitar playing of Ritchie Blackmore and the vocals and woodwinds of Candice Night, his wife.

Here's their rendition of 'The Spinner's Tale'.  I think it's absolutely lovely.





Mmmm . . . warm fuzzy music!  You can hear samples from the rest of 'Dancer And The Moon' at Amazon, and many of the tracks are on YouTube.  I think it's one of their best albums yet.

Peter

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wussification - or worthwhile?


I'm of two minds about a report at The Blaze.

Have you heard of the so-called “mercy rule”?

It keeps youth game scores artificially low by preventing more powerful teams from winning by lopsided margins.

Squads in the Northern California Federation of Youth Football often ignored the mercy rule in years past and received only warnings after violations.

. . .

The NCFYF has added teeth to the mercy rule this season for its age 7 to 13 teams, instituting a $200 fine for squads that win games by 35 points or more and a one-week suspension for violating teams’ head coaches, according to KCRA.

NBC Sports’ Dave Briggs called the move the latest chapter in the “wussification of America” and a “ridiculous rule,” saying it teaches “lesser teams that there’s always someone there to cushion to blow.”

But league brass beg to differ.

“It’s teaching them compassion for the other team,” Rochin said. “It’s teaching them sportsmanship.”

There's more at the link.  Here's a video report about the problem.





I agree, it sounds like wussification at first . . . but there are other factors to consider.

  • This only applies to elementary and middle school kids, as I understand it.  High school football isn't affected.
  • I'm sure we've all seen reports of parents egging on their kids, demanding that they be given more time on the field, suing, abusing - even assaulting - coaches who they believe are holding their kids back, and so on.  If this 'mercy rule' removes or minimizes opportunities for such parents to behave in those ways, that can't be all bad.
  • I note that Little League Baseball also has a mercy rule.  It seems to be applied firmly and (apparently) fairly, even in the Little League World Series, and doesn't appear to have attracted anything like the controversy that this football mercy rule has engendered.

On the face of it, I'm not sure that a mercy rule in football for players below high school level is necessarily a bad idea.  I note, too, that those objecting to the rule in the video report above appear to be those with a vested interest in doing away with the rule.  Their opinions are not exactly impartial.  However, since I was raised in a very different sporting tradition (yay cricket!), I'm not the best-informed person about the American sporting culture.

What say you, readers?  Let's hear your views in Comments.

Peter

OK, that's low!


This video clip is of an Argentine Air Force C-130 Hercules making a (very) low pass over observers on the runway at that country's Marambio Base in the Antarctic.





Bet he warmed up the observers a bit as he parted their hair!





Peter

Ever heard of a 'TomTato'?


I hadn't, until I came across this report in the Telegraph.

It sounds like something from a science fiction film, but a plant which produces both potatoes and tomatoes has been launched in the UK.

The ‘TomTato’ can grow more than 500 sweet cherry tomatoes above ground, while beneath the soil it produces white potatoes that are suitable for boiling, roasting or turning into chips.

Horticultural mail order company Thompson & Morgan, which is selling the plants for £14.99 each, described their new product as a “veg plot in a pot”.

The hybrid plants are not a product of genetic engineering, but are each individually hand-grafted. Like potatoes, tomatoes are members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which makes them compatible for grafting.

. . .

The plants can be grown either outside or inside, as long as they are in a large pot or bag. Thompson & Morgan refused to disclose which varieties of tomato and potato they had used, for fear of being imitated, but said that the cherry tomatoes were far sweeter than those available in supermarkets.

There's more at the link.  Here's an advertising video from the producer describing the plant.





Sounds interesting.  I can't help wondering what's coming next.  If they can do this with two plants, why not with three or four?  Why not with different varieties of fruits and vegetables?  Will we end up with salad on a tree?

Peter

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Niagara Falls as you've never seen them before


This video was taken from a small UAV flying (with permission) in restricted airspace over Niagara Falls, on both the US and Canadian sides of the border.  It's pretty spectacular. I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.





That's certainly a unique perspective on the Falls.

Peter

Idiots. Psychologists. But I repeat myself . . .


The latest example of utter stupidity comes from child psychologists.  The BBC reports:

New guidance for psychologists will acknowledge that adolescence now effectively runs up until the age of 25 for the purposes of treating young people. So is this the new cut-off point for adulthood?

"The idea that suddenly at 18 you're an adult just doesn't quite ring true," says child psychologist Laverne Antrobus, who works at London's Tavistock Clinic.

"My experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age."

Child psychologists are being given a new directive which is that the age range they work with is increasing from 0-18 to 0-25.

"We are becoming much more aware and appreciating development beyond [the age of 18] and I think it's a really good initiative," says Antrobus, who believes we often rush through childhood, wanting our youngsters to achieve key milestones very quickly.

The new guidance is to help ensure that when young people reach the age of 18 they do not fall through the gaps in the health and education system. The change follows developments in our understanding of emotional maturity, hormonal development and particularly brain activity.

"Neuroscience has made these massive advances where we now don't think that things just stop at a certain age, that actually there's evidence of brain development well into early twenties and that actually the time at which things stop is much later than we first thought," says Antrobus.

There are three stages of adolescence - early adolescence from 12-14 years, middle adolescence from 15-17 years and late adolescence from 18 years and over.

Neuroscience has shown that a young person's cognitive development continues into this later stage and that their emotional maturity, self-image and judgement will be affected until the prefrontal cortex of the brain has fully developed.

Alongside brain development, hormonal activity is also continuing well into the early twenties says Antrobus.

"A number of children and young people I encounter between the age of 16 and 18, the flurry of hormonal activity in them is so great that to imagine that's going to settle down by the time they get to 18 really is a misconception," says Antrobus.

There's more at the link.

At 18 (heck, at 17!) I was carrying a rifle and patrolling the African bush.  I was being shot at, and shooting back.  Nobody asked me whether my hormonal activity had settled down sufficiently to allow me to do that, or whether my prefrontal cortex was sufficiently developed for the purpose, or even if I 'felt ready' for it.  All I knew at the time was that if I didn't get it right, I wouldn't have to worry about the enemy killing me.  My platoon NCO would do that for them!  My father, at the age of 11, was dumped by his mother into a Depression-era workhouse, and enlisted as a boy apprentice in the Royal Air Force at the age of 15.  Nobody asked him whether he felt mature enough to handle either environment, or wanted to do so - that was what the exigencies of the time required, so he did it.

I'd love to hear a USMC Drill Instructor's reaction to being told that the new recruits of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children assigned to his tender mercies were really precious little baa lambs who weren't adults yet, and needed to be treated as adolescents and pampered accordingly for the next six or seven years.  I suspect the psychologist telling him that would rapidly learn a few things to his or her (dis)advantage!  For that matter, tell it to the mujahideen in Afghanistan who run into those same 'baa lambs' a few months after the Drill Instructor sends them off to war.  I suspect they might also have a few things to say to the psychologist . . . and I don't mean quotations from the Koran!





Peter

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Translating pudding into air miles???


I was amazed (and amused) to read of an engineer who turned 12,150 cups of chocolate pudding into 1¼ million frequent flyer miles - and free airline travel for the rest of his life.  Gizmodo reports:

[David Phillips] saw that Healthy Choice was having a promotion on their frozen entrées section. The offer was as follows: for every 10 bar codes of their product a person sent in, they’d be awarded 500 Air Miles. However, the company had an early bird stipulation that people who redeemed the offer within the first month of the competition would receive double that, meaning a person could potentially receive 1000 Air Miles for buying just 10 of their entrées.

Upon catching wind of the deal, David scoured his local supermarkets to see which, if any products offered the best potential return. After some legwork, he found what he was looking for- a discount grocery chain that was selling individual chocolate pudding cups for 25 cents each. This meant that for a measly $2.50, he could get 1000 Air Miles.

Realising the amazing return he was potentially able to receive, David set out to hit every store in the chain in one day and buy up every single Healthy Choice pudding they had.

. . .

But the benefits of David’s scheme didn’t end there. After sending off the bar codes ... he now officially had over a million miles in his frequent flyer accounts, which automatically gave him lifelong access to something called the “American Airlines AAdvantage Gold club” giving him and his family a number of awesome flying related perks for the rest of their lives.

But we haven’t even got to the best part yet. David will likely never run out of Air Miles because he’s still earning miles at about 5 times faster than he’s spending them, despite traveling quite often ...

There's more at the link.  It's a fascinating study in how thinking outside the box and being mildly obsessive can reap a rich harvest.

Peter

The new book: a progress report


"Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls" has been on sale for almost a week now.  It's been a mixed experience for me.

It's selling much more slowly than my SF novels - only about 150 copies so far, versus well over 700 of my second novel during the first week it was published.  More of those copies have been of the print version, too, and fewer (proportionately) of the e-book.  Clearly, many fewer people are interested in the non-fiction memoirs of a prison chaplain than want to read science fiction.  On the other hand, those who are reading it are more thoughtful.  I've had more e-mails from them than I received from my novel readers, and they're clearly engaging with the material at a fairly deep level.

Several readers have commented that they didn't enjoy reading the book, because the material isn't exactly enjoyable; but they're glad they read it anyway.  Some have mentioned the 'rawness' of some of the people they've met within its pages - the pedophile, the thug, the predator, and so on.  They hadn't realized at an existential level what such people must be like in the flesh, and the realization scared some of them.  They're quite right to be scared!  As I say in the book, there are many more such people on the streets than are locked away behind bars.  If we're more aware of their presence among us, we can do more to protect ourselves against them.  As they say in the classics, 'Forewarned is forearmed'.

I'm glad I wrote this book, as a personal catharsis if nothing else.  I hope and pray it stimulates debate over an issue that's one of our biggest social problems.  I'm also going to use it as a marketing test case.  If it isn't selling well, how can I change that?  Will a temporary free or low-cost promotion help?  Will paid advertising?  How can I get a few reviews in strategic media, to reach those who will naturally be interested in this subject?  All those issues have to be explored, and over the next few months Miss D. and I will do that together.  It's going to be an interesting process.

I think this book might turn out to be a slow, steady, long-term prospect.  I've encountered several books like that dealing with specialized areas.  They may sell ten to twenty books every month over ten years or more.  It's too early to say whether WWBS will turn out that way, but given its slow start, and the specialized nature of the field in which it's set, that's certainly a possibility.

Thanks to all of you who've bought and read it, and everyone who's commented, here, on Amazon.com, or by e-mail.  I appreciate your being part of the journey with me.  Let's see where it takes us! (If you've read it, but haven't yet commented on Amazon.com, please do so.  It helps other prospective readers to 'get a feel' for the book if they can read how others have found it.)

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #730


Courtesy of a link provided by Australian reader Snoggeramus, our winner today is from Colombia.

A Colombian man has had his penis amputated by doctors after he “intentionally” took too much Viagra, reportedly in an attempt to impress his new girlfriend with his sexual prowess.

Gentil Ramírez Polanía then suffered an erection for several days, going to a nearby hospital after complaining about the pain, local newspaper La Nacion reports.

Doctors found the 66-year-old farmer’s penis to be inflamed, fractured and showing signs of gangrene.

In an effort to stop the gangrene from spreading to the rest of the man’s body, doctors say they had no option but to remove the man’s penis.

There's more at the link.

Y'know, just reading that, my nether regions tried to withdraw themselves into my lower body cavity, wincing as they went.  Talk about "the most unkindest cut of all"!





Peter

A spectacular crash


During the Hellendoorn Rally in the Netherlands last weekend, the Porsche 964 driven by Harry Kleinjan ran into trouble.  From the video, it looks as if he locked up his brakes and was unable to make the turn, with spectacular results.





I bet there were some wet spectators on the far side of the canal . . . and some frightened fish!  Fortunately, the driver and co-driver escaped unhurt.

Peter

Monday, September 23, 2013

Choreography with an edge


I'm sure we've all seen many movies with carefully scripted fight scenes.  I don't mean only the martial arts movies popularized during the 1970's and later, where enemies seemed to queue up to be clobbered by the hero or heroine (or both) at regular intervals.  We see it in mainstream blockbusters like the James Bond movies as well.

I was asked recently what I thought was the best fight choreography I'd ever seen.  That's a really tough one to answer, because there are so many candidates for the title;  but I thought that the Japanese movie series about Zatoichi, a blind swordsman, had much to recommend them.  Someone on YouTube clearly feels likewise, because he's put together this seven-minute compilation of the sword fights from the first five Zatoichi movies.  Take a look at them, and see what you think of the choreography.  (Remember that the protagonist is supposed to be blind, and is fighting by ear.)





I'd call that pretty impressive.  What do you think?  Any favorite fight scenes that struck you as very well staged and realistic?  If so, please share them with us in Comments, along with a link to any video clips illustrating them, so we can all enjoy them.

Also, does anyone know an online source for all the Zatoichi movies, whether downloadable or on DVD?  There are quite a lot on YouTube, but by no means all of them.  I've got about half of them, and I'd like to get the rest (with English subtitles, if possible).

Peter

Wow!


NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is a well-established feature on the Internet.  Many are of interest only to specialists, but now and again one comes up that's a work of art in its own right.  This one seems to qualify.




It's of the M2-9 Planetary Nebula, which is about 2,100 light years from Earth.  The photograph was published on September 15th this year.  (Follow that link for a much larger version of the image.)

Spectacular, isn't it?  Does anyone know how large those hourglass shapes are, in terms of light-years in length or other measurements?  Wikipedia doesn't say.

Peter

US government spending by the numbers


The Heritage Foundation has produced a very useful report on where our tax dollars are being spent by the Obama administration.  Here's an excerpt.

Deficits fell in 2013 because President Obama and Congress raised taxes on all Americans, the economy saw slight improvement which helped to bring in more revenue, and spending cuts from sequestration and spending caps under the Budget Control Act of 2011 took effect.

The nation should not take this short-term and modest deficit improvement as a signal to grow complacent about reining in exploding spending. Though deficits will decline for a few more years, existing spending cuts and tax increases will not prevent them from rising soon, and within a decade exceeding $1 trillion once again. Driving this is federal spending which, despite sequestration cuts, will grow 69 percent by 2023.

The nation’s long-term spending trajectory remains on a fiscal collision course. Total spending has exploded by 40 percent since 2002, even after inflation. Some programs have grown far in excess of that. Defense, however, has been slashed. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare are so large and growing that they are on track to overwhelm the federal budget. While the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration are modestly restraining the discretionary budget, mandatory spending—including entitlements—continues growing nearly unabated. Without any changes, mandatory spending, including net interest, will consume three-fourths of the budget in just one decade.

Obamacare will add $1.8 trillion to federal health care spending by 2023. By 2015, health care spending will overtake Social Security as the largest budget item, including Obamacare’s coverage expansion provisions: a massive expansion of Medicaid and subsidies for the new health insurance exchanges.

. . .

The Federal Budget

  • Washington will spend nearly $3.5 trillion in 2013 while collecting $2.8 trillion in revenues, resulting in a deficit of $642 billion.
  • Over the past 20 years, federal spending grew 63 percent faster than inflation.
  • Mandatory spending, including Social Security and means-tested entitlements, doubled after adjusting for inflation. Discretionary spending grew by 49 percent.
  • Despite publicly held debt surging to three-fourths the size of the economy (as measured by GDP), net interest costs have fallen as interest rates have dropped to historic lows.
  • In 1963, defense spending was 9 percent of GDP and mandatory spending on entitlement programs was 6.1 percent of GDP, one-third lower.
  • In 2013, spending on defense is at about 4 percent of GDP and falling, while mandatory spending (including net interest) is reaching 14.5 percent of GDP and growing.

There's more at the link, including many graphic representations of spending.  These two in particular caught my eye.






There are many more.  Go read them for yourself - and then note House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's comment that as far as the federal budget is concerned, "The cupboard is bare. There’s no more cuts to make."

Personally, I reckon I could cut 25% in every single federal government department except Defense, and still find more areas to cut when I was done!  As for almost a trillion dollars a year in welfare spending, take the axe to it!  There's far too much luxury in that spending, and far too little emphasis on providing the bare essentials, but making people work for the extras.






Peter

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sadness


I've been so preoccupied with getting my books ready for publication that my reading of other blogs has suffered over the past few months.  I was therefore blindsided when I paged through to Suz's blog, 'Shining Pearls Of Something', and found that her husband had been diagnosed with cancer, out of the blue, and died on June 30th.  I'll let her tell the rest of the story.

In spite of this wrenching loss, I think I'm one of the most fortunate people on this planet.  I spent twenty-five years married to a man I never deserved (no, I'm not being modest) and I have a family whose love, kindness and generosity defy description.  I also have more friends than I ever realized.  I am humbled and overwhelmed by the kindness and the offers of support and help that I have received from so many readers, both here and at AVfM, most of whom I have never met in person.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Emotionally I've been somewhat numb, out of necessity, but not completely shut down.  Back in early June, when Mac and I came home after his CT scan, and his doctor called to send him back to the hospital for admission, I was looking over his shoulder as he wrote down what they found on the scan.  (I have since thrown out that scrap of paper, but those words are forever etched in my mind.)  I knew right then what was coming but none of us knew how fast it would happen, and the panic attacks started immediately.  I hid most of my fear and grief from him because I didn't want him to worry about me - and he would, especially being too sick to offer me much comfort.  But I learned how to cry again.  I don't cry often and I rarely get upset, but there was no denying I had a lot to cry about and I couldn't pretend otherwise.  I spent those three weeks grieving, both for what he would face and for what I would face. Of course he hid his fears from me as well; I might try to convince myself that he had no idea what was happening in his body while we waited for a diagnosis, but I'd just be deluding myself.  He was hoping to regain enough strength to fight the cancer, at least for a while, but he knew where it was heading. And I now know that he was protecting me and carrying his burden even more quietly than I was carrying mine.  Like he always did.

It is just such realizations which bring the tears.  While stumbling through estate paperwork and attending to the many tasks I need to accomplish, I keep tripping over so many things he has done for my benefit, things he did without my knowledge, never expecting a word of thanks.  And I'm absolutely certain there is much more that I'll never know.  He never "kept score."  He never expected praise for his praiseworthy actions. He simply, reflexively even, did to the best of his ability, what he knew he needed to do.  Right up until hours before he died.  And not once since I've known him has he complained that it wasn't fair, even when it really wasn't fair.  Maybe he took pride in being a man I could take for granted, while I tried hard not to take him for granted.  I guess I'll never know, but I sure wish I could have at least a few more years to try to even the score, that score he never kept.  I know I was a pretty good wife, but he was a man who deserved so much more.

I probably won't be writing with my heart on my sleeve any more; it makes me uncomfortable anyway. I'll continue to move forward now, but a part of me will be kicking and screaming along the way for quite some time. I just don't want to leave him behind. I believe he's with me in spirit and I know that his personality has largely shaped my personality, so he'll never be entirely gone.  And I see much of him in our son.  I know that those ashes buried in a bronze box in his hometown are not what I treasure of him, but it was so hard to walk away from his grave.  My life is not empty or meaningless, and I suspect it never will be, but there's a Mac-shaped hole in my heart that I couldn't fill even if I wanted to. I'll have to get used to that.

There's more at the link.

Suz . . . I'm sorry.  I wish I had more comforting words than that, but I don't.  There aren't any, at this level of loss.  I lost a very dear and beloved friend to cancer in the same way, a decade ago.  From diagnosis to death took only ten days.  It hurt, very much.  You'll be in my thoughts and prayers.

Friends and readers, may I ask you, too, to say a prayer for Suz, and for the soul of her late husband, Conard Brewer McCarley Jr.?  As John Donne put it:

No man is an island, entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thine own or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

Please head over to her blog, too, and leave her your good wishes.  I'm sure she'll appreciate them.

Peter

A very versatile recipe


For those who like quick-and-easy recipes (that are also low-cost), I think I've found another one that works really well.

Miss D. and I were in Walmart yesterday, and found they had several packs of carne picada (i.e. chopped beef), sliced thin, on special at $2.48 per pound.  It was almost at its 'use by' date, so it had to be consumed or frozen at once:  but at that price it was cheaper than even the lowest grade of ground beef, so I grabbed several packs.  Three went into the freezer, and two (totaling about 7 pounds of meat) were kept out for today's supper.

I know from previous experience that this cut of meat isn't particularly tender or high-quality, but it responds very well to extended cooking over low heat.  I put it into the slow cooker at about 9 a.m., accompanied by three medium onions, chopped small, and two cans of cream of mushroom soup, made with half the usual quantity of water (the meat juices would make up for the other half).  I cooked them on the high setting for two hours, to get things moving, then reduced the heat to low for the rest of the day.  By six this evening the meat was fully cooked, tender as anything, and delicious smells filled the house.

I made a side dish of frozen corn, diced tomatoes and chili beans, heated with a little tomato paste to bind them all together, and served everything over penne pasta.  The beauty of this dish is that one can customize it any way one chooses.  Miss D. added some sour cream to her meat to make it taste just like beef stroganoff, and did without the corn, tomatoes and bean mix.  I and our housemate are both big fans of the latter, so we added it with gusto, plus some Cajun seasoning (me) or hot sauce (him).  (He said the beef mixture reminded him of squirrel stew, which he also prepares with mushroom soup.)

There was plenty of food to give everyone two big servings (three to our housemate), and I made up several containers to freeze for future consumption.  (Miss D. takes them to work with her to heat up - it's a lot tastier and more nutritious than vending machine food, and much cheaper than buying takeout.)  It was a very affordable meal, quick and easy to prepare and very tasty indeed.  What's not to like?

I recommend keeping an eye on the meat display at your supermarket.  Our local Walmart puts out almost-time-expired meat once or twice a week, and if one's lucky enough to get to it before everyone else, one can pick up some real bargains - particularly if one slow-cooks the cheaper cuts, rendering them even more tender than the expensive ones.  I'll be using this meat for the next couple of weeks, and at today's prices, I'm very grateful for it!

Peter

Gigglesnort!


Shamelessly stolen from MSgt. B.:







Peter

Too cute!


It never ceases to amaze (and amuse) me how the young of any and every species seem to recognize each other as infants.  We saw it a few days ago in an encounter between a 2-month-old Golden Retriever puppy and an 8-month-old baby girl.  Here's a kitten and a baby raccoon having a wonderful time together.








Peter

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Guys, what sort of girlfriend do you have?


The link to this video was sent by an anonymous reader.  It made me laugh out loud, so I thought you might enjoy it, too.





And no, I'm not saying which variety of partner Miss D. may be.  I have at least some small sense of self-preservation!

(By the way, ladies, feel free to chime in with your views on what sort of male partner you have.  I don't know whether he would fall under canine/feline or some other distinction, but I daresay you can suggest appropriate categories!)





Peter

Security lessons from the Kenya terrorist attacks


I'm sure that by now, most readers have heard of the terrorist attack this morning on a suburban shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya, by the Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab.  It had long threatened such an attack in retaliation for Kenya's role in suppressing its domination of neighboring Somalia.

There are some extremely graphic photographs of the scene at Buzzfeed.  I recommend looking at them, not out of prurient curiosity, but so as to improve your own tactical awareness.  Notice how the shopping mall was a virtual duplicate of many that one finds in cities and towns all across the USA.  That attack could have happened right here . . . and the odds are pretty good that one day, it will.

I've written before about the Beslan attacks in Russia, and the likelihood that terrorists will strike at 'soft' surburban targets such as schools and shopping malls, where they know they're likely to find plenty of defenseless victims, rather than targeting places where the occupants are armed and may shoot back.  They did so at Mumbai, India in 2008.  The Al-Shabab movement clearly learned its lessons well from that operation.  I'll bet my income for the rest of my life against the change in your pocket that other terrorists, individually and collectively, are right now trying to plan a similar attack against the USA.

Go look at those photographs, gruesome though you may find them.  Look at the interior of that shopping center.  Ask yourself how often you go to places like that.  Are you armed when you do so?  If not, why not - and if the mall won't allow armed persons inside, why go there at all?  Why allow them to dictate that you have to be incapable of defending yourself and/or your loved ones?  I've written many articles about self-defense and firearms (see the list in the sidebar headed 'Articles on firearms and self-defense').  Read them, learn more from other sites, and implement those lessons now, before it's too late.

As for the shopping centers you frequent:  do you know the location of their exits - including the goods entrances, not normally used by the public, and the emergency exits?  Can you find your way to them amidst the panic and confusion of an ongoing attack, with gunshots and explosions sounding, people screaming and running in every direction, and chaos disrupting everything?  What if the lights go out?  Are there sources of natural light, or is the complex completely closed off from the outside world, without so much as a window or skylight?  What if the building catches fire?  Can you make your way through choking smoke and possible flames to safety?  If not, learn how - now!  What about the parking areas outside?  Can cars get away from the complex quickly and easily, or are access routes limited and easily blocked by terrorists or clogged by traffic?

Think about those things . . . and decide now, before a crisis arises, whether you want to put yourself into a situation that might 'go bad' on you, as it did for the shoppers in the Westgate mall in Nairobi this morning.

It's too late for the dead at Westgate to learn.  It's not too late for you.

Yet.

Peter

More Big Brother intrusion - social networking style


Yet another illustration of why I profoundly distrust (and don't use most) social media has just hit the news.  Bloomberg reports:

LinkedIn Corp., owner of the world’s most popular professional-networking website, was sued by customers who claim the company appropriated their identities for marketing purposes by hacking into their external e-mail accounts and downloading contacts’ addresses.

. . .

LinkedIn required the members to provide an external e-mail address as their username on its site, then used the information to access their external e-mail accounts when they were left open, according to the complaint.

“LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the e-mail addresses contained anywhere in that account to LinkedIn’s servers,” they said. “LinkedIn is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external e-mail accounts or obtaining users’ consent.”

. . .

LinkedIn software engineer Brian Guan described his role on the company’s website as “devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!” according to the complaint. Java is a programming language and computing platform released by Sun Microsystems in 1995. Groovy is a another language for the Java platform.

. . .

Jeffrey Barr of Livingston, New Jersey, said in an e-mail that he estimated LinkedIn used as many as 200 names and e-mail addresses of his contacts, inviting them to connect with him on the site.

“Some of the people I hadn’t talked to in five to 10 years, including several old girlfriends I had forgotten to delete,” he said.

LinkedIn told him he hadn’t unchecked a default setting allowing it to use the e-mails, he said.

According the complaint, it was part of LinkedIn’s growth initiative also to send multiple e-mails endorsing its products, services, and brand to potential new users, following up with additional messages to people who didn’t sign on.

The existing users have no way to stop the process, the plaintiffs said.

There's more at the link.  Important reading, albeit frustrating, irritating and possibly even enraging.

Social media and networking companies like LinkedIn (and Facebook, and Twitter, and Google+, and many others) will take advantage of you in any way they can.  They're not here to serve you - they're here to make money out of you.  You're the product they sell, not a customer they value.  If you don't generate revenue for them, you're of no value to them at all - so they'll make sure you generate revenue for them, even if they have to appropriate your personal information and contacts to make that happen.  (Look at the fuss generated by Facebook's latest changes to its privacy policies to see what I mean.)

Use social media companies and their services at the imminent peril of your privacy.  Personally, I value the latter more than I find the former useful.

Peter

Sounds like a reason for instant deportation, if you ask me


I could hardly believe my eyes when I read an account of a French Muslim woman who's just been found guilty of 'justifying a crime'.

A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words "I am a bomb" on the front, along with his name and 'Born on September 11th' on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for "glorifying a crime".

A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

“We have to rule that they (the mother and uncle) knew of the provocative nature of the T-shirt,” said the counsel for the prosecution.

. . .

The court handed the mother a one month suspended prison sentence as well as €2,000 fine.

Jihad’s uncle, who bought the sweater for the boy, was slapped with a €4,000 fine and a two-month suspended prison sentence.

. . .

For his part, the uncle Zeyad, 29 said: “I had no intention of being provocative or shocking people.

“For me the words ‘I am a bomb’ mean ‘I am beautiful’”.

There's more at the link.

If she feels that way about Western society, why didn't they simply deport her right away and save the expense of the trial and appeal?  They should have taken her son away from her, though.  With a more rational set of foster parents, the boy's young enough that he might have had a better chance at a worthwhile existence.  As it is . . .






Peter

Friday, September 20, 2013

It's been a busy day


We bought Miss D. a new-to-her used car yesterday, and spent the morning getting it emissions-tested, registered and licensed, as well as running other errands.  This evening we went for a walk ahead of the oncoming storm front.  Both of us have suffered injuries that act as internal barometers for atmospheric pressure changes, so it was painful, but a relief to get moving for a bit.  We met a little kitten on the way, who reminded us very much of our own recently-acquired cat.  She played happily with us, ran halfway up a tree, chased her own shadow . . . very kittenish, and a lot of fun.

My latest book is performing very differently from my first two SF novels.  Sales are much slower than I'm used to, but steady, and I suspect I'll see more of them when the first reviews begin appearing on Amazon.  The genres in which this book has been published - criminology and memoir, both non-fiction - are much slower-moving than novels.  Even at the slow pace of sales, I'm well up in the top 20 best-sellers in criminology, in both e-book and print sales.  In memoir, I'm much lower down in the e-book rankings, and I don't feature at all in print yet - but it's early days.

I'll put up more posts tomorrow morning.  To keep you going until then, here's a video clip that confuses me somewhat.  See what you think.





The man dribbles a small ball into the path of a car, deliberately obstructing traffic;  then he gets hit on the head by a traffic pole, but it can't possibly hurt him as badly as he's making it out to be (I've been hit by those poles myself, and they're more of a tap than a blow).  I think he's playing for sympathy, or perhaps planning a lawsuit.  After lying there, apparently deliberately, it seems the driver of the car also thinks he's faking it, loses patience with him, and runs over him.  As far as I'm concerned, he asked for it all . . . but then, I can be hard-hearted with idiots.  What do you think?

Peter

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Making yourself drunk - without booze???


I was surprised to read of a man who made himself drunk through an internal disorder.  NPR reports:

This medical case may give a whole new meaning to the phrase "beer gut."

A 61-year-old man — with a history of home-brewing — stumbled into a Texas emergency room complaining of dizziness. Nurses ran a Breathalyzer test. And sure enough, the man's blood alcohol concentration was a whopping 0.37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas.

There was just one hitch: The man said that he hadn't touched a drop of alcohol that day.

. . .

Other medical professionals chalked up the man's problem to "closet drinking." But Cordell and Dr. Justin McCarthy, a gastroenterologist in Lubbock, wanted to figure out what was really going on.

So the team searched the man's belongings for liquor and then isolated him in a hospital room for 24 hours. Throughout the day, he ate carbohydrate-rich foods, and the doctors periodically checked his blood for alcohol. At one point, it rose 0.12 percent.

Eventually, McCarthy and Cordell pinpointed the culprit: an overabundance of brewer's yeast in his gut.

That's right, folks. According to Cordell and McCarthy, the man's intestinal tract was acting like his own internal brewery.

There's more at the link, including details of how the problem occurred.

I can understand that if the man was exposed to large quantities of brewer's yeast (which he would have been through his home-brewing activities) he could, indeed, have developed an internal reaction to it.  Outlandish though the incident may sound, it's entirely feasible.

Hmm . . . If I could figure out how to 'graft' this yeast infection into inmates' stomachs in prison, I could render them capable of internally producing their own 'pruno' or 'hooch' to become permanently drunk!  I sense a business opportunity here . . .





Peter