Saturday, August 17, 2019

There's no fuel like an oil fuel . . .

. . . or so the petroleum industry used to say, back in the 1970's.  That's proving true in the maritime shipping industry right now, as major change looms next year.  We don't think much about an industry that's "out of sight, out of mind" for most of us, but it has a huge impact on global pollution, and changing that is going to require major changes to the way we fuel the ships that fuel the world's economy.  Forbes reports:

A United Nations mandate on the shipping industry to remove up to 85% of the sulfur content from its fuel to cut 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions could throw the industry into massive disruption.

Some analysts argue it could lead to fuel supply and demand imbalances and arbitrage opportunities that could extend crude oil price volatility.

. . .

In 2016, the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) gave the global shipping industry four years to make sure the 90,000 vessels at sea burn 85% less sulfur by Jan. 1, 2020.

The IMO standard requires ships to produce a maximum of 0.5% in sulfur emissions rather than the present 3.5% limit.

“Implications go beyond shipping and refining. Changes will be felt in the entire commodity landscape, including petrochemicals, road fuels, and airlines,” said Aftab Saleem, KPMG’s director of its risk analytics advisory, which helps a large swath of the global shipping industry comply with the standard. “Costs are going to go up. This has huge, huge implications across the supply chain, all the way back to producers.”

. . .

Oceana says if global shipping were a country, only the U.S., China, Russia, India and Japan would emit more carbon into the atmosphere than the global shipping industry.

KPMG Global says 15 of the biggest ships emit more sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide than all of the world’s cars combined, and one million cars emit as much particulate matter as one cruise ship produces.

There's more at the link.

If you're interested in global economics, it's worth reading the Forbes article in full.  Consider that well over 80% of global trade moves by sea, and you'll get some idea of the impact of the current changes.  They have to be paid for, so freight rates will have to be adjusted, and that in turn will influence the price of goods and services worldwide.

What's more, a major part of the world's merchant fleet (particularly that concentrated in the Third World) won't have completed the necessary mechanical and engineering changes in time for the implementation of the new standards.  What's going to happen?  In theory, at least, they'll be barred from most, if not all, First World ports - but there won't be enough carrying capacity for world trade without them.  Pollution control is going to run headlong into economic practicality, as far as many ships are concerned.

The cost of installing fuel scrubbers is plus-or-minus $1 million per ship - and many older merchant vessels aren't worth that much.  Will they be scrapped?  The cost of replacing them will be far greater than the cost of a scrubber.  And what about open-loop scrubbers, which take the pollution out of the funnel smoke, only to discharge it into the sea?  Are we to replace air pollution with sea pollution?  Many First World ports have banned open-loop scrubbers for that reason . . . but many ships are nevertheless going to be equipped with them, as the only available option in the short term.  If the regulations are strictly applied, will there be enough "clean" ships to meet the new requirements?  I suspect not, for at least the first few years.

This is going to get very interesting and very complicated.  It'll be worth paying attention, because we're all going to feel the after-effects in our wallets.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Doofus Of The Day #1,052

Today's award goes to the author of an academic paper on - of all things - the sexual exploitation of dairy cows.

A paper currently being promoted by a New York university calls on society to consider the rampant “sexual exploitation” of dairy cows by the milk industry in order to “fully fight gendered oppression.”

Specifically, the author compares cattle insemination to "rape" and the milking of cows to "sexual abuse."

Titled “Readying the Rape Rack: Feminism and the Exploitation of Non-Human Reproductive Systems,” the paper was published Friday in a journal called Dissenting Voices, which is published and edited by the Women’s and Gender Studies program at the College at Brockport State University of New York.

The published piece aims at discussing the “sexual exploitation of non-human bodies, specifically dairy cows.” The author notes that “as a vegan and animal rights activist,” she feels compelled to reveal the “feminist aspects of animal agriculture,” a topic she says is unfortunately “under-researched,” but is nonetheless important because “the same way women’s health has been at  stake for years, a dairy cow’s reproductive system has been poked and prodded.”

According to the publication, “the dairy industry is a host for sex-based discrimination,” and a “site where sexual assault and objectification based on biological makeup are highly prevalent but ignored as we choose to neglect non- humans with whom we share a planet.”

The paper argues that “in order to fully fight gendered oppression,” society must also address the plight of dairy cows, which it asserts are “still subjects to sex-based discrimination and violence,” despite their voices being “not always lifted or comprehensible.”

There's more at the link.

Have you ever read so much bull**** masquerading as academic discussion in all your life?  I think the last line says it all:  "despite their voices being 'not always lifted or comprehensible'."  Translation:  Moo!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make another cup of tea, infused with cow's milk.  I doubt it'll turn me into a bovine sexual abuser.


Ebola: new drugs show promise, but we're not out of the woods yet

I'm encouraged to hear that two new drugs to treat Ebola are showing promise, but the process of testing them has been fraught with difficulty - and bloodshed.  Nature reports:

The race to develop treatments for Ebola has accelerated since the largest epidemic in history devastated West Africa between 2014 and 2016. Scientists responding to the ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have enrolled more than 500 participants in an unprecedented study of experimental drugs, vaccinated nearly 170,000 people, and sequenced the genomes of more than 270 Ebola samples collected from the sick.

. . .

Working in a conflict zone has forced researchers to adapt and persevere to an extraordinary degree. They have learnt how to conduct rigorous studies in areas where killings, abductions and arson are commonplace, and where Ebola responders have come under repeated attack.

. . .

Every aspect of the outbreak is affected by the area’s long history of conflict and trauma. Residents have endured more than two decades of terror from armed groups, along with resource exploitation, political instability and neglect from the world at large. That has bred distrust of authorities — including foreign health workers — and conspiracy theories about why Ebola is thriving. One popular rumour alleges that Ebola responders inject people with deadly substances at treatment centres and vaccination sites.

These false ideas have fostered nearly 200 attacks on Ebola responders and treatment centres so far this year, according to the WHO. Seven people have been killed and 58 injured.

To adapt to the conflict, clinical researchers at an Ebola centre in Beni operated by the French medical charity ALIMA give mobile phones to patients who check out of the clinic. This allows them to stay in touch about lingering symptoms, even if violence makes it impossible to keep follow-up appointments. Many people use the service as an emergency helpline, says Émilie Gaudin, a support officer at ALIMA. “Sometimes a patient calls us and says, ‘People want to kill me,’ or ‘I want to kill myself.’”

Despite this difficult environment, the drug trial is nearing completion. Researchers are 14 people shy of their goal of enrolling 545 participants, a threshold that should allow them to draw strong conclusions about the drugs’ efficacy. But there are already hints that the treatments are working. The mortality rate at Ebola treatment centres, where all patients receive one of the experimental drugs, is 35–40% — compared with 67% overall in this outbreak. The latter figure reflects the large number of people who have died at home or in facilities that aren’t equipped to treat Ebola.

Violence has also hampered vaccination efforts. A few months ago, Diallo Abdourahamane, the WHO’s Ebola vaccine coordinator, heard about a man in the town of Katwa who his team had immunized with an experimental Ebola vaccine made by the pharmaceutical company Merck. The man had told sceptical onlookers that the vaccine would protect against the disease. “But after the team left,” Abdourahamane says, “the neighbours came and surrounded him at night. They said ‘You are the one helping to bring Ebola to our area’ — and they killed him.”

There's more at the link.

Two new drugs have shown promise in the trials, provided they're administered as soon as possible after infection.  That, in itself, is a problem, as many Congolese are deathly afraid of being identified as Ebola carriers.  They'd rather wait at home, hoping against hope that they have flu or something simple, rather than the deadlier disease;  so by the time they're brought to a treatment center and diagnosed, it may be too late for the new drugs to have their desired effect.  Even so, the results hold out hope.

The survival rate for people who received either drug shortly after infection, when levels of the virus in their blood were low, was 90%.

. . .

One of the drugs, REGN-EB3, is a cocktail of three monoclonal antibodies against Ebola made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals of Tarrytown, New York. The second, mAB114, is derived from a single antibody recovered from the blood of a person who survived Ebola in the DRC in 1995 , and was developed by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Both drugs outperformed two other experimental treatments in the unprecedented multi-drug clinical trial in the DRC, the World Health Organization, INRB and NIAID said in a joint statement on 12 August. Preliminary data from the first 499 people enrolled in the study show that 29% of people given REGN-EB3 died, compared with 34% of those who received mAb114.

Again, more at the link.

I'll be holding thumbs that further tests, and possibly further refinement of the two drugs, will lead to an even greater reduction in the death rate.  If an effective treatment for Ebola becomes available, it'll be a huge relief to countries like ours, that up until now have been faced with the possibility of an untreatable, almost invariably fatal disease showing up without warning in our major urban centers.  We've had no answer to that before now.  Here's hoping the new drugs will provide one.


Beware of making commitments you can't afford

I'm talking back and forth with a couple I've known for some years, who recently found their lives turned upside down by one of their children's study loans.  They had signed as guarantors of the loans, because the university's financial advisor had assured them that it was "just a formality", that "everybody does it", and that if they didn't step up to their plate, their child "would not get the high-quality education she deserves".

How many of you have endured the same pitches from your kids' universities and colleges?  Sound familiar?

Well, in this case, reality bit.  Hard.  Their daughter was involved in a car accident, resulting in permanent partial disability.  She's only halfway through her studies, but will never be able to complete them.  She's no longer capable of working in her chosen field, and the permanent effects of her injuries will restrict the number of alternatives available to her (and her future income, too).  She may be dependent on her parents for at least a roof over her head, if not physical assistance with the daily necessities of living (like taking a bath, or getting dressed) for the foreseeable future.

Her parents are good people.  They're more than willing to step up to the plate and help meet their daughter's needs.  However, just as they began to pick up the pieces of her former life, along came the bills from her student loan providers.  She's on the hook - or, rather, since she's no longer earning, her parents are on the hook - for over $60,000, and repayments start at once.  Putting all her needs together, they'll need to find at least an extra $1,000 per month - but they don't have it.  They've asked her siblings to help, but both of them are just starting out in life, not earning great salaries, and they have their own needs - including their own student loans.  They probably won't be able to come up with much.

I'm very sorry for all those involved, but they basically brought this upon themselves.  The daughter wanted an education she could only afford by taking out student loans.  That was the first bad choice.  If she'd chosen a more affordable field of study, or worked to save enough money for the field she wanted before entering that program, she wouldn't be hurting financially right now.  If her parents hadn't guaranteed her student loans, they wouldn't be on the hook for her debts now.  All three of them are stuck with the consequences of their unwise decisions.

Moral of the story:  be very cautious about standing surety for anyone else's financial liabilities.  No matter how remote the possibility, there's always the chance you might find yourself on the hook for them.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Understanding the stress on law enforcement officers

We recently learned of the ninth suicide among the ranks of the New York Police Department this year.  That's a tragic loss, and an unacceptably high number;  but it reflects the stress and tension of the job that police officers do every day.  As City Journal points out:

In 2013, researchers published a study in the International Journal of Stress Management, examining the relationship between “critical incidents” and the mental health of police officers. It found that such episodes are associated both with alcohol use and PTSD symptoms. “Critical incidents” include a range of experiences that police officers—among other first responders—might encounter, including “badly beaten child,” “decaying corpse,” “making a death notification,” and personal harm or injury.

According to a study published by The Ruderman Family Foundation, “one survey of 193 police officers from small and midsize police departments” found that the “average number of events witnessed by officers was 188” throughout their careers. Another study found that approximately 80 percent of police-officer participants “reported seeing dead bodies and severely assaulted victims in the past year,” while 63 percent had seen abused children. More than 64 percent reported seeing victims of a serious traffic accident. Almost 40 percent had seen someone die in front of them in the previous year.

Do the public and media appreciate the reality of police work? Police don’t seem to think so: according to a 2016 Pew survey of American cops, only 13 percent believe “that the public understands the risks and challenges that law enforcement officers face on the job.” More than 75 percent of officers believe that the media treats police unfairly. Instances of police misconduct exist, of course, and they justifiably lead to public scrutiny and condemnation; but we should resist the tendency to allow those events to shape how we view police more broadly.

There's more at the link.

I've been exposed to that stress while serving as a prison chaplain.  The stress on staff behind bars is, in many ways, even worse than that experienced by police officers on the streets, because prison staff can't just walk away from it, or go and have a beer to unwind.  They're stuck in the middle of it for hours on end - and they may be dangerous hours, too.  In my memoir of prison chaplaincy, I wrote:

Working in such an environment has an inevitable effect on the staff — not just the Correctional Officers, but all of us. It’s very hard to maintain a cool, professional approach when you know that many of the inmates are out to get you in any way they can. After a while, the constant lies, evasions, attempts at manipulation, lack of co-operation, and just plain nastiness start to wear you down. Stress levels among prison staff are understandably very high, with inevitable negative consequences for their domestic life. The incidence of divorce and suicide amongst all peace officers is considerably above average, and corrections staff aren’t exempt. It’s very hard to leave your work behind at the gates of the prison...

This is very troubling from three perspectives. The first is that of inmates who genuinely want to change, to reform, and seek help in doing so. Their approach will be automatically regarded with suspicion by prison staff. We’ve all been ‘conned’ so many times that it’s all too easy to regard any such approach as more of the same. The inmates, hurt and frustrated, then blame the staff for being unfeeling and inhuman. In a sense, of course, they’re right — but they refuse to acknowledge the inevitability of such a reaction, given the staff’s constant exposure to less-well-motivated inmates. As a result, some convicts who really are sincere, and should receive extra help, aren’t given what they need. Some of them will turn away, frustrated and angry, and decide that if the system is going to treat them like dirt then they’re going to behave that way, just like everybody else behind bars. Others will sink into apathy and disillusionment, perhaps giving up hope of any meaningful life behind bars. Some of them may turn to drugs: others may become suicidal.

The second perspective is that of the staff themselves. They can very easily become hardened to anything any inmate says, and discount even reasonable excuses or explanations. I’ve known cases where a minor infraction by an inmate new to the system (probably committed through ignorance of regulations), has resulted in extremely heavy punishment, most likely because the officer or manager concerned was tired and frustrated from dealing with far too many similar cases, and wasn’t in the mood to make allowances or cut a new inmate some slack. It’s all too easy to say to oneself, “If they’re going to treat me like dirt, then I’m going to dish out dirt to them. Let’s see how they like it!” When I trained at FLETC, an instructor commented to me in private conversation, “During his first year in the BOP, a new officer can’t do enough for the inmate. During his second year, he can’t do enough to the inmate. The third and subsequent years, he just doesn’t give a damn any more.” Sadly, I’ve seen this cynical observation borne out in practice many times — although there are honorable exceptions, thank heaven.

The third perspective is that of the families of prison staff. It’s hard to maintain a normal home environment when one’s spouse is bringing home so much stress and tension. Children feel it too. A disproportionately large percentage of ‘corrections marriages’ fail, and the effects on spouse and children are long-lasting. Second and subsequent marriages often go the same way. It’s extremely difficult for those who haven’t personally experienced the stress of the corrections environment to understand its effect on those who live in it every day. It’s even harder for those who come home from it to share it with their spouses, who consequently feel ‘shut out’ of their partner’s work life. After all, what can a Correctional Officer tell his wife about the reality of his job? If he says, “Honey, today I charged down a man with a knife, while armed only with my bare hands,” her instant (and understandable) reaction will probably be to scream at him for being a fool by exposing himself to such danger. She might understand intellectually that he did something heroic and praiseworthy, but all she can see in her mind’s eye is herself and her children at his funeral.

The prison environment has another unfortunate effect on staff and their families. The staff member is surrounded, all day, every day, by those he cannot and dare not trust. Every time they approach him, he has to wonder about their ulterior motives and hidden purposes, suspecting a trap or an attempt to deceive. When he gets home, it’s sometimes very hard not to let this perspective affect his attitudes towards his loved ones. What might be normal behavior in a child (lies, evasions, excuses, etc.) may attract a much stronger reaction than normal parental disapproval and correction, because he’s too used to exercising discipline (sometimes very physically) over real evildoers who do the same things. This leads to a great deal of stress and tension in families.

Stress like that takes its toll.  Street cops have it just as bad, with the sole exception that they can walk away from it, sometimes, in some circumstances.  That doesn't always help, of course, because they know that'll just mean another officer has to take the stress in their place.

Stress took the ultimate toll on Officer Robert Echeverría, NYPD, last week.  He leaves behind a wife and two children, 11 and 18 years old.  May Officer Echeverría find peace and forgiveness, and may his family receive what comfort they may in so terrible a situation.

For the rest of us . . . may we have a deeper appreciation for the burdens our law enforcement officers and agencies carry for the rest of us.  We may complain about law enforcement overreach from time to time (I certainly do), but we'd complain a lot harder if they weren't around at all.


Good news - follow-ups from two previous posts

I thought readers might appreciate follow-up news concerning two previous blog posts.

First, Oleg Volk's beloved cat Gremlin didn't make it after being injured some months ago.  His death left Oleg bereft - they were like two halves of the same coin, they were so close.  (I knew Gremlin very well, having met him almost as soon as he'd adopted Oleg, and taught him [not that he needed much teaching] to chase toes under bedclothes - something for which Oleg graciously forgave me!)  His death left a gaping hole in Oleg's life.  I had a suspicion that those of his friends living closer to him than Miss D. and I would try to fill it for him.  They did.

Meet Chapa, Oleg's new companion.  He's still very young, but has apparently wormed his way into Oleg's (and everyone else's) heart without wasting any time.  You can read more about him, and see lots more photographs, at Oleg's blog.  Miss D. and I look forward to meeting him as early as we can manage it.

The other piece of good news concerns a Canadian transgender person who's made all sorts of trouble for a lot of people, including filing multiple lawsuits against beauticians who refused to wax his/her/its nether regions (for which there are abundant and very real medical reasons, but which he/she/it chose to view as discrimination).  I mentioned this person in passing in an article concerning overall moral trends and issues.  I didn't go into details, but provided a link where those interested could find out more.  It's nasty, to put it mildly.

Now we learn that said Canadian individual finally appears to have gone too far, even in a nation so blighted by political correctness.  Follow the links provided in that article for more information.  Personally, I think it couldn't happen to a more appropriate person!

They do say that "what goes around, comes around".  It's generally been my experience that if you try to do good, and spread it around, it will come back to you - as Oleg is now experiencing with Chapa.  In the same way, if you spread evil around, it will in turn find its way back to you, as "Jessica" is now finding out the hard way.  I trust that, in both cases, the lesson will be reinforced.

(I must admit, I had a fit of the giggles while trying to imagine "Jessica" making his/her/its usual demands on a typical north Texas beautician.  I suspect the response would be a good deal more forceful, and a great deal less politically correct, than might be expected in Canada.  I also expect that "Jessica" would not enjoy it at all!  As for filing a lawsuit, imagining a typical north Texas jury hearing the case . . . oh, dear.)


...and I bet none of these guns will ever hurt anybody

Amid all the leftist hoopla about how nasty and scary and deadly guns are, and how we should restrict the living daylights out of them, it's nice to be reminded that in very large parts of this country, they're regarded with nonchalance as a routine part of everyday life.  They're seldom used to harm anyone - they're much more likely to be used to put food on the table.

(Of course, if the need should arise to protect others from harm, they'll do that job, too.  As an illustration, a carload of gang-bangers from a big city some hours away decided to rob a small town's independent pharmacy of all the "good stuff" they could find.  As they pushed their way in, waving handguns, one of the staff slid out the back and called, not the local police department, but her father.  He grabbed his trusty old Winchester .30-30 and headed for the pharmacy, while both she and he called others.  Within minutes, 20 to 30 fine, upstanding local citizens had surrounded the place, all carrying deer rifles or shotguns, itching to get at the thieves.  The entire local PD, and a couple of sheriff's deputies, were stretched to the limit persuading the locals to please, pretty please, let them handle this one?  Once the bad guys saw what was waiting for them, they couldn't give up fast enough - a very wise decision, IMHO.  Small town America looks after its own.  Yes, I know that particular small town, and I know some of those involved in this incident.  They still bitch and moan about the PD and the Sheriff's Department "keepin' all the fun to themselves!")

When I was an active small-town pastor, I used to raffle off a hunting rifle or shotgun every year, near the beginning of hunting season, to help raise money for the church's needs.  There was never even a murmur of dissent from the congregation, who enthusiastically sold tickets all over town;  and I never heard that the annual winner ever used his new gun for anything except its designed purpose.  With that background, I was therefore happy to come across this fund-raising raffle from a small town in northern Texas.  Click the image for a larger view.

It's an annual event, and I understand it's well supported.  They sell only 300 tickets, at $100 each, and you have 30 chances to win a gun with each ticket - pretty decent odds, when you think about it.  (If you're interested, contact the IPVFD at the Facebook page listed on the flyer.)

This sort of raffle is common in much of small town America, and I think that's precisely as it should be.  Volunteer fire departments - the only kind there are in much of rural America;  more than two-thirds of US firefighters are VFD members - have to raise their own funds to a large extent, so they use whatever methods have a proven track record of success.  Winners have to pass all the usual legal requirements to collect their gun(s), including a background check, so it's not as if criminals will be able to pick up the tools of their trade through such competitions.

I think such events help to de-mystify guns, taking away the "Eeeewwww!  Nasty!" or "Ooooh!  Scary!" connotations so many people seem to associate with them.  To my mind, that's a good thing.  They're just another tool in the toolbox, like a hammer or a drill;  or they're a sporting implement, like a baseball bat or a fishing rod.  Raffles like this put things in proper perspective.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A snappy answer to a stupid question

As usual after any mass shooting tragedy, the anti-gunners have been spouting their propaganda once more, including the tired old canard "Who needs a 100-round magazine?"  It makes for a cute sound bite, but has little or nothing to do with reality - particularly because most shooters can change magazines pretty quickly when necessary (as we'll see below), rendering the question moot.

Congressional representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky had a great answer to that question.

Nicely put, sir!

I don't have any very-large-capacity magazines for my rifles, because I've found too many cases where they jam or cause problems.  That's not to say there aren't some very good products out there, but many are of questionable reliability.  (Also, they're very expensive compared to standard-capacity magazines, and I'm not on a government budget!)

By the way, the often-touted 10-round magazine size limit, that some want to impose on all handguns and rifles, won't do much, if anything, to slow down someone who wants to kill a lot of people.  Indiana Sheriff Ken Campbell produced this video a few years ago, using "ordinary shooters" like you and I to demonstrate the point.  I highly recommend watching it, and using it to defend standard-capacity magazines against that sort of uninformed attack.  After a series of text slides, the live action gets going at about 1m. 45sec.

Ken Campbell has since retired from law enforcement, and is currently the Chief Operating Officer at Gunsite Academy in Arizona, founded by the late, great and sadly missed Jeff Cooper.  If you want some of the best firearms training in the country, whether for civilians or for law enforcement, it's a great place to visit.


"Warning signs and how to spot a good restaurant in the wild"

That's the title of an article by Australian journalist and "foodie" David Dale.  He's been compiling lists of these signs and clues for over 30 years.  He writes:

I was inspired to start this project by the American food writer Calvin Trillin. He lamented then that when you're travelling and you ask hotel receptionists to recommend an interesting local restaurant, they send you to tourist traps – steel and glass boxes spinning around on the top of skyscrapers or fake wood cottages with names like "Maison de la Casa House Continental cuisine".

Trillin was particularly down on the word "continental". His rules of thumb included: "If a restaurant says it offers 'Continental cuisine', inquire which continent they are referring to, and be wary if the continent is Australia."

That was needlessly offensive, even in the days before Australia was a gastronomic powerhouse, so I decided to develop my own set of questions.

My list was designed primarily for Australians travelling within Australia, but I like to think most of the guidelines work equally well overseas.

When I'm travelling, I divide the world into Spontaneous countries and Research countries. Spontaneous countries have a culture of caring about the pleasures of the table, so visitors benefit from what the locals take for granted. You can drop into almost any eating place and be confident of getting a meal that is at least interesting. Examples are France, Italy, Spain and Thailand.

Research countries have a history of perceiving food as fuel, designed simply to build up strength for work. A visitor needs to do a lot of homework to find good cooking there. Examples are Britain and the US.

There's more at the link.

Here are some excerpts from Mr. Dale's current list of warning signs and criteria.

2. A restaurant with a pepper grinder on every table is likely to be good (as opposed to a restaurant where the waiters thrust a metre-long [yard-long] pepper grinder into your ear).

5. A restaurant where the waitstaff are required to wear archaic costumes is unlikely to be state of the art. Particularly pirates. And medieval serving wenches.

9. Restaurants more than 100 kilometres [about 62 miles] from the coast are unlikely to specialise successfully in seafood.

14. A restaurant with a pun in its name and puns all over its menu may take its cooking equally seriously – except for Thai restaurants, where a pun in the title is mandatory.

16. The number of spelling errors on a menu is inversely proportional to the quality of the cooking.

21. A restaurant that lists four pasta shapes in one column and four sauces in another column, and invites you to "mix 'n' match", is unlikely to be run by an Italian.

There are many more at the link.  From my somewhat more limited experience (African bush food being the exact opposite of cordon bleu in far too many cases!), I can attest that many of his criteria are pretty much what I've found, too.

Oh, yes - riddle me this, please, fellow Americans.  Why on earth do so many people refer to catfish and crawfish as "seafood" - not to mention river or lake fish as well?  They've mostly never been within a good country mile of the sea!  I was raised to use the term "seafood" to refer to the harvest of the sea itself - saltwater fish, shellfish, etc.  However, almost every American restaurant I've been to lists freshwater fish, etc. among its seafood dishes.  Very strange!

That conundrum aside, Bon appetit!


Doofus Of The Day #1,051

Today's award goes to actor Alec Baldwin for this tweet about the death by suicide, while in prison, of Jeffrey Epstein:

He shares the award with Ron Perlman, Brian Koppelman, Dave Bautista, George Takei, and probably others in the Hollywood kafeeklatsch, all of whom also inferred a Russian hand of some sort in Epstein's death.

I agree that Epstein's suicide was, and remains, highly suspicious, with enough grounds for doubt as to what happened to keep us guessing for years to come . . . but Russia?  Really?  I'd have thought there's nothing Russia would have liked more than to have Epstein's "little black book" (and video recordings, audio recordings, letters, and other compromising material) throw politics into disarray in the USA and other countries.  His death has largely derailed that possibility, absent the discovery of his stash of "If-you-come-for-me-I'll-take-you-all-with-me" evidence.

I think Mr. Baldwin and his friends need medication . . . anti-psychotic-conspiracy-theory medication . . . the good stuff, and plenty of it.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"Anxiety simmers as mass shootings loom any time, anywhere"

That's the headline of an article in the Detroit Free Press.

Motorcycles backfired in Times Square last week. It sounded like gunfire, and panic ensued in the heart of New York City.

The same night, a sign fell during a concert at a Utah mall. The loud bang when it hit the floor sounded something like a gunshot, and sent people racing into stores to hide.

Balloons popped in a dorm in March on the University of Michigan campus. Outside, a vigil was underway for those killed in the massacre at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Dozens of students heard the loud popping sounds and called 911, leading to a campus lockdown and hours-long search for a gunman who didn't exist.

These scenes paint a portrait of America in 2019.

It's a place where anxiety about gun violence is always at a low simmer, ready to boil over at the slightest provocation.

It's also a country with more mass shootings than there are days in the year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonpartisan nonprofit organization that collects real-time data.

"It’s forever going to be a part of my mind, where I know this could happen," said Lee Dorchak Sr., 38, of Warren, who was shot but survived the 2017 massacre at the three-day outdoor Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed.

"It could happen to anybody anywhere you go now. Sadly, these things are proving it to us," he said, referencing mass shootings Aug. 3-4 at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store and outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio. "These things can happen anywhere at any moment, and ... I don’t know that we’ll ever find the right answer or the right way to handle it."

There's more at the link.

Sadly, the headline is probably correct.  There are enough deranged individuals out there that one never knows when or where the next one will pick up a gun and start shooting.  The reasons are debated endlessly.  Is it "a lot of dysfunctional young white guys from suburbia"?  (No, it's not.) . Is it because "no-one matters anymore"?  (Possibly.)  Is it the way we raise (or neglect) our kids?  (That's very likely a contributing factor.)  However, uncertainty about the causes won't change the reality that mass shootings can now happen anywhere, anytime.

All we, as individuals, can do is observe basic precautions.  I repeated John Farnam's very wise advice last week.  If you didn't read it then, please click on the link and do so now.  It's important.  I also stressed in that article the need to be armed, so that you can defend yourself and your family if need be.  As I said in another blog post:

The simple truth is that the solution to mass shootings of this sort does not lie in government hands, or even in law enforcement hands.  Government and cops can't be everywhere, all the time - but we are.  It's up to us to be aware of our surroundings, and equipped to deal with any threat that may arise.  How many of us, after the shooting at a Walmart supermarket in El Paso, decided to get our concealed carry permit, and from now onward go armed, to defend ourselves and those with us when we do our grocery shopping?  If you didn't, you're effectively consenting to be a victim in such an environment - because there is something practical you can do about it, but you've chosen, by your inaction, not to do anything.  Don't blame the government if you find yourself caught up in a similar situation.  They didn't send the shooter.

That's a hard, painful lesson to learn . . . but isn't it the exact and literal truth?

It's not enough just to carry a gun, either.  In a crisis, one will default to one's level of training.  If you haven't trained enough with your gun, so that you know how to draw it quickly and safely, how to aim it, and how to put fire downrange accurately and effectively, you probably won't be very good at defending yourself.  In fact, you may be more of a threat to those nearby than the original gunman!  It takes training and practice to master a firearm, and ongoing practice to "keep one's eye in" and remain at a level of proficiency that will get the job done if and when required.  Most people don't bother, because that takes time, energy, commitment and money (for training, ammunition and other needs).  Nevertheless, they're basic requirements if you want to defend yourself and your loved ones.  There's no substitute.

The same applies to a basic level of physical fitness.  Some of us (including myself) labor under health problems that prevent us becoming and/or remaining very fit.  If we run into an active shooter, there's no way we're going to be able to run far enough or fast enough to get away, so we'd better concentrate on how to stop him without that option.  Others, fitter or stronger or faster, might do better to "get out of Dodge" without trying to offer fight.  Figure out what works better for you - but do so ahead of time, so that if something goes wrong, you aren't still wondering what to do about it.  As General Patton famously said, "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week".  He was speaking in a military context, of course, but his sentiments apply equally well to self-defense.

Sometimes, all of the above simply won't be enough.  Sometimes we may just find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  All we can do then is our best.  Even if we charge the gunman with empty hands, that may at least give others the chance to escape, or allow someone else to hit him over the head from behind while he's concentrating on us.  It won't help us, but it may help others - so let's not rule that out.  At any rate, I think it's a better option than cowering on the floor, screaming, while being systematically slaughtered!


Early warning signs that Mexico may follow Venezuela's example?

American Thinker notes two worrying developments in Mexico.

We try to stay in touch with Mexico.  This week, we saw a couple of articles that should worry the Mexican middle class.

First, Presidente López-Obrador is making investors a bit weary, according to Richard Castillo via Pulse News Mexico:

Fear does not ride on a burro; it flies at the speed of sound!

And spreading fear of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's (AMLO) economic policies seems to be the leading reason that Mexico's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has slumped markedly to the point of reaching a minimal growth of 0.1 percent for the next quarter of 2019.

Based on the article, it appears that some major corporations are having second thoughts about investing or following up with their promises to invest.

. . .

The other story is about Mexico's public schools and the growing influence of leftist teachers' union.  This is from Mamela Fiallo Flor, a fellow Cuban who has seen this movie before:

The National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) will provide textbooks to hundreds of thousands of Mexican children in 6,000 schools and indoctrinate them with communist propaganda.  The material ranges from Karl Marx to the link between Mexico and Cuban communism since the yacht called Granma that transported Che Guevara, and the Castro brothers sailed from its shores.

The new curriculum will attack the Spanish conquest and praise the Sandinista revolution.

. . .

Who would have believed all of this a year ago?  How about the many of us who were deeply concerned with the election of a populist leftist in Mexico?

There's more at the link.

Those aren't the only worrying developments.  Comments from sources "on the ground" have indicated that the current Mexican government is no longer really trying to rein in the drug cartels.  Instead, it's focusing its efforts on social reform and socialist policies, which it considers more important.  From its left-wing ideological perspective (and don't forget that President López Obrador is a hard-line left-winger of long standing), those efforts will eventually deal with the drug and cartel problem as a minor by-product.  The rest of us (including the US government) aren't so sure about that.

If Mexico goes the way of Venezuela under first Chavez, then Maduro (and López Obrador's policies are very reminiscent of Chavez' policies in Venezuela), this could mean we'll have a chaotic failed state on our southern border in little more than a decade (well, a lot more failed than it is already, at any rate).  That would make the current flood of "refugees" and illegal aliens from and through that country seem like a mere trickle compared to the deluge that will follow.  If you doubt that, consider the countries bordering Venezuela, who are having to deal with literally millions of refugees from that failed state.  They're disrupting their economies, overburdening their health care, education and other support systems and facilities, and there's no short-term solution in sight.

It would be nice to think Mexico has the ability (and the collective will) to turn itself around before it degenerates all the way into a failed state.  Sadly, the country's history doesn't offer much support for that hope.


Some 20-year-old pain medications still work

I've long been aware of studies suggesting that some prescription medications can retain their potency for several years past the expiration date shown on their labels (which is typically one year after they were issued to a customer).  I must admit, though, I've recently been pleasantly surprised by one prescription issued to me twenty years ago.

I recently had a bout with severe, immobilizing back pain, which is slowly easing off (the inevitable result of a partially disabling injury back in 2004, which resulted in a spinal fusion and permanent nerve damage).  The doctor (not my usual one) initially prescribed a couple of days' worth of Tylenol 3, and advised me to get it extended by my primary care practitioner when I got home.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get in to see her in the short term;  so I looked in my "stash" of previous prescription medications to see what I had that might suit.  I found a prescription for Vicodin issued to me in May 1999.  I wasn't sure whether the remaining pills would still be any good after 20 years, but I had nothing to lose, so I tried one.  Its potency was probably less than when it was made, two decades before, but it was still more than strong enough to be effective.  It's providing as much pain relief as Tylenol 3, from a lower daily dose (1 tablet every 4 hours, versus 2 Tylenol 3 pills every 6 hours).  I've got enough to last several days.

I note that the US military saves billions in drug costs by extending its "safe use" period for many medications.

The American Medical Association (AMA) concluded in 2001 that the actual shelf life of some products is longer than the labeled expiration date. The AMA stated the best evidence resides in the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP) undertaken by the FDA for the Department of Defense.

The original purpose of the SLEP program was twofold: to determine the actual shelf life of stockpiled military medications for future use, and to save government dollars. Over 3000 lots, representing 122 different drug products, were assessed in the SLEP program. Based on stability data, expiration dates on 88% of the lots were extended beyond their original expiration date for an average of 66 months. Of these 2652 lots, only 18% were terminated due to failure.

. . .

These results suggest that many drug products may have extended shelf lives beyond their expiration date. However, it is difficult for any one consumer or health care provider to know which product could have an extended shelf life. The ability for a drug to have an extended shelf life would be dependent upon the actual drug ingredients, presence of preservatives, temperature fluctuations, light, humidity, and other storage conditions. Additionally, the drug lots tested in the SLEP program were kept in their original packaging. Once a drug is repackaged into another container, as often happens in the pharmacy, the shelf-life could decline due to environmental variations.

. . .

Solid dosage forms, such as tablets and capsules, appear to be most stable past their expiration date. Drugs that exist in solution or as a reconstituted suspension, and that require refrigeration (such as amoxicillin suspension), may not have the required potency if used when outdated. Loss of potency can be a major health concern, especially when treating an infection with an antibiotic.

There's more at the link.

Since reading about that study, soon after its completion, I've made a point of keeping old prescription drugs when I had some left over, with particular emphasis on pain medication after my 2004 injury (which has left me in pain 24/7/365).  As the authorities have cracked down more and more on the issue of effective pain medication, I've been able to draw on my stash for bad pain days, using current, less effective prescriptions on the days when the pain level is merely routine.  It's been a blessing.

Provided you can store your old prescriptions in a stable environment, and secure them so that kids and/or potential abusers can't get at them, I see no reason not to keep them for future use when needed.  In an emergency, if you can't get to a doctor or pharmacy for some reason, they might be really useful.  (In rural and bush Africa, where it's frequently very difficult to get hold of some medications, I've seen individuals trade them to each other in emergencies, and done so myself on occasion.  "I'll swap you twenty Doxy and a pack of cigarettes for thirty Cipro" - literally.  Where there's a need, there's a way.)

I think the warning above about loss of potency is certainly something to keep in mind, particularly for antibiotics, as a drug that's too weak may cause your illness or infection to be prolonged, or even get worse.  Other than that, the only difficulty I can think of is drug testing.  If you don't have a current prescription for the drug(s) concerned, and your employer demands frequent drug tests, you may find questions being asked if they're detected in your system.  Fortunately, that's not an issue for me.