Friday, December 14, 2018

I give you the Old NFO School of Running The Navy

Courtesy of Alaskan cartoon The Whiteboard (clickit to biggit):

That sure sounds like Navy coffee to me!  I must check with Old NFO, who's been known to become dangerously threatening at the thought of being forced to drink "civilized" coffee.  We daren't take him within range of Starbucks . . .


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Now that's student assistance squared!

An extraordinary tale has emerged from Sweden of how a Yazidi student from Iraq was saved from ISIS terrorists by his professor and her university colleagues.

A chemistry professor at Lund University [in Sweden] dispatched a team of mercenaries into an Islamic State (also known as IS, Isis or Daesh) war zone to free one of her doctoral students and his family.

Charlotta Turner, professor in Analytical Chemistry, received a text message from her student Firas Jumaah in 2014 telling her to to assume he would not finish his thesis if he had not returned within a week.

He and his family were, he told her, hiding out in a disused bleach factory, with the sounds of gunshots from Isis warriors roaming the town reverberating around them. Jumaah, who is from Iraq, is a member of the ethno-religious group Yazidi hated by Isis.

"I had no hope then at all," Jumaah told Lund's University Magazine LUM. "I was desperate. I just wanted to tell my supervisor what was happening. I had no idea that a professor would be able to do anything for us."

. . .

But Turner was not willing to leave her student to die without trying to do something.

"What was happening was completely unacceptable," she told LUM. "I got so angry that IS was pushing itself into our world, exposing my doctoral student and his family to this, and disrupting the research."

She contacted the university's then security chief Per Gustafson.

"It was almost as if he'd been waiting for this kind of mission," Turner said. "Per Gustafson said that we had a transport and security deal which stretched over the whole world."

Over a few days of intense activity, Gustafson hired a security company which then arranged the rescue operation.

A few days later two Landcruisers carrying four heavily-armed mercenaries roared into the area where Jumaah was hiding, and sped him away to Erbil Airport together with his wife and two small children.

There's more at the link.

That's got to be the most go-the-extra-mile (or few thousand miles) student assistance request in any university I've ever heard of!  Kudos to Lund University for stepping up to the plate.


Whisky insurance???

I suppose if something's valuable, no matter what it is, someone will want to insure it . . . but insuring whisky sounds to me like a loss waiting to happen.

With prices of rare whisky soaring into the six and seven digits, ensuring that precious spirit is protected is not only recommended but essential, says Ron Fiamma, head of global collections at American International Group Inc.’s private client group. The insurance giant has seen such an uptick in whisky collecting that it has expanded its coverage of specialty collections to include those owners whose tastes run to a 1926 Macallan.

“Whisky collectors now number in the many hundreds, closing in on 1,000 individual collectors of all stripes and values,” says Fiamma of AIG customers highlighting whisky within their insured collection. “When auction houses are holding two or three whisky auctions a year, with some whisky going for a million or half a million dollars, clearly it warranted attention.”

To wit, on Nov. 29 a bottle of The Macallan that spent six decades in an ex-sherry oak cask sold for a record price of 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) at Christie’s London. A rare 60-year-old Macallan whisky fetched HK$7.96 million ($1.01 million) at Bonhams Hong Kong in May. A second bottle from the same vintage was sold later the same day at the same auction for $1.1 million. Both sold for more than twice their high estimate.

Rare whisky has appreciated 140 percent in the last five years, according to the Vintage 50 Index compiled by Rare Whisky 101. AIG has seen an almost tenfold increase in new submissions for whiskey insurance year over year.

There's more at the link.

First off, what risks does the insurance cover?  We've all seen photographs from earthquake zones of bottles of wine and spirits, broken on the floors of shops when they fell off the shelves.  It happened in Alaska just a week or two ago.  This image was posted on social media afterwards.  (I don't know where it originated, so I can't credit the source, but I'll gladly do so if someone will point it out.)

Will whisky insurance cover that?  The insurer might insist on the insured wrapping each bottle in an individually tailored sheepskin, fuzzy side in, and then suspending the lot from an earthquake-proof davit or crane in a drop-proof container.

As for the obvious claims . . . "Hello?  I want to claim against my whisky insurance.  Someone broke into my cellar last Saturday night and drank three million-dollar bottles of it.  What's that?  Why, yes, we were having a party at the time, but what's that got to do with it?"

Personally, given the choice between paying a million dollars for a bottle of whisky, or retiring on the proceeds of the money, I know what I'm going to pick . . .


Doofus Of The Day #1,031

Today's award goes to no less than twenty gang-bangers, rappers and idiots in Houston.

In March, two rappers, Emekwanem Biosah Jr, A.K.A. Maxo Kreme, and Warren Brown, A.K.A. NFL Cartell Bo, had a run-in with police while filming a rap video at Lakewood Park.

The rappers were filming at the park, which is next to Hillard Elementary School, at about the time school was being let out. Some students made it into the video.

Also in the video were about a dozen loaded guns, some of them stolen, according to police. The guns were being used as props and the extras holding the weapons were all documented street gang members and rappers, according to police.

When police arrived at the park, most of the people ran, leaving the weapons behind, according to police.

Some of them had open warrants and were arrested on the spot, police said.

Drugs were also found, police said.

The video was released two months later and has about 2 million views on YouTube.

Police said they used the video to track down and identify everyone in the video who was holding a weapon.

. . .

As of Monday, 11 of the suspects are either in state or federal custody. Nine suspects remain wanted for numerous open warrants.

There's more at the link.

Nothing like providing video evidence of your own crimes to the police, is there?  I won't bother to post their video here, but if you're interested, it's available on YouTube.  It opens with what appears to be footage of the police securing some of the aspiring rap "artists".


Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Also found on Gab today:

I'd better warn Lawdog.  His house pests may shoot back in future.


A fascinating photograph

Found on Gab:  a ladybug covered in dew droplets.  Clickit to biggit.

I'd love to know whether that shot was deliberately set up, or whether the photographer happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right lens.  Either way, it's fascinating.


At the heart of the Ebola crisis: Africa's tribal culture

There's a horrifying article in the New York Post about a recent mass rape in South Sudan.  I won't publish all the gory details here. You can click on the link and read it for yourself.  Basically, one group wanted something, and when they couldn't get it, they took it from another group.  In its essence, that's the problem.  The women concerned were not regarded as human beings by their rapists, but as members of a group to be targeted.

This is yet another aspect of the biggest problem in Africa:  tribal identity and culture.  There is no concept whatsoever in African tradition that the individual matters.  It's all about the tribe.  You are born into a tribe, and that basically circumscribes most of your life.  You work for the good of the tribe;  you die (if necessary) for the good of the tribe (including older people walking out into the bush to starve if there isn't enough food, so that what's available will keep the youngsters - the future of the tribe - alive);  you identify so strongly with your tribe that all others are regarded with, at best, suspicion, if not fear and/or hatred.  You work to strengthen your tribe in every way possible, including by weakening all other tribes (this is why so many African civil servants will bend or break all the rules to accommodate their tribe, while applying them rigorously against the interests of others).  I could go on, but you get the idea.

This tribal attitude produces extreme (and often violent) xenophobia against outsiders.  In a major crisis situation, such as exists in the Congo right now, this can even extend to breakdown of society within a tribe.  One village may fear, resent or actively seek to destroy another village, even though they're both from the same tribe, because there simply isn't enough to go around;  so the first village wants to get it, and the easiest way to do so is to drive the second village into the ground.  Couple this with a level of education so abysmally low that shamans and witch-doctors have more influence than doctors, scientists or teachers, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Medical aid teams trying to contain the Ebola crisis are experiencing this at first hand in the Congo today.

Doctors and other experts currently or formerly working in the region described a landscape that is not quite a war zone but in which shooting can break out almost anywhere for unknown reasons.

“Yes, it’s stressful,” said Anthony Bonhommeau, director of operational development for ALIMA, the Alliance for International Medical Action. “You work in an Ebola unit all day, then you go back to the hotel and hear gunfire at night. We make it possible for our people to see psychologists and to get a break after three weeks.”

The violence has also cut short the work of veteran doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many of whom have extensive experience in Ebola epidemics. Two months ago, the State Department ordered all American government employees out of the region and confined them to the capital, Kinshasa, nearly 1,000 miles away.

. . .

Some residents refuse to believe that Ebola exists or dismiss it as a foreign plot to test new medicines on Africans. Many simply see it as a lesser threat than the constant ones: malaria, cholera, hunger and violence.

. . .

In addition, many villages have their own Mai Mai, a catchall word for self-defense militias. Some simply protect their home areas, but others go rogue, engaging in banditry like stealing cattle and robbing travelers.

Mai Mai may be farmers by day and fighters by night, “so when we go into a village to reach the population, we know the fighters may be there too,” said Dr. Axelle Ronsse, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.

Roving medical or burial teams have been beaten or stoned by villagers after rumors spread that they were stealing bodies for witchcraft or forcibly vaccinating children.

There's more at the link.

The Washington Post has more on the issue.

A quarter-century of vicious conflict, triggered by spillover from the Rwandan genocide in 1994, has been accompanied by deprivations of food, medicine and shelter that have shattered North Kivu’s society. Amid the widespread trauma and desperation, foreign companies have continued to extract the region’s extensive mineral wealth, often paying protection money to armed groups, stoking the conflict. The U.N. peacekeeping mission — established in 1999 and now the most expensive in the world — has been the target of violent protests over its perceived ineffectiveness. Suspicion of outsiders is common and rooted in history.

To protect themselves, many communities have taken up arms. The resulting militias, which vary greatly in size, are collectively known as Mai-Mai. Other groups, such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan-origin extremist group infamous for its child soldiers, routinely skirmish with Congolese government forces and attack anyone they perceive to be collaborating with them. The brunt of their vengeance falls on civilians.

An effective Ebola response relies on persuading people in the affected area to cooperate with health workers, but the distrust sown by years of conflict makes that much more difficult. Yao, the WHO coordinator in Beni, said not a week goes by in which his teams are not attacked by skeptical locals.

“Even yesterday, one of our investigations teams’ car was destroyed and a team member’s house was burned,” said Yao, who is Ivorian Canadian.

. . .

Ebola is being transmitted in worryingly large numbers in Mai-Mai-controlled suburbs of Butembo. [Dr. Belizaire] spends days negotiating with the militias for access.

“New Mai-Mai groups keep calling us and making their demands; it’s like a new one every day,” she said. “But they are very hostile to outsiders coming in. In some cases, we’ve agreed to have them send community members to us so we can train them instead of the other way around.”

While many Mai-Mai groups are open to such arrangements, the ADF won’t engage. Local workers have taken to calling an ADF-controlled area between the towns of Mbau, Eringite and Kamango “le triangle de la mort” — the triangle of death. That’s where many are worried Ebola transmission is happening out of sight of the responders.

Again, more at the link.

At their root, the incidents and attitudes described in both articles can be traced back to tribalism.
  • You aren't from around here?
  • You speak a different language?
  • You speak our language and are from our tribe, but not from our village?
  • You have more than we do?
  • You want us to do things we've never done before, and which violate our tribal customs?
  • You want to treat us with medicines we don't understand?
  • You say Ebola is a sickness, where our witch-doctors tell us it's a curse cast on us by our enemies?
Any or all of those things make you, the aid worker, an outsider, presumed to be an enemy until proven otherwise.  Unless and until you overcome those problems, you will never be trusted:  but the armed groups will make damned sure you don't get enough contact with the people to build that trust, because if you do, their domination of the locals will be threatened - and that might be a death sentence for them.  It's been that way for aeons.  Lose control, lose power, and you're probably going to lose your head, literally.  Therefore, as far as they're concerned . . . ain't gonna happen.

And that's why Ebola is uncontrolled in the Congo, and will probably become even more so.  It's not just the ongoing conflict in central Africa;  it's the tribal attitudes that have existed for centuries, which have hardened under the stress of the conflict, and are still at the root of the violence.  A Western medical approach stands almost no chance of overcoming those realities in many communities.  Some, yes . . . but not all;  and those that can't or won't listen are the breeding grounds from which Ebola will spread (and is spreading) to all the others.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Media versus reality

Old NFO has a useful blog post showing how the mainstream media present the news, versus what's really going on.  It's a good read.  If anyone tells you, "But it was on the news!", that doesn't necessarily mean it was either accurate and/or truthful.  Recommended.

The ones that crack me up are the severe weather reports, where a journalist tries to give the impression that he/she's in a dangerous or catastrophic situation, but the reality is that they're just pretending.  Two recent examples:

Moral of the story:  if you're going to fake it, make sure viewers can't spot the fakery!


Saw that coming . . .

Readers will recall the murder of Whitey Bulger a few weeks ago.  As I predicted, this is going to end up in the courts - as it probably should.

Mr. Brennan says he is preparing to sue the government on behalf of Bulger’s estate for wrongful death and negligence to find out why authorities sent the frail, notorious gangster to the U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton in West Virginia, and put him in with the general population.

"It’s important for the family and the public to know why the prisons decided to wheel an 89-year-old man with a history of heart attacks into one of the most dangerous prisons in the country," said Mr. Brennan, who hasn’t publicly disclosed his final conversations with Bulger previously.

. . .

A Bureau of Prisons spokesperson said that Bulger was transferred from the Florida prison because of a threat he made against a staff member, an allegation Mr. Brennan disputes, and that the transfer to Hazelton was made in accordance with the bureau’s policy. The spokesperson declined to comment on any medical issues or the threat of a lawsuit. The Bureau previously said that it had sent a team of experts to the Hazelton complex “to assess operational activities and correctional security practices and measures to determine any relevant facts that may have contributed to the incident."

There's more at the link (which may disappear behind a paywall:  if it does, see this report instead).

As most readers know, I served as a chaplain with the Bureau of Prisons in the early 2000's, until a disabling injury put paid to my career there.  I know how the BOP "system" works - and it clearly didn't work in the case of Whitey Bulger.  I'm not in a position to say whether there was official connivance in the events leading up to his death . . . but there were so many errors made in his case that one can't help but wonder.  The whole situation stinks to high heaven.

I'm sure there'll be civil litigation over Mr. Bulger's death, and I won't be surprised if criminal charges are laid - unless someone senior enough decides to cover up the whole mess.  That's not beyond the bounds of possibility, either.  Some bureaucrats would rather settle a court case and pay humongous sums in damages (using taxpayer money, not their own), rather than expose internal shenanigans to the light of judicial cross-examination.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Not a bad likeness

Stemming from the gilets jaunes protests in France, someone drew this portrait of President Trump.  I received it via e-mail, so I don't know who the artist is.  French, perhaps?  Click the image for a larger view.

Yellow?  Well, sacred blue and all that sort of thing!


(Departed) soul mates???

This is one of the more unusual relationship breakup stories to pop up.

An Irish Jack Sparrow impersonator who married the ghost of a pirate has revealed she has split from her 300-year-old hubby.

Earlier this year Amanda Sparrow Large, 46, said she’d found her “soulmate” in a Haitian pirate from the 1700s who was executed for thieving on the high seas.

The loved-up couple were legally married by a shaman priest in a boat off the Irish coast in international waters.

But now the mum from Drogheda, Co Louth, has revealed the unlikely union is over.

Posting on social media she said: “So I feel it’s time to let everyone know that my marriage is over.

“I will explain all in due course but for now all I want to say is be VERY careful when dabbling in spirituality, it’s not something to mess with...”

There's more at the link.

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of ectoplasm?


Venezuela: where life is a burden to be endured

It's truly astonishing to see how run-down, degraded and desperate life in Venezuela has become.  Two decades ago it was a cosmopolitan, wealthy society by Latin American standards, relatively carefree and prosperous.  Today, it's a dystopian nightmare.

Bloomberg has published a series of reports on life in Caracas, the country's capital city.  All of them are worth reading, if only to illustrate how so much that we take for granted can be lost in a short time through mismanagement, envy and fear.  The latest looks at the street children of Caracas.

Andrea is 9. Her father is dead. Her mother is pregnant, jobless and many miles away in a small town south of Caracas called Yare. Andrea and her cousins—Disbeth, 12, Jocelyn, 11, and Andres and Jose, both 8—come in by bus and subway on Fridays, sleeping for two or three nights on the streets of one of the world’s most treacherous cities. Their weekend jobs are to beg for food for themselves, abating the hunger that dogs them during the week, and for money to bring back to their struggling families. Sometimes Andrea manages to collect as much as 50 bolivars.

Street children have long been a cause for concern in Venezuela. Their numbers have ebbed and flowed with the economy, but it has never before been like this—never before with so many young kids, on their own, all over the city.

They are seemingly everywhere, weighing vegetables at market stands, carrying crates of sodas into diners, cleaning parked cars, begging outside grocery stores, waved away from bars and restaurants where security guards don’t want them bothering the clientele. Many toil as “cloreros,” hawking diluted bleach, or cloro, poured into water jugs.

Sometimes barefoot, often emaciated, many roam in groups for protection, inviting sideways glances and purse clutching. Mostly, though, they’re treated with compassion, as nearly all Caraquenos can see themselves reflected in their misery.

There's more at the link.

The worst tragedy is, these kids have been denied the food and nourishment they need for their brains to develop properly.  Not only are they uneducated, but if they haven't had enough food during their physically formative years, they won't be capable of learning.  I've seen that countless times in African cities.  Venezuela isn't as far gone as some parts of Africa - at least, not yet . . . but if this continues, it will be, and very soon, too.

When you look around at your kids or grandkids, or the children in your neighborhood in the USA, even the poorest and most crime-ridden of them, realize that you're looking at kids in paradise compared to those who live in most of the rest of the world.  First World societies have very little idea of just how awful conditions can be elsewhere for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.

Say a prayer for them this Christmas, and try to do something to help, no matter how small.  It matters.


The Philippines' conundrum over China - and the USA's, too

Bullying tactics often work if the one being bullied doesn't have the muscle, strength or willpower to stand up to the bully.  That pretty much sums up what seems to be happening between China and the Philippines right now. Strategy Page reports:

President Duterte is trying to be realistic in his policy towards China but that seems to be making the situation worse. Duterte points out that China is already occupying the disputed territory in the South China Sea and no one is willing or able to push them out. China has hired several hundred Chinese fishing boats and their crews as a part-time naval militia to conduct a blockage of bits of land in the South China Sea that the Philippines physically occupies, hoping to block supplies and force the Filipinos to evacuate these outposts so that China can take possession. Again no one with sufficient military power (like the United States) is willing to confront China over these actions and the Philippines is trying to get clarifications over what exactly the mutual defense treaty the U.S. and Philippines have long had actually covers.

This pragmatism has caused problems because Filipino public opinion favors vigorously opposing these moves while the government does not want to offend the Chinese and endanger the growing number of Chinese economic programs in the Philippines. The government is accused of being bought by the Chinese while the government points out that opposing the Chinese claims in the South China Sea and off the Filipino cost is futile because the Chinese are much more powerful militarily and economically. Yet the public opinion continues to oppose the Chinese, especially since none of the Chinese economic benefits have actually come to pass. This leaves the impression that China thinks so little of Filipinos that it can buy compliance with empty promises and more substantial threats. President Duterte is pressuring China to make good on its economic promises and so far is just getting more assurances that good things are coming. This leads critics of the Duterte approach to point out the Chinese track record of promising much and delivering little in all its diplomatic endeavors.

. . .

November 24, 2018: The Philippines, Japan, South Korea and other East Asian nations are complaining to China about the increase in illegal Chinese workers showing up in their territory. These illegals come in as tourists or business visitors and stay behind when their visa expires. China is believed to be deliberately tolerating this as part of some espionage effort...

November 23, 2018: An agreement was signed with China to jointly develop oil and natural gas deposits found in what is technically Filipino territory. China has threatened military action against Filipino moves to develop these deposits by themselves. The same aggressive tactics were used against Vietnam. China and the Philippines also signed 28 other economic agreements, none of them particularly binding on China. In 2016 China signed a similar collection of investment deals which involved China putting $24 billion worth of economic investments into the Philippines. So far only $62 million has arrived, for an irrigation project. That’s less than one quarter of one percent. Most Filipinos are not impressed, at least not in a positive fashion.

There's more at the link.

It's a very well-known strategy.  In Africa, we'd say:  "How do you eat an elephant?  Mouthful by mouthful."  The more mouthfuls China eats, a little bit at a time, the more it swallows of the entire elephant - the South China Sea and neighboring waters.  Its clearly stated objective is to exercise total control over the area, and keep other nations out.

The Philippines can't stand up to that sort of pressure.  It doesn't have the economic or military strength to do so.  The USA has no territory in the area, so it's reluctant to commit American lives in a possible military conflict with China over the issue.  This has to worry Taiwan, too.  Its agreements with the USA are effectively so much toilet paper now.  China's military strength has become so great that the US simply could not prevent a forcible 'reunification' of the island with the mainland.  Promises to the contrary are meaningless in the light of current world geopolitical realities.

This does not bode well for the future.  If China is allowed to get away with such behavior, it will be emboldened to do more of the same in future . . . but who's to stop it?  I certainly don't think the issue is worth American lives.  That, of course, is what the Chinese are counting on - and they think dominance of the South China Sea is worth Chinese lives, if necessary.