Monday, May 21, 2018


Courtesy of The Aviationist, here's an amazing video clip of a USAF C-5 Galaxy transport - the largest aircraft operated by that force - taking off from the just over 7,000 foot runway at Ilopango Airport in El Salvador.  For an aircraft that large, carrying an unknown cargo but clearly heavily laden, it's quite an achievement.

The wingspan of the C-5 is about 80 feet wider than the runway, hence the clouds of dust raised during the last part of the takeoff run, when the jet exhaust is angled down towards them.

I'd call that dusty in anyone's language!


Doofus Of The Day #1,011

Today's award goes to a felon in Florida.

A Lake City man was jailed after he reported that his son had stolen his rifle.

The problem? The man, James Denson, is a convicted felon who is not allowed to own a rifle, the Lake City Police said in a press release.

There's more at the link.

Uh-huh.  Before you call the cops to report a crime, make sure you're not implicating yourself in the same crime!


Clearly, you do business with Intuit (Quickbooks, TurboTax, etc.) at your own risk

Intuit - owners of Quickbooks, TurboTax and other widely used financial software products, as well as a provider of financial services such as credit card payment processing - has just dumped one of its customers firmly in the dwang, for politically correct - not legal - reasons.

A couple of months ago Gunsite decided to make a change to a new credit card processor, QuickBooks. It seemed to be a wise business choice at the time and may have been, had Intuit not chosen to go the way they did.

. . .

Then, a week ago – May 11th, 2018 – Gunsite got another phone call from QuickBooks. This time it didn’t go as well. The software company informed Gunsite that they were immediately ceasing all business with them. Why? Because they sell and promote firearms.

At first blush this was frustrating news, but Gunsite figured it could be handled. Then the other shoe dropped: in addition to cutting business ties with Gunsite, QuickBooks/Intuit refused to release the money from credit card charges currently in process from sales that had already made.

This amounts to tens of thousands of dollars from not only purchases made in the Gunsite Pro Shop – including hats, shirts, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs – but also money that had been paid for classes taken on gun safety and marksmanship.

Yes, you read that right. Tens of thousands of dollars in sales of products and classes, paid for in good faith, that Intuit has refused to release. Instead, Intuit stated they would refund those monies to the credit card holders. That means revenue for everything from pens to five-day level 250 pistol courses had just became door prizes, provided free to people who had the benefit of the training and took home products, all courtesy of the Intuit’s largesse.

Ken Campbell is matter-of-fact about the issue: “It is their right in the republic to choose not to do business with us. In fact, I do not want to do business with them or any company that does not support the Second Amendment. The issue is their refusal to release our funds to us.”

There's more at the link.

This is beyond stupid.  As far as I can see, it may verge on the criminal.  At least three lawyers of my acquaintance have observed that withholding funds for ideological rather than legal reasons may well be actionable - and if so, I hope Gunsite takes such action.

My own accountant had just (last month) recommended Quickbooks to me as good accounting software.  Needless to say, under the circumstances, I'll be using something else - there are plenty of competing products out there.  I shall also never again use TurboTax or any other Intuit product.  If they show such contempt for law-abiding businesses and citizens, they clearly hold me in contempt as well - so why should I give them my hard-earned dollars?

I strongly recommend to every reader of this blog that they should not do business with Intuit at all.  The company's decisions in the Gunsite case appear to be driven by political correctness, rather than the law;  and if that's the case once, it probably will be again in future.  Therefore, I intend to let them stew in their own ideological juice, and I suggest that we should all do likewise.  That may be the only language they'll understand.  I also recommend that you contact the company and tell them why you're doing so.  I already have.


Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday morning music

You can blame a grackle for this morning's selection.  You see, I was working in the garden yesterday afternoon when one flew overhead and dropped a "souvenir" on me.  While I was cleaning up, I thought of the number of times I've been dive-bombed in similar fashion.  By far the worst offenders, in my experience at least, have been seagulls:  so, I thought, why not make this morning's music about them?  (Besides, I can't find that many songs about grackles!)

Perhaps it's inevitable that we should begin with an excerpt from Neil Diamond's music for the movie "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", based on the best-selling book by Richard Bach.

Next, Joni Mitchell's "Song to a Seagull" from her 1968 debut album of the same name.

For a change of pace, here's South African duo Des and Dawn Lindbergh with "The Seagull's Name was Nelson", which was a hit for them in that country in 1971.

Next up, rock group Bad Company didn't just produce hard rock.  Here's their acoustic number "Seagull".  It's available on several of their albums;  this one's from "Remastered".

Finally, let's have fun with English folk rock supergroup Steeleye Span.  This song, "Seagull", is from their album "Tempted and Tried".  This is an extended live version recorded in 2013.  As you can see, even though the group dates back to the 1960's, they still have a lot of fun together as they grow older.

Fun stuff!  And it's all due to an incontinent grackle . . .


Saturday, May 19, 2018

"You don’t have a right to believe whatever you want to"

That's the title of an article in Aeon.

Beliefs are factive: to believe is to take to be true. It would be absurd, as the analytic philosopher G E Moore observed in the 1940s, to say: ‘It is raining, but I don’t believe that it is raining.’ Beliefs aspire to truth – but they do not entail it. Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant. Among likely candidates: beliefs that are sexist, racist or homophobic; the belief that proper upbringing of a child requires ‘breaking the will’ and severe corporal punishment; the belief that the elderly should routinely be euthanised; the belief that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a political solution, and so on. If we find these morally wrong, we condemn not only the potential acts that spring from such beliefs, but the content of the belief itself, the act of believing it, and thus the believer.

. . .

In exploring the varieties of religious experience ... the ‘right to believe’ can establish a climate of religious tolerance. Those religions that define themselves by required beliefs (creeds) have engaged in repression, torture and countless wars against non-believers that can cease only with recognition of a mutual ‘right to believe’. Yet, even in this context, extremely intolerant beliefs cannot be tolerated. Rights have limits and carry responsibilities.

Unfortunately, many people today seem to take great licence with the right to believe, flouting their responsibility.

. . .

Believing, like willing, seems fundamental to autonomy, the ultimate ground of one’s freedom. But, as Clifford also remarked: ‘No one man’s belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone.’ Beliefs shape attitudes and motives, guide choices and actions. Believing and knowing are formed within an epistemic community, which also bears their effects. There is an ethic of believing, of acquiring, sustaining, and relinquishing beliefs – and that ethic both generates and limits our right to believe. If some beliefs are false, or morally repugnant, or irresponsible, some beliefs are also dangerous. And to those, we have no right.

There's more at the link.

The problem with this perspective is simply this:  Who decides what is factually, objectively, empirically true or false?
  • The pseudo-science of eugenics was so highly thought of in the early 20th century that it led to official "programs [that] included both 'positive' measures, such as encouraging individuals deemed particularly 'fit' to reproduce, and 'negative' measures such as marriage prohibitions and forced sterilization of people deemed unfit for reproduction".
  • The Nazi Party in Germany was convinced, on the basis of eugenics and other "sciences" that today we know to be false, that certain races were superior to all other races, and that the latter could (and should) therefore be treated as "subhuman".
  • Philosophers have argued for centuries about the foundation for human knowledge, awareness, ethics, etc.  So have theologians from various religious traditions.  There has never been consensus among them - but does that mean we can automatically judge any or all of them to be "wrong"?  On what grounds?  Religious belief has seldom, if ever, been founded on logic and fact - more on belief in and acceptance of some form of divine revelation, which by definition is not susceptible to scientific analysis.
  • Courts of law have to decide on guilt or innocence of suspects - but there are countless cases where their verdicts have been overturned, because they made their initial decision on the basis of faulty or fraudulent evidence, or false witness statements, or whatever.  They can only decide on the basis of facts as presented to them, and those "facts" may or may not be accurate.

I could go on, but the point is clear enough.  If you say that I don't have the right to believe whatever I want to, what gives you the right to say that?  If you argue it's because the facts are on your side, how sure are you of those facts?  Climate change is a good example.  The foundational elements of the eco-warriors' case have been systematically debunked over and over again, until their fanatical repetition of those discredited elements begins to seem more like religion than science.  There is no scientific consensus, as they claim, and the science is not settled.  Why, then, should I permit them to classify my skepticism as unrealistic or untrue?  From their perspective, likewise, why should they permit my skepticism to influence their belief in what they regard as "settled science"?

As soon as anyone decides that he, or she, or they, have the authority to decide whether or not my beliefs in any area are correct or not, and are therefore permitted or not, then I have precisely the same right to make that decision about what they believe.  There are two edges to that sword.  As to enforcing their beliefs over mine . . . that way lies civil war.  It's been tried before, and we all know the results.  And yet, we fail to learn the lessons that are so clear.  What are Facebook and Twitter doing now but imposing what they believe to be right upon their users, by blocking views that differ from theirs?  They are telling their users that they will decide what views they will be allowed to see, because they know better than their users what is right and appropriate.

This will not end well.


Tentacles and space-suits, oh my!

I had to smile at this report.

The paper ... attempts to tackle the question of how life originated here on Earth. The researchers embrace a number of proposed explanations and discuss their implications, but one particularly interesting note is their proposal that cephalopods (squid, octopus and cuttlefish) may have originated somewhere other than Earth. Whoa.

“Evidence of the role of extraterrestrial viruses in affecting terrestrial evolution has recently been plausibly implied in the gene and transcriptome sequencing of Cephalopods,” the researchers write. “The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens.”

The scientists challenge the belief that modern cephalopods evolved to their present form here on Earth and propose the possibility that those we see today are the descendants of creatures that arrived on Earth frozen in an icy comet.

“Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible bodies, instantaneous camouflage via the ability to switch color and shape are just a few of the striking features that appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene,” the paper says, pointing to the possibility that this “great leap forward” in complexity was due to “cryopreserved squid and/or octopus eggs” crashing into the ocean on comets millions of years ago.

There's more at the link.

I think that's been thought of before . . .


The war in Ukraine and its lessons

Courtesy of a link at Cdr. Salamander's place, I came across this article by Col. Liam Collins.

The situation in eastern Ukraine might best be described as “World War I with technology.” Venturing to the front line today, you would quickly learn the two greatest threats facing Ukrainian soldiers are snipers and Russian artillery. Unlike in 1915, however, soldiers on 2018’s “Eastern Front” receive text messages on their phones telling them their cause is hopeless and they must regularly attempt to avoid being spotted from an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The fighting in Ukraine during the past 2½ years provides great insight into the types of threats facing the U.S. Army today and sheds light on what a war with a near-peer enemy—or an enemy sponsored by a near-peer—would look like.

. . .

What’s Old Is New

Electronic warfare. Russia has deployed a wide range of electronic warfare systems in Ukraine, using them to jam communications, locate headquarters and subsequently target them with long-range artillery. Few active U.S. Army members grew up in an age worrying about the signals their antennas and radios produced. After visiting a battalion tactical operations center at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, a senior Ukrainian officer observed that the headquarters would not last long in eastern Ukraine. With its antenna farm located only meters from the tactical operations center, it would basically have been sending an “aim here” message to the Russians.

We have returned to an era where communications must be short and infrequent and tactical operations centers must run their antennas hundreds of meters away. Ultimately, this will make command, control and communications more difficult, and commanders will have to get comfortable in an environment where they don’t have information dominance and don’t know the exact status of each of their units at all times. Additionally, with a force largely reliant on GPS technology, it is time for soldiers to go back to being expert navigators using only a map and compass.

. . .

CAMOUFLAGE. Largely forgotten over the past 17 years, camouflage is back in vogue. With the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles that can serve as ISR platforms for artillery, an element spotted by a UAV may only have minutes to move before a rain of artillery fires falls. After witnessing Ukrainian and NATO units in training, it is clear the Ukrainians take this seriously while NATO units only go through the motions. Ukrainian vehicles look like giant, mobile vegetation clusters, with camouflage netting put up if a vehicle is stopped for any length of time. NATO vehicles, by contrast, are too often operated on the assumption that speed alone provides sufficient security during movement, and netting (often substandard) is more slowly put up after stopping.

There's more at the link.

I was very interested to read this article, having seen at first hand what it's like to fight without air superiority, in an electronic warfare environment, with camouflage an essential survival tool.  That was back in the 1980's, in Angola.  The tools and equipment we used were, of course, considerably less sophisticated than those in use today;  but the lessons we learned align very closely with those described by Col. Collins.

Even given such restrictions, it's still surprising how much can be achieved by simply "thinking outside the box", and turning what appears to be an enemy advantage into a millstone around their necks.  It also helps to consider non-technological solutions to a seemingly technological problem.  A few examples from Angola:
  • You can't buy sufficiently advanced radar equipment, and/or can't position what you have far enough forward, to monitor enemy air traffic landing at or taking off from an important air base?  Put human observers in the bush nearby, with scrambled satellite communications.  A radio call that a flight of MiGs are taking off, and turning towards the area of operations, is as good as a radar display, and just as accurate.  As a bonus, the observers can also direct artillery fire if you can get your cannon into range.
  • The enemy has spent billions constructing a supply corridor from the coast, across hundreds of miles of trackless bush, to supply their forces operating against yours.  Are the enemy's air defenses so strong that your own aircraft can't interdict the route?  Then interdict the ships before they're unloaded.  A few limpet mines, strategically placed by frogmen on the hulls of Soviet and Cuban freighters, can sink an awful lot of weapons and electronics and other things before they move even one mile down the trail.  As a bonus, while the enemy might be able to dry out, de-rust and re-lubricate AK-47's, electronics take less kindly to salt water.
  • Location, location, location.  If the enemy's area of operations can be determined beforehand, get to know it before they arrive.  Plot every significant terrain feature, know where they will have to go to get water, understand how terrain will affect their advance . . . then prepare your artillery fire plans and air interdiction operations beforehand.  If they can't advance a yard without taking damage or casualties, they'll advance a lot more slowly.  In many cases, the human cost will make their troops very, very reluctant to follow orders, knowing that those orders are going to get a lot of them killed.  A discouraged, fearful soldier is a lot easier opponent than one who's having it all his own way.
  • If the enemy has local air superiority, learn to camouflage your units and movements so well that he can't bomb you.  He may know the general area where you are, he may even have a reasonably good idea of your location, but if he can't pinpoint your actual position, he can't drop a bomb right on top of you.  He can only crap all over the area in the hope of getting lucky.  Sometimes he will . . . but most of the time, he'll convert trees and bushes into matchsticks.  This is expensive for him, and good for you.

There are many time-honored lessons of war that probably have to be re-learned in our technologically sophisticated environment.


Friday, May 18, 2018

The bleeding never ends for the Catholic Church

I'm sickened, disgusted, outraged and infuriated to read of the latest child sex abuse crisis involving clergy of the Catholic Church.

Every Chilean bishop offered to resign Friday over a sex abuse and cover-up scandal, in the biggest shakeup ever in the Catholic Church's long-running abuse saga.

. . .

It marked the first known time in history that an entire national bishops conference had offered to resign en masse over scandal, and laid bare the devastation that the abuse crisis has caused the Catholic Church in Chile and beyond.

Calls had mounted for the resignations after details emerged of the contents of a 2,300-page Vatican report into the Chilean scandal leaked early Friday. Francis had accused the bishops of destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring investigators to minimize abuse accusations and showing "grave negligence" in protecting children from pedophile priests.

In one of the most damning documents from the Vatican on the issue, Francis said the entire Chilean church hierarchy was collectively responsible for "grave defects" in handling cases and the resulting loss of credibility that the Catholic Church has suffered.

. . .

... there was "grave negligence" in protecting children from pedophiles by bishops and religious superiors — a reference to the many cases of sexual abuse that have arisen in recent years within Chilean religious orders, including the Salesians, Franciscans and the Marist Brothers community.

Some of these religious order priests and brothers were expelled from their congregations because of immoral conduct, but had their cases "minimized of the absolute gravity of their criminal acts, attributing to them mere weakness or moral lapses," Francis wrote.

But those same people "were then welcomed into other dioceses, in an obviously imprudent way, and given diocesan or parish jobs that gave them daily contact with minors," he said.

Such behavior has been the hallmark of the clerical sex abuse crisis worldwide, with bishops and religious superiors shuttling abusers from parish to parish or dioceses rather than reporting them to police or launching canonical investigations and removing them from ministry.

There's more at the link.

I detailed my actions in response to this crisis in a four part series of articles on this blog, several years ago.  What I said then remains true today, I think also for the church in Chile.

Let me be absolutely blunt about this.  The Catholic Church, as an institution, and its bishops acting as a collective, have lied, are lying, and will continue to lie to the people of God about this problem.  They have no interest whatsoever in resolving it - only in protecting their own power, and the institution of the Church as a whole, and its power and prestige in society.  They do not care about the individuals involved, or the victims . . . or the good clergy who have been tainted with the stench of this scandal.

How can I say that?  It's very simple.  Actions speak louder than words - and lack of action is, in itself, an action.  The Church, in the United States, in Chile, in the Vatican, and elsewhere, has taken little or no effective, meaningful action against those who were ultimately responsible for this scandal - namely, its bishops and administrators, who routinely concealed the extent of the problem, shuffled offenders around among themselves, and allowed them to continue to offend, rather than deal with the matter.  Even after the scandal blew up, many leaders of the Church continued to try to defend their offices and the institution of the Church, rather than admit that the situation was absolutely indefensible.  Many of the worst offenders were whisked off to Rome and given sheltered employment there, safe from extradition or any legal consequences of their neglect.  Many are still there.

The Church has also failed to act against the breeding-grounds for so many of these problems - its seminaries.  Rather than deal with that problem themselves, the US bishops cravenly abdicated their responsibilities to a Vatican commission, and little or no effective action has resulted from its report.  Many seminaries still tolerate, if not actively encourage, instruction that is at variance with (sometimes diametrically opposed to) Church teaching.  Modern theological experiments are emphasized over classical, and the traditional philosophical and spiritual underpinning of the priesthood appears to be conspicuous by its absence in the curriculum.  What there is of it is frequently corrupted to the point that it would be better not to offer it at all.  (For a valuable, albeit one-sided discussion of these issues, see here.)  Precisely the same problems appear to have affected seminaries in Chile.

By its lack of meaningful action, the Church has (in my opinion) condemned itself, and its current generation of leaders, to the most ghastly consequences, temporal and spiritual.  Millions of Catholics  - perhaps tens of millions - have left the faith.  I know I'm not the only priest who resigned in disgust and outrage over what was clearly no more than pious window-dressing to deal with the problem, instead of seeking real, meaningful solutions.  That has not changed, and it will probably never change under the present system of Church government.

The very fact that these scandals persist, all over the world, is the clearest possible sign that the Church does not care.  It has done nothing to truly deal with the problem.  It appears to be institutionally incapable of doing so.  Even the Chilean situation was obfuscated, glossed over, denied and dismissed, until the evidence became so damning that it had to be confronted.  My thanks, congratulations and condolences to those who worked so hard (and some of whom probably wrecked their careers in the Church) to ensure that the truth finally came out in that country.

May God have mercy upon his Church, and upon all those of her people who have tried to be faithful in the face of such criminal, ungodly indifference by those who were supposed to "tend the flock of God that is their charge".  Instead, they have proved to be worthy successors, not of the Apostles, but of another class of leader.  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity."

I . . . I'm just too sickened by this to find the appropriate words.  I would even use profanity, if I could, but I don't know any swear words or phrases strong enough.

May God have mercy on all of us for our sins . . . and upon his Church, which appears to have abandoned (at least among its leadership) the truth and Godliness he wished for her.


Mugshot of the week

For the benefit of overseas readers, in the USA a "mugshot" is a common term for the photograph taken of suspects/offenders by police when they're arrested, as they're booked into the local jail.

This one comes to us courtesy of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office in Michigan.  More information here.



Thursday, May 17, 2018

A big "Thank You!" to all my readers

Thank you very much to all my readers who've bought, and helped spread the word about, my new novel, "The Stones of Silence".

It was uploaded to last weekend, and officially published on Monday, May 14th.  It shot up the charts very quickly, briefly reaching a peak at #935 in the entire Kindle Store.  To crack the top 1,000 books (out of over 6½ million in the Kindle Store, both paid and free) is very hard to do, so I'm grateful to all of you for making it possible.

It's currently at #18 (out of the top 100 books) in Hot New Releases - Space Opera, and #9 in Hot New Releases - Colonization, both part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre.

All of those ranks will change fairly quickly, of course, depending on day-to-day sales, and the entry of newer books that will push older publications down the ranks in their turn.  Nevertheless, I'm very pleased.

If you've read and enjoyed the book (or even if you didn't enjoy it), please leave a review at the book's page on!  They're critically important to the ongoing success of any independent author.  I'll be very grateful.  So far there are five reviews up, four five-star and one four-star.  To those five readers, a special thank you!

Now to finish editing the second and third books in the trilogy.  Look for them next month and in July, with print editions to follow.


The US national debt and its inevitable consequences

Following the report earlier this week about a proposal to increase Illinois' property tax to pay for that state's hundred-billion-dollar-plus shortfall in pension funding, Simon Black warns that the situation across the nation as a whole is just as bad.

On October 22, 1981, the national debt in the United States crossed the $1 trillion threshold for the first time in history.

It took nearly two centuries to reach that unfortunate milestone.

. . .

Today, the national debt stands at more than $21 trillion– a milestone hit roughly two months ago.

This means that the government added $20 trillion to the national debt in the 37 years between October 22, 1981 and March 15, 2018.

That’s an average of nearly $1.5 BILLION added to the national debt every single day… $62 million per hour… $1 million per minute… and more than $17,000 per SECOND.

But the problem for the US government is that this trend has grown worse over the years.

It took only 214 days for the government to go from $20 trillion in debt to $21 trillion in debt– less than eight months to add a trillion dollars to the national debt.

That’s an average of almost $52,000 per second.

Think about that: on average, the US national debt increases by more in a split second than the typical American worker earns in an entire year.

And there is no end in sight.

At 105% of GDP, America’s national debt is already larger than the size of the entire US economy. (By comparison the national debt was just 31% of GDP in 1981.)

Plus, the government’s own projections show a steep increase to the debt in the coming years and decades.

The Treasury Department has already estimated that it will borrow $1 trillion this fiscal year, $1 trillion next year, and another trillion dollars the year after that.

They’re also forecasting the national debt to exceed $30 trillion by 2025.

. . .

Last year the government spent HALF of its budget just to pay for Social Security and Medicare.

The situation is so dire that the government spends more than its entire tax revenue just on these mandatory entitlement programs, plus Defense and interest on the debt.

Even if you could eliminate entire departments of government, they would still be running a budget deficit and going deeper into debt.

. . .

It’s a financial death spiral.

Think about it: if the government is having this much trouble making ends meet when they’re paying 2% interest on $21 trillion in debt, what’s going to happen when they’re paying 5% on $30 trillion?

It’s foolish to think that this trend has a consequence-free outcome. No nation in history has ever become prosperous by borrowing record amounts of debt to finance reckless spending.

There's more at the link.

Sadly, it's not just the US government that is so profligate.  Governments around the world have made the same mistake.  Nor is it just at government level.  Private US debt is also at astronomical levels, so great that many families and individuals are borrowing every month from one loan account or credit card, in order to pay the minimum balance due on another loan or credit card.  That's just as much of a financial death spiral, and just as sure to end badly.

I've said before that debt is killing us.  I see no reason to change that grim prognosis.


Headline of the week

Found at Wirecutter's place, under the headline "Must be the British national fish":

Says a lot for the reputation of British dentists, doesn't it?


How not to do it yourself

Two of my regular cartoon reads had overlapping themes yesterday, and both made me laugh.  I thought you might enjoy them, too.  Click each image to be taken to a larger version at their Web pages.  (Note, too, the mouse-over text at the second page.)

First, The Whiteboard discusses how to repair something not worth repairing.

Next, XKCD provides a handy (?) repair flowchart.