Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The IRS would doubtless disagree, but...


... one has to sympathize!  Click the image to be taken to a larger view at The Whiteboard's Web site.

At least tomorrow isn't the deadline, thanks to an extension until May 17th granted nationwide by the IRS.  However, I've still got all the paperwork to do . . .


Is the US military being deliberately undermined and subverted?


I've heard a number of comments from former US military officers and service personnel about what they're seeing and hearing from their comrades still in the armed forces.  In particular, it appears that any dissent from the current drive against "extremism" is being treated very negatively.  Service personnel who question why the January 6th demonstrations in Washington D.C. are treated as "insurrection" or "domestic terrorism", while the same label is not used to describe rioters in Portland or Seattle last year, are being openly silenced and their concerns dismissed.  Some have reported that they've been privately threatened with retaliation, and told that because they asked such questions openly, their careers are "over".  In so many words, it appears "extremism" is a label applied only to conservative and even centrist views - not to progressive leftist perspectives.

Sundance argues that the armed forces are being deliberately subverted into an instrument to enforce politically correct views against states and regions that don't subscribe to them.

Considering the specific examples over the past few years, I would argue the Democrats are positioning for use of the military in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act -or- by an expressed act of congress.

Following the evidence to its logical conclusion is simple.  The political apparatus of the DC state has framed a fraudulent narrative that “insurrection” against the federal government is an ongoing possibility.

Toward that end the U.S. military national guard troops have been sent to Washington DC indefinitely (current deployment extended through May).

If we consider there is a reasonable argument now surfacing about states choosing to nullify federal laws, it is not a stretch to see the insurrection narrative as a proactive assertion to support the deployment of active military against any state who would be non-compliant.

Would this violate the Posse Comitatus Act? Quite possibly, yes; it would depend on whether congress passed an expressed act authorizing military troops against specific state action.

When we consider that most of the constitutional checks and balances have been deconstructed or usurped by hardline leftist action; including the weaponization of the intelligence community, and specifically the FBI as a federal law enforcement agency; we are left to recognize that any Posse Comitatus violation would likely be supported by a leftist and aligned media arguing that the military is needed in order to stop a rebellion of states.

If my suspicions/predictions are correct, this would explain exactly why there has been a recent uptick in the visual politicization of the military; including empirical examples of emboldened U.S. military leadership openly engaged in domestic political advocacy against Tucker Carlson.

The marching of the U.S. military through the Capitol building to the offices of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene would be another orchestrated optic sending the same political message.

These are not examples of the military “woke” community advancing political correctness, instead these are examples of advanced politicization of the military (in an open context) in preparation for domestic political use.   The “insurrection narrative” is then considered a seed planted to blossom later in support of the overall agenda.

One of the data-points highlighting future intent was clearly visible and seemingly overlooked by almost all media.  It happened when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman first became a political whistle-blower against the office of President Trump.

It was not the details of the Vindman accusation that stood out, though that was the aspect the media focused on.  What was more concerning was the lack of action by the Pentagon after Vindman compromised his position as an advisor to the commander in chief ... Why did senior military leadership not remove Vindman from his post at the White House once he clearly compromised his ability to carry out his duty?  Their lack of action was stunning when you consider their primary obligation.

Fast forward to 2021 and now a very political military officer, General Russel HonorĂ©, is appointed by Nancy Pelosi to be in charge of the military deployment around Washington DC.  When you consider the political ramifications of the military supporting a false narrative, this is more than just another data-point.  Then the military openly attacked the position of Tucker Carlson based entirely on political ideology.

The increased frequency of the military being politicized is what leads me to believe this phase is all just a public relations pre-positioning.  I fully expect to see the standing U.S. military deployed against any state who stands up against unconstitutional federal demands… the likely origination point will be federal COVID mandates.

The leftists are weaponizing COVID mandates for a political agenda.  It is only a matter of time before states start to rebel against federal COVID demands.  That, in my opinion, will be the inflection point.  That will be when the U.S. military is held as a compliance activation against any rebellious state.  It could be another issue that activates this triggering of the military (ex. state election laws), but as it stands right now federal COVID compliance seems the most likely trigger.

Bottom line… The American electorate are being positioned to accept deployment of the U.S. military against U.S. citizens, under the guise of insurrection and/or a public threat.  That is why we are seeing so much willful politicization of the military.

If you live in a region or state that values individual liberty and/or freedom, you are likely in a location that leftists consider a risk to their ability to execute their agenda.  You are likely right now being defined as a “dissident”, or possibly a “domestic terrorist.”  As a result, get ready to see this type of activity in your neighborhood.

There's more at the link.

I hope and pray Sundance is wrong . . . but I fear he's probably right.  The senior commanders of our military were, indeed, subverted during the Obama administration by the systematic weeding out of most of those with conservative views and/or combat command experience.  Instead, those with leftist sympathies and/or sycophantic tendencies were promoted.  The rank and file were systematically purged of combat veterans.  I've heard several horror stories from veterans who were told by their (sympathetic) commanders that they might as well leave and build civilian careers, because they would get nowhere in the military under its new, politically correct leadership.

I've personally experienced how a partisan military can disrupt and destroy faith in national institutions as a whole.  In South Africa, the armed forces were intended to defend the nation against external aggression.  However, opposition to that country's apartheid policies was systematically defined by the government of the day as "caused by external influences", particularly Communism, the Soviet Union and its surrogates.  Internal political movements opposed to apartheid were legally classified as Communist and brutally suppressed, forcing many of their leaders to leave the country and continue the struggle from outside.  There was zero tolerance for dissenting opinions.  As part of that, the armed forces were turned into security surrogates for the state, backing up the police - and in some cases actually performing police functions - to suppress opposition.  The result was that the armed forces no longer attracted the support of the people in defending the nation, being regarded as just another tool or instrument of oppression.

I don't want to see that happen here.  It's so destructive to the armed forces themselves that they become demoralized, cynical, divorced from their defensive mission.  If you make the armed forces into domestic bully-boys, they become the problem rather than the solution.

There's one ray of sunshine in the present situation, in that the majority of enlisted personnel and NCO's appear to be fully aware of attempts to subvert them, and are not impressed.  However, the officer corps is another matter.  One source observes:

While the military academies only produce a fraction of the total officer corps, they are a bellwether for the larger force ... Rather than focusing on being proud citizens of a unified nation, we are seeing the fruition of decades of the teaching of socialist critical theory, by which Americans have been taught to segment ourselves into groups based on race, gender, religion, economic success, and political ideology.  As intended by the proponents of this insidious political philosophy, this is tearing our nation apart. In the military, such effects can be disastrous to our warfighting preparedness and effectiveness.  At a time when we are stretched in our capability to cover global commitments, we cannot afford anything less than the most patriotic, unified, effective, and lean fighting force possible.  The “woke” cadets that are the product of the past several decades of socialist critical theory are producing officers that we are now encountering in our armed forces, whose attitudes about our nation not only flies in the face of American military history but in the preparedness of our academy graduates to effectively lead our brave men and women serving in the US armed forces.

. . .

Americans are turning against each other, driven by decades of political and societal division, all aroused and enflamed by the collision of socialist critical theory and what had been the dominant American ethic of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with unity and justice for all”.  And for the first time since 1948, race and gender identity are at the forefront of discussions in the military, rather than readiness and warfighting abilities.  Today we are told that “diversity is our strength,” but military experience and history has taught us differently.  It taught us that patriotism, competence, comradery, and an indominable spirit are all that matter.

Again, more at the link.

This is one of the most worrying developments of all under our present hyper-partisan administration.  I can't think of anything that will divide America more effectively than a military that is distrusted, even feared, by half the population.  If there's a better recipe for actual, violent civil war, where citizens feel they have no choice but to defend themselves against their own military, I don't know what it might be.


EDITED TO ADD:  I forgot to mention the increasing subversion of some US military academies by progressive leftist professors.  A case in point is provided by the antics of Spenser Rapone at West Point.  The subsequent investigation and fallout from the incident uncovered repeated patterns of violations of the cadet honor code, and progressive and extreme left-wing influence at the Academy.  This tends to reinforce Sundance's point, and my own.

Why is Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger interfering with a ballot audit?


The conduct of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger appears highly suspicious, to put it mildly.  Some might say he's deliberately trying to obstruct a review of the votes cast in the November 2020 elections.

John Solomon broke the news last week.

In December 2020 ... Voter GA filed a suit against the then-chairperson of the Fulton County Board of Elections based on a sudden, implausible spike of 20,000 votes in favor of Joe Biden on election night, along with sworn testimony from hand count auditors who say they saw batches of counterfeit ballots during the county's post-election hand recount. The witnesses cite uncreased ballots, different paper stock, and ballots marked with toner instead of writing implements as reasons for their suspicions.

Based on the affidavits and other evidence, the judge in the case found probable cause to conditionally unseal the county's ballots for a forensic audit. Voter GA was given until March 25 to submit a plan to the judge detailing what the audit would look like — which experts they were going to use, where the audit would take place, etc.

Last week, Raffensperger, who is not a party to the suit, filed an amicus brief in an attempt to block the effort to unseal and examine the ballots.

. . .

In his brief, Raffensperger cites Georgia's new election security bill, signed into law by Republican Governor Brian Kemp on March 25, as allowing the "public disclosure of ballot images, but not ballots," meaning the auditors would have access to digital images of the ballots, created by the tabulation machines, but not the physical ballots themselves.

. . .

"[A]ny legal challenges to the results of the 2020 general are also moot," claims the brief, "as the results of that election have already been tabulated, audited by hand count, recounted by machine tabulation, and were certified by the secretary of state on November 20, 2020, who has the sole authority to certify election results" under Georgia law.

"The public interest would not be served by allowing Petitioners to undergo an unlawful fishing expedition into sealed ballots in their attempt to undermine the results of the general election," continues the brief.

There's more at the link.

Arguments in court yesterday about the matter proved very interesting.  The judge has agreed that the plaintiffs, Voter GA, must indeed examine images first, rather than actual ballots, as Georgia's new law provides:  but he has not ruled out examining the ballots themselves.  Voter GA's attorney made a very strong case for the latter by arguing that to use a photocopy of a counterfeit hundred-dollar bill to determine whether or not it's counterfeit is ridiculous.  The truth of that proposition is self-evident.  How can one determine whether a ballot is hand-written, or machine-produced, or a photocopy produced for fraudulent purposes, if one can't examine the original?

My response is very simple.  It's in everyone's interest to ensure free, fair and honest elections - except those who "fix" them.  The latter can be expected to put every possible obstacle in the way of those trying to ensure fairness and honesty.  The fact that the Georgia Secretary of State is doing precisely that is a bright flashing warning light that he may well be trying to sabotage fairness and honesty, rather than ensure them.

Keep an eye on proceedings in Fulton County.  If those votes are proved fraudulent, that may be enough to disqualify the results of the November 2020 elections in Georgia as a whole - and may be used to call into question the Senate elections in that state in January 2021.  If those are overturned, the Democratic Party will lose control of the Senate . . . and then, ain't we got fun?


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Missile technology: reverse-engineering and updating a classic


I was intrigued to read about a new Chinese anti-tank missile.  It reminded me of South Africa's entry into that field in the 1980's.

China recently revealed a new ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) which appears larger than earlier ones and uses top-attack warhead technology. It was later reported that [an earlier] version of this new missile had been revealed, called the ATF-11, and better photos were provided. It appears that the larger vehicle mounted missile and the new portable version are the same and are in fact a laser guided version of the American TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided). The ATF-11 was is not the first Chinese missile to use top-attack tech. That showed up in the 1980s when they introduced the HJ-8, which is nearly identical to the American TOW 2 in size, weight, range and, according to the users, performance. The ATF-11 appears to be a laser guided version of the HJ-8. There were American and Israeli laser-guided (wireless) TOW missiles but they never seemed to be worth putting into service.

. . .

The new Chinese missile was not named, but was shown mounted in a multiple cell launcher on an armored vehicle. No performance details were given but it is similar in size to TOW, and presumably capable and probably using “fire and forget” tech as well as an advanced target seekers.

China has been producing copies of Western designs for decades.

There's more at the link.

South Africa was also involved in modifying the US TOW design to produce its own anti-tank missile.  It was a long and complicated story, but briefly, its arms industry bought missile technology from Israel, including that country's not-very-successful laser-guided adaptation of the US missile, and proceeded to make it work.  The result was the ZT3 Ingwe missile, the world's first production laser-guided anti-tank missile.  It was used in combat in 1987 against Soviet-built tanks in Angola, with considerable success.  South Africa built on that foundation for its subsequent Mokopa missile (a clone of the US Hellfire weapon).

China has done the same thing, first with its HJ-8, then with the ATF-11, and now with its new missile.  Similar copycat technology is visible in missile systems of many other nations.  Once the "technology cat" is out of the bag, it's very hard to prevent other countries from getting examples of a new weapon, by hook or by crook (usually a lot of crookery), and reverse-engineering them.

That's how Russia got its Vympel K-13 short-range air-to-air missile in the 1960's, reverse-engineering the US AIM-9B Sidewinder, which was obtained when at least one Sidewinder fired by Taiwanese fighters stuck in the fuselage of a Chinese MiG fighter without exploding, and was recovered intact.  The K-13 was so exact a copy that Russian and US missiles could be loaded and fired from the same rails on Western fighter aircraft, using the same avionics and software.  Later versions were upgraded using information obtained via espionage.  Here's an interesting short documentary on the Soviet achievement.

South Africa bought a hundred AIM-9B's in the 1960's to equip its Canadair Sabre Mk. 6 fighters.  It also reverse-engineered the AIM-9B, producing the "Voorslag" demonstrator missile, which went on to blend local ingenuity and French technology to evolve into the V3A and V3B Kukri missiles, and later the V3C Darter.


A culture clash leads to airline safety complications


I was intrigued to read about an airline safety issue caused by different cultures and the assumptions they produced.  In this case, no accident resulted, but it highlights an important conflict.

Investigators have traced a take-off weight error on a TUI Airways Boeing 737-800 to a flaw introduced to a reservations system by international differences in the manner that female passengers are addressed.

. . .

... the programming upgrade had been carried out in a country where the title ‘Ms’ was used for adult women while ‘Miss’ referred to a female child.

When adult female passengers in the UK checked in for the flight from Birmingham using the term ‘Miss’, they were automatically classified as a child and allocated the standard child weight of 35kg rather than the standard female weight of 69kg.

The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch says 38 female passengers were misidentified as children and this meant the loadsheet generated for the flight to Palma de Mallorca, on 21 July last year, was more than 1.2t below the actual aircraft weight.

. . .

Although incorrect take-off weights were used, the thrust level employed was slightly higher than that required for the conditions.

“This meant the safe operation of the aircraft was not compromised,” says the inquiry.

But it states that the 737 involved (G-TAWG) was the first of three aircraft to depart from the UK on the same date with inaccurate loadsheets caused by the same issue.

There's more at the link.

This isn't the first time that differences between countries, standards and cultures have produced airline safety issues.  Perhaps the best known happened in Canada in 1983.

On July 23, 1983, Air Canada Flight 143, a Boeing 767–233 jet, ran out of fuel at an altitude of 12,500 metres (41,000 ft) above MSL, about halfway through its Montreal to Edmonton flight. The flight crew was able to glide the aircraft safely to an emergency landing at an auto racing track that was previously RCAF Station Gimli, a Royal Canadian Air Force base in Gimli, Manitoba.

The subsequent investigation revealed a combination of company failures and a chain of human errors that defeated built-in safeguards. The amount of fuel that had been loaded was miscalculated because of a confusion as to the calculation of the weight of fuel using the metric system which had recently replaced the imperial system for use with the 767.

Again, more at the link.  For aviation fans, here's a 30th anniversary retrospective video about the so-called "Gimli Glider".

I'm glad to hear the most recent issue has been resolved without incident, but it highlights an ongoing problem.  If software is outsourced to and coded in nations with different cultures, what impact might those cultures have on consumers in the nation using the completed system?


A long overdue reform to our tax laws


Wolf Richter reports on a proposal by Janet Yellen, President of the Federal Reserve.

Large corporations – and there are only a few dozen to which this would apply, according to the proposal – should pay income taxes on the inflated and puffed-up income they report to their shareholders under ... GAAP [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles], rather than paying no taxes, or even getting paid tax benefits, on the losses they report separately to the IRS under the tax code.

Small corporations ... use the same accounting principles for earnings and for taxes, or vice versa, and we have no illusions, and there is no reason to inflate income.

But Nike reported $4.1 billion in pre-tax income to its shareholders over the past three years and had a three-year effective tax rate of minus 18%, meaning the IRS paid Nike large amounts of money, the so-called “tax benefits,” instead of collecting taxes from Nike, according to a report by the Institute of Taxation and Policy. There were 55 companies of this type in the report.

. . .

If large corporations have to pay 15% minimum income tax on their profits as reported under GAAP, it could possibly bring some honesty and reality to financial reports because, under the 15% minimum tax on book income, companies that inflated and puffed up their income would have to pay 15% taxes on that inflated and puffed-up income. This would be a costly disincentive to inflate and puff up income.

It would make CFOs think twice. In theory, GAAP financial statements could become more honest, policed by the threat of having to pay 15% in taxes on puffed-up income. And that could be a game changer – when there are suddenly tax incentives to be realistic with financial reporting. And that’s why Wall Street will fight furiously to sink this thing.

There's more at the link.

This is long overdue.  Big corporations have "bought" the tax code for decades, using lobbyists to pressure politicians to pass amendments that favor them at the expense of all other taxpayers.  That's how most major corporations pay minimal or no tax on their billions of dollars in annual profits.  However, they all effectively use two sets of books:  one they present to their shareholders, usually showing very healthy profits, and the other that they send to the IRS, showing tax losses in every direction thanks to the convoluted intricacies of the tax code.

If corporations are forced to pay tax on their claimed profits, the Treasury will be much better off, and we as a nation will be able to afford a much better balanced budget.  However, as Richter points out, those corporations will kick and scream and protest to the heavens, and do their best to prevent such a tax from being implemented.  Will our politicians force them to pay up, or will they succumb (yet again) to corporate bribery in the form of "contributions to their re-election fund"?  Your guess is as good as mine . . . and mine's not very hopeful.


Monday, April 12, 2021

"Nothing the Democratic Party advocates for is more dishonest than gun control"


That's the opinion of Tucker Carlson.  In this case, I entirely agree with him.  I strongly urge you to watch the 16-minute segment below;  or, if you don't have time to watch it, or prefer to read, click here for a transcript of what he said.  It's important information, and right on the money.

Mr. Carlson concludes:  "They're not trying to control guns. They're trying to control you."  Again, he's absolutely right.  This isn't about guns.  This is about control - of the populace and the country, and the suppression of any and all ability by the people to resist that control.  An armed populace can't be suppressed.  A disarmed one can.  It's as simple as that.

L. Neil Smith put it in a nutshell years ago.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

What I've chosen, in a world where there's never enough time and energy, is to focus on the one political issue which most clearly and unmistakably demonstrates what any politician -- or political philosophy -- is made of, right down to the creamy liquid center.

Make no mistake: all politicians -- even those ostensibly on the side of guns and gun ownership -- hate the issue and anyone, like me, who insists on bringing it up. They hate it because it's an X-ray machine. It's a Vulcan mind-meld. It's the ultimate test to which any politician -- or political philosophy -- can be put.

If a politician isn't perfectly comfortable with the idea of his average constituent, any man, woman, or responsible child, walking into a hardware store and paying cash -- for any rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything -- without producing ID or signing one scrap of paper, he isn't your friend no matter what he tells you.

If he isn't genuinely enthusiastic about his average constituent stuffing that weapon into a purse or pocket or tucking it under a coat and walking home without asking anybody's permission, he's a four-flusher, no matter what he claims.

What his attitude -- toward your ownership and use of weapons -- conveys is his real attitude about you. And if he doesn't trust you, then why in the name of John Moses Browning should you trust him?

If he doesn't want you to have the means of defending your life, do you want him in a position to control it?

If he makes excuses about obeying a law he's sworn to uphold and defend -- the highest law of the land, the Bill of Rights -- do you want to entrust him with anything?

If he ignores you, sneers at you, complains about you, or defames you, if he calls you names only he thinks are evil -- like "Constitutionalist" -- when you insist that he account for himself, hasn't he betrayed his oath, isn't he unfit to hold office, and doesn't he really belong in jail?

Sure, these are all leading questions. They're the questions that led me to the issue of guns and gun ownership as the clearest and most unmistakable demonstration of what any given politician -- or political philosophy -- is really made of.

He may lecture you about the dangerous weirdos out there who shouldn't have a gun -- but what does that have to do with you? Why in the name of John Moses Browning should you be made to suffer for the misdeeds of others? Didn't you lay aside the infantile notion of group punishment when you left public school -- or the military? Isn't it an essentially European notion, anyway -- Prussian, maybe -- and certainly not what America was supposed to be all about?

And if there are dangerous weirdos out there, does it make sense to deprive you of the means of protecting yourself from them? Forget about those other people, those dangerous weirdos, this is about you, and it has been, all along.

Try it yourself: if a politician won't trust you, why should you trust him?

There's more at the link.  Essential reading in the gun control debate, IMHO, and highly recommended.

For those who, even today, argue for "compromise", for meeting the gun-grabbers halfway . . . we've done that for years, and it's gotten us nowhere.  My friend Lawdog settled that argument in fine style several years ago.

I hear a lot about "compromise" from your camp ... except, it's not compromise.

Let's say I have this cake. It is a very nice cake, with "GUN RIGHTS" written across the top in lovely floral icing. Along you come and say, "Give me that cake."

I say, "No, it's my cake."

You say, "Let's compromise. Give me half." I respond by asking what I get out of this compromise, and you reply that I get to keep half of my cake.

Okay, we compromise. Let us call this compromise The National Firearms Act of 1934.

There I am with my half of the cake, and you walk back up and say, "Give me that cake."

I say, "No, it's my cake."

You say, "Let's compromise." What do I get out of this compromise? Why, I get to keep half of what's left of the cake I already own.

So, we have your compromise -- let us call this one the Gun Control Act of 1968 -- and I'm left holding what is now just a quarter of my cake.

And I'm sitting in the corner with my quarter piece of cake, and here you come again. You want my cake. Again.

This time you take several bites -- we'll call this compromise the Clinton Executive Orders -- and I'm left with about a tenth of what has always been MY DAMN CAKE and you've got nine-tenths of it.

Then we compromised with the Lautenberg Act (nibble, nibble), the HUD/Smith and Wesson agreement (nibble, nibble), the Brady Law (NOM NOM NOM), the School Safety and Law Enforcement Improvement Act (sweet tap-dancing Freyja, my finger!)

I'm left holding crumbs of what was once a large and satisfying cake, and you're standing there with most of MY CAKE, making anime eyes and whining about being "reasonable", and wondering "why we won't compromise".

I'm done with being reasonable, and I'm done with compromise. Nothing about gun control in this country has ever been "reasonable" nor a genuine "compromise".

Again, more at the link, and very important reading.

Nothing in President Biden's gun control proposals and edicts will solve the problem, because - as we've pointed out all too often, most recently just a few days ago - the problem is not guns.  It's people who have evil intentions, and act on them.  If they don't have a gun, they'll use something else - but the evil is in them, not in the instruments they use.

By disarming innocent people, all one accomplishes is to render them unable to defend themselves effectively against rampant evil.


Memes that made me laugh 53


Here's last week's harvest from the Internet.  Click any image for a larger view.

More next week.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sunday morning music


The term "skiffle music" is almost unknown to most youngsters today (and by "youngsters" I mean most people under 40 years of age!).  Nevertheless, it was the foundation of rock 'n roll in the 1960's, and many of the great names of the latter era (including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc.) grew up in the skiffle era, played it, and were greatly influenced by it.  To set the scene, here's an interview with British rocker Billy Bragg about that era and its effect on later generations of musicians.

One of the best-known skiffle musicians was Lonnie Donegan.  I used to giggle at his songs in my younger days, because my father played or sang them to us kids at night, to our great amusement.  I've chosen three of his songs to represent his music.  They are, of course, very heavily British in their lyrics, so Americans sometimes find it hard to catch cultural references.

Let's start with my personal favorite of all his tunes:  "My Old Man's a Dustman".

To illustrate how Donegan kept pace with the times, here's a live version of the same song recorded a few years later.  He brings in the space age and other elements to rework the verses.

Next, Donegan asks one of the great (?) existential questions.

Finally, Donegan invites us to "Have a Drink on Me".

You'll find more of his songs on YouTube.

It seems like a vanished era, a different age . . . but many oldsters remember skiffle with affection.  I particularly like how it poked fun at itself, its fans, and the world in which it arose.  We seem to have lost that sense of self-deprecating humor in today's music, more's the pity.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Saturday Snippet: A different world, with tongue firmly in cheek


The late Barry Hughart started what he wanted to be a series of seven novels, but didn't get beyond the first three.  Wikipedia says of him:

During Hughart's military service [in Korea] he began to develop his lifelong interest in China that led him to plan a series set in "an Ancient China that never was". His connection to China continued after his military service, as he worked with TechTop, a military surplus company that was based in Asia, from 1960 to 1965.

. . .

Barry Hughart's writing career started with his novel Bridge of Birds, published in 1984, which won the 1985 World Fantasy Award for best novel and also won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in 1986 ... He intended to write seven novels about the adventures of Li Kao and Number Ten Ox, but his writing career was cut short due to issues with his publishers.

. . .

The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox is a series of three books about Li Kao, an ancient sage and scholar with "a slight flaw in his character", and his client, later assistant, the immensely strong peasant Number Ten Ox, who narrates the story. The series blends Chinese mythology—authentic and imagined, from several eras—with detective fiction and a gentle, ironic humour. The first book Bridge of Birds was published in 1984, the title derived from "The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl" myth. It was followed in 1988 by The Story of the Stone and in 1990 by Eight Skilled Gentlemen. No further books followed, although Hughart had planned a series of seven novels. In the last of these, Li Kao and Number Ten Ox would die facing the Great White Serpent (a conflict alluded to in Bridge of Birds). They would then become minor celestial deities who would continue to cause problems for the August Personage of Jade. An omnibus edition, The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox was first published in 1998.

There's more at the link.

I have the omnibus edition.  I like all three books very much, and found it difficult to choose just one chapter to introduce you to them.  In the end, I gave up and decided to use the first chapter of the first book in the trilogy.

The Village of Ku-fu

I shall clasp my hands together and bow to the corners of the world.

My surname is Lu and my personal name is Yu, but I am not to be confused with the eminent author of The Classic of Tea. My family is quite undistinguished, and since I am the tenth of my father’s sons and rather strong I am usually referred to as Number Ten Ox. My father died when I was eight. A year later my mother followed him to the Yellow Springs Beneath the Earth, and since then I have lived with Uncle Nung and Auntie Hua in the village of Ku-fu in the valley of Cho. We take great pride in our landmarks. Until recently we also took great pride in two gentlemen who were such perfect specimens that people used to come from miles around just to stare at them, so perhaps I should begin a description of my village with a couple of classics.

When Pawnbroker Fang approached Ma the Grub with the idea of joining forces he opened negotiations by presenting Ma’s wife with the picture of a small fish drawn on a piece of cheap paper. Ma’s wife accepted the magnificent gift, and in return she extended her right hand and made a circle with the thumb and forefinger. At that point, the door crashed open and Ma the Grub charged inside and screamed: “Woman, would you ruin me? Half of a pie would have been enough!”

That may not be literally true, but the abbot of our monastery always said that fable has strong shoulders that carry far more truth than fact can.

Pawnbroker Fang’s ability to guess the lowest possible amount that person would accept for a pawned item was so unerring that I had concluded it was supernatural, but then the abbot took me aside and explained that Fang wasn’t guessing at all. There was always some smooth shiny object lying on top of his desk in the front room of Ma the Grub’s warehouse, and it was used as a mirror that would reflect the eyes of the victim.

“Cheap, very cheap,” Fang would sneer, turning the object in his hands. “No more than two hundred cash.”

His eyes would drop to the shiny object and if the pupils of the reflected eyes constricted too sharply he would try again.

“Well, the workmanship isn’t too bad, in a crude peasant fashion. Make it two-fifty.”

The reflected pupils would dilate, but perhaps not quite far enough.

“It is the anniversary of my poor wife’s untimely demise, the thought of which always destroys my business judgment,” Fang would whimper, in a voice clotted with tears. “Three hundred cash, but not one penny more!”

Actually, no money would change hands because ours is a barter economy. The victim would take a credit slip through the door to the warehouse, and Ma the Grub would stare at it in disbelief and scream out to Fang. “Madman! Your lunatic generosity will drive us into bankruptcy! Who will feed your starving brats when we are reduced to tattered cloaks and begging bowls?” Then he would honor the credit slip with goods that had been marked up by 600 percent.

Pawnbroker Fang was a widower with two children, a pretty little daughter we called Fang’s Fawn and a younger son that we called Fang’s Flea. Ma the Grub was childless, and when his wife ran off with a rug peddler his household expenses were cut in half and his happiness was doubled. The happiest time of all for the team of Ma and Fang was our annual silk harvest, because silkworm eggs could only be purchased with money and they had all the money. Ma the Grub would buy the eggs and hand them out to each family in exchange for IOUs that were to be redeemed with silk, and since Pawnbroker Fang was the only qualified appraiser of silk for miles around they were able to take two-thirds of our crop to Peking and return with bulging bags of coins, which they buried in their gardens on moonless midnights.

The abbot used to say that the emotional health of a village depended upon having a man whom everyone loved to hate, and Heaven had blessed us with two of them.

Our landmarks are our lake and our wall, and both of them are the result of the superstition and mythology of ancient times. When our ancestors arrived in the valley of Cho they examined the terrain with the greatest of care, and we honestly believe that no village in the world has been better planned than the village of Ku-fu. Our ancestors laid it out so that it would be sheltered from the Black Tortoise, a beast of the very worst character, whose direction is north and whose element is water and whose season is winter. It is open to the Red Bird of the south and the element of fire and the season of summer. And the eastern hills where the Blue Dragon lives, with the element of wood and the hopeful season of spring, are stronger than the hills to the west, which is the home of the White Tiger, metal and the melancholy season of autumn.

Considerable thought was given to the shape of the village, on the grounds that a man who built a village like a fish while a neighboring village was built like a hook was begging for disaster. The finished shape was the outline of a unicorn, a gentle and law-abiding creature with no natural enemies whatsoever. But it appeared that something had gone wrong because one day there was a low snorting sort of a noise and the earth heaved, and several cottages collapsed and a great crack appeared the soil. Our ancestors examined their village from every possible angle, and the flaw was discovered when one of them climbed to the top of the tallest tree on the eastern hills and gazed down. By a foolish oversight the last five rice paddies had been arranged so that they formed the wings and body of a huge hungry horsefly that had settled upon the tender flank of the unicorn, so of course the unicorn had kicked up its heels. The paddies were altered into the shape of a bandage, and Ku-fu was never again disturbed by upheavals.

They made sure that there would be no straight roads or rivers that might draw good influences away, and as a further precaution they dammed up the end of a narrow little valley and channeled rivulets down the sides of the hills, and thus produced a small lake that would capture and hold good influences that might otherwise trickle away to other villages. They had no aesthetic intent whatsoever. The beauty of our lake was an accident of superstition, but the result was such that when the great poet Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju passed through on a walking trip five hundred years ago he paused at the little lake and was inspired to write to a friend:

The waters are loud with fish and turtles,
A multitude of living things.
Wild geese and swans, graylags, bustards,
Cranes and mallards,
Loons and spoonbills,
Flock and settle on the waters,
Drifting lightly over the surface,
Buffeted by the wind,
Bobbing and dipping with the waves,
Sporting among the weedy banks,
Gobbling the reeds and duckweed,
Pecking at water chestnuts and lotuses.

It is like that today, and Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju was not there in the season to see the masses of wildflowers, or the tiny dappled deer that come to drink and then vanish like puffs of smoke.

Our wall landmark is far more famous. It is only fair to point out that there are many different stories concerning the origin of Dragon’s Pillow, but we in Ku-fu like to think that our version is the only correct one.

Many centuries ago there was a general who was ordered to build one of the defensive walls that were to be linked into the Great Wall, and one night he dreamed that he had been summoned to Heaven to present his plan for the wall to the August Personage of Jade. At his subsequent trial for treason he gave a vivid account of the trip.

He had dreamed that he had been inside a giant lotus, and the leaves had slowly opened to form a doorway, and he had stepped out upon the emerald grass of Heaven. The sky was sapphire, and a path made from pearls lay near his feet. A willow tree lifted a branch and pointed it like a finger, and the general followed the path to the River of Flowers, which was cascading down the Cliff of the Great Awakening. The concubines of the Emperor of Heaven were bathing in the Pool of Blissful Fragrances, laughing and splashing in a rainbow of rose petals, and they were so beautiful that the general found it hard to tear himself away. But duty called, so he followed the path as it climbed seven terraces where the leaves on the trees were made from precious stones, which rang musically when the breeze touched them, and where birds of bright plumage sang with divine voices of the Five Virtues and Excellent Doctrines. The path continued around the lush orchards where the Queen Mother Wang grew the Peaches of Immortality, and when the general made the last turn around the orchards he found himself directly in front of the palace of the Emperor of Heaven.

Flunkies were waiting for him. They ushered him into the audience chamber, and after the three obeisances and nine kowtows he was allowed to rise and approach the throne. The August Personage of Jade was seated with his hands crossed upon the Imperial Book of Etiquette, which lay upon his lap. He wore a flat hat rather like a board, from which dangled thirteen pendants of colored pearls upon red strings, and his black silk robe rippled with red and yellow dragons. The general bowed and humbly presented his plan for the wall.

Behind the throne stood T’ien-kou, the Celestial Dog, whose teeth had chewed mountains in half, and beside the Celestial Dog stood Ehr-lang, who is unquestionably the greatest of all warriors because he had been able to battle the stupendous Stone Monkey to a standstill. (The Monkey symbolizes intellect.) The two bodyguards appeared to be glaring at the general. He hastily lowered his eyes, and he saw that the symbol of the emperor’s predecessor, the Heavenly Master of the First Origin, was stamped upon the left arm of the throne, and on the right arm was the symbol for the emperor’s eventual successor, the Heavenly Master of the Dawn of Jade of the Golden Door. The general was so overcome by a dizzying sense of timelessness in which there was no means of measurement and comparison that he felt quite sick to his stomach. He was afraid that he was going to disgrace himself by throwing up, but in the nick of time he saw that his plan, neatly rolled back into a scroll and retied, was extended before his lowered eyes. He took it and dropped to his knees and awaited divine censure or praise, but none was forthcoming. The August Personage of Jade silently signaled the end of the interview. The general crawled backward, banging his head against the floor, and at the doorway he was seized by the flunkies, who marched him outside and across a couple of miles of meadow. Then they picked him up and dumped him into the Great River of Stars.

Oddly enough, the general testified, he had not been frightened at all. It was the rainy season in Heaven, and billions of brilliant stars were bouncing over raging waves that roared like a trillion tigers, but the general sank quite peacefully into the water. He drifted down farther and farther, and then he fell right through the bottom, and the glittering light of the Great River receded rapidly in the distance as he plunged head over heels toward earth. He landed smack in the middle of his bed, just as his servant entered to wake him for breakfast.

It was some time before he could gather enough courage to open his plan, and when he did he discovered that the Emperor of Heaven—or somebody—had moved the wall 122 miles to the south, which placed it in the middle of the valley of Cho, where it could serve no useful purpose whatsoever.

What was he to do? He could not possibly defy the mandate of Heaven, so he ordered his men to build a wall that led nowhere and connected to nothing, and that was why the general was arrested and brought before the Emperor of China on the charge of treason. When he told his tale the charge of treason was tossed out of court. Instead the general was sentenced to death for being drunk on duty, and desperation produced one of the loveliest excuses in history. That wall, the general said firmly, had been perfectly placed, but one night a dragon leaned against it and fell asleep, and in the morning it was discovered that the bulk of the beast had shoved the wall into its current ludicrous position.

Word of Dragon’s Pillow swept through the delighted court, where the general had clever and unscrupulous friends. They began their campaign to save his neck by bribing the emperor’s favorite soothsayer.

“O Son of Heaven,” the fellow screeched, “I have consulted the Trigrams, and for reasons known only to the August Personage of Jade that strange stretch of wall is the most important of all fortifications! So important it is that it cannot be guarded by mortal men, but only by the spirits of ten thousand soldiers who must be buried alive in the foundations!”

The emperor was quite humane, as emperors go, and he begged the soothsayer to try again and see if there might not have been some mistake. After pocketing another bribe the soothsayer came up with a different interpretation.

“O Son of Heaven, the Trigrams clearly state that wan must be buried alive in the foundations, but while wan can mean ten thousand, it is also a common family name!” he bellowed. “The solution is obvious, for what is the life of one insignificant insignificant soldier compared to the most important wall in China?”

The emperor still didn’t like it, but he didn’t appear to have much of choice, so he ordered his guards to go out and lay hands on the first common soldier named Wan. All accounts agree that Wan behaved with dignity. His family was provided with a pension, and he was told that heaven had honored him above all others and he was given a trumpet with which to sound the alarm should China be threatened, and then a hole was cut in the base of the wall and Wan marched dutifully inside. The hole was bricked up again, and a watchtower—the Eye of the Dragon—was placed upon the highest point of Dragon’s Pillow where Wan’s ghost could maintain lonely vigil.

The emperor was so sick of the whole affair that he refused to allow that cursed stretch of wall, or anyone connected with it, to be mentioned in his presence. Of course that is what the clever fellows had been planning all along, and their friend the general was quietly set free to write his memoirs.

For nearly a century Dragon’s Pillow was a favorite of sightseers. A small number of soldiers was detached to maintain the wall, but since it served no purpose except as a watchtower for a ghost it was eventually allowed to fall into decay. Even the sightseers lost interest in it, and weeds grew and rocks crumbled. It was a paradise for children, however, and for a few centuries it was the favorite playpen of the children of my village, but then something happened that left Dragon’s Pillow abandoned even by children.

One evening the children of Ku-fu were beginning one of the games that had originated somewhere back toward the beginning of time, and suddenly they stopped short. A hollow, bodiless voice—one boy later said that it might have been echoing through two hundred miles of bamboo pipe—drifted down to them from the Eye of the Dragon. So strange were the words that every one of the children remembered them perfectly, even though they took to their heels as soon as their hearts resumed beating.

Was it possible that poor Wan, the most important of all sentinels on the most important of all watchtowers was sending a message to China through the children of the humble village of Ku-fu? If so, it was a very strange message indeed, and sages and scholars struggled for centuries to wrest some meaning from it.

If my illustrious readers would care to take a crack at it, I will wish them the very best of luck.

Jade plate,
Six, eight.
Fire that burns hot,
Night that is not.
Fire that burns cold,
First silver, then gold.

I'll leave it to you to read more of the book for yourself.  If you enjoy gentle, whimsical humor (with occasional side-splitting elements of slapstick) and a fantasy world to match, I recommend it.