Thursday, July 31, 2008

All together, now: Awwwww, cute!

There's a touching story of a Golden Retriever mom that's adopted three white tiger kittens.

A dog at a southeast Kansas zoo has adopted three tiger cubs abandoned by their mother. Safari Zoological Park owner Tom Harvey said the tiger cubs were born Sunday, but the mother had problems with them.

A day later, the mother stopped caring for them. Harvey said the cubs were wandering around, trying to find their birth mother, who wouldn't pay attention to them. That's when the cubs were put in the care of a golden retriever, Harvey said.

Harvey said it's unusual for dogs to care for tiger cubs, but it does happen. He said he has seen reports of pigs nursing cubs in China, and he actually got the golden retriever after his wife saw television accounts of dogs caring for tiger cubs.

Puppies take about the same amount of time as tiger cubs to develop, and Harvey said the adoptive mother just recently weaned her own puppies.

"The timing couldn't have been any better," he said.

The mother doesn't know the difference, Harvey said. He said the adopted mother licks, cleans and feeds the cubs.

Like I said . . . awwww, cute!

There's a link to a video of the kittens with their adoptive "mother" at the link above. Fun to watch.


Doofus Of The Day #54

Ye Gods and little fishes.

Police say a man in Bellevue was caught on tape having sex with a picnic table.

Bellevue Police Captain Matt Johnson says Art Price, Jr., 40, was seen on four occasions between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and noon having sex with his picnic table. What makes this a felony, Johnson says, is that it took place in close proximity to a school, which made it likely that children could have seen Price.

The neighbor -- who wishes to remain anonymous -- saw Price walk out onto his deck, stand a round metal table on its side and use the hole for the umbrella to have sex.

The most recent instance took place March 14, we're told. A neighbor videotaped Price.

"The first video we had, he was completely nude. He would use the hole from the umbrella and have sex with the table," Johnson says.

Well, I guess sex with an umbrella hole qualifies as a shady practice, all right!


Mr. Price's exploits have even made it into the Urban Dictionary:

I'm sorry I missed your call. I was out in the back yard giving my lawn chair the old 'Art Price, Jr.'


We won't pay for your medicines - but we'll pay for you to die!

I'm dumbfounded by the insensitivity of the Oregon Health Plan.

After her oncologist prescribed a cancer drug that could slow the cancer growth and extend her life, [Ms. Barbara] Wagner was notified that the Oregon Health Plan wouldn’t cover the treatment, but that it would cover palliative, or comfort, care, including, if she chose, doctor-assisted suicide.

. . .

“Treatment of advanced cancer that is meant to prolong life, or change the course of this disease, is not a covered benefit of the Oregon Health Plan,” said the unsigned letter Wagner received from LIPA, the Eugene company that administers the Oregon Health Plan in Lane County.

Officials of LIPA and the state Health Services Commission, which sets policy for the Oregon Health Plan, say they’ve not changed how they cover treatment of recurrent cancer, only clarified the rules.

But local oncologists say they’ve seen a change in policy, and that their Oregon Health Plan patients with advanced cancer no longer get coverage for chemotherapy if it is considered comfort care.

. . .

When the Oregon Health Plan was established in 1994, it was expressly intended to ration health care. A prioritization list was drawn up, with diagnoses and ailments deemed most important — pregnancy, childbirth, preventive care for children — placed at the top of the list. At the bottom are procedures such as cosmetic surgery, which would not be covered.

“We can’t cover everything for everyone,” said Dr. Walter Shaffer, medical director of the state Division of Medical Assistance Programs, which administers the Oregon Health Plan.

“Taxpayer dollars are limited for publicly funded programs. We try to come up with polices that provide the most good for the most people.”

Most cancer treatments are high priority on the list, Shaffer said. “But there’s some desire on the part of the framers of this list to not cover treatments that are futile, or where the potential benefit to the patient is minimal in relation to the expense of providing the care.”

The mind boggles. To be told bluntly that "we won't pay for the drugs that might prolong your life, but we offer help with assisted suicide" (which is what the Oregon Health Plan's letter amounts to) is the most crassly insensitive, brutally bureaucratic arrogance I've ever heard of!

There is, at least in this case, some good news. The drug company manufacturing the medication prescribed for Ms. Wagner has offered her a year's free supply, to her relief. That's something to be grateful for, at least.

However, the reaction of influential opinion-makers leaves something to be desired. In an editorial on this case, The Oregonian called it a "medical ethics glitch", and concluded:

As the only state that both allows assisted suicide and tries to ration health care, Oregon has created a fine ethical line for state officials to navigate. In this case, they stepped over it. For the sake of ethical clarity in Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, the state health plan should stop offering to pay for those who use it.

Oh, really? How about not making life-or-death decisions in the first place? This is yet another example of the perils of socialized health care in operation. In England, doctors and hospitals can already decide whether or not to extend health care to the elderly or terminally ill - or discontinue treatment, leaving them to die. It's no longer a matter of the best interests of the patient: it's the best interests of the system that count.

Next time someone tries to sell you on the concept of Government-funded socialized health care, you might want to think about that.


The truth about race, crime and incarceration

I had a long and difficult discussion today with a group of visiting clergymen who wanted to know more about prison ministry. Due to my years of work in that field, as both a part-time and a full-time chaplain, I was asked to speak with them over lunch.

It turned into a heated debate over racism in the criminal justice system. Several of these ministers (mostly Black, but some of other races) insisted that Black people were being treated unfairly by the police and courts, and incarcerated in far greater proportion to their numbers than defendants of other races.

I took umbrage at this. I pointed out that the simple fact of the matter was, Black people are committing more crimes per capita than other races. This, as you can imagine, was like a spark to tinder (or explosives, for that matter!) I was accused of being racist, unfeeling, uncaring, blind to reality . . . you name it.

The fact remains, though, that what I said was the plain and simple truth. I don't deny that the Black community has endemic problems that are causing this explosion in crime: and I fully support efforts to deal with those problems and rectify the situation. I applaud and support those who are being honest and truthful in doing so. Bill Cosby, the famous comedian, is particularly prominent in this effort. However, many other Black leaders are flatly refusing to face reality. They continue to assert that the disproportionate incarceration of Blacks for crimes is the result of racism.

My audience today cited numerous sources to substantiate their viewpoint. A pastor from Iowa argued that his state's criminal justice system unfairly discriminated against Blacks, and cited TalkLeft in his support:

Emotions on the issue flared anew this July when the Sentencing Project released its study showing the rate of black incarceration in Iowa was six times that of whites. Feeding that disparity, researchers said, was that blacks make up just 2.3 percent of Iowa's 2.98 million residents.

. . . Those who defend and advocate for the disadvantaged argue that state leaders have done almost nothing to address the biases in the justice system that contribute to Iowa's notoriety.

Another cited Human Rights Watch in support of his position:

The disproportionate representation of black Americans in the U.S. criminal justice system is well documented. Blacks comprise 13 percent of the national population, but 30 percent of people arrested, 41 percent of people in jail, and 49 percent of those in prison. Nine percent of all black adults are under some form of correctional supervision (in jail or prison, on probation or parole), compared to two percent of white adults. One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 was either in jail or prison, or on parole or probation in 1995. One in ten black men in their twenties and early thirties is in prison or jail. Thirteen percent of the black adult male population has lost the right to vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws.

Racial disparities in incarceration increased in the 1980s and 1990s as the number of blacks sent to prison grew at a faster rate than the number of whites. Between 1979 and 1990, the number of blacks as a percentage of all persons admitted to state and federal prisons increased from 39 to 53 percent. Although the admissions for both races, in absolute numbers, rose sharply, the increase was greatest for blacks.

Human Rights Watch has been able to analyze state prison admissions based on raw data on 37 states gathered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice through its National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) for 1996, the most recent year for which this data is available. In 17 of these states, blacks constituted more than half of all prison admissions. Maryland had the highest percentage of black admissions, 79 percent, followed by Illinois with 74 percent, Louisiana with 73 percent, and New Jersey with 72 percent.

In every state, the proportion of blacks in prison exceeds, sometimes by a considerable amount, their proportion in the general population. In Minnesota and Iowa, blacks constitute a share of the prison population that is twelve times greater than their share of the state population. In eleven states -- Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming --the percentage of the prison population that is black is more than six times greater than the percentage of the state population that is black.

A third, from New York state, quoted the Justice Policy Institute to support his position that racism was rampant in one county there:

A national group is releasing a report today alleging that blacks in Onondaga County are going to prison on drug offenses at 99 times the rate of whites.

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) of Washington, D.C., claims in its report that Onondaga County has the second highest rate of racial disparity in the 198 counties it surveyed, said executive director Jason Ziedenberg.

Local reaction to the study was mixed:

- An advocate for alternatives to prison was not surprised by the racial disparity.

- A judge said the justice system in Onondaga County is colorblind.

- A professional pollster and political scientist raised questions about the validity of the study.

The study was based on sentencing statistics in 198 counties from 38 states voluntarily provided to the National Corrections Reporting Program, a federal repository for information on corrections and the use of prisons. The counties represent about half the country's population.

The researchers, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, calculated the number of people - black and white - sent to prison on drug offenses in 2002 and compared that to the county's population and racial breakdown. The study did not provide actual numbers.

"This is not to say that one county necessarily does a worse job than others," Ziedenberg said. "Ninety-seven percent of the other large population counties (in the study) also have a large racial disparity."

Pollster Jeff Stonecash, who read the study, said he is leery about the way it was done.

"It's work I would not accept," said Stonecash, a pollster and political science professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. "The bottom line is we should be cautious in accepting this."

The study's findings came as no surprise to Marsha Weissman, executive director of Syracuse's Center for Community Alternatives. Many factors contribute to the disparity, she said.

Police are more likely to saturate poor communities and communities of color, they are more likely to use their discretion differently when dealing with a white or black suspect, and most in the criminal justice profession are white, she said.

That means that more often than not, blacks will be dealing with white police officers, white prosecutors and white judges, and that can make a difference in how they're treated, Weissman said.

Once a suspect is "in the system," the consequences can be dire, she said.

"It marginalizes them for life, barring people from employment, education opportunities and housing options," Weissman said. "It's basically reintroducing racial segregation."

Of the 175,000 people admitted to prison nationwide in 2002 on drug charges, more than half were black, although blacks make up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, the study said.

Onondaga County Undersheriff Warren Darby said the study's conclusions could be misleading.

"It sounds like we're targeting (the black population), and we're certainly not," Darby said. "We go to where the drug investigations lead us and that means in any economic strata or racial group."

Onondaga County Judge Anthony Aloi said he and his colleagues "have no control over who's arrested here or prosecuted here."

"I don't get up every morning saying, 'I'm going to send some young black person to jail,' " he said. "I think the criminal justice system here is colorblind."

The reality, said Aloi, is that law enforcement efforts tend to be more concentrated in urban areas where violence and drugs are more prolific.

"The criminal justice system is not the arbiter of all the ills and failures of society," Aloi said.

I listened to my audience as respectfully as possible, and promised to consult their sources (as you can see above). I'd expected this reaction, and was prepared to expose it for the lie it was. I gave them my answer, beginning with a concrete example.

The CBS2 news station in Chicago is tracking every shooting incident in the city between Memorial Day and Labor day this year. They've set up a Google Maps site to show each shooting. Fatal shootings are shown with red pins, non-fatal in blue. The latest version of the map is shown below: click on the link above for an updated version, along with details of each shooting in the sidebar on the left.

I invited my audience to do three things. One: use police and other records to identify the race of every perpetrator of one of these shootings. Two: use the same records to identify the race of every victim of these shootings. Three: examine the demographics of the suburbs where these shootings had taken place, to identify the racial make-up of these areas. I offered a substantial bet that both the perpetrators and the victims would be predominantly Black, as would the population of the areas concerned.

None of my audience was willing to accept my bet.

I then handed out copies of a superb article by Heather Macdonald in the Spring 2008 issue of City Journal, titled: "Is The Criminal-Justice System Racist?". It's a magnificently researched and argued piece of work, and I highly recommend it to any interested reader. I'll quote only two paragraphs here:

The favorite culprits for high black prison rates include a biased legal system, draconian drug enforcement, and even prison itself. None of these explanations stands up to scrutiny. The black incarceration rate is overwhelmingly a function of black crime. Insisting otherwise only worsens black alienation and further defers a real solution to the black crime problem.

Racial activists usually remain assiduously silent about that problem. But in 2005, the black homicide rate was over seven times higher than that of whites and Hispanics combined, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. From 1976 to 2005, blacks committed over 52 percent of all murders in America. In 2006, the black arrest rate for most crimes was two to nearly three times blacks’ representation in the population. Blacks constituted 39.3 percent of all violent-crime arrests, including 56.3 percent of all robbery and 34.5 percent of all aggravated-assault arrests, and 29.4 percent of all property-crime arrests.

Ms. MacDonald makes a very strong case indeed - almost unarguably so. I supported her case with examples of my own, making the point that the criminal justice system was not racist, but merely dealing with the perpetrators of crime. The latter's racial make-up squared neatly with the facts of the matter.

After hearing me out, some of my audience seemed rather glum as we broke up. Others were happy to hear the facts of the matter, and thanked me for the copies of the article I had provided. Still, I couldn't help feel, as I watched them leave, that my words hadn't gotten through to many of the group.

Too many people have too much invested in a feel-good, politically-correct approach to the problem, rather than facing the facts of the matter. They don't want to let the truth get in the way of their impressions . . . and until that changes, we won't find a solution to the problem.

That's the long and the short of it.

(I almost said "There's the problem in black and white," but that would have been insensitive!)


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another problem with recoil . . .

A couple of weeks ago I did a series of posts about firearms for home defense, finishing up with one dealing with the management of recoil.

I've since found an illustration of another problem with recoil. I don't think my readers will have this sort of a problem, though . . . provided they remember to tighten all necessary zips, buttons, fasteners and belts!


Ancient technology continues to astonish

I was pleased to see an in-depth article in the Daily Mail about the Antikythera Mechanism.

The world's oldest calculator - a box of dials, gears and cogs created by the Ancient Greeks more than 2,000 years ago - could predict eclipses decades in advance, say researchers.

The Antikythera Mechanism, recovered from a Roman shipwreck more than a century ago, was also used to record the four-yearly cycle of the original Olympic Games.

It was created around 100BC and previous studies have shown that it was used to chart the movement of planets and the passing of days and years.

X-ray scans have now shown that it could predict eclipses, and was used to record important events in the Greek calendar, says the scientific journal Nature.

Astronomer Professor Mike Edmunds of Cardiff University said: 'It is more complex than any other known device for the next 1,000 years.'

'We knew that this 2,100-year-old ancient Greek mechanism calculated complex cycles of mathematical astronomy,' said Dr Tony Freeth, of London-based Images First, a former research mathematician at Cambridge University.

'It really surprised us to discover that it also showed the four-year cycle of ancient Greek games, including the Olympic Games.'

This ancient tool has fascinated me for years. It's been studied by scientists for over a century, analyzed in depth, and reconstructed in modern materials.

The Mechanism was onboard a Roman cargo ship that sank off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in the first century BC.

The wreck - stuffed full of stunning bronzes, amphorae, glassware and pottery - was discovered by sponge divers in 1900.

Archaeologists also unearthed a mysterious corroded and calcified lump around the size of a large dictionary. Overlooked at the time, the lump turned out to be one of the greatest classical finds of the 20th century.

The scans have shown that the mechanism was originally housed in a rectangular wooden frame with two doors, covered in instructions for its use.

At the front was a single dial showing the Greek zodiac and an Egyptian calendar. On the back were two further dials displaying information about lunar cycles and eclipses. The calculator would have been driven by a hand crank.

A further 81 fragments have since been found containing a total of 30 hand-cut bronze gears.

The device could track the movements of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - the only planets known at the time, the position of the sun and the location and phases of the moon.

The researchers have been able to read all the month names on a 19-year calendar on the back of the Mechanism.

The month names are Corinthian - suggest that it may have been built in the Corinthian colonies in north-western Greece or Syracuse in Sicily. Syracuse was famously home to the mathematician Archimedes.

The device was created at a time when the Romans had gained control of much of Greece.

Prof Alexander Jones of the US Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, said: 'People may rush to make a link with the great scientist Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died there in 212BC.

'But the Mechanism itself was almost certainly made many decades after he died and the most we can say is that there is a possible link with a heritage of scientific instruments that might have originated with Archimedes.'

The Mechanism recorded several important astronomical cycles known to the Babylonians hundreds of years before that help predict eclipses. These include the Saros cycle - a period of around 18 years separating the return of the Moon, Earth and Sun to the same relative positions.

If you, like me, are interested in the development of technology, I highly recommend browsing the article and Wikipedia entry linked above. It's fascinating to see what our far distant ancestors could achieve by human ingenuity and hand tools, long before we ever thought of computers.


Our Senators and Representatives need a swift kick in the ass!

I'm very angry to read a Reuters report that the Senate is deadlocked, and can make no progress with urgent legislation, because of partisan bickering.

A partisan election-year battle over high gasoline prices and a Republican push to open more U.S. coastal waters and federal land to oil and gas drilling has brought work in the U.S. Senate to a halt.

Lawmakers are preparing to head off for a month-long break before gearing up for the November congressional and presidential elections. It appears the housing rescue bill signed by President George W. Bush on Wednesday might be the last significant piece of legislation from the current Congress, says Paul Light of New York University's Center for the Study of Congress.

"There is always a slowdown in the eighth year of a two-term presidency," Light said. "Both parties believe their candidate will win and they don't want to do anything that will embarrass their candidate."

I'm equally angered by the impasse in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Pelosi is flatly refusing to debate real issues with the Republican minority.

With fewer than 20 legislative days before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, the entire appropriations process has largely ground to a halt because of the ham-handed fighting that followed Republican attempts to lift the moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration. And after promising fairness and open debate, Pelosi has resorted to hard-nosed parliamentary devices that effectively bar any chance for Republicans to offer policy alternatives.

“I’m trying to save the planet; I’m trying to save the planet,” she says impatiently when questioned. “I will not have this debate trivialized by their excuse for their failed policy.”

“I respect the office that I hold,” she says. “And when you win the election, you win the majority, and what is the power of the speaker? To set the agenda, the power of recognition, and I am not giving the gavel away to anyone.”

Well, Ms. Pelosi, given that you promised - guaranteed - to promote genuine debate and non-partisanship, and overcome the "divisiveness" of your Republican predecessor in office, I think you owe us all an apology for your earlier lies.

I might add that I'm neither Democrat nor Republican, and would - and will - vote for individuals of either party in future elections, depending on my assessment of the individual. I don't vote a party line. I vote for the person who, in my judgment, is closest to my own ideals and ambitions and perspectives.

What I do know is that the 2009 budget and spending bills are being held up by this party political bickering. The national government is dependent on the House and Senate to pass these bills timeously - and for the past several years, they haven't. They've relied each year on a temporary spending authorization to keep Government going while they bicker and argue. This means that departments can't use the funds they've requested for new equipment and projects, being forced to limp along from day to day with only limited operating expenditure available. This can put lives at risk. I've seen how, for example, the Bureau of Prisons has had to postpone the purchase of emergency equipment, waiting on the passage of the budget, while those of us who worked inside high-security prisons were put at greater risk without it.

Maybe it's time to kick out all incumbents in the House and Senate, of both parties. Elect new faces, and let them know - in no uncertain terms - that if they behave like their predecessors, we'll kick them out too!

That may be a pipe dream, of course . . . but it's a very tempting one! Perhaps, if the people of this country get disgusted enough, they might yet adopt it.

One may hope.


Justified awards - or a slap in the face?

I'm rather worried at the message being sent by the Minneapolis Police Department in a recent awards ceremony.

First, the city apologized. Then it gave awards.

Eight Minneapolis officers received medals in City Hall Monday for their valor in a botched raid that the city apologized for last year. That isn't sitting well with the family shot at multiple times by the officers.

"I'm shocked that they're receiving awards for that night," said Yee Moua. "My family is a mess right now. My [9-year-old] son, who saw the shooting, still has nightmares and has needed therapy. They've ruined a life, and I don't understand why they would get rewarded for that."

The awards stemmed from a high-risk search in December. The eight officers -- who had SWAT training -- entered the house expecting to find a violent gang member. Instead, they found Vang Khang, a 35-year-old homeowner who thought he was being robbed. Khang shot through his bedroom door at the officers until he understood who they were.

In the midst of the shootout were Moua, who is Khang's wife, and their six children, who range in age from 3 to 15. Moua said her family has since abandoned the house and can no longer afford to keep it.

Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. William Palmer said Tuesday the department has acknowledged the raid was a mistake and has apologized to the family. But he said the officers "performed very bravely under gunfire and made smart decisions."

Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said that he knew giving the award might get negative attention but that "we've never not recognized an officer shot in the line of duty."

. . .

The raid was part of an investigation by the department's Violent Offender Task Force, which typically goes after the most violent gang members and drug dealers. Officers had retrieved guns in searches connected with the case before the raid.

According to police, officers entered the home without knocking -- a standard procedure in cases where officers expected to find weapons -- and called out, "Police!" as they searched the home's first floor. They didn't find anybody, so went to the second floor. At a small landing at the top of the stairs, they again shouted, "Police!"

Shots then came through the walls and doors as officers searched two bedrooms, police said. It was Khang shooting from a third bedroom.

Authorities said there were children in the other bedrooms, and the officers quickly realized there was a language barrier. The older children were able to communicate to their father that police were in the house and to stop shooting.

"As soon as they started taking fire, [officers] got in front of the kids and used their body as a shield," Palmer said. "They used great restraint and shot precisely at where the bullets were coming back from."

Moua disputed the police account.

"They never identified themselves; we thought they were a whole bunch of drunk, crazy guys," she said. "We didn't know anything until my oldest son yelled, 'Dad, it's the police!'"

She also said the officers did not try to protect her children, but rather hid themselves behind furniture and shot back indiscriminately. She said officers treated her and her husband roughly, and did not explain the situation after the two surrendered.

. . .

The family's lawyer, Thomas Heffelfinger, said that he has had ongoing conversations with the city attorney's office and that there will be a lawsuit if they cannot reach a resolution.

"They fired 22 rounds with 9 millimeter automatic weapons into a room with two adults and four children," Heffelfinger said. "That's not protecting kids. They were firing at a room they couldn't see into. They fired with the intent to kill the person on the other side of the door.

"To give these men awards for that behavior is nothing more than an attempt to sanitize their conduct."

Heffelfinger also said the family had lived at the house for four years and had no history of wrongdoing. He said police "failed to do their homework" and "acted outrageously once they got there."

Courage under fire should, indeed, be recognized: but if that courage was mistaken and unnecessary in the first place, should it be recognized in this way? A public awarding of medals seems to me to be a slap in the face to the family who was terrorized unnecessarily and unjustifiably. If I were in that family's shoes, I'd be . . . well, "irritated" is a very mild way to put it! Could the courage of the officers not have been recognized in a more discreet way, such as a letter of commendation on their files?

There's also the issue of who did what. We have two very different accounts of events. The award of medals seems to me to be an attempt to set an official seal of approval on the police account, and to publicly disregard (even, perhaps, denigrate) the family's perspective. Surely, even if the awards were appropriate, their presentation could have been delayed until the legal dispute (and any lawsuit) were settled?

This must also be seen in the context of the growing militarization of US police forces (particularly SWAT teams and similar organizations), and the growing number of "mistakes" that such teams are making in raiding innocent persons. It's a growing problem, and I don't see any real effort by law enforcement authorities - at least, not publicly - to deal with it. Innocent people have already died in such mistaken raids. How many more must die, or be terrorized, before such measures are brought under control?

What's your take, readers? Should these awards have been made? And, if so, should they have been made now, rather than after everything's been sorted out?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Epic TV reporter FAIL!

Honestly, I have to giggle helplessly while watching this. The poor guy! He'll never live this down!


Has anyone tried "pinhole glasses"?

I'm intrigued by the claims made by the vendors of so-called "pinhole glasses".

I'm aware that many of the more extravagant claims can no longer be made in the USA, because the FDA has ruled that there's insufficient medical evidence to prove them: but I've seen such claims in overseas publications and Web sites. I'm also aware of the dispute over the relative effectiveness of pinhole glasses - but some users of my acquaintance swear that they've helped them. Whom to believe?

I work at the computer for many hours a day, and use low-power reading glasses coated with an anti-glare substance to reduce eyestrain. I've read that these pinhole glasses are better, in that they drastically reduce the amount of glare reaching the eye, and can even help improve vision over time by forcing the eye to focus at the correct distance. However, all this is "hearsay" evidence.

If any reader has tried these things, and can report success, I'd be very interested (and grateful) for your feedback in the Comments to this post.

Many thanks.


Adventurous priest didn't make it

In April I wrote of Father Adelir Antonio de Carli, who set out suspended beneath a large number of helium-filled balloons to break the record for such a flight. He disappeared out at sea, as you may recall.

Sadly, a body found floating in the Atlantic Ocean has been identified as that of Fr. de Carli. Searchers had earlier found some of his balloons.

I'm sorry for the good Father . . . but if one insists on doing such stunts right next to the Atlantic Ocean, I'm afraid one daren't forget that Mother Nature is a real bitch! She doesn't care about your motives or intentions. She'll kill you without a second thought.

Oh - and Murphy's Law applies even to priests!


Banking and the US economy

I hesitate to be a doom-and-gloom merchant. Heaven knows there's enough of that sort of thing going on already! Nevertheless, the signs that the US economy - indeed, that of most of the world - is heading into deep water, and won't be out of it for some time to come - probably years - are growing stronger every day.

If you haven't been reading much about it (or even if you have), I'd like to suggest the following articles as mandatory reading to prepare yourself for what's ahead.

1. Uncomfortable Answers To Questions On The Economy - the state of the economy in broad, general terms.

2. US Banks Sharply Reduce Business Loans - the impact of the so-called "credit crunch" beyond the housing sector.

3. America's House Price Time Bomb - how many home-0wners are simply walking away from their obligations, leaving our banks to hold the (unaffordable) baby.

Put those three articles together, and you'll have a pretty good picture of how things are likely to look over the next twelve months at least. I think we're in for much harder times that we've yet experienced. Those who are forewarned can at least make whatever preparations they can.

Furthermore, look at this in the context of the upcoming elections. If you see any individual or group promising the earth, ask yourself: Where are they going to find the money to do this? If it'll take raised taxes, or increased Government borrowing, don't believe a word of it. In the current economic climate, to do either is foolhardy at best, probably dangerously deluded, and perhaps a sign of economic illiteracy. Don't vote for a fool - or a party - like that!


Monday, July 28, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #53

Oh, dear. Ares reports:

One of the more dangerous phenomena in aviation is an F-16 pilot whose marksmanship is better than his situational awareness. Two soldiers discovered this on the Utah Test and Training Range one night in April 2007. An F-16 pilot lost sight of his target while rolling into a strafing run using night-vision goggles, acquired their rented GMC Suburban instead, and converted it to Swiss cheese.

Fortunately the victims were both riding in the front seat and the injuries they sustained were the result of exiting the vehicle, which for some reason they decided to do rather quickly.

Looking at that vehicle, I'd say speed was warranted! According to the US Naval Safety Center, which headlined its report "Glad It's A Rental #297" (and which must be chuckling up its collective sleeves at its Air Force counterparts' actions):

Seems a pair of soldiers were driving a rented SUV at a test and training range out west one night. Seems an F-16 pilot was getting some target practice at the time. Seems the SUV was in the target area. Seems the pilot was a good shot.

A local spokesman said the soldiers were not hit but suffered minor injuries "while exiting the vehicle in rough terrain." Personally, any minor injuries I suffered while bailing out of a vehicle and running away while being shot at with REALLY big bullets would be a welcome alternative.

The soldiers had been training to identify enemy targets and direct aircraft to fire on them. And to this, all we can say is, “Now you know what it feels like.”

Have you ever seen those little stick-on “bullet hole” decals you can get for your car? This is what the jumbo version would look like. I just wish we had a photo of the expression on the face of the car-rental employee when this one was towed back in.

The Air Force accident report states:

An Air Force investigation says an F-16 pilot failed "to positively identify the intended target" when he opened fire on a rental SUV occupied by two Fort Lewis soldiers last April at the Utah Test and Training Range.

The soldiers, from the post's 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, narrowly avoided serious injury. One of the five 20mm rounds the pilot fired into the vehicle hit about a foot behind the driver's side door, said a spokeswoman at Hill Air Force Base.

. . .

Hill spokeswoman Lt. Beth Woodward identified the pilot only as a major with the 34th Fighter Squadron who was training for a May deployment to the Middle East. The squadron deployed on schedule but left the pilot at home, she said.

He had over 800 flying hours at the time of the mishap and was rated as current in his training and qualified to fly the mission.

The pilot was grounded during the investigation. As a result of the findings, he now must fly at the direction of a wingman and "additional classroom, simulator and flight training is required to ensure the individual is qualified for wing missions," the 388th Fighter Wing said in a news release announcing the results of the investigation.

Embarrassing for the Major, to say the least. I wonder how long he'll take to live this one down?

As for the occupants of the truck, you can read their account here.


New world skydiving record

The Daily Mail has published an article, with some amazing pictures, about a new world sky-diving record. (Click the pictures for a larger view.)

For a few precious seconds these 100 skydivers linked up, thousands of feet above Florida.

It was all the time they needed to break the world record for the largest number to gather in a single formation.

One slip and their huge diamond of pinks and greens would have collapsed, sending them crashing into one another and plummeting from the sky.

Roughly the size of a 747 jet, the successful formation broke the previous record of an 85-way canopy formation set in 2005.

A canopy formation, one of the most difficult manoeuvres for parachutists, is built by parachutists flying their parachutes in proximity to each other and then taking grips ("docking") on other jumpers' parachutes.

The practice of building such formations is known by several names; canopy formations (CF), canopy formation skydiving (CFS) or canopy relative work( CRW or CReW).

The 100 jumpers were able to join together on a second of two attempts, using their hands and feet to hook up to adjacent parachutes.

The skydivers exited five planes flying at staggered altitudes to execute the formation.

The stunt took seven years of planning and training. Each skydiver had to learn how to link up with his lower neighbours by locking his feet into their lines and grabbing their canopies with his arms extended behind him.

Brian Pangburn, a participant and one of the organisers of the record jump, explained the technical complexities behind the record.

'The canopy formation is probably only done by about five per cent of skydivers in the world,' explained the 43-year-old.

'The planning for this was very precise.

'We had five planes, three Otters and two CASAs, which carried the jumpers.

'The way you build it is that the gut on top starts and then he grabs the guy coming from underneath and so on. So we actually built it from the top going down.

'The first plane, which was at 21,000 ft carried the first nine jumpers. They pulled their cords immediately after exiting the plane to get into position.

'Exactly two minutes later we had another plane empty out the next 25 jumpers and two videographers from 18, 000 ft.

'Two minutes after that at 15,000 ft we had another aircraft with another 25 jumpers.

'And then at 12, 000 ft we had the last two planes carrying 20 and 21 jumpers.

'It took us 11 minutes from the moment the first jumpers exited to when everyone hit the ground so we didn't have much time.

'We also knew we had to break apart at no lower than 4,000 ft so that everyone to land safely on the ground.

'It was close but we got the record just at the last moment.'

There's a lot more information in the linked article, and a video clip of the accomplishment on YouTube:

Congratulations to all concerned! Even though I see no need to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft, it's clear that this took amazing skill and a whole lot of hard work. Well done!


Of England, Snickers, Mr. T and male make-up

It is to laugh . . .

The actor known as Mr. T, who played B. J. Baracus in the 1980's TV series "The A-Team", was hired by the advertising agency for Mars Incorporated of England to star in a series of British TV advertisements for Snickers bars.

So far, so good. One of the advertisements, showing a player acting up at a football game, has been fine:

However, the tongue-in-cheek antics of Mr. T in another advertisement have caused ructions across the Atlantic:

According to a newspaper report, the latter advertisement:

. . . prompted strong protests from the U.S. – even though it was never shown on American television.

The U.S. lobby group Human Rights Campaign criticised Mars – which makes Snickers – for condoning ‘the notion that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is a group of second class citizens and that violence against GLBT people is not only acceptable but humorous’.

A spokesman for Mars said: ‘This ad is the second in a series of UK Snickers ads featuring Mr T, which are meant to be fun and have been positively received in the UK.

‘However, we understand that humour is highly subjective, and it is never our intention to cause offence. Accordingly, we have pulled the Mr T speedwalker ad globally.’

The workplace director of Human Rights Campaign Daryl Herrschaft said: 'HRC applauds Mars for taking swift and appropriate action.'

Meanwhile reaction in the UK was mixed amongst the gay community concerning the ban.

Website comments regarding the controversy in the UK suggested that complaints from the US should not impact on what is shown here.

One wrote: 'As a (British) gay man myself, I am fed up with the ultra-politically correct stance of organisations such as yours seeking out homophobia in places where none clearly exists.

'Your entire approach actually damages the efforts of those of us who live in the real world to make any kind of headway in the fight against real homophobia - you know, the one that's responsible for people being kicked unconscious outside nightclubs, or driven to suicide through bullying.'

Another said: 'I'm gay and I found the ad hilarious. If you make the connection speed walking and homosexuality then you just perpetuating the stereotypes about gay men.

'And it sad to see that gay people start to take themselves too seriously, and why do Americans feel to complain on what's is on TV on this side of the pond?

'And why people haven't anything better to do in their life than sending complaint emails?'

I couldn't agree more. I think the adverts are funny and not in the least homophobic. I think this boils down to another case of a pressure group being hyper-sensitive to anything that even remotely suggests negative connotations for their cause.

A similar reaction is likely to the latest thing in UK cosmetics. It seems that "Guy-Liner" and "Manscara" are about to be launched upon unsuspecting English consumers.

In an increasingly metrosexual world, perhaps it was just a matter of time.

But yesterday a high street store announced that it would start stocking makeup designed just for men.

'Guy-liner' and 'Manscara' to enhance the eyes of the male in your life, will appear in Superdrug this week.

Yesterday, the company's director of trading Jeff Wemyss insisted that its cosmetics - branded Taxi Man - are not just for transvestites.

He said: "These days you can be macho and wear make-up. If you look at people like Russell Brand and Robbie Williams, they both wear make-up and they are both very red-blooded men.

'Men are more obsessed with their appearance than ever before. There is no longer any pain in being seen to be vain.'

He added: 'We believe there is a real market for cosmetic products. The majority of our customers are women and we believe that these products will be bought by women for their partners, as well as by men themselves.'
Russell Brand

Make-up role model: Russell Brand is famous for wearing eye-liner and mascara

The cosmetics' creator Peter Kelly said: 'We've developed essentials any guy would borrow from his other half.

'It's about subtle make-up rather than wanting to create the drag queen look.'

Uh-huh. Well, Mr. Kelly, if you'd borrow such things from your "other half", good luck to you! Where I live, any man borrowing them from his "other half" could confidently expect to be driven out of the bathroom - and perhaps the house - on the business end of a shotgun! Perhaps that's why the term "metrosexual" isn't heard much in bayou country . . . or anywhere else outside the more goofy metroplexes. I can just imagine the reaction if I suggested to my buddies Ambulance Driver, JPG or Lawdog that they try this stuff! (Hint: It wouldn't be polite, or pretty, for that matter.)

Somehow I don't see "Guy-Liner" or "Manscara" in our future at all. Of course, if you were to use an advertisement showing Mr. T shooting Snickers bars at those wearing them . . .


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Remembering Mike

It's been a melancholy sort of a day for me - lots of sadness, and lots of memories.

It was sparked by a telephone call in the small hours of this morning. A good friend and brother in arms, whom I'll call Mike (there are reasons to preserve his anonymity), has died. He and I went through Hell together, more than once, and we only survived because each of us saved the others' life on more than one occasion. I'd like to tell you about him.

Mike and I met in the late 1970's. At the time, the growing anti-apartheid unrest in South Africa was getting nasty (the period from 1976 to 1994 was almost a civil war in certain parts of the country). Both he and I were adamantly opposed to apartheid, and were committed to ending the system: but we also recognized that the Communist-inspired terrorists fighting that system were as bad, if not worse, than the racists who'd imposed it. Neither side was worthy of any Christian's full support.

As things developed, each of us, independently, decided that our best contribution, as Christians, would be to help the victims of violence. The Government ruled its Black subjects by force of arms and legalized violence. The terrorists fought the Government by trying to make certain areas ungovernable, and used extreme violence against anyone who wouldn't support them, including murder, torture, rape, robbery, arson and anything else you can think of. The ordinary people were, of course, caught in the middle, unable to escape the violence of both sides.

Gradually a group of believers formed. We were from many different races: several African tribes, White, Indian, Colored (in South African parlance, that means a person of mixed race) and Asian. We had all sorts of different religious backgrounds: the various Christian churches, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Animist (i.e. African traditional religions). The common "glue" that bound us together was that each individual felt that his or her understanding of God and faith had called them to help the victims of violence. Nothing else mattered. Our differences of race, culture, education, religious perspective, theology and doctrine were completely submerged beneath this common calling.

As a result, those of us involved learned to have a profound respect and admiration - yes, even love - for one another. We didn't care a hoot about the differences. We were united in a common cause, a common purpose. Ever since those days, I've never cared what someone else professes to believe: I've cared only about how he or she actually lives their faith. Actions speak a damn sight louder than words. I have atheist friends whom I regard as far more Christian in their way of life than most believers, because they live the values to which many Christians pay only lip service.

For well over a decade we worked to get the victims of violence out of the nightmare situations in which they found themselves. Sometimes we'd go into the thick of a fight to get the people out. At other times we couldn't do that (it was, for example, illegal for people of one race to be in an area designated for another, particularly during an "emergency", and many of us ended up in police detention at one time or another), and we had to wait for the worst of the violence to pass before we could do our work. By rough count, we assisted, evacuated, fed, sheltered and got medical attention for several thousand people during those years. We didn't bother to keep an exact tally.

It was often extremely dangerous work. Twenty-seven of our group died during the 1980's and early 1990's. Some died during our operations. Others died because they were identified as members, and attacked at home by those who didn't want us (or anyone else) bringing any hope, however faint, to those they sought to rule by terror and fear. Our Black members were particularly vulnerable to this, because they lived in areas that were more often than not terrorist-controlled. I had some of them stay over in my apartment (in a safer area) on more than one occasion, but legally they couldn't live there without being subject to arrest. The apartheid Group Areas Act saw to that: areas were reserved for the members of a particular race group, and those not of that race couldn't live there except as servants, in separate (usually grossly inferior) quarters. Guests in the same building would stick out like a sore thumb. Neighbors would see them, report their presence to the police, and next thing you knew, a police van would be outside with uniformed officers banging on the door. A bribe could take care of things temporarily, but not long-term.

Mike was Black, and more vulnerable than I. He had to move out of his parents' home, because he didn't want them to suffer for his activities. He set up house in another area with a couple of our members, and they helped support one another (not all of them had jobs at the same time, so those who worked would feed and support the others, knowing that their turn to rely on the rest would come around). He spent many short periods at my home, a few days at a time, while we planned our activities and gathered our meager resources for the next emergency.

On one of our operations, Mike saved my life. I was seriously injured. Mike got me out of the danger zone, and dragged and carried me for almost a mile to where our vehicles were waiting. Without him, I'd have died there. I was able to return the favor a year or so later, when he was slashed across the spine by a panga (a machete-like weapon). He couldn't walk, and myself and another colleague got him out of there and took him to a hospital. He eventually made a full recovery.

Those were very dark times. There were periods when it looked as if the whole country was descending into chaos and the darkness of terminal violence. We carried on with our work, trying desperately to help the few we could reach, trying to make a difference. It wasn't much - "a drop in the bucket" just about describes it - but we all felt that we had to do it. Nobody else cared much, it seemed to us. A vast number of alleged believers of all faiths would go to their churches and temples on their holy days, and talk, and pray, and sing about God's love - but they wouldn't go into the violence, where the real need was, and risk themselves. Their faith was something they talked about, rather than did. To make matters worse, many religious leaders (again, of all faiths) became more political activists than believers. Some would use their religious status to promote this or that political group or agenda, and even use their pulpits to threaten those of their faiths who wouldn't subscribe to their particular political philosophies.

Gradually I felt led to a greater commitment of service to what I believed in. In the early 1990's I took up studies for ordained ministry. At this point I had to leave our group's activities, and relocate to another place to continue my studies. I kept in touch with them, and provided financial support where possible. Things continued to be very tough for some time.

I played a part in the organizing of South Africa's first-ever fully democratic elections in 1994, which brought an end to apartheid at last. As they approached, a last paroxysm of violence seemed to grip the country. Bombs were planted, people of different political parties and persuasions targeted . . . it seemed as if free and fair elections would be impossible. International news organizations were sending in their reporters, seeming to us to be vultures hovering over the scene of a massacre, feeding on the violence, gloating over the misery.

Mike, my other friends and I were involved in working with the fledgling Independent Electoral Commission and other community organizations. Three more of us were killed during the run-up to the voting. Mike was shot, and lost his left leg just above the knee as a result. By now he'd married Annie, another of our members, and she nursed him through the crisis. He wouldn't stay in bed. As soon as he'd recovered sufficiently, even before he'd been fitted with an artificial leg, he used a wheelchair and crutches to get out on the streets again, with Annie by his side, to continue their work.

In the days immediately prior to the voting, the violence seemed to climax in an orgy of blood-letting. Dozens were killed. However, thousands - millions - of people were praying hard, and I firmly believe God gave us a miracle in response to their prayers. On the first day of voting (three days were allocated), people who'd been trying to kill each other the day before lined up peacefully in their tens of thousands, waiting to cast their votes. Most had never had the opportunity to do so before. Over the three days, all of us involved in the process were frantically busy, running from polling station to polling station, sorting out administrative and procedural hiccups, checking on security (some hard-line pro-apartheid White organizations had threatened to disrupt the elections), doing all we could to ensure that things went smoothly.

When it was over, and South Africa had its first-ever democratically-elected government, most of us almost collapsed. We felt so drained, so empty . . . the triumph we should have felt just wasn't there. We'd helped, in our own small way, to achieve the end of one of the most evil systems of government of the twentieth century: but twenty-seven of our number weren't there to see it. They'd died before peace and democracy could be attained. They were our best and our brightest, and it still hurts to think of them. Why we survived when they didn't is more than I can fathom. I feel very unworthy beside them, and I honor their memories to this day.

Since then, South Africa has continued to make slow progress - agonizingly slow. I've said all along that it'll take two generations to undo the damage that apartheid left in its wake, economic, social and political. We're now halfway through the first generation, and nothing I've seen has caused me to revise my forecast. There's still a long, long way to go.

I left South Africa and moved to the USA in 1997. I was burned out. I'd buried too many friends, seen too much violence, and desperately needed to make a fresh start in a new place. I thank God that I was eligible to immigrate to the USA. It's truly one of the greatest countries in the world, and it gave me the fresh start I was seeking. I was able to find help to talk through my memories of the bad times, and work through the pain, and begin again.

Mike and Annie weren't so fortunate. They didn't have the economic qualifications and skills that would permit them to emigrate. Mike found work in the private sector, and Annie continued her job as a nurse. However, the tragedy of the post-apartheid society in South Africa struck them. Crime is rampant there: with at least a third of the potential workforce not only unemployed, but unemployable due to poor qualifications, it's a huge social and political problem. Annie was murdered four years ago during an attempt to rob the township clinic where she worked of its drug supplies. I was in hospital myself at the time, and was unable to get back to South Africa to see Mike: but I know our mutual friends over there did all they could.

She was the twenty-eighth of our group to die.

Mike was terribly affected by Annie's death, coming on top of all the bloodshed and violence of the evil years. He and I would talk on the phone often, crying together, remembering our dead. I tried to help him all I could, and I know it was some consolation to him to be able to talk to me: but I wasn't there . . . and my injuries meant that the long airline flight to South Africa was no longer medically possible for me. Also, it's a very expensive trip, and neither he nor I had the spare cash to afford it.

As time passed, Mike fell into the grip of depression. I was able to arrange for him to see a private psychiatrist, who diagnosed his problem and prescribed appropriate medication: but Mike would sometimes get drunk (which didn't mix well with his pills), and at other times would neglect to take his medicines on time or in the right dosage. He was on the slippery slope, and I knew it. Our mutual friends tried desperately to help him, but over time he began to close the door on them - and on me. He was sinking into the "Slough of Despond", blaming himself for not doing more to help those who'd died, even blaming himself for Annie's death.

I last spoke to Mike about three months ago. He called me early one morning, more than a little drunk, crying over Annie, and over our friends who'd died. I spent over two hours on the phone with him, remembering our dead, trying to be a sympathetic ear for him. At the end, he told me, "Peter, man, I can't live like this no more. I gotta break out, one way or the other."

My subsequent calls to him went unanswered. Our mutual friends told me that Mike had left home, and his present whereabouts were unknown.

Felicia called me this morning. Mike's body had been identified in a morgue on the coast. He'd apparently gone for a swim at the beach, late at night, while under the influence of liquor. It's winter in South Africa now, and the weather and water are very cold, so it would have taken a lot of alcohol to get him out there. As far as anyone can guess - there were no witnesses - he'd been pulled under by a strong tidal flow, and had drowned.

I'm not so sure. I think Mike might have decided, in his unbearable pain, that he was going to swim out along the path cast by the moon . . . and see if he could find Annie, and our friends, at the end of it.

Twenty-nine dead, now.

God rest you, Mike. I'm crying for you now, and I know there will be more tears in time to come. Why I'm alive, and you're not, I just don't know. I hope you found Annie waiting for you at the end of the moonpath.

Sleep well, Mike. You've earned it.

Salani gahle.



Saturday, July 26, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #52

A tip o' the hat to Murphy, who first posted this on his blog. It had me cackling so much I just had to cross-post it here.

What's the stupidest, most idiotic bet you've ever seen placed at a casino?



I'm sure this will draw forth condom-nation

I'm grinning at a report from New York about the latest in political paraphernalia.

The presidential race is in full swing -- but not the way you might think.

A young New York City entrepreneur has decided to "have fun" with the campaign by marketing condoms featuring images of Barack Obama and John McCain.

Benjamin Sherman, who created the company Practice Safe Policy, says the Obama condom carries the slogan "Use With Good Judgment."

The McCain version says "OLD BUT Not Expired."

According to the Web site, McCain condoms "are battle tested, strong and durable, for those occasions when you just need to switch your position!"

While the company can't guarantee the condoms are 100 percent effective, it says it's certain "that without wearing one, there's likely to be an Obama-Mama in your future."

The page for each condom in the company store contains additional incentives for use. The Obama condom is described thus:

These are uncertain times. The economy's a ball-buster and the surge went flaccid... but now there's Obama Condoms, for a change you can believe in!


The McCain condom is more conservatively labeled:

Give your "troops" the protection they deserve, buy McCainCondoms today! This will turn out to be the ultimate collectors item or a perfect gift for grandpa!

* Trophy wife approved
* For the proud, liberal Republican -- conservative Republican


So, when Obama goes on about "withdrawal" from Iraq, he may not be speaking solely about troops?

And McCain's call for "more drilling" may not refer only to oil?

Oh, well. I'm not very enthusiastic about either candidate. Perhaps these trinkets are just another indication that whoever wins, we, the people, are going to get s*****d . . .


Of art and decency

I'm sure many readers are familiar with the controversies concerning art and religion. Some so-called "artists" appear to take delight in debunking religious belief and offending believers. Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" is a very well-known example of the genre.

Others would include Chris Ofili and his The Holy Virgin Mary, a so-called artwork depicting "a black African Mary surrounded by images from blaxploitation movies and close-ups of female genitalia cut from pornographic magazines, and elephant dung", and Martin Scorsese's film "The Last Temptation Of Christ". To my chagrin, the most vehement protests against the latter work came from Muslims, who revere Jesus as a prophet and place him second only to Mohammed. It says a great deal about the Christian churches, for whom Christ is central, when they make less fuss about his dishonoring than those who accord him a lesser place.

Now we hear of a certain Mr. Terence Koh, who's produced a statue of Christ with an erection (and done the same for Mickey Mouse and ET, for good measure).

As a Christian, I'm pleased to read that the gallery displaying his works in England has been charged (by a private citizen) with an offense against public decency.

A private prosecution has now been launched and the first hearing in what could prove a landmark case has been set for September.

Legal documents claim that the gallery has both offended public decency and breached Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.

The maximum penalty for outraging public decency is six months’ imprisonment and a £5,000 fine.

The documents claim that the foot-high sculpture was ‘offensive and disgusting’ and ‘likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to Christians and those of other faiths’.

Legal experts said yesterday that the hearing would be the first test of public decency legislation since the Government scrapped Britain’s ancient blasphemy laws in May.

A number of visitors to the Baltic exhibition, which was staged between September 2007 and January this year, said that a far greater outcry could have resulted if the statue had been of Mohammed rather than Christ.

The prosecution has been launched by Emily Mapfuwa, 40, an NHS administrator from Brentwood, Essex, who read about the exhibition in newspapers. ‘I don’t think this gallery would insult Muslims in this way, so why Christians?’ she said.

Father Christopher Warren, of the Roman Catholic cathedral of St Mary’s in Newcastle upon Tyne, said: ‘For Christians the image of Jesus is very special and to interpret it in a sexualised way is an affront to what we hold dear.’

Well, Father, I hope you're taking up a few second collections to contribute to Ms. Mapfuwa's legal expenses. That's the least you can do - and I'll gladly contribute something myself. I'm getting very fed up with the way others play fast and loose with what I hold sacred. I respect the right to free speech: but to deliberately insult and denigrate the most important beliefs, symbols, etc. in the lives of others, whilst it may be free speech, calls for a response. (I might add that religious extremists, such as the Westboro Baptist Church and its "God Hates Fags" campaign, are equally guilty of offending others. Bigotry and public denigration of others' beliefs should always be unacceptable, irrespective of its source, orientation or target.)

However, I find myself in a quandary. I'm an absolutist when it comes to the Bill of Rights. The rights it enumerates (and recognizes as pre-existing - i.e. not granted by the Bill of Rights, but merely codified and recognized by that means) are, as far as I'm concerned, inalienable. I can't support silencing someone merely because his or her speech (or art) offends me, or others who share my beliefs. The artist(s) can argue, quite plausibly, that whilst it offends me, it won't offend someone else.

So where do we draw the line? How can we take this sort of thing to task without doing violence to our most fundamental rights? Is there an answer at all? Does the right to free speech mean that "anything goes, anytime, anywhere, at no matter what cost", or are there limits - and if so, what are they? How are they to be enforced? Who's to do the enforcing, and how?

I'd love to hear your ideas.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Rube Goldberg reaches Japan

This video clip from a Japanese game show depicts an incredibly complicated, Rube Goldberg-esque machine to prepare ramen noodles.

I've no idea what the commentary means, but from his enthusiasm, I surmise that the commentator is hungry!


Another gangsta weapon

My readers in law enforcement, or those who might frequent gangsta hang-outs, might want to take note of a report from England.

At just four inches long, it fits easily in the hand and could be a key fob of the type used to open car doors by remote control.

But this tiny device is in fact a lethal weapon - a gun capable of firing two 0.25-inch bullets.

Yesterday, a thug was jailed for nine years for using one like it to shoot a man for 'disrespecting' him in a nightclub.

Marcus Henry's weapon was converted from a pocket gun designed to fire miniature flares, a gadget which is legal in Bulgaria where they cost £15.

Around 100 are believed to have filtered into Britain from Eastern Europe in the latest worrying illustration of how weapons once found in the realm of spy fiction are falling into the hands of criminals.

The double-barrelled gun is fired by pressing buttons on the side.

. . .

Detective Sergeant Dave Carter, of City of London Police, said: 'They are very dangerous weapons, arguably more dangerous than your average handgun because to the casual glance they look like something different.

'It is not particularly accurate but from a short distance it can be fatal.'

Three years ago in Manchester, suspected gang member Fabian Flowers, 19, fatally shot himself in the head while demonstrating a similar gun in a nightclub.

Our thanks to Mr. Flowers for removing himself from our midst. At least that's one more doofus gangsta we won't have to worry about.

However, we do have to worry about similar weapons making their way to this side of the pond. It's bound to happen. I guess our prison guards are going to have yet another thing to look for, to prevent weapons being smuggled in to convicts: and our men and women on patrol will have another threat to add to their list of 'things that might kill me tonight'.

Stay safe, boys and girls.


Another reason I like Lolcats

This one just plain makes me giggle. Click the picture to go to the original post at I Can Haz Cheezburger?


What's in a name?

Following yesterday's post about the unfortunately-named nine-year-old New Zealand girl, I'm both fascinated and appalled to read a blog article in The Times, London.

We're familiar with the celebrity trend of giving children playful, silly, impractical names on the basis that they'll never have to endure the vicissitudes of a real school or workplace. The first one most of us noticed was probably Zowie Bowie, or perhaps Marc Bolan's little boy Rolan, and probably reached its apotheosis in the wilful christening flightiness evinced by Bob Geldof or Gywneth Paltrow.

Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback, the authors of a new book, Bad Baby Names, have looked into a century of US census reports and discovered that the history of weird names is longer, and stranger, than most of us could have possibly imagined…

Here, in ascending order of weirdness, are the 20 strangest:

20: Wanna Funk

19: United States

18: Lotta Bacon

17: Hysteria Johnson

16: Waitress Seholley

15: Nail Rambo

14: Jump Jump

13: Tackle Feigenbutz

12: Mustard M.Mustard

11: Jelly Bean Cook

10: Fat Meat Fields

9: Geography Bryan

8: Zero Pie

7: Cylinder Klinefelter

6: Nice Veal

5: Cylclops Walthour

4: Envy Burger

3: Cancer Grindstaff

2: Young Boozer

1: Dracula Taylor

And, just to demonstrate that not all parents are capricious and michevous come christening time, here are an even dozen names that I’d prefer to plain old Michael Moran:

Peach Skeeters

Watermelon Pete McNeil

Experience Fairweathers

Limbo Holloway

Bluebell Plopper

Beauty Outlaw

Darth Wilson

Christian Devil

Welcome Darling

Sexy Chambers

Love Catts

Permelia Buckaroo

I mean . . . wow. Just - wow! Can you imagine having one of those names inflicted on you?

Talk about child abuse . . .


Thursday, July 24, 2008

I wonder if this qualifies for Workers Compensation?

It's reported from Kamchatka, Russia, that hungry bears are turning to a new source of protein.

Bad weather is thwarting efforts to rescue a group of mine workers trapped by hungry bears in Russia's wild far eastern region of Kamchatka.

The bears have already eaten two of the workers.

The bears - apparently starving - killed the men on July 17, it was reported in Russia. As many as 30 bears have surrounded a platinum mine. Both victims worked at the mine as security guards.

About 400 geologists and miners are refusing to return to work, afraid of further attacks. Attempts by local officials to fly to the scene by helicopter and shoot the bears have so far failed because of poor weather, it was reported.

Kamchatka, 12,000 kilometres east of Moscow on Russia's Pacific coast, is one of the world's last great natural wilderness areas. The remote volcanic peninsula is home to the rare Steller's sea eagle, puffins, and brown bears that roam its geysers and snow-covered collapsed volcanoes.

Kamchatka's 12,000-strong bear population is the largest in Eurasia. Recently, however, the bears have faced unprecedented ecological pressures.

Poaching has led to a dramatic decline in the bear's main food source - the Pacific salmon.

Kamchatka is home to a quarter of the world's salmon, but they are disappearing. Poachers have cleaned out entire species by netting rivers.

I would suggest that they hire Timothy Treadwell to parley with the bears - but he already found out the hard way that humans aren't all that high up the food chain. Seems the Russian geologists and mine guards are learning the same lesson.


A Peruvian Lady Godiva - NOT!

One has to laugh at the fuss in Peru over a nude model who used the national flag as a saddle.

A naked model photographed using Peru's flag as a saddle while mounted on a horse will face charges that could put her in jail for up to four years for offending patriotic symbols, the country's defence minister said on Wednesday.

The suggestive shot of Leysi Suarez, whose main job is dancing for the band Alma Bella, or Beautiful Soul, was splashed on the cover of DFarandula magazine and has caused a political uproar as Peru prepares to celebrate the 187th anniversary of its independence from Spain on Monday.

"These are patriotic symbols that demand total respect, and using them improperly requires punishment," defence Minister Antero Flores told reporters. "This is an offence."

Flores has ordered a public prosecutor to take up the case and file charges.

Suarez said it was patriotic to pose for the photo.

"I haven't committed a crime. I love Peru and show it with my body and soul," the dancer said on RPP radio.

Mario Amoretti, a well-known lawyer, said it depends in part on how Peru's red-and-white flag was used.

"It's one thing to cover your body with the flag, but quite another thing to be naked and using it as a horse's saddle," he said.

And to think that US conservatives get heated about flag-burning! What would they say to a naked model's backside being planted on the flag, both being on horseback at the time?

Canada might be more understanding. After all, didn't Mounties always get their man?