Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #234

Today's Doofus is from Arkansas.

A mother who drank 13 beers before a psychological evaluation failed to recover custody of her three young children despite claiming she wasn't drunk because she "can drink like a fish."

The woman wanted to get the children back from her husband's stepmother. The Arkansas Court of Appeals rejected her arguments Wednesday, citing addictions, frequent absences and criminal activity to support her habits. It said the woman made no meaningful efforts to restructure her life.

Uh . . . yeah. Drinking 13 beers before a court-ordered evaluation might be described as shooting oneself in the metaphorical foot!


Another legal conundrum

Following yesterday's post about the 'hate crime' issue, there's another legal imbroglio that's caught my eye. According to CNN:

[Youssef] Megahed came to the United States from Egypt in 1998 as a legal immigrant when he was 12. His problems started two years ago when, as an engineering student at the University of South Florida, he went on a road trip with a new friend, Ahmed Mohamed.

The men were pulled over on a highway, near Charleston, South Carolina, for speeding.

Police say they searched their vehicle and found PVC pipe with potassium nitrate inside, along with detonator cord inside one of Mohamed's bags.

The government said the materials were "low explosives." Mohamed said they were materials for homemade model rockets.

Youssef Megahed claimed he did not know that the materials were in the car.

. . .

Mohamed pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and is serving a 15-year prison sentence.

However, Megahed went to trial and was found not guilty on two charges of possession and transportation of explosives. He was later set free.

"I'm very happy with this," he said, smiling to reporters after his acquittal.

. . .

Megahed left the courthouse on Friday, April 3, ready to resume his life and his studies. He and his family spent the weekend at the beach at Fort DeSoto, Florida. Three days later, federal agents surrounded him, and his father, Samir, as they left a Wal-mart store near their home in Tampa and he was arrested again.

"They surround us....I'm in shock. They didn't give us a chance to speak to somebody to know what was going on," said Samir Megahed. "I try to open the telephone, but they didn't allow me," he said.

Megahed is now being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, as someone ICE says is "engaged or likely to become engaged in ... terrorist activity" even though he has never been criminally charged with terrorism.

ICE will present an immigration judge with the very same facts that led to Megahed's acquittal in the criminal case. In immigration court, the burden of proof is significantly less.

The evidence, from a search of the computer at his family's home, includes "numerous videos, documents and an Internet search history that supports Islamic extremism, jihad against the United States...," ICE alleged in court documents.

If found guilty, Megahed will be deported.

CNN requested an on-camera interview with Megahed, but ICE would not allow it.

"Because of the national security implications of this case, ICE cannot allow the use of recording devices during in-person interviews with Mr. Megahed," spokesman Richard Rocha said in an e-mail.

Instead, CNN conducted a phone interview with Megahed from the Glades County Detention Center, near Lake Okeechobee.

"I feel this is double jeopardy because the same allegations here are the same allegations that was there, in the court, in the trial," he said.

Megahed was asked, "Are you a terrorist?"

"I would say this is a false allegation," Megahed responded. "Baseless. And I go to court to fight those allegations again."

ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said in response: "He will have the opportunity to present the facts of his case before an immigration judge."

This is not the first time the government has gone to immigration court as a last resort after failing to win a criminal prosecution.

"The government doesn't use this a lot, but I think this is an arrow in the quiver that needs to stay because there are those cases where the government needs to do everything in its power to keep us safe, from some of those same individuals," said former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis.

"In one context, the real question is, are you going to jail for a long period of time. The other context is, are you going to get to live among us," Lewis said.

But Youssef's father says it's pure discrimination against Muslims.

"They didn't want us to live here. And because he wins the case, they want to destroy him completely," Samir Megahed said.

There's more at the link.

Once again, this raises troubling questions. If Mr. Megahed was acquitted on criminal charges, surely it's double jeopardy to arrest him again on precisely the same evidence, and bring the same charges in another court? I know the courts have held that different charges in different courts don't violate the 'double indemnity' protection afforded by the Constitution, but these don't appear to be different charges. I'm very wary of allowing a legal bureaucracy to pursue such a case on so flimsy a pretext.

What say you, readers? Is suspicion - even what may be well-founded suspicion, if the evidence alleged to exist against Mr. Megahed is, in fact, real - sufficient grounds to overturn the principle of 'double jeopardy'? I maintain that it isn't. The principle is important enough that it should be paramount, in my opinion. However, I also accept that there's a case on the other side, even though I don't agree with it as presented in the article.

What say you? Please let us know in Comments.


A novel way to fish!

I'm amazed at a fishy story from China.

A Chinese farmer dug a 50ft hole inside his house to go fishing.

Li Huiyan, of Chongqing, hired 30 villagers for six months to dig the hole in his kitchen, reports IC Media.

He wanted to reach an underground river which he suspected was full of fish.

The river had been over ground but had disappeared 30 years ago when the local authorities bombed part of a mountain to pave a road.

Li explained: "The river used to have so many fish, and by simply putting a net there, hundreds of fish would be caught."

After digging his pit down to the river, Li installed a fishing net across it and regularly hauls out fish, so far earning his family nearly £2,000 (US $3,300).

There's more at the link.

Full marks to Mr. Li for observation and ingenuity. To basically haul fresh fish out of your basement is a great idea! Talk about maximizing the value of the property . . .


Monday, June 29, 2009

Are hate crimes different?

I'm annoyed - but also challenged - by an editorial on hate crimes at CNN.com. The authors write:

A hate crime occurs when an individual intentionally targets a victim or their property because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation.

. . .

Our research has established that hate crimes are a qualitatively unique category of offenses. Compared to non-bias motivated crimes these crimes are more likely to involve violence, injury, hospitalization, psychological trauma and a greater risk of retaliatory attacks, which can often spill across municipal borders. And while we cannot say whether hate crimes overall are actually increasing, there does appear to be an increase in the most violent hate crimes.

In 2007, hate-motivated homicides claimed nine lives, up from three in 2006, and the last year has seen a steady stream of violent plots and attacks against symbolic targets by hardened hate-mongers.

. . .

But there is something more to hate crime's harms that cannot be completely captured by statistics or criminological studies. As the Holocaust Museum attack demonstrates, hate crimes threaten pluralistic democracies in a way that other crimes do not.

Unlike many other crimes, they are at once discriminatory and terroristic. As law professor James Weinstein observed: "The effect of Kristallnacht on German Jews was greater than the sum of the damage to buildings and assaults on individual victims."

Violence and threats that destabilize the bonds between citizens and the democratic institutions that they share are worthy of additional punishment and federal assistance. Moreover, victims of hate-motivated violence are entitled to legal protection no matter where they reside.

There's more at the link.

Personally, I have a problem with any so-called 'hate crime' being defined as such. To me, the crime is what's done: assault, murder, robbery, etc. The motivation behind the crime is basically irrelevant. Someone who's been murdered because of his or her race, sexual orientation or gender is no more or less dead than someone who's been murdered in order to steal his or her car!

I believe the punishment should be the same for the crime under all circumstances, regardless of why it was committed. If one punishes one murder more severely than another because of 'hate crime' elements, isn't one basically saying that it was a worse crime than a murder committed for other reasons? How is that possible? Aren't the two victims just as dead as one another? And isn't that demeaning to the victim of the latter crime?

I'd love to hear your opinion about this, readers. Is the presence of 'hate crime' factors a sufficient cause to impose stronger penalties for the same act? Or should all similar crimes be punished alike, regardless of motivation? Please let us hear your views in Comments.


Doofus Of The Day #233

Today's Doofus is from Florida.

Authorities in Florida said a man suspected of bank robbery was arrested after witnesses reported a drunken man covered in red dye.

Pinellas County sheriff's detectives said homeless local Michael Prance, 53, was first reported at 6 p.m. Thursday by someone who called police to say an intoxicated person covered in red dye had been seen at a pool in the Caribbean Mobile Home Park, the St. Petersburg Times reported Monday.

Detectives said Prance allegedly became covered in dye when he robbed the BBC Bank in Seminole earlier in the day. Prance was next reported by a bus driver reported seeing the suspect at a bus stop in front of Seminole Subs.

Deputies said Prance was holding a bag filled with a large amount of dye-stained money when he was arrested at about 7:30 p.m.

Prance was charged with bank robbery and disorderly intoxication.

Sure sounds like a dyed-in-the-wool criminal to me!


Back in limited circulation

My grateful thanks to all of you who left comments and/or e-mailed about my late father. Your concern and support are appreciated.

I'm back in circulation, sort of, although I'm going to have spotty Internet access for the next two weeks or so. I won't be back to normal until mid-July. However, I'll post articles in advance, scheduling their publication ahead of time, so I hope I'll be able to maintain this blog at the level of interest you've come to expect until I can regularize my schedule.

Thanks again.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

In memory of my father

My father, Bill, died yesterday. He was 89 years old, going on 90.

Dad was a pretty good example of how one can make a success of life, no matter what obstacles are in the way. He and his younger brother were brought up in a divided household, and 'dumped' in a workhouse at a frighteningly young age. He never spoke much of his memories of the place, but I know they were very bad.

Dad escaped from the workhouse in the depths of the Great Depression by joining the Royal Air Force at the age of 15 as an Aircraft Apprentice. He was sent to the innovative No. 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton, which numbers some of the best-known names in aviation history among its graduates (including Sir Frank Whittle, one of the inventors of the jet engine). He also applied for student and/or junior memberships of various prestigious British air organizations. In due course, these memberships were to be a contributing factor to his commissioning as an officer.

At the outbreak of World War II, Dad was the equivalent of a Lance-Corporal. I've described his wartime service and experiences in Weekend Wings #9, so I won't repeat them here. He finished the war as a substantive Flight-Lieutenant (equivalent to the US rank of Captain), and an acting Squadron-Leader (equivalent to the US rank of Major).

After World War II, Dad and Mom emigrated, first to South Africa, then (briefly) to Canada, then back to South Africa. They built a new life for themselves, including a doctorate apiece (not bad for two people who began without even the equivalent of a Grade 12 certificate between them!) They did their best, according to their lights, to raise their four children well. Some of their attitudes and actions were not very helpful, in retrospect, but they were the heritage of their being raised in the society they knew, during the stresses and strains of the Great Depression. Much can be forgiven them for that.

Mom died in 2005, and Dad's been waiting to join her. He told me many times that he didn't want to hang around any more: he was tired, and ready to go. His body began to slow down, but was in no hurry to 'shuffle off this mortal coil'. He was a tough old bird. If the Germans couldn't kill him in six years of world war, a mere trifle like old age would have to wait its turn!

Dad's long life came to an end yesterday. May Almighty God receive his soul into His mercy, and reunite him with Mom, and his wartime comrades.

I'll be suspending posts on this blog for a few days. I'll try to resume posting on Monday evening, 29th June.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #232

Today's Doofus is from Maine.

A man suspected of breaking into a Maine restaurant will have to get used to jailhouse food after workers at the eatery discovered lobsters and wine missing - and the suspect asleep on a bench.

Police say Paul Bruneau broke into the Portland Lobster Co. through a rear window and stuffed his pockets with cash before chowing down on the better part of 11 prepared lobsters worth about $300. He washed it all down with a white wine.

The Portland Press Herald reports Bruneau also left a refrigerator open, causing about $1,000 worth of food to be thrown away.

Bruneau, who was already out on bail, was being held Friday at the Cumberland County Jail.

There's more at the link.

Lesson #1 for aspirant restaurant robbers: don't fall asleep after over-indulging at the scene of the crime!

Eleven lobsters??? Sheesh! And he ate them all himself! That was very shellfish of him . . .


Running around a warmer North

I've been running around Alaska for the past week or so, revisiting friends and making new ones. I'm also gathering material for two new Weekend Wings articles, which you can look for very soon now. One will be about Alaskan bush aircraft (which are a fascinating study), and the other will look at Lake Hood, the world's biggest seaplane/floatplane base. I'm also helping to assemble the wings of a 1941 Taylorcraft, which are being re-sparred and re-covered. I don't think I'll be around for her first flight after restoration, but that should happen by the end of July, all being well. The owner's really looking forward to it!

It's a lot warmer now than during my previous visit in early April, but it's still cold to my southern sensibilities. The days are typically in the 50's to 60's (degrees Fahrenheit), with nights down in the 40's. To Alaskans, this is high summer: but since I left Louisiana with daytime temperatures in the mid-90's, with hundreds on the way next month, it still seems chilly to me!

I'm hoping to have better Internet access from next week, so that my posting intensity can return to normal. Meanwhile, I'm posting a few bits and pieces, a few days in advance, so as to have something for you to read. Thanks for your patience.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #231

Today's Doofus is from Croatia.

An accident prone shepherd had to be rescued after he followed his flock into a live minefield in Croatia.

Hapless Philimon Zandamela, 34, was led to safety by rescue workers in Sibenik, in the latest in a series of scrapes that have made him a household name in the country.

Zandamela - originally from Mozambique - survived accidentally drinking sulphuric acid and stabbing himself in the stomach because a fortune teller told him it was time to die.

And a fledgling porn career was snuffed out when his family threatened to leave unless he quit.

"He is a real media darling," said local Zandamela fan Mirjana Andric.

"As the only black shepherd in the country he was always going to be a bit of a sensation but with his knack for getting into, and out of, all these scrapes he seems to be permanently in the public eye."

There's more at the link.

Y'know, looking at that remarkable catalog of mishaps and misadventures, I can't help but wonder what's next for this poor guy!


The morning after the night before

An Austrian student seems to have had rather too much of a good time.

An Austrian student woke up in the cab of a 150-foot-high crane after a night boozing with friends.

Stefan Hohenwart, 28, told police he had no idea how he got up there when they found him after construction workers called them in Graz.

Officers said he was driven home and would face no charges since he had not caused any damage.

A police spokesman said: "The construction workers turned up to start in the morning and the crane operator got quite a surprise when he went up and found the student snoring away in his cab.

"When our officers got there and get the man down he swore he had no idea how he got up there and just remembers leaving the pub and feeling very tired."

There's more at the link.

Hmm. I can recall 'helping' a few friends who over-indulged, during my student days. I wonder how much this man's 'friends' had to do with where he found himself the next morning?


Monday, June 22, 2009

How restaurants get you to spend more

An intriguing survey by the Culinary Institute of America sheds light on factors that make us spend more at a restaurant.

Researchers tested how much visitors to the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Andrew’s Cafe in Hyde Park, N.Y., spent when menus listed prices in numerals with dollar signs, numerals without dollar signs and wheN the numbers were written out as words.

Their hypothesis was that people would spend more when prices were listed as words, but they found it was the menu without currency symbols that led to customers running up the check.

The researchers surmised that removing the dollar sign helped disassociate the numbers from an actual price, discouraging customers from tabulating the check in their head.

There's more at the link.

Intriguing. I wouldn't have thought that the mere presence or absence of a dollar sign would make that much of a difference. I'll have to watch my own behavior in restaurants to see whether I react in this way as well.


An interesting variation on a slice

Congratulations to the pilot of a light aircraft in Michigan, who pulled off a successful emergency landing in an unusual location.

A small airplane with two people aboard has made a safe emergency landing on a fairway at a golf course in southeastern Michigan.

The pilot then got a police escort and drove the single-engine, propeller-driven plane on public roads back to the airport where he started.

Pittsfield Public Safety Director Matt Harshberger told the Ann Arbor News no one was hurt.

Officials said the pilot reported he lost power shortly after taking off Tuesday morning from Ann Arbor Municipal Airport.

He brought the plane down on the fairway of the fifth hole at the nearby Stonebridge Golf Club in Pittsfield Township, about 35 miles west-southwest of Detroit.

Harshberger said there wasn't much damage to the golf course.

Hmm. Did the plane pose a local hazard, under club rules? And did the pilot shout, "Fore!" just before touching down?


Doofus Of The Day #230

Today's award goes to two Swedish thieves, who didn't sufficiently investigate the object of their desire before stealing it.

Dozy thieves fled empty handed after stealing a caravan in Sweden - while the owner was fast asleep inside.

Terrified holidaymaker Bjorn Feldbaek woke up to find himself being towed away in his mobile home after the crooks hitched it to their getaway car in Skovde.

But he sent them packing when they stopped and broke into the caravan by screaming so loudly that the thieves abandoned their car and fled on foot.

Feldbaek said: "I woke up to find the caravan hurtling down the road. I had no idea what was going on and was scared stiff.

"Then it stopped and I heard someone opening the door and when I saw the thieves I just started screaming and screaming. They looked as scared as I did and just ran off. I guess it wasn't quite what they were expecting."

Police have now launched a search for the crooks.

I suppose Mr. Feldbaek can derive some consolation from the car the thieves left behind for him!


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Posting still light, I'm afraid

I don't have Internet access where I am at present, and have to rely on getting into town to use a wi-fi hot-spot whenever possible. Thus, posting has been a bit light for the past few days.

I'm trying to arrange for better Internet access, and hope that by the end of this week things will have improved. Meanwhile, I'll do my best to get up something for you each day - even if it's just a 'please excuse me' post like this!

Hope you all had a good weekend. I got to go to a wedding on Saturday, and went shooting on Sunday morning, followed by a mid-afternoon lunch/supper of microbrew beer, cheese bread, beer, pizza, and beer. Excellent!

More tomorrow night.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Doofus Of The Day #229

Today's Doofus is from Russia.

An Russian officer had to be rushed to hospital when the two rockets he was trying to use as fence posts exploded in his hands.

The officer, stationed at a penal colony in Russia's Baikal Region, found the rockets in the countryside, Interfax reports.

He did not recognize the almost three-meter long objects as the shells for BM-21 Grad rocket launcher, and thought he could use them to mend his old fence.

He took the shells home, and started welding them to the fence.

The heat predictably caused the rockets to explode, leaving the man badly wounded.

“We are investigating the accident,” spokesman for the local police told Interfax.

The rockets could have been the remains of ammunition that got scattered all around the region after arms storages exploded there in 2001.

Hmm. A Russian officer who didn't recognize military rockets? Methinks a certain amount of vodka was involved!


Friday, June 19, 2009

From porn star to bus driver

One has to laugh at the incongruity of it all.

A newly qualified bus driver is facing the sack after it emerged that she is a well known porn star.

Audrey, 24 and the reigning 'Miss Nude Belgium 2009', passed all her driving tests following a six week intensive course in the city of Liege last month.

But soon after she began work she was called back to the head office of bus company TEC and asked to explain a series of 'interesting pictures.'

She said: 'They were photos taken from my erotic performances and from my web site.

'I was hauled before the director of human resources and he asked me to choose between my erotic career and my new career on the buses.

'He told me that I wouldn't be able to take part in my nocturnal activities while also working as a bus driver.

'He said that I had to sign a form pledging that I wouldn't do any more nude pictures.'

. . .

Carine Zanella, spokesperson for TEC, said ... that Audrey was proving to be one of the most popular drivers in the history of the company, and that her bus was almost always full.

Gee, Ms. Zanella, any guesses as to why that should be?

There's more at the link.


Posting still light for a while

Where I am at present, Internet access is very 'spotty'. I've had to make a quick trip into town to use a local coffee shop's wi-fi 'hot spot' to post this.

I'll try to get one or two posts up each day. More prolific blogging will resume as soon as my internet access improves.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Claymation Chess

This video clip shows a fun game of chess, in Claymation.

I'm always intrigued to see how claymation can produce such fun effects on film.


The world's toughest cellphone?

It seems there's about to be a new contender for the title of 'world's toughest cellphone'.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been putting a new phone which claims to be the world's toughest, through its paces.

The veteran explorer, who recently became the the oldest Briton to climb Everest, was asked to try to destroy the Land Rover S1 by Sonim phone.

Sir Ranulph, 65, was invited to Land Rover's Solihull test facility to see if the company had lived up to its aim to build a phone as tough as its vehicles.

There's more at the link.

According to Űbergizmo:

The Land Rover S1 from Sonim Technologies is pretty much the cellphone for Wolverine since it eschews similar qualities as the ol' canucklehead - it is nigh indestructible despite not being laced with a single atom of adamantium. The Land Rover S1 is touted to be the world’s first IP-67 rated GSM mobile, making it immune to dust as well as being waterproof up to 1m. In addition, you can throw the S1 around without much care since it is dirt, shock and drop resistant, capable of handling up to 400kgs [880 pounds] of pressure before breaking. The handset comes in sort of a pre-owned state, and we mean that in a good way. After all, buttons on it has undergone tests of over 500,000 pushes before being approved, while the battery offers a phenomenal standby time of 1,500 hours as well as 18 hours of talk time. Other features include a 2-megapixel waterproof camera, built-in GPS, torch light, an integrated FM radio, 2GB memory slot, WAP browser and Bluetooth connectivity. At $490 a pop, it is surprisingly cheap considering the amount of punishment it can take.

Yep. It sounds like this is the go-to phone to take on the Appalachian Trail, or a hiking or climbing holiday anywhere, for that matter. Having bashed a few cellphones into premature obsolescence in my time, I wish I'd had one of these a few years ago.

I'm also tempted to challenge Apple to put an iPhone through the same torture tests. I can see it now . . . chips, silicon and plastic everywhere!


Scotty would love this!

It seems that Star Trek's warp drive may not be so fantastic an idea after all, if Dr. Richard Obousy is to be believed. He posits that if we ever manage to harness what he calls 'dark energy', it may become a reality.

Based on his ideas, this is what discover.com believes a future 'warpship' may look like.

Weird-looking thing, isn't it?

I'm not going to try to summarize discover.com's analyses of the warp drive or the warpship, as they really need to be read in full. Both articles are recommended for the geeky of heart. Great fun!


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A whole new perspective on sneezing!

This video, an advertisement by the Government of South Australia encouraging citizens to get flu shots, is an eye-opener. It shows what really happens when you sneeze, in slow motion.

No wonder our parents taught us to cover our mouths and noses when we sneezed!


Doofus Of The Day #228

As a firearms instructor, this video leaves me speechless. I know there are some instructors who do this with very highly skilled and qualified 'operators', who shoot tens of thousands of rounds per year in practice: but to do it with a class of citizen shooters, who simply can't afford to practice enough to attain those levels of expertise, seems to me utterly incomprehensible.

As one commenter on this video put it:

It's true that Blackwater does live fire while others are changing targets...with veterans who are either former special ops, OR have two years executive protection experience, AND go through their academy. Doing it with any twit who plunks down a few bucks, at silhouettes at 5 yards is a combination of f***ing stupid and f***ing dangerous. I'm waiting for the first gun-hater to take the course and nick the guy, just to get the place shut down and generate bad publicity.

Hear, hear! We nominate the instructor who set up this scenario as our Doofus Of The Day - today, and every time he does it!



When faith collides with convenience

I'm both saddened and intrigued by a situation in England. The Daily Mail reports:

A Jewish couple are suing their neighbours in a block of flats, saying an automatic security light is keeping them prisoner in their home because it forces them to break their Sabbath rules.

Dr Dena Coleman and husband Gordon claim they cannot leave their holiday flat on the Sabbath because when they do they automatically trigger the light in the communal hallway - contravening a religious ban on turning on electrical items from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday because it constitutes 'creating fire'.

They say their human rights are being breached and are now suing the flats' management company - their neighbours - for failing to accommodate their religion.

The other 35 owners of the seaside flats are liable to pay court costs if the claim is successful.

Dr Coleman, a 56-year-old headteacher at a Jewish orthodox school in London, has been visiting the £200,000 holiday flat in Bournemouth, Dorset, with her husband for six years.

The management company fitted the motion-sensing lights six months ago in a bid to save energy and money.

The Colemans have offered to pay for an override switch to disable the light sensors during the Sabbath.

But the Embassy Court Management Company - which represents all residents and whose three directors also live in the block - said this would set an 'unacceptable precedent'.

. . .

One resident, who did not want to be named, said: 'It has caused quite a stir here, there have been a lot of arguments.

'There has been a meeting about it and many of the residents aren't happy.

'There's a feeling that things shouldn't be changed just to suit people in one flat when everyone else is happy with it.

'I don't think the rest of us would think twice about the lights but they're going to great lengths to get it changed so they must feel very strongly about it.'

The couple say they only moved into the flat in spring 2003 on the understanding that movement sensors would never be installed in communal areas.

They have now issued a county court writ against the management company, saying they have discriminated against them on the grounds of religion.

The claim also accuses the company of breaching their rights under the Equality Act 2006 and Human Rights Act 1998.

There's more at the link.

Frankly, if the couple were given an assurance when they bought the property that motion sensors would never be installed, they must surely have a case in law - but was such an assurance given? If so, was it given in writing? Without some evidence, their assertion probably can't be proved in court: and if it can't be proved, their case collapses. The issue then becomes a matter of their rights as orthodox Jews versus the rights of all other residents, who don't share their beliefs, and in such a case, I have to believe that the individual rights of one resident can't trump the individual rights of the other residents.

Of course, there's the factor that in this case, secular interests are in the majority compared to religious beliefs. On the other hand, if this were a Muslim couple, complaining because some aspect of the property's management or facilities violated their religious beliefs, it's more than likely that the property management company would have caved in already. Certain religions wield more 'political influence' than others. In the same way, there are many towns and counties in the USA which are legally 'dry': alcohol can't be sold there. This is because certain religious denominations campaigned against it, got their members to vote accordingly, and imposed their will on the entire community. The fact that in the process, they trampled rough-shod over the rights of those who don't believe as they do, is something about which they just don't care. This is the same mentality that imposed Prohibition on the entire USA for several years, until it collapsed due to widespread public rejection.

Whenever one religion - or secular philosophy - is allowed to exercise more 'clout' than another, all sorts of nastiness can ensue.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Blogging will be light for a few days

I'm heading out tomorrow, so blogging will be a little light for a couple of days. I've put up some posts that should publish automatically for the next two nights, so you won't get bored!

Say a prayer for me for safe travels. I'll be back online as soon as I can catch my breath.


Wingsuits astonish again

I've posted in the past about wingsuits and their amazing 'flying' abilities. Here's another video showing them in action. It's in French, but the spectacular visuals need no translation.

Amazing stuff! I'm afraid I wouldn't dare skim that low over the mountains, though. I'd probably end up as strawberry jam on the Alps!


An interesting new approach to the urban runabout

A British 'company' - it's not so much a company as a co-operative, by the sound of things - has come up with a very interesting idea for personal urban transportation. According to the BBC:

The manufacturer of a hydrogen car unveiled in London on Tuesday will make its designs available online so the cars can be built and improved locally.

The Riversimple car can go 80 km/hr (50 mph) and travels 322 km (200 miles) per re-fuelling, with an efficiency equivalent to 300 miles to the gallon.

The cars will be leased with fuel and repair costs included, at an estimated £200 ($315) per month.

The company hopes to have the vehicles in production by 2013.

Next year, it aims to release 10 prototypes in a UK city which yas yet to be confirmed.

Riversimple has partnered with gas supply company BOC to install hydrogen stations for the cars in the city where the prototypes are launched.

The car itself is an amalgam of high-efficiency approaches in automotive design.

Its four motors are powered by a fuel cell rated at just six kilowatts, in contrast to current designs that are all in excess of 85 kilowatts - required because the acceleration from a standing start requires a great deal of power.

Riversimple's solution is to power the car also from so-called "ultracapacitors", which store large amounts of electric charge and, crucially, can release that charge nearly instantly to provide the power needed to accelerate from rest.

The ultracapacitors are charged as the vehicle brakes to a halt, converting the energy of the moving car into stored energy.

Without a combustion engine, gearbox, or transmission, and with a shell made of carbon fibre composites, it weighs 350kg.

There's more at the link. Here's a video clip of the launch.

What's particularly interesting is Riversimple's approach to manufacturing and development. They specifically don't want to follow the traditional 'sell-a-car' model of traditional manufacturers. By offering the vehicles for lease only, including fuel, they intend to make it possible for local businesses to set up assembly plants, as it will be economically viable to produce only a few thousand units per year.

Plans for the vehicle will be placed in the public domain through the 40 Fires Foundation. Any improvements developed by local producers will be made available in the same way, so that all producers can benefit from the shared experience and expertise of others.

This may sound Utopian, but Heaven knows, we've got into an awful rut with the present model of personal transportation! If Riversimple can 'break the mold' and produce something viable for general use (at least in cities), and make it both cheaper and more environmentally friendly, I'll be the first to cheer them on.


Two important blogs

My online friend of long standing, Strings, is a member of BACA - Bikers Against Child Abuse. They do a great job of educating and mobilizing the biker community for this very important cause.

He's asked that I (and other bloggers) publicize the efforts of two blogs in particular. They're both trying to educate the public about the real menace and impact of this crime. In alphabetical order, they are:

I've had a look at both, and I find them powerfully moving and very useful. As a pastor and counselor, I've had to deal with the tragic consequences of child abuse on far too many occasions. In my book, there are few crimes as bad, and, I believe, none which will attract stronger reaction from the Almighty when we face His judgment. After all, didn't Jesus say (Matthew 18:2-7, bold print my emphasis):

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!"

Both blogs are highly recommended reading. Thanks, Strings, for passing the word about them, and for all the good work you do with BACA. Strength to you, brother!


Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't try this at home!

What do monster truck drivers do for fun when they get bored with crushing lesser vehicles?




Doofus Of The Day #227

Today's Doofus is Jamar Weldon of South Carolina. A secondary Doofus award goes to his associate.

Two Rock Hill teens were charged Monday in an early morning robbery after one of them accidentally shot himself, deputies say.

Around 4:45 a.m., a man approached a bread delivery driver behind Harris Teeter on Celanese Road and asked for directions to Taylor Oaks, according to a York County Sheriff's Office report. Then, another man came from behind a dumpster, holding a knife and asking for money, the report states.

The man who asked for directions put a bandanna over his face and pulled out what looked like a sawed-off shotgun, said Lt. Tim Hager of the York County Sheriff's Office.

The delivery driver told deputies he started backing away from the men and said he didn't have any money, the report states. The driver threw his wallet at the men and backed into the store to call police, the report states.

“They took about $300 and took off running,” Hager said.

While deputies were at the grocery store investigating the armed robbery, police received a call from near Harlinsdale Drive that someone had been shot, the report states.

Caller Lewis Huffstetler, 18, told police he and his friend, Jamar Herman Weldon, 18, were robbed behind the Harris Teeter by a bread delivery driver and that Weldon had been shot.

But Hager said it appears Weldon accidentally shot himself in the knee area. He was taken to Carolinas Medical Center. His condition is unknown.

Rock Hill police and York County deputies found two sweatshirts matching the description of clothing worn in the robbery, a gun and money near where the teens were located, according to the report.

There's more at the link.

I daresay the Rock Hill police are absolutely delighted at the co-operation they received from Mr. Weldon. Shooting oneself to make it easier to catch one must surely rank high in terms of assisting the police!


On This Day: June 16th, 1976

I wrote last year about the Soweto riots of 1976 in South Africa, which began an eighteen-year period of rolling civil unrest that blanketed the entire nation, at times verging on the brink of all-out civil war, until the racist policy of apartheid was finally laid to rest in 1994.

I won't repeat what I said last year. Suffice it to say that it's a day of sadness and mourning for many in South Africa. The image of young Hector Pieterson, the 12-year-old boy shot by police on that day, being carried by a friend, is still all too fresh in many of our minds. It's become emblematic of a titanic struggle that almost destroyed a nation, the after-effects of which are still experienced in daily life in that country.

Say a prayer, if you will, for those who died that day, and for the estimated 100,000 who lost their lives in the subsequent eighteen years of violence. Even that figure is no more than a 'guesstimate' - so many simply 'disappeared', their fate unknown, that the true death toll is impossible to calculate.

Ever since then, June 16th has been a sad day for me, filled with memories I'd rather not have.


So much for 2012!

I've been getting rather irritated by the sheer volume of nonsense being spewed all over the Internet about the coming 'catastrophe' in 2012. The expiry of the current cycle of the Mayan 'long calendar', the existence (not!) of a mythical 'Planet X' called Nibiru, the alignment of various galactic features on December 21st of that year which will 'flip the Earth off its axis' . . . all these and more are spoken of with bated breath by those who clearly lack even the most basic scientific education.

It's all bull, folks.

If you, like me, are tired of having to answer questions from the ignorant and uninformed, there are a few good resources online to which you can direct people. NASA's Astrobiology Web site is a good start. As David Morrison of its 'Ask An Astrobiologist' column explains:

Stories about the fictional planet Nibiru and predictions of doomsday in December 2012 have blossomed on the Internet. There are now (June 2009) more than 175 books listed on Amazon.com dealing with the 2012 doomsday. As this hoax spreads, many more disaster scenarios are being suggested. “Ask an Astrobiologist” has received nearly a thousand questions about Nibiru and 2012, with more than 200 answers posted.

He provides links to some good resources, and answers the 20 most common questions. It's worth reading the whole thing.

Another good resource is Bad Astronomy's analysis of the 'Planet X' fantasy. Recommended reading.

Finally, for a light-hearted look at this nonsense, here's Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson's take on it.

I like a scientist with a sense of humor!


The underclass at "play"

I suppose congratulations are due to the Los Angeles Lakers for their victory in the NBA Championship. The same, however, can't be said for many of their alleged 'fans' in their home town. News reports (I've linked only two of many) speak of violent clashes with police, assaults on innocent passers-by, the looting of at least two stores, and attempts to trash a passing commuter train, an information kiosk, and other public amenities. Up to 25 arrests are reported.

Why is it that some people seem to go absolutely batshit insane after something like this? What possible 'celebration' can justify such criminal hooliganism? And why is it regarded as inevitable? This is hardly the first time it's happened.

Fortunately, I live in a town where such stupidity is most unlikely to happen. At the first sign of it, most of the residents would be unlimbering shotguns and deer rifles, drawing a bead on the primary offenders, and just waiting for them to do something similar to what you see in the photographs. (Thanks to T.J. for e-mailing them to me). After the first few 'celebrators' bit the dust, things would get a lot quieter . . . Certainly, the occupants of the car shown below, being attacked by 'revelers', would have every right to defend themselves. They were clearly in legally and morally justifiable fear for their lives and safety.

There are some things that no civilized society can permit or tolerate. This sort of crass hooliganism on the part of an underclass is most emphatically one of them. The peddlers of racist doctrines - the Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons and the like - will doubtless protest that such an attitude is racist, but race doesn't even begin to enter into it. It's purely a matter of what is, and isn't, acceptable behavior. The skin color of the perpetrators is irrelevant.

It's time this sort of nonsense was stamped out. Hard.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

A spectacular dancing fountain

A new dancing fountain in Dubai is shown to advantage in the video clip below. It certainly left me open-mouthed!

Kudos to the designers and builders for a really spectacular creation. I'd like to see that for real.


But will it tell you if your Mohel is kosher?

It seems there's a new search engine out there, aimed at the Orthodox Jewish market.

Religiously devout Jews barred by rabbis from surfing the Internet may now 'Koogle' it on a new 'kosher' search engine, the site manager said yesterday.

Yossi Altman said Koogle, a play on the names of a Jewish noodle pudding and the ubiquitous Google, appears to meet the standards of Orthodox rabbis, who restrict use of the web to ensure followers avoid viewing sexually explicit material.

The site . . . omits religiously objectionable material, such as most photographs of women which Orthodox rabbis view as immodest, Altman said.

Its links to Israeli news and shopping sites also filter out items most ultra-Orthodox Israelis are forbidden by rabbis to have in their homes, such a television sets.

'This is a kosher alternative for ultra-Orthodox Jews so that they may surf the Internet,' Altman said by telephone.

. . .

Nothing can be posted on the Jewish Sabbath, when religious law bans all types of work and business, Altman said.

'If you try to buy something on the Sabbath, it gets stuck and won't let you,' he said.

There's more at the link.

One could make all sorts of remarks about what an orthodox search engine might produce, but I'll restrain myself (with difficulty). However, I did go to the site, click on its English mode (the little US flag), and type in, "Is a Mohel Kosher?" I got an error message saying, "The Page Cannot Be Found".


Clueless Conny's carrots cause chaos

A Swedish artist has discovered that even vegetable 'explosives' can land one in hot water. The BBC reports:

Artist Conny Blom set up The Bunny Project: Bombs, at 15 locations near the southern Swedish city of Orebro.

He taped bunches of carrots together with black tape and attached blue and red wires and a clock to them.

Police received worried calls from members of the public who thought they were real bombs. Mr Blom was forced to remove his art - and may face charges.

The carrot bombs had been placed around the city at the request of a local art gallery, as part of an open-air arts festival.

They had only been in place for an hour before police received their first call.

"We received a call ... from a person who said they saw two real bombs placed outside the public library," Ronny Hoerman from the Orebro police force, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

"It was hard to tell if they were real or not. We find this inappropriate," he said.

There's more at the link.

You know, thinking about it, one can understand the confusion. After all:

Given all those clues, it's no wonder the police were worried!


A novel way to spend your holiday

It seems the Swiss have found a new way to separate you from your hard-earned holiday money.

A Swiss holiday resort is offering mountain-cleaning courses after an April fools spoof caught the imagination of a nation known for its cleanliness, the tourism board said Thursday.

Authorities in Engelberg, an idyllic ski resort where tens of thousands of skiers come annually, said the April fools joke had such global impact that they were now using it as a marketing tool to attract holidaymakers.

"We are offering four weekend courses after which participants can call themselves qualified mountain cleaners," Modeste Jossen, Engelberg cable car services director, said. Participants are awarded a special 'mountain-cleaner badge'.

On April 1 this year, the national tourism board aired an online video to recruit mountain cleaners to keep the country's Alpine peaks in pristine condition all year round.

The video was translated into six languages and more than 30,000 people completed the spoof application to become a mountain cleaner in the first 24 hours of it being posted.

"The full spot was aired on the French and Italian evening news and more than 100 million people have seen it since," Jossen said, adding: "This global interest can really be used to our advantage."

There's more at the link.

You know, it's perhaps a peculiarly Swiss talent . . . but who else could recruit idiots tourists to do all their dirty cleanup work for them, and make them pay for the privilege?


A fun morning at the gun show

Yesterday morning I headed off to the local gun show. Down here they're relatively small affairs, held in a local agricultural display hall, with perhaps a couple of dozen dealers in firearms and a few others offering leather products, knives, T-shirts and the seemingly obligatory Nazi memorabilia. (I do hope the latter are put out of business as quickly as possible by lack of interest . . . that particular regime deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history, rather than memorialized!)

One of the things that 'non-gun people' fail to appreciate is the genuine niceness of most shooters and their families. Larger gun shows are too crowded and business-like to appreciate this, but at a smaller, more intimate gun show like ours, whole families walk the aisles together, toddlers in their push-chairs or their parents' arms, older kids skipping ahead, poking and prodding at the items on display to a never-ending chorus of "I said don't TOUCH!", and teenagers gazing with lustful longing at the hunting rifles and shotguns to which they aspire.

One stall in particular took advantage of the presence of so many families. The dealer had put out a display of pink .22 Crickett children's rifles, like this one:

Passing girls would gape open-mouthed for a moment, then grab Mom's or Dad's leg with squeals of "I wanna Barbie rifle! Pleeeeeze, Mommy?" All the men within earshot would wince simultaneously at the mention of a 'Barbie rifle', but that didn't silence the pleas, or their success.

The dealer had catered to the boy's market, too, by putting out several Ruger 10/22 CRR compact .22 rifles (some like the one shown below, and some in camouflage finish):

His prices were good, too. He was doing a roaring trade selling rifles to both sexes of children, to the amusement of passers-by and the probable resentment of the kids' parents!

I took several guns with me, and booked a table to dispose of them as a private seller. It's the first time I've done this, and I deliberately priced them realistically, because I needed to raise some cash for some very important upcoming expenses. I had a great time, and sold all but one of the guns I'd brought, making enough money to cater for immediate needs. I also took three guns as trades, two of which I'd been looking for for some time, and which I was very pleased to get. The third . . . well, there'll be another gun show soon!

Part of the fun is the haggling, offers of trades, and general snarky comments from those trying every trick in the book to get a bargain. It's all done with great good humor, and everyone enjoys it. One guy pulled a really sneaky trick, asking me to hold his one-year-old daughter while he examined one of my rifles more closely. Having a gurgling, happy tot blowing bubbles in one's ear is very bad for one's negotiating strategy, I found! Still, I sold him the gun for close to my asking price, so we both ended up happy. I last saw them headed down the aisle, the young lady making persistent efforts to reach over her father's shoulder to grab the muzzle of the rifle, slung behind his back. I wonder how much slobber and grimy paw prints he had to wipe off it when he got home?


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Now that's a smart dog!

What do you do when your back really, really needs a good scratching?



So you want an eco-friendly limousine?

Help is at hand. A Canadian enthusiast has mated two Toyota Prius cars to produce the first hybrid limousine.

As one commentator sarcastically observes:

Oooooooo, you can only swoon at how the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 98 hp and the 106-inch wheelbase handles all the extra body and passenger weight while whisking down L.A.’s carpool lanes at 80 mph — fully loaded.

Say good-bye to all those Town Car, DTS, Escalade, Navigator, and Hummer stretches. Luxury and greenery have now been merged into one capacious chariot of a. . . . why, why, it’s a chauffeured miracle!

With six doors and ten seats, the new hybrid limousine is currently chugging its way around Canadian roads.

No word on whether a production line will be opened to make the politically- and environmentally-correct limo's for the Hollywood set . . . but somehow I doubt it. Environmental consciousness can be carried too far!


Religion and technology

I'm mind-boggled at a report from Jerusalem.

A religious ruling permits ultra-orthodox Jews to operate their mobile phones on the Sabbath and religious holidays with their teeth.

Many of the ultra orthodox volunteers and workers at Israel's Magen David Adom emergency services work on the Sabbath and were confronted with the dilemma of how to activate their mobile phones without violating religious rules, Ynetnews.com reported.

Recently, the agency began replacing workers' paging systems with modern mobile phones equipped with GPS technology that locates workers and volunteers closest to the scene of an accident, shortening the response time, the report said.

MDA asked the Scientific Technology Halacha Institute to come up with a solution. Rabbi Levy Yitzhak Halperin issued a new set of rules involving the use of a specially designed case that prevents phones from being shut down accidentally. To confirm response to dispatch, workers are permitted to hold a small metal pin between their teeth and press the necessary buttons on the phones, the Web site said.

According to Judaism, the Sabbath, which is observed from sunset Friday to Saturday night, is considered a day of rest. Religious Jews do not travel, cook, work or use telephones. They also are prohibited from turning on electricity or driving but allowed to violate the Sabbath to save lives.

So tell me . . . if an Orthodox Jewish worker loses his 'small metal pin', and has to borrow something from a non-Orthodox colleague (a hairpin, perhaps?) to hold in his mouth and press his telephone buttons, would this violate Kosher dietary laws?


The after-effects of apartheid continue to be felt in South Africa

I was saddened and depressed to read a lengthy article in the Daily Mail on crime in South Africa, my former homeland, particularly as it affects the farming community. It's worth reading, if you have the time.

The truly sad thing about it is, much (if not most) of this problem stems from the days of apartheid. Under racist rule, Black education was deliberately 'dumbed down', underfunded and neglected, to the point where a Black Grade 12-equivalent education was no better than a White Grade 8 or 9. A White Prime Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, famously went on record in the 1960's as saying that Black people were the Biblical children of Ham; that they were destined to be 'hewers of wood and drawers of water'; and that he intended their education to fit them for that role, and for nothing more.

As a result, millions upon millions of Black high school graduates weren't equipped to handle a modern working environment. They were - and many still are - not only unemployed in massive numbers, but unemployable in anything except menial labor or low-skill positions. Combined with a struggling economy that can't provide enough jobs, this has led to staggering unemployment rates - it's estimated that up to a third of the South African workforce is unemployed in the formal sector. Many make a living in the informal sector, or 'underground economy', but many more turn to crime.

Furthermore, under apartheid, Whites (less than 10% of the population) were given something like 87% of the land. Blacks (over 80% of the population) were restricted to the remaining 13%, much of it far from arable. Many Black individuals and communities lost their land through forced expropriation and resettlement, both before apartheid as such was implemented, and after it had become the law of the land. As a result, fierce resentment among many Blacks of White farmers and landowners became endemic. This, too, is now contributing to the crime wave against them.

The post-apartheid government in South Africa has tried hard to equalize education, and boost job opportunities, and redistribute land on a 'willing seller, willing buyer' basis: but faced with such a massive backlog, and limited resources, it's not surprising that its efforts are slow to bear fruit. I said in 1994, when apartheid was finally abolished and democratic rule achieved, that South Africa would take two full generations to undo the damage that apartheid had done. Now, halfway through the first of those generations, I see no reason to amend my forecast.

It's immensely sad, a tragedy of continental proportions, that a country with so much natural wealth and such wonderful prospects should have been driven into the ground by so vile and racist an ideology. Apartheid was as poisonous and evil, in its way, as Nazism in the 1930's and 1940's. Today's troubles demonstrate that all too clearly.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Parachute landing FAIL!

The video speaks for itself.


Doofus Of The Day #226

For the first time, we award our Doofus title to a non-human species - in this case, a Chinese cat.

A Chinese family borrowed a pet cat from their neighbour to catch a mouse which had invaded their home - only for them to become best friends.

Mr Li, of Changchun in north east China, was annoyed by the mouse which had sneaked into his house through a broken window.

"It was very foxy. I tried many ways to catch it, but it always escaped and then gained revenge on me by gnawing at the family utilities," he told Huashang Daily.

Li came up with the idea of borrowing his neighbour's cat, Da Huang, after paying them a visit.

To make the cat more enthusiastic for the task, Li asked his neighbour to starve the cat overnight before he borrowed it.

The next morning, Da Huang caught the rodent but let it go after smelling it - and to Li's surprise the mouse then started attacking the cat.

"Da Huang neglected his duty. He just pats the mouse off and after a while they just started playing together. Now they are friends and the cat even cuddles up with the mouse to sleep," he said.

He believes the cat's normal diet of chicken liver has left it too spoiled to eat mice.

Hmm. If I were a cat, I daresay I'd prefer to eat chicken liver too . . . but that still doesn't excuse playing with the damn mouse! Da Huang is therefore awarded our Doofus Of The Day title.


Feeling hungry?

The BBC reports that in Chad, there's a new taste sensation.

Hungry people in the central African nation of Chad have raised an old culinary fad from the dead - to get their fangs stuck into fried blood.

"Vampire", as it is jokingly dubbed, is a traditional dish making a comeback amid a global surge in food prices that has left meat too expensive for many.

. . .

"I make it with peppers, salt, onions, spicy sauce and maggi [stock cubes]. I fry it all up like that; it's good," said Modestine Danbe, who lives in N'Djamena.

Ms Danbe is one of many women in the city's Walia neighbourhood, close to the Cameroonian border, who has taken to frying up huge vats of blood and selling it to her neighbours on the streets.

She buys buckets of fresh blood from the abattoir near her home for about $1, which makes about 40 plates of "vampire".

Each plate sells for about $0.20, so after the costs of the other ingredients her profit is about $7.

"It's actually an excellent source of nutrients, especially for children," said Robert Johnston, a nutritional specialist for Unicef in Chad.

"Blood pudding and liver have been used in other countries to promote high-protein intake for families who don't have daily access to meat."

. . .

Vampire is making a killing in Walia's ubiquitous bili bili (local millet brew) bars, where liquid diets require some supplements.

"The taste is good, a bit like liver. I really like it," said James, a Saturday-morning drinker.

"I suppose it doesn't sound very good to be associated with sucking blood, but I don't really care. Perhaps it will give me the strength of a vampire!"

There's more at the link.

Hmm. I've had German blutwurst (shown below) and English black pudding, but both dishes have 'fillers' like grain, suet and meat.

If this 'vampire' stuff has no filling at all, but is more like a thickened blood soup, I think I'll pass, thank you very much!