Monday, January 31, 2011

Men at work . . . sort of . . .

Clearly, these guys had way too much time on their hands!


Does this make him a smart cookie?

It seems a writer has come up with a new idea for a book.

Matt Kelsey is a writer, so it's natural to think he cooked up his fortune-cookie blog with visions of "Julie & Julia" dancing in his head. You know: blog begets book begets movie.

But that's not the way it happened.

Having been laid off from the Kansas City Kansan in early 2009 - the paper went online-only - Kelsey spent nine months last year working for the Census Bureau. But that gig was over by September, and Kelsey, 31, found himself once again unemployed and pounding the pavement.

One Saturday afternoon in November, as he and his wife, Jamie, were enjoying Chinese takeout in their Kansas City, Kan., home, Kelsey glanced down from his General Tso's chicken and noticed a cellophane-wrapped fortune cookie.

"It just kind of hit me," he says. "We really needed some good fortune right then."

It was getting tough to make the mortgage payment. And how were they going to pay a $3,000 hospital bill?

But back to the fortune cookies. The couple came up with the idea of Kelsey opening one fortune every day for a year and doing whatever the little slips of paper commanded. And, of course, he'd write about his adventures.

. . .

At a Chinese restaurant he bought a case of fortune cookies - 350 - plus a bag of extras, all for $13. He was now ready to launch his "fun little blog".

He opened his first fortune a few minutes after midnight on New Year's Day: Investigate new possibilities with friends. Now is the time!

. . .

Beyond compelling him to write every day, the fortune cookie project is almost guaranteed to make him a better person, Kelsey figures.

"You never find a fortune that says 'Crush somebody's spirit tomorrow' or 'Stop following your dreams,'" he says. "I'll be doing something good for myself or someone else."

Perhaps the blog will even become a "Julie & Julia"-type sensation. You know, minus the froufrou French cuisine.

"Maybe I can get Meryl Streep to play me in the movie," he says.

There's more at the link.

I'm not sure I'd trust fortune cookies as a prescription for life. I've been disappointed so often to read a fortune cookie telling me that I was going to meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger . . . but the only one who showed up was myself, in the mirror!


Drill here, drill now - with a difference!

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that dentists have a new ally to allay patients' nervousness.

THE piercing sound of a dentist's drill is enough to make most people's teeth ache. Now researchers in Britain have invented a device to cancel out the high-pitched sound made by these mouth-sized jackhammers, which could help some people who are afraid of the ''chair''.

Fear of the drill is one of the most common reasons why many people dread a visit to the dentist, or avoid it altogether.

The device, which works like noise-cancelling headphones, contains a microphone and computer chip which analyses incoming sound waves and inverts those waves coming from the drill, removing the unwanted noise.

Electronic filters also remove unwanted sound waves, even if their amplitude and frequency change while the drill is in use.

As the device cancels out only the drill noise, patients can still hear the dentists and nurses talking to them. It can be attached to an MP3 player or phone, so patients can listen to their own music while unwanted drill sounds are silenced.

There's more at the link.

Hmm . . . my practical-joke alert just went off. If this noise-canceling device can work through an MP3 player, could someone arrange for an MP3 player to play the noise of a dentist's drill as an undertone to all its music? We could drive teenagers utterly batty!


In memoriam: Jayme Biendl

Another prison guard has been killed in the line of duty.

A corrections officer who had raised concerns about being the sole guard in the chapel of a Washington state prison was strangled there over the weekend, and an inmate serving a life sentence is the primary suspect, authorities said Sunday.

Jayme Biendl, 34, was found dead Saturday night in the chapel at Monroe Correctional Complex about 30 miles northeast of Seattle, Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said. She had been strangled with a microphone cord.

The inmate, Byron Scherf, 52, was reported missing during a routine count at 9:14 p.m. Saturday. He was found three minutes later in the chapel lobby and told officers he had planned to escape.

"He is our primary suspect," Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said.

. . .

Teamsters 117 spokeswoman Tracey Thompson said Sunday that the officer had complained to her union shop steward and prison supervisors about being the sole guard working in the chapel. She worried about being there alone without anyone checking on her, Thompson said.

Recent budget cuts have forced staffing reductions and union members have been worried about the impact of those reductions on safety, Thompson said.

"We have been pushing so hard on safety issues," Thompson said. "It makes me crazy that it took someone getting murdered inside a prison while doing their job for there to be attention on this work and how difficult and dangerous it can be."

There's more at the link.

As a former (retired) prison chaplain, I'm profoundly saddened to learn this news . . . and also very angry. The union spokesperson quoted above is absolutely correct. Across the country, budget cuts are placing corrections staff in greater danger from inmates. I hear about it from former colleagues on a regular basis. Some of them have been forced by their spouses to find a different line of work . . . and I don't blame their spouses at all!

The United States incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than any other nation on Earth - and then begrudges the money needed to safely confine them, with adequate staff to ensure their own security as well as that of society. This sort of tragedy is the result.

When will we learn that if you want to call the tune (i.e. incarcerate large numbers of people), you have to pay the piper (i.e. budget the necessary funds to keep them behind bars, and ensure the safety of those who keep them there)?

May Ms. Biendl rest in peace . . . and may this tragedy force all Americans to re-examine the reality of our prisons, financially and otherwise.


The true dimensions of the Egyptian crisis

I've noticed that many US commentators and observers have limited their discussion of the present crisis in Egypt to those dimensions that involve or affect the USA. It's a far more critical issue than that. Egypt might go the same way as Iran in 1979. All the necessary factors are there and in play.

The international aspects of the Egyptian crisis, in combination, could - quite literally - trigger World War III. Let me explain.

Egypt is the last link in a chain of political and religious extremism. Let's follow that chain:

  1. The Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned in Egypt, but it has thousands of sympathizers. In that country at least, it's become an Islamic fundamentalist organization.
  2. It has strong ties to Hamas, a terrorist organization which is itself an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and controls the Gaza Strip.
  3. Hamas, in turn, is linked to Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim fundamentalist terrorist organization (where it's just brought down the government, and continues to threaten Israel).
  4. Hezbollah is a strong ally of Syria, whose military intelligence service, the 'Shu'bat al-Mukhabarat al-'Askariyya', ran Lebanon during the Syrian occupation. It's widely believed that Syria actively armed and trained Hezbollah to serve as its surrogate force during the occupation, and has actively supported it since then.
  5. Syria has close ties to Iran, and is very sympathetic to its fundamentalist Shi'ite revolutionary ethic.
  6. Both Syria and Iran have close ties to North Korea. The latter state has sold weapons to Iran for decades. Iran has, in turn, passed them on to Syria and Hezbollah. North Korea has also been implicated in the construction of a nuclear reactor in Syria, which was destroyed by an Israeli military operation in 2007. (If it comes to that, Egypt's nuclear program is also highly suspect - certainly in Israel! The Israeli government can't be happy to think that yet another Arab state, one perhaps about to be dominated by Muslim fundamentalists, has an ongoing nuclear program!)
  7. To close the circle, Iran also has ties to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It's tried to smuggle weapons to Hamas on numerous occasions, and sometimes succeeded. Iran will be over the moon with joy if a Muslim fundamentalist government in Egypt opens that country's border with the Gaza Strip. It won't have to smuggle weapons to Hamas any more, and risk their detection and destruction or confiscation by Israel. Instead, it will be able to ship them to Hamas openly, through an Egyptian border crossing.

Get the picture? North Korea (rogue state, politically) leads to Iran (ditto), leads to Syria (ditto), leads to Hezbollah (terrorist movement), leads to Hamas (ditto), leads to Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (at least ditto wannabe).

Israel now finds itself in the extraordinarily dangerous position of having avowed enemies, both political and (fundamentalist) religious, far to the East (Iran); to its north-east (Syria); north (Lebanon); south-west (Gaza); and possibly to the south (Egypt) if the Muslim Brotherhood or its allies take control there. Furthermore, to the east is an unstable, unpredictable and politically (if not militarily) hostile Palestinian government in the West Bank.

Put those elements together, and what do you have?

You have a paranoid nuclear power that's surrounded by enemies, and is determined that the Holocaust shall never be repeated.

Remember that, upon graduation from basic training, Israel's soldiers swear an oath: "Masada shall not fall again!"

They mean it.

Given that reality, just what do you think Israel, right now, is considering doing about the threats facing it?

If your answer was "Go to the synagogue, form a minyan, and pray about it", there's a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you. Cash only, please, and in small bills.

Furthermore, Israel considers the United States' reaction to the crisis in Egypt to be nothing more or less than a double betrayal: betrayal of the USA's only real ally in the Arab world, and betrayal of Israel, which depends on Egypt to keep the Camp David Accords (which will almost certainly be abrogated if a Muslim fundamentalist government takes over that country).

Political commentators expressed shock at how the United States as well as its major European allies appeared to be ready to dump a staunch strategic ally of three decades, simply to conform to the current ideology of political correctness.

. . .

Newspaper columnists were far more blunt.

One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled 'A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam'. It accused Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks.

Who is advising them, he asked, "to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president - an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?"

"The politically correct diplomacy of American presidents throughout the generations ... is painfully naive."

Obama on Sunday called for an "orderly transition" to democracy in Egypt, stopping short of calling on Mubarak to step down, but signaling that his days may be numbered.

Netanyahu instructed Israeli ambassadors in a dozen key capitals over the weekend to impress on host governments that Egypt’s stability is paramount, official sources said.

"Jordan and Saudi Arabia see the reactions in the West, how everyone is abandoning Mubarak, and this will have very serious implications," Haaretz daily quoted one official as saying.

. . .

"The question is, do we think Obama is reliable or not," said an Israeli official, who declined to be named. "Right now it doesn’t look so. That is a question resonating across the region not just in Israel."

Writing in Haaretz, Ari Shavit said Obama had betrayed "a moderate Egyptian president who remained loyal to the United States, promoted stability and encouraged moderation."

. . .

"Throughout Asia, Africa and South America, leaders are now looking at what is going on between Washington and Cairo. Everyone grasps the message: 'America’s word is worthless - America has lost it'."

There's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.

If the United States, the world's only remaining superpower, is widely regarded as having 'lost it', as no longer having the political will or the nerve to intervene in a crisis to ease tensions and restore order . . . that means the nations involved will act in their own best interests, without any restraint. After all, their security can now only be guaranteed by their own actions, their own strength.

(You might also wish to consider that US economic and political policies are directly responsible, to a very large extent, for the current mess in the Middle East. The inimitable Karl Denninger has the scoop on that. Go read.)

Here's how the conflict may begin and develop.

  1. Either Hamas in Gaza, or Hezbollah in Lebanon, or both of them, will be emboldened by a Muslim fundamentalist victory in Egypt. In celebration, or in the confident hope that they now have a new, powerful and well-armed ally in Egypt, they'll launch a major rocket and missile attack on Israel.
  2. Israel will respond with military operations against Hamas and/or Hezbollah. If only one is struck, the other will attack Israel in an attempt to provide a diversion and prevent Israel from concentrating its forces against its ally.
  3. If Israel becomes involved in the Gaza Strip, look for a newly fundamentalist Egypt to protect Hamas. If Israel becomes involved in Lebanon, look for Syria to support its ally, Hezbollah. Look for Palestinian extremists in the West Bank to become involved, bombarding Israel with missiles and/or launching terrorist attacks to aid their religious partners in Gaza and/or Lebanon.
  4. Look for Iran to support Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and a newly Muslim fundamentalist government in Egypt.
  5. Look for North Korea to support all of the above as a way of asserting its independence and international power, in defiance of the United States.
  6. Look for the USA to be totally ineffective under President Obama's leadership. He'll be just like Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis - a portrait of incompetence, witlessness and stupidity. Thanks to Obama's mishandling of the situation, the USA has already lost almost all influence over the potential participants.
  7. If Egypt mobilizes its conventional forces against Israel, that'll almost certainly force Syria to do likewise, or lose its perceived leadership of the anti-Israel alliance. If both of them mobilize, Israel will be faced with a four- or five-front war . . . and that's when Israel is likely to take off its gloves. A nuclear war in the Middle East will no longer be inconceivable. It may even become likely: and once nuclear weapons are used, who knows how things will end?

Ever heard of something called 'Armageddon'?

Are you worried yet?


Sunday, January 30, 2011

I wonder what it thinks it's doing?

This video clip of a ladybug chasing sprinkles fascinates me. I wonder what it thinks is going on? Is it trying to eat the sprinkles, or play with them, or simply figure out what they are?

I guess a ladybug's brain is even smaller than a sprinkle, so perhaps I'm being presumptuous in wondering what it's thinking!


Night vision systems - coming to your cellphone?

In May last year I wrote about some interesting developments in night vision technology. New thin-film organic semiconductors held out the promise of being able to incorporate night vision into something as small and light as a pair of spectacles.

It seems things are moving right along. Wired magazine reports that the US military is actively seeking to incorporate the new technology into other, everyday tools.

The cellphone industry may just want to give a sloppy kiss to the Pentagon’s futurists for this one. A solicitation Darpa sent out yesterday calls for the development of wafer-sized thermal imagery sensors and optics. That’s meant to remedy a "key shortfall" for today’s troops: the lack of mobile, individualized heat vision ... for spotting living forms in low-visibility environments.

One objective is to create a "high throughput thermal camera" mounted on a gunsight or a vehicle dashboard. Another is to put the camera on "a small handheld platform (ex. cellphone)". Break out your phone’s camera and tune it to infrared, and you’ll have an edge up on stealthy terrorists or the neighborhood trick-or-treaters.

Only the goals of the project are more ambitious than what your typical data plan provides. The resolution of the imaging has to ultimately aid in the "identification" of targets. That is, it’s not enough to detect an "upright, stationary adult human being". The sensors should allow users to "determine that personnel target(s) are present and that the target(s) are potentially an immediate threat (i.e., with RPG/Rifle) to the host vehicle/soldier/etc".

. . .

And just in case you thought Darpa hadn’t considered the commercial applications of cellphone thermal imaging: "If successful, the IR [infrared] cellphone camera-like approach will lead to widespread proliferation in military and consumer products", the solicitation reads.

. . .

Everything - the cameras themselves, the optics, the software, manufacturing, everything - has to cost under $500 per unit. If it costs more, the thinking goes, it won’t be practical to issue to troops; for the same reason, the "thermal core" of the camera has to weigh less than 25 grams.

Good luck keeping costs down. Engineers will have three years to develop working, cheap, personal thermal camera prototypes.

There's more at the link.

I really hope they succeed with this project, because I'd love to have access to low-cost, high-resolution night vision equipment for my own use! If DARPA gets this right, we'll all reap the benefits.


Hubcap art?

The Telegraph reports that an artist is using - of all things! - discarded hubcaps to create his works.

Ptolemy Elrington, 43, works full time in his studio crafting shiny dolphins, dogs and dragons from all grades of hub cap - from BMW and Mercedes to Ford and Volvo.

He fixes the caps together using wire salvaged from scrap yards and cuts them with a craft knife and hacksaw.

Using free materials means the Brighton-based artist only charges customers for labour - at about £75 [about US $120] per day.

His most expensive creation was a dragon that used 200 hub caps, measured 10m long, and took over a month to build. It sold for £3,000 [about US $4,760].

. . .

He said: "I like to work with reclaimed materials to show that what is one person's junk is another man's treasure.

. . .

Ptolemy has about 500 hub caps in stock and uses between ten and 200 caps per model.

He said: "I never buy the hubcaps - I either find them at the roadside or am passed them by family and friends in the UK.

"Even the wire I use to fix the hubcaps together is salvaged from scrap yards."

There's more at the link. A gallery of photographs of Mr. Elrington's work may be found here.

I've never thought of old, discarded hubcaps as particularly artistic, but I think Mr. Elrington might change my mind about that!


Supply and demand - it's for the birds!

The people of South-East Asia and the Far East have long been known as industrious and adaptable, willing to tackle almost anything in their quest to make a living (and better than just a living, if they see an opportunity for riches). It's been said that Americans work to relax, while Asians work to survive.

A recent report by the BBC showed yet again how true this is.

The tiny port of Kumai on the southern tip of Indonesian Borneo is a burgeoning trade centre in one of the world's most valuable animal products - the nests used for bird's nest soup.

Drab concrete buildings have sprouted up all across Kumai, towering above the traditional low-rise shop-houses.

The buildings have no windows - instead they have many tiny holes. They are in fact birdhouses, or more accurately, bird's nest factories.

Kumai's human population is about 20,000. Its population of swiftlets - the tiny birds whose nests are so valuable to the Chinese - must be 10 times that number.

They cover the sky, thrashing about and letting out screeches that are audible in every part of town.

The explosion in the bird population has come as an irritation to some in Kumai.

"The Chinese started building birdhouses here about 10 years ago," says a local park ranger.

"At first it was fine, but now it's taking over the whole town. The people don't have much of a say. Local politicians just let it happen."

The edible nests, which the birds make from their saliva, have been a part of Chinese cookery for more than 1,000 years.

. . .

The soup only started to regain popularity on the mainland during the 1990s, but experts say it has now overtaken Hong Kong as Indonesia's main export market.

As demand has risen, concrete birdhouses have been erected throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and most recently Cambodia.

The birds have willingly moved to the cities, and the high-rise accommodation provided for them, complete with birdsong on the CD player.

. . .

The surge in demand has forced the prices up from about $400 (£250) a kilo (the equivalent of about 120 nests) in the mid-1990s to $3,000 a kilo for the highest quality nests on today's market.

Indonesia reportedly made $226m in 2009 from the industry, and dominates the world market.

So the birds are happy, Chinese foodies are happy, and most importantly, the taxman is happy. The complaints of locals may just be drowned out for the time being.

There's more at the link.

I never knew how much money was involved in the birds-nest trade! To think of paying about $1,350 per pound for bird's nests . . . I just can't get my mind around that. I wonder if I could offer the squirrels' nests in the trees in our back yard for sale? They're a lot bigger and heavier than swiftlets' nests, but I could always offer a bulk discount!


An intriguing perspective on international relations

I've been as critical as any other conservative or 'classical Liberal' about the push for a unified 'world government' (although, of course, I don't believe the conspiracy theories about a so-called 'New World Order'). A recent article in the Wall Street Journal proposes a rather different perspective on the subject, emphasizing dialog and discussion rather than diplomacy and legal frameworks. It hasn't changed my point of view, but it has given me a lot of food for thought. Here's an excerpt.

We have entered a new Middle Ages: an era that most resembles the pre-Westphalian era of nearly 1,000 years ago. That was the period of history when the East was as powerful (if not more so) than the West, cities mattered more than nations, powerful dynasties and trading companies were engines of growth and innovation, private mercenaries fought in all wars, religious crusades shaped inter-cultural relations, and new trade routes over land and sea forged the world’s first (nearly) global economy.

. . .

The best place to view what model of diplomacy lies before us in the New Middle Ages is the Swiss enclave of Davos, where each January the planet’s most influential heads of state, CEOs, mayors, religious leaders, NGO heads, university presidents, celebrities and artists flock for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), an event that over the past four decades has established itself as what "60 Minutes" last year dubbed "the most important meeting on Earth". What CBS’s flagship program discovered was that this gathering of "capitalists, globalists, and futurists" seems to work precisely because it is neither formal nor official.

Davos has nothing to do with sovereignty and everything to do with authority: it’s peer-to-peer among anybody who’s somebody. Where else do hundreds of Fortune 500 CEOs, American cabinet secretaries, the mayor of London, prime minister of Catalonia, chairman of China’s Export-Import Bank, investor-statesmen like George Soros, rock-star activists like Bono, and billionaire hybrid executive philanthropists like Bill Gates speak directly and honestly, and form new ventures on the spot?

Compared to the modern inter-state diplomatic system, Davos represents
anti-diplomacy - and yet it actually reflects the true parameters of global diplomacy today better than the United Nations. The reason is that in our ever more complex diplomatic eco-system, relations among governments represent only one slice of the total picture. Beyond the traditional "public-public" relations of embassies and multilateralism, there are also the "public-private" partnerships sprouting across sectors and issues. Qatar’s natural gas fortunes hinge on its arrangement with Exxon, India’s ability to attract foreign investment is contingent on support from the business magnates who make up the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and the alliance of the Gates Foundation, pharmaceutical company Merck, and the government of Botswana saved the country’s population from being wiped out by AIDS, to name just a few of the now literally countless such arrangements flourishing today. The third and often neglected dimension of the new diplomacy is "private-private" interactions which circumvent the state altogether. Think of the Environmental Defense Fund dealing directly with Wal-Mart to cut the company’s overall emissions by 20 million metric tons and install solar panels at 30 new locations. The diplomats at Cancun could only dream of such concrete measures.

All three of these combinations of negotiating partners thrive at Davos and in all WEF activities, which range from mini-Davos-style regional conferences to year-round multi-stakeholder initiatives in public health, climate change, anti-corruption and other areas. The WEF does what no U.N. agency would ever do: allow "coalitions of the willing" to organically "grow and go" - incubating them but also quickly spinning them off into self-sustaining entities; but importantly also letting projects die that fail to attain sufficient support from participants. In this sense the WEF is both a space for convening but also a driver of new agendas.

. . .

Contrary to the WEF’s reputation as a host for secret, if glamorous, deal-making, the Economist praised "Davos Man" as the necessary antidote to traditional diplomats who seal themselves behind veils of protocol, instead immersing themselves in the latest innovations, technologies and trends, speaking English as their lingua franca, and reinforcing thinking and debate through engaging with the media. Today the WEF has more followers on Twitter than any international organization, and uses Davos to convene "Global Town Halls" with live online participation to debate global priorities.

Surely Davos does not correct the "democracy deficit" afflicting the world’s power structures, but what it does better than any other is correct the "diplomacy deficit", giving anyone it invites the right to represent themselves without interference or manipulation. NGOs speaking for the world’s oppressed, social entrepreneurs, and all manner of others seeking attention and funding get unobstructed access to the world’s richest companies, governments and philanthropists. Davos is where money and megaphones come together.

. . .

Global governance is not a thing, not a collection of formal institutions, not even a set of treaties. It is a process involving a far wider range of actors than have ever been party to global negotiations before. The sooner we look for new meta-scripts for regulating transnational activities and harnessing global resources to tackle local problems the better. Davos continues to be a good place to start.

There's more at the link.

Food for thought, indeed! I'd always been somewhat dismissive of the annual Davos gathering, but it may be more practical than I'd believed. If the author of this article is correct in his assumptions, it shows a new way for groups and interests presently excluded from power structures to make themselves heard, and achieve solutions to problems that at least acknowledge, if not address, their interests, perspectives and agendas. Whether or not that's a good thing is, of course, very much open to question! I guess the answer depends more on one's political perspective than on the bare facts of the matter.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

'Flying the ball' takes on a whole new meaning!

I've heard naval aviators speak of 'flying the ball' in reference to the Fresnel lens of an aircraft carrier's landing guide lights. They'd be told to 'call the ball' to indicate that they could see it, and would then fix their eyes on it, 'flying the ball' to keep their aircraft on the glide path until it struck the deck.

However, the video below shows a whole new aspect to 'flying the ball'.

That's a pretty remarkable display! It's from the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control, a facility in Zurich, Switzerland. They use Hummingbird quad-rotor UAV's from Ascending Technologies (shown below), and modify them by adding their own electronics.

The modified aircraft are used to test various theories of flight control. The ball-handling in the video clip above is one way of demonstrating the level of control they can achieve.

If they've got this far already, I look forward to seeing how future experiments progress. Perhaps we'll see a UAV 'bend it like Beckham' one day!


Can our nation be saved?

That's the title of a very profound essay by Walter E. Williams at Here's an extract.

To get our economic house in order, there must be large spending cuts, not only in so-called discretionary spending but in non-discretionary spending as well.

. . .

Millions of Americans don't want their entitlement touched, many of whom are senior citizens. Seniors will tell you that they were forced into Social Security and Medicare, and any congressman talking about cutting those and other entitlements will face their wrath at the ballot box. By the way, according to one study, "Until recent years, Social Security recipients received more, often far more, than the value of the Social Security taxes they paid. For workers who earned average wages and retired in 1980 at age 65, it took 2.8 years to recover the value of the retirement portion of the combined employee and employer shares of their Social Security taxes plus interest."

Seniors are not the only group who can put the fear of God into politicians. There are massive corporate handouts through programs like the Export-Import Bank, Agriculture Department business and farm subsidies, and the Small Business Administration. Then there's massive Department of Education spending on K-12 education and higher education. The list of federal programs, described as taking the earnings of one American and giving them to another, numbers in the thousands.

Everyone who receives government largesse and special favors deems his needs as vital, deserving, proper and in the national interest. It is entirely unreasonable to expect a politician to honor and obey our Constitution and in the process commit political suicide. What's even worse for our nation is that voters ousting a politician who'd refuse to bring, say, aid to higher education back to his constituents is perfectly rational. If, for example, he's a Virginia politician and doesn't bring higher education grants back to his constituents, it doesn't mean Virginian taxpayers will pay a lower income tax. All that it means is that Marylanders will get the money instead. Once legalized theft begins, it pays for everyone to participate. Those who don't will be losers.

That's the nation's dilemma. The most important job for people who want to spare our nation from economic collapse is not that of persuading politicians to do the right thing but to convince our fellow Americans to respect the limits of our Constitution.

There's more at the link. Go read the whole thing. While you're there, check out his other essays. They're all worth reading.

If Mr. Williams is right, and people simply won't accept the sacrifices that will undoubtedly be necessary to turn around our financial situation . . . then we're screwed, collectively and individually. Therefore, I hope he's wrong; but my hopes may be in vain.


Doofus Of The Day #440

Today's award goes to the Justice Minister of the central African nation of Malawi. The Register reports:

Malawi is determined to "mould responsible and disciplined citizens" with a law banning the breaking of wind.

The Local Courts Bill of 2010 is set to be presented before a forthcoming parliamentary session by Justice Minister George Chaponda.

. . .

One unimpressed Malawian reportedly commented: "How can this government criminalise the release of intestinal gases? Everyone does that, even if it’s in public or it has an accompanying sound which is boring; making it criminal is a joke of democracy."

There's more at the link.

This should prove an almost impossible challenge to enforce. I mean, what are you going to do if someone lets rip in a crowded theater? Arrest half the audience? And what's the charge - 'felony farting'? Would a more silent (or less 'scented') eructation qualify as a misdemeanor?

It reminds me of the story of a very senior, titled English lady who presided over a very formal dinner for her noble friends one evening. During the course of the meal, nature overwhelmed manners, and she let out a very noisy and most noticeable blast.

Wishing to evade responsibility for the trumpet blast, she whipped around, glared at the butler behind her, and snapped, "James! Stop that!"

Unperturbed, the butler replied, "At once, My Lady. Which way did it go?"


Around The Blogs, Part 2

We continue yesterday's Around The Blogs post with five more entries from blogs I follow, or where links were sent to me by friends.

First, Naked Capitalism alerts us that the banks who have monumentally screwed up the handling of mortgages and home loans are now trying to get legal indemnity for their errors - at our expense.

Third Way is an influential think tank whose board is composed of a special Wall Street-type - the Rubin Democrat. These people sit at the nexus of politics and finance, and are conduits for big bank friendly information flow into the administration and Congress. The President of the think tank, Jonathan Cowan, was the Chief of Staff for Andrew Cuomo at HUD in the 1990s, and Third Way is well known in policy circles for delivering ‘politically safe’ and well-packaged conventional wisdom. Oh, and one more thing - the new White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who just left the most senior operating committee of JP Morgan, was on their Board of Directors.

So by looking at this proposal, we are looking at the state of play among high level policy makers in DC, particularly of the New Dem bent. This is how the administration will probably try to play foreclosure-gate.

Their proposal, not surprisingly, is yet another bailout.

The big difference between the original and the new, improved version of the bailout model is that the payouts to the banks were at least in part visible the first time around. This is an effort yet again to spare the banks any pain, not only at the cost of the rule of law but also of investor rights.

This proposal guts state control of their own real estate law when the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that "dirt law" is not a Federal matter. It strips homeowners of their right to their day in court to preserve their contractual rights, namely, that only the proven mortgagee, and not a gangster, or in this case, bankster, can take possession of their home.

This sort of protection is fundamental to the operation of capitalism, so it’s astonishing to see neoliberals so willing to throw it under the bus to preserve the balance sheets of the TBTF ["Too Big To Fail"] banks.

. . .

The memo completely ignores the harm to investors from the bank mistakes and lacks any provisions for damage to investors to be remedied. Moreover, denying borrower rights removes their leverage to obtain deep principal mortgage modifications, which for viable borrowers produces lower losses than costly foreclosures and sales of distressed property. Thus this shredding of contractual protections in mortgages not only hurts borrowers but also harms investors.

So to save the banks from their own, colossal abuses of contracts that they devised, the Third Way document advocates Congressional intervention into well established, well functioning state law. This is a case where these matters can and should be left to the courts and ultimately state AGs to coordinate the template of a more broadbased solution.

But this proposal is this memo is a direct result of the banks losing in court and the fear that they will continue to lose. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Ibanez decision is clearly the trigger for the release of this plan. The SJC said its decision was merely articulating well established law. Consistent application of these principles will mean more losses for the banks. This memo is clearly an attempt to stop this as soon as possible. The real message of this document is clear: we can’t permit justice to prevail if it will hurt bank profits and balance sheets.

There's more at the link. Very important reading . . . and it makes me angry enough to reach for a rope! This has got to be stopped. Kudos to Naked Capitalism for outlining the problem - and the dangers - so clearly.

On a lighter note, I Can Has Cheezburger? frequently makes me laugh. This photograph proved no exception to the rule!

Click the image to be taken to its home page on ICHC. While you're there, explore some of their other Lolcats. You're sure to find something to amuse you. - that's why I visit the site every day.

January 27th marked the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Russian forces in 1945. I've written about it here, but I found Earthbound Misfit's thoughts very compelling. In particular, this bit of wisdom resonated with me.

I am a second generation American on one side of my family and a third on at least of the other side. So I am 2 or 3 generations removed from the ones who came over on the ships. Most of them had passed by the time I was old enough to understand, so I didn't hear their stories directly. I did hear a few of the stories from their children, the generation before mine.

One of the immigrants would make sure that her children knew how to move with very little. She would move her family every few years and drastically limit what they could take with them. A fair number of her family had not left the Jewish areas of Imperial Russia because they were relatively prosperous. Her opinion was that you don't own things, things own you, and that if you had too much stuff, you wouldn't flee when you should. She was right, for between the pogroms, the Russian Revolution, the Russian Civil War, the famines and then the Holocaust, all contact with what relatives remained behind were lost.

You can read more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis. As for 'traveling light', having moved recently (encumbered by many years' accumulation of possessions, particularly books, which are my major weakness), I can't help but think that her ancestor would give me up as a lost cause!

The good people at Dark Roasted Blend have compiled several articles about very large ships. Their pictures and collected facts make for fascinating reading. For example, here's the Knock Nevis, until recently the largest ship in operation anywhere in the world. She displaced 646,642 long tons at full load. She was scrapped last year.

If you're at all interested in 'going down to the sea in ships', you owe it to yourself to spend an hour or so going through DRB's collection. You won't be disappointed.

Finally, the Not Dead Dinosaur reminds us that, medically speaking, 'clinically proven' is a completely meaningless claim.

"Clinically proven" is a meaningless combination of words that mean someone is trying to sell something. Isn’t there some kind of rule against making stuff up, even in advertising? Obviously people are used to it in politics, but those are opinions, to which everyone is entitled. What people are NOT entitled to is their own facts. There is no clinically proven remedy available without a prescription for menopausal symptoms, quick and painless weight loss, or sinus congestion that can be purchased from a radio ad, because there is no such thing as "clinically proven".

Again, there's more at the link. Educational and highly recommended reading.

I hope you enjoy my wanderings through the world of the blogosphere. I'm often stimulated and challenged by what I find there, and I like to share it with you, my readers. There are some great blogs out there.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Bollywood goes way over the top!

A few months ago I mentioned a new Bollywood film, 'Enthiran' (also known as 'Endiran' or simply 'Robot'), and showed the trailer for the movie.

More clips from the movie are now available online . . . and the computer graphics, animation, and stunts are mind-boggling! Here are two clips showing some of the extraordinary action.

I don't find it at all realistic, but I've got to give the director and producer full marks for imagination!


Doofus Of The Day #439

Today's award goes to the entire British criminal justice system. Two recent reports suggest it's degenerated into a pale, wimpish imitation of what it once was.

First, we learn of a criminal with no less than 578 convictions who has never served a single day in prison!

The case led an MP yesterday to describe the criminal justice system as a ‘joke’.

The serial offender is one of thousands given community sentences every year for crimes including violence and sex attacks, despite having been convicted or cautioned more than 50 times before.

. . .

The appalling statistics are seen as proof that the justice system is failing to tackle career criminals who repeatedly avoid being locked away.

Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt revealed the case of the man with 578 offences in response to a parliamentary question by Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley.

He refused to give any details about the offender or his crimes.

. . .

David Green, of the think-tank Civitas, said: ‘I have long argued that career criminals should be jailed for a long period, because they have no respect for the rights and obligations of normal life.

‘We all accept that prison should not be something we resort to too quickly.

‘We would all like to be given a second chance if we do something stupid - it’s the 578th chance I have a problem with.’

There's more at the link.

On the same day as that report appeared, a judge lashed out at sentencing guidelines that prevented him from sending a convicted burglar to prison.

Julian Lambert lambasted the justice system as ‘soft’ after he was forced to hand burglar Daniel Rogers, 25, a community sentence.

He said: ‘I’ve never seen anything so wet in all my life - 80 hours’ community work for burgling someone’s house.

‘I very much regret sentencing guidelines which say I should not send you straight to prison.

‘We live in soft times.’

His comments highlight the frustration felt by many judges over restrictions placed on their powers.

The Guideline Judgments Case Compendium sets out clear sentencing guidelines for judges and magistrates.

It states that cases of burglary with minimal loss and damage and a low impact on the victim should be dealt with by a community sentence.

. . .

It was recommended that he sentence Rogers to just 80 hours’ community work.

But the judge gave him 240 hours, a six-month curfew between 9pm to 6am, a 12-month ban from licensed premises and 18 months of supervision.

He told Rogers: ‘You’ve got the lot. It may be easier for you to do the time.’

Again, more at the link.

With a criminal justice system like that, is it any wonder that Britain's violent crime rate is the worst in Europe - worse even than the USA?

I submit it's high time the Royal Coat Of Arms was modified.

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The lion looks altogether too healthy. To appropriately represent the current condition of the British Realm, he needs to be portrayed with an acute case of mange. Furthermore, the unicorn should be replaced with a court jester, to represent the joke that the British legal system has become!


Buried treasure of a different kind!

The hunt is on for what may be a multi-million-dollar cache of buried Supermarine Spitfire fighters, dating from the Second World War. The Australian reports:

IT'S the Lasseter's Reef of warbirds -- a rumoured stash of mint-condition Spitfires hidden underground in rural Queensland.

Many have searched for the legendary British fighters, reportedly still in their crates and hidden since the end of the World War II around the Queensland town of Oakey, but so far nobody has been able to lay claim to what would be a multi-million-dollar find.

They are the remnants of 656 Mark V and Mark VIII Spitfires that were delivered to the RAAF during the war.

Restored Spitfire Mk V with 'clipped' wings

RAAF records show that 544 aircraft -- 232 of them Spitfires -- were flown to Oakey to be sold to a scrap metal dealer.

That should have been the ignominious end of arguably the greatest single-place fighter ever built, certainly the most legendary and romanticised. But was it?

. . .

... a lifetime Oakey resident, who did not wish to be named, claims to be a reliable witness to the burial site of five aircraft in what may have been a trial disposal near the old Federal Mine.

He did not see aircraft going into the ground, but he saw contractors digging a trench, and a large crate in it.

The contractors claimed a quarter of a century later to have buried the aircraft but could not be contacted for this story.

Spitfire Mk VIII during World War II

. . .

Lester Reisinger, who has conducted a number of searches, subscribed to the underground storage theory.

"They're there, all right, under the Oakey drive-in theatre," he said. An old mine, The Federal, passed under the now-disused drive-in and was the closest to the airfield. It closed in 1943 and two separate sources believed one driver was never away long enough to make the round trip to Brisbane.

It would not have been too difficult for one man to transfer a crated Spitfire from a truck to an old mine wagon, using the hand-operated gantry for transferring coal from mine carts to railway wagons.

Mr Martin and Mr Reisinger several times spoke to a man who swore he had been into an underground storage facility containing wooden crates on rail trolleys.

However, the witness could not tell whether the crates held complete aircraft, parts, or something else.

Both men believe the witness to be reliable, but because he was taken to the site at night by another man he was unable to pinpoint a location. However, it was only a short walk from the witness's house in Federal Street, near the mine of the same name.

Mr Martin also had an aerial photograph taken in 1945 clearly showing the portal to the Federal Mine still open, with rails, shiny from possible recent use, going into the tunnel.

The mine entrance was collapsed in the 1950s by the Jondaryan Shire Council, and the same aerial photograph clearly shows large crates sitting beside the nearby airfield.

Australian Army Intelligence judged these to be the size of Spitfire crates, but they were not there by 1948. The Spitfire was the only aircraft disposed of at Oakey that was shipped in a single crate.

There's more at the link.

If the Spitfires are there, and if they're still in good condition, and if they can be recovered, and if the Australian Government allows whoever finds them to claim ownership, on the grounds of 'finders, keepers' (they may not allow that - the aircraft originally belonged to the RAAF, after all), then whoever finds them will become very rich! The going rate for a Spitfire seems to be anywhere between one and two million pounds (about US $1.6 million to $3.2 million), depending on condition. If, as the report suggests, 232 Spitfires were delivered to Oakey for scrapping, and if even five per cent of them (a dozen aircraft) were somehow hidden away, that's anywhere from 19 to 38 million dollars waiting to be discovered!

I hope the Spitfires exist, and are found. There aren't very many of them left, and we need all we can get!


Around The Blogs, Part 1

This week has seen a rich harvest of interesting articles on blogs I follow, and/or linked to by blogs I follow. There are so many that I'll have to split them into two posts! Part 2 will follow tomorrow night.

For tonight, let's kick off with Blunt Object. He notes that Ferrari's Formula 1 racing car for the 2011 season will be called the Model F150, and observes:

Somewhere in Michigan, a Ford marketing exec is giggling like a mother******.

Next, many bloggers have marked the 25th anniversary (on this date, January 28th) of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, resulting in the death of all seven crew members.

Explosion of the space shuttle Challenger (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The tragedy was proved to be the result of massive, systemic and endemic mismanagement of safety issues by NASA. I won't quote any particular blog on the subject, but I think it's worth remembering the physicist Richard Feynman, who played a vital role in identifying the problems that led to the disaster. He summed up as follows:

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Words to live by in our high-technology society. May the souls of the Challenger Seven rest in peace.

Challenger's crew on mission STS-51-L (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Back row (L-R): Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.
Front row (L-R): Michael J. Smith, Francis "Dick" Scobee, Ronald McNair.

Now let's visit Georgia, where Grouchy Old Cripple reminds us what it's really like to live in Atlanta. A few 'truths' about that city:

Atlanta is composed mostly of one-way streets. The only way to get out of downtown Atlanta is to turn around and start over when you reach Greenville, South Carolina.

The 8 a.m. rush hour is from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
The 5 p.m. rush hour is from 3:00 p.m. to 7:30 pm.
(Don't forget the lunch time rush hour!)
Friday's rush hour starts Thursday afternoon and lasts through 2 a.m. Saturday.

The falling of one raindrop causes all drivers to immediately forget all traffic rules. If a single snowflake falls, the city is paralyzed for three days and it's on all the channels as a news flash every 15 minutes for a week. Overnight, all grocery stores will be sold out of milk, bread, bottled water, toilet paper, and beer.

I-285, the loop that encircles Atlanta which has a posted speed limit of 55 mph but you have to maintain 80 mph just to keep from getting run over and is known to truckers as "The Watermelon 500."

Never buy a ladder or mattress in Atlanta . Just go to one of the interstates and you will soon find one in the middle of the road.

If it grows, it sticks. If it crawls, it bites. If you notice a vine trying to wrap itself around your leg, you have about 20 seconds to escape, before you are completely captured and covered with Kudzu.

There are many more interesting 'facts' at the link. Definitely giggle-worthy!

We now hop over to Kansas City, MO, where Crucis links to an article about an extraordinary feat of heroism.

A retired Indian Gorkha soldier ... thwarted 40 robbers, killing three of them and injuring eight others, with his khukuri during a train journey. He is in line to receive three gallantry awards from the Indian government.

The band of about 40 robbers, some of whom were travelling as passengers, stopped the train in the Chittaranjan jungles in West Bengal around midnight. Shrestha-- who had boarded the train at Ranchi in Jharkhand, the place of his posting--was in seat no. 47 in coach AC3.

"They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers," Shrestha recalled. The soldier had somehow remained a silent spectator amidst the melee, but not for long. He had had enough when the robbers stripped an 18-year-old girl sitting next to him and tried to rape her right in front of her parents. He then took out his khukuri and took on the robbers.

"The girl cried for help, saying 'You are a soldier, please save a sister'," Shrestha recalled. "I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister," he added. He took one of the robbers under control and then started to attack the others. He said the rest of the robbers fled after he killed three of them with his khukuri and injured eight others.

During the scuffle he received serious blade injury to his left hand while the girl also had a minor cut on her neck. "They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn´t open fire," he surmised.

. . .

"He will be provided a special honor for doing Nepal proud at international stage," Finance Minister Surendra Raj Pandey said after the cabinet meeting on Thursday. The government [of Nepal], however, has yet to declare what the honor would comprise of and when will it be given.

The Indian government is to decorate Shrestha with its Sourya Chakra, Bravery Award and Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Medal and the 35-year-old is leaving for India Saturday to receive the first of the awards on the occasion of India´s Republic Day on January 26.

. . .

His regiment has already given him a cash award of Indian rupees 50,000, and decided to terminate his voluntary retirement. He will get the customary promotion after receiving the medals. The Indian government will also announce a cash bounty for him and special discounts on international air tickets and domestic train tickets.

All his honors and rewards are well earned and richly deserved. Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali!

And finally (for tonight at least), Brigid had me in fits with her post on check rides and examinations. Her diagram of the electrical system on a Boeing 727 airliner made me goggle . . . after all, it's not every day one sees holy water, electric eels and toplessness combined in a technical chart! The cherry on top (you should pardon the expression) was this:

For, like any pilot, I hate taking exams. Written or otherwise. I think it started in early school years when I got a question really wrong.

The question was: "Where do women mostly have curly hair?

Apparently, the correct answer was Africa.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Never dare this man to do anything!

If you do, the odds are he'll take your dare! Chef Gino d'Acampo bet that if the British morning television program This Morning won an award, he'd cook in the nude. They did - so he did too! Hilarity ensued.

(CAUTION: This might not be safe for work, although there's no full-frontal nudity, I promise!)

I guess viewers now know Mr. d'Acampo by rather more than the cut of his cloth!


Our body clocks are ancient things indeed!

I was intrigued to learn that our body clocks, or 'biological clocks', are integral to the very cells that make up our body. PhysOrg reports:

The mechanism that controls the internal 24-hour clock of all forms of life from human cells to algae has been identified by scientists.

Not only does the research provide important insight into health-related problems linked to individuals with disrupted clocks - such as pilots and shift workers - it also indicates that the 24-hour circadian clock found in human cells is the same as that found in algae and dates back millions of years to early life on Earth.

. . .

One study, from the University of Cambridge's Institute of Metabolic Science, has for the first time identified 24-hour rhythms in red blood cells. This is significant because circadian rhythms have always been assumed to be linked to DNA and gene activity, but - unlike most of the other cells in the body - red blood cells do not have DNA.

. . .

A further study, by scientists working together at the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge, and the Observatoire Oceanologique in Banyuls, France, found a similar 24-hour cycle in marine algae, indicating that internal body clocks have always been important, even for ancient forms of life.

. . .

Andrew Millar of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "This groundbreaking research shows that body clocks are ancient mechanisms that have stayed with us through a billion years of evolution. They must be far more important and sophisticated than we previously realised. More work is needed to determine how and why these clocks developed in people - and most likely all other living things on earth - and what role they play in controlling our bodies."

There's more at the link.

I find this very interesting from the perspective of one who's experienced more than his fair share of 'jet lag'. I've always been a bit skeptical of the various techniques, tools and drugs claimed to 'reset one's body clock' and help one get over jet lag that much faster. If one's body clock is, indeed, hard-wired in the cells of one's body, it's no wonder that most of these nostrums and fads don't work very well - at least, they never have for me!


Have you ever wanted to glow in the dark?

If so, you might want to visit the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria, Australia. The Daily Mail reports:

Swimming is supposed to give you a healthy glow, but these swimmers weren't quite sure what was going on when they took a late-night dip and turned a fluorescent shade of blue.

'It was like we were playing with radioactive paint,' said photographer Phil Hart who snapped the bizarre sight as his friends emerged from a lake in the dark of night.

The light is created by a chemical reaction called bioluminescence, which happens when a naturally-occuring micro-organism in the water is disturbed.

Phil, 34, put his camera on a very slow shutter speed and threw sand and stones into the water to cause the reaction and capture as much of the blue haze as possible.

These images are particularly stunning because the concentration of the micro-organism 'Noctiluca Scintillans' was abnormally high when he took the photos at Gippsland Lakes in Victoria, Australia.

Gippsland Lakes (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

. . .

It is believed the combination of bushfires and floods created the high levels of nutrients in the lakes for the organisms to feed.

'It may not happen again in my lifetime,' said Phil. 'I feel fortunate to have been there to see it and to have had my camera gear there to record it.'

There's more at the link, including several more photographs (all larger than the reduced-size reproductions above). Highly recommended viewing for those interested in either biology or photography - or just wanting to glow in the dark!


Hitler's last surviving bodyguard 'retires'

I was surprised to read that one of Hitler's bodyguards is still alive. He seems to have become something of a legend in his own lifetime. The Daily Mail reports:

Rochus Misch was by the German leader's side for five years and even saw the Führer after he committed suicide as the Russian tanks closed in. He is thought to be the last remaining member of the group who hid in that famous Berlin bunker.

His proximity to Hitler has caused him to become something of a celebrity, and his character has appeared in a number of films.

He was even consulted by Christopher McQuarrie, the writer who created Valkyrie, the 2008 film about an assassination attempt on Hitler's life.

Hollywood actor Tom Cruise, who starred in the film, was not keen to converse with Misch and told the Los Angeles Times: 'I didn't want to meet him. Evil is still evil, I don't care how old you are.'

But the former bodyguard has a cult following. However, at the age of 93 and using a walking frame to move around, he can no longer deal with all the correspondence.

He told newspaper Berliner Kurier that, with most of the letters he receives asking for autographs, it was 'no longer possible' to reply because of his age.

'[The letters] come from Korea, from Knoxville, Tennessee, from Finland and Iceland - and not one has a bad word to say,' said Misch, who is believed to be the last man alive to have seen Hitler and other top-ranking Nazis in the flesh.

. . .

Through his position his fame rose and in the past Misch used to send fans autographed copies of wartime photos of him in a neatly pressed SS uniform.

Now the incoming fan mail, including letters and packages, piles up in his flat in south Berlin's leafy Rudow neighbourhood, less than two kilometres from the Führerbunker.

His memoirs, 'The Last Witness,' were published in 2008 in Germany and are in the works to become a feature film.

With the death of Hitler Youth courier Armin Lehmann on October 10, 2008, Misch is the last survivor of the Führerbunker.

There's more at the link.

I'm not sure about Tom Cruise's reported reaction to Mr. Misch. I have no information to suggest that he, personally, was or is an evil man (although I have no doubt whatsoever that he served an insanely evil master!). I can't hold it against him that he served his country as best he could, according to his lights. He certainly paid a heavy price, enduring imprisonment in the Soviet Union from 1945 until 1954. (If you want an idea of how tough that must have been, consider that almost half a million German prisoners of war died in the Soviet Union [out of approximately two million in total who were captured]. Furthermore, "the ultimate fate of 1,300,000 German POW's in Allied custody is still unknown; they are still officially listed as missing." Many of these [probably the large majority] fell into Soviet hands, because far more German units fought [and were lost] on the Eastern Front than in other campaigns.)

At the age of 93, Mr. Misch is doubtless preparing to render an account of his life to the Judge whom we all must face one day. May he seek, and find, mercy for his sins. I'll begrudge no man that . . . especially because I'll have great need of God's mercy myself!


An animator explains his work

Miss D. sent me a link to this music video, not so much for the music as for the excellent animation it portrays.

I was intrigued by the style and craftsmanship of the animator, Ryan Woodward. I looked for more information, and found this short documentary on how the above video was made. It was apparently a fairly big art project in its own right.

I wanted to know more about this style of art, known as Conté. I followed a link to a Web site about Mr. Woodward's latest exhibition, Conté Animated. It's very interesting. Here's what he has to say about figure drawing as an inspiration for animation.

Figure drawing is a essential practice for any aspiring animator and seasoned animator for that matter. It has been since the first animators began work with Walt Disney and still today, animation studios offer figure drawing workshops in the studio. It’s not so much about the ability to render the figure accurately as it is the continual practice and understanding that there is no "right" way to draw the figure. It’s a creative exploration every time.

I like to approach drawing the figure with varying degrees of creativity. At times, I’ll academically approach the drawing by striving to understand anatomy, proportion, light, etc. Other times, I’ll let my creativity begin to flow by exaggerating the shapes, gesture, and style of the form. Sometimes I’ll even completely disregard "reality" and strive to achieve something unique to my aesthetic senses.

Whether it be in the way I use the conté, or by exaggerating the proportions, or even throwing in some inspiration from other sources, I have found that abandoning the academic constraints of figure drawing and relying on my own creativity and imagination, flexes those brain juices that allow for unique creative solutions in more than just drawing the figure.

There's much more information on his exhibition Web site. It's very worthwhile reading for artists, photographers, and those interested in their work. Mr. Woodward is also writing a book about the animation project shown above, which should be out in the spring.

I'd like to thank Mr. Woodward for putting so much information out there, so that those of us who like his work can learn more about it - and him.