Thursday, June 30, 2011

Another very creative advertisement

Canon's UK operation produced this advertisement for the company's PIXMA photo inkjet printer range.

I was impressed by its creativity. They made it by putting paint on speakers and filming the vibrations! Here's how they did it.

Very nifty! Congratulations to whoever came up with that idea.


Larry Correia's at it again!

My blogbuddy Larry Correia is having a bumper year.

Four of his books are due to be published in 2011 (well, three by him alone, and one written with a co-author). The next one out will be the third in the "Monster Hunter" series: Monster Hunter Alpha.

Baen Books has made available online the first nine chapters of his new book. You can read them at the link if you want a taste of what's in store. (The first 7 chapters of Monster Hunter International, the first book in the series, and the first 6 chapters of Monster Hunter Vendetta, the second book, are also available at those links, if you haven't yet read them.) Click on the 'Next' link on each page to be taken to the chapter listing.

Monster Hunter Alpha will be published on August 1st this year. If you want an autographed copy, Larry will be offering them through Uncle Hugo's bookstore in Minneapolis, MN. Click on that link to pre-order one. Apart from that, of course, they'll be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers and local bookstores.

One thing I particularly like about Larry and his publishers is that they haven't fallen into the trap of some successful authors, and started publishing his books initially in a hardcover edition or supersized paperback, at inflated prices. Sure, they've offered such an edition for those who want it (I got his previous book, The Grimnoir Chronicles Vol. 1: Hard Magic, in hardcover), but that's an optional extra. Larry's 'normal' books remain in mass-market paperback size at affordable prices - very important in an economic climate like ours. If I can get my manuscripts to a publishable standard (they're in beta readership right now), I plan on following that example.

Monster Hunter Vendetta made it to #27 on the New York Times bestseller list when it came out. That's a phenomenal performance for a dark fantasy novel, particularly when you consider it was competing against every single fiction mass-market paperback in the country! Here's hoping Larry can do even better with this one.

Congratulations once again, Larry. Success couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.


How's your Civics knowledge?

A number of blogs have linked to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Civics test. It's 33 questions, designed to test your knowledge of historical and contemporary knowledge in that field. (If you're in a hurry, there's also a shorter version with 10 questions.)

I'm an immigrant, but even so, I had no trouble getting all 33 questions correct. How about you? Give it a try, and let us know how you did in Comments.


Prepare to laugh until your ribs hurt!

Two blog posts over the past week or so had me howling with laughter. The first is from The Bloggess ("Like Mother Teresa, Only Better", as she advertises herself!).

This morning I had a fight with Victor about towels. I can’t tell you the details because it wasn’t interesting enough to document at the time, but it was basically me telling Victor I needed to buy new bath towels, and Victor insisting that I NOT buy towels because I “just bought new towels“. Then I pointed out that the last towels I’d bought were hot pink beach towels, and he was all “EXACTLY” and then I hit my head against the wall for an hour.

Then Laura came to pick me up so we could go to the discount outlet together, and as Victor gave me a kiss goodbye he lovingly whispered, “You are not allowed to bring any more goddam towels in this house or I will strangle you“. And that was exactly what I was still echoing through my head an hour later, when Laura and I stopped our shopping carts and stared up in confused, silent awe at a display of enormous metal chickens, made from rusted oil drums.

Laura: I think you need one of those.

me: You’re joking, but they’re kind of horrifically awesome.

Laura: I’m not joking. We need to buy you one.

me: The 5-foot tall one was $300, marked down to $100. That’s like, $200 worth of chicken for free.

Laura: You’d be crazy not to buy that. I mean, look at it. IT’S FULL OF WHIMSY.

me: Victor’d be pissed.

Laura: Yup.

me: But on the plus side? It’s not towels.

Laura: Yup.

me: We will name him Henry. Or Charlie. Or O’Shannesy.

Laura: Or Beyoncé.

me: Or Beyoncé. Yes. And when our friends are sad we can leave him at their front door to cheer them up.

Laura: Exactly. It’ll be like, “You thought *yesterday* was bad? Well, now you have a enormous metal chicken to deal with. Perspective. Now you have it.”

There's more at the link. I almost fell out of my chair laughing at her husband's reaction! Others obviously share my amusement . . . as of this evening, there were 2,497 comments to that blog post!

The second post is from Educated & Poor.

In the summer of 1988, my sister and I encountered our first-ever condom machine in an Aynor, South Carolina, gas station restroom. Sure, we had heard about the contraception contraptions in Sex Ed class. Mom had even confirmed for us that there really was such a thing as a vending machine for condoms. But we still hadn't seen one for ourselves, and didn't think they actually existed. All we'd ever seen for sale in a bathroom vending machine were maxi-pads and tampons.

But there the machine stood, fixed to the wall in all its mute, naughty glory. I say "mute" and "naughty" because the mostly-silent implication was—and still is, to some extent—that women who plan for sex are sluts. (And those who don't plan for sex are pregnant. Mm-hmm, definitely non-slutty.) But since this was South Carolina, where of course in the late 1980s they didn't have a teenage pregnancy epidemic or people with STDs or anything like that thankyouverymuch, the condom machine's offerings were concealed by a large metal flap bearing a sign in bold letters:


Which meant that Pixie and I were straightaway going to lift the flap. And it made a loud crrrreeeeEEEEAAAAK as we did so. There was no way that anyone outside this one-seater women's restroom wouldn't hear the cheesy haunted-house-quality noise warning the public at large that any floozies inside were most certainly perusing the rubber selection. I'm pretty sure the creaky flap had been designed that way, state public health initiatives be damned. "Better barefoot 'n pregnant than have everybody in the store know you're gonna get laid," or something like that.

The four different types of condoms in the machine nearly scalded our scandalized teenage eyes. There were plain, standard condoms; condoms bearing the dubious claim that they were "ribbed for her pleasure;" Stallion's Pride condoms "for the larger man," secreted away and SORRY, SOLD OUT; and the usual wonky fruit-flavored varieties. Creativity must have died a slow and painful death when the latex process engineers met up with the marketing team in Rubber Flavorings 101. Time after time, it's the same old boring fruits, banana jokes notwithstanding. Why don't we ever see any new flavors for condoms? Why not licorice, or root beer, or cornbread, or Slim Jims?

Again, more at the link. (Slim Jim-flavored condoms? Wouldn't that be an unintentional slur on the unfortunate males concerned - or, at least, on certain portions of their anatomy?)

I highly recommend both blog posts to put a smile on your face. Thanks, ladies!


Afghanistan: an insider's appalling story

I've been writing about Afghanistan for some time, pointing out that there's no military solution to its problems. We'll have to either negotiate a peaceful exit, or sprint for the border with our tails between our legs, and the Taliban hot on our heels. (Britain can remind us what that's like, from a historical perspective.) Quite frankly, given the present mismanagement of our forces there and the lack of political will (not to mention skill) in Washington, my money's on the second option.

A new book, 'Cables From Kabul: The Inside Story of the West's Afghanistan Campaign', by the former British ambassador to that country, paints a grim picture of political fecklessness, diplomatic dithering and blindness to reality from all the major players in the drama there. The Daily Mail reports:

Two years ago, during his tenure as foreign secretary, David Miliband was making small talk with two Afghan ministers while waiting for dinner to be served in the British ambassador’s residence in Kabul.

How long, he asked innocently, did they expect their government forces to remain in power in Helmand after our military withdrew?

‘24 hours,’ came the reply.

With those short words - accompanied by an insouciant grin - the absurdity of our Afghan misadventure was summed up. Billions of pounds spent, thousands of lives lost and all we are doing is making the same mistakes as all those others who thought they could tame this fractious nation.

This revealing anecdote is one of many delicious vignettes, laden with spice and leavened with wit, served up in Cables From Kabul, an account by Sherard Cowper-Coles of his four years serving as ambassador to Afghanistan and the foreign secretary’s special representative.

The author’s name may be redolent of a character who has stepped out of an Evelyn Waugh novel, but Cowper-Coles is a sharp observer of diplomatic and political shenanigans.

After failing to win the promotion promised following this tough posting, he quit the Foreign Office. In truth, he has served his nation better by delivering such an incisive account of what went wrong in Afghanistan.

. . .

What follows is a saga of American arrogance, Afghan artifice and British impotence. Much of his time is spent trying to restrain a bull-headed ally intent on an impossible military victory after becoming embroiled in complex civil, religious and tribal conflicts running for decades.

Meanwhile, everyone knows crumbling Pakistan is the bigger threat to British security. The author, pushing for a political solution, watches aghast as objectives change, command structures fail, local allies prove a problem and there is ‘mission creep’ on a heroic scale.

‘The parallels with the tragedy of Soviet Russia’s failed attempt to stabilise Afghanistan are too many and too close for comfort,’ he concludes.

The end result is America spending $125 billion a year to pacify a country that raises for itself less than one-hundredth of that amount. A British officer reveals that when newly-trained Afghan army recruits were told they were going to Helmand, nearly two-thirds disappeared since they were expected to ride around a hostile zone in unprotected pick-up trucks.

As a result, in future they had to be locked in buses and not told where they were going.

. . .

As we start to turn from a conflict that has cost so much money, wasted so many lives and caused so much damage, this timely book raises fundamental questions that remain valid even after the death of Osama Bin Laden, the man who provoked us a decade ago to repeat the obvious mistakes of history.

There's more at the link. That's one book I'm going to buy for sure! It's available in Britain at present, but it's bound to be on the market here within a matter of weeks.

I wasn't joking, earlier, about having to run for the border with our tails between our legs. If you thought the occupation of Afghanistan was a nightmare, "you ain't seen nothin' yet", as the song says. To pull out of their far-flung deployments hundreds of thousands of troops, tens of thousands of vehicles and all their related infrastructure, then concentrate them in central locations and get them safely out of the country, is going to be a nightmare of Brobdingnagian proportions. I fully expect to see an enormous quantity of equipment either abandoned in place (because it's too difficult to remove it), or left behind in the rush (because there aren't enough people to secure, load and escort all the gear to be recovered). I think we're going to lose billions of dollars worth of hardware, and at least dozens (perhaps hundreds) of lives too. Again, ask the British about that.

As German poet Theodor Fontane wrote of the First Afghan War:

With thirteen thousand their trail they began.
Only one man returned from Afghanistan.

He wasn't exaggerating. Only one man made it out of Afghanistan alive in 1842 by his own efforts, although some prisoners (a very few) were later rescued. I expect our forces will enjoy better fortune than those of Major-General William Elphinstone: but even so, if you pray (as I do), you might want to add that to the list.


Yes, Blogger had problems last night

Looking at the support forum, hundreds of other Blogger users had the same problems I found last night, which is why others of your favorite blogs might have been light on posting. The Blogger team seems to have fixed the problem, so regular posting should resume tonight.

As an aside, it always bugs me how people who use this free - let me repeat that: FREE!!! - blogging software can get so up-in-arms when it hits a snag. It's not as if we're paying for it, but some folks seem to get their knickers in a twist and get rude with the software providers about any interruption in service. Hey, I don't like interruptions either, but if I want something better, perhaps I should start to, y'know . . . pay for it!

Until then, I'll remain grateful to Google for providing this free platform for so many of us, and giving it a whole lot of nifty features. It's a very welcome and worthwhile public service. Thanks to the Blogger team for sorting out last night's problem, too.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The grim cost of war

The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University has just completed a major study of the real cost of the decade-old War on Terror. They state:

Nearly 10 years after the declaration of the War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have killed at least 225,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors, and civilians. The wars will cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans, according to a new report by the Eisenhower Research Project at the Watson Institute. If these wars continue, they are on track to require at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020.

There's more at the link. Their research may be viewed at the project's Web site.

I have no doubt that the costs listed by the researchers are substantially correct - both financially, and in terms of the appalling human toll. However, there's one question they don't try to answer . . . in fact, they don't even bother to ask it: yet, it's fundamental. That question is:

What would it have cost the USA,
and the free nations of the world,
if the War on Terror had NOT been fought?

I suspect not many will think of that question. Perhaps it takes a military background to ask it . . . I don't know. Nevertheless, I submit that the cost of not doing anything, of letting terrorists get away with their crimes, would have been far worse.

I agree that certain aspects of the War on Terror were badly planned and implemented, and might profitably have never been attempted: but that's speaking with the benefit of hindsight. If I'd been in the seat of power at the time, and known then what our leaders knew at that time . . . I honestly don't know whether I might not have made the same decisions. I think those in command can legitimately be criticized for not reacting faster to changed circumstances and conditions, and adjusting their plans to take account of such changes: but again, would I have done any better if I'd been in their shoes? I like to think I would . . . but I can be misled, and make mistakes, as easily as the next man.

What say you, readers?


Blogger's acting weirdly tonight . . .

. . . so I may not get all my posts up. It's taken me seven tries and two different Web browsers to get the last post up, about those expensive razors. If I can't get any more posts up tonight, I'll try again in the morning.


Buy one, and get a Doofus award free!

I note with mind-boggled amazement that a company is selling razors for a mere US $100,000 apiece. The manufacturer loftily informs us:

Utilizing expertise in fields as varied as rocket engine manufacturing, nanotechnology, and particle physics, the Zafirro Iridium combines some of the rarest, strongest, and most technically advanced materials in existence. The resulting combination of exotic materials pushes the boundaries of technology while creating an aesthetic that could be the centerpiece of a gallery collection.

The result of years of R&D, utilizing experts from around the world, our solid white sapphire blades launch a new era of shaving. Hypoallergenic, impervious to oxidation and corrosion, and an order of magnitude more durable than any other shaving blade. Zafirro sapphire blades are sharpened using high-energy,ionized particles creating a blade edge less than 100 atoms across, or 5000 times thinner than a human hair. Zafirro provides complementary servicing and professional cleaning for Iridium customers, as well as resharpening if necessary, to make sure your razor remains one of the most advanced and finely tuned consumer products. Ten years of servicing is included.

. . .

The razor handle centerpiece is 99.95% pure iridium, the strongest and densest functional metal on the planet, mainly derived from meteorites, and 10 times more rare than platinum. One of the primary uses of iridium has been rocket engine components because of its extreme durability. The platinum hexagonal screws on the Zafirro Iridium are custom machined to extremely tight tolerances on CNC Swiss screw micromachines designed for advanced biotech applications. The screws are 99.95% pure platinum, a far higher purity than most expensive jewelry.

There's more at the link. Only 99 of these white iridium elephants will be made.

For the life of me, I can't imagine anyone being daft enough to imagine that spending $100,000 on a razor would somehow improve their morning shave . . . As points out about the ultra-heat-resistant iridium handle: "The razor’s handle ... may be a bit of an overkill considering the hot water it will be exposed to won’t be any higher that 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, if you shave near a lava flow you’ll be covered."

We'll let The Consumerist have the last word: "At that price, it better be able to kill vampires and werewolves, automatically."



Electronic warfare just got a lot more interesting . . .

Electronic warfare was once something very important to me - as in, first, it was my job, and second, if I did my job well, I could prevent roaming MiGs from getting a fix on where I was and lobbing a few Soviet-made high-explosive calling-cards in my general direction. For some reason, this seemed like a high-value objective to me at the time . . . (Yes, I know, when one's young, one doesn't necessarily think strategically!)

Anyhoo, I've kept up with the field as an interested observer since then; so an announcement from Raytheon the other day caught my attention, and my imagination. Ares reports:

Raytheon ... is taking a close look at the development of a warhead that would fit into their existing lineup of missiles that ranges from the miniature air-launched decoy (the MALD-V with its generic 51 lb. payload) to the ship-based Standard missile series. The project will be announced June 21 at the Paris Air Show.

The effort is tied to the company’s purchase of Ktech, a company with specialties in airborne electronic warfare, directed energy and pulsed power, says Mike Booen, Raytheon’s vice president for advanced security and directed energy systems. Booen’s organization has already developed and demonstrated a high power microwave (HPM) system that can protect airports and the airliners using them from man-portable air defense (Manpad) missiles.

Operationally, these directed energy systems are planned to solve three problems facing the U.S. military:

  • how to avoid inflicting needless casualties
  • how to judge the effects of weapons that do not produce explosive or impact damage, and
  • how to overcome anti-access and denied airspace defenses that are already being fielded around the world.

Applications include medium-range ballistic missiles targeted against ships, anti-satellite weapons, cyberattack and information attack.

. . .

Raytheon officials will not discuss details of Ktech’s expertise, but it is known to include vulnerability assessment of enemy electronic systems, high power applications, advanced signals generation, antennas, antenna control, frequency management and deployed telemetry.

These capabilities are all needed for the development of airborne weapon systems that can analyze targets and then tailor a beam of radio frequency or high power microwaves to upset or even electronically destroy systems dependent on electronics. The beam of directed energy can be varied in width, energy output, modulation and frequency to create precise effects. Such systems also will have feedback monitoring to analyse the impact of these unseen, non-kinetic weapon.

Airframes initially expected to carry Raytheon’s new non-kinetic warheads (which inflict neither impact or explosive damage) are the Tomahawk cruise missile, a weapon that is the size and shape of a HARM high-speed, anti-radiation missile and MALD-V. The last is newly redesigned for a non-specific 51-lb.warhead and sized for carriage even by light aircraft, helicopters and UAVs.

All these air-to-ground missile would be designed for use against electronic and “no-collateral damage” targets such as sophisticated command and control, communications, weapons storage and intelligence-gathering facilities that may be located in heavily populated areas. They also would be a key element in defeating anti-access and denial of entry capabilities – all based on electronic defenses – being developed by many nations including China.

Other missions for non-kinetic warhead, air-to-air missiles could be the destruction of sensors and communications on enemy combat, surveillance and intelligence gathering aircraft.

There's more at the link.

This is intriguing. Imagine just a few of the possibilities such weapons could open up to attackers:

  • A strike against a naval target could send in a couple of directed-energy weapons to disable the target's defenses (radar, missile launchers - in fact, all electronics on board the target vessel), followed by missiles with high-explosive warheads to sink it (if desired - it might be sufficient to disable it, so that it can't interfere with whatever you plan to do next).
  • One could disable enemy fighter aircraft by targeting them with missiles containing such directed-energy warheads, to disable their onboard radars and missiles. More such weapons could target airborne warning and control aircraft, denying the enemy radar coverage of the battle area. That would make their aircraft sitting ducks for your own, or - if you don't have any dedicated air superiority fighters available - your strike aircraft could bomb their targets, getting in and out while enemy fighters are still trying to figure out what went wrong with their systems.
  • If an enemy puts high-value targets like ground-to-air missile systems into residential areas, so that you can't target them without risking unacceptably high civilian casualties (as Saddam Hussein did in Iraq in the First and Second Gulf Wars), a directed-energy weapon like this would disable their radars, and the electronics of their missiles, whilst minimizing physical damage (the missile carrying the energy warhead could be directed to crash in an open area, or away from targets you don't want to hit).
  • If an enemy possesses advanced radar systems (which we'll examine in a forthcoming Weekend Wings article) that might detect even stealthy aircraft like the US F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II, a shower of directed-energy weapons might degrade those radar systems sufficiently to allow the aircraft to penetrate the area they defend.

This will bear watching - not least because if the USA is working on such weapons, you can bet your boots that other nations (coughChinacough) are doing the same . . .


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A new speed record on the TT circuit

The Isle of Man is the location for the world-famous TT motorcycle race each year. It's held on the Snaefell Mountain Course, 37.733 miles long, which uses public roads, closed for the occasion by an Act of Tynwald, the island's parliament. It's the oldest racing course in continuous use in the world.

Subaru has released this footage of the 2011 Subaru WRX STI setting a new record over the course. The video description reads:

"The 5 minute 25 second video highlights in graphic detail the speed and drama surrounding rally driver Mark Higgins' lap that averaged 115.356 MPH. After the run, Higgins talks through the "moment" at Brey Hill when he momentarily loses, and then regains, control of the WRX STI at more than 150 MPH.

Driving a US specification 2011 Subaru WRX STI, Higgins achieved speeds of 162 MPH and a lapped time of 19 minutes 37 seconds over the 37-mile track, navigating more than 200 corners.

"This is one of the most daunting tracks I have ever driven, and the most terrifying," said Higgins, a Manx native. "We were only able to get two practice runs and on our second practice I had the biggest "moment" of my career. We had a passenger on the run and so coming into Bray Hill at more than 150 MPH, the extra weight compressed the suspension more than on previous runs and shifted the Subaru to the left and then right as I corrected--it was a real tank slapper. The whole thing went by so quickly that we never slowed below 110 MPH, and then we were back on the power. It was amazing and the helicopter shots really show just how hairy it really was."

The WRX STI was a production US spec car running a standard 305 HP turbocharged boxer engine. Some safety modifications were made. The Subaru was equipped with a Lifeline fire suppression system, Hockley Motorsports roll cage, motordrive competition seats, Mintex brake pads (but stock calipers and rotors), and a louder open exhaust to warn spectators of the on-coming car. The speed limiter was turned off to allow a higher maximum speed; off-the shelf Tien springs and dampers were added to accommodate the numerous high-speed jumps on the circuit, sending the WRX STI almost four feet off the ground. The car ran on street legal Pirelli P Zero Trofeo tires.

Here's the video. It's pretty spectacular, particularly the footage at the end where the near-accident is shown in slow motion. I recommend watching it in full-screen mode, if possible.

I'm glad I wasn't aboard for that . . . I think I'd have needed another heart bypass!


A photographic history of World War II

The Atlantic has just begun publishing a 20-part series of articles on "World War II in Photos". So far, two articles have been published. The first is "Before The War". Here are a couple of sample photographs from it, reduced in size to fit this blog.

A Japanese soldier stands guard over part of the captured Great Wall of China in 1937,
during the Second Sino-Japanese War

German-made Stuka dive bombers, part of the Condor Legion,
in flight above Spain on May 30, 1939, during the Spanish Civil War

The second article is "The Invasion of Poland and the Winter War".

On September 17, 1939, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Courageous
was hit by torpedoes from the German submarine U-29, and sank within 20 minutes

Finnish troops inspect captured Soviet tanks and cars
along a road in a snow covered forest on January 17, 1940

There are many more (and larger) photographs in each article. With 18 more instalments to come, this series looks like it'll be well worth following. You might want to bookmark the series page and keep an eye out for the weekly articles. I plan to read them all.


Has the Environmental Protection Agency gone mad?

Via a link at Warren Meyer's Coyote Blog, we learn of a bizarre EPA regulation that's costing all of us money at the gas pump . . . for no valid reason whatsoever.

We recently posted about the EPA’s decision to reduce the cellulosic ethanol blending requirement from 500 million gallons in 2012 to somewhere between 3.45-12.9 million gallons, which is 0.69- 2.5 percent of the original “mandate.”

. . .

No companies have to this date been able to produce cellulosic ethanol that qualifies by EPA’s definition. Yet, presumably to save face, the EPA has not lowered the cellulosic ethanol “mandate” to zero gallons.

Now, what the mandate actually means is that companies will be heavily fined if they do not blend sufficient quantities of ethanol into the fuel supply — each gallon of ethanol having its own identification number, which is generated when the ethanol is created (of course, companies have to devote significant resources to navigating this regulatory-maze). Being that this ethanol does not exist, rather than facing fines for not being able to buy it, refiners are required to purchase “credits” from the EPA. Essentially, the EPA is requiring them to send them money in lieu of meeting the cellulosic ethanol mandate. The product they are required to use does not exist, and rather than giving them a pass, the EPA requires that they pay for phantom credits, despite not getting anything out of it.

. . .

This is the world we live in. Mandates for fuels that do not exist, and “compliance fees” for companies required to use the nonexistent product. Bravo, EPA. And they wonder why we’re skeptical of governments.

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

I could hardly believe my eyes when I read this. The EPA mandates that a non-existent product be added to gasoline - then demands that refiners pay a charge for not doing so? Have they completely lost their minds? Are we supposed to trust an agency that can concoct so nonsensical a requirement to look after our environment? Why are our taxes paying for its existence in the first place, if this is the best they can do?

Ye Gods and little fishes . . .


Breathtaking - literally!

I'm a bit mind-boggled by the 'balloon art' of a Canadian model-maker. The Daily Mail reports:

Try competing with this balloon artist and you would definitely be wasting your breath.

Mark Verge has been perfecting the art form for more than 16 years and has created a 39ft life-size replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex out of 1,400 balloons.

It was just one of the sculptures made by the model-maker along with a triceratops, spinosaurus, stegosaurus and utahraptor for his show in Ontario, Canada.

Mr Verge, 43, who is originally from Nova Scotia, first started making balloon animals in 1995 after coming across a book about the hobby.

Since then he has developed his own techniques and uses a variety of different-sized balloons to build the delicate creations. It was his collection of fossils that first gave him the idea to make model dinosaurs.

His sculpture of the T Rex won Mr Verge first prize in the world balloon-sculpting competition.

There's more at the link, including several more (and larger) photographs of Mr. Verge's work.

Intrigued by the article, I looked around until I found Mr. Verge's Web site, Xtreme Balloons. He's developed an amazing repertoire, and has won first place in the World Balloon Champion Artist competition in 2000, 2002 and 2007. There are plenty of photographs of his creations, including these balloon dresses, which both interested and amused me.

I've heard of a wardrobe malfunction, but these are the first dresses I've seen where approaching them with a needle and thread might lead to an even bigger malfunction! On the other hand, it'd also help to remove the dresses in a hurry, if necessary . . .


A classic example of mainstream media error

In its latest edition, TIME magazine prints an article by Richard Stengel titled 'One Document, Under Siege'. It purports to examine the US constitution . . . but it's so full of errors that I can't help but think Mr. Stengel has set out to deliberately deceive his readers. I just don't see how he can possibly make so many mistakes, and put forward such egregious errors of fact, if he didn't mean to mislead.

Patterico has done a superb job of highlighting Mr. Stengel's errors. He summarizes them as follows:

13 Objectively false statements in Stengel’s Article on the Constitution.

  1. The Constitution does not limit the Federal Government.
  2. The Constitution is not law.
  3. The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment emancipated the slaves.
  4. The Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to African Americans.
  5. The original Constitution declared that black people were to be counted as three-fifths of a person.
  6. That the original, unamended Constitution prohibited women from voting.
  7. Inter arma enim silent leges translates as “in time of war, the Constitution is silent.”
  8. The War Powers Act allows the president to unilaterally wage war for sixty days.
  9. We have only declared war five times.
  10. Alexander Hamilton wanted a king for America.
  11. Social Security is a debt within the meaning of Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  12. Naturalization depends on your birth.
  13. The Obamacare mandate is a tax.

There's much more at the link. Patterico comprehensively refutes each of these errors by reference to the Constitution itself and to relevant jurisprudence. He goes on to make this appeal:

I consider it no less than a scandal that so many clear, egregious errors was allowed in a cover story. It is all the more shocking because very often the falsity of the claims could have been verified by simply reading the Constitution. This is inexcusable for a publication of Time’s stature.

So if you agree with me, that this is scandalously bad, let me suggest that you guys try to help me raise awareness of the issue.

. . .

Positively spam them until they have to pay attention. Or you could even go to where I left a substantially similar comment and “like” that comment, raising its prominence. If a comment is liked enough times they might be more likely to pay attention. Or you can email the “editor,” (not sure which editor we are talking about) here.

In all communications, be polite, and stick to the facts, so they cannot dismiss you as a kook.

And you might spread this message to other sites. I am deliberately trying to create enough of an outcry so that they at least have to issue the mother of all corrections. Indeed, I believe that someone should be fired over this. They are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

So please, pretty please, will you help me with this?

I fully agree with him. It's scandalous that TIME should have published so factually flawed an article in the first place. It'll be even more so if they refuse to correct such blatant misstatements of fact.

May I ask all my readers to read in full what Patterico has to say, then follow his example and make your concerns known to TIME? I think it's important that we do so. Thanks in advance; and thanks to Patterico for taking the time and trouble to respond to these errors in the first place. He's rendered all of us an important service by doing so . . . not least by illustrating that allegedly scholarly articles in even our most respected news sources aren't necessarily very scholarly. TIME should be ashamed of itself.


EDITED TO ADD: The Other McCain has picked up on this article as well, and published an excellent article (fully as good as Patterico's) debunking the errors involved. Go read.

Monday, June 27, 2011

That's a big bang!

I've no idea where this explosion was filmed, or whether it's for mining or construction purposes. Perhaps a better-informed reader can enlighten us in Comments? Anyway, it's a most impressive bang, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Yep . . . don't want to be anywhere near an explosion that big, thank you very much!


Doofus Of The Day #491

Today's award goes to two members of the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. Flight Global reports:

An Asiana A321 with 119 passengers and crew members onboard is the latest jet to come under bullet fire as two South Korean soldiers fired 99 rounds from their K-2 rifles over ten minutes towards the jet last Friday, AFP reports.

The jet descending to Seoul's Incheon airport managed to escape any harm as it was too far away from the soldiers, who were stationed on Gyodong island, 1.7 kilometres south of the North Korean coast. They managed to mistake the A321 for a jet from North Korea, its northerly neighbor who it lacks peaceful relations with. South Korean soldiers had been alerted to possible provocative acts by North Korea and are reported to have rules of engagement that do not require superior approval.

"When the plane appeared over Jumun island, soldiers mistook it as a North Korean military aircraft and fired," a Marine Corps official told Yonhap, the AFP says.

The aircraft was "flying normally" and following a normal route from Chengdu, China, an air traffic controller told the AFP.

An Asiana spokeswoman said the military checked-up with the airline after the incident, and confirmed to the AFP there was no damage.

The AFP adds that local newspaper Yonhap says the Marine Corps will step up training for soldiers to help them distinguish civilian aircraft from enemy jets.

There's more at the link.

In fairness to the two Marines, AFP reported that:

The South's Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin has told frontline troops that if the North Koreans attack, they should strike back immediately without waiting for orders from top commanders about how to respond.

"Don't ask your commanders whether to fire back or not. Take actions first and then report afterwards," Kim was quoted as saying when he visited the western frontline in March.

The minister's remarks came after the South's military was widely criticised for a perceived weak and slow response when North Korea last November shelled Yeonpyeong island, one of five frontline islands, and killed four people.

Again, more at the link.

However, even with such instructions, there's an awful lot of difference between an Asiana Airlines Airbus A321 (this very aircraft, in fact):

and a North Korean strike aircraft, something like these:

Considering the notoriously tough discipline of the South Korean Marine Corps, I daresay those two unfortunate Marines are currently wishing they'd never been born . . .

(On the other hand, they might want to swap tall tales over a beer with the unfortunate anti-terrorist squad of the gendarmerie of Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, who also had a small difficulty involving gunfire and an airliner . . . and won a previous Doofus Of The Day award as a result!)


Cutting-edge computer chips - with cut-outs

Wired magazine reports that the US armed forces are finding out some disturbing things about Chinese-manufactured computer chips.

In 2010, the U.S. military had a problem. It had bought over 59,000 microchips destined for installation in everything from missile defense systems to gadgets that tell friend from foe. The chips turned out to be counterfeits from China, but it could have been even worse. Instead of crappy Chinese fakes being put into Navy weapons systems, the chips could have been hacked, able to shut off a missile in the event of war or lie around just waiting to malfunction.

. . .

The U.S. has been worried about its foreign-sourced chips in its supply chain for a while now. In a 2005 report, the Defense Science Board warned that the shift towards greater foreign circuit production posed the risk that “trojan horse” circuits could be unknowingly installed in critical military systems. Foreign adversaries could modify chips to fizzle out early, the report said, or add secret back doors that would place a kill switch in military systems.

The problem is that the United States isn’t the only game in town anymore when it comes to building better chips. Foreign chip foundries — companies that manufacture chips for third parties — are churning out more advanced products and making regular chips cheaper and more quickly. American military and intelligence customers would love to take advantage of some of these developments, but they don’t want to limit themselves to just U.S.-made technology.

The Defense Science Board warned in its report that “trust cannot be added to integrated circuits after fabrication.” Iarpa disagrees. The agency is looking for ways to check out chips once they’ve been made, asking for ideas on how the U.S. can verify that its foreign chips haven’t been hacked in the production process.

There's more at the link.

Makes sense from the Chinese point of view. In fact, if I were a senior Chinese security official, I'd be telling my computer chip manufacturers to incorporate "trojan horse circuits", as the Wired article describes them, in every single chip they make, irrespective of its nature or intended use. That way, if an enemy - or potential enemy - used them in his hardware, I could arrange for my own forces to unleash a blizzard of electronic instructions to disable his weapons, right at the very beginning of a conflict. While he was trying to sort out the resulting mess, my own weapons - free of such interference - would be able to strike him with impunity.

Too many people underestimate the Chinese. They're not dumb at all. They regard us (with more than a little justification) as still being imperialist-minded fools, who think we can push China around: and they're determined not to take it any more. I can't blame them. Look at the way the West has treated China for centuries, then ask yourself, "If I were in their shoes, would I behave any differently right now?"

I wouldn't . . . and that's why we've got to be very careful indeed about things like this.


A plethora of pirates in Penzance!

Sometimes a news report just makes me smile. This is one of them.

Even Blackbeard himself would be proud to raise a crew as large as this.

But these 8,700 swashbuckling pirates were not sailing the seven seas in search of lost treasure.

They descended on Penzance in Cornwall to smash the world record for the largest number of salty old seadogs in one place.

Fittingly, the record was broken as the pirates lined the promenade in the Cornish port on Sunday, echoing the famous Gilbert and Sullivan score The Pirates of Penzance.

A total of 8,734 turned out to top the previous world record of 6,166 set in Hastings last year.

They wore bandannas, striped t-shirts, eye patches and hats, no doubt pleasing the owners of the local fancy dress stores.

. . .

The pirate gathering was part of the Golowan Festival to celebrate the traditional feast of St John.

There's more at the link.

In response - and with pity for the pestered police of Penzance in their pirate-plagued precinct - what can I do but post one of the more famous choruses from the operetta?


Should flogging be revived?

TIME magazine has an interesting article on the potential revival of flogging as a punishment for crime. Here's an excerpt.

Peter Moskos' In Defense of Flogging might seem like a satire — akin to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," an essay advocating the eating of children — but it is as serious as a wooden stick lashing into a blood-splattered back.

Despite what you may think, Moskos is not pushing flogging as part of a "get tougher on criminals" campaign. In fact Moskos, who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, begins not by arguing that the justice system is too soft on criminals, but the opposite. So before you accuse him of advocating a cruel and unusual form of punishment, he offers this reminder: in the U.S., there are 2.3 million inmates incarcerated in barbaric conditions. American prisons are bleak and violent, and sexual assault is rampant.

And, Moskos points out, imprisonment is not just cruel — it is ineffective. The original idea for the penitentiary was that criminals would become penitent and turn away from their lives of crime. Today, prisons are criminogenic — they help train inmates in how to commit crimes on release.

Flogging, Moskos argues, is an appealing alternative. Why not give convicts a choice, he says: let them substitute flogging for imprisonment under a formula of two lashes for every year of their sentence.

There would, he says, be advantages all around. Convicts would be able to replace soul-crushing years behind bars with intense but short-lived physical pain. When the flogging was over, they could get on with their lives. For those who say flogging is too cruel, Moskos has a simple retort: it would only be imposed if the convicts themselves chose it.

At the same time, Moskos says, society would benefit. Under his proposal, the most dangerous criminals would not be eligible for flogging; the worst offenders, including serial killers and child molesters, would still be locked up and kept off the streets. But even so, he guesses the prison population could decline from 2.3 million to 300,000. That would free up much of the $60 billion or more the U.S. spends on prisons for more socially useful purposes.

There's more at the link. There's a longer article by Mr. Moskos himself here, and his Web site contains more information about his book, including an excerpt. Here's a video clip from CNN where he's interviewed on the subject.

I've been thinking about Mr. Moskos' arguments for most of today, and I really can't see a downside to them. Of course, this is colored by my having been born and raised in Africa, where flogging was an entirely legal sentence that could be imposed by the courts, whether the convict liked it or not. (It still is, in some African nations.) I disagreed strongly with that approach, and still do, because it could (and sometimes did) lead to institutionalized, legally sanctioned sadism; but Mr. Moskos' approach, where the convict him- or herself makes the decision about flogging versus incarceration, changes that dynamic, I think.

What say you, readers? Let us know your thoughts in Comments.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cute overload for the week

OK, this is for the animal-lovers (including me).

All together, now: Awwww!


Did they think this all the way through?

I note that the fuselage of the Airbus that crashed into the Hudson River in January 2009 has arrived at the Carolinas Aviation Museum at Charlotte Airport, NC. It was greeted by two fire trucks making an arch of water with their pressure jets.

Er . . . was this really a good idea? I mean . . . remember how this whole thing started?

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Hasn't that poor plane had enough water by now?


Why the deafening silence in the mainstream media?

Today the Drudge Report highlighted a report in the Peoria Chronicle.

Tonight, around 11 p.m., a group of at least 60-70 African American youth marched down one of the side streets (W. Thrush) to the 4 lane main drag (Sheridan). They were yelling threats to white residents. Things such as we need to kill alll the white people around here. They were physically intimidating anyone calling for help from the police. They were surrounding cars. Cars on the main drag had to slam on their brakes to either avoid the youth blocking not only all four lanes, but a large section of the side street as well. fights were breaking out among them. They were rushing residents who looked out their doors, going on to porches, yelling threats to people calling the police for help.

. . .

Residents are very shaken, both black and white alike. This is the fifth large mob action in about a month with smaller groups of 10-12 are out threatening children and adults a few evenings a week or later into the night. The times vary, even occuring during the day. In talking to the police officer, they are short staffed. Residents were advised to simply keep inside and to lock their doors. In other words buckle down, it’s not even safe to sit on your porch or go into your yards.

There's more at the link (which is to a cached copy of the page, as the original Web site was overwhelmed by people trying to read the article).

Note that the report specifically identifies the race of the offenders . . . which is almost certainly why it's not been more widely reported in in the mainstream media. "Political correctness, you know . . . we can't go around reporting that people of one race are behaving like this - unless they're White, of course, in which case it's raaaaaaa-cism!!!"

Why aren't the Peoria police doing something about this? The answer's simple. If they did:

  • they'd be pilloried in the media and by politicians as a racist police force;
  • Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and other hatemongers would descend on Peoria like the biblical plagues (only worse);
  • and the Obama administration would despatch a Justice Department team to investigate allegations of civil rights abuses against the African-American residents of Peoria.

If you don't think any and all of those things would happen, you're living in cloud cuckoo land. That's the reality of 'political correctness' in our land today.

Trouble is, the perpetrators know better than to try their shenanigans anywhere except those enclaves where they've bullied officials into turning a blind eye to their conduct. If they did so where I live, residents would 'take care of business' for themselves. You think you're going to threaten us with impunity? Charge at us when we're standing on our porches? You might want to reconsider your decision, son . . . before it's too late. (And if Jesse Jackson and/or Al Sharpton were to appear around these parts, almost everyone - black and white alike - would be describing the situation as a 'target-rich environment'!)

Problem is, in less self-sufficient states, when thugs like this take over previously 'good' neighborhoods, the decent people who live there have three choices. They can resist; they can move out; or they can shut up and accept the situation. If the police won't maintain order, and won't back up the residents when they try to do so, that takes away the first choice. Most of the good people will move out, one way or the other. Sooner or later, you'll be left with a neighborhood filled only with low-lifes, and those few good people who can't afford to leave. It becomes a blight on the entire city . . . all because the cops wouldn't stop such offenders in their tracks.

This is what happened to New Orleans, and is why the post-Hurricane Katrina situation there was so dire. You had entire neighborhoods depending on government handouts to survive; crime rampant in the streets (and in the police department, too); and in the absence of law and order, the mob ruled. I wrote about this at the time.

Feedback from my contacts in the Louisiana State Police (LSP) and other agencies is very worrying. They keep harping on the fact that the "underclass" that's doing all the looting is almost exclusively Black and inner-city in composition. The remarks they're reporting include such statements as "I'm entitled to this stuff!", "This is payback time for all Whitey's done to us", and "This is reparations for slavery!". Also, they're blaming the present confused disaster-relief situation on racism. "Fo sho, if Whitey wuz sittin' here in tha Dome waitin' for help, no way would he be waitin' like we is!" No, I'm not making up these comments... they are as reported by my law enforcement buddies.

This worries me very much. If we have such a divide in consciousness among our city residents, then when we hit a SHTF situation, we're likely to be accused of racism, paternalism, oppression, and all sorts of other crimes just because we want to preserve law and order. If we, as individuals and families, provide for our own needs in emergency, and won't share with others (whether they're of another race or not) because we don't have enough to go round, we're likely to be accused of racism rather than pragmatism, and taking things from us can (and probably will) be justified as "Whitey getting his just desserts". I'm absolutely not a racist, but the racial implications of the present situation are of great concern to me. The likes of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the "reparations for slavery" brigade appear to have so polarized inner-city opinion that these folks are (IMHO) no longer capable of rational thought concerning such issues as looting, disaster relief, etc.

. . .

People who were prepared were frequently mobbed/threatened by those who weren't. This was reported in at least seven incidents, five in Mississippi, two in Louisiana (I suspect that the relative lack of Louisiana incidents was because most of those with any sense got out of Dodge before the storm hit). In each case, the person/family concerned had made preparations for disaster, with supplies, shelter, etc. in good order and ready to go. Several had generators ready and waiting. However, their neighbors who had not prepared all came running after the disaster, wanting food, water and shelter from them. When the prepared families refused, on the grounds that they had very little, and that only enough for themselves, there were many incidents of aggression, attempted assault, and theft of their supplies. Some had to use weapons to deter attack, and in some cases, shots were fired. I understand that in two incidents, attackers and/or would-be thieves were shot. It's also reported that in all of these cases, the prepared families now face threats of retribution from their neighbors, who regarded their refusal to share as an act of selfishness and/or aggression, and are now threatening retaliation. It's reportedly so bad that most of the prepared families are considering moving to other neighborhoods, so as to start afresh, with different neighbors.

Similar incidents are reported by families who got out in time, prepared to spend several days on their own. When they stopped to eat a picnic meal at a rest stop, or an isolated spot along the highway, they report being approached rather aggressively by others wanting food, or fuel, or other essentials. Sometimes they had to be rather aggressive in their turn to deter these insistent requests. Two families report attempts being made to steal their belongings (in one case, their vehicle) while overnighting in camp stops on their way out of the area. They both instituted armed patrols, with one or more family members patrolling while the others slept, to prevent this.

There are many other 'lessons learned' at the link. I was there, and I'm here to tell you, it was even worse than contemporary reports would have you believe. Furthermore, the troublemakers were almost exclusively from one racial group. I'm not racist in the least - I'm simply stating the facts. However, news reports seldom, if ever, mentioned all the facts. To this day, the 'race factor' has been 'whitewashed' (you should pardon the expression) out of the history books.

You'll understand, then, why this report from Peoria worries me. Is that city - or, at least, some of its neighborhoods - sinking into a similar turgid soup of interracial hatred? For the sake of its good citizens, I hope not.

I hope the police force establish control there. Soon. Before it's too late.


Don't feel too sorry for Greece . . .

. . . because their present economic crisis is entirely the Greeks' own fault. I've been listening to all the pontificating about how Greece can't be allowed to default on its debts, and how we need a "Greek economic miracle", and so on ad nauseam - but it's all a bunch of hooey. (I'd like to use a stronger word than 'hooey', but I'm trying to keep this blog at least relatively family-friendly!)

In October last year Michael Lewis, of Liar's Poker fame, published a fascinating article about Greece's economic crisis: 'Beware of Greeks bearing bonds'. Here's a very short extract from his very long article.

“Our people went in and couldn’t believe what they found,” a senior I.M.F. official told me, not long after he’d returned from the I.M.F.’s first Greek mission. “The way they were keeping track of their finances—they knew how much they had agreed to spend, but no one was keeping track of what he had actually spent. It wasn’t even what you would call an emerging economy. It was a Third World country.”

As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as many citizens as possible a whack at it. In just the past decade the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros [about US $141.5 million] against an annual wage bill of 400 million [about US $566.1 million], plus 300 million euros [about US $424.6 million] in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros [about US $92,000] a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as 55 for men and 50 for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than 600 Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets.

Where waste ends and theft begins almost doesn’t matter; the one masks and thus enables the other. It’s simply assumed, for instance, that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed. People who go to public health clinics assume they will need to bribe doctors to actually take care of them. Government ministers who have spent their lives in public service emerge from office able to afford multi-million-dollar mansions and two or three country homes.

Oddly enough, the financiers in Greece remain more or less beyond reproach. They never ceased to be anything but sleepy old commercial bankers. Virtually alone among Europe’s bankers, they did not buy U.S. subprime-backed bonds, or leverage themselves to the hilt, or pay themselves huge sums of money. The biggest problem the banks had was that they had lent roughly 30 billion euros [about US $42.5 billion] to the Greek government—where it was stolen or squandered. In Greece the banks didn’t sink the country. The country sank the banks.

There's more at the link.

It seems the private sector in Greece is as guilty of fraud and chicanery as the public sector. Yesterday the Daily Mail published an article titled 'The Big Fat Greek Gravy Train'. Here's an excerpt.

Here, in the suburb of Kifissia, amid clean, tree-lined streets full of designer boutiques and car showrooms selling luxury marques such as Porsche and Ferrari, live some of the richest men and women in the world.

With its streets paved with marble, and dotted with charming parks and cafes, this suburb is home to shipping tycoons such as Spiros Latsis, a billionaire and friend of Prince Charles, as well as countless other wealthy industrialists and politicians.

One of the reasons they are so rich is that rather than paying millions in tax to the Greek state, as they rightfully should, many of these residents are living entirely tax-free.

Along street after street of opulent mansions and villas, surrounded by high walls and with their own pools, most of the millionaires living here are, officially, virtually paupers.

How so? Simple: they are allowed to state their own earnings for tax purposes, figures which are rarely challenged. And rich Greeks take full advantage.

Astonishingly, only 5,000 people in a country of 12 million admit to earning more than £90,000 [just over US $143,000] a year — a salary that would not be enough to buy a garden shed in Kifissia.

Yet studies have shown that more than 60,000 Greek homes each have investments worth more than £1m [about US $1.6 million], let alone unknown quantities in overseas banks, prompting one economist to describe Greece as a ‘poor country full of rich people’.

Manipulating a corrupt tax system, many of the residents simply say that they earn below the basic tax threshold of around £10,000 [about US $16,000] a year, even though they own boats, second homes on Greek islands and properties overseas.

And, should the taxman rumble this common ruse, it can be dealt with using a ‘fakelaki’ — an envelope stuffed with cash. There is even a semi-official rate for bribes: passing a false tax return requires a payment of up to 10,000 euros [about US $14,100] (the average Greek family is reckoned to pay out £2,000 [about US $3,200] a year in fakelaki.)

. . .

With Greek President George Papandreou calling for a crackdown on these tax dodgers — who are believed to cost the economy as much as £40bn [about US $63.8 billion] a year — he is now resorting to bizarre means to identify the cheats. After issuing warnings last year, government officials say he is set to deploy helicopter snoopers, along with scrutiny of Google Earth satellite pictures, to show who has a swimming pool in the northern suburbs — an indicator, officials say, of the owner’s wealth.

Officially, just over 300 Kifissia residents admitted to having a pool. The true figure is believed to be 20,000. There is even a boom in sales of tarpaulins to cover pools and make them invisible to the aerial tax inspectors.

‘The most popular and effective measure used by owners is to camouflage their pool with a khaki military mesh to make it look like natural undergrowth,’ says Vasilis Logothetis, director of a major swimming pool construction company. ‘That way, neither helicopters nor Google Earth can spot them.’

But faced with the threat of a crackdown, money is now pouring out of the country into overseas tax havens such as Liechtenstein, the Bahamas and Cyprus.

‘Other popular alternatives include setting up offshore companies in Cyprus or the British Virgin Islands, or the purchase of real estate abroad,’ says one doctor, who declares an income of less than £90,000 yet earns five times that amount.

There has also been a boom in London property purchases by Athens-based Greeks in an attempt to hide their true worth from their domestic tax authorities.

‘These anti-tax evasion measures by the government force us to resort to even more detailed tax evasion ploys,’ admits Petros Iliopoulos, a civil engineer.

Again, more at the link.

If you read both articles in full (which I highly recommend), you'll find that this pattern of corruption, fraud, pilfering, dishonesty and larceny permeates every sector of Greek society, from old to young, rich to poor, city-dwellers to country farmers . . . everyone's on the fiddle there, almost without exception. Yet, when the Greek government finally has to face reality and pass measures to restore fiscal order and discipline, what happens?

This happens.

That's right - those who've enriched themselves by 'playing the system' for years now riot at the prospect of not being able to do so any more. Rather than pay back all that Greece has borrowed from others, they insist that they'd rather default on their country's debts. They'd rather destroy their country's financial rating and international credibility than accept financial restrictions on themselves - restrictions made necessary, in the first place, by their own fraudulent lifestyles.

Can you spell 'recipe for disaster'? I thought you could . . .

The trouble is, this might be coming to the USA as well. Remember the Wisconsin protests, earlier this year, over attempts to curb public-sector trades union benefits? They weren't as violent as the Greek riots, but they were pretty bad at times. As measures are taken elsewhere to rein in such 'sweetheart' union deals (and they will be, because this country simply can't afford them any longer), what's the betting that those riding the gravy train will do everything they can to keep it on the tracks - even if it means kicking other trains off those same tracks? Will we see Greek-style riots here?

I wouldn't bet against it, right now . . . which is why it's worth reading the two articles cited above. How many similarities can you find between the financial mismanagement and corruption they describe in Greece, and what we're facing here? I can find more than a few.