Sunday, July 31, 2011

It looks weird, but if it works . . .

I was both surprised and amused to see this footage of a Chinese street-sweeping machine in operation. It looks a bit bizarre, but hey, if it works, why complain?

I had to laugh at one of the comments left on that clip's source page at Snotr:

It's a helicopter [from] the [Harry] Potter movies


The reality behind calls to "Tax The Rich"

I'm sure many readers have seen protest signs held up by left-wing or so-called 'progressive' demonstrators, demanding that the rich pay more taxes to fund social programs like Medicare, etc. Here's one example from the recent budget protests in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, such calls illustrate only the economic illiteracy of those making them.

The National Taxpayers Union has a series of tables showing the proportion of income taxes paid by those at various income levels over many years. Here are the figures for 2008, as provided by the Internal Revenue Service.

So, the top 25% of taxpayers - those earning more than $67,280 per annum, which isn't all that high - paid 86.34% of all income taxes received by the Treasury in 2008. The top 1% paid almost 40% of all the income taxes in the USA. Tell me again how the rich can be taxed even more than that . . . without driving them either into poverty, or into emigration, taking their money with them?

Anytime you hear someone demanding that we 'tax the rich', or insisting that 'the rich must pay their fair share', show them those numbers, and ask them whether the rich aren't already being soaked for far more than their fair share. If they say they're not, you know you're talking to a hard-core ideologue who's not interested in facts - only the politics of envy.

You want a fairer tax? OK, how about one that causes the bottom 50% of earners to pay something towards their upkeep? How about replacing income tax with a consumption tax - a sales tax, or a value-added tax, or something like that - which taxes every penny spent, rather than every penny earned? It's easy enough to exclude genuine staple items such as bread, milk, etc. from the tax net, so that the poor won't have to pay more for what they truly need for their daily survival. However, luxuries - including soda, candy, cellphones, etc. - would all be taxed, ensuring that all those who spend money on more than the basic necessities of life contribute to the common good.

I'd accept the replacement of income tax with consumption tax in a heartbeat. Those who are rich enough to spend more would automatically pay more tax by doing so. Those who are poor, and can't afford to spend much, would pay relatively little tax, because much of their money would (or should) be spent on basic necessities that aren't subject to taxation. Seems fair to me. What say you, readers?


Doofus Of The Day #505

Today's winner is from Cincinnati, Ohio. He allegedly stole confidential information from a former employer, then tried to extort money from them in exchange for returning the purloined material.

Police said Pence left a note behind demanding $22,000 in $100 bills be put in a bucket behind the vacant IGA on Colerain Avenue in exchange for the return of the documents and not disclosing personal information found in them.

Officers said they put fake money in the bucket, and when Pence tried to reel the bucket to himself with fishing line, they moved in and made the arrest.

Pence said he's innocent and that it was only a coincidence that he was in the area, but police are skeptical.

"He happened to be in a small wooded area on Colerain Avenue and tripped over a piece of fishing line that was attached to the bucket that had the drop in it," Denney said.

There's more at the link.

Sounds like an entirely improbable coincidence to me, too. Methinks Mr. Pence should have given more thought to his retrieval method - not to mention his cover story!


Is Australia a gateway for cyber-spying on the USA?

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests that it may be.

CYBER espionage is being used against Australia on a ''massive scale'' and some foreign spies are using Australian government networks to penetrate the cyber defences of allies such as the US, ASIO chief David Irvine has told business leaders.

Mr Irvine's speech is one of the strongest indications yet of the seriousness with which the government is treating the cyber threat.

"Electronic intelligence gathering is now a huge industry," Mr Irvine said. "It is being used against Australia on a massive scale to extract confidential information from governments, the private sector and ordinary individuals."

He hinted that Australia is often targeted by foreign spies as an easy access point into the intelligence holdings of the US and Britain.

Describing the security threat posed by cyber as "pervasive and insidious" he continued: "Worse, our own territory can be used to surreptitiously penetrate the cyber defences of our friends and allies."

Canberra has long been seen as the soft underbelly of the Western intelligence club - the alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the US - and foreign nations are known to target Australia in order to steal our allies' intelligence.

With the rise of cyber espionage, foreign states now target Australia's relatively less protected government systems to access secret material held by the US and Britain.

. . .

Earlier this year it was revealed that foreign spies, likely Chinese, hacked into Parliament House's email system and stole thousands of messages from at least 10 government ministers including the Prime Minister and the ministers for foreign affairs and defence.

Mr Irvine's speech, on July 5, came only days before the US Department of Defence (DoD) released its latest response to the cyber threat, a strategy designed to protect its 7 million computers and other devices.

In doing so, it revealed that "some foreign intelligence organisations have already acquired the capacity to disrupt elements of DoD's information infrastructure".

The US has previously revealed that every year an amount of intellectual property larger than the entire contents of the Library of Congress - some 22 million books - is stolen from US networks run by businesses, universities and government.

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

Using Australian computer networks as a 'back door' to their US counterparts would make a lot of sense. Australia is tightly tied to the USA in terms of military co-operation (via the ANZUS treaty) and technology (its armed forces use US-sourced ships, aircraft, helicopters and computer equipment), and of course they use computer systems to access operational and maintenance information for them from their manufacturers. Australia also participates in joint military intelligence activities with the USA and its allies, most recently a few weeks ago during Empire Challenge 2011. Any adversary (cough*China*cough) finding it difficult to penetrate better-protected networks in the USA (not that they're necessarily all that well protected here, anyway!) would probably find it an easier task to hack into Australian networks and 'piggyback' on them to get into their US counterparts.

Something else for US counter-intelligence to worry about . . .


Transparency in communication - literally?

I'm intrigued to learn that a transparent battery has been developed. Stanford University News reports:

It sounds like something out of a cheesy science fiction movie, but thanks to new research by several Stanford scientists, transparent cell phones are one step closer to becoming a reality.

. . .

"If you want to make everything transparent, what about the battery?" said Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and of photon science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, renowned for his work with batteries.

With graduate student Yuan Yang, who is the first author of the paper "Transparent lithium-ion batteries" in the July 25 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cui set out to create a clear battery suitable for use in consumer electronics.

. . .

Since key active materials in batteries cannot yet be made transparent or replaced with transparent alternatives, Yang and Cui realized that they had to find a way to construct a battery such that its nontransparent components were too small to be seen by the naked eye.

"If something is smaller than 50 microns, your eyes will feel like it is transparent," said Yang, because the maximum resolving power of the human eye is somewhere between 50 to 100 microns.

Yang and Cui devised a mesh-like framework for the battery electrodes, with each "line" in the grid being approximately 35 microns wide. Light passes through the transparent gaps between the gridlines; because the individual lines are so thin, the entire meshwork area appears transparent.

This was easier said than done. The pair finally came up with an ingenious three-step process that utilized low-cost, commonly available substances.

. . .

Perhaps best of all, the transparent battery is less expensive than one might expect.

"Its cost could be similar to those of regular batteries," said Cui. "Especially if we use low cost metals as current collectors, there is no reason this cannot be cheap."

The only current limitation is that the transparent battery is only about half as powerful as comparably sized lithium-ion counterparts.

"The energy density is currently lower than lithium batteries," said Yang. "It is comparable to nickel-cadmium batteries right now."

. . .

But wait, one might ask – what is the reason to have a transparent device, or even a transparent battery?

"It's very exciting for doing fundamental scientific research," said Cui. "You can study what is happening inside batteries since they are transparent now."

Grand contributions to science aside, though, there was definitely a bigger motivating force behind Yang and Cui's research.

"It just looks cool," said Cui. "I want to talk to Steve Jobs about this. I want a transparent iPhone!"

There's more at the link. Here's a video report about the breakthrough.

That's ingenious! Full marks to the researchers for first, thinking of the concept (which is hardly intuitive, after all!), and then for making it happen.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

The first Indy 500 race, 100 years ago

I found this video clip of the first 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911. It's since grown into the annual Indianapolis 500 event.

I know that fliers during World War I used to have real problems with their bowels as a result of inhaling castor oil fumes from their engines (because castor oil is a laxative). Looking at the clouds of smoke produced by castor oil from those early racing cars, I wonder whether their drivers and crews had similar problems? It'd lend a new meaning to 'the need for speed', all right!


The human tragedy of Air France Flight 447

The latest information released about the crash of Air France Flight 447 in 2009, killing 228 passengers and crew, is very sobering indeed. David Learmount reports at Flight Global:

As more detail of Air France flight 447's surreal last four-and-a-half minutes emerges in the latest interim factual report by the French investigation agency (BEA), we see yet another example of a crew that lost touch with the aeroplane it was flying.

. . .

The BEA confirms that everything the aeroplane did from the moment the problems started was the result of crew control inputs. At any time during the critical period the appropriate control inputs could have resulted in recovery of control.

AF447's flight recorder on the seabed before recovery

This blog is littered with pleas for regulators to update pilot training requirements to acknowledge how aeroplanes have changed and so has the pilot's job. There is a consistent pattern now of pilot failings that lead to accidents.

No, it's not "pilot error", it's lack of the skills needed for managing modern aeroplanes, and the reason for the lack of skills is the lack of appropriate training, and the reason for that is the regulators' refusal to modernise the training parameters. The airlines are required to train pilots for 1950s aeroplanes and then to put them in charge of 21st century ones.

There's more at the link. The bold print in the last paragraph is my emphasis.

Ever since the data recorders were recovered earlier this year, the fruit of a monumentally difficult two-year operation (for which all credit to the BEA and the ships and crews involved), the aviation industry has been on tenterhooks waiting to hear what would be revealed. Snippets of leaked information had suggested that the fault lay with the crew, rather than with the aircraft. This latest report appears to confirm that while there were problems with the Airbus A330's pitot tube(s), affecting some instruments, it's primarily the crew's faulty response to the problem that caused the fatal crash.

Flight Global has previously highlighted shortcomings in the training of commercial air crew. One hopes this incident will help to produce improvements. Very sadly, that won't bring back any of the 228 who died . . .


A very frigid world record!

It seems two Chinese men have established a new world record for being immersed in ice. What's On Xiamen reports:

Two Chinese men have set a new world record for endurance after standing encased in ice for two hours.

Chen Kecai, 52, and Jin Songhao, 54, stripped down to their swimming trunks and stepped into two transparent boxes. Ice was then poured in up to their necks.

Mr Chen lasted for 118 minutes, after which medics pulled him out of the box because of a precipitous fall in his body temperature.

Mr Jin lasted for 120 minutes, even taking the time to write some Chinese calligraphy during the ordeal, penning a sign in praise of the Communist party. "I'm fine, I'm fine," he managed to say, upon being removed from the ice, his body having turned bright red.

. . .

Both Mr Chen and Mr Jin hail from the frozen Chinese province of Heilongjiang, or Black Dragon River, which borders Siberia, where temperatures can drop to -40° C
[which is also -40° on the Fahrenheit scale] in winter.

There's more at the link.

I guess congratulations are in order to both men . . . but I can't help wonder what made them decide to try for a record like that. I mean, what's the point? A burning desire for frostbite?


Rowing to the North Pole?

An expedition has just left Resolute Bay in northern Canada in an attempt to row to the Magnetic North Pole (MNP) - or, at least, to Ellef Ringnes Island, which was the MNP's location in 1996 (it moves thirty to forty miles every year). The Telegraph reports:

They hope to make history by rowing 450 miles across the Arctic sea to the magnetic North Pole.

The trip to the Pole, which they estimate will take between four to six weeks, has not been done before. It is only possible now because of more ice-melt in the Arctic, organisers said.

Mr Wishart is leading the Old Pulteney Row To The Pole challenge to highlight the effect of climate change on the ice around the polar regions.

He has taken part in two previous expeditions to the North Pole and has also rowed across the Atlantic Ocean.

Before setting off on Saturday, he said: "No one has ever attempted this before, so we are quite literally heading off on a voyage into the unknown.

"I've seen the satellite images showing a route through the ice in late summer for the last two years, so as the expedition leader, I'm looking forward to meeting the challenge for real and making a bit of history at the same time."

. . .

Team members will row in shifts to the North Pole.

In December a boat-cum-sledge designed to navigate the icy waters of the Arctic was unveiled, which the crew will use.

Dutch yacht designer Peter Bosgraaf created the rowing boat with Devon-based Hugh Welbourne and sledge expert Roger Daynes. The vessel has sledge runners under its hull.

Built in Christchurch, Dorset, it is covered in fibres designed to withstand Arctic conditions while being light enough for the crew to pull. Its golden underside will help the men identify the vessel should it capsize.

There's more at the link.

I'll be very interested to see whether they make it through the ice to Ellef Ringnes Island. If they do, it'll be the clearest indication yet that the fabled Northwest Passage is becoming navigable for merchant shipping during the summer months. That could revolutionize seaborne trade between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and open up a new route between China and the eastern seaboard of North America (not to mention South America and Europe as well).

If you'd like to follow the progress of the expedition, the BBC will feature regular reports about it on a special section of its Web site.


Friday, July 29, 2011


This video reminds me irresistibly of the Peanuts cartoon strip, where Lucy van Pelt is always encouraging Charlie Brown to kick a football she's holding, only to whip it away as he kicks, so that he's left sprawling on the ground.

One wonders whether the kicker had ever read Peanuts. If so, he clearly didn't remember the ball-kicking episodes!


Nuclear-powered icebreakers at work

The good people at Dark Roasted Blend have published a wonderful series of photographs by Svetlana Bogdanova of Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers at work. Here are a couple of the images to whet your appetite, reduced in size to fit this blog.

The nuclear-powered icebreakers Vaygach and Taymyr at night

The Svalbard Archipelago in the Arctic Ocean

There are many more pictures at the link. They make very interesting viewing.


That's a vast vase!

I'm astonished at the sheer size of a vase sold recently at an auction in Boston. The Daily Mail reports:

At 6ft 3ins this colossus vase towers over most humans, needs hundreds of flowers to fill it and is likely to destroy your mantelpiece.

Made by Royal Doulton, it is the largest ever made and was snapped up at auction in the U.S. for £10,625.

Dating from the late 19th century it is thought that the decorative piece was commissioned for an Indian Maharajah who would have paid a princely sum of £3,500.

It is adorned with intricate floral designs by Florence Lewis - one of the Lambeth studio’s most skilled artists.

The ceramic - sporting dahlias among bamboo and exotic foliage - was included in the European furniture and decorative arts sale which took place at Skinner's auction house in Massachusetts this month.

Stuart Slavid, from the saleroom, said that the antique came through a dealer who acquired it in a private home: 'It had previously been purchased in a London sale in the 1980s.

'It's function is it's beauty as an art form and I personally believe the artistry translates better from a slight distance. The workmanship is first rate.'

Making it easier to transport the rare piece was manufactured in five separate pieces, with the collar, belly, base and handles slotting together and held together by its weight.

There's more at the link, and many photographs of the colossal piece at the auctioneer's Web page. According to the Web site Collecting Doulton, "this massive vase sold for $17,000 (£10,545). With the buyer's premium of 18.5% the successful purchaser parted with $20,145 (£12,496) to secure the item."

Frankly, I'm amazed Royal Doulton managed to fire so huge a creation without it warping in the heat. Doing it in five pieces must have helped, but ensuring that none of the pieces warped, and all fit together after firing, must have taken immense care in the production process. I wonder how many parts were discarded after firing before they finally got a set that fit together properly? And did they have to build a special oven to contain it?


Casey Research on our economy

The good people at Casey Research have just published an article titled 'Five Things You Need To Know About The Economy'. Here's an extract.

3. There is no non-disruptive way to resolve the debt. I can’t stress this point enough. Simply, there is no magic wand that can be waved in order to make the debt go away. In order for this crisis to end, someone’s ox has to be gored, and gored badly.

Yet, because we live in a democracy, where any politician wanting to be re-elected has to cater to their constituency – and politicians make their careers by being re-elected – it is considered business as usual for the denizens of Washington to hand out bread and put on circuses. It is this situation that has brought us to this place in the first place.

But it is the flip side of that equation that provides a clear signal as to where things are headed. Namely that politicians will jump through every possible hoop in order to avoid making politically unpopular decisions – even if they know that failing to act will have serious and lasting negative consequences for the nation. The key is to make sure that those consequences only become acute during the next guy’s watch.

The key point is that there is no easy fix, and there is no politically convenient time to take the draconian measures needed to rebalance the budget and get the nation’s finances in order. To actually take the measures needed to curb the deficits, let alone reduce the debt, would be political suicide.

So there will be a lot of talk blowing out of Washington, but if you have to make a bet, bet on the crisis continuing and getting worse. Greece provides a reasonable look at how things are likely to unwind. And the problems in Greece – problems which will increasingly include social unrest – are far from over.

. . .

5. The government is not your friend. Another simple truth is that the politicians, being just average humans, will always look after themselves first. They are well aware how difficult it is becoming to kick the can down the road and are only growing more desperate. And as the economy worsens and cries from the masses grow for the government to do “something,” the politicians will grow more desperate still.

As should now be clear to anyone, today’s political apparatuses are not operating based on any core principles – other than getting members of the government re-elected, that is. Thus the government of the U.S. and all the highly indebted Western nations are free to do almost anything in the name of the “public good.” Exchange controls? Higher taxes on the productive elements of society? Deliberate debasing of the currency? Outright confiscations for regulatory infractions? All of that – and literally anything else that helps mollify the masses and continue the charade – is likely.

Ironically, the worse the situation gets – and today’s GDP data again confirm the weakness in the economy – the greater the demands will be from the public for the government to do more, even though the government was mostly responsible for bringing us to this place. And so the government’s reach into your private affairs, and especially your finances, will only grow.

There's more at the link. Excellent and thought-provoking reading - and a sobering warning of what's almost certainly in store for us. Ignore this issue at your imminent financial peril.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

How not to wash the boss's car . . .

The video speaks for itself.

I can't figure out why he needed to lift the car in the first place. Surely it could have been driven out? Its tires should have been able to cross the forks of the fork-lift truck without difficulty, so why bother picking it up - unless he planned to put it on top of the containers as a prank, or something like that?

From the way he walked off, I daresay he knew his career at that particular company had just ended . . .


The amorality is sickening

I don't know whether US readers have been following the murder trial in England of 16-year-old Joshua Davies, who's just been convicted of murdering his 15-year-old former girlfriend, Rebecca Aylward. The truly sickening aspect to this case is the apparent lack of any moral convictions whatsoever by the killer and his circle of friends. As Jan Moir points out:

In October last year, Davies took Rebecca into woodland near his home village of Aberkenfig, South Wales, and murdered her. He hit her six times over the head with a rock, after attempts to break her neck failed.

He left her there, lying face down on the forest floor, wearing the new clothes she had bought for their date. Later, he took at least one friend back to view the body. Good times.

What is so awful is that this was no crime of passion or a moment of madness.

The truth is much darker and more difficult to understand.

For Davies did it for a laugh, for a dare, for a bet. He did it for a free breakfast, promised by one of his mates if he went ahead with the murder.

He did it because he was bored. And one cannot escape the bleak suspicion that he did it to have something to text his friends about, to fill a void in his personal cyberspace, to satisfy an adolescent thrill.

Rarely has a life been taken so cheaply or a murder carried out so frivolously.

No wonder that Rebecca’s family are heartbroken and have vowed never to forgive Davies. There is no reason why they should.

The court heard that the teens had an on-off relationship that was ended by Rebecca after three months.

Following this, Davies spent weeks telling friends he wanted to kill her because she was ‘annoying’.

He said he might drown her or push her off a cliff, depending on mood and circumstances. He even bought some poison, showing he had bent his mind to the practicality of the act.

His friends indulged him, egged him on, texted their words of encouragement. Later they all said that they did not take him seriously, but can that be true?

Their texted responses seem to tell a very different story. And none of them thought to warn poor Rebecca, whether they believed Davies or not.

At the very least, if it was a joke it was in extremely bad taste.

Sure, they called him a ‘sick, sick boy’, but this appeared to be in admiration rather than reproach.

Two days before the murder, Davies texted the friend who had promised to buy him a meal if he went through with the killing and told him: ‘Don’t say anything but you may just owe me a breakfast.’

The friend replied: ‘Best text I ever had mate. Seriously, if it is true I am happy to pay for a breakfast. I want all the details. You sadistic b******.’ He signed off with a smiley face symbol.

How sickening.

Surely the friend who offered to buy Davies breakfast for killing Rebecca bears a certain amount of culpability, too? And what about the rest of the gang — are they all nascent monsters, or just another batch of desensitised and casually violent teens?

During the trial, another of the friends — they cannot be named, as they are under 16 — gave evidence in court, before later mocking the proceedings and the accused on Skype. Within minutes of giving evidence via a video link.

Nothing is real to these dislocated teenagers. There seems to be a thick cyber-screen between them and the real world. Everything is a bit of a laugh to them, with none of them seemingly capable of telling right from wrong.

Davies is a bright boy whose parents went to church regularly, but he appears to have no moral compass or respect for the sanctity of life.

For him, murder was a bit of a giggle. Until he ended up in jail.

There's more at the link.

I honestly don't know what to say about this. It's so sickening, so beyond my comprehension that anyone could be so casually brutal, that I just can't wrap my mind around it.

All I can say is that, in Africa, one sometimes comes across a predator that's gone rogue. Instead of killing for food, it kills for no discernible reason whatsoever. If animals can be said to kill for fun, these rogue predators do so. The only solution to them is to put a bullet through their brain. Only by killing them can one stop their predation. In this case, one must seriously wonder whether that isn't the only way to stop predators like this conscienceless teenager . . . because I can't for the life of me see how he'll grow a conscience behind prison bars.

Does anyone have a better idea?


Doofus Of The Day #504

Today's Doofus is from Australia.

A WOMAN injured while having sex in a motel room paid for by her employer deserved the same treatment as someone who had slipped in the shower or been bashed, her lawyer has argued.

Barrister Leo Grey told the Federal Court this morning that his case involving a public servant's fight for compensation after being injured during a night of passion, "wasn't about sex."

The federal government employee, who cannot be identified, was injured when a glass light fitting came away from the wall above the bed as she was having sex with a man on November 26, 2007.

The light struck her in the face, leaving her with injuries to her nose, mouth and a tooth, as well as "a consequent psychiatric injury", described as an adjustment disorder.

She claims entitlement to compensation because her injuries were caused "during the course of her employment", as she had been sent to a country town to stay the night ahead of a meeting early the next day.

. . .

The government's workplace safety body ComCare rejected her compensation claim, upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, finding the sexual activity "was not an ordinary incident of an overnight stay like showering, sleeping or eating".

In submissions filed to the court, the woman's lawyers have argued that being injured while having sex "during an interval or interlude within an overall period or episode of work" was no different to being hurt doing other recreational activities.

"Serious drinking and socialising may be regarded as a recreational activity, yet injuries resulting from those activities ... have been found to be compensable," her lawyers argue.

There's more at the link.

Y'know, if this lawsuit succeeds (and I sincerely hope it fails), it could lead to all sorts of complications. I mean . . . if the woman's lover doesn't satisfy her, can she sue for inadequate performance? And what about size? If he's not what she's expecting, think of the financial implications! Too big - poll tax! Too small - nuisance tax! When Federal bureaucrats get involved, who knows where this could end up?


Liars. Politicians. But I repeat myself . . .

The bozos in Washington who are our elected leaders are still playing fast and loose with the facts, our finances, and the future of this country. The truth is not in them - on both sides of the political aisle.

I was going to post a long screed about the truly disastrous situation in which this country finds itself . . . but why bother? Those of you who are regular readers will know I've been saying it for years now. Those who haven't will find plenty in the archives on that subject. The only faint glimmer of . . . not hope, not light, but at least schadenfreude, is that things in Europe appear to be even worse - so much so that European capital is in flight to the USA! When even our terribly injured financial system appears to be a safer haven than Europe's, that says a whole lot, right there.

For those wanting some very dismal - but entirely factual - articles about our current situation, here are a few links.

All are worthwhile reading, even though you risk indigestion and/or migraine headaches from the undeniable facts they contain.

Folks, unless our politicians get their act together, the following sequence of events is now inevitable and unavoidable:

  1. The US government fails to put in place measures to deal with its ever-mounting indebtedness.
  2. Standard & Poor and other rating agencies therefore downgrade the credit rating of the USA.
  3. Immediately, the cost of US government borrowing from investors in its bonds (and all commercial and private borrowing as well) goes up. Even if the Federal Reserve institutes another round of so-called 'qualitative easing', printing dollars to buy bonds, it won't help - it'll simply drive inflation through the roof.
  4. I don't believe the US Government will default on its debt, but I do believe that inflation will run rampant through the economy as more and more fiat currency is put into circulation. This will eventually reduce the national debt to manageable proportions, as it can be paid off in inflated dollars - but it will also destroy (not damage, destroy) the middle and working classes in this country.

And all this will happen because our politicians can't find the courage, and honesty, and willpower to tackle the problem confronting us right now. This is just about the last chance we're going to get. As Karl Denninger points out:

This, my friends, is why we must stop the deficit spending now. I know doing so will suck. But it was going to suck in 2003, but we refused to stop. It was going to suck worse in 2007, and we were told this was a "short term" thing to "help the economy." We're now almost four years into this and there has been no cessation or slowdown in the deficits.

The problem is that all this "charging it" hasn't actually helped the economy, and if we don't stop it now we're taking the very real risk that we will lose the ability to control the outcome as the market will call "BS!"

Once it happens it's too late to change course.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The most enthusiastic crashes I've ever seen!

The video clip below is of crashes that occurred in Finland, presumably over several years of rallying in that country. Finland has, of course, produced more than its share of top rally drivers. Judging by this video, the nation's lesser drivers aspire to the same heights . . . even if they may not have the skills to match their aspirations! The sheer enthusiasm with which they hurl themselves and their cars at the surrounding landscape is mind-boggling!

Oh, well. At least the spectators (and Finland's automotive parts suppliers) benefit from such over-enthusiasm!


Two good perspectives on the Norwegian tragedy

By now I'm sure readers are familiar with the tragedy last Friday in Norway. Today I came across two very worthwhile perspectives on it.

Fellow blogger Comrade Misfit points out that it's very hard to detect a 'lone wolf' attacker before he strikes.

For the most part, the vast internal listening apparatus that has gone up in this country and others depends on loose-lipped idiots to trigger it. It depends on people doing really stupid and suspicious things, such as buying large amounts of chemicals for no apparent reason.

Asswipe apparently planned his actions for several years. He jumped through all of the strict hoops in Norway to legally purchase weapons. he purchased or made a police uniform so that nobody would question his pen carrying of weapons. He picked a "target rich" environment with no security and no means of escape for his shooting victims. He bought a farm and operated it as a cover for the purchase of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Farms use diesel fuel; not having a tank of diesel on his farm would have been unusual. It was probably easy for him to carry out pre-attack surveillance; nobody would have thought anything about a blond Norwegian male walking around either location.

There's more at the link.

The Portland Press Herald notes that such attacks have occurred anywhere and everywhere, and those trying to find a common denominator often end up making grievous misjudgements that cause as much harm as the terrorism itself.

From the rage of psychotic loners to the organized attacks of terrorist conspiracies, we have seen buildings blown up, schools riddled, summer camps turned into slaughterhouses, subways blasted into twisted wreckage and even a member of Congress wounded and a federal judge slain.

The attacks occur where access to guns is easy as well as where firearms are tightly regulated. In Oklahoma City and now Oslo, a commonly available agricultural fertilizer, ammonium nitrate, has been made into a bomb to kill the innocent by the dozens.

Those attempting to find a common thread too often fall into distortions that do damage beyond that of the attacks themselves. A billion and a half Muslims, most of whom live in peace with their neighbors, are feared and sometimes hated because of the carnage done by a small percentage of those who claim to share their faith.

Again, more at the link. The newspaper goes on to warn that we dare not surrender our liberties in exchange for an illusory safety.

Both articles are highly recommended reading.


Doofus Of The Day #503

Today's award goes to the Worcestershire County Council in England.

Residents on the quiet square watched in disbelief as workmen dug up 300ft of road and laid fresh Tarmac - but left a neat, rectangular island around one car.

The owner of a Fiat Punto which was left on St George's Square in Worcester had failed to move the car before the scheduled work began.

One resident said: 'It's utter madness. I couldn't believe the workmen started resurfacing the road around the car. When the car is finally moved the road will look ridiculous.'

Worcestershire County Council had told people in the area last week that it would take two days to re-lay the road which was last done 25 years ago.

When workmen showed up to start the job, they discovered one car hadn't been moved. They proceeded to dig up the road, leaving a 10ft by 6ft rectangular island around the car.

There's more at the link.

Why they couldn't simply tow the damn car before starting to resurface the road is beyond me . . .

Oh, well. Your taxes at work!


Politics, economics and reality

I'm depressed to see so little recognition of economic reality by our politicians in Washington, and by the news media who are supposed to be keeping us informed of the state of the nation. Both are examples of abject failure.

Even commentators who should know better are still pontificating about political parties, as if they really mattered any more. For example, Richard Miniter writes about 'Why The Democratic Party Is Doomed', while George Will maintains 'Tea Party Gaining: Just Needs Obama Out Of Office'. Both seem to forget that it was the Republican Party and President Bush, not the Democrats or President Obama, that accelerated the wildly undisciplined, out-of-control spending in the early years of this century that led us to the nightmare fiscal situation in which we find ourselves. Sure, the Democrats and President Obama have spent more in the past three years than any sane person would; but they were simply continuing a tradition begun by their opposite numbers. Neither party is guiltless; both parties share responsibility.

Theodore Dalrymple, a commentator for whom I have the greatest respect, writes about Britain in City Journal:

For some politicians, running up deficits is not a problem but a benefit, since doing so creates a population permanently in thrall to them for the favors by which it lives. The politicians are thus like drug dealers, profiting from their clientele’s dependence, yet on a scale incomparably larger. The Swedish Social Democrats understood long ago that if more than half of the population became economically dependent on government, either directly or indirectly, no government of any party could easily change the arrangement. It was not a crude one-party system that the Social Democrats sought but a one-policy system, and they almost succeeded.

. . .

Wherever one looks into the expanded public sector, one finds the same thing: a tremendous rise in salaries, pensions, and perquisites for those working in it. ... In effect, a large public service nomenklatura was created, whose purpose, or at least effect, was to establish an immense network of patronage and reciprocal obligation: a network easy to install but hard to dislodge, since those charged with removing it would be the very people who benefited most from it.

. . .

The legacy of Britain’s previous government, which expanded the public sector incontinently, is thus an almost Marxian conflict of classes, not between the haves and have-nots (for many of the people in the public service are now well-heeled indeed) but between those who pay taxes and those who consume them.

In this conflict, one side is bound to be more militant and ruthless than the other, since taxes are increased incrementally - and everyone is already accustomed to them, anyway — but jobs are lost instantaneously and catastrophically, with the direst personal consequences. Thus those who oppose tax increases and favor government retrenchment will seldom behave as aggressively as those who will suffer personally from budget reductions. Moreover, when, as in Britain, entire areas have lived on government charity for many years — with millions dependent on it for virtually every mouthful of food, every scrap of clothing, every moment of distraction by television — common humanity dictates care in altering the system. The extreme difficulty of reducing subventions once they have been granted should serve as a warning against instituting them in the first place, but in Britain, it appears, it never will. We seem caught in an eternal cycle, in which a period of government overspending and intervention leads to economic crisis and hence to a period of austerity, which, once it is over, is replaced by a new period of government overspending and intervention, promoted by politicians, half-charlatan and half-self-deluded, who promise the electorate the sun, moon, and stars.

There's much more at the link. I recommend Dr. Dalrymple's article very highly. His comments can be just as easily applied to our situation here in the USA.

Note that it doesn't matter which political party promises 'bread and circuses' at public expense. Both parties do it. It was the Republican party that passed huge increases in farm subsidies, to benefit its constituents. It was the Democratic party that passed Obamacare, with its enormous subsidies to special interest groups supporting that party. Both parties are equally guilty of misusing taxpayers' money to subsidize those who support them.

The problem we face isn't which party is in power, or which President is in the White House. It's to elect politicians who will:

  • be faithful to their oath of office;
  • listen to their constituents and vote according to their wishes; and
  • will educate themselves to understand the reality of the problems confronting us and work to resolve them, rather than allowing their parties to dictate to them how they should vote in the interests of the party.

I don't give a damn what party a candidate may belong to, as long as he or she meets those three conditions. If they do, they'll have my support.

Regrettably, I think such candidates are few and far between. The Tea Party movement has had the beneficial effect of producing more of them in conservative ranks. Now we need an equivalent to the Tea Party on the left of the political aisle, to produce similarly responsible candidates in liberal and progressive ranks. Believe me, if they're there, people like myself - who aren't loyal to parties, but to principles - are much more likely to support them than we are to vote along party lines. I'm a mixture of conservative and classic liberal in my political outlook: but I'll vote for an honest, principled progressive, meeting the three criteria above, in a heartbeat, rather than for some of the RINO's and ideologically hidebound conservatives that currently waste their breath and our time in Washington.

Of course, there are still all too many people who'll vote the party ticket, no matter what: but they're part of the problem in this country, not the solution. If even 10% of the electorate will vote for principle rather than party, we'll see a major transformation in Washington. Let's make it happen!


Weird headline of the week

I've just found what may be the weirdest headline - and story - of the week. The Russian TV news program and Web site RT has a story headed 'Depressed ferret escapes circus with ape and parrot in tow'.

A circus in the Siberian city of Chita is missing some of its animal stars. A ferret, an ape and a parrot have found a way out and headed for freedom. Management blames the bad weather, which made the performers gloomy and depressed.

“We believe that the animals escaped due to depression, since we have had unremitting rains here in Chita,” performance director of the circus Zhanna Lazerson told Interfax news agency.

“We later found the ape in a dog’s cage, where they slept together hugging,” she added.

The search for the ferret and the parrot is still underway. Lazerson says the bird’s acting partner is missing him a lot. As for the mammal, which is suspected of leading the grand escape, it is hoped that he will come back when he is hungry.

“Our ferret is a heavy eater and lazy too. He always takes long breaks after working,” the director said.

As the search goes, the runaway ferret has launched a personal twitter account @FerretFeelsDown and complained about the never-ending rain. Compassionate followers have already left their comments supporting the little animal and asking for the number of an account to donate for anti-depressants for the ferret.

There's more at the link.

Donations for anti-depressant pills for a ferret??? That sounds almost as good a cause as some offers I've had from Nigerian bankers recently . . .


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Off-road FAIL!

When tackling an off-road course up a steep hill, it pays you to pay attention to the directions from your guide. If you don't, this sort of thing can happen.



Miss D. is home!

Miss D. arrived safely home today after spending a couple of days visiting with Brigid, Tamara and other blogging friends in the Indianapolis area. I met her at a local airport at about 11.30 this morning, after we'd been apart for almost three months while she put the finishing touches to her airplane and flew the 4,000 miles from Alaska, down the Alcan Highway to Montana, then across the country from West to East, dodging thunderstorms and other hazards en route.

I'm very, very proud of my lady. Over the course of almost four years, she bought a vintage 1941 aircraft that was literally in pieces, the wings entirely disassembled and lacking spars; endured crippling injuries, yet pushed herself through rehabilitation therapy to such an extent that she could resume a normal life, despite ongoing problems with pain and the after-effects of the injuries; rebuilt the wings around new spars, re-covered them, and renovated the fuselage and other bits and pieces; and this year, flew the plane for the first time, got her type rating in it, then brought it home over all that distance. All in all, that's a hell of an achievement by anyone's standards.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm not only very proud of my wife, I love her very much, too. It's wonderful to have her home again.


I've heard of 'loud sex', but never like this!

I'm a bit mind-boggled by a report from the BBC.

A tiny water boatman is the loudest animal on Earth relative to its body size, a study has revealed.

Scientists from France and Scotland recorded the aquatic animal "singing" at up to 99.2 decibels, the equivalent of listening to a loud orchestra play while sitting in the front row.

The insect makes the sound by rubbing its penis against its abdomen in a process known as "stridulation".

Researchers say the song is a courtship display performed to attract a mate.

. . .

The team of biologists and engineering experts recorded the insects using specialist underwater microphones.

On average, the songs of M. scholtzi reached 78.9 decibels, comparable to a passing freight train.

. . .

Dr Windmill explained that the reason the insects don't deafen us is down to the bug's underwater lifestyle.

Although 99% of the sound is lost when transferring from water to air, the songs were still loud enough to be audible to the human ear.

"The song is so loud that a person walking along the bank can actually hear these tiny creatures singing from the bottom of the river," said Dr Windmill.

. . .

Researchers believe that sexual selection could be the reason why the insects' songs reach such high amplitude.

"We assume that this could be the result of a runaway selection," biologist and co-author Dr Jerome Sueur from the Museum of Natural History, Paris, told the BBC.

"Males try to compete to have access to females and then try to produce a song as loud as possible potentially scrambling the song of competitors."

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

There are so many comments one could make about this subject that I'm almost afraid to start - particularly as the very thought of using one's sex organ to produce such volume, in such a manner, is painful! However, I'm sure my readers are up to it (you should pardon the expression). Let's hear your contributions in Comments!


The ultimate irony in religious intolerance

I note with displeasure that American Atheists is protesting - and taking legal action to prevent - the display of the 'World Trade Center Cross' at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

The World Trade Center Cross, as discovered in the ruins, and as displayed thereafter
(images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

CNN reports:

The "government enshrinement of the cross was an impermissible mingling of church and state," the American Atheists say in a press statement.

The group says it filed the lawsuit this week in state court in New York and posted a copy of the lawsuit on its website.

The lawsuit names many defendants, including the state of New Jersey, the city of New York , New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

. . .

"The WTC cross has become a Christian icon," said Dave Silverman, president of the atheist group. "It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn't be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross. It's a truly ridiculous assertion."

There's more at the link.

Leaving aside the complete lack of empathy displayed by American Atheists, who appear quite happy to disparage, denigrate and defy the personal faith of millions of Americans in order to make their point, let me point out three relevant facts.

  1. The fundamentalist Muslim terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center and killed the best part of 3,000 people in the twin towers did so in the name of their God, whom they believed to have commanded them to kill all enemies of Islam. They took it upon themselves to classify those they murdered as being such enemies.
  2. The responders who rushed to rescue thousands of survivors, at the cost of hundreds of their own lives, were in many cases motivated by their faith in a different sort of God - the God who is reported to have said: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends". Those they rescued weren't even their friends . . . but they laid down their lives for them, and in doing so, became their 'friends' in the truest possible sense.
  3. The World Trade Center Cross is perhaps the most potent symbol imaginable of the difference between the world-views of the terrorists who perpetrated this atrocity, and those who responded to it to save the lives of so many victims. As such, it surely rises above any particular faith, creed or culture as a symbol of mercy in the midst of violence, death and destruction.

I can't help but think that American Atheists, as a group and as individual members of that group, don't give a damn about that reality. Their ridiculous self-righteousness in this affair brings to mind another quote from the New Testament, which I submit they would do well to consider, irrespective of their religious (or irreligious) views. What sort of fruit are they displaying to the world through their present actions?


Wrinkled fingers - Nature's rain treads?

There's a new theory on why our fingers develop prune-like channels when the skin gets soaked. NatureNews reports:

The wrinkles that develop on wet fingers could be an adaptation to give us better grip in slippery conditions, the latest theory suggests.

The hypothesis, from Mark Changizi, an evolutionary neurobiologist at 2AI Labs in Boise, Idaho, and his colleagues goes against the common belief that fingers turn prune-like simply because they absorb water.

Changizi thinks that the wrinkles act like rain treads on tyres. They create channels that allow water to drain away as we press our fingertips on to wet surfaces. This allows the fingers to make greater contact with a wet surface, giving them a better grip.

Scientists have known since the mid-1930s that water wrinkles do not form if the nerves in a finger are severed, implying that they are controlled by the nervous system.

"I stumbled upon these nearly century-old papers and they immediately suggested to me that pruney fingers are functional," says Changizi. "I discussed the mystery with my student Romann Weber, who said, 'Could they be rain treads?' 'Brilliant!' was my reply."

. . .

When we press down with a finger, we apply pressure from the tip backwards. The sides of the finger are like cliffs where water can easily fall away, but the flat part is more like a plateau where water can pool. Wrinkles form on the plateau because "that's where all the work has to be done to channel the water away", Changizi explains.

. . .

... water wrinkles appear only on the fingers and feet, and that the most prominent wrinkles develop at the ends of digits, which are the first parts to touch a surface.

Changizi now wants to see if mammals that live in wet habitats are more likely to develop wrinkled fingers. "E-mails to a couple dozen primate labs led to a couple dozen 'gosh-I-don't-knows'," he says. "It occurred to me to look at the bathing [Japanese] macaques, and I finally found one photograph [of a monkey] with pruney fingers. So it's at least us and macaques, and surely many others."

There's more at the link.

Earlier this year, Wired published an article titled 'Physics of Pruney Fingers Revealed'. It also suggests that the shape of the wrinkles on wet fingers isn't an accident, and describes the skin in terms of a mathematical model. It'd be interesting to put that study together with this one and see what comes out in the wash (you should pardon the expression).


Monday, July 25, 2011

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

On the other hand, if you really, really need to wake up, perhaps these are friends worth having . . .

Hey, I said 'perhaps'!


Doofus Of The Day #502

Today's winner comes from Florida.

Joseph P. Williamson, 31, was working on the fuel lines of the 1997 Saturn belonging to his girlfriend, Sommer M. Brocuglio, 34, outside their home on 61st Avenue N when the gas ignited.

Witnesses said Williamson was trying to siphon gas with an electric leaf blower when a spark from the blower ignited the fire, the report said.

There's more at the link.

He was trying to do WHAT with a WHAT???

Ye Gods and little fishes . . .


World's most expensive hot dog?

It seems there's a new level of excess in regional baseball.

The Brockton Rox have introduced what they claim is the world's most expensive hot dog to stadium kiosks, an $80 feast made from ingredients rarely seen on a fast-food menu.

The club's McMullen Dog, named for Atlantic City chef Ryan McMullen who came up with the idea, features a half-pound all-beef sausage rolled in truffle oil, coated with the dust of pulverised porcini mushrooms and topped with white truffle shavings.

The bread roll is buckwheat blini, hand crafted by one of Cape Cod's most exclusive bakeries. And in place of the more familiar ketchup and mustard, fans can choose a creme fraiche dressing with a dollop of caviar and salmon roe.

Sander Stotland, the club's director of food and beverage, insists that the hot dogs will still deliver an authentic ballpark taste because the sausages are deep-fried.

"It's a cross of the redneck meets the rich and famous," he told The Enterprise, Brockton's local newspaper.

There's more at the link.

Darned if I'd pay $80 for a hot dog, even if it was delivered to my seat by a team of singing, dancing, nude cheerleaders! Still, I hope those who can afford it, enjoy it . . .


Royal wheels indeed!

A rather special Rolls-Royce car is to be sold at auction next month. Wired magazine reports:

This preposterous 1925 New Phantom was built as a dedicated hunting car by Rolls-Royce with coachwork by Barker & Company in 1925 at the request of Umed Singh II, Maharaja of Kotah.

(All images courtesy of Bonhams Auctions)

On board is enough firepower to blow away the Bronx Zoo including a double-barrel howdah pistol and a mountable Lantaka cannon used for hunting elephants. There’s also a rifle stand in the rear seat and, especially for Bengal tigers, a machine gun that can be trailered from the rear of the car. Rifles and bird guns are stored in the rear of the car.

While the phrase “trailer-mounted machine gun” conjures up images of ragtag Afghan warlords driving clapped-out Toyota Hiluxes, this is still one extravagant car. It’s got an 8-liter, 6-cylinder engine that put out what Rolls-Royce then called “adequate” horsepower, plus a low gearing ratio and tall tires for maneuvering through rough jungle terrain. Lighting included front and rear spotlights plus a red light that glowed when the Maharaja was on board. A blue light was lit if his wife was a passenger.

Oddly, a car designed for hunting big game in the wilds of the Indian subcontinent was finished in a nautical theme with a boatlike hood and cowl ventilation. That makes the nickel-plated horn shaped like a hissing snake all the more incongruous.

There's more at the link. The vehicle's expected to fetch between US $750,000 and $1 million.

I'm most intrigued by the towed machine-gun provided with the car. It's a very rare Bira gun, made in Nepal at the end of the 19th century.

Very few were made, and since each was produced by hand, parts are seldom interchangeable among surviving weapons. The Lantaka cannon mentioned in the article is also relatively rare, although less so than the Bira gun. It was a small swivel-type cannon produced in the Philippines, Brunei and other island nations during the 19th century. Here's a photograph of a Lantaka cannon recently sold by the Cannon Superstore (what a name for a gun shop!).

You'll find more pictures of other Lantaka cannon at the link.

I can't help but wonder how the Maharajah's servants prepared a swivel gun for action while mounted on a car bouncing over the landscape. It was muzzle-loading, of course, so they had to make the first shot count; because if they didn't, the tiger would have been taking chunks out of the Maharajah's Royal Backside before they could reload! I suspect that wouldn't have been good for their promotion prospects . . .


A new look at evangelization

As a retired pastor, and a man of faith, I have my own views on religion and spirituality; but I'm open to the views of others as well, in a spirit of openness and genuine interest. I'm not out to convert them except by example, and I trust they'll approach me with equal respect. We can learn a lot from each other.

In that light, a recent article by Carl Medearis offered an interesting approach to evangelization. Here's an excerpt.

Jesus was the master of challenging religious prejudice and breaking down sectarian walls. Why do so many Christians want to rebuild those walls?

Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it’s faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion or a new socio-religious identity.

What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on “evangelizing” and “converting” people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?

Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?

. . .

Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.

. . .

I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus.

Jesus met people where they were. Instead of trying to figure out who’s “in” and who’s “out,” why don’t we simply invite people to follow Jesus — and let Jesus run his kingdom?

Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with. And since evangelicals like to say that it’s not about religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus, perhaps we should practice what we preach.

There's more at the link. Thought-provoking reading for people of faith. I don't agree with all Mr. Medearis' views, but I applaud him for thinking outside the usual evangelical box.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another weirdly funny Japanese game show

This one seems to revolve around the principle that contestants have to climb a flight of stairs - which has been liberally coated with a very slippery substance - to 'rescue' some 'victims' trapped in a 'fire'. The first video clip shows how they go about it.

The second clip shows the hosts (and others) at the top of the stairs, bombarding the 'rescuers' as they try to climb up!

Looks like a good - albeit painful - time was had by all . . .