Monday, April 30, 2012

An historic aviation fly-past

Earlier this month the five surviving veterans of the Doolittle Raid gathered in Dayton, OH to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the operation.  Also in attendance were 20 B-25 Mitchell bombers, the type of aircraft that performed the mission.  You can find many photographs of them at the Airpigz blog report of the event.  Historic photographs of the departure of the bombers from the USS Hornet may be found at this US Navy commemorative Web page.

B-25 bombers on the deck of USS Hornet prior to the raid (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Nineteen of the B-25's provided a formation fly-past over the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio on April 18th, 2012.  Here's a great video of the occasion, filmed from inside one of the participating B-25's.  I highly recommend watching the video in full-screen mode - and adjust your computer's speaker volume to hear those lovely radial engines!

What a great piece of living aviation history!

May the many Doolittle Raiders who are no longer with us rest in peace, as well as all those killed during and after the raid (particularly the quarter of a million Chinese murdered by Japanese armed forces during their search for the raiders).


The militarization of law enforcement - and vice versa

Many (including myself) have pointed out the dangers inherent in the 'militarization' of law enforcement in the USA.  However, I wasn't aware (until recently) that some Special Forces units were being called upon to conduct more operations in a law-enforcement-type role as well.

I recently came across a very interesting report on this subject from an organization called Public Intelligence.  It describes itself as follows:

Public Intelligence is an international, collaborative research project aimed at aggregating the collective work of independent researchers around the globe who wish to defend the public’s right to access information. We operate upon a single maxim: equal access to information is a human right. We believe that limits to the average citizen’s ability to access information have created information asymmetries which threaten to destabilize democratic rule around the world. Through the control of information, governments, religions, corporations, and a select group of individuals have been able to manipulate public perception into accepting coercive agendas which are ultimately designed to limit the sovereignty and freedom of populations worldwide.

This site is an attempt to compile and defend public information using software and methods which are open source and available to the public at large. It is our hope that by making such information available and demonstrating the power of a public resolved to inform itself, we may engender a more informed and proactive populace. Within our first two years of operation, we have already received more than twenty threats and takedown notices from government agencies and corporations around the world for publishing documents discovered via open source methods available to any member of the public. No information has ever been removed or censored.

We provide documents, detailed analyses, and a host of other open-source intelligence products from the private and public sector.

There's more at the link.

Public Intelligence has made available a 'Joint Special Operations University Report on Convergence of Special Forces and Civilian Law Enforcement'.  (The full report can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat format at the link.)  It suggests that the militarization of law enforcement has a corollary in the US armed forces - namely, the 'law enforcement-ization' (to coin a phrase) of some military functions.  Here are some extracts from Public Intelligence's summary of the report's contents.

In recent years there has been an apparent convergence of the operations conducted by Special Operations Forces (SOF) and those of civilian law enforcement agencies (LEAs), especially Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units, in what were formerly separate and distinct missions. The requirements to obtain warrants prior to execution of raids for high-value targets, collect and preserve evidence for criminal prosecution, and on occasion present testimony in courts of law are new missions for SOF. They are not relatively simple changes in the rules of engagement or comparable techniques. As far as can be determined, previously no U.S. military combat arms unit has ever been tasked with such a mission during combat operations. The thesis is straightforward; if such missions are to continue, then consideration must be given to adequate training for them.

In addition, the dangers faced by civilian LEAs in the U.S. have been constantly escalating. Many criminals are equipped with fully automatic weapons and in some areas conducting small-unit operations. The response to these threats requires additional SOF-like civilian units within LEAs. As such, SOF and LEAs will be competing for personnel from a limited subset of the American population.

. . .

An important issue surfaced while conducting interviews with special operations personnel from various elements concerning assigned missions. That topic was how many of them reported being asked to conduct functions in Iraq that were very similar to those found in U.S. civilian law enforcement. These assignments were found at various operational levels from those involved in direct action and capture of high-value targets to liaison with Iraqi law enforcement at varying levels of headquarters. It is noted some officers believe such tasks and constraints to be inappropriate for SOF; however, that discussion is not relevant to this monograph. The missions have occurred, are ongoing, and likely to represent a trend for the future.

. . .

The merging of law enforcement and combat operations is producing a fundamental change in how the Department of Defense (DoD) is conducting combat operations. The global war on terrorism (GWOT) is forcing combat soldiers to collect evidence and preserve combat objectives as crime scenes in order to prevent captured enemy forces from returning to the field of battle. The military has been slow to codify the doctrinal and equipment changes that support the incorporation of law enforcement techniques and procedures into military operations.

Again, more at the link.  Bold print is my emphasis.

The Joint Special Operations University is certainly an authoritative source for such a report, and as such lends credibility to its contents, IMHO.  I highly recommend downloading and reading the full report.  It's one of the most comprehensive overviews of this field that I've yet read, and is very informative, particularly in the light of previously-expressed concerns over the 'militarization' of US law enforcement.  As to whether or not such military units might ever be asked to conduct law-enforcement-type operations inside the US . . . I don't know whether Posse Comitatus would make that illegal - or, even if it did, whether an increasingly and already disturbingly authoritarian government would simply disregard that.  Definitely food for thought!

(While you're at it, spend some time going through the other information released by Public Intelligence.  It's very interesting, and potentially very useful.)


Some amazing pictures of Mars

Imgur has provided '21 Unbelievable Photos from Mars'.  Here are a couple to whet your appetite, reduced in size to fit this blog.

There are many more pictures at the link.  Open each one in a new tab or window to see a much larger image.  They make very interesting viewing.

(I'm informed that what looks like vegetation - trees - in the second image above isn't anything of the sort, but rather patterns on the ground.  You can see them more clearly in the full-size image.)


Are bureaucrats as eternal as their policies seem to be?

One can only hope not!  A few years ago, USA Today reported:

A pesky, century-old tax on your phone bill is finally being put to rest.

The Treasury Department said Thursday that it will no longer collect a 3% federal excise tax on long-distance calls and would refund about $15 billion to taxpayers.

The tax was imposed in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American War. It was designed as a tax on wealthy Americans, back when phone service was considered a luxury.

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

I daresay the war's been paid for by now!  That's an even bigger bureaucratic blunder than Robert Sobel's famous tale, as recorded by Robert Townsend:

"The British created a civil-service job in 1803 calling for a man to stand on the Cliffs of Dover with a spyglass.  He was supposed to ring a bell if he saw Napoleon coming.  The job was abolished in 1945."

I have a suggestion.  Let's abolish 50% of all Government administrative jobs right away, followed by a further 5% reduction every year until such time as we find it truly impossible to run the country.  Then add back the last 5% to be cut, and keep the level there.  We'd save a fortune, and the time-servers and seat-warmers would have to find a more productive way to make a living instead of consuming our taxes to no good end.

Bureaucrats!  Grrr!


EDITED TO ADD:  I note that some commenters thought this was a current report until they read the source article, and realized it was from 2006.  I posted it because the similarity to the British civil service position (which was in effect for almost one and a half centuries) struck me as incongruous.  I should have made it more clear that this wasn't a contemporary issue.  My bad.  Sorry if I caused any confusion.

The irony! It burns!

You know how wind-generated electricity was supposed to be 'greener' than the regularly-generated stuff, and would help to 'save the planet', and all those good things?  Not so fast.  The Telegraph reports:

Wind farms can cause climate change, according to new research, that shows for the first time the new technology is already pushing up temperatures.

Usually at night the air closer to the ground becomes colder when the sun goes down and the earth cools.

But on huge wind farms the motion of the turbines mixes the air higher in the atmosphere that is warmer, pushing up the overall temperature.

Satellite data over a large area in Texas, that is now covered by four of the world's largest wind farms, found that over a decade the local temperature went up by almost 1C as more turbines are built.

This could have long term effects on wildlife living in the immediate areas of larger wind farms.

It could also affect regional weather patterns as warmer areas affect the formation of cloud and even wind speeds.

. . .

The study, published in Nature, found a “significant warming trend” of up to 0.72C (1.37F) per decade, particularly at night-time, over wind farms relative to near-by non-wind-farm regions.

There's more at the link.

So a much-hyped technology that was supposed to help stave off global warming is instead contributing to it, at least on a local scale!  All those birds are dying for no good reason!  For a brief, delirious moment, I thought I could actually hear environmentalists weeping, and wailing, and gnashing their teeth.  Isn't the irony too delicious for words?


Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Milky Way from Mount Teide

The video clip below was taken from Mount Teide on Tenerife, largest of the Canary Islands.  The photographer describes it as follows:

This was filmed between 4th and 11th April 2011. I had the pleasure of visiting El Teide.  Spain´s highest mountain (12,198 feet/3,718 meters) is one of the best places in the world to photograph the stars and is also the location of Teide Observatory, considered to be one of the world´s best observatories.

The goal was to capture the beautiful Milky Way galaxy along with one of the most amazing mountains I know, El Teide. I have to say this was one of the most exhausting trips I have done. There was a lot of hiking at high altitudes and probably less than 10 hours of sleep in total for the whole week. Having been here 10-11 times before I had a long list of must-see locations I wanted to capture for this movie, but I am still not 100% used to carrying around so much gear required for time-lapse movies.

A large sandstorm hit the Sahara Desert on the 9th April and at approx 3am in the night the sandstorm hit me, making it nearly impossible to see the sky with my own eyes.

Interestingly enough my camera was set for a 5 hour sequence of the milky way during this time and I was sure my whole scene was ruined. To my surprise, my camera had managed to capture the sandstorm which was backlit by Grand Canary Island making it look like golden clouds. The Milky Way was shining through the clouds, making the stars sparkle in an interesting way. So if you ever wondered how the Milky Way would look through a Sahara sandstorm, look at 00:32.

Music by my friend: Ludovico Einaudi - "Nuvole bianche" with permission.  Please support the artist here:​us/​album/​una-mattina/​id217799399

Here's the video.  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

If you ever get the chance to go to Tenerife, Mount Teide is not to be missed.


English-isms, translated

Received via e-mail:

As a British-Colonial expatriate, allow me to assure you, this is more accurate than most Brits would like to admit!  Miss D., having read it, sighs, and says she now understands why she sometimes doesn't understand me . . .


Doofus Of The Day #594

Today's award goes to an inebriated motorist in Washington state.  The Seattle Times reports:

Police discovered that the owner had reported his car stolen because he did not want his buddy, whom he believed to be inebriated, driving the Audi.

How reporting the car stolen would prevent his friend from taking the wheel is not clear.

But the “victim” was right about his buddy’s  condition, according to Seattle police.

The 911 caller was arrested on suspicion of making a false police report. The 911 caller’s buddy was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

There's more at the link.

So, an inebriated vehicle owner calls the cops to tell them that his car - in which he's currently sitting - has been stolen, in order to avoid it being used by an inebriated friend - who's already driving it. How many mistakes can you find in this picture?


Around the blogs

Here's another trawl through the blogosphere over the past week.

Let's start with some animals.  Alan Caruba points out:  "If you look closely at virtually everything environmentalists say about any subject, you will conclude that it closely resembles cow farts."  The accompanying picture speaks volumes!

The good people at I Can Has Cheezburger? have been producing some fun images of late.  Here's one that made me snort coffee through my sinuses.

Click the image to be taken to its home page.

Murphy's Law brings us the story of 'The Anti-Gunner and the Overly Helpful Dog' - a heart-rending tale of firearms and sexual frustration.  If you've never heard of the combination, go read . . .

While on the subject of sexual frustration, Dustbury brings us an advertisement for a car that claims to be 'better than your last 4 romantic encounters . . . combined'!  How can one resist?

The law rears its ugly head in a highly amusing fashion.  Ken at Popehat describes his takedown of a threatening idiot - which leads to offers of sex and babies at Regretsy!  Do read the comments at the second link . . . they're pretty spectacular!

Time comes in for its share of attention this week.  Les Jones has a lot of interesting information about how watches work.  When they don't work any more, The Feral Irishman (warning:  his blog is sometimes not safe for work) shows us what can be made out of their parts - like this, for example:

Steampunk-style motorcycles made from broken watches!  You've got to love the creativity!

While on the subject of mechanical things, Warren Meyer at Coyote Blog warns against developing artificial intelligence software to control a real mechanical monster.  I couldn't agree more!  Follow the link at his blog to find out why.

I've had enough of politics for a while, so I haven't included much in this week's blog roundup;  but two articles by Craig Steiner caught my eye, dealing with 'The Myth of the Clinton Surplus', Part 1 and Part 2.  They handily debunk the long-standing, but erroneous claim that President Clinton actually maintained a federal budget surplus during his administration.

Hell In A Handbasket points us to an interesting compendium of Victorian self-defense techniques.  I found the stick-fighting instruction particularly interesting, as it looks very similar in some respects to some of the Zulu knobkerrie techniques I learned in South Africa a few decades ago.  Small world, I guess . . .

The Art of Manliness asks, 'Are You As Fit As a World War II GI?'

Judging by the exercises listed and the number of repetitions required, I'm certainly not - but then, I've been partly physically disabled for the best part of a decade, so I guess I have an excuse!  How about you?

And finally (but by no means least), the indispensable 'Watts Up With That?' brings us an intriguing article concerning evidence that nearby supernovae have influenced and affected life on Earth.  If true, this new theory is likely to be yet another (and very important) piece of evidence mitigating against the anthropogenic-global-warming theory.

More from the rest of the blogosphere next week.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

With opposable thumbs, this cat could rule the world!

The video speaks for itself.


Doofus Of The Day #593

Today's award goes to the government of Miami-Dade County in Florida.  Autoblog reports:

Have you ever bought a brand new cars only to forget where you put it? How about 300 of them? Probably not – unless you're Miami-Dade County, which was recently reunited with 298 vehicles it bought brand new between 2006 and 2007.

The county "discovered" this fleet of no-mileage vehicles after reading about them in a Spanish-language newspaper there (see the source for more images). Most of the misplaced motorcade is made up of Toyota Prius hybrids whose warranties either expired with very few miles on the odo or will very soon.

. . .

We're not sure what that much time in Miami heat and humidity does to an unused hybrid powertrain, but it can't be good.

There's more at the link.

Even for a bureaucrat, simply forgetting 300 brand-new cars in a parking garage is a bit much!  Looking at the pictures of the vehicles at the linked post, they must have cost at least $20,000 apiece on average, even allowing for bulk purchasing discounts.  That means something like six million dollars of taxpayers' money was tied up in these unused, rusting assets!  If I were a Miami-Dade County taxpayer, I'd be furious - but what's the bet that no-one will ever be held accountable?

Bureaucrats!  Grrr!


The Los Angeles riots: 20 years later

I'm sure many readers remember the Los Angeles riots of 1992, including the infamous Reginald Denny incident, which was featured on TV news reports all over the world.  (I watched it in South Africa, and remember thinking that LA was getting more and more like some parts of South Africa in terms of civil unrest!)  They began on April 29th, 20 years ago tomorrow (Sunday).

I've read a number of reports of what it was like to be in the middle of those riots.  Perhaps the most graphic account (although some have questioned its veracity in parts) was recently republished on the Bonnie Gadsden blog, in ten parts.  Here are the links:

News media are bringing us retrospective reports and commentary to mark the anniversary.  For those who want to view them, there are many video clips about the riots on YouTube.

I can't help thinking that the recent decision to charge George Zimmerman with murder for the shooting of Trayvon Martin was motivated, at least in part, by a desire to head off community anger and prevent a repeat of the LA 1992 riots in Florida.  If Mr. Zimmerman is found not guilty, I won't take any bets that the urban underclass won't engage in similar conduct.  They haven't changed much . . .

(That remark, by the way, is not racist.  Video of the 1992 riots demonstrates clearly that looting and mob violence were not confined to only one race;  although the majority of participants appeared to be Black, there were also Whites and Asians involved.  I'm sure that if similar problems arise in Florida, the same will be true there.  Membership of the 'underclass' is a matter of attitude and ingrained culture, far more than skin color.)

At least 54 people died in the 1992 riots, and thousands were injured.  Let's remember the victims at this time, and pray that there won't be any more, anytime soon, in this troubled and divided nation.


Uh-huh . . .

Received via e-mail:

Yeah, right!


Friday, April 27, 2012

The lost world

That's the title given to this video of Kauai, fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands.  The creator notes:

This entire film was filmed on the island of Kauai over a 9 day period. The first 3 days were spent hiking the Napali coast, a 11 mile hike along the coast. We did this for 3 days. After this we spent 2 more days exploring the island. I did this with 8 other friends. After the 5 days were up with them, they all flew back to Oahu where everyone was living, and I stayed on the island on my own for 4 more days.

I had a rental truck, that's how I got around. I didn't want to spend money on hotels though, so I slept in the truck, in a Walmart parking lot for the other 4 nights. A lot of cars get broken in on the island of Kauai, according to rumors, so that's why I would camp in the parking lots, so I was a lot more exposed if someone tried to break in where I was sleeping :) That way i wouldn't get robbed, raped, or murdered, ha.

At night when I got done filming, I would go into the only Walmart on the island, where they also have a McDonald's, and I would bum off there wi-fi with my ipod touch, and plot my path for the next day, then I would head out before the break of dawn every morning, and I would get back after sunset to do it all over again.

On a technical side, this was all all shot on the Canon 5D Mark II. Most of the shots were done with the Canon 16-35mm 2.8 L Series lens.

The smooth shots were done with a Glidecam HD-4000.

I recommend watching the video in full-screen mode.

Note to videographers and photographers:  take a look at the manufacturer's description of the Glidecam HD series.  It seems like a fascinating product range.  I'll have to point Oleg in their direction.


Pictures from the past

The New York City Department of Records has announced that almost a million historic photographs of the city will be made available in an online gallery.  The Daily Mail reports:

Culled from the Municipal Archives collection of more than 2.2 million images going back to the mid-1800s, the 870,000 photographs feature all manner of city oversight -- from stately ports and bridges to grisly gangland killings.

Workers dig in Delancey Street on New York's Lower East Side, July 29, 1908

The project was four years in the making, part of the department's mission to make city records accessible to everyone, said assistant commissioner Kenneth Cobb.

"We all knew that we had fantastic photograph collections that no one would even guess that we had," he said.

Main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, 1937

Taken mostly by anonymous municipal workers, some of the images have appeared in publications but most were accessible only by visiting the archive offices in lower Manhattan over the past few years.

Researchers, history buffs, filmmakers, genealogists and preservationists in particular will find the digitized collection helpful. But anyone can search the images, share them through social media or purchase them as prints.

Third Avenue elevated railway with Manhattan in the background - undated photograph

Because of technological and financial constraints, the digitised gallery does not include the city's prized collection of 720,000 photographs of every city building from 1939 to 1941. But the database is still growing, and the department plans to add more images.

There's more at the link.

Unfortunately, demand to access the new online gallery has been so great that it keeps on crashing!  When I tried to enter it earlier this evening, I received the following message:

Due to overwhelming demand, the New York City Municipal Archives Online Gallery is unavailable at present. Maintenance activities are underway to address this issue.

One hopes they'll be able to upgrade the site's bandwidth quickly. It should be a fascinating and very useful resource. Kudos to the NYC Department of Records for being willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen.


"Confessions of a mechanic"

That's the title of an article in the Brisbane Times of Australia.  It contains a number of weird and funny episodes in an auto mechanic's experience.  Here's one to whet your appetite.

After having an accident on the way to work, a mechanic had to call in a favor with his colleagues.

A witness had seen the incident and reported it to police, citing the vehicle's registration number.

The rego was traced to the mechanic's business and within an hour the police had shown up with a few questions.

In the meantime the mechanic and his mates had ripped the engine out of the car (a task that can take as little as 15 minutes for that particular type of vehicle if you know what you're doing), put a cover over the car and lifted it up on the hoist.

An apprentice was wheeling the engine on a trolley out the back of the workshop just as two police officers showed up.

"Do you own the vehicle with the registration number ... ?" one of them asked the boss.

"Yes," he replied.

"Who was driving it this morning?" the first officer asked.

"No one, we're rebuilding the engine right now. I'll show you the car on the hoist," he said, bringing the officers into the workshop and lifting the cover off the rear numberplate to show the police.

The officers looked at one another, then at their paperwork, double-checking that the vehicle had the correct digits.

"The witness must have got the wrong registration number," the second cop said. "Sorry to have wasted your time."

The mechanic and his workmates put the engine back in the car that afternoon.

There's more at the link.  A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus for sending it to me.


Is political power an addiction?

According to the Telegraph, it seems to have a similar effect.

Democracy, the separation of judicial powers and the free press all evolved for essentially one purpose – to reduce the chance of leaders becoming power addicts. Power changes the brain triggering increased testosterone in both men and women. Testosterone and one of its by-products, called 3-androstanediol, are addictive, largely because they increase dopamine in a part of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine has its effects through this system also, and by hijacking our brain’s reward system, it can give short-term extreme pleasure but leads to long-term addiction, with all that that entails.

Unfettered power has almost identical effects.

. . .

Submissiveness and dominance have their effects on the same reward circuits of the brain as power and cocaine. Baboons low down in the dominance hierarchy have lower levels of dopamine in key brain areas, but if they get ‘promoted’ to a higher position, then dopamine rises accordingly. This makes them more aggressive and sexually active, and in humans similar changes happen when people are given power. What’s more, power also makes people smarter, because dopamine improves the functioning of the brain’s frontal lobes. Conversely, demotion in a hierarchy decreases dopamine levels, increases stress and reduces cognitive function.

But too much power - and hence too much dopamine - can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others.

There's more at the link.

If that's the case, I have two suggestions.

  1. Can we add political power to the list of forbidden items in the War On (Some) Drugs, and jail those trying to obtain the stuff?
  2. As a form of treatment, can we please wean politicians off power and onto crack or ecstasy instead?  The latter drugs will kill them in the end, but in the meantime they'll be much less dangerous to the rest of us!


Thursday, April 26, 2012

A wild ride in Bilbao!

It seems there was a very strong crosswind at Bilbao airport in Spain recently.  (It's near the Bay of Biscay, which is famous for its stormy weather during winter.)  This video records a few attempts to land there, and one takeoff, during the strong winds.  I'm very glad I wasn't on board any of the aircraft concerned - much less trying to fly one of them!

That's enough to make a pilot earn his pension the hard way . . .


Doofus Of The Day #592

Today's award goes to a motorist in Paris, France.  (A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus in Australia for bringing the story to my attention.)

A MAN drove his car down the steps of a Metro station in central Paris, mistaking the entrance for that of a parking garage.

"There's a sign saying 'Haussmann Parking' right in front [of the subway entrance], and ... I made a mistake," the distraught driver said, noting that the entrance was nearly level with the street.

"Luckily, there was no one on the stairs," the 26-year-old said, giving his name only as Johan. No one was hurt, and the car, a Dacia Duster, also escaped damage.

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

Good thing it wasn't a moving escalator!


Historical accidents

Via an e-mail from reader Kurt M., I was led to a Greek blog, the title of which appears to be 'XSEFoto'.  It has an interesting article with lots of photographs of accidents that have occurred over the past century or so to cars, trains, ships and aircraft.  (The link is to a translated version of the article.)  I was particularly interested in those involving ships, like these two:

Princess May aground in the Lynn Canal, Alaska, August 1910

USS Lafayette (formerly SS Normandie) capsized in New York harbor, February 1942

There are many more (and larger) images at the link - click on each thumbnail to enlarge it.  Interesting and recommended reading.


Will the 'nanny staters' ever learn???

Two news reports today have me shaking my head in disbelief at the seemingly terminal stupidity of 'nanny staters'.  It seems almost as if they willfully refuse to use the reasoning power that (allegedly) distinguishes us from animals.

First, from Germany comes this report:

New gun register a decade after massacre

Ten years after Germany’s worst school shooting, in which a former pupil killed 16 people before committing suicide, politicians are set to lay the foundations for a national gun-owners’ register.

. . .

A gun law reform which was, ironically, due to be discussed in parliament that day, was withdrawn and strengthened before being passed.

Since then sports shooters under the age of 25 have to undergo a medical-psychological examination to determine whether they are suitable gun keepers, while age limits for buying and owning guns were raised.

. . .

Seven years later, in March 2009, the 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer killed 15 people, mostly at his school in Winnenden, before committing suicide – he had taken one of his father’s 15 weapons. Although most of Kretschmer’s guns were locked away, he had kept the pistol near his bed.

The case prompted calls for a law to stop guns being kept in private homes – restricting them to gun club safes. Such proposals have been rejected by most mainstream politicians – but were revived on Thursday by an action group from Winnenden.

“Much has changed since Erfurt, but it is a long way,” Gisela Mayer, spokeswoman for the group. She said “laws of the highest possible security,” were needed.

There's more at the link.

Second, from Boston in Massachusetts (courtesy of a link from JayG), CBS reports:

Keller @ Large: Let’s All Give Up Foolish Cell Phone Use

It happened yesterday afternoon at the Fresh Pond rotary on Alewife Brook Parkway in Cambridge, a woman in a big SUV came barreling into the path of a smaller car that clearly had the right of way.

If driver number two had been less alert, or driving any faster, no way could he have slammed on the brakes before being broadsided and, most likely, killed by the nitwit in the SUV.

Why did she do it?

I’m positive the cellphone glued to her face played a major role in her failure to stop, slow down, or even, by all appearances, even notice that she almost took another life.

. . .

There are ten states that ban driving while on a hand-held phone, and we’re not one of them.

Only recently did we manage to ban their use by drivers under age 18 and school or passenger bus drivers.

So you can’t count on the state to step in and restore some order to the wild west scenario that’s playing out on our roads.

Again, more at the link.

Why, oh, why do we always have to deal with this bilge from so many commentators and politicians?  They always seek to blame the object rather than the person - yet we know full well that the opposite is true!  Consider:

  • In a case of drunk driving, we don't charge the vehicle - we charge the driver;
  • If a kid's been injured by being beaten with a stick, we don't arrest the stick - we arrest the person who wielded it;
  • In the recent Trayvon Martin affair, the gun that fired the bullet that killed Mr. Martin isn't being charged - the person who pulled the trigger is facing trial.

If you ban or strictly regulate firearms, those criminally or homicidally inclined will find other methods to perpetrate their crimes.  Consider:

  • Anders Breivik began his massacre in Norway last year by detonating a home-made bomb in the center of Oslo, killing eight people.  Is anyone suggesting that, if he hadn't had access to firearms, he wouldn't have taken a rucksack full of home-made bombs or grenades to the island of Utøya, and used them to murder even more than the 69 people he shot there?  Instructions on how to make such devices are freely available on the Internet.
  • The perpetrators of the 9/11 atrocities didn't use a single firearm.  They used box-cutters - small utility knives - to hijack four aircraft, and then used the latter as improvised weapons to kill almost 3,000 people.
  • Take the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered, the majority with machetes, or clubs, or by fire when the buildings in which they had taken shelter were set alight.  The populace at large did not have many guns, so they used what they had.  Firearms in the hands of the military and militia movements accounted for relatively few of the dead.
  • Improvised weapons have killed untold numbers of people, and have been used by many others to defend themselves.  For example, peasants in both Europe and Asia used agricultural implements as weapons for many centuries.  Tools such as cleavers, field knives, axes, hammers, pitchforks, flails (which were later developed into nunchaku in Okinawa), scythes (notorious as the 'tool' carried by Death, the Grim Reaper), etc. were all pressed into offensive or defensive service, and sometimes even carried into battle if there were not enough conventional weapons available.  In some parts of the world, such tools still serve as weapons to this day.  Even sporting implements have been used; for example, Michael Skakel notoriously used a golf club to murder Martha Moxley in 1975.

On the other hand, if many of the victims of the crimes mentioned above had been armed, they might well have been able to stop the perpetrators in their tracks, and save not only their own lives, but the lives of those around them.  A single armed citizen aboard one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 might have been able to stop the hijackers reaching the cockpit and taking over the aircraft.  In Rwanda, in the few cases where those targeted for murder had weapons of their own, they were often able to fight off their would-be killers and escape.  Extensive research shows that firearms are used far more often in the USA by innocent people to defend themselves and their loved ones against criminal attacks, than by criminals to commit those attacks.

As for driving while distracted:  if we ban cellphone use while driving, those who allow their attention to be diverted from the road by such instruments will still be subject to all sorts of other distractions behind the wheel, such as doing their makeup, eating, reading, watching TV - even pornography!  An irresponsible driver won't be transformed into a responsible one by prohibiting the use of one or more objects behind the wheel.

It's hardly ever the object that's the problem - it's almost always the person using the object. Passing laws to regulate the former will do nothing to solve the problems caused by the latter.

Why, oh, why are 'nanny staters' so utterly incapable of recognizing this reality?  Whenever they pass laws against objects, the latter are usually demonstrated before very long to be useless in preventing further crimes or problems - yet their response is usually to demand even more such laws!

Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  By that measure, the 'nanny staters' are truly insane!  Unfortunately, the rest of us have to live with the consequences of their insanity . . .



Bank of America - wriggling on its self-inflicted hook

Readers may recall my Doofus Of The Day award to Bank of America (BoA), a few days ago, over its treatment of McMillan USA.  If you missed it, you'll find it at the first link above, or you can listen to the interview below to learn what happened.

The community of firearms enthusiasts and Second Amendment activists on the Internet has taken up McMillan's cause with a vengeance.  Many (including yours truly) have called for a boycott of BoA.  It looks like the bank's finally woken up to the fact that it has (metaphorically speaking) shot itself in both feet.  It's apparently gone into all-out damage control mode - up to and including telling porkies about what it's doing!  McMillan posted on Facebook a short while ago:

We felt it important to let everyone know that we had a meeting with the Bank of America State President of Arizona. He asked for the meeting so that he could clear up any misunderstanding. We left the meeting confident that we had not misunderstood Mr Fox. I have since seen two different BOA statements that indicate that they now viewing this as a misunderstanding. The latest one stated that they were negotiating with the client to clear up the misunderstanding. Let me say as strongly as I can, we are not negotiating with Bank of America. Our position has not changed.

BoA sounds as if they're desperately trying to put whatever positive 'spin' they can on what's turned out to be a public relations catastrophe for them.  However, I won't pay any attention to their words.  I'm only interested in their actions, which speak a whole lot louder than their spinmeisters!

I'm also impressed that McMillan isn't trying to take advantage of the hoopla.  The company put up another Facebook message:

I would like to let everyone know that we at McMillan are proud of each and everyone of you for being concerned citizens willing to do your part in the battle to protect our constitutional rights. But I feel compelled to say to all who have indicated that they will buy something from McMillan to show their support; Thank you, we are honored. But I will ask please, unless you have a real need for a fiberglass stock or a quality bolt action rifle, your emotional and moral support is plenty. This is not about McMillan, it is not about money and we do not need any financial support. We just want our fellow patriots to stand up and say, to steal from an old movie "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more!"

Lets stand together and be strong. Thank you.


As I said earlier, if this is its attitude, BoA can do without my business in future.  I hope my readers will adopt a similar approach.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

That's one way to cross the street!

I'm just glad nothing like a bus or an eighteen-wheeler was passing at the time!

Ah, well . . . boys and their toys!


Doofus Of The Day #591

Today's award goes to the Interior Ministry of the German state of Hesse - specifically the unit responsible for ordering police equipment.  The Local reports:

A German police force that spent €25 million [more than US $33 million] on new sporty cars found that not only was the visibility rubbish for chases - the fancy seats were so narrow the cops could not get in while wearing their guns, truncheons and other equipment.

The Hesse Interior Ministry ordered 800 of the swish new models – Opel's Insignia Sports Tourer – in a long-term deal at the end of 2010. The ministry says that 200 of the cars have been delivered so far, but it is yet to be decided whether the order will be completed.

GdP deputy chairman Lothar Hölzgen accused the ministry of not testing the seats before the order was made.

The limited view through the back window was also a major problem for the police, said Hölzgen. "I need to see out of the back every minute, every second," he said. "That's a safety matter for us."

There's more at the link.

The Ministry is adamant that the cars were tested before being selected, but I'm willing to bet that the people who did the testing were desk-warming bureaucrats wearing business suits.  Having worn a duty belt (or, as we sardonically called it, a bat-belt) as a prison chaplain for several years, I can assure you that while wearing it, the average small to medium car seat wasn't anywhere near big enough for comfort - and I carried much less gear on my belt than a policeman on duty!


And where did the other 70 bullets go?

A recent report confirms that New York City is, indeed, a dangerous place - in this case, at least, largely due to wild, unaimed police gunfire!

Two Harlem cops yesterday fired a staggering 84 shots at an armed thug after he squeezed off one round at them — but the punk incredibly survived and was charged with slaying his sleeping kid sister and trying to kill their mother, authorities said.

. . .

[Steven] Murray, 28, suffered 14 bullet wounds during the mayhem after refusing police orders to drop his .22-caliber “Saturday Night Special,” officials said.

“He would not go down,” a law-enforcement source said of Murray.

The uniformed cops — a sergeant and police officer — unleashed the barrage of bullets from 70 feet away. They each reloaded their pistols twice.

“[Murray] still had the gun in his hand. He wouldn’t obey orders. He was pointing [the gun] at the cops, and he wouldn’t respond,” the source said. “After he finally went down, he still had the gun in his hand, and he was still moving.”

. . .

The sergeant and officer spotted the gun-toting Murray lurking near the southbound off ramp of the Harlem River Drive at Eighth Avenue, police said.

“Stop! Drop the gun!” the cops repeatedly said over their cruiser’s loudspeaker, Browne said.

Murray turned and allegedly fired a single shot — which struck the patrol car. The two cops exited the car and opened fire.

The police officer fired 45 shots — one round in his gun’s chamber, two 15-round magazines and all but one round in his third magazine. He told investigators he thought he was out of ammo. The sergeant also fired one shot he kept in the chamber, two 15-shot magazines and eight rounds from his third magazine, Browne said.

There's more at the link, including photographs of the crime scene.

84 shots fired, and only 14 hits anywhere on the bad guy - none of them lethal or even fully incapacitating.  The other 70 rounds simply flew off into space.  It's only by God's mercy that no-one else was hit in the fusillade!

I can only suggest that both officers be taken off patrol duty until they've re-qualified with their firearms . . . and it might not be a bad idea for the NYPD to replace their firearms instructors while they're at it!  Clearly, the present lot aren't very effective!


The catastrophic true cost of the failed War on Terror

Prof. Angelo M. Codevilla has written one of the most profound analyses I've ever read of the War on Terror since 9/11 and its consequences for America - military, political, social, economic and cultural.  I can only describe it as a masterpiece.  Here are a few excerpts.

America's ruling class lost the "War on Terror." During the decade that began on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government's combat operations have resulted in some 6,000 Americans killed and 30,000 crippled, caused hundreds of thousands of foreign casualties, and spent — depending on various estimates of direct and indirect costs — somewhere between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. But nothing our rulers did post-9/11 eliminated the threat from terrorists or made the world significantly less dangerous. Rather, ever-bigger government imposed unprecedented restrictions on the American people and became the arbiter of prosperity for its cronies, as well as the manager of permanent austerity for the rest. Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen?

September 11's planners could hardly have imagined that their attacks might seriously undermine what Americans had built over two centuries, what millions of immigrants from the world over had come to join and maintain. In fact, our decline happened because the War on Terror — albeit microscopic in size and destructiveness as wars go — forced upon us, as wars do, the most important questions that any society ever faces: Who are we, and who are our enemies? What kind of peace do we want? What does it take to get it? Are we able and willing to do what it takes to secure our preferred way of life, to deserve living the way we prefer? Our bipartisan ruling class's dysfunctional responses to such questions inflicted the deepest wounds.

. . .

America's current ruling class, the people who lost the War on Terror, monopolizes the upper reaches of American public life, the ranks of those who make foreign and domestic policy, including the leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties. It is more or less homogeneous socially and intellectually. In foreign affairs, the change from the Bush to the Obama Administrations was barely noticeable. In domestic matters, the differences are more quantitative than qualitative. Dissent from the ruling class is rife among the American people, but occurs mostly on the sidelines of our politics. If there is to be a reversal of the ongoing defeats, both foreign and domestic, that have discredited contemporary America's bipartisan mainstream, heretofore marginal people will have to generate it, applying ideas and practices recalled from America's successful past.

. . .

Ten years after 9/11, America is not at peace, is poorer, less civil, and less hopeful. But the experts are in charge as never before.

In the American political marketplace of 2012, the American ruling class's stock is at a historic low. President Obama and nearly all who vie to replace him try to disassociate themselves from the decisions of the past decade. So do most of our elites. But since none explains and accuses his own errors, it is by no means clear whether any have learned from their mistakes. More important is what the rest of the country may or may not have learned. For us to understand how these mostly intelligent people could have made errors so big for so long requires understanding the principles they violated, and the moral as well as the intellectual dimensions of their errors. More difficult yet, both intellectually and morally, is the essential task of explaining the hard choices that will be required to deal with the troubles bequeathed us by this decade of defeat.

There's much more at the link.

I believe this is a profoundly important article, one that merits the widest possible readership and intense discussion.  Please, dear readers, take the time and trouble to click over there and read it in full for yourselves;  and when you've done so, if you agree with me, please forward a link to it to your friends and colleagues, and urge them to do the same.  If you're a blogger too, or have a Facebook page, perhaps you'll consider linking to the article yourself.  Prof. Codevilla speaks wisdom - something that's in desperately short supply in US political and leadership circles right now.


I didn't know this was possible!

Courtesy of an e-mail from reader Cliff C., we find this report at Gawker:

A shopkeeper in China was fatally injured last week after a woman with whom he was clashing clutched his testicles, and squeezed them until he blacked out.

. . .

At some point during the melee, the woman latched on to the proprietor's privates, and refused to let go until the man passed out. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

There's more at the link.

I would call the report ball-derdash, but it's confirmed by China's Global Times.  I didn't know testicular pain could cause death . . . but I'll keep it firmly in mind from now on!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dog meets electric toothbrush . . .

. . . and doesn't know what the heck to do with it!



On April 25th each year, Australia and New Zealand celebrate ANZAC Day.  It was originally established to commemorate their troops who landed at Gallipolli in the Mediterranean on that date in 1915.

Australian troops land in ANZAC Cove on April 25th, 1915 (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

A great many of them died there, partly due to inept Allied planning and mishandling of the campaign, partly due to a vigorous Turkish defense, partly to endemic diseases.  Their experiences gave rise to what became known as the 'ANZAC spirit':

The Anzac spirit or Anzac legend is a concept which suggests that Australian and New Zealand soldiers possess shared characteristics, specifically the qualities those soldiers are believed to have shown on the battlefield in World War I. These qualities cluster around several ideas, including endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, larrikinism, and mateship. According to this concept, the soldiers are perceived to have been innocent and fit, stoical and laconic, irreverent in the face of authority, naturally egalitarian and disdainful of British class differences.

The Anzac spirit also tends to capture the idea of an Australian and New Zealand "national character", with the Gallipoli Campaign often described as being the moment of birth of the nationhood of both Australia and New Zealand.

There's more at the link.

ANZAC Day has since come to serve a wider purpose, commemorating all those Australian and New Zealand service personnel who've died in conflicts since World War I as well.  Dawn services are held in many centers in both nations on April 25th each year.  Here are two pictures of this year's services.  (Remember that Australia and New Zealand are across the International Date Line from us, so as I write these words in the USA, at about 11.30 p.m. Central time on April 24th, it's already 2.30 p.m. on April 25th in Sydney, Australia).

Dawn service at the Sydney Cenotaph, Australia, April 25th, 2012

Dawn service at the Cenotaph, Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand, April 25th, 2012

It's impressive to see tens of thousands of people getting out of bed before dawn to honor their country's servicemen on ANZAC Day.  May we follow their example here in the USA.

May the souls of all departed ANZAC's, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Rocket scientists at work - and play

Miss D. and I are both reading an on-line version of the long-out-of-print classic science book "Ignition!  An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants" (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format) by John D. Clark.  Neither she nor I are scientists, but we enjoy science as a subject - and when a scientist author is rib-ticklingly funny about his subject, that's a bonus!

It seems that the history of rocket propellants has been fraught with discovery.  The first two photographs in the book bear this out, showing first a successful rocket test (left, complete with so-called 'mach diamonds' in the exhaust), and then - on the right, in the same test bay (or what used to be the same test bay) - the results of an unsuccessful one.

Looks like that second one was a bad hair day all round!

I'm particularly enjoying Dr. Clark's account of early experiments, which were very much a matter of trial and (mostly) error.  One particular test (described on pp. 28-29) sounds like it was 'interesting', in the military sense of the word!

The simplest tester consisted of an eyedropper, a small beaker, and a finely calibrated eyeball — and the most complicated was practically a small rocket motor setup. And there was everything in between. One of the fancier rigs was conceived by my immediate boss, Paul Terlizzi, at NARTS [the Naval Air Rocket Test Center at Dover, NJ]. He wanted to take high-speed Schlieren (shadow) movies of the ignition process. (What information he thought they would provide escaped me at the time, and still does.)  There was a small ignition chamber, with high-speed valves and injectors for the propellants under investigation. Viewing ports, a high-speed Fastex camera, and about forty pounds of lenses, prisms, and what not, most of them salvaged from German submarine periscopes, completed the setup.  Dr. Milton Scheer (Uncle Milty) labored over the thing for weeks, getting all the optics lined up and focused.

Came the day of the first trial. The propellants were hydrazine and WFNA. We were all gathered around waiting for the balloon to go up, when Uncle Milty warned, "Hold it — the acid valve is leaking!"

"Go ahead — fire anyway!" Paul ordered.

I looked around and signaled to my own gang, and we started backing gently away, like so many cats with wet feet. Howard Streim opened his mouth to protest, but as he said later, "I saw that dogeating grin on Doc's face and shut it again," and somebody pushed the button.  There was a little flicker of yellow flame, and then a brilliant blue-white flash and an ear-splitting crack. The lid to the chamber went through the ceiling (we found it in the attic some weeks later), the viewports vanished, and some forty pounds of high-grade optical glass was reduced to a fine powder before I could blink.

I clasped both hands over my mouth and staggered out of the lab, to collapse on the lawn and laugh myself sick, and Paul stalked out in a huff. When I tottered weakly back into the lab some hours later I found that my gang had sawed out, carried away, and carefully lost, some four feet from the middle of the table on which the gadget had rested, so that Paul's STIDA could never, never, never be reassembled, in our lab.

There's also the time they tested an . . . er . . . unusually fragrant fuel (p. 31).

[Mike] Pino, in 1949, made a discovery that can fairly be described as revolting. He discovered that butyl mercaptan was very rapidly hypergolic with mixed acid. This naturally delighted Standard of California [today part of Chevron Corp.], whose crudes contained large quantities of mercaptans and sulfides which had to be removed in order to make their gasoline socially acceptable. So they had drums and drums of mixed butyl mercaptans, and no use for it. If they could only sell it for rocket fuel life would indeed be beautiful.

Well, it had two virtues, or maybe three. It was hypergolic with mixed acid, and it had a rather high density for a fuel. And it wasn't corrosive. But its performance was below that of a straight hydrocarbon, and its odor — ! Well, its odor was something to consider. Intense, pervasive and penetrating, and resembling the stink of an enraged skunk, but surpassing, by far, the best efforts of the most vigorous specimen of Mephitis mephitis. It also clings to the clothes and the skin. But rocketeers are a hardy breed, and the stuff was duly and successfully fired, although it is rumored that certain rocket mechanics were excluded from their car pools and had to run behind. Ten years after it was fired at the Naval Air Rocket Test Station — NARTS — the odor was still noticeable around the test areas.

I'm glad I wasn't there for that test!  I'm also glad they never got around to using butyl mercaptan in the liquid-fueled rockets that powered the American space program.  Can you imagine the (literal and figurative) stink (you should pardon the expression) if Apollo 11 had risen to the moon smelling like a fugitive skunk?  "High" flight, indeed!