Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why build it upside-down?

I'm puzzled by this video clip I found on YouTube.  It shows the hull of what's clearly designed to be a shallow-draft vessel (said to be a ferry, although that's the strangest-looking ferry I've ever seen!) being launched upside-down, then towed down-river to be righted by being hoisted out of the water by a crane.

It was apparently built by Conrad Industries down on the Gulf Coast.  However, I haven't been able to find any reference to it on their Web site.

Can any marine experts tell us why such a vessel would be launched upside-down like that?  It's so shallow from top to bottom in its present form that I don't understand why it couldn't have been built right-side-up from the get-go.  Surely the engines, rudders, propellers, etc. could have been installed easily enough, irrespective of its orientation?

Hopefully some readers can enlighten the rest of us.


A fascinating example of an interactive book

I've had one book published (almost 30 years ago, and long out of print), plus several dozen magazine articles (and this blog, of course);  but they've all been in the 'traditional' style of words set in type.  Vintage Wings of Canada brings us the news of an interactive book that's available only on the iPad platform at present.

Aviator, author and photographer Ian Coristine is one of the rare aviators with an ability to capture and share the magical, spiritual and often surreal benefits of a life spent soaring with the eagles.

Coristine has been an aviator for the past forty years, converting a truncated auto racing career into a new-found passion for gliding - soundlessly, motorlessly, effortlessly reaching for and living among the invisible currents of  moving air. Coristine would cross over from gliders into the weakly-powered, experimental world that was the seminal years of ultralight flying in Canada. Spinning out of this newly found ability to fly under power and under $20,000, Coristine opened the first ultralight school in Canada, and became the Canadian distributor for the now-ubiquitous Quad City Challenger II ultralight  - the tiny, unsophisticated, empowering home built aircraft that changed the face of general and recreational flying in this country.

As was his passion, Coristine would from time to time round up a few of his flying friends and together they would set out on a flying adventure with no plan other than to follow a river, a road or a vee of Canada geese, allowing whim and serendipity to light their way. On one such trip, the aviators found themselves flying along the St. Lawrence river heading west and towards the historic city of Brockville, with the sun at their backs. What transpired next, would alter the course of his life for ever more.

The sparkling beauty of the region known as the Thousand Islands, with its flagged pines, its rocky islands pushing their bleached backs up out of the water to warm in the sun, and its fabulous island mansions caught his imagination like no other place he had eve been to.

After several visits to explore the endless bays, beaches, lighthouses and castles, he found an island which, with some fiscal stretching, he acquired as his own insular fiefdom – an island paradise called Raleigh Island that offered everything from radiant sunsets to Aboriginal provenance to float plane shelter. From that point on, all his days, all his nights, all his vexation and jubilation, all his aerial adventures, all his creative release led him to the inevitability that is the e-book called One in a Thousand.

Coristine's new book is far more complex and layered than just another story about an aviator, but this is the way you are drawn to his story and to his island.

There's more at the link, including many more photographs (some of them spectacularly beautiful).  Here's a video introduction to the interactive book.

There's also a video tutorial on how to use this 'book' on the iPad, and another 'behind-the-scenes' video about the author's journey of flight through the Thousand Islands region.

I don't own an iPad, but this book - which is actually an iPad 'app';  I think it would be more appropriately described as an 'interactive experience', because the term 'book' doesn't fully convey its impact - is almost enough to make me buy one!  I hope it'll be released for other platforms in due course, like Android tablets.  I think it deserves a wider circulation than only among Apple fanbois!  It's a very good example of how publishing is changing by the day under the impact of technology.


Well done, SpaceX!

Hearty congratulations to SpaceX on the successful return of its Dragon space capsule from its rendezvous with the International Space Station.  The capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico's Baja Peninsula today.

This marks the first time a private spacecraft has left the earth, rendezvoused with another spacecraft, and returned safely.  I think it's also the future of space exploration, as governments will be increasingly strapped for cash and will no longer be able to afford the modern equivalent of an Apollo program.  Asteroid mining, possible colonization of other planets in our solar system, and in the longer term expeditions to other stars, are much more likely to happen under the impetus of the profit motive than by competing with entitlement programs (which buy votes) for state support.

I'll look forward to the first manned Dragon mission, and be watching other private space ventures with great interest.  I doubt whether I'll be able to get into space before I die, for health reasons as much as financial . . . but damn, I wish I could!  This is exciting stuff!


When Big Brother becomes bankers' Big Boss

A mainstream media outlet has finally reported openly what many of us have suspected for several years.  Banks are being 'encouraged' (read:  coerced, even forced) to buy sovereign debt (i.e. government bonds), thereby keeping their national states afloat.  CNBC reports:

US and European regulators are essentially forcing banks to buy up their own government's debt—a move that could end up making the debt crisis even worse, a Citigroup analysis says.

Regulators are allowing banks to escape counting their country's debt against capital requirements and loosening other rules to create a steady market for government bonds, the study says.

While that helps governments issue more and more debt, the strategy could ultimately explode if the governments are unable to make the bond payments, leaving the banks with billions of toxic debt, says Citigroup strategist Hans Lorenzen.

"Captive bank demand can buy time and can help keep domestic yields low," Lorenzen wrote in an analysis for clients. "However, the distortions that build up over time can sow the seeds of an even bigger crisis, if the time bought isn't used very prudently."

"Specifically," Lorenzen adds, "having banks loaded up with domestic sovereign debt will only increase the domestic fallout if the sovereign ultimately reneges on its obligations."

The banks, though, are caught in a "great repression" trap from which they cannot escape.

"When subjected to the mix of carrot and stick by policymakers...then everything else equal, we believe banks will keep buying," Lorenzen said.

There's more at the link.

If you think about it, the Federal Reserve has been buying up to 70% of US Treasury bonds, because foreign investment in them had largely dried up (until the current Euro crisis, which has driven some European investors to buy US treasuries out of sheer desperation, looking for the safest possible haven for their money).  The remaining 30% are rather neatly accounted for by this report.  When you're the authority regulating all other banks in the country, you have an awful lot of influence over them.  It would take a very courageous (or extraordinarily foolhardy) bank president or director to resist the 'suggestion' that it would be a good thing for his institution to buy a few billion dollars' worth of US Treasuries.

(Of course, if we're hit by a major economic crisis - which I believe is almost upon us - those banks will no longer have the 'cushion' of that capital available to help their depositors . . . it'll all be tied up in Treasuries.  Still, the Fed doesn't care about that.  It's trying to find as many fingers as it can, to stick them in the cracks in the fiscal dyke.  If some or all of them get chopped off eventually, well, that's just too bad - just as long as they're someone else's fingers, rather than the Fed's.  The European Central Bank and other national equivalents appear to be doing precisely the same thing.)

This is also why, if you have any financial reserves at all, you should be keeping a portion of them in cash, in a safe place.  It'll be available if the banks suddenly have no more to issue.  It's also why, if I had any investment income to spare (which unfortunately I don't), I'd be putting it into gold and hard assets right now - not into any account or piece of paper that someone else controls!  Until we know which way things are going to go, the risks are just too high for me to trust the financial 'powers that be' - after all, they're the very 'powers' that got us into this mess in the first place!


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Destruction, followed by renewal

32 years ago Mount St. Helens , a volcano in Washington state, erupted in a cataclysmic explosion that devastated hundreds of square miles around it, killed 57 people and caused over a billion dollars worth of damage.

Eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18th, 1980 (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

A well-known idiom tells us that 'Mother Nature abhors a vacuum'.  She's certainly been working hard to repair the damage caused by the eruption.  Here's a time-lapse video clip from NASA, showing Landsat images of the area over the 33-year period from shortly before the explosion until the present time.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.  Note how vegetation has returned to most of the devastated area over time, and the changing shape of the lakes in the area as volcanic ash was blown away and/or re-deposited by wind.

Fascinating, isn't it?


Doofus Of The Day #603

Today's award goes to a German fisher, father and fraud.

A German dad who tried to impress his kids while on holiday by “catching” a couple of fish that he had actually bought at a supermarket - could face prison after being prosecuted for poaching.

Alexander Donninger was on holiday in Austria with his family when he decided on the trick to make his kids think he was a top fisherman, newspaper Die Welt reported on Tuesday.

He went to a supermarket in the Kufstein district and bought two frozen trout – already gutted and ready to cook - not anticipating how tangled his lines were about to become.

Once back at the lake where he and his kids were “fishing” he tied them to the end of lines and dangled them in the lake until they were thawed enough to appear freshly-caught.

He might have been the hero of the family holiday were it not for a passer-by who reported him to the local authorities for poaching.

Although Donninger had a fishing license, he did not have permission to catch anything from the lake he was standing by when he “caught” the trout, the newspaper said.

Not only did he suffer the humiliation of admitting in front of his children that he had had lied about his fishing prowess – the authorities assumed he was telling tall tales to wriggle off the hook.

. . .

Donninger could face up to six months in prison or a fine of up to 360 days of earnings.

I wonder if his kids - not to mention his wife! - will ever let him live that one down?


Say, Bishops, about that plank in your collective eye . . .

I continue to be cynically annoyed by the antics of the US Catholic Bishops in response to the requirements imposed on them and the Catholic faithful by Obamacare (about which I've written before in some detail).  Here are the latest developments.

Having organized 43 plaintiffs — including the archdioceses of New York and Washington and the University of Notre Dame — to file 12 different lawsuits against the Obama administration last Monday alleging the administration is violating the religious freedom of Catholics, the Catholic bishops of the United States are now preparing Catholics for what may be the most massive campaign of civil disobedience in this country since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and early 1960s.

“Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified,” the bishops state in a document developed to be inserted into church bulletins in Catholic parishes around the country in June.

“Every effort must be made to repeal them,” the bishops say in the document, which is already posted on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “When fundamental human goods, such as the right of conscience, are at stake, we may need to witness to the truth by resisting the law and incurring its penalties.”

The bulletin insert reminds Catholic parishioners that the bishops have called for “A Fortnight of Freedom”—which they have described as “a special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action”—to take place from June 21 to July 4.

. . .

The sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate is set to go into effect for most health-care plans on Aug. 1, about four weeks after the bishops' "Fortnight of Freedom."

In campaign speeches delivered this week after the Catholic dioceses and organizations filed their 12 lawsuits, both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama indicated that the administration intends to move forward and enforce the mandate.

. . .

The bishops have argued that elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—AKA Obamacare—including the so-called “preventive services” mandate, would force faithful Catholics to act against their consciences and the teachings of their church. The mandate requires that virtually all health-care plans in the United States cover, without any fees or co-pay, sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions.

The bishops also object to the manner in which Obamacare deals with abortion generally. In April, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a background paper explaining how Obamacare not only would use tax dollars to fund abortions but would also force Americans to pay for abortions with the premiums they would pay to purchase health insurance—which under Obamacare they are mandated to do. The backgrounder was titled, “The New Federal Regulation on Coerced Abortion Payments.”

Additionally, the bishops object to the so-called “religious” exemption to the mandate that requires all health-care plans cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients. That exemption only applies to “religious” organizations that are primarily focused on inculcating religious tenets and that serve and employ primarily members of their own denomination. This “religious” exemption would not extend to Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, and charitable organizations — and, the bishops argue, it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by empowering federal bureaucrats to determine which religious institutions are truly “religious” and which ones are not.

In their bulletin insert, the bishops unequivocally state that the administration’s sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate would force people to act against their consciences.

“This is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide such coverage even when it violates our consciences,” say the bishops.

“What we ask is nothing more than the right to follow our consciences as we live out our teaching,” they say.

There's more at the link.

It sounds wonderfully high-toned and moral, doesn't it?  Unfortunately, the reality doesn't measure up to the rhetoric.  To name just a few examples:

1.  Notre Dame University, one of the plaintiffs, is notorious for inviting speakers with pro-choice views (i.e. in direct opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church) to its campus.  (Numerous Catholic institutions have been criticized on similar grounds.)  In particular, Notre Dame invited President Obama to be its 2009 commencement speaker (and awarded him an honorary degree in the process).  Last month 50 faculty members signed a petition criticizing the Bishop of Peoria for speaking out against Obamacare's mandates that fly in the face of Catholic teaching, and called for him to be removed from the University's board of fellows.  Interesting, isn't it, to have a nominally Catholic, but visibly heterodox institution file suit in support of the Church's teaching?  Interesting, too, that Catholic Bishops, both individually and collectively, have consistently failed to stop such heterodox behavior or hold administrators accountable for it.  Dare I say 'hypocrisy'?

2.  Catholic support for liberal/progressive policies, both by the hierarchy and by those in the pews, is well documented.  Daily Kos summarized the position back in 2009.  There are, indeed, faithful Catholics who believe what the magisterium teaches;  but they're in a relatively small minority.  I should know.  I was among them.

3.  As I've documented before, the Catholic Health Association of the USA (CHAUSA) has, on the front page of its Web site, the following section:

I obtained that screen-capture less than five minutes before writing these words.  In other words, the official organization representing Catholic hospitals and medical professionals - an organization at least nominally responsible to the US Catholic Bishops for the faith/moral content of its policies - is, right now, directly and immediately working against the efforts of those same Bishops, by promoting Obamacare at the same time that the 'official' Church is opposing at least some of its provisions, and calling for civil disobedience to overturn them.  Do you see or hear the Bishops calling CHAUSA to account for this, and insisting that if it continues to defy Catholic teaching, it must cease to call itself a Catholic organization?  No?  That's odd.  Neither do I . . .

I could go on with more examples, but why bother?  I'm sorry, but hypocrisy like this makes me sick to my stomach.  I have no problem accepting that Obamacare is an abomination on political, social and moral grounds, and that many of its provisions directly contradict Catholic teaching.  Nevertheless, the Bishops need to get Biblical with themselves before they get legalistic with the Administration.  Specifically, I recommend that the Bishops read (and re-read) the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 7, verses 3-5:

And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

How about it, Bishops?  Your protests - and litigation - against Obamacare are going to ring pretty hollow unless and until you put your own house in order.


Politicians - undeleted?

I was amused to read about a new Internet service that's sure to outrage politicians standing for election this year.  The Sunlight Foundation has started a new service.  Its press release announced today:

Today we're proud to unveil Politwoops, the only comprehensive collection of deleted tweets by U.S. politicians. From minor typos to major gaffes, Politwoops is now there to offer a searchable window into what they hoped you didn't see.

The project follows the official Twitter accounts of members of Congress, President Obama and the slew of presidential candidates to track whenever they delete a Tweet and record the elapsed time before removal. The growing collection of more than 3,000 tweets in the past six months includes screenshots of included links and has individual pages for each politician. The Politwoops archive serves as an illuminating rough draft of how politicians and campaigns hone their social media messaging and amend their record.

There's more at the link.

My favorite among the Politwoops messages I've looked at so far:

Sounds about right for Washington - and if enough politicians took Mr. McCarthy's advice, it might dispose of a great deal of Congressional and Senatorial deadwood!


Better late than never!

A young lady in Boston has just received a windfall from her late mother . . . two decades after she died!  Australia's Inner West Courier reported yesterday:

IN a story spanning three continents and 22 years, a real estate agent has tracked down the mystery owner of a Drummoyne property.

The US-based woman will receive about $150,000 of rental income from the past two decades and the proceeds of tonight’s auction—the property is expected to go for more than $550,000.

Ray White Drummoyne principal Chris Wilkins said the Wrights Rd apartment had been on his books since he bought the agency 10 years ago. It was part of a deceased estate left to a young woman after her mother died suddenly.

The agents continued to collect rent and maintain the home from a trust account but were unable to make decisions about the property. They eventually engaged law firm Eakin McCaffery Cox.

After the Public Trustee of NSW was unable to intervene, managing partner Tim Eakin decided to take action.

"I took the matter into my own hands and hired a private investigator in the US," he said.

The private eye tracked down the woman in Boston, but she was initially hesitant on hearing of her good fortune.

"How many 21-year-olds get a call (like that) from the other side of the world," Mr Wilkins said.

"It’s understandable she was a bit sceptical."

There's more at the link.

The apartment sold last night for Aus$600,000.  Adding that to the Aus$150,000 back rent, the heir to the property will receive about Aus$750,000 [almost US $729,000], less any fees and charges involved.  It may have taken a long time to find her and arrange for her to receive the value of her inheritance, but with college fees and student loans being the burden they are today, I'm sure she'll appreciate it!  It's also good to know that there really are some honest real estate brokers out there.


Sex, politics and foreign policy

I've been reading (and find myself intrigued by) the latest edition of Foreign Policy magazine.

When U.S. magazines devote special issues to sex, they are usually of the celebratory variety (see: Esquire, April 2012 edition; Cosmopolitan, every month). Suffice it to say that is not what we had in mind with Foreign Policy's first-ever Sex Issue, which is dedicated instead to the consideration of how and why sex -- in all the various meanings of the word -- matters in shaping the world's politics. Why? In Foreign Policy, the magazine and the subject, sex is too often the missing part of the equation -- the part that the policymakers and journalists talk about with each other, but not with their audiences. And what's the result? Women missing from peace talks and parliaments, sexual abuse and exploitation institutionalized and legalized in too many places on the planet, and a U.S. policy that, whether intentionally or not, all too frequently works to shore up the abusers and perpetuate the marginalization of half of humanity. Women's bodies are the world's battleground, the contested terrain on which politics is played out. We can keep ignoring it. For this one issue, we decided not to.

The issue contains several very interesting articles on the subject.  I certainly don't agree with all of the points made by all of the authors, but they challenge me to analyze my disagreements and take a fresh look at the subject.  There are also surprising nuggets of information that I'd never suspected - for example, this one:

Iran's Sex-Change Solution

In 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously proclaimed to an audience at Columbia University that "in Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country." This is certainly not true, though the Iranian government does its best to make it so by meting out harsh punishments -- homosexuality is a crime and can be punishable by death -- and through its surprising policy of tolerating what is known as "sex-reassignment" surgery.

Sex-change operations have been legal in Iran for more than two decades, ever since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa authorizing them for "diagnosed transsexuals." As of 2008, Iran carried out the second-highest number of sex-change operations of any country, after Thailand. Many procedures are undergone by young gay men who fear imprisonment or death if they persist in seeking same-sex relationships.

When it comes to homosexuality, "Islam has a cure for people suffering from this problem," Hojatol Islam Muhammad Mehdi Kariminia, the cleric responsible for sex reassignment, told the BBC. He added that while homosexuals are doing something unnatural in violation of Islam, a sex change is no more sinful than "changing wheat to flour to bread."

There's more at the link.  This and all the other articles are highly recommended reading.


The decay continues

News from around the world, both economic and military, continues to depress.

1.  China.

Over the past couple of weeks I've frequently mentioned the growing concerns about China's economy.  Now comes this news:

Over the last two weeks, Chinese consumers of thermal coal and iron ore have been defaulting on their contracts, sending prices sharply down.

The reason behind the cancellations is a hotly debated topic in the physical commodities market.

Analysts and traders have put forward two radically different theories - with almost opposite implications to global commodities markets: either Chinese buyers do not need the raw materials because [of] weak demand and high inventories - a bearish scenario - or they need the shipments, but they are defaulting to take advantage of falling prices and they plan to rebook at a lower costs - neutral to bullish.

The market has experienced both hypotheses at work: after the start of the global financial crisis of 2008, Chinese buyers defaulted en masse as demand vanished.

But in 2010, when fears about the euro zone sent prices down, Chinese customers defaulted on their shipments, only to rebook their cargoes shortly after at much lower prices.

Commodities traders tell me that probably both theories are at play.

. . .

Moreover, the amount of distressed cargoes looking for an owner in the Asia-Pacific market is quite significant, raising the prospect of some traders executing fire-sales.

There's more at the link.

I agree that both factors are probably at work;  but in the light of previous reports, as discussed here (see the links in the first paragraph above), I'm willing to bet that more than half of it is because those cargoes are no longer needed and/or can't be sold into the already-glutted Chinese supply chain.

China has announced plans for a series of measures to boost its economy.  The question is, will these work - or are they too little, too late?

2.  Europe.

3.  Middle East.

Iran is alleged to have accumulated enough enriched uranium to make up to five nuclear weapons.  It's also been discovered to be enriching uranium to levels far above that required for nuclear power generation.  It's already achieved a 27% enrichment level.  Weapons-grade enrichment (i.e. to 90%) can't be far off - all it takes is repeated centrifuging of the already enriched material.  This means that an Iranian nuclear weapon may be only months away.  To make matters worse, Iran's offer to negotiate about the issue has proved to be as worthless as all its previous promises.  I suspect Israel has plans to do something about this Real Soon Now.  (They'd be crazy not to.)

Unfortunately, if Israel does strike Iran, the consequences for the United States and the rest of the world are likely to be catastrophic.  As Ralph Peters pointed out last year:

Israel has the capabilities to start a war in the Persian Gulf, but not to end one. And the United States would get the blame for an Israeli strike, anyway: We’d find ourselves sucked in, but struggling to catch up, militarily and diplomatically.

. . .

Let’s look at what “Bomb Iran!” really means: The Iranians may appear mad, but that doesn’t mean they’re fools, and they’ve studied the errors of other rogue states that sought nuclear weapons. The results? First, the Iranians have dispersed their research, development and production facilities. Second, they’ve fortified a number of vital sites in bunkers deep underground. Third, they’ve placed other link-in-the-chain laboratories and research sites in populated areas so that any attack upon them would generate large numbers of civilian casualties ― and very ugly images in the global media. Fourth, the Tehran regime has made this program a matter of nationalist pride. An attack on Iran’s nukes would be viewed as an attack on Iran, period, by the great majority of the population (even many regime opponents would “rally ‘round the flag,” in an Iranian version of the 9/11 effect). Fifth, Iran would respond promptly and asymmetrically in the wake of such an attack ― unless its extensive capabilities to hit back were also attacked and disabled from the start.

How would Iran respond to strikes on its nuke facilities? Inevitably missiles would be launched toward Israeli cities ― some with chemical warheads ― but these tit-for-tat attacks would be the least part of Tehran’s counterattack strategy. The Iranians would “do what’s doable,” and that means hitting Arab oil-production infrastructure on the other side of the narrow Persian Gulf. Employing its mid-range missiles, aircraft and naval forces, Tehran would launch both conventional and suicide attacks on Arab oil fields, refineries, storage areas, ports and loading facilities, on tankers in transit, and on the Straits of Hormuz, the great chokepoint for the world’s core oil supplies. The price of a barrel of crude would soar geometrically on world exchanges, paralyzing economies ― exactly as Iran’s leaders intend. Ten-dollar-a-gallon gas would be a brief bargain on the way to truly prohibitive prices. And, in the way of the world, Tehran would not get the blame. We would.

And we would be in one hell of a war, with the Middle East literally aflame and our Navy able to conduct only limited operations (if any) within the Persian Gulf, given that the body of water would become a shooting gallery: Even our finest surface-warfare ships can’t fight or maneuver effectively in a bathtub. The flow of oil would not resume, and we would have no idea how to end the war (not least, since we’re unwilling to inflict serious pain on our enemies anymore).

There's more at the link.  A recent war game analysis conducted by US Central Command confirmed the dangers inherent in a strike against Iran.

In a related development, the United Arab Emirates expects to open a new pipeline next month.  It will funnel most of that country's oil exports to a new terminal outside the Persian Gulf, so that Iranian threats to seal the Straits of Hormuz will no longer affect the UAE's ability to sell its oil.  This indicates that the UAE fully expects Israel and/or the USA to do something in the not too distant future about the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.  The pipeline is an attempt by the UAE to insulate itself from as much as possible of the economic fallout from any attack.

Last year I wrote about the very great risk of a major war erupting during the next year or so.  These developments (plus those in Syria, North Korea, Pakistan, etc.) do nothing to make me believe that the risk has in any way diminished.  Given the current state of the world's economies, such a conflict will almost certainly lead to very severe difficulties indeed, as Ralph Peters pointed out.

As the hymn laments, "Change and decay in all around I see".  Personally, I'd prefer a lot more (positive) change and a whole lot less decay!



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sex and the single tortoise

I'm a tired puppy tonight.  I'll put up some blog posts in the morning, when I've had enough sleep to bring one brain cell into approximate synchronization with another.

Meanwhile, please amuse yourself with this very amusing video clip from the BBC.  On his eponymous TV show, Graham Norton asked David Attenborough to provide an impromptu commentary to the clip shown below.  The results were . . . ah . . . different.  That's the word I was looking for - different.


Monday, May 28, 2012

It's the Isle of Man two-wheel madness parade!

The Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) motorcycle races are held every year during the last week of May and the first week of June.  It's one of the oldest - and also one of the most demanding and dangerous - motorcycle meets on the calendar.  Wikipedia notes:

The future of the TT is always in doubt with regards to ... safety, especially "Mad Sunday" when any member of the public can ride the mountain section of the course which is open one way from Ramsey to Douglas. The TT races are extremely dangerous because of the high speeds on very narrow, twisting streets, roads and lanes flanked by stone walls and even buildings. Between 1907 and 2009 (at the end of [the] 2009 TT races period) there have been 237 deaths during official practices or races on the Snaefell Mountain Course.

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

The TT demands astonishing levels of skill from participants.  Average speeds of over 120 mph are common on the almost-38-mile course, with top speeds approaching 200 mph recorded at some points.  Here are two video clips to show you just how demanding (and dangerous) the course is.  I highly recommend watching both in full-screen mode.

The first is a short aerial view of Guy Martin on his Suzuki GSX-R1000 superbike.  Note how his speed is so great that he outpaces the camera helicopter on more than one occasion!  The aircraft can only keep up with him by 'cutting corners' between bends.

Next, here's an eighteen-minute driver's-viewpoint look at the entire circuit.  Note how fast the road signs, spectators and landmarks flash by!

I enjoyed many years riding larger bikes of the touring variety, culminating in a BMW R100RT . . . but you wouldn't get me aboard one of those high-performance two-wheeled demons if you gave me all the gold in Fort Knox!  I know my limitations!


That's quite a pooch!

I was amazed to read of the endurance and loyalty displayed by a dog in China . . . but I'm sure I wasn't nearly as amazed as those involved!  The Telegraph reports:

When a team of Chinese cyclists on a 1,000 mile-long expedition from Chengdu to Tibet threw a stray dog a bone, they may not have thought they would attract a companion who would run with them for the entire length of their journey.

The loyal stray, who has been named Xiao Sa, or Little Sa, followed the cyclists for 20 days, and has now become a sensation in China.

The group came across the dog five days after leaving Chengdu, in the mountains around Yajiang, a Tibetan area of Sichuan.

One of the cyclists, 22-year-old Xiao Yong, spotted the small white mongrel and threw her a chicken drumstick. To his surprise, Xiao Sa began to follow them.

Over the course of the journey, the dog climbed over 12 mountains that were higher than 13,000ft, and stuck with the group during heavy storms.

Indeed, as cyclist after cyclist dropped out of the expedition, exhausted by the steep mountains and the thin air of the Tibetan plateau, the dog kept him and his colleagues going, said Mr Xiao.

"There was one day when we climbed the 14,700ft-tall peak of Anijula mountain," he said.

"We did more than 40 miles uphill and at the end I had to get off and push my bike instead. But the dog ran ahead of me and stopped at a crossroads. She waited for a while, but got bored because I took so long, so ran back, put her paws on my calves, and started licking me.

"I could see she cared about me," he said.

He said the dog had enough energy to run with the cyclists for at least 30 miles to 40 miles each day, but that he would sometimes pick her up if she was tired and carry her along in a makeshift box on the back of his bicycle.

At night, she slept on the team's raincoats, but there were a couple of occasions when she cuddled up to Mr Xiao for warmth, he said. The team also decided to share their rations with the dog, feeding her custard tarts, boiled eggs and sausages.

. . .

Chinese internet users have nicknamed the dog Forrest Gump, in honour of her simple-minded stamina, and cheered to see photographs of the dog in front of Lhasa's Potala Palace.

There's more at the link.

I'm sorry, but that story just triggers my cute reflex.  Warm fuzzy happy stuff indeed!


Doofus Of The Day #602

Today's award goes to an unpopular driver in Poland.

Disgruntled neighbours of joyrider Zbigniew Filo sought to put his driving days behind him when they somehow hoisted his souped-up vehicle atop a tree.

Filo, 24, awoke to find his car missing, later locating it on top of a huge willow tree in Lubczyna, Poland.

Locals have maintained a code of silence over who was responsible for the prank or how indeed the white Ford Escort ended up 20ft in the air, though one villager revealed that a crane had been borrowed for the night.

Police spokesman Marta Pierko said: 'We received a call from a man saying his car was stuck in a tree, and that his neighbours had put it there.

'After inspecting the site we instructed him to remove it from the tree.'

. . .

The Pole, who doesn’t even have a licence, has promised to be more considerate in his driving in future.

'I get the message,' he said. 'But I think it was a bit harsh.'

There's more at the link.

You've got to love the way the police told the car's owner to remove it from the tree, even though they knew perfectly well he hadn't put it there!  It makes you wonder whether he'd had a few run-ins with the local law before . . . and, for that matter, whether the cops had helped to put it up there!  (Do Polish police have cranes at their disposal, perhaps to help at the scene of an accident?)


The entertainment equivalent of the buggy whip industry?

Dish Network recently launched its new 'Hopper' digital video recorder (DVR), which allows commercial-free viewing of recorded TV programming.  Needless to say, the major networks are apoplectic about this, as their revenue stream relies upon advertising - and if advertisers know that consumers can simply cut out their advertisements without even knowing they were there in the first place, why should they pay such high advertising prices to the networks?  Lawsuits are pending.

My concern is this.  All Dish Network has done by introducing the 'Hopper' is to acknowledge and automate what millions of DVR users are already doing, using their remote control units - skipping past the advertisements.  Therefore, instead of desperately trying to shore up, fortify and defend an old, outdated business and revenue model by fighting such modern technology, why aren't the networks looking for a new business and revenue model that will take advantage of modern technology?  They're not going to succeed in putting the genie of technology back in the bottle.  Nor are they alone in fighting a losing battle.  Publishers of books, music and other forms of entertainment are in precisely the same (sinking) boat as the TV and movie business.

Once information is digitized, it moves beyond the narrow, restrictive boundaries that publishers, distributors and networks could once place around it.  If a single electronic copy gets out, it'll be copied, duplicated, circulated, folded, spindled and mutilated before you can say 'Jack Robinson'.  Any revenue model that relies on stopping that process is doomed to failure.  Unless the networks 'go with the flow' and update their business models, they're going to become extinct, just like the buggy whip industry did when automobiles arrived.


An American photographer wins big

American photographer Mitch Dobrowner recently won the L'Iris d'Or (Golden Iris) Photographer of the Year prize at the Sony World Photography Awards for 2012.  His winning entry was this stunning black-and-white study of a storm cloud near Dundee, Texas, which he titled 'Cell-Lightbing'.

He also submitted several other monochrome studies of stormy weather.  Click on each thumbnail picture at the link for a larger view, or on his name above to be taken to his own Web site.

Other entries at the competition were also pretty amazing - I'd have hated to be forced to choose between them!  Here are just three of the category winning photographs, with their descriptions from the competition Web site.  Click on an image title to go to its individual page, where it can be viewed in a larger size;  or click the photographers' names to go to their respective Web sites.

'Dancing queen' by Tobias Braeuning:  This is a collision of multiple coloured waterdrops. The first drop falls into the water, then the green splash comes up, colliding with a yellow drop. Somme milliseconds later, the red drop arrives and also collides. Finally, a blue drop is arriving, captured short before touching the splash.

'Spring time' by Krzysztof Browko:  South Moravia. Czech Republic. Agricultural areas, fields.

'Symphony of fire' by Natalibel:  no description provided.

There are many galleries of the photographs submitted for this year's competition.  They'll give you hours of viewing pleasure, if photography is among your interests.  Highly recommended.

Congratulations to Mr. Dobrowner and all the category winners - in fact, to all the photographers whose work was accepted into the competition.  It's quite an honor just to get that far!


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

I've written before about my own heroes, those I'll remember in a very personal way tomorrow, May 28th, 2012 - Memorial Day.  I know none of them 'officially' qualify for remembrance on that day;  but their memory is nevertheless important to me.  However, this year I'm going to make the holiday more personal to me as an American, now that I've lived here for a decade and a half.  I haven't lost a foxhole buddy here, nor have I served in the US armed forces, but many of my friends have.  This year, I'd like to honor their fallen comrades as much as my own.

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In 1868 General John A. Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued his famous General Order #11.

I.  The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

II.  It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III.  Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of


Adjutant General


The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), successor organization to (and organized by) the now-defunct Grand Army of the Republic, today maintains a Memorial Day Web site, which informs us:

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May.

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It's easy to talk about deceased veterans en masse, or in the context of a vast, impersonal war.  This year, let's make it personal.  One man's sacrifice, and that of his wife - both very well publicized  - will serve to represent the sacrifices of the many who've never attracted such attention.

Many of you will remember an article in the Rocky Mountain News on November 11th, 2005.  It was published by many other newspapers nationwide.  It described the efforts of the US Marine Corps to bring their dead home with dignity and honor, and restore them to their families.  A focal point of the article was the final homecoming of 2nd Lieutenant Jim Cathey, and his reception by his pregnant wife Katherine.

At the sight of the flag-draped casket, Katherine let loose a shrill, full-body wail that gave way to moans of distilled, contagious grief.

"NO! NO! Noooooo! Not him! Noooooo!"

She screamed as the casket moved slowly down the conveyor belt. She screamed until she nearly collapsed, clutching Beck around the neck, her legs almost giving way.

At the base of the luggage ramp, the screams hit the pallbearers.

Of all the Marines they had met or trained with, Jim Cathey was the one they considered invincible, built with steel-cable arms and endless endurance - a kid who had made sergeant at 19 and seemed destined to leapfrog through the ranks.

Most of the Marines who would serve as pallbearers had first met "Cat" at the University of Colorado, while enrolled in an elite scholarship program for enlisted infantrymen taking the difficult path to becoming officers. They partied with him, occasionally got into trouble with him, then watched him graduate with honors in anthropology and history in only three years.

When they lifted his casket, they struggled visibly with the weight, their eyes filling with tears as they shuffled to the white hearse.

After they placed the flag-drapped coffin inside, Katherine fell onto one corner, pressing her face into the blue field of stars.

Beck put a hand on her back as she held the casket tight. By then, he was close enough to her to know that she wouldn't let go. He kept his hand on her back until he found a solution.

"Would you like to ride with him?" he finally asked. She looked up, dazed, and replied with a sniffling nod. She took his hand again as he guided her to the front seat of the hearse, where the surprised funeral directors quickly moved papers to make room for her.

2nd Lt. Jim Cathey's body lay in state for several days at a local funeral home.  Marines stood watch over him until the funeral.  On the night before his burial, his wife stayed with him.  The sentry prepared a bed for her, with an air mattress, and she lay before his coffin, listening to music they'd played together, remembering their life together, feeling their unborn son kick within her womb.

When the funeral was over, the Marines who'd known 2nd Lt. Cathey paid their own, very special last tribute.

For a group of Cathey's friends, there was one more task.

The Marines, many of whom had flown in from Okinawa the night before, walked up to the casket. One by one, they removed their white gloves and placed them on the smooth wood. Then they reached into a bag of sand the same dark gray shade as gunpowder.

A few years ago, while stationed in the infantry in Hawaii, Jim Cathey and his friends had taken a trip to Iwo Jima, where nearly 6,000 Marines had lost their lives almost 60 years before. They slept on the beach, thinking about all that had happened there. The day before they left, they each collected a bag of sand.

Those bags of sand sat in their rooms for years. Girlfriends questioned them. Wives wondered what they would ever do with them.

One by one, the young Marines poured a handful of sand onto the gloves atop the casket, then stepped back.

Sgt. Gavin Conley, who had escorted his friend's body to Reno, reached into the bag, made a fist and drizzled the grains onto the casket.

Once again, he slowly brought his bare hand to his brow.

A final salute.

"(The day after sleeping on the beach), we all did a hike up Mount Suribachi, where our battalion commander spoke, and we rendered honors to all the fallen on Iwo Jima," Conley said.

He looked over at the sand.

"Now they can be part of him, too."

The Rocky Mountain News is no more, but the article (without pictures) remains archived at its Web site.  A complete version, including pictures, has been preserved elsewhere as an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format.  I particularly recommend the latter version.

2nd Lt. Cathey's son was born on December 4th, 2005.

"That cowlick - he has the same cowlick on the right side of his head," [Katherine] said of James J. Cathey Jr. "He has the nose. One of his ears sticks out more than the other like his dad. He has these really long fingers and feet like Jim.

"And he smiles. He smiles a lot."

. . .

"It's hard to throw stuff away. Even little notes I jotted down while he was still alive; I don't want to throw them away. I'm doing my best to save everything I can. I want to go through it with Jimmy.

"I hope he asks a lot about his dad," she said. "I'm sure he will."

. . .

Before he left for Iraq, the couple never talked about death.

"I remember in Lejeune (N.C.) trying to bring something up about it," Katherine said. "He just started crying and said, 'I don't want to think about it. You don't know how scared I am.' I think he had a feeling that he wasn't coming back."

When she's out in public, Katherine says she shies away from bringing up the story of her husband's death, worried mainly about making others uncomfortable.

"Everyone says the same thing: 'I don't know what to say,' " she said. "I can't imagine being on the other side of it. I don't know what I'd say, either."

She stopped and thought.

"I guess I want them to say, 'Wow, what an amazing husband you had'."

. . .

The soft green baby blanket no longer smells like 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey.

"The night before he left for Iraq, I asked him to sleep with the blanket, so that when the baby was born, he would know how his father smelled," Katherine said, holding up the blanket she knitted while her husband was stationed at Camp Lejeune, preparing to deploy.

"I can still see him there that night," she said. "He just held the blanket and slept with it. He went to sleep before I did, and I remember watching him, crying, thinking about how much I was going to miss him, and that he wasn't going to be there when the baby was born."

She then lifted the blanket, leaned into the bassinet and wrapped it around her son.

"The blanket smells more like a baby now," she said softly. "But there's something about Jimmy that also smells like his dad."

There's more at the link.

# # #

A few days ago Col. Tom Manion wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

I served in the military for 30 years. But it was impossible to fully understand the sacrifices of our troops and their families until April 29, 2007, the day my son, First Lt. Travis Manion, was killed in Iraq.

Travis was just 26 years old when an enemy sniper's bullet pierced his heart after he had just helped save two wounded comrades. Even though our family knew the risks of Travis fighting on the violent streets of Fallujah, being notified of his death on a warm Sunday afternoon in Doylestown, Pa., was the worst moment of our lives.

While my son's life was relatively short, I spend every day marveling at his courage and wisdom. Before his second and final combat deployment, Travis said he wanted to go back to Iraq in order to spare a less-experienced Marine from going in his place. His words — "If not me, then who . . . " — continue to inspire me.

My son is one of thousands to die in combat since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Because of their sacrifices, as well as the heroism of previous generations, Memorial Day 2012 should have tremendous importance to our entire nation, with an impact stretching far beyond one day on the calendar.

. . .

... the essence of our country, which makes me even prouder than the president's speech, is the way our nation's military families continue to serve. Even after more than a decade of war, these remarkable men and women are still stepping forward.

As the father of a fallen Marine, I hope Americans will treat this Memorial Day as more than a time for pools to open, for barbecues or for a holiday from work. It should be a solemn day to remember heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice, and also a stark reminder that our country is still at war.

May this Memorial Day indeed be such a day, for all of us.


Around the blogs

It's been three weeks since my last 'Around The Blogs' segment, largely because there were was so much general material of interest that I was overwhelmed!  Anyway, I've been bookmarking blog articles of interest, so here goes with a mammoth edition.

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Just for giggles, let's start with a Lolcat.  Courtesy of Chris Hughes, we find this old gem at I Can Has Cheezburger?

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Although I don't often feature 'professional' blogs here, the 'You're The Boss' small business blog at the New York Times has an interesting article about a 13-year-old girl who developed a lollipop that cures hiccups.  It won her an award in Connecticut, and the assistance of a team of MBA students to develop her concept into a marketable commercial product.  Well done!

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Courtesy of an article by Borepatch about 'Calculating The Decline', we're led to a very interesting article by Captain Capitalism titled 'What Could Have Been', which examines what the USA's GDP might have been if we'd continued to grow our economy.  It also examines why our economic growth stagnated.  The reasons will make you shake your head in dismay.  Both articles are worthwhile reading.

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In his LiveJournal, Neutrino Cannon reminds us that 'Graham Crackers, Corn Flakes and Sex' are historically and inextricably linked.

I did not know that!

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I literally sprayed a mouthful of tea all over my keyboard and monitor when I came across an article titled 'Gentlemen, please take care of your vaginas' at Taffy's blog 'Dysfunctionally Fun'.  It's extraordinarily funny!  Sadly, Taffy doesn't seem to blog very often.  I wish she'd write more!

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote that we were 'Waiting For The Collapse'.  A blogger calling himself 'Escape From Wisconsin', blogging at The Hipcrime Vocab, asks 'What If A Collapse Happened And Nobody Noticed?'  Here's a brief excerpt from his long and very interesting article.

It seems people just cannot just cannot get past the "Zombie Apocalypse" theory of collapse. They imagine hordes of disease-ridden folks dressed in rags stumbling around and fighting over cans of petrol and stripping cans of food from shelves. That's not what collapse looks like. It never has been. In fact, there's very little evidence that a Zombie Apocalypse style collapse ever occurred in the historical record. Instead we see subtle patterns of abandonment and decay that unfold over long periods of time. Big projects stop. Population thins. Trade routes shrink and people revert to barter. Things get simpler and more local. Culture coarsens. High art stagnates. People disperse. Expectations are adjusted downward. Investments are no longer made in the future and previous investments are cannibalized just to maintain the status quo. Extend and pretend is hardly a recent invention.

. . .

... right now the entire continent of Europe is looking an awful lot like post-collapse Russia ... Greece appears to be just the dress rehearsal for the rest of the world. And Japan has been experiencing diminished expectations, lower wages, deflation and declining birthrates since 1989. And I don't think I need to restate conditions in the United States: municipal bankruptcies, school closings, foreclosures, blackouts, roads being turned back into gravel, etc. And conditions are continuing to deteriorate.

. . .

Picture the ruin porn of decaying Detroit's vacant buildings, empty fields, shuttered factories, abandoned houses, crumbling overpasses, bursting water mains, rusting cars, and encroaching wilderness. Does this not look like collapse to you? If this had happened over a span of one or two years, would we even have any trouble of recognizing it as such? If you asked people twenty or thirty years ago what a global economic collapse would look like, would they not describe something very similar to what we are now witnessing? Why don't we recognize it? Because it is happening too slowly? Because we believe things will "get back to normal?" What are we waiting for, a sign from heaven?

There's much more at the link.  Go read it all.  It's important.

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The Assistant Village Idiot reminds us why government regulation is almost always a Bad Idea.

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According to Dr. Whitecoat (writing with tongue firmly in cheek):

"It is with a heavy heart that I tell you all that someone else is going to be taking over my duties in the emergency department and on this blog from this point forward."

Go read how a serially fraudulent con artist was exposed, and how he reacted.  It's also an object lesson in the sort of shenanigans to which emergency room personnel are exposed all the time - as is Nurse K's account of how a troublesome patient came looking for sympathy in the wrong place.

Both Dr. Whitecoat and Nurse K frequently write about the trials and tribulations of working in the ER.  Their blogs are worth reading.  They may also help you and I to behave better if we're ever unfortunate enough to need the services of an ER ourselves.

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The Mistress of Snark explains (photographically) the true meaning of the expression 'gayer than a purse full of kittens'.

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Ken, one of the authors at Popehat, points out that free speech should be defended because it's speech, irrespective of whether or not we agree with it.  Word.

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Multi-platform blogger and best-selling author Michael Z. Williamson has decided that he's going to run for office this year - specifically for the post of World Dictator.  He's put up a special Web site with (frequently grisly) details of his electoral platform.  Here's an example of his proposed policies:

Policy 3: I will start a worldwide attrition replacement of fossil fuel plants with nuclear power plants. Where the environment is conducive, locals will be encouraged to use solar, wind, tide and geothermal power. The waste tailings of the rare earths used in the latter will be mixed with the radioactive waste from the former, and airdropped over any nation or region that causes trouble for its neighbors. The increased mutation rate will evolve them into something more civilized, or sterilize them.

He also responds to questions and comments about his platform, such as this one:

Statement:  This seems like the work of some egomaniacal, extremist, gun-toting sociopath.

Answer:  Thank you.

Go read more.  Mike tickles my evil, twisted fancies!

(OW!  OUCH!  OK, OK, Miss D., relax!  I meant my political fancies!)

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Sadly, Frank W. James has decided that the new Blogger interface is more trouble than it's worth, so he's going to stop blogging.  That's a great pity.  I hope he'll leave his blog intact, so those of us who've long enjoyed his writing can at least peruse his archives from time to time.

A great many bloggers have complained bitterly about Blogger's new interface.  I can't say I like it much, particularly the new text editor's utterly infuriating habit of screwing up HTML code at the drop of a hat!  I've taken to editing directly in HTML mode for more complex posts so as to work around that.  I suspect most of the 'improvements' are nothing more than an exercise in marketing ("Ooh, look!  Shiny!").

However, Blogger's a free service.  The old proverb reminds us that "He who pays the piper calls the tune" . . . and if Blogger's users aren't paying anything, I guess Blogger has every right to decide what features and facilities it'll offer.  If I don't like them, I can switch to WordPress, or Tumblr, or another blogging platform - but that would involve a lot of work (I'd have to transfer well over 6,000 posts in my archives from here to there, just for a start!), and each of those platforms has its own idiosyncracies and quirks that I'd have to learn.

I guess I'll stay with Blogger for now . . . although that may change if they 'improve' it any further!

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How can you not be intrigued by a blog post with the title 'Viscoelastic nerdgasm'?  It's about motor racing, but even if you don't enjoy motorsport, the headline is irresistible!

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Occasionally Blunt provides an acerbic look at Australia's version of the Welfare State.  Here's an excerpt.

... a surplus is a good thing compared to the alternatives, but why is government taking more than they spend in the first place? Why are they giving it to other people instead of back to those from whom they took it? Heaven knows, I could gainfully make use of more of my money if they would only let me keep it. Of course, for every surplus billion in taxes taken by the government, only 900 million gets returned (if it ever does) - it costs 10% to run the bureaucracy that manages the money, but still.

. . .

No country can long survive when a family can have NO bread-winner, and still afford housing, clothing, food, a car, mobile phones, alcohol, cigarettes, and entertainment.

When that family consists of adult members whose ancestors for TWO GENERATIONS have never held a job, and children where that number is THREE, then there is NO HOPE of turning things around at the ballot box. These indolent leeches on the body of society will NEVER vote to stop our largesse.

More at the link.  Sounds like they have similar problems to ours Down Under, doesn't it?


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The Silicon Graybeard has a heart-warming story about a man, an airplane and a dream.

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For those who're concerned about personal security and safety in a crime-ridden environment, a blog called Charleston Thug Life offers a grim education about the reality of the threats to our security in many US towns and cities today.  On the principle that 'forewarned is forearmed', I strongly recommend that you read it for yourself, and spend some time going through its archives.  It's obviously focused on crime in one city, but I'd say its lessons apply anywhere in this country.

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I had no idea about the testicular implications of yoghurt . . . but Dr. Grumpy fearlessly tells us all about it.  I'll never look at yoghurt in the same way again!

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Earthbound Misfit points to news from New York about child sex abuse in the Hasidic community.  This is a topic of intense personal interest to me, as regular readers will know (see the sidebar of this blog for relevant articles).  I'm infuriated to learn of what appears to be official collusion in an extra-judicial process that is unlikely to do much (if anything) to protect those at risk from this sickening crime.  I can only hope that public pressure will be sufficient to do something about it . . . but officialdom is notoriously reluctant to admit mistakes.  Would those of my readers in or near New York City please put pressure on their elected representatives to take up this matter?  I'd be personally grateful.  Thank you.

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Rev. Paul informs us of a fascinating claim by an engineer that we could build the starship Enterprise, from the Star Trek universe, in about 20 years for a cost of about a trillion dollars, if we were prepared to really work at it.  That averages out to about 50 billion bucks a year.  I'd much prefer to put $50 billion of our tax dollars into a project like that every year, rather than pad the welfare budget any further!

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Third Echelon Investigations is a private detective's blog. The author posts an interesting list of '46 Clues Your Partner is Having an Affair'.  Not very comfortable reading . . . but from my experience as a pastor, having to counsel couples in trouble, I'd have to say many of the clues he provides are spot-on.  I hope and pray none of you, dear readers, ever need to worry about them in your own relationships!

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Finally, Chris Byrne (who, with his wife Melody, blogs at The Anarchangel) laments, 'When did I become the "policy" and "process discipline" guy?'  IT professionals and those involved in operating and maintaining complex systems of any kind will probably nod their heads in rueful agreement.  Here's an excerpt.

The thing, audit and compliance folks want to... in fact need to (because it is the very definition of their job, and they are accountable for it) make sure of...

No matter what exactly you've written down, as your policy, your control, and your process...

What they need to make sure of... Is that what you've written down...

... Is what you ACTUALLY DO...

You might be surprised at how often it isn't... or maybe not.

More at the link.  As a former computer systems professional myself, I can only sympathize.  I made that switch too, somewhere between my coding and my management days . . . and I didn't recognize myself either!

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That's it from the blogosphere for this edition.  More soon!