Friday, August 31, 2012

How (not) to cut down a tree in Russia

Clearly, OSHA hasn't got a Russian equivalent yet . . .


This music sure wasn't the food of love!

The opening line of Shakespeare's play 'Twelfth Night' has become famous as a quotation and a cliché in its own right:  "If music be the food of love, play on".  However, it seems that the karaoke in Xi'an in China produces a rather less lovable (and digestible) response.  The Telegraph reports:

A Chinese toddler's refusal to give up the microphone during a family karaoke evening started a quarrel that left two men hacked to death with a meat cleaver.

The evening began jovially enough when Mr Yun, the owner of a noodle shop in the central Chinese city of Xi'an, invited his family to celebrate Qixi, China's Valentine's Day, with a singing session at a local karaoke parlour.

But by 11pm, there was discord in the room. Mr Yun's four-year-old son was hogging the microphone and his parents were indulging him.

Two of the boy's uncles began chastising Mr Yun and his wife for having raised a spoilt child; a "Little Emperor", as the Chinese say.

According to the Xi'an police, the argument became heated to the point where the two uncles began pushing, and then punching, Mr Yun.

Finally, Mr Yun's nephew, who also worked in the noodle shop, ran back to the restaurant and fetched a meat cleaver.

The man, named as Mr Hui, hacked the two uncles to death, inflicting at least ten wounds on each uncle. He has since been arrested.

There is no shortage of criticism inside China for the bad behaviour of the Little Emperors, the children raised under the one-child policy and doted on by their parents.

Karaoke, meanwhile, is taken very seriously not just in China, but throughout Asia, where singing rivals alcohol as a social lubricant.

Other karaoke massacres have taken place in the Philippines, where the Frank Sinatra song "My Way" has had to be removed from many songbooks after sub-standard renditions provoked a string of killings.

In Thailand, meanwhile, a man shot eight of his neighbours, including his brother-in-law, after tiring of their tuneless reprisals of John Denver's "Country Roads".

There's more at the link.

I have an idea.  Let's introduce bad Asian and Far Eastern karaoke to the witchcraft villages of Africa (see story below).  That should sort out both problems at once - even if only through mutual genocide!


More news of African superstition

The Telegraph published a report yesterday about 'witchcraft villages' in Ghana, to which hundreds of women have been exiled, accused of witchcraft.

Up to a thousand elderly women in Ghana have been banished to remote camps as alleged witches.

Six such 'witch camps' in the country's impoverished Northern Region have been established where women have sought refuge from beating, torture even lynching to live a life in exile, ostracised from their families and left to fend for themselves.

Many of the women in the camps have been blamed for using black magic to cause some misfortune in the community, whether a death, illness or drought.

Denied the opportunity to defend themselves, they are chased into these camps where, exiled from their families for up to thirty years, they live in appalling conditions where food and running water is scarce.

Eighty year old Zeneibu Sugru was accused of being a witch after her nephew became seriously ill and died. A mob beat her with sticks claiming she had used a spell to kill him.

"I knew it wasn't true. I have never used witchcraft," she said. "But when I heard that they were planning to bury me alive in boy's grave, I knew I had to escape."

Zeniebu did escape with her life eight years ago but left behind her grandchildren, all her possessions and her former life for ever.

. . .

Typically when a woman arrives at the witchcamp, a fetish priest confirms her guilt or otherwise by a special ritual in which a chicken is slaughtered. If it falls on it back, its beak in the air, the women is pronounced innocent. If not she has to consume a sometimes fatal concoction of chicken blood, monkey skulls and soil to "cleanse" her. Only then can she consider returning home. But not all communities are prepared to accept the women back so entrenched is the fear of witchcraft.

"It is my grandchildren I miss most," said Zeneibu ."They were my pride and joy. But I live in hope that one day I will see them again."

It is not an idle hope. Having been purified, the Gambaga chief has agreed to release her home as soon as a member of her family comes to request her back. She is still waiting.

There's more at the link.

I've written several times before about the problems of such primitive superstition in Africa.  There are similar 'witchcraft villages' in South Africa (such as Helena in what was then the northern Transvaal - I've visited it, and others) and Tanzania, and I'm sure they exist elsewhere on the continent.  An incident last year, when professed Christians accused their pastor of possessing an 'invisible magic penis' that slept with local women, and burnt him to death as a result, shows how deep is this irrational and illogical belief.  It trumps any amount of Western education.  So-called 'traditional healers' (who are often among the worst offenders in 'sniffing out' witches and accusing others of witchcraft) have even used their influence to derail proposed legislation to make such accusations illegal.  'Muti', or witchcraft-based 'medicine', is commonly used by African sports teams and individual sportsmen to improve their performance.  A large-scale 'muti market' is even prominently featured on the official Web site of Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city.

Africa will get nowhere unless and until such superstitions are rooted out - and that's going to take generations . . .


Thursday, August 30, 2012

OK, that's hunger all right!

Reader Stretch V. sends us the link to this video clip.

OK, that's funny in anyone's language!


An old aviation stalwart gets a new lease on life

Readers may remember that in one of my earliest Weekend Wings articles, I mentioned the Antonov An-2 biplane.

It first flew in 1947, powered by a Shvetsov ASh-62 radial engine (copied from the US Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine) producing 1,000 horsepower.  It's believed that over 20,000 have been built to date, including licensed production in China (as the Shijiazhuang Y-5), Poland and possibly elsewhere.  There are still occasional production runs in Poland (using stored parts), and possibly in China too, giving the An-2 the longest production run of any biplane in history.  The basic version can seat up to twelve passengers or carry up to two tons of freight (depending on fuel load and other factors).  Wikipedia points out that the An-2 has been adapted for many other purposes, including "hopper-equipped versions for crop-dusting, scientific versions for atmospheric sampling, water-bombers for fighting forest-fires, flying ambulances, float-equipped seaplane versions, and lightly armed combat versions for dropping paratroops".

The An-2 slightly predated the de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, and had almost the same capacity.  Both aircraft were designed for much the same mission - a general-purpose utility transport suitable to fly passengers and cargo into and out of rough terrain, in areas where airline transport simply wasn't an option.  Both have been adapted for use on skis and floats, and both are still in service around the world, including the USA.  (I've flown aboard a couple of An-2's in Africa.)  Both have also been modified to use turboprop engines in the past - the Otter using a PT6, M601 or TPE331 engine, and the An-2 under a new designation as the An-3 (shown below - image courtesy of Wikipedia), using a Glushenkov TVD-20-03 engine.  However, the latter was neither very successful nor very popular with users.

You'll understand, therefore, that I was intrigued to read this report on Flight Global's Web site today.

A Russian aviation design institute has completed initial testing of an Antonov An-2 biplane re-engined with a US-made Honeywell Aerospace TPE-331 turboprop engine and Hartzell five-blade propeller, in an attempt to cut operating costs and improve performance.

The Novosibirsk-based Chaplygin Siberian Aeronautical Research Institute began tests in February of the turboprop-fitted An-2, offering equivalent power to the aircraft's standard ASh-62 nine-cylinder radial engine, but with less weight and drag and using cheaper kerosene fuel.

The aircraft had a shorter take-off run, and was steadier and easier to control, the institute says.

. . .

Russia has a chronic need for a new generation of regional aircraft to service remote communities in areas with poor road and rail links. Regional aviation has fallen into steep decline since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

There's more at the link.  (An earlier report mentioned that Russian authorities want to modernize the An-2 and Yak-40 aircraft without getting approval from their original design bureaux, due to difficulties experienced in that process.)  Here's an image of the Honeywell-engined An-2 prototype, captured from the video clip below.

This offers a tantalizing hope for a new generation of highly cost-effective bush aircraft, if regulatory approval for their use can be obtained (the FAA in the US has never approved the An-2 for commercial operations).  The original aircraft, built in their thousands, are available at very low cost.  If a modern low-maintenance, low-running-cost turboprop engine can be fitted, and the aircraft's notoriously deficient instruments upgraded and its notoriously tricky handling improved, a very capable and cost-effective bush plane might result - something many parts of the world would appreciate.

Here's a video of flight trials of the Honeywell-engined An-2 in Siberia.

I'd like to see this conversion succeed.  It'd be great fun to fly in the world's largest biplane again - this time rather more smoothly and quietly than its original radial engine permitted in the past!

(If you'd like to see more of the An-2, there's an entire YouTube channel devoted to video clips of this aircraft.)


Emergency preparation, Part 10 - lessons from Hurricane Isaac

Hurricane Isaac has spawned several interesting 'lessons learned' reports.  To begin with, here's a news report, obtained courtesy of a link at Rev. Paul's place.

While the nation watches as tropical storm Isaac pounds the Gulf Coast, various agencies are pitching in and providing resources to help the communities. But officials in Alaska know that when natural disaster strikes in the Last Frontier, it will be more difficult for help to come to the state.

That’s why the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is hoping to create the first emergency food supply and storage for the state. It would also be one of the first in the nation in its magnitude.

The state is requesting the private sector to propose ideas and plans to create an emergency food cache for the state, in Anchorage and Fairbanks, to help communities when local resources shrink.

. . .

John Madden, the director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, says ... the 2009 eruption of Mt. Redoubt showed how having supplies and food locally is especially important if travelling by air or by water is put to a halt.

“We learned the lessons then, that the supply lines that bring in all this food is tenuous and long,” said Madden. “We want to make sure we have resilient supply lines so if anything disturbs, disrupts, or destroys those lines, we want to be able to care for our people in an orderly way.”

There's more at the link.

(Mr. Madden's mention of the 2009 eruption of Mount Redoubt struck a responsive chord in me.  I was courting Miss D. at the time - successfully, I'm delighted to report!  On one visit, my flight got into Anchorage 20 minutes ahead of the latest ash cloud!  If we'd been delayed even a few minutes, we'd have had to divert to Fairbanks or Juneau, or even return to Seattle.)

That's the first time I've read about a State-wide emergency supply program, but it makes a lot of sense - not just for Alaska, where they're at the end of a long, tenuous supply pipeline, but even for 'normal' states.  If a natural disaster affects transport routes, and/or covers several states at once so that those on the periphery are likely to get aid faster than those in the center of the problem area, it's going to be a whole lot easier to cope with those first days and weeks if at least some supplies are pre-positioned.  If that holds true for states, how much more so does it hold true for you and your family?  Furthermore, if your state doesn't have such a program, how much more essential is it for you to have your own?

A lot of people expected Hurricane Isaac to bring high, even damaging winds, but thought they'd blow over quickly so they could get on with their lives.  Very few expected what actually happened:  Isaac stalled, moving very slowly and dumping not just inches, but feet of rain over a wide area.  Some parts of Louisiana report upwards of two feet of rain over the past three days.  It's a fairly flat, low-lying state, with little natural drainage except down bayous, creeks and streams into a couple of major rivers (the Ouachita, the Red, etc.) that in turn drain into the Mississippi - which was, for a time, actually flowing backwards as the result of storm surge!  The Associated Press reports:

The huge spiral weather system weakened to a tropical depression as it crawled inland, but it caught many places off guard by following a meandering, unpredictable path. The storm's excruciatingly slow movement meant that Isaac practically parked over low-lying towns and threw off great sheets of water for hours.

. . .

Inside the fortified levees that protected New Orleans, bursts of sunshine streamed through the thick clouds, and life began to return to normal. But beyond the city, people got their first good look at Isaac's damage: Hundreds of homes were underwater. Half the state was without power at the one point. Thousands were staying at shelters.

And the damage may not be done. Even more rain was expected in Louisiana before the storm finally drifts into Arkansas and Missouri.

. . .

Katrina was more powerful, coming ashore as a Category 3 storm. Isaac was a Category 1 at its peak. Katrina barreled into the state and quickly moved through. Isaac creeped across the landscape at less than 10 mph and wobbled constantly.

David Newman was frustrated that the government spent billions of dollars reinforcing New Orleans levees after Katrina, only to see the water inundating surrounding regions.

"The water's got to go somewhere," he said. "It's going to find the weakest link."

Again, more at the link.

This is worth thinking about from an emergency preparedness point of view.  Many people stayed in place because they expected the hurricane to move through quickly, only to be trapped by rising floodwaters.  Not even the emergency services predicted this sort of destruction - and from a relatively mild storm, at that.  It looks at this time as if the economic damage to Louisiana from Hurricane Isaac may rival that of Hurricane Gustav in 2008.  (I endured both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gustav in that state, and I can assure you those storms were no fun at all!  Those currently enduring Isaac have my deepest sympathy - although I trust they'll pardon me for being glad I'm not there to share the experience with them!)

If you have emergency supplies stored at home, consider these questions in the light of Hurricane Isaac.

  1. Are your supplies stored out of the reach of floodwaters?  A basement might not be the best place for them in a flood zone . . .
  2. Are your supplies packed so that, in an emergency, you can load them in your vehicle, along with a suitcase of clothing and your essential documents, and get out of town ahead of a storm?  You may have too many supplies to do that (it's a nice problem to have!), but you should have at least some of them (enough for a few weeks, if possible) packed and ready to go.  (See this article, which we've mentioned before, for some useful ideas in that regard.)
  3. Do you keep at least half a tank of gas in your vehicle at all times?  If not, expect to spend long hours queuing for fuel at gas stations in the rush to fill up before the storm hits - and you may find that your local gas station runs dry before you can get to a pump.  It's worth having a tankful of gas stored in jerrycans or other suitable containers at home (in a safe location, of course - NOT in your residential building, due to the risk of fire), and treated with fuel stabilizer.  Put it in your vehicle's gas tank every six to nine months, and replace it with fresh gasoline.
  4. Is your disaster preparation too limited in terms of likely scenarios?  It's all very well to say that an earthquake hasn't hit your area in living memory - but what if there's a fault system nearby?  The New Madrid fault hasn't let go in a big way since 1812, but if it ever decides to do so, residents of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi are going to find out the hard way that most local building codes don't specify earthquake-resistant construction!  In the same way, prepare for high winds, floods, etc., even if they're unlikely.  (Tennesseans sure didn't expect a 1,000-year flood in May 2010, but they got it anyway!  I was in Nashville for that, and the downpours reminded me of hurricanes in Louisiana.)  A little forethought can save you a great deal of pain when the proverbial brown substance hits the rotary air impeller.
  5. Don't be too fixated on a single plan.  It may work under certain conditions, but if circumstances change, it might get you killed!  Have more than one plan.  If conditions allow, one plan might be to stay in place and shelter at home.  Under other conditions (e.g. floods, or urban unrest, or massive fires, or whatever) it might be much safer to 'get out of Dodge' and seek shelter elsewhere (hopefully by pre-arrangement with family and/or friends elsewhere).

Hurricane Isaac has tested, and is still testing, many people's emergency preparations.  Some will have come through relatively unscathed.  Others . . . not so much.  Let's learn all we can from their experiences, and apply those lessons to our own preparations.


I'd give him an 'A' for effort, but a 'C-' for execution . . .

The only reason Steve Marks isn't one of our Doofi of the Day is that his marriage proposal succeeded in attracting the desired response.  However, on the way there . . .

Mr Marks first arranged for friend Stuart Dawes to leave a hamper, picnic blanket and champagne at The Temple in Stancombe, Gloucestershire – said to be one of the most romantic places in Britain.

But things went wrong from the outset when, instead of delivering the couple to a country idyll, their satnav sent them to a retail park in the centre of Swindon, Wiltshire. Lovely. To make matters worse, the couple then got held up in heavy motorway traffic, leaving 34-year-old Mr Marks to contemplate popping the question in the middle of a jam.

Just when he thought nothing else could go wrong, co-conspirator Mr Dawes called to say their intended destination was off the agenda anyway – it was privately owned... and not available for the proposal.

Under a bit of pressure now, Mr Dawes had to come up with another scenic spot – Tyndale Monument in North Nibley, Gloucestershire.

Mr Marks ... said: ‘I stopped at a corner shop and talked to Stuart on the phone. He sounded massively out of breath because he had run up the hill to check it was suitable... without the picnic basket, the champagne and flowers. Then he had to go back up with everything. But it had the most amazing views.’

Then came a final blow. The hill was muddy and Miss O’Neill, who had endured an increasingly uncomfortable and, frankly, bemusing journey, wasn’t keen on climbing to the top.

Mr Marks, of Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, said: ‘Nuala had new shoes and said she wasn’t going to walk up the hill.’ A little smooth talking later, they were at the top. Mr Marks added: ‘She turned round and I was on my knee.’

Miss O’Neill, 26, accepted – and the couple were applauded by a group of ramblers who had also made the climb.

They are now planning to get married in Ireland next year... and Mr Marks may take a taxi to that.

There are more photographs at the link.

I'll keep an eye out for reports of a wedding gone awry next year.  At this rate, Mr. Marks and his fiancée may make our Doofi of the Day category after all!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A nude challenge to political correctness

It seems that Prince Harry's embarrassment over his, er, over-exposure during a party in Las Vegas is stirring up controversy in the British Army.  It was reported a few days ago that he'd face a 'dressing-down' (you should pardon the expression) when he returns to active duty.  Now it seems that others in the UK armed forces aren't very happy about this - and they're expressing their support with a bunch of bare-naked royal salutes!  The Telegraph reports:

Scores of soldiers and their wives are risking Army anger by stripping off and saluting to show support for Prince Harry, and posting the pictures on Facebook.

As our troops get naked to copy Army comrade Prince Harry's nude Vegas party pose, their wives and girlfriends are getting in on the act too.

They are borrowing their boys' uniforms and performing 'naked salutes' either totally nude or in varying states of undress.

They are among over 13,000 who have joined a military Facebook group called 'Support Prince Harry With A Naked Salute'.

But although none of the troops are likely to be disciplined for the stunt, top brass are not amused.

A source told the Daily Mail: "Everyone sees the funny side but there are people at senior levels in the Army who do not consider this to be appropriate.

"They will be thinking 'Does this really shows us in the professional light we want to be seen in?'."

There's more at the link.  The Sun also has a collection of photographs of the 'royal salutes'.

Sure, Harry was an idiot to let himself go like that, particularly knowing that every gossip columnist and paparazzo in the world would be just waiting for the merest hint of a slip-up . . . but I'm delighted to see that the average Brit can still thumb his or her nose (and other body parts) at snooty top brass!


World War II bombs still threaten Europe

Der Spiegel has an interesting report about the controlled detonation in Munich of a US-dropped bomb dating back to World War II. 

Unable to defuse a 250 kilogram (550 pound) bomb found buried one meter (three feet) deep at the site of the former bar Schwabinger 7 in the heart of the Bavarian capital, authorities elected to detonate the explosive on site.

The controlled blast, finally carried out just before 10 p.m., sent a fireball into the night sky, shattered windows in the vicinity and resulted in several small fires on surrounding rooftops. Nobody was hurt.

"Almost all the window panes in the immediate area were destroyed," Diethard Posorski, from the Munich bomb disposal authority, told journalists. A fire department spokesman added: "It looked quite spectacular."

. . .

The bomb, a model used by the US air force in World War II, was found on Monday during construction work. Initial attempts to defuse the explosive, however, failed due to the complicated nature of the chemical delay-action detonator. Such detonators were used on just 10 percent of the bombs dropped on Germany during World War II but they often failed; they make up a disproportionate share of the unexploded ordnance discovered in Germany. Once authorities opted for a controlled blast, thousands of sandbags were brought in to protect surrounding buildings.

By Wednesday morning, normality had returned to much of the area surrounding the site of the explosion and many streets had been reopened. But several hundred residents were still waiting to be allowed to return home.

The find is almost certain not to be the last. Tens of thousands of unexploded bombs are thought to still lie undiscovered in German cities, leftover from the Allied bombing raids that demolished the country's metropolitan areas in World War II. Officials in Munich estimate that there are some 2,500 bombs buried in the Bavarian capital alone. There have been four significant discoveries of unexploded ordnance in the city this year. Just one week ago, officials in Nuremberg succeeded in defusing a similar 250-kilogram bomb.

Experts say that the undiscovered bombs in Germany become more dangerous with each passing year. Last year, a former bomb disposal chief told SPIEGEL ONLINE that "unexploded bombs are becoming more dangerous by the day through material fatigue as a result of ageing and through erosion of safety elements in the trigger mechanisms."

There's more at the link, plus a gallery of pictures of the bomb and the damage caused by the explosion.  It sounds like this was an M43 500lb. general-purpose bomb, standard USAAF equipment during World War II.  (Details of US aerial bombs used during that conflict, including some photographs, may be found here.)

Munich wasn't alone in having problems with unexploded World War II ordnance this week:  parts of Schipol Airport in Amsterdam was shut down on Wednesday when another such bomb was discovered there.  I wouldn't like to be one of the EOD techs working on those bombs . . . ancient, corroded fuses, many made with the unstable explosives of an earlier era, aren't what I'd like to have anywhere near my working environment, thank you very much!  I've had a couple of all-too-close encounters with sweating cordite in ammunition manufactured during World War I for British 9.2" cannon, which were later used for coastal defense in South Africa (12 of the surviving 27 guns of this type are to be found in that country).  That was quite enough for one lifetime!


More about ACORN's resurgence

Last weekend I mentioned that the defunct ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), which had ostensibly closed up shop in 2010 after numerous scandals, had in fact been succeeded by over 170 splinter groups and descendant organizations that were continuing its nefarious work.

More information is now emerging about the ongoing and terminally poisonous pollution of America's body politic by politically, racially and socially polarized hard-liners.  HotAir's Green Room has a report drawing on various sources of information, including Judicial Watch's excellent report 'The Rebranding of ACORN'.  Both resources are well worth your attention.

I'm neither Republican nor Democrat, as I've said before, and hold political opinions and perspectives ranging from conservative to classical-liberal.  Nevertheless, the sheer brazenness of ACORN's and its successor organizations' attempts to subvert our political system and twist it to their own fraudulent ends is mind-boggling.  I note that the Obama administration has never even tried to prosecute ACORN or its office-bearers for their misdeeds in the past.  One hopes that the next administration will finally do something about that omission.


Larceny with a smile!

Received via e-mail from Bryn S. in Wales, UK, this tale of long-term larceny.  Despite the fact that it isn't true, it was funny enough to make me smile, so I thought I'd share it with you anyway.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tank demonstration FAIL!

Courtesy of a link provided by reader Eddie V., here's an interesting demonstration of a Russian tank.

Clearly, no-one gave very much attention to the placement of the spectator stands . . .


The nuts and bolts of the US Navy's 5" cannon

Business Insider takes a very interesting look at the US Navy's Mark 45 5" cannon.

The article includes many photographs taken below decks, showing the compartments and activities that go into making this a viable weapons system.  Very interesting reading for naval buffs.


The Spanish bank run accelerates

Those watching the slow-motion European economic implosion will recall that back in May, I described the bank runs developing in Greece and Spain.  According to the Telegraph, things have gotten much worse since then in the latter country.

Spain has suffered the worst haemorrhaging of bank deposits since the launch of the euro, losing funds equal to 7pc of GDP in a single month.

Data from the European Central Bank shows that outflows from Spanish commercial banks reached €74bn (£59bn) in July, twice the previous monthly record. This brings the total deposit loss over the past year to 10.9pc, replicating the pattern seen in Greece as the crisis spread.

It is unclear how much of the deposit loss is capital flight, either to German banks or other safe-haven assets such as London property. The Bank of Spain said the fall is distorted by the July effect of tax payments and by the expiry of securitised funds.

Julian Callow from Barclays Capital said the deposit loss is €65bn even when adjusted for the season: “This is highly significant. Deposit outflows are clearly picking up and the balance sheet of the Spanish banking system is contracting.”

Economy secretary Fernando Jimenez Latorre said Spain is in the eye of the storm right now with the “worst falls” in economic output yet to come in the second half of the year.

Meanwhile, the Spanish statistics office said the economic slump has been deeper than feared, with lower output through 2010 and 2011. The economy slid back into double-dip recession in the third quarter of last year, three months earlier than thought.

. . .

Separately, Portugal’s tax revenues fell 3.5pc in July despite higher tax rates, raising concerns that the country is tipping into a contraction spiral. It is now certain that Portugal will fail to meet this year’s deficit target of 4.5pc of GDP under its €78bn rescue from the EU-IMF troika. Morgan Stanley said the country will need a “second bail-out” in the autumn.

. . .

Meanwhile, the Greek government said it is planning to launch Chinese-style “economic zones” with special tax and regulatory breaks in a desperate bid to attract foreign investment.

But the Athens plans could face legal difficulties due to the European Union’s free market rules.

There's more at the link.

Folks, if your country's banks see the equivalent of seven per cent of gross domestic product withdrawn in the space of a single month, you may as well stick a fork in that economy.  It's done.  To put the problem in perspective, if the same thing happened here in the USA (where our GDP was $15.094 trillion in 2011), it would mean bank withdrawals by consumers and businesses of more than a trillion dollars in a single month.

Nor is Spain alone in this mess.  Greece's problems are well-known;  Portugal's are getting worse, as described in the above report;  and Italy's following them to the brink.  If all four of those economies topple over, the entire Eurozone goes with them, one way or another.


Ever heard of the 'Mongol Rally'?

I hadn't, until I came across two photo essays about it in the Telegraph (from which the pictures below have been drawn).  Wikipedia describes the Mongol Rally as follows:

The Mongol Rally is a car rally that begins in Europe and ends in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. The principal launch is from Goodwood Circuit, United Kingdom, with subsidiary starting points in other European countries.

It is described as the "greatest adventure in the world". Whilst originally the rally required competing vehicles to have an engine displacement of less than 1,000cc, this has been increased to 1,200 cc to reflect the increasing difficulty of obtaining a car since the Mongolian government stipulated that all competing vehicles must be less than 10 years old.

The rally is designed to be an adventure for the participants, and not a traditional rally/race. The organisers ("The Adventurists") are careful to point out that racing on highways is illegal, and that no recognition is given to the first finisher.

There are other differences from mainstream rallies, particularly the fact that no support team is provided and no other arrangements are made such as for accommodation. Indeed, the diminutive vehicles are deliberately inappropriate for the task, in the adventurous spirit of the rally.

There's more at the link, and a lot more information at the Mongol Rally Web site.  Here's the official promotional video for the 2012 event.

The rally is all about raising money for charity, with over £2 million [more than US $3.163 million] raised by the annual events since the competition's inception.  Each team is expected to raise a minimum of £1,000 [almost US $1,600] for charity, and many substantially exceed this - one competitor who wrote (very amusingly) about his experiences during the 2008 event raised £12,000 [about US $19,000] during his journey.  In addition, the vehicles that make it to Mongolia are sold there to benefit charities selected by their teams.  Some teams have even driven ambulances and fire engines to Mongolia, to donate them to needy communities there.

Here's this year's start at the Goodwood Circuit in England.

The organizers are very blunt in their warning to participants:

"Your chances of being seriously injured or dying as a result of taking part are high. Individuals who have taken part in previous Adventurists' adventures have been permanently disfigured, seriously disabled or lost their life."

They don't exactly mince their words, do they?  Here's one team's video reminiscences of the 2009 rally.  Looks like the night life may be as much of a danger as the roads!

After all that, if you're interested, registration for the 2013 Mongol Rally is now open.


Doofus Of The Day #635

BIC, manufacturers of ballpoint pens and other writing instruments, have planted their advertising foot firmly in their corporate mouth with the launch of a new range of 'BIC For Her' pens aimed at the female market.  The Telegraph reports:

Stationery manufacturer BIC has provoked widespread online ridicule after designing a range of pink and purple pen just “for her”.

The pens, which are promoted as “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand” comes in an “attractive barrel design available in pink and purple”.

Advertised exclusively for women, one version promises “smooth writing” and comes in a box of 12, writing in both blue and black ink.

While BIC’s intentions are no doubt sincere, the products have inspired a wave of online ridicule as women poke fun at their strategy.

Already attracting wry comment from feminist website Jezebel, the pens have now reached a global audience of outraged women.

Website Amazon has been flooded with hundreds of reviews from women, who managed to successfully navigate their computer keyboards to express their appreciation.

There's more at the link.

The Amazon reviews are hysterical!  Follow the last two links in the passage above to read some of them, and look for more of the 'BIC For Her' products on Amazon to read more reviews.  Here are a few of my favorites.





I bought this for my wife, as she likes to have a comfortable grip on things that are 8" long and are pink and purple.

She seems happy about it, but me, less so.


I don't know why they didn't put a clearer warning on the label, they really should have because if you are a boy and use this pen you put yourself at great risk. My little brother turned into a unicorn after I lent him one, and my friend told me that a boy in her class grew fairy wings in the middle of a test.


My only criticism of these wonderful pens is that I get a bit bored with all 12 looking the same. I get around this my customising each pack. At the moment, the pen I have in use is covered in stripes of glitter and I glued a pink pompom and one of those diamanté charms you get on mobile phones (I couldn't fit any more on my phone) onto the top. I think BIC should start adding pens like this to their range because some women find it difficult to hold tubes of superglue properly - I asked the 6 year old boy who lives next door to help me.


After having gifted this precious item to my love and seeing her properly drawing unicorns and fairies for the first time (previously you see, it was as if the other pens--my pens--would take over and draw muscular mutated beasts with great big fangs and saddles loaded with projectiles and an assortment of cutlery not suitable for any kitchen work!) ... I did the unthinkable. I bought a set for myself. My love asked me what on earth I was doing with another set of "for her" pens and I immediately snapped back, "they're for our daughter!" But she reminded me, we don't have a daughter. Alas, I was caught in my own web of lies, and holding the pens, I broke down crying like a little girl--the little girl we didn't have, except in my own heart. I wept with my dearest until I felt closure from it all and finally came out! I gently grabbed the flower-templated paper I purchased with the pens and began writing in big smooth curvy letters--not the crooked hasty one's I was used to all my life with those blasted man pens; and drawing horses and poodles--not the tall one's mind you, but rather the cute little ones--and then heart shapes and innocent love letters (not the raunchy hair-raising instant-blush & faint one's I naturally spun out of a man-pen) and my poetry was filled with a noticeable feminine charm. I loved it. It felt so natural. Yet so guilty. Guilty, for having taking it from whatever poor woman came to the store that day to find the shelf depleted, and for my own self, for having given in to the temptation of experimenting with a different orientation.

. . .

UPDATE: ... I had to knock the pen down from five to four stars, not out of any weakness in of its own delicate nature, but due to its seductive charm, too potent to resist. My marriage is still intact, but I suspect my wife has gone back to another pen, a man's pen--the other day she said she needed the assurance and security of a stronger pen that can write boldly in times when she needs that testost--I mean ink, whilst I have forgotten how to weld my own!

You've got to love it . . .


Monday, August 27, 2012

DARPA: Harnessing human imagination

We've discussed several projects initiated and/or funded by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  Here's a 25-minute video presentation from a recent TED conference by Regina Dugan, former head of DARPA (who's now working for Google).  It has some fascinating descriptions of projects that were dreamed up out of nowhere, or deemed utterly impossible, but which have now become reality - for example, an artificial hummingbird.  Despite its length, it's well worth watching.

Fascinating stuff!


From public convenience to private home

I was intrigued to see the transformation, in England, of an old, derelict, semi-underground public toilet into a private home.  The Telegraph reports:

When the architect Laura Clark told friends and family that she was planning to live in an underground former public lavatory in south-east London, responses ranged from hilarity to horror along with quite a few polite inquiries as to the state of her mental health. ‘I was known as Laura Toilets for a while,’ she says laughing. And there were moments during the project’s lengthy gestation when Clark questioned her own sanity.

. . .

In the middle of 2011 Clark found herself the proud owner of the underground public conveniences, built in 1929, last used some time in the 1980s and now filled thigh-high with rubbish.

She lost no time in getting stuck in, working alongside builders and labourers in order to transform the dank and frankly creepy space into a bright and airy home. ‘I ended up doing a lot of the labouring work myself, because it was such horrid, hard work that I struggled to keep people on the job,’ she says. ‘And filling skips is character-building.’ For Clark, who fights mixed martial arts at semi-professional level, it was also good strength training. She even persuaded one of her sparring partners to help out with a sledge-hammer on the grounds that it would be good for their game. Remarkably, the entire project cost only £65,000 [about US $102,500]. ‘But in fairness, I did have many years to work it all out,’ she says.

Today it is hard to imagine that the light-filled one-bedroom flat, with its streamlined shelves, glamorous gold-leaf bathroom and subterranean garden, was once a derelict public convenience.

There are clues though. The tiles that form the splashback in the kitchen were reclaimed from the site’s original use, as was a mirror in the living-room. And propped on a kitchen shelf is a small public health poster warning of the perils of VD. But still, for Clark, this is home.

There's more at the link, as well as a gallery of photographs of the conversion process and the transformed home.

Isn't it amazing what a little imagination, a sense of design, and an artistic mind can accomplish?  I'd never have thought of converting a semi-underground public convenience into a private home!


H. L. Mencken would be proud!

The satirist H. L. Mencken famously defined politics in several bons mots that have taken on a life of their own as oft-cited quotations:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.

If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other's speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in.

There are many more at the link.

In the light of such opinions, I think Mr. Mencken would have enjoyed this article by A. Barton Hinkle for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The past several weeks have made one thing crystal-clear: Our country faces unmitigated disaster if the Other Side wins.

No reasonably intelligent person can deny this. All you have to do is look at the way the Other Side has been running its campaign. Instead of focusing on the big issues that are important to the American People, it has fired a relentlessly negative barrage of distortions, misrepresentations and flat-out lies.

Just look at the Other Side's latest commercial, which take a perfectly reasonable statement by the candidate for My Side completely out of context to make it seem as if he is saying something nefarious. This just shows you how desperate the Other Side is and how willing it is to mislead the American People.

The Other Side also has been hammering away at My Side to release certain documents that have nothing to do with anything, and making all sorts of outrageous accusations about what might be in them. Meanwhile, the Other Side has stonewalled perfectly reasonable requests to release its own documents that would expose some very embarrassing details if anybody ever found out what was in them. This just shows you what a bunch of hypocrites they are.

. . .

I will admit the candidates for My Side do make occasional blunders. These usually happen at the end of exhausting 19-hour days and are perfectly understandable. Our leaders are only human, after all. Nevertheless, the Other Side inevitably makes a big fat deal out of these trivial gaffes, while completely ignoring its own candidates' incredibly thoughtless and stupid remarks — remarks that reveal the Other Side's true nature, which is genuinely frightening.

More at the link.

I've said many times before that I support (and trust) neither Republicans nor Democrats.  I think both major political parties are equally suspect and nefarious in their purposes.  I'll vote for the individual, not for the party.  Show me an honest, trustworthy individual, of any political persuasion, and I'll vote for him or her in preference to dishonest and untrustworthy opponents, even if I don't share his or her opinions.

That said, here's a challenge for you in the run-up to the elections.  How about trying to find something nice to say about the 'other side', politically speaking, every day?  Instead of condemning them and their opinions out of hand, try accepting that there are good people who are of different opinions to yours.  Just because they don't see the world through your spectacles doesn't mean they're wrong . . . or that you're right.  Acknowledging that, and recognizing that there's at least some good in people on all sides, would go a long way to improving the quality of our discourse and coexistence in these politically Disunited States.


"The Fantasy of Debt: No Trade-Offs, No Sacrifices"

That's the title of an article by the inimitable Charles Hugh Smith.  He's not stating anything new, but a great many people today have lost sight of the economic basics that he restates so well.  If you have friends and/or relatives who are mired in debt and don't understand their fiscal danger, you need to point them to this article.  Here's an excerpt.

Debt offers a compelling fantasy: there is no need for difficult trade-offs or sacrifices, everything can be bought and enjoyed now.

. . .

Trade-offs and sacrifices were the core of household finances for those families that sought to "get ahead" or purchase things that required substantial cash.

Abundant, cheap credit upended the incentives to make adult trade-offs and sacrifice consumption for future benefits.

. . .

Why choose between a lavish vacation, a year of college or a boat? Buy all three on credit.

This mentality has infected the entire nation and culture. Why should we have to choose between $600 billion military spending and $600 billion Medicare spending? Let's just borrow the $1.2 trillion every year to pay for both.

. . .

To the degree that our government distributes $1.3 trillion in borrowed money every year, everyone receiving money from the Federal government is living off debt that draws interest and will never be paid.

Thus it is an artifice to say that a person collecting money from the Federal government is "debt-free": the debt they are incurring is simply once removed.

. . .

Relying on credit to fuel "growth" in everything only worked when incomes were rising and interest rates could be cut. Now that incomes are stagnant for 90% of the populace and interest rates have been slashed, there is no way to increase leverage.

. . .

Living within one's income (household or national income) requires making difficult trade-offs and sacrfices: either current consumption is sacrificed for future benefits, or the future benefits are sacrificed for current consumption. You can't have it both ways ...

There's much more at the link.  Go read the whole thing.  It's worth it (as is his Web site as a whole).


Talk about truth in advertising!

Received this via e-mail.  Just looking at the name of the business, you know you're in the . . .


Sunday, August 26, 2012

I knew Star Wars was missing something!

Apparently the original Star Wars movie franchise omitted to mention that it even had an ambulance-chaser!


Doofus Of The Day #634

Today's winner is a used car dealership in New Zealand.

A BMW for $1. Sounds too good to be true, but for one Trade Me buyer it was obviously his lucky day.

The 1994 blue BMW 320i was listed yesterday morning with a $1 reserve by Christchurch car dealership Stadium Cars.

Before lunchtime, it had been snapped up by a bidder ... He clicked on 'buy now' and within seconds was the proud new owner of a tidy, second-hand European car.

Stadium Cars manager Mike Nokes said the $1 buy now was an error.

Each week the dealership put up cars for auction on the site with $1 reserve. However, the buy now option was mistakenly added to the latest one.

"I thought, 'Whoops', but it is what it is. You can only laugh about it."

. . .

The car probably would have sold for $3000 if the auction had run as planned.

There's more at the link.

Doofus award aside, full marks to the dealership for honoring the sale, despite their mistake, and letting the buyer drive away in the car!  I know many dealerships here in the USA who'd simply refuse to go through with it.


A cat I hadn't heard of before

I hadn't heard of the sand cat until I came across an article on Mother Nature Network about four kittens that had been born in an Israeli zoo.  They look (as kittens always do) too cute for school.  Here's a brief video report.

They're apparently about the size of a house cat, but live in desert environments, and can exist for months on the moisture contained in their prey without having to drink additional water.

Sand cat (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

It's always interesting to come across a species I'd never heard of before - particularly when it's a cute one!


Here's one for aircraft lovers

We've frequently referred to Vintage Wings of Canada on this blog.  Their latest newsletter, titled 'Going Home', has the story and a number of photographs about four aircraft, old and new, that came together at a Cadet training camp in Alberta.  The aircraft were a P-51D Mustang of World War II vintage;  a 1950's Canadair Sabre Mk. 6, probably the ultimate development of the Sabre fighter series of Korean War fame;  a Canadair CT-114 Tutor jet training aircraft of the 1960's;  and a modern CF-18 Hornet, a Canadian-specific variant of the US Navy's F/A-18 Hornet, currently the front-line fighter of the Royal Canadian Air Force.  Here's a photograph of the four aircraft in formation.

There are many more (and larger) photographs at the link, as well as the story of their reunion.  Heart-warming stuff for aviation buffs.


Around the blogs

Last year the Silicon Graybeard reprised a series of posts in a 'blast from the past', asking whether we're paranoid enough about our communications security, and offering a number of suggestions.  See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 - interesting reading for the technically minded.

Alan at Snarkybytes also addresses the issue of internet self-defense.  His article should be read in conjunction with those linked above.  All four are useful reading.

# # #

The Peripatetic Engineer tells us how various professions hunt elephants.  For example:

COMPUTER SCIENTISTS hunt elephants by exercising Algorithm A:
  1. Go to Africa.
  2. Start at the Cape of Good Hope.
  3. Work northward in an orderly manner, traversing the continent alternately east and west.
During each traverse pass:
  • Catch each animal seen;
  • Compare each animal caught to a known elephant;
  • Stop when a match is detected.
Experienced COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS modify Algorithm A by placing a known elephant in Cairo to ensure that the algorithm will terminate.

# # #

Borepatch links to a series of advertisements and covers from the worst years of the Cold War, hosted on a blog I hadn't encountered before called Flares Into Darkness.  Here's one example.

They seem unbelievably jingoistic and paranoid today, but our parents and grandparents actually lived through this stuff.

# # #

CDR Salamander links to a 1973 article in US News and World Report, published online in 2008.  It reminds me that although I frequently find Senator John McCain irritating and ineffectual, and I'm certainly not numbered among his political supporters, he paid his dues in the toughest, harshest school of them all.  He's entitled to our respect, whether or not we like his politics.

# # #

Our health care system comes in for some in-depth scrutiny from two well-known finance bloggers.  Charles Hugh Smith shows how to cut America's health care spending by half, while Karl Denninger says he's tired of the lies surrounding the subject, and lists many of them.  In this election year, both articles are worthwhile reading.

# # #

Mark, writing at A Day In The Life Of A Talk Radio Blogger, links to a 1959 no-holds-barred message to teens, recently republished online.  Funny, it sounds a lot like the way my parents raised me . . .

# # #

The Silicon Graybeard looks at the growing 'security state' and how it's trying to condition us to accept all sorts of restrictions on our liberty.  He links to the fable of 'The Wild and Free Pigs of the Okefenokee Swamp' - a worthwhile lesson for all of us, IMHO.

In similar vein, Markofafreeman points out that we need to stop apologizing for owning and carrying firearms, because they're an essential component of liberty.  A brief excerpt:

Why do we wimp out so? Face it: what the invention of firearms did was forceably remove the monopoly of violence from the state. It didn't not ask the state's consent. It did not assuage the state official or the thug trained in a lifetime of violence (but I repeat myself) by saying, "oh, don't worry, we won't use our guns to kill you, even if you decide our proper fate is to be inserted into gas chambers or brick ovens." It WRENCHED control of armed combat from a select few and placed into the hands of every individual with only a small amount of training. In relative terms, the firearm is easy to make, easy to learn to shoot accurately, and easy to deploy. There was no putting that genie back in the bottle. No matter what legislation was passed nor decrees issued. And before the firearm's appearance, life was Hell on earth for anyone who did not train constantly for combat. The gun forced anyone who wanted someone else to do his bidding to reason with him.

That last link is to my friend and fellow blogger Marko's superb essay on 'Why The Gun Is Civilization'.  Highly recommended.

# # #

Finally, Michael over at Evyl Robot Soapbox reminds those who won't make preparations for difficult times themselves, but expect to leech off those who have when things get tough, that they're in for a shock.

To some, it may just seem mean-spirited, but if everything went upside down, it would not be about being ‘nice’ so much as surviving. Consideration for those totally unprepared would be a luxury we could, in large part, simply not afford. This would, of course, have to be delicately balanced with reasonable compassion. So, what to take away from today’s rant? I’m really preaching to the choir on this one. Perhaps it’s this: If it’s the end of the world, and you show up at your Prepared Buddy’s hole-up, you had better ask yourself why he should let you in beyond simply being buddies. Because if things have gotten as bad as they ever could, he can’t provide for all of his friends. You should have thought more about that before it came to this. Best of luck to you.

Word.  Go read it all.  It's food for thought.  I long ago made the decision that my emergency preparations are for me and mine, and a very small circle of friends who will share duties and responsibilities to keep us all alive.  Anyone else is fresh out of luck at that point - and if I have to shoot some of them to make that point, so be it.  Africa taught me some very hard and politically incorrect lessons in that regard.

That's it for this week.  More from the rest of the blogosphere soon!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fourth puppy of the month!

It seems to be our month to find funny puppy videos.  Following our first three, here's a sort of canine version of perpetual motion.


Remember ACORN?

ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) closed its doors a couple of years ago after a nationwide controversy.  It was alleged (and proved to my personal satisfaction) to be a far-Left, unprincipled, dishonest organization that would do anything and go to any lengths to ensure that its objectives were achieved.  It's reported to have been actively involved in voter fraud prior to the 2008 elections that brought President Obama to office, although this has yet to be prosecuted in an appropriate court.  I hope that will happen one day.

Be that as it may, the organization as such was effectively shut down in 2010.  However, like the manifold heads of the mythical Hydra, it seems that its members have simply continued their operations under different names.  The poison they represent in the American body politic is still doing its damage.  Cause of Action has uncovered the names of no less than 174 organizations that are offshoots of ACORN or are otherwise continuing its work.

It's worth your while to click over there and go through the list for yourself.  If you find one or more of these organizations at work in your area during the current election campaign, expect problems.


Pussy Riot - a different perspective

I suppose readers could hardly have escaped the outpouring of maudlin sympathy and overflowing emotion from many 'useful idiots' at the two-year prison sentence handed down to Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot.  However, in Russia it seems a different perspective prevails.  Taki's Magazine reports:

Western analysis of the stunt pulled in Moscow by the cretins known as Pussy Riot cannot convey the visceral rage their act has elicited from the typical Russian.

I don’t mean the typical Russian of central Moscow or St. Petersburg, but those from the endless cinderblock apartments that ring each city and fill in the rest of the largest geographic country on Earth. They are not commonly interviewed on television, and Western media hardly ever quote them. However, they do most of the nation’s working and slaving and living and dying. They also do the believing.

There are many things one does not do in a Russian Orthodox church. In many colder climes—basically all of Russia much of the year—adherents do not remove coats. Congregants remain standing throughout the ceremony. You cannot put your hands in your pockets and if you do, someone will tap you and wag his finger.

The clergy will not look at you. Their backs are to parishioners because Orthodox services honor the Almighty instead of trying to entertain those who pass through the archway. The service is not about you and it will proceed whether you are there or not.

. . .

... many Russians apparently would have felt no qualms about kicking in every last one of these girls’ teeth. This is the degree to which their stunt offends typical Russians. Few would object to the same reaction at a neo-Nazi rally at Auschwitz, a pro-Khmer Rouge carnival at a Cambodian temple, or those insufferable jackasses who denounce homosexuality at soldiers’ funerals. Some people beg to have hell beaten out of them. That they generally don’t is a true crime against humanity.

. . .

Lamentably, there was no end to the insufferable idiots spouting off about this lack of Russian liberty.

One of them was Madonna, taking reprieve from showing the ravages of time to tell the world we must respect freedom. Not freedom of religion or freedom of association evidently, but freedom to spit on others’ most sacred beliefs in a place specifically designed for them to retreat from a world which already does that with glee at every opportunity imaginable.

Another was the defiler Khodorkovsky, who ought to be disqualified from giving any statement about Christ’s sanctity. Yet when did courtesy or common sense ever convince one of his ilk to keep its mouth shut about anything? On the contrary, the Oligarch Who Didn’t Get Away felt at ease questioning the morality of a country from which he stole billions.

There were other “musicians” and intellectual lightweights who deigned to make digs at the deity. If you are ever in a committee meeting where Sting, Yoko Ono, and Madonna agree, back quietly out of the room and run until you’re out of breath.

There's more at the link.

I think the author is somewhat 'over the top' in his condemnation of Pussy Riot - as much over the top as they were to protest in a church in that fashion.  If I'd been there that day, I'd certainly have stopped their protest by grabbing them by the scruffs of their necks and physically ejecting them from the cathedral.  However, I wouldn't have brought charges against them or sought jail sentences for them.  That's only made them martyrs in the eyes of the 'useful idiots' of the world.  Nevertheless, I can't help a certain sympathy for the author's perspective.  One hopes that the young ladies (?) will learn something during their time behind bars, and not be so disrespectful of others' rights and beliefs in future.