Thursday, January 31, 2013

A wordless romance

Disney released their short animated movie 'Paperman' last year, and it's in contention for this year's Oscars.  I think it's got a pretty good chance.  See for yourself.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

All together now:  Awwwww!


Doofus Of The Day #675

Today's award goes collectively to the Ohio news media who've been treating as a legitimate spokesperson for pro-gun-control measures someone whose background they clearly didn't bother to check.  The Buckeye Firearms Association gleefully reports:

After reading the article, a Buckeye Firearms Association supporter decided to contact McCorry, the apparent protest organizer, to inform him about the inaccuracies in his statements about firearms ...

. . .

The supporter quickly found more than he bargained for. A simple Google search for Jerome McCorry reveals that the man trying to tell the public what weapons they should be allowed to own is a convicted felon.

From the Attorney General's

    JEROME NMN McCORRY Registration #: 32198
    Aliases: Jerome Jordan

. . .

    • Description: 2907.02 - Rape
    • Date Convicted:
    • Conviction State: Ohio
    • Date Released:
    • Details: (Pre AWA) Sexually Oriented Offender

As can be seen in the WHIO-TV video, Anti-Gun-Protestor Jerome McCorry is wearing a jacket and identified in the on-screen graphic as the President of The Adam Project. The Adam Project's website lists its address as 1426 Home Ave., Dayton - the same address as Rapist-and-Convicted-Felon Jerome McCorry.

In short, "Anti-Gun-Protestor Jerome McCorry" and "Rapist-and-Convicted-Felon Jerome McCorry" are one and the same person, and WHIO-TV and The Dayton Daily News have been treating this man as a legitimate voice of reason that should be considered in the debate over whether or not rape and other crime victims should be able to buy firearms in order to protect themselves from attack.

What's even worse, this isn't the first time.

. . .

Hmmmm........Can anyone think of a reason why this man doesn't want law-abiding citizens to have the ability to defend themselves with firearms?

There's more at the link.

A tip o' the hat to Chad D. Baus of the Buckeye Firearms Association for ferreting out this very useful information.  Those of my readers living in that State may wish to consider supporting his organization.  It appears they do useful work.


Not your average 'Back To School' equipment!

Courtesy of Australian reader Snoggeramus (whose country has just sent its kids back to school at the end of the Christmas vacation), we have this picture of a 'Back To School' shopping display that wasn't fully recycled before being repurposed . . . leading to something that should give the average moonbat fits!


Happy 100th birthday to Grand Central!

New York's Grand Central Terminal was inaugurated 100 years ago on February 2nd, 1913.  A series of centenary celebrations are planned for the duration of the year, including a rededication ceremony tomorrow.

Grand Central Terminal in the 1920's

I was frankly amazed to learn some of the facts and figures about this building.  According to Wikipedia:

  • It's the largest railway station in the world in terms of number of platforms (44 of them);
  • It's the world's sixth-most-visited tourist attraction, with over 21 million visitors annually;
  • The four faces of the clock on top of the information booth are made of opal, and are estimated to be worth between $10 million and $20 million;
  • There were two previous, smaller buildings on this site to serve railway passengers.  The present Terminal is the third of its kind.

The Telegraph has published '100 fascinating facts' about the Terminal to celebrate its centenary.  Among them are:

  • An eagle with a 13-foot wingspan that once graced the former Grand Central Depot is now perched on Grand Central Terminal. The eagle was discovered after new owners moved into a house in Bronxville in 1995. The couple contacted the Metro-North Railroad and asked if it might be used for the restoration.
  • In terms of total area, Grand Central is thought to be one of the most successful shopping centres in the USA.
  • Some language historians believe the phrase “red carpet treatment” evolved at the Grand Central Terminal. Its use is thought to have entered popular vernacular through the luxurious 20th Century Limited express passenger train from New York to Chicago. Passengers used to walk down a crimson carpet, a ritual only done for those departing from New York.
  • Each day, an estimated 10,000 people come into Grand Central to have lunch, and don’t a catch a train at all.
  • All light bulbs in the original terminal were naked and prominently on display. This was a way of drawing attention to the fact the terminal was all electric, quite a noteworthy achievement in 1913.
  • In 2008, it took six people to switch all the naked incandescent bulbs to the fluorescent bulbs that are currently in use at the terminal.

There are many more at the link.  Interesting and entertaining reading.


Quote of the day

From Tamara:

" . . . whoever did that Disco Era reincarnation of Tom and Jerry where Tom and Jerry were non-violent BFFs should be staked out on an anthill and set on fire, then run over with a tank."



In Memoriam: Ed Rasimus

A fellow blogger and Vietnam fighter pilot, Ed Rasimus, has died.

Ed flew F-105's and F-4's in Vietnam, receiving several decorations for valor in action, and wrote extremely entertaining books about his experiences there.  He blogged for several years at Thunder Tales, to the enjoyment of many.  He was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma last year, and the disease spread very rapidly.  He was admitted to a hospice recently, and passed away yesterday.

Godspeed, Sir.  May your final flight be escorted by angels.  We're diminished by your loss.


China steals another foreign aircraft design

Readers are probably familiar with reports that China's 'new' Xian Y-20 transport aircraft (shown below) has just conducted its maiden flight.

The aircraft is clearly very similar in many respects to the Soviet Ilyushin Il-76 transport (shown below), dating back to the 1970s (it uses the same engines as early models of the Il-76, and its claimed performance figures are very close to those of the earlier design).  China currently operates about 30 Il-76's, and has more on order.

It's also very similar in some aspects to the Boeing C-17 transport (shown below - note particularly the tailplane and top of the fin, and compare them to the Y-20 above).  A Chinese engineer was convicted of espionage in 2009 for, among other crimes, stealing details of the C-17's design.

Here's a video report on the maiden flight of the Y-20.

Yep.  That's yet another copycat design.  China's current economic and military progress is, to a very large extent, dependent on stealing other countries' designs and systems, and copying them.  It doesn't speak well of that country's capability for innovation and original ideas.  Nevertheless, the Xian Y-20 is an important element in China's modernization of its military forces, and - when in mass production and service - will offer that country an indigenous strategic airlift capability.


The terrorist threat in North Africa

Looks like all those warnings about Libya's vast arsenal becoming the feedstock for Islamist extremist terrorism are coming true, and the huge expanses of wasteland in the Sahara Desert and surrounding areas are becoming a haven and training-ground for them.  Der Spiegel reports:

Northern Mali is just one part of the vast hinterland in which the Islamists can hide. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius refers to the rocky and sandy desert, spanning 7,500 kilometers (about 4,700 miles) from Senegal in the west to Somalia in the east, as "Sahelistan." The Sahel zone is larger than all of Europe and so impassable that no power in the world can fully control it. The French have deployed all of 2,400 troops to the region, the Germans have contributed two transport planes.

Sahelistan is the new front in the global fight against violent Islamists. Should other countries -- Germany or Britain, for example -- join the French with ground troops, it is quite possible that the West will become just as entrenched there as it has in the other front against global terror: Afghanistan.

. . .

The crisis in northern Mali and the ensuing bloodbath at the natural gas plant in Algeria are only two indications. In northern Niger, Islamists are targeting white foreigners, hoping to kidnap them and extort ransom money. In northern Nigeria, fighters with the Islamist sect Boko Haram attacked yet another town last week. They shot and killed 18 people, including a number of hunters who had been selling game there, and then disappeared again. Muslims consider the flesh of bush animals to be impure.

. . .

Islamism in the Sahel zone is backward and modern at the same time, ideologically rigid and perversely pragmatic. In Timbuktu, fanatics are cutting off the hands and heads of criminals, and yet the Islamists have become wealthy by taking over the cocaine and weapons business, as well as human trafficking operations.

Sahelistan's new masters are forging alliances with local insurgents and internationally operating jihadists.

. . .

Whether brutal military action, such as that which took place in Algeria, will deter Islamists is also disputed. The countries of Sahelistan are among the poorest in the world, and the region is regularly plagued by famine. "A young person from there has no chance of leading a good life," says deposed Malian President Amadou Touré.

The terrorists, on the other hand, are comparatively well off, offering young men a monthly salary of about €90 ($121). Each recruit also receives a Kalashnikov, daily meals and a modicum of power over the rest of the population.

. . .

After the collapse of the Libyan regime, most of the weapons and ammunition were stolen from Gadhafi's weapons stores, mostly by the dictator's former Tuareg mercenaries. Fresh supplies of ordnance aren't a problem either, now that Africa's Islamists are hoarding many millions of dollars.

A little over three years ago, Malian police officers made a strange discovery in northern Mali: a Boeing 727, parked in the middle of the desert, without seats but apparently equipped for carrying cargo. It was found that the plane was registered in Guinea-Bissau and had taken off from Venezuela.

The find confirmed the authorities' fears that South American cocaine cartels are sending large quantities of drugs to West Africa, sometimes using aircraft. Gangs that cooperate with the Islamists then take the drugs to the Mediterranean region. The business is said to have generated billions in profits.

Kidnappings are the Islamists' second financing mainstay. "Many Western countries pay enormous sums to jihadists," scoffs Omar Ould Hamaha, an Islamist commander who feels so safe in the western Sahara that he can sometimes even be reached by phone. Experts estimate that AQIM has raked in €100 million in ransom money in recent years.

There's much more at the link.  Very interesting and ominous reading.

I've traveled in several of the countries mentioned in the report, and I can confirm that its description of them is basically accurate - albeit highly sanitized, probably because der Spiegel's readers would never believe the reality! In some of these areas, tribal superstitions have blended with Islamic theology to produce a home-grown fanatical mysticism that's almost unbelievably potent in the way it can take possession of uneducated, primitive cultures and the minds shaped and formed by them. It's the Islamic equivalent - although much more militant and violent - of so-called 'African Zionist' Christianity in southern Africa, blending Christian teaching with animism and traditional tribal African culture to produce a murky soup of beliefs that's almost impossible to untangle.

I think we're going to have problems in that part of the world for a long, long time . . . and I hope we can find out precisely what the Obama administration was doing in Benghazi last year. If rumors that it supported the so-called 'Arab Spring', and was arming Islamic terrorists by smuggling some of Gaddafi's arsenal to them, are proved to be correct, it'll bear no small part of the blame for what's happening in the region today.


I wish the Obama administration would learn from this . . .

. . . but you may be sure they won't.  Wisconsin's doing great after cutting spending.

Wisconsin's budget picture brightened Thursday, with new estimates that show a surplus will grow to $484 million, giving Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker even more room to pursue their tax cutting agenda.

The estimate from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau was nearly $137 million better than one Walker's administration released in November.

. . .

In 2011, Walker took office facing a roughly $3 billion budget shortfall and attacked the problem with deep cuts to education, local governments and other programs. He also forced public workers to pay more for health insurance and pension benefits, and effectively ended workers' collective bargaining rights, leading to an unsuccessful attempt to recall him last year.

. . .

Walker said Tuesday that he thought state income taxes could be cut by about $340 million, and that it would amount to a roughly $200 savings per household over the next two fiscal years. Details were still being worked out, he said.

. . .

Walker and Republican leaders have rejected outright the proposed gas tax and registration fee increases. Walker instead has said he would favor tapping the state's general fund, which would be easier to do given Thursday's sunnier revenue projections.

Walker has also pledged to create a venture capital fund to spur job growth and help startup companies, and to put more money into education that is tied to how well school districts perform. The $484 million projected surplus is on top of another $125 million the state has set aside in its rainy day fund, which could also be tapped for one-time spending.

There's more at the link.

I'm not interested in the fact that Wisconsin's currently governed by Republicans.  I'm interested in the fact that fiscal discipline, restraint in spending and a taxpayer-first rather than a government-first approach can produce this sort of result, and in fairly short order at that.  Any administration, Republican or Democrat, could produce similar results by following similar policies.  Chris Christie is leading such an effort in New Jersey, and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana.  Why can't more states follow these examples - and why can't our federal government do likewise?


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Light blogging tonight

It's been an exhausting day, getting my second manuscript ready to go out to beta readers in a day or two, and beginning to make changes to the first manuscript based on feedback so far received.  (Most beta readers haven't yet responded, so, guys and girls, I'd love to hear from you, please!)

I'll put up a few posts in the morning.  To keep you occupied until then, here's a weird Japanese toilet.  Apparently they wallpapered it all around in pictures taken from the top of a ski jump, then put a fake pair of skis on the floor.  You put your feet in them when you sit down to do your business, and pretend like you're about to go down the ramp.  Doing that for real would sure cure my constipation, believe me!


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Doofus Of The Day #674

A tip o' the hat to Matt Sorrell, who blogs at Merlin's Musings, for giving me a heads-up about today's winners.

Two people are hospitalized in Dallas following an explosion at an oil storage facility in East Texas on Tuesday.

. . .

According to Van Zandt County fire marshal Chuck Allen, a man and a woman, both 24, were smoking while sitting on top of a tank used to store a chemical and salt water mixture -- presumably for fracking. The tank they were on exploded.

Of the six tanks at the facility, three caught fire and burned.

There's more at the link.

Smoking in an 'oil storage facility' . . . which was presumably placarded with 'No Smoking' signs all over the place.  These weren't two people - they were two Darwin Awards in human form, looking for a place to award themselves!


Medical marijuana and firearms

Karl Denninger makes an interesting point about firearms ownership and the (legal) use of medical marijuana.

You know that 4473 form?  Yeah, the one that asks about the use of illegal drugs?

Well, what about medical marijuana -- if it's legal in your state?

Guess what -- there appears to be a rather strong presumption at the federal level that this is a disqualification for ownership of firearms!

. . .

This looks like something that is going to severely play hell with people who were foolish enough to believe that their state laws would protect them...... and incidentally, if you bought a gun while having a medical marijuana "prescription" and answered "No" to that question on the 4473, there are those who would argue you committed a federal crime and should be prosecuted for "lying" on that form -- including, it appears, President Obama and Biden!

There's more at the link.

With 20 states and the District of Columbia having legalized the use of medical marijuana, this could get very interesting . . .


Investment banking: Snakes and ladders

Der Spiegel has a very interesting two-part article on the current crisis in investment banking.  It's well worth reading as an indicator that the economic slide that began in 2007/08 isn't over yet, and may in fact be getting worse (as I and other informed commenters have been saying for some time).  Here are a couple of extracts.

Last fall, only a few weeks apart, a businesswoman and a banker went to the Coq d'Argent, an upscale restaurant and hot spot in the world of London high finance, located on the top floor of a shopping complex, to end their lives.

The woman put down her purse and jumped from the restaurant's cozy rooftop terrace. The banker, an investment specialist, jumped into the building's atrium around lunchtime.

The "City," the casual term the financial center uses in reference to itself, was shocked. The suicides are the most glaring expression of an apocalyptic mood that seems to have gripped all of London. Hospitals are reporting a high incidence of patients with alcohol problems, while top restaurants are fighting for every customer.

The crisis has struck at the heart of the financial center. In 2012, banks began to downsize their investment banking activities. For years, the area had been seen as a playground for those seeking instant riches and guaranteed success, and it provided tens of thousands with sometimes exorbitant incomes.

October 30 would become a horrific day for the financial district after the Swiss bank UBS announced that it was slashing 10,000 jobs in the sector. On one morning alone, the bank's London office let hordes of bankers go. Some were intercepted at the entrance, still carrying their coffee in to-go cups, only to be shown the door a short time later with a piece of paper filled with instructions.

All he felt was hate, says a 51-year-old who was among those affected by the recent layoffs. For him and others like him, the chances of finding a new job are slim. The competition is also doing its utmost to downsize. Morgan Stanley plans to lay off 1,600 employees in the coming weeks, Lloyds is cutting as many as 15,000 jobs worldwide, and Deutsche Bank has just eliminated 1,500 jobs in its investment banking division.

An era seems to be coming to an end, the era of an industry that led us to believe that what it did was useful. In reality, though, it was lining its pockets by conducting more and more reckless transactions and involving itself in increasingly insane deals and products.

. . .

The machine ... made the banks rich and made it easier for the rest of the world to live on borrowed money. In the end, however, it began to destroy itself, generating one scandal after another.

Banks manipulated the LIBOR interest rate, which affects financial transactions worth hundreds of trillions of dollars. They foisted risky assets on customers and became involved in money laundering and tax fraud. Traders like Kweku Adoboli (UBS), Jérôme Kerviel (Société Générale) and Bruno Iksil (JPMorgan Chase) gambled away billions through risky transactions, either on their own or with their departments.

Former German President Horst Köhler once described the financial markets as a monster controlled by investment banks. Since 2008, politicians have been trying to tame the monster and assume control.

For instance, they want banks to set aside more capital as collateral for risky deals in the future, which means that many areas will hardly be profitable anymore. Banks and bankers are to be forced into a tighter corset -- but they are fighting back.

. . .

Bankers are especially upset over the move to sharply curtail personnel costs. There is no other industry in which workers cost as much as in investment banking. "This is the only industry in which labor has exploited capital," jokes one adviser.

For this reason the mass layoffs at UBS -- which is completely abandoning large portions of its investment banking business following the appointment of Axel Weber, the former president of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, as supervisory board chairman -- are seen as a warning sign for the entire industry. It is "as if Daimler stopped making sedans," says the head of the German division of a major US investment bank.

There's much more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.


Measuring blog readership

This post will be of possible interest to fellow bloggers, but not to many others, so if you want to skip this one and go to the next, feel free.

Last July I wrote about problems I was encountering with Sitemeter and its measurement of visitors to this blog.  Recently I received a couple of e-mail follow-ups to that post from other bloggers, complaining that Sitemeter was showing their readership statistics dropping suddenly over the past week or so.  Mine are too, and Google Analytics and Blogger stats confirm that.  I suspect that Google and/or other search engines have 'tweaked' search algorithms again, so that those searching for information on topics we cover are being directed to more 'authoritative' sites.  My 'regular' readership is showing no decline whatsoever - only random arrivals, usually those through search engines.

The thing to watch is one's overall readership over time, and then compare the proportion of regular visitors to unique (i.e. one-off) arrivals.  It's also important to compare readership measurements across different tools, so that one notices when one tool doesn't agree with the others.  To illustrate such trends, here are my blog's readership statistics from three different tools for the period January-December 2012.

First, Google Analytics (above).  This shows a steady readership across the entire year, with a slight but steady drop over time.  (The moderate summer decline, followed by a recovery, then a major Christmas drop, are normal - many readers go on holiday then!  They happen most years.)  That drop correlates almost exactly with a slight but steady increase in readership through my blog's RSS feed (see the Google Feedburner graph below), suggesting that what I lose here, I'm gaining there.  I suspect that regular readers are migrating to my RSS feed.  Occasional spikes represent individual posts that are linked by major sites such as Reddit or large blogs such as Ace Of Spades HQ, when my normal daily readership can jump significantly.

Next, Sitemeter. This shows a dramatic drop in visitors from about June, which finds some (but not exact) correlation in declining page views recorded by Blogger's own Stats tool.  However, it's not reflected to anything like the same extent by Google Analytics, and certainly isn't reflected in Google Feedburner (see below).  Why it's so marked in this measurement, but not in others, I don't know.

Finally, there's Google Feedburner, which measures only those readers arriving at this blog via its RSS feed.  (Sitemeter and Google Analytics don't measure these readers, except for a few they may catch in passing.)  I couldn't get this to show only the figures for 2012, so I've put up a graph showing overall progress since I began using this tool in August 2010.  As you can see, it shows a slow but steady increase over time, which has never fallen off at all.  I'm now at close to 1,000 visitors a day through this method of readership.

It's hard to pin down why there are discrepancies between these measurement tools.  Overall, I'd say the best method to determine your readership is to subscribe to at least two, and probably three, different tools, then average the results.  I use Sitemeter, Google Analytics and Blogger's built-in Stats tool, plus Google Feedburner to monitor readers using my RSS feed.  Overall, I've been holding steady at about 3,000 visitors per day (from all sources) for several months now.  Like some other bloggers, I've noticed a drop of about 15%-20% in non-regular visitors over the past few days, probably as a result of search engine 'tweaks'.  If this continues, it may affect my overall readership by about 10% - but there's no way of predicting that.  Readership might equally well increase, due to other factors.  Certainly, my regular readership (those who come here more than once or twice per week) continues to increase slowly but steadily.  The only decline is in one-off or occasional visitors.

(Of course, none of us are in some sort of readership race with one another.  I've never had as many readers as Tamara because - well, because Tam!  It doesn't matter whether we have more or less viewers than one another;  only that we blog because we enjoy it, and like sharing what takes our fancy with others.  If we entertain each other in the process, so much the better!)


Monday, January 28, 2013

A terrifying near-miss

This motorcyclist in China had one of the narrowest escapes from death I've ever seen!


Planes encountering fish - in mid-air!

I've been aware of a well-known incident where an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 hit a fish dropped by an eagle as it (the plane) took off from Juneau, bound for Yakutat.  The 'seven-thirty-seven' apparently became unofficially known as the 'salmon-thirty-salmon' among those involved.

You can read more about the incident here.

I came across this plane-versus-fish encounter while looking for information in connection with another article I'm preparing.  I'd heard of the Alaska incident before, but was very surprised when my Internet search turned up not one, but four such encounters!  Another took place in Canada in 2009, where an airliner flying from Hamilton to Calgary was found to have the remains of a fish - and the osprey that had presumably been carrying it - embedded in its fuselage. 

The one that made me giggle was alleged to have occurred at what was then the Langley base of the US Air Force (now Joint Base Langley-Eustis).  It was mentioned over at the F-16 Forums.  Here's an extract.

During take off a Flight of F-15's took off eastbound, about the same time Pelican took off from the bay. The Pelican wisely dropped his load to get out of the was of the flight taking off. His lunch hit right on the canopy of the lead F-15.

The lead then called in a fish strike, I think the tower has him repeat that 3 times. A call went out of the maint and emergency dispatch channels, as he declared an IFE.

When the aircraft reached the parking area, it was mugged by Sr NCO's and Officers. The pilot did not even leave the cockpit before the crew chief was on the latter.He went directly to the frame and pulled out a band of scales. After the scales were found the attitude in the area changed. Some one took photos for the base, they probably have them in an archive some where.

That made me laugh!  I can just imagine the control tower staff thinking, "Yeah, wise guy!" when the pilot called in an IFE (in-flight emergency).  I wonder how long he took to live down the fishing jokes at his expense?

Finally, a de Havilland Dash-8 turboprop airliner was struck by a fish while taking off from London, Ontario in 2009. Witnesses say an osprey flying overhead dropped the fish, which scored a direct hit. The funny part of this incident may be found on the PPrune Forums, where members came up with an endless series of puns to describe what had happened. A few examples:

No photos of the scale of the damage?
They must have been floundering on finals.
Thankfully, no injuries on board - nobody had to call a sturgeon.
If I hadn't read the press report I'd have thought it was a load of old pollacks.
Guess he was in the wrong plaice at the wrong time.

There are many more at the link. Giggle-worthy!


So where is Germany's gold?

I'd been aware of pressure in Germany to at least check on, if not repatriate, the portion of that country's gold reserves that was held in foreign depositories for safe-keeping.  I understand this was principally a relic of the Cold War, whereby, if Germany were overrun by invading Warsaw Pact forces, her surviving government-in-exile would have at least some assets with which to fund its operations and pay its debts.  Be that as it may, I read an article about it in Der Spiegel last October, and found it interesting.  It seems that much of Germany's gold is held by the Federal Reserve in the USA.

Now, an article at International Man brings a whole new perspective to the issue.  Here's an excerpt.

Of course, the German government had received periodic assurances from the Fed that the gold is there; however, the issue began to get a bit sticky recently, when the Fed refused a request for inspection.

The world then raised a collective eyebrow, and, whilst not panicking over this development just yet, closer attention has come to bear, not only on the Fed, but on any institution that is entrusted with the storage of gold for other parties.

Concern spread to Austria, where a question arose in Parliament as to where Austria’s gold is stored. The answer provided was that 80% of it (224.4 tonnes) is in the UK. (It was claimed that the reason for this is that, if a crisis of some kind were to occur, it could be more easily traded from London than from Vienna.)

Seems reasonable enough, except that the return of the gold to Austria, if it were requested, may be a bit difficult, as the gold seems to have been leased out by the UK.

To many, a second eyebrow might go up at this point. Lease out the wealth of another nation? Isn’t this a bit... irresponsible?

Not to worry, it’s done all the time. In fact, the practice has been endorsed by none other than Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Fed. The gold is leased to a bullion bank, which typically pays one percent interest to the Fed, with a promise to return it on a specified date. The bullion bank then sells the gold on the open market and uses the proceeds to buy Treasury bonds, which will net a three to four percent return.

The nicest thing about such an arrangement is that the lessor continues to claim it on his balance sheet as a line item: “gold and gold receivables.” After all, an asset that we have leased out is still an asset, even if it has now been sold by the lessee.

In effect, this means that, if you bought a gold bar today, it is possible that it is a bar that was shipped from the Bundesbank to the Federal Reserve decades ago and is presently listed by the Fed on its balance sheet as “gold and gold receivables.”

Both you and the Fed are claiming to possess the same gold bar. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that only one bar can be the actual bar. The other is a receivable and therefore is an asset on paper only. This, of course, means that there is less gold in the world than has been claimed. How much less? That’s anyone’s guess.

There's more at the link.  Fascinating reading - and, if the author's speculations are correct (which I can't confirm, of course), deeply disturbing.  The fiscal house of cards about which we've spoken here so often before may have significantly less secure foundations than we thought . . .


Non-apology of the year?

The good people at 'This Ain't Hell (But You Can See It From Here)' are known, among other things, for unmasking those who falsely claim to have served in elite units, particularly Special Forces, and who 'award' themselves military medals and honors they haven't earned.  One of my favorites was the man they labeled 'General Ballduster McSoulPatch', who was profiled after his arrest by the Military Times.

It seems they found another person claiming extensive military-type experience, and couldn't locate any evidence that he'd done anything he'd claimed.  He objected, saying he was only an actor, and this was publicity material.  They didn't take any notice, and were then contacted by a lawyer.  They've just put up the funniest non-apology I've read in years, giving details of just how creepy, false and dishonorable this character's claims are.  I can only hope he'll now be shunned by the Hollywood community too!  Here are a few excerpts.

We, the crack legal team here at This Ain’t Hell come before you humbled.  As some of you may remember,  TAH previously featured a series of posts on one Justin Weiss as part of our efforts at outing Stolen Valor posers.  Mr. Weiss, who was not amused, told us that:  (a) he was in uniform in his role as an actor; (b) he never claimed to have served; and (c) things we found offensive were on the internet because he had been hacked.  Because we did not immediately remove the post, Mr. Weiss informed us he would contact an attorney.  We hear this every day and completely ignored Mr. Weiss’ threats until we received a letter from one Mr. E. Dale Buxton II (Esq.) an attorney at a very high-priced, high-profile law firm we will not name (because they have some really good lawyers and we don’t want to be buried in paper for the rest of our lives).  Mr. Buxton informed us that not only were we guilty of defamation, but also copyright infringement.

We, the crack legal team at TAH were unconvinced.  We believed that we had good defenses and that perhaps it would be amusing to match wits with Mr. Buxton.  However, after Mr. Buxton’s latest missive, we have decided to admit defeat.  One does not do battle with the immortal, or attempt to secure a spot at their side on Olympus or Valhalla or Fiddlers Green when one is not equal to such a task.  We come before you as humble as a supplicant lying supine at the altar of Eleos, the Greek daimona of mercy, pity and compassion.  We were wrong.  We have wronged.  We couldn’t have gotten any wronger.

. . .

Thus, we hereby abjure and renounce without reservation all previous comments regarding Justin Weiss, and have taken down all posts previously present on our website.   Much as a child’s teacup is unable to contain all the waters of the world, so unequal to the task at hand are words such as “sorrow” and “guilt” that we must perpetually strive to our dying day to make this right.  As renunciation, sorrow and guilt are insufficient to this task, we further pledge ourselves here onward to seek without rest the deification of Justin Weiss and E. Dale Buxton II (Esq.)   Like Sísyphos, king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth) punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever, so shall we endeavor to make right what we once made wrong.

Here, we explain to you, our readers, why.

. . .

The authors grievously asked:

“How many of you have seen a Ranger with this much stored energy (body fat)?”

What we really meant was that Mr. Weiss has the body of Hercules, the facial hair of a young Brad Pitt, the calves of James Woods, and the winsome smile of Steve Buscemi.  Were the man to be immortally carved into granite, it would make even the Aphrodite Kallipygo weep tears of blood.  For more perfect buttocks on a man one could search an eternity and find none half so sublime.

. . .

As you can see from the Cold Blue website Mr. Weiss has the special skills of:

“Six years of military experience”
“First aid in combat”
“Crowd control tactics”
“SWAT tactics”

We believed that this implied that Mr. Weiss had military service.  We believed that this website, which is intended to attract business to Cold Blue, likely from US companies among others, and would likely be considered advertising by the Federal Trade Commission, falsely implied that Mr. Weiss (among others of their “T.A.G.” members) had been members of the armed forces of the United States and/or Canada.  This was a huge mistake.  Nowhere on the internet or even this bright blue planet of ours can this universal truth be circumvented: Justin Weiss has never claimed to have served in the Armed Forces of any country.

There's much more at the link.  Definitely one of the best fiskings I've seen in a long time!


Driving submerged?

The Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia has some flooding problems at the moment, thanks to a storm off the coast.  In the suburb of Alexandra Headland, foam and spume is blowing ashore from the sea, covering the coastal road.  You can see how deep it gets from the video below, where two cops almost got run over by a submerged car that came out of nowhere!

I wonder if they ticketed the driver for driving under the influence of foam?


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Landing in Kabul

Since many of my readers have served, or are serving, in Afghanistan, or have family members or friends who've served or are serving there, I thought the video clip below would be of interest;  but first, some background.

Silk Way Airlines is based in Azerbaijan, a nation which allows US aircraft to stage through its territory on their way to and from Afghanistan.  As a result, Azerbaijani firms - including Silk Way - are allowed to bid for contracts to support US operations in Afghanistan.  Silk Way flies a mixture of older Soviet-era transports and more modern US-made jetliners.  Among them are seven Ilyushin Il-76 jet freighters, roughly comparable in size, payload and performance to the US Lockheed C-141 Starlifter (long since retired from active service).  One of its Il-76's is shown in the video clip below, taking off from a German airfield.  Turn up the volume to get the full benefit of the high-pitched scream from the early-generation Soviet engines.

These aircraft have a heavily glassed nose section, shown below from outside and within.  I understand it was built like that for three reasons;  partly to aid in navigation, partly to help spot drop zones for the release of parachutists and cargo, and partly for use with a bomb sight or other weapon-related systems.  (Some military Il-76's had bomb hardpoints beneath their wings.)

With that background out of the way, here's a video taken from the nose position of a Silk Way Airlines Il-76 approaching Kabul in Afghanistan.  It was clearly taken in winter, judging by the snow on the ground.  Note the very mountainous terrain surrounding Kabul, and the other aircraft on the airfield as it lands - including at least two giant Antonov An-124's.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

It certainly gives a new perspective on landing to see the runway looming up at one's feet like that, doesn't it?


Looks like they're getting worried . . .

Yesterday I pointed out that the Huffington Post had verified my opinion about proposed modifications to the electoral college process, which I'd suggested earlier might be a way for supporters of Second Amendment rights to retaliate against the Democratic Party for its wilful disregard of our rights and its attack on principles we hold dear.

It seems that the progressive standard-bearer, Talking Points Memo, gets it too - in fact, the TPM article may have inspired HuffPo's effort.

A week ago I noted a new Republican push to gerrymander the electoral college to make it almost impossible for Democrats to win the presidency in 2016 and 2020, even if they match or exceed Barack Obama’s vote margin in 2012. Is something like that really possible? Yes, very possible.

. . .

... the Republican plan goes a step further.

Rather than going by the overall vote in a state, they’d allocate by congressional district. And this is where it gets real good, or bad, depending on your point of view. Democrats are now increasingly concentrated in urban areas and Republicans did an extremely successful round of gerrymandering in 2010, enough to enable them to hold on to a substantial House majority even thoughthey got fewer votes in House races than Democrats.

In other words, the new plan is to make the electoral college as wired for Republicans as the House currently is. But only in Dem leaning states. In Republican states just keep it winner take all. So Dems get no electoral votes at all.

There's more at the link.

Come on, NRA - get behind this!  If they want to attack us where we live, let's return the favor - with interest!  I'm not pro-Republican, and I doubt whether many gun-owners are after the way that party's treated us;  but we're surely anti-Democrat right now, since they're so clearly anti-us - so what are you waiting for?


So much for police protection in New York City!

Those who continue to blindly insist that only police should be trusted with guns, and we should rely on cops rather than guns to protect us against bad guys, might want to consider this case.

[New York] city lawyers are arguing that the police had no legal duty to protect Joseph Lozito, the Long Island dad stabbed seven times trying to subdue madman Maksim Gelman — a courtroom maneuver the subway hero calls “disgraceful.”

. . .

Police officers Terrance Howell and Tamara Taylor were part of a massive NYPD manhunt. They were in the operator’s cab, watching the tracks between Penn Station and 42nd Street for any sign of the fugitive. Lozito was seated next to the cab.

In the official NYPD account and Howell’s own affidavit, Howell heroically tackled and subdued the killer. But Lozito tells a different story.

. . .

Lozito says a grand-jury member later told him Howell admitted on the stand that he hid during the attack because he thought Gelman had a gun.

There's more at the link.  It's very important reading for anyone concerned about their safety and security, and that of their loved ones.

If Mr. Lozito had been armed, he'd have been far better prepared to defend himself;  but New York City makes it extraordinarily difficult to get a permit to even own a handgun, let alone carry one.  As a result, he had only his bare hands with which to defend himself against a madman with a knife, and was stabbed seven times in sixty seconds in the resulting struggle.  According to credible reports, the two police officers sat there and watched, but did nothing until the fight was over and Lozito had already subdued Gelman.

The New York City Police Department's motto is 'Faithful Unto Death'.  After reading this report, one may perhaps ask - whose death?  The citizen(s) its officers are supposed to protect and serve?


How (not) to get a quad bike out of the mud

Uh . . . yeah.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gangsters and racism

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on Latino gang racism against Black families in Compton, a suburb of that city.  It used to be majority Black, but is now majority Latino as the latter racial group takes over, both demographically and - from the sound of things - criminally.  Here's an excerpt.

Federal authorities have alleged in several indictments in the last decade that the Mexican Mafia prison gang has ordered street gangs under its control to attack African Americans. Leaders of the Azusa 13 gang were sentenced to lengthy prison terms earlier this month for leading a policy of attacking African American residents and expelling them from the town.

Similar attacks have taken place in Harbor Gateway, Highland Park, Pacoima, San Bernardino, Canoga Park and Wilmington, among other places. In the Compton case, sheriff's officials say the gang appears to have been acting on its own initiative.

. . .

"This gang has always made it clear they have a racial hatred for black people," said Westin, who has worked in the area for more than two decades. "They justify in their own sick minds because of their rivalry with the Compton black gangs. They repeatedly used racial epithets, they use racial hatred graffiti and they tag up the black church a lot."

There's more at the link.

I've seen this in other cities too, and in prison gangs, where racial tensions can become extreme, even murderous.  The situation is made worse by drug money from Mexico, where the cartels are looking to use local Latino gangs as couriers and distributors of their product.  In order to 'corner the market' for themselves, some gangs are attacking others, seeking to dominate a suburb or town or city.  It's going to get worse, I fear, because the so-called 'War On Drugs' is one of this country's more spectacular failures.


Jewelry that makes you go 'Ewwwww!'

Would you buy this?  I certainly wouldn't!

People sometimes joke about pouring blood, sweat, and tears into their work. Iceland-based designer Sruli Recht put some actual skin into his.

The Forget Me Knot ring is mainly made of 24-carat gold, but instead of sporting a diamond or an emerald, it has a bit of human skin for embellishment. That skin came from a willing donor, the designer himself.

Recht had a 4 inch by 0.4 inch piece removed from his abdomen. The skin was tanned, complete with hair intact, and mounted to the ring. I think even Sauron would think twice about wearing it.

There's more at the link, complete with pictures and a link to a video about how the skin was removed.

I've yet to think of a single compelling reason why anyone would want to waste their money on something like that!


Relics of a long forgotten war

I came across a very interesting feature article about the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.  This was a hotbed of conflict during the Vietnam War, with massive US air strikes attempting to interdict the flow of supplies along it from North Vietnam to the combat areas of South Vietnam.  This broadened and greatly complicated the Laotian Civil War of 1953-75.  The author has spent years riding his motorcycle the length of the Trail, and taken many photographs of the detritus left by war.  Here are a few examples, all reduced in size to fit this blog.

A portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, still intact after all these years

Piles of US-dropped bomb casings wait to be sold as scrap metal

Boats made of metal salvaged from drop tanks released by US aircraft

BLU-3 Pineapple cluster bomblets dropped by US aircraft over the Ho Chi Minh Trail

The rusted remains of a US M3 submachine gun, recovered from the Trail

Fuselage of a T-28 Trojan light attack aircraft of the
Royal Lao Air Force, lost over the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Remains of a US-made M-41 Walker Bulldog light tank, lost during
Operation Lam Son 719, the abortive invasion of Laos in 1971

There are many more pictures at the link.  Fascinating reading, particularly for veterans of the Vietnam War and military history buffs.  As US forces in Afghanistan are drawn down, and Iraq sinks back into Middle Eastern mediocrity, we can expect to see similar pictures of the remains of the war in both of those countries.


This sheriff gets it!

I note that certain hand-wringers have got their knickers in a knot over the advice given by Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. set off alarm bells Friday with a radio spot some view as a call for citizens to arm themselves.

In the radio ad, Clarke tells residents personal safety isn't a spectator sport anymore, and that "I need you in the game."

"With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option," Clarke intones.

"You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back."

Clarke urges listeners to take a firearm safety course and handle a firearm "so you can defend yourself until we get there."

"You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We're partners now. Can I count on you?"

. . .

Clarke has served as lightning rod before, most recently when he called for schools to arm teachers after the Newtown, Conn., massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school. News of the sheriff's gun ad quickly generated feedback.

Jodie Tabak, Mayor Tom Barrett's spokeswoman, released this statement:

"Apparently, Sheriff David Clarke is auditioning for the next Dirty Harry movie."

. . .

The Greenfield Police Department issued advice on its Facebook page, saying none of its officers was laid off or furloughed, that violent crime is down and the department's response time to violent crime is less than two minutes.

. . .

Jeri Bonavia, executive director of Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, said she hears "over and over" from most law enforcement officials that the community should work to "take more guns off the streets, not add more."

"What (Clarke's) talking about is this amped up version of vigilantism," Bonavia said. "I don't know what his motivations are for doing this. But I do know what he's calling for is dangerous and irresponsible and he should be out there saying this is a mistake."

Asked about Clarke's assessment of 911, James Fendry, director of the Wisconsin Pro Gun Movement, said, "It's never been a great option (calling 911). Unless you can take care of yourself, you're kind of SOL."

Fendry, a former police officer, said that he tells citizens, "You're not armed to be law enforcement. You're armed to protect your own life and the lives of your family until law enforcement arrives. Do not go on search and destroy missions in your home."

There's more at the link.

Sheriff Clarke is, of course, absolutely correct.  I've written before about the risks involved in relying on calling 911 as your only means of protection or self-defense.  If you haven't read that earlier article, please do so - it provides a very graphic illustration of what the Sheriff is talking about.  As others have frequently pointed out, "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away". While those minutes tick away . . . what are you going to do to protect yourself?

Don't just get a gun - get competent, worthwhile training for it, not from a manic-cowboy instructor like some we've encountered recently, but someone who knows what he or she is doing.


Dung steered by the stars???

Mother Nature frequently finds ways in which to astound me.  This report from New Scientist has done it again.

Once a [dung] beetle (Scarabaeus satyrus) has constructed its dung ball, it moves off in a straight line in order to escape from rival beetles as quickly as possible, lest they try and steal its carefully crafted ball. This behaviour doesn't sound complicated, but several years ago, Marie Dacke of Lund University in Sweden and colleagues showed that polarised light from the moon is important for dung beetles to keep to a straight line.

Then the researchers were surprised to find the insects were able to stay on course even on a moonless night. "We thought there was something wrong in our set-up," Dacke says.

. . .

To test this, the team moved the experiment to a planetarium. By switching stars on and off, Dacke discovered that the glowing strip of the whole Milky Way was what guided the beetles' movement. "Before it was assumed insects could not use the stars because their eyes don't have the resolution to see them," she says. Navigating using the whole of the Milky Way does away with the need to see individual stars.

Dacke says the results suggest moths, locusts and other insects might navigate by the Milky Way, too.

There's more at the link.

So they're figuring out where to take a ball of dung, using the light of the stars. Is this a case of going from the ridiculous to the sublime?


Huffington Post confirms my claim

A few weeks ago I suggested a course of action to the NRA and other gun-rights organizations.  Briefly, I said that if the Democratic Party and the current Administration want to attack the things we hold dear - including our Second Amendment rights, among others - we need to counterattack by going after what they hold dear - political power.  I pointed out that a Republican plan to revise how electoral college votes are allocated could do precisely that, and suggested it might be a good way to retaliate against the gun-grabbers.  (I also emphasized that this plan was not primarily intended to support the Republican Party, which I also distrust - it was intended to punish the Democratic Party for its attack on our rights.)

I said at the time:  "If that plan had been in effect across the country last year, we would now be preparing for the inauguration of President Romney."  Now the Huffington Post confirms that I was right.

Had the 2012 election been apportioned in every state according to these new Republican plans, Romney would have led Obama by at least 11 electoral votes.

. . .

Within the 26 states that Obama took, Romney won a plurality of votes in 99 congressional districts.

Obama, on the other hand, won only 32 congressional districts in red states.

There's more at the link.

Anybody listening in Fairfax, VA?  We can't win if we fight this battle only on our own ground.  We need to take the fight to the enemy - and right now, I can't think of a better way to do that, or one holding out such potentially serious consequences and penalties for them.  Even better, it's non-violent and entirely legal!


Friday, January 25, 2013

It's been a long day . . .

. . . but a productive one.  I finished the beta reader version of Book 2 of my military sci-fi series, and spent today knitting together the separate elements into a single manuscript.  Over the weekend I'll add page numbers, etc., and convert it to a .PDF file, ready to go out to them next week.  Responses are slowly coming in from beta readers of the first volume, so next month, while they're busy with Book 2, I'll be revising Book 1.

I haven't had much time to develop blog fodder tonight, so I'll put up a few posts in the morning.  To keep you amused until then, I'll leave you to look at pictures of cats in bowls over at Huffington Post.  Here's one of their images to whet your appetite.

There are more at the link.  Enjoy!


Thursday, January 24, 2013

New York in time-lapse photography

Following our recent video look at New York City in time-lapse photography, here are a couple more videos on the subject.  Both are very short - almost disappointingly so - but still interesting.  They're by Melisa Dunbar.


Doofus Of The Day #673

Today's award goes to US Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who appears to have completely lost sight of the duties and responsibilities of his position.  It should perhaps be called the 'Disgrace Of The Day' award in his case!  Zero Hedge reports:

... all the money in politics comes from Wall Street, which happens to be the ultimate ruler of the United States of America, pushing levers here and pulling stringer there to give the impression the constitutional republic is still alive. It isn't - this country has become an unchecked despotism of those in charge of money creation and who control capital - just the thing Andrew Jackson warned against. One thing we did learn, was courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Lenny Breuer who made it very clear that when it comes to the concept of justice the banks are and always have been "more equal" than others. He does so in such shocking clarity and enthusiasm that it is a miracle that this person is still employed by the US Department of Justice.

To wit (sic) from the transcript:

MARTIN SMITH: You gave a speech before the New York Bar Association. And in that speech, you made a reference to losing sleep at night, worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution.


MARTIN SMITH: Is that really the job of a prosecutor, to worry about anything other than simply pursuing justice?

LANNY BREUER: Well, I think I am pursuing justice. And I think the entire responsibility of the department is to pursue justice. But in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand.

In other words, no criminal charges can be levied against anyone who engaged in the crimes leading to the great financial crisis of 2008 because, get this, the implications of pursuing justice may have destabilizing implications!

In other words, the banker threat of Mutual Assured Destruction has metastasized from the legislative, where in 2008 Hank Paulson demanded a blank check from Congress to spend it on whatever he wishes, "or else...", and has fully taken over the Judicial, where there is Justice for all... and no "Justice" for those who are systemically important.

There's more at the link.

Mr. Breuer, I have news for you.  Nothing whatsoever in the job description of a US Assistant Attorney General says that you have to worry about anything other than prosecuting breaches of the law.  If you are worrying about anything else, you're derelict in your duty, and need to either resign or be fired.  Regrettably, there's little (if any) honor left in the Justice Department, and your boss is a living embodiment of that fact . . . so I suspect you'll remain in your position, and continue to protect the banksters who've brought us to our present economic impasse.

I would say 'Shame on you', but I doubt you know the meaning of the term. More's the pity for the country you swore an oath to serve, and the Constitution and laws you swore an oath to 'support and defend'.


Directed energy weapons are in the spotlight again

We've spoken often of the impending advent of battlefield directed energy weapons in these pages.  It's getting closer and closer.  Today Ares reported:

DARPA plans to buy a second Hellads high-energy laser system from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), to provide to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for the demonstration of a laser weapon system against targets relevant to surface ships.

Hellads is a liquid-cooled, solid-state laser that has been under development for DARPA for several years. GA-ASI is building a 150kW Hellads laser to be integrated with an existing US Air Force beam control system for a ground demonstration in 2014.

DARPA's notice of intent to award a sole-source contract to GA-ASI says that, because the existing Hellads laser is committed to the Air Force demo and cannot be made available to the Navy, it wants to acquire a second, identical system for the ONR demo, also planned for 2014.

After focusing its directed-energy research for years on the free electron laser, ONR has launched a program to mature available solid-state electric laser technology with a goal of getting laser weapons on ships more quickly.

There's more at the link.

This is a very important development.  Modern anti-ship missiles are too fast to be reliably engaged by counter-missile or cannon defense systems.  Some (e.g. the Chinese DF-21) are ballistic missiles, reaching up beyond the stratosphere and then descending at hypersonic velocities under satellite guidance to hit their targets.  Others (e.g. the Russo-Indian BrahMos) are supersonic, coming in at Mach 2-3 compared to the subsonic speeds of earlier-generation anti-ship missiles such as the US Harpoon, the French Exocet or the Israeli Gabriel.  All modern anti-ship missiles are capable of being fired en masse, to swamp the target's defenses by arriving in a swarm, some of which are bound to get through.  Even a single hit from a modern weapon is potentially capable of inflicting a 'mission kill', if not of sinking its target;  and if enough get through, they might sink even the largest carriers.

The only counter that appears possible to such 'swarm attacks' is the high-energy laser.  It's a light-speed weapon, which means there's no discernible delay between pressing the firing button and the laser arriving at its target.  No allowance need be made for the target's course and speed, the direction and strength of the wind, or any other factors.  If it can be seen, it can be hit.  Also, no ammunition resupply is needed - only enough electrical power to power the laser, and keep coming long enough for sufficient repeat shots to be fired to take out a swarm of incoming weapons.

I find it significant that in an era of budgetary restraint, when even basic ship maintenance is suffering, DARPA and ONR are willing to spend money on this weapon.  That, more than anything else, shows the immense importance that planners are placing on getting directed-energy weapons into service.  Without them, our current fleet is increasingly vulnerable, and may actually become irrelevant.


Obesity among the poor

Theodore Dalrymple, whom we've met in these pages before, has written a very useful article in the Telegraph analyzing the root causes of the obesity epidemic among the poor.  His analysis is oriented towards Britain, but it applies pretty well (in my experience, at least) to inner-city America too.  Here's an excerpt.

... what we eat also has a social dimension. You can lead a man to a doughnut, but you can’t make him eat. What is the connection between poverty (relative, not absolute), and the obesity that is unprecedented in history?

. . .

It is ... in social changes that the explanation, or at least an important part of it, is to be sought.

With the decline of the family – wrought by the policies of successive governments – patterns of eating have changed. Meals in many households, especially those of the relatively poor, are no longer family or social occasions. It has been found that a fifth of children do not eat more than one meal a week with another member of their household; and in such households, which I used sometimes to visit as a doctor, the microwave oven was the entire batterie de cuisine, or at any rate the only cooking implement that was ever actually employed.

Moreover, there was no table at which a meal could have been eaten in common if anyone had thought of doing so. The result was that children became foragers or hunter-gatherers in their own homes, going to the fridge whenever they felt like it and grazing on prepared foods – high, of course, in the evil fructose. Not coincidentally, these households were also the least likely to have what would once have been considered the normal family structure.

Such households also tended to be in areas called “food deserts”, in which fresh produce is either not easily available or unavailable. But those who ascribe the dietary habits of the households I have just described to food desertification put the cart before the horse: for if heroin can reach these areas (and it can), surely the humble lettuce can do so?

. . .

... food desertification and the supposed cheapness of industrially prepared foods is a consequence, not a cause of, the food habits I have described. Food desertification is a symptom of the culinary ignorance, incompetence and indifference of a substantial minority of our population: ignorance, incompetence and indifference unopposed by any attempt of our educational system to counteract it, for example by teaching girls the elements of cookery. Fat is indeed a feminist issue, but not in the sense that Susie Orbach originally meant it.

Another contributory factor to the obesity epidemic is the control or authority now given to children over what they eat. Children are asked (and given) what they want by their solicitous mothers, not as a treat but as a matter of course; and what they choose is what is most immediately attractive to them.

This has the delightful short-term consequence of forestalling the struggle to get the children to eat what at first they do not want to touch; but it has the disastrous long-term consequence of restricting their repertoire and of keeping their tastes childish and undeveloped, that is to say likely to cause obesity.

. . .

It is not the combination of poverty and the easy availability of fattening food that has produced the epidemic of obesity: rather it is a sense in these circumstances of meaninglessness, that nothing much matters.

There's more at the link.  Insightful and authoritative - and deeply troubling.  Highly recommended.