Friday, February 28, 2014

Goats just wanna have fun!

This made me smile.


More economic warning signs

At the end of January I asked whether we'd reached an economic tipping point.  Two of the warning signs I identified were that's results for the last quarter of 2013 slipped, and durable goods orders slumped during peak shopping season.

Now it seems that the economic bad news is spreading through the entire retail sector.  Bloomberg reports:

U.S. retailers last quarter suffered their darkest days since the recession.

With results in from 62 of 122 retail chains, the industry has posted its first profit quarterly drop since the economic contraction that ended in 2009, according to Retail Metrics Inc. Revenue also rose at the lowest rate since that year, the research firm found.

The results paint a grim picture of an industry hit hard by the sluggish job recovery and slow wage growth, which have turned U.S. consumers into a nation of penny pinchers. Earnings are expected to drop 6.1 percent on average during the holiday quarter, according to Retail Metrics data.

. . .

The lack of wage gains restrained many consumers from making discretionary purchases ... To cope, some chains cut prices by 50 percent to 60 percent. The industry hasn’t seen such heavy discounting since the “fire sale” that took place during the 2008 holiday quarter.

There's more at the link.

I've already discussed how to prepare for economic hard times.  I'm afraid such measures are likely to become more important - and more necessary - than ever.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another snake oil salesman at work

In case you missed it, Ars Technica has a breathless article about the claims of a 'researcher' that offshore wind farms may help to protect us from hurricanes.

Wind power plays a very significant role in Jacobson's plan, and many states don't have extensive on-shore wind resources. As a result, going entirely renewable involves building offshore wind on a truly massive scale, with many individual states sporting tens of thousands of turbines on the continental shelf.

And that will unsurprisingly have an effect on how winds propagate. Jacobson modeled three different hurricanes—Isaac, Katrina, and Sandy—plowing into a massive field of wind turbines. The wind speeds dropped by up to 90 miles an hour, which is enough to drop all but the most powerful storms out of the hurricane category. In fact, the huge fields of turbines were so disruptive that the wind speed started to drop before it even reached the turbines, meaning that in many cases, they could safely continue generating energy throughout the storm.

In Sandy's case, the wind did very little direct damage; rather, the storm surge the winds drove was the primary culprit. But without the wind, the storm surge was underpowered. Depending on the precise details, it dropped by anywhere from six percent to nearly 80 percent.

In a paper that was also released today, Jacobson and some colleagues at the University of Delaware have calculated that all the benefits of the wind farms—improved health via lower pollution, reduced climate change, and hurricane mitigation—combine to make the net cost of electricity generated by these wind farms cheaper than if it were generated using fossil fuels. And despite the high cost of offshore wind, when those savings are considered in the total system costs, it becomes cheaper to build wind than it does to build seawalls to protect all vulnerable areas from storm surges.

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

Note the problems that the article doesn't highlight.  First, these claims are based on mathematical models, not on reality.  One can make a model prove almost anything if it's constructed just right.  Climate change 'scientists' have been using models for decades to preach their gospel of imminent doom, gloom and disaster.  Guess what?  None of their models can actually reproduce reality - i.e. when fed real raw data and asked to compare their outputs to the actual results in nature.  The models are all flawed to a greater or lesser extent.  Why should Mr. Jacobson's models be any different?

Next, note their conclusions.  These guys are apostles and evangelists for renewable energy sources.  Of course their calculations are going to show that their favored energy solutions are the most optimum!  They're in the business of selling that particular brand of snake oil!  Now, if you get me a bunch of hard-nosed engineers and technicians who work in the field, and they confirm those numbers on the basis of hard-earned experience, I'll listen.  Until that happens, I'll take these researchers' recommendations with a bucket or two of salt, thank you very much.

As for wind turbines in hurricanes - remember what happened the last time one was filmed during such a storm?

Uh-huh.  So much for mathematical models.  I wonder how well those turbines would have protected the US coastline?

Snake-oil salesmen.  Grrrr!


Decoding the Voynich Manuscript?

I'm intrigued to read about a claim by an English professor that he's decoded at least some of the words and figures in the Voynich Manuscript.  (If you don't know much about it, the Boston Globe has a very good background article with lots of information.)

As Extreme Tech points out:

Through carbon dating, the Voynich Manuscript — named after book dealer Wilfrid Voynich who purchased it in 1912 — was found to have been created sometime in the early 1400s, and possibly created in Northern Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The manuscript has never been even slightly decoded — the individual words, the sentence formation, or even the diagrams of stars and plants that are found throughout — have not been solidly identified. There have been so many unproven hypotheses put forth over the years that it’s widely considered that the manuscript was intentionally created as a (very) well-made hoax. Professional and amateur cryptographers haven’t come close in making a breakthrough, and that includes World War I and II codebreakers. However, linguistics professor Stephen Bax announced that he has finally made a breakthrough in deciphering the text, by focusing on identifying proper names.

. . .

Bax explains that his potential breakthrough involved identifying proper nouns — namely through identifying the plants and stars depicted in illustrations found throughout the text — the way similar strategies have been used to identify Egyptian hieroglyphs. From there, Bax used the proper nouns as something of a legend for deciphering other characters. Among the notable terms deciphered, the constellation Taurus was discovered, what appeared to be the seven-star cluster Pleiades was identified, as well as the word “Kantairon,” which appeared to be used to identify the medieval herb centaury.

. . .

Bax has not stated that he has solved the 600-year-old mystery, but rather, he is reporting his findings in order to compel other linguists and cryptologists to join in and help decode the text using what might very well be the first-ever real breakthrough regarding the Voynich Manuscript.

There's more at the link.  You can also view a three-quarter-hour video on YouTube by Prof. Bax discussing his theories.

It'll be interesting to see whether Prof. Bax's research can be pursued, and the manuscript ultimately decoded.  I'm not anticipating that it'll contain anything earthshakingly important, but it'll be nice to put a six-hundred-year-old mystery behind us.


PBS Frontline's 'Inside The Vatican'

I'm sure many readers caught PBS Frontline's documentary program on the Vatican, broadcast on Tuesday evening.  Here's the preview.

You can watch a few minutes of excerpts here. Yahoo News had this to say in its review of the documentary.

The Roman Catholic Church is enjoying some of its best press in decades, and hundreds of thousands of alienated Catholics are returning, thanks in large part to the new, and in some cases revolutionary, leadership of Pope Francis.

But, says a new documentary by PBS’ "Frontline," “Secrets of the Vatican,” the morally wrenching controversies that threatened to destroy the church's credibility, starting about the time Pope John Paul II died in 2005, have not fully subsided. Further, the success of Francis’ papacy will depend on how quickly and thoroughly he addresses them.

"Secrets of the Vatican" ... takes an unsparing look at the state of the church Pope Francis inherited from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, successor to Pope John Paul II and the first head of the church to resign in 600 years.

“2012 was an annus horribilis for [Benedict],” Antony Thomas, the producer, writer and director of the film for "Frontline," told Yahoo News in an interview. “Everything was exploding. He wanted to clean up the Vatican bank. He was in a very difficult predicament all the way through.”

A horrible year on many fronts, not just with mounting evidence of financial impropriety at the Vatican bank, but also with incidents of sexual abuse by clergy spreading to more than 20 countries and, further, exposure of church hypocrisy about homosexuality. Two of Benedict’s most significant moves were to publicly re-frame the Catholic catechism — in effect, its rules of practice — to emphasize its reference to homosexuality as an “objective disorder,” laying groundwork to, among other things, remove gay clergy.

At the same time, reports emerged from Rome of a “gay mafia” inside the church that included some of its top officials, who were unafraid to wield political power and at the same time live an openly promiscuous gay lifestyle.

“There was a lot that came to light, including a man who was, as it were, providing choirboys as rent boys,” Thomas said. “What we have tried hard to do in the film is not be simplistic about this. There are a lot of people in the Vatican who are gay who are leading celibate lives, and this is difficult for them. And there are others who are promiscuous.”

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

The tragedy from my point of view is that the institution of the Church has closed ranks, and will undoubtedly continue to close ranks, to protect its own.  Its instincts are to protect itself at all cost, even if that cost must be borne by the abused faithful.  I've written extensively about my experience of the clergy child sex abuse crisis (see the articles listed in the sidebar), and I remain appalled at the total - I repeat, TOTAL - lack of progress in dealing with any of the senior clergy and officials who orchestrated the crisis to begin with.  The guilty priests have largely been punished, but those who tolerated their actions, covered up for them, transferred them to new parishes where they could prey on new victims . . . none of them appear to have suffered any more than the proverbial a slap on the wrist.  In particular, priests who tried to speak up about how intolerable the situation had become have by now been sidelined, silenced, and in some cases forced out of office.

It's a hellish situation for those of us with profound qualms of conscience about these things.  It's not that we've left the Church.  It's that we no longer know where to find her.  I find myself more and more feeling like Mary on the morning of Easter Sunday (cf. John 20:11-13).  "They have taken away my Church, and I do not know where they have laid her."

It's a sad, lonely place to be . . . and eternity looks pretty bleak from here.


Are we seeing the grooming of the next Barack Obama?

I'm sure readers remember the disgust that erupted in all right-thinking circles when President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.  It had most emphatically not been justified by his life or conduct to date.  As former winner Lech Walesa said at the time, "So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is only beginning to act."  The Von Mises Institute was even more scathing.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama is further confirmation ... that the prize has degenerated into politically motivated rubbish.

. . .

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama ... should disgust any true supporter of peace, and cause any principled individual to seriously question the integrity of the prize and those who award it.

Now, in similar vein, comes the news that three days after commencing his new show on MSNBC, 26-year-old journalist and political activist Ronan Farrow has been awarded the annual Cronkite Award for Excellence in Exploration and Journalism by Reach The World.  The organization states that the award recognizes Mr. Farrow's "transformational work in global humanitarian issues and his founding and direction of the State Department's Office of Global Youth Issues in addition to his extensive work as a print journalist".

Wikipedia notes that Mr. Farrow has been the recipient of numerous other awards during his brief career.

He has been named New York magazine’s "New Activist" of the year and included on its list of individuals "on the verge of changing their worlds” for 2009; listed as Harper’s Bazaar’s "up-and-coming politician" of 2011; and ranked number one in Law and Policy on Forbes Magazine’s "30 Under 30" Most Influential People list for 2012. In its 2013 retrospective of men born in its 80 years of publication, Esquire magazine named him the man of the year of his birth.

Farrow was awarded Refugees International's McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award in 2008, for "extraordinary service to refugees and displaced people."

He was awarded an honorary Doctorate by Dominican University of California in 2012.

There's more at the link.

A couple of points come to mind when looking at this roll-call of honors.

  • To be awarded an honorary doctorate at the age of 24 is frankly ridiculous.  Nobody, but nobody has achieved enough by that age, by the normal standards for such awards, to qualify for an honorary doctorate.  They're usually granted to recognize decades of achievement, if not a lifetime's work - so why was one conferred on Mr. Farrow?
  • Mr. Farrow appears to be riding on the Obama administration's and Clinton family's coattails in his work to date in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and subsequently for the State Department.  His activities in those posts coincided with the list of awards mentioned above.  He's just taken up his new position at MSNBC in time to receive Reach The World's award (although it was said to be for his earlier work).  I'd love to know how many 'hints' came from the Obama administration and/or the Clinton election campaign to those who conferred this and his other awards.  He's also a Rhodes Scholar - a path followed by Bill Clinton.  How did he earn that scholarship - if it was, in fact, truly earned?

Frankly, this smells to high heaven.  I can't escape the conviction that just as Barack Obama was a nonentity in terms of real-world achievement who was groomed and polished to seize political power, so someone (or perhaps several someones) appear(s) to be grooming Mr. Farrow in precisely the same way.  He can't possibly have done enough to deserve the awards he's been given - not at his age and level of experience.  Compare his resumé with those of people who have truly significant achievements to their names, and you'll see what I mean at once.  He's achieved little, if anything, of real and lasting value - yet he's being lauded to the skies.  Why?  What's going on?  I can only assume it's to take advantage of his undoubted youthful good looks and capitalize on his family name and its public recognition.

I smell a large, hairy rat here.  What say you, readers?  Am I being unduly cynical, or just plain unfair - or am I on to something?  Please let us know your reactions in Comments.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

An anniversary artwork with a difference

This year marks the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo's death.  As part of the celebrations in England, a cake decorator, Michelle Wibowo, decided to reproduce God's creation of Adam from Michelangelo's painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - in icing and sprinkles!

Here's how she did it, in time-lapse photography.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

You know, I can't help feeling that Michelangelo would have been pleased . . .


So was the stimulus worth it?

According to Reason magazine, it's hard to tell.

In theory, fiscal stimulus juices the economy through a multiplier effect, in which one dollar of borrowed government spending produces more than a dollar of overall economic gain. With a multiplier of 1.5, a stimulus of $100 million would produce $150 million in economic activity. A multiplier of 2.0 would result in double the economic jolt of the initial cash infusion. The higher the multiplier, the bigger the boost.

The problem, as I noted in my April 2013 story on the stimulus, is that no one really knows what multiplier effect of fiscal stimulus is. Reputable economists don’t even really agree about the possible range for the multiplier. Some economists think it could be in the range of 3.0 or even higher, given the right circumstances. The Congressional Budget Office puts the estimated multiplier for government purchases at somewhere between 0.5 and 2.5. A broad survey of estimates by University of California San Diego economist Valerie Ramey found that the range was usually between 0.8 and 1.5, although the data could support anywhere from 0.5 to 2.0.

. . .

Despite the wide uncertainty surrounding these estimates, they end up playing a major role in estimates of the stimulus’ effects. That’s because when economists at the White House or the Congressional Budget Office attempted to gauge the results of the stimulus, they relied heavily on measurements of inputs rather than outputs, and then used the multipliers to work from there. In other words, they looked at the amount of money spent on stimulus and then ran that through a model that included an estimated multiplier.

If you build a model that assumes a high multiplier effect, then your results will reveal that stimulus spending has a high multiplier effect. What you won’t have done is prove that stimulus spending has a high multiplier. But that’s how the government estimates of stimulus effects on jobs and economic growth work: Rather than measure real-world results, they count the spending, assume a multiplier, and then report the output.

And what if the real-world effects were, in reality, radically different? Would that show up in the reported estimates? No. When CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf was asked, “If the stimulus bill did not do what it was originally forecast to do, then that would not have been detected by the subsequent analysis?” his response was: “That’s right. That’s right.”

What we have then are highly uncertain, hard-to-pin-down multiplier estimates being used not to measure the results of stimulus, but to estimate what the results might be if those highly uncertain estimates happen to be correct. That’s not a clear failure, but it’s hardly proof of the unambiguous success the White House and its allies have claimed.

. . .

No doubt the political back and forth over the merits of stimulus will continue, and the declarations of success and failure will end up as fodder in fights over possible future fiscal policy boosts. Not much will change. That’s too bad. Because if there’s anything we should have learned from the fight over the nation’s biggest fiscal stimulus, it’s that we’ve been asking the wrong question. It’s not whether the stimulus did or did not fail, it’s whether we can ever know one way or another—and whether it's worth spending hundreds of billions of dollars on economic interventions whose results are likely to remain uncertain.

There's more at the link.

That's one reason politicians love to spend taxpayer money on things like stimulus packages.  They can predict success, then obfuscate until the cows come home to prevent an in-depth, accurate, honest analysis of whether their predictions were correct or not.  They can claim credit for everything good, and deny that everything bad had anything to do with their 'stimulus'.  In fact, they'll usually claim that the bad would have been worse without the stimulus - but again, that's impossible to prove one way or another.

This is one of the primary ways that politicians lie.  They promise things that can't be accurately or verifiably measured.  If you can't measure something, you can't determine whether it was good or bad, a success or a failure, worthwhile or a waste of taxpayer money - and you can't hold accountable those behind it.  Politician heaven!


So why isn't it standard equipment today?

This video clip shows a Cadillac innovation from the early 1950's that seems to have worked just fine back then.  My question is, if it was so useful, why was it dropped?  In today's crowded city streets, seems to me it'd still be very useful.

Of course, they probably couldn't make it work with space-saver spare tires . . .


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

For the aspiring authors among us

I put up this sketch by Mitchell and Webb back in 2008, but I recently came across it again and laughed just as hard - so I thought you might enjoy a re-run too.

So much for the collaborative genius of the author-editor partnership . . .


Karl Denninger bows out

I've quoted Karl Denninger many times in these pages, but it looks like opportunities to do so will be severely limited in future.  He's closed down most of his online activities, providing a long farewell essay in which he makes clear his disgust, almost his despair at the way things are going.

I began to write, and ultimately set up the forum as well as a place for people to congregate, trade ideas, and hopefully get something of value -- and perhaps, just perhaps, coalesce into something worthwhile that might put a stop to this sort of garbage in the future.

That appears to have been a foolish dream.

It wasn't my first foolish dream; I've been a fool many times before -- and I'm sure it won't be the last time either.

You see, nobody wants to do anything about the real issues facing our nation and that we have as a people -- at least not in a productive way.  It's far more important and easier to take cheap shots, to play "gotcha" and to parade around bull**** than it is to face the facts about what our society has become, and when we play those games all we're doing is adding to the puerile and derelict nature of what our society has devolved into.

We're more-interested in whether Alec Baldwin said a bad thing on a NY Street than whether colleges are ripping off young adults.  We're more interested in going after people predicated on half-truths and outright lies than the bald-faced rip-offs and outrages that are served upon us daily by those who claim to be acting in our "best interest" -- and our own culpability for same, in that virtually every one of these people holds office and power only because we consent with votes cast at either the polls or the store.  It doesn't matter that the media intentionally placed their logo in a strategic fashion when George Zimmerman got out of a cop car to hide the back of his head so you couldn't see the gash that Trayvon Martin put there, and that was just one of the first half-truths and outright distortions presented in that case; we buy the products advertised on those "news" shows and watch those networks to this day.

Harry Reid struts around the Senate pontificating on evil Republicans even though his office and he personally knows that Medicare and Medicaid will bankrupt the country -- but he'll be dead first, so he doesn't give a damn nor will he put a stop to it.  Boehner and McConnell, for their part, are happy to make all sorts of noises about deficit spending, but then when the time comes to actually stop it they fold for the same reason -- they don't give a damn either as they expect they'll leave office before it all goes to Hell and it's very profitable for them and their friends to continue the charade.  Both sides of the aisle knew damn well that Obama was lying about virtually every respect of Obamacare and yet Pelosi literally said that Congress had to pass the law to know what was in it, which is a rank admission that she knew she was screwing the entire country.  You don't care either because she's still in office.  CEOs come on CNBC and other media channels to tout their "greatness" just as Mozillo did -- or for that matter Dick Fuld of Lehman who promised he was going to "burn the shorts."  When his own pants caught on fire instead who called him on that? 


What does it say about us when we're more-interested in whether Miley Cyrus is twerking with a foam finger than the rip-offs on Wall Street promulgated with HFT, blatant falsehoods spewed forth in Congressional testimony by Fed officials and outright lies by the head of the NSA?  What does it say about us when a Congressperson documents that they and the President lied about your health care, intentionally destroying your insurance coverage and relationship with your physician -- and yet they still sit in their offices drawing paychecks funded with your money, voluntarily handed over, more than four years later?

What does it say about us when we're too damn busy dredging up old bull**** to demand that the foundation of this nation actually mean something?  What does it mean when the most-important aspect of our lives is prattering about who's porking who (or who did pork who) instead of why we as a society tolerate grift on a wholesale basis to the point that 40% of our population gets a check that they literally steal from everyone -- including themselves and their children?

Maybe we all deserve what's happening and what's coming.  Maybe we deserve the sort of thing that's happening in the Ukraine.

There's much more at the link.

Mr. Denninger says he'll continue to "publish articles at my whim if events catch my eye".  I hope so - it would be sad to be completely bereft of his incisive commentary and wit.  Yet, I can also understand his near-despair at the lack of willingness to act on the part of the broader American people.  Far too few of us are willing to get out of our comfort zone and actively protest the lies, immorality and unconstitutional shenanigans of our political leaders.  Many more would be willing to do so if it weren't for the threat of being audited by the IRS, or pilloried in the press, or pressured by union goons, or any of the other tricks that the Left has used so often and so well.

I don't share Mr. Denninger's despair, because my faith teaches me that despair is a grievous sin.  Nevertheless, I believe as he does that very hard times are coming, and that what can't go on won't go on (as Stein's Law teaches us).  I believe that the gulf between the 'political class' and the rest of America is almost unbridgeable by now, and that the divide between the 'producers' and the 'consumers' is almost as rigid.  Sooner or later - my bet's on sooner - the former will no longer be able to produce enough to support the latter, no matter how rapacious and confiscatory the 'political class' may become with their demands.  When that happens, we're going to go through some sort of collapse, probably long-drawn-out and miserable rather than short, sharp and salutary.  What emerges on the other side will be different from the America we know today.  It'll probably be poorer, probably a lot more hamstrung by chains laid on it by the past . . . but please God, it'll be wiser than we've been over the past few decades.

I hope Mr. Denninger, and I, and all of us, will be here to help rebuild.  The country will need every man and woman of goodwill it can find.  I think he deserves our thanks for trying so hard, for so long, to open our eyes to the true dimensions of the crisis confronting us.  Certainly no-one's done more to help us brace for the coming storm.


So much for an 'arsenal' . . .

Radar Online reports with bated breath and ZOMG! hysteria about 'George Zimmerman's Deadly Firearms Arsenal'.

During a domestic incident with his live-in girlfriend Samantha Scheibe, police uncovered a chilling arsenal of weapons and ammunition inside Zimmerman’s home, the full extent of which has never been pictured — until now.

According to police documents and new photos obtained by Radar, Zimmerman was found to be hiding the following deadly weapons inside his Florida home:

  • One Keltec 12-gauge shotgun
  • One Walther .380 handgun with seven rounds of live ammunition in the magazine
  • One Taurus 9 mm handgun with live rounds in the magazine
  • One Glock 19 handgun with 16 live rounds
  • One AR-15 semi-automatic rifle
  • Dozens of rounds of ammunition
  • Several gun holsters and bags

Deputies seized the stash and categorized the items as evidence in a list that rivals the arsenals amassed by Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza and Aurora, Colorado, theater assassin James Holmes. Lanza massacred the 20 innocent children and six educators of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., 14 months ago. Holmes slaughtered 12 and injured 70 theater-goers in Aurora, Colo., on July 20, 2012.

All three mens’ arsenals include a version of their shared top three deadliest guns: the assault rifle, the shotgun and the concealed carrier’s trusted, Glock.

Zimmerman’s two additional guns put him one gun ahead of Holmes and make him even with Lanza (who had five killing machines, counting the .22 rifle he used at his home to kill his mother).

There's more at the link.

One almost despairs at the PSH on display in this report.  I know a fairly large number of shooters, most of whom would consider such a small collection to bear no resemblance to an 'arsenal' whatsoever!  (That's not an arsenal - these are arsenals!  My collection isn't nearly as large as any of them, but hey, while there's life, there's hope . . . )  As for 'dozens of rounds of ammunition', I know more than a few shooters who measure their ammo stash in terms of dozens of thousands of rounds!  They're all perfectly normal hobbyists, who've never used any of their dozens or scores (even hundreds) of weapons for anything except entirely legal pursuits.

One wonders what the Radar journalists would do if they were admitted to some of those arsenals pictured in my other post.  I imagine they'd faint outright, with both of their legs probably having a Chris Matthews-style tingly moment while they were at it . . .


The IRS scandal: it's even worse than we feared

Last week the Heritage Foundation held a lunchtime conference to discuss the latest developments in what it calls 'Taxing the First Amendment: Using the IRS to Censor Speech?'.  I'm going to post the entire hour-plus video of the conference below, but I wanted to first highlight five very short excerpts from a post-conference interview provided to the Powerline blog by one of the speakers, Cleta Mitchell.  She's an attorney who's represented several clients facing IRS abuse over the past few years.  In these short excerpts, she highlights an agency that appears to be completely out of control, and blames both the Democratic and Republican parties for their blind refusal to apply the law to the bureaucrats concerned.  The five clips together total less than twelve minutes in length, and are well worth your viewing time.

Here's the full 1 hour 10 minute video of the lunchtime conference presentation.  I recommend that if you take constitutional government seriously, you make the time to watch it - because if these practices aren't stopped now, we won't have even the semblance of constitutional government that we have now.

This is perhaps the clearest possible evidence that 'going Galt' is no longer an adequate option.  When the organs of government can be suborned to prevent you doing as you please according to your constitutional rights, and to exert illegal and unconstitutional pressure on you to conform, it's too late to found a Galt's Gulch.  It'd just get a tax lien placed on it.

My solution is simple - and some would doubtless describe it as simplistic.  It's in three parts, all of which would be necessary.  It goes like this:

  1. Institute a flat tax rate of 10% on all income - corporate, private, whatever - with no deductions or exemptions whatsoever.  Earn a dollar?  Pay 10c to Uncle Sam.  Simple, direct, efficient.
  2. Institute a flat consumption tax of 5% on all purchases - corporate, private, whatever - with no deductions or exemptions whatsoever.  For every dollar you spend, you pay 5c tax to the Feds.  (You may pay more for local sales taxes, of course.)
  3. You now no longer need massive, complex calculations about what any person or company owes the government.  It's a simple calculation that anyone with a few functioning brain cells can do in their heads (or use a calculator or spreadsheet if they must).  Therefore, abolish the entire IRS and the entire tax preparation industry.  You'd save the country billions in unnecessary and useless overhead at the stroke of a pen - and taxes would be lower, besides.

Not that complicated when you think about it, is it?  Unfortunately, the politicians and the bureaucrats will never agree.  They'd argue that you have to provide for 'income redistribution' or 'welfare assistance' or all the rest of that sort of crap that's never mentioned in the constitution at all.  To that, my answer is simple.  If someone is in need of welfare or other assistance, that's not an IRS issue - so why keep the agency around to address it?  Why make it a federal issue at all?  It can be dealt with by state welfare agencies.

To statists, the issue isn't about taxation efficiency at all.  It's about control.  When that control gets out of control . . . you have the present IRS catastrophe.


Monday, February 24, 2014

World War II over Europe in color

Courtesy of The Aviationist, we find this video clip (including gun camera footage) of aerial combat in the skies over Europe during the second half of World War II.  It's a bit distorted, but to see it in color lends added realism to the conflict.

One can better appreciate the courage it took to go up against that sort of opposition day in, day out, knowing that the odds of making it through a full tour of combat missions were decidedly against you.


Politicians again fail to learn from history

It seems our political leaders intend to reduce the size of the US Army to below its strength in 1940.

Let me say that again.

Our political leaders intend to reduce the size of the US Army to below its strength in 1940.

Have they forgotten history altogether?

Examine any nation you please.  Study the size and ability of its armed forces.  Observe what happened to that nation when it allowed its armed forces to decay in terms of either strength (numbers) or capability (efficiency, quality of armament, tactics, etc.).

History warns us grimly that whenever a nation failed to prepare for war, it didn't enjoy peace for very long.

What makes our politicians think this time will be any different?

I confidently predict that if this misguided reduction in strength goes ahead, within a decade from its taking effect we'll wish we had back the forces we cut - and more.  History's entirely on my side in making that prediction.  I have no objection to cutting away deadwood, and reorienting our forces to make them 'smarter', better equipped and trained to face contemporary challenges, and the like;  but to reduce them to so low a level is to cripple them before a major conflict even starts.  It's not like the old days when the draft could provide semi-trained warm bodies within a matter of a few months.  In today's high-technology world, it takes a couple of years to train a soldier to the point where he's basically proficient with all the equipment he's expected to take into a fight.  We won't have time for that when the proverbial brown substance hits the rotary air impeller.

There may be one silver lining in the cloud, however, if our politicians are sensible enough to grasp it (although that's debatable).  I note the Air Force plans to mothball its A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack squadrons.  The US Marine Corps can't afford the F-35B strike fighter it so desperately wants, no matter how much it may protest that it needs it.  On the other hand, the A-10 would fit right in with the Marines' self-imposed priority to have their own organic air support arm.  Why not scrap the F-35B and transfer all the (newly upgraded) A-10's to the Marine Corps?  It'd save tens of billions of dollars in procurement costs, and operational costs of the A-10's would be a tiny fraction of the stealth F-35's.  I'd say that'd be a win for everybody except Lockheed Martin (which deserves the loss, quite frankly, after screwing up the F-35 project so badly).


Doofus Of The Day #754

Today's award goes to climatologist (?) Michael Mann, he of 'hockey stick' fame, who's just exposed himself as a fraud for all the world to see.  Readers may remember he sued critics who insisted that he'd made up the data that formed the basis for his 'hockey stick' graph.  Looks like they were right.

Massive counterclaims, in excess of $10 million, have just been filed against climate scientist Michael Mann after lawyers affirmed that the former golden boy of global warming alarmism had sensationally failed in his exasperating three-year bid to sue skeptic Canadian climatologist, Tim Ball. Door now wide open for criminal investigation into Climategate conspiracy.

Buoyed by Dr Ball's successes, journalist and free-speech defender, Mark Steyn has promptly decided to likewise countersue Michael Mann for $10 million in response to a similar SLAPP suit filed by the litigious professor from Penn. State University against not just Steyn, but also the National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Rand Simberg. Ball's countersuit against Mann seeks "exemplary and punitive damages. " Bishop Hill blog is running extracts of Steyn's counterclaim, plus link.

. . .

Steyn’s legal team, aware of the latest developments from Vancouver, have correctly adduced that Ball has effectively defeated Mann after the Penn. State pretender’s preposterous and inactive lawsuit against Ball was rendered dormant for failure to prosecute. Under law, Mann’s prevarications, all his countless fudging and evasiveness in the matter, establishes compelling evidence that his motive was not to prove Ball had defamed him, but more likely a cynical attempt to silence fair and honest public criticism on a pressing and contentious government policy issue.

The fact Mann refused to disclose his ‘hockey stick’ graph metadata in the British Columbia Supreme Court, as he is required to do under Canadian civil rules of procedure, constituted a fatal omission to comply, rendering his lawsuit unwinnable. As such, Dr Ball, by default, has substantiated his now famous assertion that Mann belongs "in the state pen, not Penn. State."  In short, Mann failed to show he did not fake his tree ring proxy data for the past 1,000 years, so Ball’s assessment stands as fair comment. Moreover, many hundreds of papers in the field of paleoclimate temperature reconstructions that cite Mann’s work are likewise tainted, heaping more misery on the discredited UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) which has a knack of relying on such sub prime science.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It will likely be open season on Mann. Anyone may now freely dismiss him in the harshest terms as a junk scientist who shilled for a failed global warming cabal. Without fear of his civil legal redress, we may now refer to Mann for what he is: a climate criminal, a fraudster.

There's much more at the link.

This is too delicious for words.  The anthropogenic-climate-change alarmists have always insisted that 'the science is settled', and that there's no longer any room for doubt or need for further debate about the subject.  Those of us who were sceptical have always believed that they were trying to baffle us with bullshit.  This latest development tends to confirm us in our beliefs.

I'm going to thoroughly enjoy watching this High Priest of Climate Change Bullshittery try to weasel his way out of the consequences of his actions . . . because I don't think Messrs. Ball and Steyn will be inclined to allow him to do so. I hope it costs him his reputation, his fortune and his pension.  That's the least he deserves.


Well done, good and faithful servant

Sad news tonight from Brigid, whose beautiful black Labrador retriever Barkley shuffled off this mortal coil today.  He was more like a child to her than a pet in many ways, absolutely 'one of the family'.  Miss D. and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with him during our trips to see Brigid and other friends in that part of the world (even if he did steal the underwear out of our suitcases at every conceivable opportunity, and defy us to chase him to get it back).

Very sorry to hear of your loss, Brigid.  I hope you and Barkley will be reunited one day at whatever waits for us on the other side of the river.  (If so, you'll probably find he took with him one of your slippers and a couple of pieces of underwear, to have them waiting for you!)


Flawed climate policy causes a flood disaster

I'm cynically unsurprised at the revelation that the recent devastating floods in England were deliberately caused by the policies of the previous government, driven by concerns over climate change.  The Telegraph reports:

Devastating evidence has now come to light not just that the floods ... could have been prevented, but that they were deliberately engineered by Labour ministers in 2009, regardless of the property and human rights of the thousands of people whose homes and livelihoods would be affected. Furthermore, that wildly misleading Met Office forecast in November led the Environment Agency to take a step that has made the flooding infinitely more disastrous than it need have been.

The “smoking guns” begin with a policy decision announced in 2005 by Labour’s “floods minister” Elliot Morley ... Under the heading “Saving wetland habitats: more money for key sites”, Morley directed that, to comply with the EU’s habitats directive and a part-EU-funded study involving the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the WWF and the Environment Agency, flooding in Somerset should be artificially promoted, because “wildlife will benefit from increased water levels”. The 13 local drainage boards, responsible for keeping the Levels properly managed, were all to be co-opted into implementing this policy.

The Environment Agency had already stopped proper dredging of the River Parrett, which provides the main channel draining floodwater on the Levels to the sea, because of the exorbitant cost of disposing of silt under EU waste regulations. And Morley had vetoed a proposal to build a new pumping station at Dunball, at the end of the massive Kings Sedgemoor Drain, which would have allowed much more effective, 24-hour pumping of flood water into the mouth of the Parrett estuary,

In 2008, an Environment Agency policy document on the “Parrett Catchment Area” admitted that it was “still not completely clear” how much the deliberate increase in flooding would breach “the property rights and Human Rights” of those whose homes and businesses would be damaged. Yet in 2009, the government gave £8 million to “restore” – ie, increase flooding on – 10 Somerset “floodplains”, including the purchase of a large area of farmland at Southlake Moor next to Burrowbridge on the Parrett, which had been drained since the 13th century. It was to be handed over to Natural England to “store” water as habitat for birds when, as the Met Office was already predicting, climate change would bring drier winters.

This was where November’s forecast came in, because it led the Environment Agency deliberately to flood Southlake Moor in the expectation of a dry winter. When those December and January rains poured down, this large expanse of water-sodden ground blocked the draining to the already horribly silted-up Parrett of a very much larger area of farmland to the east. This was made even worse by the lack of that Dunball pumping station, vetoed by Morley, at the sea end of the Kings Sedgemoor Drain.

Thus came about the disaster that has filled our television screens for weeks. The hydrology of this vast area had been sabotaged by the Labour government’s deliberate, EU-compliant policy, directed by the Environment Agency.

There's more at the link.

The fact that this happened in England should be cold comfort to those of us in the USA.  We're seeing exactly the same sort of ideologically driven decisions affecting our own environment just as negatively - witness the current water crisis in California as just one example.

I'm more and more of the opinion that there can be no compromise with the environmentalist idiots who raise such a hue and cry about 'climate change' and 'environmental preservation' and the like.  Their mantras have proven scientifically flawed and practically disastrous so often that no right-thinking person can take them seriously any more.  That's a great pity, because there's a lot to be said for the right sort of conservation and environmental consciousness . . . but when one sees so little of it among the activists, I'm afraid the environment baby tends to get thrown out along with the propagandist bath-water.  The truth is so seldom in them.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Around The Blogs 2014-02-23

Lots of interesting bits and pieces tonight.

# # #

Dustbury brings us the tale of a vending machine sale that proved rather more costly to the purchaser than he'd planned.  Of course, self-control would have helped . . .

# # #

Captain Capitalism links to the account of a young American lady who finds out the hard way that she can't really make that much of a difference in the Third World.  I found her story cynically familiar, having observed the antics of the Peace Corps in much of Africa.  They'd arrive in breathless anticipation, sure they were going to solve all the problems in that part of the world then ride off rejoicing into the sunset.  Not so much . . .

Also, in a guest article at Return Of Kings, Captain Capitalism points out that 'You’ll Never Find A “Good” Corporate Job Like Your Parents Did'.  His analysis of the present and future job market is sobering, even depressing - but it's reality.  Useful input to help shape your thinking about your future.

# # #

Two contributors at 'Bring The Heat, Bring The Stupid' entertain us this week.

First, Ultima Ratio Regis links to an article analyzing potential problems with the senior leadership of the US Army.  It's titled 'Seduced By Success; An Army Leadership Untrained for True War?'  Thought-provoking reading.

Next, XBradTC reminds us of the joys of Army cooking.

Hmmm . . . I see some of the cooks I remember from the South African military have made their way into the US armed forces!

# # #

While on the subject of the US Army, American Mercenary examines 'Officer Culture:  Understanding The Numbers Argument'.  It's a useful study of officer-to-enlisted proportions, so-called 'command culture', and their consequences for military effectiveness.  Worthwhile reading.

# # #

Matthew has a sad, draining tale of being called in to help trace a young girl who was kidnapped . . . too late to help her.  I haven't had to do his job, but I have had to be the pastor/chaplain who delivered the bad news.  I don't ever want to have to do that again . . .

# # #

The Outrider made me laugh out loud by linking to customer reviews of a banana slicer on  As usual when the Amazon crowd gets a bee in its collective bonnet, the reviews (approaching 5,000 of them already) are hysterical!

# # #

Mike Miles (caution:  his blog is sometimes NSFW, although not this particular entry) brings us 'Amazing Wartime Facts from WWII'.  They include:

  • At the time of Pearl Harbor, the top US Navy command was called CINCUS (pronounced “sink us”), the shoulder patch of the US Army’s 45th Infantry division was the Swastika, and Hitler’s private train was named “Amerika”. All three were soon changed for PR purposes.
  • A number of air crewmen died of farts. (Ascending to 20,000 ft. in an un-pressurized aircraft causes intestinal gas to expand 300%!)
  • Among the first “Germans” captured at Normandy were several Koreans. They had been forced to fight for the Japanese Army until they were captured by the Russians, and forced to fight for the Russian Army until they were captured by the Germans, and forced to fight for the German Army until they were captured by the US Army.
  • During the Japanese attack on Hong Kong, British officers objected to Canadian infantrymen taking up positions in the officer’s mess. No enlisted men allowed!

There are more at the link.  Interesting stuff.

# # #

Clayton Cramer links to a useful article by his daughter and son-in-law titled '5 Tips for a Strong Marriage'.  They have some worthwhile ideas.

# # #

Karl Denninger fisks an anti-gun editorial in a Connecticut newspaper, pointing out that it's effectively advocating violence against local citizens who are exercising their Constitutional rights in the face of an unconstitutional law.  He's his usual uninhibited self (I'm pleased to say!).

# # #

Rev. Donald Sensing brings us 'a handy guide to what's wrong with the American diet in 11 simple charts'.  Very useful and informative.

# # #

Daniel Greenfield writes about 'The Inequality of Access'.

When government is big, then true inequality is not of wealth, but of political access ... Access isn't about money; it's about becoming useful to those in power.

There are two cities and two countries in America; the land of the politically connected who are part of a network that can score anything from millions in cash to open door prisons and the land of the politically unconnected who don't understand why the government won't leave them alone. It won't leave them alone because in a corrupt system, being left alone is a special political favor.

. . .

In a city or a country run by income inequality campaigners like Barack Obama or Bill de Blasio, the inequality of wealth takes a back seat to the inequality of access.

There's much more at the link.  An interesting, cogent and depressingly accurate analysis, IMHO.

# # #

Finally, Borepatch links to Gerard Vanderleun's 'Notes On Love And Death'.  I'd read the latter's blog before, some years ago, but had forgotten about it until this reminder.  Thanks, Borepatch!  It's worth renewing my acquaintance with his writing.

# # #

That's all for this week.  More soon.


Headline of the day

From the Telegraph, London, comes this report:

Men banned from becoming Queen as 700 years of law redrafted ahead of gay marriage

Men are to be banned from becoming Queen or Princess of Wales as part of an unprecedented effort to rewrite more than 700 years of law to prevent unintended consequences of gay marriage.

There's more at the link.

A man as Queen?  Heh.  There was a comedy program on the BBC in the 1970's and early 1980's called 'Not The Nine O'Clock News'.  At some point I recall listening to its spoof version of Shakespeare's Macbeth (which was quite hysterical).  The dialogue between Macbeth, Banquo and the Three Witches on the blasted heath included this gem:

Chief Witch to Banquo:  Thou shalt not be King, but thou shalt be royal.

Banquo (falsetto):  Ooh - I'm going to be Queen!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

The strangeness of some internet reviews

Now that my third SF novel has been published, I've taken the time to go back and read through the couple of hundred comments my books have attracted over time.  I don't even mind the low-star reviews, provided that the reviewer makes his case and supports his points with evidence.  I really benefit from such reviews, as I read and re-read them and take them into account when writing the next book.  I did that with reviews of the first two volumes of the Maxwell Saga, and with beta reader feedback, when I delayed the publication of 'Adapt and Overcome' for two months to allow me to improve my character development and tighten up the plot and storyline.  I hope and trust you, dear readers, have found it an improvement;  and rest assured, I'll try to make Book Four better than Book Three in its turn.

Some reviews, however, are downright strange.  There's the reader who claimed he bought a copy of my first book 'at a discount but it was worth far less'.  If he didn't like it, fair enough - but my book had never been on sale at a discount when he made that comment!  Another reviewer of my first book was outraged at my description of a fork penetrating the hand of one character.  He found it completely unbelievable.  Unfortunately, that's one of the many incidents in all my books that's actually based on fact!  There are multiple eye-witnesses to its reality.  Another comment on my latest book caught my eye this evening.  The reader (?) complained that 'Some editing is still needed in places as there are obvious typos and grammar issues'.  Fair enough, if true:  but I've had a number of reviewers comment that one reason they like my books is that there are so few 'typos and grammar issues'.  In the latest book, to which this reviewer is referring, I've had no complaints whatsoever about its copy-editing - until today, at any rate.

Such problems aren't limited to my books, of course.  Most authors who've been published for a while have similar stories of reviews that appear to miss the point, or beg the question, or leave something else to be desired.  There are even some actively destructive reviewers out there.  Miss D. informs me that on Kindle Boards, where many independent authors hang out in the Writers' Cafe sub-forum, there's a well-known phenomenon.  There are 'lurkers' who watch for authors posting details of their sales figures.  As soon as someone posts a sales success story, within a day or so one or more one-star reviews will appear on their books' Amazon pages.  Someone on Kindle Boards was interested enough to do some research on this, and the pattern is inescapable.  One can only conclude that some lurkers out there are jealous of success, and determined to undermine it in any way possible.  Why, I have no idea . . .

Oh, well.  I can't account for such issues.  All I can say is, if you've read my book(s), I'll be very grateful if you'll please leave reviews on their Amazon pages.  It helps other prospective readers to assess whether or not they'll find them interesting;  and whether you liked it/them or not, your comments will help me to write better in future.  Everybody wins!


Ukraine: murky moral terrain indeed

I'm sure many readers have been following developments in the Ukraine with interest.  The latest seems to be that the pro-European demonstrators have driven the pro-Russian President out of the capital.  He's taken refuge in his political stronghold, from where he's probably going to threaten all sorts of nastiness.  The possibility of civil war is very real (that is, if you don't think what's been happening all last week already qualifies as civil war).

Trouble is, both sides in this dispute have issues that make the situation less than clear-cut.  Both are trying to impose their will on the other.  There's no clear national consensus in the Ukraine about the future;  just an equally divided nation that can't make up its collective mind.  That goes all the way back to early Communist times.  Most ethnic Ukrainians have never forgotten (nor forgiven) the Holodomor, the deliberate starving to death of millions of their countrymen under Stalin.  Partly as a result of that massacre, millions of Ukrainians welcomed the Nazi invaders as liberators during World War II, and rejoiced as they drove out the Communists.  There were even enough Ukrainian volunteers to form an ethnic Waffen SS division.  However, Nazi racial policy led to atrocities in Ukraine, compounded by horrendous reprisals as Soviet forces regained control of the territory in 1944.  The territory's infrastructure was almost completely destroyed.

Following World War II, the Soviet Union followed a deliberate policy of settling ethnic Russians in western Ukraine as a way to dilute nationalist sentiment there.  Heavy industry was developed in that region as well, particularly military production facilities.  In the eastern part of the territory, ethnic Ukrainians continued to dominate, along with others from eastern European cultures such as Poland, Galicia, etc.  This divide is what's visible today in the fighting in Ukraine;  the western parts of the state are pro-European, while the eastern parts are heavily pro-Russian.

Unfortunately, under Communism a small technocratic elite developed who basically ran the nation under orders from Moscow, and received privileges and benefits in return for their co-operation and acquiescence.  That elite fractured with the coming of independence, some trying to run things in a pro-Western way, others trying to do the same in a pro-Russian way.  They're still at it.  The current President is a pro-Moscow technocrat.  The woman who looks set to replace him (at least temporarily) is a pro-European technocrat.  I'm not sure either is particularly competent, or particularly worthwhile as a ruler.  The ordinary man and woman in the street is probably regarded as 'cannon fodder' by both sets of technocrats - tools to be used, then discarded and ignored.  That's why electoral violence has been endemic in Ukraine for the last decade or more.  The people don't want to be discarded or ignored, but they can't find leaders who'll take that to heart.

Of course, there's more to it than simply ethnic loyalties and alliances.  Although I disagree with her dismissal of ethnic factors in the conflict, the Telegraph's Anne Applebaum makes a strong case for her analysis.

Appearances to the contrary, the conflict we are witnessing is not an atavistic, ethno-linguistic struggle between Russians and Ukrainians, or some kind of tussle between street thugs and police. There are no ancient ethnic rivalries at stake.

It is not even clear that the Ukrainian political struggle is really just a geographic dispute, as it is so often characterised, between the more “European” western half of the country and the more “Russian” East.

On the contrary, this is a political conflict, and one which is not that hard to understand. On the one side are Ukrainians (both Russian and Ukrainian-speaking) who want to live in a “European” democracy with human rights and rule of law, one which is genuinely integrated with the European Union and the rest of the world. The supporters of this “European” option include students, pacifists, gay and environmental activists, as well as Right-wing nationalists and people motivated by memories of the terrible crimes that Stalin carried out in Ukraine 80 years ago.

On the other side are Ukrainians (also both Russian and Ukrainian-speaking) who support an undemocratic, oligarchic regime which is politically and economically dependent on Russia, more cut off from the European Union, and affiliated instead with the customs union controlled from Moscow.

Some of this regime’s supporters are the tiny elite who have made such massive profits from Ukrainian corruption, and who have famously purchased some of London’s most expensive homes (and, if rumours are correct, may have rapidly taken up residence in them this week).

Others without such wealth may fear the violent extremists they have seen on the television news, and the forces of general disorder. Still others may fear that even a trade agreement with Europe would entail deep reforms and economic changes, threatening their jobs.

Either way, this is not a fight over which language to speak or even over who controls Kiev’s main square. Historical allegiances are not an issue, either. Though both get bandied about, neither the word “fascist” nor the word “communist” is correctly applied to either side.

On the contrary, the fighting on the street this week was the latest manifestation of a deep national disagreement over the nature of the Ukrainian state, the shape of Ukraine’s economy, the status of the legal system, the country’s membership of international organisations. This is a legitimate political argument, and ultimately it can only have a political solution.

There's more at the link.  Worthwhile reading.

By all means, let's keep the people of Ukraine in our thoughts and prayers.  They're going through hell over there, and there's no guarantee this won't slip into full-scale civil war (or, worse, military intervention by Russia, which would destroy all hope of Ukrainian unity for generations to come).  That, in turn, might drag Europe and Russia to the brink of a conflict that can have no winners in the long term.


Farming - and more - with robots

I was intrigued to come across this video clip of a lettuce thinning robot at work.

I've written before about the many low-level jobs that are being automated out of existence.  In these pages we've already looked at machines making burgers, juice smoothies and other fast-food products.  After viewing the above video, I did a YouTube search and found many other video clips about robots in farming.  Most are still experimental, but it looks like in a decade or two, many of the low-level jobs in that field will have been replaced by machines.

Nor is farm work the only area under threat.  The Atlantic reported recently:

A new paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne calculated the odds of "computerization" for the 600+ jobs that the BLS tracks. They range from 96% automatable (office secretaries) to 0.9% (registered nurses). Here are the ten fastest-growing jobs and the odds that robots and software eat them:

  1. Personal care aides: 74%
  2. Registered nurses: 0.9%
  3. Retail salespersons: 92%
  4. Combined food prep & serving workers: 92%
  5. Home health aides: 39%
  6. Physician assistant: 9%
  7. Secretaries and admin assistants: 96%
  8. Customer service representatives: 55%
  9. Janitors and cleaners: 66%
  10. Construction workers: 71%

These ten occupations account for 3.85 million projected jobs in the next ten years, or 25 percent of the decade's projected job haul. And six of them are at least two-thirds automatable, based on researchers' projections of current computing power.

There's more at the link.

Something to think about when planning your kids' educations . . . or what you might want to do when you retire.  Many part- and full-time jobs we take for granted today probably won't be there in future.


Looks like an interesting place to land . . .

. . . and a good way to speed up your heart rate!  This video was taken at and around the airport at Saint Barthélemy in the French West Indies.

You know, if a tallish vehicle were passing as one of those aircraft came in, it might get knocked over by the landing gear!


Friday, February 21, 2014

Dogs go to war - by parachute

Der Spiegel has a very interesting article about a British parachute regiment during World War II that trained dogs to parachute into action alongside its soldiers.  It calls them 'Britain's Luftwoofe'.

During World War II, the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion started an adventurous experiment as it prepared for D-Day: enlisting dogs into their ranks. The so-called "paradogs" (short for "parachuting dogs") were specifically trained to perform tasks such as locating mines, keeping watch and warning about enemies. As a side job, they also served as something of a mascot for the two-legged troops.

. . .

Training began with getting the dogs used to loud noises. At the base in Larkhill Garrison, the dog handlers had the dogs sit for hours on transport aircraft with their propellers spinning. They also trained the dogs to identify the smell of explosives and gunpowder in addition to familiarizing them with possible battlefield scenarios, such as what to do if their master was captured, how to track down enemy soldiers and how to behave during firefights.

Training on the ground lasted roughly two months. But then the dogs started what wasn't part of the training of the other search dogs in the war: parachuting maneuvers.

The dogs' slim bodies proved to be advantageous because, during their test jumps, they could use the parachutes that had actually been designed to carry bicycles. In order to make it easier to get the dogs to jump out of the aircraft, they weren't given anything to drink or eat beforehand. On April 2, 1944, Bailey wrote in his notebook about the first jump with the female Alsatian Ranee. He notes that he carried with him a 2-pound piece of meat, and that the dog sat at his heels eagerly watching as the men at the front of the line jumped out of the plane.

Then it was their time to jump, which Bailey describes in this way:

"After my chute developed, I turned to face the line of flight; the dog was 30 yards away and slightly above. The chute had opened and was oscillating slightly. (Ranee) looked somewhat bewildered but showed no sign of fear. I called out and she immediately turned in my direction and wagged her tail vigorously. The dog touched down 80 feet before I landed. She was completely relaxed, making no attempt to anticipate or resist the landing, rolled over once, scrambled to her feet and stood looking round. I landed 40 feet from her and immediately ran to her, released her and gave her the feed."

Jump, land, eat: With each training jump, the dogs started enjoying their job more. In fact, the dogs sometimes allowed themselves to be thrown out of the planes or leapt out without any coaxing.

. . .

In what followed, as one soldier in the 13th Battalion later noted, Bing and the other dogs proved to be very useful, especially for locating mines and booby traps. "They would sniff excitedly over it for a few seconds and then sit down looking back at the handler with a quaint mixture of smugness and expectancy," he wrote, noting that the dogs would then be rewarded with a treat. "The dogs also helped on patrols by sniffing out enemy positions and personnel, hence saving many Allied lives," he added.

There's more at the link.  There's also an interesting photo gallery, including this picture of what may have been one of the first dogs to 'jump' (or be thrown) from a plane by parachute.

No one can say for sure who the first dog to parachute was. This undated photo (most likely from between 1920 and 1924) shows members of the Colorado Air National Guard with dog Jeff, wearing his parachute. After making several successful jumps, he was killed in August 1924, when his chute failed to open.

There are more pictures at the link.  Interesting stuff.

The article was inspired by an amateur history of the 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion during World War II.  It's apparently well-written enough that it attracted interest all the way into Germany.  I wonder how many stories like that remain untold, those who could have told them now lost to us through the passage of time?


Guess where all the QE money is going?

If you haven't yet read Matthew Taibbi's latest exposé for Rolling Stone magazine, 'The Vampire Squid Strikes Again: The Mega Banks' Most Devious Scam Yet', you really need to make time to do so.  It shows more clearly than anything else I've read just where all the excess liquidity that the Fed keeps pumping into the markets under the label 'Quantitative Easing' is ending up.  Here's an excerpt.

Most observers on the Hill thought the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 – also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act – was just the latest and boldest in a long line of deregulatory handouts to Wall Street that had begun in the Reagan years.

. . .

A tiny provision in the bill also permitted commercial banks to delve into any activity that is "complementary to a financial activity and does not pose a substantial risk to the safety or soundness of depository institutions or the financial system generally."

Complementary to a financial activity. What the hell did that mean?

"From the perspective of the banks," says Saule Omarova, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, "pretty much everything is considered complementary to a financial activity."

. . .

Today, banks like Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs own oil tankers, run airports and control huge quantities of coal, natural gas, heating oil, electric power and precious metals. They likewise can now be found exerting direct control over the supply of a whole galaxy of raw materials crucial to world industry and to society in general, including everything from food products to metals like zinc, copper, tin, nickel and, most infamously thanks to a recent high-profile scandal, aluminum.

. . .

... banks aren't just buying stuff, they're buying whole industrial processes. They're buying oil that's still in the ground, the tankers that move it across the sea, the refineries that turn it into fuel, and the pipelines that bring it to your home. Then, just for kicks, they're also betting on the timing and efficiency of these same industrial processes in the financial markets – buying and selling oil stocks on the stock exchange, oil futures on the futures market, swaps on the swaps market, etc.

Allowing one company to control the supply of crucial physical commodities, and also trade in the financial products that might be related to those markets, is an open invitation to commit mass manipulation. It's something akin to letting casino owners who take book on NFL games during the week also coach all the teams on Sundays.

The situation has opened a Pandora's box of horrifying new corruption possibilities, but it's been hard for the public to notice, since regulators have struggled to put even the slightest dent in Wall Street's older, more familiar scams. In just the past few years we've seen an explosion of scandals – from the multitrillion-dollar Libor saga (major international banks gaming world interest rates), to the more recent foreign-currency-exchange fiasco (many of the same banks suspected of rigging prices in the $5.3-trillion-a-day currency markets), to lesser scandals involving manipulation of interest-rate swaps, and gold and silver prices.

But those are purely financial schemes. In these new, even scarier kinds of manipulations, banks that own whole chains of physical business interests have been caught rigging prices in those industries. For instance, in just the past two years, fines in excess of $400 million have been levied against both JPMorgan Chase and Barclays for allegedly manipulating the delivery of electricity in several states, including California. In the case of Barclays, which is contesting the fine, regulators claim prices were manipulated to help the bank win financial bets it had made on those same energy markets.

And last summer, The New York Times described how Goldman Sachs was caught systematically delaying the delivery of metals out of a network of warehouses it owned in order to jack up rents and artificially boost prices.

There's much more at the link.  Go read it.  It'll make it clear why the Fed and the banks will do anything they can - anything they have to - to keep kicking the fiscal and budgetary can down the road, rather than address the enormous systemic problems currently affecting our economy.  If they did address them, their opportunity for such windfall profits and control over so much of the world's economy would slip away.  They'll fight that tooth and nail.

When the economy finally crumbles, this sort of greedy manipulation will be a big part of the reason.  We'll just have to make sure that those responsible for it are held accountable in any way possible.  It's almost a foregone conclusion that they'll never be charged with any wrongdoing - after all, they control the national purse strings - so we'll have to find other ways to do so.  Tar and feathers are the least of the remedies that come to mind . . .