Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I hate to say "I told you so!" . . .

. . . but I did.  In March.  And I've been repeating it since then, most recently last month.  Now it's here.

A patient at a Dallas hospital has tested positive for Ebola, the first case of the disease to be diagnosed in the United States, federal health officials announced Tuesday.

The patient was in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, which had announced a day earlier that the person’s symptoms and recent travel indicated a possible case of Ebola, the virus that has killed more than 3,000 people across West Africa and infected a handful of Americans who have traveled to that region.

The person, an adult who was not publicly identified, developed symptoms days after returning to Texas from Liberia and showed no symptoms on the plane, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said the patient came to the U.S. to visit family and has been hospitalized since the weekend.

There's more at the link.

The victim has been staying with family, so the odds are pretty darn good that at least one or two of them may have been infected.  He may have had contact with hundreds or even thousands of people - fellow passengers on the plane that brought him;  everyone he's brushed against while walking in the street, or shopping at a supermarket, or sharing an elevator;  everyone he's eaten with, or shared a restaurant with, or . . . you get the idea.  Even if he never touched them, but sneezed or coughed in their vicinity (thereby dispersing droplets of body fluid), they're at risk.  Furthermore, the odds are pretty good that some people who've had contact with the victim are now in other cities besides Dallas.  They'll have flown somewhere, or driven somewhere, or taken the bus or train somewhere.  Are they carrying the infection?  Your guess is as good as mine.

People, I can't emphasize this too strongly.


There isn't even an effective palliative treatment for Ebola.  The only thing they can do for you is isolate you, give you lots of liquids and enough food to stay alive, and hope for the best.  Furthermore, there are only four hospitals in the entire United States that have the specialized isolation units required to handle Ebola patients.  Better by far to avoid infection than to hope you'll survive a disease that, in this outbreak so far, has killed more than half of those who contracted it.

I recommended some time ago that it might be a good idea to stock up on pathogen-filtering surgical masks and nitrile examination gloves.  I'd also suggest laying in a supply of bleach (which, mixed with water, is a standard disinfectant measure), hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.  I repeat those recommendations again, with a rider to buy them NOW.  At the moment they're all freely available.  Once we have a few more cases, particularly after one occurs in a city other than Dallas . . . they won't be.  Furthermore, follow the guidelines to avoid infection.  They're sound common sense.


EDITED TO ADD:  And now they tell us the patient first came to the ER with symptoms on September 26th, but went home (or, in other words, was allowed to go home).  He was re-admitted to hospital and isolated on the 28th after testing positive for Ebola.  WTF???  If he showed symptoms on the 26th, he'd have tested positive on the 26th.  Given the deadly nature of the disease, why did no-one in the ER put two and two together and realize what his symptoms might indicate?  Why did no-one take a detailed medical and travel history and figure out what he might be carrying?  And where did he go, and with whom did he have contact, during those two days?  He sure as hell was infectious during that time!!!  They can start by checking every single person who was in the ER with him on the 26th, staff and patients alike . . .


This is more than a little gross.  The Telegraph reports:

Doctors treating a teenage girl who had become unable to drink water without being sick were shocked to excavate a gigantic nine-pound hairball from inside her stomach.

Ayperi Alekseeva, 18, from Kyrgyzstan, suffered months of dehydration and malnourishment because she couldn’t eat or drink, and came close to death.

But when doctors in the capital city of Bishkek cut open her stomach, they found a giant mass formed from years of eating her own hair and hair picked up from the floor.

Ms Alekseeva will be go home with her parents at the end of the week, and has promised to stop chewing on her hair.

There's more at the link.

Ye Gods and little fishes . . .


This is an economic must-read

I know many of my readers aren't economists, and don't like to wade through turgid reams of economic documentation.  Nevertheless, I want to highlight the importance of the 16th Geneva Report, titled 'Deleveraging? What Deleveraging?' (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format), produced by the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies.

I mentioned it on Sunday, and I've been going through the 125-page report since then.  It makes truly appalling reading.  I don't propose to quote from it at length.  It really needs to be read in full and in context to make sense.  However, I will put up half a dozen graphics from the report, reduced in size to fit here.  If a picture tells a story, these are a horror movie.

As the Telegraph headlined its analysis (yesterday) about the report: 'Mass default looms as world sinks beneath a sea of debt'.  Go read the Telegraph's perspective for a concise view, or (highly recommended) make the time to download the full report and read the whole thing.  It's worth it.

I'll give the Telegraph the last word.  Bold print is my emphasis.

The only way the world can keep growing, it would appear, is by piling on debt. Not good, not good at all.

There are those that say it doesn’t matter, or that rising debt is merely a manifestation of economic growth. And in the sense that all debt is notionally backed by assets, this may be partially true. But when rising asset prices are merely the flip side of rising levels of debt, it becomes highly problematic. Eventually, it dawns on the creditors that the debtors cannot keep up with the payments. That’s when you get a financial crisis.


The 'death' of shop class?

I wasn't raised in the USA's educational system, so many aspects of it seem strange to me - getting academic credit for learning to drive, civics classes, stuff like that.  Nevertheless, one thing I've often heard mentioned by my local contemporaries-in-age is the fun they had in 'shop class' - a catch-all phrase covering vehicle maintenance, welding, woodwork, simple home and farm repairs, and anything else covered in a practical, 'this-is-how-you-do-it' manner using tools and basic materials.  It sounded similar to (although more comprehensive than) the woodwork classes I took in the equivalent of the eighth, ninth and tenth grade, teaching us to work safely with the tools associated with carpentry.  I wish there'd been some vehicle maintenance, welding and other useful skills thrown in, but in South Africa those weren't on the standard school curriculum.  (If you went to a technical high school, on the other hand, you got a lot more of that sort of thing.)

I'm therefore both saddened and infuriated to read that in many states, 'shop class' is going away because of the time demanded to teach more politically correct subjects.  Forbes has an interesting article on the subject.  Here's an excerpt.

Shop classes are being eliminated from California schools due to the University of California/California State ‘a-g’ requirements. ‘The intent of the ‘a-g’ subject requirements is to ensure that students can participate fully in the first-year program at the University in a wide variety of fields of study.’  (a) History/Social Science (b) English (c) Mathematics (d) Laboratory Science (e) Language other than English (f) Visual and Performing Arts (g) College Preparatory Elective Courses ... Shop class is not included in the requirements, thereby not valued and schools consider the class a burden to support.

. . .

The UC/CA State system focuses on theory and not applied skills; a belief that learning how to swing a hammer or understand the difference between a good joint from a bad joint is part of a by-gone era, and as a society these skills are not something to strive for – something people resort to when they are out of options.

. . .

75% of the students in California are not going to attend university yet they are taking classes that will help them get into UC and CA State schools. Just like there are people who are not inclined to become welders or machinists, not everyone can be a rocket scientist or a football star.

. . .

As shop teachers around California retire, high schools aren’t replacing them and shop classes are closing. There is no training for teachers going through university to learn how to teach shop. This trend isn’t limited to California, according to John Chocholak who has testified in front of California State Assembly and Congress on the subject of shop class, he is seeing shop class killed in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and many other states. Shop class is dead and so are the potential trades people that would be born out of that early exposure to a tool or machine.

What is America going to do without skilled workers who can build and fix things?

There's more at the link.

This ties in with Mike Rowe's efforts to promote apprenticeships and the trades, most recently on his Profoundly Disconnected Web site.  If young people are to graduate high school without even the basic proficiencies required to get into a trade school or qualify for an apprenticeship, what's that going to do to American industry?  (I note the existence of the Association for Career & Technical Education.  It appears to operate in many of the technical trade fields that are most in demand by industry;  but even there, I note that a number of non-technical fields such as HR, marketing, finance and administration have crept into its mission.  I'd have preferred to see it more strictly focused on technical trades as such, where the problem is most acute.  Still, it's their business, and I wish them every success at it.)

Of course, there's always the risk that automation and computerization might eliminate even technical jobs.  Taki's Magazine recently argued that 'Whatever blue-collar American jobs haven’t already been shipped overseas are rapidly being supplanted by embarrassingly more efficient hi-tech gizmos, thingamabobs, and doodads'.  However, I think such gizmos are more likely to be encountered on the assembly line than maintaining vehicles in the field, solving plumbing problems, and repairing electrical installations.  It would be cost-prohibitive to make and have on standby enough automated assistants to do all the day-to-day jobs currently undertaken by technicians and specialists - and then, who (or what) would maintain them in their turn?

I have to agree with the author of the Forbes article.  Without skilled workers, where are we going to find people who can fix things?  And if shop class goes away, what will that do to the already greatly diminished supply of candidates who want to learn to be skilled workers?


Monday, September 29, 2014

A fascinating musical rediscovery

I'm really excited to learn that a music text dating back to the boundary between the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance has been revived, and is about to be issued as a CD.  The Telegraph reports:

Choral music not heard since the time of Henry VIII has been brought to life for the first time in 500 years, as an academic unearths an untouched manuscript and shows it to a modern choir.

The manuscript, a book of 34 religious songs, was given to Henry VIII as a lavish gift from a French diplomat in his early reign.

Containing songs referencing Henry and his then-bride Catherine of Aragon, it is considered the most "luxurious" surviving diplomatic gift of its kind.

It remained in the Royal Collection after the king's death, and was later given to the nation by George II where it has remained untouched in the vaults of the British Library ever since.

Dr David Skinner, a Cambridge fellow, has now examined the manuscript for the first time in hundreds of years, before bringing the music back to life with ensemble choir featuring nine singers and period instruments.

Dr Skinner said the existence of the manuscript had been known to specialist scholars, but added no-one had ever studied it, leaving the parchment pages "white as snow" when he opened it.

Given to Henry VIII around 1516, it was tailor-made for the Royal couple and produced in the workshop of Petrus Alamire, a scribe and musician who went on to spy for the king.

There's more at the link.

For classical and choral music buffs, this is an extraordinary release.  Some of the material hasn't been heard, let alone recorded, for hundreds of years.  It's been performed in completely authentic style by Dr. Skinner's ensemble group Alamire, using traditional instruments of the period such as sackbuts and cornetts (the latter is fascinating, and not to be confused with the brass cornet).  If you'd like an example of how obsessive Dr. Skinner and Alamire are about musical authenticity, as well as some beautiful period singing, take a look at this video. It's a teaser for a 2009 TV series by David Starkey celebrating the 500th anniversary of the coronation of Henry VIII, who was probably the greatest single patron of English music.

Amazing stuff for enthusiasts.  I'm looking forward to their new CD.  (If you'd like to hear more of Alamire's music, check out David Skinner's YouTube channelBeautiful!)

You can pre-order the CD on Amazon;  it'll be released in mid-October.  I've got my order in already.


I wouldn't have believed it possible

I was astonished to read that experiments were conducted with a Convair B-36 strategic bomber landing and taking off on a tracked undercarriage.  This was tried because the very heavy bomber broke through several concrete runways with its original single-wheel main undercarriage, which concentrated its massive weight (for the day) on a single point per side.  As the National Museum of the USAF reports:

When the XB-36 was designed during World War II, specifications called for two main landing gear wheels to be equipped with the largest aircraft tires produced in the United States to that time. Manufactured by Goodyear, the tires were 110 inches in diameter and 36 inches in width. Weighing 1,320 pounds, each tire was 30 percent nylon cord construction, the equivalent of approximately 60 automobile tires or 12,700 pairs of nylon hose.

Because of the enormous pressures imposed by the XB-36 upon concrete runways when equipped with single wheels, it could takeoff and land safely at only three airfields (the Convair field at Fort Worth, Texas, Eglin and Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Fields). As a result, the single-wheel landing gear was redesigned and production B-36s incorporated four smaller wheels and tires on each of its main landing gears.

There's more at the link.  It was hoped that a tracked undercarriage would spread the weight more evenly, and also permit operation from semi-prepared landing strips.  You can read more about it here.

The system was first tested on March 29th, 1950.  Here's (silent) footage of the tests.

What surprises me is how they were able to make a tracked undercarriage unit that could withstand the strain of accelerating its track from a standstill to the B-36's landing speed of over a hundred miles per hour, without shedding its track or suffering internal damage.  That must have been a very robust track unit indeed!

Tracked undercarriage was also tested on other contemporary aircraft.  You can see pictures of them at the link.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Never Trust Anyone Who Hasn’t Been Punched in the Face"

I was intrigued to read an article with this title in Taki's Magazine.  Here's an excerpt.

The cause of civilizational decline is dirt-simple: lack of contact with objective reality. The great banker-journalist (and founder of the original National Review) Walter Bagehot said it well almost 150 years ago:

History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it.

Every great civilization reaches a point of prosperity where it is possible to live your entire life as a pacifist without any serious consequences. Many civilizations have come to the state of devolution represented by modern Berkeley folkways, from wife-swapping to vegetarianism. These ideas don’t come from a hardscrabble existence in contact with nature’s elemental forces; they are the inevitable consequence of being an effete urban twit removed from meaningful contact with reality. The over-civilized will try to portray their decadence as something “highly evolved” and worthy of emulation because it can only exist in the hothouse of highly civilized urban centers, much like influenza epidemics. Somehow these twittering blockheads missed out on what the word “evolution” means. Evolution involves brutal and often violent natural selection, and these people have not been exposed to brutal evolutionary forces any more than a typical urban poodle.

. . .

Men who have fought know how difficult it is to stand against the crowd and that civilization is fragile and important. A man who has experienced violence knows that, at its core, civilization is an agreement between men to behave well. That agreement can be broken at any moment; it’s part of manhood to be ready when it is. Men who have been in fights know about something that is rarely spoken of without snickering these days: honor. Men who have been in fights know that, on some level, words are just words: At some point, words must be backed up by deeds.

. . .

Modern “civilized” males don’t get in fistfights. They don’t play violent sports. They play video games and, at best, watch TV sports. Modern males are physical and emotional weaklings. The ideal male isn’t John Wayne or James Bond or Jimmy Stewart anymore. It’s some crying tit that goes to a therapist, a sort of agreeable lesbian with a dick who calls the police (whom he hates in theory) when there is trouble.

There's more at the link.

I'm not sure that I altogether agree with the author.  My own life experience has shown me that one doesn't have to be a rootin' tootin' fist-fightin' man to be strong.  Examples:

  • The missionary priest in Africa who faced down a mob of armed guerillas intent on committing murder, rape and robbery upon his flock. He shamed them by standing in the middle of the road in his priestly robes, calling the ones he knew by name, reminding them of their naughtiness as little children in his Catechism classes, and asking them whether they really wanted to harm their younger brothers and sisters.  They decided they didn't, and slunk off with their metaphorical tails between their legs.
  • Two sisters who were gang-raped while trying to help the victims of violence in an African township. They returned to the same township as soon as they had recovered from their injuries. When the locals couldn't believe that they'd be so foolish as to risk the same treatment again, they said simply that God had commanded them to forgive those who persecuted them;  so they had done so, and would not report them to the police, but would continue to help those who needed them.  This so shamed the thugs who'd raped them that they had to leave town.  They didn't dare show their faces there again.
  • Courage takes many forms.  Consider the courage shown by Sabra and Erik in the birth and death of their latest child, about which I wrote on Saturday.  If that's not courage of a very high order indeed, I don't know what is . . .

On the other hand, I do agree with the author that 'civilizational decline', as he puts it, tends to be associated with a 'wussification' of that civilization.  Conscription was the first sign of this;  there were not enough volunteers to defend a nation, so its citizens had to be coerced.  Later, that developed into the much smaller volunteer armies we see today. They are no longer representative of the vast majority of their fellow citizens, many of whom would rather flee across the border than face up to military service.  As Robert Heinlein famously put it in his 'Notebooks of Lazarus Long':

No state has an inherent right to survive through conscript troops and, in the long run, no state ever has. Roman matrons used to say to their sons: “Come back with your shield, or on it.” Later on this custom declined. So did Rome.

I've noticed the difference in my own friends and acquaintances.  Those who've willingly put their lives on the line for their countries, or to defend their loved ones in dangerous situations, have a different way of looking at the world than those who haven't.  That's not to condemn the latter at all, you understand.  It's just that once one's had to face up to the reality of 'kill or be killed', to quote the old aphorism, it changes you.  You're never the same person again.

What do you think, readers?  What counter-arguments would you offer, if any?  Read the whole article, then let us know in Comments.


I guess 'Industrial Disease' is now an official diagnosis

The International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies isn't pulling any punches in its latest annual Geneva Report.  The Financial Times reports:

The 16th annual Geneva Report ... predicts interest rates across the world will have to stay low for a “very, very long” time to enable households, companies and governments to service their debts and avoid another crash.

The warning, before the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting in Washington next week, comes amid growing concern that a weakening global recovery is coinciding with the possibility that the US Federal Reserve will begin to raise interest rates within a year.

. . .

... the report documents the continued rapid rise of public sector debt in rich countries and private debt in emerging markets, especially China.

It warns of a “poisonous combination of high and rising global debt and slowing nominal GDP [gross domestic product], driven by both slowing real growth and falling inflation”.

The total burden of world debt, private and public, has risen from 160 per cent of national income in 2001 to almost 200 per cent after the crisis struck in 2009 and 215 per cent in 2013.

. . .

Luigi Buttiglione, one of the report’s authors and head of global strategy at hedge fund Brevan Howard, said: “Over my career I have seen many so-called miracle economies – Italy in the 1960s, Japan, the Asian tigers, Ireland, Spain and now perhaps China – and they all ended after a build-up of debt.”

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

I've written about the problem of debt many times in these pages.  It's . . . well, it's not exactly 'nice' to see it being re-emphasized in the financial media, but it's somehow grimly satisfying.  There are still those who argue that debt's not a problem for sovereign nations because they can print the money to repay it, or replace 'old debt' with 'new debt', or inflate it out of existence, or even simply refuse to repay it . . . but we're not hearing so much of their idiocy any more.  People are waking up to reality.

Business order, industrial counter-order and economic disorder . . . I think Dire Straits got it right in 1982.

Was it really more than thirty years ago that they released that albumDamn, I'm getting old . . .


In memoriam: Werner Franz of the Hindenburg

I note in the Telegraph's obituary column that Werner Franz, the last survivor of the crew of the Hindenburg airship, died recently.

As a 14-year-old cabin boy, Werner Franz was the youngest member of the Hindenburg’s 60-strong crew when the hydrogen-filled Zeppelin caught fire and crashed at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6 1937. Of the 97 people on board, 36 passengers and crew and one person on the ground were killed when the airship crashed in an enormous fireball.

. . .

He had been clearing the dinner dishes in the officer’s mess when, at 7.25pm, he heard a thud and felt the airship shake. The Hindenburg lurched, and its nose began tilting upwards. “Directly overhead there were flames,” Werner Franz remembered.

One memorable photograph of the disaster shows the airship buckling as a fireball rises from its back. Near the nose of the ship, what looks like a spray of water escaping was actually a torrent from the Hindenburg’s ruptured water tanks. Werner Franz believed that getting drenched when they burst protected him from the flames and heat and may have saved his life.

(Click the image for a larger view)

“At first I was shocked, but the water brought me back,” he recalled at a commemoration ceremony in 2004. Gripping both sides of a picture window as the airship sank towards the ground, he kicked open a service hatch used to load provisions, swung his feet out and jumped. He can be seen in newsreel footage of the disaster, leaping the few feet to the ground, and running for his life. “I was doing it instinctively. I didn’t think,” he said.

His timing could hardly have been better. The airship was just low enough to allow Franz to land on a canvas ballast bag, which cushioned his fall, but high enough for him to dash beneath the port side of the airship before it collapsed on the ground in a burning mass. Having jumped clear of the Hindenburg, Franz ran for his life away from the blazing wreckage, as the flames were driven in his direction by the wind. As a result he escaped with singed eyebrows and soaking wet clothes; otherwise he had barely a scratch.

The day after the disaster, as a US Navy search team picked through the smoking wreckage, Werner Franz asked them to look for his pocket-watch, a present from his grandfather. It was found amid the debris, a mangled scrap of blackened metal but still ticking.

There's more at the link.

Apparently one of the passengers on board the Hindenburg, Werner Doehner (who was 8 years old at the time), is still alive in California.  However, Mr. Franz was the last survivor of the crew.  May he rest in peace.


General Motors: 29 million reasons not to buy their vehicles

Ever since the politically manipulated, ethically flawed and legally dubious bailout of the US motor vehicle industry, I've said flatly that I'll never buy another new GM or Chrysler vehicle.  That hasn't changed.  However, there also appear to be other reasons not to buy GM vehicles.

Last week an acquaintance took delivery of a new pickup from one of General Motors' brands.  Two days later it died during his morning commute, coasting to a halt in the middle of rush-hour traffic.  Fortunately he was able to signal his need to get off the road, and other drivers made an opening so he could pull off to the side.  It turned out that there were several recall notices affecting his brand-new pickup, none of which appeared to have been rectified before the salesman handed over the keys.  One of them appears to have been responsible for his problem - but the dealer has refused (so far) to refund the towing charge to get the vehicle from where it broke down to its service premises.  Needless to say, his comments on the subject, and on the dealer, are incendiary.  (I suspect the subject is far from closed.)

Upon hearing his tale of woe, I did some research.  During 2014 General Motors has recalled over 29 million vehicles in North America alone.  It's been fined $35 million for delays in issuing the recalls, and has set up a fund to compensate those injured or killed as a result of defects in its vehicles.  Last month it appeared that at least 19 deaths were 'eligible for compensation', out of 445 claims lodged so far and in the process of adjudication.  Meanwhile the recalls continue, the most recent one occurring just last month and affecting upwards of a hundred thousand vehicles.  (Time compiled a list of interesting facts about GM's 2014 recalls that make grim reading.)

As part of my ongoing saga of dealing with my pickup's electrical problems (although it's not a GM product), last week I took it in to an auto electrical specialist to let them run extensive diagnostic tests.  They didn't find the answers I'd been hoping for, but I took the opportunity to have a long talk with one of their technicians about which used cars were worth buying today, particularly in the light of my acquaintance's problems with his new pickup.  The tech gave me a lot of interesting facts from a professional perspective, but one thing he said struck home.  He said that in his opinion, any US- or Canadian-built GM vehicle made since about 2005 generally wasn't worth buying.  He believed that the company's assembly lines had been run in a careless, slapdash manner, with all sorts of component and build quality defects that he'd encountered time and time again when he repaired problems resulting from or caused by them.  As far as he was concerned he'd buy older (pre-2005) GM vehicles, or ones that he'd checked out personally and could be sure that their problems were fixed;  but unless I had the technical ability to do that, I shouldn't buy one, new or used.

He added that GM wasn't the only car company making poor products these days.  He advised me to read customer feedback about their vehicles at the Car Complaints Web site, and to pay particular attention to their 'Worst Vehicles' list.  He said it's an invaluable resource when deciding what (and what not) to buy.  I've only taken a quick look at it so far, but it certainly seems to live up to his claims.

Food for thought.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

It's hard to keep a good man down . . .

. . . or should that be "good to keep a hard man down" - or up, as the case may be?

Readers will recall that a few days ago, I mentioned an Australian 'brothel investigator' whose job was to visit suspected illegal brothels, partake of their sexual services, then file a report to the authorities.  It seems that the news report generated more than a little interest.  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

In the past three years a 60-year-old man from Lyonswood Investigations was hired by 10 Sydney councils to have sex with sex workers and help strengthen their legal case against underground operators.

After Lyonswood managing director Lachlan Jarvis revealed last week he was on the lookout for recruits more than 20 resumes arrived from men hoping to land the role.

"It is evident from the responses that everyone has a different idea of what is needed to succeed in the job," Mr Jarvis said.

. . .

Of the applications received last week the "pick of the bunch" had arrived from an "older applicant" who spoke of how he visited brothels before getting married "many decades ago".

"He asked whether needing to be helped into bed would be held against him in the selection process and ... whether the council would pay for his Viagra," said Mr Jarvis.

There's more at the link.

Hmm . . . would 'lifting an aged brothel investigator into bed' count as a sufficiently sexual service if he didn't have ratepayer-funded Viagra to finish the job?


A tragedy, a death, and a plea for help

Two fellow bloggers could really use your prayers and support right now - and your financial help, if you can afford it.

Sabra, wife of Erik Onstott, became pregnant some months ago, and they were looking forward to the birth of their next child.  Tragically, they learned that the baby suffered from limb-body wall complex (LBWC), an unsurvivable genetic defect. The child could not live outside the womb.  Sabra described the shock of the discovery here, and Erik wrote about it here.  It's heartbreaking to read their articles, but they're a vivid testimony of faith in the face of unbearable news.

With what I can only describe as heroic courage, bolstered by their strong Christian faith, Eric and Sabra decided to carry the child to term and give it all the love they could in the short time it would live.  Not being able to tell whether it was a boy or a girl (due to the extent of its deformity), they decided to name it Psalm-Angel Guadalupe.

The child was born last Wednesday, and lived for only an hour and a half.  During that time they gave him/her all the love that they could, and entrusted his/her life to the Creator when it was over.  Erik posted a number of pictures on his blog.  I hope he won't mind if I re-post this one.

I mourn with them for their loss, and pray that they may find comfort in their faith.  If you'd like to leave a message of support on Erik's blog post, I'm sure they'd appreciate it.

Even more than verbal, moral or spiritual support, they could use a little material support right now.  During the pregnancy they were forced to move out of their rented home, and they've had further troubles since then.  There are also the expenses of giving birth, interrupting their work, and so on.  Friends have set up a YouCaring donation page for them, which gives more details of their needs.  As of this morning it was still several thousand dollars below the initial fundraising target of $7,500 (which was determined some time ago, and may by now be inadequate).

If you're able to contribute, I'm sure they'd be very grateful for your financial support.  Miss D. and I have done so, and we'd like to ask all our readers, and all our fellow bloggers, to consider donating whatever you can to help them.  Thanks to everyone, and God's blessings to Erik and Sabra.

May Psalm-Angel Guadalupe, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Bendgate - The Revenge!

I had to laugh at these 'advertisements' circulating on Twitter and the Internet following the claim that Apple's new iPhone 6 and 6+ 'bend' if left in a tight trouser pocket.  The scandal's become widely known as 'Bendgate', despite Apple's denial that it's a major problem.

(I've no idea of where these images were sourced, so I can't provide attribution.  I've received them from several different readers today.)

I particularly liked the repair tool.


Getting your priorities right

I'd wondered why super-successful, world-famous investor Mohamed El-Erian had resigned from PIMCO earlier this year.  Turns out it was for a very good reason indeed.

A British-educated investor who quit his job as chief of the world’s biggest bond business has revealed he resigned after his 10-year old-daughter gave him a note citing 22 milestones in her life he had missed.

. . .

The 56-year-old, who is now Chief Economic Adviser at German insurer Allianz, Pimco’s parent company, told wealth management magazine Worth : “About a year ago, I asked my daughter several times to do something — brush her teeth, I think it was — with no success. I reminded her that it was not so long ago that she would have immediately responded, and I wouldn’t have had to ask her multiple times; she would have known from my tone of voice that I was serious.

“She asked me to wait a minute, went to her room and came back with a piece of paper. It was a list that she had compiled of her important events and activities that I had missed due to work commitments. Talk about a wake-up call.

“The list contained 22 items, from her first day at school and first soccer match of the season to a parent-teacher meeting and a Halloween parade. And the school year wasn’t yet over. I felt awful and got defensive: I had a good excuse for each missed event! Travel, important meetings, an urgent phone call, sudden to-do.

“But it dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point. As much as I could rationalize it — as I had rationalized it — my work-life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my very special relationship with my daughter. I was not making nearly enough time for her.”

Mr El-Erian’s punishing work hours as CEO of Pimco have been widely reported. Friends said on an average day his alarm clock went off at 2.45am. He then arrived at the office by 4.15am, returned home to his family about 7pm, before eating and going to bed around 8.45pm.

There's more at the link.

Some have sneered that it's easy for a man to do this - and afford it - when he managed a $1.9 trillion bond investment fund and had earned $100 million for himself last year alone . . . but I'm still glad to read it.  It shows that even super-tycoons can be human sometimes.  I find that refreshing.  I hope his example inspires others to do the same.

I can't help being reminded of a man whose taxes I used to do for him back in the 1980's.  He was a very successful businessman in South Africa, with a personal net worth of over R70 million (about $25-$30 million at that time) and earning several million more every year.  He worked 80+ hours every week, doing nothing but focus on making more money.  He had several expensive cars, two Mercedes-Benz, two BMW and a couple of others.  He had his own aircraft.  He kept the equivalent of $2-$3 million in the bank in cash at all times, just in case he felt like buying something.

He was also on his third marriage, and very unhappy in it.  He'd paid millions in divorce settlements to two previous wives.  His daughter was a prostitute to support her drug habit, and his son was a feckless layabout drug-user who'd been in trouble with the law on innumerable occasions for drinking, driving and the like.  He'd also fathered two kids on casual partners, for whom his father had again paid through the nose to hush up the scandal.

Had his success made this man happy?  Were his riches a blessing or a curse? Had they - and he personally - been a blessing or a curse to his kids?  You figure it out . . .


100 years of commercial aviation

The Telegraph has published a short picture gallery of milestones in the first 100 years of commercial aviation, which began in 1914 when a scheduled air service was established between St. Petersburg and Tampa in Florida.

Farman F.60 Goliath airliner, 1919

Ellen Church, world's first female flight attendant

Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat in 1939 (see also Weekend Wings #23)

There are more images at the link.  Interesting viewing for aviation history buffs.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

World's biggest, fastest paper plane?

I had to smile when I saw this.

I'm sure they didn't actually fold it out of paper . . . but I have this mental image of a team of people trying to fold a huge sheet of paper just so, and swearing fit to beat the band when someone falls on it and creases it!


Could nuclear power become cheaper than coal?

The Telegraph reports that new technology could enable nuclear power plants to undercut the costs of even coal-fired power stations in the not too distant future.

The cost of conventional nuclear power has spiralled to levels that can no longer be justified. All the reactors being built across the world are variants of mid-20th century technology, inherently dirty and dangerous, requiring exorbitant safety controls.

This is a failure of wit and will. Scientists in Britain, France, Canada, the US, China and Japan have already designed better reactors based on molten salt technology that promise to slash costs by half or more, and may even undercut coal. They are much safer, and consume nuclear waste rather than creating more. What stands in the way is a fortress of vested interests.

. . .

We have reached the end of the road for pressurised water reactors of any kind, whatever new features they boast. The business is not viable - even leaving aside the clean-up costs - and it makes little sense to persist in building them. A report by UBS said the latest reactors will be obsolete by within 10 to 20 years, yet Britain is locking in prices until 2060.

The Alvin Weinberg Foundation in London is tracking seven proposals across the world for molten salt reactors (MSRs) rather than relying on solid uranium fuel. Unlike conventional reactors, these operate at atmospheric pressure. They do not need vast reinforced domes. There is no risk of blowing off the top.

The reactors are more efficient. They burn up 30 times as much of the nuclear fuel and can run off spent fuel. The molten salt is inert so that even if there is a leak, it cools and solidifies. The fission process stops automatically in an accident. There can be no chain-reaction, and therefore no possible disaster along the lines of Chernobyl or Fukushima. That at least is the claim.

. . .

It would be hard to argue that any one of the molten salt technologies would be more expensive than arrays of wind turbines in the Atlantic. Indeed, there is a high likelihood that the best will prove massively cheaply on a kW/hour basis.

There's more at the link.

Back in 2011 I wrote about progress being made with thorium reactors.  It looks like things are moving right along in that field, and others too.  Our children may be very grateful for that one day.


Quote of the day

From 'Ultimaratioregis', one of the contributors at 'Bring The Heat, Bring The Stupid', concerning the resignation of US Attorney General Eric Holder:

Eric Holder is a malignant tumor to the liberties of a free people.  A race-baiting, gun-grabbing, lying, cheating, bullying Communist of the most corrosive ilk.  You can bet he is not going of his own accord, despite what his public proclamations might be.  Someone has something on him, big enough that Obama wants him under the bus, otherwise he would not be going anywhere.  No matter what it is, Holder can be guaranteed a Presidential pardon from Bath House Barry, or from Hillary Clinton, if we are faced with that particular catastrophe. Holder is an enemy of freedom, and of the Constitution.  He is without honor, without any redeeming value whatsoever.

Gee, Ultima, don't hold back - tell us how you really feel!

(Not that I disagree with him.  Considering Holder's legacy, one has to wonder whether he'll need a Presidential pardon to avoid prosecution . . . )


Bling to the max!

This gold Lamborghini Aventador with Saudi Arabian license plates has been swanning around the streets of Paris lately.  Some sources claim the finish is real gold leaf that's been layered on to the car;  others say it's merely paint (although I don't know how gold paint could be made to look so metallic and highly polished).  Whatever it is, it sure looks expensive!

Talk about conspicuous consumption . . . From a driver's point of view, I wouldn't want to drive an Aventador in Paris.  There's no way to take advantage of its performance on those narrow streets.  Of course, if all you want to do is look flashy to the locals . . .


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

These drivers have clearly never heard of co-operation

Here's an extended look at traffic trying to get through an intersection in China.  From the look of it, the drivers have never been taught that if you try to co-operate with each other, you'll get things done a lot faster . . .

Those stories of multiple-day-long traffic jams in and around some of China's major cities don't sound so far-fetched after watching that.


FBI moving to 9mm as its duty caliber

I've been interested to read about the FBI's decision to 'downsize' its duty caliber (i.e. the cartridge fired by the weapons that it issues to its agents) from .40 S&W to 9mm. Parabellum.

The gun blog Loose Rounds has published excerpts from what's described as an internal FBI document summarizing the reasons for the switch.  It includes these 'Executive Summary' points.

  • Caliber debates have existed in law enforcement for decades
  • Most of what is “common knowledge” with ammunition and its effects on the human target are rooted in myth and folklore
  • Projectiles are what ultimately wound our adversaries and the projectile needs to be the basis for the discussion on what “caliber” is best
  • In all the major law enforcement calibers there exist projectiles which have a high likelihood of failing LEO’s in a shooting incident and there are projectiles which have a high likelihood of succeeding for LEO’s in a shooting incident
  • Handgun stopping power is simply a myth [Note from Peter - I agree:  that's something I discussed in a previous series of articles]
  • The single most important factor in effectively wounding a human target is to have penetration to a scientifically valid depth (FBI uses 12” – 18”)
  • LEO’s miss between 70 – 80 percent of the shots fired during a shooting incident
  • Contemporary projectiles (since 2007) have dramatically increased the terminal effectiveness of many premium line law enforcement projectiles (emphasis on the 9mm Luger offerings)
  • 9mm Luger now offers select projectiles which are, under identical testing conditions, outperforming most of the premium line .40 S&W and .45 Auto projectiles tested by the FBI
  • 9mm Luger offers higher magazine capacities, less recoil, lower cost (both in ammunition and wear on the weapons) and higher functional reliability rates (in FBI weapons)
  • The majority of FBI shooters are both FASTER in shot strings fired and more ACCURATE with shooting a 9mm Luger vs shooting a .40 S&W (similar sized weapons)
  • There is little to no noticeable difference in the wound tracks between premium line law Auto enforcement projectiles from 9mm Luger through the .45 Auto
  • Given contemporary bullet construction, LEO’s can field (with proper bullet selection) 9mm Lugers with all of the terminal performance potential of any other law enforcement pistol caliber with none of the disadvantages present with the “larger” calibers

There's much more at the link.  Very interesting stuff for gun geeks.


Is the US government the world's largest sub-prime debtor?

That's what an article at Zero Hedge suggests - and when you look at the numbers, it's hard to disagree.

... consider how much the federal government borrows as a percentage of its income (the sum of its tax receipts).

... not only does the federal government often finance itself with debt, but it does so by borrowing a lot relative to its income. In 2009 it borrowed 85 percent as much as it was able to raise through taxes! While commentators praise the government for getting its budget deficits under control and down to a more “reasonable” level of 4 percent of GDP, we can see that it still needs to borrow more than 20 percent of its income to keep its operations afloat.

Of course, this is just the yearly deficit. Turning our attention to the cumulative effects of this in terms of the gross federal debt outstanding we can see that the situation is even more precarious.

As of last year, the gross amount of debt owed by the federal government was about 5.5 times its tax receipts. That would be equivalent to someone earning $30,000 a year owing $165,000. Somehow people are up in arms about students graduating with an average of $30,000 in debt and landing a measly $30,000 a year job, but few want to face the realization that the federal government is in five times worse shape.

There's more at the link, including graphs illustrating the above points and more.  Thought-provoking and recommended reading.


Doofus Of The Day #790

Today's award goes to a politically-correct ultra-feminist mother who doesn't appear to have a clueWARNING:  Language and sensitive subject alert, for those who are worried about such things.

(Background:  a teacher sometimes allows 'volunteer parents' to bring in treats for her second grade class.)

So Friday rolls around and the kids are excited. Autumn Lily Speaker comes into the classroom with a pan full of treats and brings them to me and says with a smile "I decided you can use these to teach the kids about the woman's vagina today". Baffled and completely caught off guard I slowly peel the aluminum foil off the pan to behold a plethora of sugar cookie and frosting vaginas. Not just any old vagina, but ALL KINDS OF VAGINAS. There were small, puffy, white, brown, shaved, bald, and even a fire crotch with beef curtains. perplexed I give the parent the most professional look I can muster and quietly reply "I'm sorry Autumn, but I can't give these to my students. This just isn't appropriate."

Autumn bursts with the fury of a thousand angry Andrea Dworkin's and starts yelling in front of the class about how 'I should be proud of my vagina' and 'I am settling for a women's role in life'. Utterly bemused and frozen from shock all I can do is stand and stare at the woman as the word 'vagina' is yelled in front of my second grade class about 987,000 times. Finally after what seemed like an eternity, she storms out of the class leaving her vagina cookies on my desk. I scramble to collect my thoughts and take control of the situation before my second graders develop vaginal PTSD. My only thought is to scrape off the vagina frosting and hand out the plain sugar cookies to my students.

There's more at the link.

Few things leave me speechless;  but the crass, almost unbelievable stupidity of any person who would try to distribute this sort of thing to a second grade class . . . words just fail me.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A military cure for constipation

I've been within halitosis range of an 81mm. mortar that did this . . . and believe me, it's an incentive to speed like few others in my experience!


A book that rings true

Canadian author Patricia Pearson has written a book titled 'Opening Heaven's Door: Investigating Stories of Life, Death, and What Comes After'.  The Sydney Morning Herald has linked to an excerpt from it that I found very interesting.  Here's an extract.

Monique Séguin was one of [my sister] Katharine’s nurses. She’s a middle-aged woman with curling dark hair who had seemed bossy to us in our overwrought emotional state. She shooed us out of Katharine’s room one afternoon so that my sister could rest. I even began writing a letter to her at the time, saying that it was none of her business, that no one who was about to sleep forever needed to sleep in the interim. I never gave the letter to her, and I’m glad of that. Hospice nurses and doctors see their patients differently than most families—brand-new to the dying experience—can see their beloveds themselves.

Nurses like Monique have become passionate advocates of creating a hushed,  listening space around the dying, because they have learned from experience that the men and women in their hospice beds undergo subtle transformations in awareness and mood.

Resting her elbows on the wooden dining room table, Monique tells me that most of the people she’s cared for over the years have come to know, at a certain point, exactly when they will die. For the nurses, this certitude is uncanny ... Within roughly seventy-two hours of the end of their lives, many dying people in hospice settings begin to speak in metaphors of journey. They are not being euphemistic. They are far beyond the task of making everyone feel better. They often haven’t said a word in days, and then suddenly they say something focused on travel. They sincerely want to know where their train tickets or hiking shoes or tide charts are.

. . .

... hospice staff know that when their patients begin to talk about excursions or travel, they are announcing their departure. They do not behave like perishing actors in Hollywood movies. Instead of offering some eleventh-hour contemplation about their lives, they request tickets, or boats. Some ask for their coats, others inquire about the bus schedule. They’re caught up in the busy preoccupation of leaving, not reflecting on what they’re leaving behind. My sister asked, “When am I leaving?” and expressed frustration about her “hapless flight attendants” in the way I might double-check my flight time to Newark.

. . .

There is no known medical reason for the dying to have such an acute sense of timing about their demise. Palliative-care conferences often devote sessions to how to improve doctors’ ability to prognosticate about death. When patients make their announcements about going off on a trip, rarely are there physical signs of imminent decline, such as a marked deterioration in blood pressure or oxygen levels. On the contrary, the bodily symptoms take place afterward. “I’m going away tonight,” the blues singer James Brown told his manager on Christmas Day 2006, after being admitted to the hospital for a pneumonia that wasn’t considered to be fatal, whereupon his breathing began to slow.

There's more at the link.  Based on this excerpt, I think Ms. Pearson's book will make interesting reading, and I've added it to my 'To Buy' list.

I find this subject intensely interesting due to my background as a pastor and chaplain.  I've seen the same thing as Ms. Pearson more than once;  the dying person suddenly begins to prepare, at least mentally and sometimes also physically, for a journey.  I recall one elderly lady who got very annoyed with her husband because he kept trying to put away the overnight bag she'd specifically asked the hospice staff to put by her bed so that she could pack it.  He didn't understand at the time, and was confused. Later, after she'd died, I was able to explain.

I'm also struck by the number of dying persons who appear to be met, in their last seconds of life, by someone whom they've been eagerly awaiting.  It might be a religious figure, such as an angel, or Our Lady, or even Christ himself:  it might be a family member, a deceased spouse or child;  or (in the case of military veterans) it's sometimes a group of former comrades in arms.  They recognize them, and their faces light up, and they speak their name(s);  I've even seen a couple of people sit up in bed, arms stretched out eagerly as if to embrace someone, then fall back dead.  It's happened more than once - enough to convince me that there's something to it.

I can't give you scientific proof of life after death.  That will forever remain something to be taken on faith by those who believe, because we'll never be able to scientifically prove anything that can't be physically measured and monitored.  Nevertheless, I take the incidents I've seen as convincing evidence that something goes on at the point of death;  and if the Good Book is to be believed, it may go on forever.  I'll live in hope of that . . . and trust in God's mercy (which I know I'll need very greatly) to forgive me my sins and admit me to the right side of the hereafter!


Is government too big to govern?

There's a good article in the Atlantic titled 'When Humans Lose Control of Government'.  Here's an excerpt.

The Veterans Affairs scandal of falsified waiting lists is the latest of a never-ending stream of government ineptitude. Every season brings a new headline of failures: the botched roll-out of Obamacare involved 55 uncoordinated IT vendors; a White House report in February found that barely 3 percent of the $800 billion stimulus plan went to rebuild transportation infrastructure; and a March Washington Post report describes how federal pensions are processed by hand in a deep cave in Pennsylvania.

The reflexive reaction is to demand detailed laws and rules to make sure things don’t go wrong again. But shackling public choices with ironclad rules, ironically, is a main cause of the problems. Dictating correctness in advance supplants the one factor that is indispensable to all successful endeavors—human responsibility. “Nothing that’s good works by itself,” as Thomas Edison put it. “You’ve got to make the damn thing work.”

Responsibility is nowhere in modern government. Who’s responsible for the budget deficits? Nobody: Program budgets are set in legal concrete. Who’s responsible for failing to fix America’s decrepit infrastructure? Nobody. Who’s responsible for not managing civil servants sensibly? You get the idea.

Modern government is organized on “clear law,” the false premise that by making laws detailed enough to take in all possible circumstances, we can avoid human error. And so over the last few decades, law has gotten ever more granular. But all that regulatory detail, like sediment in a harbor, makes it hard to get anywhere ...

. . .

Legal detail skews behavior in ways that are usually counterproductive. Why did VA officials regularly falsify waiting times? Bureaucratic metrics required them to meet waiting time deadlines—or else they would forfeit a portion of their pay. Why didn’t they just do a better job? Compliance was basically impossible: Congress had mandated more VA services but only modestly expanded resources. Undoubtedly, better efficiency could have been squeezed out of available resources, but that would require liberating VA officials from civil-service straitjackets so they could manage other civil servants. Rigid bureaucracy, not the inexcusable dishonesty of VA officials, was the underlying cause of the VA scandal.

“Clear law” turns out to be a myth. Modern law is too dense to be knowable ...

. . .

What’s the alternative? Put humans back in charge. Law should generally be an open framework, mainly principles and goals, leaving room for responsible people to make decisions and be held accountable for results. Law based on principles leaves room for the decision-maker always to act on this question: What’s the right thing to do here?

There's more at the link.  Interesting, somewhat depressing, and very important reading, IMHO.


For the bachelor cooks among us . . .

. . . with a language alert here and there.

I suspect Miss D. will have words with me tonight about what she'll do to me if I ever try that with her our appliances in her our kitchen . . .


Monday, September 22, 2014

Entitlement reform: an attitude problem?

I came across an article at Legal Insurrection titled 'Why I’m against drug testing for unemployment benefits and food stamps'.  Here's an excerpt.

Our attitude on limiting public assistance is all wrong, and so is the way we talk about it. There’s any underlying assumption and I’d argue in many cases, arrogance on the right, that everyone on public assistance is lazy or entitled, and so we treat them as though they’re undeserving or unworthy of public charity. We complain there’s an entire generation living off entitlements, yet show no interest in helping them to a place where they can succeed. We are not taking measures to address the reasons why people are on public assistance, we just don’t want them there.

. . .

... enrolling citizenry in a public assistance plan without providing a means of escape helps no one.

We all too easily take the road of judgment rather than reaching out to help those less fortunate saying people should just “Get a job!” And while the statement is correct, the attitude is not only personally destructive, but politically devastating. For all the criticism on the right to “Get a job!” what are we doing collectively to provide a solution?

Of course the answer should be simple: the private sector and local communities and charities should be there to offer this type of aid because it’s not the government’s job, but where are we to fill in the holes where both government and the private sector fails?

There are people who have never been told they’re valuable and that they have purpose in life. They’ve never been told it’s possible to excel or to change their circumstances. All they know is the life that surrounds them, in many cases, that’s a life smothered by poverty, violence, and drugs. It’s in these situations we should be showing compassion, assistance, and imparting the values of self respect, hard work, and the belief they too, can achieve whatever they believe to be possible.

There's more at the link.

I disagree almost completely with the author's perspective as expressed in that excerpt.  The problem, as I see it, is one of the basic attitude of many people in the First World.  They feel entitled to protection, assistance, etc. - from the private sector, from charities, from government, whatever.  Too many of us blindly accept this 'entitlement principle' without stopping to ask why anyone should be entitled to such support.

I begin as one who's lived and worked in Third World environments for almost half my life.  There's very little in the way of such support there.  If you don't or can't work, you're dependent on the support of your extended family.  I've known a dozen adults live on the meager wages brought in by a quarter of their number.  No-one has any luxuries.  The food is as basic as it can get, and there's never enough of it.  They'll sleep bundled together, shivering under one or two thin undersized blankets in the winter cold.  During the summer they'd love to sleep further apart, to stay cool, but in the one- or two-roomed hut or township hovel they share, there's not enough space for that - and sleeping outside carries its own dangers.  Some of the unemployed will cook, clean and look after the kids.  Others will forage in the surrounding bush, or go through other people's garbage looking for something to eat or wear or use or sell.  A few will go the rounds, trying to find a job doing anything from shoveling human excrement to disposing of animal waste products at the local (unlicensed, unsanitary, unsafe and disease-ridden) slaughterhouse.

Note that I didn't say a word about social workers, or child protection programs, or welfare, or anything like that.  Those programs don't exist for such people.  If you told these folks that in America, the poorest people almost all had access to such support, and in addition lived in multi-room dwellings, and most had TV's and sofa's and cars . . . they'd cheerfully do anything they could, up to and including committing wholesale murder, to come here and live in such comparative affluence.  It would represent wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

As a result, they know their future is in their own hands, and theirs alone.  They get by with hard work and stoic courage, day by day.  They're like prisoners in jail, taking it one day at a time, never daring to look too far ahead in case they get discouraged and give up hope.

In contrast, far too many of our people on welfare, or unemployment benefits, or SNAP, or whatever, expect such assistance as a right.  They actually expect others to find them a job, or get them more benefits, or teach them new skills.  They don't expect to have to get up off their asses and do these things for themselves - and to me, that's the problem, right there.  Our welfare system encourages a culture of dependency on others.

In most of the world, statements such as those I highlight below are frankly ridiculous.

  • "We are not taking measures to address the reasons why people are on public assistance" - Wrong approach.  Why are they relying primarily on public assistance instead of upon their own efforts and those of their extended family?  If they have no extended family upon whom to rely, whose fault is that?  Have we allowed government to destroy the extended family through its misguided policies?  If so, that's a fault to be remedied rather than a fact to be accepted.
  • "We all too easily take the road of judgment rather than reaching out to help those less fortunate" - Why should we reach out to them?  Frankly, charity begins at home.  Miss D. and I regularly give money - sometimes substantial sums - to people we come across in our daily lives who are in need, but are already doing their best to make ends meet under very difficult circumstances.  We simply help the process along, "helping those who are trying to help themselves".  We don't try to help those who sit back and expect - or, worse, demand - our help as of right.
  • "the private sector and local communities and charities should be there to offer this type of aid because it’s not the government’s job" - Why should they offer this type of aid at all?  Why not offer aid that's designed and expressly intended to help someone get back on their own feet as quickly as possible?  The author argues against the use of drug testing for welfare recipients.  I'd say it's a primary 'acid test' (you should pardon the expression) for those who are serious about changing their lives, and have no objection to it at all.  If they're going to use the aid we provide as taxpayers and charitable donors to get high or buzzed or drunk, they don't deserve that aid.  Period.
  • "There are people who have never been told they’re valuable and that they have purpose in life."  Who says we're intrinsically valuable anyway?  I know many people whose main value appears to consist in being a living warning to others not to adopt their way of life!  As for a purpose in life, while we may have one from a religious perspective, I'd argue very strongly that one's purpose in life is what one seeks out and builds for oneself.  We apply ourselves to become someone of value to others.  In doing so, we develop value to and for ourselves.  I don't believe it's possible to develop genuine self-esteem and self-appreciation in isolation from others, or if we're doing nothing to help others.  That's a contradiction in terms.
  • "It’s in these situations we should be showing compassion, assistance, and imparting the values of self respect, hard work, and the belief they too, can achieve whatever they believe to be possible."  I'm sorry, but this is too ridiculous for words.  We cannot impart values to others.  We can only demonstrate those values in our own conduct, our own attitudes, our own actions, our own way of life, as an example to others.  Unless and until they internalize those values for themselves and change their attitudes and behaviors to embody them, they'll be stuck in their same old rut.  As for achieving whatever they believe to be possible - bull!  There are many people who can't achieve what they 'believe' to be possible, because the environment in which they live - and from which they have no way of escape - won't permit them to do so.  They have a choice.  They can wallow in their "I wanna be this, but I can't!" self-pity, or they can look for something they can achieve and work towards that goal.  It may not be something pleasant.  I expect no-one wants to be the best sewage plant worker in history . . . but if that's the only job available to you, you'd damn well better work towards that, otherwise someone else who is prepared to do so may take your job away from you!

I have profound empathy for those working multiple jobs and struggling to survive in the face of real poverty.  However, poverty is relative.  I've lived among those whose daily income amounted to less (a lot less) than one US dollar per day.  I've seen them starve.  I've seen some die of starvation.  I've seen their despair give way to apathy, and to a resigned acceptance of their fate.  I've watched the light die in their eyes, and it's saddened and sickened me that I could do nothing to change their fate.  However, I've seen many others in precisely the same situation sacrifice themselves daily for the good of others - their children, their extended family, their tribe.  They do all they can, all day, every day, because that's what a human being does.  They don't moan and whine about how callous others are not to support them in the style to which they'd like to become accustomed.

Contrast that with the looters who all too often strip stores of their contents on any feebly manufactured excuse - most recently in Ferguson, Missouri.

Look at those who use their welfare benefits to buy steak and shrimp, or who drive pimped-out SUV's to use their EBT cards to buy groceries (something I've seen more than a few times in inner-city neighborhoods).  I promise you, if they were set down in some of the hardscrabble areas of the world, their attitudes would get them killed in no time flat, because they'd be a burden and a hardship to the community rather than contributors to it.

Do you want meaningful entitlement?  Here's one way to do it.  I'd dismantle the entire welfare and entitlement system, including unemployment benefits and Social Security, but excluding medical insurance (although that needs reform too).  In its place I'd offer every citizen of the USA (not non-citizens, please note!) a flat sum of money every year.  It would be enough to live at a basic level, without much in the way of luxuries - say, $1,500 to $2,000 per month, or $18,000 to $24,000 per year.  Let's make it tax-free, too.  The total cost would be a lot less than what we, as a nation, currently spend every year on welfare and entitlement programs.  Even better, because everyone would get this, we wouldn't need the plethora of government departments, bureaucrats and administrators that currently manage the existing dysfunctional system.  We could shrink government substantially and save even more money!

By doing that, we'd all start with a level playing field, rich and poor alike.  Those who are prepared to work hard will earn more than that, with which they can live at a higher standard.  Those who aren't prepared to work will at least be able to support themselves at a basic level.  The 'entitlement culture' will be overturned, because success will once again depend on your own efforts.  What's not to like?