Saturday, January 31, 2015

Remember that "brothel investigator"?

Back in September last year I reported on an Australian 'brothel investigator'.

Three years ago Fred Allen was a taxi driver working 12-hour shifts to make ends meet.

Today, he is a gun for hire, having received tens of thousands of dollars from Sydney's metropolitan councils in exchange for crucial evidence that is presented in court to help expose and close underground parlours. In short, Mr Allen has paid sex with prostitutes and ratepayers foot the bill.

"Never in a million years would I have imagined a job like this existed, let alone me doing it," the 60-year-old said, with a hint of a smirk. "It's a strange world for sure."

There's more at the link.

It seems Mr. Allen was enjoying his job a little too much . . .  The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

A private investigator who gets paid by councils to have undercover sex inside illegal brothels has been fired after withholding information about a prostitute whom he met on a job.

. . .

In a letter dated October 23, Brothel Busters head Chris Seage wrote to Mr Allen, and warned: "It is my view you may have breached the code of ethics for private investigators in Australia.

"Let me be clear on this;  I hold very seriously the withholding of information from your reports.  You said yesterday the sex worker, Sophie, provided you with her phone number so you could contact her outside the establishment to have sex with.  You said … you wouldn't mind taking her up on that.  Further, you said you didn't want to get her in trouble ... you withheld this information to protect the sex worker who you took a liking to."

Wishing to forward the report onto the Department of Immigration, Mr Seage ordered the investigator to refile his report, adding: "You must agree to be 100 per cent honest." But Mr Allen refused to return phone calls or emails.

When approached for comment, Mr Allen said the girl, Sophie, did hand him her private details so they could meet away from the brothel, but denied seeing her again.

"I did not provide the phone number as I was not aware of who else was involved in having access to this report and was concerned for the safety of both her and myself."

Mr Seage, however, confirms that Mr Allen was hired to make two undercover visits to the premises that week and in his first report, "willingly provided" the private contact details of another illegal sex worker, Amy, with whom he had "engaged" onsite.

NSW Special Minister of State Anthony Roberts said the government was continuing to monitor "this very complex issue".

Again, more at the link.

Perhaps Mr. Allen found the atmosphere at his 'workplace' a little Sophie-cating?


In Memoriam: Otto Carius

Otto Carius, one of the outstanding German tank commanders of World War II who was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves for his exploits, has died at the age of 92.

His book 'Tigers In The Mud' is one of the classic accounts of armored combat on the Eastern Front.

It's a must-read, IMHO, for military history buffs and anyone interested in armored combat.  His war record was exceptional by any standards.  His last interview was given to a Russian journalist last year;  it can be read in translation here.

May he rest in peace.


Friday, January 30, 2015

A follow-up to Doofus #811

In a comment to our Doofus Of The Day #811, reader Merlin linked to this video clip from the movie 'Robocop 3'.  Not having seen the movie, I didn't know it:  but it fit so well with our latest Doofus that I simply had to include it here.


Ebola: not down and far from out

The news media has allowed reporting about the Ebola crisis in West Africa to die down to a dull background murmur, but things are still pretty bad over there.  The disease is now having a 'knock-on' effect across the entire health care sector.  The Telegraph reports:

Ebola is devastating Sierra Leone's health-care system, with a dozen medics and more than a hundred healthcare workers dead so far.

At the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital in Freetown, Ebola’s deadly legacy greets visitors the moment they walk in the doors. Occupying pride of place on the peeling lobby wall, in a spot where a portrait of the hospital’s founder might normally hang, is a picture of staff member, Samuel Batty. A caption above reads: “In loving memory of our beloved brother and colleague.”

Mr Batty died from Ebola on December 2 at the age of 37. He was one of about 110 health-care workers killed by the virus since it hit Sierra Leone last March. Yet when his colleague Amadou Jawara walks past the picture each day, he feels pride as much as sadness.

Like Mr Batty, Mr Jawara is not a doctor but a community health worker, and the pair were on a training programme to teach them how to deal with basic surgical operations and the complications of childbirth. In a country where the health service is patchy at the best of times, it helps for even the most junior health workers to be able to “act up” – and when Ebola hit Sierra Leone, that is just what Mr Batty and Mr Jawara found themselves doing.

“In November, the junior doctors in Sierra Leone went on strike for two weeks, saying it wasn’t safe enough for them to work, and wanting better protective equipment,” said Mr Jawara, 40. “During that time, those of us on the surgical training programme helped fill the gaps, but it was very tough work.”

Too tough, as it turned out, for Mr Batty. Quite how he contracted the virus remains unclear, but his colleagues believe it was on a particularly busy day in late November, when a pregnant woman came in with a mild fever. Mr Batty had no choice but to conduct the usual internal examinations, in the interests of her unborn child. “The woman died shortly afterwards [from Ebola], and by that time it was too late for Samuel,” said Mr Jawara.

As ever with Ebola, the tragedy did not end there. Mr Batty’s wife also died, meaning that his son (who also caught the virus but recovered) and four other children are now orphans. Mr Jawara also spent time in quarantine, fearing he had become infected, too. “The whole thing was terrible,” he said. “And Samuel was such a decent, gentle and hardworking man.”

Such tales can be heard these days in nearly any hospital in Sierra Leone. It is now the worst-infected of all the West African nations hit by the Ebola epidemic, with 3,145 of the 8,641 deaths recorded so far since this outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013.

. . .

The deaths of so many health workers – coupled with the ongoing reluctance of many others to return to work – has thrown a health service already crippled by civil war into an all-out crisis. Many of the country’s hospitals and clinics remain shut or are operating at a fraction of their normal capacity, meaning that people seeking routine A&E treatment, be it after a car crash, for malaria or just for severe diarrhoea, may die.

“We estimate there are 3.8 deaths from normally treatable diseases for every Ebola death,” says Adam Forrest, an NHS consultant gynaecologist with Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust.

There's more at the link.

To make matters even more complicated, just as Ebola is merely the latest in a long line of viral hemorrhagic fevers in Africa (its genetic 'ancestors' include Lassa fever, Marburg virus, etc.), so it's now beginning to mutate into something different.  The BBC reports:

Scientists tracking the Ebola outbreak in Guinea say the virus has mutated.

Researchers at the Institut Pasteur in France, which first identified the outbreak last March, are investigating whether it could have become more contagious.

More than 22,000 people have been infected with Ebola and 8,795 have died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Scientists are starting to analyse hundreds of blood samples from Ebola patients in Guinea.

They are tracking how the virus is changing and trying to establish whether it's able to jump more easily from person to person

"We know the virus is changing quite a lot," said human geneticist Dr Anavaj Sakuntabhai.

"That's important for diagnosing (new cases) and for treatment. We need to know how the virus (is changing) to keep up with our enemy."

It's not unusual for viruses to change over a period time. Ebola is an RNA virus - like HIV and influenza - which have a high rate of mutation. That makes the virus more able to adapt and raises the potential for it to become more contagious.

"We've now seen several cases that don't have any symptoms at all, asymptomatic cases," said Anavaj Sakuntabhai.

"These people may be the people who can spread the virus better, but we still don't know that yet. A virus can change itself to less deadly, but more contagious and that's something we are afraid of."

Again, more at the link.

An asymptomatic form of Ebola would be really, really scary.  All the precautions set up at entry points to most nations, and the initial assessment centers backing them up, focus on detecting the symptoms of the disease and responding to them.  If there are no symptoms, the entire screening process is at risk.  If an asymptomatic carrier of a new form of Ebola gets into a country, he or she could infect literally hundreds, if not thousands of people before the disease manifests itself in its final stages, just before it kills the carrier.

It looks like within a year or two, the 'Ebola' being treated in West Africa will not be the same 'Ebola' that we saw last year.  Will it bear the same name?  Who knows?  Those infected with it won't care, because they'll likely suffer just as badly.


"10 Things Weather Forecasters Won’t Tell You"

That's the title of an interesting article at MarketWatch.  I had no idea that weather was such big business (the weather forecasting 'market' was worth $6 billion in 2014, according to the article).  Here's just one of the ten points they discuss.

7. “The financial markets keep us on our toes.”

One way companies protect against unexpected weather is to buy weather futures — essentially financial contracts that pay off in the case of adverse weather like hurricanes or extreme temperatures. These contracts seem to be having a surprising side effect: They are making weather measurements more accurate.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, on which many such contracts trade, says they’re used as a hedging mechanism by companies like ski resorts, electric utilities, snow removal firms, and others that depend on certain weather conditions to profit. A company might enter into a contract with a financial institution. One bets that the temperature will be on average over 65 degrees in a certain location next month, while the other bets that it will be less than 65 degrees on average. The difference between the benchmark and reality (based on NWS measurements) determines who gets a payout at the end of the month.

And exchange-traded weather contracts are just one portion of a large base of weather futures, much of which takes place over the counter, says Brown, of Swiss Re.

Amiyatosh Purnanandam, associate professor of finance at the University of Michigan, and doctoral student Daniel Weagley did research on the weather contracts and the accuracy of the NWS’s measurements. Readings from NWS stations in the field can sometimes be off initially, as a result of calibration, maintenance issues, or external interference (the agency later issues corrected temps). But the researchers found that, after a weather futures contract was introduced in a specific city, those errors fell by about 10%.

The National Weather Service doesn’t often make mistakes in its measurements, but the added scrutiny of the financial markets puts pressure on the meteorologists to make measurements more accurate, Purnanandam says. It’s an example of how financial markets can influence behavior.

But while the market may have been one factor in improving weather data accuracy, the weather service says it’s always working to improve.

There are nine more points at the link.  Interesting reading, particularly if you only watch the weather forecast for your own area and don't think about how it can impact commerce and industry.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Doofus Of The Day #811

OK.  You're a crook.  You decide to rob a store for some quick money.  What's the absolute worst kind of store you could pick?  The kind where you're virtually guaranteed to run straight into the long arm of the law?

That's right.  You guessed it . . .

An instant Doofus award to the criminal for what Massad Ayoob terms "A sudden and acute failure of the victim selection process."  How the hell is he going to explain that decision to his cellmates?


Snipers, war and political fallout

I'm both amused and somewhat sickened by the ravings from the politically left-wing and progressive about the film 'American Sniper'.  I'm sure readers have already seen press reports about comments by Michael Moore, Seth Rogen and many others.  The latest is from an interview with NBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin:

MOHYELDIN: A lot of his stories when he was back home in Texas, a lot of his own personal opinions about what he was doing in Iraq, how he viewed Iraqis. Some of what people have described as his racist tendencies towards Iraqis and Muslims when he was going on some of these, you know, killing sprees in Iraq on assignment. So I think there are issues --

SCARBOROUGH: Wait, wait. Killing sprees? Chris Kyle was going on killing sprees?

MOHYELDIN: When he was involved in his -- on assignments in terms of what he was doing. A lot of the description that has come out from his book and some of the terminology that he has used, people have described as racist.

There's more at the link, but IMHO, Mohyeldin's words aren't worth reading.  I won't comment on his character, or his worth as a human being.

I get the feeling that a lot of the negative comments about 'American Sniper' are specifically directed at the entertainment industry in general, and this year's Academy Awards in particular.  The loony left simply can't abide the thought that the film may win an Oscar - or, horror of horrors, perhaps more than one! - so they're trying to shoot it down among Academy voters.  Frankly, it seems to me that compared to classic movies of years gone by, the modern Academy Awards aren't really worth having, but then, I'm hardly a Hollywood fanboi.

I found two comments by veterans to be far more sensible - and sensitive.  First, from former US Marine and now US Army active-duty serviceman (and qualified sniper) 'Arctic Specter', this:

As for the recent attacks that have been focused on my sniper brethren, that is a whole different line.  The insults towards what we do being “cowardly” are nothing short of inflammatory and ridiculous.  I have stayed more or less silent in regards to them, but once again, there are lines.  “I think most Americans don’t think snipers are heroes”.  Personally, I would say Michael Moore is pretty detached from the average American.  The “average” American household brings in approximately $50,000 annually, whereas Mr. Moore’s net worth is placed at $50 million (  I’m not entirely sure on this, but I’m fairly certain that a person worth $50 million runs in different social circles than most American citizens and probably didn’t get a fair census of what Americans truly think of snipers.  More accurately I would say his social circle is fairly limited to extremely leftist, highly pompous, and overly arrogant Hollywood elitists who’s major life accomplishment was winning an award for aiming a camera in a provocative manner.  It’s infuriating to suffer the comments generalized at my friends, colleagues, and myself, though it’s not for the insult itself, but rather the fact that such an insignificant person who hasn’t seen a shot fired in anger can judge the honor and courage of various roles on a battlefield.  Comparably, the irritation that I feel when I see these tweets is reminiscent of having your hands tied while a gnat gnaws on your cheek.  Ultimately, its not going to damage you, but fuck all if you don’t just want to swat the shit out of the damn thing to make it stop.  But then there’s those lines again.  It would be crossing quite a major one to swat such an insignificant little insect; as pleasing as it would be to many.

I’m not an obtuse man.  I have a bit of clarity that most people see movies and see snipers in movies and have a general belief that a sniper is some guy that gets up in a bell tower somewhere and shoots a bad guy in the face.  While that’s not completely untrue, there is much more to it than it seems.  Snipers operate in the smallest groups on the battlefield.  We have less guys watching our backs.  We go deeper into unfriendly territory than everyone else, and we survive against the greatest odds.  We are masters of precision fire.  A sniper and his rifle can do with one well placed shot what it would take an artillery barrage to accomplish, and do it with a lot less collateral damage.  We are more than just a gun.  We are a psychological factor.  If you need proof, Mr Moore’s uncle was shot by a sniper and to this day he feels the need to demonize them.  Psychologically effected an entire generation into the future with one single shot which Mr. Moore didn’t even witness.  Now imagine the enemy’s resolve after the man next to them is taken out by a single accurate shot.  You just took two men out of the fight, maybe more.  We create chaos.  Imagine trying to ask your boss what your tasks for the day are, but he decided not to show up for the day.  What work gets accomplished?  Who takes charge?  Who has to do the work of the guy that took charge?  Disorder ensues.  Leadership is the priority target of a sniper.

Snipers are not as base as an anti-war sensationalist would lead you to believe.  We are feared on the battlefield and can do more to shape it than an entire battalion of soldiers.  A single, well-placed, arrow completely ended the Battle of Hastings in 1066 by reportedly piercing the skull of the then crowned king, King Harold.  This one arrow changed the future of England and allowed the Normans to conquer it and establish a new ruling dynasty in Britain.  Obviously, when you are that effective there is going to be some animosity thrown in your direction.  There is going to be a lot of misunderstanding and fear.  There are, apparently, even going to be people calling you a coward.  All you can do is toe the line, keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you intend to fire, and, from time to time, shoo away some gnats gnawing at your cheek.

There's much more at the link.  Go read it all.  He's good.  (Oh - and read his reactions to his first post on the subject 'going viral' in the blogosphere.  They're fun.)

The second article appears at the oddly-named 'OAF Nation' (it describes itself here), and is titled 'American Sniper:  The Voice of Veterans'.  It's by someone calling himself 'Grifter'.  He comes across as genuine, even though I don't know his personal background.  Here's an excerpt.

American Sniper portrayed Chris Kyle as a guy trying to do the best he could in shitty situations. Doing what he had to in order to protect American lives. It highlighted perfectly that coming home is almost impossible. There’s always an urge to go back and keep working. Not for fortune or glory, but for each other. The way I always thought was, “if I don’t go, who will?” I couldn’t bear the thought of some 18-19 year old kid taking my perceived place in the long line of casualties. American Sniper showed the anguish at the bureaucracy of the Iraq war and the tough decisions that had to be made and later scrutinized by someone at home on the couch. He even said, “we’re at war, and I’m going to the mall.” It accurately shows the disillusionment of returning to a country that isn’t engaged in any capacity with what’s going on with their troops. It captures the essence of what it’s like to come home and try to assimilate into a society that is oblivious.

It’s most powerful statement was that it clearly shows the absolutely bitter loneliness a vet can experience coming home. I don’t mean loneliness as is synonymous with solitude. Kyle was surrounded by family and loved ones. He had reasons to celebrate his life, his wife, and his babies. Yet, he still felt a void. He had the support structure of a family that needed him, yet he couldn’t relish in the love they gave. He could not sit back and enjoy being home, due to the longing for his brothers and a crippling grief for the men he could not keep from harm.

. . .

However, I read a piece by Amanda Taub ... in which she bashes the film and accuses it of “rewriting American history.” Her point of contention was that the film was too black and white for her tastes. She calls the war in Iraq a grey area, which I agree. I also agree with her disdain at the treatment of the conventional troops in the film as cannon fodder or inferior to the SEALS in importance. However, she smashes on Eastwood’s flick by calling into question the lack of mention of G.W. Bush, WMD, or Saddam Hussein. She accuses the movie of inventing fictional characters for Kyle to fight. I’m taking this as she is mad the movie didn’t take a political stance or mention any of the media hype, hot buttons, or buzzwords normally associated with the war in Iraq.

My answer to that: Yeah, no shit.

The film wasn’t about any of that because for US, the war wasn’t about any of that. Do you think any of us gave a fuck about Saddam Hussein, WMD, Bush, Cheney, or any of that shit that was being ejaculated by the news? The film wasn’t about grey areas, because to us it didn’t matter. All that mattered to us was the guy to our left, and the guy to our right…and especially the guy that still had a can of Skoal. It wasn’t that we were willfully ignorant of the issues surrounding the Iraq, or that we were in denial, but when your finger is on a trigger, when you’re face is covered in your friends’ brain matter, you aren’t thinking about “good and evil” or “grey areas.” That is the entire point this civil rights attorney misses, the film was about a man on the ground and the struggle to come home with a head full of grief and regret, not the Iraq war itself.

. . .

To the people that saw the movie for what it was, it was a glimpse into our world. It offered up our collective hearts to you in a manner a typical, movie-going civilian would understand. That is powerful, and hopefully opens a broader dialogue about our struggle to really come home. This is what we’re thinking and why we’re still fighting. As far as our silent war goes, this movie got it right.

To those that saw it as more “pro Bush/Iraq/Right Wing/anti-Muslim” political statement and want to bash it and our military, I say this:

The movie wasn’t for you. It was for the guy with mud on his boots and a hole in his heart, and for the families that are left to pick up the pieces. Go back to your latte.

Again, much more at the link.  Go read.

To both 'Arctic Specter' and 'Grifter', as one combat veteran to another:  Thanks, guys.  If we ever meet, the first beer's on me.


EDITED TO ADD:  Kurt Hofmann has an interesting take on this subject over at JFPO.  Recommended.

John Deere would be green with envy

Here's a Claas tractor with multiple attachments designed to cut grass in and around ditches and other complex surface features.  They call it the 'Octopus', and one can see why.

Seems like an ingenious design.  I've seen tractors mowing the verges of US Interstate highways and other roads with a single extending arm like that, but never more than one.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

ISIL, AQAP, Saudi Arabia - and lots and LOTS of money

Last Sunday I posted an article titled 'Wheels within wheels in the Middle East', in which I postulated that the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist movements ISIL and AQAP were almost certainly planning an attempt to raid Saudi Arabia, and possibly even take over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, while that nation's rulers were in a state of transition following the death of its King.

Today I came across a fascinating article by John Robb at Global Guerrillas offering an additional perspective on why Saudi Arabia would be such a tempting target for the jihadists.  I think he makes a very strong case.  Here's an excerpt.  (Note:  the acronym ISIS is interchangeable with ISIL, referenced above.)

ISIS still hasn't entered the big leagues.  To do that, it needs to do one thing.  It needs Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia offers one thing to the jihadi entrepreneurs that no other place can offer.  It's not Mecca and Medina.  Those holy sites, although extremely important to the cohesion and legitimacy of the jihad, come in a close second to the real goal. 

To the jihadi entrepreneurs consumed 24x7 with making enough money to keep ISIS going, Saudi Arabia is the end game.  Almost unlimited amounts of loot.  A mountain of loot.  Enough loot to finance the unlimited expansion the jihad.   A chance to mint new Emirates by the boatload.

To these entrepreneurs, this is the IPO (initial public offering) of the Century.  An event so financially fruitful it makes the IPOs of Google, Facebook, and all of their Internet brethren pale in comparison.  Given this trajectory, the only question is when? When will ISIS pivot south and go IPO?  Soon.

There's more at the link.  Go read.  It's worth your time.

(In case you're wondering, Saudi Arabia was reported to have cash - cash - reserves of over $740 billion in November last year . . . and that's not counting the personal wealth of its thousands of princes, their gold and silver, their works of art, and so on.  You're probably talking well over a trillion dollars in easily accessible, readily convertible cash and hard assets - not to mention one of the largest oil reserves in the world.  Loot?  Heck, yeah!  LOOT!)


Seal hearts dog (really!)

A seal at Cap Ferrat in France apparently loves dogs - particularly this Labrador retriever.

All together, now:  Awwww!


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sometimes the truth hurts - but it's still true

The new Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, may be a rabid Socialist - not far off a full-blown Communist, judging by some of what I've seen and heard and read from him - but he's spot-on in an interview he gave to CNBC today.  You can read the article here, and view the video interview in full (which I highly recommend).

For those who don't want to click over there, here's the money quote.

Q:  You owe the European Central Bank six billion Euros between July and August.  Are you not going to pay?

A:  Well, if you look at the existing agreement, the existing agreement recognizes that, ah, we can't pay.  And it imposes upon us the very strange notion that as a bankrupt state, we must borrow money from our partners - even more money than they've already given us - to repay a central bank which is in the process of printing one trillion Euros.  Now, you only have to state this to realize that this is not a God-given, Divine imperative which Europe shouldn't be discussing.

That's precisely the right answer, irrespective of Mr. Varoufakis' politics or ours.  Basically, the European Central Bank (and most commercial banks in Europe) lent money hand-over-fist to Greece from the moment of its entry into the European Union, even though it was plain as a pikestaff that the country was economically and politically incapable of paying back those loans.  When the whole mess eventually blew up during the 2007/08 financial crisis, Europe insisted on Greek austerity measures to repay the debt that have resulted in a 25% contraction in GDP and an unemployment rate of something like 50% among young people.

At long last the Greek people have demonstrated that they've had enough.  They've proven themselves to be, on the whole, fiscally irresponsible, self-centered and greedy, but I can't disagree with the step they've just taken.  They've elected a government that's dedicated to restoring Greek financial sovereignty, and in the process will punish those who lent irresponsibly.  If banks lend responsibly, to credit-worthy borrowers, they tend to get their money back with interest.  If banks get greedy and lend to anyone who's capable of signing a piece of paper, they should by rights lose their shirts.  In the case of Greece at least, it looks like that may now happen.  It should have happened to many banks in this country during and after the financial crisis, but thanks to the Fed's "too big to fail" mantra we, the taxpayers, were forced to pick up the tab for the bankers' recklessness and fecklessness.  We're still on the hook for it.  It's a big part of the doubling of the US national debt that's occurred under President Obama's administration (although, to be fair, it began under his Republican predecessor).

(Note, too, that from 2008-2011 Iceland chose not to follow the Greek model, but held its nose and took its medicine the hard way.  It rejected calls from politicians and central bankers to assume national responsibility for the bad decisions of its banks.  It showed them the finger, allowed its financial institutions to go bankrupt, and rode out the resulting national and international fiscal storm.  Guess what?  Six years later it's doing very nicely, thank you.  I've no doubt that the lessons learned - and imparted - by Iceland have been absorbed by the upstart wave of rebellious Greek politicians . . . )

Perhaps it's time for a Yanis Varoufakis of our own in Washington.


Another pilot saved by an aircraft parachute

The crew of a Coast Guard HC-130 patrol aircraft filmed a Cirrus SR-22 parachuting into the Pacific Ocean about 250 miles north-east of Hawaii yesterday.  Flight Global reports:

After alerting the authorities to his plight, the pilot ... was directed by the US Coast Guard towards a cruise ship in the area and ditched in the Pacific Ocean. The pilot was able to exit the four-seat aircraft onto a life raft and was rescued by crew from the ship. Crew on a USCG Lockheed Martin HC-130, flying overhead, coordinated, and filmed, the rescue.

The pilot, who had left California for Lahaina on the island of Maui on 25 January, contacted the authorities at 12:30 local time to say he had 3h of fuel remaining and would be forced to ditch in the sea.

Cirrus says it is the 51st time the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System has been deployed, “resulting in 104 persons returning safely”.

There's more at the link.  Here's the video.

That's another save for a very innovative system.  I still can't figure out why more light aircraft manufacturers aren't offering it as a factory-installed option on their planes.


Monday, January 26, 2015

The ultimate in canine contentment?

Doggie bliss!

I wonder if hair in the mechanism might cause a problem . . . ?


Climate change fraud in a nutshell

Here's an admirably succinct summary of how climate change alarmists are 'cooking the books', falsifying data to support their claims (and, naturally, to demand ever more money and resources to continue their spurious 'research).  I've inserted links to information about relevant organizations, individuals and information, for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the field.

How have we come to be told that global temperatures have suddenly taken a great leap upwards to their highest level in 1,000 years? In fact, it has been no greater than their upward leaps between 1860 and 1880, and 1910 and 1940, as part of that gradual natural warming since the world emerged from its centuries-long “Little Ice Age” around 200 years ago.

This belief has rested entirely on five official data records. Three of these are based on measurements taken on the Earth’s surface, versions of which are then compiled by Giss [NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies], by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and by the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit working with the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction, part of the UK Met Office. The other two records are derived from measurements made by satellites, and then compiled by Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) in California and the University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH).

In recent years, these two very different ways of measuring global temperature have increasingly been showing quite different results. The surface-based record has shown a temperature trend rising up to 2014 as “the hottest years since records began”. RSS and UAH have, meanwhile, for 18 years been recording no rise in the trend, with 2014 ranking as low as only the sixth warmest since 1997.

One surprise is that the three surface records, all run by passionate believers in man-made warming, in fact derive most of their land surface data from a single source. This is the Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN), managed by the US National Climate Data Center under NOAA, which in turn comes under the US Department of Commerce.

But two aspects of this system for measuring surface temperatures have long been worrying a growing array of statisticians, meteorologists and expert science bloggers. One is that the supposedly worldwide network of stations from which GHCN draws its data is flawed. Up to 80 per cent or more of the Earth’s surface is not reliably covered at all. Furthermore, around 1990, the number of stations more than halved, from 12,000 to less than 6,000 – and most of those remaining are concentrated in urban areas or places where studies have shown that, thanks to the “urban heat island effect”, readings can be up to 2 degrees higher than in those rural areas where thousands of stations were lost.

To fill in the huge gaps, those compiling the records have resorted to computerised “infilling” or “homogenising”, whereby the higher temperatures recorded by the remaining stations are projected out to vast surrounding areas (Giss allows single stations to give a reading covering 1.6 million square miles). This alone contributed to the sharp temperature rise shown in the years after 1990.

But still more worrying has been the evidence that even this data has then been subjected to continual “adjustments”, invariably in only one direction. Earlier temperatures are adjusted downwards, more recent temperatures upwards, thus giving the impression that they have risen much more sharply than was shown by the original data.

An early glaring instance of this was spotted by Steve McIntyre, the statistician who exposed the computer trickery behind that famous “hockey stick” graph, beloved by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], which purported to show that, contrary to previous evidence, 1998 had been the hottest year for 1,000 years. It was McIntyre who, in 2007, uncovered the wholesale retrospective adjustments made to US surface records between 1920 and 1999 compiled by Giss (then run by the outspoken climate activist James Hansen). These reversed an overall cooling trend into an 80-year upward trend. Even Hansen had previously accepted that the “dust bowl” 1930s was the hottest US decade of the entire 20th century.

Assiduous researchers have since unearthed countless similar examples across the world, from the US and Russia to Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, an 80-year cooling of 1 degree per century was turned into a warming trend of 2.3 degrees. In New Zealand, there was a major academic row when “unadjusted” data showing no trend between 1850 and 1998 was shown to have been “adjusted” to give a warming trend of 0.9 degrees per century. This falsified new version was naturally cited in an IPCC report (see “New Zealand NIWA temperature train wreck” on the Watts Up With That science blog, WUWT, which has played a leading role in exposing such fiddling of the figures).

By far the most comprehensive account of this wholesale corruption of proper science is a paper written for the Science and Public Policy Institute, “Surface Temperature Records: Policy-Driven Deception?”, by two veteran US meteorologists, Joseph D’Aleo and WUWT’s Anthony Watts (and if warmists are tempted to comment below this article online, it would be welcome if they could address their criticisms to the evidence, rather than just resorting to personal attacks on the scientists who, after actually examining the evidence, have come to a view different from their own).

One of the more provocative points arising from the debate over those claims that 2014 was “the hottest year evah” came from the Canadian academic Dr Timothy Ball when, in a recent post on WUWT, he used the evidence of ice-core data to argue that the Earth’s recent temperatures rank in the lowest 3 per cent of all those recorded since the end of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago.

There's more at the link, including graphs.  Useful reading.

So much for the 'scientific consensus' that globull warmening is all humanity's fault and is going to kill us all and woe is us . . .


Islam in Europe and its cultural implications

I came across an article at the Twenty Committee blog that has had me thinking for three days now.  It's titled 'The West, Islam, and the Last Stand of the WEIRD', and offers some unique perspectives on why Muslims have not been able to assimilate into European society.  With the author's permission, here's a fairly lengthy excerpt from a much longer article.

Islam, being a programmatic faith not confined to the mosque, provides detailed commentary and rules on daily life, including matters sexual that invariably seem strange to post-modern Westerners, who view any infringement on personal sexuality as oppressive. This is a subject of regular mocking in parts of the Western press. Few care to note that Islam is very like Orthodox or Conservative Judaism in such matters.

Islam as actually lived by its adherents easily breaks down into three basic groups that are replicated everywhere there is Islam. Seeing how people live their faith, day in and day out, is illuminating. There is a genuinely radical element — perhaps ten percent, rather more in the West — that advocates Islamism, that is applying Islam in politics, by force if necessary. The aggressively pious vanguard of this sort pushes violence, even murderous barbarism, to further its aims. It has no sympathy for the West and seeks confrontation and victory, not dialogue. Its loudest adherents are usually dysfunctional sorts with a criminal past.

On the other side, maybe another ten percent, there are Muslims who actually reject the faith, de facto, but if they’re living in a Muslim country they keep relatively quiet about it, lest they be denounced as “apostates.” Many are well educated. Such atheists, or at least serious Islam-skeptics, are frequently encountered in the West; it’s seldom noted that many such people emigrate to freer countries precisely to be able to live their skepticism openly.

But the vast majority of Muslims fall into a big group that lives the faith as best they can, without questioning its essentials. They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.

. . .

It must be deeply confusing to any Muslim newcomer to France to encounter a place of such unbelief and debauchery as Paris, where raw sexuality is everywhere, women run free in every sense, and faiths of all kinds are mocked openly. Free speech is not a French priority, and certain kinds of speech are protected, while others are not. Since I cannot rationally explain why French law protects certain speech, and not others, I don’t expect an unlettered immigrant from West Africa to make sense of it all either.

The list of things that can get you thrown in a French jail for saying is long, including “offensive” speech against various racial, religious, and sexual minorities, but it must be mysterious to Muslims why gross public indecencies against the Prophet are tolerated when denial of the Holocaust, a purely human affair, is not.

. . .

Short of a coercive reeducation program worthy of Mao’s Cultural Revolution I’m not sure what can be done about all this in 2015. Even if Muslim immigration were halted tomorrow — which is surely not on the table yet — Western Europe will still possess twenty million Muslims, many quite unassimilated, who are reproducing at a rate far beyond the native population. It’s difficult to see how this can end well — or peacefully.

. . .

How, then, are European countries today doing such a terrible job of assimilating Muslim immigrants? In the first place, Christianity has been replaced by secularism, often of an aggressive kind. We have changed; Muslims have not. The sort of in-your-face secularism that’s commonplace in Europe now is difficult for Muslims to relate to, having no resonance with their historical experience, and is viewed with contempt by many of them. Bonds of tribe and kin that have frayed in the West remain powerful among Muslims. Post-modern permissiveness in sexual matters is likewise met with bemused anger by many Muslims, some of whom gleefully rape European women they view as whores.

Crime is one of the great unmentionables in all this, preventing honest dialogue. In 2010, Éric Zemmour was convicted of racial incitement for stating that Muslim immigrants were grossly overrepresented among France’s violent criminals, though few could plausibly state he was wrong on the numbers. Over the last generation, France has created a serious problem in the suburbs of Paris, among other major cities, where Muslim ghettos are crowded with young people who seldom if ever work, living on welfare while plotting crimes of various sorts, while seething with resentment and hate for “infidels” around them. For some, this path of hatred leads to jihad. Here the Paris killers, with their obsession with angry American rap music, were a walking, vapid, and murderous cliche.

Many are now worried about low-grade warfare erupting across Western Europe, as jihadist cells go active and plant bombs and open fire. All over the European Union, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, police and spies are watching would-be killers closely. Although there is no enduring security fix to this daunting problem, as I’ve explained before, consistent police and intelligence pressure on Salafi radicals can reduce terrorism, if the will exists to sustain such aggressive operations by the security services.

While more terrorism seems likely, it may not be anything as dramatic as alarmists and thrillers would promise. France already faces an Islamic insurgency of a low-grade kind — it is habitually downplayed by the authorities as “isolated incidents” that happen “at random” when shootings and driving cars into people is anything but random — that may continue on low-boil for years, claiming a few victims at a time, not dozens, much less hundreds. French inner cities may come to resemble shambolic American inner cities like Detroit or Chicago, where war-like casualty rates among civilians are similarly dismissed as “street crime,” with the difference that France’s troublemakers will be inspired by Salafi jihadism while being shockingly well armed. Needless to add, more militarization of police and society will follow.

It’s all too soon to tell. All-out civil war — think more Mad Max than Gettysburg — cannot be ruled out at this juncture. What is clear, however, is that Europe has no idea how to respond to this mounting crisis in any politically coherent fashion.

There's much more at the link.  It's very long, but well worth reading, IMHO.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Night Will Fall" is a must-see documentary

Tomorrow, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, a documentary program will be presented by HBO:  'Night Will Fall'.  The New York Daily News describes it:

The Hitchcock documentary was about the Allied liberation of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and many other Nazi death camps. It was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information with Sidney Bernstein producing and Hitchcock as supervising director. But as reconciliation took place, the Brits needed post-World War II Germany as an ally in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

And so the damning film with footage taken by military cameramen of living skeletons, acres of Jewish corpses and warehouses stuffed with human hair and teeth was shelved to placate the shamed Germans, and has remained buried until now.

The never-before-publicly-seen footage is so graphic, so stunning, so disturbing — even seven decades later — that it almost makes you ashamed to be a member of the same species as those responsible for it. You could almost hear your thumping heart breaking amid the pervasive, shocked silence in the dark auditorium.

“Night Will Fall,” produced by Brett Ratner and Sally Angel, and directed by Andre Singer, premieres on HBO and in 15 countries worldwide on Monday as part of Holocaust Memorial Day. Its title comes from a quote in the film’s voice-over, “Unless the world learns the lessons these pictures teach, night will fall.”

There's more at the link.  Here's a trailer for the documentary.

The tragic thing is, because this documentary has been suppressed for so long, and because footage of Holocaust atrocities is so seldom broadcast, a whole generation - more than one generation - has lost touch with just how horrifying this part of history really was.  Partly as a result, there have been more such atrocities in the years since:  the Killing Fields, Srebrenica, Sabra and Shatila, Rwanda, and heaven knows how many more.

We need to see these images . . . these people.  Man's inhumanity to man, personified.  We need to remember, so that they may never be forgotten.  May their souls rest in whatever peace is possible to them.

Apart from this documentary (which I intend to buy on DVD as soon as I can), I highly recommend the movie 'Schindler's List' and the 'Genocide' episode of the award-winning series 'The World At War', as well as the two-part bonus documentary 'The Final Solution' in the extended DVD edition of that series.  (The latter is available on YouTube at present:  Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.  However, they may be taken down soon, as most uploads from 'The World At War' seem to be removed fairly quickly, presumably for copyright reasons.)  All are (or will soon be) part of my permanent library.  I think everyone should own them, and re-screen them periodically so that we never forget.


Movie sword fights as you've never seen them before

Here's a magnificent compilation of sword fights from no less than 60 films.  Blink and you'll miss something!  Watch it in full-screen mode for the best effect.

The movies (listed only the first time each one appears) are:

00:01 - Kill Bill
00:06 - Hero
00:08 - Seven Samurai
00:09 - The Princess bride
00:11 - Hero
00:13 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
00:14 - Gladiator
00:16 - Conan the Barbarian
00:17 - Troy
00:19 - Batman begins
00:21 - Dragonslayer
00:23 - Kill Bill Vol. 2
00:26 - The Empire strikes back
00:29 - Crouching tiger, hidden dragon
00:33 - Zatoichi
00:35 - Hellboy 2
00:37 - The mask of Zorro
00:40 - The phantom menace
00:45 - Peter Pan
00:47 - Pirates of the Caribbean: The curse of the Black Pearl
00:49 - Revenge of the Sith
00:52 - The duelists
00:54 - LadyHawke
00:55 - The Count of Montecristo
00:56 - Kingdom of Heaven
00:58 - Blade
01:03 - The 13th warrior
01:05 - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
01:06 - The Fellowship of the Ring
01:07 - Highlander
01:12 - Cutthroat Island
01:13 - Dangerous liaisons
01:14 - The adventres of Robin Hood (1938)
01:20 - The attack of the clones
01:26 - Stardust
01:28 - House of Flying Daggers
01:30 - Matrix Reloaded
01:32 - The flame and the arrow
01:35 - Willow
01:36 - Cyrano de Bergerac
01:48 - Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
01:49 - Monty Python and the Holy Grail
01:50 - Hamlet (1996)
01:52 - Rob Roy
02:02 - Young Sherlock Holmes
02:08 - The Crow
02:12 - Casanova
02:20 - Star Wars: A new hope
02:29 - The Four Musketeers (1974)
02:31 - Dragonheart
02:33 - The return of the Jedi
02:38 - Hook
02:40 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
02:44 - Army of Darkness
02:55 - Azumi
02:57 - 300
03:01 - Excalibur
03:03 - Blind Fury
03:05 - The Curse of the Golden Flower
03:38 - Equilibrium

Congratulations to Vimeo user ClaraDarko for a spectacular piece of editing.


Wheels within wheels in the Middle East

Keep your eyes firmly on the Arabian Peninsula over the next few weeks.  Some very interesting - and threatening - developments there could destabilize the entire Middle East, and conceivably the entire world.

  1. The Houthi tribe, members of the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, have taken over the Presidential palace in Yemen. They're said to be backed by Iran. The government of Yemen has resigned following the takeover, which threatens the position of the Sunni Moslem Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in that country.  AQAP is aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), sometimes referred to simply as Islamic State, which currently dominates proceedings in Iraq and Syria.  Full-scale civil war appears likely in Yemen.
  2. Iran is supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces in their fight against ISIL, and has sent its own military forces to the battlefield. If it's behind the Houthi takeover in Yemen, it's likely it got involved there to block any increase in influence by the ISIL-supporting AQAP.
  3. If AQAP can maintain and strengthen its position in Yemen, then ISIL can infiltrate Saudi Arabia from the North while AQAP does the same from the South. The King of Saudi Arabia died last week, and his successor is reported to be in poor health and suffering from senility.  Whether he is or not, the government of Saudi Arabia is currently in a state of flux.  The handover of power, with at least thirty princes more or less eligible for the succession and thousands of minor royalty jockeying for position and influence, is never easy in such a nation.  That offers an opportunity for ISIL and AQAP.  If they strike before the Saudi administration settles down, they may be able to exploit its current weakness and uncertainty.  It's a perfect time for them to attack - and perhaps take over - the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.  I'll bet my next decade's income they're discussing it as you read these words.
  4. Remember the speed with which ISIL took over huge swaths of Iraq?  Their black-bannered convoys of fundamentalist terrorist fighters appeared to sweep all before them as demoralized government troops melted away like snow in the sunlight.  If you think Saudi Arabian ground forces will perform any better, you don't know the situation in the Middle East very well.  That's why US and Coalition forces had to be the prime movers and fighters in both Gulf Wars - our Arab 'allies' were incapable of doing so for themselves.

If there's a move by ISIL and AQAP to invade Saudi Arabia, then that country's mortal enemy, Iran, might find itself (however reluctantly) forced to support its rival for power in the Persian Gulf, the Saudi royal family.  What's more, you'll see the price of oil, which has tumbled in recent months, just as swiftly reverse itself.  I'm betting it could hit $150-$200 per barrel within four to six weeks if things go badly wrong.  Just imagine what that would do to the already fragile world economy.

Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the Arabian Peninsula.  I'm thinking we ain't seen nothin' yet . . .


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pictures of the German Air Force in World War II

A tip o' the hat to Glen W. for sending me the link to this outstanding collection of photographs of aircraft of the German Luftwaffe during World War II.  There are some amazing shots there that I've never come across before, as well as some that are more familiar.  Here are a few that may be new to many of you.  Click each image for a larger view.

First, the six-engined Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant, the biggest German transport aircraft of the war.  It began life as the Me 321 glider, and was then redesigned as a powered aircraft.  It could carry up to 12 tons of cargo, or 130 men, or 60 patients on stretchers.  (Compare that to the most common US cargo aircraft of the war, the C-47 Skytrain, which could carry up to 3 tons of cargo or 28 men, including the crew.)

The slow, lumbering Me 323 featured in one of the greatest German aviation disasters of the war.  As Wikipedia reports:

On 22 April 1943, a formation of 27 fully loaded Me 323s was being escorted across the Sicilian Straits by Bf 109s of JG 27 when it was intercepted by seven squadrons of Spitfires and P-40s. Twenty one of the Me 323s were lost while three of the P-40s were shot down by the escorts.

My late father had a role in that Allied victory;  he was an engineer officer in the Royal Air Force, and fighters from his airfield were among those involved that day.  He described the party in the pilots' mess that night as being 'epic'.

Here are a couple of less well-known German seaplanes.  First, the Heinkel He 115, often used as a torpedo bomber against the Arctic convoys to and from the Soviet Union.

Next, the Arado Ar 196, standard equipment on German Navy capital ships.  They were carried for communication, reconnaissance and gunfire 'spotting' purposes.  The famous battleship Bismarck carried four of them on her one and only voyage, and tried to launch one just before she was sunk to carry important records to safety.  Unfortunately, shellfire damaged the launching mechanism, preventing the aircraft from taking off.

Finally, here's a very famous individual, one of the finest fighting men of any age.  Hans-Ulrich Rudel was a legend in his own lifetime, respected by fighting men around the globe despite his ardent and unwavering devotion to Hitler and the Nazi cause.  His combat record is well-nigh incredible:  he flew 2,530 combat missions and destroyed over 500 enemy tanks (among many other victories).  He was shot down or forced to land 32 times, several of them behind enemy lines, and was wounded in action five times, including the loss of one leg (which didn't stop him flying and fighting).  He was the only person in the entire German armed forces to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds.  I highly recommend his book 'Stuka Pilot'.  Here he's shown demonstrating how to attack the Soviet T-34 tank, using a model to illustrate his points.

There are many more images at the link. Fascinating viewing for aviation and military history buffs.


Workout partner

I don't know who's having the most fun!


Friday, January 23, 2015

Fancy a (very big) cookout?

I note with bemusement that what's claimed to be the world's largest barbecue grill is for sale on eBay.  Asking price is a mere $350,000.00 - plus $3.58 standard shipping!

According to the Telegraph:

The "Undisputable Cuz", as the [present owners] call it, can cook four tonnes of meat at a time from a surprisingly small fire.

But if you're not sure a 24-door barbecue with seven chimneys is enough to make your summer party go down in history, the trailer is also fitted with a walk-in cooler, beer taps and space for a television and stereo.

There's more at the link.  Here's a video clip of the beast in action.

Hmm . . . if we took up a collection, I wonder if we could get that for our next Blogorado gathering?


Can Europe remain intact?

Last week we looked at diversity in Europe, citing a Stratfor article titled 'A War Between Two Worlds' that examined the conflict between diversity and nationality in European nations.  Now Stratfor has followed it with another, equally thought-provoking article titled 'The European Union, Nationalism and the Crisis of Europe'.  With Stratfor's permission, here's an excerpt examining the European Union's adoption of quantitative easing to ease the supranational economy.

The plan is an attempt to spur economic activity in Europe by increasing the amount of money available. It calls for governments to increase their borrowing for various projects designed to increase growth and decrease unemployment. Rather than selling the bonds on the open market, a move that would trigger a rise in interest rates, the bonds are sold to the central banks of eurozone member states, which have the ability to print new money. The money is then sent to the treasury. With more money flowing through the system, recessions driven by a lack of capital are relieved. This is why the measure is called quantitative easing.

The United States did this in 2008. In addition to government debt, the Federal Reserve also bought corporate debt. The hyperinflation that some had feared would result from the move never materialized, and the U.S. economy hit a 5 percent growth rate in the third quarter of last year. The Europeans chose not to pursue this route, and as a result, the European economy is, at best, languishing. Now the Europeans will begin such a program — several years after the Americans did — in the hopes of moving things forward again.

The European strategy is vitally different, however. The Federal Reserve printed the money and bought the cash. The European Central Bank will also print the money, but each eurozone country's individual national bank will do the purchasing, and each will be allowed only to buy the debt of its own government. The reason for this decision reveals much about Europe's real crisis, which is not so much economic (although it is certainly economic) as it is political and social — and ultimately cultural and moral.

The recent leaks have made it clear the European Central Bank is implementing quantitative easing in this way because many eurozone governments are unable to pay their sovereign debt. European countries do not want to cover each other's shortfalls, either directly or by exposing the central bank to losses, a move that would make all members liable. In particular, Berlin does not want to be in a position where a series of defaults could cripple Europe as a whole and therefore cripple Germany. This is why the country has resisted quantitative easing, even in the face of depressions in Southern Europe, recessions elsewhere and contractions in demand for German products that have driven German economic growth downward. Berlin preferred those outcomes to the risk of becoming liable for the defaults of other countries.

. . .

The European Central Bank is providing the mechanism for stimulating Europe's economy, while the eurozone member states will assume the responsibility for stimulating it — and living with the consequences of failure. It is as if the Federal Reserve were to print money and give some to each state so that New York could buy its own debt and not become exposed to California's casual ways. The strangeness of the plan rests in the strangeness of the European experiment. California and New York share a common fate as part of the United States. While Germany and Greece are both part of the European Union, they do not and will not share a common fate. If they do not share a common fate, then what exactly is the purpose of the European Union? It was never supposed to be about "the pursuit of happiness," but instead about "peace and prosperity." The promise is the not right to pursue, but the right to have. That is a huge difference.

There's more at the link.

It's sobering to realize that issues of diversity, tolerance, etc. can be completely overwhelmed by social and economic turmoil.  Remember what hyperinflation did to the Weimar Republic?  It was one of the factors that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.  Concurrent economic turmoil in Italy gave rise to Benito Mussolini and the Fascist Party.  In Greece, rocked by economic chaos for the past five years, a radical far-Left coalition is expected to win elections on Sunday, with right-wing opponents already saying darkly that they're not to be trusted.  In Germany and France anti-immigrant sentiments have led to an increase in support for extremist parties on both the left and the right wings of politics.

Who's to say that economic issues might not spark another decade like the 1930's in Europe?  And if so, what's to prevent them from (God forbid) segueing into another decade like the 1940's?


The joys of coming home to a cat

Our cat, Kili, was overjoyed when Miss D. and I arrived home on Wednesday afternoon. She was drooling with happiness, purring, rubbing herself all over us - very touching (you should pardon the expression).

Then the fun started.

You see, she'd been deprived of playing with us for a week, and our main function in life is to keep her entertained. (According to her, anyway.)  So, almost as soon as we'd caught our breath, she was belly-trapping us all over the house.  "See me flop on my back!  See me expose my cute fluffy belly to your fingers!  I double dare you to try to scratch it!"  Followed, of course, by murder and mayhem, kitty style, when we did so.

Last night, she decided that having allowed us one good night's sleep on Wednesday, now it was her turn. She paraded up and down the length of each of us several times, kneading away with her paws, purring loudly. When we protested sleepily and brushed her off, she'd wait a few minutes, decide that we hadn't really meant it, and come back for more.  Her favorite sleeping place is against my calves, so when I rolled over she'd mutter indignantly to herself and try to stick a claw in me to make me hold still (which usually has the opposite effect). Last night she was in fine form, managing to get at my toes under the edge of the comforter on two separate occasions.  It's a hell of a thing to wake up with a claw in your big toe!

This morning she's been quite relaxed. She clearly worked off most of her excess energy last night. Now, if only we weren't so tired . . .


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mount Colima blows its top

There was a pretty spectacular volcanic explosion at Colima in Mexico yesterday.  This time-lapse video compresses about four minutes of footage into about 30 seconds.  Watch it in full-screen mode for the best results.

That's only the second time I've seen a mountain-top blown away, although this was on a much smaller scale than the previous one - Mount St. Helens in 1980.

I'd as soon be far, far away from those things when they go off . . .


Candide Thovex shows us how it's done

Here's a French skier showing us how they do it in the resort of Val Blanc, France.  Watch it in full-screen mode for the best effect - and make sure to watch all the way to the end.  The final stunt is a lulu!

If he were a driver, his insurance premiums would go up just for filming that . . .  If you'd like more, the first video in the series may be found here.


Warbirds, floats and skis

We've mentioned the good folks at Vintage Wings of Canada many times in these pages.  Their latest article is an eye-opener.  'Anything But Wheels' looks at how floats and skis were fitted to aircraft during the Second World War in an attempt to expand their usefulness in various theaters of combat.  Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union used them in combat, but US and British forces did not develop them that far.

There's far too much information to condense here, so I'll simply put up a few photographs (out of dozens in the article) to illustrate what was done.

Germany:  Junkers Ju 52 transport on floats

Germany:  Heinkel He 111 bomber on skis

Japan:  Nakajima A6M2-N fighter on floats (derived from Mitsubishi A6M Zero)

USA:  Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter on skis

USA:  Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive-bomber on floats

Britain:  Supermarine Spitfire Mk. IX fighter on floats

There are many more images at the link.  Fascinating stuff for aircraft and military enthusiasts.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Safely back home

We arrived home early this afternoon, to a rapturous reception from our cat.  I was very tired, and took a nap immediately.  I hate to have to admit it, but in my late 50's I'm not able to cope with a week-long road trip nearly as easily as I did even ten years ago, much less twenty or thirty!

Our time since then has been spent washing laundry, eating (and feeding the cat, who's determined to get a week's worth of treats out of us all at one time).  Normal blogging will resume tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Almost home

Miss D. and I are overnighting in the bustling metropolis of Forrest City, Arkansas.  Tomorrow we'll drive the last four hours to get home, but we were just too tired to try to do it this evening.  Besides, we were stiff and sore after almost a week on the road and a selection of not-so-comfortable beds.  (Sleeping on a memory foam mattress is lovely, but you - literally - sorely miss it when you have to use a different type!)

Renting our hotel room proved entertaining. We looked for a better-than-average hotel with suites, in the hope of finding a room or suite with a hot tub, because both of us were excessively stiff after too many miles in a pickup cab. The nice lady at the reception desk confirmed that she had one, but as far as she could remember, no-one had ever rented it since it was installed!  Apparently there just isn't the demand here for that sort of luxury.  Even funnier, when she tried to assign it to us, the computer system refused to allow it - the owner had apparently blocked it from rental availability because of the lack of demand.  She eventually sorted it out, and Miss D. and I have enjoyed massaging our aching backs and knees with jets of hot water.  There's a lot to be said for a good hot tub.  I think we're going to have to put it on our 'nice-to-have' list for when we eventually buy a home of our own.

My visit with the Louisiana DMV this morning proved fruitful.  It took over an hour of navigating their somewhat Byzantine computer systems with the help of a clerk, but I managed to complete two out of three tasks on my list.  The third is pending receipt of paperwork from another source, after which I'll finish it via snail mail.  It was definitely worth the detour to talk to a human being face-to-face and sort things out directly, rather than try to do so over the telephone or via the Internet.  (Al, if you read this before we get home, the paperwork's been organized and paid for.  It should arrive in our mailbox within a month.)

I'm going to turn in and get some beauty sleep (although no-one in his or her right mind would ever consider me beautiful).  Tomorrow morning we'll be homeward bound.