Sunday, May 31, 2015

The new cover is about to go live

The new cover for my latest book, 'Forge A New Blade', has been uploaded to  It should 'go live' on that site overnight, and be visible there by tomorrow morning.

Oleg did his usual great job of overlaying the text elements, editing the raw image to make it more suitable for use as a cover, highlighting different colors and textures, and putting the whole thing together.  It's a revelation sitting with him, watching him at work.  Miss D. or I have only to suggest something in the vaguest terms.  He instantly clicks this, types that and fiddles the other, and the desired change emerges in front of our eyes.  His talents are extraordinary.

I think the new cover's a great improvement over the old one.  Thanks very much to all of you who suggested the change.  I hope you like it as much as I do. Now I've got to upload the cover to CreateSpace and finalize the files for the print edition, which should be available shortly.

May I again ask those of you who've read the book to please leave a review at  They're important because many sites used by indie authors to promote their books require a minimum number of reader reviews before they'll even look at a new work.  The sooner I can get up to 50 or so reviews, the more of those services will become open to me, allowing me to do a better job of promotion.  Thanks for your help.


The nanny-state bureaucrats are at it again . . .

My mind boggled a bit to read this report.

Boulder has really been going overboard with the unnecessary rules lately. First, there was the controversial e e-cigarette ban that made it so the only place you could smoke a tobacco product in Boulder was ... outside of Boulder. Then, they banned dispensary coupons. Yes, coupons, the widely known source of evil and immmorality. You read that right.

And now, Boulder has extended its 1984-style government reach even further into the personal lives of its people by ... drum roll, please ... banning the artful stacking of rocks.

. . .

The ban is a direct result of an issue that local "rock artist" Gravity Glue had with the Boulder Police Department. According to a statement he made on his Facebook page, a police officer got sick of his beautiful, meditative rock sculptures and saw to it that this kind of gravity defiance could be punishable by law. Here's the back story from that same statement:

For the past 7 years i have been creating this art in and around Boulder, Colorado, USA. nearly every day! it has become a huge part and long standing positive aspect of the local spirit of Boulder. I'm not the first, and i definitely will not be the last.

just this weekend, one police officer has decided that balancing rocks in Boulder, Colorado is now illegal, obscurely referencing two city codes about "destruction of public property" in relation to rocks.

Boulder city codes: 5-4-8, and 5-4-2

. . .

Yes, because balancing river rocks is one of the greatest threats to health and safety in Boulder County, and enforcing its illegality is a smart and exacting use of police resources.

There's more at the link, including photographs of this heinous activity and a video clip of the 'artist' doing his thing.

Fortunately, the Boulder City Attorney seems to have had a (rare) attack of sanity over the issue.

Boulder police spokeswoman Kim Kobel today said that an officer did talk to Grab because he was concerned Grab was violating two city municipal codes: rolling or throwing rocks on public property and damaging public property.

The officer did not issue a ticket, and later consulted with the Boulder City Attorney's Office to find out whether the Grab's rock-stacking was a violation of the ordinances, and was told it was not.

In addition, Kobel said patrol officers have been made aware of the city's position on rock-stacking.

Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr also has sent letters of response to people who have been inquiring about the city's policy on rock-stacking.

Again, more at the link.

It's a good thing I don't live in or near Boulder.  I think I'd be torn between hysterical laughter at such nanny-statism, and an overwhelming desire to drum some sense into the fool heads of all the city officials concerned!

(I might do both, of course.  I mean, if one's going to be politically incorrect, why not go the whole hog?  Or is the addition of a porcine element additional evidence of insensitivity?)


Was this really 42 years ago???

It still seems like yesterday that I heard Billy Joel's 'Piano Man' for the first time.

I was pleased to come across this interview where he discusses the lyrics and their meaning.

Dammit, that song can't have been released 42 years ago!  I'm not that old . . . or am I?



Some great photographs for history buffs

Recently Rev. Paul put up a collection of very interesting historical photographs on his blog.  Here are a couple of examples.

Eiffel Tower under construction, 1880's

Rollerskates, circa 1910

There are many more images at the link.  Worth visiting.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

A 70-year-old wartime mystery

I've just come across a 2012 report that the body of a long-missing pilot had been found in Egypt.  It may be a few years old, but it's still of interest.

THE body of a World War Two fighter pilot shot down 70 years ago has finally been discovered in the Egyptian desert, his family believe.

The Pryor-Bennett family are praying that DNA tests confirm that the remains are those of Flight Sergeant Denis Copping.

The young pilot has been missing for 70 years after he failed to return to base in his Curtiss Kittyhawk fighter in 1942.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk fighters of the Royal Air Force in Tunisia, 1943

It was initially believed that the young man was shot down by the Luftwaffe near the Egypt-Libya border -- but experts later guessed that the RAF pilot got lost in a sandstorm over the featureless desert before running out of fuel and crashing.

Incredibly, a group of Polish oil workers discovered the near-intact Kittyhawk plane three months ago.

They confirmed that the pilot survived the crash because they found his parachute but no remains.

They concluded that he must have set out on foot across the baking desert to try to reach the safety of Allied lines.

Flt Sgt Copping's nephew William Pryor-Bennett (62), was determined that his uncle's remains should be found -- and his son John (30) was prepared to travel to Egypt to help with the search.

But the Pryor-Bennetts -- who run the successful Mother Hubbards Cafe in Kinsale -- were astounded to receive word that Italian military historians have already found what they believe could be the young pilot's remains.

The discovery was made just over a fortnight ago.

"They heard about the discovery of my uncle's plane and decided to search the area around it. They have been doing a lot of research on the Italian soldiers that fought alongside Rommel," William Pryor-Bennett told the Irish Independent.

The Italians searched the area around the crash fighter plane -- and came across human remains just five miles from the Curtiss.

There's more at the link.

I understand the aircraft is to be brought back to Britain and restored for display in a military museum.  It's said to be in remarkably good condition, considering that it's been lying in the desert, exposed to the elements, for 70 years.  Click the image below for a larger view.

My father served in the RAF during the Desert War, and given what I remember of his postings he'll probably have been familiar with that general area.

May Flight Sergeant Denis Copping, and all those who died in that long-ago war, rest in peace.


An exciting development in the fight against poaching

I'm very encouraged to hear that drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) have been deployed in the fight against rhino poachers in South Africa, with great success.

Drones deployed in South Africa’s Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park have eliminated the killing of endangered rhinoceroses over the past six months, according to Air Shepherd, the nonprofit program that operates the machines. It’s a stunning statistic, given that poachers had been shooting between 12 and 19 rhinos a month.

These aren’t just any drones. Guided by a supercomputer that predicts where poachers will appear, the flying robots show ranger teams where to apprehend the killers before they can pull the trigger. A ground crew equipped with a 3-D printer, meanwhile, keeps the drones aloft by making replacement parts for the machines on the fly.

. . .

Uploaded into each drone is a flight plan generated by an algorithm that can estimate with 93 percent accuracy where rhinos will be at any given time, as well as where and when poachers are most likely to strike.

It’s based on the same code used to predict where insurgents would place roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thomas Snitch, a University of Maryland computer science professor, developed the Air Shepherd algorithm and treats rhinos like American soldiers. Just as troops move along certain paths at certain times, so do rhinos, elephants, and poachers.

“The key is anticipating where the area of conflict will be,” Snitch told Sierra magazine last year. “Where will the two elements intersect?”

By linking historical data gathered from rhino radio collars, reported poaching attacks, time of day, weather, and season, the Air Shepherd team can intercept poachers before they have a chance to lay hands on a rhino.

So far, the drones have flown 760 missions over 1,000 hours without a poaching incident.

“It works because instead of trying to cover a thousand square miles of land, we’re pinpointing a two-square-mile area that we know could be a point where poachers and animals will be,” Petersen said.

With ranger patrols dominating the day, the team’s drones are the eyes of the night sky—nighttime is when the majority of big-animal poaching takes place. Each drone is outfitted with an infrared camera that pipes a live feed of what it’s seeing to the mobile ground team.

Back in Maryland, the supercomputer pumps out new flight plans based on the most recent available data. That information is uploaded to the drones, which then patrol on autopilot, surveying areas most likely to be targeted by poachers.

If a drone spots a poacher, the ground-control crew springs into action, alerting a prepositioned ranger team of the threat. The rangers are deployed and stop the poachers before they can harm the animals.

There's more at the link, including photographs.  Air Shepherd has three publicity videos on its YouTube channel giving more information about how it works.

I know the park well, having visited it several times.  It's indelibly associated with Dr. Ian Player, who died last year and about whom I wrote at the time.  It's one of the world's greatest conservation success stories.  To learn that poachers were undermining that is sickening, and to know that drones are helping to stop them in their tracks is great news.  Congratulations to all concerned.


How the holes in Swiss cheese got there

Here's the scientific discovery of the week:  how the holes in Swiss cheese got there.

Despite what you may have been told as a child, they are not caused by mice nibbling away inside cheese wheels.

Experts from Agroscope, a state centre for agricultural research, said the phenomenon - which marks famous Swiss cheeses such as Emmental and Appenzell - was caused by tiny bits of hay present in the milk and not bacteria as previously thought.

They found that the mystery holes in such cheeses became smaller or disappeared when milk used for cheese-making was extracted using modern methods.

"It's the disappearance of the traditional bucket" used during milking that caused the difference, said Agroscope spokesman Regis Nyffeler, adding that bits of hay fell into it and then eventually caused the holes.

There's more at the link.

I can already see someone trying to use this research to sell 'organic Swiss cheese'.  How will buyers know it's organic?  Because compared to factory Swiss cheese, it'll be 'hole-ier than thou'!


Friday, May 29, 2015

More on the cover redesign

Last week I asked for your help in figuring out whether to put a new cover on my latest book, 'Forge A New Blade'.  Feedback was generally in favor of the new cover image I proposed.

I'll be working with my buddy Oleg this weekend to produce the new cover, and I'll take the opportunity to fix a couple of minor typos and other issues with the text.  (That week of illness prior to publication cut into my proof-reading time, and taught me a lesson.  In future I'm going to allow a clear ten days for proof-reading, cover to cover every single day, to catch those problems.  If I don't, I'll miss some of them, and that's just not acceptable.)

Several of you asked how I'd be able to use the new image when it didn't offer enough space top and bottom to put the title or the author's name without covering up elements of the picture.  That's where Oleg works his magic.  He can extend margins on all sides, using elements of the existing picture and Photoshopping them into place, so that it looks seamless.  That'll produce extra clear space to accommodate the text.  One can also buy the image (as I've done) in the 'lossless' TIFF format, which makes it easier to do that than the 'lossy compression' JPEG format.  It costs more to buy it like that, but I think the results are worth it - and it's easier to manipulate the image without causing distortion or losing detail.

I'll be finalizing the print edition, too;  all it's waiting for is the right cover.  (I didn't see any sense in producing it with the 'wrong' cover, then changing it a week later.)  By Monday I'll be able to show you the new version.  Meanwhile, if you've read it and liked it, I'd be very grateful if you'd please leave a review of 'Forge A New Blade' at  That helps potential readers decide whether they'd like to try it.

Thanks for your help, and your patience while I worked to get it right.  I hope you'll like the finished product.


Quote of the day

From the Independent in the UK, in an article titled 'Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb':

More than half of our young people who are classified as Neets (not in education, employment or training) are not the slightest bit interested in working. They have no qualifications. They are illiterate and innumerate. They can’t hold a conversation and they are unemployable. Each one can be saved. But they have to give up their phones during the hours it is going to take for someone to sort them out. They should be assigned an adult mentor, nurtured and helped to re-enter the real world of work. These Neets are the human detritus washed up by the smartphone epidemic. They can play idiot computer games and can use all manner of apps, but they can’t actually form a sentence.


It doesn't apply to everyone, of course - I know plenty of smart kids with smartphones - but there's an element that seems to regard their smartphone and its apps as a replacement for reality.  I know, too, that several employers around here who look every year to hire hundreds, even thousands of temporary staff for peak season, and then select the best for permanent employment, complain that they simply can't find enough people with both an active, engaged intelligence and the willingness to work hard.  The sense of entitlement, of "I can do what I like!", appears to be overwhelming - and yes, even when they're not allowed to take their smartphones into the workplace, they'll still try to do so, then spend half the working day texting and apping.  Then they wonder why they're fired.


Forensics, 1880's style

Massad Ayoob has an article on his blog, referring to his latest column in the current issue of American Handgunner magazine, about Elfego Baca, the famous (or should that be notorious?) New Mexico lawman, lawyer and all-round badass.

Mas recounts an incident where - I'm sorry, I can't resist putting it like this - "Baca used caca" to help convict a wanted man.  I won't spoil the details by repeating them here.  Go read his article, and then his column.  Both are interesting and informative.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Doofus Of The Day #835

Today's award goes to two drunken teens in Ukraine.  It seems they were part of a group clowning around on the roof of the Globe shopping center in Independence Square, Kiev.  Overcome by teenage foolishness (and alcohol), they decided to slide down the sloping roof.

WARNING:  Serious injuries result. If you're squeamish, you might prefer not to watch.

It seems one broke his coccyx and the other was admitted to intensive care with concussion and a fractured skull.  It's reported both will be OK, but their recovery will take some time.  Personally, I think they're both damned lucky to be alive!


"War stuff cut in half"

That's the title of a very interesting photo essay over at War History Online.  It has pictures of everything from a British .303 armor-piercing round (note the cordite propellant used instead of powder):

to an entire German Leopard 1 main battle tank:

(Click either image for a larger view.)

There are many more images at the link.  Interesting viewing for military and firearms buffs.


Looks like I was right about Mad Max

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that 'Feminism ruins Mad Max remake'.  A number of commenters suggested that I give the film the benefit of the doubt, and wait and see.  Unfortunately, many reviews have since confirmed what I feared.  This one, from the Telegraph, can speak for all of them.

A movie that was meant to be glorifying male recklessness and brute force turns out to be a celebration of female strength and resilience. The film’s true hero is not the eponymous Max (the wonderful Tom Hardy), but its female lead, Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in a daringly unvain, shaven-headed performance that will have her bosses at Dior wondering what the hell happened to their beautiful blonde brand ambassador.

With a gaze containing more steel than her prosthetic arm, Furiosa is helping five slaves, imprisoned by the evil Immortan Joe to bear his children, to flee a desert citadel. Theron spends most of the film behind the wheel of the War Rig – half truck, half belching black dragon – pursued by a posse of testosterone-fuelled crazies. Put it this way, Furiosa would struggle to get her Girl Guide Road Safety badge.

The scene where the five “Wives” emerge from the truck, wearing garments that Victoria’s Secret might find a tad scanty, is standard fare for your typical blockbuster where girls are served up as delectable hors d’oeuvres. But the joke is on the salivating guys as the young women use everything – including a defiantly flaunted pregnant belly – to thwart their pursuers.

Add to that the Vuvulani, a group of weathered matriarchs who ride motorbikes and are handy with a howitzer, and you have a gleeful trashing of the time-honoured template where helpless woman waits to be rescued by brave man.

At a critical moment in the action, Max has just one bullet left to kill the baddie; he pauses, hands the gun to Furiosa and offers his shoulder as a rifle stand. No fuss, no loss of face. The woman is simply the better shot and that’s that. Yes, when Max washes his bloodied face in the only available fluid – mother’s milk – something symbolic is going on, but the film is having far too much fun to pull over and deliver a lecture.

. . .

Mad Max manages to do for the menopause what Lassie did for collie dogs.

There's more at the link.

Uh-huh.  As I said in my earlier article, I've seen enough of real dystopia to be in no doubt about what it means in reality - and in that reality, 'girl power' isn't.  Period.  End of story.  Suspension of disbelief is all very well, but when one has to suspend scientific, cultural, historical and practical reality as well . . . no.  Just no.


A car that helped the Allied war effort

I had to shake my head at a report in the Telegraph this morning.

Known by the Allied forces as their "secret weapon", the Czechoslovakian-manufactured Tatra 77a and 87 automobiles inadvertently became Nazi-killing machines. In fact, more high-ranking Nazi officers died driving these models of the Tatra – which had a top speed of 100 miles per hour but were rear-engined and heavy to handle – than in active combat.

Speaking at the Hay Festival on May 27, author Steve Cole said: "The Tatra 77a [and 87] was pretty sleek and pretty stylish. Hitler saw the car and believed it was the car of the future; it was the car he wanted to see people driving on Germany's roads."

Tatra 87 (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

"Following the invasion of Czechoslovakia in the Thirties, it became very popular with high-ranking Nazi officers," said Cole, who last year released the Young Bond novel, Shoot to Kill. "They were all seen driving these things. The cars were designed to be very aerodynamic with the fin at the back and the wheel arches filled in order to stop the wind dragging.

"These high-ranking Nazi officers drove this car fast but unfortunately the handling was rubbish, so at a sharp turn they would lose control, spin out and wrap themselves round a tree killing the driver more often than not. The Allies referred to the Tatra cars as their secret weapon against the Nazis.

"More high-ranking Nazi officers were killed in car crashes in the Tatra 77 [and 87] than were killed in active combat. It goes to show that being too flash doesn't get you anywhere and will leave you dead."

There's more at the link.

I'm sure most of the subjugated Czechs would have been happy to know that . . .


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How ISIS took Ramadi

Last week a 'senior State Department official' gave a background briefing on ISIL's conquest of the remainder of Ramadi a few days ago.  Many of us, including myself, had wondered how ISIL could have overwhelmed the Iraqi defenders of the city so easily.  Turns out it wasn't that easy at all.

I think it’s important to remember that ISIL first moved in to Ramadi in force on January 1st, 2014, so that was six months before Mosul. The city has been contested for 18 months. Half the city had been under control of ISIL for some time. You might remember Fallujah fell immediately in January of 2014. The Iraqis have been fighting in Ramadi constantly for 18 months, and it was a very vicious, bloody fight. They suffered thousands of casualties over these 18 months.

Our assessment of ISIL all the way back last summer – well, and we’ve said this publicly – is that ISIL as an organization is better in every respect than its predecessor of AQI; it’s better manned, it’s better resourced, they have better fighters, they’re more experienced. And we know what it took for us, the best military in the world, to get a handle on AQI, so I think that also puts things in a little bit of context.

We’ve been working with the Iraqis to hold the center of Ramadi for some time, and I think the last time I spoke with you one of you asked me what keeps you up at night or something. I said look, this is a really formidable enemy; it’s going to have surprises and that’s going to happen over the course of this, what will be a very long, multiyear campaign.

Over the course of 96 hours in Ramadi, and what we’ve been able to collect looking at different things, about 30 suicide VBIDs in Ramadi and the environs of Ramadi. Ten of them, I’ve been told, had the explosive capacity of an Oklahoma City type attack. So just to put that in perspective.

QUESTION: Each of those 10?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Each of those 10. I can’t confirm that, but that’s what I’ve been told. And if you look at the pictures that ISIL has put out of the explosions – I mean, I have some of them – it’s just they took out entire city blocks. And the death toll of the Iraqi Security Forces is not entirely clear, but they lost some leaders, and it was just a really psychological impact of the security remnants that were remaining in Ramadi.

What happened on Sunday is the Iraqis sent – tried to send a reinforcing column into the center of the city, which immediately came under fire; retreated, which then began a broader retreat from where the security forces were holding. And we’re still trying to piece together exactly what happened there.

I think it’s important to note first extremely serious situation. Nobody here from the President on down is saying that this is something that we’ll just overcome immediately. It’s an extremely serious situation, and I’ll talk about the Iraqis’ response as well because they’re seeing it the same way. But it is not the Mosul collapse and disintegration of units. In fact, the units that retreated, retreated, consolidated, and they’re now moved – I won’t say where they are, but they moved to three different points to consolidate, to refit, to regroup, to re-equip. And those units are – the units that retreated remain pretty much intact.

We’ve been working over the last about 96 hours constantly around the clock with our team in Baghdad and our team here to work with the Iraqis to hold – because we all remember the experience from Mosul, where you just had a domino collapse – to hold their lines, consolidate, and just basically hold together, begin to consolidate and think about how to counter-attack. I think the silver lining here is – again, it remains a very serious situation – is that the lines more or less have held. And I’m not going to say exactly where, but you don’t have, again, a Mosul situation of a collapse.

There's more at the link.

Assuming the State Department's information is to be trusted - I'm sure many of us remember its handling of the 2012 Benghazi debacle, and consequently take anything State says with multiple pinches of salt - then that does put a rather different perspective on the fall of Ramadi.  The Oklahoma City bomb destroyed a skyscraper and inflicted hundreds of deaths and injuries.  Ten of those, relatively close to each other, would be like a massive close air support strike, probably using 20-30 JDAM's or equivalent weapons.  Effectively, ISIL used its suicide bombers in the same role as strike aircraft.  That would blow a hole through almost any urban defenses I can think of.  If its ground forces were prepared to immediately follow up the explosions and exploit the resulting panic and confusion, it's not surprising that they were able to take over the half of the city they didn't yet control.

The question is now, can ISIL keep what it's taken?  According to State, the Iraqi Army is regrouping to re-assault the city, and Iranian forces are massing in their support.  ISIL can't keep expending suicide bombers like water - by definition, there's a limited supply of such fanatics.

I'll be keeping an eye on developments in and around Ramadi over the next few weeks.  Things are going to get 'interesting' there.


NYU - Poster child for waste in higher education?

If you want to be mind-boggled by an egregious example of higher education waste, excess and cynical money-grubbing, it sounds as if NYU might qualify.  Naked Capitalism reports:

Under Chairman of the Board Martin Lipton and President John Sexton, New York University has been to operate as a real estate development/management business with a predatory higher-education side venture. A group of 400 faculty members at NYU, Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (FASP), have been working for years against what Pam Martens has called “running NYU as a tyrannical slush fund for privileged interests.” FASP just published a devastating document, The Art of the Gouge, which describes how NYU engages in a mind-numbing range of tricks and traps to extract as much in fees as possible from students, while at the same time failing to invest in and often degrading the educational “product”.

There's more at the link, including links to all three sections of the report that was the source for this article.  Infuriating reading . . . but eye-opening.


Violent crime in liberal/progressive US cities

Note these recent headlines from a number of US cities:

What's the common denominator in all these cities?  They've all suffered under liberal and/or left-wing and/or progressive administrations for years, some of them for decades.  They've had billions of dollars in Federal and State subsidies thrown at them, none of which has had the intended or desired effect.  They're hotbeds of ghetto crime and wasted lives.  Nor are they the only examples - there are many more, almost all of which share those common denominators.  Just do an Internet search on 'ghetto crime USA' and see for yourself.

If you live in or near any city so afflicted, I think the time has come to seriously consider moving somewhere safer.  Things aren't going to get any better anytime soon - rather, the opposite, IMHO.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"When did we decide women should shave their legs?"

That's the title of an article in Australia's 'Daily Life'.  Here's an excerpt.

Before the First World War, virtually no woman in the West shaved her legs. And yet by 1964, 98 per cent of them under the age of 44 did so. What happened in between?

Advertising happened, that's what.

Christina Hope researched the evolution for her 1982 paper titled 'Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture'. Through surveying ads in old issues of Harper's Bazaar and McCall's magazines, she could track how women were progressively browbeaten into going hairless via an extreme marketing assault.

At the turn of the century, women – and men, presumably – didn't particularly care about body hair as long sleeves and floor-grazing skirts concealed most of the body.

According to Hope, things began to change in 1915. As sheer sleeves and Greek- and Roman-style dresses came into fashion, ads in Harper's Bazaar started to target underarm hair, informing American womanhood of a problem it had but didn't know existed until now. "The Woman of Fashion Says the underarm must be as smooth as the face," read a typical pitch. "Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair," said another.

Beauty writers jumped onboard, too, ushering in a vogue for body hair removal. Cue, a whole new outlet of female hang-ups for advertisers to exploit!

There's more at the link, including many advertisements illustrating the point.

I must admit, I've never been bothered at the thought (or the reality) of body hair on women.  Of course, I come from a continent where shaving legs and arms was a luxury reserved for the wealthy few, and women in rural (and particularly tribal) environments would have laughed at the thought.  I'm informed by Miss D. that this is also the case in large parts of Alaska.  She's quipped before, "Ah, Alaskan women - skin like porcelain, legs like Chewbacca!"  It always makes me grin - but in so cold a climate, I find it perfectly understandable.


Here's one to send warbird enthusiasts into ecstasies

This is a bit like the Holy Grail legend as far as warbird enthusiasts are concerned.

Ken Scholz bought N5416V in 1973. How much was it flown? Good question. I have no photos of it running or in the air. It was stored outside for several years, then moved inside his hangar where it sat - rarely touched. Ken, regarded as a nice and approachable man, passed away in 2004 and then his wife Marlene in 2012. The P-51 along with an extra Packard-Rolls Merlin are up for auction.

To participate, you will need a $25,000 deposit. The winner will have to be approved by the courts and have final money ready by June 9 2015. How much? That depends on the bidding war that might erupt trying to acquire a piece of history. Bidding is online June 2-4 2015.

There's more at the link.  Details of the auction (if you're interested) may be found here.

Here's a video of the plane in its present condition.

She'll need a lot of restoration, but to find an unrestored P-51D Mustang today in any shape or form is just about impossible.  I expect a huge amount of interest from the warbird community.  I wonder if Murphy's Law is counting his pennies already?


I think they're missing the point

Yet again, we've seen fighter jets dispatched to 'escort' aircraft to US airports after threats were made against them.  Yet again, we've heard travelers and others remark how "comforting" the presence of those aircraft is to them.

They clearly don't understand that those fighters are there for one reason and one reason only . . . to shoot down the aircraft if it has, indeed, been hijacked or otherwise turned into a danger to cities and installations on the ground.  The fighters can't possibly intervene in a hijacking inside the cabin, and can't stop whatever's on board from manifesting itself.  Their only function is to stop that aircraft threatening anything or anyone else.  That's what their missiles and cannon will do in the last resort.

If I were on board one of those airliners, I wouldn't find the presence of fighters "reassuring" or "comforting".  I'd find it bloody terrifying!


Murphy was a bicyclist . . .

The following video clip shows a bicyclist in London who zoomed through a red light and went headlong into the side of a bus.  Fortunately, he wasn't seriously hurt. Watch it in full-screen mode for best effect.

The photographer initially thought that the cyclist had deliberately run the light.  However, after he posted the video on YouTube, the cyclist commented:

"It was me.  Thought I'd just get the lights, hence the speed.  Realised it wasn't happening, squeezed the front brake.  Cable snapped.  Not enough time to lose speed on back wheel in the wet.  Not fun."

That's a very worthwhile reminder that we may do everything right, but still be caught short due to a mechanical failure or someone else's mistake.  In the cyclist's case, his brakes let him down.  Another friend of Miss D.'s and mine had a very narrow escape on an Interstate highway just a few days ago, when a driver being pursued by the police cut in front of him and wrecked.  He just missed him, but at the cost of flat-spotted tires and burned-out brakes, costing him four figures to repair.  He wasn't happy about that, to put it mildly!

Driving defensively means accepting that whatever can go wrong, sooner or later will go wrong.  The better we drive, the lower the chance that Murphy will kill us.  I'm grateful for the reminder - and that it came cheaply, without anyone getting hurt or killed in this case.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Gay marriage and the Catholic Church's loss of moral authority

I'm sure many readers have noted the overwhelming vote in favor of 'gay marriage' in Ireland last weekend.  Yahoo! News reported that the result had 'unnerved' the Catholic Church in that country.

The once-dominant Catholic Church in Ireland was trying to come to terms Sunday with an overwhelming vote in favour of gay marriage, saying it needed a "new language" to connect to people.

As jubilant "Yes" supporters nursed their hangovers after partying late into the night following Saturday's referendum result, the faithful attended mass to hear their priests reflect on the new social landscape in Ireland.

"The Church has to find a new language which will be understood and heard by people," Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, a senior Irish cleric, told reporters after mass at the city's St Mary's Pro-Cathedral.

"We have to see how is it that the Church's teaching on marriage and family is not being received even within its own flock."

He added: "There's a growing gap between Irish young people and the Church and there's a growing gap between the culture of Ireland that's developing and the Church."

There's more at the link.

It's reported that Italy may be the next domino to fall.  Both countries were staunchly Catholic in their society, culture, and social policies for centuries.  What's happened to produce such a rapid change?

Some commentators have blamed external factors.  For example, Tim Stanley says of the Irish referendum:

First, foreigners spent a lot of money to get this passed. Both sides have accused each other of relying on outside cash, but nothing could really match the scale of that poured into a Yes vote. Second, the Irish were told that saying No might damage their economy. Third, almost the entire Irish political establishment rallied around the gay marriage issue: it enjoyed the backing of politicians in Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. Finally, the press was biased. One election-eve study found that Irish papers had carried three times more Yes articles than No articles.

However, he goes on to admit:

It used to be that Irishness was defined by affection for the Catholic Church and resistance to European liberal trends. So stubborn was this identity that the country took longer than the rest of Western Europe to embrace secularism. But the paedophile revelations of the 1990s rightly rocked faith in the Church as an institution, while a series of recent scandals shook faith in its actual theology. The latter set of outrages were, frankly, distortions of the facts. It was wrongly claimed that a woman had been allowed to die because Catholic doctors would not give her a life saving abortion (no such thing even exists). It was falsely charged that a Catholic children's home had dumped the bodies of hundreds of unwanted babies into a septic tank. Never mind that both stories crumbled under scrutiny – the popularity of them spoke to a growing sense that everything wrong with Ireland was due to the imported tyranny of Catholicism. Shake off the last remnants of traditional religious authority, it was reasoned, and Ireland could finally join the 21st century. Au revoir, Father Ted.

To emphasise, the Yes vote was undoubtedly a reflection of growing tolerance towards gays and lesbians. But it was also a politically trendy, media backed, well financed howl of rage against Catholicism. How the Church survives this turn, is not clear. It'll require a lot of hard work and prayers.

There's more at the link.

Mr. Stanley is quite right that some of the accusations leveled against the Catholic Church were based on false premises and were overblown by a rampantly speculative (and secular) media.  However, he ignores the reality that far too many people (including a great many who still consider themselves Catholic, whether or not they're active in the Church) have seen for themselves the utter and complete lack of sincerity in the institutional Church in response to the clergy pedophilia scandals in recent decades.

I've written extensively about my own experience of the issue (see the list of 'Articles on the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal and related issues' in the sidebar).  To me, the ultimate test of the Catholic Church's attitude to this problem is based on their actions.  Remember the old proverb, 'Actions speak louder than words'?  Well, the Church's words may have been regretful, but its actions have said something else entirely.  While the authorities have dumped every priest even suspected of pedophilia (sometimes based on flimsy evidence), almost all the bishops, administrators, etc. who:

  • allowed the problem to arise;
  • did nothing to resolve it in its earliest stages;
  • and covered it up for years;

have never been disciplined.  Large numbers of them have retired to enjoy their pensions;  many others are still in office, their careers unaffected by their errors.  Furthermore, the measures they've put in place to prevent such problems in future are almost entirely window-dressing.  They'll have no practical effect.  They can have no practical effect, because the institution that has (nominally) implemented them will resist reforming itself by might and main.  I saw that resistance at first hand.  It destroyed a large part of my life, and has left a gaping hole in my soul to this day.

I find myself with a new and deeper understanding of Mary Magdalene as she went to the Tomb on the morning of Easter Sunday (John 20:11-13).

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.  Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

That's the way I feel about the Church in which I was raised.  Its prelates and administrators have taken it away, and I do not know where they have laid it.  All I know is, the institution I served for many years, and in which I had faith, is no longer there . . . and it's a cold, lonely place without it.

I think many Catholic and formerly Catholic voters feel the same way.  I think that's why so many of them finally lost patience with their former spiritual home, and voted in favor of gay marriage.  I don't think it's because they believe the latter is necessarily morally right.  I think it was a protest vote.  The problem is, the Church will probably refuse to recognize that reality, and do what it should have done years - decades! - ago.  Too many of its leaders are clinging to their positions of power.  They won't give them up, because that would mean sacrificing their worldly status and privileges.

They're more in love with the institution of the Church than they are with the person of Christ - and that leaves the rest of us out in the cold.

You have no idea how it saddens me to have to say that last sentence . . . but I believe it's true.

May Almighty God have mercy on all of us.  We're surely going to need it.



I had to laugh at this report in the Telegraph.

Handyman Thomas McCormack was puzzled when Paddy his pet followed him on his train to work one morning.

The four-year-old labrador-collie cross had trotted after him to the local station before boarding the same carriage and leaping onto a seat beside him.

Mr McCormack, 34, could not understand how he had got out of the fenced-in garden where he had been left him for the day.

He had also been wondering how it was that Paddy had started waiting for him to return from work - sitting outside his front door.

The mystery was solved when neighbours told him they had seen the dog bounding on the trampoline to get over the fence just after Mr McCormack left in the morning.

There's more at the link.

Here's the guilty party.

That's a dog with a brain, all right!


"His taint is now a non-skid surface" . . .

. . . according to Paul at Hawsepiper.  Go read the whole thing for a good laugh!


Sunday, May 24, 2015

A very touching advertisement

An Argentine advertising agency produced this video for an organ donation organization.  Have your Kleenex handy if you're a dog-lover.

I'd call that a pretty good effort.


Remembering the "Little Ships"

Seventy-five years ago this week, Operation Dynamo got under way - the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in France.  Its survival meant that Britain could continue the war against Nazi Germany, standing alone until the USA entered the war in December 1941.

Evacuation was initially thought so difficult as to be practically impossible, because there were no major ports along the coast at or near Dunkirk.  Ships could not get close enough to load the troops directly.  However, a massive appeal was launched to all boat-owners along the English coast for any suitable craft to be brought to Dover.  Some, whose owners could not be traced in time, were simply commandeered.  Several hundred of the so-called "Little Ships" eventually made the crossing to Dunkirk.  There they ferried soldiers from the beaches and makeshift jetties (some formed by driving Army trucks into the waves until they stalled, then pushing them further out by means of other trucks shoving from behind, until a line of trucks half a mile long extended into the sea).  Some of the small craft even tackled the relatively long voyage back to England under their own power, because there weren't enough larger rescue ships to take aboard their 'cargo' of rescued soldiers.

In total, about 220 warships and large vessels and about 700 of the "little ships" were involved in the evacuation.  Six British and three French destroyers were sunk, along with another nine larger vessels plus about 200 of the small boats;  many more were damaged.  However, their sacrifice helped to achieve the rescue of 192,226 British and 139,000 French soldiers – a total of 331,226 in all.  The British troops were re-equipped to form the core of Britain's army.  Some French soldiers chose to be repatriated to France after the Armistice, but many others stayed on in England to form the core of the Free French forces.

Last week about 50 small craft sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the evacuation.  Among them were a number of the original "Little Ships" that have been preserved to this day.

The last surviving veterans of the evacuation are telling their stories for possibly the last time, as the next commemoration will only be held in five years time.  It's doubtful whether many of them - or any of them - will be either alive, or healthy enough to attend again.

I can remember my mother describing the emotion in England as the tens of thousands of rescued soldiers were ferried to their bases aboard trains and buses.  She told me of how she wept to see them so bedraggled and exhausted, and joined other young women in providing sandwiches and cups of tea to sustain them on their long journey.  She and others listened to Winston Churchill's address to the House of Commons and the nation at the conclusion of the evacuation, and took fresh heart from it.  (She met my father shortly thereafter, and married him in early 1942.)

Dark days indeed . . . but the darkness turned to dawn, and five years later the full light of victory brought freedom for Europe.  Let's not forget what our parents and grandparents went through to bring that about, this Memorial Day weekend.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Robert de Niro lays it on the line

Robert de Niro recently gave the graduation address at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.  He congratulated the graduates . . . then immediately told them "You're f****d" (and yes, he used that word).  He went on to describe the challenges that lay ahead for them, and told them what their lives would be like.  It's a remarkable testimony from one of our era's foremost actors, and the most clear and concise description I've yet heard of an acting life.

If you, or anyone you love or know, has ambitions in that line, this is really worth listening to.  It's sometimes very funny, but also very thought-provoking.

Nice to hear someone telling the plain, unvarnished truth with no sugar-coating.


A very courageous confession

Ken White, one of the lawyers who contributes over at Popehat, has put up a remarkable article in which he discusses his battle with severe depression, including recent voluntary treatment in a specialized hospital.  Here's an excerpt.

I'm still here. That's a consequence of the grace, and love, and generosity, and decency of others, and my own ridiculously good luck. I'm here, I feel good — not just okay, but good — and I'm very happy to still be here. Not only that, I feel hope. If you haven't been depressed, that may seem like just a little thing, but it's not. I don't feel the hope that I'll never have a low point of anxiety and depression again. It's going to happen again; that's the deal. No: I feel hope that when it happens again, I have the tools to face it.

Every time I write about depression, I feel like I'm having the naked-at-school dream, exposed and poised for incoming ridicule. No matter how often I say that depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and how sincerely I believe it in my head, my gut tells me otherwise. But every time I write about depression, I get emails from people thanking me for talking openly about the subject and for describing what it's like. And, as I said, I'm only here because of the decency of others. I owe back. I owe back more than I can possibly repay. A little squeamishness doesn't weigh much in the balance.

So here we are. I'm Ken, and though I live an outwardly "normal," high-functioning and successful life, I suffer from grave anxiety and depression, and last year it got bad enough that I was hospitalized "voluntarily" for it. Maybe you suffer, or maybe you love somebody who suffers, or maybe you want to understand depression and anxiety more so you can support people who suffer. I want to share some things I've learned in the course of a harrowing experience, in hope that it might help someone, even a little.

There's much more at the link.

As a pastor I've worked with people suffering from depression, and once suffered a temporary, short-term bout of it myself during a particularly difficult period in my life.  It's no fun at all, even from my limited experience, and I've seen how utterly debilitating it can be to those who suffer from more severe forms of it.  Fortunately, treatments have been developed that are light years ahead of those available to our parents and ancestors.

I think Mr. White is to be applauded for his willingness to share so openly about what is a really serious problem, one that affects far more people than most of us realize.  If you also suffer from depression, or know someone who does, or would like to know more about it, I strongly recommend clicking over and reading what he has to say.  It's long, but well worth your time.


Friday, May 22, 2015

The Battle of Berlin, 70 years later

This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1945.  The climactic European battle of that war was the Soviet fight to take Berlin, capital of Nazi Germany, in April and May of that year.

The Big Picture, a publication of the Boston Globe, has provided a fascinating series of photographs of scenes from the battle, juxtaposed with the same location photographed from almost the same position 70 years later.  The contrast between utter destruction and modern prosperity is jarring.  Here's just one of them to whet your appetite.  Click the image for a larger view.

There are many more images at the link.  They make fascinating viewing.

It's humbling to think of those who survived all that, then went on to rebuild their countries and establish the prosperity that we take for granted today.


A very fitting recognition of a hero, 75 years later

I was touched to read about one aspect of the Royal Air Force's commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

An RAF Typhoon fighter has been repainted in the Second World War colours of a Battle of Britain hero to mark the 75th anniversary of the crucial clash.

The Eurofighter jet which is usually coloured a drab grey has instead been painted with the camouflage and 249 Squadron identification number of the only Fighter Command pilot awarded a Victoria Cross during the battle.  (It's shown below alongside a WW2 vintage Hurricane fighter of the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Click the image for a larger view.)

Flt Lt James Brindley Nicolson won Britain’s highest award for battlefield bravery for attacking and shooting down a German fighter even though his own cockpit was on fire.

The repainted Typhoon will fly alongside a WWII Spitfire at air shows across the UK this summer.

There's more at the link.

That's a fine paint job, and one that I think F/Lt. Nicholson would have appreciated.  Unfortunately he was killed near the end of the war, in 1945, in the crash of a B-24 Liberator bomber in the Bay of Bengal.  My late father would have recognized it, too.  He started the war as the equivalent of a Lance-Corporal in the RAF, and was commissioned as an engineer officer shortly after the Battle.  That color scheme would have been very much a part of his life at the time.

May F/Lt. Nicholson, and all those who died in the Battle of Britain, rest in peace.


A "spectacularly honest" job advertisement

The Telegraph reports:

Budding chefs who don’t mind working in a kitchen the size of a closet for “s—t” money can look no further.

A restaurateur has posted a brutally honest job advert seeking a colleague who is “fast, progressive, and not a total p----k” to work alongside him in his new American diner in Glasgow.

Justin Valmassoi, a Michigan-born businessman pulls no punches, warning potential applicants not to waste his time if they think a “good sandwich is a tuna mayo like your gran makes” and stressing that he did not want to receive any CVs filled with anodyne, generic statements.

“If you have one that says you're a "hard-working team player that can also function well alone" and that you "value customer service and punctuality" I will stab myself in the face with a pencil and nobody will get a job,” he writes.

There's more at the link.

The advertisement may be found here.  The following is a short excerpt.

I have no problem working seven days a week, but on the off-chance I break my foot or get third-degree steam burns on my face I need someone who can work unsupervised and still make quality food. It's a breakfast/brunch/lunch place to start, but there are no eggs benedicts. Go on, wrap your head around that and then continue reading. I'll wait.

. . .

I don't care if you're super outgoing or actually mute. I don't care if you've got tattoos. I don't care if you only work in kitchens to get away from your horrible significant other. I don't care about anything other than that you're fast enough not to be in the weeds constantly and you want to be part of something genuine and good. This is a mom-and-pop type restaurant. You can learn a lot. You can have a good degree of freedom. What you cannot do is be a pain in my balls because my life savings is on the line and I have to work with my wife all day so I don't have time for any primadonna bullsh*t.

. . .

If you think I sound like an obnoxious d*ckhead, congratulations. You are observant and will go far in life. Don't let it discourage you, though. I'm only a d*ckhead for the first three years you know me. After that I'm a total sweetheart.

Again, more at the link.

Y'know, on the basis of that advertisement, I'd go and eat there if I lived in the area, just to say "thanks for the laughs" with my wallet!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gangs and the threat they pose

Following the publicity generated by the motorcycle gang clash in Waco, Texas last weekend, Survival Blog has put up a three-part article on gangs that contains some useful information.  Follow these links:

The articles don't go into much detail, but provide a good overview.  For more information, see:

There are many other resources on the Web, not all of which are as good as others.  A quick Internet search will reveal many more links.

I ran into a lot of gangs and gang members during my work as a prison chaplain.  Gangs are probably in your area.  There are few where they aren't.  Forewarned is forearmed.


Fred gets his wookie on

The indomitable Fred Reed responds to recent news that Army ROTC candidates were forced to march in high heels as part of sexual-assault awareness events.  Here's an excerpt.

Dear General,

I see that on your watch the Army is turning into a transvestite marching corps in high heels, a Ziegfeld cross-gendered or bisected gay-bath sexual zoo vacuuming up every sort of erotic loony, not to mention becoming a home for unwed mothers and prostitution rings. I commend you. I have always wanted to be defended by a freak show.

. . .

What I figure, General, is you ought to set an example for the troops by wearing panties and a bra (if you don’t already wear panties: I give you credit for miitary foresight.) A good officer--we had some--doesn't order his men to do anything he himself wouldn't do. Walk a Mile in Her Skivvies, General. (Actually, when I was a hard-charging young Gyrene, we spent a lot of time trying to get into women's skivvies. Now it’s going to be mandatory?)

. . .

Now, General, I speak only for myself as a Marine who carried a rifle in Viet Nam, but others may agree with me. (A “rifle” is one of those awful long thingies (no, not those long thingies) that make boomy noises and stinky smoke and put stains on your cocktail dress that just ruin it.) Outside of Da Nang we used to lie behind sandbags at night with mortars coming in (a “mortar” is one of those gun thingies with a tube—no, a different kind of tube, General—that shoots--never mind) hoping a hit wouldn’t spray a buddy’s guts around. To a man we were thinking, why couldn’t we have a leader like a Pentagon general to give us cute little heels instead of these uncomfy old boots?

There's more at the link.

"Fred Reed".  "Political correctness".  Two phrases not normally encountered in close proximity . . . or in high heels!


That's a tough gun sight!

Last year I put up half a dozen posts concerning the upgrading and refurbishing of AR-15 rifles.  In #6 of that series I talked about sights, including red dot sights.  I mentioned that the most 'value-for-money' optic in the Aimpoint series was at that time its Patrol Rifle Optic, or PRO, shown below.

Now comes proof of the PRO's toughness under extreme conditions.

Paul Riddell ... lost his Minnesota home to a fire one night this past February.

. . .

Aside from all his family’s other possessions, he lost three firearms in the blaze. But, he reports his Aimpoint PRO mounted on a Spikes lower/BCM-EAG lightweight upper frankenrifle somehow survived the fire. That’s it in the inset photo of his rifle above, red dot glowing defiantly. Aimpoint found out about it and already swapped it for a brand new optic and with a plan to display the survivor in its museum.

“Here’s a picture of my AR after it was recovered from my house fire after being exposed to the elements for over a month in late February to mid March,” said Riddell. “The rifle was at the core of the fire.”

He said the rifle sat in the water and ice leftover from the firefighters, exposed to the outside in sub zero Wisconsin winter. Weeks later, Riddell was allowed to look through the wreckage after the fire investigation was complete. He found his melted pile of a rifle covered in ice, rust, ash and mud in the debris. The polymer rifle case it was stored in had fused to sections of the rifle, as well. He pried open the eyepiece cover on the PRO and turned the knob. And, it lit up.

“Had I been willing to trust firing the gun,” said Riddell, ” I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it held zero.”

There's more at the link, including a picture of the damaged rifle and sight.

Kudos to Aimpoint for replacing the fire-damaged sight with a new one - but they'll get their money's worth out of it as an example to potential customers of how tough their products are.  Makes me glad I recently bought a PRO to put on my 'fighting rifle'.


I need your help with a book cover, please

I've had some feedback from readers who don't like the cover of my latest book, 'Forge A New Blade'.  I've taken a look at their criticisms, and I can see their point.  The overall theme fits that of previous covers in the Maxwell series, but doesn't necessarily fit with the first volume of the Laredo War trilogy, 'War To The Knife', the cover of which which showed a battle in space.

I'm therefore looking at alternatives.  Here's the existing cover image, plus one I may use to replace it.  The latter also fits the plot of 'Forge A New Blade' in that it shows three cargo vessels in formation, which would correspond to the three converted merchantmen serving as Armed Merchant Cruisers in the book.

Here's where you come in, readers.  Looking at the two images, which do you prefer?  In particular, if you've already read the book, which fits it better?  Please leave your opinion in Comments.

(This is one of the real advantages of independent publishing. If a cover - or any other element - doesn't work, one can change it very quickly in response to feedback. Mainstream publishers don't have that luxury.)

Thanks very much for your help.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I'd never have thought of doing that!

El Capitan brings us these images of an RV that had an argument with a tree - and lost.

The owner decided to make the best of it . . . and converted it into, of all things, a flatbed truck!

There are more images at the link.

El Capitan is annoyed because he can't afford to go out to Utah, buy it, and drive it back.  Personally, I wouldn't have thought an RV frame/chassis/suspension could stand the stresses that a typical flatbed load would exert, but what do I know?


Wish I'd been in the passenger seat

It seems Lamborghini's Aventador SV recently tackled the Nurburgring as part of development testing for its P Zero Corsa tires.  As Autoblog describes it:

Lambo unveiled its latest Superveloce in Geneva just a couple of months ago, boasting an upgraded version of its free-revving V12, unburdened by 110 pounds of excess weight and fitted with enhanced equipment. The result of all these improvements is 740 horsepower, 509 pound-feet of torque, a 2.8-second 0-62 time, a top speed of 217 miles per hour and a Nordschleife lap time of 6:59.73. No turborchargers, no hybrid assist, no type certification or regulatory loopholes. Just an old-fashioned twelve-cylinder supercar doing what it does best, and trouncing just about everything else in the process.

There's more at the link.

Here's a video of the lap.  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode to get a better idea of the speed, particularly over the last long straight stretch (which goes by so fast you forget it's a couple of miles long).

Just listen to that V12 roar!  Music . . .


To Tweet or not to Tweet? That is the question . . .

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The ads and trackers of outrageous Facebook
Or dive into a raging sea of Tweeters,
And by partaking, join them?

(With apologies to William Shakespeare!)

I don't want to go on Facebook.  I've written many times before about how that company's cynical disregard for its users' privacy and security makes it beyond the pale in my book.  However, I come across several articles each day that I like, or which intrigue me, but about which I don't have time to write on this blog.  I also come across books that strike a chord, or YouTube video clips that interest me, or articles on other blogs that catch my eye.  (I used to address the latter in regular "Around The Blogs" articles, but again, those take a lot of time to prepare;  and when I'm working to a book deadline, it's hard to keep them up.)

I'm trying to decide whether to open a Twitter account, where I can provide links to things like that.  Would you be interested in following it?  Is this something you'd find useful or valuable?  Or would I simply be lost in the background noise?  I'd be grateful for your feedback.  Please let me know in Comments what you think.

Thanks in advance.


The war on cash

I'm sure readers have been aware of the growing number of calls from statist economists and financiers to do away with cash altogether.  In recent weeks, they include the following:

The real reason for the onslaught on cash, of course, is the desire by politicians and financiers to exert greater control over their citizens subjects.  Without cash, we can be forced to use our money as they see fit, or - if we don't - they'll confiscate it, tax it, devalue it, or do anything else they please.  With our money reduced to binary ones and zeroes in a computer system, it'll no longer be "our" money at all - it'll be theirs.  The "shadow economy", almost always run on a cash and/or barter basis, will take a heavy hit and be wiped out in many cases, forcing those currently making a living (no matter how precarious) outside the formal economy to be drawn into the latter, or starve.  It's not about the money - it's about control.  It always is.

The last article I cited above provides some very interesting reading to explain why cash is so unpopular with financiers.  Here's an excerpt.

Cash is a MAJOR problem for the Central Banks.

The reason for this concerns the actual structure of the financial system. As I’ve outlined previously, that structure is as follows:

  1. The total currency (actual cash in the form of bills and coins) in the US financial system is a little over $1.36 trillion.
  2. When you include digital money sitting in short-term accounts and long-term accounts then you’re talking about roughly $10 trillion in “money” in the financial system.
  3. In contrast, the money in the US stock market (equity shares in publicly traded companies) is over $20 trillion in size.
  4. The US bond market  (money that has been lent to corporations, municipal Governments, State Governments, and the Federal Government) is almost twice this at $38 trillion.
  5. Total Credit Market Instruments (mortgages, collateralized debt obligations, junk bonds, commercial paper and other digitally-based “money” that is based on debt) is even larger - $58.7 trillion.
  6. Unregulated over the counter derivatives traded between the big banks and corporations is north of $220 trillion.
When looking over these data points, the first thing that jumps out at the viewer is that the vast bulk of “money” in the system is in the form of digital loans or credit (non-physical debt).

Put another way, actual physical money or cash (as in bills or coins you can hold in your hand) comprises less than 1% of the “money” in the financial system.

As far as the Central Banks are concerned, this is a good thing because if investors/depositors were ever to try and convert even a small portion of this “wealth” into actual physical bills, the system would implode (there simply is not enough actual cash).

. . .

In this scenario, when the 2008 Crisis hit, one of the biggest problems for the Central Banks was to stop investors from fleeing digital wealth for the comfort of physical cash. Indeed, the actual “thing” that almost caused the financial system to collapse was when depositors attempted to pull $500 billion out of money market funds ... When all of this happened, the global Central Banks realized that their worst nightmare could in fact become a reality: that if a significant percentage of investors/ depositors ever tried to convert their “wealth” into cash (particularly physical cash) the whole system would implode.

There's more at the link.  You really should click over and read the whole thing.  It makes the situation very clear.

(BTW:  That $1.36 trillion figure for 'total currency in the US financial system' isn't altogether correct.  AFAIK, that's the amount of US currency estimated to be in circulation worldwide.  A great deal of that is squirreled away under mattresses or in hidden 'stashes' by citizens of other countries whose currencies aren't particularly stable, or accumulated by criminals who can't put it in banks for fear that it'll be confiscated.  This is why you see regular news reports (such as this one) of huge amounts of cash being confiscated from criminal gangs.  I'd guess the amount of cash actually circulating inside the borders of the USA is a lot less than $1.36 trillion . . . but no-one knows for sure.)

I hope we can stop the politicians and banksters from outlawing cash, although I'm not sure whether we'll be successful in the longer term.  Until then, I think it's an excellent idea to keep at least one month's expenditure handy in the form of cash;  two months, if you can afford it.  I also recommend stocking up on assets you'll find useful in a "cash crunch", when cash or credit facilities may not be available to buy what you need and you'll have to revert to barter (i.e. swapping what you have for what you need).  Ammunition and firearms are almost always valuable barter items (and can help to defend what you don't want to barter!).  So are tools, hardware supplies, liquor (particularly in the form of readily-tradeable miniatures), essential necessities such as feminine hygiene items, soap, etc., and other goods.  Gold and silver?  I'm not so sure.  I can't use them for my everyday needs, and it's almost impossible to be sure whether they're real or counterfeit.  I might hold some gold and silver as a store of value, but not primarily as a means of exchange.  YMMV, of course.