Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Confederate battle flag and racism

Let me begin by saying I'm an immigrant.  I have no axe to grind in this fight;  I'm an interested observer.

I've been surprised, in reading comments left by readers of my first two articles about the Confederate battle flag controversy, to find that many of those defending it as a cultural symbol have denied, in so many words, that its racist connotations either matter, or are valid at all.  Even as an immigrant, studying the history of the symbol at a distance, so to speak, I know that's not correct.

I think the best summary of the problem is given by The Week in this article.  Here's a brief excerpt.

In 1948, Strom Thurmond's States' Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president's powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party's somewhat progressive platform on civil rights.

Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court's ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education.

The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before — namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

Opposition to civil rights legislation, to integration, to miscegenation, to social equality for black people — these are the major plot points that make up the flag's recent history. Not Vietnam. Not opposition to Northern culture or values. Not tourism. Not ObamaCare. Not anything else.

There's more at the link.  I highly recommend reading the article in full.  It seems reasonably balanced to me.

I think it's undeniable that there is a racist connotation to the Confederate battle flag in modern times, despite the fact that there was no such connotation when it was designed and originally used.  Therefore, much as I sympathize with those who see opposition to it as symbolizing opposition to their cultural values or their personal freedoms, I can also see the other side's arguments.  I think there are valid reasons to at least restrict the display of the battle flag.  However, I agree that those reasons don't amount to sufficient justification to ban its display entirely.

Remember, I'm talking as an outsider looking in, trying to see beyond the passions to the reality of the situation.  Is there any hope that such realities might prevail?  Not, I submit, as long as both sides refuse to acknowledge that the other does have at least some justification for its position.


The living definition of an obliviot?

Courtesy of a link at Daily Timewaster, we meet a Miami driver who clearly wasn't looking out of his window.

Looks like the living definition of an obliviot to me . . .


He might want to rethink this idea . . .

I note with interest that the Sergeant-Major of the Army (the most senior NCO in the US Army) is considering letting soldiers offer suggestions concerning a point of some . . . sensitivity.

When the Army reversed its much-hated tattoo policy, many cheered Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey, who was a driving force behind the decision.

"Soldiers show me their new tattoos now," Dailey told Army Times.

But Dailey, who became the Army's top senior enlisted soldier on Jan. 30, doesn't have any ink of his own — for now.

Your SMA has recently given some serious thought about getting a tattoo, and he had an inspired idea:

What if he asked soldiers to pick some ideas for a tattoo, and then put the best up for an Army-wide vote?

"I'm a big morale guy. I'm a positive person," Dailey said. "We're always trying to raise morale, so I said one day, 'let's set up a website and the soldiers get to pick my tattoo, they vote on it.' Could you imagine?"

There's more at the link.

Er . . . I was in the Army (not the US Army, but soldiers are much the same the world over).  I know the sense of humor that appears to be almost universal among military men.  It's raunchy, raucous, ribald and uninhibited.  I don't even want to guess at the suggestions currently being debated in barracks around the country!


A different perspective on the Confederate battle flag

I shared my thoughts concerning the Confederate battle flag a few days ago.  They didn't sit well with all of my readers (not surprisingly, given the controversial nature of the topic at present).  One reader, Sandy, sent me the link to an interesting article in the American Spectator.  Here's an excerpt.

I submit that for many today, the Confederate flag is a statement of regional defiance, not against the abolitionist movement, but against what we might call Northernism, as manifested among cultural elites in the Northeast Corridor, the Beltway, Chicago, and the Left Coast. Though Southerners hear that they aren’t much unless they have an Ivy League degree, many are quite happy with a B.A. from North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. And though Mayor Rahm Emanuel may declare Chick-fil-A unfit for morally advanced Chicago, Bible Belters are pleased to march right past the demonstrators on Same-Sex-Kiss Day to buy their grilled nuggets. Though national rankings for “livability” put pot-smoking Boulder, Colorado, miles above Arkadelphia, Arkansas, most of these Arkansans wouldn’t think of trading places to raise their kids.

If you think that the glorification or reinstatement of slavery is the subtext when Lynyrd Skynyrd and Alabama feature the Stars and Bars on an album cover or when Charlie Daniels sings “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” you’re deficient at cultural hermeneutics. Yes, Halloween has pagan roots, but if the governor wants to drop bite-sized Snickers into the bag of a trick-or-treater dressed like Chewbacca, we don’t have to consign him to the occult, even if he announced that the goodies would be forthcoming on Thursday, a day named in honor of Thor. And Halloween Samhain ceremonies by a few nutcase Wiccans doesn’t change that.

There's more at the link.

I'm still not convinced that the author's perspective can outweigh the genuine outrage in some quarters over the use of a symbol that was used by defenders of slavery.  As an immigrant, of course, I don't have a dog in that particular fight.  My ancestors were several thousand miles away at the time.  Nevertheless, I think he makes a valid point.

What say you, readers?


Monday, June 29, 2015

Doofus Of The Day #840

A tip o' the hat to Australian reader Snoggeramus for forwarding the link to today's winner - a (presumably) successful businessman and (clearly less successful) gardener in New Zealand.

Businessman Paul Currie was in a hurry.

He was at his holiday home in Rata St, Wanaka, about to head home to Christchurch.

The new lawn was looking great, he thought.

Just those broadleafs.

Perhaps he should give them a quick spray before he left.

That was a month ago.

Then the phone calls started - from neighbours who wondered if the brown marks appearing in his green lawn might have been caused by vandals.

That got Paul thinking.

He had bought four new sprays for various purposes and had reached into the cupboard for the one recommended for broadleaf weeds.

But then, he remembered, he had not actually been wearing his glasses at the time.

The penny dropped.

Instead of using a herbicide for broadleaf only, he had accidentally used a broad-spectrum herbicide containing glyphosate - good for any grass that needs to be turned from green and healthy to brown and dead.

There's more at the link, including a photograph of a once-beautiful lawn that looks as if it had been tagged by a prolific but particularly inept graffiti artist.  I'm sure it'll take Mr. Currie a long time to live down that mistake!


Brad Torgersen nails the gay marriage issue

Author Brad Torgersen absolutely nails the gay marriage issue in his latest blog post.  Here's an excerpt.

If the base fear of religious conservatives is that gays and lesbians are “destroying” marriage, how can gays and lesbians destroy a thing which America’s straight couples have been actively destroying for a century?

Think about it. And let’s be brutally honest.

Rampant divorce.
Rampant infidelity.
Rampant abuse of spouses and children.

I don’t think those are the legacy of a people who collectively believe marriage to be sacred.

If I feel anything on the issue of marriage, I feel that marriage (by Americans) has been thrown into the mud and trampled upon. We did that. All of us. And now that gays and lesbians have picked it up out of the mud and said, “We would like to have this wonderful thing,” religious conservatives want to snatch it away and yell, “You can’t have that, it’s our most favorite thing ever!”

Oh really? Then why have we been treating marriage like garbage for so many decades? Because we have. As a society. With our collective actions, we decided marriage wasn’t important anymore. Long, long before the issue of gay marriage got to the Supreme Court.

And now that marriage is important to somebody — gays and lesbians — we try to keep it away from them?

I can’t wrap my brain around that. Too much cognitive dissonance.

. . .

As I have loved you, love one another. That’s the Christ-like ideal. I think we express it best by tending to the gardens in our own back yards. And I don’t mean literal gardens. I mean spiritual and emotional gardens. Many of which are neglected and overgrown with the weeds of bitterness, rancor, resentment, and worse. I’ve got a garden like that. And I suspect, so do many of the people reading this. We all have to be responsible for our own gardens. And I don’t say that because I think my garden is perfect. Nope. I go to church every Sunday — yes, even when I am thousands of miles away from home — to be reminded of the fact that my garden is choked with weeds. And that weeding is a never-ending chore that I can’t escape. At least not if I want to be serious about my beliefs as a Christian.

. . .

Go back to gardening in your own back yard — daily — and you get the good stuff. It might not seem like it has a macro impact. But if everybody is a back-yard gardener, and everybody works at it, there will be a macro effect. That’s something I’ve always taken away from my scripture reading and other spiritual pondering. The idea that each of us individually doing small works of kindness, love, and forgiveness, can add up to a huge net dividend for the society as a whole.

This includes marriage. Do we want to put our money where our mouths are? How much time and energy are we devoting to our families and our homes? Shouting about marriage in the macro sense, while neglecting or abusing marriage on a personal level, is pointless. We prove we care about marriage when we put our wives and our husbands and our children first. Not last. First. And again, it doesn’t matter what the government does (or doesn’t do) about it. This is between us, and the Lord. He will judge us. Not the government. Not society. Not activists. God. How willing would any of us be to go before God right this minute, and give an account of our stewardship of our relationships with our spouses and our families? How much gardening have we done in that respect? Are we prepared to get called on the carpet? Do our choices and our actions live up to our rhetoric, as “defenders” of the “sacred institution” of marriage? Have we made it sacred every day? Do we show our wives and our husbands and our families forgiveness, compassion, love, and support?

Because that’s where my mind goes. And I think I am way too occupied trying to tend to my own garden — Weeds! Damned weeds, everywhere! — to get overly concerned with peering over the fence at somebody else’s.

There's much more at the link.  It's not often I do this, but I have to endorse every word.  Go read the whole thing.  It's worth your time.

Thanks, Brad.


Is a financial crisis about to erupt worldwide?

I've said before that the next major financial crisis may arise when any one of a number of factors - or a combination of them - suddenly erupts.  Right now there are several such factors that are poised on a knife-edge.  If two or more of them blow up . . . I think the next worldwide financial crisis will be upon us.

Greece is poised to default on its debts and (probably) exit the Eurozone.  This crisis has been brewing for years, but is now near boiling point.  It's fundamentally about much more than just Greece.  As the Telegraph comments:

As an institution, the EU promises security, stability and prosperity to member states in exchange for pooling their sovereignty. Yet for Greece, it has provided the opposite. Everyone knows the country should never have joined the eurozone in the first place and having done so, should not have compounded that mistake by going on a borrowing binge.

But the humiliation now being heaped upon a proud and ancient country is a salutary lesson to all member states – that without the power to make their own decisions they are always at the mercy of the unelected bureaucrats and financiers who run the institutions.

The democracy that was born in Greece more than two millennia ago no longer applies when control over the currency and economic policy is handed to a supranational body. The question of whether the price is any longer worth paying is not one for the Greeks alone to answer.

There's more at the link.

Nor is Greece the only European nation in danger of default (although it's certainly the most at risk right now).  "Altogether there are six European nations whose debts are larger than their economic output, and 16 that have debts larger than the 60%-of-GDP limit set out in the Maastricht Treaty."

If Greece defaults and gets away with repudiating its debts, at least in the short term, I fully expect one or more of the other most-debt-burdened nations in the EU to follow suit.  After all, if creditors have to deal with more than one massive default, their options become more and more limited.  As J. Paul Getty famously said, "If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem."

Central banks and major commercial lenders in other parts of the world are waking up to that reality as well.  China's premier stock exchange is crashing, and Morgan Stanley warns that no improvement is in sight - rather the opposite.

China's stock market got wrecked on Friday with the Shanghai Composite index crashing by 7.4%.

The red-hot market is now down 19% from its high, which it set on June 12.

Some folks may see this as a buying opportunity, but not the analysts at Morgan Stanley.

. . .

Garner warns that the Shanghai Composite, which closed at on Friday, could have much farther to fall.

"We set a new 12-month Target Price range for Shanghai Composite of 3,250-4,600," he said. "This range is ~30% to -2% below the current level of the index."

Garner's not kidding when he warns of the 30% downside. While a crashing stock market could be bad enough to trigger some social instability, it's not without precedent to see regulators allow the market to just collapse.

Again, more at the link.

The USA is at serious risk of further Detroit-style defaults, not just at city level but involving states too.  Consider:

Put all these current and near-current events together, and you have a very dangerous picture indeed.  I can only compare it to the well-known simulation of a nuclear reaction using mousetraps and ping-pong balls.

All it takes to start the reaction is one ball . . . or, in terms of a financial crisis, one major collapse or other economic event.  There are so many of them out there that contagion is inevitable.  If any one of the world's current fiscal crises goes out of control, the odds of another crisis doing the same increase exponentially.

I think we're living in very dangerous times, economically speaking.  The Bank for International Settlements (an association of central banks) has warned that "The world will be unable to fight the next global financial crash as central banks have used up their ammunition trying to tackle the last crises".

I'm currently making sure I have two months' expenditure available in cash, tucked away in a safe location.  If we're forced to endure a compulsory 'bank holiday' as Greece is now enduring, I want to make sure I can buy what I need.  Other than that, there's not much I can do.  I'm not wealthy enough to have high-value assets like gold or silver in quantities sufficient to preserve wealth in times of crisis.  Like almost all of us, I'll just have to ride it out as best I can.


Chillin' out?

I've never seen ice cream served like this before . . .

Oh, well . . . someone has to say it.  "Cool!"


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Safely home

Miss D. and I arrived home safely this evening, worn out but very glad to have been at LibertyCon.  We met lots of interesting people, made useful new contacts, and probably set up several months worth of work to improve my books and marketing techniques.  All in all, a very successful weekend.

Now it's back to the usual daily round and common task.  In the light of input from professional artists at the Con, one thing I'm going to do right away is start talking to a couple of graphic artists about commissioning covers for my next books.  Two European artists (both of whose work I've used before) appear to offer very good prices for custom cover art (oddly, much better than US artists - don't ask me why).  I think I'm going to order half a dozen to a dozen images and 'bank' them for future use.  I already know several of the plots I'm going to use, so I can tailor the cover pictures to what goes on inside.  That'll be fun.

It's been a very long, often sleep-deprived few days.  Time to hit the sack.  Regular posting will resume in the morning.

Sleep well, y'all.


Immigrants, jobs - and machines

In the light of my previous article about automation threatening many current jobs, I was both heartened and provoked to thought by this report from the BBC.

On the flat plains of the Po Valley is the small town of Novellara, in the province of Reggio Emilia. It's not far from the city of Parma - and from Parma and Reggio Emilia comes the name of one of the world's most famous cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano... in English, Parmesan. Under EU rules, it has to be made exclusively from milk produced and transformed into cheese in this area of northern Italy.

The large number of Sikhs who have settled here were not attracted by the territory's famous product but rather by the territory itself, explains Novellara's mayor, Elena Carletti: "They say, 'We live here and we feel like we're still in Punjab because it's flat, there are no mountains, it's hot, it's humid, and the kind of agriculture is more or less the same.'" According to the mayor, Sikhs feel comfortable in their Italian home from home.

"Punjab, which means 'the land of five rivers', is an agricultural land," confirms Amritpal Singh, whose family moved to Italy when he was five years old. "At home we have fields and cows, and our relationship with the land and animals is very particular. So, when we came here and didn't know the language, this was something in our favour."

With the first major wave of immigration in the 1980s some went to work in factories, some even went to work in the circus, but the majority chose dairy farming. Aside from not needing to speak Italian to milk and take care of cows, Amritpal says they were not afraid of hard work or the unsociable hours. "We wake up very early to pray so that's why it works for us," he says.

A typical day involves two shifts - approximately 4am-8am then 2.30pm to 6.30pm. It's common for people to work seven days a week with no holidays, as cows need to be milked every day. Local dairy farmers were impressed by the respect and skill with which the Indians handled their animals. The immigrant workers were impressed by the handsome wages and free housing their employers offered. The economy was booming back then and many Italians were turning their backs on what was considered menial, unskilled work.

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

I'm really glad that Parmesan cheese continues to be produced in such quantities, thanks to the hard work of Sikh immigrants.  However, the fact that local workers wanted better, less menial work is something to think about - particularly because in March 2015 Italy had an overall unemployment rate of 13% and a youth unemployment rate of a staggering 43%.  If those people can't find work anywhere else and Italy's economic support for the unemployed becomes overloaded, some of them may want to return to the farms from which they came;  and if the Sikhs have taken their jobs there, they're going to resent that and start to fan the flames of anti-immigrant bias and bigotry.

We're seeing the same conundrum here in the USA.  The progressive, pro-immigration lobby claims that immigrants are only doing the jobs that Americans won't do.  Anti-immigration forces deny this vehemently, pointing to companies hiring skilled technical staff to replace US workers at half the salary level (Disney being the latest example of the trend).  In more menial occupations, companies can't afford to pay a living wage to lower-level workers because their customers won't pay the prices necessary to support higher pay.  I've seen a lot of bitching about how mean Walmart is to compensate its hourly-paid employees so poorly;  but if it paid them more, it'd have to raise its prices to levels which its customers wouldn't pay - and that means its employees would soon be unemployed.  It's a conundrum to which there's no easy answer.  Locations such as Seattle, WA that have passed local ordinances to increase the minimum wage are already seeing small businesses close their doors, because they simply can't afford the higher remuneration levels.

One answer already being applied by companies is to increase their levels of automation, as noted in my previous article.  Automation may not only decrease labor costs;  it may also sidestep or short-circuit arguments concerning immigrant versus local workers.  A machine is neither, so companies using them are suddenly freed from controversy around the latter issues.  That's yet another reason why automation is becoming a more and more attractive and cost-effective option in the business world.


Yet another occupation about to fall to machines?

I've written often enough about the dangers posed to our current jobs by a tsunami of automation, robotics and sophisticated machines.  The latest example comes from Australia.

An Australian engineer has built a robot that can build houses in two hours, and could work every day to build houses for people.

Human housebuilders have to work for four to six weeks to put a house together, and have to take weekends and holidays. The robot can work much more quickly and doesn’t need to take breaks.

Hadrian could take the jobs of human bricklayers. But its creator, Mark Pivac, told PerthNow that it was a response to the lack of available workers — the average age of the industry is getting much higher, and the robot might be able to fill some of that gap.

. . .

Hadrian works by laying 1000 bricks an hour, letting it put up 150 houses a year.

It takes a design of the house and then works out where all of the bricks need to go, before cutting and laying each of them. It has a 28-foot arm, which is used to set and mortar the brick, and means that it doesn’t need to move during the laying.

Pivac will now work to commercialise the robot, first in West Australia but eventually globally.

There's more at the link.

Houses in the USA are mostly not built of brick, so this invention isn't likely to have a huge impact here;  but it will in the rest of the world if it can be commercialized.  It's yet another example of automation in the construction industry.  I've already seen US paving contractors using bricklaying machines such as this one from a Dutch company.

It's yet another example of how the ever-increasing wave of automation is going to crush many of the jobs on which a lot of people rely to earn a living.  It's simply cheaper overall for companies to pay the high capital and maintenance costs of such a machine, compared to the burden of providing a job for human beings.  Machines don't need vacations or sick leave, don't take time off because they have a headache or need to deal with domestic emergencies, and don't incur huge overhead costs in terms of health care, workers compensation and other expenses.  Furthermore, when politically correct administrations try to add yet more burdens such as unrealistically high minimum wage standards, machines won't be affected by them.  They just keep on working.

If your job is one of those in danger of automation, you need to be thinking about retraining yourself and getting into a new career field right away.  Far more jobs are threatened than you might think.  If you're in any doubt, I highly recommend that you read at least some of the following articles and reports.  They're well worth your time, particularly those marked with asterisks at beginning and end.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

On the ground at LibertyCon

Miss D. and I are having an exhausting, but interesting time at LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN.  We arrived on Wednesday evening, in the middle of an extremely enervating wave of heat and humidity, and suffered through it until a thunderstorm dropped the temperature nicely yesterday afternoon.  The relief is very welcome indeed!

Thursday evening saw the wedding of Sanford Begley and Cedar Sanderson, and the renewal of their wedding vows by Dan and Sarah Hoyt on the occasion of their 30th wedding anniversary.  I was privileged to be a part of both celebrations.  I'm sure many of my readers have already seen photographs and descriptions of the occasions on other web sites, so I'll simply say that it's great to be able to be part of friends' lives at times like these.

For the first time in its history, LibertyCon is completely sold out.  What's more, this year Eric Flint has brought his 1632 Mini-Con to join us, so that there are 700 people here.  The hotel's sold out (with a large number of its rooms and parking spaces unavailable due to remodeling), and with all the extra bodies the crowding is much worse than it's been in previous years.  On the other hand, everyone's having a good time and being very good-natured about it all.  The cooler weather has arrived just in time to make us all more comfortable, too . . . so much the better!

My health hasn't been good.  I picked up an infection of some kind that made Thursday and Friday pretty miserable.  For a time I feared that I might have to cut short my attendance at the convention to head to the ER - or even back home - to get medical attention.  Fortunately, things have become a little easier, so I'm going to try to keep going.  I'll see the doctor on Monday after this is all over.  It hasn't stopped me participating in panels or presenting my workshops so far.  I'll hope for the best.


On gay 'marriage' and the Confederate battle flag

Over the last couple of days two major developments have affected the American body politic;  the controversy over the Confederate battle flag, and the legalization by the Supreme Court of gay 'marriage' in the USA.  I think both are related.

As an immigrant to this country, I've always found the Confederate battle flag an anachronism, because it's been misused by almost everyone.  It was never the national flag of the Confederacy, but was used by the Army of Northern Virginia.  As Wikipedia reminds us:

At the First Battle of Manassas, near Manassas, Virginia, the similarity between the "Stars and Bars" and the "Stars and Stripes" caused confusion and military problems. Regiments carried flags to help commanders observe and assess battles in the warfare of the era. At a distance, the two national flags were hard to tell apart. In addition, Confederate regiments carried many other flags, which added to the possibility of confusion. After the battle, General P. G. T. Beauregard wrote that he was "resolved then to have [our flag] changed if possible, or to adopt for my command a 'Battle flag', which would be Entirely different from any State or Federal flag." ... He described the idea in a letter to his commanding General Joseph E. Johnston: "I wrote to [Miles] that we should have "two" flags—a peace or parade flag, and a war flag to be used only on the field of battle—but congress having adjourned no action will be taken on the matter—How would it do us to address the War Dept. on the subject of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars, ... We would then on the field of battle know our friends from our Enemies."

The flag that Miles had favored when he was chairman of the "Committee on the Flag and Seal" eventually became the battle flag and, ultimately, the most popular flag of the Confederacy.

Ironically, it was only after the Civil War that the battle flag became identified with the Confederacy as a whole.  I can only presume that was through the efforts of veterans who'd fought beneath it, and who wanted to commemorate their sacrifice.  It may also have had something to do with the mythos of the 'Lost Cause', which also arose after the war.  The battle flag as such had nothing whatsoever to do with the institution of slavery;  but because it became identified with the Confederacy as a whole, rather than just the Army of Northern Virginia, it inevitably and irrevocably acquired that association.  That's why opposition to it has grown so entrenched among the liberal establishment, the black community, and those who regard residents in the former Confederacy as unregenerate Southerners who need to be reminded who won the war.  (There are a surprising number of them.)

Unfortunately, those in the south who value the battle flag for its original significance have had the moral ground cut out from under their feet by its identification with the Confederate States as a whole.  If it was just a battle flag, I don't think anyone could seriously object to its being flown on historical grounds.  As a symbol of a state that was established to preserve the institution of slavery . . . that's a whole new ball of wax.  (And don't tell me the Confederacy was not established for that specific purpose.  The historical record - including the statements of those who supported and endorsed secession of the various States - is quite clear.  The Confederacy was all about the 'peculiar institution'.)

After the church shooting at Charleston, photographs of the shooter posing with a handgun and the battle flag were found online.  (He was also photographed wearing the flags of the former Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa, adding to his personal association of the Confederate battle flag with racism.)  That precipitated the public explosion of anger against the battle flag among certain circles that has led to the current situation.  Many in the south are angry and appalled that the flag has now become a symbol for racism in the eyes of many.  They protest that it's simply not the case, that the flag is being tarred with the brush of mass murder.  I fear they forget that the flag has already been tarred with the brush of racism and slavery, whether they like it or not, and whether or not there's any factual historical foundation for that.  The conflation of the battle flag with the cause and nation for which the Army of Northern Virginia fought has inexorably led to this.  I fear the backlash is now inevitable.

The trouble is, the status of the battle flag has been enshrined in custom, and sometimes in law, in several former states of the Confederacy.  If it had remained a completely private affair, with individuals or small groups flying the flag to commemorate historical association or something like that, the present situation would never have arisen.  Unfortunately, legislative enshrining of the flag as a symbol of a nation that itself symbolized slavery and racism has now run into its use by the shooter at Charleston.  It's now so inextricably tied up with all that symbolism that I fear it can no longer be separated from them in the minds of many, perhaps most Americans.

As for gay 'marriage', I put the word 'marriage' in quotes because to me, and I think to many others, the term has always denoted a religious or spiritual understanding of the formal bond between a man and a woman.  Certainly, in human history there has almost always been the understanding that such a bond is ordained, or sanctioned, or blessed, by the divinity, in whatever form and under whatever name a given society has known him or her or it.  Therefore, for the US Supreme Court to rule that 'marriage' must be opened to all, including same-sex couples, is, to me, a contradiction in terms.  If 'marriage' is a religious or spiritual institution, it should fall under the separation of church and state, and not be subject to interference by the government or the judiciary.  If it's not a religious institution, then why are churches and faiths so invested in it?

I've discussed this before in these pages (follow those four links for more information).  My preferred solution today remains what it's always been:  get the state out of the business of marriage altogether.  Let individuals and couples decide for themselves where their priorities lie.  If they're religiously oriented, let them marry in a way that conforms to their faith.  If they aren't, let them make whatever arrangements they wish in order to codify their relationship and afford each other the legal, contractual benefits of shared living.  This may or may not involve a formal, state-sanctioned bond (although for purposes such as inheritance, etc. that may be inevitable).

Frankly, the Supreme Court decision won't change my outlook on marriage at all.  I'll continue to regard it from the perspective of my religious faith, and act accordingly.  To those who don't share that understanding, I'll respect and accept their right to live according to their own lights, as long as they extend the same courtesy to me.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Did a plague produce an unexpected social benefit?

That's the fascinating speculation in this article in the Telegraph.

The Black Death may still be making its presence felt 650 years after it ravaged Europe, as a historian claims it led directly to the creation of the pub.

The plague killed an estimated 1.5 million people in England between 1348 and 1350, but in its aftermath, with fewer people competing for work and land, living standards reached a height not matched until centuries later, said Prof Robert Tombs of Cambridge University.

. . .

Prof Tombs, speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival in Wiltshire, said: “Terrible though it is to say, the Black Death actually had some rather good effects. This was a good time to be alive.

“This was when the English pub was invented and people started drinking lots of beer and playing football and so on. That was in a way due to, or at least a consequence of, and wouldn’t have been possible without, the Black Death.”

Explaining why the century afterwards could be seen as a good time to live, Prof Tombs said: “The population was getting too great, becoming a strain on resources in agricultural society.

“And after the Black Death, things started to look up. People got better off. There was more land to go around. Resources were not so stretched. What was later called the feudal system largely disappeared.

"Serfs became free because they could simply say to their lords, 'Ok, if you won’t give me my freedom I’ll go somewhere else’.

“And they did. So if lords wanted their fields to be tilled, they had to give their peasants or vassals what they wanted, which was essentially freedom and a better life.

“The standard of living people reached in the 15th century was not exceeded until the 1880s after the Industrial Revolution. And the amount of leisure they took was not equalled until the 1960s.”

Although people had brewed ale for many centuries, and drunk in taverns, the late Middle Ages is said to have seen the rise of the pub as would be recognised in the modern day.

“The brewing of ale was usually a cottage industry,” said Prof Tombs, a fellow of St John’s College who was promoting his book, The English and their History.

“Weak beer was the standard drink. But it’s in the early 15th century that you start getting places that are mainly, or permanently, dedicated to drinking beer that are also about playing games as well.

“That’s the origin of the pub; it’s a particular place. It’s not just that Mrs So-and-so brews berry occasionally and you can nip round to buy a farthing’s-worth of ale, but it’s now to become a full-time brewer with a public house one can go to at any time to eat and certainly socialise.”

There's more at the link.

There are, of course, those who'd say that imbibing too much Guinness at the pub produces a 'black death' feeling in its own unique way . . . but far be it from me to join them (except over a glass or two).


Furry friend fails

Courtesy of Claire Wolfe, here's a fun video of more or less spectacular dog fails.

I enjoy the fact that most dogs just pick themselves up and try again.  Cats, on the other hand, if caught in similar failures, would sit up, glare at the camera as if to say, "I meant to do that!", and either stalk away in injured dignity or begin ostentatiously cleaning themselves.


When Big Brother becomes an unnatural threat to society

When an industry succeeds in taking over the legislative and/or regulatory process concerning itself, so that laws and regulations are designed to protect the incumbent 'powers that be' in that industry rather than the public interest, we call that 'regulatory capture'.  It's (rightly) regarded as a form of corruption.  What if a political, social and economic philosophy does the same thing, taking over the bureaucratic, regulatory and administrative side of government so completely as to be able to impose its partisan agenda by riding roughshod over the wishes of those who don't agree with it?

We've seen that with the IRS, which is under fire for (but which hasn't stopped) 'investigating' political opponents (individual and corporate) of the present Administration, using its powers to impede their lawful, legitimate activities.  We're seeing it again with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The New York Post reports:

President Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development is accusing expensive towns of racism, simply because most minorities can’t afford to live there.

. . .

HUD’s soon-to-be-released regulation, in the works since 2013, will compel affluent suburbs across the nation to build more high-density, low-income housing, plus sewers, water lines, bus routes and other changes needed to support it.

Obama’s social engineers will eliminate local zoning requirements to achieve what the HUD rule calls “inclusive communities.” Property values be damned.

If you’ve worked hard to afford a home in an affluent neighborhood of single-family houses, you have a lot to lose under this HUD plan.

The HUD rule twists the original and laudable intent of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which is to bar housing discrimination.

The new rule states towns must “affirmatively further” diversity. If low-income minorities want to move to a town but can’t afford it, the town must “provide adequate support to make their choice viable.”

. . .

HUD’s plan is frightening. Phase one will collect data on poverty, school-testing scores and public-transit sites from every Census division to spot towns that have too few poor residents.

If a town’s guilty, HUD will charge racism and demand more public housing.

Race is being cynically exploited by officials as a pretext to accomplish something else entirely — economic integration.

HUD’s plan is a power grab. Nothing in the Constitution empowers the federal government to do this.

Zoning is a local power.

There's more at the link.

There's nothing wrong with HUD encouraging towns and cities to provide more low-cost or subsidized housing for poorer families.  What's wrong is when HUD uses its powers to forcibly integrate different income and social levels into a 'homogenized' society.  That's never worked anywhere in the world - unless you count an elevated level of social misery as evidence of success.  Just look at the tenements of the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe.  Everyone was reduced to a lowest common denominator of misery, not raised to a highest common factor of success and achievement.  That's what bureaucracy always does.  It's the nature of the beast.

This is also allied to utterly ridiculous, politicized ideologies of poverty.  We've examined that in these pages before - but the US is not alone in such folly.  Just this week, the Telegraph reported in England:

The current rules, originally dreamt up by Left-wing academics in the Sixties, state that somebody is poor if they live in a household on below 60pc of median earnings, regardless of their actual quality of life or access to essentials.

But this measures income inequality, not poverty. Under that definition, poverty can never realistically be eradicated in a capitalist society. If median incomes go up by 10pc, and that of the bottom 20pc by 9pc, delivering huge improvements to the living standards of everybody in the country, poverty would still be deemed to have gone up. It’s bonkers. “Poverty” would remain rife even if the bottom decile earned £100,000 a year, unless – or until – all top earners were taxed out of existence.

It gets worse. As David Cameron pointed out this week, hiking the state pension under current conditions automatically increases reported child poverty, even if no child has actually lost access to any income and some receive greater help from grandparents. In fact, poverty supposedly went down during the recession – because rich bankers lost their jobs or saw their bonuses cut, which reduced inequality. Any measure of poverty that goes down in depressions and explodes in booms is an insult to the public’s intelligence and should be scrapped.

. . .

We are trapped by a metric that has been deliberately rigged to ensure a socialistic bias in public policy, to extend welfare dependency and to make it harder to cut public spending. Worse, Gordon Brown made it legally binding for the government to slash child poverty on this warped definition by 2020. The only way this can be achieved is by endlessly increasing tax credits to push as many as possible above the critical 60 per cent threshold. Unless the rules are torn up soon, George Osborne’s welfare cuts could be ruled illegal.

It’s a trick that the Left is brilliant at: redefining words and corrupting their meaning to fix the debate. Inequality becomes poverty, wasteful public spending is rebranded as investment and calls for a dramatically higher minimum wage are presented as a common-sense suggestion for a “living wage”.

. . .

Ever since Karl Marx, the Left has been obsessively materialistic. Yet there is far more to poverty than just money; being deprived of social capital during one’s childhood is even more important than suffering from too little financial capital. Family structures and educational opportunities are crucial, as is security and stability.

Again, more at the link.

The Telegraph's observation bears repeating.  Inequality is not poverty.  Furthermore, equality does not consist of, and cannot be measured against, economic factors alone.  What the framers of our Constitution sought was equality of opportunity.  What the progressive left seeks is equality of outcomes - and they'll impose that on us by legislative fiat if they can, regardless of its (lack of) truth and the failure of every society in history to accomplish anything of the sort by direction.

It's a frightening prospect to consider how much damage social justice warriors can do at the helm of every administrative department in the government.  That's yet another reason to reduce the size of that government to the necessary minimum, and ensure that its bureaucrats are aware that they serve in accordance with the Constitution and are subordinate to its requirements.  They don't have the authority, or the right, to ignore it and/or reinterpret it according to their whims.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

How we learned about Stingray

I'm sure most readers have heard of Stingray, a technology allowing law enforcement to 'spoof' or imitate cellphone towers.  Now Business Insider tells us who found out about this highly secretive technology.

Stingray works by mimicking cellphone towers. The authorities drive around with them sending out signals and all mobile devices in the vicinity are forced to connect to it. It has reportedly been used by numerous enforcement agencies for years, thousands of times. But the problem is that any organization signing on to use the device is forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

This means that if a group is asked to divulge details of Stingray in court, they must drop the case.

Given all this, it's quickly become clear that the authorities never wanted people to know that Stingray existed. In fact, according to the latest episode of the WNYC radio show Note To Self, it took an obsessed man in prison to comb through thousands of documents to piece together what was going on.

There's more at the link.

Seems to me that despite his criminal past, we owe Mr. Rigmaiden a collective vote of thanks for uncovering this latest overreach by Big Brother.  You do realize, don't you, that if you live in anything larger than a medium-sized town or city, the odds approach certainty that your cellphone signals have been intercepted by the authorities in this way - without so much as a "By your leave", without any evidence that you're engaged in anything other than law-abiding activity, and without a warrant?

Big Brother has gotten far too big for his boots.  We're obliged to people like Mr. Rigmaiden for reminding us of that unpleasant reality.  That helps us defend what freedom we have left - and even claw some back from the Nanny State, now and again.


A succinct commentary on Tor's current problems

Francis Turner has an interesting personal insight into what's going on at Tor these days, and the nature of the real (as opposed to public relations) problems confronting the company.  Here's a brief excerpt.

The good thing (in the faint silver-ish lining of the thunder-cloud category) about the Sad Puppies affair and the resulting fall out, is that it has caused me to evaluate my reading habit and to actually put numbers behind my vague feelings that something was rotten in the state of publishing. If I am not alone (and anecdotal data from comments on various blogs and Facebook pages suggests I’m very far from alone) then traditional publishing and book selling is in a world of hurt that can only get worse. I’m not sure what it would take to reverse the course (for book stores there may be nothing that can be done) but I’m pretty sure that bad mouthing voracious readers and denigrating the authors that write books for them, is not going to be a part of a successful strategy.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.


California's water crisis

Through e-mail and online links, I've come across two articles in recent days that explain California's water crisis and its underlying causes better than anything else I've read in the mainstream media.

The first is titled "California's Vanishing Lakes and the Hunger of the Mines".  It examines the impact of the Gold Rush on that State's ecology and wildlife.  It's fascinating reading, albeit repellent in the extent of its rapacity.  Here's how it begins.

If you drive the long stretch of Interstate 5 known as the Westside Freeway, from the foot of the Grapevine through Buttonwillow and on to Los Banos, you’ll be cruising along the edge of the richest and most productive farm land in the world. If, halfway through that journey, you stop at a place called Kettleman City (a name more ambitious than accurate) and stand at the edge of the parking lot behind the In-and-Out Burger looking due east down a gentle slope, you’ll be staring at what was once the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.

Of course, from your perch at the In-and-Out, you won’t see any water. Tulare Lake is long gone, all 700 square miles of it; its water restrained behind dams in the foothills and channelled away into the irrigation canals that make the Central Valley so productive. In its place are hundreds of square miles of cotton and corn, and an elaborate system of drains, ditches, channels and sumps designed to keep the lake bed farmable.

The massive rearranging of California’s water resources, which began with the Gold Rush and continues to the present day, is a triumph of ingenuity and engineering, and the utter destruction of the original, pre-1849 biome.

There's much more at the link.  It's a long article, but well worth your time.

The second article is by Victor Davis Hanson.  It's titled "California:  Running on Empty".  Here's an excerpt.

We suffer in California from a particular form of progressive immorality predicated on insular selfishness. The water supplies of Los Angeles and the Bay Area are still for a year longer in good shape, despite the four-year drought. Neither area is self-sufficient in water; their aquifers are marginal and only supply a fraction of their daily needs. Instead these megalopolises depend on intricate and expensive water transfer systems — from Northern California, from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and from the Colorado River — that bring water and life to quite unnatural habitats and thereby allow a MGM or Facebook to thrive in an arid landscape that otherwise would not support such commerce and population. Without them, Atherton would look like Porterville.

Quiet engineers in the shadows make it all work; the loud activists in the media seek to make it unwind. These transfers have sterling legal authority and first claims on mountain and northern state water. If Latinos in Lemon Cove are going without household water, Pyramid Lake on I-5 or Crystal Springs Reservoir on 280 are still full to the brim.

Why then do those who have access to water delivered in a most unnatural way seek to curtail supplies to others? In a word, because they are either ignorant of where their own water comes from or they have not a shred of concern for others less blessed, or both. We will confirm this ethical schizophrenia should a fifth year of drought ensue. Then even the most sacrosanct rights of transferred water will not be sufficient to accommodate the San Francisco and Los Angeles basins. Mass panic and outrage will probably follow, and no one will care a bit about the delta smelt, or a few hundred salmon artificially planted into the San Joaquin River watershed, or a spotted toad that holds up construction of an urgently needed reservoir.

The greens who pontificate about the need to return the San Joaquin watershed to its 19th-century ecosystem will become pariahs. When the taps run dry in Hillsborough and Bel-Air, very powerful people will demand water for their desert environs, which will in fact begin to return to the deserts that they always were as the thin veneer of civilization is scraped away.

The pretensions and vanity of postmodern civilization will do no good. What value is the ubiquity of transgendered restrooms, when there is no water in the toilet or sink? Who needs a reservoir on the back nine, when there is no water for putting greens? Who cares whether plastic grocery bags are outlawed, when one cannot afford the tomatoes or peaches to put in a paper bag? What does it matter whether the homeless or ex-felons are ensured a job on the high-speed rail project, when there is no money or water to build it? Who cares about a new Apple watch, when he stinks to high heaven without a shower?

Let us face elemental reality. A 40-million person California is an iffy place. It is entirely dependent on a sophisticated, man-created infrastructure of dams, reservoirs, canals, pumps, freeways, rail lines, airports, and schools and universities. Given that the population continues to rise, and given that one in four Californians was not born in the United States and is often poor (California has the largest population in real and relative numbers below the poverty line; one sixth of the nation on welfare payments of some sort lives in California), there is no margin of safety. A drought is but a metaphor about the collapse of an entire way of living.

Again, more at the link, and highly recommended reading.

In essence, taking these two articles together, they point out how California was remade to suit its inhabitants, with complete and utter disregard for what Nature had wrought there over the previous millennia.  Now that remaking is coming undone, because Nature has blithely continued to do as she's always done, and she's a damn sight more powerful than all the works of man.  California has, quite simply, exceeded its carrying capacity.  For a time that could be compensated for by technology, ingenuity and massive structural investment.  The money to continue such investment is no longer there, and there's no longer an abundance of natural resources within range that can be exploited.

The articles are a sobering reminder of the truth of the ancient Greek warnings about hubris, which was inevitably followed by nemesis. (or, as Longfellow put it, "Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad").  Looking at California today, it's hard to argue that those precepts don't apply.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Off to LibertyCon

Miss D. and I have arrived in Chattanooga, where LibertyCon begins on Friday.  We came early because two very dear friends are celebrating their marriage here tomorrow, and yours truly is officiating;  and another well-known author and her husband plan to renew their wedding vows, and I'm going to be there for that as well.  It's nice being a clergyman, even if medically retired - one can help out with that sort of thing.  (Little do the bride and groom suspect the nature of the vows I've prepared for them . . . MWAAAHAHAHA!)

Blogging will be lighter during the next few days, because Miss D. and I have workshops to present and panels in which to participate.  I'll try to post when I can, and perhaps queue up some articles for scheduled posting when I know I won't be able to do so in person.

I'm looking forward to meeting those of my readers who make it to Chattanooga.  Bring swimming costumes . . . it's supposed to hit 100 degrees tomorrow!


The latest development in the Tor boycott

Vox Day has asked his supporters to send physical letters to Tor and its parent company, Macmillan, over and above the e-mails that were sent last week.  You'll find the details over at his blog.

He wants Irene Gallo fired or forced to resign from Tor.  I haven't gone that far:  in fact, I've specifically stated on more than one occasion that I'm not calling for anyone's resignation or dismissal.  I stated:

"... please be advised that I look for the following actions from Tor ... :
  1. Tor should publicly apologize for the efforts by all, repeat, all of the persons I named ... to demonize, denigrate, slander and lie about the ‘Puppies’ campaigns;
  2. Tor should publicly reprimand those individuals for stepping over the line (including misusing company time and computer equipment to do so);
  3. Tor should publicly indicate that it is putting in place policies to prevent any recurrence of such issues.
Please note that I am not demanding the dismissal of, or resignations by, the individuals concerned."

I'd be very grateful if those of my readers who support my position would please send letters requesting the above to the addressees Vox has listed on his blog.  That'll add the weight of our numbers, and our more moderate requests, to those supporting his position.  The SJW's are lumping all of us together, whether we agree with that or not - they're equal-opportunity blamers - so why not use our combined strength in numbers?

Thanks in advance for your help.


The catastrophic reality of our economic situation

I've been arguing for years that our economic situation is simply unsustainable.  Years of deficit spending and massive government borrowing have left almost all the nations of the world in a parlous situation.  The USA is being sheltered to a certain extent, at present, from economic storms because while it's in a bad way, other major nations are in an even worse condition, so money is flowing to the apparent 'safe haven' of the dollar.  It's not safe at all.

Karl Denninger has just pointed out the obvious yet again.  He's done so many times before, but it looks like few, if any, people are listening.  It bears repeating, because what he says (and what I've been emphasizing) isn't a matter of opinion.  It's mathematical inevitability, pure and simple.

There is no means by which you can run an indefinite deficit.  It cannot be done, as that is an exponential series.  All exponential series that have a growth rate greater than 1.0 (that is, any positive growth rate), over sufficient time, end in disaster.


Every time.

You need to prove this to yourself.  Use Excel, Google's free "on the net" spreadsheet, whatever.  It takes a literal 2 minutes to construct a spreadsheet such as this:

A1 (first cell) = 1.0

A2 (second cell) = $A1 * 1.03  (3% growth)

Then copy A2 and paste it down the line for a few hundred cells.

Now graph that.

Notice that for any value in B1 over 1.0, no matter how small, the graph eventually does the same thing -- it runs away from you in an uncontrolled upward explosion.

. . .

This is the reality of deficit spending, it is the reality of claimed "infinite" GDP growth, it is the reality of inflation that is allowed to occur at any positive rate, it is the reality of health care expense expansion, home price expansion, stock price expansion and so on.

It never ends any other way because it mathematically can't end any other way.  Before it ends this way each and every time someone figures it out and the market collapses.  This is the definition of a bubble and it is why they always pop.

There's more at the link.

Any exponential increase in spending and/or borrowing, no matter how big or how small the exponent may be, must inevitably end up with the same result over time.

We're borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars each year to fund our government's deficit spending.  Those supporting this practice argue that if we didn't, 'entitlements' like welfare, Medicare and Medicaid, etc. could not be funded.  They ignore the reality that sooner or later, the 'borrowing bubble' must inevitably burst - and then we won't be able to afford to fund those things at all.  We face a simple choice.  Live within our means now . . . or go bankrupt.

(Click each of the graphs above to be taken to their source pages for more information, if you wish.)

Compare the curve in the last graph above to Mr. Denninger's example of an exponential curve.

See the resemblance?

That's mathematics.

That's reality.

Yet I see no way on earth that our politicians (of either party) will do anything to actually govern according to that reality, because they don't care about reality.  They care only about being re-elected and retaining their positions of power.  They're all kicking the fiscal can down the road, in the hope that by the time that becomes impossible, they'll have retired and be enjoying their fat-cat pensions and all the money they made while in office.

We're the ones who'll be left carrying the can.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

So Google Chrome can monitor your microphone?

There's yet another security 'scare' about how Google Chrome can use a computer's microphone and webcam to monitor users.  This is nothing new.  Tech analysts have spoken and written about similar stuff for several years - for example, see this Forbes article from January last year.  The latest fuss and bother appears to describe a couple of new features, new ways that Chrome can do this, but the basic capability has been there all along.

That's the problem with trusting any company to use your computer hardware and software responsibly.  If Facebook asks you to scan your ID documents (drivers license, etc.) and upload them to 'verify' your account, are you going to be dumb enough to do so?  That's none of their business - so why would they want that information if not to exploit it, and you?  Do you think they're doing it because they have your best interests at heart?  Like hell they are!

If you want all the bells and whistles Google builds into Chrome, Google Docs, Gmail or any of their other products, you have to sacrifice at least some privacy to get them.  That's just the way it is.  In some cases, we accept the balance between convenience and privacy.  In others, we don't.  Everyone's boundaries will differ (I, for example, won't use Facebook at all).

Therefore, the simplest and easiest answer to Google Chrome's potential or actual breach of your privacy is very simple.  Don't download it, don't install it, and don't use it.  Problem solved.


'The Last Rebels'

The title of this post is taken from an article at Zero Hedge titled 'The Last Rebels: 25 Things We Did As Kids That Would Get Someone Arrested Today'.  It resonated with me.  The author points out:

With all of the ridiculous new regulations, coddling, and societal mores that seem to be the norm these days, it’s a miracle those of us over 30 survived our childhoods.

Here’s the problem with all of this babying: it creates a society of weenies.

There won’t be more more rebels because this generation has been frightened into submission and apathy through a deliberately orchestrated culture of fear. No one will have faced adventure and lived to greatly embroider the story.

Kids are brainwashed – yes, brainwashed – into believing that the mere thought of a gun means you’re a psychotic killer waiting for a place to rampage.

They are terrified to do anything when they aren’t wrapped up with helmets, knee pads, wrist guards, and other protective gear.

Parents can’t let them go out and be independent or they’re charged with neglect and the children are taken away.

Woe betide any teen who uses a tool like a pocket knife, or heck, even a table knife to cut meat.

Lighting their own fire? Good grief, those parents must either not care of their child is disfigured by 3rd-degree burns over 90% of his body or they’re purposely nurturing a little arsonist.

. . .

“Free range parenting” is all but illegal and childhood is a completely different experience these days.

She then lists 25 things that children routinely did in the 1960's and 1970's, and asks readers how many of them they did.  I've highlighted in yellow those I didn't do, and explained why.  All the rest I remember well - and I'm sure I'd have done the three I didn't do if I'd had the opportunity!  How many did you do?

  1. Riding in the back of an open pick-up truck with a bunch of other kids
  2. Leaving the house after breakfast and not returning until the streetlights came on, at which point, you raced home, ASAP so you didn’t get in trouble
  3. Eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the school cafeteria (the only reason I didn't do this was because we didn't have school cafeterias)
  4. Riding your bike without a helmet
  5. Riding your bike with a buddy on the handlebars, and neither of you wearing helmets
  6. Drinking water from the hose in the yard
  7. Swimming in creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes (or what they now call *cough* "wild swimming")  (I presume she means skinny-dipping?  Yeah, did that.  Often.)
  8. Climbing trees (One park cut the lower branches from a tree on the playground in case some stalwart child dared to climb them)
  9. Having snowball fights (and accidentally hitting someone you shouldn’t) (the only reason I didn't do this was because we didn't have snow during winter.  I have had lots of mudball fights, though.)
  10. Sledding without enough protective equipment to play a game in the NFL (No snow to sled on - but I did play with home-made go-karts, running them down driveways and some local roads and devil take the hindmost.  Protective gear?  What's that?)
  11. Carrying a pocket knife to school (or having a fishing tackle box with sharp things on school property)
  12. Camping
  13. Throwing rocks at snakes in the river  (and other animals too)
  14. Playing politically incorrect games like Cowboys and Indians
  15. Playing Cops and Robbers with *gasp* toy guns
  16. Pretending to shoot each other with sticks we imagined were guns
  17. Shooting an actual gun or a bow (with *gasp* sharp arrows) at a can on a log, accompanied by our parents who gave us pointers to improve our aim. Heck, there was even a marksmanship club at my high school
  18. Saying the words “gun” or “bang” or “pow pow” (there actually a freakin’ CODE about “playing with invisible guns”)
  19. Working for your pocket money well before your teen years
  20. Taking that money to the store and buying as much penny candy as you could afford, then eating it in one sitting
  21. Eating pop rocks candy and drinking soda, just to prove we were exempt from that urban legend that said our stomachs would explode
  22. Getting so dirty that your mom washed you off with the hose in the yard before letting you come into the house to have a shower
  23. Writing lines for being a jerk at school, either on the board or on paper
  24. Playing “dangerous” games like dodgeball, kickball, tag, whiffle ball, and red rover (The Health Department of New York issued a warning about the “significant risk of injury” from these games)
  25. Walking to school alone  (and riding my bicycle to and from school, alone and unescorted)

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading, if depressing at times.

I suppose it's as Horace complained, a couple of thousand years ago:

Our sires' age was worse than our grandsires'. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt.

There are many more such complaints about the young here.  (They're funny in retrospect, too.)


He needs to buy a lottery ticket NOW

The Telegraph reports that a motorist in China had a narrow escape.

Last Wednesday, Mr Xiang was driving along the Chongqing-Guizhou Expressway in central China when he noticed a giant circular saw spinning at speed towards his windscreen.

The 5ft cutting blade collided with the car bonnet, ripping through its metal engine as Mr Xiang, whose first name has not been revealed, frantically wrestled the wheel of the swerving vehicle.

Miraculously, the bouncing blade missed the driver, wedging itself 50cm deep into the front of his JMC truck. Mr Xiang defied the odds by walking away from the crash with barely a scratch on him.

There's more at the link, including more photographs.  Apparently several of those blades broke away from a truck coming in the opposite direction.

Speaking just for myself, you understand . . . if I saw that bloody great saw blade come rolling down the road towards me at high speed, constipation would cease to be a problem for the rest of my life!


The solution to the $10 note question

I'm sure readers are aware of the proposal to remove Alexander Hamilton's image from the $10 note, and replace him with a woman of historical significance.

Billll (yes, four ells) has the perfect solution for these politically-correct times.  Go read.



Monday, June 22, 2015

Old NFO does it again!

My buddy in cyberspace and meatspace, Jim Curtis, has just published the third volume in his 'Grey Man' series.

The 'Grey Man' series is hard to classify.  It's a cross between a modern Western, an adventure story, a whodunnit and a crime novel.  Jim describes the new book like this.

When Texas Deputy Sheriff John Cronin thwarts the Cartel’s plan to get paid to smuggle Muslims across the border, he becomes the target of the Cartel once again. One try fails, but the cartel isn’t about to give up. With his granddaughter, Jesse, still recovering from her last run-in with the Cartel and now far away with her Marine husband on a military base, Cronin only has to worry about the innocents around him.

One way or another, this old school law man plans to end this cat and mouse game for good. But, this time, the Cartel is playing for keeps; ending this war might just cost the old man his life.

Either way Cronin plans to go out on his feet, fighting tooth and nail.

Jim has a unique writing style and 'voice', very different from any other author I've read.  He's a born raconteur, and that comes across very strongly in the way he writes.  Miss D. and I had the privilege (and pleasure) of being able to read a beta version of his latest book, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.  We've already bought the final, published edition.  It's available as an e-book or paper edition - the two listings will be combined on Amazon.com within a day or two.

Highly recommended reading.  Jim, the steak and beers are on us at Libertycon!