Wednesday, September 30, 2015

This might be must-see viewing

Michael Lewis, famous author of 'Liars Poker' and other books, published 'The Big Short' in 2010.

It examined the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2007/08, and portrayed a fascinating behind-the-scenes world where a few savvy analysts saw what was coming and profited from it - at the expense of the entire US economy.

I bought the book soon after it came out, and have it on my desk as I write these words.  It's an excellent read, more like a detective story than a financial exposé.  Now comes the news that a movie has been made from the book, and will be released later this year.  Here's the trailer.

For those who've read my financial and economics articles, and found them useful, I think this movie might be a must-see.  If they've been faithful to the book in making it, it'll certainly be an eye-opener.  I plan to read early reviews with great interest.  If it's as good as I think it could be, I'll be standing in line for tickets.


The difference between "LEGAL" and "RIGHT"

I found this graphic over at Blue's Blog.

That's a really important point, particularly when our 'ruling class' uses the law to legitimize actions that are anything but right.

Consider it like this.  Congress can pass a law tomorrow that says the sky is red.  From then onward, it'll be legal to say that the sky is red.  It can even be declared illegal to say that the sky is anything but red.  Nevertheless, the sky won't actually be red.  The law may declare it so, but the law is visibly, demonstrably, empirically wrong.

The same applies to many things that are legal, but are not right by any mainstream moral or ethical standard.  To name just a few:

  • A drug manufacturer can sell a medicine here in the USA for six figures for a year's supply.  The identical medication may be available in India for less than $1,000 for the same quantity - but it's illegal under US law for a patient to buy the drug there and import it (not for resale, mind you - for his own personal use).  How can that possibly be ethically, morally right?
  • There are protections for individual privacy in the US constitution.  They're implicit rather than explicit, as noted in Roe vs. Wade and other court decisions, but the right is real.  How, then, can it be constitutional for laws to be passed allowing government agencies and businesses to ferret through our every conversation in electronic form, record them, analyze them, interpret them, use them to target us for advertising, and so on?  The laws of this country allow them to do so - but are those laws right?
  • There's an explicit protection against religious discrimination in the US constitution's First Amendment.  However, businesses and individuals are being targeted by laws protecting certain minority groups and/or orientations, even if their religious views conflict with the latter.  How can one law be more 'right' than another?
  • It's legal for federal officers to lie to suspects in their investigation of a crime;  but it's illegal for suspects to lie to federal officers.  (That's the main reason why Martha Stewart went to jail.)  What's sauce for the goose is emphatically not sauce for the gander.  How can this be right?

The list is endless, and never seems to get any shorter.  I've come to regard it as a litmus test for a statist.  If their approach to such issues is to shrug and say, "But it's legal!", they're likely to be statists and enemies of freedom.  If they ask "But is it right?", they might be worthwhile human beings (all other things being equal).


Economy watch

All the negative things I've said about the economy in recent months and years still apply.  We've only just begun the correction that should have happened in 2007/08, but which was pushed out into the future by central banks desperate to preserve whatever semblance of order they could.  Consider these recent reports.  (Click on their titles to go to the source article.)

The truth about China's dwindling war chest

In order to defend the value of the renminbi, China has shifted from becoming a net buyer, to a net seller of dollar assets. This has sparked concern that Beijing's actions are having an asphyxiating affect on global credit and liquidity conditions.

This phenomena - dubbed "quantitative tightening" - is seen as particularly worrying at a time when China can no longer play its role as the driver of global economic prosperity and when the Federal Reserve is finally poised to start normalising monetary policy.

Reserve depletion has also been coupled with record levels of capital outflows in the wake of the currency regime shift. Outflows hit an unprecedented $142bn in August, as "hot money" has fled the country and ordinary Chinese pull their money out of the financial system to escape the clutches of state capital controls.

World set for emerging market mass default, warns IMF

The IMF said corporate debts in emerging markets ballooned to $18 trillion (£12 trillion) last year, from $4 trillion in 2004 as companies gorged themselves on cheap debt.

. . .

It warned that this could create a credit crunch as risks "spill over to the financial sector and generate a vicious cycle as banks curtail lending".

In a double warning, the IMF said market liquidity, or the ease with which investors can quickly buy or sell securities without shifting their price, was "prone to sudden evaporation", particularly in bond markets, when the Federal Reserve started to raise interest rates.

It said a steady growth environment and "extraordinarily accommodative monetary policies" around the world had helped to maintain a "high level" of liquidity. However, it warned that this was not the same as "resilient" liquidity that could support markets in time of stress.

Gaston Gelos, head of the IMF's global financial stability division, said these factors were "masking liquidity risks" that could trigger violent market swings.

"Liquidity is like the oil in an engine, when there's too little of it, the machine starts stuttering," he said.

Chart: Caterpillar digs hole for world economy

Caterpillar is the perfect proxy for the infrastructure build required to sustain the world economy. When economies are booming, Caterpillar is climbing. The sustained fall in Caterpillar prices indicates a sustained fall in infrastructure investment. This is not just greenfield investment in new infrastructure, road, and mining projects. It's also a decline in brownfields investment in the renewal of ageing infrastructure.

. . .

Caterpillar machinery will continue to be the favorite among earthmovers, but it's a screaming short for traders and a poison pill for investors. It's doubtful if its on the list of Yellen economic indicators, but it should be. The collapse in the Caterpillar price shows a world economy that is slowing, not growing.

The Echo Bubble in Housing Is About to Pop

If we look at the ratio of mortgage debt to household income, the current level is still double the pre-financialization level. A slight decline from the insane levels of the bubble mania do not qualify as sane.

The Fed goosed the Echo Bubble by buying up an insane $1.75 trillion in mortgages, almost 20% of the entire mortgage market in the U.S. The Fed has kept buying mortgages to maintain this level, but the Fed is no longer expanding their mortgage holdings. That well has run dry.

And here's the knife in the heart of the Echo Housing bubble: household income - stagnating for decades for 90% of households - has declined since the Bubble Top when adjusted for inflation. Please explain how declining real income can support nosebleed home prices now that mortgage rates have bottomed and started their inevitable rise from absurdly low levels.

Bill Gross thinks everything sucks

High quality global bond markets offer little reward relative to durational risk. Private equity and hedge related returns cannot long prosper if global growth remains anemic. Cash or better yet "near cash" such as 1-2 year corporate bonds are my best idea of appropriate risks/reward investments. The reward is not much, but as Will Rogers once said during the Great Depression – "I'm not so much concerned about the return on my money as the return of my money."

. . .

Finance based capitalism with its zero bound interest rates has now produced global imbalances that impair productive growth and with it the chances for "old normal" prosperity.

Please note, in particular, Charles Hugh Smith's comments about the housing market, as given above.  There are a lot of people living in larger homes, who are relying on the capital they've built up in those homes to fund most of their retirement.  They intend to sell them at a substantial profit when the time comes, then reinvest the profits to live on the interest and dividends.  Now they're between a rock and a hard place.  Many buyers simply can't afford very expensive homes.  They're 'buying down', or paying for renovations and extensions to property they already own rather than move up-market.  Furthermore, the housing market as a whole is on very shaky ground.  With the Federal government underwriting much of the US mortgage market through the Federal Housing Administration, and the Federal Reserve (until recently) buying up a vast proportion of the more risky mortgages out there, the housing market was effectively backstopped by the government.  The latter program has now ended, and ongoing funding for the former is by no means guaranteed.

I'm staying well away from the property market for now.  If you're planning to sell your home, I repeat my earlier advice to do so as quickly as possible, and if necessary accept a lower price rather than be stuck with something you can't sell at all when things collapse.

I've taken the following additional steps to protect my family's finances as best I can.

  1. Some months ago I instructed the investment company managing our retirement account to keep all (yes, ALL) of our retirement funds in cash.  I won't invest in a single stock or bond right now until there's greater clarity about where the market is going.  (See Bill Gross' quote from Will Rogers, as cited above.)
  2. I've invested 10% of our liquid capital (i.e. cash on hand) in precious metals, splitting it equally in value between gold and silver coins.  I take the current crunch seriously enough that I want to have at least some of my money in an asset that historically has proved to be a reliable store of value.  It may lose value in the short term, but I'm not in this for the short term.
  3. I'm retaining two months' expenditure on hand, in cash.  I don't know whether we'll see a run on the banks here, as happened in Cyprus a few years ago, or in Greece earlier this year:  but I don't know that we won't, either.  I'd rather be safe than sorry.
  4. I've arranged secure storage for our precious metals, cash and other valuables in a private vault facility.  Keeping them in a safe deposit box in a bank is all very well . . . but if the bank's closed, you can't get to them.  A private vault isn't regulated in the same way as the banks, and won't be subject to the same risk of closure.  Also, as Greeks found out earlier this year, when criminals know people are hoarding cash and valuables, they break into homes to look for them.  I'd rather they didn't steal ours.

I think the worst is yet to come.  The next month or two are likely to be 'interesting times'.


Chicago, guns, and reality

Fourteen people were shot in fifteen hours in Chicago at the start of last weekend, leading to another (predictable) outburst from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Six people were killed and at least eight people were wounded, including an 11-month-old boy and a 2-year-old boy, during a bloody start to the week in Chicago that saw 10 of the victims shot at two scenes less than 3 miles apart on the South Side.

. . .

The burst of violence follows two straight weekends when more than 50 people were shot in Chicago. That's the first time that has happened on back-to-back weekends over the four years the Tribune has been tracking shootings. In August, more than 40 were shot on four consecutive weekends.

So far this year, at least 2,300 people have been shot in Chicago, about 400 more than during the same period last year, according to a Tribune analysis. Through Sunday, homicides have risen to 359, up 21 percent from 296 a year earlier, according to preliminary data from Chicago police.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday addressed the shooting in Back of the Yards, saying he was angry and “enough is enough.”

As he often does, Emanuel railed against the poor values of gangbangers. “Wherever you live, you should be able to get out of your car and go to your home,” said Emanuel, who attended the opening of a renovated Red Line CTA station at Clark and Division streets.

The mayor then returned to his oft-repeated themes of making all Chicago neighborhoods equally safe and calling for tougher penalties for crimes involving guns.

“You can say this happened in the neighborhood of the Back of the Yards, but everybody (who) woke up this morning, or heard it last night, felt a pain of anguish, and it’s time that our criminal justice system and the laws as it relates to access to guns and the penalties for using 'em reflect the values of the people of the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said.

There's more at the link.

My question to Hizzoner:  When your city tolerates over fifty gunshot victims in a weekend, and an average of well over eight persons shot every single day this year (so far) . . . are you really sure you want your "criminal justice system and ... laws" concerning guns to "reflect the values of the people of the city of Chicago"?  Sounds to me as if those values are pretty damn low, and pretty damn lethal.  I'd want a much higher standard than that, thank you very much!


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A tip o' the hat to Crimson Trace

Now and again I run across excellent customer service, so good that I have to acknowledge it publicly.  I've just received such treatment from Crimson Trace Corp. ('CTC'), manufacturers of laser sights for firearms.

For my recent birthday I received a set of CTC LG-320 Lasergrips to fit a SIG P220 pistol.  Unfortunately, while I used to own a P220, I don't any longer:  and the person who gave me the grips had already left for the sandbox, where he's been too busy to answer my e-mails.  I couldn't find out where he'd bought the grips, so I couldn't ask the dealer to exchange them.

I contacted CTC's customer service department to ask for their assistance.  Molly T. was very helpful.  She advised that the company normally expected such exchanges to be done through the selling dealer, but in this case they were willing to make an exception.  She gave me a return number, and I sent the LG-320 grips back to CTC and exchanged them for a set of LG-314 Lasergrips to fit a Smith & Wesson 'N' frame round butt revolver.

LG-314 Lasergrips (image courtesy of Crimson Trace Corp.)

I've already installed the LG-314's on my recently-acquired 'Mountain Gun'.

CTC didn't have to do this, but went out of their way to help a customer.  I think service that good deserves a shout-out.  Thanks, Molly, and thanks, Crimson Trace.  I'll be buying from you again soon.


(Big) Cat fight!

This must have been interesting . . . two leopards having a full go at each other in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa.  That's a combined total of somewhere between five hundred and seven hundred pounds of pissed-off pussycats.  It looks almost as if they're poised on their tails.

Note the claws and hind paw strikes.  That's not a play fight - it's the real deal.  I'm glad I wasn't within striking distance!


A raccoon as a breathalyzer deception device???

This sounds like an episode worthy of M*A*S*H at its most madcap - yet apparently it really happened.  I should think the guilty party (pun intended) will go down in US Navy history . . . or, at least, San Diego Police Department and Military Police history!


Monday, September 28, 2015

The scary-as-hell reality of an urban terrorist attack

America's shopping malls are wide open to attack by terrorists and criminal thugs.  I've spoken about that on various occasions, and I'll repeat here what I've warned before:

In today's racially charged climate, with criminal flash mobs an ever-increasing problem in many cities, the average urban shopping mall now qualifies as a "stupid place" to be.

In 2013 four Muslim fundamentalist terrorists attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in a chilling foretaste of what could happen in any city in America at any time.  I wrote about it that same day.  I urge you to read the warning I gave then, and ask yourself the same questions I posed on that day.  They're as relevant as ever they were.

Now Foreign Policy brings us an in-depth report on what happened that day in Nairobi, complete with many eye-witness and participant accounts.  It's the next best thing to a security briefing on what you might confront any day now in an American shopping center.  I have no faith whatsoever that our police and security forces could stop such a thing from at least getting started.  I hope and trust they'd do rather better at shutting it down before it got out of hand:  but if the attacking party is larger, or better-armed, or their assault is timed to coincide with mass street protests that draw too many cops away from the danger zone . . . who knows?

We already know that fundamentalist Islamic terrorists and/or their sympathizers are trying to infiltrate the United States.  Some claim they've already done so.  None of us know the facts . . . but I guaran-damn-tee you, they want to.  Nairobi was a foreshadowing of what they'd like to do to the Great Satan, America itself.  Go read the Foreign Policy article in full, and ask yourself:  if something like that goes down tomorrow, in my town, and I'm there, what am I going to do about it?  Am I prepared to deal with it?  If not . . . why not?



Shamelessly stolen borrowed from An Ordinary American:


Yeah. Me, too.

Courtesy of The Adaptive Curmudgeon, I have a musical confession to make.

Yeah.  That.


Money and moonbattery - partners for life

I daresay some readers have been following developments at the United Nations over the pie-in-the-sky 'Sustainable Development Goals' adopted by that organization's members last Friday.  We're informed that it will cost a mere "estimated $3 trillion a year needed to enact the SDG's".

The World Bank, with other development banks, coined the phrase "Billions to Trillions" to illustrate the challenge.

. . .

Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, said the agenda would not be achieved without business - and that meant ensuring stability and good governance in countries to support big partnerships.

"Business is attracted to where there is a solid and able environment and basic rule of law, commercial law, dispute resolution, peaceful and inclusive societies," said Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister.

"For us, it's fundamentally not about financial contributions that business makes to U.N. agencies. It's about shared values ... the way business does business. Is it inclusive, and is it sustainable?"

Centerpiece to funding talks has been a focus on helping countries boost their domestic resources by improving tax collection and attacking tax evasion and illicit cash flows.

While some criticize this as tinkering with a broken global tax system, Gurria said SDG funding does not need new initiatives but can build on and improve existing structures.

He called for a team of "tax inspectors without borders" to build trust in countries' systems and boost investment.

"If you get it right, you can get trillions," Gurria said.

But it is agreed that funding alone was not enough to achieve the global goals, with policy changes needed to support the priorities.

Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative which analyzes countries' progress on social measures, said economic growth alone would not meet the SDGs, which deal with subjects ranging from energy subsidies to developing genebanks.

"The SDGs are about political will and inclusion," Green told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We have the resources if we use them properly for this is not just about money."

There's more at the link.

Wait a minute.  You want $3 trillion every year - two times the annual expenditure of the entire US federal government - to implement these Sustainable Development Goals . . . and you're telling me it's not about the money?

Pull the other one, ducky.  It's got bells on it.

Note the emphasis on business as "inclusive" and "sustainable".  What they really mean is "taxable".  It's not about businesses so much as it's about sources of revenue that can be taxed, to raise money for these SDG's.  That's demonstrated clearly by the proposal for "tax inspectors without borders".  To hell with national sovereignty, privacy, confidentiality and every other principle that's guided nations for the past several centuries.  If we want to tax you, we'll follow you to the ends of the earth and ride roughshod over every protection you thought you had.  Show us the money!

A big part of the emphasis on the cost to implement these SDG's is that it'll take money from wealthier nations and peoples and redistribute it to poorer ones.  However, they're also being driven by an anti-business, anti-capitalist, pro-ecology philosophy of life that's fundamentally opposed to our present way of life.  The Guardian made that clear last week when discussing the SDG's.

Right now, our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 “global hectares” annually – a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares – many times their fair share.

What does this mean for our theory of development? Economist Peter Edward argues that instead of pushing poorer countries to “catch up” with rich ones, we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to “catch down” to more appropriate levels of development. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption not as basket cases that need to be developed towards western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.

How much do we really need to live long and happy lives? In the US, life expectancy is 79 years and GDP per capita is $53,000. But many countries have achieved similar life expectancy with a mere fraction of this income. Cuba has a comparable life expectancy to the US and one of the highest literacy rates in the world with GDP per capita of only $6,000 and consumption of only 1.9 hectares – right at the threshold of ecological sustainability. Similar claims can be made of Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Tunisia.

Yes, some of the excess income and consumption we see in the rich world yields improvements in quality of life that are not captured by life expectancy, or even literacy rates. But even if we look at measures of overall happiness and wellbeing in addition to life expectancy, a number of low- and middle-income countries rank highly. Costa Rica manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.

In light of this, perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses.

. . .

Perhaps we might take a cue from Latin Americans, who are organising alternative visions around the indigenous concept of buen vivir, or good living. The west has its own tradition of reflection on the good life and it’s time we revive it. Robert and Edward Skidelsky take us down this road in his book How Much is Enough? where they lay out the possibility of interventions such as banning advertising, a shorter working week and a basic income, all of which would improve our lives while reducing consumption.

. . .

This is not about giving anything up. And it’s certainly not about living a life of voluntary misery or imposing harsh limits on human potential. On the contrary, it’s about reaching a higher level of understanding and consciousness about what we’re doing here and why.

Again, more at the link - not that anyone needs any more of that drivel, but still . . .

The ultimate lie to such moonbattish sentiments can be found on the ground in those same South American nations so lauded by the author.  If things are so great there . . . if buen vivir is so marvelous . . . if those countries are so "appropriately developed" . . . then why the hell are their citizens so bound and determined to make it to the USA by any means possible, fair or foul, legal or illegal, so they can have access to our way of life instead?

The moonbats never bother to answer that question, because they can't.  It gives the lie to their pie-in-the-sky ecologist theology (and that's what it it is, in truth - a theology, a form of religious faith based on belief but not on observable, verifiable, empirical fact).

The truth is not in these people.  The old acid test still applies.  Follow the money.  If you do, it shows pretty clearly where their real interest lies.  "Give us money to assuage the guilt we're trying to make you feel!"

Yeah.  Right.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

So, when is the next Broadway Bomb?

Regular readers will recall that a couple of years ago, the New York Supreme Court upheld a ban on the 'Broadway Bomb' longboarding race in New York City.  Needless to say, the participants raised their joint and several middle fingers to the authorities and, in a breathtaking display of mass civil disobedience, made the NYPD look like utter idiots as they tried to stop the race.  I put up a video of proceedings at the time, complete with the Benny Hill theme (what else?), to general hilarity.

I was browsing through my archives when I came across that entry, and decided to see whether the 'Broadway Bomb' had continued its one-finger salute to the authorities.  It seems it's still alive and well, but there are multiple Facebook sites that disagree on the date for this year's event.  Two, 'Broadway Bomb 2015' and 'Broadway Bomb Company Website', claim it'll be on Saturday, October 17th, at noon.  Another, 'Broadway Bomb Non-Profit Organization', asserts it's actually on Saturday, October 10th, at noon.

Can any of my New York City readers help us?  When will the 'Broadway Bomb' be held this year?  Can you find out and let us know in Comments, please?

(Readers in other cities might find the same sort of event closer to home.  There was apparently a 'Broadway Bomb' race held in Los Angeles at the end of August.  Do you know of similar races in other cities?  If so, please tell us about them in Comments.)

Meanwhile, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the video from 2013 one more time.



A forgotten search-and-rescue saga

Many of the natural and man-made disasters that I recall from my years in Africa are largely unknown in the Northern Hemisphere.  They happened before the Internet, and besides, they were in very out-of-the-way places.  No-one (except those of us closer to the problem) paid much attention.

One such case was the rescue of survivors from the MV Pep Ice.  The ship has a checkered but by no means unusual history.  A small tramp freighter of just over 3,000 gross tons, she was built in 1977 and changed hands (and names) several times over the years.  Here's a photograph of her at some time during the 21st century, when she bore the name MV Ice Flowers (I'm not sure of the exact date).

I'm informed she's currently registered in Belize (a well-known maritime flag of convenience) under the name MV Alaska.  Like so many small tramp freighters, she may be getting on a bit (it's 38 years since she was built), but she's still useful, so she soldiers on.

On the morning of 7th January 1980, Pep Ice ran aground on the shoals of Bassas da India, a French-governed atoll in the southern Mozambique Channel, about halfway between Mozambique and Madagascar.  It was, back then, a very isolated place, with a few itinerant residents, no official representation and no facilities to speak of.  The crew remained aboard (there was nowhere else to go, after all), and the ship sent out a distress signal.  However, neither the Mozambique nor the Madagascan authorities could do anything to help.  They had no helicopters suitable to mount a rescue so far out into the ocean.

South Africa was the nearest country with the facilities to assist;  but there were no suitable military bases nearby that could provide support.  An extraordinary rescue effort was mounted, whereby a Puma helicopter was dismantled and flown to the barren, rugged Europa Island, approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) south-east of Bassas da India.  Since the Puma is a fairly large, complex helicopter, this wasn't as easy as it sounds.  It was reassembled there, flown to Bassas da India where it rescued the crew, then returned them to Europa Island, from where they were taken to South Africa for repatriation.  The ship was later refloated from the shoals and towed to South Africa for repairs.

The story of the operation was retold in a recent issue of a South African Air Force Association branch newsletter (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format).  I had some long-distance involvement with the project in a back-up role in South Africa, and it brought back many memories to re-read the account.  It's a long story.  Here's how it began for the flight crews concerned.

It started for us quite early in the morning of 10 January 1980, when the OC of 19 Squadron, Cmdt C.N Breytenbach called the late Rob Dean and myself (Ed) into his office and explained that we needed to get a Puma helicopter to Europa Island in the Mozambique channel as soon as possible to effect a rescue, and that the Puma would be transported by Transall C160Z aircraft. Breytie had obviously decided to task Rob and me because Rob was a qualified test pilot and I had had some 3 years experience operating from ships on a Maritime helicopter squadron. We immediately went to see Col C.J ("Blackie") de Swardt who was then SSO Operations of the SAAF and would be in charge of the rescue.

. . .

After some thought and discussion we advised "Blackie" that we would require at least three C 160s. One C160 was needed to transport the Puma and another two C160s to take fuel for the helicopter, the mobile crane, specialised jacks and tools. Furthermore there needed to be a fairly large contingent of aircraft crew, technical crew, medics and their equipment.

The major technical problem that was faced was that there was no crane strong enough to lift a Puma available that could also fit into a C160. The only crane that they could locate alone weighed 16,000 lbs. The technical personnel decided that they would therefore need to make the Puma lighter by dismantling it far more than normally necessary as well as defueling the aircraft. They immediately got down to work and a Puma ... was readied to be loaded. This required the removal of the tail-end of the helicopter, the removal of the main rotor blades and head, as well as the engines and cowlings. After the undercarriage was removed and all external fittings such as aerials and electrical systems were disconnected, the fuselage was placed on a specially constructed cradle.

Rob and I had two serious concerns though. We were taking a Puma from 19 Squadron, Swartkop, which did not have any maritime radios and we would need to set up communications with the ship. The other was that we only had the very basic of navigation aids on board and would need to rely on the old heading and time concept, whilst travelling a long distance over the sea to locate an insignificant atoll.

. . .

Information available to the SAAF crews for the rescue was completely outdated. The designated runway at the island no longer existed, but a new 4000ft runway, although covered in long grass, was however, acceptable. On landing the three C160s moved close together at the end of the runway and shortly thereafter a man approached on a bicycle pedalling furiously towards us. "Blackie" went over to greet him and he said in broken English that he was from the weather-station a short distance away. He was very agitated and informed "Blackie" that we had to clear the runway as soon as possible because they were expecting the arrival of 3 French Transalls. "Blackie" tried to explain that we were the contingent of Transalls, but the language barrier was too great and "Blackie" agreed to ask the C160 commanders to reverse off the runway as far as possible so that we could get on with the task. The C160s moved clear of the runway which made the weatherman much happier. "Blackie" then asked him whom the island belonged to?

"Oh" he said, "Some people say France, others say Madagascar and others say Reunion."

"Well" said "Blackie", "How many people live on the island?"

"Oh, about 10 or 12."

"Well" said "Blackie", "We are 42 South Africans here at the moment."

"Oh," replied the weatherman. "In that case the island probably belongs to South Africa!"

To our great relief in the early afternoon a Shackleton from 35 Squadron, in Cape Town, under the command of Captain Mike Bondisio, appeared overhead. This was a relief for Rob and me because we would now have assistance with our navigation dilemma and we would be able to establish communication with the ship via the Shackleton. The Shackleton pinpointed the "PEP ICE" 63 nautical miles from Europa Island at 15:00B and at 16:00B we got airborne with the Puma for a test flight with Rob Dean in command. Fortunately the weather was very clear, a factor that could be the downfall of any rescue and an unknown threat to any airman.

After intensive checks all systems checked out serviceable and we landed again to take on as much fuel as possible. At approximately 16:30 we were again airborne, this time with me in command, and set heading for the PEP ICE, with the Shackleton acting like a great big mother hen to ensure we didn't stray too far from the correct path. There were miles and miles of open sea and we really didn't fancy our chances if we were forced to ditch!

There's much more at the link.  It was quite an adventure, so if you like that sort of thing, it's well worth clicking over to read it all.  Here's a picture of the actual rescue, scanned from a contemporary newspaper.  Click it for a larger view.  (I apologize for the poor image quality.)

And here's the ship after being pulled off the reef, under tow to South Africa for repairs.

Ah, yes . . . memories!


Now that's an unusual wake-up call!

Campers at a popular Queensland, Australia beach resort were woken last night by something very much out of the ordinary.

A towing firm reported:

Two Claytons employees and friends were on holidays in a group in the middle of the mayhem. They had camped approx 200 metres from the beach next to the boundary fence of the campsite and heard a noise like a storm. On looking they realised the sand was rapidly disappearing into the ocean at an amazing speed. They only just got their 4wds and caravans out with seconds to spare as their campsite disappeared 3 metres down into the ocean. A 4wd, large caravan , camper trailer, tents etc on the site next to them all got swallowed into the ocean.

Another visitor commented, "Yeah, calling it so lucky!!  We were driving on the beach as it was collapsing behind us."

Frankly, that's the kind of midnight wake-up call (and holiday let-down) I can do without . . .


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Doofus Of The Day #857

Today's award goes to an Ohio couple who couldn't keep their mouths shut (in his case, literally).

John Mogan, 28, and his girlfriend Ashley Duboe, 24, were charged with robbery for the heist at the Savings Bank in Ashville, Ohio on August 24.

Mogan allegedly walked into the bank wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gave the teller a note demanding cash, and the teller did as told.

Mogan's mugshot and Facebook photos show he is heavily tattooed with ink across his face including the phrases “Loyalty’s Thin” and “Betrayal’s Thick.” But authorities allege that Duboe applied makeup to his face and neck to cover the tattoos before the robbery, according to The Smoking Gun.

Police say that four days after the robbery, the couple posed together with cash in their hands. On August 31, Mogan also posted images of him posing with a wad of cash in his mouth.

After the robbery, cops followed up several leads but none of them led to the thieves. But a tip received by Central Ohio Crime Stoppers led them to Mogan and his photos, according to The Circleville Herald.

There's more at the link.

How can anyone expect his crime to go undetected when he posts a photograph like the one below on his Facebook page, including boasting about where and how he got the money?

He didn't season his mouthful, either;  so it was inevitable that his crime would ketchup with him . . .


Should The Physically Handicapped Have Firearms?

Herschel Smith asked that question on his blog a couple of days ago, and answered it very well, I thought.  I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

He cites a 'loathsome worm' who believes that "Severely handicapped people are a danger to themselves and others when armed".  Since I've helped to arm and train several 'severely' handicapped persons, as well as dozens who are less 'severely' handicapped, I think I know more than a little about the subject.  I thought I'd put in my $0.02 worth.

First of all, many disabled and/or handicapped persons face a lifetime of being told what to do by others, being pushed around as if they didn't exist.  People seem to assume that because they're physically less capable, they're mentally retarded as well.  They'll talk about them, in their presence, as if they were still infants (or adult deaf mutes).  They'll ask others for advice on how they should do things, get it, then try to make them do it that way, never once asking the disabled person whether they want that or would prefer to do it another way.  It's a ridiculous attitude . . . but I've seen it far too often to be in any doubt about how widespread it is.

I've seen this in particular with people (particularly ladies) who are physically handicapped.  It's a huge leap forward in self-confidence for them to realize that they can control a firearm, shoot accurately, and get a tight, neat group in the bullseye of a target.  However, their more able-bodied relatives and friends are often horrified when they find out.  They seem to think that the disabled shooter is far more likely to hurt him- or herself, rather than be empowered to defend themselves in a crisis.  I've had some people like that literally steal the firearms of the people I've trained, on the grounds that they're not competent to have them.  When I've put my foot down and insisted they return the weapons, they've threatened to call the cops on me.  Some have actually done so.  Since I usually owned the firearms in question, I've been able to get them back:  but even then, some cops who don't understand physical disability have had the gall to say that a handicapped person should not be allowed to own one, regardless of the evidence of their own two eyes that the person's more than capable of handling it safely.  It infuriates me, so it must be absolutely, outrageously unbearable for the handicapped shooter (who, as I say, is mentally as normal as you or I).

Obviously, some disabilities are so severe that they prevent a person from safely handling any type of firearm.  Other disabilities prevent the safe handling of certain types of firearms, but not others (e.g. auto pistol slides may be too heavy or stiff for the shooter to retract, but he/she can open and close the cylinder of a revolver with no trouble, eject the fired cases and reload it with fresh ammunition).  Some can't trust themselves to reload a magazine or perform fine motor skills under stress;  but if one leaves a loaded firearm where they can reach it, they can use it in an emergency.  There are all sorts of accommodations one can make, depending on the needs of the individual shooter.  Of course, one needs a competent instructor to make those calls and provide the necessary training.  Herschel Smith cites the example of one such man in his article.  I'm another.

So far, three of my students (that I know of - there may have been more) have used the training I gave them to defend themselves against attackers who thought their confinement to wheelchairs meant they were an easy target.  All three of my students are alive, uninjured, and happy.  All three of their attackers . . . not so much.  You have no idea what a warm fuzzy happy feeling that gives me.

(It's an even warmer, fuzzier, happier feeling when one gets a phone call at five in the morning about one such student.  It's from the police officer who's just taken her statement.  Would I please come to her town again soon, to train a class of half a dozen ladies who are all more or less handicapped?  He'll make all the arrangements and provide the ammo.  All I have to do is show up and teach.  Did I accept his invitation?  You bet I did!)


Fast food from a slow boat?

I was intrigued to read about a novel pizza takeout business in the Virgin Islands.

One couple decided to quit the rat race to live the ultimate dream - to open a pizza boat in the stunning Caribbean ocean.

What's more, the quirky eatery has gained an army of fans who have rated it as the top restaurant in the area.

If that wasn't good enough, pizza lovers Tara and Sasha Bouis, originally from Indiana and Manhattan respectively, even do deliveries.

The married couple had a dream to combine their love for sailing with delicious pizza after they were paired together to work on a yacht

Their tasty offerings are served in the eye-catching location of St Thomas, where boats can moor up alongside the floating pizzeria for a meal.

'We’d never heard of a food boat before we built one, and every day we are blown away by the fact that people kept showing up to eat our pizza,' said Tara, 32, who used to be a scuba diving teacher.

The ingenious boat, named Pizza Pi, has been selling pizzas in the area since 2014, but the idea was born years before.

The ocean-loving couple started dating when they were assigned the same yacht to work on.

The idea of combining a love of sailing with pizza came from the adventurers returning from a spell at sea, exhausted and desperate for food.

They were moored at St Thomas watching a spectacular sunset, and thought that the only way the scenario could have been improved was with a delicious slice of pizza.

And it wasn't just a pipe dream - Sasha had experience working as a captain and Tara as the chef. All they needed was a vessel to bring the fantasy to life.

'Food trucks were starting to catch on the mainland US and we thought it could work on the water just as well as it does on land,' Tara said. 

'Our search for the perfect hull still came up empty after three years of crawling through boat yards.

'One day, we went to our good friend Kevin Gray (known lover of derelict boats) to ask him to keep an eye out for our perfect boat. Little did we know, we were sitting on the bow of what would become Pizza Pi.'

The boat was the perfect size and shape for installing a commercial-grade pizza kitchen but renovating it would take two years.

Thankfully Sasha was an engineer by trade - and YouTube was on hand to help with anything they didn't know.

In 2014 Pizza Pi became a reality, officially providing pizza to any boater in the US Virgin Islands who wanted to stop for a tasty meal.

There's more at the link.

I think that's just great!  A couple get together, build a new life away from the rat race, and find a novel way to make a living, all the while providing a very real service for which sailors will be very grateful.  I've crewed aboard small yachts a few times, and one of the biggest headaches is sometimes finding the energy (not to mention the supplies!) to cook after a hard day's sailing.  To be able to send a dinghy over and come back with pizza . . . that's a real blessing.

(If you want to learn more, they have a Web site.)


Friday, September 25, 2015

How to value a firearm for a private sale

I've had a few questions from readers about how to determine a fair price for a firearm when buying or selling one privately.  There are many ways, but here's how I go about it.

First of all, we're not talking about collectors' pieces here.  If you can prove that your Colt Single Action Army revolver was made in 1873 (the first year of manufacture, when very few were produced), you can slap a mid-to-high-five-figure price tag on it right away.  If you have documented provenance that it was carried by one of Custer's men at the Little Bighorn, make that a six-figure price tag.  However, those 'grail guns' aren't what people like you and I tend to buy or sell, so we'll ignore them for the purpose of this exercise.

Let's begin by finding a 'baseline price' at which we know the gun is, or has been, available for sale recently.  You can do that by comparing prices at local dealers, but that isn't always valid or accurate.  Many dealers price their guns high, then negotiate a lower price to make the buyer feel he or she is getting a bargain.  (Needless to say, the dealer still makes his profit.)  I've traded guns to dealers for a price I considered low, only to see them put it behind their counter at double the figure they gave me.  Generally, one won't get accurate information about value from local dealers.

I use three sources where I know I can find the lowest prices on the US market, new and/or used, across the board, irrespective of location.  The first is CDNN Sports.  They buy up stock from other dealers who are going out of business, or who offer discounts to move something that isn't selling well in their area, and then they re-sell it at bargain prices.  For example, they're currently advertising Ruger's new 9E pistol for only $299.99.  That's about $75 cheaper than I've found it on most other Web sites.  It's a good deal for a good pistol.

The second source I use is Bud's Gun Shop.  This online dealer offers both new and used guns, so one can see what a used example has actually fetched in the market (as opposed to its asking price).  They currently list the Ruger 9E, new, at $330.00 - still about $45 cheaper than most other dealers I've found online.  To take another example, the Taurus Tracker .44 Magnum 5-round revolver can be bought brand-new from Bud's (at the time of writing) for $471.00 in blued steel and $546.00 in stainless steel.  They also list several used examples of this gun that they've sold recently.  Clicking on each used listing reveals the price for which it sold:  $375, $348, and so on.  It's therefore clear that a used Tracker .44 is considerably cheaper than a new one.  Not all guns are like that:  a used example of one that's in high demand may cost almost as much as a new one.  It depends on the firearm involved.

My last resource, and probably the most comprehensive, is  This is one of the biggest online firearm auction sites, and has thousands of listings from both dealers and people like you and I.  If you do a search for the make and model of gun you want, you can sort the listings by price or any other key indicator, look in detail at individual listings, and see over time whether or not they sell (many don't, because their reserve price is set too high).  If they do sell, and you've been watching them, you can learn what the real selling price was (as opposed to the asking price, or what other vendors may be asking for a similar firearm).  This gives you a very good indication of bargains that can be had, if you're willing to wait for them.

(As an example, I recently bought a used Ruger SR45 on Gunbroker for under $300, simply through being willing to accept one without the original factory box and all accessories, and showing a little surface wear on the slide.  Those 'negatives' had no effect on its function or accuracy, of course.  Other sellers were advertising their used examples at the same time for $350 to $405.  I won't pay that much for a used SR45, because CDNN has brand-new SR45's available for $369.99.  Why pay as high or higher for a used version?)

Over and above the prices you find on such web sites, you have to factor in shipping and handling charges, what your local dealer will charge you to run the background check and do the transfer, and any other related costs.  I usually budget $75 per transaction for such charges.  Sometimes it's less (although not by much), sometimes it's a little bit more.  Add that figure to the price you know the gun has been sold for in the past, and you'll get an idea of what you'll have to pay for one in the market today.  If you're looking to sell yours, you don't need to add those costs on to the price, of course.  The buyer will have to pay them.

(Also, be willing to pay a little over the average used price for a gun if it won't carry those extra costs with it.  I did so recently when I bought a revolver for about $40 more than the average used price Bud's Gun Shop listed for it.  However, it was a local face-to-face deal, so I didn't have to budget my usual $75 for shipping, background check, transfer fees, etc.  Also, the gun was in like-new condition, justifying a slightly higher price.  That made it a worthwhile deal for me overall.)

I find many sellers are either uninformed or greedy.  They want to get a new price for their used gun.  That's not going to fly unless it's a very rare or desirable model.  Checking the Web sites listed above will soon demonstrate what price is realistically achievable.  Other sellers are fixated on recovering costs that most buyers simply won't pay.  An example is someone who's spent a lot of money on a custom finish for a gun, or paid to have a trigger job done.  People want to buy a gun - not a finish or a trigger job.  Their minds are on the firearm itself.  If you ask them to pay for the custom work done on it as well, you'll price yourself out of the market, because other sellers will advertise the gun at its base value without such extras.  I've several times tried to discuss this with sellers, only to find them adamant.  "I've got X in it, so I want to get X out of it!"  Well . . . good luck, amigo, but you won't get X from me.

Finally, whether as a seller or a buyer, be patient if at all possible.  I keep my eyes open for firearms that my disabled or handicapped students might find useful.  There aren't many makes and models that I trust and recommend to them, and those that come up for sale are frequently overpriced (particularly for buyers who are living on a disability income and can't afford much).  I counsel them to wait, keep their eyes on listings such as the local pages of, or the sports equipment section of, or a national resource such as, and search for the type(s) of guns they want.  As and when they find them, if the prices are ridiculous, ignore them;  if they're not ridiculous, bid on them, or negotiate with the seller (easier to do when the deal is local, of course).  It's been my experience that sooner or later, something worthwhile will turn up for those prepared to wait for the right deal.

I hope this helps those of you who are considering the private sale or purchase of a firearm.  If you know what you're doing, there are some great deals out there, on both sides.



Miss D. found this on Facebook and forwarded it to me.

Based on my experience in uniform, I can so believe that . . .


That's not poaching, that's a war zone!

Some startling figures about poaching in Southern Africa were given by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano recently.

Speaking in Maputo he said armed rangers in Kruger [National Park] have killed nearly 500 mostly young Mozambicans for poaching activities over the past five years. Two years ago Chissano said Mozambicans were responsible for 70% of the national rhino kill in South Africa. His statement was supported by Department of Environment Affairs statistics which then showed 68% of arrests in connection with rhino poaching were Mozambicans.

Minister Edna Molewa’s department has never released information on poachers and suspected poachers killed, either by SANParks rangers or police. Until the beginning of this year figures on rhino kills and arrests were released monthly but this has been stopped with information, to date, only made available three times in the first nine months of 2015.

Poaching gangs are usually heavily armed and rangers in Kruger, which shares a porous, 350km border with Mozambique, are allowed to open fire if threatened with lethal force.

. . .

Chissano, whose foundation is involved in conservation, said 82 Mozambican poachers had been killed in Kruger so far this year, compared with 106 during the whole of 2014 without citing the source for the figures.

There's more at the link.

That's averaging almost 100 poachers killed by park rangers every year . . . and they still keep coming, and the rhino and elephant still keep falling to them.  A full-auto AK-47 military assault rifle and a magazine of 30 rounds of ammunition could be bought on the black market in Southern Africa for $50-$100 when I was there, and I'm sure the price isn't much higher today - Africa's awash with AK's.  A few poachers can buy two or three of them, walk across the border, riddle a rhino with up to 100 bullets, cut off its horn, and make a profit of some 5,000% by selling the horn to smugglers lined up waiting for it back in Mozambique.  By the time it reaches consumers in the Far East, it'll sell for up to $27,000 per pound.

That's why there will always be more smugglers.  With ignorant consumers, convinced that rhino horn is one of Nature's ultimate aphrodisiacs, willing to pay that much, the market demand is irresistible to poor African tribesmen at the other end of the supply line - even if many of them die trying to supply it.


About that bridge in Brooklyn . . .

I'm sure that by now, many readers have seen reports (such as this one) of the carefully-cuted-up five-year-old child who "slipped through the security barriers" in Washington DC (yeah, right!) and presented a letter to Pope Francis calling on him to support the cause of illegal aliens in the USA.

This was clearly a set-up job from beginning to end.  The security surrounding the Pope was - must have been - at an astronomically high level . . . yet, seemingly miraculously, it parted before this child like the Red Sea parted before Moses.  The wording and tone of the letter she carried had about as much to do with a five-year-old's way of thinking and expressing herself as I had to do with Mata Hari.  Yet, from the way the mainstream media lapped it up, you'd think it was the most original, most spontaneous thing since sliced bread.

They're lying, of course.  It was nothing more than a deliberately staged photo and propaganda opportunity by those in favor of increased tolerance towards illegal aliens and granting them a path towards first residence, then citizenship.  Any politician who uses this incident as an argument to support illegal immigrants thereby brands him- or herself as either blind to reality, or actively in collusion with those seeking to undermine the constitution and laws of the United States.

If you believe otherwise, there's this bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills.

EDITED TO ADD:  It was, indeed, staged.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Is the USA being pushed out of the Syria conflict?

It's intriguing to watch developments in the conflict in Syria.  It looks to me as if the USA is being deliberately shut out of any role in resolving the conflict there by the other parties involved.

For a start, Russia's President Putin is acting decisively to bolster the central government of President Assad and fight the ISIS Caliphate that's taken over much of the country.  It's early days yet, but I won't be surprised to see Russian forces heavily involved in re-training the battered, demoralized Syrian armed forces, manning some of their more technologically advanced equipment such as fighter aircraft, and perhaps commanding joint operations against the fundamentalists.  This not only guarantees Russia access to a Mediterranean port (Latakia);  it also boosts Russia's presence in a strategically important part of the world, one where the USA has already effectively abdicated its responsibilities.

Russia also has an opportunity to strike at Saudi Arabian interests in the Arab world.  The Saudis have been trying to get rid of Assad for years, and helped to foment and support the revolt against his government.  That, in turn, gave rise to ISIS, which is today the bête noir of Saudi Arabia, second only to Iran.  By supporting Assad against ISIS, Moscow delivers a not-so-diplomatic slap in the face to Riyadh.

What's more, Iran has been a strong supporter of President Assad.  Iran also supports Hezbollah, which controls southern Lebanon, and has committed thousands of its fighters to the (very unpopular) war in Syria.  By helping Assad directly, Russia gains 'street cred' with Iran and (to a lesser extent) Hezbollah, giving it added influence in the volatile Middle East - and reducing the US's influence accordingly.

Also of very great interest is Israel's position in all this.  Israel would, I'm sure, rather have a weakened Assad in power in Syria than a strong, united ISIS, which would undoubtedly pose a threat to the Jewish state.  It's also been delighted to see thousands of Hezbollah fighters stream into Syria, instead of confronting Israel on its northern border.  This has drastically reduced Hezbollah's ability to threaten Israel, and to support Hamas, its fellow militants in Gaza.

The Israeli prime minister has already met with President Putin.  I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall at that meeting.  Both men are practitioners of realpolitik.  They're hard-assed, unscrupulous men who'll do whatever it takes to make things happen as they want them to happen.  On the face of it, one would expect Israel to be opposed to Russian involvement in Syria, particularly because a strengthened Syria might offer a more meaningful threat to Israel in due course:  but if the right approach were taken, one that saw Russia keeping Hezbollah and Iran focused on the fight against ISIS in Syria rather than turning their combined arms against Israel, that's very much in Jerusalem's interest.  Also, Russia knows full well that Israel is strong enough militarily to crush its expeditionary force in Syria if it wants to.  By discussing its actions with Israel and obtaining at least a tacit go-ahead from Jerusalem, it removes a major risk to the success of its operations in Syria - and, again, reduces US influence in the Jewish state, which apparently has gone about the negotiations without so much as a phone call to the USA.

This also affects Jordan.  Israel has been supplying it with weapons and intelligence, to help it in the fight against ISIS.  Since the burning to death of one of its pilots in January, Jordan has been white-hot with rage against the Caliphate, and is perhaps its most vicious enemy in the region.  Now Jordan's aligned with Israeli and Russian interests, and also with those of Iran and Hezbollah.  Suddenly the position of the Palestinians in the West Bank - surrounded as they are by Israel on one side, and Jordan on the other - looks rather more precarious.  They can no longer rely on supply routes through Jordan if they decide to confront Israel in a big way.

Israel now finds itself in a strange situation vis-a-vis Iran as well.  Russia is cosying up to Iran by supplying it with arms, and is also acting in concert with it against ISIS.  Iran is a vehement, vocal enemy of Israel:  but if it's working with Russia, the latter's interests are definitely to keep the peace in the Middle East until the threat from ISIS is nullified.  That may put a damper on Iranian efforts against Israel, and on Israel's plans to stop Iran becoming a nuclear power.  (Indeed, Russia may apply influence of its own to persuade the mullahs in Teheran to pull back from that objective - at least for now.)

Meanwhile, Egypt is coming up on the radar.  Its present government doesn't trust the USA any further than it can throw it.  It's buying French Rafale fighters to augment its US-supplied F-16's, and has announced interest in buying Russian MiG-35's and helicopters.  It's also buying (with Saudi Arabian finance) the two Mistral class amphibious assault ships that Russia had ordered from France, but which were affected by European sanctions after the Ukraine situation got out of hand.  Russia has apparently agreed to the sale, and will either transfer its special equipment on board the ships, or will remove it prior to transfer.  By doing so, and offering its fighters and helicopters, it's restoring a relationship with Egypt that's been pretty parlous for a long time - very much to Moscow's advantage in the region.  Egypt is also tightly controlling its border with Gaza and acting against Islamist influence in its own society, including against Bedouin radicals in Sinai - all of which helps Israel.

(As an aside, Saudi Arabia's willingness to finance Egypt's purchase of former Russian ships from France - there's an international cartel for you! - has interesting implications of its own.  The Saudis aren't real happy with the Russians right now, particularly over Syria and Iran.  However, those amphibious assault ships might come in very useful for Riyadh to combat Iranian influence in Yemen, along the Red Sea - including Sudan - and on the coast leading up to the Strait of Hormuz, all of which are most definitely areas where Iran is challenging Saudi influence.  Could this finance deal lead to Egyptian ships and sailors carrying Saudi and Gulf States soldiers on joint missions against Iranian-backed local forces?  Who knows?  It's an intriguing thought.)

The entire map of 'influence' in the Middle East is in a state of flux right now.  Almost anything can happen.  It's impossible to predict from day to day who's going to do what, with which, to whom, in alliance with any other.  Worse, from a US point of view, is that we have almost no influence left in the region.  We've squandered it with most of our former Arab allies by supporting the ill-fated pie-in-the-sky liberal-wet-dream 'Arab Spring' uprisings and their consequences.  That ignored realpolitik in favor of wishful thinking.  We've also lost most of our influence with Israel through supporting the bone-headed nuclear deal with Iran, which Israel sees as an existential threat to its existence.  A Syrian spokesman claimed today that there's a a 'tacit agreement' between the USA and Russia on ending the war there.  If so, it can only be the Russians saying, "We're going to do this - and you can't stop us!", and the USA admitting, in so many words, that indeed, it can't.

This situation will bear very careful watching indeed.


An inhaler for an otter?

It seems the recent wildfires in and around the state of Washington have affected more than just human lungs.  USA Today brings us this report.

I'm a sucker for otters.  They're cute, intelligent and frolicsome - what's not to like?  I'm glad to see Mishka get the help she needs.


At the heart of the 2016 presidential election

I'm not a Republican.  I'm not even a conservative in the classic sense - I'm much closer to small-ell libertarian.  However, I think Neil Schnurr has put his finger on the only important thing in the Republican party's nomination contest.

Illegal immigration is the only issue that matters in [the] upcoming presidential election.  If we don't get a handle on this, conservatives will never win a presidential election again - if the dead can vote you can sure bet that illegals can too.  Once our government grants them amnesty (and you know it will, one way or another), it's all over, and then we won't even be able to win any senate, congressional, or gubernatorial elections.

It doesn't matter if Trump does not meet all of the criteria you deem necessary to be the ideal candidate.  He's the only one putting a priority on ending illegal immigration.

I don't want to hear you say that he won't be able to do it either.  At least he says he's going to end it.  What are the chances that someone who can't even bring himself (or herself) to say that they will make ending illegal immigration a number one priority being able to end it?

If we don't end illegal immigration soon, not only will none of the other issues ever be solved, they won't even matter because the United States of America (as we know it) will cease to exist.

The house is on fire.  Let's put out the fire first.  Then we can worry about other improvements.

Well said, Mr. Schnurr.  Well said indeed.  I think Mr. Trump is a profoundly flawed candidate . . . but he's the only candidate 'taking point' on this issue.  The polls show clearly that his stand has made him a front-runner in the minds of the American people, even if not the Republican party establishment - which shows no sign of learning anything from the public's reaction.


Ow! redux

Had the stent taken out this morning.  Not fun.  I do not recommend this to my readers and friends.

I hope things will continue to improve from here on out.  There are only a couple of weeks until Blogorado, and Miss D. and I have every intention of being there!

(I have to give a shout-out to my wife over this whole thing.  She's been a tower of strength, coping with my suddenly reduced capacity for movement, my much higher levels of pain, and my inability to help her do almost anything.  I know it's been a big strain on her, but she's come through nobly.  She's a blessing.  Thanks, love!)


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The future of work?

We've spoken before in these pages about the growing threat of automation to many of the jobs we currently take for granted as 'human employment'.  The trend's accelerating.  A recent article claims that even China is moving rapidly towards automation of its factory environments, to cut back on rising wages and salaries and match the quality of production expected in overseas markets.

All this prompts the question:  what will society be like when there's no longer work for everyone?  Fred Reed takes a look at the problem.

Unemployment or just barely employment already is high and apparently endemic. The rate is higher than it looks because the government counts only those looking for work, not the substantial population living on welfare. College graduates increasingly cannot find work, or have to work as baristas in Starbucks and live at home with their parents.

Which raises a very real problem: What do we do when most people have no work, though they are both willing and able?

To date, the only way we know to distribute goods and services (houses, food, that sort of thing) is to have people work and pay them for it. It is an imperfect system, having been devised by humans, and pays a quarterback millions for throwing a pointy object to a downfield felon while a shock-trauma nurse can barely eat. Still, it has been reasonably serviceable.

But this works only when there are jobs to be had. When there are not, when the bright, eager, and conscientious young cannot find jobs, then what?

. . .

As long as the country does not fall into chaos, we are not going to allow large numbers of people to starve (despite the title of this column). A way today used to avoid this is simply to give the necessities of life to those who cannot work to earn them — for example, welfare illiterates for whom there is no economic need.

But we have no widely accepted way of providing the necessities to a new college graduate whose degree, whatever it may be, doesn’t get him a job. And since the only way we have of paying those who do not work is to tax those who do, we face the prospect of ever rising taxes on an ever shrinking base of employed. That isn’t going to fly.

It is utterly conceivable that within the life spans of today’s cradle occupants, only twenty percent, or ten, of those of working age will be employed. (Eighty years is a long time, technologically speaking, much longer than from the Wright brothers to a space station.) In this case, the wage-and-salary model is not going to work. What will?

There's more at the link.  Thought-provoking and recommended reading.

Revolutions have started over lesser causes - and may do so again.


How bulletproof is your lock?

Here's a video of a series of tests of conventional padlocks versus typical firearms.  The result may surprise you.

Might be useful input to your decision as to which lock to purchase.


Shake, rattle and roll

Here's an interesting video of an Airbus A380 airliner (the largest in the world) landing in a crosswind at Düsseldorf airport in Germany.  Note how the empennage, or tail assembly, continues vibrating and twisting from side to side as the aircraft decelerates after landing.  That's not just wind moving the tailplane;  it's the fuselage flexing around its longitudinal axis.  The aircraft is clearly designed to allow its parts to move in relation to each other - strength through flexibility, in other words.

Contrast that to the comments of a USAF C-5 Galaxy pilot that we read about here recently:

"The C-5 was designed in the 1960s and there are still some flying from the original production line. It was designed in the days when it was thought the best course of action for wings was to make them as stiff as possible."

There's more at the link.

I've noticed that difference myself, in other, smaller military transports of that vintage.  Stiffness to prevent such flexing of the fuselage is - or, rather was - regarded as a handicap in an aircraft that might have to land on rough fields and unprepared surfaces.  The flexing might become so great that parts would break - and getting such an aircraft out of a location like that with major damage might be a non-starter.  Nowadays, almost all aircraft are built to 'flex' more than earlier models.  Compare, for example, the current-production C-130J Super Hercules with the original version (I flew in the South African Air Force's C-130B's).  You can watch the different behavior of the wings in video clips.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Post-op progress report

I'm feeling a bit like death warmed up, but I've survived the first 24 hours.  Along the way I've learned some useful lessons.

  • If you have a stent up your urinary tract towards your kidney, handle the dangly bits with extreme, I say again, extreme care.  Any unexpected tugs, twists or movement with your hips can produce a short, sharp burst of agony that's immobilizing, to say the least.
  • Your cat won't know (or care about) the stent if she wants to jump onto your lap.  If her paws land (with all her weight and velocity behind them) on the lower end of that stent, you'll be using language that you thought you'd forgotten when you left the military, all those years before.  You'll also find yourself with homicidal thoughts towards your loving pet.
  • The medications they give you to keep down infection and speed recovery are probably all well and good.  However, they fail to inform you about the dramatic (and alarming) effect of at least one of them on the color of one's output.  My urine went from blood-red to flaming fluorescent yellow-orange overnight, causing me to do a double-take when I went to the bathroom first thing this morning.  A quick Internet search reassured me that this was a normal side-effect, not something that should make me get myself to the ER as quickly as possible.

I'm still hurting very badly.  That stent really gums up the waterworks, so any attempt to use them the way Nature intended produces some very nasty moments.  It'll come out on Thursday, which I'm not looking forward to either.  (When the doctor gives an evil laugh as he discusses the procedure, that's generally not a good sign.)

Blogging continues to be light, for which my apologies, but I guess you can understand why.  I'll have it back to normal as soon as possible.