Saturday, October 31, 2015

A new threat to our mental health privacy?

Karl Denninger sounds the alarm over a development that I'm forced to agree may have sinister overtones.  I take it seriously enough that I'm going to republish his warning in full.

This is exactly what I've been very worried about for more than 20 years.  It's a concern that has plenty of merit too, particularly given the durability of data in the "big data" social universe.

Thomas Insel, who has been director of the National Institute of Mental Health for 13 years, is leaving at the end of the month to join Google. A major force behind the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative, he stirred major controversy by pressing for an overhaul in the way mental illness is diagnosed. At Google, he’ll be exploring how the company’s technological expertise can be applied to mental-health issues.

Uh huh.

Think about what he's saying for a minute here folks:

One of the possibilities here is, by using the technologies we already have, technologies that are linked to a cellphone, technologies that are linked to the Internet, we may be able to get much more information about behavior than what we’ve been able to use in making a diagnosis.

Technologies that are linked to a cellphone, technologies that are linked to the Internet?

You mean "technologies" that involve monitoring what you do and say, right -- without disclosure of what the data is intended to be used for and who it will be disclosed to or what they may do with it?

Oh by the way, that analysis and disclosure will be retrospective too.  Why not?  There's nothing to prevent it.

Think this is crazy?  It most-certainly is not.  And what's worse is that the government is in the middle of giving the firms involved in this blanket immunity when they give them said data even if they violate your privacy or you are subjected to wrongful harassment or even arrest as a consequence!

Still want to be on Facebook and use "Search" eh?

You might want to think about that very carefully.

I urge you to follow the links provided above and read them all, as well as Mr. Insel's farewell blog post as Director of the NIMH.  I see a lot of fine-sounding language that's long on promise but very sparse on specifics.  How will individual privacy be safeguarded by the new research methodologies and techniques that are promised?  Will they be founded on scientifically demonstrable facts and proven techniques, or on politically correct 'feel-good' theories?  Take, for example, these excerpts from Mr. Insel's article 'Transforming Diagnosis'.

The diagnostic system has to be based on the emerging research data, not on the current symptom-based categories ... We need to begin collecting the genetic, imaging, physiologic, and cognitive data to see how all the data – not just the symptoms – cluster and how these clusters relate to treatment response.

That is why NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories. Going forward, we will be supporting research projects that look across current categories – or sub-divide current categories – to begin to develop a better system.

. . .

Many NIMH researchers, already stressed by budget cuts and tough competition for research funding, will not welcome this change. Some will see RDoC as an academic exercise divorced from clinical practice. But patients and families should welcome this change as a first step towards "precision medicine,” the movement that has transformed cancer diagnosis and treatment. RDoC is nothing less than a plan to transform clinical practice by bringing a new generation of research to inform how we diagnose and treat mental disorders.

There's more at the link.

Sounds fine, doesn't it?  However, where are the specifics?  Where is the guarantee that such research 'divorced from clinical practice' will, in fact, follow clinically sound principles?  For example, I'm willing to bet that one of the first 'experiments' will conclude that firearms ownership is an indicator and/or risk factor in mental illness, and therefore needs to be considered - and regulated - in the light of health issues rather than as a constitutional matter.  There are already calls being made for that.

I have the strong impression that Mr. Insel is unlikely to exercise a balanced approach in such areas.  For all our sakes, I hope I'm wrong.

A tip o' the hat to Mr. Denninger for alerting us to this.  I think his fears are justified.


Yet another (fatal) reminder not to pick up hitchhikers

I've lost count of the number of times I've warned people not to pick up hitchhikers, due to the danger of crime.  An Oklahoma woman has just found out the hard way how great a danger that is - but she'll never learn from the experience.

Caylee Massey and a man were traveling overnight from Oklahoma City about 90 miles across state to Canton when they reportedly picked up a man looking for a ride, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations.

The man hitched a ride with pair in Oklahoma City and about two miles east of Canton, he fatally shot Massey, who was also a passenger in the car, before fleeing, police said.

The driver rushed to the Canton Police Department to get help, but it was too late and Massey could not be saved.

There's more at the link.

Given the number of mentally unstable people, drug addicts, and just plain criminals out there, why on earth would anyone in their right minds subject themselves and their loved ones to that sort of risk by giving a ride to a complete stranger?  I can understand being a 'good Samaritan' under certain circumstances, but then, I'd be armed.  In most cases, there's just no way.


Anything can be a toy if you use your imagination

I love the way this bird has fun with a paper towel.

It reminds me of our cat.  She'll treat almost anything as a toy.  Most recently she's decided that pens are playthings, so whenever Miss D. or I are writing something, we have to watch out for a questing paw coming out of nowhere, trying to bat the pen out of our hand.  Irritating, sometimes . . . but also cute.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Impressive pulling power

Here's a monstrous Belarussian-made MAZ truck hauling a stump out of the ground by main force.  It takes a lot of pulling power to make it look so effortless, but these trucks were initially built to haul tanks or tactical missiles such as the SCUD series, so they're pretty powerful beasts.

That looks like a re-purposed MAZ-537 military transporter (which you can see in action here).  I wonder what those things sell for nowadays?  It might make heads turn at hill-climbs and cross-country courses around the USA . . .


The puns are flying in Scotland . . .

It seems a truckload of fish was spilled on the road in Scotland yesterday.  The BBC tweeted this image of the result:

The Telegraph reports:

A lorry carrying dead fish shed its load on the A737 near the Renfrewshire village of Kilbarchan, Traffic Scotland confirmed, and the puns soon followed.

Motorists in the area were met with the bizarre sight of hundreds of fish splayed across the road at around 4pm today.

Traffic was reduced to one lane causing tailbacks as contractors cleared the misplaced shoal off the road.

Motorists stuck in traffic were quick to upload pictures of the bizarre incident on Twitter, followed by a predictable stream of fish puns.

#A737 Any more fish puns or do you need time to mullet over? Let minnow and get them in quick before salmon else does...
— Traffic Scotland (@trafficscotland) October 29, 2015

@ScotTranserv @trafficscotland Diversion in place via Inverkipper
— Slimshady (@ultramontanian) October 29, 2015

@trafficscotland eel be avoiding that road then!
— The SNUDGE (@thesnudge) October 29, 2015

Many more puns are quoted at the link.  BBC Scotland's Twitter feed also has a bunch of them - for example:

Go read them all for a good laugh. Given the location, I'm surprised no-one's asked - yet - who kilt all those fish . . .


"When seconds count, the police may be HOURS away"

Yes, I know, that quotation is supposed to read "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away":  but not, apparently, if you live in certain places.  Via a link at Earthbound Misfit's place, we learn:

Late last year, a man was assaulted by two people after walking out of the Family Dollar on Patterson road in Dayton. His attackers left pretty quickly, and the staff at family dollar called 911.

“We kept calling them and calling them, hoping they would come faster,” says Jennifer, the store manager. “He could have had a concussion. He could have passed out. He was bleeding too.” ... All told, it took police an hour and a half to respond.

. . .

Captain Matt Haines from the regional dispatch center says one minute after receiving the first 911 call from the Family Dollar, they broadcast it out to Dayton Police, but there were no crews available to respond. The center dispatches to 16 police departments across Montgomery County.

“In certain jurisdictions,” Haines says, “there are times that...the number of calls for service are more than the number of available crews to respond to those incidents.”

And Dayton is frequently the system that’s the most overwhelmed, he says. “Dayton is the busiest area that we dispatch for.”

. . .

Dayton Police Chief Biehl says that Dayton police are not slow to respond, their records back him up.

For priority one calls, things like stabbings, shootings, and robberies in progress, their average response time is less than five minutes. The incident at the Family Dollar was classified as a priority four, because the assailant had already left and there was no longer an immediate threat. Their average response time for a priority four call is around 26 minutes. By their response records, it does appear that this was an exceptionally long wait time.

There's more at the link.

There are extenuating circumstances in the case cited;  but how many of us are aware that police across the nation will routinely assign a priority to our emergency based on how they see it, not how we see it?  What if the nature of our emergency is misunderstood by the call center operator, who then assigns it a lower priority than it should have received?  What if we tell the 911 dispatcher that the bad guys have left, so the police respond more slowly . . . but the bad guys come back, or their friends come looking for evens, while we're still waiting for the cops?  Think that won't happen?  I know of several cases where it has - and by that, I mean I know one or more of the principals involved.  Their stories are not pleasant or easy listening.

I've said this many times before, and I daresay I'll go on saying it until the day I die.  Ultimately, your safety and security are in your hands and no-one else's.  Be ready to protect them any way you have to, and don't assume that the police will be there when you need them.  The odds are overwhelmingly great that they won't.  They'll arrive in time to clean up the mess and do the paperwork . . . but that may be altogether too late for you.  Plan and prepare accordingly.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

"It was a dark and stormy night . . . "

To the delight of avid readers everywhere, the 2015 winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced.  The BLFC is named for English playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and celebrates really, stupendously bad opening lines to novels and stories.  The headline to this article is from his work.

This year's winning entry:
Seeing how the victim's body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer "Dirk" Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase "sandwiched" to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt.
Joel Phillips, West Trenton, NJ

The runner-up:
We can’t let the dastards win,” said Piper Bogdonovich to her fellow gardener, Mr. Sidney Beckworth Hammerstein, as she clenched her gloved hands into gnarly, fuzzed fists, “because if I have to endure another year after which my Royal Puffin buttercups come in second place to Marsha Engelstrom’s Fainting Dove Tear Drop peonies, I will find a machine gun and leave my humanity card in the Volvo.”
Grey Harlowe, Salem, OR

There are many more entries at the link.  Giggle-worthy!


Atrocities continue in Syria

The ruthless atrocity displayed by all sides in the Syrian conflict is going on the same as always, despite Russia's intervention on behalf of President Assad.  Syrian Air Force helicopters are still dropping so-called 'barrel bombs' on civilian targets indiscriminately.

Here's a video clip of a Syrian Mil Mi-24 attack helicopter dropping two barrel bombs on Darayya earlier this week.

It's claimed that twelve bombs hit the town in a single day, causing numerous civilian casualties.

I don't think we should be supporting any side in the Syrian conflict.  I suspect they're all as bad as one another from a civil and human rights perspective.


Einstein's definition of insanity comes to mind . . .

I was outraged and disgusted to read the results of an assessment of Detroit school pupils.

In the Detroit public school district, 96 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in mathematics and 93 percent are not proficient in reading.

That is according to the results of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests published by the Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics.

Only 4 percent of Detroit public school eighth graders are proficient or better in math and only 7 percent in reading. This is despite the fact that in the 2011-2012 school year—the latest for which the Department of Education has reported the financial data—the Detroit public schools had “total expenditures” of $18,361 per student and “current expenditures” of $13,330 per student.

. . .

The Department of Education has published fiscal information on the Detroit public schools for the 2011-2012 school year. That year, the Detroit Public Schools had total expenditures of $1,231,375,000, equaling $18,361 per student. That included $13,330 per student for current expenditures, $3,182 for capital outlays, and $1,737 for interest on the school system’s debt.

$271,358,000 of the school district's funding for the 2011-2012 school year came from the federal government.

There's more at the link.

If you're not outraged and disgusted by those numbers, you should be!  Every taxpayer in America is on the hook for this failing school system, because the Federal government is paying just over 22% of its budget.  The results prove that the children in that system would actually be no worse off, educationally speaking, if it didn't exist.  The entire department seems dedicated to doing nothing more than provide sinecure jobs for the teachers and administrators, without a single thought for the children it's supposed to be educating.

If I were in charge up there, I'd can the entire department and fire every single person working for it;  then I'd issue a school voucher for $10,000 for every child currently in school, and invite private school companies across the USA to take over the existing school buildings in the city, hire suitably qualified and competent staff, and educate them.  They'd have to meet strict standards of performance, including a minimum percentage of kids that pass this sort of assessment, rising every year from the present abysmal levels to something more acceptable.  I reckon I'd save almost half the current outlay and still end up with better-educated kids!

Einstein's definition of insanity comes to mind.

Providing any further funding to Detroit's Department of Education in its present form would seem to qualify under that definition . . .


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New world record long-range sniper kill?

According to an Australian newspaper, the record now stands at an amazing 1¾ miles!

Earlier this year [an Australian] Commando sniper team was secreted in Helmand. Through binoculars at a distance invisible to the naked eye they spotted a group of Taliban. The soldiers having means of identifying targets went through a process of obtaining verification and permission to engage.

Two marksmen using Barrett M82A1 50 calibre rifles simultaneously fired. The bullets were six seconds in the air. One killed the Taliban commander. It is not known for certain which sniper fired the fatal shot.

While there have been no triumphant press releases, in the tight global Special Forces sniper community the shot is much discussed, because it seems certain to be a world record.

As the bullet yawed through the thin air on a windless morning, GPS aids measured the distance at 2,815m [3,078½ yards]. That amounts to 2 1/2 times the length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The targeted Taliban would not have heard the gunfire.

The previous world record achieved by British Corporal Craig Harrison occurred also in Helmand in November 2009. Firing from a distance of 2,475m [2,706.7 yards], Harrison killed two Taliban.

There's more at the link.

That's an amazing achievement.  Shots at that distance require a level of talent, practice and accumulated skill that's so high as to be almost unbelievable.  A tip o' the hat to the Australian snipers concerned.


Food for thought

Readers will recall that I recently mentioned what I'm doing to prepare for the economic hard times I (and many others) foresee in the not too distant future.  One of my steps was to convert 10% of our cash assets into precious metals:  one-ounce silver coins, plus a few 1/10-ounce gold coins.  I've also spoken before of establishing a food reserve sufficient for at least 30 days.

Now comes the news that an American retailer is doing precisely the same thing - and not in a small way, either.

One week ago ['s Chairman Jonathan Johnson], who is also candidate for Utah governor, spoke at the United Precious Metals Association ... What did Johnson tell the UPMA? Here are some choice quotes:

We are not big fans of Wall Street and we don't trust them. We foresaw the financial crisis, we fought against the financial crisis that happened in 2008; we don't trust the banks still and we foresee that with QE3, and QE4 and QE N that at some point there is going to be another significant financial crisis.

So what do we do as a business so that we would be prepared when that happens? One thing that we do that is fairly unique: we have about $10 million in gold, mostly the small button-sized coins, that we keep outside of the banking system. We expect that when there is a financial crisis there will be a banking holiday. I don't know if it will be 2 days, or 2 weeks, or 2 months. We have $10 million in gold and silver in denominations small enough that we can use for payroll. We want to be able to keep our employees paid, safe and our site up and running during a financial crisis.

We also happen to have three months of food supply for every employee that we can live on.

There's more at the link.

Folks, that's a heck of a corporate investment in emergency preparations!  If a 1½-billion-dollar-turnover US company takes the current economic situation that seriously . . . why aren't we???


It's a duckling stampede!

Here's what happens when a Chinese duck farm released 5,000 ducklings, all three to five days old, for their first encounter with water.  Apparently it's done to get them used to exercise and improve their muscles.

Of course, they're ultimately going to end up on dinner plates across China, so they may as well enjoy the water while they can!


"The 39 steps to being a modern gentleman"

According to Country Life magazine in the UK, a gentleman's traits include such gems as:

  • Is aware that facial hair is temporary, but a tattoo is permanent
  • Possesses at least one well-made dark suit, one tweed suit and a dinner jacket
  • Avoids lilac socks and polishes his shoes
  • Breaks a relationship face to face
  • Arrives at a meeting five minutes before the agreed time
  • Can undo a bra with one hand
  • Knows the difference between Glenfiddich and Glenda Jackson
  • Would never own a Chihuahua
  • Can tie his own bow tie
  • Demonstrates that making love is neither a race nor a competition

There are many more at the link.  How do you rate?

(Personally, I've never owned a pair of lilac socks in my life . . . )


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pure adrenaline on two wheels

Here's a magnificent video of Guy Martin, riding a Suzuki, chasing Michael Dunlop, riding a BMW, during the Superbike race at the Isle of Man TT in 2014.  They're hitting speeds of up to 200 mph on the straights. Watch it in full-screen mode for the best results.

Pure adrenaline!


Permanent unemployment?

It looks like Europe may be heading that way.  The Telegraph reports:

Defined as being out of work for more than a year, long-term unemployment is a dangerous development that keeps economists awake at night. It is rising despite the euro's recent revival in fortunes. In Europe, around 15pc of unemployed people have not had a job for more than four years.

This gradual loss in valuable skills needed to re-enter the workforce, leads to a phenomenon economists have dubbed "hysteresis". This is when periods of prolonged unemployment can become permanent.

. . .

Hysteresis is a sclerotic process that takes hold in economies in a state of perma-recession. Greece is arguably the best example in the eurozone – having suffered a downturn of greater magnitude than the US Great Depression of the 1930s.

Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney has warned western policymakers to engage in a "race against hysteresis". Mario Draghi of the European Central Bank has surmised it as the process when "cyclical unemployment becomes structural".

But persistent unemployment is not merely a scourge to those who suffer being shut of the workforce.

Larry Summers - who has revived the notion of "secular stagnation" - has spoken of hysteresis in the same breath as the long-term decline in potential growth rates across the developed world.

They are two sides of the same coin.

The forces of hysteresis are "a shadow cast forward on economic activity” according to Mr Summers. By heightening a natural rate of unemployment, this then has spillover effects which can destroy the future growth of an economy in years to come. It is a self-reinforcing cycle of stagnation and labour force ruin.

. . .

According to European Central Bank's own calculations, the near 11pc unemployment rate is here to stay. Even in an optimistic case, it will only fall to 9pc in 2020 when the eurozone's economic slack has been used up, according to the IMF.

There's more at the link.

I've seen this phenomenon in certain countries in Africa.  It's genuinely frightening - it can lead to the disintegration of social order and stability.  You see, employers will always hire the cheapest possible solution to their needs.  That involves not only those willing to work for the lowest wage, but those requiring the least training for a new position.  Very often, younger workers are cheaper than older;  and often, those younger workers have more up-to-date skills that can be adapted to the job than older workers whose exposure to, for example, computers or roboticized manufacturing techniques is much less than the younger generation.  As a result, those without recent work experience get 'shut out' of the job market.

When this happens often enough and for long enough, you get a class of people that's not only permanently unemployed, but is also basically unemployable.  Their skills and education have atrophied.  They no longer regard themselves as having any value to an employer;  therefore, they don't see themselves as having any value to their families, or even to society as a whole.  The result is a vast increase in criminal activity - after all, the new criminals reason, if they're of no value to anyone, why shouldn't they take value from those that have it?

This has occurred in many African countries, and I've seen it there. In South Africa, with which I'm most familiar, the disparities in education under apartheid resulted in a black population that was deliberately and officially under-educated.  A black Grade 12 education was considered equivalent to a white Grade 8.  Millions upon millions of people were not educated to the point that they could work in anything other than manual labor and associated occupations (e.g. mining, agriculture, etc.).  When automation resulted in the wholesale loss of jobs from those sectors, those millions found themselves thrown out on the street with no prospects at all . . . and they've never recovered.  The unemployment rate among black people in South Africa is officially estimated to be in the 25% range (or higher, depending on the statistics one uses), but unofficial estimates put it at closer to 40% as far as the formal economy is concerned.  Millions try to survive in the informal economy, working for cash wages, selling items in roadside stalls, doing anything they can to survive.  Many of them turn to crime - the statistics are horrendous.

The problem isn't as bad in Europe . . . yet.  Nevertheless, the early symptoms are not dissimilar.  If there's any further breakdown in society as a result of bad economic choices, the consequences may become not unlike those in parts of Africa.  I don't think Europe is aware of the danger yet . . . nor is the USA, where the problem is not quite so bad, but increasing.


One of those days . . .

Received via e-mail, origin unknown:


Doofus Of The Day #861

Today's award goes to an aircraft tug operator in Mexico City.

An Interjet Sukhoi Superjet 100 hit an airbridge at Mexico City International airport on 25 October while being towed.

Photos posted on Twitter show damage to the aircraft's nose after it was wedged under an airbridge.

There's more at the link.

How, precisely, does one tow a bloody great airliner smack into the side of an airbridge?  It's not as if either of them was too small to be noticed, is it?

As Miss D. said when she saw the picture, "That won't buff out . . . "


Monday, October 26, 2015

Economy watch

A few headlines to give you food for thought.

1.  'World's biggest shipping line Maersk slashes profit forecasts amid China slump'.

Moeller-Maersk cut its profit outlook for 2015 citing a weaker global container shipping market.

The Danish owner of the world’s biggest shipping line said it expected underlying profits for the full-year to come in at $3.4bn (£2.2bn) - 15pc lower than the previous estimate of $4bn.

“Particularly the container shipping market deteriorated beyond the group’s expectations especially in the latter part of the third quarter and October,” the company said.

“We now expect no market recovery within 2015. Initiatives have been taken to adjust Maersk Line’s network accordingly.”

Remember, containers delivered by sea contain most of the consumer goods on which Western economies depend.  Right now, they're in the doldrums, suggesting that suppliers see slow demand this Christmas - a season that's critical for the US economy, which relies on consumer spending for 70% of GDP.

2.  Samsung to make robots ‘cheaper than any human worker’.

In the future, we will all be on benefits, while rich people use robots to make even MORE money.

That’s the dark future hinted at by Samsung’s new ‘big project’ – a plan to build robots cheaper even than the miserably underpaid humans who work in Chinese factories.

The project, in collaboration with South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, has been funded to the tune of 6.75 billion won – and aims to create factories which will undercut Chinese ones.

3.  The Fed is forcing America's retirees to bail out the younger generation.

According to PNC Group CEO William Demchak, the Federal Reserve's zero-interest-rate policy is actually hurting the long-term health of the US economy.

"We are basically in the extreme bailing out the younger generation and putting it on the backs of retirees with this interest-rate policy, and I continue to think it's wrong," said Demchak in a quarterly earnings call Wednesday.

Demchak explained that the low interest rates are encouraging irresponsible risk-takers while punishing responsible savers.

"I think that in effect the destruction of retirement income for retirees, we have trained people their whole lives that once they retire and they are supposed to change their 401(k) and put it into kind of a less-risky fixed-rate investment portfolio, today they can't do it, they can't live on it," said Demchak. "So we are stretching out the need for people to work, we are destroying their ability to retire with the savings they have today."

With the interest rates at zero, retiring and living off of savings is more difficult since the interest that would help supplement a retiree's nest egg isn't there.

4.  Walmart's entire business model is crumbling.

Profits will fall 6% to 12% next year, the company said.

And the retailer's situation is likely to get worse rather than better, according to many analysts.

Until now, Walmart has been able to make huge profits by keeping worker wages low and using its size to negotiate cheaper prices than competitors, Brian Sozzi at The Street writes.

But the retail landscape is changing, and Walmart is increasingly irrelevant.

"New guidance reflects that Walmart's competitive edge — historically largely assortment and price — has faded relative to purveyors of extreme value (warehouse clubs, hard discounters) or extreme convenience (dollar stores, hard discounters), as e-commerce has neutralized the impact of selection," Goldman Sachs analyst Matthew Fassler wrote in a note to clients.

As competitors like Costco, Aldi, Trader Joe's, and Family Dollar crowd the space, the idea of visiting a Walmart is less compelling to price-conscious consumers.

The retailer has been pouring billions of dollars into ecommerce in an attempt to play catch-up to Amazon. This is another measure that is hurting profits, according to Sozzi.

See also 'Wal-Mart’s Entire Business Model Is Being Smashed to Pieces'.

5.  Robber barons, beware.

A crackdown on corruption has spread anxiety among China’s business elite.

. . .

Hurun Report, a rich list, shows there are now more dollar billionaires in China (596) than in the United States (537). According to its research, carried out after this summer’s stockmarket plunge and currency devaluation, China added 242 of its billionaires just this year. Some of these fortunes were earned honestly, but some surely were not. A Chinese property tycoon (who has not been accused of wrongdoing) says many fellow billionaires are akin to corrupt robber barons in America over a century ago.

Crooked businessmen have reason to be nervous. But some analysts worry that the recent arrests of business leaders signal a broader anti-corporate campaign.

. . .

Economic growth has been hurt by bureaucratic paralysis. Fearful of being branded corrupt, officials have become reluctant to facilitate deals. In the long term, however, a cleaner and more predictable business environment will help. The property tycoon says he believes Mr Xi will soon have no need to keep lashing out, having already made it clear that he will not tolerate corruption. “You can’t even give a bribe these days,” he says.

That's why so many rich Chinese businessmen have been buying apartments and houses in First World capitals and major cities like there's no tomorrow (follow those links for more information).  It launders some of their ill-gotten gains, and gives them a bolthole they can flee to if necessary to escape prosecution.  If China's anti-graft campaign succeeds, estate agents for high-end properties all over the world will go into mourning . . .

That's all for now.  More soon.


What happens when you overload a small plane?


A tip o' the hat to Daily Timewaster for the link.  The plane was apparently flying out of Bethel, Alaska, about a month ago, ferrying moose hunters.

Miss D. is an Alaskan pilot, as many of you already know. I'm waiting for her caustic remarks when she sees this video clip.  It's obvious from the very shallow climb rate that the plane was way too heavy.  It basically flew straight into the trees because it couldn't climb fast enough to get above them.  The occupants were very lucky indeed to walk away from that.


If you want to play, go find a playmate

Courtesy of Reddit, I had to laugh at this cat's quest for a toy to play with.

She's got very similar coloration to our cat (the moggy, not the stuffed toy!) . . . and it looks like she's just as playful.


Doofus Of The Day #860

Today's award goes to a Texas college student.  PJ Media reports:

Jessica Jin, a University of Texas student with the clarity of mind and purpose that only a college student could possess, thinks it is just wrong that in 2016 she will be able to carry a handgun to class but will have to leave her dildo back at the dorm.

So she’s organizing a protest for August 2016 during which students can show they share her belief by strapping a dildo to their book bags, their belts, wherever they chose, and brazenly carrying their sex toys into class, sitting beside students who may be packing Glocks.

“The State of Texas has decided that it is not at all obnoxious to allow deadly concealed weapons in classrooms, however it DOES have strict rules about free sexual expression, to protect your innocence,” Jin wrote on her group’s Facebook page. “You would receive a citation for taking a DILDO to class before you would get in trouble for taking a gun to class. Heaven forbid the penis.”

In fact, the Campus (Dildo) Carry Facebook page Jessica is using to organize this protest is also using the hashtag #CocksNotGlocks as a rallying cry.

There's more at the link.

Inspired (?) by Ms. Jin's campaign, I began looking up similarities between dildos and firearms, and was surprised at some of the results.

  • Yes, one can cock many handguns, but that's not what the expression means.
  • Yes, a revolver can refer to a type of handgun or a type of dildo.  (Do a search on that at your own peril.)
  • Jezebel reminds us to 'Treat Your Guns Like You'd Treat Your Dildos'.
  • When a cop refers to his 'nightstick', he usually doesn't mean a portion of the male anatomy (or a facsimile thereof).
  • When the justice system sentences miscreants to penal servitude, it's not spelt 'penile' and it doesn't mean that.
  • As for taking a dildo to class, would that be a teaching aid or a teacher's aid?  (I would never, ever describe it as a teacher's pet.)

Moonbats . . . gotta love 'em!


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Speaking of security . . .

I was amazed to read about the modern security measures of the super-rich.  The Evening Standard reports:

Heyrick Bond Gunning ... is one of a new breed of salesmen.

He’s selling building and contents protection, but not the kind you’re used to. As the managing director of security firm Salamanca Risk Management, he sells a guarantee that you and your family will never again be bothered by anyone or anything you don’t want to be bothered by.

Business is booming because billionaires are a paranoid bunch. Take one who recently moved to Mayfair. ‘He wanted everything, from protection from cyber hacking through to physical intrusion and kidnapping,’ says Bond Gunning. ‘We ended up installing fingerprint-activated locks for family members and programmable keys for staff that limit the time they are allowed into the property and the rooms they are able to enter and exit.

‘Inside and outside we installed 24-hour monitored CCTV cameras that are so hi-tech they can tell the difference between a dog, cat and a person. In the garden there are thermal-imaging cameras that can detect heat sources in the undergrowth. One thing intruders can’t hide is the heat of their bodies.

‘Should an intruder evade the cameras or ignore the warnings they automatically broadcast, the property itself is protected by bulletproof glass and alarm sensors in all rooms. There is a bullet, gas and bombproof panic or safe room, with its own food and water, medical supplies and communications, and an impregnable supply of fresh air. Just in case the family cannot make it there in time, key rooms are sealed by reinforced shutters.’

The bill for such peace of mind? A cool £1m.

Just as boutique finance houses, family offices, lawyers, private tutors, butlers and nanny services have sprung up to cater for the ‘needs’ of London’s super-rich, an army of James Bond-type ‘Qs’ now develop and sell the kind of safety systems and gadgets that 007 could only dream of.

. . .

Ultra-high net worth households also demand that their telephone and internet communications are encrypted. ‘I’ve been to some houses that look more like the NSA [America’s National Security Agency just outside Washington DC] than a family home,’ jokes one of London’s leading security consultants. Mobile phones have tracking devices to help protect family members in a kidnap situation.

There's much more at the link, including many more examples of hi-tech solutions to security problems.

I suppose such security is nice if you can afford it . . . but I can't ignore the simpler solution, typified by this XKCD cartoon a few years ago.

That's about the size of it.  When it comes to all these gee-whiz security measures, the simplest way to overcome them is to cut off their power supply.  No electricity . . . no security.  Yes, I know many of these buildings have their own backup generators and/or batteries.  Those are extremely vulnerable targets, and many of them aren't nearly as secure as the rest of the building's contents, due to municipal regulations.  For example, Fire Department regulations make it illegal in many cities to have a large fuel supply stored in your basement for a backup generator, limiting its usefulness.  Furthermore, the generator itself has to be accessible to servicemen, so you can't tuck it away deep inside your secure perimeter.  By definition, if workmen have to penetrate that secure perimeter on a routine basis, it's not secure.  Most backup power supplies I've encountered (and I was a Civil Defense sector officer in South Africa for several years, where urban terrorism was a very real threat) were very vulnerable indeed to outside interference.

Of course, in a country like Britain, armed backup simply isn't an option.  I don't have good security on or in my home - I can't afford it.  However, any intruder doesn't know when I'll be here (I don't work a normal schedule).  Furthermore, I think I can guarantee that anyone trying to break in while I'm here is going to be rapidly disabused of the notion that I'm an easy target.  The same can be said of many of my friends.


The right sort of gun control

A mayor in northern Italy has had enough of crimes committed against his citizens - and he's fighting back in a way I can wholeheartedly support.

A mayor from a town in Northern Italy began setting up a local fund to help townspeople buy guns ... Mayor Gianluca Buonanno, a Northern League politician from the Piedmont region, said the fund will help the people of his town defend against home intruders.

"I want to increase the defense capability and security of my fellow citizens," said Buonanno, as reported by BBC, adding "I say better cemeteries full of criminals than empty prisons."

Buonanno's initiative with the gun fund appeared racially-charged to some members of Italian media, as the announcement came following the widely-covered death of a Romanian man killed by a retiree while he was attempting to burgle his house. The elderly Italian was charged with manslaughter, and many Northern League politicians took to Twitter and other forms of social media to voice their outrage.

The Northern League party has made gun ownership a central issue, turning it into a rallying cry for personal freedom and protection.

. . .

The fund would give interested townspeople 250 euros toward the purchase of a gun, which is around 30 percent of the price of a small firearm in Italy.

There's more at the link.

I'm surprised at the prices quoted.  If the average small firearm in Italy costs plus-or-minus 830 Euros (extrapolating from the figures quoted above), that translates to about US $915 - very high indeed for a handgun or shotgun.  Our prices are typically half that for something worthwhile and trustworthy.  Can anyone tell us why Italian firearm prices are so high?

Perhaps Americans of Italian extraction would like to do what the NRA did during World War II, when it sent rifles to Britain for use by that country's Home Guard.  I should think there are enough Italian-Americans to arm most of Italy, if it comes to that . . . although the provenance of some of the firearms, particularly from cities where the Mafia is active, might raise a few eyebrows!


That'll set the cat among the pigeons . . .

I note with interest that feminist Germaine Greer has stirred outrage among lesbian, gay and transgender activists by stating bluntly her opinion that transgender 'women' (i.e. those who've 'transitioned' from male to female) are not, in fact, women.

Frankly, I'm surprised that the outrage is so strong.  Ms. Greer has never made any secret of her opinions - and medical science is largely on her side.  Let's face it, one's gender is not a product of feeling, opinion or psychological euphemisms.  It's determined by one's chromosomes.  If you have two X chromosomes, you're female.  If you have one X and one Y chromosome, you're male.  For the vast majority of the human race, that's it, medically and factually speaking.  (There are a few - relatively speaking, very few - cases where chromosomal abnormalities make it not quite so simple - so-called 'intersex' cases - but they're uncommon.)

I have great sympathy for those who struggle with their gender identity.  I know several such individuals, and I do my best to support them in what must be an enormously complex and sometimes very difficult approach to existence.  Nevertheless, on purely medical and scientific grounds alone, one must surely admit that the chromosomes have it.  Irrespective of psychological or psychiatric factors, if one's XX or XY, then one's gender is not a matter of opinion, but of fact.  I must respectfully ask whether in many - perhaps most - cases, surely the best way to treat the problem is to deal with those psychological or psychiatric issues, rather than try to 'fake' through surgery an external resemblance to an internal reality that medical science cannot change - namely, one's chromosomes?

I'd be interested to hear reader comments about this.  It's an issue worth debating, because it's firmly out in the public arena now.  Please don't get crude or rude about it, no matter what your personal opinions may be.  Remember, these are human lives we're discussing.  Those suffering in this situation are worthy of the same respect we want others to give to us and our lives.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

In Memoriam: Maureen O'Hara

I'm sad to learn that actress Maureen O'Hara has died in her sleep at the age of 95.

She always struck me as the quintessential Lady (with a capital 'L') of cinema.  So many of her peers and contemporaries were more or less corrupted by their experiences in Hollywood, but not Ms. O'Hara.  She never lost sight of who she was as a woman and a lady, and expected others to do likewise.  Her relationship with director John Ford in particular (which she described in a 2004 interview) was stormy, bewildering and complex, yet she rose above the difficulties to deliver her best performances for him.

I most enjoyed the films she made with John Wayne, particularly McClintock! and The Quiet Man.  She was probably the single most important influence that led him to convert to Catholicism shortly before his death from lung cancer.  They were the dearest of friends for many years.

I'm sorry Maureen O'Hara has left us, but she's earned her rest.  May she find it in heaven, in the company of those she knew so well, and all the people she helped to aspire to be better persons by imitating her example.


Another piece of history for the gun collection

Browsing through my local Armslist the other day, I noticed a gentleman south of here selling a 1980's-vintage Smith & Wesson Model 19, the famous 'Combat Magnum' pioneered by Bill Jordan and developed with his input during the 1950's.  This was the standard police model with 4" barrel, square butt and target-style grips.  Production ceased in 1999.  It's in excellent condition, as you can see in the picture below.  Apologies for the slightly dark image.  I'll try to take a better one sometime.

I've seen these going for anywhere between $700 and $1,000 in top condition, depending on whether the original box and paperwork was included.  This was priced below that, without box or paperwork, but the seller described it as being in very good condition;  so, this morning, I drove down to take a look.  It was, indeed, nice, so I paid the man and brought it home with me.

I have in storage a high-ride thumb-break holster made specifically for this model of revolver.  I think it's time I took it out, polished it up, and put it back into use.  This gun won't be a safe queen - it'll be out on the range with me, where it belongs.  It'll make a nice companion to my other Smith & Wesson revolvers chambered for this cartridge.


A half-baked approach?

This news is a couple of weeks old, but it's just come to my notice.

Police [in Finland] are requesting citizens to inform them of pizzerias that offer their meals at less than 6 euros [about US $6.60] each. Their campaign is directed mainly at social media, where people have been quick to ridicule the seemingly trivial measure, but one which the authorities say is the first decisive step towards rooting out the country's grey economy.

"We need tips from citizens. You can post them on our web site or contact us on social media. Unless a pizza is on temporary sale there is no way a legitimate establishment can offer pizza at less than 6 euros," claims Minna Immonen from the Uusimaa police department.

. . .

The few weeks the campaign is scheduled to last will be followed by further measures to combat the grey economy and unlawful financial activities. Police say that instead of arousing outrage their pizza campaign should entice the public to work with them, not least of all because the issue represents millions of dodged tax euros.

"It's important to remind people that a low price is not the only indicator, and that not being offered or given a receipt is another red flag people should be aware of," says Immonen. "As nice as a cheap pizza seems, especially with food prices as high as they are, too cheap and it makes it possible for some entrepreneurs to hatch money-grabbing schemes."

There's more at the link.

When I first read this report, I was nonplussed.  Why would anyone in his right mind report a pizzeria for selling cheap pizza?  Surely he'd simply take advantage of the low price?  Puzzled, I contacted a Finnish friend of mine who's now living elsewhere.  She pointed out that the mindset in Finland is very different to that in some other countries, particularly the USA and the UK.  She said that Finland's 'welfare state' programs rely on taxation to fund them, so cheating on taxes is publicly portrayed - not just by the government, but by many news media as well - as also cheating those in need who are supported by those programs.  From that point of view, she says, the campaign makes perfect sense.

I don't see it that way, of course.  I'd prefer to have most welfare programs cater for only the bare essentials, and encourage participants - by their threadbare nature - to get back on their own two feet as quickly as possible so as to earn their way to a better life, rather than have it handed to them at taxpayer expense.  However, that's apparently not the way many Finns see it.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess . . .

(Nevertheless, if I ever visit Finland and get the chance to buy a decent pizza on the cheap, I'm highly unlikely to do anything other than wolf it down!)


Friday, October 23, 2015

That's a hell of an ethical dilemma

Courtesy of a link at Joel's place, we find an article in the MIT Technology Review on the ethical and moral implications of self-driving cars.  Here's an excerpt.

Here is the nature of the dilemma. Imagine that in the not-too-distant future, you own a self-driving car. One day, while you are driving along, an unfortunate set of events causes the car to head toward a crowd of 10 people crossing the road. It cannot stop in time but it can avoid killing 10 people by steering into a wall. However, this collision would kill you, the owner and occupant. What should it do?

One way to approach this kind of problem is to act in a way that minimizes the loss of life. By this way of thinking, killing one person is better than killing 10.

But that approach may have other consequences. If fewer people buy self-driving cars because they are programmed to sacrifice their owners, then more people are likely to die because ordinary cars are involved in so many more accidents. The result is a Catch-22 situation.

. . .

In general, people are comfortable with the idea that self-driving vehicles should be programmed to minimize the death toll.

This utilitarian approach is certainly laudable but the participants were willing to go only so far. “[Participants] were not as confident that autonomous vehicles would be programmed that way in reality—and for a good reason: they actually wished others to cruise in utilitarian autonomous vehicles, more than they wanted to buy utilitarian autonomous vehicles themselves,” conclude Bonnefon and co.

And therein lies the paradox. People are in favor of cars that sacrifice the occupant to save other lives—as long they don’t have to drive one themselves.

There's more at the link.

Food for thought.  I can see real advantages to self-driving or 'autonomous' cars;  our recent 4,000-mile road trip had moments where driver tiredness became a safety factor, which it would not have been if an 'autonomous mode' had been available.  On the other hand, I'm darned if I'll entrust my safety on the road to an algorithm that may or may not take my best interests into account.  That, of course, includes the life of my wife.  What if the algorithm senses an imminent collision, and decides that the best - perhaps the only - way to handle the crisis is to take the impact on the passenger side of the car, which would result in the death of my wife?  You think I'm going to let a machine make that call, when I'd make precisely the opposite one?  Yeah, right!

This is going to take a lot of thought . . . and I don't know that there are any easy or widely-acceptable answers.


Er . . . has the FDA approved that?

Courtesy of The Lonely Libertarian:


Testing a Taurus Tracker .44 Magnum revolver: first follow-up

I'm sure many of you read my 'torture test' of two Taurus .44 Magnum revolvers, which I published a couple of weeks ago.  One of them was the relatively lightweight Taurus Tracker 5-shot revolver with a 4" ported barrel.  I had this to say about its factory grip:

The smaller Tracker was less popular, partly because its lower weight didn't provide as much counterbalance to recoil energy, partly because the factory Ribber grip proved less capable of absorbing and controlling recoil than the Hogue grip I'd installed on the Model 44.  (The Ribber grips consist of a rubber core surrounded by horizontal layered 'ribs' of soft rubber, which 'squish' in one's hand as one tightens one's grasp.  One shooter described them as 'funky'.)  I found them acceptable, but not great.  If I keep this revolver, I'll replace them with a set of Hogue grips for this model, and I'll recommend the same to any of my disabled students who buy one.  Customer reviews of the Hogue grip on are uniformly very positive in comparison to the factory Ribber offering.

I had a couple of other issues with the Tracker, none of them serious enough to cause it to fail the test.  A gunsmith will address them during the next few weeks.  However, I thought I'd fix the grip problem before sending the gun to him.

The Taurus 'Ribber' grip looks like this:

(Image courtesy of Taurus)

I replaced it with this Hogue unit:

(Image courtesy of Hogue)

The difference is like night and day.  The Hogue grip transforms the Tracker, giving it acceptable recoil control even with full-house .44 Magnum rounds (I tested it with Federal 300gr. CastCore loads, which fit into its shorter cylinder, whereas specialty rounds like Garrett Hammerheads won't).  In fact, in this particular cartridge (as opposed to less powerful ones), I can't understand why Taurus doesn't just go with the Hogue grip as original equipment.  The latter offers so much improvement that it makes the gun as a whole a much more attractive proposition.

The 'lumpy' double-action trigger and slightly 'sticky' cylinders about which I complained in the test will be addressed shortly.  Once that's done, it'll be off to the range once more with the Tracker, and we'll see whether it's now up to my standards.  I must admit, I'm growing fond of it as a relatively light, well-balanced .44 Magnum for packing in situations where you don't need or can't afford the weight or bulk of a full-size gun, but still want short-range protection against potentially dangerous large game (elk, moose, black or any other kind of bear, etc.).  I think the Tracker offers a much better option for this purpose than the lightweight S&W Model 329 or Taurus Model 444 Ultralight, both of which recoil so hard as to be, IMHO, dangerous to the shooter's health (as I observed in the earlier test).  In my experience, the Tracker has enough weight to absorb recoil better than the ultra-light-weight revolvers, while being smaller and lighter enough than its full-sized Model 44 brother to be much more 'packable'.

I'd be interested in feedback from any of my readers who own, or have owned, a Tracker in .44 Magnum.  Did your experience square with what I've reported so far?  Did your firearm also need the attention of a gunsmith to attain satisfactory performance?  Also, did any of you have the 6" barreled Tracker, as opposed to its 4" stablemate that I tested?  How did you like it?  Please let us know in Comments.  (I think I'll have to look for someone with a 6" Tracker, to borrow it for comparative tests.)


Is this a case of Marines being Marines?

I had to laugh out loud at this article in the Daily Caller.

If you look very closely at the route for this weekend’s Marine Corps Marathon, you will see what looks very similar to a certain piece of the male anatomy aimed squarely at Congress.  (Click the image for a larger view.)

It would only seem natural for the military marathon to travel around the National Mall, which is already home to one phallic symbol, but the route takes an interesting series of turns when it reaches the steps of Congress.

There are any number of different routes the marathon could take that would circle the National Mall, but as others have pointed out in the past, the Marine Corps Marathon continues to use this hard stretch of road pointed right at the front door of Capitol Hill.

There's more at the link.

Far be it from me to accuse the Marathon's organizers of sending a somewhat basic message to Congress . . . but whether or not it's deliberate, I approve of the message!


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Climate change liars and the data that exposes their lies

I'm cynically amused by the latest climate change hysteria from the ecoweenies.

If carbon emissions continue to increase unabated, large, populated areas of Northern California and the U.S. will be inundated from rising sea levels over the course of this century according a new report. Many areas will be impacted by the year 2050.

Researchers at Climate Central, an independent group of scientists and journalists based in New Jersey, predict a 2 to 7 feet sea level rise this century, “depending upon how much more heat-trapping pollution humanity puts into the sky.”

In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they predict that “unabated carbon emissions up to the year 2100 would commit an eventual global sea-level rise of 4.3-9.9 meters.”

If their projections are true, at least 21 U.S. cities with populations of more than 100,000 are considered “endangered land,” including Stockton, Sacramento, and Long Beach. San Francisco’s Financial District will be under water, and areas of smaller cities like Alameda, Emeryville, Richmond, and Vallejo will be uninhabitable.

The group created a website, Surging Seas-Sea Level Rise, with interactive, high-resolution coastal flooding and sea level rise maps, and tools that show just which areas in California have the highest risk. Users can type in specific areas, and see results according to varying levels of sea-rise and varying levels of emissions control.

There's more at the link, including pictures of well-known parts of the Bay Area before and after the forecast rise in sea levels.  They're quite entertaining.

Trouble is, hard data is not on the ecoweenies' side.  As Karl Denninger trenchantly points out:

The problem with the claim is that there's a tide gauge (actually, several of them) in the San Francisco Bay basin.  One of them with a 75 year record is at Alameda Naval Air Station.

It shows no material change in tidal levels. 




Again, more at the link.

So much for the ecoweenie's claim that climate change has already produced an 8" rise in sea levels since the problem reared its head.  If that's the case, why do no sea level gauges show that rise?

There is no objectively verifiable truth in the anthropogenic climate change lobby.  None whatsoever.


A sobering example of poor defensive shooting

I've pointed out on numerous occasions that to use a handgun for defense requires putting effective rounds in the right place to stop the attacker.  Put ineffective rounds into someone, and they probably won't have the desired result.  Similarly, put effective rounds in the wrong place, and they won't shut him down.

This was illustrated very graphically in a recent attack by a Palestinian on a bus stop in Israel.  Watch the footage below.  WARNING:  It's graphic!  You'll see the Palestinian crash his car into the bus stop, exit the vehicle wielding a machete, and attack those sitting in the bus stop.  A passerby draws his pistol and engages the man, but he keeps on renewing the attack and/or trying to get away.  Some reports I've seen indicate that he was shot again on each of those occasions, incurring up to a dozen bullet wounds, but until the end he kept on fighting, struggling and moving.  Clearly, the rounds did not do an adequate job, for whatever reason.

A corollary:  one single head shot through the brain would have ended the problem right then, right there.  I have no idea why the man with the pistol didn't do just that.  He was close enough to be sure of his target.  If I'd been in his shoes, that would have happened the moment the Palestinian first sat up to reach for the machete . . . and it wouldn't have happened only once.


Sobering thoughts about the US Navy's carrier strategy

A retired US Navy captain has produced an impressive - and thought-provoking - report on some implications of its carrier-centric strategy.  Yahoo News reports:

Retired Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix ... makes the case that aircraft carriers have steadily lost their utility over the past two decades.

At fault for this are twin mistakes of the US Navy: a steady introduction of aircraft with decreasing flight ranges in addition to a failure to foresee rising military capabilities from countries like China that could target carriers.

"American power and permissive environments were assumed following the end of the Cold War, but the rise of new powers, including China and its pursuit of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategies and capabilities to include the carrier-killing 1,000 nautical mile (nm) range Dong Feng-21 anti-ship ballistic missile, now threatens to push the Navy back beyond the range of its carrier air wings," Hendrix notes.

Essentially, any carrier that operates within 1,000 nautical miles of Chinese military placements could be open to a strike from an antiship ballistic missile. This would not be a problem, except that the average unrefueled combat range of US carrier air wings operates at half that distance.

And even that average combat range is a decrease from the height of the Cold War.

In 1956, for example, air wings had an average range of 1,210 nautical miles on internal fuel alone. This range was achieved even though the US Navy was using an older class of aircraft carriers that could support less aircraft than today's modern carriers.

The move to shrink the flight range of carrier air wings occurred following the fall of the Soviet Union and the Navy's decision to shift the strategic purpose of carriers away from long-range missions toward acting as platforms for faster and shorter-range sortie missions.

. . .

This lack of range, unless the Navy changes course, will continue to mean that the Navy will have little choice but to continue to operate in waters off potential enemy coasts.

And this means that carriers, for all their cost and high-tech capabilities, would either hypothetically fall within range of Chinese antiship ballistic missiles or would be forced to operate beyond the unrefueled range of their air wings.

There's more at the link.  The complete report can be found here.

I think Captain Hendrix makes some very good points:  but I'm surprised to see one that I consider even more important is not addressed at all.  That's the advent of directed energy (i.e. beam) weapons, initially laser beams, but in due course extending to charged particle beams as well.

Such beams move at light speed.  If you can see the target, you can hit it.  No deflection whatsoever is necessary, because the target won't have time to move before the beam arrives at its position.  An aircraft-carrier or other ship equipped with defensive beam weapons and sufficient generating capacity can conceivably blast out of the sky any number of missiles (cruise, ballistic or any other type).  In the same way, an aircraft with a beam weapon can destroy any other aircraft, or surface ship, or other target that it gets in its sights.  The destruction will be instantaneous, with no time needed for a weapon to cover the distance between attacker and target.

I think that's going to be the big game-changer over the next few decades, completely outweighing questions of aircraft range, etc.  Such weapons are already in development, and have been successfully tested as anti-artillery and anti-missile devices.  The USAF is sponsoring research to integrate laser turrets on combat aircraft, and the US Navy is developing beam weapons for its ships.  When they become operational, will manned and unmanned aircraft be capable of functioning in the same roles they have today?  Won't the latter be at risk of being destroyed before they even see their target, much less get close enough to attack it?

Interesting times . . .


When Muslims helped Jews escape Nazis

Thanks to a link supplied by reader Aaron S., over at Messyness Chic I found a heartwarming story demonstrating that when people are willing to put aside differences of faith or theology, and recognize their common humanity, great things can be achieved.

A recent French film, Free Men, brought to light the remarkable true history of how Muslims gave sanctuary to French Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris during Second World War. An untold “Oscar Schindler” story, the film is inspired by actual events and in this case, our ‘Schindler’ is Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris until 1954.

Underneath the fortress of mosaics and tranquil gardens occupying an entire city block in the Latin Quarter, it is revealed the mosque’s underground caverns once served as a refuge for resistance fighters and French Jews, where they could be provided with certificates of Muslim identity. Meanwhile upstairs, Benghabrit, a wise Algerian-born religious and political leader, was giving tours of the mosque to Nazi officers and their wives, unaware of what was transpiring right under their feet.

A North African Jewish man named Albert Assouline, who had escaped from a German prison camp, wrote about his experience hiding in the mosque:

“No fewer than 1,732 resistance fighters found refuge in its underground caverns. These included Muslim escapees but also Christians and Jews. The latter were by far the most numerous.”

. . .

The most notable case of the mosque refuge was Simon Hilali, a Sephardic Jew who survived the Holocaust by pretending to be an Arab named Salim with the assistance of Benghrabit and later went on to become the most popular Arab-language singer of the time. According to Hilali’s obituary, Germans were so suspicious of the Jewish musician that Benghabrit had the name of Hilali’s made-up Muslim grandfather carved on a headstone in a Parisian Muslim cemetery.

There's more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

Here's the trailer for the film.

It's available on Amazon for download or on DVD (both with English subtitles).  It's definitely on my must-see list now.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Some amazing cosplay in Russia

Here's some footage from the Russian version of ComicCon this year.

All I can say is, some people take dressing up and acting out very, very seriously . . .


Canada ditches the F-35

I note that incoming Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau has already announced that Canada will cancel its order for the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II strike aircraft.

Good move.  Good, good move.  As we've said several times in these pages, the F-35 program is a boondoggle of the worst possible kind, and recent evaluations suggest that the aircraft's performance is simply not up to the standards required.  I think the US armed forces are making a grievous error by proceeding with it at all.  I think Canada will be much better off without it.

As for alternatives, Canada will want something with twin engines (for safety of flight in its huge and very remote Arctic regions), long range (ditto), and a decent warload.  Options include the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (Canada currently operates the first-generation Hornets), the Boeing F-15 Eagle in its latest updated form, and the Dassault Rafale from France (although the latter might be a bit short-ranged for the Arctic mission).  All will cost rather less than the F-35, both in purchase price and in operating costs.

A surprise candidate, which may not be up to Canada's needs but is an interesting development, is Lockheed's latest-generation F-16V fighter, which made its first flight last week.  It has a modern AESA radar and internal equipment that's said to put it (electronically, at least) in fifth-generation fighter territory, even if the airframe and engine aren't quite there.  More to the point, it can probably be bought for half the cost of the F-35.  Even though it's only got one engine, that's a pretty tempting option . . .