Saturday, December 31, 2016

A happy and blessed New Year to all my readers

I'll be joining Miss D., Old NFO, Lawdog, Phlegmmy and ae_pilotjim to see in the new year tonight.  With a gathering like that, it promises to be a lot of fun.

I also have a new toy to show off.  Santa came late to my local gunshop, leaving a mint-condition Smith & Wesson Model 69 in the used gun case, where I could see it and snap it up before anyone else did.  The price was affordable, and I had a couple of trade items to spare, so the deal was speedily done.  I picked it up this morning.  I'm looking forward to comparing it side-by-side with my Taurus Tracker .44 Magnum revolver (the success of which spurred Smith & Wesson to introduce their competing, very similar Model 69).  Look for a range report soon.

I hope all of you have a wonderful New Year's Eve.  May 2017 be better for all of us than 2016!  God bless.


Bollywood again . . .

Continuing our occasional series of over-the-top Bollywood fight scenes:

What was that about the law of gravity again?


Doofus Of The Day #946

Today's award goes to the hapless driver of a Range Rover on the Fraser Island ferry in Australia.  A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus for the link.

Shocking video has emerged of a four-wheel-drive rolling off a barge and into the waters between Fraser Island and the mainland on Saturday morning.

. . .

Tourist Katrina Lawrence, who was aboard the barge, said the incident was "quite bizarre".

She said the boat was departing from Inskip Point at Rainbow Beach, about 150 kilometres north of the Sunshine Coast, on its way to the island and was about a quarter of the way across the Great Sandy Strait.

Ms Lawrence said the 4WD, which was part of an adventure tours group, began sliding off the barge about 11am, causing panic on the boat.

One man tried to stop the vehicle by grabbing onto it with his one free hand, but because he was wearing thongs he slid across the deck with the car.

"There was no way they could have grabbed it, it was a slow roll but a heavy car," Ms Lawrence said.

There was widespread panic onboard the vessel and concerned patrons rushed to check whether their vehicles were secure.

Only one vehicle was lost and about 30 seconds later Ms Lawrence said the 4WD sank.

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

The handbrake is there for a reason . . . just sayin' . . .

(I'd also like to know why the barge's ramp was still in the down position.  If it had been up, the vehicle wouldn't have been able to roll off.  I suspect a crew member may also have been a doofus . . . )


So much for corporate publishing

A rather idiotic article in the Huffington Post postulates that self-publishing is "An Insult to the Written Word".  Here's an excerpt.

The problem with self-publishing is that it requires zero gatekeepers. From what I’ve seen of it, self-publishing is an insult to the written word, the craft of writing, and the tradition of literature. As an editor, I’ve tackled trying to edit the very worst writing that people plan on self-publishing just because they can.

. . .

I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally. It makes a great gift for their grandchildren. But self-publishing needs to be labelled as such. The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there. And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.

There's more at the link.

In response, fellow author, blogger and friend Larry Correia has written one of his magnificent fiskings.

Oh… Wait… Laurie is being serious. Dear God.

At this point I realized that Laurie wasn’t providing writing advice for people who actually want to make a decent living as writers. She is providing advice to people who want to be aloof artistes at dinner parties, before they go back to their day job at Starbucks.

As for what Laurie says about gatekeepers, it is all horse shit. She has no flipping idea what she’s talking about.

Publishers are the “gatekeepers”. If they like you, you’re in, and if they don’t like you, you’re out. Problem is, at best they only have so many publishing slots to fill every year, so they cater to some markets, and leave others to languish. And at worst, they are biased human beings, who often have their heads inserted into their own rectums.

. . .

Editors try to make the author’s stuff better. Period. They aren’t gate keepers, because it is their job to make the stuff that got through the gate suck less (seriously, the HuffPo should hire one).  Only self-published authors can hire editors too. Andy Weir hired Bryan Thomas Schmidt to edit the original self-published The Martian. Last I heard that book did okay.

. . .

These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good.

The problem is that “good” is subjective. What you personally think is “good” is irrelevant when there are a million consumers who disagree. I wouldn’t buy a copy of Twilight, but the author lives in a house made out of solid gold bars. “Good” is arbitrary. The real question is whether your product is sellable (and yes, it is just a product, get over yourself).

Again, more (a lot more) at the link.  It's highly giggle-worthy.

The biggest single problem is that people like Laurie Gough (the author of the HuffPo article) are arrogating to themselves the right to prescribe how people like me should publish our books.  Unless we follow their One True Path, we're beyond the pale, unworthy of consideration as 'serious' authors, beyond contempt.  Trouble is, her 'gatekeepers' of which she's so fond have proven themselves to be unworthy of consideration too.  They've become obstacles to their own success, never mind anyone else's, because they're trapped in a big-business, big-bucks world of corporate success, rather than focusing on the creative artist and figuring out how to 'monetize' their creativity.  There are a considerable number of self-published authors (Larry CorreiaAndy Weir, Hugh Howey, and so on - I could name dozens) who are very successful indeed (some are multi-millionaires) - but who were rejected by untold corporate 'gatekeepers' before they became successful.  Rather than become discouraged, they stepped out on their own and succeeded anyway.  In many cases, that's led to offers from and contracts with traditional publishers.  Others have remained independent, and are quite happy that way.

Simon Owens has pointed out that "Book publishers are incentivizing midlist authors to abandon them".

So we have these [self-published] authors who have built up fanbases consisting of thousands of readers, readers who gladly shell out money for each subsequent book, and yet the publishers are abandoning these authors in droves. Why?

Well, over the past few decades, what was once a diverse publishing field has consistently coalesced, through acquisitions and mergers, into an industry with only four major publishers. What’s more, these major publishers are owned by even larger, multi-billion dollar media conglomerates:

Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS, HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp, Penguin and RandomHouse are jointly owned by Pearson and Bertelsmann, and Hachette is part of an enormous French company called Lagadère.

So when you’re a company that’s dealing with revenues in the billions (with a B), suddenly a product that can only sell a few thousand units and is ultimately “unscalable,” isn’t worthy of investment. So instead they invest in products that have the potential to not only sell millions of units, but also spawn spin-off merchandise and movie deals.

Amazon, with its ecommerce system and now its Kindle publishing platform, has figured out how to scale midlist authors, and is therefore willing to gobble up those writers the big publishers turn away, offering them a bigger cut of their sales in the process.

But this, I believe, is to the long-term detriment of the publishers. Because now a new generation of writers is growing up on the Amazon platform, using social media and email lists to market its books, and several of these writers will advance from selling merely thousands of books to selling millions. And once they’re selling millions of books and collecting 70 percent of each copy sold, it’ll be extremely difficult for those conglomerates to lure the authors back under their umbrella with the promise of a puny 10 percent of cover price royalty. By abandoning the midlist to Amazon, publishers are hastening their own demise.

More at the link.

I agree with Mr. Owens' analysis.  Even though I had been traditionally published in non-fiction back in the 1980's, I didn't even try to get through the obstacles of the 'gatekeepers' before publishing my first efforts at fiction.  I knew it would be almost impossible to do so, given their present business structure and focus.  Instead, I planned on doing it myself, and began working on it as far back as 2005.  I kept hard at it for several years before I felt I was ready, and self-published my first novel back in 2013.  (You can read about my plans and progress in this 2013 article, if you're interested.)  Thanks to your support, I've been able to achieve moderate success so far, and I look forward to even greater success in future.  What's more, my self-published sales numbers were sufficiently large to interest a publisher in picking up my Western series, as well as some of my science fiction, so I now straddle the line between self- and traditionally-published works.  If I can do it, I don't see why anyone who's prepared to work hard and has a modicum of talent can't do so as well.

So much for Ms. Gough's argument . . .


Friday, December 30, 2016

Sometimes the true price of cheap pork is very high

The Chicago Tribune did a series of articles earlier this year on the pork industry in Illinois.  It's a pretty bleak, unsavory picture.  Here's an excerpt from the first article.

The state Department of Agriculture, which is charged with promoting livestock production as well as regulating it, often brushed aside opposition from local officials to issue about 900 swine confinement permits in the last 20 years. Long-standing community residents were left feeling their rights had been trampled and the laws stacked against them.

In a wide-ranging investigation that spanned dozens of Illinois counties and analyzed more than 20,000 pages of government documents, the Tribune also found that the growth of these confinements has created a persistent new environmental hazard.

Pig waste flowing into rural waterways from leaks and spills destroyed more than 490,000 fish in 67 miles of rivers over a 10-year span. No other industry came close to causing that amount of damage, the Tribune found. Many operators faced only minor consequences; some multimillion-dollar confinements paid small penalties while polluting repeatedly.

The state also does little to investigate allegations of animal cruelty submitted by whistleblowing employees who work for some of Illinois' most prominent pork producers. Inspectors dismissed one complaint, state files show, after simply telephoning executives to ask if it was true that their workers were beating pigs with metal bars.

. . .

Twenty years after the state law was put in place, critics liken its provisions to a frontier-era timber blockade in the path of a bullet train.

There's more at the link, and in the other articles in the series.  It's worth reading them in full to see how a state bureaucracy can actively cooperate with big business against the interests of residents, and animals, and the environment.

After reading them, I want to know more about how other states - particularly my own, newly adopted state of Texas - are doing about the problem.  This has ramifications far beyond paying the cheapest possible price for the pork I eat.  That may well be kept artificially low by causing costs in other areas - monetary or otherwise - that are unacceptably high.


There's none so racist as progressives

It seems that being white is an unbearable sin in the eyes of the liberal left.  Jim Goad provides us with plenty of examples, all riffing off the title of Milan Kundera's famous novel (and the film made from it), 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being'.

The Huffington Post—which was started by a woman who’s so white, her eyes appear to be turning into cocaine—is a serial abuser of this term. The publication decries “The Unbearable Whiteness of Trumpistan,” “The Unbearable Whiteness Of Being in China,” “The Unbearable Whiteness of Anti-Intellectualism,” and “The Unbearable Whiteness of Suicide-by-Mass-Murder.”

. . .

To my knowledge, the quintessentially unbearable writers for the Huffington Post have never referred to blackness or Jewishness as “unbearable.”

Despite the fact that the publishing industry slavishly caters to minoritarian tyrants and routinely bashes the very notion of white people, many insist that this industry, too, is unbearably white. A gay black author whinges about “The Unbearable Whiteness of Science Fiction.” An editor for the Islamic Monthly takes issue with “The Unbearable Whiteness of Canadian Columnists.” (He notes that “Canadian columnists are predominately white” and designates this as a “problem.”)

A writer for The American Prospect slams “The Unbearable Whiteness of Liberal Media,” noting that even the staff of The Nation has only “slightly over 4 percent of its staff hailing from racial and ethnic minority groups.” (Apparently he counts Jews as white.) And of course, even The Nation itself bemoans the publishing industry’s “unbearable whiteness.”

Writing in TIME, a certain Eliza Berman tut-tuts “The Unbearable Whiteness of the Oscar Nominations.” In the Daily Beast, an Asian woman takes issue with “The Unbearable Whiteness of Cameron Crowe’s ‘Aloha’.” And Think Progress—which is bankrolled by Holocaust enabler George Soros—has a bone to pick with Ridley Scott’s Moses and its “Unbearable Whiteness.”

There's more at the link.

Isn't it funny how left-wing and progressive commentators are actually more racist than the rest of us?  Oh, sorry, I forgot - according to them, if you're left-wing, or progressive, or (particularly) Black and any of those things, you can't be racist, by definition.

I leave it to you to imagine my response to such fatuous nonsense.


Are money-grabbers trying to siphon cash away from gun rights groups?

Fellow blogger The Silicon Graybeard thinks that might be the case.

I've mentioned before that I've been a member of NAGR before and became displeased with them for a couple of reasons.  The biggest is the never ending stream of emails like the previously mentioned "stop what you're doing!", urgent response required type.  The legend of the "boy who cried wolf" that we learn while we're growing up is a good one to keep in mind.  Perhaps a better idea to keep in mind is that when someone is urgently demanding your money now, now, now, experience says the chances are good you're being hustled.  They want you to donate the money now and not think about it.

. . .

Look, it's your money; give it to whom you want.  I think it's a waste to give to these Rothfeld organizations like NAGR because I see the parallels to the destruction of the Tea Party movement.  If Rothfeld's groups suck up all the funding and spends it all on themselves, like all those groups that killed off the Tea Party, could they kill off the Pro-2A side? 

There's more at the link.

I urge all my Second Amendment-supporting readers to click over to the article and read it in full.  I've had my doubts about a number of pro-gun organizations in the past (not least the NRA, who seem to send out far more requests for money than they do other materials).  Given the number of charity scams and boondoggles out there, it's entirely appropriate for us to approach new gun rights organizations with at least a healthy skepticism, if not outright suspicion.  Only when they've proven themselves to be both legitimate and effective should we support them financially.


Keeping your eye on the ball this New Year

There's an awful lot of deliberate misdirection in our society at present.  What's more, an awful lot of people are allowing themselves to be taken in by it.  In the New Year just ahead, when we traditionally take stock of our lives and make resolutions to improve at least some aspects, it's not a bad idea to see where we may have fallen prey to misdirection in and about ourselves.

Let's examine a few examples of misdirection and how it's being used.

  • The Democratic Party and its left-wing and progressive allies are making all sorts of noise about Russian interference in our recent Presidential election.  This is occupying the time and attention of a large part of our society - all without a single concrete fact, admissible as evidence in a court of law, that proves Russian interference actually took place.  It's all insinuation, allegation and obfuscation.  They also make a fuss about Hillary Clinton having won the 'popular vote', despite the fact that never in the history of the United States has our president ever been elected by popular vote.  All this fuss is designed to take people's minds off the fact that Donald Trump won the election fair and square, according to the provisions of the US constitution.  It's designed to de-legitimize his presidency in the minds of the American people . . . and, for some of them, particularly left-wingers and progressives, it's working.
  • Businesses are accustomed to launching pre-emptive counter-attacks on each other, to safeguard their own 'turf' and reduce the risk that competitors might try to 'muscle in' on it. is a prime example.  One commentator says that Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) is 'building moats' (bold, underlined text is my emphasis):
Let’s say that a well-respected brand like Netflix decided it wanted to move into other kinds of content besides movies and television. Like, say, ebooks. Suddenly the Kindle Store, and Amazon’s vice-like grip on the ebook industry, is under threat. Or what if personal food delivery apps like Seamless decide to expand their product offerings? Then it may start eating into Amazon’s e-retail offerings. And if the Washington Post app and Amazon Prime’s video offerings can sell a few more Kindle Fires, then he’ll have a more direct line between the customer and the Amazon ecosystem of products. By encroaching into the spaces of other industries, Bezos keeps those other industries from finding cracks in the walk with which to encroach on his main cash cows. And once he has firm moats around his main profit castles, he can start increasing the price on those castles, capitalizing on competitor-free profit margins ... Seen this way, Bezos is more concerned with future competitors who are nipping at the edge of his margins than traditional retail companies trying to move into his space. He’s cornered the e-retail market, now he’s simply scorching the earth around it.
  • In abusive relationships, one of the main techniques of the abuser is to keep the abused partner focused on some things - negatives - to the exclusion of others - positives.  The abuser will criticize the abusee's appearance, or education, or capabilities;  emphasize mistakes or shortcomings over positive attributes;  and generally try to keep the focus on how poorly the abusee is performing, rather than on how badly the abuser is treating him or her.  It's a classic tactic, and it works surprisingly often.  I've worked a great deal with people in such relationships.  When the abused can be made to see that he or she really isn't that bad, but they've been made to focus on specific negatives rather than the overall picture, and therefore become blind to the reality of the abuse they're suffering, the transformation is often dramatic.
  • When trying to improve our lives, it's amazing how often, in the words of the proverb, we "can't see the forest for the trees".  That means we focus on individual, specific problems, rather than look at the overall picture of where we are.  Unless we do the latter, we'll never be able to identify trends and patterns, ask ourselves why they're there, and deal with them.  (Often, modern society does little or nothing to help us see the 'big picture'.  News and social media will often focus on the latest fad or fashion - diet, clothing, technical gizmos like the latest model of smartphone, etc. - instead of something really helpful.)  Again, as a counselor, I've had to help many people break out of this stultifying mold, take a good, hard look at themselves - where they are now versus where they want to be - and begin planning to break free of the things that are holding them back.  (See, for example, my series of articles on personal strategic planning.)

You might be wondering where I'm going with these examples.  They relate directly to the biggest single problem most of us have.  We can very easily allow ourselves to be misdirected - or, for that matter, misdirect ourselves.  We fail to see the 'forest' of our overall lives for the 'trees' of the people, problems and circumstances that make it up.  Because we never consider the overall reality, we fail to plan (or act) to improve it by dealing with the things that weaken it and reinforcing the things that strengthen it.

New Year's resolutions are notorious for being honored more in the breach than in the observance.  Most of us make them lightly, without thinking, and discard them within weeks or even days because we achieve little or no success.  Nevertheless, they aren't a bad idea.  It's a good thing, now and again, to take stock of where we are, decide to change at least one major negative in our lives, and do something about it or them.  Why not try that this New Year weekend?

Start by looking at the 'forest' overall, and identify the 'trees' that make it less than it could be.  Think about all the things in your life with which you're not happy.  Ask yourself whether they're truly important, or just little 'niggles'.  Prioritize them.  Losing weight may be desirable from the perspective of appearing more attractive, but getting your finances in order may be a lot more important in the short term!  Pick just one or two problems or negatives that really do need short-term, serious attention, and work out a plan to tackle them.  (Again, see my articles on personal strategic planning if you need help with that process.)

I'm doing precisely that at present.  One resolution I've already discussed here - planning to write four books during the coming year.  Another is health- and lifestyle-related.  I'm working on an action plan for it right now.  I'll need the help and encouragement of my wife and friends to achieve it, but I know I'll have that unsparingly.  They're a huge blessing in that regard, for which I'm devoutly grateful.

Try to make a meaningful, serious New Year's resolution or two this weekend, and act on it/them.  You might be surprised at what you can achieve, if you plan - and work - to succeed.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Donald Trump's political appointments explained . . .

. . . with weapons-grade snark by Joe Bob Briggs in Taki's Magazine.

CIA Director: This will be Boris Vasilievich Mistrovokolsky, currently manager of a power plant in Tajikistan but well-known to Trump as the Interim Director of Construction Contracts for the new Trump International Hotel and Spa in Baku, Azerbaijan. Mistrovokolsky vows to make the CIA “more transparent.”

. . .

Director of the Office of Management and Budget: Oliver Winstead, former treasurer for the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, who holds the record for number of times subpoenaed (174) and hours of depositions given (12,905) while extracting four bankrupt casinos from the court system without ever losing a night’s sleep.

. . .

Secretary of Transportation: Retired fighter pilot Chris “Iron Jockstrap” Ledbetter, responsible for seventeen chicken incidents in the eastern Mediterranean and South China Sea, currently living in a trailer house in the Chihuahua Desert but willing to move to D.C. if he can implement his “all jets, all the time” transportation strategy, which would create a system of single-occupant commuter planes in order to relieve rush-hour traffic congestion while providing a major boost to the energy industry since the amount of jet fuel consumed would cause a 50 percent hike in the benchmark price of West Texas Intermediate crude.

There's more at the link.

I'm sure Mr. Trump will find Mr. Briggs' suggestions extremely helpful.



Last of the red-hot lovers?

I had to laugh at this report from the field of medicine.

About 40 percent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 have some level of erectile dysfunction and about a third of them don't respond to drugs like Viagra.

. . .

The current gold standard is an inflatable pump, but the surgery to implant it can be tricky, involving a reservoir of water and a pump. It can be awkward to use and have complications. A simpler solution is a malleable device, more popular in developing countries because the operation is simple and cheaper. The downside is a permanently erect penis and potential tissue damage.

Le's solution is a heat-activated exoskeleton of nitinol, a metal known for its superelastic properties and already in use in medical devices used for endovascular surgery.

In this case, the urologist could do a simplified operation to insert the nitinol implant, which remains flaccid at body temperature but can "remember" an expanded shape and return to that shape when heated. Le and collaborators at Southern Illinois University are currently working on a remote-control device that can be waved over the penis, using induction to heat the NiTi a few degrees above body temperature and ratcheting open the alloy prosthesis to expand the penis in length and girth.

There's more at the link.

The possibilities are endless . . .
  • Don't stand too near a bonfire or camp fire, for fear of a reaction that might be difficult to explain (particularly if everyone around the camp fire is male).
  • If you lose the remote control device, would a cigarette lighter help?
  • If your partner is frigid, would that negate the device entirely?
  • "There'll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight" just took on an entirely new meaning!

I can foresee hours of potential comic relief out of this . . .


A momentous aviation anniversary

On December 29, 1939, 77 years ago today, the prototype of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber took to the air for its first flight in San Diego, California.

XB-24 Liberator prototype in flight (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The video below is silent, so don't adjust your speaker volume.  Watch it in full-screen mode for best results.

Wikipedia notes:

At its inception, the B-24 was a modern design featuring a highly efficient shoulder-mounted, high aspect ratio Davis wing. The wing gave the Liberator a high cruise speed, long range and the ability to carry a heavy bomb load. Early RAF Liberators were the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean as a matter of routine. However, the type was difficult to fly and had poor low speed performance. It also had a lower ceiling and was less robust than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. While aircrews tended to prefer the B-17, General Staff favored the B-24, and procured it for a wide variety of roles.

The B-24 was used extensively in World War II. It served in every branch of the American armed forces, as well as several Allied air forces and navies, and saw use in every theater of operations. Along with the B-17, the B-24 was the mainstay of the US strategic bombing campaign in the Western European theater. Due to its range, it proved useful in bombing operations in the Pacific, including the bombing of Japan. Long range anti-submarine Liberators played an instrumental role in closing the Mid-Atlantic Gap in the Battle of the Atlantic. The C-87 transport derivative served as a longer range, higher capacity counterpart to the Douglas C-47 Skytrain.

The B-24 was produced in very large numbers. At nearly 19,000 units, with over 8,000 manufactured by Ford Motor Company, it holds the distinction of being the most produced heavy bomber in history, the most produced multi-engine aircraft in history and the most-produced American military aircraft.

There's more at the link.

The B-24 undertook some of the most difficult and dangerous missions of World War II, including the Ploesti oilfield raid in Romania and the remarkable long-distance raids on Balikpapan in Borneo in 1944 (about which I've written at some length).  It also took on the burden of very-long-range anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic Ocean, closing the so-called 'Mid-Atlantic Gap' in 1943.  Its transport variant, the C-87, played a major role in flying supplies over 'The Hump' between India and China (also covered here in an earlier 'Weekend Wings' article).

There are only two airworthy B-24's still surviving.  That's a pity, given its enormous importance to the US and Allied war effort.


Dr. Thomas Sowell says goodbye

In his final weekly column, Dr. Thomas Sowell has announced his retirement.

Even the best things come to an end. After enjoying a quarter of a century of writing this column for Creators Syndicate, I have decided to stop. Age 86 is well past the usual retirement age, so the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long.

There's more at the link.

Dr. Sowell's many books have entertained me for many years, and provided much food for thought.  I highly recommend them to any inquiring mind.  In particular, I strongly endorse his 'The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy'.  It perfectly explains the present US administration, and the horrified reaction of left-wing progressives to the election of Donald Trump, which is effectively a repudiation of everything they believe.

Vox Day has put up an excellent selection of ten of Dr. Sowell's best quotes from his books and articles.  It's well worth your time to read them, particularly if you don't know his work.

I was particularly struck, in his retirement article, by Dr. Sowell's reminiscences of growing up, and how they compared to his younger contemporaries.

With all the advances of blacks over the years, nothing so brought home to me the social degeneration in black ghettoes like a visit to a Harlem high school some years ago.

When I looked out the window at the park across the street, I mentioned that, as a child, I used to walk my dog in that park. Looks of horror came over the students' faces, at the thought of a kid going into the hell hole which that park had become in their time.

When I have mentioned sleeping out on a fire escape in Harlem during hot summer nights, before most people could afford air-conditioning, young people have looked at me like I was a man from Mars. But blacks and whites alike had been sleeping out on fire escapes in New York since the 19th century. They did not have to contend with gunshots flying around during the night.

I suppose that's like my memories of childhood, which I discussed yesterday in comparing them (favorably) to the cocoon spun around modern children.

Dr. Sowell, sir, your writings will be missed.  May your retirement be happy and contented.  Thank you for many years of inspiration and thought-provoking comment.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Underwater drones - more numerous than I'd thought (and busier, too)

In the wake (you should pardon the expression) of China's seizure of a US hydrographic research drone submarine, and its subsequent return, I've been reading up on the use of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV's) around the world.  It turns out they're a flourishing industry.  Rear-Admiral Tim Gallaudet of the US Navy said recently:

In the wake of multiple news reports about U.S. Navy ocean gliders, there have been numerous questions about these instruments and what they do for the U.S. Navy.

Ocean gliders are autonomous underwater vehicles used to collect oceanographic data in an effort to better understand the ocean. The gliders are made by Teledyne Webb and are sold commercially. The Navy uses the gliders to collect ocean temperature, salinity and depth information, and transmit the unclassified data to Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) for assimilation into NAVOCEANO’s operational ocean models. They are used by scientists and professionals around the world working in academia, the oil and gas industry as well as the military. Gliders have been the workhorses of the operational Naval Oceanography program for nearly two decades.

. . .

The gliders are piloted by personnel within NAVOCEANO’s Glider Operation Center (GOC) 24 hours a day, seven days a week at Stennis Space Center. In the event that the GOC loses contact with the instruments, they remain afloat in the ocean until located and recovered.

. . .

Why does the Navy use gliders? Only 5 percent of the world’s oceans have been explored. These underwater robots allow us to explore more of the ocean, and faster, at a fraction of the cost of a manned submersible or a ship. The information gathered allows us to better predict ocean currents, density, sea states and tides which the U.S. Navy needs to safely and effectively operate all around the world. Once deployed, a glider can persistently sample the ocean for months freeing the ship to perform other functions ... We have approximately 130 of these gliders and they are relatively inexpensive. The U.S. Navy will not only continue to use these technologies to improve our knowledge of the oceans, but we will be significantly increasing our use of gliders over the coming years so that our understanding of the ocean is the best in the world.

There's more at the link.

Of course, the data gathered by these 'gliders' (semi-autonomous UUV's) can be used for civilian or military purposes.  Improved charts of the ocean floor, etc. are useful to every sailor.  However, for military purposes, knowing where the thermoclines are in the world's oceans can be very valuable to help avoid detection (or detect enemy ships), and if one knows where undersea mountains are, one's submarines can avoid running into them, as USS San Francisco did some years ago.

Even more interesting is the wide variety of UUV's currently under development for, or in service with, the world's navies and research laboratories. has exhaustive lists of the various drones, and the efforts of their countries to develop more.  Click over there to select a model from their drop-down lists and read about it in more detail.  I think you'll be surprised at how many there are.  Some are being developed as weapons of war, to detect and disable mines, and potentially enemy submarines as well as the UUV's become more advanced.  The field is progressing fast.  Who knows what may go into service in the next decade?

(And that also explains why China wanted to check out the latest US UUV technology . . . )


An ISIL terrorist cell in Minnesota?

A federal judge thinks one exists in Minneapolis.

In nine hearings over three days before a courtroom packed with the families of the [nine] young men who sought to give their lives to ISIL, [U.S. District Judge Michael] Davis repeatedly underlined a clear message: There is a terrorist cell in Minneapolis and it is still alive today.

Each day, Davis sought to extract acknowledgment from the young men that they were “terrorists,” and left no doubt as to his thoughts on whether they were simply misguided youths.

“Everyone talks about Brussels or Paris having cells,” Davis said one day, then, raising his voice: “We have a cell here in Minneapolis.”

Saying the Minnesota public had “danced around” the issue, Davis described the cell’s size as being between nine to 20, including those sentenced last week and others killed abroad.

Later in the week, he raised eyebrows in the courtroom by telling one defendant that he noted “six to 10” supporters who attended previous hearings and insisted that “some defendants gave them signals.”

“I know they’re out there,” Davis said. “The community knows they’re out there.”

Federal prosecutors seemed to share Davis’ conviction. In an unusual development on Wednesday, they asked that two defendants, Mohamed Farah and Abdirahman Daud, be returned to the courtroom after their hearings were finished.

Prosecutors said both men flashed index fingers pointed upward as they faced the gallery on their way out, an apparent symbol of “tawhid” that symbolizes an Islamic concept of “oneness of God” but is also a popular symbol used by ISIL supporters.

. . .

“It’s on the record. There’s no denying of it,” Davis said. “Your own voice is on those tapes. Your voice here today is admitting to me what you have done. The litany of things that you did, the lies that you told should be published so there is no doubt about what is happening here today.”

The judge later explained his forcefulness — so direct that it surprised some attorneys — before sending Daud to prison: “We have to incapacitate this cell.”

There's more at the link.

I'll be very surprised indeed if there isn't more than one such cell in Minneapolis (given the numbers of Muslim refugees who've been resettled in and near that city), and several others scattered around the country.  Given the number of 'refugees' accepted into the USA without adequate background checks or investigation, thanks to the laxness of the current administration's programs, I suspect there are several hundred active ISIL supporters in this country by now.  It's more than likely that some of them - perhaps a few dozen - are sufficiently motivated to become active domestic terrorists at any moment.  The rest will raise funds, provide safe havens, and do other things in their support.

We live in dangerous times.  Admitting so many untested, unverified refugees has made them even less safe.  We may all pay the price for that.


Doofus Of The Day #945

Today's award goes to a particularly doofidical thief in Marietta, Georgia.

Police in Marietta, Georgia, put up a humorous post on Facebook, addressed to a shoplifter at a pawn shop who apparently still has a lot to learn about the theft game. Like, not leaving your ID. Or fingerprints. Or not doing your dirty work in full view of the cameras.

"Sir, you must have forgot that you gave the clerk your driver's license with ALL of your personal information as well as providing him with your fingerprint when completing the pawn ticket before you stole from him which, by the way was also all on camera," the post reads.

"Please at least try to hide. The judge has already signed the warrant. When you make it this easy it takes all the fun out of chasing bad guys!"

There's more at the link.

The naughty man is now in durance vile.  One wonders how his fellow inmates will react when they learn how easy it was to identify him . . .

(A tip o' the hat to reader J. M. for sending me the link to the story.)


Playgrounds, playtime, philosophy, and our kids

Three recent articles have had me nodding my head in agreement, from personal experience.

The first article, in the New York Times, describes how the 'nanny state' culture and political correctness are reshaping childrens' playgrounds.

Once ubiquitous in the city’s hundreds of public playgrounds, as they were around the country, the seesaws adults remember have largely vanished from the city and much of the nation because of safety concerns and changing tastes ... federal safety guidelines for playgrounds, which were created in 1981, began to limit their use ... Playgrounds that retained old seesaws were exposed to lawsuits.

. . .

“We’re child-proofing childhood,” said Milanee Kapadia, when told that these seesaws were among the last in the city. One of her 4-year-old twins has special needs, and the seesaw, which requires cooperation and coordination, is just the kind of equipment her therapists recommend.

. . .

“To adults, seesaws might look like an accident waiting to happen,” said Lauren Drobnjak, a physical therapist in Cleveland and co-author of the book “Sensory Processing 101.” But “by rapidly moving the child through vertical space,” she said, seesaws provide input to a child’s vestibular — or balance regulation — system “in a way that no other playground equipment can.” And children learn strength and coordination when they hit the ground and push themselves back up.

“A seemingly simple plaything actually provides so many important sensory experiences for kids,” she said.

There's more at the link.

"We're childproofing childhood."  That's a heck of a thing to say . . . but I think it's accurate.  When I was a kid - sub-teen, too - I would walk miles to the railway station to take a train to school, unaccompanied, or ride my bike there.  If I wanted to play in vacant lots, including some overgrown with bushes where discarded bottles and other things lurked in ambush for unwary feet, I was free to do so - and if I cut myself, it was because I didn't take sufficient care.  If you allow your kids to do any of those things today, the chances are pretty good that you'll wind up having to deal with Child Protective Services in one way or another.

The second article discusses how school recesses have become something our kids endure, rather than enjoy.

There is often no trust when it comes to free play for children, creating a highly regulated and controlled recess atmosphere. A recess that is consistently short and very restrictive allows few opportunities for healthy sensory development – leading to potential difficulties with attention, learning, and behavior.

What if we took a totally different approach to recess instead? A therapeutic approach that values the needs of the whole child and views recess as a form of prevention instead of simply time to get “energy out.” What if we let children fully move their bodies during recess time, let them get dirty, and even test out new theories? What would recess look like then?

The closest I found to doing just that was the Swanson School in Auckland, New Zealand. I had heard of its nonconventional, yet successful approach to recess through social media and was instantly intrigued. Since I was already going to be in New Zealand for TimberNook, I decided to meet Swanson’s principal, Bruce McLachlan, in person.

We spent a good hour talking over coffee about his now-famous recess. His recess has gotten international attention, because he did something radical: he got rid of the rules. And guess what? When the rules left, so did their “behavior issues.” He saw more independence, improved creativity, healthy risk-taking, less falling, better coordination, and improved attention in the classroom.

Again, more at the link.

"No trust."  Again, that resonates with me.  My parents trusted me, and our friends trusted their kids, to look after themselves.  We'd all been taught basic safety, and allowed to experience - the hard way - how disregarding that instruction would, indeed, lead to pain and suffering.  We weren't mollycoddled;  we were shown that life can bite back sometimes, and if we were stupid, that would happen more often than not.  Compare that to today's children, who often have no idea where their food comes from or how it reaches their table, and can't understand that Disneyfied, cuddly critters on the TV screen can be a whole lot more dangerous and unpredictable in real life, and you have a recipe for disaster.  Our parents trusted us to use common sense.  Today's parents seem to behave as if common sense didn't exist until one turns 21!

The third article points out that widening childrens' instruction in school has far-reaching effects.

Nine- and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week over the course of a year significantly boosted their math and literacy skills, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant gains, according to a large and well-designed study.

More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another’s thoughts and ideas.

Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported a beneficial impact on students’ confidence and ability to listen to others.

. . .

The beneficial effects of philosophy lasted for two years, with the intervention group continuing to outperform the control group long after the classes had finished. “They had been given new ways of thinking and expressing themselves,”said Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF. “They had been thinking with more logic and more connected ideas.”

More at the link.

Again, on the basis of my own experience, this makes absolute sense to me.  During my primary and high school instruction, activities such as debates were normal activities within each class, not just in the more formal debating society that was a highly encouraged extracurricular activity.  Quizzes on current affairs, history, etc. were common, with each child providing a question, then a respondent being drawn at random to answer it.  Gold stars were awarded for good presentations of work, with special awards if the child was bold and brave enough to present it in front of the whole school in the hall.  Instruction looked at not only what happened, but why it happened, in many different subjects - history, mathematics, science, etc.  We were expected and encouraged to have inquiring minds, and taught to have them if we didn't respond with sufficient initiative.

More specifically, the subject of philosophy helped me a great deal later in life.  I didn't study it at school, but did two years of it as part of my first (part-time) Bachelors degree, including a course in symbolic logic.  This completely transformed my abilities in mathematics, at which I'd never been particularly good.  Suddenly my abilities in that field improved out of all recognition, to the point where I aced a computer programming aptitude test ahead of hundreds of other applicants.  I attribute all that directly to being able to visualize arguments in terms of equations, assigning symbols to premises and conclusions, and diagramming out the relationships between them.  I ascribe my success in the information technology field (including being a [small] company director by the time I reached my early 30's) to those abilities, among others.

The three articles cited above, taken together, point out the unpleasant reality that we're cocooning our kids away from the real world.  We're teaching them in an unrealistic manner about subjects that bear little or no relation to reality.  We're regimenting their lives to such an extent that they're no longer free to be themselves.  We're treating them as 'untrustworthy until proven otherwise', rather than what we should be doing, which is to accept that kids will be kids, and they will make mistakes, and sometimes they'll get hurt in the process.  That's part of life, and has to be accepted as such.  The fault is ours for failing to do so.

I don't know the answer . . . but I suspect it's a good thing I have no kids of my own.  If I did, I'd be encouraging them to do the same 'dangerous' and 'risky' things that I did as a kid - and if CPS tried to stop me, I'd emigrate, taking the kids with me, to a place where they're allowed to be themselves, no matter how risky that might be.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

So Russia DID intervene in our recent Presidential election!

Australia's Daily Telegraph has the scoop.

Secret documents recently discovered in a bin behind a Kremlin-district 24-hour cabbage and tobacco store reveal for the first time the devious extent of Russian interference. These plans were decades in the making.

Read on, as never-before-seen communiques between Russian agents Sergei Potrov and Dimitri Bienko outline the wicked plot – beginning in 1947, on the day of Hillary Clinton’s birth:

Dearest Dimitri

I am pleased to report that phase one of Operation Cankles is total success! Soviet implantation of stupid American woman resulted in birth today of hefty girl-child destined to be unelectable candidate 70 years from now.

Child is basically just ankles and head, similar to sturdy and hard-working female stock from adored Ilmensky Mountains. In decadent America, nobody will ever vote for such a noble being.

Yours in Soviet solidarity,


. . .

Even tectonic global changes could not sway Agents Potrov and Bienko from their cause:

Dearest Sergei,

Alas, our beloved Soviet Union is no more. Gorbachev has ruined everything. Please do not give up on Operation Cankles. It may prove to be the final major accomplishment of our great land and heroic peoples.

In other news, our budget has been slightly trimmed. Suggest you monitor Hillary from American streets, where lucrative sign-holding job will provide cover and help pay rent.

Yours in Glasnost,


There's more at the link.

Ah, satire . . . where would we be without it?


Paris, at high speed, in a single take

Here's a fascinating short film from 1976 titled "C'était un rendez-vous", by French director Claude LeLouch.  It was shot in a single take, without repeats or splicing in other segments.  Wikipedia tells us:

The film shows an eight-minute drive through Paris in the early hours of an August Sunday morning (05:30hrs) -- August, when all Paris is in vacation --, accompanied by sounds of a high-revving engine, gear changes and squealing tyres. It starts in a tunnel of the Paris Périphérique at Porte Dauphine, with an on-board view from an unseen car exiting up on a slip road to Avenue Foch. Well-known landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, Opéra Garnier, and Place de la Concorde with its obelisk are passed, as well as the Champs-Élysées. Pedestrians are passed, pigeons sitting on the streets are scattered, red lights are ignored, one-way streets are driven up the wrong way, centre lines are crossed, the car drives on the pavement to avoid a rubbish lorry. The car is never seen as the camera seems to be attached below the front bumper (judging from the relative positions of other cars, the visible headlight beam and the final shot when the car is parked in front of a kerb on Montmartre, with the famous Sacré-Cœur Basilica behind, and out of shot). Here, the driver gets out and embraces a young blonde woman as bells ring in the background, with the famous backdrop of Paris.

Shot in a single take, it is an example of cinéma-vérité. The length of the film was limited by the short capacity of the 1000 foot 35mm film reel, and filmed from a (supposedly) gyro-stabilised camera mounted on the bumper of a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9.

There's more at the link.

Forty years after it was made, it's still a powerful piece of cinema.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode for best results.

I'm glad I didn't have to drive that for real!


Doofus Of The Day #944

Today's award goes jointly and severally to everyone who shoved various and sundry objects into body orifices during 2016.  Adequate Man took the time and trouble to compile a list, based on emergency room reports.  Here are a few of the items (and orifices) mentionable in polite company.

  • Beetle
  • Gasoline
  • Dog's paw
  • Pebble from the fish tank
  • "Stuck a raisin up his right nostril, brother tried to remove with tweezers but patient moved"
  • Plastic snake
  • "Accidentally swallowed a pill bottle when taking his medication"
  • "Playing with a blow dart gun, blew the pin out, it hit the wall, flew back into patient's throat and he swallowed it"
  • "Held down in art class, classmate shoved sequins down throat"

There are many more at the link, both objects and orifices, some of which are emphatically not safe for work or children.  Read at your own risk.

I can't help thinking that some of the excuses offered are so creative, the patients deserved not only treatment, but also an award for their creative talent and acting abilities!


So much for diamonds

I was amused to read that the diamond industry is getting its knickers in a knot over Leonardo DiCaprio once more.

A decade after his film 'Blood Diamond' shone a light on the dark underbelly of the diamond industry, Leonardo DiCaprio is ruffling feathers again.

The Hollywood star has annoyed industry leaders by promoting lab-produced gems.

He has invested in the US start-up Diamond Foundry, which says it can produce pure, nine-carat gems much faster than it takes to mine them.

At the Natural Resources Forum last month, Stuart Brown, chief executive of AIM-listed Firestone Diamonds, said synthetics threaten firms that mine for gems. He added: ‘Our first challenge is to work together to make sure we can counter the threat of manufactured diamonds, as it’s not going away, and really sing the praises of the natural mining industry and how much good it does in countries like Botswana.’

There's more at the link.

Don't believe a word of the hype from the diamond industry about how 'natural' gems are somehow 'better' than synthetic gems.  They're lying - and, what's more, they've been living a lie for generations.  You see, there are parts of the world where diamonds are common or garden items.  If it were allowed (it's not), I could take you for a walk in the so-called Sperrgebiet - 'Forbidden Area' - in Namibia, and literally pick up diamonds off the sand as we walk.  I know.  I've done it on an escorted tour, near Oranjemund.  (Of course, the area has long been stripped of most of its best diamonds, at enormous profit to the local diamond industry but giving virtually nothing back to the local population or the country.  [You can watch the first part of a documentary about it here, with links to the rest on that page.]  So much for 'how much good it does in countries like Botswana' - the industry only 'does good' when it can't get away with robbing them blind!  Again, I know.  I've seen it at first hand.  The movie 'Blood Diamond' was by no means all Hollywood hype.  A lot of it was true.)

The thing is, diamonds are common in nature.

Diamonds are the hardest material found on earth. Other than that, they hold no unique distinctions.  All gem grade materials are rare, composing just a tiny fraction of the earth. However, among gems, diamonds are actually the most common. If you doubt this ask yourself; “How many women do you know that do not own at least one diamond?” Now ask the same question about other gems.

While we are still learning about the interior of the earth, current information shows that diamonds are likely the most common gem in nature.

Outside the earth, diamonds are also common. A recent discovery shows that some stars collapse on themselves, creating giant diamond crystals. In the constellation Centaurus,  there lies a white dwarf, that has crystallized into a diamond 2,500 miles in diameter and weighing 10 billion, trillion, trillion carats.

Again, more at the link.

Being so common, diamonds don't deserve the inflated prices asked for them by jewelers around the world.  That's largely the creation of De Beers, the mining company behind the slogan and campaign, 'A Diamond Is Forever'.  (You can read how that happened here.  There's no reality behind it - just advertising and the 'soft sell'.)  For many years, De Beers formed and controlled a very successful monopoly alliance of suppliers, which held back diamonds from the market, creating an artificial shortage and raising their price.  To this day, it tries to prevent new supplies from new producers from 'flooding' the market and driving down prices to more realistic levels.

Natural diamonds were created by precisely the same forces as modern synthetic diamonds.  It's just that the former underwent that transformation in nature, whereas the latter undergo it in the laboratory.  Put two identical gems next to one another, one natural and the other synthetic, and you probably won't be able to tell them apart unless you examine them microscopically.  (Indeed, the synthetic gem may well be 'superior' to the natural one, in that it'll probably contain fewer impurities.)

There is simply no real-world reason, apart from advertising and sentiment, to pay exorbitant prices for gem diamonds.  They can be created in the laboratory for a fraction of the price demanded for natural diamonds, and I see no reason why that shouldn't become commonplace.  I hope more laboratories decide to offer such products to the public at more realistic prices.  That can only be good for all consumers.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Turkey has a tiger by the tail in Syria

I've been watching Turkish intervention in the Syrian civil war with considerable interest.  In many ways, Turkey is trapped there.  It must intervene to prevent its own Kurdish rebel minority growing stronger, through the latter's alliance with the Kurdish militia in Syria and Iraq;  yet, by attacking Turkish Kurds in Syria, it exposes itself to attack from all the other militias and terrorist groups in the area.  It also must deal with significant Russian and Iranian intervention in Syria, which is often at odds with what Turkey wants to achieve - and causes further complications within Turkey itself.

Austin Bay wrote a very interesting article recently about the situation in Syria.  Here are some extracts bearing on Turkey's involvement.

While the Turks back a peace deal with the Assads they have different goals in Syria. Since late August Turkish forces have taken control of over 2,000 square kilometers of Syrian territory along the Turkish border. The Turks expect to complete their ground operation in Syria by mid-2017. So far about 30 of the thousand or so Turkish troops in Syria have died in operations that have left over a thousand ISIL men dead or captured. While the official goal of the Turks is to join in the international effort to destroy ISIL they are mainly in Syria to limit the presence of Syrian Kurdish rebels bear the Turkish border. Thus the Turks believed their forces have killed about 300 Kurdish rebels in Syria, most of the, members of the Turkish PKK or the similar Syrian YPG. Currently the main Turkish effort is against the ISLI held town of al Bab, which is east of Aleppo and near the Turkish border. Turkey indicates that they might join the advance on Raqqa after al Bab is taken, but only if the Americans get the Kurds to withdraw from the force now advancing on Raqqa. ISIL is taking a beating in al Bab and are expected to lose control of the town by the end of the month.

Syrian Kurds have kept the border areas they control in northwestern Syria free of ISIL and other Islamic terrorist activity but Turkey and Iran remain largely hostile to some of the Kurdish militias in Syria. That’s because the most active Kurdish rebels have belonged to the PYD (a Syrian Kurd separatist group allied with Turkish Kurdish PKK separatists) and their military forces (the YPG). There are also some Iranian Kurds who came to Syria and joined the YPG and other Syrian Kurd rebel groups. The Turks believe that the new American government, that takes over on January 20th might be more flexible.

Since Turkish troops entered Syria in August the Turks have carried out some key tasks that get little media attention. The most obvious of these is increased border security with Syria and Iraq. Since August Turkey has built 89 new military outposts along the Syrian and Iraqi border. Most of those new outposts (and all of the 157 new ones in 2017) were along the 900 kilometers long Syrian frontier. At the same time the Turks are building a concrete wall along 91 percent of the Syrian border and that is about 40 percent done. Since August Turkish forces have seized control of all the roads crossing the border and instated strict border controls that have temporarily put Turkish smugglers out of business, at least those not willing to work closely with the Turkish troops ... By early 2016 the Turks agreed that ISIL must be shut down whatever the cost. The Turkish efforts closed the last useful supply line for ISIL. All the other Syrian borders (with Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Iraq) are now controlled by governments who are extremely hostile to ISIL. This denies ISIL a way to get new recruits in and people (like families of senior ISIL members and members being sent abroad to help with recruiting, fund raising and planning overseas attacks) out.

. . .

[The Turkish government] has been dominated since 2000 by Islamic parties that depend on Turkish Sunnis (80 percent of the population) to stay in power. Turks have long seen themselves as foes of Shia Iran so the atrocities of Iran backed Shia militias in Syria are seen as another attack on Turkey. This Sunni Turkish nationalism also played a role in the recent assassination of the Russian ambassador by an off-duty Sunni policeman protesting the suffering of Syrian Sunnis in Aleppo. To further inflame Turkish popular anger Russia and Iran recently revealed that once the civil war is over and the Assads are back in charge Iran will be allowed to share with Russia the Syrian naval base at Tartus.

. . .

The Turks are, on paper, the strongest military force in [eastern Syria]. But all Syrians, both the Assad government and the rebels oppose the Turkish intervention. The Turks are mainly doing this because of domestic politics in Turkey. The Kurdish separatists in Turkey (the PKK) are again openly fighting the government and often use bases in Syria. While the Kurds of northern Iraq will cooperate with the Turks in controlling the PKK, some of the Syrian Kurds (the YPG) have worked closely with the PKK before and the Turks do not trust them to behave like the Iraqi Kurds. Meanwhile Turkey is willing to work with Kurdish militias not associated with the YPG.

There's more at the link.  Intricate, involved, but very interesting reading from a geostrategic point of view.


Those seeking a 'high' will use any excuse . . .

I'm fed up with articles trying to claim that this, or that, or the other hallucinogenic agent, or narcotic, or whatever, has beneficial properties unrelated to its physiological effects.  If anyone claims that in your hearing, tell them from me that they're talking nonsense, would you, please?  A drug is a drug is a drug.  It's not a gateway to godliness!

The latest trend is towards a South American hallucinogenic drug.

Thousands are flocking to sample the elixir and swear by its therapeutic properties, despite warnings from scientists and users that ayahuasca can be dangerous and even prove fatal, especially when mixed with other drugs.

Ayahuasca's proponents, who include celebrities such as Sting, Paul Simon, Tori Amos and Lindsey Lohan, say the plant offers a spiritual experience like no other. Many also say it has allowed them to overcome traumas that no other conventional therapy can tackle.

There's more at the link.

There is no such thing as a 'spiritual experience' from a drug.  It may provide the hallucination that one is having such an experience, but that's all it is - a fake.  It's not real.  As soon as the drug wears off, so does the 'spiritual experience';  and though one may recall it with pleasure, it's no more than a chimera.  It's like alcohol, which can make even unattractive people look highly desirable the more one drinks.  When one wakes up next morning, reality is back . . . sometimes with a vengeance!

Please don't get caught in the trap of thinking that drugs do anything other than alter the chemical balance of your mind and body.  They're not a gateway to God, or a path to the spiritual, or anything of the kind.  They're just drugs.  They offer only a false 'experience' that's transient and never lasts - and they will eventually kill you, one way or another, if you abuse them long enough and often enough.  I've seen that reality far too often to be in any doubt about it at all.


Bad ammunition warning

Friend, blogger and photographer Oleg Volk (who also does the covers for my books) has put out a very valuable video warning of the dangers of bad ammunition.  You'll find the details on his blog.  I highly recommend clicking over there and watching the video.  It's worth your time.

I second his warning enthusiastically.  I've often been surprised by people who never test the ammunition they plan to rely on for their defense, if worse comes to worst.  That can be as dangerous as having no ammunition at all.  To illustrate, here are a few examples:
  • Feeding problems have been reported with the US Army's new M855A1 service round. has an informative thread about it, with pictures of how the round feeds through various magazines.
  • Some guns run fine with ammunition from one manufacturer, but not with ammo from another.  Here's just one example.  Another, from my own experience:  I have several boxes of Cor-Bon 9mm. 115gr. JHP +P ammunition (their original production rounds).  It feeds and functions just fine through my Glock and Ruger pistols;  but when a friend tried a box through a CZ pistol, he reported misfeed after misfeed.
  • For legal liability reasons, I can't name it here:  but I know of several law enforcement agencies that have stopped buying ammo from one major manufacturer because of what they describe as unacceptable variation in the velocity of its rounds.  They've reported handgun rounds varying as much as 150 feet per second from each other, indicating inconsistent propellant loadings.  This affects accuracy and terminal performance.  They've decided (and I agree with them) that this is unacceptable in terms of officer safety, so they're now buying from other manufacturers.  (I have older stocks of the ammunition they now distrust, bought some years ago, and they appear to perform as advertised;  but I won't be buying any newer-production ammo from that company, either.)  Interestingly, that same company's .22LR ammunition - previously well regarded - is now also gaining a reputation as a poor performer in terms of reliability.  Perhaps they need to take a good, hard look at their production facilities and practices . . .

Massad Ayoob and others have long recommended a simple test:  fire 200 rounds of your chosen defensive ammunition, through your chosen defensive handgun, using the magazines or reloading tools (e.g. speedloaders, etc.) that you're actually going to use to defend yourself, without a single malfunction, before you trust that combination with your life.  I wholeheartedly endorse that test, and use it myself.  (For guns that don't rely on semi-automatic function, such as revolvers or pump-action shotguns, I cut the round count down to 100.)

If you haven't performed that test with your defensive firearm(s) yet, I strongly recommend that you do so as quickly as possible.  You might be surprised by the results . . . perhaps unpleasantly.  If your gun can't do 200 trouble-free rounds with your chosen ammunition, try a different brand of ammunition.  If it can't do 200 trouble-free rounds with two or more different brands of ammunition, get a better gun!


Christmas follies: a wrap-up

A few things caught my eye in the run-up to Christmas, and on the day itself.

Dr. Grumpy finds an (almost) irresistible potato chip offer - five (yes, count 'em, FIVE) whole potato chips, in exotic flavors such as truffle seaweed and Matsutake mushrooms, all for just $56!

The headline of Christmas Day comes from England:  'Police find cannabis plant in Cheltenham home disguised as Christmas Tree covered in tinsel and baubles'.

The irrepressibly scientific XKCD brings us Christmas 2016 in its own unique fashion:

And finally, sealions at the Otaru Aquarium in Japan learn to play a Christmas carol.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Doofus Of The Day #943 - Christmas edition

Today's special seasonal award goes to a church in Sri Lanka that might want to check its source material a bit more carefully.

ONE of the largest Christmas Carol services in Sri Lanka has accidentally printed the lyrics to late rapper Tupac Shakur’s vitriolic banger, Hail Mary, instead of the traditional Catholic prayer.

According to Pedestrian TV, the mishap occurred during a carol service at Colombo’s Nelum Pokuna, which was attended by thousands of people.

The crowd opened their programmes to find possibly the world’s first recorded incident of the word “p*ssy” appearing in a Christmas service, along with expletives every second line.

There's more at the link.  A tip o' the hat to Australian reader Snoggeramus for forwarding it.

I can't help wondering if that was a genuine mistake, or whether some mischievous rap-music-loving clerk in the church office decided to . . . er . . . err, if you know what I mean.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

A happy, holy and blessed Christmas to all my readers

The world can often seem a very dark place;  yet, in the midst of the darkness, even the smallest light can be seen for a very long way.  It draws people.  It changes them.  It renews them.

Christmas is that sort of time for me.  The Light is coming into the world.  Let us receive it - Him - with gladness, and joy, and gratitude.

I wrote back in 2008 about 'The night Christmas became real' - at least, real for me.  I don't think I can top that, so I'll simply refer you to it once more.

May each of you have a happy, holy and blessed Christmas, whether you believe in God or not.  May you be blessed regardless.


In case you missed it . . .

. . . the world's worst rendition of 'O Holy Night' has been circulating since it was first arranged, and later performed, by Steve Mauldin in 1990.  A tip o' the hat to the lovely Phlegmmy for introducing me to it . . . I think!  I'm not sure when this particular version was recorded, but whenever it was, it must have been a sad day in the studio.

Ye Gods and little fishes . . .


A new twist on electronic warfare

It seems Russia has found a new use for Android malware.

A hacking group linked to the Russian government and high-profile cyber attacks against Democrats during the U.S. presidential election likely used a malware implant on Android devices to track and target Ukrainian artillery units from late 2014 through 2016, according to a new report released Thursday.

The malware was able to retrieve communications and some locational data from infected devices, intelligence that would have likely been used to strike against the artillery in support of pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, the report from cyber security firm CrowdStrike found.

. . .

The hacking group, known commonly as Fancy Bear or APT 28, is believed by U.S. intelligence officials to work primarily on behalf of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.

. . .

The implant leveraged a legitimate Android application developed by a Ukrainian artillery officer to process targeting data more quickly, CrowdStrike said.

Its deployment "extends Russian cyber capabilities to the front lines of the battlefield", the report said, and "could have facilitated anticipatory awareness of Ukrainian artillery force troop movement, thus providing Russian forces with useful strategic planning information".

There's more at the link.

It's interesting that the hackers targeted a Ukrainian military app, and were able to infect its download source.  The US military uses many specially developed apps, so I'm sure it's taking precautions against them being hacked in the same way.  This report will probably spur renewed efforts in that direction . . . and efforts to hack apps in the hands of potential and actual enemies as well.


The deliberate, in-your-face lies of the progressive news media

In the runup to the recent Presidential election, I was astonished by how blatant, how uncaring the bias of the news media had become.  They no longer even bothered to hide it.  That's continued since the election.  It's as if the journalists and editors concerned have decided that facts and truth are no longer important - only the 'spin' they put upon reality has any meaning.

Two recent articles reinforced this impression.  First, late last month, Rolling Stone ran an anti-gun hit piece titled 'All-American Killer: How the AR-15 Became Mass Shooters' Weapon of Choice'.  The fact is, however, that the AR-15 is not a weapon of choice in almost all mass shootings.  Most involve handguns;  some involve other long guns;  but seldom is an AR-15 involved.  Rolling Stone cites only four recent shootings where it was used.  The headline takes isolated incidents and fabricates a narrative around them.  In other words, it's a deliberate, eye-catching lie.

Next, last weekend the Guardian ran a so-called exposé of Gab, a new social media platform (of which I'm a member).  Its headline:  'Inside the hate-filled echo chamber of racism and conspiracy theories'.  I'm on Gab literally every day.  I have yet to see more than a couple of isolated posts by members with 'racist' or 'conspiracy theory' attitudes, compared to thousands by others who are as normal as you or I.  I'm sure there are more of them, and that they gravitate to each other's home pages on Gab, or friend each other, or follow each other's posts:  but if you choose to avoid such nonsense, you don't even notice it.  Gab is no better or worse than Twitter or any other social media host platform in that regard.  By taking the nastiness of such individuals and seeking to paint the entire platform in such hues, the headline is yet another deliberate lie.

I must confess, I truly don't understand such behavior.  In normal life, I seldom run across people who are determined to warp and twist anything into lies and negativity.  It's as if these journalists, editors and outlets live with malice aforethought towards everything and everybody.  In my training (which has been extensive), I was taught to regard such attitudes and conduct as psychopathic . . . but I'm sure the people involved in such 'journalism' would reject that label indignantly.  So what is it?  What makes otherwise 'normal' people into willing liars, looking for the worst in everything and everyone and fabricating it when they can't find enough to satisfy them?

I do have an answer from my faith, of course.  We call that 'evil'.  Perhaps C. S. Lewis had it right in The Screwtape Letters:

We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.

That probably describes the reports above, and those who wrote them, I suspect.