Sunday, January 31, 2016

Unloaded and exhausted

With the help of a couple of hired hands, we unloaded the truck this morning.  The garage is full of boxes, but they'll be sorted into their places in the house at our leisure.  The living-room's stuffed with empty bookcases and boxes of books (39 of them), and the cat tree has been set up in front of a south-facing window (outside which we'll probably set a bird feeder, to give the kitten some live entertainment).  The mattress is regaining its shape on the floor, and we'll reassemble the base on Tuesday.

At Old NFO's suggestion, Miss D. and I will take a holiday tomorrow.  After all the hassle of final packing, loading the truck and driving down, we're really tired.  A good rest before starting to settle into our new home sounds like just what the doctor ordered.  We'll continue to use NFO's guest room for the nonce.

The house looks lovely.  Our friends (Lawdog, Phlegmmy, NFO and a couple of their friends whom I expect will soon be ours as well) did a superb job installing our new laminate flooring, which looks even better than we expected.  My 'man-cave' has been nicely converted from its old status as a badly partitioned, smelly former outside porch, and will be a very comfortable office for me when I finish setting it up.  All in all, I think we'll be happy in our new home.

I'll post once or twice tomorrow, and get back to a more regular blogging schedule after our Internet service has been installed (which is scheduled for tomorrow sometime).


Made it to Texas

Miss D. and I are safely in Texas, staying with Old NFO for a couple of nights while we offload our goods into our new home and give our bed a chance to regain its shape.  (It has a memory foam mattress, which had to be folded double to fit into the moving truck.  That won't hurt it, but it needs a couple of days to 'remember' its proper form and regain its shape.)

I mean no insult to U-haul and similar companies when I say that, fully loaded and towing a trailer, their big rental trucks have all the acceleration and handling qualities of a tranquilized yak!  I was going to travel down I-30 through Arkansas, then join US 82 to drive through upper Texas to our destination;  but after experiencing the very slow, laborious acceleration of the loaded truck, I decided to stay with I-40 through Arkansas and Oklahoma, then cut down I-44 to Texas.  That allowed the truck to get up to cruising speed and stay there, except on steeper hills where it labored up them and then slowly regained velocity.  If I'd had to slow down to pass through all those small North Texas towns with their speed limits, then re-accelerate to cruising speed, and repeatedly change pace to accommodate traffic on the regional road, I think I'd have gone quietly nuts.  These trucks hold a lot, and they're very useful, but sporty they ain't . . .

Interestingly, Google Maps showed the I-40/I-44 route as being about fifty miles further in distance than the I-30/US-82 alternative, but only seven minutes longer in time, because of the higher average speed on the all-Interstate option.  Having now used both, I think the Interstate option is better for fast travel, but the regional road is more interesting in terms of scenery.  (The shops in towns along US-82 are also worth a visit.  German butcheries with their specialty meats . . . mmmmmm!)

By the time we got in last night, I was utterly exhausted.  Miss D. and I haven't even visited our new home yet, to see how it looks after the alterations.  We collapsed into bed, and will see the house early on Sunday morning when we go there to unload the truck.  Most of our stuff will go into the garage, to be moved into the house as we get ourselves organized.  Having just put in a new laminate floor (see NFO's take on that here), and having had the place professionally cleaned to remove the construction dirt and debris, I'd rather not track a lot of new dust and dirt into it.  We'll do things slowly and steadily, by stages.

Kili the cat is having a wonderful time exploring Old NFO's home.  He's not a 'cat person', but is nobly putting up with the burden of having a curious kitty exploring every nook and cranny he's got (and a few he didn't know he had until she arrived!)  I'm very pleased with her curiosity and inquisitiveness.  I've known cats who are terrified of change.  They curl up into a ball and hide for a few days until summoning up the courage to come out of their hiding-place and explore their new surroundings.  Not this cat.  She's on top of everything right from the start, checking it out.  She's in no doubt that if we're both here, the place must by definition be secure, so she can indulge her curiosity.  It's a happy feeling to see her so actively exploring.  She's having fun.  (She also indulges herself in walking all over us as we sleep, whenever she feels the need for reassurance in her new surroundings.  I was lying awake in bed a short while ago, my semi-crippled spine having woken me [as it often does] after only a few hours' rest, when I found her climbing up my legs and across my torso to rub her head against my chin and demand scritches.  She's sitting by my chair as I type these words, head cocked to one side, considering whether to jump onto my lap and disrupt proceedings.)

I'll return to bed now, and try to get some more sleep.  I'll try to put up another post on Sunday evening after we unpack the truck.


(P.S.:  To my delight, Old NFO shares my appreciation for English-style ginger beer.  He put a couple of cans of Goslings in the fridge for me, and I'm sipping on one as I type these words.  He surely knows how to make his friends feel at home!)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Made it to Forrest City, Arkansas

Due to a variety of circumstances, we got away from Nashville much later than we'd have liked.  The process was complicated by one of that city's infamous traffic jams.  I ended up getting off I-40, and circling around on surface streets until I hit Briley Parkway, a ring road running north of the city.  I took it around the top of Nashville and back down the other side to rejoin I-40 well past the traffic snarlup.  From there it was pretty straightforward, albeit a lot slower in the U-haul truck than I'd do in our car.

We're overnighting in Forrest City, Arkansas, in a not very comfortable but pet-friendly hotel.  Our cat has decided to forgive us for kidnapping her, and is exploring the room with her ears and tail held high, sniffing at everything and trying to jump on every available surface.  As far as I'm concerned, that's a good sign - she's not cowering in fear, but actively checking out her new environment.  I like that in a cat.

Tomorrow morning we'll hit the road for Texas once more.  It'll take me at least ten hours, perhaps longer including stops, to get this overloaded truck and trailer to our destination, but that's OK.  Friends are waiting for us, as is our new home.  By Sunday night we hope, God willing, to be sleeping in our new bedroom, in our old bed.  Keep your fingers crossed for us.


We're on our way

Miss D. and I are on the road, heading for our new home in Texas.  God willing and traffic permitting, we'll get there late on Saturday.  Please keep us in your prayers for traveling safety.

I'll try to post something from the road, but I'm not sure whether that will be possible.  Look for an update late on Saturday, or on Sunday.


The death of LaVoy Finicum: what does the video tell us?

Aerial surveillance video has been released of the traffic stop that resulted in the death of LaVoy Finicum and the arrest of several other activists.  If you haven't yet seen it, here's a link.

I have several problems with the release of this video footage and the reactions to it I've so far seen.

  1. Why was only aerial footage released?  Surely the vehicles and FBI agents involved in the traffic stop had dash- and body cameras running?  If they didn't, it was the height of irresponsibility by the authorities, who must undoubtedly have known that such a traffic stop would be scrutinized to a fare-thee-well by both supporters and opponents of the principals involved.  To release only long-distance footage that doesn't show the action 'up close and personal' is almost worse than releasing no footage at all.  It leaves a great deal open to speculation and personal interpretation.
  2. Many of the reactions I've so far seen to the video have been partisan:  "My mind's made up, don't confuse me with the facts!"  I've seen some claims that Mr. Finicum was reaching for his waistband or pocket, in what appeared to be an attempt to get his hands on a gun, before he was shot.  Others have claimed that he was shot by the FBI, and was reaching for the site of the injury in a natural, instinctive 'pain reaction' when he was shot again and killed.  It's simply not possible to tell the facts of the matter from so distant a video clip.  I can see no sign on the video that anyone fired a shot before Mr. Finicum reached for his waist.  On the other hand, it isn't possible to say that with any certainty from such a remote perspective.
  3. The law enforcement personnel involved in the stop would undoubtedly have been on edge, expecting violent resistance.  After all, there are several statements on record from Mr. Finicum and others in the vehicle to the effect that they would resist arrest, including explicit threats to use violence against law enforcement officers.  Furthermore, the activists' vehicle almost runs down an officer as it plows off the road into a snowbank.  I accept that the driver may not have had time to avoid him - it looks as if the officer runs forward, almost into the vehicle's path - but that wouldn't prevent officers on the scene, in the heat of the moment, from interpreting it as a deliberate act.  In such a high-stress environment, it may be that an officer opened fire prematurely.  On the other hand, it's equally possible that Mr. Finicum did reach for his waistband before any shots were fired.  If he did, given his publicly stated intention to resist arrest, then even if he didn't visibly have his hand on a gun, the response from law enforcement officers was probably inevitable.

I've already had e-mails accusing me of being a 'traitor to freedom' and other such pleasantries because I haven't stated explicitly on my blog that Mr. Finicum was shot first, before he reached for his waist.  Well, I'm sorry, but I can't tell that from the evidence and video footage thus far releasedAs I said earlier, 'eyewitness testimony' so far available in the public domain is from partisan sources whose objectivity is at least suspect.  On the basis of the evidence currently available, such as it is, I don't think anyone can say for sure what caused Mr. Finicum's death.  However, people are interpreting what they see in the light of their preconceptions.  They've already made up their minds.  Here's one example from Wirecutter's blog.

He [Mr. Finicum] exited the vehicle with his arms up….. was floundering in the deep snow causing his arms (hands) to flail around for balance. He WAS walking towards the agent next to the road rapidly and that agent shot him in a panic causing Finicum to reach to the wound site. At that point the second agent who was hiding in the woods approached from behin[d] and shot him in the back at “point blank” range. A clear case of Murder! The agent who shot him from behind had absolutely no knowledge about where Finicum’s hands were since he could not see them. That second agent also fired his long gun without justification……….. Had Finicum wanted to go down fighting, he would have exited the vehicle with his pistol drawn and shooting aggressively. Shame…Shame!!!

I don't know how that particular commenter came to such definitive conclusions on the basis of a single, long-distance video clip.  None of us were there.  We haven't seen close-up video and audio recordings of the events.  We simply can't tell.  Nevertheless, I doubt that such evidence might change the commenter's mind.  He's already convinced.

I certainly want the truth of this matter to come out.  I'm profoundly disturbed by the 'Big Brother' state, verging on authoritarianism, that appears to be evolving in this country.  I think that in many cases the actions of law enforcement agencies and officers have amounted to the deliberate disregard of constitutional rights and the violation of basic individual freedoms.  However, I've also served in a law enforcement function, and I'm fully aware that without law enforcement, our rights and freedoms would be under grave threat from criminals and others who believe that "might makes right".  It's a delicate balancing act at the best of times.  At present, on the basis of the evidence available to me, I believe the balance is skewed too far towards official overreach.  That perspective should be clear to anyone who's read this blog for any length of time.

Whether or not such overreach was the case in this particular incident is not yet clear.  Until it is, I continue to maintain that we should not rush to judgment, but rather encourage the authorities to release more evidence and clarify the situation.  If we all put pressure on our elected local, regional and national representatives to do their jobs and hold accountable the agencies for which they're legislatively responsible, I think that can be made to happen;  so let's get to it.  If it turns out to be a case of overreach, there are judicial and other lawful means available to ensure that justice is done.  Let's use them, rather than try to provoke or promote a 'lynch mob' mentality.  The latter will merely ensure that everybody loses . . . and so will freedom itself.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

End of a loooooong day

Well, the truck's loaded, all except for a few things (particularly our bed, in which we'll spend a last night here before loading it).  U-haul did us proud, and provided a brand-new Ford 26' truck with less than 3,000 miles on the clock.  It's a lot more comfortable than other trucks I've hired from them, and from other companies in the field. 

Tomorrow morning we'll do a quick donation run to Goodwill with a few items we simply can't fit into the truck, then head back to U-haul to connect a car trailer to the rent-a-truck and load Miss D.'s vehicle onto it.  After that, we'll saddle up and hit the road.  Tomorrow night will probably be spent somewhere in Arkansas, and on Saturday evening we hope to be in Texas.  We'll probably overnight with Old NFO before unloading our stuff into our new home on Sunday.

It was an exhausting day.  I'm very glad we hired a couple of experienced movers from a local company to pack the truck for us.  They managed to get more into it than I would have believed possible, and justified the expense many times over.  Miss D. and I could never have been as efficient.  Experience tells, every time.  However, this may be the last time we do most of the moving work ourselves (i.e. the packing and other preparations).  Since both of us are partly disabled, it's taken a heavy toll of our strength.  If my books continue to sell well, I'll have to save enough money to pay someone else to do all that for us next time, for the sake of our backs and our sanity (not to mention my advancing years).

We're both utterly exhausted now.  Time for a quick shower, then we'll hit the sack.  Last-minute preparations tomorrow morning, then it's hi-ho for the Lone Star State!


Time to load the truck

Miss D. and I have done as much packing and preparation for our move as we can.  It's not finished yet;  she and I are both partly disabled due to previous injuries, so we simply haven't been able to accomplish as much as we'd have liked to, but we've done our best.  Thankfully, all the most important stuff is out of the way.  What's left can be put to one side until we've loaded everything that's ready to go.  The rest won't take more than a few hours to break down, pack up and slide into the truck;  and we have enough dollies, hand trucks and other moving equipment to make it relatively easy.  We'll finish the last bits and pieces tonight and tomorrow morning before we hit the road.

A good friend and his wife came around last night to help us disassemble the refrigerator (it's a big unit, so the doors and some other bits and pieces have to come off to allow it to fit through standard doorways).  We'll move it disassembled, and clean and reassemble it when we reach our new home.  We may have to ask for his help again tonight to deal with a couple of last-minute issues, but he's the kind of guy we can rely on in fair weather or foul - the very best kind of friend to have!

I've just realized we still haven't completed all the termination-of-service and change-of-address formalities with some of the companies whose services we use.  (Sigh . . . who was it said that the job isn't over until the paperwork is done?)  I'll ask Miss D. to tackle that this morning, while I get the moving truck and prepare other things for loading.  We've hired a couple of helpers, who'll be here at one, so the afternoon will be a busy one.  By this evening I hope to have time to catch my breath - long enough to put up another blog post, at any rate, and probably take a painkiller, because my back will be screaming at me by then.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.  It's going to be a long, busy day.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Oregon standoff: Let's not jump to conclusions

Sadly, the activist occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon turned deadly last night, with one of the occupiers killed and one injured during a law enforcement traffic stop that resulted in the arrest of the leaders of the group.  Of course, there were immediate claims from 'eye-witnesses' that the authorities had 'murdered' the dead man by shooting him while his hands were up and he was trying to surrender.  Unfortunately, those 'eye-witnesses' were themselves members or supporters of the activist group.  That automatically means that their comments alone, unsupported by any hard evidence, cannot be accepted prima facie as unbiased or objective.  They may be true;  they may not.  We simply don't know for sure.

Inevitably, in high-profile, high-pressure, emotionally charged situations like this, there will be attempts made to manipulate facts, events and perceptions.  This is true of both sides.  The 'official' line will be that they acted against 'lawbreakers' and 'scofflaws'.  The activist line is that they acted against 'jackbooted thugs' or 'unconstitutional overreach by government', or something of the kind.  Both sides' declarations must be taken with a substantial pinch of salt.  After the events at Ruby Ridge and Waco, one certainly can't unreservedly accept the Federal government's explanations without solid confirmatory evidence (such as, for example, that provided by dash or body cameras);  and given that the Hammond family in Oregon have publicly stated that they did not ask the activists to become involved in their case, and the latter do not speak for them, we certainly can't accept the activists' perspective as Gospel truth either.  As far as the principals of the original problem are concerned, they're unwanted intruders, seeking to turn an unrelated matter into publicity for their cause.

At this time, we simply don't know the truth of what happened last night.  Until we do - and until confirmatory evidence is available, one way or the other - it's important not to overreact.  Rushing to judgment will serve only to inflame the situation.


Musings on packing

Idle thoughts as Miss D. and I do the final round of packing before loading the truck tomorrow.

  1. Why is there always one gun more than there are gun cases/sleeves/rugs to hold them?
  2. Why, when I drove my ammunition stocks down to Texas a few weeks ago, am I still finding ammo in odd corners, drawers, nooks and crannies?  I've found enough to fill two ammo cans so far.  No, of course I'm not a compulsive ammo hoarder!  Why would you think that?  (Hangs head, shuffles feet.)
  3. What do you do with a cat that's growing steadily more paranoid as she watches her world being packed into boxes?  We're trying to reassure her by giving her lots of extra attention (and treats), but she seems unconvinced.
  4. On the other hand, she enjoys some parts of the experience.   For example, every time I have to tie things together with string to form a bundle, I'll find a cat tugging enthusiastically on the other end of the line.
  5. I must remember not to assemble plastic shelving units too forcefully.  When I have to take them apart again, all those blows with a rubber mallet (to make sure they stayed fastened together) come back to bite me.  This is not good.
  6. A big roll of bubble wrap is worth its weight in gold.
  7. If you pack all the dishes and cutlery early on, it's a great excuse to eat out every meal until you leave.

Back to the fray . . .


Doofus Of The Day #877

Today's award goes to the pilot and/or captain and/or helmsman of the Olga M, a small freighter that recently found herself in the Euripus Strait between the Greek islands of Boeotia and Euboea in the Aegean Sea.  There's a historic bridge across the strait in the town of Chalcis, of which Wikipedia says:

The "Old" or "Low" or "Sliding" Bridge lies across midtown, and can slide away to allow shipping traffic. It is located at the narrowest point of the strait, where it is only 38 m (125 ft) wide. It accommodates two lanes of vehicular traffic. It was originally built as a retractable bridge in 1858, replaced by a rotating one in 1896. The existing, originally wooden bridge was built in 1962 and was extensively refurbished in 1998.

The hazards of that narrow passage were shown to full effect when the Olga M tried (and failed) to pass through it.  The strong tidal current through the gap may have played a role, but even so, the ship is clearly way off course as it lines up to pass through . . . with inevitable results.

It's a good thing the Olga M is a small ship of only about a thousand tons. If it had been larger, the damage might have been much worse. Even so, it looks like the bridge (or at least its abutment) may need refurbishing again . . . not to mention the ship!

(A tip o' the hat to gCaptain, where I found the video.)


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Coming down to the wire

Miss D. and I are finishing up our packing and sorting, getting ready to load the truck (with the help of a couple of hired helpers) on Thursday afternoon.  It's been a schlep getting everything organized, but I think we'll be ready in time.  This morning we made a run out to the airport where she keeps her aircraft, and brought home most of the contents of the hangar where she parks it.  (It'll remain here for a few months until she's able to arrange hangar space near our new home, when she'll come back to collect it and fly it down.)

The list of last-minute things to do gets longer and longer, of course, as each of us remembers something important.  Getting copies of our medical files from our physician and a specialist . . . getting last-minute prescriptions from the pharmacy . . . collecting a last batch of mail from our post office box and handing in change-of-address and mail forwarding notices . . . making sure our bank has our new details, and arranging to carry on using our Tennessee account for at least a few months until we find a bank in Texas with whom we're happy . . . saying goodbye to friends and acquaintances . . . the list goes on and on.  We'll never get it all done in time, but we'll do as much as we can.  The rest will have to be accomplished by letters, e-mails and phone calls.

We're going to be without regular Internet access from Thursday morning until at least Monday next week.  We may be able to get access at a hotel on the road, and/or borrow Old NFO's home network now and again when we arrive in Texas, but it'll be intermittent at best.  I'm going to queue up a few blog posts to publish automatically from Thursday through Monday morning, and ask your indulgence for a less regular posting schedule until we're able to get our new Internet service operational.  (That's scheduled for early Monday morning.  Here's hoping!)


"The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ****"

That's the title of a blunt, plain-speaking article by Mark Manson.  It's emphatically NOT safe for work;  the f-word is used well over a hundred times.  Here's a short (expurgated) example.

Now, while not giving a **** may seem simple on the surface, it’s a whole new bag of burritos under the hood. I don’t even know what that sentence means, but I don’t give a ****. A bag of burritos sounds awesome, so let’s just go with it.

The point is, most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many ****s in situations where ****s do not deserve to be given. We give a **** about the rude gas station attendant who gave us too many nickels. We give a **** when a show we liked was canceled on TV. We give a **** when our coworkers don’t bother asking us about our awesome weekend. We give a **** when it’s raining and we were supposed to go jogging in the morning.

****s given everywhere. Strewn about like seeds in mother-****ing spring time. And for what purpose? For what reason? Convenience? Easy comforts? A pat on the ****ing back maybe?

This is the problem, my friend.

There's much more at the link.

While I don't like the profanity (which is so over-the-top it eventually becomes boring), I must confess to a certain sympathy with many of the points Mr. Manson is trying to make.  If you feel so inclined, click over there, read them for yourself, and see what you think.


Your water could soon cost you a lot more

I've been trying to follow the ramifications of the Flint, Michigan water crisis.  It's a tangled web of political influence-peddling, State and local agencies at cross purposes, and a refusal on the part of many people, from the Governor of Michigan down to the local water department, to accept responsibility for their part in the scandal.

What I hadn't considered was that the crisis in Flint is a bellwether for the same problem in countless other US cities.  Fortune reports:

Lead pipes are prevalent in cities that were developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, meaning all the major metropolitan areas in the Northeast, Midwest, and California ... The American Water Association, a group representing utilities nationwide, recently gave the Associated Press an estimate that there are 6.5 million lead pipes in use in the U.S.

. . .

Before American cities can accelerate their lead-pipe replacement plans, as recommended by the EPA’s drinking-water council, they’ll need to answer one major question: Who will pay for all this work?

Most U.S. cities, according to Michael Deane, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies, have budgeted in terms of a “300-year replacement cycle to replace the pipes in the ground.” But the American Society of Civil Engineers say pipes reach the end of their useful lives in 95 years. In other words, cities’ budgets are woefully inadequate for replacement needs. The ASCE said some studies estimated an additional $1 trillion should be spent over a 25-year period for the most urgently needed pipe replacements—lead and otherwise.

Most cities take a piecemeal approach, replacing sections of lead pipe only when they fail. That may heighten the risk of water contamination. And some research suggests that removing some lead pipes can cause leaching from others nearby.

If cities don’t “get ahead” of the aging pipe problem, they will end up paying in the long term, Deane warned in an interview with Fortune some months ago. “Replacing infrastructure gets very, very difficult particularly in urban areas…. It’s very, very difficult to dig up pipe and very costly. Too often, there’s a disconnect in people’s understanding…. [To] receive the water delivered by that infrastructure, they as customers need to pay for that infrastructure.”

. . .

Modern water crises have been anticipated in places such as Israel, California, and Australia, all of which prioritize water planning. But if it can happen in Flint, a stone’s throw from the largest bodies of freshwater in the world, a crisis like this can happen anywhere.

There's more at the link.  It's well worth reading the entire article in full, to gain a broader understanding of the problem.

One trillion dollars to upgrade older water pipes?  And that's only the most urgent and immediate need?  How many more trillions will be required to fix non-urgent, non-immediate problems?  When you put that sort of money together with the sums bandied about to repair other elements of our infrastructure, plus that needed to upgrade and secure our electric grid . . . the figures become even more mind-boggling.  We could be looking at multiple trillions of dollars over the next couple of decades - and that's just to fix the most serious problems.

Where's that money to come from?  You guessed it:  out of our pockets, the taxpayers of this nation.  You say it should come from business taxes, rather than taxes on consumers?  Well, just how do you think businesses calculate the prices they charge us to buy their goods and services?  They factor their tax bills into those prices.  Taxes on businesses are just another way of taxing the consumer who buys from those businesses.  What's more, I'm willing to bet that the most seriously affected cities and areas will demand Federal subsidies to help them pay for the work.  Given that they represent concentrations of voters, they're likely to get it.  That means that those of us who don't live in those cities and areas, but who pay Federal taxes, will end up subsidizing them, whether we like it or not - even if we live in a different state.

Not a cheery prospect.


Monday, January 25, 2016

A new superhero - 'Busted Thong Man'!

Courtesy of a link provided by Australian reader Snoggeramus, I laughed like mad at this news report.  For the benefit of those who don't speak Australian slang, a 'plugger' is a thong.

Well done, those men!

I particularly enjoyed the comment from an Australian police spokesman:

“Taking the keys from the ignition would have been enough to slow the offenders down, jumping in the car was not needed,” Insp MacQueen said.

“Police are specially trained to respond to these situations, they have tasers, capsicum spray and guns.

“A gentleman with a busted thong just doesn’t have the same capabilities.”



Courtesy of The Lonely Libertarian:

I think most of our politicians would qualify for such treatment . . . except that their light seems to have terminally burned out long ago.


Did 'Star Wars' plagiarize French SF comic art?

This video juxtaposes French SF comic art from the 1970's with Star Wars storyboard drawings and other illustrations.  The similarity is unmistakable.

The question is whether the similarity is accidental or deliberate.  If the drawings are genuine and of the right vintage, then given so many 'coincidences' I'd be very doubtful that they could be accidental.  On the other hand, I've never read about any lawsuits for plagiarism by French comic artists - and if there had been plagiarism, I can't believe they wouldn't have sued for a share of the profits.  Does anyone know more about this?


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Can our inner-city "lost generation" be saved?

I've had to deal in person with a very wide variety of rebellious teenagers.  They've ranged from young gangs in South Africa's townships, politicized as well as criminalized to the point where they'd kidnap, torture and murder without compunction (witness, for example, the misdeeds of Winnie Mandela's so-called 'Mandela United Football Club'), through the teenage (and sometimes even pre-teenage) child 'soldiers' of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, through inner-city gangs in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other US cities.

I've tried to assist some of the latter in adult jails after they grew up.  Many of them bitterly resented the fact that up to the age of eighteen or thereabouts, they could commit almost any crime and get away with a slap on the wrist;  but the instant they were charged with the identical crime as an adult, they were hit with a multi-year jail sentence.  They regarded that as immensely unfair - and frankly, I couldn't blame them.  They should have been hit with a custodial sentence much earlier in life, when they might have learned something from it.  Because they weren't, many (perhaps most) of them were no longer capable of learning at all.  They'd grown too set in their ways.

That's why, when I read a report about Ed Boland's attempt to help inner-city kids in a New York school, and the book he's written about his experiences, I felt a wave of near-despair wash over me.

The New York Post reports:

In 2008, Ed Boland, a well-off New Yorker who had spent 20 years as an executive at a nonprofit, had a midlife epiphany: He should leave his white-glove world, the galas at the Waldorf and drinks at the Yale Club, and go work with the city’s neediest children.

The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School” (Grand Central Publishing) is Boland’s memoir of his brief, harrowing tenure as a public school teacher, and it’s riveting.

There’s nothing dry or academic here. It’s tragedy and farce, an economic and societal indictment of a system that seems broken beyond repair.

The book is certain to be controversial. There’s something dilettante-ish, if not cynical, about a well-off, middle-aged white man stepping ever so briefly into this maelstrom of poverty, abuse, homelessness and violence and emerging with a book deal.

What Boland has to share, however, makes his motives irrelevant.

Names and identifying details have been changed, but the school Boland calls Union Street is, according to clues and public records, the Henry Street School of International Studies on the Lower East Side.

Boland opens the book with a typical morning in freshman history class.

A teenage girl named Chantay sits on top of her desk, thong peeking out of her pants, leading a ringside gossip session. Work sheets have been distributed and ignored.

“Chantay, sit in your seat and get to work — now!” Boland says.

A calculator goes flying across the room, smashing into the blackboard. Two boys begin physically fighting over a computer. Two girls share an iPod, singing along. Another girl is immersed in a book called “Thug Life 2.”

Chantay is the one who aggravates Boland the most. If he can get control of her, he thinks, he can get control of the class.

“Chantay,” he says, louder, “sit down immediately, or there will be serious consequences.”

The classroom freezes. Then, as Boland writes, “she laughed and cocked her head up at the ceiling. Then she slid her hand down the outside of her jeans to her upper thigh, formed a long cylinder between her thumb and forefinger, and shook it . . . She looked me right in the eye and screamed, ‘SUCK MY F–KIN’ D–K, MISTER.’ ”

It was Boland’s first week.

There's much more at the link, depressingly so.

I confess that I have no answers to the questions Mr. Boland raises, except for one - and it's not a politically correct one.  I can think of only one way to salvage these 'lost kids' - and that's to be tougher on them than they've ever experienced before.  They don't understand or respect common human decency at all.  They've never encountered it.  The only thing they respect is the ability of stronger people to make them suffer if they get out of line.  Very well;  if that's all they respect, then let's use that to help them change.  If they won't learn the easy way, let them learn the hard way.  Give them an even tougher inner-city equivalent to the US Marine Corps' Boot Camp, and keep on giving it to them until at least some of them learn better.  They, at least, will grow up to be more worthwhile as human beings than they would have been without it;  and society as a whole will be the better for it.  Those who won't or can't learn better . . . well, they were probably a lost cause by then, anyway.

Harsh?  Certainly.  Ruthless?  You bet.  However, if you don't like it, then give me another method that will work for the hundreds of thousands of these 'lost kids' who infest our urban ghettos.  So far, no-one's come up with one.  Don't tell me I'm being cruel, or heartless, or despicable, when inaction is merely perpetuating the problem and dragging other kids down into the same morass of hopelessness.  I've seen this too often, in too many countries, and from far too close a range to be in any doubt about it.  The reason many kids grow up to be adult monsters is that no-one deals with them when they're still little monsters, and able to learn better.  Mr. Boland tried to do it the nice way.  You can read for yourself how far it got him.

In Africa, I saw many people trying to help kids like these.  Some tried the nice way.  They didn't get very far.  Others used tougher methods, and had greater success, as far as I could see.  Basically, the kids had to hit rock bottom and realize that it was literally a case of 'change or die' before they'd exert themselves to improve.  Many of them didn't.  Most of the latter died, either through the violence of their own kind, or because they chose their next victim poorly and learned - too late - that weapons can defend the righteous as well as threaten them.

Those kids in Africa were - and still are - the result of what happens when a broken society like that Mr. Boland describes is taken to its logical conclusion.  There's a documentary called 'Cry Freetown', which examined the civil war in Sierra Leone and the conduct of the child 'soldiers' there.  You'll find the trailer here, but I urge you not to watch it unless you have a strong stomach.  Right from the start, even in the trailer, you'll see murder being done.  If you want to see what children such as those in New York can and do grow up to be, get hold of the full documentary and watch it for yourself.  If you can't find it, a more sanitized, less brutal documentary is 'Sierra Leone's Cocaine-Drugged Child Soldiers'.  It sounds unbelievable, but it's real.

When you've learned enough from those documentaries, look at the crime figures for New York, and Chicago, and other big US cities with large numbers of young people such as those Mr. Boland describes.  Where do you think the thugs and gang-bangers and murderers in those inner cities are coming from?  Right out of schools like his, and families such as he describes - that's where.  They're behaving in almost exactly the same way as the child 'soldiers' of Sierra Leone.  That's not an exaggeration.  That's the truth.

I think Mr. Boland's book is a very important one.  It will open people's eyes to the reality of far too many of our inner cities.  Whether or not we do anything about it is up to us.  If we leave it to the politically correct . . . nothing will ever get done.


Feel-good story of the week

Officer Bobby White of the Gainsville, FL police department made approving headlines earlier last week when he responded to a complaint about kids playing basketball "loudly" in the street.  Rather than be a killjoy, he joined the game, and won the approval of the neighborhood for his friendly, non-coercive approach.

He told the kids he'd "bring backup" for another game . . . but his department came up with a larger-than-life backup that far exceeded everyone's expectations.  Shaquille O'Neal (himself a reserve police officer) joined the cops for a pick-up game with the kids, to their joy and the excitement of their parents.

Now that's how to build good community relations, right there!  Full marks to Gainesville PD - and to Shaq - for going the extra mile and setting an example to other law enforcement agencies.


The joys of packing, Part 2

I'm glad to say that this morning I finished packing our library.  It took 39 of Lowe's small moving boxes to hold all the books, and they're stacked against the walls of our living room at the moment.  My back and legs are scolding me for doing too much, too fast . . . but what else is there to do when you're snowbound?  (Don't answer that!)  Miss D. just had the fun of getting on a short stepladder to unscrew and remove the brackets holding our 72"x36" bookcases to the wall, so we can take them out when the time comes.

I think we're about 80% through with packing now.  Our freezer has been emptied and defrosted, its contents reduced to the point where they all fit into the freezer compartment of our refrigerator.  Some will come to Texas with us in cold chests;  the rest will be donated to friends.  I was a bit stymied when it came to cooking supper last night, when I found that my wife had already boxed up all the herbs and spices!  I had to make do with salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning.  It made the flavor of the spaghetti sauce a little more interesting than usual, but it was edible.

I've ordered a 'Shoulder Dolly' to help maneuver the refrigerator and freezer around a couple of tight corners and out into the back yard when the time comes.  It's by far the easiest and simplest method I know to move big, bulky items into and out of confined spaces.  We already have an appliance dolly and a hand truck, plus a furniture dolly and some cheap moving blankets on order that (according to should be here by Wednesday.  God willing and snow permitting, we'll be ready to load on Thursday.  The cat is alternately sleeping in a sunbeam and getting schizophrenic about all the strange activity.  She hasn't (yet) managed to get sealed into a box along with its contents, but I think it's only a matter of time.  (Cat + box = a match made in heaven . . . at least, according to the cat!)

Now to get stuck into the remaining bits and pieces that have been packed into small boxes and containers, but need to be combined into larger boxes to make moving them easier (and losing them harder).  That'll be this afternoon's job.


"The largest man-made moving object on earth"

That's what Polarcus calls its seismic survey ship Polarcus Amani, currently working off the coast of Myanmar.  It's an odd-looking critter.

Popular Mechanics reports:

Registered in the Bahamas, Polarcus Amani is 300 feet long and displaces almost 8,000 tons. Her four propellers are rated at 3,000 horsepower apiece, providing enough pulling power to tow an array of seismic "streamers" more than a mile wide and 11 miles long. Altogether, the survey covers an area of about 6.8 square miles at a time, which is how Polarcus claims the record.

The streamers are the sensing part of a system that evolved out of submarine-hunting sonar. The working principle involves a similar use of reflected sound: The survey vessel generates pulses of high-intensity sound with underwater "air guns" made by Bolt Technology. The air guns may be fired every 20 seconds or so during surveying.  The sound waves are reflected off the sea bed and get picked up by a series of microphones towed by the survey vessel.

The line of floating microphones is known as a streamer. Were earlier research vessels had a single streamer, modern vessels like Polarcus Amani tow multiple streamers to build up a complete 3D picture of the sea bed below. They can also carry out so-called 4D surveys in which the same area is mapped several times and the images overlaid to build up a more detailed picture.

There's more at the link, and in a news release from Polarcus.

I was curious to learn more about the ship, and found this video clip from the company that built her for Polarcus.  If you're a geek technologically inclined, I think you'll find it interesting.

I hadn't realized that specialized marine geological survey ships had gotten so advanced.  I went to sea in the pre-GPS days of sextants and shooting compass bearings of coastal features, with a little help from Decca Navigator if you were lucky and the receiver was functioning (something that couldn't be guaranteed).  The Polarcus Amani operates in a very different technological environment . . . but I can't help wondering how she'd cope if the radar and GPS went out!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

The critical downturn in the transport industry . . .

. . . looks like it's getting worse by the day.  People, if you ever needed one single sign that would point out an impending economic recession, this is it.  The Telegraph reports:

The shipping industry is facing its worst crisis in living memory as years of rapid expansion fuelled by cheap debt have coincided with an economic slowdown in China.

“We are now at the stage where people are struggling to remember an era when it was this difficult, we’ve gone through what it was like in the 90s, the 80s and the 70s, so expressions like ‘living memory’ start to apply,” said Jeremy Penn, the chief executive of the Baltic Exchange in London.

The Baltic Exchange has set shipping rates for more than two-and-a-half centuries and the situation its members now face is grim.

“Ship owners are facing the tough decision of whether to just drop anchor and hope it gets better,” added Mr Penn.

Fears about the global economy have seen the Baltic Dry Index fall by more than 20pc this year, to 369 - its lowest level since records began in 1985. The Baltic Dry, which is compiled by the exchange, gives an indicator of the cost of shipping dry bulk goods such as coal, iron ore, grains, and finished goods such as steel, but it is feted for its apparent ability to predict the world's financial fortunes.

The immediate problem has been the slowing of the Chinese economy; the world’s largest consumer of commodities has been the driving force behind the shipping trade for the past two decades.

. . .

In a normal market the rational decision would be to remove loss-making ships from the fleet, but this is anything but a normal market. The world shipping fleet is drowning in debt.

Mr Kidwell describes how ship owners who have financed their fleets with 60pc debt and 40pc equity have seen that equity become worthless.

Meanwhile, the banks that provided the debt won’t pull the plug as they would be forced to recognise the losses. Instead, they accept that they won’t have debt service, and are forced to wait and see if the ship owner can survive until the market recovers. At some point in the future they might be able to sell the vessel at a better price.

. . .

Mr Kidwell said that a five-year old Capesize vessel was sold for $19m in recent weeks, 40pc below the normal listing price for a vessel that age of around $33m, and less than half the $48m cost of a new ship. The scrap value of ships has also plummeted as China pumps new steel onto world markets.

The collapse in prices for secondhand vessels will blow a hole in the balance sheet of any bank or individual that is sitting on those loans.

There's more at the link.

Compared to even a year ago, the volume of raw materials being transported to factories, and the volume of goods moving from factories to distributors to retailers to consumers, has plummeted.  There's no better bellwether of economic activity than such movements . . . and they just aren't happening in anything like the volume necessary to sustain normal business and commerce.

We're on the threshold of another economic recession, people - perhaps a full-blown depression.  These numbers aren't a lie, and they didn't happen overnight.  This has been building for a long time, as we've said in these pages before.  I think it's almost here.


Where can I buy aid-agency-style tarps?

An e-mail discussion for the past few days has focused on the durable, tough emergency tarpaulins provided by organizations such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and other international aid agencies.  You'll find the story behind their development here.  They came into widespread use from 1996 onwards - which was the year I first came to the USA on a seven-month mission visit, and ceased wandering around areas where they would be used, so I've never actually seen one 'in the flesh', so to speak.

What sets these tarps apart is that they won't degrade in hot or sunny conditions, and won't weather or fray like the common blue tarps do.  They also don't use grommet holes at all;  instead, they have heavy-duty ties affixed to them.  Here's a video describing them.  I don't know whether most of my readers will find it interesting, but given my years of exposure to mission and disaster environments in Africa, I certainly do.

I note that the tarpaulins are described in detail in the Red Cross purchasing guidelines here, at a price of approximately 15 Swiss francs apiece, but that's for agency use only.  I've no idea where ordinary folks like you and I can buy them.  I'd love to find out, because I keep in touch with folks in Africa with whom I've worked in the past.  I'd like to be able to buy them a few from time to time, and ship them over.

Can any of my readers help?  Do you know where these can be bought by private citizens, and if so, at what price?  If you do, please let us know in Comments.  Thanks for your help.


Doofus Of The Day #876

Today's award goes to two (very) dumb crooks in Idaho . . . one of them in particular, as highlighted in bold, underlined text in the extract below.

Leland Ayala-Doliente, 22, and Holland Sward, 23, were traveling from Las Vegas to Bozeman, Montana, with some 20 pounds of marijuana. Court documents show the men were using marijuana during their trip and when they entered Idaho, they felt they were being followed by undercover police officers.

Rexburg Police Cpt. Randy Lewis told that at the time they weren't being followed by anyone.

Once they reached Rexburg, the pair exited U.S. Highway 20, parked their car and called 911. They said they just wanted the police to stop following them.

. . .

When police officers arrived, they say both men had their hands behind their heads. Court documents show Sward said to an officer, "We got caught and we're surrendering."

. . .

Sward was given a five-year sentence to prison. District Judge Greg Moeller suspended the judgment and placed Sward on probation for five years and ordered him to serve 30 days in jail.

Ayala-Doliente was sentenced to one and a half to eight years in prison, November. Moeller increased the sentence after Ayala-Doliente tested positive for marijuana, cocaine and oxycodone on his sentencing day.

There's more at the link.  It's worth clicking over to the news report to read the transcript of the phone conversation between these doofi and the 911 operator.

Hints for those who might want to learn from this example:

  1. As the Bible warns us, "The guilty flee where no man pursueth".  If the cops aren't after you, don't ingest substances that make you paranoid enough to believe they are!
  2. If you want the cops to stop following you (whether they are or not), it's not a good idea to call the cops themselves and tell them that!  They might start wondering about you.
  3. Don't appear for sentencing on a drug charge while under the influence of multiple illegal drugs!  The judge won't appreciate it . . . but your prison buddies will appreciate the amusement you've provided them when they hear about it.


Friday, January 22, 2016

The joys of packing

Miss D. and I are hard at work packing our belongings, in preparation for loading them on a big U-haul rental truck next Thursday.  The following day we'll load her car onto a trailer behind the truck, then hit the road for our new home in Texas.

I've been trying to pack smarter this time.  I've usually tried to use all the space available in each container, even if that means cramming in things that don't really belong together.  This time I'm trying to pack by functional groupings.  As for books, instead of putting those of the same size together, I'm packing them in the order into which I've sorted them on the shelves.  That's less efficient and takes more boxes, but it means I save at least a week on the other side re-sorting them all.  I'll take the saving in time over the cost of a few more boxes, thank you very much!  (The Lowe's small moving box has proved ideal for packing books.  One box - 12"x12"x16" - holds approximately one 3' shelf of books, so one can predict how many one will need;  and it's not too heavy, either.  The cardboard is lightweight, but since there are stacks of books inside, the latter will take the strain of several boxes piled on top of each other - I won't have to worry about them crumpling under the weight.)

I have a question for readers who've used U-haul's Auto Transport trailer.  The instructions emphasize that one shouldn't tow it faster than 55 mph;  yet I've seen many people zipping along at 70 mph or more, towing a vehicle behind them on one of these things, without turning a hair.  Am I missing something, or is that trailer actually safe to use at higher speeds?  I wouldn't want to do more than 60-65 mph in a heavily loaded truck anyway, but I'd appreciate your input, please.  (Miss D. will do something unmentionable to me if I splatter her prized car all over the landscape through my stupidity or negligence.  This way, I can blame your advice instead . . .)

The cat is eyeing all of the packing and preparations with a jaundiced eye.  She doesn't like it when we go away, and she's pretty sure we have something like that in mind;  but this time is different.  We're not packing suitcases or duffel bags, but cardboard boxes and totes.  One can almost see the wheels turning in that little feline brain.  She doesn't know (yet) that she's going to be in a pet carrier in the cab of the truck with us for a couple of days.  Let's hear it for kitty Quaaludes!  We'll have to find a pet-friendly hotel in the Little Rock area to spend Friday night next week.  The hotel where we usually stop, in Maumelle, is a bit too high-toned to accept pets, I'm afraid.

It's still Snowmageddon out there, with little prospect of getting out of the house for the next day or two.  We'll put the enforced 'idle' time to good use and redouble our packing efforts.  Who says there isn't a good side to bad weather?


Dumber than a bag of hammers . . .

. . . but I supposed he enjoyed his moment of fame.

I can't help wondering whether a broken leg or two might have cured his stupidity, but I suppose not.  At least that was in Russia, not the USA.  Over here, he'd sue the train company for cutting short his journey without warning or compensation!


OK, all you bacon lovers . . .

. . . get a load of this!

According to the Telegraph:

When Chris O’Connor spotted a 'For Sale’ announcement in his local paper 10 years ago, a food venture was his very first idea.

. . .

The 'stuff’ O’Connor tinkered with in the kitchen quickly became Eat 17’s calling card. 'Burgers have always been our menu’s bestsellers,’ he explains, 'and I started to serve them with homemade onion marmalade and crispy bacon. One day I thought, hey, why don’t we just mix them together – it’ll save space at least!’

Within a month his 'bacon jam’, a salty-sweet relish made with smoked British rashers, had been jarred up for the shop – where it promptly sold out. 'One of our loyal customers, a designer, fell in love with it and created the label. It snowballed from there.’

Snippets in the local press led to a slot on The Jonathan Ross Show and Tesco buyers on the phone. Eat 17 Bacon Jam is now made in Wales, but O’Connor has since developed chorizo ('some people say it’s even better than the original’), straight onion, and chilli versions, in updated packaging (the work of another local customer).

. . .

'I want to get my chorizo, bacon and blue-cheese dip on the shelves by the summer,’ says O’Connor.

There's more at the link.

Would you believe it's already available on in the USA?  So are Eat 17's chili bacon jam, chorizo jam and onion jam.

Dang . . . now I'm hungry!


How to tell your Harissa from your Gochujang

Until this morning, I couldn't have defined either term, but the Telegraph has come up with a handy article for us ignoramuses (ignoramii?):  'The big chilli sauce guide: how to tell your sriracha from adobo'.

At one time Encona and Tabasco were the only chilli sauces in town (at least in my house). Now you practically need an entire shelf just for hot sauces and pastes. I have a motley collection, many bought, some homemade. There’s Moroccan harissa, Turkish pepper paste, Mexican adobo paste, Korean gochujang (the new kid on the block) and an Eastern chilli ‘jam’ that I can’t claim is authentic but to which I’m quite addicted.

Their colours range from bright scarlet to a deep rusty brown and they vary hugely in character. The Mexican adobo paste is made from toasted chipotle and ancho chillis and is smoky and woody. At the other end of the scale the chilli jam is sweet, sticky and simple. The Turkish pepper paste is fresh and ‘front of the mouth’ hot. The harissa is multi faceted – there’s cumin, caraway and coriander in there as well as chillis. Sriracha I only got into a couple of years ago. It’s another bottle I like – big and plastic with a flying goose on the front. I find its taste a bit tinny but it’s extremely hot, and a godsend when you want a ‘high note’ chilli taste (it’s neither deep nor smoky).

There's more at the link, including a handy reference guide to the various chili sauces out there - very useful for novices in the field.  If you, like me, know very little about this sort of thing, here's a handy video lesson.

The Telegraph's article was inspired by what would have been the 151st birthday, today, of Wilbur Scoville, for whom the scale of pepper 'hotness' has been named.  There's even a special Google Doodle on Google's home page in his honor today, including an interactive game.


No salivating on the shooting range!

Now and again commercialism gets so weird that it jumps the shark.  I think that's just happened (or is that 'happened again'?) in the shooting sports.  5.11 Tactical, an otherwise respected producer of so-called 'tactical' clothing and related products, has announced at the 2016 SHOT Show that it's developed - wait for it - 'Raven Range Capri' trousers for women, which have instantly (and inevitably) become known as 'Tactical Yoga Pants'.

The funniest thing about them, to my mind, are the comments left by readers at The Firearm Blog.  Here's one exchange.

  • I weigh about 280 lbs. I think these might have a slimming effect on me and be quite stylish at the range.
  • HAHAHAHA… does the term TMI mean anything to you??? just kidding dude...
  • TMI or BMI??
  • You go, um, guy. You go.
  • Not to be critical but I think you would exceed the maximum tonnage limit.

There are many more at the link.  Click over there for a good laugh.

Of course, this isn't the only time 5.11 Tactical have produced something, shall we say, 'tongue in cheek'.  A couple of years ago they came out with the 'Tactical Duty Kilt'.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that it was available in 'tactical' sizes up to the mid-50's . . . which would indicate (a lack of) fitness and physical dexterity that's anything but tactical!

(Yes, I do own a 'Tactical Duty Kilt'.  My wife insisted I had to buy one for the sheer hilarity of it.  No, I won't post a picture!)


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Economy watch

Instapundit linked to my article on debt, and as a result I've had about double the number of readers today that I normally get.  Hi, visitors.  Nice to have you here!

A number of economy-related articles caught my eye over the past few days.  Here's a quick roundup.
  • Billll linked to the Chapwood Index, a locality-related measurement of inflation in the USA.  Unsurprisingly, it turns out that real inflation - the kind you and I feel in our wallets every time we go shopping - is vastly higher than official statistics might suggest.  Go read Billll's article, and click over to the Chapwood Index page to learn how they calculate their figures.  It's eye-opening.
  • In my article on debt I mentioned the possibility of government raiding private pension plans to prop up Social Security and stabilize national finances.  Back in 2013, Matt Taibi wrote an article titled 'Looting the Pension Funds:  All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers'.  It's very illuminating, and shows that government grabs aren't the only ones we have to worry about.  Recommended reading.
  • What happens when you successfully save a boatload of water in California?  You get hit with higher water rates, that's what!
  • All the media attention being paid to the Koch brothers' funding of right-wing political candidates turns out to be a smokescreen, intended to disguise the far greater amounts being directed to left-wing and progressive candidates by other sources.  Warren Meyer has the scoop.
  • Finally, we learn that Wal-Mart is actually a progressive company that should be supported by the left wing of US politics.  No, really.  Read about it in brief here, and see the full report here (the second link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format).  Who said truth is stranger than fiction?


Quote of the day

From IOTWReport:

We’ve heard the left scoff at the right when we’ve said the 2nd amendment is necessary in order to combat an oppressive government.

“Civilians with guns are no match for a government,” laughs the left.

Meanwhile, millions of people are leaving a country because “some guys with guns on the back of a pick-up truck” are taking over a country.



A boozy morning - for all the right reasons

Miss D. and I spent a few hours stocking up on wine and spirits to take to Texas with us - some to restock our own cellar, others as gifts and "Thank you!" tokens for friends.

We headed up to Clarksville first, to our old standby, Beachaven Winery.  They make some seriously good wines there, and fortunately Miss D. shares my taste in them, so we can stock up on varieties we both enjoy.  We've ended up with the equivalent of four and a half cases;  two dozen whites (Chardonnay and Riesling), two dozen reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chambourcin), plus a few individual bottles of this and that.  We'll be hosting our Texas friends for supper on a regular basis, I'm sure, and I'm looking forward to introducing them to the best wines we've found in Tennessee.  (They, in turn, assure me that Texas has a very good selection of vineyards and some excellent vintages.  Miss D. and I look forward to discovering them.)

From there we headed back to Nashville, to the famous Frugal Macdoogal liquor store.  They have a nice selection of single malt Scotch whisky and imported wines and liqueurs, amongst other goodies.  Old NFO has a pleasant surprise in store, and Lawdog's request that we keep our eyes open for a good ruby port and a nice Spanish Rioja has been fulfilled.  We also indulged ourselves in a bottle of liqueur apiece for leisurely consumption over the next year or so.  (Neither of us are heavy drinkers, but now and again we enjoy a shot of something pleasantly alcoholic with our postprandial coffee).

Now it's back to the packing and preparations for the move.  There's a lot still to be done.


The 'Pearls Before Swine' diet

I may have to try Stephan Pastis' latest brainwave.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Our new home is moving right along . . .

Our friends are busy laying our new laminate floor, and the contractor reports good progress with the modifications we're making to our new home.  Courtesy of Old NFO we received some pictures yesterday and today.  (Click each one for a larger view.)

This shows the rear of our new home.  The room under construction on the left, with the incomplete siding, used to be a small open porch at the corner of the house.  A previous owner enclosed it very shoddily, mainly as a sheltered place for the family dogs (who peed all over it and left an unmistakable [and unwelcome] odor behind) and for smokers (ditto on the odor, although hopefully not on the pee!).  Our contractor ripped out the old enclosure and chemically cleaned the porch to remove the smell;  then he re-framed it, with proper siding on the exterior.  We needed a new rear door to replace the one that had led onto the porch, so he removed a set of double windows from the brick wall and replaced them with a set of French doors.  The windows have been 'recycled' into the newly enclosed porch, as you can see above.

This shows the interior of the former porch, now being insulated and lined with drywall in preparation for painting.  It'll be my office and 'man-cave' when it's finished.  It's a relatively small room (just under 100 square feet), but that should be sufficient for a desk, my reloading/gunsmithing bench, and some storage cupboards and lockers for ammo and other supplies.  To insulate the floor and make it warmer in winter, I'm putting down gym-type flooring.  I'm looking forward to moving in - Volume 5 of the Maxwell Saga is well under way, and I want to finish it as fast as possible.  I also have the third volume of the Laredo Trilogy to write, and I'm halfway through my first fantasy novel, which I hope to finish in the next couple of months.  If that proves up to scratch, there may be interesting developments concerning it.  Watch this space for details!

This shows our new laminate floor in the master bedroom, along with boxes of flooring waiting to be installed in other rooms.  (You can see how the bare concrete floor looked in this post by Old NFO.)  Lawdog, NFO and another friend have clearly been hard at work on our behalf.  Miss D. and I will be going shopping tomorrow for suitable bottles of "Thank you!", which we'll take down with us.

Miss D.'s been hard at work today, packing the contents of our kitchen into boxes.  I'll get stuck into our library tomorrow and over the weekend, then tackle our shared office next week.  God willing, we'll be ready in time for the truck and our loading help on Thursday . . . then it's hi-ho for Texas!


Another reason never to vote for Hillary

Courtesy of The Lonely Libertarian:

True dat.  Remember her election advertisement back in 2008?

After Benghazi, I'm damned sure I want anyone but her answering the phone!


Doggone it!

I don't know what he was chasing in there, but I hope he caught it.


What debt is doing to the world - and all of us

Recent comments by the head of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)'s review committee put the debt problem (about which we've spoken before in these pages) into stark perspective.  The Telegraph reports:

"Debts have continued to build up over the last eight years and they have reached such levels in every part of the world that they have become a potent cause for mischief," he said.

"It will become obvious in the next recession that many of these debts will never be serviced or repaid, and this will be uncomfortable for a lot of people who think they own assets that are worth something," he told The Telegraph on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

. . .

The next task awaiting the global authorities is how to manage debt write-offs - and therefore a massive reordering of winners and losers in society - without setting off a political storm.

Mr White said Europe's creditors are likely to face some of the biggest haircuts. European banks have already admitted to $1 trillion of non-performing loans: they are heavily exposed to emerging markets and are almost certainly rolling over further bad debts that have never been disclosed.

The European banking system may have to be recapitalized on a scale yet unimagined, and new "bail-in" rules mean that any deposit holder above the guarantee of €100,000 will have to help pay for it.

The warnings have special resonance since Mr White was one of the very few voices in the central banking fraternity who stated loudly and clearly between 2005 and 2008 that Western finance was riding for a fall, and that the global economy was susceptible to a violent crisis.

. . .

Combined public and private debt has surged to all-time highs to 185pc of GDP in emerging markets and to 265pc of GDP in the OECD club, both up by 35 percentage points since the top of the last credit cycle in 2007.

. . .

Mr White said QE and easy money policies by the US Federal Reserve and its peers have had the effect of bringing spending forward from the future in what is known as "inter-temporal smoothing". It becomes a toxic addiction over time and ultimately loses traction. In the end, the future catches up with you. "By definition, this means you cannot spend the money tomorrow," he said.

. . .

Mr White said the Fed is now in a horrible quandary as it tries to extract itself from QE and right the ship again. "It is a debt trap. Things are so bad that there is no right answer. If they raise rates it'll be nasty. If they don't raise rates, it just makes matters worse," he said.

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

I'd like to highlight two elements of Mr. White's comments.  Both have direct and immediate implications for the USA as well as Europe.
  1. "... this will be uncomfortable for a lot of people who think they own assets that are worth something."  It sure will!  There are millions of people out there who believe that the value of their assets - particularly their homes - will in due course pay for a comfortable retirement when they 'downsize';  i.e. sell their no-longer-needed big, expensive homes, buy something smaller and cheaper, and bank the difference.  However, their ability to sell their homes depends on the ability of potential buyers to get mortgage financing.  Most people can't afford to pay cash for such big-ticket purchases.  If there is no credit available . . . if no-one except the most well-heeled of consumers can get a loan . . . then no-one will be able to afford to buy the houses and other assets that these people must sell if they want to have any sort of worthwhile lifestyle in retirement.  They'll end up asset-rich, but cash-poor . . . and you can't eat your McMansion, or use it to buy food.  What's more, if you don't have enough income in retirement to continue to pay the mortgage each month, the bank will repossess your home anyway.  That's 'uncomfortable' all right!
  2. "... new 'bail-in' rules mean that any deposit holder above the guarantee of €100,000 will have to help pay for it."  This will also apply in the USA.  Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said in 2014 that "the United States is preparing a proposal to require systemically important banks to issue bail-inable long-term debt that will enable insolvent banks to recapitalize themselves in resolution without calling on government funding".  I'm sure you can work out the implications of that for yourselves.  In case you can't, please refer to the following links, which explain it more fully:

The Bail-In: How You and Your Money
Will Be Parted During the Next Banking Crisis

New Rules: Cyprus-style Bail-ins to Take Deposits and Pensions

Financial Meltdown and the Confiscation of Bank Savings

Fed Vice Chairman Warns:
Your Bank May Seize Your Money to Recapitalize Itself

The granddaddy of them all, the International Monetary Fund, issued a Staff Discussion Note (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format) in 2012, analyzing the issue and proposing new policies to implement a confiscatory solution.  Read it and weep.  It goes so far as to state openly and unequivocally:  "Debt restructuring ideally would not be subject to creditor consent".  The 'creditors' are, of course, in "bank-speak", those with deposits (for example, savings accounts) at that financial institution.  So, if the IMF has its way, you won't have to consent to the theft of your savings - the banksters will just take it anyway.  I'm sure that makes you feel so much better . . .  Your pension won't be any more secure.  There have already been suggestions that the US government should 'nationalize' private pensions (in so many words, to recapitalize Social Security).  Guess what will happen to that money if they do?  If you think you'll ever see it again, I have this bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills.

All this is going to happen because of the immense overhang of debt that's already built up.  I'm sure the Federal Reserve and other central banks would prefer to be able to raise enough money to recapitalize their nations' banks without robbing depositors.  However, their nations have already issued so many bonds - i.e. so much debt - that the market (those who'll buy the bonds) is saturated.  It got so bad a few years ago that the Federal Reserve had to 'print money' (a.k.a. 'quantitative easing') in order to 'buy' bonds from the US Treasury, because no-one else would do so.  The Treasury then spent this 'funny money' to keep the US government running.  That's why the deficit has doubled under President Obama - because he (and, to be fair, Congress and the Senate) have been spending money raised by issuing more debt, rather than through taxation.  The Treasury has issued so many trillions of dollars in US Government securities that it would be pointless to issue many more, because there aren't enough buyers for them in the debt market.  Therefore, there's no longer sufficient debt finance available to recapitalize any banks that get into trouble.  That leaves only one place to get the money needed to save them . . . the funds of their depositors.  That means you and I, whether we like it or not.

"But," you object, "my savings account and CD's are insured by the FDIC.  Even if the bank took my money, the US government would have to repay me!"  Oh, yeah?  Sure, there's insurance on your deposits . . . but it says not one word about when you'll get back your money, or in what form.  Say a bank needs recapitalization, and seizes your deposit(s) as part of the process.  You immediately apply to the FDIC for compensation.  After a long delay (during which you can't access your money), that agency says loftily that yes, it'll refund your money - but only in the form of bonds issued against the bank's capital, or shares in the new entity that replaced it.  (That's the 'bail-inable long-term debt' that Mr. Fischer was talking about - see above.) The FDIC or another government agency will determine the value of those bonds or shares, not you - and their valuation may have little or nothing to do with reality.  Furthermore, you'll only be allowed to sell or otherwise convert them after a suitable period - say, five years?  Ten years?  Twenty-five years?  Whatever it is, you're still S.O.L. and broke - but hey, the insurance policy worked!  By strict legal definition, it covered your losses!  You think the politicians are going to care that while you wait for your money in cash, you'll starve?  If you die, they don't have to compensate you, do they? - or, if they do, they'll pay your estate (eventually) in dollars that have been massively devalued by inflation.  They don't care.  Republican or Democrat, they're all the same.  The 'Establishment' will make sure that it wins, and we lose.

How can we protect ourselves against that possibility?  There's only one way I can see - keep as much as possible of your savings in a form that will be hard to confiscate.  I'm trying to slowly build up to the point where I have two to three months' actual expenditure in the form of cash, securely stored in a safe place - but not in a bank account or deposit box, where the banksters can get their greedy hands on it.  I'm also putting what I can into precious metals - gold and silver coins.  I'm a very small investor indeed, which means I can't get the best prices on such assets, but I do what I can.  If I had a hundred thousand dollars in savings today (I wish!), I'd have a quarter of it in precious metals, a quarter in cash, and the rest divided between savings accounts in two or three different financial institutions, just in case.  That way, if one or two assets 'went bad' or were confiscated, I wouldn't lose everything.  YMMV, of course.