Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday morning music

Since I'm living in Texas now, how about something home-grown for today's music?  Here's the late Allen Wayne Damron, who was something of a legend in Texas country and cowboy music.  I like his sense of humor, among other things.  It comes through in several of the songs he wrote.

Let's begin with what may be his best-known piece, a swashbuckling, unashamedly triumphalist ballad of a bandido who meets his match at the hands of the 'Gringo Pistolero'.

Next, would you believe Beethoven's Ode to Joy can be transcribed for, of all instruments, the banjo?  Mr. Damron might surprise you.

In more lyrical vein, here's 'Just a Sign'.

Finally, to close in a cowboy mood, here's 'Goodnight Trail', named for the famous Goodnight-Loving Trail from Texas north through Colorado to Wyoming.  The protagonist of my Western novels, Walt Ames, may have some involvement in the history of that trail in a future book in the series.

That should close out the Old Year on a suitably nostalgic note.

I've been putting up these 'Sunday Morning Music' posts for a full year now.  Some of you seem to like them, but others appear to find them irrelevant.  What do you think?  If you'd like me to keep them going, let me know in Comments.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Amid the cold snap this weekend . . .

. . . just remember, it could be worse.  You could be driving in Russia.

Here's a selection of the more impressive Russian crashes of 2017.  Language alert in places.

I must admit, Texas drivers haven't sunk that low, in my experience!


Your debt, your spending, and your vote

I recently came across two very interesting articles, accompanied by maps:

The analysis raises several interesting questions one wouldn't normally consider. For example, concerning debt:

There really isn’t a clear pattern on the map: there are low-debt states sitting right next to high-debt states. The lowest debt-burdened people live in Washington, DC ($1,611), followed closely by Alaskans ($2,286). What could these places possibly have in common? The one exception can be found in the Deep South, where a cluster of blue and dark blue states all group together. Louisianans have the third lowest debt burden in the country, averaging only $6,140 per person. Other than that, personal debt levels swing wildly from state to state.

Here’s the key insight. A few different factors explain the wide-ranging differences. For example, people living in New York City probably don’t own a car, and many still rent an apartment. Compare that to Texas and Oklahoma, where most people own a home in the suburbs from which they commute to work in vehicle they also own. Simply, put, lifestyle choices go a long way in determining debt levels.

There's more at the link.

And concerning expenditure:

There are a few obvious trends when you map the data for each state. First off, there’s a cluster of pink and red states grouped in the Northeast. The most expensive place on our map is Washington, DC ($56,843), followed by Massachusetts ($51,981). As a matter of fact, six of the top ten most expensive places are in the Northeast. It’s clichĂ© that housing is expensive in New York, but there are a lot of other expensive states in the region too.

There’s also a collection [of] green states across the Deep South to the Southwest, stretching all the way from North Carolina ($33,779) to Nevada ($36,177) and even up to Oregon ($39,742). The cheapest place is Mississippi, where it costs only $30,200 to pay for life’s most common expenses.

. . .

Here’s another interesting trend. This map is a close approximation of the results for the 2016 election. East of the Mississippi River, every expensive state voted for Hillary Clinton, and every inexpensive state went for Donald Trump. The situation is a little convoluted out West, but it’s remarkable how the political divide mirrors an economic reality.

Again, more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

I found it interesting that American's expenditure was a direct correlation with/indicator of voting patterns, but not their indebtedness.  Food for thought.


Friday, December 29, 2017

This looks like an awful lot of fun

I'm a bit too old and fat to try this, but I'd have liked to have had a go in my younger years.

Of course, if we could wangle one of those for me, and another for Old NFO, and one for Miss D., and one for aepilotjim, and another for Lawdog, plus one for Phlegmmy, and send one up to Alma so she could fly it down to join us . . . we could have a Northern Texas Writers and Soarers Club, right there!


This puts a wind turbine's real size into perspective

Here in northern Texas, there are a great many wind turbines generating electricity for who knows where.  One doesn't really get a sense of how big they are when zipping past on the highway.  Even driving past (or around) the huge turbine blades, transported on outsize trailers, doesn't give an idea of the size of the whole turbine.

However, I found this photograph over at C. W. Swanson's place.  It opens one's eyes to how big those things really are.  Clickit to biggit.

The two workers inside the turbine blade hub really put things into perspective, don't they?  Next question - what sort of crane is needed to hoist them up that high?  I can't imagine a helicopter could do it . . . or am I wrong?  Those of you who've seen it done, please let us know.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Coming in with a bang

It seems this Silk Way Airlines Boeing 747 freighter ran into wind shear at the foot of the runway at Holland's Schipol Airport back in April.  The result was this very hard landing.  Note the shaking of the wing and its attachments, and the way the plane is tossed onto a different heading by the time it touches down for the second time.  That was a hairy landing, and no mistake!

Glad I wasn't on board . . .


In our focus on North Korea, don't forget Israel and the Middle East

There's every bit as much potential for conflict in the Middle East as there is on the Korean Peninsula.  Strategy Page has a very insightful and useful summary of the current situation.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have gone public in support of an Arab-Israeli alliance to oppose Iran. Many (Arabs, Israelis and Iranians) believe that such an alliance won’t last long but that is not crucial. The alliance only has to last long enough to halt the spread of Iranian power and influence. Israel has been through this before. The peace deals with Jordan and Egypt have largely held even though there are ups and downs. The Israelis know that the anti-Semitic attitudes in the Arab world go back to before the emergence of Islam in the 7th century and have waxed and waned ever since. Anti-Semitism is again widely tolerated in Europe. But the United States has a new president who grew up in and around New York City, built a fortune there, has a Jewish son-in-law, Jewish grandchildren and a pro-Israel attitude that is more decisive and imaginative than that of the last few American presidents.

Currently the Arabs of Arabia, or at least key leaders, have decided that decades of denouncing Israel, the one nation in the region with a functioning democracy, the most advanced and successful economy and the most powerful armed forces, ought to be rethought. So now Israel is seen as a potential ally not a battlefield opponent. As a result Arab journalists and leaders are speaking openly, and more frequently, about such an alliance. Some countries, like the UAE, can now speak openly of the discreet (and often not so secret) commercial, military and diplomatic links they developed with Israel over the years. To a lesser extent Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian connections are now admitted. The motivation here is survival against an increasingly aggressive Iran. Hang together or hang separately. Israel already has powerful allies for dealing with Iran and welcomes an Arab alliance, even if it won’t last, or at least will be under constant attack going forward, as was the case with the Jordanian and Egyptian peace deals.

Then there is a new generation of Saudi leaders. The young Saudi crown prince (and soon to be the king as his elderly father announced his abdication) pointed out that Iran is officially obsessed with destroying Israel while a growing number of Arabs see Israel as a potential ally. Everyone knows that before the current religious dictatorship took control of Iran in the 1980s Israel and Iran had many diplomatic and economic links, far more that Israel had with the Arab world. But Iranian religious leaders decided that Israel was at the top of the list of things that had to change. Next on the list was who should control the Islamic shrines in Saudi Arabia and so on. Iran has always been scary to its neighbors but was usually ruled by some aristocrat. Now that the Iranian Shia clergy (who were long known to be aggressive) are in charge it is time for neighbors to reconsider traditional alliances.

. . .

Israel has made it clear that they will fight if Iran tries to establish a military presence in Syria. That is complicated by the fact that Iran has allies in Syria; Russia and Turkey. What makes this interesting is that Turkey and Iran are traditional enemies of Russia, while Israel and the Gulf Arabs are not. What to do? Israel and Russia are trying to negotiate a deal to prevent a war between Iran and Israel over Iranian plans (already announced and underway) to establish bases in Syria and organize anti-Israeli forces for a final battle. Thus for Israel any long term Iranian presence in Syria is intolerable. Russia says it can work out such a deal but many Israelis are skeptical and Iran says such a deal is not possible. When it comes to opposing Iran Israel has some very public backing from Russia despite the fact that this puts Russia at odds with their two other allies in Syria. The Russians see the Israelis as a more powerful and reliable ally than the Turks or Iranians. Russia is also backing the Kurds in Syria and that is causing problems with Turkey.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading for anyone who wants to keep abreast of the situation there.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Writing news

Since my last post about my current writing endeavors, things have moved right along.  I'm writing faster than ever.  I suspect my writing style may have undergone a permanent change, from plotting everything in advance, to just sitting down, writing, and seeing what emerges.  At the end of each day, I can see where the plot, characters and settings have gone, note the changes, and keep a running log of who's doing what, with which, to whom.

I'm still planning to complete all three novels in the trilogy, sending them out to alpha readers as I work, then correcting all three in one sequence of editing.  After beta reads and formatting, I'll publish them in rapid succession at approximately 30-day intervals.  I hope this will boost sales overall, as each volume should build momentum for the next one, and help those who discover the series partway through to go back and buy earlier books.

As of this evening, I'm at approximately 160,000 words written, out of a planned total of plus-or-minus 300,000.  Every morning I sit down to write not knowing what I'm going to say.  Each evening, I look back and go "Wow!  Where did all that come from?"  I'm now averaging well over 5,000 words written per day.  If I keep that up, I can finish the trilogy by the end of January.  That may be over-ambitious, but mid-February certainly looks do-able.  Whatever it was that bit me, it did a number on me!

So far, so good . . .


Big bellied birds

I've long been fascinated by aircraft that carry other aircraft - or, more specifically, big parts of other aircraft - inside themselves.

Airbus operates several Beluga variants of its first design, the A300.  They'll soon be replaced by the Beluga XL, a variant of the more modern A330.  Here's a Beluga loading part of the fuselage of a smaller Airbus, then taking off to ferry it to another factory, where it'll be assembled with other modules into a complete aircraft.

Boeing's version is the DreamLifter, a heavily modified 747-400.  A fleet of them carry aircraft modules from Japan and other nations to Seattle, where they're assembled into complete planes.  Here's a comparison between Airbus' and Boeing's superlifters.

And here's a series of three DreamLifter takeoffs from Everett, Washington.

Here's what it's like to unload a DreamLifter.

And finally, here's a short history of "supersized" aircraft, of which the DreamLifter and Beluga are the most recent examples.

Interesting planes, and fun to watch.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Low humor, high flying

I try to keep this a family-friendly blog, but sometimes something otherwise inappropriate just hits my funnybone.  This is one such time.

Wirecutter posted this picture a few days ago.  Note the aircraft registration code.

I immediately thought it was a Photoshop fake.  I mean, really, what bureaucrat is going to allow an aircraft registration like that?  Little did I know.  It turns out there really was a German aircraft with the registration code D-ILDO.  It wasn't the aircraft in the picture - that, I'm pretty sure, is a Photoshop fake.  It was a Dornier Do 228 twin-engined short takeoff and landing aircraft, delivered in 1981.  Its current location and registration are unknown, and I wasn't able to find a picture of it.

I was so amused, I had to find more aircraft like it.  There are several good threads about funny aircraft registrations, particularly this one on the PPRuNe forum.  I should warn readers that some of those mentioned there are definitely scatological, and not fit for children's ears!

I had to laugh at several of the registrations mentioned. There's this one, a Cessna 421C Golden Eagle, registered in Britain as G-ONAD.  Then there's this Irish Piper PA-34 Seneca II, registered as you see below.  Yes, the owner was indeed named MacDonald!  Sadly, the aircraft was damaged beyond repair in a landing incident in 2000.

Finally, there's a spotting and observation aircraft with a registration code that's entirely appropriate for its job, but can only be described as a classic double entendre.  It's the Observer model of the Partenavia P-68B.

Er... ah... yes.  Quite!


How good is your hearing?

Courtesy of a link at HMS Defiant, I came across this hearing test. The results came as a shock to me.  I know I have hearing damage as the result of too many years of unprotected exposure to gunfire;  and, of course, my hearing has deteriorated with age.  Even so, this has decided me to get a formal hearing test, and maybe look into some sort of auditory assistance before too long.

Try it for yourself.  It's a bit long-winded, but the test itself (in the middle of all the verbiage) may be an eye-opener (or should that be an ear-opener?).  It certainly was for me!

I fall into the bottom 40% or so on the test. Definitely room for improvement!


Monday, December 25, 2017

It's Christmas!

May the blessings of this season of grace be yours, dear reader.  If you don't believe in the reason for the season, may you have a wonderful, relaxing holiday anyway.  I'll still say a prayer for all of you.  I don't suppose it'll hurt!

Those of you who've enjoyed Larry Correia's 'Christmas Noun' stories can find the latest one on his blog, along with links to all the previous stories.  Enjoy!

And, on a musical note for the holiday, how about 'Dueling Jingle Bells'?

Normal blogging will resume tomorrow.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sunday morning music - Christmas Eve edition

I've posted some of the Christmas music of the St. Louis Jesuits in these pages before.  It's among the more prayerful and contemplative contemporary music for the season, without the commercial and secular influences that mar the true meaning of Christmas.

All these songs are from their album 'Gentle Night'.  It was recorded in 1977, and recently re-released in a 40th anniversary edition.

First, the beautifully contemplative 'Patience People' by John Foley.

Next, the title track from the album, by Tim Manion.

And finally, my favorite track, the very prayerful 'Come Weal, Come Woe', also by John Foley.

A happy, blessed and holy Christmas to all my readers and friends.


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Writing by the seat of my pants

I think I'm developing in new ways as a writer.  Part of that, I suspect, is that I'm getting fitter and stronger, as a result of the strength training that Miss D. and I are doing together.  My pain level (from my disabling injury back in 2004) has not changed, but I suspect I'm getting mentally tougher as well as physically, and thus able to tolerate it better.

A few weeks ago, I was working on my (carefully plotted out) manuscript for the sixth book in my Maxwell Saga.  It wasn't going very well, and I was getting frustrated;  so I decided to try something that had worked for me once before, with the first volume of the Laredo War trilogy.  I sat down on Monday, November 27th, and began writing in "stream-of-consciousness" mode;  what's known in the trade as a "pantser" approach, as opposed to planning or plotting.  I had no specific plot or storyline in mind, except that I wanted to write about the founding of a space security company and its adventures.

Three weeks later, on Sunday, December 17th, I finished a 98,500-word manuscript.  It's already with alpha readers, who have picked up errors and problems here and there (only to be expected, with the very first draft), but generally seem to like it.  I posted a teaser excerpt on this blog a few days ago.

However, Miss D. didn't let matters lie there.  She pointed out that in some genres, authors write a series - a trilogy, or whatever - and publish it in rapid succession, one book every 30 days or so.  This builds up momentum for the series, as people see new volumes come out before they can forget about the previous one.  It can apparently boost sales quite significantly.  She challenged me to do the same with this new series.  Since I'd already written an average of 4,700 words every day for 21 days, without a plot or outline in sight, why not carry on in that vein, complete the trilogy, then publish all three books in rapid succession?

This was (and is) a scary thought.  In the past, I've usually worked to an outline, in which there's a place for everything and everything's in its place.  The prospect of having to produce a couple of hundred thousand more words in about six or seven weeks, with nothing to help me except my imagination, is daunting!  On the other hand, of course, I don't have to produce that many words all at once.  All I have to do is sit down every morning and start writing, trusting to my creative instincts to let the words come.  (I suppose it's like the old African proverb:  "How do you eat an elephant?  Mouthful by mouthful!")  I have no idea whatsoever where the storyline is going, or what's going to happen next - but that doesn't matter.  My job is to write, and leave the inspiration up to my muse (whoever and wherever he, she or it may be).

So, that's what I'm trying to do.  Starting on Monday this week, I've already written over 28,000 words, and the second volume of the trilogy is chugging right along.  If I can keep up this pace, I can complete all three volumes by mid-February, and then work on polishing and improving them together, with the help of alpha and beta readers, for publication in spring and summer.  I'm going to go for it, and see what happens.  What have I got to lose?

Want another teaser?  Here's an early draft of the cover.  It's not final, and there will be changes;  but even so, I like what the designer has done so far.  Take a bow, Steve B.!


I think Santa's in trouble . . .

. . . according to the British Royal College of General Practitioners, at least.

Children should not leave sherry for Santa Claus this Christmas Eve because he is an overweight binge-drinker at risk of mental health problems, the head of the Royal College of GPs has warned.

Jolly old St Nicholas is famed for his rotund stomach, rosy cheeks and, according to children’s poem The Night Before Christmas, keeps a pipe glued to his lips at all times.

But Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the RCGP, said his poor diet and lifestyle had left Santa at risk of host of debilitating conditions.

It is likely, said Professor Stokes-Lampard, that Santa is suffering from alcoholism, work related stress, gout and sleep deprivation.

He may even have contracted Lyme disease from spending too much time with his reindeers, which could be infested with disease-bearing ticks. And the pressure of working night-shift will also have exacted a heavy health toll.

In fact, unless Santa gets a handle on his drinking, over-eating and lack of excercise, it could be the last year he will be dropping presents down the chimney.

. . .

"In the meantime, I would recommend that Santa gives the sherry a miss this year - and maybe asks Rudolph if he can share his carrots."

There's more at the link.

Some, of course, might consider the good Doctor a killjoy.  Hmmm . . . if one disagrees with her, does that make one a dissenter or a dis-Santa?


Friday, December 22, 2017

Political correctness infests yet another entertainment great

James Delingpole points out that social justice warriors and their politically correct gospel have infected, and are well on the way to destroying, yet another major online game hub.  It's a long article, filled with detail, so I've tried to distill the essence of it.

Every day, everywhere from college campuses to social media pages, from Hollywood to the comic industry, from science laboratories to the military, a battle is being fought for the soul of Western civilization. On one side are the “progressives” whose risibly inappropriate name includes everyone from Antifa, Occupy, and Social Justice Warriors to the liberal elite types who congregate at Davos every year and who would be running the U.S. now if it hadn’t been for the glorious accident of Donald Trump. On the other are the happy warriors ... who recognise that the Culture Wars are a continuation of the same struggle for freedom and against totalitarianism for which good men have been fighting and dying since at least the Battle of the Salamis.

And caught in the middle of this struggle are all those millions of ordinary people who probably never thought of themselves as political but are beginning to realize, through rude awakenings like the one I’m about to describe, that there is no such thing as neutral status in the culture wars. Either you’re for liberty or you’re against it. It really is that simple. And if you’re for liberty, you can’t just hang around taking it for granted. You have to fight for it, now more than ever, every day of your life.

. . .

If you play Magic: The Gathering — Wizards of the Coast seems sincerely to believe — then the Wizards of the Coast can police, judge and punish you, 24/7. They are so stringent, in fact that, essentially, Wizards of the Coast is reserving the right to own the life of any player who plays its card game — and to banish them permanently at the drop of a hat should he or she (though, face it, 99.99 times out of a 100 it’s going to be a he) fail to meet its exacting standards of personal behavior.

And that judge’s decision is final. You’re not allowed a defense, apparently. You’re not allowed a plea in mitigation. Nor is the judge — Wizards of the Coast, owned by Hasbro — under any obligation to justify his verdict and the consequent penalty. Nor, furthermore, is that judge required to be in any way consistent. As we shall see, if you have the correct SJW politics you can harass, oppress and bully fellow players with virtual impunity; only the politically incorrect are punished.

. . .

Convergence, essentially, is the SJW equivalent of those parasitic wasps which lay their eggs inside other insects. The eggs then hatch and the hapless host body is devoured from within.

Obvious victims of this include organizations like Facebook, Apple, and Google, which increasingly put the values of “social justice” before more conventional free market goals like customer service and the bottom line. And, indeed, before more traditional values like freedom of speech or individual rights.

But almost no institution is immune.

. . .

In other words, what happened at Marvel Comics is happening at Magic: The Gathering too. The kids are being given what’s good for them, rather than what it is they want or like.

. . .

No one asked the 20 million people who enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering where they wanted their hobby to be policed according to politically correct standards where you’re no longer free to bitch and gossip and joke about the game, the other players, and the organizational hierarchy.

A tiny cabal of SJWs made that decision for them. And now, just like happened with Gamergate, they’ve been forced to take sides.

. . .

Either you believe gaming should be about fun, freedom of speech and liberty — or you believe it should be about social justice. It cannot be both. You are the market: you decide!

There's more at the link.

It's a sad thing to see major players in the entertainment industry shooting themselves, not just in the foot, but in multiple portions of anatomy in this way.  Sure, it satisfies those currently running things . . . but when they have nothing left to run, because their customers have walked away, where will they be then?


Interesting! Is the Obama era finally ending in the US Navy?

Under the Obama administration, the US armed forces were starved of funds and resources, and a determined effort appears to have been made to get rid of as many combat veterans as possible.  The results have been plain to see for the past few years.  The standards of the Army, Navy and Air Force appear to have declined dramatically.

President Trump appointed retired General Mattis, USMC, as Secretary of Defense to turn things round.  The latest Strategic Readiness Review from the US Navy appears to demonstrate he's doing just that.  CDR Salamander, prolific Navy blogger, has a good article examining the Review.  Here's an excerpt.

It is time to digest the Navy's Strategic Readiness Review that came out late last week.

BLUF ... and I will repeat myself a few times from here ... this is an exceptional document. Well written, substantive, educational, blunt, and something we can build a great future on - if we have the institutional courage to do so.

Once you get past the Executive Summary, you get to a rather informative but peculiar body of work. It is structured in a way to inform people who may not really know what goes on in the Navy but have the ear of decision makers. I think this is smart. The people who control real power in DC do not wear a uniform.

. . .

We lost 17 Sailors, and two front line warships are out of the game so we could get this review. I hope everyone will get their copy and digest it. It is almost everything we wanted.

I am not exaggerating. This document is exactly what I hoped for.

I’m going to try to keep this as simple and straight forward as possible; this document represents and institutional repudiation of the last 30-years of Navy leadership. Full stop.

There's more at the link, including a link to the full document.  It's long, but well worth your time if you're a military or naval veteran, or interested in the subject.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

"An engineer's wet dream"

That's how a Norwegian engineer described the Aasta Hansteen spar rig, which is being assembled off Norway.  It's a phenomenally complex piece of construction, in two very large pieces. It was mostly manufactured and assembled in South Korea, with parts coming from all over the world, including Norway. Once built, it was shipped in two parts to Norway, where it's being put together.

Here's a video of the construction of the spar, the part that will float largely submerged and support the superstructure.

Here's the spar being "sunk" off the Norwegian coast, putting it into a vertical orientation to receive the superstructure. It's just like a giant submarine, with ballast tanks to adjust its depth and orientation.

And here's the superstructure being mounted.  It was shipped to Norway aboard a single vessel, then moved onto the two submersible ships you can see at either side. They took it out to the spar and positioned themselves on either side of it, then the superstructure was mated to its supports.

The gas field isn't yet operational - that's scheduled for late 2018.  I have no idea how much money has been spent on preparing this field, and buying and installing all the equipment, but it's got to run into the billions!  Very impressive.


Federal officers should be in jail over this

I'm sure many readers will be familiar with yesterday's ruling in the Bundy case.

A federal judge on Wednesday declared a mistrial in the criminal case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and three others for their role in a 2014 armed standoff with U.S. government agents, and rebuked prosecutors for withholding evidence from the defense.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro told federal prosecutors they had willfully violated evidence rules in failing to turn over pertinent documents to the defense, adding that “the failure is prejudicial” to ensuring a fair trial.

. . .

In a stinging rebuke on Wednesday, Navarro said prosecutors knew or should have known of the existence of memos from Federal Bureau of Investigation agents that might have been helpful to the defense.

Those memos and other documents, some 3,300 pages in all, were not turned over until well after an Oct. 1 deadline, and then only after repeated efforts by Bundy’s defense counsel, Navarro said.

Defense attorneys have long argued the Bundy family felt threatened by government “snipers” positioned on a hill above their ranch.
Navarro set a retrial date for Feb. 26, 2018, but whether a new trial will occur is uncertain. Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said prosecutors have yet to decide whether to pursue the case. Even if they do, defense lawyers will argue for the charges to be dismissed altogether at a hearing set for Jan. 8.

There's more at the link.

Every Federal law enforcement officer involved swore the same oath I did:

I [name] do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

If they swore that oath, but then violated it in the ways Judge Navarro has ruled that they did . . . their oath can't have meant much to them.  I think every one of them who betrayed it so disgracefully should face jail time - at least as much jail time as they were seeking for the defendants in this case.  Nothing less would be adequate punishment.


A high-speed porpoise on the runway

The video clip I posted yesterday, showing a LET LE 410 Turbolet aircraft landing in a rather, shall we say, impromptu manner, aroused a lot of comment.  Since many of those doing so came to this blog during recent years, I thought it might amuse you to re-post a video I first embedded in 2009.

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Iraq flew much of its Air Force to Iranian airfields, to prevent its destruction by coalition forces.  That didn't help, because Iran promptly confiscated all those aircraft and kept them for itself.  Among them were a squadron's worth of Sukhoi Su-24 strike aircraft, Russia's answer to the US F-111.  They were absorbed into the Iranian Air Force.

Unfortunately, the quality and/or ability of Iranian-trained pilots left something to be desired, as evidenced by the relatively large number of crashes in that country over the past few decades.  That proved to be the case with at least one of the confiscated Su-24's.  Here's video of it trying to land at an Iranian base.  I wrote when I first posted it:

The video is of rather poor quality, but if you'll excuse that, it's worth watching. The pilot makes a pass at the runway, but doesn't land. On his second pass, he slams it down willy-nilly, and porpoises down the runway until he smashes the undercarriage. Of course, this ruptures the fuel tanks, which catch fire. If you watch closely, you'll see the pilot and his Weapons Systems Operator eject safely from the burning wreckage as it skids down the runway.

You'll notice the plume of what looks like white smoke coming out of the back of the Su-24 as it comes in to land the second time. I think that's fuel being dumped, which would also account for the burning trail left down the runway after the crash. Why, precisely, the pilot chose to do that at so low an altitude, I really couldn't say . . . but then again, perhaps we don't really want to know!

See for yourself.

Suddenly, that Turbolet landing looks almost smooth by comparison!


Wednesday, December 20, 2017


I suspect this cartoon is emblematic of American politics as a whole right now.


I think I know where some African bush pilots learned to fly

I've mentioned the LET 410 Turbolet transport aircraft in a few previous posts, particularly its use as a bush aircraft in Africa, where its toughness and reliability have made it very popular.   I've flown on a few of them, and whilst I can't say I enjoyed the experience, that wasn't because of the plane.  Rather, it was because of the pilots, who often appeared to be refugees from Eastern European pilot zoos!  Their knowledge, skills and technique frequently left a certain something to be desired . . .

When I came across this video of a LET 410 attempting to land, and (sort of) succeeding at last, I was irrepressibly reminded of African bush flying.  I think I now know where at least some of those pilots learned to fly!

Oops . . .  I think the technical term for that is "throwing the plane at the runway"!


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Good news and a teaser for my readers

This morning I sent out the alpha draft of my latest military science fiction novel to a few selected readers.  Its working title is "The Stones of Silence".  They'll be going through it over the next week or two, helping me deal with errors in spelling, grammar, continuity and what have you.

I'm excited about this book. It's set in the familiar universe of my Maxwell series, but on different planets, with different characters.  It pounced on me recently, and refused to let go until I'd written it.  I think it has every possibility of turning into a trilogy.  Here's a brief excerpt.

Colomb’s duty watch felt no tension at all as they looked at the Plot display. The cargo shuttle was almost ten minutes out, arrowing towards its rendezvous with the first satellite. They’d all shared in a handsome bonus for capturing the first three satellites, some months before. If they picked up the next three as well, plus the monitoring station that they now knew existed, they’d get the same again – something to look forward to when they got back to Callanish.

Their anticipation was rudely shattered as three traces appeared in the Plot display, the first above them, the second thirty degrees below and to starboard, and the last thirty degrees below and to port. The Plot operator froze for a disbelieving second, then almost screamed, “Vampire! Vampire! Three missiles launched from… they’re all around us!”

Almost before he’d finished speaking, Lieutenant-Commander Macaskill’s voice cut over his from the Navigation console. “They’re not aimed at us! They’re offset to one side, sir!”

Lamprey felt as if he were wading through mental molasses as he tried to cudgel his astonished brain into action. He raised his voice over the sudden hubbub of startled cries and oaths. “Silence! Silence in the control room!” Every instinct screamed at him to cut in the drive and head for safety right away… but those missiles proved it would be futile. Every one of them had been launched from only half a million kilometers away.

They watched in frozen, dumbfounded silence as the three missiles arrowed closer, then detonated in three starburst icons in the Plot display. Their laser beam cones were aimed away from Colomb, so they did no damage, instead slashing harmlessly through the vacuum of space.

Almost as soon as the last missile had detonated, a voice crackled over the Communications speaker on the interplanetary emergency channel. It was filtered through a voice modulator, so that it came over in a flat, mechanical monotone.

“Attention! Colomb, you are surrounded by armed vessels. Any attempt to flee will result in your instant destruction. Your ship and crew are under arrest. Order your cargo shuttle to return to your ship immediately. Your crew is to enter Colomb’s lifeboats, taking nothing with them, and remain there until further orders. The Commanding Officer, plus a skeleton bridge and drive room crew, are to remain at their stations. Send your Executive Officer to meet an armed boarding party in your docking bay. They will give you further orders. In the meantime, you are not to damage your ship in any way. Leave all systems and equipment in fully operational condition. Do not erase any records, files or programs. If you do, those responsible will face the most severe consequences. Acknowledge. Over.”

There was a stunned silence in the control center as Lamprey reached for his microphone. He somehow managed to keep his voice steady, even though his body was trembling with the shock of his reaction to the missiles that had come out of nowhere.

“Colomb to unknown vessel. Who are you? Identify yourself! By what authority are you trying to arrest us? There is no System Control Service in the Mycenae system, and no laws or regulations authorizing you or anybody else to arrest anyone for anything. This is an act of piracy! Over.”

“Colomb, we are the new security service for the Mycenae system. That’s all you need to know. We don’t care whether you recognize our authority. You’d better recognize the authority of our missiles, if you value your lives! As for your arrest, what did you expect after you stole three satellites from around this planet? Your presence here was recorded, and your ship identified. You are now being brought to justice for that theft. It may be frontier justice, but it’s justice nonetheless. Your ship is forfeit for your crimes. You and your crew will be placed under guard while Colomb is taken away for disposal. After that, plus a suitable interval to make sure you haven’t sabotaged her in any way, you’ll all be returned to Callanish, to explain to your bosses how you lost their ship. Over.”

Lamprey wanted to spit on the deck next to his console, but restrained himself. He was filled with bitter anger and frustration. He knew they had no defense against… whoever these people were. They’d heard vague rumors that the New Orkney Enterprise was considering system security in Mycenae, but his superiors had assured him that nothing had been done about it yet. They’d claimed it would take months, if not years, for NOE to buy patrol craft, hire qualified and experienced crews for them, and set up a formal security operation. What’s more, NOE didn’t have the money to spare for that right now. He couldn’t help thinking bitterly, It looks like they had a lot more money than we thought. They must have hired an existing outfit, rather than taken the time to raise their own. Who the hell are these people? There aren’t many space security companies out there, and I don’t know any who can afford to expend nuclear-tipped missiles as a demonstration like that. They cost too much.

Slowly, he raised his microphone. “Colomb to… whoever you are. We shall comply, under protest. I am recalling my cargo shuttle, and will send my crew to the lifeboats and my Executive Officer to the docking bay. We await your boarding party. Over.”

“Very well. Do as you’re told, and no-one will get hurt, and you’ll all get home safely. Stand by.”

Lamprey switched to intercom. “Drive compartment, stand fast. Control center, stand fast. The rest of the crew is to proceed to their lifeboat stations at once, and take their places in the lifeboats, but do not launch, I say again, Do. Not. Launch. This is not a drill. I repeat, This. Is. Not. A. Drill. Obey at once. Lifeboat commanders, call the roll. Report to me as soon as all assigned personnel are in their places.”

Faintly, echoing up and down the main passageway, he could hear shouts of astonishment from the crew. Most of them knew nothing of the drama outside the hull, he reminded himself. He’d have to broadcast to them in the lifeboats, and explain what had happened.

He nodded approvingly at Lieutenant-Commander Macaskill, who’d taken it upon himself to radio the cargo shuttle and order its immediate return. “Thank you, Exec. You’d better head for the docking bay to meet the boarding party. Be careful. They may be trigger-happy.”

“I’ll be careful, sir.” Aidan’s voice was tight with anger and concern. “I wonder where they’re going to put us while they take Colomb to… wherever she’s going?”

“I daresay we’ll find out soon enough. As to where she’s going, that’s surely obvious? They’ll take her somewhere they can sell her for a lot of money, cash on the barrelhead. A newly refurbished repair ship, with all its equipment intact, is worth hundreds of millions, even in a no-questions-asked under-the-counter sale. They’ll want to recover as much as they can of the value of the satellites we took from them.”

“I wish we could hand them a worthless, burned-out hulk!”

“It’s a tempting thought, but what would happen to our crew if we did?” They stared at each other for a wordless moment, then Lamprey shook his head. “No. We can’t risk it. Our people deserve better than that.”

“I… yes, sir. You’re right.”

“I’ll broadcast to the ship’s company once they’re in the lifeboats, and make sure they understand that too. No resistance, no sabotage, no funny business at all. Our families want us back alive, not in coffins!”

There you are.  There'll be more soon.

I'm still working on Maxwell Volume 6, Laredo Volume 3, and Ames Volume 3.  They're all due to be completed as fast as I can manage it.  This one... well, it just kinda snuck up on me and wouldn't get out of my mind.  Muses are funny like that.

Look for this book in the new year, if all goes well.


What did I tell you?

A few months ago, I opined that the national flood insurance program should be terminated, and later cited cases where multiple claims had been filed on the same property for many years.  Some approved;  others thought I was being far too harsh.

It seems that others are adding up the financial burden to insurers, and coming to the same conclusions.

After a destructive wildfire swept from Calabasas to Malibu in 1993, the head of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy stood on a mountaintop on live TV and made a radical proposal.

He called for a “three-strikes” rule to limit the number of times recovery funds could be spent to help rebuild a home destroyed by wildfire.

Today, Joseph T. Edmiston is still wincing from the blowback. But he hasn’t backed down. Just the opposite.

“I think two strikes is enough and they ought to be bought out,” Edmiston said, after spending three days coordinating the conservancy’s crews on the Skirball, Rye and Creek fires.

He’s not alone. With the frequency and cost of catastrophic wildfires climbing in California, the idea of compensating property owners to not rebuild — or using economic pressure to discourage them from building in the first place — is gaining supporters among those searching for ways to cut wildfire losses. The state has seen its most destructive year of wildfires in its history, with more than 15,000 structures damaged or destroyed and more than 45 people killed. Researchers warn that 2017 is a sign of what’s to come as the effects of a warming climate and unchecked wildlands development converge.

“I think what’s next is that every mayor, every town council and city planning board has to take this really seriously,” said Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College. “I would tell a zoning commission in Claremont or wherever, ‘Buy up the land before it gets built. And if a fire comes through, buy up the land so it won’t burn again.’ ”

The question of rebuilding is emotionally and politically fraught. Proximity to nature, beautiful views and remoteness draw people to the wildlands where builders have obtained permits to place houses in areas with high susceptibility to fire. Some of the neighborhoods that burned this year had experienced fire before when there was less development. Houses rebuilt there will soon be at risk again from a fire cycle that experts say is shortening from decades to only years.

There's more at the link.

I think the conclusion is inescapable.  The national flood insurance program is subsidized by taxpayers.  Fire insurance isn't, but it's subsidized by the 'pool' of insured clients of the insurance companies.  Those in fire-prone areas, who are more likely to lodge claims, are being subsidized by the premiums of those in less risky areas, who are less likely to claim on their policies.  Either way, the cost burden is becoming unsupportable.

I think that a "three claims and you're out" rule for damage-prone property is more than reasonable.  You get one final payout to settle your mortgage (you can keep the change, if any):  but you lose your land, and no private owner can ever build there again.

What say you, readers?


One simple truth that demolishes most gun control arguments

The Delaware State Supreme Court has just recognized reality in its most basic, fundamental form.  (Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.)

After several decades of prohibition firearms can now be brought into state parks due to a recent Delaware Supreme Court ruling.

By a 3-2 vote, a state ban on weapons carried into forests was rescinded on Dec. 7.

. . .

The Superior Court earlier upheld the ban based on the “important governmental objective of keeping the public safe from the potential harm of firearms in state parks and forests.” The Court did not believe the regulations violated any constitutional rights.

“But that conclusion is based on the questionable notion — unsupported by reference to any evidence – that outlawing possession of firearms in an area makes law-abiding citizens safer because criminals will, for some reason, obey the regulations,” the Supreme Court majority found.

Allowing a hunting rifle or shotgun on a state owned park or forest land during a controlled hunt “does not fulfill — and cannot substitute for — the people’s right to have a firearm for defense of self and family
while camping overnight at a state park or hiking in the more remote acres of state forests (assuming compliance with all other laws governing guns),” according to Justice Valihura.

“The regulations not only unduly burden that constitutional right, but eviscerate it altogether.”

There's more at the link.

That's the simple, fundamental truth of the matter.  Criminals do not and will not obey the law.  If the law prevents honest citizens from defending themselves against criminals, what other defense do they have?

Police aren't there all the time to protect them.  As the old saying warns, "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away."  Average police response times around the nation are getting longer as the demand for their services grows.  In most major metropolitan areas, it's ten minutes or more.  In ten minutes, a determined criminal can inflict an awful lot of damage, including rape, maiming or murder.

The ultimate defense against criminals is their fear that you'll be able to hurt them more than they can hurt you.  Removing our right to self-defense, by banning or restricting the most effective instrument for that defense - a firearm - is to make us victims, whether we like it or not.  That's why most gun control measures are not just misguided - they're fundamentally immoral.


Monday, December 18, 2017

It's done at last

Our new water heater is heating like mad, a new water filter has been installed for its side of the house (covering the kitchen, washing machine, and water heater), and all the old stuff has been toted off.  With what seems like amazing efficiency for a municipality, the inspector even arrived on the same day to sign off on the new installation!  That would never have happened in Nashville.  (Miss D. told me of one US city where a $20 bill had to be slipped to the scheduler just to make an appointment, and another $50 to the inspector to ensure that he filed the paperwork in a timely manner.  She was rather vitriolic about it.)  Even Curtis the neighbor's kitten has gone back home, satisfied that he tormented the plumber to an adequate extent.

Our wallets are about $1,200 lighter, thanks to the extra parts and labor costs of installing the water filter and a few other bits and pieces, but the new installation should last us for a good few years, God and mother nature willing.  It was an unplanned expenditure, of course, but we're very thankful that we'd taken care to top up our "rainy day fund" as and when we could.  It came in very handy this time!

We discovered an interesting fact about this house during the installation process.  We have no idea where the water comes in!  There's a meter in the yard, but where the pipe runs between it and the foundation slab is anyone's guess.  We've narrowed it down to the bedroom side of the house, but that covers a multitude of sins rooms.  From the bathrooms there, it runs under (or through) the slab to the garage, where it splits into feed lines for the water heater, kitchen, an ice-maker in the fridge, and the washing machine (which is also in the garage).  Rather than spend hours digging up the bedroom side of the house (in unpleasantly cold temperatures) looking for the pipe, the plumber recommended simply cutting out a square of sheet-rock in the corner of the garage, where the pipe splits, and installing the filter to cover all of those feed lines.  We looked at our wallets, and agreed with alacrity.

My new cellphone is performing well.  I had a little HTC unit, because I don't use much in the way of apps on my phone.  (In fact, I prefer to leave it on my desk when I'm wandering around.  I see no reason why I should be tethered to it!  That's what voicemail and text messages are for.)  It died last week, the same day that we discovered the water heater was leaking onto the garage floor.  To replace it, I bought the cheapest Samsung they had at the store.  It's a low-end phone by modern standards, but it's still a lot faster and more efficient than my old one.  I'm enjoying it.

All right.  Now to restore order to the garage by moving back all the stuff I had to shunt around, to make room for the plumber to get at the water heater!  No peace for the wicked . . .


The joys of working with contractors

Following Friday's excitement, and a lot of research into solutions over the weekend, the plumber arrived this morning to install our new water heater.

Interesting times ensued when he shut off the water to the old heater - only to find that hot water was flowing into it through a pipe they didn't recognize.  Turns out our geothermal heating and A/C unit circulates hot water through it, to take advantage of the heat it's either providing to or removing from the house.  A quick call to the A/C tech, and he came out to switch off the water pump in the unit.  He'll be back this afternoon to switch everything on again and "burp" the pump.  That's another service bill coming our way . . . good thing our "rainy day fund" can cope with it!

The neighbor's kitten, Curtis, a charming little black-and-white five-month-old hellion, has decided that our open garage (where the water heater is installed), and the open plumbing van, are exactly what he needs to explore.  He's getting in everybody's way, particularly when he climbs into the plumber's toolkit.  The expression on a plumber's face when he reaches down without looking, expecting to pick up a wrench, and instead grabs a purring kitten, is very amusing - to us, at any rate!

Here's hoping we'll have hot water again by tonight.  Tomorrow, we're expecting a couple to stay overnight, with their two toddlers, so we'd better be able to offer them a working bathroom!


Doofus Of The Day #993

Another motoring Doofus, this one in England.

A driver's 'Smart' car burst into flames on a filling station forecourt after she put petrol into the wrong hole.

Julie Nicklin, 54, was trapped inside her vehicle as it became a fireball when she mistakenly poured the fuel into the car's interior through a detachable cap on one side of the car - not the one containing its fuel tank.

The mother-of-two ignited the fuel as she turned the ignition key.

The 2005 Fortwo Pulse instantly exploded and trapped her inside, while it caused other motorists on the forecourt to run for cover.

Her clothes and her glasses were scorched, but Mr Turner said he believes what saved her was the fact that the large puffer-style jacket she was wearing did not set on fire.

There's more at the link.

The driver certainly merits a Doofus award, but what about the car designer who included a 'detachable cap' that gives access to the car interior, but isn't a gas cap?  Sounds confusing to me.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday morning music

Let's have some music by a group my father loved.  I can remember hearing him play their LP's over and over again in his study.  Here's Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass, from the 1960's.

Oh, boy, do those bring back memories of my childhood . . .


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Doofus Of The Day #992

This quote says it all.

"According to the investigation, it is believed the male victim was attempting to steal the wheels from a van when the vehicle fell on top of him," said a statement from [Pittsburgh's] Public Safety Department.


Hint to aspiring wheel thieves:  the wheel nuts are on the outside for a good reason - so you don't have to be the nut who gets under the inside!



Lessons learned from yesterday's excitement

Thanks to everyone who offered help after yesterday's alarums and excursions.  I think we're on top of the situation for now.  I've learned a few things, and re-learned others, so I thought I'd share them for the benefit of anyone who's interested.

First, Miss D.'s and my emphasis on building up and keeping a cash reserve has paid off, yet again.  We're facing bills of over $1,000 to buy and install a new water heater and associated bits and pieces, and also replace my cellphone (with ye olde basic economy model - I don't waste money on high-end phones with features I don't need).  Fortunately, because we've saved for a rainy day, we can spend the money without worries.  That's a real blessing.

I went online and searched for information about a replacement water heater.  To my surprise, it emerged that the different warranty periods for those things - usually 6, 9 or 12 years - often (not always) apply to precisely and exactly the same heater.  The difference in price is usually to pay for an insurance policy for the manufacturer, which is betting its unit will last long enough that it can keep some extra profit on the deal.  Local plumbers confirmed online advice to buy a good-quality 6-year unit, and look after it.  Given due care and attention, it's likely to last as long as a more expensive one.

Some readers recommended tankless water systems.  Those are useful, but they also cost more than a traditional heater, and have one drawback - there's no water reservoir for use in emergencies.  If we lose our water supply for some reason, it's comforting to know there'll be 50 gallons in the water heater, in addition to my backup supplies.  That might come in handy in an emergency.

Three precautions and routine maintenance measures were recommended:
  1. Given the prevalence of sediment and algae in our water at certain times of the year, a whole-house water filter, installed in the line ahead of the water heater, is a very useful thing.  It traps most of the sediment that would otherwise build up inside the heater's tank.  It's a lot cheaper to replace the filter than the heater!
  2. Buy a heater with replaceable anodes.  We're doing that;  in fact, I'll buy the first set of replacement anodes, plus the wrench needed to install them, at the same time that I buy the heater.  That way, we'll have them on hand when we need them, in case the store doesn't have them in stock.  We'll make sure to swap them out at recommended intervals.
  3. Don't let the plumber supply the equipment from their stocks, because they'll charge more.  This proved very true.  I reckon we'll save between 20% and 30% on their price by buying the heater and filter ourselves, and having the plumber install them.

Miss D. also came up with a very useful idea.  She wants the plumber to install a water shut-off for the whole house as the very first thing in the line as it comes in, even ahead of the filter.  That way, if we have a leak anywhere and it's sub-zero outside, we don't have to go plodding around the garden at two in the morning, freezing our unmentionables off, looking for the hatch and trying to fiddle with the special key needed to close off the inflow.  We can simply walk into the garage and close a tap instead.  I think that's a great idea, so we'll add it to the list for the plumber's attention.

So far, so good.  My new phone is set up and working, and we've got our ducks more or less in a row for the plumber.  Now, bearing in mind that problems seem to come in threes . . . what else is going to go wrong?


Friday, December 15, 2017

Romance - bachelor edition

Courtesy of today's Pearls Before Swine comic strip, by Stephan Pastis.  Click the image for a larger version at the strip's Web page.


Oh, frabjous day!

It's turning out to be one of those days.  I'm working on the climactic, second-last chapter of my latest novel, writing the main battle sequence, when:
  1. My cellphone dies - the battery will no longer hold a charge.  So, it's off to the cellphone store as soon as I finish writing these words.
  2. The hot water heater begins leaking.  Plumber ahoy!  They can come out on Monday, but that's going to be a few hundred dollars down the drain for a new heater plus installation charges.
  3. I now have to move around a large part of the contents of the garage this weekend, to allow the plumber to get at the hot water heater.

Writing?  What writing?  And who says life is boring?


This is what happens when you hand out weapons as if they were candy

In its efforts to supply so-called 'moderate' or 'anti-government' groups in Syria, it looks like the USA and Europe ended up supplying ISIS and other radicals instead.  The Telegraph reports:

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants relied heavily on guns and ammunition produced by Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Germany, a report released on Thursday by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an international organisation that documents weapons trafficking in war zones, revealed.

. . .

Their 200-page report provides the most comprehensive, verified study of the group’s weapons to date, presenting an analysis of more than 40,000 items recovered from Isil forces over three years.

It concludes that international weapon supplies intended for rebel factions in the Syrian conflict ended up with Isil, “significantly augmenting the quantity and quality of weapons in its arsenal”.

In the early phase of the conflict, most of the group's cache had been captured from Iraqi and Syrian forces. But from the end of 2015, CAR started to see another significant source - factories in Eastern Europe.

The weapons and ammunition was being manufactured in Europe, sold to the US and Saudi Arabia, and transported across the Turkish border into Syria.

They said supplies of weapons by the Washington and Riyadh to Syrian opposition groups indirectly allowed Isil to obtain a substantial amount of sophisticated anti-armour ammunition and anti-tank guided weapons (ATGW), which have then been used against coalition forces they support.

"Time and again, states that seek to accomplish short-term political objectives supply weapons to groups over whom they exert little to no control," said James Bevan, the executive director of CAR. "These weapons often gravitate to the most organised and effective rebel and insurgent forces."

In one case CAR tracked a number of advanced ATGWs. Using their production numbers they discovered they were manufactured in the EU, sold to the US, which supplied them to an opposition group in Syria, where they were then transferred to Isil fighters in Iraq.

The full chain of transactions occurred within two months of the weapons' dispatch from the factory.

In another instance, in October 2014, Romania sold 9,252 rocket-propelled grenades, known as PG-9s, to the US military.

The grenades were sent by the US to Jaysh Suriyah al-­Jadid, a Syrian militia armed and trained by America to fight Isil in the east of the country.

But somehow, PG-9s from this same shipment made their way to neighbouring Iraq, where Isil experts separated the stolen warheads from the original rocket motors before adding new features that made them better suited for urban combat such as the battle for Mosul.

There's more at the link.

There's nothing new about this sort of thing, of course. I can recall black-painted C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft arriving in the dead of night in the African bush, laden with weapons for pro-US movements in their fight against Communist-dominated governments in more than one country.  During the 1980's, the USA supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to UNITA in Angola, under the strict condition that they not be allowed to fall into the hands of its South African allies.  That didn't stop several of the missiles from making their way to a very interested technical analysis team in Pretoria, along with SA-7SA-8, SA-9, SA-14 and SA-16 missiles captured from Angolan forces.  (The Russian manufacturer of the SA-16 later proudly referenced South African tests showing 'the Igla's superiority over the ... Stinger missile'.  That amuses the heck out of me, since I watched some of those tests!  Yes, the SA-16 [which appeared to copy many features of the Stinger, leading us to nickname it, in pidgin Russian, the 'Stingerski'] did appear to be a more capable missile at the time.)

There's no easy way to avoid arming one's enemies in such a confused situation.  One either accepts that risk, or withholds arms altogether.  The latter is safer, but can get one's allies chopped up by other groups whose supporters are less scrupulous about providing weapons.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Heh - weird feminist dingbat edition

Last week Wear Your Voice, an 'intersectional feminist magazine' (really?), published an article titled - wait for it - "If you’re going to date someone, you want to make sure they’re anti-oppression. Here are 10 things you should ask on a first date".

As a queer femme of color, I keep close relationships with people who go beyond allyship; they’re true accomplices in the fight against white supremacy, queerphobia and misogyny. If you’re not going to support marginalized folks, then we can’t be friends, let alone date. The personal is political.

Beyond the lovely cushioning, happiness and support that we receive from our platonic relationships (which are, in all honesty, soul-feeding and essential), feminists also date! But there are questions we have to ask before we get close to someone.

The following list of questions is applicable for all relationships — certainly not just cisgender, heterosexual ones.

There's more at the link.

My own reaction to such nonsense was fairly blunt and down-to-earth, not the sort of thing I could reproduce in a blog I try to keep family-friendly.  However, PawPaw, who can be equally blunt and down-to-earth (funny how us old fart veterans seem to think alike!), has penned his own responses to the lady's (?) list of questions.  For example:

1. Do you believe that Black Lives Matter?  Yeah, like I believe that white lives matter.

2. What are your thoughts on gender and sexual orientation?  There are two genders.  That is simple biology.  Sexual orientation is more complex.  Just so we're clear . . . [details omitted].

3. How do you work to dismantle sexism and misogyny in your life?  Are you going to pick up the tab?  Or do you intend to perpetuate societal conventions?

4. What are your thoughts on sex work?  I had to give it up when I turned 40.

Again, more at the link.

Thanks, PawPaw.  I needed the laugh!


The minnow and the whale

One of the more amusing aspects of flying is the discrepancy in size between many aircraft.  Here's a fun meetup on the runway:  a Bombardier Dash 8 commuter airliner (capacity usually about 35-75 depending on fuselage length, maximum takeoff weight up to 30-odd metric tons) takes off immediately ahead of an Airbus A340-600, at one time the longest commercial airliner in the world (capacity up to 375 [comparable to Boeing's biggest 777's or its 747], maximum takeoff weight up to 330 metric tons).  The contrast is eye-catching.

Like I said:  the minnow and the whale!


The nightmare world

I've written more than once about child sexual abuse, particularly in the context of the Catholic Church's clergy crisis.  (For my personal experience of how that played out, see here.  To see all my articles on that subject, in reverse chronological order, click here.)  I also had not inconsiderable contact with child molesters and abusers as a prison chaplain.  I wrote about some cases in my memoir of prison ministry.

However, nothing can capture the agony of child abuse, mental, spiritual and physical, like the recollections of an abused child.  Moira Greyland is one such person.  Daughter of famed science fiction and fantasy author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and her husband, convicted pedophile Walter H. Breen, she was abused by both of them, rampantly and repeatedly, for many years.  In a 2014 letter to blogger Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Ms. Greyland said this:

The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.

There's more at the link.  You can read here her more detailed account of her abuse, including her rape by her father, and the psychological conditioning and grooming from both her parents that still affects her.

Her brother, too, was the sexual victim of his parents.  He's spoken about it here.  (If that screen is hard to read, highlight the text.  It will stand out from the background.)  It scarred him for life.

I live in an echo chamber where memories of yesterday can swell up into thunderstorms of thought and go rolling through my troubled valleys like a drunken Zeus hurtling thunderbolts in every direction laughing to raise the dead. And it does, corpses of memory before me shaking to the Monster Mash and filling my eyes with what I try so hard not to see.

Physical. Absolutely. But that is so much easier to bear than head games. Screaming is bad, but little whispers and threats work so much better to chill your blood and recreate being cold and naked hiding under tables hearing the shouting. To be "Bone Chewing Bear", robbing the plates of every scrap of food you could find. Life got better as I got older and there was more money, but the earth could turn any day to seeing the big cat stalking in her skin. I flinch from hands and eyes and am very polite and patient day by day by...

Mental. My god, I have no way to say this. Words work so well on me; before long the raised hand I am cowering from becomes reflex. The face is the face of guessing moment by moment what she would bring. As I got older humiliation and embarrassment became the thing and more and more indirectly as time went by.

There was no believing she was getting better as you could not tell which one of her would wake up at any moment. It is so much easier to bear being hurt yourself than being blamed for someone hurting someone else. The shame from that alone is this boulder I have hanging around my neck.

Again, more at the link.

Now Ms. Greyland has written a book, 'The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon', describing, in detail, what it meant to grow up as the victim of such abuse.

The blurb reads as follows:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

I think this is an extraordinarily important book.  I believe we all need to understand the horrifying impact of child sexual abuse on its victims.  Most of them can't speak for themselves.  I commend and applaud Ms. Greyland's courage in speaking out, not just for herself, but on their behalf, too.

On a personal note, I find this book a ghastly reminder of why I took the stand I did when the Catholic Church hierarchy signally failed (and has continued to fail to this day) to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse in any meaningful way.  I don't think the bishops, archbishops and cardinals in general have any idea of just how horrifying is the reality of child sex abuse.  If they did, I can't believe they would have allowed their neglect of the situation to continue for so long.  Nevertheless, they did . . . and the result for the Church has been catastrophic.  By their wrong actions and deliberate inaction, they have destroyed the faith of millions - their faith in the Church, certainly, and in tragically many cases, their faith in God too.  That destruction will be weighed in the scales against them when they come to the Judgment we all must face.  I would not like to be in their shoes when that happens.

I can only suggest most strongly that you read Ms. Greyland's book for yourself.  Right now, today, there are tens of thousands of children among us who are going through what she went through.  May her story motivate all of us to do better for them, to help them escape their living nightmare;  and may all of us do our utmost to ensure that those who abuse them are prevented from ever doing so again.  Furthermore, may all those seeking to justify such abuse (for example, NAMBLA and its supporters) be publicly called out for the scum they are.  Let them be treated in the same way as abusers.  They deserve no less.