Wednesday, April 25, 2018

America as naval superpower - are we putting our eggs in the wrong baskets?

I read an article in the National Interest with some skepticism. It's titled 'How to Make the U.S. Navy Great Again', and harks back to the attitudes of the Cold War, IMHO.  Here's an excerpt.

The United States has critical national interests in eighteen maritime zones identified by warfighting commanders. These maritime regions range in size from the small Gulf of Guinea to the vast northern Pacific and from the northern Arctic Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Each zone requires a naval presence to uphold American interests. Some of these zones, like the Baltic Sea, require only a single American ship to protect and promote our interests, while others, like the Arabian Gulf, have a standing requirement for an aircraft carrier strike group comprised of six to eight ships, as well as permanently stationed coastal patrol boats. Because of ship maintenance, crew training and transit times, providing a naval presence requires three to four ships to keep one forward deployed. All told, the Navy needs a minimum of 355 ships to keep a naval presence on a credible and persistent basis, if the United States wants to maintain freedom of navigation, protect resources and undersea critical infrastructure, and uphold its alliance agreements. The Navy certified the 355-ship requirement in its 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA). According to the FSA, the true number of ships required by military commanders exceeds 650 ships. Importantly, achieving the 355-ship fleet is not just a Navy requirement; it is a matter of complying with U.S. law. Signed by President Trump in December 2017, the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018 includes the SHIPS Act, legislation establishing the 355-ship requirement as the national policy of the United States.

. . .

America cannot retreat from the seas. Its maritime interests are enduring and growing. Great wealth in the form of food stocks, minerals and energy resources lies beneath the waves that find their way to our shores. Additionally, access to lines of communication via the swiftest and most efficient routes across international waters, as well as maritime linkages to forty-nine transoceanic treaty partners, are of critical interest to the United States.

The threat to those interests is growing. Despite a brief post–Cold War respite of calm seas, the maritime domain is once again seeing rough waters as an arena of economic, diplomatic and military competition. China, Russia and Iran have invested heavily in ways to keep the U.S. Navy out of critical maritime regions. They are increasingly challenging American maritime interests and finding no response. The inability to respond is driven by a collapse in the size of U.S. naval forces over the past quarter century. Our adversaries and potential opponents see all of this as an indicator of overall national decline and an invitation to assume a larger role upon the world’s oceans. They have just begun what ultimately could become a financially and strategically disastrous naval arms race in an attempt to overmatch U.S. forces in their regions.

There's much more at the link.  It makes interesting reading.

I see many problems with this approach.  They include (but are not limited to) the following.

1. The USA simply cannot afford to play global naval policeman as it did in the past.  Modern high-tech warships are very expensive, and their operating costs very high (particularly when maintenance is deferred to keep them at sea because there aren't enough ships, and there isn't enough money to maintain those we have).  Many of the geographical areas identified in the article should be patrolled by our allies and friends.  In effect, by spending far too little on their own defense, they're sponging off the US defense budget, and the US Navy's ships and personnel, to do their work for them.  This has to stop.  If they won't carry their share of the load, why should we?  Do we really want to dispute control of the South China Sea?  Why?  What compelling US national interest is involved there?  If the countries in the region want to dispute control of its natural resources with China, why are we doing so for them?  Why are we patrolling it instead of them?  Why should US ships and sailors be placed in harms way when they won't do so themselves?

2.  The US Navy has to get over its obsession with high-tech everything.  I accept that modern, high-tech offensive weapons can only be stopped by modern, high-tech defenses.  However, when the cost of that high tech becomes ruinous, it also becomes unsustainable (witness, for example, the debacle over the new Zumwalt class destroyers and their ammunition).  Nuclear submarines cost multiple billions of dollars each.  Destroyers approach $2 billion each.  Rail guns and laser beams are promising technology, but upgrading our ships' electrical generating capacity to use them will cost a fortune.  By spending so much on relatively few ships and advanced weapons, we're losing the numbers battle.  As the National Interest article observed:

From a naval perspective, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is pursuing a mix of high-end and low-end ships and submarines. This strategy would allow the PLAN to spread out across the vast Pacific Ocean in sufficient numbers to locate and interdict U.S. ships. At the high end, China is investing in aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines and large surface combatants equipped with advanced radars, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and surface-to-surface missiles. While China’s high-end ships are designed to go toe to toe with their American counterparts in battle, Beijing is unlikely to close the United States’ technological head start. Therefore, China is aiming to close the capability gap by fielding mass quantities of low-end ships.

While the United States will not start buying frigates until the 2020s, China is building a new frigate every six weeks. Vast numbers of these low-end ships will increasingly patrol China’s expanding front lines in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Backed by a growing arsenal of longer-range and more sophisticated air and missile weapons, the Chinese navy will have a highly capable and numerically larger maritime force by the middle of the next decade. If this situation comes to fruition, it could make the projection of U.S. naval power cost prohibitive in the western Pacific, undermining the credibility of our alliance commitments. Indeed, China currently calculates that western Pacific nations—South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and perhaps even Australia—may ultimately align with the Middle Kingdom.

Again, more at the link.

As Joseph Stalin is alleged to have observed, "Quantity has a quality all its own".  A 2002 war game proved that in the context of the Middle East.  Why has this lesson not been remembered by the US Navy?  For example, why is it so adamantly opposed to conventional, as opposed to nuclear-powered submarines?  The former are just as high-tech these days, and can be bought for a fraction of the cost of their atomic big brothers.  Why not buy three modern conventional subs (which are also more stealthy and harder to detect) instead of one nuke?

3.  The US government has to redefine the mission of the Navy in a post-Cold War era.  At present, too many overseas bases, deployments, etc. are based on the realities of opposing Communism and the Soviet threat.  If that threat is no longer what it was before, then should we not reconsider the requirements we place on our armed forces?  It may be that, if force projection into disputed areas was primarily an anti-Soviet measure, we don't need it as badly now that the Soviet Union is no longer around.

I'm not at all convinced by the arguments advanced in this article.  I'd rather see a hard reset on US Navy plans, construction, etc. until its mission has been more clearly defined and/or redefined, the ships it needs for that mission have been agreed, and its budget has been devoted to vessels and weapons and systems that will do the job, rather than gold-plated jobs lobbied for by special interests.


Talk about carbalicious!

I was astonished to read that someone's come up with a tater tot pizza.

NYC pizzaioli are getting ever more creative with their toppings, making pizzas loaded with everything from Tater Tots to kimchi.

“I like to call this the New Age pizza movement,” says Vishee Mandahar, owner of Krave It in Bayside, known for its outlandish pies. “Anything goes, as long as we perfect the recipe and make it taste good.”

. . .

Potatoes on pizza might seem like a carb overload, but it’s a classic combo rooted in Roman tradition. Krave It, the groovy, late-night eatery of Bayside, puts a wholly American spin on the pairing with its Loaded Tater Tots pizza ($20/$30).

Made with Tots, bacon, cheddar, scallions, and swirls of ranch dressing and chipotle aioli, this pizza (and most of the restaurant’s menu) seems made for drunken snacking.

There's more at the link, including several other unique-to-New-York pizza toppings.

That takes "Would you like fries with that?" to a whole new level, doesn't it?


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The truth about exercise?

I know a lot of homes have this sort of treadmill.  Mine may even have been among them, in years past!  (Click the image to be taken to a larger version at Pearls Before Swine's Web site.)


"The racial dot map"

Courtesy of a link at Mr. B's place, I came across something called 'The Racial Dot Map', from the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia.  Here's a scaled-down representation (clickit to biggit).  I recommend consulting the original, scalable version to see specific areas in more detail.

It's very interesting to look at that map, and then compare it to this one, showing the results of the 2016 Presidential election by county.

As Mr. B reminds us, 'correlation does not imply causation' . . . but there's an awful lot of food for thought in the visible correlation between those maps.  Put them on your screen (or, even better, two screens) side-by-side, in full size, and see for yourself.


EDITED TO ADD:  As suggested by Mr. B in a comment, if one looks at the US murder map by county, there's also an interesting visual correlation.

The unified theory of . . . kiwi???

The Silicon Graybeard tickled my funny-bone with his 'unified theory of kiwi' - the intersection between bird and fruit.  Click over there to see it.  Your fruit salad will never taste the same again!


Monday, April 23, 2018

Doofus Of The Day #1,007

Today's award goes to the operator(s) of a data center in Sweden.  A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus for sending me the link.

Having worked in the information technology industry for a decade or so, rising from computer (mainframe) operator, through programming and systems analysis, to manage a department and then be a director of a small IT company, I'm pretty familiar with commercial computer operations.  This was entirely preventable, and should have been foreseen.

A loud sound emitted by a fire suppression system has destroyed the hard drives of a Swedish data center, downing Nasdaq operations across Northern Europe.

The incident took place in the early hours of Wednesday, April 18, and was caused by a gas-based fire suppression system that is typically deployed in data centers because of their ability to put out fires without destroying non-burnt equipment.

These systems work by releasing inert gas at high speeds, a mechanism usually accompanied by a loud whistle-like sound. With non-calibrated systems, this sound can get very loud, a big no-no in data centers, where loud sounds are known to affect performance, shut down, or even destroy hard drives.

The latter scenario is what happened on Wednesday night, as the sound produced by the errant release of the inert gas destroyed hard drives for around a third of the Nasdaq servers located in the Digiplex data center.

. . .

A Digiplex spokesperson told Bleeping Computer that Nasdaq only rents space in the data center, and uses its own equipment. Nasdaq said there weren't enough servers in the whole of Sweden to replace the destroyed ones, and had to import new machines.

There's more at the link.

Yes, loud noises can be devastating to computer disks.  Have you ever seen a really loud woofer at full volume on the back shelf of a car?  The speakers are vibrating in and out, shaking the entire vehicle.  Do that to a disk drive while its heads are reading or writing data, and they'll crash into the disk surface, scratching it and damaging the read/write heads.  Bye-bye, disk drive.  If Nasdaq had to import servers, because "there weren't enough ... in the whole of Sweden to replace the destroyed ones", that must have been a very loud noise next to a very large number of server units.

Unfortunately, even though they should know better, sometimes that sort of known problem is overlooked when other priorities are pressing.  I remember when a new fire suppression system was fitted to the mainframe computer center of a South African oil company, where I was employed at the time as a computer operator.  I looked at the emergency masks, designed to allow operators to exit the room in the event of a fire.  They were all smoke inhalation masks, designed to take particulates out of the air so one could breathe freely.  I pointed out to the Operations Manager that halon, the gas used in our new fire suppression system, actually made it impossible to breathe at all.  It was as if all the oxygen had been removed from the air.  In such circumstances, particulate filters would do nothing at all to save our lives.  Smoke or not, we needed something to breathe!  The offending masks were replaced with respirators within a day, each with a small self-contained cylinder of oxygen, enough for up to five minutes, to let us get out alive.  We called that an improvement . . . again, something that should have been foreseen, but was overlooked due to pressure of other factors.


The dark side of our lack of online and electronic privacy

I've spoken often before about the dangers of surrendering our privacy to pervasive monitoring and intrusive advertising by companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and so on.  I've also mentioned the risks posed by smartphone apps that demand to know your location, often for no discernible reason.  Of course, they're selling your personal information to advertisers and other interested parties.  However, most people appear not to care about that - something I still find inexplicable.

Karl Denninger warns that such lack of privacy may play into the hands of more than just predatory advertisers.

It wouldn't be hard at all to pervert "ad targeting" to collect a database of people who are extremely likely to be, say, military members.

Or their families.

Or cops.

Or virtually any other tightly-correlated group of people.

You can get very precise given the volume of data and tools today.

So you set up a company that allegedly wants to "advertise" to said people, you buy ads with that targeting and those who "click" or otherwise "interact" you now have pinpointed.  In a short while you can correlate them through other sources and now you know who they are in real life, not just as numbers in a machine.

You know exactly where they work, where they live (down to the actual street address), where they worship (if they worship), where their children go to school and where they shop.

That little device in your teen's pocket, never mind yours, delivers your location on an exact basis, within tens of feet, 24x7 every single day.

The problem is that the bad guy isn't a company trying to sell laundry detergent or timeshares.

They're jihadists.  Or Antifas.  Or any other group -- or individual -- with motive and money -- and these days, not all that much money either.  A few million is more than enough.

Still think all this tracking is no big deal, eh?

There's more at the link.

He's right, folks.  This threat is real.  My readers in law enforcement and the military, as well as other sensitive occupations, may want to take note, and make adjustments accordingly.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday morning music

Let's have some classical guitar today.  Famed Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo was commissioned by Celedonio Romero, father of the equally famous Los Romeros family of classical guitarists, to compose a piece for four classical guitars and orchestra.  He produced this piece, Concierto Andaluz, performed here live by Los Romeros.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy!


Saturday, April 21, 2018

That gets it said

Last Wednesday I posted about the virulent hatred spewed out by Fresno University Associate Professor Randa Jarrar.  That post went viral, and has been viewed thousands of times.

Now, my friend Lawdog has provided his opinion of the waste of oxygen that is Professor Jarrar.  He does so in his own inimitable way, of course - for instance:

... any private person thinking of not donating money to the idiot institution who thought it was a Good Idea to not only hire this purulent pismire, but to give her tenure, that private person is on the side of all that is Good and Decent on this little green dirtball.

Click over there to read it in full.  Lawdog's prose is, as usual, worth it.


Doofus Of The Day #1,006

Today's award goes to an inebriated Estonian tourist in Italy.

A DRUNK tourist had a very rough night after he got lost on his way back to his hotel and found himself climbing the Italian Alps.

An Estonian tourist known as Pavel, has been enjoying a few drinks at Cervinia, a resort in Italy’s Valle d’Aosta, when he decided to call it a night and head back to his hotel.

However, it seemed that Pavel, 30, may have had a bit more to drink than he thought as his short walk back to his room soon turned into a mountain hike.

According to Italian newspaper La Stampa, Pavel seemed not to notice that he had taken a wrong turn and was heading up the mountain side until it was too late.

By the time 2am rolled around and Pavel was still climbing, he realised that he has made a grave mistake, but through sheer luck he stumbled across a closed restaurant and bar.

The bar, named Igloo, was nestled on the mountainside at an altitude of 2400m and, seeing it as his only refuge, the tipsy tourist forced his way in and bunkered down for the night.

Staff discovered Pavel in the morning, passed out on a makeshift bed made out of a bench and a few cushions.

There's more at the link.

Estonian, eh?  Well, he was certainly E-stoned . . . and he added altitude sickness to a hangover.  Doofidity indeed!


Friday, April 20, 2018

Woman helps cop, kills bad guy - then gets sued

Last year a woman in Indiana courageously assisted a police officer who was being beaten down by a criminal, who was trying to grab his gun.  She shot the perpetrator, who subsequently died of his injuries.  She was cleared of any wrongdoing by the authorities - but now she's being sued by the family of the deceased criminal.  An original news report about the incident may be found here.  A PoliceOne report about the impending lawsuit may be found here.

A fundraiser has been started to help this courageous woman pay the legal expenses incurred in defending herself.  From its description:

On February 20, 2017 a suspicious person prompted a call to 911 in Ohio County, Indiana. The suspicious person was parked in a elderly persons yard for an extended period of time, blocking her driveway, and creating a road hazard. Shortly after a Police Officer arrived in response to the call. The man began resisting and both the Officer and man went to the ground. A young woman (Kystie) standing nearby on her property ran to help the Officer. Kystie could see the Officer was loosing the fight as this man reached for the Officers gun. Fortunately for the Officer, Kystie was armed and shot the man one time which ended the fight.

Indiana State Police conducted the investigation, which was reviewed by the Dearborn County, Indiana Prosecutors Office, and the findings were that Kystie’s actions were deemed justified and no criminal charges were filed.

However, On April 6, 2018, Kystie received a summons ... regarding a wrongful death lawsuit for the assailant, J. Holland. Ohio County Superior Court Case No.:58C01-1802-CT-00001. The Officer involved was also named in the suit.

I am asking our community of citizens and law enforcement Officers to help in this legal battle.  Attorney fees are an expense well beyond Kystie’s income and this will not be a quick process. The legal fees and emotional stress may drain every resource she has.

. . .

This case is about more than the right or wrong of one party suing another.  Imagine not being able to come to the aid of another person for fear of being sued, possibly to the point of bankruptcy.  The case is about a person having the basic God-given right and the 2nd Amendment right to defend both yourself and others and without the fear of civil retribution.

There's more at the link, including the names of the lawyers involved and links to several more news articles about the incident.  Please click over there and follow them for yourself.

Folks, this is a very worthy cause.  Miss D. and I will be contributing, and I'd like to ask all my readers to please give what you can afford.  If private citizens mus be afraid to help those who defend their safety and security against criminals, due to the risk of lawsuits, then soon we won't have public protectors at all - because they won't defend those who won't support them.  Want proof of that?  Just look at the impact the 'Ferguson Effect' is having on law enforcement all over the country.

Please circulate the news of this fund-raiser to your friends, and via your blogs or social media accounts if you have them.

Thank you.



From Pearls Before Swine yesterday.  Click the image to be taken to a larger version at the cartoon's Web site.

I had someone try to pull that on me in my (much) younger days.  Things got physical, and I ended up with their fries (and their burger, and their milkshake) in addition to my own.  Ah, the ethics of hungry teenagers . . .


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Doofus Of The Day #1,005

Today's award goes to the person or persons at Deutsche Bank responsible for making a transfer in error . . . a payment that exceeded the entire market value of the bank!

A routine payment went awry at Deutsche Bank AG last month when Germany’s biggest lender inadvertently sent 28 billion euros ($35 billion) to an exchange as part of its daily dealings in derivatives, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The errant transfer occurred about a week before Easter as Deutsche Bank was conducting a daily collateral adjustment, the person said. The sum, which far exceeded the amount it was due to post, landed in an account at Deutsche Boerse AG’s Eurex clearinghouse.

The error ... was quickly spotted and no financial harm suffered.

. . .

While such errors do occur, the amount involved -- more than the bank’s market capitalization of around 24 billion euros -- is highly unusual, according to the person.

There's more at the link.

Dammit, why do such banking errors never end up in my account?  I'm not sure how much of $35 billion I could withdraw and/or spend before they noticed, but I'd work on it as hard and as fast as I could, I promise you!


Haunting images of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire

The San Francisco Chronicle has published a selection of photographs from its archives covering the 1906 earthquake and fire.  Here are just three examples, reduced in size to fit this blog.

There are many more at the link, all in larger sizes.  Interesting viewing in general, and essential for those who enjoy history.


Our genes: gateway to health - and to marketers?

A friend has recently had a chilling experience concerning the commercial genetic testing that's widely available now (more about her below).  Here's an excerpt from a 2013 Scientific American article analyzing what's going on in that field.  It appears that some, perhaps all, companies offering "free" or low-cost genetic testing may, in reality, be engaging in massive data gathering about their customers - and, by extension, those customers' relatives.

Since late 2007, 23andMe has been known for offering cut-rate genetic testing. Spit in a vial, send it in, and the company will look at thousands of regions in your DNA that are known to vary from human to human—and which are responsible for some of our traits.

. . .

What the search engine is to Google, the Personal Genome Service is to 23andMe ... 23andMe reserves the right to use your personal information—including your genome—to inform you about events and to try to sell you products and services. There is a much more lucrative market waiting in the wings, too. One could easily imagine how insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms might be interested in getting their hands on your genetic information, the better to sell you products (or deny them to you).

. . .

Even though 23andMe currently asks permission to use your genetic information for scientific research, the company has explicitly stated that its database-sifting scientific work “does not constitute research on human subjects,” meaning that it is not subject to the rules and regulations that are supposed to protect experimental subjects’ privacy and welfare.

. . .

This becomes a particularly acute problem once you realize that every one of your relatives who spits in a 23andMe vial is giving the company a not-inconsiderable bit of your own genetic information to the company along with their own. If you have several close relatives who are already in 23andMe’s database, the company already essentially has all that it needs to know about you.

. . .

While the FDA concentrates on the question of whether 23andMe’s kit is a safe and effective medical device, it is failing to address the real issue: what 23andMe should be allowed to do with the data it collects. For 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service is much more than a medical device; it is a one-way portal into a world where corporations have access to the innermost contents of your cells and where insurers and pharmaceutical firms and marketers might know more about your body than you know yourself.

There's more at the link.

I was reminded of this by my friend's recent experience.  She sent off for a gene test, because she wanted to know more about her genetic heritage and its implications.  The test came back with some indicators of potential (not actual) concern for inherited medical characteristics that might possibly (not certainly) affect her later in life.  Within two weeks of receiving the results, she began to receive advertisements for medical products and services related to those characteristics.  They came via snail mail, e-mail and pop-up advertisements when she visited certain social media sites.  It's clear that she's being targeted by advertisers - but how did they learn she was a potential client?  The only possible way she can think of is that the genetic testing company sold her information to the advertisers.

She's furious, of course;  but the small print of the form she submitted to request the testing has "weasel words" that can, upon careful examination, be interpreted to allow the company to market her information.  She didn't read it carefully at the time.  Most of us don't bother when it comes to something like that, particularly when the important bits are clouded in masses of verbiage and buried deep in clauses about other, less important things.  She's consulting a lawyer, but he's already pointed out that she'll need deep pockets to pursue a case for damages, because the contract she signed will make it difficult to prove deception.

It's an ethical and moral minefield out there, folks.  Be careful what you sign, what you agree to, and with whom you share the most intimate information about yourself, your ancestry, and your future medical and life prospects.  It may come back to bite you in later life.  For example:  need life insurance?  You might find your policy carries a rider in the small print, explicitly excluding certain genetic conditions or predispositions - all of which you have.  How did the insurance company know that, without being told by you?  I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count.  As the article above points out, even if you've never been genetically tested yourself, it may be that enough of your relatives have that the insurance company can - and will - make an educated, reasonably accurate prediction about you.

What's more, that policy will be tailored specifically to your medical profile.  Your wife, or your co-worker, might apply to the same company for similar insurance, and find that their medical exclusions differ from yours, because the company has their genetic profiles, too.  Legal?  Possibly not, under present law.  Preventable?  Also probably not.  Money talks, and when a lot of money is at stake, those risking it will do anything and everything possible to preserve their investment - even if it means putting you at a disadvantage.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Just goes to show... you never know what might happen next

A Texas police officer is extremely lucky to be alive after arriving to investigate a SUV that crashed into a house.  Watch what happens as he walks up.

It seems the SUV severed a gas line, which blew up the house as the officer walked up.  Here's a more detailed news report.

I bet that officer's suddenly-increased pulse rate blew out his fitness monitor!


Can't be fired, eh? Perhaps some other punishment might be found.

Irrespective of her political orientation, anyone who behaves like this should be, at the very least, shunned by all decent people.

On Tuesday, a professor at Fresno State made highly outrageous comments celebrating the death of former First Lady of the United States Barbara Bush as she also took delight in the pain that George H.W. Bush is experiencing as a result of his wife's death.

According to her bio page at Fresno State, "Professor Randa Jarrar is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, essayist, and translator" and serves as the "executive director of RAWI, the Radius of Arab American Writers."

Jarrar's first tweet on Bush's death stated: "Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal. F**k outta here with your nice words."

Jarrar continued, writing: "PSA: either you are against these pieces of shit and their genocidal ways or you're part of the problem. that's actually how simple this is. I'm happy the witch is dead. can't wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have. byyyeeeeeeee."

Jarrar went on to express how happy she was over Bush's death because she knew that Bush's husband was sad over her passing.

Later, responding to the outrage that she caused, Jarrar bragged about how much money she made as a professor and claimed that she will never be fired.

There's more at the link.

Rejoicing in the death of another?  I think we might have an opinion or two to express about such conduct in a supposedly civilized society.  If you agree, the following e-mail addresses might be useful.  They are all in the public domain, taken from the University's Web site, so I'm not breaching any sort of confidentiality in reproducing them here.
Please be polite and professional - unlike the Professor.


Justice Gorsuch sides with the law, not the politicians. Good for him!

I'm getting very annoyed with idiots sounding off about Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch for voting against what they see as Trump administration priorities concerning immigration.  I've seen blog posts and other ideologically-blinkered ramblings denouncing him as a "traitor", or something similar.  For those not familiar with the news report, here's one version.  I've underlined the key sentence.

The Supreme Court said Tuesday that part of a federal law that makes it easier to deport immigrants who have been convicted of crimes is too vague to be enforced.

The court's 5-4 decision — an unusual alignment in which new Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the four liberal justices — concerns a catchall provision of immigration law that defines what makes a crime violent. Conviction for a crime of violence makes deportation "a virtual certainty" for an immigrant, no matter how long he has lived in the United States, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her opinion for the court.

The decision is a loss for President Donald Trump's administration, which has emphasized stricter enforcement of immigration law. In this case, President Barack Obama's administration took the same position in the Supreme Court in defense of the challenged provision.

With the four other conservative justices in dissent, it was the vote of the Trump appointee that was decisive in striking down the provision at issue. Gorsuch did not join all of Kagan's opinion, but he agreed with her that the law could not be left in place. Gorsuch wrote that "no one should be surprised that the Constitution looks unkindly on any law so vague that reasonable people cannot understand its terms and judges do not know where to begin in applying it."

There's more at the link.

I have no idea why people are complaining that Justice Gorsuch is a "traitor" to President Trump for ruling as he did.  On the contrary - he did exactly what he was appointed to do.  He ruled according to the Constitution and laws of the United States.  What's more, he's absolutely correct.  If we can't understand a law, and if judges can't figure out how to apply it, then why the hell is it a law in the first place?

Justice Gorsuch wasn't partisan and he wasn't a traitor.  I wish we had more judges like him, not putting partisan politics ahead of their job of administering the law as it is written and according to what it plainly says and means.  He ruled that, in this case, since the law was not clear about what it meant, it was constitutionally invalid.  What would critics rather he had done - judicially modified the law by ruling according to his personal convictions and philosophies?  Isn't that what we complain about in so many other judges?  By ruling as he did, he demonstrated clearly the problem with this particular law as passed by Congress.  In doing so, the ball has been passed back to the legislative branch of government, which now has an opportunity to write, debate and pass a more logical, rational, easily understandable law that will accomplish what it intended in the first place.  That's precisely how our system of government is supposed to work.

Thank you, Mr. Justice Gorsuch.  You did your job, and I'm grateful.  Long may you continue to do so!


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Errr . . . oops?

I bet the pilot and weapon system operator are answering some tough questions about this incident.

A military fighter jet has dropped a replica bomb on to the roof of a working factory during a flight in Loiret (Centre-Val de Loire), injuring two people.

The Dassault Mirage 2000D jet [an example of which is shown below] had taken off from an airstrip in Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle), and was flying over a factory in Nogent-sur-Vernisson at around 15h20 on Tuesday April 10, when witnesses heard a loud bang.

It later emerged that a replica “bomb” had fallen off the plane and hit the Faurecia automobile parts factory, slightly injuring two victims who were working on the assembly line.

The bomb - used as a stand-in for the real thing in training exercises - was made of metal and plastic, and contained no explosives.

There's more at the link.

One can almost hear the other workers on the assembly line:  "When we said 'Strike', this isn't what we meant!  We're working as hard as we can!  Stop bombing us already!"


Can "quantum radar" expose stealth aircraft?

A Canadian research institute is betting that it can.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo are developing a new technology that promises to help radar operators cut through heavy background noise and isolate objects —including stealth aircraft and missiles— with unparalleled accuracy.

. . .

Stealth aircraft rely on special paint and body design to absorb and deflect radio waves—making them invisible to traditional radar. They also use electronic jamming to swamp detectors with artificial noise. With quantum radar, in theory, these planes will not only be exposed, but also unaware they have been detected.

Quantum radar uses a sensing technique called quantum illumination to detect and receive information about an object. At its core, it leverages the quantum principle of entanglement, where two photons form a connected, or entangled, pair.

The method works by sending one of the photons to a distant object, while retaining the other member of the pair. Photons in the return signal are checked for telltale signatures of entanglement, allowing photons from the noisy environmental background to be discarded. This can greatly improve the radar signal-to-noise in certain situations.

. . .

“This project will allow us to develop the technology to help move quantum radar from the lab to the field,” said Baugh. “It could change the way we think about national security.”

There's more at the link.

Quantum computing is another area of great importance, one in which the USA and its allies appear to be falling far behind.  China has announced that it will invest $10 billion into research in that field, vastly more than we are currently doing.  It wants to "build a quantum computer with a million times the computing power of all others presently in the world".  That's quite an ambition:  but if they throw enough money and engineers at the project, they may well succeed.  That poses a grave threat to the security of all encrypted or encoded signals and information.  As The Hill recently pointed out, "It puts in jeopardy our entire military and national ability to keep our secrets, well, secret. Today’s strongest encryption could be broken in a matter of seconds."

China is also putting tremendous effort into developing quantum radar systems, that it claims can detect so-called "stealthy" aircraft.  The Canadian research referred to above is a drop in the bucket, funding-wise, compared to what China is spending.  I suspect the "stealth advantage" claimed by the USAF may not be an advantage for much longer.  If "quantum radar" becomes a reality, the service's current emphasis on stealth fighter and strike aircraft (the F-22 and F-35 respectively) will be severely compromised.  In contrast, the US Navy, which has continued to buy conventional, non-stealthy aircraft in large numbers even as it prepares to field the stealthy F-35C, will be not much worse off.  It'll still rely on tactics, skill and electronic warfare to get its strikes through (as does the Israeli Air Force).  It won't have all its eggs in one (suddenly non-stealthy) basket.


Murders in the USA - the "Behavioral Sink" in action?

Back in the 1950's and 1960's, ethologist John C. Calhoun experimented with rats to find out how their behavior changed when their population density (i.e the number of rats in a confined space) was increased.  He described their behavior in two papers that have become seminal in their field:
He called their reactions the "Behavioral Sink", observing that normal interactions became pathologically warped under the stress of overcrowding, resulting in violence, cannibalism, and the breakdown of normal social interaction.  The term (and his experiments) have been used as a metaphor for human interaction under the stress of increasing density of urban population.

One wonders whether it isn't the primary factor behind the distribution of murders in the USA.

Murders in US very concentrated: 54% of US counties in 2014 had zero murders, 2% of counties have 51% of the murders

The United States can really be divided up into three types of places. Places where there are no murders, places where there are a few murders, and places where murders are very common.

In 2014, the most recent year that a county level breakdown is available, 54% of counties (with 11% of the population) have no murders.  69% of counties have no more than one murder, and about 20% of the population. These counties account for only 4% of all murders in the country.

The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68% of murders. As shown in figure 2, over half of murders occurred in only 2% of counties.

Murders actually used to be even more concentrated.  From 1977 to 2000, on average 73 percent of counties in any give year had zero murders.

. . .

In 2014, the murder rate was 4.4 per 100,000 people.  If the 1% of the counties with the worst number of murders somehow were to become a separate country, the murder rate in the rest of the US would have been only 3.4 in 2014. Removing the worst 2% or 5% would have reduced the US rate to just 3.06 or 2.56 per 100,000, respectively.

. . .

Murder isn’t a nationwide problem.  It’s a problem in a very small set of urban areas, and any solution must reduce those murders.

There's more at the link.  Very interesting and highly recommended reading.

There are a number of things that I take away from this study, including (but not limited to):
  1. "Gun violence" or "knife violence" or any other "kind" of violence might be better described as "urbanized violence".  That's where it's far more prevalent, after all.  Basically, the greater the population density in a given area, the greater the likelihood of crime and violence.
  2. Those of us who live in or near urbanized areas should be more on our guard, and more willing (and able) to defend ourselves and our loved ones, against such urbanized violence.  That's not to say that people living in less population-dense areas don't need to be on their guard;  they're just less likely to have to put their precautions into practice. 
  3. If, in a crisis (e.g. hurricane evacuations, etc.) urban populations spread out into other areas, they're going to take their urban background (including a possible propensity for crime and violence) with them.  Be prepared to respond accordingly.  (See my after-action reports on that situation in 2005.)
  4. When we see news footage of riots, criminal "flash mobs" and other urban phenomena, let's remember the studies referred to above, and comport ourselves accordingly - including being prepared to deal with the problem.
  5. When politicians pontificate about the need for solutions to urbanized violence, fundamentally, they're either mistaken or they're lying, because population density will, in and of itself, defeat many measures to reduce urban crime and violence.  Population density is a primary cause of the problem.  You won't solve the latter without dealing with the former.  It's simply not possible.

Food for thought.


Monday, April 16, 2018

This is why "connected" appliances are a bad idea

I've spoken out before against the so-called "Internet of things" in our homes.  They hold hidden dangers.
  • Frankly, I don't see any need for a "smart thermostat" that can be adjusted from my smartphone, when that means someone else can hack into it and potentially invade my privacy.
  • I think "smart security cameras" that I can operate from my smartphone, anywhere in the country, are an ideal tool for would-be burglars or home invaders, who can monitor them to select the best time to commit their crimes.
  • "Smart door locks" are an invitation to hackers to open my doors for themselves - or just leave them open for their amusement.

Now comes the news that "smart appliances" have resulted in at least two hacks of commercial establishments.

Nicole Eagan, the CEO of Darktrace, told the WSJ CEO Council Conference in London on Thursday: "There's a lot of internet-of-things devices, everything from thermostats, refrigeration systems, HVAC systems, to people who bring in their Alexa devices into the offices. There's just a lot of IoT. It expands the attack surface, and most of this isn't covered by traditional defenses."

Eagan gave one memorable anecdote about a case Darktrace worked on in which a casino was hacked via a thermometer in an aquarium in the lobby.

"The attackers used that to get a foothold in the network," she said. "They then found the high-roller database and then pulled that back across the network, out the thermostat, and up to the cloud."

Robert Hannigan, who ran the British government's digital-spying agency, Government Communications Headquarters, from 2014 to 2017, appeared alongside Eagan on the panel and agreed that hackers' targeting of internet-of-things devices was a growing problem for companies.

"With the internet of things producing thousands of new devices shoved onto the internet over the next few years, that's going to be an increasing problem," Hannigan said. "I saw a bank that had been hacked through its CCTV cameras, because these devices are bought purely on cost."

There's more at the link.

Greater convenience versus poorer security.  Guess what's more important, at least to anyone with common sense?


Dental and wallet OUCH!

Poor Miss D.  I mentioned last week that she was having dental trouble sufficiently nasty to require a visit to an endodontist.  Well, she saw him this morning.  Turns out that she needs two root canal treatments, on adjacent teeth.  That is not going to be fun . . . and neither is paying for it. The endodontist doesn't do crowns - he only cleans out the roots - so we're going to have to go back to a regular dentist to have two crowns fitted, over and above the specialist charges.  As I said earlier, thank heavens we have an emergency "rainy day fund".  It's going to see heavy use, this month and next!

Please keep Miss D. in your prayers.  The pain is sufficiently bad that she's not sleeping well, and she has to go on antibiotics until the procedure so as to prevent infection from a previous attempt at a root canal (which didn't work, and resulted in the endodontist's services being required).  I really feel for her, having had a few too many root canal treatments in my time.

Those of you who have good teeth, count your blessings!


Teaser III

Here's an excerpt from the third volume of the military science fiction trilogy I'm getting ready to publish.  I put up a teaser from the first book a few months ago, followed by a teaser from the second book.  Here's an earlier version of the cover for the first volume, which will be further modified before publication.

I've been hard at work on the series for five months now.  God willing, the first volume will be published in less than a month from today, and the next two volumes will appear at approximately 30-day intervals.  To keep your interest, here's a teaser excerpt from the third volume.

    Captain Pernaska sat on the hard, narrow bunk in his cell, closed his eyes, and prepared himself for death.
    Remember our Patriarch, he thought forcefully to himself. He dared not speak aloud, because the enemy would overhear him through the microphones they were sure to have hidden in this confined space. Even in his dotage, afflicted with disease, he went on a combat operation, to prove to our people that he would never ask them to risk anything he was not prepared to risk himself. What an example he set! He died in action, and inspired all of us to avenge his loss in the blood of our enemies. Today is my chance to do that. It is not a tragedy – it is an honor! May I prove worthy of it, and may my death be worthy of his!
    He had to act before his captors could transfer him to an interrogation facility. He knew all the Brotherhood’s plans for the next few years, and all about their ships. Most important of all, he knew the coordinates in space of their secret base, information entrusted only to the Commanding Officers, Executive Officers and navigators of their vessels. Hawkwood absolutely could not, under any circumstances, be allowed to learn that secret… so he had to die. It was as simple as that.
    His kidnappers had been almost unbelievably, even criminally inept in giving him access to the ship’s entertainment library, via the screen on the bulkhead beyond the bars. He was still puzzled by that. Hawkwood had proved to be a formidable opponent in space combat, worthy of the Brotherhood’s steel. Why had they made such an elementary error? Perhaps this ship was the exception that proved the rule of their efficiency and effectiveness, the weakest link in their chain. Please God, its crew was not alone in being so sloppy! He had taken advantage of the screen and its voice-activated controls – which his oh-so-stupid captors had obligingly demonstrated to him – to access the courier vessel’s layout, provided as part of the entertainment library so that passengers could find their way around if necessary. He knew where the brig was in relation to the rest of the ship, and where the airtight bulkheads and doors were. They would separate the vessel into pressure-tight compartments in an emergency.
    In Galactic Standard English, he called, “Display orbital approach.” The screen obediently flickered, then resolved into a radar-like display of the planet ahead. Several spaceships’ orbits were outlined in yellow, while this ship’s approach to its own assigned trajectory was shown in red. The vessel looked to be no more than a few minutes away from entering orbit. He took a deep breath. It was almost time.
    He’d asked for a couple of pairs of utility overalls, to wear instead of his Captain’s uniform. He’d sent that to the ship’s laundry, to be restored to pristine freshness in readiness for this day. Now he took off the overalls, folded them, laid them on his freshly-made bed, and put on his uniform. He tied the old-fashioned laces, critically observing his reflection in the shoes that he’d polished to mirror brightness, just like when he’d been a cadet officer all those years ago. He settled the jacket over his shoulders, and buttoned it. He had no mirror in which to examine his appearance, but knew it would be as close to perfect as possible under the circumstances.
    He heard approaching footsteps, and smothered a savage grin with his hand. He’d been on his best behavior with the spacers who brought him meals twice a day, and escorted him to and from the shower twice a week. He’d tried very hard to give the impression of a man resigned to captivity, wanting no trouble, willing even to grovel before his guards in order to avoid conflict. He knew some of them regarded him with scornful contempt as a result… which was exactly how he had hoped they would react. Soon, very soon now, they would learn their error.
    He reached beneath the mattress on the unused top bunk, and withdrew the pen that one of the spacers had indulgently lent him ‘to write a letter to my wife’. When he’d handed over the letter – addressed to a non-existent woman, and filled with meaningless platitudes – it had been to a different spacer, who hadn’t asked for the pen to be returned. He had taken full advantage of that mistake. It had given him a weapon. Now he palmed it, with the point up his sleeve, as two spacers entered the brig compartment. Both were armed with pulsers, but only one had his weapon in his hand. The other’s was in the flap holster at his waist, which was unfastened, allowing the butt to peep out from beneath the synthleather cover.
    “All right,” the armed spacer said in Galactic Standard English, using what he presumably intended to be a commanding tone of voice. “Stand back from the door while we unlock it, then we’ll cuff your hands and take you to the docking bay.”
    “Yes, of course,” the captain answered subserviently, stepping back, half-turning away, hunching his shoulders as if to avoid a blow. The two spacers exchanged contemptuous glances, then the second, empty-handed man unlocked the barred door and swung it open.
    “Turn around and put your hands behind your back,” he ordered as he stepped inside.
    The captain made as if to obey, but instead of stopping with his back to the spacer, he continued turning, all the way around, moving suddenly faster. Before the startled man could react, he reached out with his left hand, grabbed his collar, and pulled him powerfully forward as he thrust with the pen in his right hand. Its point speared deep into the spacer’s left eye. He screamed in agony.
    “WHAT TH–” the second spacer began to yell, eyes bulging in surprise – but Pernaska did not stop. His left hand, still grasping the injured man’s collar, twisted him half-around while his now-empty right hand snaked out and grasped the butt of the holstered weapon, drawing it and releasing its safety catch. He violently shoved his writhing victim back towards the bars as the other spacer raised his pulser, blocking his line of sight, forcing him to step to one side to aim at their erstwhile captive. By the time he’d done so, the captain had acquired a rock-steady two-handed firing grip on his own pulser. He fired first, three rapid rounds, two into the spacer’s chest, the third at the center of his face as he yelled in pain and shock and began to fold forward over himself. The man dropped his pulser and slumped bonelessly to the deck. Pernaska turned back to the wailing spacer inside his cell and fired one more round into his head, killing him instantly.
    He shook his head in a vain attempt to clear his head of the sudden deafness caused by the hypersonic discharge of the pulser’s electromagnetic mechanism. Faintly, through the ringing in his ears, he heard the sudden whooping of the ship’s alarm, followed by the impact of airtight doors slamming shut, reverberating through the vessel’s structure. He grinned savagely. Thank you, you fools! You think you’ve locked me safely away from the bridge. Instead, you’ve locked me in the same section of the hull as all your off-duty watchstanders. They’re my meat now! You may kill me in the end, but not before I make you pay for my life in the blood of your spacers!
    He swiftly searched both bodies. Neither carried spare ammunition for their pulsers, but that was of minor importance. He’d used four of the twenty rounds in the first weapon, and there were twenty more in the other – more than enough for what he’d need. He tucked the second weapon into a pocket of his jacket, then called up the vessel’s schematic on the screen again. There were six four-person berthing units for the crew in the forward section of the hull, plus three two-berth units for supervisors and four single cabins for officers. Many of the crew were on duty, but according to the duty schedule he’d carefully memorized earlier, about a third should be in their berthing units. By now they’d have locked their doors, of course, in the vain hope that would protect them from him. He spat contemptuously. They would soon learn otherwise… the last lesson of their lives.
    He walked out of the brig, moving slowly and carefully, peering around the corner to make sure than no braver-than-usual spacer had decided to wait in ambush for him. The passage was clear. Grinning almost cheerfully, he moved up to the first sliding door on the port side. It was locked, as he expected. He reached for the keypad set in the bulkhead next to it, and entered the standard merchant vessel emergency access code. It was used on all commercial ships, in accordance with United Planets regulations, so that search-and-rescue teams could enter locked compartments if necessary. Sure enough, the keypad beeped, and the door slid back.
    Two spacers inside the compartment screamed in fear as they stared at the black-uniformed figure in the open doorway. Their cries turned to gurgles of agony as he pumped one round into each of their chests. They crumpled to the deck. He walked over, aimed carefully, and put a second round through the head of each man. That’s four, he thought with grim, bitter, vengeful satisfaction.
    A voice began yelling over the ship’s speakers, begging, pleading with him to stop. He ignored it as he turned to the door on the starboard side of the passage, and entered the emergency access code once more.

I'm over 50,000 words into the third book, more than half way.  The first and second books are complete, and I'm incorporating edits and changes suggested by alpha and beta readers.  I'm getting excited about the forthcoming launch.  I hope you enjoy the trilogy.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday morning music

Some songs have become famous as much for the inclusion of a particular instrument as for the quality of the composition, vocals, performers, etc.  The addition of an out-of-the-ordinary instrument for the genre can (but doesn't always) help to transform the song into something transcending its peers, making it stand out from the pack.  When it works, it can become iconic, as it did with the four examples I'd like to offer this morning.

The first is "Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)" from The Beatles, featuring the sitarGeorge Harrison first encountered the instrument in April 1965, while filming the Beatles' second move "Help!"  He bought a cheap sitar, and the band used it when recording the song (on their album "Rubber Soul") later that year.  It required several attempts to get the recording to work with the new instrument, as the sitar's sound was hard to capture accurately using then-current technology.

Next, from 1978, we have Gerry Rafferty's song "Baker Street" from his album "City to City".  It's famous for its inclusion of a saxophone riff.  According to the saxophonist, the inclusion of his instrument was almost accidental.  The Telegraph reported:

... the solo was played by Scottish musician Raphael Ravenscroft, who was in the studio to record a brief soprano saxophone part and, when he heard that the guitarist would not be available to play the solo, suggested that Rafferty record it using the alto saxophone he had in his car...

Rafferty later said that he composed the saxophone melody but Ravenscroft - the author of The Complete Saxophone Player and a former tutor of music at York College – claimed he was presented with a song that contained "several gaps".

Ravenscroft said: "In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff. If you're asking me: 'Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?' then no, he didn't."

Ravenscroft's fee was, reportedly, a cheque for £27, which he said bounced anyway and was framed and hung on his solicitor's wall. He received no further payment for his session-playing, adding: "If I had received pots of money, I wouldn't have known what to do. It might have destroyed me."

However, Ravenscroft still did very well out of the song.  Demand for him and his saxophone as a session musician skyrocketed, enabling him to increase his fees very considerably, and he went on to record with big names like Pink Floyd, Robert Plant, Mike Oldfield and many others.

In 1988, Steve Earle released his album "Copperhead Road".  The eponymous title song used bagpipes played through an electronic keyboard to create its curious droning background sound.

Finally, also from 1988, here's Tanita Tikaram's song "Twist in My Sobriety", from her debut album "Ancient Heart".  Its use of the oboe broke new ground in pop music, and was one of the talking points most discussed by reviewers.

The song remains Ms. Tikaram's biggest hit, and has been covered by many other performers.  I think it reflects her eclectic mixture of genetic and cultural heritage, which has endowed her with a secular sort of mysticism that's sometimes impenetrable, but definitely appealing.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Antidepressants: is the cure worse than the disease?

Two recent articles have raised questions over the safety of long-term antidepressant use.

First, the New York Post reports on a lady who claims that antidepressants both saved her life, and destroyed it.

By the time Lauren Slater was 24, she had been hospitalized five times for attempted suicide. She was deeply depressed, she cut herself and she obsessive-compulsively tapped objects to calm her overtaxed nervous system. So when Prozac came on the market in 1988, her psychiatrist recommended she try it.

. . .

She filled her prescription, and the result was “the most miraculous thing that ever happened to me,” she says. Within three days, her obsessive-compulsive symptoms began to recede, and within five days, they were gone. By day 10, she was actually feeling good.

. . .

Now, 30 years and a dozen different psychotropic medicines later, Slater has learned that the pills she took presented something of a Sophie’s choice — her body or her mind.

In her new book, “Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs That Changed Our Minds,” Slater, who is both a science writer and psychologist, describes how the medicines that allowed her to lead a relatively normal life for many years — marriage, babies, books — robbed her of her physical health.

At 54, she finds herself with the body of an “octogenarian with issues,” she writes. She has failing kidneys, diabetes, is overweight and is losing her memory.

“My lifetime now seems seriously foreshortened, not because of a psychiatric illness but because of the drugs I have taken to treat it.”

There's more at the link.

Next, the New York Times notes that "Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit".

Nearly 25 million adults ... have been on antidepressants for at least two years, a 60 percent increase since 2010.

The drugs have helped millions of people ease depression and anxiety, and are widely regarded as milestones in psychiatric treatment. Many, perhaps most, people stop the medications without significant trouble. But the rise in longtime use is also the result of an unanticipated and growing problem: Many who try to quit say they cannot because of withdrawal symptoms they were never warned about.

. . .

The drugs initially were approved for short-term use, following studies typically lasting about two months. Even today, there is little data about their effects on people taking them for years, although there are now millions of such users.

. . .

In New Zealand, where prescriptions are also at historic highs, a survey of long-term users found that withdrawal was the most common complaint, cited by three-quarters of long-term users.

Yet the medical profession has no good answer for people struggling to stop taking the drugs — no scientifically backed guidelines, no means to determine who’s at highest risk, no way to tailor appropriate strategies to individuals.

“Some people are essentially being parked on these drugs for convenience’s sake because it’s difficult to tackle the issue of taking them off,” said Dr. Anthony Kendrick, a professor of primary care at the University of Southampton in Britain.

Again, more at the link.

I have very limited experience with antidepressants.  Some years ago, following a period of intense job-related stress, magnified by the tragic sudden death of a very close friend, I felt overwhelmed.  My physician suggested I try a common antidepressant, but I soon found that it made me feel as if a sort of fuzzy blanket was spread over my ability to think.  I was more comfortable, but also not myself, and not able to respond to things (and people) around me as I usually did.  (Some, of course, might have considered that an improvement, but we won't go there . . .)  I stopped taking them, deciding it would be better to deal with the problems out of my own resources and not rely on a chemical crutch.  I've never used them since then.

On the other hand, I can understand their utility for people with serious chemical imbalances in their brain, as Ms. Slater appears to be afflicted.  Unfortunately, while they seem to solve that problem, no-one appears to have thought about the other side of the coin - their side effects, particularly long-term, and their addictive nature.

Where to now?  I suppose it'll be impractical to simply cut off antidepressant prescriptions, for fear of sparking a massive health crisis and social backlash.  It's a problem we've made for ourselves.  How do we get out of it?  Your guess is as good as mine.


Neat idea, but I doubt the powers that be will listen

One consumer's protest in England is making news - but I'm not sure it'll make a difference.

A man put off by the cost of a train fare bought a car and drove from London to Bristol for less than the price of the rail fare.

Bargain-hunter Tom Church bought a Honda Civic to make a 120-mile drive to see a friend in Bristol because it was cheaper than a train ticket.

The second hand car cost just £80 [currently about US $114]. Road tax was £81.38 [$116], insurance for one day £20.43 [$29] and petrol £25 [$36]. A total of £206.81 [$295].

Meanwhile, peak-time return train tickets between London and Bristol cost between £210 - £218.10 [$299 - $311].

. . .

[Mr. Church said] “At the end of the trip, I still have a car. I'll probably sell it again. After some TLC, I think I can get £200 [$285]. You get your unused road tax refunded so I might even be in profit! That’s real bargain hunting for you.”

There's more at the link.

It's a great idea, and good for some anti-rail-greed publicity;  but will the rail company listen?  I doubt it.  There are too many others who won't take a stand, and they know it.  They're relying on consumers being sheep to be fleeced.  Airline companies in the USA do the same.  They treat us like cattle, to be stuffed into their overcrowded aluminum tubes and all too frequently treated like dirt, because they know most consumers either don't have any choice but to put up with it, or won't stand up for decent treatment.  Those of us who choose to drive almost everywhere within range, rather than be treated like that, they can afford to disregard, because not enough of us will take such a stand.

(I couldn't help but note that the road tax formed no less than 39.35% of Mr. Church's outlay, and more than that if one considers the tax included in his purchase of fuel.  Big Brother gets its whack, one way or another!)


Friday, April 13, 2018

No. Just . . . NO!!!

Arachnophobics, don't read this report any further.

Hungry customers began calling Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham, North Carolina, last month asking for its famous tarantula burgers.

. . .

The exclusive beef burger is topped with gruyere cheese, oven-roasted tarantula and spicy chili sauce. The tarantulas are "free-ranged" and certified edible, Cindrich explained.

Everyone has a unique way of consuming the large burger.

"One person took the tarantula off the burger, dipped it in ketchup and just popped it in there," Cindrich said.

The tarantula burger tastes like a crustacean, Cindrich described. It's crablike — salty but bitter, though the chili sauce adds a bit of heat to it.

There's more at the link. Here's a brief video report with a picture.

A tarantula burger???  I'm definitely not lovin' it!!!


The joys of dentistry - NOT!

Way back when, as the result of an old injury and some not-very-well-made repairs, I ended up getting all my upper teeth removed, and was fitted with a full upper denture.  The first one (made in South Africa) lasted quite a while, and the second one (made in Louisiana) did OK.  Of course, one's jaw shape changes over time, particularly as one gets older, and one needs to have new dentures made. I had that done for the third time in Nashville, the year before Miss D. and I moved to Texas. The denture was never very satisfactory compared to the first two.  It didn't seem to fit as well, and moved more as I chewed.  Not a comfortable feeling, but money was tight at the time, so I lived with it as long as I could.

Last year the denture cracked.  I had it repaired by the local laboratory, and asked them to put in a piece of reinforcing mesh while they were at it.  I wasn't impressed by their workmanship, and the denture ended up going back and forth three times until they got it sort-of-right.  Oh, well . . . one learns to live with it.  However, last Friday, eating (of all things!) a piece of soft bread with butter, there came a loud CRACK from my mouth.  You guessed it.  Busted denture again - and not even biting into something worthwhile, like steak!

I went in to the dentist on Monday, and asked about repairing it, only to be told that it's been fixed too often.  No dice.  Oh, well . . . time to invest in a new denture again (and at denture prices today, they really are an investment).  This time I've specified a steel liner, rather than a plastic or polymer one, in the hope that it'll last longer and hold its shape better.  However, that also makes them more expensive, and delays completion by a couple of weeks longer than usual.  (I could always specify a gold or platinum liner, of course.  Why not?  It couldn't make them that much more costly!)

Meanwhile, Miss D. has been having fun (NOT!) for several months with a nagging ache in her cheek.  Over time, it resolved to the upper jaw, and she went in to the same dentist for a root canal and crown.  (They price that procedure as if they were implanting one of the Crown Jewels, for heaven's sake!)  The root canal did not go well.  She continued to have severe pain, and after a week, went back to check on that.  Further X-rays revealed that there's a probable extra nerve root, well hidden and hard to locate.  The dentist has therefore referred her to an endodontist, and refunded what he charged for the root canal procedure so far.  That helps, but even so, we'll have to find a couple of thousand for her root canal re-treatment, endodontic costs being what they are.

So, we're both eating soft foods for an extended period, and Miss D. is popping pain-killers to boot.  (Fortunately, I like soup, and can make a good one when required.)  At times like these I'm grateful that we've forced ourselves to live a financially disciplined life, and build up an emergency cash reserve.  It's about to take a hammering!



Several readers have referred me to this pseudo-advertisement for the Amazon Alexa/Echo - southern edition.

I wonder if it could be programmed to use my favorite southern expression:  "Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!"