Monday, December 31, 2018

A supertanker meets its end

I was intrigued to read an article at Zero Hedge titled "Oil Tanker Firms Scrap Most Ships In Three Decades".  It seems current economic conditions are sending a lot of otherwise useful ships to the breakers, because they're too costly to operate compared to more modern vessels.  The impending change in maritime pollution regulations is also taking its toll, as it can cost upwards of $5 million to fit a vessel with the necessary scrubbers to allow it to continue to use low-cost, high-polluting fuel.  If a ship's barely economical to operate at present, its owners are unlikely to be willing to commit another $5 million to upgrade its exhaust system.

Of particular interest to me was a photograph of a 285,000-ton tanker, the Front Vanadis, on the beach at Chittagong in Bangladesh, where it's being scrapped.  It was built in 1991.  I was struck by one of the photographs of the ship being scrapped.  It shows a large part of its starboard side cut away, revealing details of the oil tanks within.  Click the image for a larger view.

Having sailed a couple of the seven seas during my younger years, I knew that oil tankers had big baffle plates inside their tanks, to prevent the contents sloshing around during a storm and destabilizing the ship;  but I hadn't seen them in such detail before.  It looks like they're both horizontal and vertical in orientation, to control slop both up-and-down and side-to-side.

You can get an idea of the size of the ship (which was 1,063 feet long) by comparing it to the workers standing at the base of the hull (barely visible as dots in the smaller image above:  click to enlarge it to see them more clearly).  They're part of the huge shipbreaking industry at Chittagong, which has attracted international attention due to its extremely dangerous working conditions.  As Auke Visser's photographs show, dozens of vessels are being demolished there at any one time.  It's an interesting way to get an "inside look" (literally) at how they're made . . . and unmade, for that matter.


The Parkland school shooting: rampant ineptitude and criminal stupidity

The Sun-Sentinel has published a detailed timeline of the Parkland school shooting last February.  It's titled "Unprepared and Overwhelmed", which is a pretty good summation of the response by school and law enforcement authorities to the crisis.  It makes terrifying reading for anyone who has kids at school today.  If the authorities in Broward County screwed up so badly, are the authorities in your area likely to do better?  How can you be sure?

Two bloggers have posted their responses to the report.  I'm going to quote from both of them, and urge you to click over to the source to read the rest of their comments.

First, Greg Ellifritz, whom we've met in these pages several times before, pulls no punches.

When you read this, you will be absolutely sickened by the ineptitude displayed by both school staff and sheriff’s deputies.

The deputies’ conduct was inexcusable (and far worse than what was originally reported), but we can’t put everything on them.

School staff had five opportunities to call for a lockdown before any deputy was even contacted. Four staff “security monitors” with radios saw who they recognized as the “crazy boy” walking around school grounds with a rifle. One of those staff members saw the rifle-armed former student on two different occasions. None of these security monitors got on the radio to order a lockdown or to notify police.

. . .

It’s clear from this article that the cops and the school staff will not effectively protect the children. Your kids are on their own.  Do not expect other police agencies or schools to provide significantly better responses.  I’ve trained a lot of schools and cops on active killer topics over the years.  I would estimate that 95% of the police departments and school staff members I’ve dealt with would not respond any better than the folks described in this article.

. . .

This was one of the worst responses to a school shooting that I have seen in my two decade police career.  Readers, are you doing anything to ensure that your cops and schools don’t act the exact same way?  It is only intense pressure from concerned citizens, constituents, and voters that will force government entities to improve their response plans and training.

There's more at the link, including an analysis of some of the shooter's actions and some of the errors made by authorities.  Greg also provides a link to download the full 400-page final report on the shooting.  It might be of professional interest to some readers.

Next, Gun Free Zone has a long and vituperative commentary.

I will warn you, take a blood thinner before you read this.  I will not be held responsible for any heart attacks or strokes had from the following post.

. . .

I swear, when Scot Peterson dies, I will personally carve “Chicken **** Coward” above his name on his headstone ... a lying, feckless, ****less, yellow-bellied, chicken ****, ****ing coward, who tried to cover his own *** when asked about his cowardly bull****.

. . .

Every one of these Deputies, as well as Sheriff Israel himself, should be charged as accessories to the murder of these 17 people.  This isn’t just incompetence, they really helped Cruz kill so many so fast ... How do you get so many people on one department who hear gun shots and decided to do nothing about it?

. . .

Not one person who was responsible for this **** show has been fired, and several have been promoted.

The NRA was blamed, and anti-guns bills were passed into law.

The Democrat party still rules the roost in Broward County.

Nothing has changed and I doubt anything will.

The sardonic take away from all of this is, if you want to make yourself famous as a school shooter, just pick a place in unincorporated Broward County to do it, the BSO will make it easy for you.

Again, more at the link.

I won't bother to add my own comments.  The two bloggers cited above have already said all that's necessary.


Good question!

Seen on Gab yesterday:

Judging by the behavior of far too many individuals (few of whom are readers of this blog, of course), and virtually all politicians, I can understand why!


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday morning music

Let's see the old year out on a gentle note.  Here are Franz Josef Haydn's two cello concertos:  the Cello Concerto no. 1 in C Major, followed by the Cello Concerto no. 2 in D Major.  The recording is from the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, conducted by Iona Brown.  The soloist is Mstislav Rostropovich.

The recording is available on Amazon, where you'll also find the track listing if you'd like it.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Orifices, objects and insertions, oh my!

Adequate Man has compiled a list - and what a list! - of objects people inserted into various bodily orifices during the past year.  A great deal of it is unsafe for work, but some of the orifices are more mentionable in polite company, so I can provide these examples.

It’s here! It’s finally here! Every year it seems like the big day will never come, but it’s here. It’s the day to gather with your family and friends ‘round the hearth, warm beverages and sweet treats at the ready, and have a hearty chortle over the things America stuck inside itself and couldn’t remove without the help of trained medical personnel.

All reports are taken from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s database of emergency room visits, all descriptions are verbatim, and none of those things belong in there.

As always, objects are sorted by orifice, working south:



There's more at the link.  As mentioned earlier, some of the body parts (and the things inserted in them) are definitely NSFW!

Personally, I've never been tempted to put anything remotely "interesting" into any body part, so I read that list with mind-boggled incomprehension.  Also, how is it possible for so many people to have had an object get into something anatomically inappropriate (if not impossible) by "falling on it" or "sitting on it" by "accident"?  Methinks the victims doth protest too much!  (The nurses and emergency medical personnel I know tend to have a rather droll reaction to such excuses, to put it mildly.  Ask JB to tell you his kielbasa story sometime . . . he's already given me permission to use it in a novel, so I'll have to come up with a scenario where such an event - and the wildly inappropriate response it evoked from EMS - will fit!)


That's a helluva way to die . . .

As part of my research for my latest novel (of which I posted a teaser episode a few weeks ago), I've been researching the use of oared galleys in naval combat through history.  The classic book "Naval Warfare Under Oars" by VAdm. William Ledyard Rogers has been a primary source.  Highly recommended reading for naval history buffs.

After the famous Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the last major Western naval battle involving oared galleys, skirmishing between European and Turkish fleets continued for over a year.  One such skirmish took place off Modon, the Venetian name for the town of Methoni in Greece, in October 1572.  Turkish galleys attacked a convoy of supply ships, and Don John of Austria took his European alliance fleet out of harbor to defend them.  In the resulting sea chase, Rogers describes this incident.

At last the Capitana of Naples, the "Lodi" (She-wolf), bearing the Marquis of Santa Cruz, drew near [the galley] of Mamut, son of Dragut and nephew of Barbarossa, both famous corsairs of the previous generation.  Mamut was a young man of 22 years, noted for his cruelty to his Christian slaves, of whom he had 200 on board.  He stepped forward from his station on the poop to urge the efforts of the chained rowers, and after killing several in his fury, the stroke oarsman, always a most powerful man, seized him and dragged him into the midst of the rowers, who dropped their oars and fell on him like wild animals.  Mamut was thrown from bench to bench, every man taking a bite from his carcass as he passed forward and he was a corpse before he reached the bows ... On the anniversary of Lepanto, Mamut's vessel became the sole prize of the entire campaign and the reward of the labors of 70,000 men.

Ain't that a helluva way to die?


Friday, December 28, 2018

Headline of the week

News you can use:

Hey, I'm working on it!  Don't rush me!  Perfection takes time!


It's your property - but only if you do what the bureaucrats want with it

Should government be allowed to tell businesses or individuals what to do with their properties, at the owners' expense - or should they have to fund the measures they impose on owners?  If it's got nothing to do with safety or security, why should government have a say at all?  The New York Times reports:

Since it opened in 1927, the Strand bookstore has managed to survive by beating back the many challenges — soaring rents, book superstores, Amazon, e-books — that have doomed scores of independent bookshops in Manhattan.

With its “18 Miles of Books” slogan, film appearances and celebrity customers, the bibliophile’s haven has become a cultural landmark.

Now New York City wants to make it official by declaring the Strand’s building, at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street in Greenwich Village, a city landmark.

There’s only one problem: The Strand does not want the designation.

Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.

So at a public hearing on Tuesday before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, her plea will be simple, she said: “Do not destroy the Strand.”

Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.

“By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history,” she said. “We’re operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle.”

That the Strand could be threatened by its own preservation seems like a plot twist worthy of one of its books, she said: The very agency entrusted with preserving the city’s treasures is endangering one of them.

. . .

But Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, an advocacy group, said she believed the Strand’s concerns were unfounded.

“No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties,” she said. “They’re doing it to honor the building.”

Ms. Breen wants more buildings in the area to be landmarked, and hopes that designating the Strand’s building and the other six would pave the way, especially as a $250 million, 21-story tech training center is being developed near the Strand.

Worried that the project will ignite a wave of local development, preservationists have called for the landmarking of roughly 200 buildings south of Union Square.

There's more at the link.

It seems pretty straightforward to me.
  1. If it's a matter of public safety or security (e.g. fire prevention, building codes/safety, disruption to other premises nearby, etc.) then local government should have the right to regulate activities, within reason (which should be testable by the courts).
  2. If it's any other matter, the local government should regulate activities only if they pay for the measures they deem necessary, either in cash, or by granting tax rebates to the property owner or business concerned.
  3. Pressure groups (such as the preservationists mentioned in the article above) should not be allowed to impose their will on property owners or businesses via the regulatory process.  If they want something done (e.g. a building preserved), it's up to them to come up with the funds necessary to do so - and those funds should not come out of the public purse.  Let those who support the measure, pay for it;  and let those who aren't interested, or who oppose it, vote with their wallets.  (The same applies to public support for the arts, IMHO.  If you want that, you pay for it.  Leave me and my taxes out of it!)

Frankly, I regard an official body like the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission as a public burden, not a public service.  If someone wants to preserve a building, let them buy it - then they can do as they please with it.  Why should tax dollars be used to fund the commission at all, and why should the expenses resulting from the commission's rulings be imposed willy-nilly on property owners?

Yet another reason I don't want to live in big cities any longer . . . most of them seem to have gotten way too big for their official, bureaucratic boots.


For highly strung spacemen?

I was amazed to see this photograph on Gab yesterday (clickit to biggit):

Yes, it's a Millennium Falcon electric guitar!  Intrigued, I did some searching, and found that examples have been produced by several individuals over the past decade or so, using a plastic model of the spaceship produced in the 1980's and 1990's as a foundation.  Here are a few links:

I don't know which version is involved in this video, but here's one proud owner.  Love the R2-D2 head!

One version of the guitar cost over $700 from this source, but it was far from alone as Millennium Falcon merchandise;  they also offered appropriately (?) shaped chocolate molds, beds, bottle openers, ice cube trays and many other tchotchkes.  I've no idea how many are still available, if any.

If you want to create your own Millennium Falcon anything, based on a plastic model, two large examples are still available:  the 'classic' Revell kit (formerly the Finemolds kit), and the 'perfect grade' Bandai kit.  Be prepared for lots and lots of assembly and painting!  Of course, if you don't want to assemble it yourself, or take that much time over it, there's always the two-and-a-half-foot, fully assembled Hasbro toy . . .

Boys and their (expensive) toys indeed!


Thursday, December 27, 2018

A book pricing experiment

I'm trying a new approach to selling my books.  At their former price level ($3.99 to $4.99 per book), sales had been slowing, largely due to the impact of the Kindle Unlimited subscription library on book sales (which has been substantial, as I reported during the launch of my latest trilogy earlier this year).

I've accordingly reduced the prices of all my science fiction and fantasy novels to $2.99 per volume.  This means less money for me, of course, but I hope it'll encourage more sales, so that I make up in volume what I lose on individual profit.  I'm trying to balance my book prices with the current state of the market.  I'll let you know how that works.  (My Westerns haven't dropped in price yet;  that'll take another month or two to arrange.  Watch this space!)

Please pass the word, and this link, to any of your friends who might want reading bargains.  Every sale helps!



The SB-1 Defiant breaks cover at last

The Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant helicopter, a competitor for the US Army's Future Vertical Lift program, is getting closer to first flight next year.  The joint venture has just released pictures of the first prototype on the runway in Florida.  Click either image for a larger view.

It's hard to judge scale without a reference point, or accurate dimensions provided by the manufacturer, but my first reaction is that it's bigger than I thought it would be.  It's supposed to be a Blackhawk-class replacement, but it's clearly taller than its predecessor, and possibly broader as well, although that may be an optical illusion caused by the wide tailplane.  Of course, it's still significantly narrower than its rival in the FVL competition, Bell's V-280 Valor, which we've visited in these pages before.  The Valor's wing, with rotors at its tips, is probably at least 50% wider than the Defiant's rotor configuration, and perhaps more.

I've mentioned in a previous article that I find the Valor's width excessive from a tactical perspective, no matter how effective it may be from a technological or flight perspective.  I don't know whether the same applies to the SB-1's greater height.  I can see it having disadvantages in flying nap-of-the-earth, as in the example I cited in the earlier article, but I'm not sure that would be as big a disadvantage as the restrictions imposed by a fixed wing.  I suppose only careful testing will find an answer.  However, I do find it interesting that Russia's attempt to come up with a FVL program of its own has focused on the same coaxial rotor concept used by the Defiant.  It may be that's an easier technology to develop and maintain than a tilt-wing aircraft.  I'd also like to see how the coaxial and wing designs compare on the deck of an amphibious landing vessel.  I suspect one might be able to fit more of the former onto the deck than the latter.

It's also interesting to note the joint proposal from AVX Aircraft Company and L3 (shown below) for the US Army's Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program, announced earlier this year.

It also uses coaxial rotor technology, like the Defiant or its smaller sibling, the S-97 Raider (shown below), which will be Sikorsky's submission for the FARA competition.

So far, more manufacturers (in multiple countries) appear to be focusing on coaxial rotor technology than on tilt-wing.  I think the cost, complexity and sheer size of tilt-wing tactical helicopters are going to make that design more vulnerable, from both tactical and budgetary perspectives . . . but that's just me, basing my views on what may be an outdated and/or technologically backward point of view.  (For an interesting comparison of the two approaches, including technological and tactical considerations, see here.)

As before, let's hear from readers who have up-close-and-personal experience with tactical helicopter operations.  What do you think?


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

This looks far too good to eat

Seen on Gab this morning:

Traditional wedding bread of #Ukraine called Korovai has ancient origins & comes from pagan belief in magical properties of grain. Korovai was a large round braided bread, traditionally baked from wheat flour & decorated w/symbols, such as suns, moons, birds, animals & pine cones.

That's astonishing!  I'd never heard of korovai before, but Wikipedia has a lengthy article about it.

The bread was traditionally prepared in the home of the bride by women who sang traditional songs to guide them through the making. These women were called the korovainytsi (pol. korowajnice), and were most often invited in odd numbers to do the job of making the bread, usually seven.

The embellishments served a symbolic function. Two birds, made out of dough, represent the couple, and other birds represent family and friends. The entire arrangement is surrounded by a wreath of periwinkle, a symbol of love and purity. The korovai receives blessings before it is placed in the oven for baking.

The bride and groom were given the korovai as a blessing before the wedding ceremony. The korovai was shared by all the wedding guests, and this was considered the culmination of the wedding. During times of hardship, when a wedding was impossible, the blessing and sharing of bread was often considered enough to constitute a marriage in the eyes of the community.

There's more at the link.

I know it's a part of the wedding, and only a symbol of something much more profound, but even so, I'd hate to cut that bread, as beautiful as it is. That's not a meal, that's a work of art!


Now that's what I call a Christmas pudding!

Readers who were raised in the grand old tradition of English christmas puddings, stuffed with fruit and nuts, infused with brandy and port, and with sixpences (yes, I remember sixpences!) in each slice, ready to break the teeth of the unwary, will be glad to know that there's a very acceptable modern version available to US shoppers.

I ordered two of them late last week, having forgotten to do so earlier in the month.  As a result, I had to order the only brand guaranteed by Amazon to arrive by Christmas eve.  That was serendipity, because they turned out to be the tastiest Christmas puddings I've eaten in many years.  I steamed them for two hours in the traditional manner, and they came out wonderfully (served with custard, of course).  Sixpenny pieces are hard to come by these days, and we're rather too old to require that sort of motivation, so we didn't bother with them.

Delicious! - and highly recommended if you like ye olde-fashioned Christmas pudding, whether or not it happens to be that time of year.


Remembering Cobra King: December 26th, 1944, in Bastogne

One of the more memorable exhibits in the forthcoming National Armor and Cavalry Museum will be a Sherman Jumbo M4A3E2 assault tank known as Cobra King.  She has quite the history.

During the German winter offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, an important crossroads town in Bastogne, Belgium had been cut off and surrounded by German forces. Patton's Third Army was tasked with trying to break through the German lines in the south with the 4th Armored Division as the main spearhead of this counterattack. On December 26, 1944, Lt. Boggess, commander of Cobra King was fighting his way on the road from Assenois, Belgium to Bastogne. Cobra King was way ahead of the rest of the column and had just destroyed a German bunker along the road when Boggess spotted several uniformed figures in the woods near the bunker. They wore the uniforms of U.S. soldiers, but knowing how Germans were disguising themselves as Americans, he maintained a wary eye. He shouted to the figures. After no response, he called out again and one man approached the tank. "I'm Lieutenant Webster of the 326th Engineers, 101st Airborne Division. Glad to see you." With that meeting at 4:50 p.m. on December 26, 1944, Patton's Third Army had broken through the German lines surrounding Bastogne.

The crew of Cobra King pose for this famous photo near Bastogne, Belgium after they broke through enemy lines on December 26, 1944. The crew consisted of First Lieutenant Charles Boggess, Corporal Milton Dickerman and Privates James G. Murphy, Hubert S. Smith and Harold Hafner. (U.S. Army Photo)
. . .

After the war, Cobra King became a monument tank, put on display at Erlangen, Germany and then from there relocated to Vilseck, Germany where it remained in obscurity, the wrong registration number painted on its side from one of its numerous repaints. In May 2001, Army Chaplain Keith Goode was checking out monument tanks while serving in Germany. He was locating serial and registration numbers of Sherman tanks on U.S. Army bases. He passed the information on to the G104 Sherman interest group in the U.S. where member/historian Joe DeMarco confirmed that the tank was indeed the actual Cobra King.

. . .

At first the plan was to restore the interior and exterior to the way Cobra King looked on December 26, 1944. However, the discoveries of her interior altered that plan. It was decided ... that the exterior of Cobra King would be restored to how she looked during the Battle of the Bulge, but that the interior would be left showing interior modifications to ammo storage and the damage sustained ... After a two-year exterior restoration, Cobra King was as finished as possible before she was shipped out to her new home at Fort Benning, Georgia in August 2011.

There's more at the link.

Cobra King is believed to have been written off during the controversial raid on Hammelburg in March 1945.  Her interior was so badly damaged by fire that she could not be repaired, so she was used as a display or "gate guardian" tank until her identity was rediscovered.

It's nice to see a piece of history like that restored to its rightful place of prominence.


Monday, December 24, 2018

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

May the blessings of the season be with you, now and forever, and may we never forget the reason we're celebrating - which has nothing to do with food, gifts or parties!

I won't post tomorrow, Christmas day.  I'll take the day to be with family and friends.

God bless you all.


That's telling him!

A wannabe carjacker got the fright of his life in Midlothian, Texas when his intended victim objected.

He was sitting in his vehicle in the parking lot, waiting for his wife to finish shopping, when a man and woman approached his car.

Police identified the suspects as 21-year-old Caleb Michael Jefferson and 17-year-old Niyah Williams.

The man asked the victim, "What's up?" Caught off guard, the victim thought he might know the man, who entered the vehicle and sat beside the driver. A woman got in, too, sitting directly behind the driver.

By then, the victim realized he didn't know the suspects. The man in the passenger seat then reached under his shirt indicating that he had a gun and told the victim, "The next thing you say, you're going to heaven."

Unfazed by the threat, the victim responded by reaching into a bag beside him and pulling out his own .40-caliber handgun. He pointed his weapon at the suspect and said, "Let's go!"

There's more at the link.

Yes, the cops got them.  I think that's one of the more perfect responses to criminals I've heard in a while . . .


This man gets it

I have no personal knowledge of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) at all.  I can't say whether he's a good or a bad politician, because I have no experience of or with him, and I won't make that judgment based only on what others say about him.  Nevertheless, his remarks this weekend on CBS News' "Face the Nation" about the President's decision to withdraw US troops from Syria show, IMHO, an appreciation for the real issues involved.  Here are some excerpts.

You know, I think that we should look at some of the statements of the people who are advocating that we stay in Afghanistan forever and that we also stay now in Syria with no sort of determined end. General Mattis, even General Mattis said that there's no military solution to Syria, and he's also said there's no military solution to Afghanistan. How do you think our young soldiers feel? I have members of my family that are going over there soon, how do you think they feel being sent to Afghanistan when your generals are saying there's no military solution? So I think the burden is really on Mattis and others who want perpetual war to explain why if there is no military solution we're sending more troops. I think the onus is really on them to explain themselves.

. . .

We've been there seventeen years. We think now we are going to take one more village and we'll get a better negotiated deal? ... That was the strategy of Vietnam for year after year after year ... to take one more village and we'll get a better negotiated deal. No, they waited us out and the Taliban are going to wait us out. They know we will eventually leave and leave we must. I mean I don't think we have enough money to be paying to build and rebuild and build and rebuild Afghanistan. The President is right and I think the people agree with him. Let's rebuild America. Let's spend that money here at home.

. . .

... here is the problem with all of these generals. They're like, "Oh, it's precipitous." We've been there seventeen years. We've been in the Middle East most of that time. It's not precipitous. The President promised when we went into Syria, our goal was to wipe out ISIS. We took ninety-nine percent of the land, they're on the run, can the people who live there not do anything? We spent trillions of dollars arming the entire Middle East, arming Afghan army, can they not do anything? Do we have to do everything? We defeated ISIS. But now you have the-- the hawks in the administration and throughout Congress saying, "Oh, now we have to wait until Russia and Iran leave Syria." Well, that was never our goal and it's never going to happen. So those people are advocating for perpetual war.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that was the goal articulated by the national security adviser to the President, John Bolton. That is what he said U.S. policy was.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: It-- it was never the goal-- well, it was never-- that's a new goal. That's what you call mission creep. The mission has now changed, that we're going to wait till Iran leaves and Russia leaves. Well, the President told them that's not his mission and that was never the mission. The mission was to wipe out ISIS and we did succeed. And the thing is it's incredibly bold to win a war and come home. That's what the people want. If you poll the American people, it's sixty to seventy percent of people ready to get out of Afghanistan. And I'll bet you the same of Syria if you ask the people. It's only the people in Washington, the armchair generals, that want to keep us at war forever and people, Americans, are tired of it. We want that money here at home and we want to create jobs, roads, bridges here at home not in Afghanistan.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The concern raised by people like Brett McGurk who-- who was the President's diplomat handling the anti-ISIS coalition is that if you move out too quickly, if you agree we're going to draw down, at least have a plan on how to do it. At least, do it in a way that doesn't abandon allies. And, in fact, he warned in his resignation letter that this could create a vacuum that would allow terrorist groups like the Islamic State to re-emerge and in other-- other words, we'll have to go back in a few years.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: That will always be true. What-- what-- that-- that statement will always be true. That statement will be true in fifteen years. The place is a mess. I mean, they've been fighting each other for a thousand years. Sunni and Shia have been fighting each other since Battle of Karbala in 832 AD ... They're going to fight each other until the end of time. It's all of them. It's-- it's a inter-complicated mess that has to do with Sunni extremism versus Shia extremism, and also some other various battles in between. But if we wait until there's potent-- no potential for anybody fighting each other when we leave, we will be there forever.

There's more at the link.

I repeat what I said last week, which seems to presage much of Senator Paul's comments:

I ask you:  what vital US national interest will be served by leaving our armed forces in the middle of that cauldron of conflicting interests?  Please tell me.  I can't see one.  Protect the Kurds?  We haven't (officially) been doing that - we've been fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda.  If we're suddenly there to protect the Kurds, why?  What are our war aims?  Why have they not been clearly, categorically, unequivocally defined?  If we don't know why we're there, how on earth are we going to know when we no longer need to be there?  At the moment, it seems to me that US armed forces in Syria are on a mission in search of a problem.  Define the problem, and you'll know when you've solved it.  Leave it undefined, and you'll go on chasing your own (and every potential enemy's) tail until you're dizzy.

. . .

This is part of the larger question of why the US has so many troops stationed in so many countries.  President Trump has reportedly been asking pointed questions about why they're there, the cost of keeping them there, and whether the US would be better served by bringing them home.  He did so even before he became President.  That predictably provoked a strong negative reaction from neocons and the establishment that's grown up over decades to support and defend a US military presence overseas.  Nevertheless, it's a perfectly good question.  If we keep troops overseas to support a particular policy, and we never succeed in achieving or implementing that policy, then why are we continuing to support failure by our expensive military presence?  Einstein famously defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  Isn't that a pretty good description of much of this country's foreign and military policy in recent decades?

Again, more at the link.

In the absence of concrete, objective, measurable answers to Sen. Paul's questions and mine, I continue to believe that President Trump has made the right call in Syria.  If you think otherwise, I'd love to see your reasoning in Comments - taking into account, and answering, the questions above, something I notice most of the President's critics have signally failed to do.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sunday morning music

In England in particular, but also elsewhere in the world on occasion, the tradition of a "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" at Christmas is well known.  I haven't encountered it very often in the USA, but I thought my more traditionally minded readers might enjoy it:  so here's Kings College, Cambridge, with their service from 1992.  It's followed by a BBC documentary on the choir of Kings College.  The whole thing is about two hours long, so I suggest playing it as background theme music for the season while you're busy with other tasks.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Was the Syria withdrawal a brilliant move by President Trump?

With the news that Saudi Arabian troops will augment - and probably replace in due course - the US forces currently operating alongside the Kurds in Syria, the Conservative Treehouse thinks the whole withdrawal proposal is a gigantic win for the President.

Now let’s consider the brilliance of this move.

First, remember Turkish President Recep Erdogan was the antagonist in the Kashoggi matter and Erdogan orchestrated the blame toward Saudi Crown Prince MbS.   There is no better motivated mid-east ally to protect the Kurds against any military action by Turkey other than MbS.   No doubt MbS and UAE will send their best forces.

Secondly, what military equipment will MbS and the UAE be shipping along with their military troops?  Those would be military purchases directly from the U.S.

Third, who stood up against international pressure and refused to condemn MbS over the Kashoggi matter?  That would be a strategic U.S. President Trump.  MbS owes a favor; see how that works?

Fourth, what leverage does U.S President Trump have toward Turkey in order to further facilitate no hostile action?  That would be the economic leverage of current sanctions against Iran; and the option of controlling/punishing any economic engagement therein.

So to summarize:  President Trump withdraws U.S. troops from Syria, and leverages his relationship with MbS to step up to replace them, thereby eliminating any concern that Turkey might take hostile action toward our Kurdish allies in Northern Syria.

Our troops come home; and a stable transition is ensured by a regional ally.

How do you like them apples!

There's more at the link.

If CTH is correct, this is a seriously significant step in the Middle East - and Turkey had best be very careful how it responds.  President Erdogan has already seriously pissed off Saudi Crown Prince MbS over the Kashoggi affair.  Now Saudi troops will be operating within spitting distance of Turkish troops in Syria - and Saudi troops have been well and truly schooled in combat in Yemen over the past couple of years.  They also have almost unlimited quantities of the latest US weaponry, even more than Turkey (a NATO member) has.  They are NOT about to let themselves be pushed around.

Even more interesting, Saudi Arabia is getting to be very friendly with Israel these days, as both see Iran as a major threat.  Israel will have little, if any, objection to Saudi troops joining the Syrian melting-pot.  There may even be some useful exchanges of information, and perhaps a little battlefield cooperation here and there, as in "If we hit this Iranian position here, would you like to clobber their fall-back position there, a few minutes later?"

Pass the popcorn, folks.  I think this might get very interesting indeed.


EDITED TO ADD:  What did I tell you?


Who thought this up in the first place, and why?

I still don't understand it . . . but I suppose it's marginally better than the Christmas muzak that's been bombarding us for weeks.  It would certainly liven up the dairy aisle at Walmart!


Friday, December 21, 2018

About that emotional support longhorn . . .

In my first post this morning, I mentioned that the owner of Dreadnaught Industries in Texas had registered a longhorn steer as an emotional support animal. The gentleman was kind enough to comment on that post, and sent me more details of Tiny, his highly original ESA.  He e-mailed:

Pictures of the card, and Tiny's initial reaction TO the card, attached.  (Click the images for a larger view.)

If you ever wandered down here to Brownwood to, say, shoot Abomination (or any of the other machine guns we keep in stock, or perhaps the neat 44 Colt/1860 Colt conversion we just picked up), you could pet him.

My personal favorite thing that Tiny does (although all of the herd has various endearing personality traits) is to block the bridge that is the only way from the range to the shop and not let me cross until Tiny has been scratched to the amount that he considers acceptable.

Then, and only then, will he step off the bridge and let me drive the Mule over...

A firearms company with its own shooting range, and a pet longhorn to boot?  I've got to see that!  I'll talk to the rest of the North Texas Writers, Shooters and Pilots Association about making a day trip down that way.  It may be tricky to persuade Old NFO and Lawdog to join us, though . . . they have painful memories of wrangling longhorns in their respective dim and distant youths.  They are not polite about how longhorns treat cowboys!  I suspect they'd look upon Tiny with a jaundiced eye indeed.

Thanks for writing, Alex, and providing those pictures.  If you ever get the chance to try to take him with you aboard an airline flight, please post video of getting him through the TSA inspection.  That would be comedy gold!


A complete, total, utter lack of credibility

That's my reaction to the Pope's latest call to Catholic priests who've been guilty of immoral sexual conduct.

Pope Francis on Friday capped a year of sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church by vowing to “do all that is necessary” to punish abusers for their “abominations” and urging the guilty to turn themselves in.

“To those who abuse minors, I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice,” the pope told Vatican officials.

. . .

In his speech, the pope noted that he has called a Vatican summit of bishops from around the world to discuss the abuse crisis over four days in February. The bishops will consult with experts on “how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries.”

. . .

On Friday, he denounced clerics who “hide behind good intentions in order to stab their brothers and sisters in the back and to sow weeds, division and bewilderment,” comparing such people to Judas, the betrayer of Jesus.

There's more at the link.

I suppose I'd be one of those the Pope referred to in the final paragraph above.  I'm sure he, and other Catholic Church authority figures, would regard me as an "uppity priest", who refused to shut up and play ball, to "get with the program", and present a united front to the world in response to the furore over clergy child sex abuse.  Unfortunately for them, I don't agree, and I refuse to be silenced.  I'm not some naive cradle Catholic who went from home, to school, to seminary, to priesthood, and never learned anything about life, the universe, or whatever.  I learned from the university of life long before I became a priest, and what I saw "on the inside" of the Church during the unfolding of this crisis outraged me.  It still does.

The Catholic Church, collectively, has effectively done nothing whatsoever, in real, constructive, meaningful terms, to address this crisis.  Every step has been pious window-dressing, designed to portray the Church in the most favorable light - indeed, as the victim of vicious anti-Catholic sentiment - rather than admit that she's failed her members for many decades.  The cover-ups continue to this day.  Consider these US headlines from the past week alone:

I know at first hand just how far the Catholic Church has been willing to go to silence dissenters within the ranks of the clergy.  (I was one of them, after all.)  Pensions have been threatened;  priests have been warned they'd be evicted from their retirement homes if they didn't toe the official line;  pastors who objected to being ordered to lie to their congregations have been transferred to minor, out-of-the-way churches, where they've been left to rot in obscurity.  In my case, when I applied for laicization over the issue, to my utter incredulity, I was informed that the officials responsible were "terrified" to submit my application to Rome, because they "dared not" allow a priest to cite the Church's deliberate lies as the reason for requesting laicization.  Difficulties with celibacy they could handle easily, but a refusal to compromise over the truth - that was absolutely beyond the pale, because it would reflect on them and on their diocese in the eyes of Rome.  The results of their cowardice and mendacity have affected me to this day.  On the other hand, I didn't sacrifice my integrity.  That means something, to me at least.

Therefore, the latest call by Pope Francis leaves me cold.  The Church has done nothing to force the issue with its priests over the years.  This latest appeal doesn't force it, either.  Offenders are expected to "out" themselves.  After overwhelming evidence that offenders have no interest in or intention of doing that, concealing their offenses for decades, accepting promotions and episcopal ordination in the process . . . what makes the Pope think his appeal will make any difference?  It's just more pious window-dressing, intended to sound good to the faithful, but in practice achieving absolutely nothing.

Meanwhile, the millions of Catholics who've left the Church over this scandal still wonder what happened to it, and who took it away and hid it, and left a whitewashed tomb in its place.  The priests who objected to the "official line", and were punished for it, have never received so much as an apology, let alone any form of redress, even though history has proven them correct.  It's quite obvious that nobody in authority cares about the stand they took, except to dismiss them as irritating fleas trying to bite the body of Christ.

May almighty God have mercy on us.


Doofus Of The Day #1,033

Today's award goes to People Eating Tasty Animals People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).  By overreacting in the most hysterically over-the-top way to a restaurant food promotion, they've ensured that a local (one-city-only) promotion has people talking about it all across the country.

Popeyes, a US fast-food fried chicken franchise, recently launched a promotion at Philadelphia's airport.  With all the fuss about fake "emotional support animals", the local operator figured that a play on words would help sell more chicken:  so they started selling an "emotional support chicken meal".  Click the images for a larger view.

PETA promptly lost its collective marbles.  It's produced this hit job aimed at shaming the restaurant into withdrawing its promotion.

PETA's frothing-at-the-mouth overreaction has, of course, made Popeye's promotion go viral, nationwide.  From a simple local promotion at a single airport, I understand people all over the country are starting to ask for it.  Heck, here in North Texas, with only a relatively small municipal airport in the vicinity, I've heard folks talking and laughing about it!  Way to go, PETA.  You've probably killed more chickens (for Popeye's to fry) with your protest than died from natural causes over the past half a year or so.  I might just go to the nearest Popeye's and add to their profits, just to raise a middle digit at their critics!

(My favorite emotional support animal is still the one said to have been registered by the owner of Dreadnaught Industries here in Texas.  I'm told that, fed up with all the fuss over the issue, he spent the money to get official paperwork for his own emotional support animal - a longhorn steer!  That caused a lot of gigglage in this neck of the woods, as people visualized him trying to take it on board an airliner.  The imagined reaction of the poor lady at the boarding gate led to hilarity, to put it mildly!)


(EDITED TO ADD:  More about the emotional support longhorn here, including photographs.)

Thursday, December 20, 2018


Found on Gab:


So who needs an explosive cargo?

Not a week after I'd written about collisions between drones and commercial aircraft, and the threat this might pose to air travel (particularly in the hands of terrorists), what happens?

Tens of thousands of passengers were delayed, diverted or stuck on planes Thursday as the only runway at Britain’s Gatwick Airport remained closed into a second day after drones were spotted over the airfield.

The airport south of London — Britain’s second-busiest by passenger numbers — closed its runway Wednesday evening after two drones were spotted.

It reopened briefly at about 3 a.m. Thursday, but shut 45 minutes later after further sighting and remained closed at midday — 15 hours after the first sighting.

Police said the “devices used are of an industrial specification,” an indication that the drones weren’t small, inexpensive machines. A police helicopter was hovering near the airfield as officers from two nearby forces hunted the drone operators.

“The police advice is that it would be dangerous to seek to shoot the drone down because of what may happen to the stray bullets,” said Chris Woodroofe, Gatwick’s chief operating officer.

. . .

All incoming and outgoing flights were suspended, and the airport’s two terminals were jammed with thousands of weary travelers, many of whom had spent the night on benches and floors.

Police said the drone flights were a “deliberate act to disrupt the airport,” but that there were “absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related.”

There were 20 police units from two forces searching for the elusive drone operator.

Superintendent Justin Burtenshaw, of Sussex Police, said the search was daunting.

“Each time we believe we get close to the operator, the drone disappears; when we look to reopen the airfield, the drone reappears,” he said.

. . .

Any problem at Gatwick causes a ripple effect throughout Britain and continental Europe, particularly during a holiday period when air traffic control systems are under strain.

Passengers complained on Twitter that their Gatwick-bound flights had landed at London Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities.

Luke McComiskie, who landed in Manchester — more than 160 miles (260 kilometers) from London — said the situation “was just chaos, and they had only two coaches (buses) and taxis charging people 600 pounds ($760) to get to Gatwick.”

There's more at the link.

How the police can assert there are "absolutely no indications to suggest this is terror-related", I can't understand.  If I were a terrorist, I'd be laughing my ass off right now.  At negligible risk of detection, I'd have shut down the second most important airport in London, and one of the most important in Britain.  I'd have caused delays (and related expense) to tens of thousands of travelers;  cost airlines and airports literally millions of dollars in related costs such as repositioning aircraft from where they've had to land, to collect passengers waiting for them at Gatwick;  cost business and commerce tens of millions in delayed air freight deliveries (particularly perishable items), insurance claims, disrupted meetings and travel arrangements, and so on.  There's also the cost of "20 police units from two forces searching for the elusive drone operator" - not a small expense in itself, plus the fact that those cops can't be chasing other criminals or investigating other crimes while they're distracted by the search.

I daresay the cost of the Gatwick disruptions will run well into the tens of millions of dollars by the time everything's added up.  That's terror-level economic disruption, right there - yet not a single grain of explosives was required, and no-one had to be killed or injured.  Even if the drone operators are caught, they can only be charged with disrupting airport traffic and disobeying air traffic control regulations.  They'll get a smack on the wrist, a few years in prison at most - but their example will inspire countless others to do the same thing.

If this is a portent, we can expect to see more incidents like this at more and more British and European airports in coming months.  It's cheap, easy, and ridiculously effective at disrupting air travel over half a continent, by the time you take every disruption and "ripple effect" into account.  If I were Muslim terrorists, I'd be all over this like white on rice.  You don't have enough volunteers willing to die in a terrorist act?  Then why not persuade the weaker-willed members of your organization to do this instead, at greatly reduced risk to themselves?  The most they'll face is a few years behind bars, rather than death.

Drones as a terror weapon?  Oh, hell, yeah!


Syria: why is the USA still there at all?

I've noted President Trump's decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, and the outcry that's followed.  You'd think this country was abandoning poor, innocent people to the mercies of Nazi concentration camps or Soviet gulags, to read and listen to all the fuss.  It's nowhere near that simple.  Consider these points.

In the first place, the President is right.  ISIS has been defeated on the battlefield.  Can it come back?  Sure it can - just as ISIS itself was merely the latest variation on the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist theme to arise in the Middle East over a long, long period.  ISIS was nothing new except that it formed a territorial entity and called it a 'caliphate', a name with deep roots in Islamic history.  Its braggadocio 'caliphate' is no more.  It's part of the dust of history, that's thick and deep in the Middle East with the ruins of other such grandiose proclamations.  ISIS may return under that name, or in another incarnation - but you can bet your bottom dollar, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism will return to the Middle East in some highly visible form before too long.  That's just the way it is in that part of the world.

That said, let's be under no illusions about the quality of ISIS' opponents.  Turkey calls some Kurdish movements 'terrorist' - and they are.  The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK (whose roots are Marxist/Leninist, like so many other terrorist movements) has contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Turkey and on its borders as part of its agenda.  It's listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department.  There are other Kurdish groups who've supported Al Qaeda.  Remember 9/11?  Yeah.  That Al Qaeda.  Not all Kurds are equal, ethically or morally speaking.  There are as many terrorists among the Kurds as there are 'good guys'.  Sometimes it's very hard to distinguish between them, and the people they're fighting.

Yes, from the US perspective there are 'good Kurds' (read:  pro-Kurdish, anti-terrorist, anti-fundamentalist Islam, anti-Iran).  They're (rightly, IMHO) disturbed and upset at the prospect of no longer having an American security umbrella over their heads.  On the other hand, let's be blunt.  19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerston famously said, "We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow."  US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger echoed those sentiments in our own time.

The USA has interests, rather than eternal friends, in the Middle East.  They change over time.  For example, prior to 1948, we had no "interest" in Israel, because Israel did not exist.  Since its independence, US interests there have fluctuated in accordance with the policies of the Administration in power.  President Obama had a very different perspective on them than does President Trump - indeed, he actively and openly and unashamedly tried to interfere in Israeli domestic elections, to defeat the incumbent government.  Personally, I think that was morally and ethically wrong . . . but morals and ethics have little to do with realpolitik as she is practiced today.  That's why I'd make a lousy politician.

The USA can and should pursue its interests, just as any other nation should;  but it dare not allow the pressures in one part of the world to overwhelm its equally (or even more) pressing interests in others, or at home.  Syria is one problem out of many we're struggling to deal with - for example, China, North Korea, Venezuela, Libya, Ukraine, and so on and so on ad nauseam.  Dare we allow Syria to absorb so much of our attention, and so much (and potentially much more) of our military effort, compared to the others?  Dare we allow our support for the Kurds to enmesh us in military conflict in Syria for years to come, perhaps at the cost of many American lives?  Is that in our best interests?  You tell me.  I think there are other ways of achieving the same end, even without troops on the ground.  (For an example, remember what happened to the "Russian mercenary" attack on a Kurdish town not so long ago?  Yeah.  That.  Troops would have been superfluous, except to clean up the mess afterwards.)

Take a good, hard, objective look at the mess in Syria today.  Thanks in no small part to the Obama administration's interference there, urged on by neocon interventionists in the US, Iran expanded its involvement in Syria to prevent the overthrow of its client, President Assad, and Russia threw its weight behind its only remaining Arab client state.  That, in turn, has ratcheted up the threat to Israel, which has struck Iranian positions in Syria, attacked Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and indirectly caused embarrassment to President Putin by operating with apparent impunity in the face of the best air defenses the Russians can offer.  Israel cannot and dare not allow Iran to further extend its dominance in Syria, and is very likely to increase its own involvement there as a result - carrying with it the real danger of an armed confrontation with Russian forces.

I ask you:  what vital US national interest will be served by leaving our armed forces in the middle of that cauldron of conflicting interests?  Please tell me.  I can't see one.  Protect the Kurds?  We haven't (officially) been doing that - we've been fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda.  If we're suddenly there to protect the Kurds, why?  What are our war aims?  Why have they not been clearly, categorically, unequivocally defined?  If we don't know why we're there, how on earth are we going to know when we no longer need to be there?  At the moment, it seems to me that US armed forces in Syria are on a mission in search of a problem.  Define the problem, and you'll know when you've solved it.  Leave it undefined, and you'll go on chasing your own (and every potential enemy's) tail until you're dizzy.

Some would argue we're there to support Israel:  but Israel can't expect the US to pull its chestnuts out of the fire whenever necessary.  Besides, it's far and away the dominant military power in the region.  It's more than capable of taking care of business for itself.  Iran has threatened it with nuclear annihilation.  That was very, very stupid, because after the Holocaust, Israel takes such threats seriously.  It won't surprise me in the least to see Israel turn parts of Iran (and possibly the parts of Syria where Iranian forces are concentrated) into radioactive, glass-topped parking lots if the need arises.  Again - why should US forces be anywhere nearby, if and when that happens?

This is part of the larger question of why the US has so many troops stationed in so many countries.  President Trump has reportedly been asking pointed questions about why they're there, the cost of keeping them there, and whether the US would be better served by bringing them home.  He did so even before he became President.  That predictably provoked a strong negative reaction from neocons and the establishment that's grown up over decades to support and defend a US military presence overseas.  Nevertheless, it's a perfectly good question.  If we keep troops overseas to support a particular policy, and we never succeed in achieving or implementing that policy, then why are we continuing to support failure by our expensive military presence?  Einstein famously defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  Isn't that a pretty good description of much of this country's foreign and military policy in recent decades?

We have troops, and interests, in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and beyond.  Our armed forces are currently serving in over 150 countries and territories.  Syria is just one of them - and our troops there are far from our largest foreign military presence.  I don't think the presence, or absence, of between 2,000 and 4,000 US military personnel (depending on whose figures you trust) is going to make the difference between the survival or genocide of the Kurds, or the rise or fall of the Assad regime, or anything else.  I think those troops amount to not much more than a tripwire if Syria goes full Monty, and a four-cornered war breaks out between Syrian, Iranian, Turkish and Israeli forces.  The Kurdish question, and ISIS, will be no more than side issues if that happens.

Frankly, I think President Trump has made a good call.  On the balance of US priorities, interests and commitments, we don't need to be in Syria.  Let those on the scene handle what needs to be handled, and back up our friends interests with other measures if necessary.