Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sunday morning music

Time for something a little light-hearted.  Ever heard of American composer Leroy Anderson?  He's the man who introduced office equipment to the orchestra.

Anderson completed "The Typewriter" on October 9, 1950 in Woodbury, Connecticut. "The Typewriter" received its first performance on September 8, 1953 during a recording Anderson and Boston Pops Orchestra made in New York City for Decca Records. Anderson composed melody for symphony and pops orchestras, William Zinn and Floyd Werle arranged it for string orchestras and wind bands respectively.

Its name refers to the fact that its performance requires a typewriter. Performer uses 3 basic typewriter sounds: the sound of typing, the "ring" of the carriage return (a standard desk bell is used for it), and the sound of the typewriter carriage returning. In some case the sound of the typewriter carriage returning is made by musical gourd, flute, string or other instrument.

The typewriter was modified so that only two keys work to prevent the keys from jamming. According to composer himself and other musicians typewriter part is hard because of typing speed: even professional stenographers can not do it, and only professional drummers have the necessary wrist flexibility.

It has been called one of "the wittiest and most clever pieces in the orchestral repertoire". Author Steve Metcalf has written that "Despite the almost total disappearance of typewriters in everyday life, the statistics show that "The Typewriter" is still a favorite Anderson item."

Typewriter is used in composition as percussion instrument from the standpoint of music theory, and typewriter part is performed by percussionist/drummer usually or by conductor rarely.

There's more at the link.

Here's "The Typewriter", performed by Martin Breinschmid with the Strauss Festival Orchestra of Vienna.

Let's see them do that with a word processor!


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Neither Mexican nor Indian?

Poor Senator Warren just can't catch a break.  Sent in by reader J. M.:


Choose your friends carefully, because the wrong choice might kill you

The late, great Jeff Cooper promulgated four rules of firearms safety that have become almost universally recognized.  Some modify the wording, others add more rules, but I guarantee you:  if you observe his basic four rules faithfully, you won't ever injure anyone by a negligent or accidental discharge of your firearm.  They are:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
  4. Know your target, and what is beyond it.

Sadly, in the heat of a defensive engagement, it may not be practical to follow all of those rules, all of the time.  When that happens, something like this may follow.

Authorities in San Antonio say a man who was reaching for a handgun was shot by a police officer whose bullet grazed the suspect and then struck an 18-year-old sitting nearby, killing the teen.

. . .

The 24-year-old man, who hasn't been identified, was hospitalized. McManus told the San Antonio Express-News that the man has an "extensive" criminal record.

There's more at the link, and more information in this subsequent article.

I'm sure the officer is going to be affected by this for the rest of his life.  There's no suggestion that he was not justified in defending himself;  but, in the haste of having to react to an imminent threat, he had little or no time to take note of anyone on the far side of the threat.  The result is a dead person who wasn't party to the threat - at least, if initial reports are correct.  That he was in the company of a criminal, and at the scene of a reported crime, and therefore exposing himself to danger by association, as it were, doesn't mean that he deserved to die.  I'm sure there will be many recriminations, and possibly lawsuits, resulting from this.

On the other hand, it bears out, yet again, the sage advice of John Farnam, which we've mentioned in these pages on several occasions.  Follow this link and scroll down to the entry for March 19th, 2003 to find it.

The best way to handle any potentially injurious encounter is: Don’t be there. Arrange to be somewhere else. Don’t go to stupid places. Don’t associate with stupid people. Don’t do stupid things.

The deceased ignored that very practical advice, and chose to associate with criminals - who are, almost by definition, "stupid people", irrespective of their IQ (or lack thereof).  Tragically, he paid for that choice with his life.  Just as sadly, there are many (probably including his surviving family) who will ignore that reality, and blame anyone and everyone except him for what happened to him.  The fact remains:  if he'd chosen better company, he would almost certainly be alive right now.


Friday, October 19, 2018

Your feel-good story of the week

A pizzeria in Michigan shows real dedication.

When Julie and Rich Morgan lived in Battle Creek 25 years ago, Rich would always bring home Steve’s Pizza for dinner each payday, even though money was tight. The couple has since relocated to Indianapolis, but those pizzas – the taste and the memories – have stuck with them.

In fact, the Morgans had planned to visit Battle Creek and Steve’s Pizza for a weekend getaway. But after a trip to the emergency room, their plans changed; Rich is now home with hospice care as his battle with cancer comes to a close, Julie said in a Facebook post.

Knowing how much that pizzeria meant to the couple, Julie’s dad called Steve’s Pizza to see if someone could send a card or text to cheer them up. But Dalton Shaffer, a manager, had a different idea.

“Well, what kind of pizza do they like?” Shaffer asked Julie Morgan’s father, according to

Her father quickly sought to clarify that he was calling from Indianapolis – nearly 200 miles away and in a different state. Shaffer, 18, said he understood and promised to make the special delivery of two 16-inch pepperoni and mushroom pizzas as soon as he closed the restaurant just after 10 p.m.

“And so, while Rich and I slept, at 2:30 a.m., Dalton rolled into our driveway, left the car running and delivered two extra special pizzas to my waiting family,” Julie said. “He told them we were in his prayers, and offered to help in any way he could.”

Julie said Shaffer also refused an offer from the family to put him up in a hotel. He also immediately left, she said, so he could make it home in time for work in the morning.

. . .

In all, Shaffer traveled about 450 miles round-trip to make the delivery. But here’s what makes it even more “epic:” Steve’s Pizza doesn’t even offer delivery services.

There's more at the link.

That's amazing customer service, to put it mildly!  I live about a thousand miles from Battle Creek, so I can't show my appreciation by buying anything from Steve's Pizza there:  but I hope any of my readers who are within "eating distance" will do so, as a gesture of thanks.  I think they deserve it.


Doofus Of The Day #1,029

Today's award goes to the Bruce Rock Police Force in Australia.  A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus for sending me the link.

Police officers in Western Australia have been mocked after they posted a picture online showing off huge bags of marijuana they "seized", but people were quick to point out a glaring issue.

The Bruce Rock Police Force shared the picture on their Twitter account...

. . .

"Can I send you my address? I have some garden clippings I need to get rid of and I can't be bothered fetching the green bin," one user wrote.

"Putting Jim's mowing out of business if you keep this up," another said.

One added: "This is the dumbest thing on the whole internet. This is embarrassing for Australia."

Others suggested that the bags were just filled with the unwanted left overs from product that they either already sold or moved.

"Police have estimated the value of the haul in excess of seven dollars fifty," one person said.

There's more at the link.

Yes, looking at the photograph the cops posted, it's fairly obvious that isn't marijuana:

Either a cop didn't know what he was looking at, or some drug pusher figured he had really stupid clients, who wouldn't recognize that he wasn't selling them what he promised.  Either way, I'd like to see any court convict anyone on a narcotics charge for selling those clippings!  Maybe they could get them for fraudulent misrepresentation?


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Fauxcahontas again

The blog memes - and the hits - just keep coming for Senator Warren.  I've long since lost count of how many there are out there.  Here's my latest favorite:

Aesop has his own collection over at his blog.  Click over there for some punny fun.

How on earth Senator Warren ever expects to be taken seriously again, I just can't imagine.  She's not only painted herself into a wacky, lunatic-fringe corner, she's pulled it in after her and padlocked the corners together.

Oh, well . . . at least she's provided some much-needed light-hearted (not to mention light-skinned) entertainment to an American political scene usually lacking that commodity.  Her fame may not be Indian, but it's undyin', for sure!


A terrifying example of why loose loads make for dangerous roads

Having driven a pickup for most of my years in the USA, and covered tens of thousands of miles in them (and similar vehicles) in Africa prior to that, I've got a fair old collection of horror stories that I've seen, encountered and experienced.  Cargo improperly loaded, loads improperly secured, things coming loose under the stress of travel and falling off, sometimes hitting other vehicles . . . there are any number of examples.

The latest comes from Florida.  Click the image for a larger view.

A news report adds more details.

A driver in Florida is lucky to be alive after a large piece of plywood ended up impaled in her vehicle's windshield.

The Brevard County Fire Rescue said in a Facebook post the incident took place on Interstate 95 in Rockledge, located about 20 miles south of Titusville on the state's Atlantic Coast.

. . .

The plywood board was much wider than the vehicle and was hanging off either end of the car.

The driver, identified by Florida Today as 35-year-old Rebecca Burgman, had minor injuries but refused treatment at the scene.

There's more at the link.

Ms. Burgman is a very, very lucky lady.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Some amazing wildlife photographs

Britain's world-famous Natural History Museum has just released the results of its 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.  There are some spectacular images.  Here are just two, to whet your appetite.  Click each one for a much larger view.

The winner in the category "Animals in their Environment", from Spain, is Cristobal Serrano with a drone-captured overhead picture of crabeater seals on an ice floe.  (Oddly enough, despite their name, they don't eat crabs!)

Highly commended in the category "Animal Portraits", here's a lioness captured by Isak Pretorius of South Africa.

There are many more photographs at the link.  Highly recommended viewing.


Well, she is a flocking politician . . .

Sent in by several readers, origin unknown.  Is this the best Senator Warren DNA fiasco meme yet?

Indeed.  She's certainly goosing her image . . . and is that a tribal headband I see around the left leg?



A brand-new container ship, the CMA CGM Mumbai, delivered from the shipyard in May this year, had an embarrassing steering failure at the port of Mumbai the other day.  It left a mark.

Fortunately, the collision was at very low speed, but even so, it'll take a while to repair the quayside and replace the ship's stem post.  Embarrassing, that, particularly with a brand-new vessel.


"Choking On the Salt of Debt"

That's the title of a very thought-provoking article at Acting Man.  We've spoken about the perils of debt, and the damage it's doing to our economy, on several occasions.  This article puts a new perspective on the problem, and highlights how bad it's become.  I only have space to quote a few paragraphs from the author's extensive treatment of the subject, which you should read in full.

Debt based stimulus is both sustaining and killing the economy at the same time.  No doubt, this is a ridiculous situation.  Here we will look to California’s San Joaquin Valley for parallels...

. . .

In the San Joaquin Valley, vast irrigation networks convey water thousands of miles to make the desert bloom.  But as surface water is conveyed along the open California aqueduct, it both evaporates and collects mineral deposits. The combination of these factors concentrates the water’s salt content.  Then, as it is applied to irrigation, the residual salts collect in the soil.

After decades of this, along with the over-application of fertilizer through mechanized fertigation systems, the salt in the soil has built up so that it strangles the roots of the plants.  To combat this, over-watering is required, because the irrigation water – while salty – is fresher than the salt encrusted soil. By applying excess irrigation water, the soils around the plants are temporarily freshened up so that crops can grow.

Yet, at the same time, this over-watering accelerates the mass quantity of salt being applied to the soil.  There is no outlet for the salt to flush to; the valley is the basin’s terminus.  Thus, in this grand paradox, the relative freshness of the excess water that is keeping the farmland alive is, at the same time, the source of the salt that is killing it.

. . .

So, too, goes the U.S. economy.  After nearly a decade of rapidly expanding its balance sheet, and pumping cheap credit and excess liquidity into financial markets, the Fed has produced a similar paradox.  They must keep expanding the money base to keep the economy afloat... but in doing so they are ultimately killing it.  [Click the image for a larger view.]

This, in short, is why it doesn’t matter if the Fed raises the federal funds rate or cuts the federal funds rate, or if Uncle Sam borrows more or borrows less.  At this point, there is no way out.  The present financial order, like the salty crop fields in the San Joaquin Valley, is doomed to choke on the salt of debt.

Only several lifetimes – or more – of fallow conditions will restore economic growth and fertility to the country.  The demise of the San Joaquin Valley as an agricultural region, however, will be indefinite.

There's more at the linkHighly recommended reading.

I've said it before:  debt is killing us, as a nation, as a society, and as individuals.  It has short- and long-term consequences for everyone and everything.  The truly frightening thing is, none of our elected political leaders, irrespective of their party affiliation, appear to be serious about doing anything about it.  They just carry on spending more and more money we haven't got, adding more digits to the already un-repayable national debt, and never turning off the tap.  They don't believe they can do that without being thrown out of office by those who've become dependent on the "debt tap" to pay for their way of life.  They're probably right in that . . . but their approach is still cowardly.

"The salt of debt".  An interesting way to put it . . . and, given the example of the San Joaquin Valley, a very appropriate one.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Senate DNA one-upmanship

Full marks to Senator Orrin Hatch for his response to Senator Elizabeth Warren's DNA faux pas:

What?  No velociraptor genes - the better to chase the faux-Native American ones Senator Warren apparently still doesn't possess?


A good reason to buy an elephant gun?

If Stephan Pastis is right, anyway . . .

(Click the image for a larger view at the cartoon's Web site.)


The future of city business districts in an Internet age?

The Atlantic has some ideas.

These days, walking through parts of Manhattan feels like occupying two worlds at the same time. In a theoretical universe, you are standing in the nation’s capital of business, commerce, and culture. In the physical universe, the stores are closed, the lights are off, and the windows are plastered with for-lease signs ... A rich ghost town sounds like a capitalist paradox. So what the heck is going on?

. . .

There are at least three interlinked causes. First, the rent, as you may have heard, is too damn high ... commercial rents have ascended to an altitude where small businesses cannot breathe. Some of the city’s richest zip codes have become victims of their own affluence.

Second, the pain of soaring rents is exacerbated by the growth of online shopping ... it is no coincidence that New York storefront vacancy is climbing just as warehousing vacancy in the U.S. has officially reached an all-century low: A lot of goods are moving from storefronts to warehouses, where they are placed in little brown boxes rather than big brown bags ... Online shopping has digitized a particular kind of business—mostly durable, nonperishable, and tradable goods—that one used to seek out in department stores or similar establishments. Their disappearance has opened up huge swaths of real estate.

. . .

[Third,] Many landlords don’t want to offer short-term leases to pop-up stores if they think a richer, longer-term deal is forthcoming from a national brand with money to burn, like a bank branch or retail chain. The upshot is a stubborn market imbalance: The fastest-growing online retailers are looking to experiment with short-term leases, but the landlords are holding out for long-term tenants.

New York’s problems today are an omen for the future of cities. Most people don’t live downtown because they love drifting off to the endearing sounds of honking cars and hollering investment bankers. Rather, they want access to urban activity, diversity, and charm—the quirky bars, the curious antique shops, the family restaurant that’s been there for generations—and the best way to buy that access is to own a bedroom in the heart of the city.

What happens when cities become too expensive to afford any semblance of that boisterous diversity? ... what’s the point of paying New York prices to live in a neighborhood that’s just biding its time to become “everywhere else”?

There's more at the link. Thought-provoking and recommended reading.

The author raises a very important point.  There are more than a few cities, particularly in the so-called "rust belt", where the local economy has been in the doldrums for years, thanks to the decline in US industrial production.  One can buy a very nice three- or four-bedroom house in such cities for well below $50,000 - ten to twenty times less than many currently-booming major cities.  I know some people who have deliberately chosen to move to such locations, because their money goes so much further there.  They live in nicer houses, can buy goods and services more cheaply, and send their children to better, less burdened local schools (often private schools).  The Internet means they can work from home, or at least run a small business with access to major markets without actually having to live in or near those markets.  That's been a life-changer for them.

Of course, this also begs the question of the reliability and sustainability of the Internet as a primary backbone of commerce and industry.  If anything - weather, natural disaster, war, hacking, whatever - takes down the Internet for an extended period, or even limits access to it, those relying on it to earn their daily bread will be in for a nasty time.  Being among them now, as a writer who self-publishes some of his work, I can't help but think about that from time to time.  There's nothing I can do about it, but it's still something to keep in mind, and against which to have contingency plans, if possible.


Monday, October 15, 2018


Courtesy of IOTWReport:

And both views are at home in a Warren.


Cute - and bitey!

Found on Gab, this caracal kitten:

I've handled caracal kittens in an animal rescue center in South Africa.  They're very kittenish and playful, but when they use their claws and/or teeth, you know all about it!

Here are a couple of 6-week-old caracal kittens at an Oregon zoo.


Another interesting military application for drones

Last year, I wrote about the early days of mine detecting vehicles in Rhodesia and South Africa, of which I had a certain amount of personal experience.  They progressed from looking for metallic land mines, to using ground-penetrating radar to look for the holes dug to take them (which allowed them to look for plastic or wood mines as well).

Now the same approach appears to offer promise when adapted to small, low-cost drone aircraft.

Most civilized nations ban the use of landmines because they kill indiscriminately, and for years after they are planted. However, they are still used in many places around the world, and people are still left trying to find better ways to find and remove them. This group is looking at an interesting new approach: using ground-penetrating radar from a drone [PDF link].

The idea is that you send out a radio signal, which penetrates into the ground and bounces off any objects in there. By analyzing the reflected signal, so the theory goes, you can see objects underground. Of course, it gets a bit more complicated than that (especially when signals get reflected by the surface and other objects), but it’s a well-established technique even though this is the first time we’ve seen it mounted on a drone. It’s a great idea: the drone allows you to have the transmitting and receiving antennas separated with both mounted on pole extensions, meaning that the radio platform can move. Combined with a pre-planned flight, and we’re looking at a system that can fly over an area, scan what is under the ground, and store the data for analysis.

. . .

The trials on the device look promising: the team was able to detect several metal objects in a number of different soil types.

There's more at the link, and at the linked report (although that's much more technical).  Very interesting reading.

This is potentially very useful indeed.  Such drones can be carried by almost every vehicle in a convoy, if necessary, as their low cost will make them essentially a convenient spare part.  They can inspect, not just the road surface, but the shoulders of the road, pull-off points, parking and rest areas, and so on.  They can be far more effective than a surface-vehicle-mounted detection system, which can only detect objects over or near which it drives (to possibly detrimental effect if it sets them off).  Being airborne, they are much less subject to the risk of explosion - although an inevitable countermeasure is likely to involve setting up extended tilt fuses using the thinnest, lightest materials possible, in an effort to blow up a drone as it passes over a mine.  I've already seen some that used a transparent drinking straw filled with typical local surface dirt, which was very difficult to see in time to avoid it while driving at speed over an unpaved road.  I daresay a higher-tech solution will be along shortly.

In my days in uniform, we'd probably have done just about anything, up to and including assault and maiming, to get our hands on something like this.  I'm sure US forces in Afghanistan and other operational areas will do the same today.  Kudos to the experimenters.  Now, how soon can this be perfected and put into operation?


Doofus Of The Day #1,028

Today's award goes to the Belgian Air Force mechanic who destroyed one of his country's F-16 fighters.

A Belgian mechanic destroyed a multi-million pound fighter jet after he accidentally fired a Vulcan cannon while carrying out repairs at an air force base.

The £15m plane quickly caught fired and exploded, according to Belgian broadcaster RTL.

The mechanic was working with a colleague on two F-16s in a hangar near the control tower.

It is understood that the third jet, which they inadvertently destroyed after firing the cannon, was just out of their line of sight.

Both mechanics were injured during the incident, which occurred on Thursday at the Florennes air base, 60 miles south of Brussels.

That won't buff out . . .


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday morning music

In a comment to a blog post about the Royal Gorge earlier this week, reader Stephen Bayliss reminded me of the English folk duo Show of Hands and their song 'Cousin Jack' about the diaspora of Cornish miners.  I knew of it, having enjoyed their music for many years.  For those of you who don't know it, here it is.

And, for those who don't know their music at all, here's an hour-long live performance from the Shrewsbury Folk Festival in 2016.

Definitely one of the most innovative folk groups out there today.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

How NOT to win friends and influence customers

What's the old saying?  "Make sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear."  A British banker should have borne that in mind.

Banks are facing a furious reaction from customers after saying they should foot the compensation bill for fraud by paying a tax on every transaction made.

UK Finance chief Stephen Jones told MPs on the Treasury committee today that banks shouldn't always have to cover the costs when criminals con people into transferring money out of their accounts.

A tiny levy on each payment made in the UK could be a solution to covering the rising cost of such scam schemes, Mr Jones said.

. . .

The finance chief also warned against introducing a blanket requirement for banks to payout to victims.

He said that would 'attract more fraud into the system' by providing criminals with 'very very perverse incentives'.

Mr Jones' comments provoked an angry response from consumer groups and money experts who say it's the banks' role to protect their customers' money at all costs.

There's more at the link.

In one sense, of course, Mr. Jones is pointing out the obvious.  It's already the case that banks will charge their customers enough to cover their operating expenses, even if those "expenses" include compensating customers for fraud.  Customers simply aren't told why their charges are higher than they otherwise might have been.  However, to come out publicly and suggest a levy or surcharge specifically to compensate for fraud or theft . . . let's just say that Mr. Jones doesn't appear to be the brightest bulb in the banking chandelier.  How could such a suggestion do anything but make customers angry?

Another part of the problem is the sheer speed with which the modern international banking system functions.  There have been numerous reports of money being fraudulently transferred from accounts in one country, to a bank on another continent, and from there to banks all over the world, including changes in currency, countries, time zones, whatever.  It's very hard for investigators to follow the transfers quickly enough to prevent the money being withdrawn from wherever it ends up, particularly when the thieves have set things up beforehand and have accomplices standing by to get the cash in a hurry.

These two articles provide interesting information:

Food for thought.


The brutal battlefield economics of "swarm warfare"

Raytheon has produced a number of publicity videos for its proposed high energy laser weapon.  They obviously showcase the company's products, but they also provide insight into what the battlefield of the future may well look like.  From an economic perspective, they demonstrate how both attack and defense are dealing with the application of so-called "swarm intelligence" to drones and unmanned vehicles.

First, this brief video showing Raytheon's current product offering.  I apologize in advance for the damnfool music soundtrack the company added to the clip - why, I have no idea. It would have been far better without it.  I suggest watching with the sound turned off.

Next, this concept video showing how that technology could be applied on the battlefield.  Note the swarms of enemy drones.  Ditto on the soundtrack.

The threat from such drones is demonstrably real, despite the refusal of some readers of this blog to admit that (see the comments to earlier articles here on that subject).  That's why Raytheon and other companies are spending so much on developing this technology to defend against them.  As the Atlantic recently pointed out, "Drone Swarms Are Going to Be Terrifying and Hard to Stop".

... a new National Academy of Sciences report suggests that small, consumer-grade drones could be used in swarms to effectively attack American infantry with onboard bombs.

“Contrary to the past, when U.S. warfighters may have found improvised explosive devices, now the improvised explosive devices will find our warfighters," the report concludes.

. . .

And these drones appeared substantially less sophisticated and maneuverable than a DJI Phantom 4, the leading consumer drone.

The National Academy notes that most of the counterstrategies that the Army has developed are “based on jamming radio frequency and GPS signals.” The thinking was: Drones needed those information flows to navigate effectively. Cut them off and you neutralize the attack. But, as more decision-making intelligence gets baked into groups of these systems, those techniques will become less effective. “Recently marketed sUASs [small unmanned aerial systems] have technological enhancements (e.g., obstacle avoidance and target-following technologies) that support autonomous flying with no need for a control link or access to GPS,” the report states.

And “kinetic” defenses—that means bullets and explosives—might also run into some problems with swarms of tiny aircraft. “Kinetic counters, such as shooting down a single, highly dynamic, fast-moving, low-flying hobby aircraft with small arms (rifles, shotguns, and light machine guns), are extremely difficult due to the agility and small size of sUASs,” the report states. “Additionally, swarming sUASs can be employed to overwhelm most existing kinetic countermeasures.”

There's more at the link.

What it boils down to is that, as they get much cheaper and more ubiquitous, an attacker can launch a swarm of autonomous drones at a target for a very small outlay in money and infrastructure.  They will no longer require external guidance;  once programmed to look for a target, and given its approximate location, they'll mindlessly keep on coming until either they, or the target, no longer exists.

That also means that traditional defenses are no longer adequate.  Firearms can't react fast enough to shoot down large numbers of incoming targets that are hard to hit.  What's more, the rounds they will have to fire in large numbers to bring down the attacking drones will also pose a threat to their own forces.  Anti-aircraft shrapnel falling back to earth caused many casualties during World War II.  That hasn't changed.  Modern active protection systems used on tanks have the same problem;  they might knock down an incoming missile, but their explosion might also kill or injure your own infantry that are too close to the vehicle.  This photograph (courtesy of Next Big Future) of a test of Israel's Trophy APS demonstrates the problem.  The explosion in the lower frame isn't the missile, but the anti-missile system.  Anyone standing too close would not be happy.

There's also the cost factor.  An anti-aircraft missile, even a small one, is expensive, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars apiece.  If you have a swarm of, say, a hundred drones incoming, each costing about a thousand dollars, the attack force will cost about $100,000 in all.  To destroy them all, you'll need at least 150 missiles (because some will miss their targets, and require a second shot).  If they cost as much as, say, a FIM-92 Stinger missile (said by Wikipedia to be $38,000 apiece, the cheapest such weapon in the US arsenal), that comes to a total of $5.7 million to defeat the attack.  If another swarm arrives shortly thereafter, and another, and another . . . the defenders will run out of money and missiles long before the attacker can no longer afford drones!  Once conventional defenses fail, the target will be destroyed by follow-up attacks.

The only defense that will be economic enough to deploy in affordable quantities will be something like a laser beam.  Note that Raytheon shows its device mounted on all-terrain vehicles, very small and light, as well as larger military vehicles.  They can be dispatched by road, or brought in by helicopter or aircraft.  They can be easily and quickly deployed around the perimeter of a military base, even a temporary one, or placed at intervals down the length of a road convoy.  They will have their own generators, and won't need reloading - as long as they have power, they can shoot.  Each shot will cost pennies, not dollars.  They're just about the only practical way for present-day technology to defeat a drone swarm attack.

The lasers shown in those Raytheon videos are not yet deployed on a large scale.  Others are still under development.  Fortunately, drone swarms are also not as far advanced as the videos show . . . but that's only a matter of time.  China has already demonstrated a drone swarm of over 1,000 aircraft.  It can't be long before that technology is militarized.

Another scary aspect of this is, human beings won't be in the loop once this is perfected.  We react too slowly to take out a swarm of drones.  We'll have to rely on computers to fight them.  The drones themselves will probably also be autonomous, able to act and react on their own.  They may be told to secure a given area, and destroy anything moving in it.  That might be a military vehicle, or a civilian family trying to get away from the conflict zone, or a farmer trying to harvest his crops . . . it won't matter to the electronic "brains" involved.  They've been programmed to destroy anything moving, so that's what they're going to do.  That might even extend to non-mechanized movement, such as a pedestrian, or an animal walking.  The electronics will have no conscience.  They'll just kill everything.

Welcome to modern warfare.  Welcome to the non-fictional Skynet.  It's not going to be fun.


Friday, October 12, 2018


Seen on Gab:


Politically correct - but it ignores the facts

I note that the late Matthew Shepard is to be reinterred.

For 20 years, the ashes of Matthew Shepard have not been laid to rest.

Mr. Shepard’s killing in 1998, when he was a 21-year-old college student, led to national outrage and, almost overnight, turned him into a symbol of deadly violence against gay people.

Mourners flocked to his funeral that year in Casper, Wyo., but there were also some protesters, carrying derogatory signs. Mr. Shepard’s parents worried that if they chose a final resting place for their son, it would be at risk of desecration.

Now they have found a safe place. On Oct. 26, Mr. Shepard will be interred at the Washington National Cathedral, the neo-Gothic, Episcopal house of worship that is a fixture of American politics and religion.

“I think it’s the perfect, appropriate place,” Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s father, said in an interview on Thursday. “We are, as a family, happy and relieved that we now have a final home for Matthew, a place that he himself would love.”

Two decades ago, Matthew Shepard was robbed by two men, pistol-whipped and tied to a fence in Laramie. He hung there bleeding in near-freezing temperatures until a passing bicyclist spotted him, thinking at first that he was a scarecrow. He later died in a hospital.

“His death was a wound on our nation,” Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said in an interview on Wednesday. “We are doing our part to bring light out of that darkness and healing to those who have been so often hurt, and sometimes hurt in the name of the church.”

There's more at the link.

The only problem is, it's highly unlikely that Mr. Shepard's death had anything at all to do with his sexuality.  The Guardian (hardly a right-wing source) reported in 2013:

Shepard’s death inspired the play The Laramie Project – later turned into a television movie – countless songs, a foundation devoted to his memory and a political lobbying effort that pressed for, and eventually obtained, a new federal hate crimes statute named after him.

All this creative energy has been based on an important central premise: that Shepard was targeted solely because of his sexual orientation. According to conventional wisdom, he met his killers by chance in a bar, told them he was gay and left with them when they appeared to respond to his advances. They started attacking him almost as soon as he climbed into their pickup.

It now appears, however, that the conventional wisdom may be wrong. A new book by investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez has challenged many of the central assumptions about Shepard’s murder and argues that anti-gay hatred was not the primary motivation for his killing, if it was a factor at all.

Instead, Jimenez makes a persuasive case – based on interviews with the murderers, their former girlfriends, friends of Shepard’s, and police investigators – that Shepard was already acquainted with his killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. That acquaintance hardly casts Shepard in the best light.

All three of them, Jimenez argues, were involved in Laramie’s crystal meth subculture, as users and dealers. McKinney and Shepard may also have had a casual sexual relationship.

“Shepard’s sexual preference … certainly wasn’t the motive in the homicide,” Jimenez quotes police investigator Ben Fritzen as saying. “What it came down to really is drugs and money.” A number of other sources close to the story and the protagonists confirmed much the same thing.

Again, more at the link.

Mr. Jimenez was, of course, demonized because his investigation challenged the politically correct view of Matthew Shepard as an icon of the gay rights movement.

“To understand who Matthew really was,” Jimenez said, “to alter our perception of him as a martyr and an icon, is not going to be damaging to gay rights.

“I don’t buy it. I don’t think we have anything to lose from telling the truth.”

Activists, journalists, politicians and filmmakers who, with the best of intentions, based careers on Shepard’s murder are furious. But Jimenez insists he’s willing to trade Shepard’s irreproachable image for a serious talk about drugs. Meth, he said, is haunting the gay scene, bringing with it a plague of ultra-violence, new HIV infection — and gay-bashing.

. . .

Jimenez, 60, a Brooklyn native who splits his time between New York and Santa Fe, NM, has seen his work attacked by organizations from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which helped push through a 2009 federal hate-crimes law in the name of Shepard and James Byrd Jr., the black man dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in Texas in 1998.

The New York Times Magazine commissioned, then canceled, a piece from Jimenez in 2004. (The editor claims it wasn’t any good.) But ABC’s “20/20” ran with a story Jimenez produced, which won two major broadcasting awards. Yet the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog recently accused Jimenez of serving as a lapdog of “right-wing pundits, radio hosts and bloggers.”

In Washington, DC, gay activists pestered bookstores to cancel Jimenez’s appearances. So much for free speech.

“It’s offensive,” said Jimenez.

More at the link.

So, even though the facts about Mr. Shepard's murder are well known, and the fallacy of his being "murdered because he was gay" has been established beyond reasonable doubt, the National Cathedral is now going to inter him within its walls;  and, according to the words of its prelates quoted in the New York Times article, it'll do so specifically as a gay icon.  Political correctness for the win, yet again - and to hell with the truth!

What happened to "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"?  Or has the National Cathedral stopped reading inconvenient scriptures such as that verse?  Doesn't such blatant virtue-signaling just make you sick?

I have no objection whatsoever to anyone being buried in the National Cathedral for the right reasons - which should, I hope, have at least some relation to their religious beliefs - but let's not trash the truth in doing so, or allow political correctness to ride roughshod over faith in God.


Rules for guests in the Old West

Another interesting piece of historical information provided by the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, NM (which I reviewed yesterday) was this sheet of house rules from its early days.  It made me both laugh and shake my head.  Click the image for a larger view.

I'm not sure how authentic some of those rules were, but they certainly have the flavor of the Old West.  As L. P. Hartley observed, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Quite so

This XKCD cartoon caught my eye.

Go to the original to read the mouseover text.

I've never understood why horror films exist at all.  When one's seen enough real-life horror, the movie imitation thereof is merely a reminder of things one would much rather forget - in fact, which one would much rather never have seen at all.

Comedy horror, on the other hand, is a horse of a different color.  Who can forget "Love At First Bite"?

And then there's the famous thread on The Firing Line, started by our own Lawdog, titled "Lines I'd like to hear in a horror movie someday".  It's as funny today as when I first saw it.  If you haven't read it yet, you're in for a treat.


History within four walls: the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico

Miss D. and I spent Tuesday night at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico.

As a historic building, it's fascinating, with authentic furniture, fixtures and relics of its past that are meat and drink to those interested in such things.

The hotel was a major way station in northern New Mexico during the years of the so-called Wild West.  As Wikipedia notes:

The St. James was first built in 1872, on the recommendation of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, by Henri (later Henry) Lambert, personal chef to President Abraham Lincoln. Lambert moved west and settled in Elizabethtown, New Mexico, with hopes of making a wealthy strike. When he found little gold, he opened a restaurant and saloon. At this time, Elizabethtown, Cimarron, and much of the surrounding area was owned by Lucien B. Maxwell and was a part of the huge Maxwell Land Grant. Maxwell enticed Lambert to come to Cimarron, whereupon he founded the Lambert Inn, which would later be renamed the St. James.

In its day, the St. James was visited by many famous lawmen and notorious outlaws and was the scene of many murders. A favorite saying in the area became "It appears Lambert had himself another man for breakfast." and the usual question around Cimarron was "Who was killed at Lambert's last night?" Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan, and their wives stayed at the Inn on their way to Tombstone, Arizona. Jesse James always stayed in Room 14. Buffalo Bill Cody stayed at the Inn and took an entire village of Native Americans living nearby on the road with his show. The outlaw Davy Crockett, a descendant of the original Davy Crockett, killed three Buffalo Soldiers inside the hotel's bar room in 1876. Other notable customers were Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, and Annie Oakley.

In 1901, when Henry Lambert's sons replaced the roof of the St. James, they found many bullet holes. A double layer of hard wood stopped anyone sleeping upstairs from being killed. Today, the dining room ceiling still holds some twenty bullet holes.

The hotel bar is infamous for the number of gunfights that took place there, and the number of people who died as a result.  The notorious Clay Allison (who ranched in the area) was a regular there, demonstrated by the number of fatalities he caused.  This list is provided to guests by the hotel.  Click the image for a larger, more readable view.

The hotel is said to be haunted by the ghosts of some of those who died there, with one room (no. 18) permanently locked and closed to visitors because of the allegedly malevolent nature of the purported poltergeist residing there.  You can read more about it here.  The main hotel is filled with photographs and relics of that period, and will repay a visit by anyone wanting to "reach out and touch" the history of the Old West.

Unfortunately, as modern accommodation, the St. James leaves a lot to be desired, judging by our room in one of the newer annexes.  For a start, it offers no luggage carts at all!  In this day and age, particularly with bags and suitcases having to be carried in from the street and (in our case) across a courtyard, surely that's a basic necessity?  The receptionist was kind enough to summon a maintenance man to help us carry our bags to the room, but no-one was available when we checked out, so we had to make multiple journeys ourselves, in the rain.  I wasn't impressed.

The room also gave cause for concern.  It was neat and clean, to be sure, but the mattresses and beds were so soft as to provide almost no support at all, which meant that both Miss D. and myself suffered from sore backs in the morning.  The heating arrangements were adequate, but confusing, with an old-style heating system around the baseboards plus a window unit that could provide warm or cool air, according to its settings.  Figuring out how to balance the two was tricky.  Then, there was no desk or writing area whatsoever - surely a basic necessity in these days of laptop computers?  We had to rest our laptops on our beds, which isn't good for their ventilation systems.  The complimentary internet access was more alleged than real, with frequent interruptions in service and occasional complete shut-downs lasting fifteen minutes or more.  (That may be the result of poor signal reception in the annex, rather than the main hotel;  I couldn't say for sure.)

The restaurant was also somewhat disappointing.  The food was well-cooked and tasty, but the selection was very limited.  In a hotel founded by a chef, I'd hoped for a more extensive menu.  I suppose, to be fair, the demand for it in a relatively poor area such as northern New Mexico, and a run-down town like Cimarron, simply doesn't cost-justify that, but it's still a pity.  I enjoyed my bison burger, but Miss D. was suffering from altitude sickness after almost a week at what are (for us) nosebleed altitudes, so she couldn't finish hers.  It made a suitable midnight snack, later that evening.

The hotel's charges appeared excessive.  Including local taxes, we paid over $145 for our room for one night.  That's more than a much better equipped and more comfortable room would cost us in almost any other town, at any quality hotel such as a Hampton Inn or Homewood Suites.  We won't willingly stay at the St. James again under such conditions unless the hotel at least halves its prices.  They clearly expect visitors to pay them for the sake of the history of the building and its artifacts, and perhaps to be able to say that one has slept in the same room as a famous historical figure.  Sorry.  Neither works for me.  As a hotel, this was not value for money.

So, I guess I'm in two minds about the St. James Hotel.  As an historical location filled with interesting artifacts, it's well worth a visit.  From the perspective of a place to sleep, based on the room we were allocated, I don't think it's an attractive destination.  I suppose "you pays your money and you makes your choice", as the old saw reminds us.


A long day homeward bound

On Tuesday, Miss D. and I headed for Cimarron, NM, about three hours from Cañon City, CO.  It was an interesting drive, to put it mildly!  We started off with low gray skies, mist on the road, and a fair amount of drizzle, sometimes turning into light rain.  By the time we reached Raton Pass, the weather had turned thoroughly nasty.  This picture, taken by Miss D. during one of the clearer intervals, doesn't show the full vision-dimming effects of wind-driven snow and sleet, but they made driving difficult.  I was glad we have stability control on our new-to-us vehicle.  The road conditions and blustery winds were bad enough to need it.

We wended our way carefully down the pass, and emerged from the snow and sleet at a lower elevation, very glad to be out of them.

We arrived at the historic St. James Hotel in Cimarron by midday.  It's worth a full review of its own, which I'll post later this morning.  In this post, I'll concentrate on our activities in New Mexico and our homeward journey.  After checking in, we dropped most of our bags in our room and decided to head for Taos, an historic town in New Mexico that's become famous as a center for artists and writers.  It's only about 55 miles between the towns, but it took us almost an hour and a half each way, thanks to very twisty, narrow roads through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  The scenery was beautiful, as the full colors of autumn were on display.  Miss D. snapped this picture through the windscreen as we came around a sharp bend.  It's a bit blurry, but shows you what the aspen trees of the Rocky Mountain region look like at this time of year.  They were all around us.

Taos is fascinating, but the traffic is absolutely crazy.  The town was established during the period of Spanish colonization, long before the USA took ownership of the region after the Mexican-American War, and its streets reflect that era - wide enough for horses and carts, but nowhere near wide enough for the volume of motorized traffic now using them, let alone bigger vehicles like RV's and buses.  It took forever to get through choked intersections and find a parking space, which was priced at levels more appropriate to the business district of a major city than to a small country town.  I was not happy.

Be that as it may, we were able to visit a few art galleries, and found several paintings that interested us.  Unfortunately, our budget didn't run to buying any, but it's clear that Taos' reputation as an artist's center is fully justified.  I found this one, "Heritage:  Taos Pueblo" by Richard Alan Nichols, to be a real inspiration as an author.  I reckon I could write two or three full chapters of a novel, based on what's depicted in it.  Fascinating!  Click the image for a larger view.

Sadly, priced at $15,000, there's absolutely no way it will ever adorn my walls!  My thanks to the gallery owner for allowing me to take a picture of it, and giving me permission to display it on this blog.

Many of the buildings were original structures, in adobe that's been repaired and repainted many, many times over the centuries.  Kit Carson's house may still be visited, and the sites of many historic events have been preserved.  (Miss D. and I had to laugh as we passed the Martyrs Steakhouse, named [presumably] for the victims of the Taos Revolt of 1847.  I couldn't help asking, "Does that mean they serve real medium-rare martyrs?"  Sometimes our sense of humor is perhaps a bit near the bone, but when you've lived through a lot, you tend to get that way . . . )

Time pressed, so we headed back to Cimarron and our hotel.  Miss D. was feeling very under the weather, the result of too long at altitude, so we had a quick meal and then went to bed.

We left Cimarron early on Wednesday morning, and headed homeward.  We broke our journey at Amarillo to have lunch with Alma Boykin, then went on, enjoying the (much) thicker, more breathable air at lower altitudes.  After a long nine hours in the car, we arrived home by late afternoon, to joyful greetings from the cats.  (Why does drooling over one's arm, while puncturing one's skin with its kneading claws, count as "joyful" in a cat?)  We were both pretty worn out after ten days on the road, so we slept well last night.

It's good to be home.  My thanks to all of you who said a prayer for our traveling safety.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Poor Internet access - no posting this morning

The Internet is going up and down like an out-of-control elevator right now, here at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, NM.  Every time I try to post something, it fails halfway through, or I can't get back to Blogger's editor for up to fifteen minutes.  I give up.

Miss D. and I will hit the road homeward this morning.  I expect we'll be back late afternoon or early evening, but I may be too tired to post anything.  Regular posting will resume tomorrow morning.

Prayers for traveling mercies are, as always, greatly appreciated.  Thanks.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

If you want honesty, be careful . . .

. . . because, as Scott Adams points out, you might get it!  Click the image to be taken to a larger version at the Dilbert comic strip's Web site.

So much for honesty . . .


An interesting day in Cañon City and the Wet Mountain Valley

Miss D. and I had an enjoyable morning running (well, ambling, really) through the Royal Gorge aboard a tourist train.  We splurged on the deluxe package, which included a very tasty, well-prepared breakfast, equal to anything I've had in decent restaurants that weren't moving.  We sat in the observation car, high up, with big curved windows offering the best view of the Gorge.  It was a cool, rainy, cloudy morning, not the best weather for viewing the sights, but one makes do with what Mother Nature provides.

The train moves pretty slowly, probably at no more than 10-12 miles per hour, taking it easy through the many twists and turns of the railway track along the side of the Royal Gorge.  When one thinks that space for the entire track had to be blasted out of the rocky mountainside with dynamite and pickaxes, with every hole for the explosives being dug by hand-held single-jack and double-jack drills, the mind boggles.  (Pneumatic or steam drilling had not yet been developed to a commercially viable level.)

The term "jack" referred to miners;  it was originally a term from Cornwall, and miners from that region were colloquially referred to in the USA as "Cousin Jacks".  They were considered masters of drillwork.  Here's a demonstration by the 2017 World Champion of single-jack drilling, where the same man holds the drill and strikes it with a hammer, turning it slightly in between each stroke.

Double jack drilling used two miners, one swinging a sledgehammer, the other holding and turning the drill.  They would trade places every few minutes.  Here's a demonstration from a 2010 championship event in Idaho Springs.

Looking at the incredibly steep sides of the Royal Gorge (image below courtesy of Wikipedia), and realizing that the entire railway roadbed had been carved out of solid rock by those primitive methods, was a sobering experience.

They would have worked the drills at all angles, including sideways, slanted up or slanted down, unlike the straight up-and-down drilling portrayed in the video clips above.  Our forefathers were surely as tough as nails!  It becomes clear why human life expectancy, which was about 34.8 years in 1800 in the USA, had risen only a few years, to 41, by 1900.  With such brutal, backbreaking physical labor, and the constant risk of accidents and crippling injury, many manual workers stood little chance of achieving what we would consider a ripe old age.

When the train returned to Cañon City, we took to our own vehicle once more and headed for the Wet Mountain Valley.  This is where my Western protagonist, Walt Ames, has his horse ranch (which he obtained by methods described in "Rocky Mountain Retribution").  In a future book, he's going to run headlong into the hordes of silver miners and prospectors who descended on the area after the discovery of silver at what became the Silver Cliff Mine.  He will strive to keep his ranch and horse breeding activities intact, while prospectors will try to break into his land holdings in their search for wealth.  It's going to lead to an epic conflict.

The Wet Mountains are so named because they capture much of the winter moisture drifting from the Pueblo basin in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  We saw graphic evidence of this on our drive.  The valley itself, on the west side of the range, was dry and sunny, with snow visible on the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.  The lower Wet Mountains, forming the other side, have no snow on them as  yet.  However, when we drove through them on Highway 96, on our way back to Cañon City, the eastern side of the range was wet and misty, dripping with moisture, showing very clearly why early settlers named them as they did.  The eastern and western sides of the range might as well be two different ecosystems, the difference in moisture is so marked.

We'll be heading out on Tuesday for Cimarron, NM.  It's one of the most famous of the early towns of the Old West.  I've been there before, but I'd like to show Miss D. some of the history that still haunts the place.  From there, on Wednesday, we'll make the long run home.  It'll be nice to leave nosebleed altitudes, and get back to denser air again!  I'm sure our lungs will be duly grateful.


Monday, October 8, 2018

We have nothing whatsoever in common

I've been thinking about the explosion of anger, vitriol, profanity - and, yes, grief - from the far-left, progressive wing of US politics over the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh's appountment to the Supreme Court, and his swearing in over the weekend.  This tweet from Caitie McCaffrey, whom I understand is a senior employee at Microsoft's Azure, may as well speak for all of them.

(I note that Ms. McCaffrey's Twitter account has been changed to private status, so that only "confirmed followers" can read it.  Why is it that so many of these extremists think they can avoid the consequences of their words and actions by doing that?  It's become almost a knee-jerk reflex among certain circles.  To me, it smacks of dishonesty - but then, I was raised never to say anything of which I'd be ashamed, or which I'd later rue.  I haven't always kept to that standard, but it's stood me in good stead over the years.  Perhaps progressive extremists should try it sometime?)

There's no avoiding the conclusion that such people have almost nothing in common with me, and those who think like me.  I'm prepared to make every accommodation I can to get along with other people.  In the words (mis)attributed to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".  However, what was said in Ms. McCaffrey's tweet was a tissue of lies.  "Gender traitors"?  "Accomplices to sexual assault"?  "Deaths of women"?  Does she actually know - let alone believe - what she was saying?  The only excuse I can think of for her vitriolic hyperbole is that she's so upset, she's no longer able to think straight.  If that tweet is an example of her actually thinking straight, God help her - literally.

Can free speech be extended to open, out-and-out lies that have no foundation in fact?  Should we be expected to extend credence and tolerance to mendacity?  I can't think that Voltaire would have approved of that.  The trouble is, of course, that the very definition of "truth" has been so upended that it's almost impossible to arrive at a generally accepted meaning for the term.  To me, truth is factually accurate, verifiable, testable and measurable.  Political discourse (such as it is) seldom qualifies for that label.  When it comes to fundamental truths at the root of society, such as those outlined in the Preamble to the US Declaration of Independence, they are adopted as the founding principles of that society, and enshrined at the root of its laws.  To challenge them is to challenge the society based upon them.  Nowadays, particularly among politicians and activists, who is so rooted in and grounded on their nation's political foundation that it is secure in his or her hands? Who would cheerfully overthrow every historical aspect of their society, in order to remake it according to the dictates of political correctness and expediency?

That perspective has invaded popular entertainment (see, for example, the Star Wars brouhaha).  It's dominating social media, to such an extent that dissenting voices are frequently silenced without explanation or alternative outlet.  It's become a deliberate attempt to silence all opposition - and that's why it's so dangerous.  It cannot brook opposition.  It must win all the time, every time, its proponents believe.  Opposition is treason.  Dissent is hostile.  Even questioning political correctness is unethical.

I was prepared to at least try to have a rational discussion with such people, but they've made it absolutely impossible, because for them discussion must inevitably lead to the triumph of their point of view.  No other outcome is acceptable.  They don't debate, they seek to demolish.  They don't listen, they scream all the louder to drown you out.  I have nothing in common with them, and I think most people of character and fundamental honor and decency can say the same.

We're perilously close to a situation where we'll no longer be able to resolve our differences at the ballot box, because mutual accommodation will no longer be possible.  If that happens . . . look for the next Fort Sumter on the horizon.  It won't take long to arrive.