Thursday, December 13, 2018

Now that's student assistance squared!


An extraordinary tale has emerged from Sweden of how a Yazidi student from Iraq was saved from ISIS terrorists by his professor and her university colleagues.

A chemistry professor at Lund University [in Sweden] dispatched a team of mercenaries into an Islamic State (also known as IS, Isis or Daesh) war zone to free one of her doctoral students and his family.

Charlotta Turner, professor in Analytical Chemistry, received a text message from her student Firas Jumaah in 2014 telling her to to assume he would not finish his thesis if he had not returned within a week.

He and his family were, he told her, hiding out in a disused bleach factory, with the sounds of gunshots from Isis warriors roaming the town reverberating around them. Jumaah, who is from Iraq, is a member of the ethno-religious group Yazidi hated by Isis.

"I had no hope then at all," Jumaah told Lund's University Magazine LUM. "I was desperate. I just wanted to tell my supervisor what was happening. I had no idea that a professor would be able to do anything for us."

. . .

But Turner was not willing to leave her student to die without trying to do something.

"What was happening was completely unacceptable," she told LUM. "I got so angry that IS was pushing itself into our world, exposing my doctoral student and his family to this, and disrupting the research."

She contacted the university's then security chief Per Gustafson.

"It was almost as if he'd been waiting for this kind of mission," Turner said. "Per Gustafson said that we had a transport and security deal which stretched over the whole world."

Over a few days of intense activity, Gustafson hired a security company which then arranged the rescue operation.

A few days later two Landcruisers carrying four heavily-armed mercenaries roared into the area where Jumaah was hiding, and sped him away to Erbil Airport together with his wife and two small children.

There's more at the link.

That's got to be the most go-the-extra-mile (or few thousand miles) student assistance request in any university I've ever heard of!  Kudos to Lund University for stepping up to the plate.




Peter

Whisky insurance???


I suppose if something's valuable, no matter what it is, someone will want to insure it . . . but insuring whisky sounds to me like a loss waiting to happen.

With prices of rare whisky soaring into the six and seven digits, ensuring that precious spirit is protected is not only recommended but essential, says Ron Fiamma, head of global collections at American International Group Inc.’s private client group. The insurance giant has seen such an uptick in whisky collecting that it has expanded its coverage of specialty collections to include those owners whose tastes run to a 1926 Macallan.

“Whisky collectors now number in the many hundreds, closing in on 1,000 individual collectors of all stripes and values,” says Fiamma of AIG customers highlighting whisky within their insured collection. “When auction houses are holding two or three whisky auctions a year, with some whisky going for a million or half a million dollars, clearly it warranted attention.”

To wit, on Nov. 29 a bottle of The Macallan that spent six decades in an ex-sherry oak cask sold for a record price of 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) at Christie’s London. A rare 60-year-old Macallan whisky fetched HK$7.96 million ($1.01 million) at Bonhams Hong Kong in May. A second bottle from the same vintage was sold later the same day at the same auction for $1.1 million. Both sold for more than twice their high estimate.

Rare whisky has appreciated 140 percent in the last five years, according to the Vintage 50 Index compiled by Rare Whisky 101. AIG has seen an almost tenfold increase in new submissions for whiskey insurance year over year.

There's more at the link.

First off, what risks does the insurance cover?  We've all seen photographs from earthquake zones of bottles of wine and spirits, broken on the floors of shops when they fell off the shelves.  It happened in Alaska just a week or two ago.  This image was posted on social media afterwards.  (I don't know where it originated, so I can't credit the source, but I'll gladly do so if someone will point it out.)




Will whisky insurance cover that?  The insurer might insist on the insured wrapping each bottle in an individually tailored sheepskin, fuzzy side in, and then suspending the lot from an earthquake-proof davit or crane in a drop-proof container.

As for the obvious claims . . . "Hello?  I want to claim against my whisky insurance.  Someone broke into my cellar last Saturday night and drank three million-dollar bottles of it.  What's that?  Why, yes, we were having a party at the time, but what's that got to do with it?"

Personally, given the choice between paying a million dollars for a bottle of whisky, or retiring on the proceeds of the money, I know what I'm going to pick . . .

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #1,031


Today's award goes to no less than twenty gang-bangers, rappers and idiots in Houston.

In March, two rappers, Emekwanem Biosah Jr, A.K.A. Maxo Kreme, and Warren Brown, A.K.A. NFL Cartell Bo, had a run-in with police while filming a rap video at Lakewood Park.

The rappers were filming at the park, which is next to Hillard Elementary School, at about the time school was being let out. Some students made it into the video.

Also in the video were about a dozen loaded guns, some of them stolen, according to police. The guns were being used as props and the extras holding the weapons were all documented street gang members and rappers, according to police.

When police arrived at the park, most of the people ran, leaving the weapons behind, according to police.

Some of them had open warrants and were arrested on the spot, police said.

Drugs were also found, police said.

The video was released two months later and has about 2 million views on YouTube.

Police said they used the video to track down and identify everyone in the video who was holding a weapon.

. . .

As of Monday, 11 of the suspects are either in state or federal custody. Nine suspects remain wanted for numerous open warrants.

There's more at the link.

Nothing like providing video evidence of your own crimes to the police, is there?  I won't bother to post their video here, but if you're interested, it's available on YouTube.  It opens with what appears to be footage of the police securing some of the aspiring rap "artists".

Peter

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Heh


Also found on Gab today:




I'd better warn Lawdog.  His house pests may shoot back in future.




Peter

A fascinating photograph


Found on Gab:  a ladybug covered in dew droplets.  Clickit to biggit.




I'd love to know whether that shot was deliberately set up, or whether the photographer happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right lens.  Either way, it's fascinating.

Peter

At the heart of the Ebola crisis: Africa's tribal culture


There's a horrifying article in the New York Post about a recent mass rape in South Sudan.  I won't publish all the gory details here. You can click on the link and read it for yourself.  Basically, one group wanted something, and when they couldn't get it, they took it from another group.  In its essence, that's the problem.  The women concerned were not regarded as human beings by their rapists, but as members of a group to be targeted.

This is yet another aspect of the biggest problem in Africa:  tribal identity and culture.  There is no concept whatsoever in African tradition that the individual matters.  It's all about the tribe.  You are born into a tribe, and that basically circumscribes most of your life.  You work for the good of the tribe;  you die (if necessary) for the good of the tribe (including older people walking out into the bush to starve if there isn't enough food, so that what's available will keep the youngsters - the future of the tribe - alive);  you identify so strongly with your tribe that all others are regarded with, at best, suspicion, if not fear and/or hatred.  You work to strengthen your tribe in every way possible, including by weakening all other tribes (this is why so many African civil servants will bend or break all the rules to accommodate their tribe, while applying them rigorously against the interests of others).  I could go on, but you get the idea.

This tribal attitude produces extreme (and often violent) xenophobia against outsiders.  In a major crisis situation, such as exists in the Congo right now, this can even extend to breakdown of society within a tribe.  One village may fear, resent or actively seek to destroy another village, even though they're both from the same tribe, because there simply isn't enough to go around;  so the first village wants to get it, and the easiest way to do so is to drive the second village into the ground.  Couple this with a level of education so abysmally low that shamans and witch-doctors have more influence than doctors, scientists or teachers, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Medical aid teams trying to contain the Ebola crisis are experiencing this at first hand in the Congo today.

Doctors and other experts currently or formerly working in the region described a landscape that is not quite a war zone but in which shooting can break out almost anywhere for unknown reasons.

“Yes, it’s stressful,” said Anthony Bonhommeau, director of operational development for ALIMA, the Alliance for International Medical Action. “You work in an Ebola unit all day, then you go back to the hotel and hear gunfire at night. We make it possible for our people to see psychologists and to get a break after three weeks.”

The violence has also cut short the work of veteran doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many of whom have extensive experience in Ebola epidemics. Two months ago, the State Department ordered all American government employees out of the region and confined them to the capital, Kinshasa, nearly 1,000 miles away.

. . .

Some residents refuse to believe that Ebola exists or dismiss it as a foreign plot to test new medicines on Africans. Many simply see it as a lesser threat than the constant ones: malaria, cholera, hunger and violence.

. . .

In addition, many villages have their own Mai Mai, a catchall word for self-defense militias. Some simply protect their home areas, but others go rogue, engaging in banditry like stealing cattle and robbing travelers.

Mai Mai may be farmers by day and fighters by night, “so when we go into a village to reach the population, we know the fighters may be there too,” said Dr. Axelle Ronsse, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.

Roving medical or burial teams have been beaten or stoned by villagers after rumors spread that they were stealing bodies for witchcraft or forcibly vaccinating children.

There's more at the link.

The Washington Post has more on the issue.

A quarter-century of vicious conflict, triggered by spillover from the Rwandan genocide in 1994, has been accompanied by deprivations of food, medicine and shelter that have shattered North Kivu’s society. Amid the widespread trauma and desperation, foreign companies have continued to extract the region’s extensive mineral wealth, often paying protection money to armed groups, stoking the conflict. The U.N. peacekeeping mission — established in 1999 and now the most expensive in the world — has been the target of violent protests over its perceived ineffectiveness. Suspicion of outsiders is common and rooted in history.

To protect themselves, many communities have taken up arms. The resulting militias, which vary greatly in size, are collectively known as Mai-Mai. Other groups, such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan-origin extremist group infamous for its child soldiers, routinely skirmish with Congolese government forces and attack anyone they perceive to be collaborating with them. The brunt of their vengeance falls on civilians.

An effective Ebola response relies on persuading people in the affected area to cooperate with health workers, but the distrust sown by years of conflict makes that much more difficult. Yao, the WHO coordinator in Beni, said not a week goes by in which his teams are not attacked by skeptical locals.

“Even yesterday, one of our investigations teams’ car was destroyed and a team member’s house was burned,” said Yao, who is Ivorian Canadian.

. . .

Ebola is being transmitted in worryingly large numbers in Mai-Mai-controlled suburbs of Butembo. [Dr. Belizaire] spends days negotiating with the militias for access.

“New Mai-Mai groups keep calling us and making their demands; it’s like a new one every day,” she said. “But they are very hostile to outsiders coming in. In some cases, we’ve agreed to have them send community members to us so we can train them instead of the other way around.”

While many Mai-Mai groups are open to such arrangements, the ADF won’t engage. Local workers have taken to calling an ADF-controlled area between the towns of Mbau, Eringite and Kamango “le triangle de la mort” — the triangle of death. That’s where many are worried Ebola transmission is happening out of sight of the responders.

Again, more at the link.

At their root, the incidents and attitudes described in both articles can be traced back to tribalism.
  • You aren't from around here?
  • You speak a different language?
  • You speak our language and are from our tribe, but not from our village?
  • You have more than we do?
  • You want us to do things we've never done before, and which violate our tribal customs?
  • You want to treat us with medicines we don't understand?
  • You say Ebola is a sickness, where our witch-doctors tell us it's a curse cast on us by our enemies?
Any or all of those things make you, the aid worker, an outsider, presumed to be an enemy until proven otherwise.  Unless and until you overcome those problems, you will never be trusted:  but the armed groups will make damned sure you don't get enough contact with the people to build that trust, because if you do, their domination of the locals will be threatened - and that might be a death sentence for them.  It's been that way for aeons.  Lose control, lose power, and you're probably going to lose your head, literally.  Therefore, as far as they're concerned . . . ain't gonna happen.

And that's why Ebola is uncontrolled in the Congo, and will probably become even more so.  It's not just the ongoing conflict in central Africa;  it's the tribal attitudes that have existed for centuries, which have hardened under the stress of the conflict, and are still at the root of the violence.  A Western medical approach stands almost no chance of overcoming those realities in many communities.  Some, yes . . . but not all;  and those that can't or won't listen are the breeding grounds from which Ebola will spread (and is spreading) to all the others.

Peter

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Media versus reality


Old NFO has a useful blog post showing how the mainstream media present the news, versus what's really going on.  It's a good read.  If anyone tells you, "But it was on the news!", that doesn't necessarily mean it was either accurate and/or truthful.  Recommended.

The ones that crack me up are the severe weather reports, where a journalist tries to give the impression that he/she's in a dangerous or catastrophic situation, but the reality is that they're just pretending.  Two recent examples:








Moral of the story:  if you're going to fake it, make sure viewers can't spot the fakery!

Peter

Saw that coming . . .


Readers will recall the murder of Whitey Bulger a few weeks ago.  As I predicted, this is going to end up in the courts - as it probably should.

Mr. Brennan says he is preparing to sue the government on behalf of Bulger’s estate for wrongful death and negligence to find out why authorities sent the frail, notorious gangster to the U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton in West Virginia, and put him in with the general population.

"It’s important for the family and the public to know why the prisons decided to wheel an 89-year-old man with a history of heart attacks into one of the most dangerous prisons in the country," said Mr. Brennan, who hasn’t publicly disclosed his final conversations with Bulger previously.

. . .

A Bureau of Prisons spokesperson said that Bulger was transferred from the Florida prison because of a threat he made against a staff member, an allegation Mr. Brennan disputes, and that the transfer to Hazelton was made in accordance with the bureau’s policy. The spokesperson declined to comment on any medical issues or the threat of a lawsuit. The Bureau previously said that it had sent a team of experts to the Hazelton complex “to assess operational activities and correctional security practices and measures to determine any relevant facts that may have contributed to the incident."

There's more at the link (which may disappear behind a paywall:  if it does, see this report instead).

As most readers know, I served as a chaplain with the Bureau of Prisons in the early 2000's, until a disabling injury put paid to my career there.  I know how the BOP "system" works - and it clearly didn't work in the case of Whitey Bulger.  I'm not in a position to say whether there was official connivance in the events leading up to his death . . . but there were so many errors made in his case that one can't help but wonder.  The whole situation stinks to high heaven.

I'm sure there'll be civil litigation over Mr. Bulger's death, and I won't be surprised if criminal charges are laid - unless someone senior enough decides to cover up the whole mess.  That's not beyond the bounds of possibility, either.  Some bureaucrats would rather settle a court case and pay humongous sums in damages (using taxpayer money, not their own), rather than expose internal shenanigans to the light of judicial cross-examination.

Peter

Monday, December 10, 2018

Not a bad likeness


Stemming from the gilets jaunes protests in France, someone drew this portrait of President Trump.  I received it via e-mail, so I don't know who the artist is.  French, perhaps?  Click the image for a larger view.




Yellow?  Well, sacred blue and all that sort of thing!

Peter

(Departed) soul mates???


This is one of the more unusual relationship breakup stories to pop up.

An Irish Jack Sparrow impersonator who married the ghost of a pirate has revealed she has split from her 300-year-old hubby.

Earlier this year Amanda Sparrow Large, 46, said she’d found her “soulmate” in a Haitian pirate from the 1700s who was executed for thieving on the high seas.

The loved-up couple were legally married by a shaman priest in a boat off the Irish coast in international waters.

But now the mum from Drogheda, Co Louth, has revealed the unlikely union is over.

Posting on social media she said: “So I feel it’s time to let everyone know that my marriage is over.

“I will explain all in due course but for now all I want to say is be VERY careful when dabbling in spirituality, it’s not something to mess with...”

There's more at the link.

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of ectoplasm?




Peter

Venezuela: where life is a burden to be endured


It's truly astonishing to see how run-down, degraded and desperate life in Venezuela has become.  Two decades ago it was a cosmopolitan, wealthy society by Latin American standards, relatively carefree and prosperous.  Today, it's a dystopian nightmare.

Bloomberg has published a series of reports on life in Caracas, the country's capital city.  All of them are worth reading, if only to illustrate how so much that we take for granted can be lost in a short time through mismanagement, envy and fear.  The latest looks at the street children of Caracas.

Andrea is 9. Her father is dead. Her mother is pregnant, jobless and many miles away in a small town south of Caracas called Yare. Andrea and her cousins—Disbeth, 12, Jocelyn, 11, and Andres and Jose, both 8—come in by bus and subway on Fridays, sleeping for two or three nights on the streets of one of the world’s most treacherous cities. Their weekend jobs are to beg for food for themselves, abating the hunger that dogs them during the week, and for money to bring back to their struggling families. Sometimes Andrea manages to collect as much as 50 bolivars.

Street children have long been a cause for concern in Venezuela. Their numbers have ebbed and flowed with the economy, but it has never before been like this—never before with so many young kids, on their own, all over the city.

They are seemingly everywhere, weighing vegetables at market stands, carrying crates of sodas into diners, cleaning parked cars, begging outside grocery stores, waved away from bars and restaurants where security guards don’t want them bothering the clientele. Many toil as “cloreros,” hawking diluted bleach, or cloro, poured into water jugs.

Sometimes barefoot, often emaciated, many roam in groups for protection, inviting sideways glances and purse clutching. Mostly, though, they’re treated with compassion, as nearly all Caraquenos can see themselves reflected in their misery.

There's more at the link.

The worst tragedy is, these kids have been denied the food and nourishment they need for their brains to develop properly.  Not only are they uneducated, but if they haven't had enough food during their physically formative years, they won't be capable of learning.  I've seen that countless times in African cities.  Venezuela isn't as far gone as some parts of Africa - at least, not yet . . . but if this continues, it will be, and very soon, too.

When you look around at your kids or grandkids, or the children in your neighborhood in the USA, even the poorest and most crime-ridden of them, realize that you're looking at kids in paradise compared to those who live in most of the rest of the world.  First World societies have very little idea of just how awful conditions can be elsewhere for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.

Say a prayer for them this Christmas, and try to do something to help, no matter how small.  It matters.

Peter

The Philippines' conundrum over China - and the USA's, too


Bullying tactics often work if the one being bullied doesn't have the muscle, strength or willpower to stand up to the bully.  That pretty much sums up what seems to be happening between China and the Philippines right now. Strategy Page reports:

President Duterte is trying to be realistic in his policy towards China but that seems to be making the situation worse. Duterte points out that China is already occupying the disputed territory in the South China Sea and no one is willing or able to push them out. China has hired several hundred Chinese fishing boats and their crews as a part-time naval militia to conduct a blockage of bits of land in the South China Sea that the Philippines physically occupies, hoping to block supplies and force the Filipinos to evacuate these outposts so that China can take possession. Again no one with sufficient military power (like the United States) is willing to confront China over these actions and the Philippines is trying to get clarifications over what exactly the mutual defense treaty the U.S. and Philippines have long had actually covers.

This pragmatism has caused problems because Filipino public opinion favors vigorously opposing these moves while the government does not want to offend the Chinese and endanger the growing number of Chinese economic programs in the Philippines. The government is accused of being bought by the Chinese while the government points out that opposing the Chinese claims in the South China Sea and off the Filipino cost is futile because the Chinese are much more powerful militarily and economically. Yet the public opinion continues to oppose the Chinese, especially since none of the Chinese economic benefits have actually come to pass. This leaves the impression that China thinks so little of Filipinos that it can buy compliance with empty promises and more substantial threats. President Duterte is pressuring China to make good on its economic promises and so far is just getting more assurances that good things are coming. This leads critics of the Duterte approach to point out the Chinese track record of promising much and delivering little in all its diplomatic endeavors.

. . .

November 24, 2018: The Philippines, Japan, South Korea and other East Asian nations are complaining to China about the increase in illegal Chinese workers showing up in their territory. These illegals come in as tourists or business visitors and stay behind when their visa expires. China is believed to be deliberately tolerating this as part of some espionage effort...

November 23, 2018: An agreement was signed with China to jointly develop oil and natural gas deposits found in what is technically Filipino territory. China has threatened military action against Filipino moves to develop these deposits by themselves. The same aggressive tactics were used against Vietnam. China and the Philippines also signed 28 other economic agreements, none of them particularly binding on China. In 2016 China signed a similar collection of investment deals which involved China putting $24 billion worth of economic investments into the Philippines. So far only $62 million has arrived, for an irrigation project. That’s less than one quarter of one percent. Most Filipinos are not impressed, at least not in a positive fashion.

There's more at the link.

It's a very well-known strategy.  In Africa, we'd say:  "How do you eat an elephant?  Mouthful by mouthful."  The more mouthfuls China eats, a little bit at a time, the more it swallows of the entire elephant - the South China Sea and neighboring waters.  Its clearly stated objective is to exercise total control over the area, and keep other nations out.

The Philippines can't stand up to that sort of pressure.  It doesn't have the economic or military strength to do so.  The USA has no territory in the area, so it's reluctant to commit American lives in a possible military conflict with China over the issue.  This has to worry Taiwan, too.  Its agreements with the USA are effectively so much toilet paper now.  China's military strength has become so great that the US simply could not prevent a forcible 'reunification' of the island with the mainland.  Promises to the contrary are meaningless in the light of current world geopolitical realities.

This does not bode well for the future.  If China is allowed to get away with such behavior, it will be emboldened to do more of the same in future . . . but who's to stop it?  I certainly don't think the issue is worth American lives.  That, of course, is what the Chinese are counting on - and they think dominance of the South China Sea is worth Chinese lives, if necessary.

Peter

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday morning music


With Christmas drawing nearer, I'd like to cut through the horrible holiday muzak that's inflicted upon us at every turn, and bring you a few selections that are far more musical, meditative and in the true spirit of the season.

To begin with, here's one of my favorite carols, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", the origins of which are lost in the mists of time.  Elements date back to the first millennium and the great so-called "O Antiphons". Our first sample is an instrumental recording by The Piano Guys from their 2013 album, "A Family Christmas".





Here's a magnificent solo performance by the matchless Hayley Westenra, in Latin, with lyrics and translation provided.  She brings out the essential prayerfulness of this carol, so different from the commercial dreck to which we've grown accustomed.  She's accompanied by the Pavao Quartet.  This song is from her 2009 album "Winter Magic".





Finally, for a more "commercial" rendition that still retains something of the spiritual flavor of the original, here's Mannheim Steamroller's version of the carol from their album "A Fresh Aire Christmas".





Peter

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Improving your online privacy


I've written several times in the past about the threat to privacy and private information posed by the Internet and social media companies who see us as the product they sell to others, to be exploited for their greatest advantage.  That's why I'm still not active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any of the other big names in social media.  The only one I use is Gab, and they guarantee the privacy of their members, making it a much safer environment.

If you've wondered how to improve or safeguard your online privacy, there are ways.  Many of them have been summarized in a useful infographic.  Here are a few screenshots from it.  Click each image for a larger view.








There's much more at the link.  Useful information.

Peter

The Costa Concordia disaster spawns something new


I'm sure readers recall the grounding, refloating and salvage of the cruise liner Costa Concordia a few years ago.  It was one of the most complex and difficult marine salvage jobs in history, and success was far from a foregone conclusion.

Whilst the ship is no more, the technologies developed and used to salvage her wreck are now being applied in a new and innovative way.

Scottish marine salvage group Ardent is adapting the tanks it used to refloat the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship wrecked off the Italian coast in 2012, to decommission North Sea oil platforms.




Costa Concordia with caissons (tanks) attached to its side

It is one of several companies trying new ideas to win business in the market for dismantling disused oil platforms.

In Britain’s ageing oil fields alone, the opportunities could be worth up to 17 billion pounds ($21.85 billion) before 2025, according to industry body Oil and Gas UK. The ideas could then be deployed to other maturing fields such as in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Asia.

. . .

Oil platforms are usually removed piece by piece and taken to the shore using complex vessels. The floating tanks that Ardent used to lift the Costa Concordia, are much cheaper to use, industry experts say.

There's more at the link.

It's an interesting approach, very different from the more complex techniques used up until now.  Here, for example, is the removal of a 14,000 ton rig from the North Sea by lifting it with a ship after cutting its legs.





Caissons (a.k.a. tanks or sponsons) are nothing new, of course:  they've been used for centuries to assist with underwater construction in building bridges and digging tunnels, and also in more recent years to refloat grounded vessels.  However, to use them to float a big oil rig off its base, or lift the base off the ocean floor and then tow it to shallower water, is new.  I presume they'd be attached to the legs, which would then have to be cut off quite deep beneath the water.  One wonders whether caissons can provide adequate stability to such a tall object, as well as buoyancy.

It's going to be interesting to watch this, and find out if it can be made to work.

Peter

Friday, December 7, 2018

You want me to take WHAT???


From the Adventurous Telephone Calls department:

I've been prescribed a medication that isn't covered (at all) by my medical insurance.  Since it costs close to $1,500 per month at normal retail prices, there's no way I can afford it;  so the doctor who prescribed it signed me up with a specialty pharmacy, to see whether I qualified for a reduced price.

A few minutes ago I received a phone call from the pharmacy to confirm the information the doctor's office had provided to them.  All went well until, at the end of the call, the nice lady on the other end of the phone said, "You'll be receiving your first prescription of (Drug X) next week."

I hesitated, then said, "What medication was that, please?"

"(Drug X)."

"Er . . . I don't recognize that name.  Don't you mean (Drug Y)?"

Silence, then, "Hold on, let me check."  A short pause, then she came back on the line, very apologetic, and said, "You're quite right;  it should be (Drug Y).  I'm afraid I mixed up your file with someone else's.  I'm sorry.  I'll correct it."

I said, "Thank you - but what was the drug you were going to send me?"

With a quiver in her voice, she said, "It was hormone replacement therapy, to treat the menopause."

We both burst out laughing.  As she ended the call, she said, "It was a good thing you checked!"

My wife said much the same thing when I told her about the mixup, a few minutes ago . . .

I wonder if it would have improved my writing?




Peter

Ebola: OK, it's crunch time


This morning's headlines about the latest Ebola outbreak in the Congo make grim reading.

Butembo, with more than 1 million residents, is now reporting cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever. That complicates Ebola containment work already challenged by rebel attacks elsewhere that have made tracking the virus almost impossible in some isolated villages.

“We are very concerned by the epidemiological situation in the Butembo area,” said John Johnson, project coordinator with Medecins Sans Frontieres in the city. New cases are increasing quickly in the eastern suburbs and outlying, isolated districts, the medical charity said.

. . .

This is by far the largest deployment of the promising but still experimental Ebola vaccine, which is owned by Merck. The company keeps a stockpile of 300,000 doses, and preparing them takes months.

“We are extremely concerned about the size of the vaccine stockpile,” WHO’s emergencies director, Dr. Peter Salama, told the STAT media outlet in an interview this week, saying 300,000 doses is not sufficient as urban Ebola outbreaks become more common ... The prospect of a mass vaccination in a major city like Butembo has raised concerns. Salama called the approach “extremely impractical.”

. . .

This Ebola outbreak is like no other, with deadly attacks by rebel groups forcing containment work to pause for days at a time. Some wary locals have resisted vaccinations or safe burials of Ebola victims as health workers battle misinformation in a region that has never encountered the virus before.

A “fringe population” has regularly destroyed medical equipment and attacked workers, Health Minister Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga told reporters on Wednesday.

There's more at the link.

Take a look at where Butembo is situated in relation to surrounding nations.




The city is right smack bang in the center of central Africa, the equatorial region, the Great Lakes of Africa, the dense tribal populations of the jungle and mountain region . . . you're talking probably half a billion people living in the area shown above.  The place has few main roads or rail links, and thousands of miles of bush roads and animal trails along which people can move unseen and unchecked - unstoppable.  It's absolutely impossible to criss-cross the area at any speed with the amount of medical supplies and facilities needed to contain this disease once it breaks out.

I've written before about the risks involvedA million people are now in Ebola's melting-pot.  Already some will have fled into the bush, and will be making their way across inter-tribal boundaries and international borders.  Based on my knowledge of the area and its people, I no longer think this outbreak can be contained.  I hope the authorities are checking air travelers very, very rigorously, because if just a few get on planes to Europe and the Far East while carrying Ebola . . . hell's coming to breakfast.

Peter

Navy boys and their high-speed, low-drag toys


As a brighter note on Pearl Harbor Day, here's a video released at this year's Strike Fighter Ball.  It shows the squadrons of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic at work and at play.





You'll find many video clips of past Strike Fighter Balls on YouTube.

Peter

Recovering from Pearl Harbor


Today the USA, and the US Navy in particular, remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that dragged this country into the Second World War.  There will be many words written and spoken about the solemnity of the occasion, and exhortations to "Never forget!".

However, there's another aspect to Pearl Harbor that we mostly do forget.  That's the enormous, complex, expensive salvage efforts that commenced almost at once, to repair as many damaged ships as possible and return them to the fight.  Many people don't realize how successful it was.  Of the battleships that fought and won the Battle of Surigao Strait in the Philippines in 1944, five out of the six US vessels involved had been damaged at Pearl Harbor, and subsequently repaired and restored to service.

It was a mammoth job.  The sheer scale of the damage was daunting. Here's USS Nevada after being refloated, coming into drydock in 1942.  She's a mess.




Nevada's sister ship, USS Oklahoma, seen below after being refloated in 1944, was an even bigger mess.  She never returned to service, but still had to be removed from her watery grave, because she was blocking access to valuable dockyard berths and services.




See here for an interesting overview of the salvage operations, which were not completed until after the war was over.  There's also a detailed book about the task:  "Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal" by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin USN (Retired).  Recommended reading.




You can also read the book online in HTML format, if you prefer.

The salvors deserve to be remembered, too, on this anniversary.  They made a huge contribution to putting the US Navy back in the fight.

Peter

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"How to drive in India"


That's the title of an amusing article at The Foreign Challenge.  Having visited India, I should say the best way to drive is to let someone else do it, while you close your eyes, pray very hard, and hope to survive!  However, if you can't do that, the article has some useful information.  I'm here to tell you, it's largely accurate.  Here's an excerpt.

If you are planning to drive in India, then you can consider yourself as madman.

First of all it is best to forget your home countries traffic laws and rules. Indian traffic is nothing like any other traffic you ever meet. It is notoriously chaotic and a big mess where laws are written, but are never followed. Traffic makes it’s own unwritten rules that can really only be experienced. If you really are serious about driving in India then congratulations, this article is made for you.

. . .

Driving in India is same as driving in a zoo. Starting from cows, goats, sheep, buffalo, monkeys, camels and elephants. You can find cows almost every corner of the street. Since cows are respected at India hitting one of them can bring heavy fines and possibly jail. In our experience cows were the least dangerous and the most stable road users. You shouldn’t be afraid of them!

. . .

Having a safe distance? Just won’t work in India. It’s a country of 1.2 billion, which leaves no spare room. As soon as you leave a gap between yourself and the one in front of you, someone will more than likely break into the gap and cut you off.

Get ready to be surrounded on every direction and every inch of your vehicle by vehicles, animals and pedestrians who are cutting you off in every possible chance. Brakes are the only part of a vehicle that Indians respect. Believe me, when I say that your right foot will be constantly resting on the brake pedal.

Consider that not all of the vehicles have brake lights in working order, some do not even have them presented. It can be an headache, since they give you no warning, which gives you almost no time to react. So, do not expect someone to warn you, instead keep all your senses alert and when ever your foot is not on an accelerator, it should be on a brake.

There's more at the link.

If you want proof . . .











Peter

That Christmas spirit


Received via e-mail, origin unknown:




(For those who don't know what a CIWS is, see here.)




Peter

Women, marriage, motherhood, and feminism - an inescapable conundrum?


Aaron Clarey, writing at Captain Capitalism, has a quirky, iconoclastic view of life, the universe and everything.  His books bear that out.  He's opinionated, unafraid to challenge established views, and firmly opposed to much modern political correctness and social justice perspectives.  He can come across as abrasive and rude at times, too . . . so much so that he's named his business "***hole Consulting", which tells you a lot, right there!  He describes himself on his Amazon.com author page as follows:

Aaron Clarey is the world's only motorcycle riding, ballroom dancing, fossil hunting, mountain climbing, economist. He spent 15 years in banking to learn that work sucks, life is short, and it was not meant to be spent in a cube suffering the idiots of corporate America. He left and has since pursued a career in writing, consulting, ballroom dancing, and hedonism.

I don't agree with everything Mr. Clarey says, not by a long way, but he's often thought-provoking.  That's particularly true of a recent essay on women and marriage.  Here's an excerpt.

The K-College education industry alone has spent trillions of dollars over the past 50 years indoctrinating women to become men, putting their careers ahead of family, their educations ahead of individuals, and their politics ahead of love.  Certainly the lion's share of all education budgets since the 1960's has been dedicated towards actual education.  But if you look at the feminist indoctrination young girls received in K-College to put their careers above all else, you can in an accounting-like-sense attribute at least a couple trillion towards a clear and obvious intent to make women want to be wage-slaves, while belittling, even criminalizing being a wife and a mother.

While trillions of actual dollars have been invested in turning women into NPC, leftist, worker drones, what about the trillions of human hours also invested in conditioning women to become NPC leftists?  From teachers to guidance counselors to professors to government PSA's to media to women's magazines to women's studies departments to Jezebel and XOJane to even your own parents, it's impossible to calculate how many millions of women (and men) spent thousands of hours of their lives, promoting and propagandizing hundreds of millions of women over the past 50 years to abandon being wives and mothers and instead be good, little, obedient, debt-laden careerist NPC democrats.  Matter of fact, I can't think of a single larger expenditure of time in all of the US that comes even close to the resources we've spent conditioning women to become NPC leftists.  There has never been such a large, nation-wide, institution-wide push to form, program, and ultimately mold a people into something the powers that be want.

And I don't even know how to begin to measure the total resources spent by media, marketing, and advertisers to sell women the "empowered-don't-need-no-man-brave-executive" image all so women can buy $5,000 Prada handbags, $10,000 Chanel shoes, and $250,000 masters degree.  Be it movies showing the strong independent woman, or Silicon Valley fawning over the latest female CEO hire, or all of the MSM worshiping Hillary Clinton during the election, the entire entertainment/media/social-media world only reinforces to women today that the ONLY thing that matters is your career, your leftist politics, and your feminism.  Being a wife or a mother doesn't even come up on the radar.

Now I could go on citing other instances where resources have been purposely spent on conditioning women to become NPC's, but my larger point is how much has been spent on conditioning women to become good wives?  How many trillions in education budgets have been spent on teaching women to be good mothers?  And what institutions of our society (government, educational, media, corporate, etc.) actively promote motherhood and wifery?

And the answer is "none."  Not one cent, not one second, NOT EVEN BY THE PARENTS OF WOMEN THEMSELVES, is spent preparing, educating, explaining, or conditioning young women to be wives and mothers.

Of course, many women (being the conformist NPC leftists they are) will champion this.  They will celebrate it, pointing out that they are now officially "free" to do what they want and are no longer shackled to the evil patriarchal expectations of being a wife and mother.

But that is not the point of this article.  The point of this article is merely one of economics:

How much in resources has society spent on convincing women to be NPC leftist careerists?

vs.

How much in resources has society spent on convincing women to be good wives and mothers?

And what you will sadly conclude is that you get what you pay for.

There's more at the link.  It's not comfortable reading, but it certainly challenges current societal assumptions, and should make all of us, no matter what our political, social, cultural or economic persuasion might be, consider whether he's not asking a very good, fundamental question.  Are we, in fact, getting what we've paid for in terms of relationships - and is that inimical to the traditional nuclear family, which is always and everywhere built around the wife and children?

As a pastor, I've lost count of the number of marriage and relationship counseling sessions I've conducted.  A common denominator over many years is the complaint from many people, both men and women, that "I'm not getting what I expected/want out of this relationship".  They're usually taken aback when I retort, "Well, what are you putting into it?"  I think that's germane to Mr. Clarey's perspective, although it's true for both sexes, not just one.  I think men who want their wives to be merely "the little woman at home" are doing the female sex as much of a disservice as the NPC, politically correct extremists he castigates.

The lessons of Scripture are very clear, and apply to marriage and relationships as much as they do to anything else.
I could go on, but those truths are eternal, and they still apply.  If we're raising our young people to think otherwise, to believe that they can "have it all" despite those basic realities, we're deluding them and ourselves.

What do you think of Mr. Clarey's perspective?  Let's keep the discussion going in Comments.

Peter

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Waxing enthusiastic?


I've always thought of ear wax as something one didn't mention in polite society.  It seems I was wrong - at least, as far as whales are concerned.

Whale earwax forms like yours does: A gland secretes oily gunk into the ear canal, which hardens and accumulates into a solid, tapering plug. In the largest whales, like blues, a plug can grow up to 10 inches long, and looks like a cross between a goat’s horn and the world’s nastiest candle. Fin whale wax is firmer than blue whale wax, bowhead whale wax is softer and almost liquid, and sei whale wax is dark and brittle. But regardless of size or texture, these plugs are all surprisingly informative.

As whales go through their annual cycles of summer binge-eating and winter migrations, the wax in their ears changes from light to dark. These changes manifest as alternating bands, which you can see if you slice through the plugs. Much as with tree rings, you can count the bands to estimate a whale’s age. And you can also analyze them to measure the substances that were coursing through the whale’s body when each band was formed. A whale’s earwax, then, is a chronological chemical biography.

Stephen Trumble and Sascha Usenko from Baylor University have worked out how to read those biographies. And they’ve shown that whale earwax not only reveals the lives of their owners, but the history of the oceans. Hunting, abnormal temperatures, pollutants—it’s all there. If all of humanity’s archives were to disappear, Trumble and Usenko could still reconstruct a pretty decent record of whaling intensity by measuring the stress hormones in the earwax of a few dozen whales.

. . .

“I think this is going to revolutionize our studies of whale biology,” says Kathleen Hunt from Northern Arizona University, who was not involved in the work. “Whale biologists are used to gleaning tiny bits of information from samples like a single blubber biopsy, one or two fecal samples, or a few photographs scattered over years. An earwax plug is more like 200 samples in a row, taken from the same animal, every 6 months, for its whole life.” They’re like the ice cores that climate scientists use to peer back into the Earth’s distant past.

There's more at the link.

It's amazing how much information can be derived from seemingly inconsequential sources.  I'd never have thought of ear wax as being anything other than an unwanted excretion!  One question, though . . . what size Q-tip for whale ears?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Peter

Teaser


Here's an excerpt from my current project - one of five books I'm working on (at various stages of research, investigation, writing and editing) at the moment. Please let me know in Comments if you like it.

The noonday sun hung directly overhead, its heat seeming to sear through the cotton ghutra over his helmet, turning the metal into an instrument of torture that threatened to boil his brain. Taghri cursed softly to himself. The traders’ caravan had plodded its way through the heat for the past week. It would reach the city tonight. It couldn’t be soon enough for him.

He rose in his stirrups to peer ahead. The point escort was cresting a hill, followed by several dozen camels carrying heavy pack saddles. He twisted around to look behind him, where a score of heavily laden wagons drawn by teams of oxen labored up the rise, the animals’ chests heaving with their exertions, the shrill cries and prodding goads of the drovers urging them onward. They’d better be careful, he thought to himself. In this heat, if they push them too hard, the teams will founder before we reach the city. They can’t afford to have the wagons stuck outside the walls all night. This close to the city, there’ll be bandits and brigands aplenty, eager to relieve them of their burdens.

The vehicles were followed by the second half of the escort, another dozen men on horseback. He frowned. The guards were good enough fighters as individuals, but their tactics were poor. They should have fewer people at the head and tail, and a few guards spaced out along the length of the caravan, to cover against surprise attacks from the bushes that lined the road. He was the only armed man in the middle of the convoy, and he was only here because he didn’t want to eat the wagons’ dust all the way to Alconteral.

He glanced at the pack horse plodding obediently behind his mount. It was lightly loaded, so it was enduring the heat better than the camels. Even so, he hoped the caravan would halt soon to water the animals. They could use it – and so could he.

His musings were interrupted by faint shouts and noises at the head of the caravan. He jerked upright in his saddle, peering forward as the all-too-familiar clash of metal against metal was added to the hubbub. Raiders!

He reined his horse around, tugging on the lead rope, and tied his pack horse to the rear of the nearest wagon. He shouted to the nervous drover, “Stay with the wagon, and let my pack horse follow it! I’m going to help!” He glanced over his shoulder. The rear escorts had drawn their weapons, but were making no move to join their comrades at the front of the caravan.

As he galloped up the verge of the road, passing the laden camels, the noise grew louder. He reached down and drew the long-barreled pedrenyal from its saddle holster, cocking the lock and glancing down to make sure the flint was firmly seated. As he crested the hill, a confused whirling dust-cloud filled with fighting men opened to his gaze. Twenty to thirty raiders on foot were trying to close with half that number of mounted caravan guards and pull them off their horses. The riders were slashing left and right, trying to keep the attackers at a distance, but they couldn’t defend both sides of their bodies at once, and they weren’t covering each other. Even as he watched, a guard was dragged bodily from his saddle. A curved blade cut his throat as he hit the ground, and blood spouted. The bodies of two of his comrades already lay motionless in the dust. One of them was the escort commander, which explained the disorganization among the defenders.

Taghri raised his voice in a monstrous bellow. “GUARDS! TO ME! Fall back and form on me!”

As he spoke, he aimed at one of the raiders, a young man who was shouting and gesturing to his comrades, clearly giving orders. He was dressed and armed better than they were, too, with a full breastplate and helmet. That won’t help you against this piece, Taghri thought grimly as he pressed the trigger. With a throaty bellow, the long barrel spat smoke and flame, and a heavy ball spun through the air to slam into and through the raider’s breastplate. His face took on a momentary expression of agony as he staggered in his tracks, then he slumped to the ground.

A wail of dismay rose from the other raiders, even as the guards fell back and formed a line on either side of Taghri. The attackers wavered for a moment, eyes fixed on the fallen man as if in despair. He gave them no time to regroup. He re-holstered the pedrenyal as the last men joined him, then drew his scimitar. “With me, CHARGE!”

The line sprang forward. Now that they had someone giving orders, who clearly knew what he was about, the guards were much steadier. They slammed into the nearest raiders, knocking some of them off their feet, slashing at the heads and shoulders of those who tried to stand their ground. Another wavering cry rose from the attackers, then they turned as one and ran for the bushes. Some of the guards made as if to follow them, but one of their number raised his voice. “Stand! Stand! Don’t go after them! We must stay with the caravan!”

Taghri turned to look at him, his face incredulous. “Why, in the name of all the gods?”

“We’re paid to guard the merchants’ goods, not go charging off after bandits!” the other shouted back. “We can’t guard against more of those scum if we’re chasing this group!”

“There can’t be more of them! Look, you can see their galley on the beach, half a parasang away!” He pointed. “A small ship like that can’t have more than a hundred slaves, chained to the oars, and thirty or so fighting men – and we’ve killed nine of them here!” He gestured to the bodies on the ground, some still moving. “We can get there faster on horseback than they can on foot, and cut the rest off!”

“No! That’s not our job!”

“Then to hell with you!” he shouted back savagely. He sheathed his scimitar, heedless of the blood on its blade, then spurred his horse into the bushes.

He stayed away from the path the raiders had taken as he spurred his steed around trees and through brush towards the ship. He heard scattered shouts from behind him, and some curses from the raiders as they spotted him, but he ignored them all as he drove his horse mercilessly. He had to get as far ahead of the raiders as possible, to give himself time to deal with any of them guarding the ship, before the others arrived.

His horse burst out of the bushes and hit the soft sand of the beach, staggering as it strove to keep its balance. The bow of the ship, grounded on the sand, was very close now. Three raiders stood waiting next to it. They shouted with anger as they saw him. Two drew short, stubby swords, while the third reached for an arrow from a quiver at his side and put it to his bowstring.

Mustn’t give them time to get organized! Taghri thought as he spurred his horse towards them. He pulled off the cord wound around his ghutrah, holding the cloth over the steel helmet, and shook it loose with his right hand as he reached into his waist pouch with his left, controlling the horse with his knees. He pulled a smooth, round stone from the pouch as the archer launched his first arrow. It soared into the air, then swooped down, driving deep into his horse’s neck. The animal screamed in pain, stumbling. Taghri almost lost his balance, and was forced to grab at the saddle with one hand. He savagely spurred the horse onward.

As the archer withdrew a second arrow from the quiver, Taghri dropped the stone into the pocket prepared for it in the middle of the cord, then swung the sling in a figure-eight pattern across and over his shoulders, to gain the maximum energy. A longer sling would have produced greater power and range, but couldn’t be used from the saddle for fear of hitting the horse. Before the bowman could shoot again, he launched the stone with all his strength. It flew straight and true. He was close enough by now to hear the crack of breaking bone as it slammed into the archer’s ribs. The bowman cried out in agony, dropping his weapon and falling to his knees as he clutched at the point of impact. His two comrades stared at him with disbelieving eyes.

Fools! he sneered mentally as he covered the last few paces. He slid from the saddle of the staggering horse, dropping the sling and drawing his scimitar once more. The first raider parried awkwardly, but Taghri’s expert sideways cut, driven with the full power of his muscular body and all his hard-won experience, sliced into his right arm. He felt the jolt as his blade struck bone, and withdrew it with a sliding, carving motion, almost severing the limb. His victim screamed and dropped his cutlass, falling to the sand, clutching his arm as blood fountained.

The last opponent flinched bodily as he heard the shout of agony, and slashed wildly at the looming figure; but he was no swordsman. Taghri parried his clumsy blow contemptuously, then swung his scimitar in an overhand blow that came down on the top of his opponent’s head and cleaved it in half, right down to the chin. The man dropped without a sound.

Ignoring the men on the sand and his horse staggering beyond them, blood pouring down its neck from the arrow wound, he charged up the gangplank. He rose above the bulwarks between the two bow cannon. A hundred-odd naked slaves, chained two to an oar on either side of a central walkway, looked up at him, desperation, fear and confusion in their eyes.

“WHERE ARE THE KEYS TO YOUR CHAINS?” Taghri bellowed.

So, what did you think?

Peter

Is Colombia's civil war moving to Venezuela?


There's an excellent in-depth article on the current situation in Venezuela over at Strategy Page.  You should read the whole thing - it contains far more information than you'll get from the mainstream media.  Among the nuggets in the article was the fact that Colombian leftist rebels are moving their operations to Venezuela, because it's a safer area for them to operate than their own country.

There has been an enormous increase in crime, both official (government employees demanding probes for any reason) and unofficial. Gangs are taking control of many areas, often despite opposition from the security forces. Some of these gangs are financed and controlled (or at least directed) by drug cartels moving cocaine to foreign markets via Venezuela (where access to commercial shipping and aviation is much easier if you can afford it).

The most disturbing development during 2018 was the quiet, but deliberate and aggressive move of Colombian leftist rebels (mainly the ELN) into southern Venezuela. The several thousand ELN invaders were well armed, combat experienced, wear uniforms, have a flag and are disciplined. Even the Venezuelan armed forces feared them, especially after several brutal demonstrations by ELN of who was more lethal. ELN was willing to make deals (in effect truces) with the Venezuelan security forces, who could go about their usual business (robbing the population in general and suppressing anti-government activity) while the ELN sought to take control over activities that were illegal but profitable (smuggling, illegal mines and anything drug related). So now two organized armed groups control southern Venezuela; the government security forces and the invading Colombian rebels. In normal times this would not happen but these are not normal times. For over a decade ELN and the much larger FARC had sanctuary agreements with Venezuela. As long as the Colombian rebels behaved, and made payments to Venezuelan officials, they were safe from the Colombian security forces. Over the last few years, the Venezuelan economy has collapsed and so has the ability of the security forces to deal with the invasion of a force like ELN. At the same time ELN had few options in Colombia and expanding into Venezuelan became a realistic plan.

In 2017 the Columbian armed forces had used the threat of ELN being the only target for air strikes (and increased ground efforts) to persuade ELN (a third the size of FARC) to negotiate a peace deal. The government had warned ELN that once the FARC peace deal was agreed to in 2016 and a ceasefire arranged the military would concentrate on ELN and that is what happened in 2018. This proved disastrous for ELN. Rather than risking such a continued confrontation ELN began its first joint (with the government) ceasefire in late 2017. Meanwhile, the FARC peace deal did work and FARC demobilized. But in early 2018 a newly elected Colombian president, who was more conservative than his predecessor (largely because many Colombians disagreed with the generous peace terms FARC got) took over and he had little patience for the ELN refusal to seriously negotiate. With the full attention of the Colombian security forces (who had, in fact, defeated the much larger FARC) the ELN found itself in big trouble. This was because ELN was always more “political” than FARC and many ELN leaders wanted to keep fighting the government. As 2018 went on it became obvious to ELN leaders that staying in Colombia and getting picked apart by the Colombian commandos, air power and the assistance of a largely anti-ELN Colombian population was not viable. Moving much of ELN to Venezuelan was a practical solution, so far.

There's much more at the linkHighly recommended reading.

The situation in Venezuela is potentially critical not just for that country's citizens and residents, but also for regional security in central America - all the way to the USA's southern border.  Latin America is already awash in Venezuelan refugees, and they're mostly the ones who could scrape together enough to pay their way out of the country.  Those left behind - a much greater number - are desperate.  If things go to hell in a handbasket in Venezuela, they're going to surge over the borders by the millions, and the nations surrounding that country will not be able to cope.  That surge will displace other populations, too, and the whole lot will wash up around our southern border.  That holds massive implications for Mexico's stability and US security.

Keep an eye on Venezuela.  What happens there is more important to the USA than many people understand.

Peter

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Voter fraud?


Midterm election results in California are looking more and more suspicious.

Orange County, a conservative area just south of Los Angeles, California turned all blue after Democrats produced hundreds of thousands of votes weeks after election day using a practice known as “ballot harvesting.”

. . .

Precinct 38083 in Orange County, California had a 120% turnout – 465 registered voters and 561 ballots cast in this precinct.

Other numbers don’t add up in Orange County either and The Gateway Pundit has been reporting on this for weeks.

October 22nd totals for voter registration there show 541,665 (R) and 523,624 (D) yet totals from Election Day for D’s surpass that by 40k votes so we’re to believe there was 100%+ turnout of registered Dems?

Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch is investigating “ballot harvesting” in California yet the Republican party has done nothing to fight this practice that violates the chain of custody and is illegal in nearly every state.

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

If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck . . . it's probably a duck election fraud.




Peter

A little bit of very big firearms history


A reader was doing some research on 19th-century firearms, and wrote to ask me why so-called "market hunting" had been banned in the USA in the latter part of that century.  The reason was that so many waterfowl and migratory birds were being slaughtered for the "market" by commercial hunters that they had become endangered.  The tool of choice for these hunters was the so-called "punt gun".

The history of such guns starts in the 19th century, when the rise in demand for meat in the marketplace led to mass-hunting of waterfowl. Also, the best women's fashions at that time featured feathered hats and feather trimmed dresses and therefore there was a large demand for feathers as well. To meet these demands, professional hunters began to custom-build larger caliber weapons for the task. The punt gun emerged during this period as a commercial way to hunt waterfowl. A punt gun is essentially a large caliber shotgun. Since they have huge barrel diameters (around 2 inches or 50 mm.), they are capable of firing over 1 pound (approx. 0.5 kg.) of shotgun pellets at a time.

Since such a weapon cannot be really held at the shoulder by normal human beings because of the huge weight and immense recoil, they were often fixed to the boats used for hunting. These boats were called punts (a flat-bottomed boat with a square bow designed for shallow water usage) and designed to maneuver around shallow swamps and marshes where water birds would generally feed. This practice of attaching the gun to the punt is what gave the punt gun its name. The hunter would simply mount the punt gun facing forward and maneuver the boat to point to the whole flock of birds without startling them. If multiple hunters were present, they would all move their boats in a parallel line facing the flock of birds. Then, at a given signal, the punt guns would all open fire simultaneously. The recoil of a punt gun was so much that it would often push the punt backwards by several inches.



Since the punt guns generally fired a large amount of shotgun pellets, one of these could easily account for something like 50 birds with just one trigger pull. To increase their hunting efficiency, groups of professional hunters would often maneuver 8-10 punts into position and fire at a flock simultaneously, accounting for the entire flock at one time. In fact, punt guns were so successful in hunting that they depleted wild bird populations and were eventually banned in many US states by the 1860s. Later on, the US federal government passed a law in 1918 banning the practice of market hunting completely, as well as the fashion feather trade by 1920. Hence, the use of punt guns in the US plummeted soon after. There are still a few hunters in the UK using punt guns in the 21st century, but they are limited by law to a barrel diameter of 44 mm. and max. shot weight of 1.125 pounds.

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

Here are two videos showing the late shotgun guru, Tom Knapp, and a colleague demonstrating two punt guns.  Imagine that the targets were instead a closely-packed flock of birds, and you can understand how deadly punt guns were to wildlife, and why they were banned.








Not your average shotgun, that!




Peter

A rose by any other name . . .


. . . would smell as sweet, according to William Shakespeare.  Clearly, he wasn't thinking of Star Wars when he said that - unlike the parents of a hapless felon in Tennessee.

The Force was not with Luke Sky Walker when he was arrested this week by Tennessee police, according to a report.

Walker, 21, of Johnson City, Tenn., was arrested Thursday on a charge of violating probation, WJHL-TV reports ... He was arrested in 2017 on charges of stealing 46 road signs with three cohorts, the Elizabethton Star reported at the time.

There's more at the link.

Actor Mark Hamill played the character Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies.  I enjoyed his reaction to the news of his namesake's arrest.




True dat!




Peter

Monday, December 3, 2018

Quite so!


Received via e-mail, origin unknown:




Perhaps they should . . .

Peter

Old-school etiquette


Via Gab comes this very useful illustration of a full table setting.  Click the image for a larger view.




I don't know anyone who uses full place settings any longer - they're really a relic of pre-World War II fine dining - but the diagram is still useful with less extensive settings.  Simply leave out the items one lacks, and arrange what one has in the order show.

So, if you're ever in doubt about how to lay the table, or in which order to use the cutlery at one's place, now you know.

Peter