Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Miss D. and I just got back from a chilly (but not unbearably so) Utah, where we attended the LTUE convention over the weekend.  We looked forward to warming up in the more temperate climes we're used to in Texas . . . but the weather gods had other ideas.

Yesterday morning it reached a high of 74 degrees (Fahrenheit, for the benefit of overseas readers) in our area;  then it plummeted by about 40 degrees, over the course of no more than an hour or two.  By last night it was in the low 30's, and this morning it hasn't climbed out of the 20's.  What's more, ice and sleet has been falling steadily for several hours.  The roads are a sheet of white, slippery as heck, and no-one with any sense is going anywhere, by car or on foot.  Fortunately, the moisture is already frozen by the time it reaches ground level, so we aren't seeing any accumulation on power lines or tree limbs, for which we're devoutly grateful.

I suspect we won't be going anywhere for the rest of the day, and perhaps not tomorrow either, until this clears up.  It's real brass monkey weather out there.


More about that Russian "mercenary" attack in Syria

Last week I wrote about a Russian "mercenary" attack in Syria.  It's described here by USAF Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, in command of USAF Central Command, at a news conference.

It seems that a lot more was going on than was mentioned in that brief, bald official announcement.  John Ringo, well-known military science fiction author and veteran of US service, has his own sources of information.  He wrote on Facebook:

1. Sov... err... Russians built a bridge over the Euphrates which was the designated 'deconfliction line'. Why? Reasons. 'Commite of Nations' or something.

2. 'Hybrid' force of mixed Russian contractors including multiple non-ethnic Russians (Serbs, Kossack, other non Slavics) as well as local Syrian Army 'commandos' attacked across temporary bridge. The 'Russian' side were 'Blackwater' equivalent mercenaries from a company generally called 'Wagner' which is the nom de plume of the boss. (Like if you called Blackwater 'Prince'.)

3. Unit was partially mechanized, battalion strength. (One thing everyone agrees upon is 'about 600-700 personnel.') Had some towed artillery as well as 't-55 and T-72 MBT as well as armored personnel carriers.' (Type unknown.) Full on 'we're taking that position and you're not stopping us' full court press.

4. Unit crossed bridge, arty deployed.

5. Arty opened fire while most of unit was still in approach column formation. (Normal) One portion moved to flanking positions.

5A. Minute the arty opened fire **** GOT REAL REAL QUICK.

6. Reapers took out artillery and most of armor with Hellfire. From the few videos, pretty much before they knew what hit them. There had to be quite a few Reaper drones up or they were feeding guidance to Hellfire from Apaches (see below.)

7. F-15E Eagles came in for clean-up and to check for anti-air defenses.

8. Warthogs showed up just to go BRRRRRRT!

9. AC-130 Spectre started ****ing up their day for the hell of it.

10. To add insult to injury, B-52s which, you know, just HAPPENED to be in the area, just minding our own business, just passing by from Diego Garcia which is a few thousand miles away, on our way to... somewhere... nothing to see here... decided to prove they could drop their entire load as precision guided weapons and just more or less DID A JDAM ARCLIGHT ON THEIR ***. At that point, more or less because CENTCOM said 'Why not? ARCLIGHT is always pretty to watch...'

11. The whole thing being so over it was ridiculous, AH-64 Apaches basically did 'hostile Bomb Damage Assessment' and complained there were no targets left.

12. Oh, and then the Kurds, to just really **** with these guys, released water from a dam upstream and broke their bridge. So they had to ford back with their wounded.

13. Nobody knows how many dead and wounded. Russians are saying 'only 8 Russian citizens' but that doesn't quite cover the whole of who may have been involved. One repeated number is 200 dead (remember, mixed Syrians, Russians and other ethnics) as well as pretty much the rest of the force wounded. (Not to mention pretty thoroughly demoralized.) One Kurd wounded. Probably fell off a stool laughing to tell truth.

There's more at the link.  Worthwhile reading.



It seems modern fighter aircraft are rather sensitive to what you put in their fuel tanks.

According to local media, the fuel used by the German Tornado fleet appears to have been mixed with ‘too much bio-diesel’.

According to news site Frankfurter Allgemeine, this was noticed during a routine check last Monday:

“The tolerance values ​​are minimally exceeded,” said Colonel Kristof Conrath of the Tactical Air Force Squadron 51. “It’s not that the aircraft would fall from the sky. For safety reasons, all tanks of the aircraft must be flushed.”

It is understood that this breakdown is particularly annoying for the Luftwaffe, as training of new Tornado pilots is already three months behind.

There's more at the link.

I didn't know that the Luftwaffe was using biodiesel in its jet aviation fuel - presumably as an additive, just as we're using ethanol as a gasoline additive in the USA.

Automobiles are a bit sensitive to what's in their tanks, too.  My father served in the Royal Air Force during World War II.  At the start of the war in 1939, the RAF began to switch to 100-octane fuel for its high-performance aircraft engines (previously it had used 87-octane).  Gasoline rationing was introduced at about the same time for all civilian vehicles.  He used to tell us stories of how airmen, who couldn't get enough gasoline coupons to make the trip to London and back, would "borrow" a few gallons of 100-octane fuel from the bowser to top up their tanks.  The engines of the time simply couldn't handle the hotter combustion temperatures of the aircraft fuel, and would burn out their valves, leading to drunken airmen stranded by the side of the road in the small hours of the morning, unable to get back to base.  Misuse of "official" fuel was considered a serious offense, so many of them simply accepted the punishment for being late to return from liberty - then proceeded to repair their engines using RAF maintenance facilities as well!  He used to laugh about that.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The real problem with guns and crime . . .

. . . is that guns truly aren't the problem.  The anti-gun brigade simply ignore the facts and the statistics, and manipulate victims and their acquaintances to project their own false arguments.

They also ignore a very real problem that's seldom mentioned.

Now that the gun control advocates have had their fifteen minutes of fame, let’s start focusing on the real issues impacting the rise in school shootings since that infamous day in Columbine in 1999. Issue number one that no one in the mainstream media or government wants to acknowledge: fatherlessness. Specifically, the impact of fatherlessness on the boys who grew up to become school shooters.

. . .

As Terry Brennan, co-founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting, notes:

  • 72 percent of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers; the same for 60 percent of all rapists.
  • 70 percent of juveniles in state institutions grew up in single- or no-parent situations.
  • The number of single-parent households is a good predictor of violent crime in a community, while poverty rate is not.

Yet, despite the growing number of experts, pundits and commentators drawing attention to the impact of fatherlessness on school and community safety, the post-attack discussion inevitably reverts back to gun control. Instead of spending so much as fifteen minutes on fatherlessness we are forced to endure the same salacious headlines, the same provocative tweets, the same tired old memes about the evils of guns as if somehow a cold piece of metal convinced yet another boy to become a mass-murderer. We ignore the lack of adequate mental health services, the failure of law enforcement to effectively intercede, and the sickening impact fatherlessness has on each one of these tragic cases. Why? Because it is easier to ban a hunk of metal than it is to right systemic cultural wrongs.

There's more at the link.

If you look at American society and culture over the past three-quarters of a century, I think there's a lot of evidence to support that view.  After all, when millions of American servicemen came home from World War II and the Korean War, they were all highly trained in the use of firearms, and many had seen combat.  How many mass shooting incidents did they, or their children, perpetrate?  Just about none.  It's only with the breakdown of the nuclear family in the 1960's and beyond, and the astronomical increase in the divorce rate, that we see the emergence of more frequent mass shooting events.

Makes you think, doesn't it?


EDITED TO ADD:  Sebastian offers an excellent analogy as to why gun owners are fed up with those trying to take away our firearms.  Click over there to read it.  It's a good argument.

Apple Mac: lessons learned (so far) and questions

We run Windows 10 on most of Miss D.'s and my computers, except for one creaky 11-year-old laptop on which I've just loaded Linux Mint, to see whether it can be kept going for a year or two longer (doubtful - it's very slow).  I'm about to buy Vellum, a program that offers very easy and attractive pre-publication formatting of books.  Unfortunately, it only runs on Apple's Mac computer series, so I've got to get my hands on one.  The software is good enough that I'm willing to make that outlay - but I can't afford a new, top-of-the line system.  My budget isn't that large.

Several friends advised me to look for a used Macbook or Macbook Pro laptop computer.  However, there are several catches.  The first is that in 2012, Apple changed their manufacturing methods to ensure that users could no longer upgrade things like RAM or hard disks.  You're stuck with what the factory installed when the computer was built.  Oh, there are work-arounds if you send it back to Apple, to be upgraded by their (expensive) technicians using their (expensive) components;  or, if you're handy with a soldering iron and know computer wiring and architecture well, you might even be able to do it yourself.  However, for most of us (including yours truly) these are not cost-effective options.  Therefore, buying an older Mac comes with built-in limitations, unless one buys a pre-2012 model - in which case one is buying hardware that's several generations out of date.

What's even worse, the prices on used Mac computers are ridiculous!  It's as if the sellers think they're made of solid gold.  I can buy a used PC of similar vintage, power and performance for well under half what most sellers of used Apple computers are asking for what they appear to regard as their "precious" systems - something like this:

(Apple's new prices aren't much better, of course.  I reckon I can buy a comparable PC for about 40% less than Apple's price, across their range.)

However, there's a silver lining to the computer cloud.  If one is willing to go with a desktop system, Apple's "miniaturized" Mac Mini is available brand-new in a basic configuration for $499, and in a more powerful, better-equipped form for $699 or $999.

The lower two of those prices are significantly better than a well-equipped, used Macbook of comparable performance would cost me.  The Mac Mini doesn't come with keyboard, mouse or monitor, but it has standard HDMI and USB 3.0 ports that will work with just about anything you can plug into them.  I have a spare monitor and keyboard, so that's not a problem.

Before I make a final decision, I thought I'd ask my readers - at least, those of you who are familiar with Apple Mac computers.  Does my reasoning make sense to you?  Do you think the Mac Mini is worth its price?  If you've used Vellum, do you think it would run well on the Mini platform?  Would it also serve for common everyday tasks such as word processing, writing a blog, and web surfing?  If so, I might use it for more than just Vellum.

Please add your comments to this post, so we can all learn from your experience.  Thanks.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Thanks for the prayers, and good news

Thank you to everyone who offered prayers for my friend's brother, as requested in my previous post.  It looks as if he has encephalitis, which is not good, but is entirely treatable and curable.  I was very worried that it might have been a stroke or a brain tumor, both of which can produce the same symptoms.

I'm sure he'd rather not have encephalitis at all, but it's a lot better than it might have been.


Urgent prayer request for a friend

A friend's brother has just experienced sudden, extensive memory loss.  He's being taken to a treatment facility as I write these words.  Of course, there's no diagnosis available right now, but as I'm sure many of you are aware, that can be symptomatic of several ailments, all of them serious.

My friend and his family will be grateful for your prayers, I know.  I'll provide more information as and when I can.


Safely home - still exhausted

Miss D. and I finally made it home about half past midnight this morning.  We had a long flight, delayed by the arrival of a winter storm in Salt Lake City, which delayed our flight while it was de-iced before takeoff.  There was a bit of weather around Dallas, too, requiring incoming flights to "stack up" and delay their landings while controllers talked them down more slowly than usual.

The weather on the ground was strange.  Our car was parked in the long-term parking garage, but every car inside it was wet, as if it had rained indoors!  The floors were damp and slick, too.  There was a heavy mist, and it had obviously penetrated everything it could.  Driving home was no fun at all, with drifting banks of mist making it hard to see at times.  That didn't stop a lot of drivers going at it full tilt, to the undoubted irritation of the State Police, who were out in force.  I must have seen eight or nine of their vehicles on the road north, pulling over everyone who was driving too fast for the conditions.  I daresay they made a lot of money last night writing traffic citations.

I've got to give a shout-out to Braum's in Decatur, TX.  They were just closing as we arrived, but the manager could see we were tired and hungry, so he let us order a burger and fries apiece, and sit down and eat them, "as long as you don't mind us cleaning up around you!"  We didn't.  That was very good of him.  It gave me energy to drive the last stretch through the mist.  Progress was slow, as I didn't dare drive at the speed limit - vision wasn't good enough.  Still, we made it in the end, and fell into bed, very tired.

I'll post again later this morning when I'm compos mentis once more.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday morning music, and homeward bound

It's been an interesting three days at LTUE.  A group of friends and fellow writers gathered at a local rendezvous last night to share good food and good company, as a fitting end to a busy convention.  Since many brought their families, it was interesting to have to avoid rampaging small children while keeping up a conversation - not the usual Con fare!

Miss D. and I will be heading homeward later today.  The only direct flight that still had seats available when I booked, some months ago, is in mid-afternoon, so we'll kill time until then, perhaps visiting with friends once more.  We probably won't get home until late evening.  I'm sure the cats will be ready, first to greet us enthusiastically, then to give us the cold shoulder for abandoning them to a friend's care for a few days.  This seldom meets with their approval.

For today's music, I suppose traveling to (and from) a writers' convention provides suitable themes.

We may sleep in tomorrow morning, what with a long day's travel today, so regular blogging may resume a little later than usual on Monday.

As always, prayers for traveling safety will be greatly appreciated.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

So that's why men avoid housework!

The Independent reports:

Regular use of cleaning sprays has an impact on lung health comparable with smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, according to a new study.

The research followed more than 6,000 people over a 20 year period and found women in particular suffered significant health problems after long-term use of these products.

Lung function decline in women working as cleaners or regularly using cleaning products at home was comparable to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over 10 to 20 years.

The scientists who carried out the study advised that such products should be avoided and can normally be replaced with simple microfibre cloths and water.

. . .

The study did not find any harmful effects comparable to those seen in women in the men they studied.

However, the scientists noted their work did have some limitations, and the number of men exposed to cleaning products on the scale of women in the study was small.

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

I'm sure many (most?) women will immediately claim that the reason fewer men than women suffer from this problem is because men don't do enough of the household cleaning and maintenance.  I daresay they're right . . . but, on the other hand, if you test men and women for impaired lung function after the use of automotive fuels and lubricants and gun cleaning solvents, I daresay we'd score a lot worse than most of the fairer sex!


What does the USAF want with light attack aircraft?

Air Force Magazine reports:

The Air Force has set aside $2.4 billion in the five-year future years defense program to start buying a new fleet of light attack aircraft ... The service announced earlier this month it was scrapping the planned combat demonstration in favor of a second experiment with two of the four original participants. That experiment, which will take place this summer at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., will be focused on integrating sensors onto the aircraft.

. . .

Exactly how many aircraft the service intends to buy, though, is still not clear.

. . .

Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mike Holmes told reporters at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber conference in September the service was looking at using the light attack experiment as a model for new experiments, noting the possibility of a “light” intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft ... the service is “experimenting in a lot of different ways” with ISR in an effort to satisfy the “insatiable demand” for “persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.” That could include adding certain sensors onto whichever light attack platform the service chooses.

There's more at the link.

This is very interesting from many points of view, not least for the questions it raises.  The purchase appears to fly in the face of established USAF doctrine - so what is the service trying to achieve?

  • UAV's such as the MQ-9 Reaper (and UAV's in the US Army such as the MQ-1C Gray Eagle and smaller craft) are already handling the tactical ISR mission.  What do these small manned platforms bring to the table that such UAV's don't already provide?  That's not immediately clear - unless the manned aircraft are intended to control "drone swarms" of smaller UAV's during a mission, providing oversight and direction.  That would be a new departure.
  • The USAF is already critically short of pilots.  It needs 1,200 more just to operate its existing planes.  Where will it get the additional numbers to fly a group (2-4 squadrons) or wing (2-4 groups) of light attack aircraft - not to mention the weapons systems operators in the rear seats, plus the maintenance crews and administrative personnel?
  • Light attack aircraft such as those due for further testing (the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano and an uprated, armed version of the Beechcraft AT-6 Texan II) could not possibly survive in heavily defended airspace.  They're intended for areas where ground-to-air and air-to-air defenses are sparse (e.g. Afghanistan, where the Afghan Air Force is receiving 26 Super Tucano aircraft as military aid from the USA).  Is the USAF therefore willing to deploy some combat aircraft that will have limited combat capability?  That would make sense if the group/wing concerned were tasked with training and (at least initially) operating alongside the forces of allied minor powers, who would be the most likely customers for such aircraft.  It might also make sense if the light attack unit were regarded as a "feeder" organization, where newly-qualified junior pilots might be sent to gain experience, after which they would "graduate" to more powerful strike aircraft.  That might be justifiable in terms of the much lower cost per hour to operate light attack aircraft, compared to full-blown attack jets.
  • The USAF is apparently moving much more quickly than originally planned to bring this new light strike aircraft unit into being.  Why?  With all the other demands on its budget (the B-21 bomber program, ongoing F-35 purchases, maintenance backlogs, etc.), why is the service diverting critically needed funds to buy aircraft of limited utility?  There are clearly "wheels within wheels" that have prompted this decision, and we're not being told everything.  I'm curious - and puzzled.

This will bear watching.


Friday, February 16, 2018

On the ground at LTUE

It's the second day of the LTUE conference/symposium/authorklatsch/whatever.  Miss D. and I are enjoying ourselves, apart from finding the altitude a bit of a pain.  We've come from under a thousand feet at home to over four and a half thousand in Provo, Utah, with very, very dry mountain air thrown in.  I'm slathering moisturizing lotion on my arms and hands, and we're both drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated.  I was initially surprised that it affected us so badly, but then I realized that every other time we've been to Colorado or other higher states, we've traveled by car.  Our bodies have had more time to acclimatize on the journey there.  This time we flew, so there was no adjustment time at all.  We're feeling it.

Old NFO, Lawdog and I found ourselves hijacked enlisted by Larry Correia to help with a seminar he was running this afternoon.  None of his fellow speakers showed up, so he yelled at us as we came in the door and beckoned us to join him at the presenters' table.  We had fun for an hour talking about self-publishing, the state of the market and the industry, and how novices should go about entering the field.  Those in attendance (pretty much a full house) appeared to enjoy our presentation, and we had a good time together.  (All four of us go way back to Internet gun forums before the turn of the century, so it was really a gathering of old friends at the podium.  That's always fun.)

I was surprised and extremely pleased this morning, while on walkabout around the conference venue, to find a shop that stocked British and South African foods.  A large bag of biltong, a variety of chocolates, and other goodies followed me back to the hotel.  I've been handing out Turkish Delight bars to my buddies - Lawdog and I grew up on the stuff in Africa.  It brought back happy memories of younger days.

Last night a bunch of friends, including ourselves, adjourned to the house of a member of our group.  He and his wife fed us royally on barbecued chicken and adobo pork.  Delicious!  Their stock of bourbon and other fine liquors took some punishment, too, as spirited conversation and loud laughter rolled around the room.  I understand we may be having a sequel this evening, which would be fun.  We're coordinating our movements and intentions by text message, which can be tricky as conflicting messages criss-cross the ether.  I daresay we'll catch up with each other eventually.

More later.


Thoughts on the Florida school shooting

I've waited a couple of days to say anything about the tragic high school shooting in Florida.  As usual, the media and self-appointed "experts" were all over the situation, exploiting it for their various purposes and agendas.  Few, if any, worried about what the families who've lost loved ones might think, or how they might react.  As in previous such tragedies, the media are dancing in the blood of the victims.

I've written about such situations in the past, particularly here and here.  My arguments then remain valid today, so I won't repeat them.  I simply point out that gun control will not work.  It's as simple as that.  H. L. Mencken made the point in 1925, and Kevin over at The Smallest Minority expanded on the logic a few years ago.  Both are correct.  I invite anyone who wishes to refute their reasoning, to try to do so.  If anyone can demonstrate a guaranteed, practical, logical, rational approach to gun control that will - not may, will - reduce mass casualty events such as this, and reduce "gun crime", I'll support it with my money and my vote.  However, no-one will, because no-one can.  It's not humanly possible.

It's human to demand that somebody in authority "do something".  I can absolutely understand those who lost loved ones in this tragedy expecting that of their elected representatives.  The trouble is, "doing something" doesn't necessarily equate to "doing something effective".  The worst school massacre in US history did not involve firearms.  Neither did one of the worst nightclub massacres.  Gun control legislation would not have prevented either of those incidents, or many others like them in our troubled history.

Nevertheless, I must (and do) concede that the problem of access to dangerous articles and substances is one that must receive more attention.  If gun control legislation will not prevent such tragedies - and it won't - then what can we do to improve the safety of our schools and other vulnerable places?  Is there any possible way to provide greater security against such attacks?  I think there is, starting with more armed, well-trained guards in schools - preferably the teachers themselves, who will be in the best place to respond to such incidents as soon as they arise.  Israel found that approach effective after the Ma'alot massacre.  However, that was in the context of a broad, society-wide anti-terrorism effort.  Ultimately, it's that broader focus that has proven relatively effective, although even that has not prevented some terrorist attacks by "lone wolf" operators.

There's also the issue of the widespread and deliberate doping of our children.  Karl Denninger has a well-informed perspective on that issue.  There's been a lot of discussion about possible links between mood-altering prescription medication and mass shootings, including a very interesting list of perpetrators who were confirmed users of such drugs.  You can read more about it for yourself.  The upshot is, I think there's enough anecdotal evidence to justify a formal study of the issue.  If the authorities want to to "do something" really effective, perhaps they should start there?  I doubt that they will, though . . . there's an entire industry grown up around drugging our society as a whole with these medications, and an entrenched bureaucracy administering it that will fight tooth and nail to prevent any reduction in their authority, power or influence.  (For more information, see here, here and here.)

Ultimately, a large part of the problem boils down to individual versus community "rights".  Our Constitution enshrines individual rights - they're what the Bill of Rights is all about.  I'm certainly not advocating that any of them be reduced or constrained.  However, many of those arguing for greater gun control or other restrictions are not being fully honest, because what they want will necessarily involve restricting those individual rights.  Their objectives can't be achieved without that.

Are we looking at a situation where, to maintain, uphold and defend our existing individual rights, we must accept periodic shootings such as that in Florida as an unavoidable "side effect"?  That would be tragic beyond words . . . but it's a question that needs to be asked.  It's easy to be glib and say, "Yes - my individual rights take precedence over everything and everyone else!"  However, it's not so easy to say that when looking into the eyes of a mother who's just lost her child in a school shooting.  Somewhere, we have to find common ground, or risk our society unraveling over this issue.

I don't have any answers.  I suspect few of us do.  Nevertheless, we need to continue to look for them together.


Analyzing last weekend's Israel-Syria-Iran clash

Popular Mechanics sums up the events last weekend.

The flight of a single drone this weekend will spark the biggest Israeli air battle with Syria in more than 20 years.

Israel takes an aggressively defensive posture following the drone incursion. Commanders decide shooting down the drone is not enough to punish the Iranians who operate it. They want to degrade their enemy's ability to fly drones from Syria into Israel.

Israel's attacking tools of choice are F-16 fighters ... The IDF target is a command-and-control vehicle containing the crew that operates the Simorgh drone.

. . .

Syrian air defense crews don't take the raid lying down. Israel's bombing of Hezbollah, even inside Syrian airspace, is one thing. Killing the troops of the Syrian regime’s Iranian allies is something else, and fighting back, even if it fails, is important to save face ... the sky swarms with anti-aircraft missiles, all seeking to kill a warplane before it crosses back into the safety of Israeli airspace ... Suddenly, one with a proximity fuse detonates nearby, peppering the F-16 with whirling metal. They’ve been hit.

The F-16 is damaged, and the pilots have to eject.

. . .

By 8 A.M. the Israelis are ready to respond to the shootdown. The government calls it “a large-scale attack” against the Syrian air defenses and says it’s the biggest operation against Syria since 1982’s war over Lebanon.

Israel targets SA-5 and SA-17 sites, apparently able to track the mobile batteries. The government claims 12 separate locations for airstrikes, and make sure to target Iranian installations as well as Syrian military sites. The raid is one of the largest taken against Syria in recent years ... The Israeli warplanes are again met with volleys of anti-aircraft missiles. None touch an Israeli airplane.

There's more at the link.

The first thing that struck me was how many missiles were fired at the F-16 that was shot down.  According to Israeli sources, at least 20 missiles were used, of which only one got close enough to detonate via proximity fuse and damage the fighter, causing the two crew members to eject.  That's pretty poor performance from the missiles and those controlling them.  Clearly, the jet's maneuvers and countermeasures were sufficient to defeat most of the incoming threats.  I presume the sheer number of incoming weapons finally overwhelmed the aircraft's defenses.

That did not apply when the Israeli Air Force responded by going after the missile batteries.  There were no further Israeli planes shot down, despite what must have been dozens of attacking aircraft and literally hundreds of missiles launched against them.  That's pretty telling.  Once the IAF began using all its electronic defenses, they were effectively immune from Syrian weapons - which is very bad news for Syria and its Iranian allies.  Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, which is aiding and abetting Syria and Iran, will also take cold comfort from that fact, as it will be very vulnerable to those same aircraft if another shooting war breaks out on its home turf.

(I presume Russia did not use its S-400 missile system, deployed in and around its bases in Syria;  and I presume the IAF were very careful not to target anything too near those Russian bases, to avoid any such development.)

Another element is the compressed timescale in which the engagement took place.  The drone was shot down in the early hours of the morning.  Within a couple of hours, eight F-16 strike aircraft hit the trailer containing the launch controls and crew that had operated it.  One of those aircraft was shot down.  Within a couple of hours of the shoot-down, a massive retaliatory strike involving dozens of aircraft was hitting targets all over Syria, in the face of massive air defenses that clearly didn't faze the attacking pilots at all.  That's a very rapid escalation of response, and indicates the Israeli Air Force can go from zero to all-out operations in a very short time indeed.  Kudos to them.  I doubt whether any other air force in the world could have responded that quickly, or that effectively.

Another consequence of the weekend's engagement is likely to be that Israel will buy more aircraft capable of carrying large numbers of heavy strike weapons, with a sufficiently long range to carry them to where they're needed and sufficient defenses to keep them safe on the inward and outward journey.  Flight Global reports:

Israel's air force command wants to keep a "critical mass" of fighters that can carry a variety of heavy weapon systems, including those produced by local companies. The immediate effort is to acquire additional surplus F-15s from the USA, on top of the nine ex-Air National Guard examples delivered last September. Once intended for use only as a source of spare parts, these are now being upgraded to the same standard as the Israeli service's F-15C/D "Baz" strike aircraft. This process includes air force technicians performing fuselage, wing and tail surface treatments and installing Israeli-made systems.

The 10 February clash also will serve to expedite plans to establish a missile unit within Israel's ground forces to strike at threats from within home territory ... [Syria's] military appears to be prepared to mirror Iranian doctrine by launching large salvoes of weapons against airborne threats: a practice which could encourage Israel to employ surface-to-surface missiles where possible – protecting its air force assets from attacking such targets up to a distance of 400km (216nm). Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier this year expressed his full support for the development of such a capability.

Again, more at the link.

Israel is no stranger to missile systems of many types.  It's built intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (the Jericho series) and artillery rockets (the LAR-160 system, the Accular family, the Romach precision-guided rocket, and the EXTRA long-range rocket), and the Predator Hawk and LORA tactical ballistic missiles.  In 2016 the IDF expressed interest in buying a large quantity of precision-guided ground-to-ground rockets or missiles with a range of between 150 and 300 kilometers (93 to 186 miles).  Therefore, Minister Lieberman's latest comment is merely the latest in a long series of developments, and is entirely logical.  It supplements the Israeli Air Force's strike aircraft, rather than replace them.  In theory, the missiles could be used as a "first strike" weapon, meaning that pilots won't have to put themselves and their aircraft at risk.  The missiles are also faster and much more difficult to intercept than cruise missiles or armed UAV's.

This is a particularly difficult development for Syria, Iran and Hezbollah to counter.  In order to defeat such ground-to-ground rockets and missiles, defenses such as Israel's Iron Dome and related systems will be necessary - but none of those parties have any such systems, and because Israel is their only source at present, no-one else will be able to provide them in the short term.  In addition, the launch of counter-missiles against incoming weapons will reveal the location of defensive batteries and radars - and Israel is not likely to allow such installations to survive being revealed for very long.  I wouldn't like to be a crew member of such batteries.  I suspect their life expectancies will be rather short, in the the event of conflict.

Note, too, that the latest air strikes apparently did not involve Israel's new F-35 strike aircraft.  They appear to have sat this one out.  (It's rumored that the US has requested the F-35's should not be used within range of Russian forces in Syria, so the latter can't gain intelligence about its operational capabilities.)  If they weren't used, that's even worse news for Syria and Iran, as Israel's attacks succeeded without the use of stealth technology.  Add the latter to the mix, and future Israeli strikes will be even more difficult to intercept.

Israel believes that its most recent air attacks, apparently the most extensive since the 1982 Bekaa Valley air war, have destroyed about half of Syria's total air defense system.  That's a loss Syria can't afford, and one that will cost a great deal to replace and refurbish.  I hope Syria and Iran got the message . . . otherwise I predict Syria will lose the other half in short order, and probably more besides.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Where did "Fake News" come from?

Where did the term "Fake News" come from?  How did President Trump turn it against its originators?  Famed investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson has the answers.

That's a very interesting analysis of how to use an opponent's memes against them.


Debt: look at it like this

Following my article yesterday about the Federal government deficit and consumer debt, I had a few queries asking why I was so worried about it, when clearly the government and its economists were not.  That's a fair question, but it reveals that many people don't understand what debt does to the debtor - whether government, business or individual.  I figured an explanation was in order.  We'll deal with it on the order of the individual, because it scales up to the larger entities just fine.

Let's assume one earns $3,000 per month after taxes and other deductions, or $36,000 per year.  Out of that, one must pay for all the expenses of living - housing, food, clothing, education for the kids and oneself, a vehicle, and so on.  Anything left over can be saved, or spent on non-necessities.

If one needs an expensive item such as a house or car, one usually buys it on credit.  A bank or other institution advances the money to buy it, and the buyer agrees to repay the institution within a certain period at a certain amount every month.  In effect, the borrower is bringing forward his future earnings.  He's taking what he expects to earn in future months and years, for the duration of the loan, and pre-committing part of it to buy something today.

However, this also has the effect of diminishing the total buying power of his future earnings.  Consider:  he would have expected $3,000 in his paycheck in February next year, just as he does this year.  However, because he's committed to paying $300 per month on a vehicle loan, his available earnings in February next year are going to be only $2,700, because he's pre-committed a tenth of them to the loan he's just taken out.  He's spent today what he would have earned in the future, and his future earnings will be reduced accordingly - in terms of what he actually has available - to pay for it.

Now, let's presume that prior to the vehicle loan, he's been saving $500 per month to cover future needs, emergencies, etc.  Suddenly he can't afford to do that.  His savings can now be only $200 per month, because he's taken on an additional $300 every month in debt servicing costs.  That means his "nest-egg" is going to grow more slowly;  and if he needs cash in a hurry, he may not have enough to cover his needs.

What if he has a car crash, and needs expensive medical care to restore him to good health?  He may be left with, say, $8,000 to pay out of his own pocket, but he only has $2,000 in his nest-egg.  That means he has to either enter into a new loan agreement with the hospital, to pay off his debt over time, or borrow the money using a credit card or other loan facility.  That, in turn, adds a new monthly payment to those he's already making.  Let's say he has to pay $300 per month towards those costs - but he only has $200 per month in available, not-already-committed income.  To make those payments, he'll need to go even further into debt, by using a revolving credit facility such as a credit card.

Three years down the road, our debtor is in serious trouble.  He's maxed out his monthly income by paying off loans he's taken out.  He's using a few hundred every month from his credit card to pay for essentials - food, fuel, the kids' education, and so on.  Every month he's deeper in debt.  He expects he'll be able to pay off the credit card as soon as he finishes paying off his vehicle loan and medical bills . . . but what about other expenses in the meantime?  Life doesn't stop happening just because we're short of money.  Following his car accident and the repair costs, he might find his vehicle less reliable, and it may need to be replaced sooner than he'd figured.  His spouse may have needs of her own, medical or personal, that require payment (e.g. helping her parents to move house, or taking out a study loan to help her improve her qualifications, or allowing her to take a few months off work to give birth to their latest child - during which she won't be contributing to household income, making their normal expenses that much more burdensome).

By borrowing money now to fund current needs, our "hero" has effectively mortgaged his future.  He can no longer rely on future income to deal with the needs he may have when he earns it - he's already committed it to pay for the needs he has today.  He's "brought forward" future income without having anything to replace it in the future when he actually receives it.  Besides - what happens if he doesn't receive it?  He might suffer crippling injuries and be laid off work, or lose his job for other reasons.  What will he do without a relatively secure income?  Has he made any provision for that via insurance, or savings, or other means?  (No, playing the lottery is not making provision!)

That's what debt has done to him. He's become a slave to what he owes.  If he finds he can't repay it, for whatever reason, he's going to lose everything he has, because his creditors aren't going to listen to excuses.  They want their money back, and they're going to get it by hook or by crook.

So much for individual debt.  Corporate debt is pretty similar in its effects on businesses.  Governments like to think they're different, because they can "print money" to pay what they owe.  There's nothing to stop the US government printing twenty trillion-odd dollars tomorrow morning, to pay off the national debt . . . nothing except what that would do to the value of our currency.  The inflation rate would go out of control in a heartbeat.  Suddenly there'd be twenty trillion more dollars chasing the same amount of goods and services, and the latters' cost would skyrocket to reflect that.  Hello, hyper-inflation.

By the way, that's precisely what's happened to the US dollar - and virtually every other currency in the world - over time.  Because more and more units of currency have to be "printed" - whether as banknotes, or as numbers in a computer - the value of each of those units goes down.  More and more money is chasing a relatively stable number of things you can buy with that money.  Some argue that new and improved items or technologies add to what you can buy, but they're simply replacing or augmenting other items, so the overall effect isn't nearly as great as might otherwise be imagined.  (For example, when motor vehicles replaced animal transport, the animals' costs disappeared from the economy over time, to be replaced by the vehicles' costs.)

When we say that the dollar today is worth less than it was, say, twenty years ago, that's what we mean.  Inflation is merely a less finite resource (i.e. money) chasing a more finite one (i.e. goods and services).  If there are a thousand dollars available, and a hundred widgets that can be bought with them, the effective (default) cost of a widget is going to be ten dollars.  It's simple mathematics.  If, suddenly, there are two thousand dollars available, but still only a hundred widgets, the laws of economics will dictate that sooner or later, a widget's price will rise to twenty dollars.  The supply balances out with the demand.

That's why a dollar buys less today.  There are simply more dollars in circulation now than there were earlier - and most of them exist purely and simply because of debt.  When the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve "create" more money, they have nothing of real value to underpin it - just the authority of the US government.  That's why we call the dollar a "fiat" currency.  It comes from the Latin-origin word "fiat", meaning "let it be so".  Because the government says the currency exists, it does exist - but it has no authority or reality apart from the government's word.

To "create" that currency, the US government - through the Treasury - sells securities, which are bought by investors.  The money they pay for them finances the US government's expenditure, to a greater or lesser extent.  Those securities are a large part of what supports modern currency.  It's not like older, asset-backed currency.  That's long dead. It became too expensive, causing a balance of payments crisis for the USA (whose dollar was considered "as good as gold" for reserve purposes) and too restrictive on world economic growth.  Today, no national currency is backed by physical assets - only by the "full faith and credit" of the issuing government (which may be neither faithful nor credit-worthy).

Securities are, in fact, debt.  They're guarantees of future payment, issued by the government, in return for investor funds today.  They promise to repay that money out of future government earnings.  If tax income isn't sufficient to repay what's owed, new bonds are issued and sold to replace the old ones - what's known as refinancing or "rolling over" the debt.  Private individuals do something similar when they spend money on a credit card, repay all or part of it at the end of the month, then take out more debt next month on the same credit card.  They're never really free of that debt;  they're simply replacing the old debts with new ones on an ongoing basis.

The current US government debt of about twenty trillion dollars is too great to be repaid.  The very concept is laughable.  The sum is so vast that it can't even be imagined.  It might get wiped out by inflation, but it can't be repaid in any reasonable period of time, because it's grown too great for the nation's taxation income to sustain.  It can only be sustained by taking on more debt.  It's growing out of control.  The recent budget deal in Congress means, effectively, another trillion or two in debt.  That's how the increased spending is going to be financed.

If the US government were to pass a law tomorrow, declaring that the national debt was wiped out and that the US no longer owed anyone that twenty trillion dollars, the money would no longer exist in the real world.  Everyone who was owed part of it (i.e. those who bought US government securities to finance it) would lose what they were owed.  The goods and services purchased with that money would still exist;  but eliminating the national debt would, in effect, "steal" them from those who "lent" the money used to pay for them.  It's the same as if a private debtor - you or I - were to refuse to repay the loan we'd taken out to buy a vehicle, the bank that issued it would lose its money.  Of course, for you and I, there'd be consequences.  The bank would repossess our vehicle, leaving us without transport.  It's a bit more difficult to do that to national governments!

I hope this has helped to explain why debt - whether individual, corporate, or governmental - is a noose around our necks.  It's unavoidable to use debt now and again, but it should only be used for major assets or necessities that can't be financed in any other way, and it should be sustainable - i.e we should be reasonably sure we can afford to repay it.  If we can't, yet still take it on, we're effectively mortgaging our own future.  If we can't repay it, we don't have a future, economically speaking.  It's as simple as that.  In part, that's what the concept of "wage slavery" means.  Wages don't just pay for current needs, but also for the debts we've incurred in the past against our current wages.  Without a wage, many don't have an economic future - and, in some places for some people, that may mean they have no future at all.  It's a grim thought.

(BTW, for one opinion on what the US Federal Reserve's policies - and the debt thus incurred - have done to the USA, see here.  I think he has a point.)


Safely in Utah - with beer

We made it safely to Provo, Utah, where we're settling into our hotel and getting set for the start of LTUE this morning.  Miss D. is overjoyed at being in the presence of "Real mountains!" again (she's used to them from Alaska, but they're sadly lacking in northern Texas, where we now live).

More and more of our blogging and writing buddies are arriving by the minute.  The conversations are getting louder, beer and other beverages are flowing freely, and a good time appears to be in progress for all concerned.

Speaking of beer, there's this local brew:

The advertising copy on the can reads: "Why have just one? Polygamy Porter is a smooth, chocolaty, easy-drinking brown porter that's more than a little naughty. Take some home to the wives!"

Clearly, that's a beer for a man of many parts (you should pardon the expression).


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

On the road again

Miss D. and I are on the road again, to attend the LTUE convention (Life, the Universe and Everything) in Utah.  Blogging will be lighter than usual for a few days.  I'll try to post when I can, but that may not be too often.

I'll be grateful if those of you so inclined will please say a prayer or two for traveling mercies.  I've not had much exposure to snow, ice, etc., and I suspect there's a lot more of that in Utah than there is in Texas!  We'll see how my gimpy back and leg, and rubber-tipped walking stick, handle it.

See ya on the flip side.


What's the point in worrying about the Federal government deficit . . .

. . . when the rest of us are doing precisely and exactly the same thing?

Total household debt rose by $193 billion to an all-time high of $13.15 trillion at year-end 2017 from the previous quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Center for Microeconomic Data report released Tuesday ... The report said it was fifth consecutive year of annual household debt growth.

There's more at the link.

Corporate America is doing likewise.  The latest casualty is Remington Arms, which was "taken private" by Cerberus some years ago in a leveraged buyout.  Cerberus has loaded the company with so much debt ($950 million) that it's now driven it into the ground.  Remington is looking to shed about $700 million of that debt in bankruptcy proceedings.

If we load up the country as a whole, and our companies, and ourselves, with debt . . . sooner or later that debt has to be repaid.  If we don't or can't repay it, we go bankrupt and our assets are either confiscated, or become worthless - as does our reputation (what's left of it) for fiscal responsibility.

Debt is killing us.  There's no other way to describe it.  What's more, we can't blame our politicians for adding to the national debt when we, as consumers, are doing precisely the same thing with our own debt.  Pot, meet kettle.  Kettle, pot.



From "Pearls Before Swine" yesterday:


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

How do you celebrate the first game at a brand-new stadium?

Well, if you're at a cricket match in Perth, Australia, you take your clothes off!

A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus for alerting me to the middle stump, so to speak.


Is Russia losing control over Russian mercenaries in Syria?

A very interesting - and potentially disturbing - development in Syria deserves attention.

U.S. forces killed scores of Russian contract soldiers in Syria last week in what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former foes since the Cold War, according to a U.S. official and three Russians familiar with the matter.

More than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base and refinery held by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, two of the Russians said. The U.S. official put the death toll at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured.

The Russian assault may have been a rogue operation, underscoring the complexity of a conflict that started as a domestic crackdown only to morph into a proxy war involving Islamic extremists, stateless Kurds and regional powers Iran, Turkey and now Israel. Russia’s military said it had nothing to do with the attack and the U.S. military accepted the claim. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the whole thing “perplexing,” but provided no further details.

“Coalition officials were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the thwarted, unprovoked attack,” U.S. Colonel Thomas F. Veale, a military spokesman, said in a statement. “Russian officials assured coalition officials they would not engage coalition forces in the vicinity.”

. . .

It’s not clear who was paying the soldiers of fortune, whether it was Russia directly, its allies in the war, Syria and Iran, or a third party.

There's more at the link.

This raises a number of perplexing questions and issues, including (but not limited to) the following.
  • No Russian "mercenary" would dare to serve in Syria without Russian government permission - not if he wants to go back to Russia, that is.  Therefore, those who attacked the US position were almost certainly in Syria with Russian knowledge and approval - so why did they (apparently) act without that approval in this case?
  • Russia would not want open conflict with the US.  To a certain extent, neither would Syria.  However, Iran - the "power behind the throne" in Syria, and the source of most of that nation's funding to continue the war - most certainly would want to embarrass the USA by defeating its forces or its proxies in open conflict.  Was Iran therefore paying the Russian mercenaries, openly or covertly?  Were they doing what Iran wanted on the basis that "he who pays the piper calls the tune"?  That's probably got Russia even more worried than the USA, right now.
  • This wasn't a minor, bush-league attack.  According to the article, the mercenaries attacked in a "battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars".  That's a formal military assault, not a guerrilla-type ambush or sabotage attack.  Where did all that equipment come from, and who trained the attackers to use it?  The Russians have supplied almost all Syria's weapons, but probably under strict conditions.  I doubt very much whether those conditions included allowing them to be used to attack US forces!  Again, was Iran behind this, and did Iran supply the heavy weapons that were used?
  • To make matters even more complicated, Islamic extremists from former Soviet republics such as Chechnya, Dagestan and others have been active in the ranks of ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq.  Were the Russian "mercenaries" involved in this attack drawn from among their ranks?  Was this, in fact, an Islamist fundamentalist assault on US forces, rather than a Syrian- or Iranian-sponsored operation?  The Syrian government has denounced the retaliatory strikes that killed so many of the mercenaries, so it doesn't sound like it;  but there are wheels within wheels all over the Middle East, and "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is more than just a proverb there.  If one or more groups of extremist terrorists decided to support the Syrian government against other terrorists they deemed less extreme, or less dedicated, or less Islamic, almost anything might be possible.

It's a tangled web over there, and I'm glad I'm not the one having to make sense of it all . . .


How technology is changing battlefield surveillance

A very interesting development shows up in the Trump administration's budget request for fiscal 2019.  The USAF will replace one of its premier intelligence-gathering platforms - but not with what was expected.

The decision ... would terminate the Northrop Grumman E-8C JSTARS and cancel a three-way competition to replace the platform with a large business jet or a Boeing 737.

The funding for the JSTARS recapitalization programme will be diverted to pay for development of an advanced battle management system, but details remain scant.

As the E-8C enters retirement in the mid-2020s, the Air Force plans to have the first increment of the advanced battle management system operational, but offered few details.

“We’ll be taking sensors that exist today and maybe putting them on additional aircraft like maybe the MQ-9, and fusing the different sensors from all the areas that exist today,” says Maj Gen John Pletcher, the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for Budget.

. . .

By switching from a platform to a network of systems for the JSTARS missions, the Air Force’s proposed strategy echoes a decision by the US Navy three years ago. Faced with a replacement bill for the Lockheed EP-3E ARIES electronic surveillance fleet, the Navy decided to break up the mission into a network of existing aircraft and sensors, including the Northrop MQ-4C Triton, Northrop MQ-8C Fire Scout, and Boeing P-8A Poseidon.

There's more at the link.

This is very interesting indeed, from both a technological and a tactical perspective.

Technologically, it means that the use of a single massive sensor such as the E-8C's AN/APY-7 radar, shown below (ringed in red), is no longer considered optimal.

The AN/APY-7 was developed in the 1980's, and despite upgrades to its technology, is nevertheless a few generations old compared to more modern sensors (particularly modern AESA radars, such as those carried by the F-22 and F-35).  Performance similar to (or better than) that of the AN/APY-7 can now be obtained using smaller antennae, perhaps many times smaller.  Certainly, the MP-RTIP program (which we visited in these pages some years ago) was very successful as a test-bed.  A similar sensor was fitted to the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk in its Block 40 prototype, pictured at the previous link;  but I understand its performance has already been overtaken by later developments.  (Note how much smaller the RQ-4's MP-RTIP sensor appears, compared to the AN/APY-7 above.  It looks to be less than half the size - and that's 2000's technology, which has already been superseded.)  The limitations of the AN/APY-7, and the advantages of the MP-RTIP, are discussed in this article, if you're interested.

It now appears that distributed technology, using many sensors on multiple platforms, has advanced to the point that a single, massive, very powerful sensor is no longer the best approach - hence the decision not to replace JSTARS with a new, dedicated platform.  This is not only very interesting from a technology perspective, but also opens up new tactical possibilities and problems.  For example, if the F-35's radar and other sensors are as capable as has been claimed, then every F-35 in or near the theater of operations can send data to every other F-35 (and to other aircraft equipped with the necessary secure link).  The data might be gathered at a central intelligence node, analyzed, and re-broadcast to all who need it;  or it might be processed locally by each recipient, with artificial intelligence systems designating threats and targets within range and suggesting solutions to the problems they raise.

This potential isn't limited to the F-35, either.  Based on comments quoted in the article, it may be possible to put high-grade sensors onto relatively small, low-cost UAV's such as the MQ-9 Reaper.  These are far cheaper to buy and operate than most piloted aircraft.  They could be deployed to lower-intensity conflicts such as Afghanistan, where anti-aircraft threats are minimal, to provide very high-technology sensors and guidance to combatants there.  Even in high-threat environments, such low-cost platforms may be useful, particularly if their size and cost can be further reduced (as is already happening).  If it costs one side more to destroy such platforms than it does for the other side to deploy them, and if destroyed platforms and sensors can be replaced cheaply and rapidly, that will change the cost-effectiveness analysis for both parties.

The latter case would also eliminate one of the major vulnerabilities of late 20th-century operations.  Air forces came to depend on centralized control provided by flying operations centers - the E-3 Sentry (AWACS) to detect enemy aircraft and vector defenders to intercept them, and the E-8 JSTARS to do the same for ground combat.  These aircraft would usually hang back from the battlefield, relying on their sensors to detect the enemy without having to come into range of defensive systems that might threaten them.  However, the former Soviet Union, and later Russia, concentrated on developing ultra-long-range ground-to-air missile systems that could take out E-3 and/or E-8 aircraft, and other vulnerable aircraft such as airborne tankers, without having to put their aircraft at risk against protecting fighters.  The S-300 and S-400 missile systems in particular offer missiles with ranges measured in hundreds of miles.  Furthermore, ultra-long-range air-to-air missiles such as the R-37 and the Novator KS-172 have been designed to target AWACS, JSTARS and aerial refueling tankers from so far away that defending fighters can't intercept the launch platforms.  Such defenses are all very well when there are centralized platforms to target;  but when there are few or none of them - when every aircraft or unit in theater can potentially provide intelligence to every other - such defenses lose a great deal of their effect.

This "sea change" in both technology and tactics may have a profound impact on the way future high-technology wars are fought.  It won't affect things like "grunts on the ground" in Afghanistan, but it will certainly make a war between first-world powers a much more difficult situation for all involved.  In response, of course, there'll be renewed efforts to disrupt the communication between sensors and platforms, certainly involving the jamming of radio communications, and possibly destroying the satellites that make it possible.  That would set warfare back into the relative "stone age" of the Second World War . . . and I'm not sure how many nations could cope with that, given that their weapons systems are all set up to use modern technology.

We certainly live in interesting times.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Progressive Big Brother has corporate sponsors

It's not often that the left-wing, liberal, progressive campaign to dominate what we think and how we interact is unmasked quite so blatantly.  I suppose we should thank Keith Weed of Unilever for doing so.

Unilever is threatening to pull back its advertising from popular tech platforms, including YouTube and Facebook Inc., if they don’t do more to combat the spread of fake news, hate speech and divisive content.

“Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate,” Unilever Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed is expected to say Monday during the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in Palm Desert, Calif.

“We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society,” he will say, according to prepared remarks.

Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers, is leveraging its spending power to push the digital media industry to weed out content that funds terrorism, exploits children, spreads false news or supports racist and sexist views. The consumer-products giant spent more than $9 billion marketing its brands such as Lipton, Dove and Knorr last year, according to the company’s annual report.

. . .

This is about “having a positive impact on society and whether we as a company want to engage with companies that are not committed to making a positive impact,” Mr. Weed said in an interview.

. . .

Mr. Weed said that consumers ... care about “fake news” and “Russians influencing the U.S. election,” he added.

Rather than issue a public list of demands, Mr. Weed said he wants to work privately with the tech companies to come up with solutions. Unilever said it has already held discussions with companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter Inc., Snap Inc. and Inc. to share ideas about what each can do to improve.

. . .

Mr. Weed said that advertisers need to be outspoken about issues on tech platforms, since they are almost entirely supported by billions of ad dollars.

“One can start by not putting ads on content we do not want to encourage,” he said.

There's more at the link.

It's Orwellian, isn't it?  Just look at the buzzwords - code words to cognoscenti who know exactly what he's talking about.  "Fake news", "hate speech", "divisive conduct", "protect our children", "responsible platforms", "positive impact", "racist or sexist views", "Russians influencing the US election" . . . the list goes on and on and on.  The only problem is, those views are entirely subjective.  What's "hate speech" to one side of the aisle is nothing more than freedom of speech and religion to the other (e.g. a Christian pastor giving a sermon on homosexuality from the perspective of traditional Biblical morality). What's racist to one person is nothing more than common sense to another (e.g. "Black lives matter" versus "all lives matter").  Again, the list could go on and on.

We don't just have to worry about the corridors of power in Washington.  SJW's, progressives and their ilk have infested the corridors of corporate America too, and they're using its financial muscle to impose their views and their will on the rest of us, whether we like it or not.  Unlike politicians, whom we can vote out of office if we choose, we have no recourse against the corporate crusaders except to boycott their products if we disagree with their views - but some consumers may find that impossible, for various reasons.  The bald fact remains that if Unilever, or any other large advertiser, decides that my views and outlook on life fall on the wrong side of their judgment scale, and use their advertising muscle to affect companies and platforms that I patronize, I lose.

What's the solution?  Personally, I vote with my wallet.  Others may disagree.  Please let us know your view in Comments.


Doofus Of The Day #997

Today's award goes to the members of the Missouri state legislature who sponsored and/or support this proposed bill.

A bill pending in the state House would designate July 7 as Missouri Sliced Bread Day. Supporters say the day is needed to promote tourism in the northern Missouri city of Chillicothe, where the first commercially sliced bread was sold on July 7, 1928.

There's more at the link.

"Sliced Bread Day"???  Really???  What's next - "Disposable Diaper Day"?  "Breakfast Cereal Day"?  "Pre-Toasted Coffee Beans Day" (in honor of the Arbuckle brothers, of course)?

Why can't politicians stick to what's important, instead of wasting time on fripperies, frivolities and gewgaws?


A side of President Trump that doesn't receive enough attention

The mainstream media don't talk about it much, but President Trump - long before his election to his present office, and after it as well - has helped a great many people on a personal basis, never making a fuss about it or seeking publicity.  The latest episode has, however, been noticed - and I think that's a good thing.

Bouvet’s son, Shane Bouvet, worked with Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 by day while holding down a job as a delivery man by night.

The Republican reportedly met with president-elect Trump the night before the inauguration and shared his father’s health and financial struggles.

“His father, Donald,” Trump said Friday about what Shane Bouvet told him, “was suffering and really on a pretty final path towards losing his life.”

After his January meeting with Trump, Shane Bouvet returned to his hometown of Stonington, Illinois, with a population of about 930.

Then, he got a check in the mail.

It was a personal check worth $10,000 from Trump, he said.

“Shane — You are a great guy — thanks for all of your help,” Trump reportedly wrote on presidential stationery.

Shane Bouvet told NBC4 he gave the entire sum to his father, who used it to pay the deductible on the treatment.

Now cancer-free, Don Bouvet got his own chance Friday to meet Trump ... "It's very emotional because ... one day I wanted to come here, or meet you somewhere, shake your hand, look you in the eye, and say, 'Thank you for saving my life,'" Don Bouvet told the president. "And I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

There's more at the link.

There are more stories like that out there, if you look for them.  It appears that President Trump has been quietly, under-the-radar generous to many people in need of help.  Full marks to him for that, and for his choice not to seek any publicity for it.  My respect for him has just gone up another notch.

This report is from a local NBC affiliate.  I wonder whether the national network will carry it?  Nah . . . I guess that's too much to hope for from such a biased, anti-Trump source.  Besides, even if NBC carried it, they'd probably twist it into something negative about the President - just as they've been doing about the Nunes memorandum ever since it came out.


Your skin cream may be a fire hazard

I daresay some readers have already seen the warnings spreading from England about the use of paraffin-based skin creams.

Paraffin-based skin creams may be linked to hundreds of deaths, a senior firefighter has warned.

Chris Bell, a watch commander with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the creams - used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis - are safe to use.

But he warned they can become flammable when they soak into fabrics, clothing, bandages and dressings, then come into contact with a cigarette, naked flame or other heat source.

"Hundreds of thousands of people use them, we're not sure how many fire deaths might have occurred but it could be into the hundreds," he told the BBC.

His comments come after an investigation by BBC 5 live Investigates and Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire found only seven of 38 products containing paraffin that are licensed in the UK carry warnings on their packaging.

There's more at the link.

The trouble is, the word "paraffin" may apply to different substances in different parts of the world.  Wikipedia offers the following list, with links to each product for more details:
  1. Paraffin wax, a white or colourless soft solid that is used as a lubricant and for other applications
  2. Liquid paraffin (drug), a very highly refined mineral oil used in cosmetics and for medical purposes
  3. Alkane, a saturated hydrocarbon
  4. Kerosene, a fuel that is also known as paraffin
  5. Mineral oil, any of various colorless, odorless, light mixtures of alkanes in the C15 to C40 range from a non-vegetable (mineral) source, particularly a distillate of petroleum
  6. Petroleum jelly, also called soft paraffin
  7. Tractor vaporising oil, a fuel
I presume the article is referring to items 1, 2 and 5, as all of them may be used in different skin creams and pharmaceutical products.

That's a pretty sobering thought.  I use moisturizing cream on my arms and face in the dry Texas climate, as many people do.  It's scary to think that might be a fire hazard, under the right circumstances.  I'll have to check my moisturizing cream carefully.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sunday morning music

We've heard the music of Silly Wizard several times in these pages.  I was reminded of it again by an inquiry about the late Andy M. Stewart, lead singer for the band, who sadly died in 2015.  Since there have been few Celtic music groups as successful as Silly Wizard, or composers and singers as talented as Andy Stewart, I couldn't think of a single reason not to play some of their songs again.

We'll start with one of Andy's own compositions, "The Queen of Argyll".

Here's a more meditative, slow-moving, melancholy song;  "The Valley of Strathmore".

Now for something upbeat - and a song with an interesting and quirky history:  "Donald Macgillavry".

Let's slow-time it again with "The Blackbird".

Here's one from the Jacobite Rebellion: "Wha'll be King but Charlie?"

Here's "Land o' the Leal", with a rather amusing introduction and banter between the members of the group.

Time for a laugh with "The Rambling Rover".

Let's close with "The Broom of the Cowdenknowes".

Lovely music.  There's plenty more from Silly Wizard on YouTube, and almost all their albums and songs are available online.  Recommended.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

If this is true, it makes Watergate look like a Sunday school picnic

The Last Refuge has been covering the "scandals" surrounding President Trump with an eagle eye, and putting together all sorts of trails of evidence.  It's been doing a hell of a job, if you ask me.  Today, it publishes a series of conjectures (all firmly based on evidence available in the public domain) that are enough to make your blood run cold.  If they're true, it means what we've seen from individuals within the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from early 2015 until today, amounts to nothing less than high treason - not to mention a host of "smaller" crimes.

You should really click over there and read the entire article, complete with evidence.  If you're too busy, here's the meaty bit.

It is my belief, based on mounting evidence, a specific cast of characters -within the Mueller “Russia Election Interference” probe- were placed there, specifically by former FBI chief legal counsel James Baker, to protect the people behind the FBI’s 2016/2017 counterintelligence operation against Trump.

I suspected, and ongoing evidence has confirmed, the same FBI and DOJ “small group”, the team who worked diligently to ensure Hillary Clinton was never found culpable in the 2015/2016 email investigation, later worked on the 2016 Trump counterintelligence operation (FISA wiretapping surveillance etc).

That same “small group” within the FBI and DOJ were then given the task in 2017 of covering both prior operations: A) *Clear Hillary Clinton, and B) *Counterintel op on Trump.

To cover, cloud and protect the DOJ and FBI officials engaged in both operations, the “small group” was then reassembled within Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel team as organized by James Baker.

Inside Mueller’s crew, the “small group” essentially works to watch over what information the Trump officials or congress could possibly be discovering…. under the auspices of investigating ‘Muh Russia’ etc.

If the “small group” comes across a risky trail being followed, they work to impede, block, delay or deflect anyone from that trail.  That is their purpose inside the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller probe.

That objective is why the Special Counsel attorney that signed General Flynn’s Statement of Offense filed Dec. 1, 2017, was the same attorney who responded to the Trump transition team inquiry. Brandon L Van Grack.

This “small group” are essentially around 20 career DOJ and FBI staff lawyers behind and beside the visible names we have recently become aware of. Including: Peter Strzok, Bruce Ohr, Lisa Page, Bill Priestap, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates, James Comey, James Baker, David Laufner, Mike Kortan, Jim Rybicki, Trisha Beth Anderson, John P Carlin, Mary McCord, etc.

There's much more at the link.  Go read it for yourself - and, if you're so inclined, do an Internet search on each of the names mentioned in that last paragraph.  The results are mind-boggling.

If this is true . . . Watergate will be regarded by future generations as a the same sort of thing as the minor temblors many Californians experience on a regular basis.  This mammoth scandal, enveloping not just a few individuals, but a Presidential administration and entire Government departments, will turn out to be The Big One.

To those of you with your own blogs and/or social media accounts;  please spread the word about the article, and ask others to read it, too.  It's that important.