Monday, April 30, 2018

So much for tolerance, civility and balance


It's been obvious to all of us for some time that people on the extremes of US politics, both left and right, are growing more and more intolerant of anyone who disagrees with their warped, twisted, monomaniacal perspectives.  Please note that I blame both sides equally.  You can't point a finger at a right-wing screed without finding one just as bad, if not worse, on the left, and vice versa.

That said, this diatribe by a far-left-wing commentator is so over-the-top as to be nauseating.

When I write that CNN politics writer Chris Cillizza is the rankest ***brain in the Western Hemisphere, I am not being nice to him. When I write that God clowned Chris Cillizza before he was born by making him Chris Cillizza instead of a ****-eating maggot, I am being unkind. When I say that Chris Cillizza himself is the punchline to the cruelest work of absurdist comedy in the history of the ****ing universe, and that the title of that work is On the Origin of Species, I am being mean. Likewise it probably is downright nasty for me to write that on the whole American society would benefit greatly by Chris Cillizza being fired out of a large cannon into an even larger cliff face. But I am not bullying Chris Cillizza. Categorically, I cannot do that.

“Wolf’s treatment of Sanders was bullying,” Cillizza wrote on CNN’s website yesterday, because he is an obsequious slimeball even more slovenly with language than his forebears were in the dispensation of their chromosomes. He’s referring to the standup set Michelle Wolf, a comedian, performed at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday night, somewhat at the expense of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a brazen, knowing, and hugely powerful enemy of the free press and deceiver of the public by trade. As you’ve surely read by now, Wolf joked that Sanders’s makeup—her “perfect smoky eye”—is made of the ashes of the facts she burns.

. . .

A frank and honest description of who she is and what she does would be much more harsh: Every day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders plants herself, by choice, between the public and the facts of what’s being done at the very highest levels of American executive power, and does her damnedest to break and delegitimize the means by which the two are brought together. She is one of the most visible and powerful people in American civic life, and she uses her visibility and power—she chooses to use her visibility and power—to confuse the public and degrade its grasp on the truth, rather than to inform or empower or serve it. Her willingness to do this on behalf of Donald Trump, day after day, and the unmistakable teeth-gnashing relish with which she does it, are the substance of her power, and the reason why anybody knows who the **** she is at all. What history will remember about Sanders is that she is the scum of the ****ing earth, and not the jokey means by which one comedian pointed out this inarguable fact—and that’s only if the senile rageaholic ****baby moron on whose behalf she shames herself on television every day doesn’t annihilate the human race, first.

There's more at the link . . . if you want to read it (which I don't recommend).

This obscene rant is precisely why I, and others like me, fear for the future of the American republic.  When the two extremes of political opinion are so far divided, so lost to facts and reality, so obsessed with their own (profoundly flawed) interpretation of current events, then the time can't be far away when some of them stop talking and start fighting.  Some would say that time has already arrived, given the antics of Antifa and their ilk (e.g. Berkeley) on one side, and the posturings of racial and far-right-wing extremists (e.g. Charlottesville) on the other.  There appears to be no middle ground whatsoever between such extremists:  no place where they might agree to differ, or exchange views in at least a semblance of civility.

Oh, well.  I suppose that means the rest of us, the civilized majority, will just have to deal with all such extremists, Left- or Right-wing, in the same way.  We'll have to regard all of them as a clear and present danger to our lives, safety and well-being, and respond accordingly.  I've done that before, in another country and another context.  So have many Americans in these troubled times.  We can always do so again closer to home, if that should become necessary.

Peter

So much for "white privilege"


Jordan Petersen puts "white privilege" in perspective, and demonstrates what a stupid concept it is.





Word.

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #1,008


I'm obliged to reader Snoggeramus for sending me a copy of this image (origin unknown):




Sometimes the jokes just write themselves, don't they?  Let's see, now:
  • What can we take away from this?
  • The misspelling subtracts something from the message.
  • Errors are multiplied, it seems.
  • Opinions about the effectiveness of the advertisement are divided.
  • Math is clearly more tricky than meth.

Please feel free to add your own in Comments!




Peter

When false advertising becomes "Fake News"


Last week, it was revealed that an alleged "authority" on student loans, and what students do with them, was not only fake:  "he" was also steering students who approached "him" for advice towards a student loan refinancing service operated by "his" creators.  As far as I'm concerned, that's not only false advertising, but fraud by any other name.

Drew Cloud is everywhere. The self-described journalist who specializes in student-loan debt has been quoted in major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, and is a fixture in the smaller, specialized blogosphere of student debt.

. . .

Drew Cloud’s story was simple: He founded [The Student Loan Report], an "independent, authoritative news outlet" covering all things student loans, "after he had difficulty finding the most recent student loan news and information all in one place."

He became ubiquitous on that topic. But he’s a fiction, the invention of a student-loan refinancing company.

After The Chronicle spent more than a week trying to verify Cloud’s existence, the company that owns The Student Loan Report confirmed that Cloud was fake. "Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education," wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU.

. . .

Cloud was not the only facade. The website’s affiliation with LendEDU was also not previously disclosed.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

My attitude towards this sort of thing is very simple.  Mr. Matherson is, by his own admission, a liar.  By using a fake personality to steer inquiries towards his own business interests, he is, in my opinion, defrauding those who sought genuine advice.  In case you think I'm going too far with that, please consider this dictionary definition of "fraud":
noun
1. deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.
2. a particular instance of such deceit or trickery: mail fraud; election frauds.
3. any deception, trickery, or humbug: That diet book is a fraud and a waste of time.
4. a person who makes deceitful pretenses; sham; poseur.
If that doesn't adequately describe Mr. Matherson's conduct, I don't know what does.

I wish I could be sure that the authorities will investigate Mr. Matherson's conduct, and his company, with a view to prosecution for this fraud.  Unfortunately, this sort of thing has become so widespread that they probably won't, because they can't possibly police every business, every Web site, and every alleged "authority" or "expert" plying their trade.  There are many other "sharp practices" that may not amount to actual dishonesty, but are nevertheless an attempt to manipulate our perception of reality, or deceive us as to the true nature of a business.  (For example, some years ago I pointed to the example of a group of online ammunition vendors.  I still refuse to do business with any of them, and continue to recommend that approach to my friends.)

In the absence of official action, it's up to us, the users of the Internet, to pass on the word about such practices, and see to it that at least our circle of friends and acquaintances are warned about them.  At least, in that way, we can protect our own.  Needless to say, I shall be strongly recommending to my friends that they avoid doing business of any kind with Mr. Matherson and/or his colleagues and/or any of his companies, organizations or activities, current or future.  I trust my readers will draw their own conclusions.

Peter

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday morning music


In the first Sunday Morning Music post of 2018, I brought you a number of Gordon Lightfoot's nautical-themed songs.  This remarkable musician has produced an immense body of work.  Today I'd like to look at some of his more meditative songs, music that makes you think - meditations in poetic form, set to music, if you will.  They're haunting melodies that stay with you.

To start, here's one of his most popular songs, "If You Could Read My Mind".





This next song, "Circle Of Steel", is particularly poignant to me, because as a pastor and prison chaplain I've worked with people like the woman he describes.  It's a grim, gritty world for them, and there's often only cold comfort to be had.  This song hurts to hear, sometimes.





One of Gordon Lightfoot's most popular songs is "Minstrel Of The Dawn".  Here's a live performance from a BBC concert in England in 1972.





Forty years later, in 2012, Gordon gave this live performance of another of his great songs, "Don Quixote", in Reno, Nevada.  I prefer the earlier versions of this song, because I remember his younger voice and style, but I'm including this one to show that even in old age, he still has the magic touch.  It's remarkable for any singer's voice to last this long and this well.





Let's close with one of Gordon's songs that's particularly close to my heart:  "Cherokee Bend".  It tells of racial conflict, hatred and bitterness in the "bad old days" of conflict between white settlers and Native American tribes.  The theme is of enduring meaning to me, thanks to my own experience of such racial conflict in Africa, which has shaped and formed my life like no other influence.  I used to play this song to some of my friends (of all races) in South Africa, to try to show them that our clashes were merely another aspect of a struggle that's been fought all over the world from time immemorial.  Some found that helpful;  others, merely depressing.  Nevertheless, I think Gordon captured the essence of what such conflict means to the innocent (particularly children) who are caught up in it, and how it scars them.





We'll return to Gordon Lightfoot's music later in the year.

Peter

Saturday, April 28, 2018

California's "War on Ammo" is lost before it's even begun


I was struck by a comment from an anti-gun spokesperson over the NRA's lawsuit against California over its new restrictions on ammunition.  The relevant bit is in bold, underlined text.

The lawsuit challenges specific restrictions like a requirement that ammunition sales be conducted face to face, and a mandatory background checks for those purchases – a component that many still don’t know how the state would implement.

. . .

In the lawsuit the NRA claims the ammunition sale restrictions violate the second amendment and the commerce clause of The Constitution.

Butchko, though an NRA member, has yet to make his first firearm purchase.

“What I don't understand is why I need one permit to buy a firearm and another to buy ammunition. I just worry that the state is going to keep going to the point where they make it inconvenient to buy a gun,” he said.

Wendy Wheatcroft with Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said responsible gun owners should not fear ammunition restrictions.

“Clearly being able to accumulate large stores of ammo is not beneficial to the general public,” she said.

There's more at the link.

A few questions for Ms. Wheatcroft:
  1. Why should "responsible gun owners" not fear ammunition restrictions?  Every other restriction on firearms ownership has been intensified, strengthened or made more onerous over time.  We're pretty sure these ammo restrictions will be, too.
  2. Why is "being able to accumulate large stores of ammo ... not beneficial to the general public"?  As far as I can see, it's certainly not actively harmful to the public.  In fact, it's got nothing to do with the public.  It's the choice of the individual ammo owner.  Furthermore, ammo in and of itself can do nothing whatsoever to harm or benefit the public.  It's morally neutral, like a motor vehicle, or a hammer, or a calculator, or a gun.  Any and/or all of those things can be used for good, or for evil, or for nothing at all - but it's always and everywhere the person who uses them who makes the choice of how and for what to use them.

Ms. Wheatcroft's attitude appears to be yet another version of the age-old conundrum:  "We'll tell you what's good for you, and you'll damn well like it - or else!"  Facts, logic and rationality are nowhere to be found in her argument.  Frankly, she's on the side of those who say that "Unless it's permitted, it is forbidden" - and they want to deny permission whenever and wherever they can.  The rest of us take the view that "Unless it's forbidden, it is permitted".  We don't need Big Brother to boss us around any more than is absolutely necessary.

We are citizens, not subjects.  Early American historian David Ramsay said of that distinction:

The difference is immense. Subject is derived from the Latin words, sub and jacio, and means one who is under the power of another; but a citizen is an unit of a mass of free people, who, collectively, possess sovereignty.

Subjects look up to a master, but citizens are so far equal, that none have hereditary rights superior to others. Each citizen of a free state contains, within himself, by nature and the constitution, as much of the common sovereignty as another.

The state of California appears determined to force its residents to be subjects, not citizens.  I think most of my readers will have a ready (and none too polite) rejoinder to any such attempt.

An individual's ammo supplies, or those of anyone of sound mind, have got damn all to do with Ms. Wheatcroft, despite her all-too-nosy interest in them, and they certainly offer no threat to the public.  If she believes otherwise, let her go to court, and provide evidence sufficient to persuade a judge and a jury of that person's peers that he/she is unfit to possess that ammunition, or the guns in which to shoot it.  That would be constitutional - but it would also be impossible, because in almost every case, no such evidence will exist.  That's why she and her ilk are choosing to ignore the rights of citizens and trample on the constitution, seeking to force citizens into subjection, denying their freedom.  That's why she's in favor of draconian, dictatorial "one-size-fits-all" measures that won't solve the so-called "gun violence" problem at all, because they limit the tool rather than the person wielding it.

As we all know, if a tool-wielder can't find one tool, he'll adopt another.  In this case, he won't even have to do that.  Ammunition will be freely available by crossing a state line, picking up a few boxes, and going back.  I won't be surprised to see a thriving ammunition smuggling business before long - perhaps exchanging grown-in-California marijuana for ammunition from the rest of the USA.  Given the success (NOT!) of federal, state and local authorities in the so-called "War on Drugs", I predict California's authorities will be no more successful in the "War on Ammo" that they appear to be hell-bent on starting.

Peter

Losers by any other name . . . are still losers


I must have lived a sheltered existence.  I had no idea that the so-called 'incel subculture' was a thing, until this week's terror attack in Toronto, and this article.

Hours before Alek Minassian drove a rented van onto a crowd in Toronto and killed 10 people, police say, a Facebook account linked to him announced, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” It praised “Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger,” a 22-year-old who killed six people in a stabbing-and-shooting spree in 2014.

“Incel,” or “involuntarily celibate,” isn’t so much a movement as a label used by a group of people drawn together by the same frustration — the inability to attract sexual partners — who blame their lack of conquests on the women who deny them sex and the men supposedly cornering the market.

Most people never heard the term before the Toronto attack, but it has been used for years in online forums. And it flags a culture we should take very seriously because of its potential for violence.

. . .

Toronto Sexuality Centre Director James Cantor says incel is not “some organization that is joined by some common principles” but rather “a group of people who usually lack sufficient social skills and they usually find themselves very frustrated.” This frustration is voiced on online forums, such as 4Chan and Incels.me, where angry men convince other angry men that their collective inability to land dates is a vast, unjust conspiracy.

“And when they’re surrounded by other people with similar frustrations, they kind of lose track of what typical discourse is, and they drive themselves into more and more extreme beliefs,” says Cantor.

Those beliefs include encouraging acid attacks, rape and murder in retribution for society’s failure to make sex easy for them.

There's more at the link.

That seems so warped and weird that I find it hard to wrap my mind around it . . . but it makes a certain weird kind of sense.  Most of us have a hard time admitting our own faults and failings.  I suppose someone who hasn't had much luck finding a girlfriend, much less losing his virginity, might prefer to blame women, or society, or the faceless, nameless "them", rather than himself - even if that makes no logical sense whatsoever.  Logic isn't the thing here, after all.  When men start thinking with their "other brain", the drives are anything but logical!

My biggest concern about that approach is that it removes humanity from the equation.  The person isn't important - only the act of sex.  To me, that's crazy.  I was brought up in a more old-fashioned family, to be sure, but I've always been attracted more to the person inside the body than to the shape or proportions of that body.  The most physically beautiful woman in the world would hold no charms for me if she turned out to be a foul-mouthed harridan.  I know a lot of men regard sexual access to a woman's body - "what" she is - as more important than appreciating and understanding "who" she is.  Perhaps "incel" is merely that attitude, taken to a deprivation-induced extreme.

One wonders whether there might not be a common root between men convinced that "incel" is a thing, and those who become fanatical Muslim terrorists.  After all, the latter culture also makes it very difficult, to the point of impossibility, to meet women and - in particular - to have sexual relations with them.  Some societies, including some versions of Islam, have developed work-arounds (e.g. the custom of "temporary marriage"), but many others haven't.  Is sexual frustration at the root of both varieties of violence?  Are the same kind of men attracted to both, for that reason?  I'm no expert, but that seems like a working hypothesis from where I sit.

Is there a female version of "incel" - i.e. women who get frustrated because they can't get men to have sexual relations with them?  If so, I've never heard of it.

Peter

Friday, April 27, 2018

Our police had a wild time yesterday


As I was filling our vehicle with gas before we left for our road trip yesterday, Miss D. and I witnessed an absolute flood of police vehicles charging through surface streets in our area, all ending up on Highway 287 heading east.  I personally counted no less than 15 cars and SUV's, all with lights and sirens, from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Wichita County Sheriff, a couple of local police departments, and a few unmarked units for good measure, all tearing up the tarmac.

Turns out they were involved in a very nasty incident involving a man and woman from Oklahoma.  This news report gives more details.  Briefly, the man kidnapped the woman, whom a local cop told me was his former girlfriend, allegedly on the principle that if he couldn't have her, no-one else would.  He forced her to drive with him from Norman, OK to Burkburnett, TX, where he had some sort of family connection.  Local cops were alerted, spotted his car, and the chase was on.  It ended five miles east of Vernon, TX, with the young lady stabbed several times, and the suspect deceased.

The young lady was reported (by the cop I spoke to) to be in very serious condition, but it appears her condition has been upgraded from critical to serious.  That's progress of a sort, I guess.  The man who kidnapped her won't be doing that again - or anything else, for that matter.  The local cops don't mess around.  If you pull a gun, you've just made yourself a target.  I can't disapprove of that attitude.

Please say a prayer for the young lady, and for the families involved, if you're so inclined.  This is the sort of trauma that some of them may never live down.

Peter

Yes, our civilization can fall, too


Borepatch embedded a very short, but very interesting analysis by Kenneth Clark on why Rome fell.  It's only two and a half minutes long, and well worth that much of your time to watch it.





Our modern civilization can fall, too, and in a surprisingly short time.  It's happened right before our eyes multiple times over the past half-century.  Think of the Soviet Union in the late 1980's, or Venezuela over the past five years.  It could happen even to the USA or Western Europe, if enough of the storm clouds gathering over either economy were to let loose.  (Think of what would happen if the US government, due to economic circumstances, were to stop providing Social Security and/or Medicaid to its citizens:  or, alternatively, if we did not act to stop illegal alien infiltration, and they did to the whole of the US economy what they've already done to California.  What would either and/or both of those events do to a very large part of our population?  And what would that imply for our society as a whole?)

Food for thought.

Peter

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Back from the road


Miss D. and I headed down to Fort Worth today for a little official business, plus some "us"-time.  It's two-plus hours from here to there, so it's no trouble to go down and back in a day.

The official business didn't take long, so we looked for something interesting to see when we were done.  We ended up at the Texas Civil War Museum.  It has a large number of exhibits about the lives and equipment of regular soldiers on both sides, with emphasis on the (named) individuals who owned many of the items on display, including a surprising number of general officers.  Among their most prized exhibits are a cigar stub dropped by General U. S. Grant, the uniform jacket that he wore at Appomattox during the surrender discussions with Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and a very ornate presentation sword given to him by the state of Kentucky upon his selection as Commander-in-Chief of the Union armies.  I was surprised to see such important Union exhibits in a museum in what was a Confederate state, but there you are.  (There were a lot of Union exhibits, actually - as many as there were Confederate; a very balanced display.)

I was interested to find many variations on service rifles and muskets.  The most common rifled musket of the Civil War was the Springfield model of 1861, of which close to a million were produced for the Union Army before and during the conflict (many being captured and used by the Confederacy as well).  However, there were hundreds of thousands more of very similar models produced by other companies, plus imported rifles from England, plus limited production runs from small companies (on both sides) that have vanished into the gloom of history with little or nothing known about them.  Handguns, too, were produced in large numbers and bewildering variety.  The Texas Civil War Museum has examples of a lot of them, including some I'd never heard of.  To the naked, uninformed eye they look pretty similar, but to a gun nut firearms enthusiast, they're a treasure trove of detail and surprises.  (I was very pleased to find examples of just about every firearm I researched for, and mentioned in, my first Western novel, "Brings The Lightning".  I put a lot of effort into that, so it was a warm, comfortable sensation to see them all at first hand.)  There's also an artillery exhibit, including a 100-pounder smoothbore Dahlgren-type cannon manufactured by Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond in about 1863.  It was recovered from a shipwreck a few years ago.  If you're interested in the field, I recommend a visit to the Museum.

Heading home, we stopped in Decatur for a late lunch at Rooster's Roadhouse, on the square opposite the courthouse.  It describes itself as "Red Neck, White Trash, Blue Collar", and looks the part - but the menu was extensive, and the food delicious.  The "Big A" grilled cheese double burger proved irresistible:  two grilled cheese sandwiches, with a double cheeseburger in between.  Carb alarm!  We started with the intriguingly-named "Red Neck Sushi";  grilled BBQ pork and cheese, rolled into a sort of long tortilla-looking thing, sliced like a sushi roll, then served with BBQ sauce, a red onion marmalade, and a horseradish or Wasabi dipping sauce (we couldn't decide which it was, but it certainly had a bite to it!).  We were planning to finish with coffee and dessert from one of our favorite coffee shops, a few yards along the square, but we were so full we decided to leave that for another day.

We're back home, being informed by the cats in no uncertain terms that they didn't appreciate being abandoned for the day.  We'll get back to our normal routine tomorrow.

Peter

Road trip


Miss D. and I will be making a quick road trip today, so blogging will be sparse.  It's kinda hard to juggle the steering wheel and a smartphone when writing blog posts - or, as a passenger, writing posts while using the phone's navigation function!

Please enjoy the bloggers listed in the sidebar.  They write good stuff too!  I may put up an article later this afternoon or this evening, if we get back in time.  Otherwise, blogging will resume tomorrow.

Peter

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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


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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Again, more at the link.

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


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


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

Peter

Talk about carbalicious!


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

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

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

. . .

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



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

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

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




Peter

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The truth about exercise?


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







Peter

"The racial dot map"


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




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




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

Peter

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



The unified theory of . . . kiwi???


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




Peter

Monday, April 23, 2018

Doofus Of The Day #1,007


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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

There's more at the link.

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

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

Peter

The dark side of our lack of online and electronic privacy


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

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

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

Or their families.

Or cops.

Or virtually any other tightly-correlated group of people.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

There's more at the link.

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

Peter

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday morning music


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





Peter

Saturday, April 21, 2018

That gets it said


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

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

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

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




Peter

Doofus Of The Day #1,006


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's more at the link.

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




Peter

Friday, April 20, 2018

Woman helps cop, kills bad guy - then gets sued


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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Peter

Heh


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




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




Peter

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Doofus Of The Day #1,005


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

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

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

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

. . .

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

There's more at the link.

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




Peter

Haunting images of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire


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








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

Peter

Our genes: gateway to health - and to marketers?


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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

There's more at the link.

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

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

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

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




Peter

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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


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





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





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




Peter

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's more at the link.

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

Peter

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


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

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

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

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

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

There's more at the link.

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

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

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

Peter

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Errr . . . oops?


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

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

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



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

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

There's more at the link.

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




Peter

Can "quantum radar" expose stealth aircraft?


A Canadian research institute is betting that it can.

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

. . .

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

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

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

. . .

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

There's more at the link.

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

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

Peter

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

. . .

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

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

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

Food for thought.

Peter

Monday, April 16, 2018

This is why "connected" appliances are a bad idea


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's more at the link.

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

Peter