Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday morning music

Time to ring the changes again.  How many of you remember the movie "The Last Valley"?

It was made in 1971, and tells of a valley invaded and occupied by mercenary soldiers during the Thirty Years War in Germany.  Despite superb acting performances, particularly from Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, it was a box office failure, probably because it reflected (accurately) the nihilism, confusion and pointlessness of those nightmare years across Europe.  Wikipedia quotes George MacDonald Fraser, one of my favorite writers, as saying of it:

"The plot left me bewildered - in fact the whole bloody business is probably an excellent microcosm of the Thirty Years' War, with no clear picture of what is happening and half the cast ending up dead to no purpose. To that extent, it must be rated a successful film. ... As a drama, The Last Valley is not remarkable; as a reminder of what happened in Central Europe, 1618-48, and shaped the future of Germany, it reads an interesting lesson."

That's why I enjoyed it.  As a student of history, I found it very accurate.

Whether or not it was commercially successful, its soundtrack, composed by John Barry, is also intriguing.  Here are selections from it.

The movie isn't played often, due to its lack of commercial success, but it's available on Amazon.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Gut reactions to the Kavanaugh delay

I'm trying to be adult in my response to yet another delay in Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.  I can understand why some Senate Republicans wanted a further investigation, and why President Trump acceded to their wishes.  They have a one-vote - one single vote - margin in the Senate, and at least three RINO senators who may, for their own reasons, prefer not to support Judge Kavanaugh.  If they're lucky, they may get one or two Democratic senators to support him . . . but that still means that his confirmation is not certain.  It may be that the Vice-President will have to cast a tie-breaking ballot to decide the issue.  That would be anything but ideal, and would open to question any ruling of the Supreme Court in which Mr. Kavanaugh's vote was decisive.  The Administration is bending over backwards to avoid going to such extremes, and get him confirmed by even one vote rather than risk such consequences.

Nevertheless, I'm sickened by the arrogance, dishonesty and partisanship displayed by so many Senators in recent days.  Democrats, in particular, have abandoned any semblance of decency.  They ignore allegations of sexual misconduct against their own members (some with convincing medical and other evidence to support them) and give credence to completely unsupported charges against Judge Kavanaugh - even ones where every single witness named by the accuser has denied, or at least refused to confirm, her version of events.  This is a travesty of justice.  I think Judge Kavanaugh was absolutely right when he said:

There is no evidence whatsoever to support any of the charges, allegations and accusations leveled against this man.  No evidence whatsoever.  Therefore, why is any credence being given to them?  If there is no evidence, no conviction is possible.  Don't argue to me that this isn't a court of law.  In a very real sense, Judge Kavanaugh is on trial here.  His reputation has already been damaged severely.  If he is not confirmed, his opponents will bruit it about that it was because he was guilty.  If he is confirmed, they will allege that this was in spite of his guilt, not because of his innocence.  They're even threatening to impeach him if they regain power - again, without any evidence to warrant such threats.

We live - or are supposed to live - according to the rule of law in these United States.  The Kavanaugh hearings have shown that for too many of us, the rule of law is no longer relevant.  It's become the rule of feelings, the rule of sympathy, the rule of partisan bias.  Facts no longer matter.  Proof no longer matters.  It's all about how we perceive things.  This country cannot survive that.  It really is that simple.  We cannot survive as a nation on the basis of how we feel about things.  We can only deal with reality if we're rooted in and grounded on reality.  If we're living in some fantasy existence in our minds, then reality will rear up and bash us over the head with a clue-by-four.  Reality doesn't care how we feel.  Reality simply is.  We can deal with it, or not, as we choose - but if we choose not to deal with it, it will deal with us.  Count on that.

I'm ashamed of our Senators for the way in which they've treated Judge Kavanaugh.  I'm ashamed on behalf of all who trust in the rule of law, because our trust has been betrayed.  What's more, there's a growing groundswell of anger amongst those who are watching this farce being played out in Washington.  To see a well-expressed sense of that anger, read this article, and judge for yourselves.  That anger, that bitterness, is very close to bursting out in some quarters.  Have things gone too far to be salvaged?  That remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I'll be praying for Judge Kavanaugh and his family.  They will find precious little peace in this world until this thing is settled, and probably not much even then:  so, may the God of Peace grant them that which the world cannot, and give them courage and strength.


You never know when it may happen to you

We've spoken often in these pages of the need to prepare for emergencies.  Nevertheless, sometimes the emergency arrives so quickly and unexpectedly, and is so devastating, that all the preparations in the world won't help.

Consider yesterday's earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Indonesia.  Just look at these video clips.  Both show a second tsunami arriving:  you can see damage left by the first tsunami before the next one strikes.

Anyone whose emergency preparations were stored in one of the buildings hit by the tsunami, or who was relying for their getaway on a motor vehicle caught up in the flood . . . all their plans were suddenly derailed.  Precisely the same thing might happen to anyone on the west coast of the USA, who gets caught up in an earthquake and tsunami on the Ring of Fire.  It's by no means impossible.

Plan and prepare by all means, but consider all the possibilities.  In a situation like that above, some supplies stored within relatively easy reach, perhaps with a friend living on higher ground, might make all the difference.  Bicycles, stored where they're not easy prey for thieves, and are as safe as possible from that sort of damage, might also be a life-saver.  The threat of earthquake and tsunami was and is foreseeable in that part of the world (as it is in California, Oregon and Washington states in the USA).  Forethought can help you plan for the worst.

Options.  It's good to have them.


Friday, September 28, 2018


Shamelessly stolen borrowed from Wirecutter:


A treat for liqueur connoisseurs in Texas

I've mentioned Van Der Hum in these pages before.  It's a South African liqueur, made from local herbs, naartjie peel (like a slightly bitter tangerine) and honey, all steeped in brandy.  It's a warm, mellow, smooth (very smooth) drink, and is one of Miss D.'s and my favorite tipples.  We're very light drinkers - a case of Van Der Hum that I bought back in 2011 lasted us (and several friends) until 2017.  When it ran out, we tried to find more, but it's not normally imported into this country, so we gave up and tried making our own (recipes are available on the Internet).  Ours wasn't as good as the real stuff, but it was better than nothing.

You can imagine our joy, therefore, when we found that Spec's in Texas had imported several hundred bottles as an experiment, and distributed them to many of their branches throughout the state.  Our hopes were temporarily dashed, however, when we learned that our local Spec's branch wasn't a recipient.  Texas liquor laws don't allow the transfer of spirits across county lines, so if we wanted to restock our Van Der Hum supplies, we'd have to make a road trip to do so.

A lady at Spec's head office was very helpful, and directed us to a branch in the DFW area that had 24 bottles (2 cases) available.  We promptly called the store and told them to hold them all for us, and drove down there a couple of days ago to pick them up.  (The store gave us both a case discount, and a few dollars off per bottle due to the size of our order, so we did pretty well out of the deal.)  Some will go to friends, and we'll take some to our annual Blogorado gathering, which will be held in Colorado next month.  The rest should last Miss D. and I for another five or six years.  (We took the opportunity to come home via Muenster, TX, where Fischer's Meat Market sells wonderful German-style sausages, cheese and other goodies.  I had veal sausage, German sauerkraut and onion cheese for supper that night.  Yummy!)

If you're in or near Texas, find your nearest Specs store and ask them whether they have any Van Der Hum in stock.  I think you'll like it - at least, all of our friends who've tried it are very happy with it.  Give yourself a treat!  (Besides, if Specs sells enough of it, perhaps they'll keep it in stock, so we can buy more when we need it.)

Now, where in the USA can I buy Glayva liqueur?  I haven't found a local supplier yet, and I'm rather fond of that, too.  Can anyone help?


Hypocrisy, much?

Remember all those Democratic Senators who were calling so loudly for an FBI investigation into Judge Brett Kavanaugh over the past couple of weeks?

Note - a law enforcement investigation into alleged criminal acts?  In so many words, a criminal background check?

Well, guess what?

A letter was drafted by Senator Brian Schatz and signed by 17 other Senators, on February 22, 2018, and sent to the president of The Common Application requesting that the Common App remove the criminal background check from the college application process.

This is part of the larger Ban the Box campaign, to remove conviction history from job and school applications and to end the delay in employment and student background checks.

The list of Senators who signed this letter are:

  • Brian Schatz
  • Dick Durbin
  • Patty Murray
  • Patrick Leahy
  • Elizabeth Warren
  • Chris Coons
  • Cory Booker
  • Tammy Baldwin
  • Kamala Harris
  • Ben Cardin
  • Ed Markey
  • Chris Van Hollen
  • Catherine Masto
  • Tammy Duckworth
  • Christopher Murphy
  • Sherrod Brown
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Mazie Hirono
The very same Senators who, for the last two weeks, have been saying that Judge Kavanaugh should be demanding an FBI background check, that the Senate must delay their confirmation vote until every detail is fully vetted by the FBI, that women must be believed without question, and that a man accused of sexual impropriety has no presumption of innocence all have pushed colleges, business, and government to drop criminal background checks from their application process.

There's more at the link, including an excerpt from their letter.  It's worth reading as a blatant display of utter political hypocrisy.

I'm not God (fortunately - I'd make a horrible one).  Nevertheless, if I had control of the heavenly thunderbolts for a few moments, guess which targets I might find well-nigh irresistible?


Thursday, September 27, 2018

The T-X competition has a winner, and it's a good one

It seems the Boeing/Saab T-X has won the competition to provide the USAF with its next-generation advanced training aircraft.

Here's a brief video showing one of the T-X prototypes taking off, and performing a roll.

I think it's a great choice, for three reasons.
  1. It was the only "clean-sheet" design submitted for the T-X program.  Lockheed Martin teamed with Korea Aircraft Industries to offer a derivative of the latter's KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, which first flew in 2002 (and was itself derived from the earlier F-16 fighter).  Italian firm Leonardo went through several potential US partners before settling on the T-100, a derivative of its M-346 Master trainer, which first flew in 2004 (and, interestingly, was initially co-developed with Yakovlev of Russia, which now makes a very similar aircraft, the Yak-130).  There were other contenders that dropped out before the final selection was made.  Only Boeing and Saab developed a brand-new aircraft, tailor-made for the USAF's requirements, and offering room for growth around them.
  2. The design of the Boeing/Saab T-X is visibly inspired by Saab's experience with the JAS-39 Gripen fighter, which is probably the premier small-to-mid-size supersonic fighter in the world at this time.  It's proved to be a very successful design, and is also the most economically priced aircraft in its class.  By bringing that expertise to the table, and leveraging Boeing's world-class engineering and technology, Saab has gained access to assets that will benefit it in future, while Boeing is learning from one of Europe's most innovative design teams.  Both firms will benefit.
  3. There's every potential for the T-X program to develop into a light fighter program, just as the Northrop T-38 Talon (the USAF's current, and very long-in-the-tooth, advanced training aircraft) was developed into the Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter, and later the F-5E/F Tiger II, light fighters.  These were much cheaper and simpler than the fully-fledged third-generation fighters of the 1960's and 1970's, but still surprisingly effective, and were sold all over the world to US allies.  Given Saab's fighter and strike aircraft experience in smaller airframes over five generations (including the Tunnan, Lansen, Draken, Viggen and Gripen), and Boeing's F-15 Eagle and F/A-18 Super Hornet programs, the two companies have all the experience and expertise needed to develop the T-X into a modern-day equivalent of the Tiger II, affordably priced and well able to hold its own in modern air combat.  Perhaps it will become what Northrop aspired to, but failed to achieve, with its technically very good but commercially ill-fated F-5G program, which grew into the F-20 Tigershark.

I expect Lockheed Martin (and, perhaps, Leonardo) will protest the award, which promises to be worth billions of dollars to the winner;  but I think the right plane won this competition.  It's a generation ahead of all its competitors.  That counts for a lot, IMHO.



Italian foodies are getting their serviettes (napkins) in a twist over tiramisu.

It may sound like a confection, but tiramisu recipes are causing controversy in Italy as beer is added to the mix.

The country’s foodies fear the mouthwatering mélange of mascarpone cheese, sponge fingers, coffee and chocolate could soon be unrecognisable as organisers of this year’s Tiramisu World Cup are inviting participants to create their own versions of the popular sweet with a twist, adding chilli, onions, wasabi, and even beer.

. . .

Mr Redi defended adding beer, saying: “I believe it is possible providing you can reduce the alcoholic content.”

He said one of last year’s semi-finalists impressed the judges with a recipe that included chili but there was only one winning category and that was for a classic recipe.

This year’s competition is expected to attract even more competitors willing to push the boundaries.

“Whatever you do you are going to be criticised,” he said. “When pizza was born it was only a margherita. Is a pizza with prosciutto and mushrooms not a pizza?”

But the competition, which is backed by local councils and corporate sponsors, is already facing a backlash.

The Confraternita del Tiramisu, or Tiramisu Guild, which represents 50 members in the Veneto region, said Wednesday it did not want to have anything to do with the cup or anyone who sought to modify the traditional recipe.

“Tiramisu was born here,” guild secretary, Annibale Toffolo, told The Telegraph. “Tiramisu means 'pick you up', it is a way of giving you strength and energy. Everything else is an invention.

“We have to protect our identity. It is like the pizza that has spread around the world. We have to defend it.”

There's more at the link.

Tiramisu with chili???  Say it ain't so!  That sounds like a Texas edition of the recipe, right there . . .  I wonder if the chili included beans?  And wasabi?  Japanese tiramisu?  Or should that be tira-miso?

Having said that, of course, a very palatable tiramisu may be found in a local ristorante.  Miss D. and I indulge ourselves there now and again, trying to push aside guilty feelings over the calories involved.  However, they don't add chili!


"The coming crime wars"

That's the title of a very good article in Foreign Policy.  I can confirm its accuracy from extensive personal experience in the Third World.  Let's begin with an excerpt.

Wars are on the rebound. There are twice as many civil conflicts today, for example, as there were in 2001. And the number of nonstate armed groups participating in the bloodshed is multiplying. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), roughly half of today’s wars involve between three and nine opposing groups. Just over 20 percent involve more than 10 competing blocs. In a handful, including ongoing conflicts in Libya and Syria, hundreds of armed groups vie for control. For the most part, these warring factions are themselves highly fragmented, and today’s warriors are just as likely to be affiliated with drug cartels, mafia groups, criminal gangs, militias, and terrorist organizations as with armies or organized rebel factions.

. . .

Mexico is on the front lines of today’s metastasizing crime wars. Public authorities there estimate that 40 percent of the country is subject to chronic insecurity, with homicidal violence, disappearances, and population displacement at all-time highs. States such as Guerrero, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz are paralyzed by extreme organized violence ... Owing to endemic violence and the government’s slow retreat from crime-ridden areas, some towns are now run by parallel governments made up of criminalized political and administrative structures. In what are increasingly labeled “narco-cities,” the entire political and economic apparatus exists to perpetuate a drug economy.

In Brazil, meanwhile large portions of some of the country’s biggest cities are under the control of competing drug trafficking factions and militias ... in smaller cities across north and northeastern Brazil, gangs and militias are starting to battle for dominion in the favelas. Already, they effectively administer state prisons. Some vigilantes have started to try their hands at politics and are running for office, while others seek to influence elections through buying and selling votes. Organized and interpersonal violence killed almost 64,000 Brazilians in 2017, much of it concentrated among poorer black youth. The mayhem has also triggered repeated federal military interventions.

Making matters worse, Latin American armed groups are going transnational ... Likewise, outside of the Americas, in metropolises such as Cape Town, Lagos, and Karachi, gangs recruit child soldiers to fight their battles and service booming cross-border trade in drugs, minerals, and trafficked people.

. . .

Further, whereas the human cost of typical gang or mafia activity may be contained, the death and destruction that result from today’s crime wars are not. Millions of refugees and internally displaced persons have fled these gray-zone conflicts. But many of those who are dislocated are stuck in limbo, with most of them having been refused asylum ... Governments have typically been reluctant to recognize the dislocated as war refugees, because it would grant legitimacy to the crime wars. Yet with all the civilians killed and maimed, mayors and journalists attacked, families forced to flee genocide and disappearances, the violence generated by crime wars is indistinguishable from that generated by traditional war.

. . .

Given that some cartels and gangs front well-armed and disciplined soldiers, improvised infantry fighting vehicles, top-of-the-line communications and surveillance networks, and military-grade weapons (such as rocket-propelled grenades and antipersonnel mines), as well as use high-intensity tactics (including ambushes and attacks on police and military forces), the threat cannot be wished away.

There's more at the link.  I highly recommend reading the entire article, because the violence and disruption engendered by such gangs is already on the streets of the USA.  In some cases, the worst gangs started here among refugees, migrated back to South America, and are now operating between their international bases.

The article compares the dominance of such gangs to "a pre-Westphalian era of perpetual conflict involving feudal kingdoms and marauding bandits".  That's not a bad comparison . . . but it ignores the reality that such activities have been with us for centuries, have flourished in various parts of the world since World War II, and are still flourishing to this day.  The advent of drug-money-funded cartels is simply piggybacking on top of an existing lawlessness that's endemic in the Third World - and is also visible in US cities.

In traveling through Africa for many years, I accepted as a fact of life that the authority of the national government was likely to be transient at best once away from the capital city.  Regional governors were often appointed, not because they were trusted by or loyal to the national strongman, but because they controlled enough "supporters" (usually armed thugs) that they could dominate a particular province or state.  In return for delivering the vote in such areas (thereby ensuring that the national dictator could continue to milk his country and international aid for all he could steal), the regional governor could do the same in his area, subsidized by judicious bribes from the central government if necessary.  In turn, the regional governors would appoint - or tolerate - local strongmen as they took over towns, "taxed" the inhabitants, set up roadblocks to "control travel" or "keep down bandits" (while taking bribes, or just plain stealing whatever they wanted, from passing motorists), and so on.

One learned to travel with hard currency - US dollars for preference, although gold coins, particularly English sovereigns and South African Krugerrands, were more highly prized in some parts of Africa - at the ready.  Small fry - local cops, etc. - could be bought off with local currency.  Mid-ranking leaders wanted something more negotiable, and warranted the "good stuff" (if one wanted to continue what one was doing without being strangled by bureaucracy and corrupt cops "finding" stolen property all over one's premises).  If one was doing relief work, one all too often had to pay a weekly or monthly bribe in order to be permitted to do so.  If one didn't, one's relief supplies would be stolen, one's local workers threatened into staying away (or doing the stealing on behalf of the local powers that be), and one's personal safety was never guaranteed.

I ran into this early on, in a part of Africa where I was told, in fairly blunt terms, that I'd be permitted to carry on with my work, provided that I paid the equivalent of a couple of hundred dollars (in the buying power of those days) to the local strongmen, a "liberation committee" who "administered" the area.  I couldn't afford to both do that and continue my work, so I refused, and naively requested protection from the local "government" authorities.  Not only did I not get protection (because I couldn't afford the bribe necessary to obtain it), but I was stabbed in the back the next time I went into the affected area.  I still bear the scar, accompanied by two lumps on either side of it (because the stabber hadn't bothered to clean his blade since killing his last target, and I got a nasty infection from it.  Unhygienic *******, he was.)

While I recovered, I listened to the recriminations of those who understood the situation better than I had, and "wised up".  There was a very (very!) criminal lawyer in those parts, with a finger in all sorts of underworld pies.  He was untrustworthy in all except one critical aspect:  if he was bought, he stayed bought.  I went to see him as soon as my injury permitted, talked over my problem, and paid him a sum of money.  He gave me a receipt, and wished me a speedy recovery.

I then went back to the area where I'd been stabbed, and walked into the house commandeered by the "committee".  They must have thought I was a deluded fool, walking right into a death trap - until I laid the lawyer's receipt on the table.  I told them that the money would be held in trust.  If I was injured or died from any cause whatsoever - an ingrown toenail, the flu, a traffic accident, whatever - they would be held personally responsible.  I also pointed out that in those days, in that place, local criminals would shoot anybody for $10-$20.  They knew the lawyer, and his reputation.  They understood exactly what I was implying.

From then on, whenever I went into that area, I had an armed escort within a few minutes, one or two men armed with AK-47's showing up and shadowing my every footstep.  They weren't there to see what I was doing.  They were there to make sure no-one else bothered me or caused me any trouble.  Their bosses were under no illusions.  They knew that their safety was contingent upon mine.  We understood each other.  I was able to continue and complete my work there in as close to safety as it was possible to find in that part of the world, at that time.

Such experiences were not at all uncommon in Africa during the latter half of the 20th century.  The only reason they've declined since then is that local warlords and gangs have become more violent under the stresses of population pressure, and less money to steal in the local economy.  Just look at the latest outbreak of Ebola in Zaire.  Health workers and agencies are openly stating that they can't enter certain areas with any degree of safety, because of the proliferation of gangs, militias and armed bandits that infest that part of the world, and prevent normal civilization from functioning.  I couldn't work there either, today, because there are too many groups who would demand payoffs.  Paying one would just make the others angry - and they'd target me.  There's no future in that.

Such gangs also operate in other parts of the world.  Look at the "Golden Triangle" in south-east Asia.  Consider poppy farming in Afghanistan, which funds the Taliban insurgency.  Consider piracy off Somalia and Nigeria, which provides income to whole areas, not just criminal gangs.  I could give many more examples, but those will do for now.

In case you think this is all offshore, not a concern in the USA, think again.  Gangs control entire areas of many US cities, from a block here or there, to entire neighborhoods.  The conflicts between them are already legendary, and are a fact of life in a number of major cities.  Think Crips versus Bloods, or Hispanic versus Black gangs, or competition over the control of the drug trade.  Nor is it limited to minority groups.  Motorcycle gangs are also involved, as well as prison gangs such as the notorious Aryan Brotherhood.  There's more than enough violence and mayhem to go around.  Some US cities already boast "no-go" areas for cops, where no policeman in his right mind will go for fear that he won't come out again, or that his family will be targeted for his eagerness to do his job.  Consider Baltimore, to name just one example.  There are others.

I've lived and/or worked in more than a few major American cities.  In the light of my African experience, and my work with gangs inside US prisons, I can assure you, the "crime wars" are already a fact of life for many who live in US inner-city neighborhoods.  There are already areas where, if you call the cops to report a crime, you'll be targeted by the local criminals as a "snitch".  If you have a problem, you ask them to solve it, not the cops - or else.  That's only going to spread and get worse as more and more illegal aliens, many of whom come from areas where that sort of social structure is already a reality, flood across our southern border.  They're bringing the problem here with them - and we're doing little or nothing to prevent them.

The Foreign Policy article is prophetic.  Read the whole thing, and start to consider where you live, and what you can do to prevent things getting worse in your area - because they will, unless we all do something about it now.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The best response yet to Swetnick (and Ford, and Ramirez, et al)

The latest allegations against Judge Kavanaugh are so ridiculous, so over-the-top, that any person with two working brain cells to rub together can see them for the lies they are.  They're nauseating.  I think the best point-by-point rebuttal comes from Twitter user Benny Johnson.  Follow the string for yourself at that link, if you wish.  Here are the screen captures.

Swetnick's claims are, on the face of it, a tissue of lies.  It is impossible for any objective observer to take them seriously.  There is simply no way any human being in her right mind would have behaved as she did, going back to the scene of known gang rapes ten times - until she herself became one of the victims, according to her.  Really?  She actually expects us to believe that?  And all that time, she never went to the police over the obvious crimes being committed in front of her very eyes?

If it looks like bullshit, and walks like bullshit, and smells like bullshit, and sounds like bullshit, and tastes - well, never mind about the taste... - then, as far as I'm concerned, it is bullshit.  I have no hesitation in calling BS on Ms. Swetnick's allegations - and on the uncorroborated, unsupported, unverified (and unverifiable) allegations against Judge Kavanaugh by his other accusers.  They add up to a very clear smear campaign, a hit job.  If anyone dares to argue that they're credible, I'll immediately know that either that person is coldly, cynically lying, or that he or she needs mental health help, very badly indeed.

What's more, if any politician, of any party, dares to tell me that I have to take such drivel seriously, and believe (or accept as "credible") the person spouting it, that politician can kiss my fundamental jujube.  In public.  On Capitol Hill.


Yeah, us too

The Wall Street Journal points out:

Rising new-car prices are pushing more buyers to the used-car lot, where they are finding a growing selection of low-mileage vehicles that are only a few years old.

Demand for used cars was unusually strong this summer and will remain at elevated levels through the year’s end as higher interest rates and rising prices on new cars continue to stretch buyers’ wallets, industry analysts say.

While used-car values have also increased in recent years, the gap between the price of a new and preowned car has also widened and is now at one of its largest points in more than a decade, according to car-shopping website, making deals on the used car lot look like more of a bargain.

. . .

“Customers forget a new car is now more than $30,000 and they expect it to be $20,000,” said Brian Allan, a senior director at Galpin Motors Inc., a Southern California dealership chain.

“When people see the price has gone up, it is sticker shock, especially when people only buy a car every five to six years,” Mr. Allan said.

At the same time, the used-car market is being flooded with leased cars being returned to dealerships, increasing the supply and options for buyers looking for two- and three-year-old vehicles that are generally well maintained.

. . .

With nearly 40 million in sales last year, the used-car market is more than double the size of the new-car business. The shift in demand is a troubling sign for auto makers, which will be under pressure to deepen discounts to keep customers from defecting to used-car market.

There's more at the link.

That's pretty much what drove Miss D. and I to buy our new-to-us Nissan Pathfinder, earlier this month.  New prices were so ridiculous, in terms of value for money, that we simply gave up on the new car market.  We bought our four-year-old vehicle for almost exactly 45% of the list price of a new edition of the same model.  Since we plan to run it until it's no longer viable, it wasn't a major issue that it was a year older, and with slightly higher mileage, than most buyers find desirable.  It's been well maintained, with a full service history to prove it, so we aren't worried that we might have bought a lemon.  We've already taken it on a 300-mile day trip, and we're both happy with it.  (As another comparison, the current comparable model of the pickup truck I bought almost fourteen years ago [a Ford F150 regular cab SXT] now has a manufacturer's suggested retail price 211% higher than I paid in 2005.  That sort of price inflation is simply unsustainable for folks like me.)

We also noted that most buyers of new vehicles appear to be leasing them, rather than buying them.  We ran into this from salespeople all the time.  One tried very hard to sell us a Mercedes-Benz, arguing that we could lease it for the same amount of money each month that we'd need to buy a vehicle from a "lesser" manufacturer, so why not enjoy the luxury brand?  He couldn't get it through his head that we weren't worried about appearance, social status, or whatever.  We wanted reliable, affordable transport, which we could run for years without needing to replace it.  We got what we wanted.  He didn't.  (Shrug.)  We also put down a decent deposit, and financed the rest through our local bank, at a reasonable interest rate, over three years instead of five or six.  I'd rather pay it off sooner, and be done with it - and, by doing it that way, we'll never be underwater on our vehicle loan.

I couldn't help but notice that almost all of the brand-name dealerships we visited were showing a lot more turnover on their used car side than with their new vehicles.  It's clear consumers are voting with their wallets.  What does this mean for auto manufacturers?  I don't know, but if I were in their shoes, I'd be getting nervous about pricing my products out of the market.


Youngsters today . . .

I've already run into something like this, more than once.  Makes me feel old.  (Click the image for a larger view at the comic's Web site.)

Let's not talk about rotary dial phones, party lines, washing machines with mangles, the complete absence of air-conditioning at home, and so on.  Kids today just gape in horror when you describe those things.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Doofus Of The Day #1,026

A joint and several Doofus award goes to all those portrayed in this video clip, received via an e-mail list of which I'm a member.  Not a few deserve Darwin awards, too, even though they survived and therefore don't qualify for them!

As Shakespeare would have put it: "Yea, verily, the mind doth boggle . . . "


A turtle???

I'm more than a little mind-boggled by this report.

The British expat who had [a] dead baby turtle inside her vagina, may have been a victim of a sexual assault, police said.

. . .

When doctors discovered the dead pet turtle — which caused a “serious infection” in her genitals — they called police last Saturday afternoon, fearing she was abused, ABC reported.

The unnamed woman told local police she was out partying with a group of British pals Thursday night in the area of Fañabé beach a few days earlier, but doesn’t remember what happened that night, according to El Pais.

She then started feeling sick over the next few days before going to the hospital.

The woman insisted she did not want authorities to pursue the strange incident further, and police have halted their investigation pending new information.

There's more at the link.

I'm willing to bet that alcohol, illegal narcotics, and less-than-salubrious companions, all in large quantities, had a lot to do with that!  A turtle???  Really?

I suppose she might be a back-to-nature type, like some other "liberated" ladies (?) I've met.  In fact, this incident reminds me of the ecologically sensitive woman who wanted to use birth control, but was aware of the potential impact of drugs on her body.  She compromised by using only natural, unpurified pond water to swallow the Pill, hoping the former would offset the latter's negative side-effects.

A few weeks later, she found out she was stagnant.


If you read between the lines, things become a lot clearer

The expression "to read between the lines" is an old one.  For the benefit of non-native English speakers who read this blog, there's a useful definition of the term here.  If one applies that approach to the latest letter from Prof. Ford's lawyer to the Senate Judicial Committee concerning her proposed testimony on Thursday (quoted in part here, and reproduced in part below - clickit to biggit), a lot of things become clearer.

See if you agree with my perception of what is said, versus what is meant or implied by it.  Original text is in bold print;  my understanding of it is in italics below each excerpt.

"The outside counsel hired to those Committees did not come on board to ask questions of witnesses three days before the hearings started."

Translation:  "Those hearings offered weeks and months in which partisan political attacks on policies and individuals could be conducted - not to mention broadcast on live television, to sway public opinion.  This Judicial Committee hearing offers only a matter of hours, perhaps a day or two.  We want our partisan political attacks against Judge Kavanaugh to have the greatest possible effect during that time.  An outside counsel might prevent us from doing that."

"The central point is that there is no precedent for this Committee to bring in outside counsel for the sole purpose of shielding the members of this Committee from performing their responsibility to question witnesses."

Translation:  "We want to put Republican Senators in the spotlight, so that anything and everything they say can be twisted, misquoted and misrepresented for partisan political purposes.  We want to portray them as villains, who won't believe an accuser because she's a woman and they are men. The use of outside counsel to ask the questions will make it more difficult for us to do that."

"Mr. Davis still has not responded to a number of outstanding questions about the hearing..."

Translation:  "We're trying to set up this hearing in a way that offers the maximum advantage for Prof. Ford and her supporters.  Unless and until you allow us to stage this in a way that offers maximum benefit to our side, and minimal benefit - if not actual damage - to yours, we'll continue to quibble, equivocate, nit-pick and split hairs.  We're going to draw out proceedings, cause the maximum possible delay, and portray you as the obstacle rather than ourselves.  We may even call the whole thing off, and blame you for causing that by your intransigence, unless you agree to do this our way."

How about it, readers?  Do those seem like reasonable, feasible, likely interpretations to you?  They sure do to me.

In particular, note that while the letter refers to "outside counsel", the Committee described the questioner as "an experienced sex crimes prosecutor".  That's probably what triggered this protest.  A lawyer is just a lawyer.  A prosecutor who has experience in the field of sex crimes understands the specific issues, pitfalls and complications of that field, particularly emotions versus facts.  He or she knows what questions to ask to arrive at the truth, how to ask them, and how to assess the character, truthfulness and integrity of a witness.  He or she understands the rules of evidence, and what is and is not evidence (or hearsay, or speculation, or unfounded slander and libel).  He or she will have seen it all before, many times over - just the kind of person a partisan political attacker would not want to question his/her/their witness.  Hence the lawyer's assertion, elsewhere in the letter, that "This is not a criminal trial for which the involvement of an experienced sex crimes prosecutor would be appropriate."

If the prosecutor turns out to have a track record of effectiveness and success in his/her field, I expect counsel for Prof. Ford to object vehemently to his/her appointment, and demand that someone else be selected to do the job - preferably someone likely to be more amenable to the accuser's subjective perspective, rather than committed to justice as an impartial, objective standard.  (I hope that the prosecutor already selected by the Committee will display the latter attributes;  but, since politicians are involved, that can't be taken for granted.  I suppose we'll have to wait and see.)

Note, too, the lawyer's assertion that "The hearing plan that Mr. Davis described does not appear designed to provide Dr. Blasey Ford with fair and respectful treatment."  I'm sure you can read between those lines for yourself.  My translation:  "You won't let us define what is fair and respectful!  That's not fair!  You're refusing to allow us to conduct this hearing on our terms!  Who do you think you are, you racist, sexist, misogynist old men?  Waaaaahhh!  #MeToo!"

Finally, please note that I have no partisan political ax to grind in this matter.  I'm neither Democrat nor Republican, and - as I've noted many times in the past - I distrust both major political parties equally.  However, regardless of political persuasion, I can recognize a hit job when I see one.  I've read Alinsky.  I can see when, and recognize how, his tactics are being applied.

I think the real victims in all this are Judge Kavanaugh and his family, who are being dragged through the (im)moral mire and personally attacked for partisan political purposes.  They deserve better - much better - than that, whether or not the Judge is ultimately confirmed to SCOTUS.  I think we, the American people, owe them a sincere, heartfelt apology for the way they've been treated.  We also need to elect politicians who will extend to their fellow citizens greater respect and fairness than the Kavanaughs have received on Capitol Hill.


EDITED TO ADD:  Have you seen the latest Kavanaugh accuser?

Lots more of them here. Great stuff!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Doofus Of The Day #1,025

Today's award goes to some truly dumb thieves in Santa Clara, California.  A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus for sending me the link.

It is an only in Silicon Valley kind of story, as police say high-tech thieves were caught stealing thousands of dollars worth of GPS tracking devices from a Santa Clara tech company.

. . .

"The moment we realized they had a box of trackers, we went into recovery mode," Subramanian said. "We notified the police and equipped them to track the devices, and in about 5 or 6 hours, it was done."

Before making off with about $18,000 worth of the devices, the thieves grabbed a beer out of the fridge and cut themselves in the process, leaving fingerprints and blood evidence.

But it wasn't long before the police were using Roambee's software to locate the devices and the thieves.

"We were able to pinpoint the location of these trackers to a warehouse in Union City and two of the devices had gone mobile, and the thieves were driving around with them in the East Bay," Subramanian said.

The two men were arrested in Alameda. The storage locker was found to contain drugs and other stolen property.

There's more at the link.

I ask you!  In this day and age, stealing dozens of GPS tracking devices and expecting to get away with it!  I don't know what they were smoking, but whatever it was, it must have addled what passes for their brains.


The Sun as a ribbon in the sky

NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day yesterday was this lovely image of the Sun's analemma over Scotland during the past year.

You can read more about it at the link.

Also eye-catching is this video, courtesy of Daily Timewaster, showing four-year time-lapse footage of the explosion of star V838 Monocerotis between 2002 and 2006.  Watch it in full-screen mode for maximum impact.

Things like that remind us of how truly insignificant humanity is, on a galactic and universal scale.  We aren't even a speck of dust by comparison.


The politics of destruction

What we're seeing from the Democratic Party and the progressive far-left-wing of US politics, in connection with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be the next Justice of the Supreme Court, is nothing less than the politics of destruction.  It's straight out of Alinsky's book "Rules for Radicals", aimed squarely at not just the discrediting, but the demolition, of a good man by any means, fair or foul.  If Judge Kavanaugh's nomination is defeated, he will be so damaged and besmirched that I don't see any way he can continue in his present position as a judge on an appeal court.  He'll be professionally destroyed - and that's precisely the point.  If they succeed in destroying him, I'm sure many of them calculate that no other good, honorable, upright person will ever dare accept nomination to SCOTUS, because they'll know that they face destruction too.

The Wall Street Journal put it well.

The last-minute accusation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is an ugly spectacle by any measure. But if there is a silver lining, it is that the episode is providing an education for Americans on the new liberal standard of legal and political due process.

As Ms. Hill and Sen. Hirono aver, the Democratic standard for sexual-assault allegations is that they should be accepted as true merely for having been made. The accuser is assumed to be telling the truth because the accuser is a woman. The burden is on Mr. Kavanaugh to prove his innocence. If he cannot do so, then he is unfit to serve on the Court.

This turns American justice and due process upside down. The core tenet of Anglo-American law is that the burden of proof always rests with the person making the accusation. An accuser can’t doom someone’s freedom or career merely by making a charge.

The accuser has to prove the allegation in a court of law or in some other venue where the accused can challenge the facts. Otherwise we have a Jacobin system of justice in which “J’accuse” becomes the standard and anyone can be ruined on a whim or a vendetta.

. . .

We don’t doubt that Ms. Ford believes what she claims. But the set of facts she currently provides wouldn’t pass even the “preponderance of evidence”—or 50.01% evidence of guilt—test that prevails today on college campuses. If this is the extent of her evidence and it is allowed to defeat a Supreme Court nominee, a charge of sexual assault will become a killer political weapon regardless of facts. And the new American standard of due process will be the presumption of guilt.

There's more at the link.

Nobody in his or her right mind believes the accusations leveled against Judge Kavanaugh by Ms. Ford and, most recently, by another woman.  As far as I know, every witness they've put forward to support their claims has done the opposite, denying them.  They can't name the date, time, place or circumstances accurately enough to permit verification of those details.  Their supporters only say that they should be believed because of their sex, whereas Judge Kavanaugh has received endorsements (and outright statements that he would never have acted in that way) from literally scores of people who knew him at the time.  The allegations against him simply don't pass the "smell test", much less any legal standard.  No law enforcement investigation of them will be possible, because there aren't enough details to investigate.  In short, the accusations are (in my opinion, and the opinion of many) trumped-up charges, designed for no other purpose but to prevent his confirmation to SCOTUS.

If those making and supporting such charges are allowed to prevail, they will have done permanent damage to the Supreme Court, effectively reducing its status and bringing into contention its role as the third pillar of the US constitution.  The personal destruction of Judge Kavanaugh will deter many otherwise good judges from accepting nomination to SCOTUS, and in due course to any higher court, for fear of what liberal radicals might do to them, too.  (That, of course, is precisely the idea.)

The judiciary has always been (in theory at least) a check and balance on the legislative and executive elements.  If these attacks succeed, it will have been brought into check by the legislative arm, and will from now on function with one eye over its shoulder, wary of new attacks against any judge who dares to rule according to the constitution and laws of the United States, rather than the current standard of political correctness.

I hope and pray that Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed to SCOTUS as soon as possible.  That's the only effective answer to these politics of destruction.  They are nothing less than terrorism against the society and political order of the United States - and they must be stopped, by any and all legal means available.  If they are not, there are those who will resort to extra-legal means to do so . . . and that may mean the end of the Republic as we know it.  At all costs, we must prevent that.


EDITED TO ADD:  The letter that Prof. Ford wrote to raise her allegations against Judge Kavanaugh now appears to have been submitted in a very interesting manner, one that has legal implications in and of itself.  Read about it here.  If that's true, it casts yet more doubt on her accusations.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday morning music

In view of the political shenanigans currently roiling Washington D.C. over the judicial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, this morning's music is in (dis)honor of those politicians who are turning the matter into a self-promoting circus.

We start with (what else?) the Governor's "Sidestep" from "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".

And, of course, in sex as in politics, these days, "Anything Goes".

We should, of course, note that political hypocrisy isn't confined to these shores. Jethro Tull sings of the "Commons Brawl" in England.

And, of course, the perpetual cry of the whiny progressive, much in evidence over the past week or two:  "Come be PC"!  It's from an unusual source:  a series composed by a YouTube artist, "Chris Ray Gun", titled "Social Justice:  The Musical".

I've no doubt readers can suggest, in Comments, additional theme music for the Kavanaugh circus confirmation hearings.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

A timely warning

Victor Davis Hanson sees great danger in the current polarization of American society.

Americans keep dividing into two hostile camps.

It seems the country is back to 1860 on the eve of the Civil War, rather than in 2018, during the greatest age of affluence, leisure and freedom in the history of civilization.

. . .

Americans increasingly are either proud of past U.S. traditions, ongoing reform and current American exceptionalism or they insist that the country was hopelessly flawed at its birth and must be radically reinvented to rectify its original sins.

No sphere of life is immune from the subsequent politicization: not movies, television, professional sports, late-night comedy or colleges. Even hurricanes are typically leveraged to advance political agendas.

. . .

Will America keep dividing and soon resort to open violence, as happened in 1861? Or will Americans reunite and bind up our wounds, as we did following the upheavals of the 1930s Great Depression or after the protests of the 1960s?

The answer lies within each of us.

Every day we will either treat each other as fellow Americans, with far more uniting than dividing us, or we will continue on the present path that eventually ends in something like a hate-filled Iraq, Rwanda or the Balkans.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

I suggest considering Mr. Hanson's article in the light of two I wrote a few weeks ago:

He and I are pretty much on the same page, I think.


Quote of the day

From the American Spectator, commenting on the accusations of sexual impropriety against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh:

“We the People of the United States” are still sovereign in our national affairs, and the verdict in the case of Ford v. Kavanaugh will not come from the senators in the hearing room, but from the people themselves on Nov. 6. May God grant us the wisdom to judge rightly.

Amen to that last sentence!


Friday, September 21, 2018

The Catholic clergy child sex abuse scandal: told you so!

I've written extensively about this crisis, in an explanation of how it affected my life, in comments on the most recent developments, and other articles.

I've been taken to task (sometimes with great anger and/or distress) by some Catholics who believe I was (and still am) a traitor to my faith and to the Catholic Church for not "staying the course" and working to solve the problem from within.  My answer has always been to point them to the two questions I had to ask myself at the time.  Since I could not answer either of them in the affirmative, it was obvious that I could not remain a priest, while still being faithful to either my conscience or the teaching of Christ.  This has not convinced many of my critics, who have their own views on the matter.

The experience of another blogger, who's just encountered - yet again - the resistance (and dishonesty) of the "establishment" in the Church in dealing with this crisis, has convinced me yet again that I had no choice but to act as I did.

As predicted when the Holy Father said he said he 'would not say one word' about Archbishop Vigano's testimony, he has been using the passive-aggressive spiritual manipulation protocol of using his homilies to caricature sexual predators and their episcopal enablers as Jesus Victim who remains 'silent' and depicting lay Catholics seeking the protection of the flock as demons.

Unimaginable diabolical infestation and activity.

Yesterday, the USCCB announced the 2018 sexual abuse dog and pony show.  I haven't delved into the details, but it appears Pope Francis has nixed the request to assign an Apostolic Visitor, as well as the lay-led review board that reports to the Nuncio, and he's asked the bishops not to have their annual meeting in November that would tackle internal sexual debauchery and coverups and to instead, asked them to 'retreat' behind closed doors.

When it comes to internal corruption in the Church, I do not consider myself a naive person.  I knew things were bad.  But, yesterday, I started to come to terms with the latest reality check: It is way, way, worse than any of us could imagine.

All their bs about being committed to honest dialogue and legitimate actions on sexual and spiritual predators, the above is what actually happens when you make a sincere attempt to trust their commitment for real reform.    After decades of similar experiences, most people wouldn't even bother to offer them the opportunity to demonstrate their sincerity and honesty. Who keeps going into a room where the occupants kick you in the head and when you ask them to stop, accuse you of victimizing them?

As a person with the courage to go where angels dare not tread, and keep giving them another chance, here's my assessment:

There are priests and bishops who realize what needs to be said and done to build trust, but as soon as they attempt it, they are silenced and oppressed by the infiltrated power structures that protect  spiritual and sexual priest predators.  And it appears this power is more lethal than it has ever been in the history of the Catholic Church.

There's much more at the link.  Please go read the whole thing for yourselves.

I honestly no longer know what to say to my remaining Catholic friends.  If they choose to stay active in the Church, I pray that God will bless their faith, and help them to be a blessing by their presence, which may (I hope and pray) minimize the catastrophic damage that Catholic prelates and authorities are currently doing to the Church.

On the other hand . . . those who choose to walk away . . . how can I possibly try to convince them not to do so, when, as the author above points out, they're fed up and worn out with being kicked in the head by those who are supposed to be their pastors and shepherds?  Even worse, what about the faithful pastors and shepherds who are, every day, being kicked in the head by those who are supposed to be their leaders, mentors and father figures?

The Devil is loose in the sanctuary, and the Catholic powers that be are doing nothing whatsoever to drive him out.  Indeed, some of them appear determined to welcome him with open arms, and cast out all who object to his presence.

May Almighty God have mercy on us all.


A blast from the past - naval history edition

The chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck was one of the highlights of naval combat in World War II.  Accompanying her for most of her maiden (and final) voyage was the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, one of five ships of the Admiral Hipper class.  In her prime, she was a powerful and good-looking ship, as seen below.

Prinz Eugen was captured by the Royal Navy at the end of the war, and handed over to the USA as part of war reparations.  She was used as a target in the 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, and later sank in Kwajalein Atoll, where her wreck (shown below) is visible to this day.

Here's a brief video overview of her life and death.

Despite what the narrator of that video claimed, she's no longer radioactive, and can be visited by divers.

Unfortunately, it seems a lot of oil was still in her fuel tanks when she sank;  and, as the wreck deteriorates, it's posing a pollution threat.  Therefore, Prinz Eugen finds herself in the headlines once again, more than seventy years after her demise.

The U.S. Navy, in partnership with the Army and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, have started the recovery of oil from the overturned World War II German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen in the Kwajalein Atoll.

The wreck contained about 2,767 metric tons of oil when it sank, and an assessment of the wreckage has shown that there remains a high risk of a spill of more than 1,000 metric tons.

. . .

The oil removal operation is being performed by Naval Sea Systems Command, Office of the Supervisor of Salvage engineers and is expected to last until the end of October.

There's more at the link.

She served a very evil master in Adolf Hitler, but it's not like she had any choice in the matter.  It's still sad to see her - or any ship - in such a state.


Not your average self-inflicted injury

A football team mascot did himself a nasty the other day.

Most mascots try to whip up the atmosphere, pose with young ones for a few pictures and goof around with fans of the team on the road. Recently, however, mascots have also taken on a commercial role, including firing T-shirts, caps or other paraphernalia from novelty canons and into the crowd.

And that’s when things can go wrong. Badly wrong, in fact. The Colorado Buffaloes mascot found out for himself on Saturday, when he accidentally shot himself in the groin with a T-shirt cannon that was facing the wrong way.

Instead of aiming the cannon towards the crowd, Chip the Buffalo had accidentally pointed the cannon towards his groin region. As a result, instead of the expected result of T-shirts landing onto the stands, he only succeeded in inflicting some serious damage onto himself.

A clip that was posted on Twitter and quickly went viral shows the unfortunate incident. Poor Chip went down like the proverbial sack of potatoes and had to be carted off to the locker room to receive treatment.

It wasn’t all bad news, though, as the intrepid (or foolish, depending on one’s point of view) buffalo received a standing ovation as he was being stretchered off and the Buffaloes then secured a 45-13 win over New Hampshire.

There's more at the link.  The Newsweek report also has video clips of other mascots getting into various and sundry forms of trouble in earlier football games.  They're interesting viewing.

Fortunately for posterity (assuming the unfortunate mascot is still capable of producing any), the incident was captured on video.  Here's the moment of truth (so to speak).

And here's the victim being carted off the field to receive treatment, to a standing ovation by the crowd, who clearly enjoyed the entertainment he'd provided.

I bet he won't make that mistake again anytime soon . . .


Thursday, September 20, 2018

What a great photograph!

I came across this photograph on Gab.  It shows a stream of molten lava landing on a black sand beach, presumably in Hawaii, where volcanic eruptions continue.  Click the image for a larger view.

I'd love to know whether that was taken by a human photographer, or a drone.  I presume the latter, because any human getting that close to a stream of molten lava is asking for trouble!  However it was taken, though, that's a fascinating image.  Kudos to whoever took it.


Doofus Of The Day #1,024

Today's award goes to Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong-based airline.  It seems they sent one of their Boeing 777's to get a new paint job.  Unfortunately, someone (several someones, including the supervisor[s], I guess) couldn't spell.  Cathay tweeted:

Needless to say, people went overboard with their comments on the pictures.  My favorite response was this one:

You can read the others below Cathay's original tweet.  I'll say this for the airline:  it doesn't seem to mind poking fun at itself, and allows its fans to express their humor as well.  Good for them.