Monday, November 19, 2018

Headline of the day

I did a double-take when I read this headline:

Er . . . ah . . . WTF???

I thought the whole purpose of the Vagina Monologues was that it largely excluded men because they don't have that organ.  So much for its inclusivity, right from the start!

Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .


A real traffic hazard - mandated by Uncle Sam

The always interesting Eric Peters reports:

Something strange – and dangerous – happened to me the other day while I was out test-driving a new Toyota Prius.

The car decided it was time to stop. In the middle of the road. For reasons known only to the emperor.

Or the software.

I found myself parked in the middle of the road – with traffic not parked coming up behind me, fast. Other drivers were probably were wondering why that idiot in the Prius had decided to stop in the middle of the road.

But it wasn’t me. I was just the meatsack behind the wheel. The Prius was driving.

Well, stopping.

Like almost all 2019 model year cars, the Prius has something called automated emergency braking. It’s a saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety system meant to correct for distracted driving – or just slow-to-react driving.

Sensors embedded in the car’s front and rear bumpers scan the perimeter and if they see something in your path that you don’t – or you haven’t applied the brakes in time to avoid hitting whatever it is – the system will automatically brake for you.

. . .

This instance of non-emergency braking may have occurred because we had an ice storm the previous day. Everything got shellacked with a coating of the stuff.

I scraped the ice off the windshield and side glass before I headed out – as people have been doing for generations – so that I could see. The problem – I suspect – was that the car couldn’t see.

Those sensors embedded in the bodywork were probably still covered by ice, giving the car a case of temporary glaucoma. As a result, the Prius may have thought it saw something in the road – and slammed on its brakes to avoid hitting what wasn’t there.

To prevent this from happening, those sensors must be kept clean. Especially if there’s no way to turn off the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety system tied into those sensors. Which in most cases, there isn’t.

But people haven’t been advised about keeping those sensors clean – at least, not strongly enough. There is info to that effect in the fine print of the owner’s manuals of most cars quipped with this feature, including the Prius.

But even if one is diligent about checking (and cleaning off) the car’s various embedded sensors before one begins driving, what about while one is driving?

Weather happens sometimes.

It was sunny and clear when you left the house – or are on your way home from work – but mid-trip, it begins to snow or sleet . . . and the car’s entire front end (where those sensors are embedded) gets coated by slush/slurry/road spray . . . and the car can no longer see very well or even not at all.

What then?

There aren’t warning icons/buzzers in the gauge cluster of any new car equipped with this system (so far as I have been able to determine) to let you know that it’s time to stop and wipe off the bumpers because the car can no longer see – and (like your grandma, who also can’t see very well anymore) might just do something unpredictable.

This is arguably . . . dangerous.

The car braked hard, too.

I can now describe what the dashboard of a Prius tastes like. Needs A1.

There's more at the link, including a video report on the incident.

I'd never heard of this problem before:  but then, I also haven't driven a car with predictive emergency braking before.  After reading Mr. Peters' report, I'm going to do my best never to get behind the wheel of one, thank you very much!

Who approved this system for production without thinking of so basic a problem, anyway?


This may add an entirely new dimension to marine pollution

I haven't heard the British-English idiom "to cry stinking fish" used in American English much, but it may be very appropriate to this report.

Norway’s Hurtigruten, best known for the ships that ferry tourists along the country’s fjords and coastline and up into the Arctic, is investing 7 billion crowns ($826 million) over three years to adapt its 17-strong fleet.

Six of its older vessels will be retrofitted to run on a combination of liquefied natural gas (LNG), electric batteries and liquefied bio gas (LBG).

“We are talking about an energy source (LBG) from organic waste, which would otherwise have gone up in the air. This is waste material from dead fish, from agriculture and forestry,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam told Reuters in an interview.

“Our main aim is to improve and cut emissions,” he said.

There's more at the link.

I'm sorry, but the thought of a ship powered by dead fish is just too bizarre to contemplate.  I certainly don't want to smell its funnel smoke!  And as for refueling, what's it going to do - have trawlers and factory ships come alongside, to offload all the offal they've removed before freezing the edible parts of their catch?

I'm not sure Hurtigruten has thought through all that this entrails . . .


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday morning music

Doctor, chemist and notable composer Alexander Borodin was a pretty amazing person.  He made major contributions in the field of organic chemistry, as well as some outstanding classical music that's an integral part of the modern repertoire.  Among the latter is his opera Prince Igor, which wasn't finished when he died, and was completed by Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and others.  It's frequently performed in Russia and less frequently in the West.

The Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor have become a standard part of the classical concert repertoire.  However, their full flavor can't be captured in a mere orchestral performance.  They're wild, Slavic, barbarian, filled with color and movement and spectacle.  I count myself lucky to have found this performance of them by the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia.  Russians can play and perform their country's music better than anyone else, IMHO - I think they get caught up in it as a sort of gut reaction, not merely as performers or spectators.

Please ignore the French subtitles in this video.  Just play it in full screen mode, and enjoy the spectacle.



Saturday, November 17, 2018

New toy

Following Mike's recommendation concerning larger-caliber firearms, I've been trying to upgrade my defensive battery.  Ideally, I'd like to replace my .38 Special snubnose revolvers with .44 Special equivalents, accepting the slightly larger size and greater weight of the latter in return for greater power and (hopefully) better performance.

In the process, I happened to run across this beauty.  (Click the image for a larger view.)

It's a Taurus Model 431, a fixed-sight 5-shot .44 Special revolver.  This example is one of the relatively rare 4" barrel models (most were made with 3" or shorter barrels).  It was made during the 1980's, but is in near-mint condition, looking as if it's hardly ever been fired.

A lot of people are "down" on Taurus for poor quality control.  They certainly had that problem during the late 1990's and early 2000's, and I've seen plenty of examples of their firearms that I wouldn't buy.  However, their earlier guns (like this one) and those of more recent manufacture were, and have been, significantly better made.  This one's in great condition, and locks up tightly.  I'm very pleased with it - and its price made the purchase a no-brainer.  The seller could have charged a hundred dollars more for it, and still found a buyer.  I just happened to get in ahead of the pack.

It's worth keeping your eye open for deals like this on the firearms auction sites.  There are bargains to be had, if you're patient.  I've seen several Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special revolvers, old and new, available for $275-$325, which isn't bad at all.  Like Taurus firearms, Charter Arms' quality control can be spotty, so you'll have to inspect them carefully;  and they can't handle a steady diet of higher-pressure ammunition (so-called "+P" rounds).  Nevertheless, a good example is worth that price, IMHO - and the Bulldogs are smaller and lighter than the Taurus 431's and 441's (which is the same as the 431, but with adjustable sights), making the Bulldog easier to carry.  For those of us on a budget, the Taurus and Charter Arms .44's will get the job done, provided we pick good examples and test them thoroughly.

Color me happy with this one.  I'll put on a set of grips that fit my hand better than the factory originals, and call it good.


Not sufficiently remedial

Shamelessly stolen borrowed from Kim du Toit (clickit to biggit):

I'm trying to think how many of us in the North Texas Writers, Shooters and Pilots Association could have filled that out, in our younger days. So far, everyone qualifies!


Walking backwards for brain power???

Sometimes news reports just boggle the mind - like this one.

People who walk backwards perform better in a memory test than those who stand still or walk forward, a study has found.

Researchers asked 114 volunteers to watch a video in which a woman had her bag stolen and then answer a questionnaire about what they could recall.

After watching the video, participants were split into groups - one was told to walk forwards or backwards 30 feet (10m) while a control group stood in one place.

They were then asked twenty questions about the events in the video and it was found that the backward-walking group got two more answers correct on average than the forward-walkers and the non-walkers.

Experts from the University of Roehampton discovered a similar effect in five variations of the experiment.

One of them involved a similar procedure but tested how many words the volunteers could remember from a list.

In others, participants simply imagined moving forwards or backwards, or watched a video filmed on a train, which created the impression of moving forwards or backwards.

In all scenarios, the backwards group or those who imagined walking backwards got the most answers right.

There's more at the link.

If that's true, how come we have so many dumb politicians?  They're backward enough to be geniuses by now!  I suppose it's because they tiptoe around hot-button issues, rather than walk . . .

Anyway, what else can I do, in the light of that report, but bring you this (in)famous song from The Goon Show in the mid-1950's?


Friday, November 16, 2018

Scam alert

Four times now, a commenter calling himself "Aaron Harris" has tried to leave a comment like the two below on this blog:

Hello everyone reading this message I'm here to ask for your assistance in helping those poor kids out there. I want to feed 5,000 (five thousand kids) in Africans this Christmas and I want to also send them back to school and I'm asking for your help to make this possible. No amount is too small or big $50, $100 any amount will be appreciated. Contact email via (deleted) thanks.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Please join me today as I make impact, as you are planning for Christmas don't forget that their kids outside who are homeless that need help, I'm soliciting for your assistance today to join me as I plan to feed five children for this Christmas and I want to also send them back to school your support is needed nothing is too small nothing is too big for this purpose, if you are interested in joining me, email me at (deleted).

Needless to say, there's no way to verify who this person is, whether or not he's genuine, and whether or not any donated funds will ever reach their intended recipients.

I've seen some comments by him on other blogs, where less stringent comment moderation is enforced.  I'm sure this is a scam, and I wanted to give my readers a heads-up.  Please don't be fooled by such appeals, where there's no accountability, no audit trail and no possibility of checking the bona fides (or otherwise) of the poster.  Don't send him/them any money at all.

(BTW, I've blocked comments on this post, for obvious reasons.)


When criminals turn technology against the police

Here's an interesting twist on criminals and cellphones.

Police believe Juelle L. Grant, 24, of Willow Avenue, may have been the driver of a vehicle involved in an Oct. 23 drive-by shooting on Van Vranken Avenue, near Lang Street, so they obtained her phone, according to police allegations filed in court. No one was injured in the shooting.

After police took her iPhone X, telling her it was considered evidence, "she did remotely wipe" the device, according to police.

"The defendant was aware of the intentions of the police department at the conclusion of the interview with her," according to court documents.

Police arrested Grant on Nov. 2 and charged her with three felonies -- two counts of tampering with physical evidence and one count of hindering prosecution.

There's more at the link.

She may have wiped the cellphone - something anyone with an iPhone can do if the device is stolen, to prevent it being used or its information from being "harvested" - but I bet her movements can still be tracked on the date in question by referring to triangulation data from cellphone towers.  Even so, I'm sure valuable evidence was lost.  After all, why else would she have wiped it?

I suppose police will now have to ensure that patrol officers carry Faraday bags with them, to secure confiscated cellphones and other electronic devices that might be wiped by criminals.  That's going to add another layer of complexity to their job.


Ebola: the latest outbreak is dangerously close to out-of-control

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is getting worse - and health care authorities, organizations and workers are losing control.

Health workers have been forced to open up a new and particularly perilous front after 28 people died of Ebola in and around Butembo, a city of approximately 1.2 million people that is located in the heart of the country’s most volatile regions ... a lawless area that is infested with rebel groups, freelance militias and armed criminal gangs.

. . .

The disease is also spreading into rural areas around the city that aid workers cannot access because they are too dangerous. As a result, programmes to teach local people methods to slow the spread of the disease — a strategy that has proved effective in the past — cannot be implemented so easily.

Hostility towards aid workers and government health officials is also more marked in Butembo than elsewhere ... The suspicion has been extended to foreign aid workers, because of a perception that the international community places more emphasis on tackling Ebola — seen as killing comparatively few — while ignoring massacres that have devastated villages and wiped out families.

. . .

As aid workers scramble to confront the spread of ebola in Butembo, concerns are also mounting elsewhere. This week three previously unaffected regions reported confirmed Ebola cases for the first time and there are fears that the disease is edging ever closer to the Ugandan border ... there is also a sense that the geographic footprint of the outbreak is expanding faster than health officials can cope with. Already, the response plan drawn up by Congo’s government and its international partners at the start of the outbreak has been eclipsed by the fact that the number of cases and their spread is far higher than they forecast.

A new plan is in the process of being drawn up, the Telegraph understands, and it may be based on a grim assumption: that, for the first time, it may not be possible to end an Ebola outbreak and that containment may be the most realistic strategy.

There's more at the link.

I know that part of the world.  I've been there.  I'm here to tell you . . . this is a nightmare in the making.

The big problem in Kivu and surrounding areas is that they've been at the heart of a bloody, savage civil war and inter-tribal conflict for at least a generation.  The Kivu War began in 1994, following the Rwanda massacres, when hundreds of thousands of refugees from the latter country streamed across the border, bringing tribal tensions and conflicts with them.  It's basically continued non-stop since then, despite official claims that the region has been "pacified".  The casualty figures are unknown, because many - possibly hundreds of thousands, for all anyone knows - have died in the bush, or starved to death while making their way through the forests in search of safety.  It's entirely possible that over a million people have died in the area bounded by Kivu, Burundi, Rwanda and parts of Uganda since the conflict began.

The result is gross regional instability.  Tens of thousands of people can (and do) flee from violence whenever it erupts, surging across borders and natural obstacles to find whatever safety they can, heedless of official orders, pronouncements, laws, rules and regulations.  Officials are regarded with suspicion, because most, if not all, are out to get as rich as they can, as quickly as they can.  "Taxes" are little more than a local warlord stealing what he can before he's run off by the next warlord.  Anyone with a gun is either a bandit, or working for a group that's making out like bandits off the local populace (including the Congolese Army, which is notorious for corruption, criminality and inefficiency).  So-called "liberation movements" abound, each basically self-seeking rather than patriotic.  Anyone trying to exert any kind of authority is distrusted, feared, and shunned - to the point where many people will get up and leave rather than stay anywhere that tries to exert control over them.  Shear the sheep often enough, for long enough, and they'll flee from anyone who looks like he may have a pair of shears.

That's what makes this Ebola outbreak so deadly dangerous.  It can spread - and, by all accounts, is spreading - across a network of bush paths spreading through four nations.  (That's probably how it reached Butembo in the first place.)  The sick don't trust any authority at all in that area, so trying to tell them what to do is pointless;  they'll just suspect the person telling them of trying to control them for his or her own nefarious purposes.  Military intervention is pointless, because when the people see armed men, they flee.  It's a knee-jerk reaction, and it'll spread the disease faster than almost anything.

Tribal traditions about health, healing, and pacifying the spirits are far stronger than any understanding of or allegiance to Western medical practices (to mention just one example, the germ theory of disease is neither understood nor believed by almost all traditional healers in the area).  It's a nightmare for those attempting to contain this Ebola outbreak, because they're at risk from all the bandits and armed groups in the area, who regard them as intruders out to weaken their control over their "sheep".  Worse, the people they're trying to help regard them with not just suspicion, but active hostility, because they're trying to stop them caring for their sick and/or burying their dead in the traditional way, with lots of body contact.

Under such conditions, it's not surprising to me at all that this Ebola outbreak is spreading dangerously far and fast.  I see no way whatsoever that it can be controlled, and I think efforts to quarantine the area, to stop it spreading, are pointless.  They take no account of the reality on the ground.  There is no competent armed force that can subdue or control all the groups of bandits and terrorists in the area - the Congolese Army is just as much a gang of thugs as the latter.  Any Western armed force trying to do so will find every hand against them.  Besides, if you tell the average Western serviceman that he's going to be sent to an area where a largely fatal, highly contagious disease (for which there is no cure) is rampant, he's likely to resign or desert faster than prunes go through a duck.  I don't blame him.  In his shoes, I'd do the same thing.

If Ebola breaks free of its current geographic limitations, we're in very serious trouble indeed, as Aesop has pointed out at some length.  Keep your eye on this situation.  It may blow up into a monumental international health crisis before long.


EDITED TO ADD:  For another (equally negative) perspective on the current crisis, see here.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The "accidental" fighter pilot

How a maintenance job, moving a few yards at a time down the runway, went wrong.

I bet the language in the cockpit of that fighter must have been . . . interesting!


A novel hi-tech "display" that's almost a new art form

I don't have a very visual imagination.  I'm good with words, but I can't paint or draw to save my life, and while I enjoy and appreciate some painting styles and schools (landscapes, some portraits, etc.), I don't like most modern alleged "art" at all.  However, some modern forms of visual expression are so novel that they catch my eye, and my imagination - including this one.

When art and function meet technology, you can bank on the product looking something a little like magic.

After years of dodging reinvention, the humble clay brick has met its 2018 match, with New York design studio Breakfast creating the Brixel: A brick that behaves like a pixel.

Brixels are “infinitely rotating” bricks controlled by software that can pivot and change colour in real time.

In revealing the project to the public this week, Breakfast’s co-founder and head of design Andrew Zolty said Brixels create a three-dimensional and interactive visual experience “whose look and feel can evolve over time via real-time data and software updates”.

“We saw an opportunity to blur the lines between what is deemed art, infrastructure and a digital display,” he said. “We sought to develop a new medium that would allow us to create a variety of captivating installations that are, at first, perceived as art, and second, deliver relevant information and unique experiences.”

. . .

According to the design team, Brixels can be used in a multitude of ways, whether that be for interactive art sculptures or architectural facades. While they can be controlled by an app, Brixels also respond to the movement of the people around them. Brixels are customisable by shape, colour, material and size.

To showcase what Brixels are capable of, Breakfast created Brixel Mirror, a 4.8 metre by 2.7 metre installation made up of 540 black and mirrored bricks that move on command.

There's more at the link.

Here's the Brixel Mirror in action.

There's another video here showing how they were made, and how they can respond to human movement by moving themselves.  A lot of interesting skull sweat went into these things.



"Smart" gadgets versus your privacy and security

I've had a few things to say about the so-called "Internet of Things", and how it threatens our personal privacy and security.  Any moderately competent hacker can use such devices as a way to spy on us.  However, it now appears that the authorities are doing the same thing, by forcing the providers of such devices to hand over what they record.  Worse still, the companies in the field are not very helpful in letting their customers know about such issues.

A decade ago, it was almost inconceivable that nearly every household item could be hooked up to the internet. These days, it’s near impossible to avoid a non-smart home gadget, and they’re vacuuming up a ton of new data that we’d never normally think about.

Thermostats know the temperature of your house, and smart cameras and sensors know when someone’s walking around your home. Smart assistants know what you’re asking for, and smart doorbells know who’s coming and going. And thanks to the cloud, that data is available to you from anywhere — you can check in on your pets from your phone or make sure your robot vacuum cleaned the house.

Because the data is stored or accessible by the smart home tech makers, law enforcement and government agencies have increasingly sought data from the companies to solve crimes.

And device makers won’t say if your smart home gadgets have been used to spy on you.

. . .

As helpful and useful as smart home gadgets can be, few fully understand the breadth of data that the devices collect — even when we’re not using them. Your smart TV may not have a camera to spy on you, but it knows what you’ve watched and when — which police used to secure a conviction of a sex offender. Even data from when a murder suspect pushed the button on his home alarm key fob was enough to help convict someone of murder.

Two years ago, former U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper said the government was looking at smart home devices as a new foothold for intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance. And it’s only going to become more common as the number of internet-connected devices spread. Gartner said more than 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.

As much as the chances are that the government is spying on you through your internet-connected camera in your living room or your thermostat are slim — it’s naive to think that it can’t.

There's more at the link.

I won't have a "smart" appliance in my home at all.  If I have to buy one because nothing else is available, I'll make darn sure it can function without an Internet connection, then I'll disable - or, if necessary, physically block or destroy - its ability to make such a connection, or record any information about me on an internal memory device.  I value my privacy, and I'll be damned if I'm going to allow an electronic black box to compromise it, for law enforcement or anyone else.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Kids on the road: a scary situation

A UPS driver recently had a scary experience with a small child hiding in leaves piled up on the edge of a road.

Driver Jordan Weaver was in Elkhart, a town about 150 miles north of Indianapolis, on Nov. 5 when he spotted the barely visible boy hiding in a leaf pile inches from the road ... He first walked across the street to give a parcel to a woman who turned out to be the boy’s mother.

“I couldn’t believe it at first -- my heart completely stopped,” Weaver said when he saw the boy on the ground. “Luckily, I parked across the street from the stop, so I didn’t see the child until after I made the delivery. I immediately grabbed my phone and went and asked the mother if I could take a picture.”

Weaver shared his story with his colleagues and sent the photo to someone on a local UPS safety committee program, who then posted it to Facebook.

“He could have died,” said Dayana Botello, who saw the photo on the social media website. “I said ‘Oh my goodness, I have to be even more careful in paying attention to our kids.’”

There's more at the link.

The leaves are still dropping here in north Texas, and they're blowing around, forming drifts in places.  That picture was a pretty scary thought to me.  Can you imagine how you or I, or any driver, would feel if we ran over a small child play-hiding among them?  That's just too ghastly a thought to bear.

Please, friends, be careful on the roads.  This could happen to any of us.


A "refugee caravan" with almost no refugees at all

About that "refugee caravan" currently making its way through Mexico to the US border:  it looks like it contains almost no "refugees" at all, but rather plenty of economic migrants, looking for a free ride at the USA's expense.  Daily Wire sent a reporter to infiltrate the convoy and talk to its members.  It's an eye-opening report, highlighting not only their real motivation, but also the very well-funded, well-organized network that's trying to bring them into the USA, in defiance of our laws.  It's nothing less than prearranged, politicized criminal conduct.

So, when pro-illegal-alien commenters rail against President Trump for his "inhumanity" towards these "refugees", remember . . . they aren't refugees, and it's not inhumanity to block aliens from entering any country illegally.  On the contrary, it's stopping potential criminals before they make themselves into actual criminals.  We don't need immigrants like that, legal or otherwise.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018


From Gab:

Yeah, that ought to do it . . . hard to be depressed when they're driving you nuts!


Slings and slingshots can be a lot more dangerous than I thought

I used to play with slingshots as a kid.  In those days, we made our own out of Y-shaped branches we picked up among the trees on Table Mountain, and used strips of old bicycle inner tube (or, on one memorable occasion, my mother's entire stock of elastic for clothing - she was not amused!) to make the sling.  They could launch acorns, or small pebbles, or nuts from my father's old-nuts-and-bolts jar, out to 20 or 30 yards.  I never hunted with them, but plenty of other youngsters did (including a younger Lawdog, with hilarious results).

I hadn't realized that slingshots have come a long way from those primitive beginnings.  While looking online for a Christmas gift for a friend, I came across a whole range of hi-tech wood, steel and polymer creations, strung with surgical tubing and sundry other quasi-lethal launching devices.  The Pocket Shot range, in particular, caught my eye.  That thing looks deadly!

It looks even more deadly when launching arrows.

I must admit, I'd never thought of a slingshot as a bow replacement!

I wondered just how powerful a slingshot could get.  I was answered by this video from the Slingshot Channel on YouTube.  The narrator cast a huge block of ballistic gelatin (normally used to test bullet penetration), and tested ball-bearings fired from various slingshots.  To my astonishment, using larger balls fired from more powerful slingshots, the depth of penetration rivals that of some handgun bullets!

You could quite easily kill someone with some of those combinations.  You might not get the same penetration into the body that a bullet would, particularly through clothing, but one of those ball-bearings hitting the skull could very easily fracture it, and cause brain damage.  I have no doubt some of them could penetrate an eye or an ear to reach the brain, too.

I'm going to have to re-evaluate slingshots.  I've always thought of them as a child's toy, but some of them are clearly much more capable than that, and much more dangerous, as their use in modern riots demonstrates - even as anti-aircraft weapons!

Of course, that shouldn't surprise us, given the use of shepherd-style slings in ancient and not-so-ancient warfare (the story of David and Goliath comes to mind).  If slingers can hit a bird on the wing, they should certainly be able to hit a low-flying drone.  You can buy modern paracord slings, too.  I might invest in one, to learn how to use it, just out of curiosity.


For D&D fans

Found on Gab this morning, "the most useful spell in a magic-user's arsenal" (clickit to biggit):

But . . . but . . . what about Labradors?  Or Golden Retrievers?


Monday, November 12, 2018

The party of the rich is . . . ?

I note that the recent mid-term elections have produced one interesting result that hasn't received much comment.

California, New Jersey, New York and Virginia dominated the top 10 wealthiest congressional districts. Out of the wealthiest 50 districts, 13 are located in California; eight are in New York; five in New Jersey; and four in Virginia. Massachusetts, which didn’t make the top 10, still sports four of the nation’s richest congressional districts.

Here are the 10 richest congressional districts in the U.S. by median household income:

  • Congressional District 10, Virginia: $116,069 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 18, California: $112,702 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 17, California: $107,946 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 11, Virginia: $105,024 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 7, New Jersey: $104,987 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 3, New York: $104,805 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 11, New Jersey: $103,419 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 8, Virginia: $100,649 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 33, California: $99,902 | Democrat
  • Congressional District 8, Maryland: $97,663 | Democrat
. . .

Among the top 10 richest congressional districts, Democrats now represent all 10. Out of the 50 richest districts, Democrats have 41 to Republicans’ nine.

There's more at the link.

I guess the Republicans aren't the "party of the Establishment" any more!


"Seizing property before it can escape"

Back in May, we looked at a proposal to use property taxes to pay off Illinois' and Chicago's pension deficit.  In particular, its advocates noted:

The tax would be capitalized into real estate values which would prevent people leaving the state to avoid paying for the liability.

It looks like Chicago and its satellite communities may be about to implement that progressive wet-dream tax.

They figured out a way to tax wealthy folks trying to flee Illinois: A progressive real estate transfer tax, and the idea seems to be getting popular.

. . .

Chicago today has a real estate transfer tax of $5.25 per $500 of property value, but the city should stick pricey homes with a higher rate, say the authors.

They weren’t specific about what rates they favor, but the ballot measure passed in Evanston, as Crain’s reported, calls for a transfer tax increase of 40 percent to establish a new rate of $7 for every $1,000 of value for sales between $1.5 million and $5 million and an increase of 80 percent to establish a new rate of $9 for every $1,000 of value for sales over $5 million. Evanston’s current rate is $5 for every $1,000 of value.

If the concept flies, nobody knows where the rates will eventually end up.

You may remember a recent proposal by three Chicago Federal Reserve bank economists to establish a statewide property tax. Their express reasoning was that property can’t flee, so that’s what Illinois should tax. Proponents of progressive transfer taxes don’t say it, but their true rationale undoubtedly is similar. Think you’re going to sell your expensive home and move to Tennessee? Sorry, that will cost you.

. . .

This is scary stuff – seizure of property before it can escape.

There's more at the link.

You can bet your bottom dollar (if you have one left) that the Democratic Party will try to implement similar schemes in every other city and state controlled by their politicians.  In this case, Chicago is the laboratory.  It'll be tried there, then expanded to other jurisdictions.

The trouble is, this won't solve the problem.  Chicago and its environs won't stop spending money they haven't got;  they'll just use the additional tax income to spend more.  This "cure" will only intensify the disease.  There's only one thing that will work, and that is to reduce spending until the city is living within its means - but that would mean cutting back on entitlement programs for the voters that put the present administration into office.  They daren't do that, because they know the people would replace them with others promising them the free stuff they want.

I'm very glad I don't live in or near Chicago or Illinois.  If you do . . . it might be a good place to leave.  Quickly.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday morning music, for the centenary of Armistice Day

One hundred years ago today, "on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918, fighting ended in the First World War with the implementation of an armistice.  Since then, 11th November has been celebrated all over the world, particularly in Britain and her former colonies, as Armistice Day.  The full peace treaty took many months more to negotiate, but at least the killing was over.

It was one of the very worst, most destructive, and most pointless wars in the history of the world.  Untold millions died, or were maimed, or were hurt, yet their sacrifice achieved almost nothing.  So ineffectual and inconclusive was the end of World War One that it led inexorably, two decades later, to the start of World War Two, which was even more destructive.  Yet, the First World War would be spoken of with pride by the politicians of its day as "the war to end all wars".  No, it wasn't.

I have a family connection to the First World War.  My mother's father was gassed during one of the major battles, and never fully recovered his health.  His lungs and bronchial tubes were permanently affected.  As a very young child, I can recall him coughing, and coughing, and endlessly coughing, day and night, while he waited to die.  I can't have been more than a few years old when he finally went to his rest.  There was no argument among my parents, of course.  They saw it as their job, their duty, to support him in his final years.  That's just the way it was.  No welfare state, no government facility for disabled veterans - just family to take care of family.  I'm sorry we seem to have moved away from that sense of duty in these more affluent, but less compassionate times.  I think we're the poorer for its loss.

At any rate, here's one song, and one poem, to sum up the two sides of the World War One coin.  First, the human side, expressed very poignantly by Eric Bogle.

And then, the patriotic side, which remains very real even though it's denigrated and mocked by so many today.  There was, and is, a value to patriotism that we seem to have forgotten - more's the pity.  Let Laurence Binyon speak for it, both for England and, by extension, for all the nations involved.

May all those who died in, and because of, the First World War, be forgiven their sins, and rest in peace.


Saturday, November 10, 2018


Found on Gab, under the title "Liberals head to Washington":

But . . . but . . . where's the surfboard, to ride the "blue wave"?


Practical measurements of defensive ammo effectiveness

A police officer's recommendation for self-defense against an attacker hopped-up on the latest generation of synthetic marijuana generated some discussion.  I was struck by how many of the comments ignored the point of the police officer's advice, which was:

... typical deep-concealment (i.e. small, lightweight) pocket revolvers and pistols are simply not adequate to deal with people under the influence of this stuff.  His personal opinion was that .32 ACP, .380 ACP, .38 Special, and even 9mm. Luger or .357 Magnum rounds, if fired from smaller weapons whose barrels aren't sufficiently long to give high velocity and promote bullet expansion, are not going to get the job done against a hopped-up addict who won't even realize he's been shot.

His advice was specifically limited to small, deep-concealment firearms, the kind of thing many of us drop into our pockets rather than worry about putting on a holster and carrying a full-size firearm.  It was not intended to discuss the latter at all.  However, a number of commenters ignored that caveat, and responded as if he were making a general statement about all defensive handguns and ammunition.  That was not the case.

Let me offer a few observations, based on approximately 18 years in military and civilian combat situations, unrest, insurgency and instability in Africa.  I think the hard-won lessons I learned there apply to just about anything we're likely to encounter in the USA.  Those with actual real-world experience (rather than just theoretical knowledge) of the field are invited to respond in Comments.

1.  Bullet performance against people can be generally predicted from its performance against similar-sized animals.

If a round, and/or the firearm(s) that fire(s) it, do well against animals of equivalent size, weight, etc. to human beings, it's likely to do well against the latter.  If a round doesn't deliver good performance against deer, or antelope, or hogs, or whatever, in the 150-250 pound weight class, what makes you think it'll improve when used against people in that weight category?  If animals don't drop to it, people probably won't either.

2.  Absent a central nervous system hit, blood loss and broken bones are the main incapacitating factors in both hunting and self-defense.

When hunting, a hit in the target's brain or spinal cord is likely to prove decisive, right there.  However, they're hard to hit (particularly when the target is moving or at longer range), and they're also well armored by bone structures (the skull and/or the spinal column).  If they aren't hit, the object becomes to stop the animal moving (and thereby either getting away or attacking you), and/or to cause the maximum possible blood loss, which will lead to incapacitation sooner rather than later.  To stop an animal moving, you have to break the bone structures that allow it to move;  this usually involves shooting through the shoulders or hips.  Again, those targets are harder to hit, and may not be available at all target angles.  Therefore, one tries to make as big a hole as possible in or near vital organs, so that blood loss will be rapid, depriving the animal of the oxygen its vital organs need to continue functioning.  Shooting through an animal is a preferred solution in Africa, where two holes are regarded as better than one for the purposes of blood loss.

Again, apply this to human beings.  If you take out a major bone in the legs or hips, it's likely to at least slow down an attacker, no matter how hopped-up on drugs he or she may be.  If you inflict rapid blood loss upon them, that will also produce a reasonably rapid change of status.  Both objectives are more likely to be achieved by larger, heavier bullets than by smaller, lighter ones.  Modern ammunition, with its more technologically advanced design, can make up for smaller bullet size to some extent (as evidenced by the resurgence of the 9mm. round in police work).  However, if a smaller bullet fails to expand or drive deep enough, it still won't get the job done, whereas a non-expanding bigger bullet is still just plain bigger!

If you apply those considerations to your selection of handgun calibers and cartridges, it simplifies matters enormously.  It was my experience, during the 1970's through the 1990's, that larger, heavier bullets were much more effective than smaller, lighter ones.  I don't care about theory;  I'm talking about actual practice.  In Africa, if a bullet proved effective against antelope such as bushbuck, impala, nyala, sitatunga and springbok, it generally worked well against people too.  In the USA, where my hunting experience is much more limited, I'd presume the same applies to bullets that work against black-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorn and white-tailed deer.  In all cases, we're talking about bullets that bring down a running deer within a reasonably short distance, allowing the hunter to recover it easily.  We're not talking about shooting it in the ear with a .22LR solid at spitting distance (although that's certainly effective, it's an unlikely defensive scenario, after all!).

I'm hardly the world's most experienced hunter - far from it!  The animals I shot in Africa during the 1970's and 1980's were all taken for food, not for trophies, and I hunted only when I didn't have access to other supplies.  Whenever possible, I used a rifle, because longer-ranged shooting demanded it;  but I sometimes used a handgun at closer ranges, or to finish off a wounded animal.  It was my experience (and that of most of my colleagues and friends at the time) that bigger, heavier handgun rounds worked a lot better, and a lot more often, than smaller, lighter ones.  The .44 Special, .44 Magnum.45 ACP, .45 Colt and .455 Webley all did pretty well.  The more commonly encountered .38 Special, .357 Magnum and 9mm. Parabellum (using the bullets available in the 1970's and 1980's) did not.  All too often, animals shot with the latter rounds simply ran off and were lost.  They may have died later, but if we couldn't find them, we couldn't tell.

Unsurprisingly, when the same rounds were used for self-defense against human opponents, the same results were encountered.  Bigger rounds usually (albeit not always) did better than smaller ones, and produced faster, more effective results.

I accept that today, bullet technology has improved to the point that smaller rounds are more trustworthy than their less sophisticated predecessors.  That's why I'm willing to carry a high-capacity 9mm. pistol when round count is likely to be an important factor.  Nevertheless, that same technology has improved for bigger rounds as well as smaller ones.  What's more, if that technology is defeated by "street conditions" (e.g. a hollowpoint cavity is plugged by material from a thick, bulky outer jacket, so that it no longer expands in flesh), smaller rounds will be less effective.  Bigger rounds, on the other hand, don't get smaller if they're plugged!  They still make a larger hole.

In a situation where I have limited ammo capacity (for example, in a smaller pocket pistol or revolver, or in a state that mandates magazine capacity limits), I'm going to carry the biggest, most effective rounds I can, because I've learned the hard way that they generally work better than smaller ones.  If I have a choice between a 5-shot snub-nose revolver in .38 Special or .44 Special, and my pocket is big enough to accommodate either, guess which I'll carry?  And if I can carry a Springfield XD-S with either 8 rounds of 9mm. or 6 rounds of .45 ACP, I'm sure you can figure out my preference.

No handgun round can come close to the effectiveness of a good rifle or shotgun round - that's a given.  (We discussed this with reference to projectile weight and energy levels in a previous article.)  Nevertheless, I want the best possible defensive performance I can get, subject to all other limitations that may apply.  That's why I took Mike's advice to heart.  It squares with what I learned the hard way over many years in Africa, as discussed above, and it squares with what I've heard from a number of experienced US hunters and shooters.  Therefore, I take his advice seriously.


Friday, November 9, 2018


Stephan Pastis nails the important things - again.

Word indeed.


Hiding MSG

I heard from a friend yesterday.  She was extremely angry because her young child has what appear to be allergic reactions to MSG - monosodium glutamate.  She bought and served some food that did not list MSG as an ingredient under that name, but used another term she didn't recognize.  As a result, her child became quite ill, and needed urgent medical treatment to deal with the symptoms.

There's a lot of disagreement about whether there is such a thing as an allergy to MSG.  Medical science largely says there isn't.  However, MSG can produce certain reactions that may be mislabeled an "allergy", particularly in some children.  I won't go into that argument here.  What did interest me was to learn how many manufacturers call MSG by a different name when labeling the contents of their foods.

Here are some of the names [manufacturers] use to disguise MSG:
  • glutamic acid
  • monopotassium glutamate or simply “glutamate”
  • yeast extract or yeast nutrient
  • hydrolyzed proteins (hydrolyzed vegetable protein, animal protein or plant protein)
  • soy protein isolate and soy protein concentrate
  • whey protein (whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate)
  • autolyzed plant protein
  • hydrolyzed oat flour
  • textured protein
  • caseinate (sodium caseinate and calcium caseinate)
  • natural flavorings or simply “flavoring”
  • ultra-pasteurized
  • enzyme modified
  • carrageenan
  • maltodextrin or malt extract
  • protein fortified
Some manufacturers even hide MSG under the catch-all “bouillon” term.

With so many different names for one harmful ingredient, a good idea is to make a list of these secret names and then take it with you when you go grocery shopping.

There's more at the link.

I wish there was some way to standardize on a single name for MSG (or any other potentially allergy-producing ingredient) and insist that food manufacturers use that name, instead of such a wide range of potentially deceptive labels.  It would make life much easier!


Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Whitey Bulger murder: looking bad for the Bureau of Prisons

I'm sure readers are aware of the murder of 89-year-old convict Whitey Bulger at a Federal high-security penitentiary in West Virginia.  That was bad enough, and his death has highlighted some serious errors in the way the prison handled his admission.  (You'll recall that I was a chaplain at a Federal high-security penitentiary, and know how these things should be done.  From what I've read, they were not handled correctly at all.)

Now comes new information that - if true - makes the Bureau of Prisons look even more guilty of serious errors in handling the late Mr. Bulger.

Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s medical classification was suddenly and inexplicably changed to suggest his health had improved, leading to his transfer to the West Virginia prison where he was murdered last week, US Bureau of Prisons records show.

. . .

A Bureau of Prisons official who is familiar with Bulger’s treatment said the Florida prison considered Bulger a nuisance and wanted to transfer him.

“They lowered his care level to get rid of him,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case.

That official said he did not believe the intent was to get Bulger killed. But he acknowledged that sending Bulger to Hazelton and immediately placing him in the general population was negligent and amounted to “a death penalty.”

Sandy Parr, who works at a federal medical facility and is president of a union representing federal prison workers, said the Bureau of Prisons regularly changes medical classifications “even though they shouldn’t” to move troublesome inmates.

Prison records reviewed by the Globe show that prison authorities deemed Bulger’s medical treatment was complete. But, Parr said, “no one with his [medical] history would ever have medical care completed.”

A Bureau of Prisons spokesman on Tuesday declined to answer questions about why Bulger’s medical classification was changed, saying, “We are not releasing any information due to the ongoing investigation.”

But beyond Bulger’s classification being changed to allow his transfer to Hazelton, questions remain about why officials at Hazelton allowed Bulger to be placed in the prison’s general population, which included several organized crime figures from Massachusetts who would have been familiar with Bulger and might pose a danger to him.

As the Globe reported last week, two of those figures, Fotios “Freddy” Geas, a Mafia hit man from West Springfield serving life for two gangland murders, and Paul J. DeCologero, who was part of a Mafia-aligned group who murdered and dismembered a 19-year-old Medford woman, are now suspects in Bulger’s murder.

. . .

Several law enforcement officials say they can’t understand why Bulger wasn’t initially placed in isolation at Hazelton until officials there could determine whether he would be safe in general population. Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., said placing Bulger in the general population in Hazelton amounted to a “death penalty.”

There's more at the link.

This is really serious stuff.  Two other inmates were murdered at USP Hazelton in separate incidents earlier this year, and ongoing violence threatens the safety of both staff and inmates there.  A union official has spoken out about it publicly, and from my own experience of such events, I'm more than willing to believe him.  Even worse, several inmates there had known Mafia connections, and could have been expected (and predicted) to act against Bulger if he ended up there.  Who dropped the ball?  Who failed to make the connection?  Even worse, did someone deliberately arrange to have Mr. Bulger admitted to general population, in the expectation that something like this would happen to him?  That sounds way far-fetched . . . but we're dealing with the worst of the worst in criminal society here.  A quick check of court records across the country will reveal all too many cases where bribes or other pressures have influenced corrections staff illegally.  (I wrote about some of them in my book.)

I figure the staff at USP Hazelton will be walking very, very carefully right now, and looking over their shoulders.  That institution is under a law enforcement microscope.  It's going to be very uncomfortable for all those working there, and probably career-ending for some of them - if not worse.  I'm also pretty sure that lawsuits will follow.  Prison authorities are legally responsible for the inmates incarcerated there - in loco parentis, to use the legal term.  They clearly failed in those responsibilities in the Bulger case, and possibly the other murders there this year too.  I'm sure lawyers already have dollar signs in their eyes over that.


Close-range air-to-air footage of the Sukhoi Su-57

Russia's attempt to produce a fifth-generation fighter, the Sukhoi Su-57, has apparently not been too successful in technical terms;  the aircraft is reputedly not nearly as "stealthy" as it needs to be when measured against the US F-22 Raptor.  Also, Russia has announced that it won't put the aircraft into mass production, probably because it can't afford it in large numbers.  Nevertheless, it's probably a pretty capable "Generation 4½" fighter, and a dozen will be built for the Russian Air Force.

Recently an air-to-air photo shoot was held for the Su-57.  An Antonov An-12 transport (similar to the US C-130 Hercules) was the camera plane.  It lowered its rear ramp, and photojournalists were able to film two Su-57's as they approached and passed beneath it.  It's very interesting up-close-and-personal footage.

Looks like an interesting aircraft.  I'd like to read an independent evaluation of its performance . . . but I guess that's unlikely to be available anytime soon.


SNAFU is right: we're not winning, and we can't win by doing it the same old way yet again

Solomon, a former Marine writing at his SNAFU blog, posits that the current counter-insurgency strategy, tactics and training of the US armed forces is fatally flawed.

This is about our wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, the Philippines and other places I don't know about.

It ain't working.

We're wasting lives and money.  Don't get it twisted.  Anyone that dons the uniform to carry out the policy of the United States IS NOT wasting his life. But leadership pursuing a failed policy CAN!!!

It should be beyond obvious to anyone watching this thing that Afghanistan is spiraling out of control.  We're looking at a Saigon #2 if that can't be stabilized. Syria is a dog's breakfast.  Africa is a confusing morass of ethnic, religious and tribal violence that is so deep rooted I can't even begin to get my arms around it.

What I find curious and almost funny (people are dying so that's not the write phrasing but I can't think of anything better) is that we keep reusing the same playbook.

The war is being lost?

Surge.  Bribe.  And when that doesn't work then we do a modern day "Rolling Thunder" and try and bomb them back to the negotiating table.

The strategy doesn't work.

Want to know what's particularly infuriating?  Ya know all those penny packets of embedded Marines and Soldiers?  Ya know that new Security Forces Assistance Brigade? The partnerships with the Afghans? The recent idea of unleashing airpower to deal with the sudden gains that the Taliban are making on the battlefield?

All of the above is from the Vietnam War  playbook.  Amos and Petraeus struggled mightily to rewrite a manual that in essence reworded the document but left things in tact.

We're losing Afghanistan because we're fighting it like Vietnam.  The results will be the same.


Throw out the playbook.  Give it to the Army/Navy War Colleges and let a few Colonels and Majors (I guess Captains promotable too) give it a turn with the only caveat being that preconceived notions are off limits and that everything they've learned up to that point can be considered irrelevant.

What to do in Afghanistan now?

This applies across the board.  We're out of money so it's time to get smart.  We need to modernize for the coming fights.  Afghanistan and other spots we're fighting in are just money pits.  This issue needs to be raised to a national level decision.  Maybe even put it before Congress.  If war is what the American people want then a special "war tax" needs to be applied with the caveat that it expires every two years and need to be reauthorized (that way it doesn't become enduring and another source of revenue for govt graft), and it MUST ONLY go to the Dept of Defense.

If the American people approve then we continue the fight.  If they don't then we simply pull out.

Is that brutal?  Will our allies hate us?  Maybe but we will put our country on the right we'll get a national consensus one way or another.

There's more at the link.

I agree with Solomon.  I've said on several occasions that there's no military solution to Afghanistan.  The British found that out the hard way in the days of the Raj.  Heck, Alexander the Great found that a couple of millennia ago!  It's been that way forever.  Nothing's changed.

I also have up-close-and-personal, halitosis-range experience of counter-insurgency warfare.  I spent eighteen years, off and on, experiencing that, both in uniform and as a civilian.  I saw it from the grunt's point of view, and the terrorist's point of view, and the victims-of-terrorists' point of view, and all levels in between.  I learned the hard way that there are two solutions to the terrorism problem.  One is to turn the population against the terrorists, so that they no longer have the "cover" of a society in which they can hide (Mao's "fish in the sea" analogy).  The other is to kill them all, and every one of their sympathizers and supporters, so that there are no terrorists left.  The latter works . . . but it's very hard to make it work, because almost always there will be some left who'll continue to fight.  It also can't be done by any remotely civilized nation, because it would make it a monster.  We remember those who tried with revulsion and horror.  (See Hitler and Nazi Germany, Stalin and the Soviet Union, Mao and Communist China, Pol Pot and Cambodia, and so on and so on ad nauseam.)

Given that, in the conflicts Solomon mentions, we can't do the first (simply not possible), and don't have the necessary ruthlessness and mercilessness to do the second, we're left on the horns of a dilemma.  It can be argued, very persuasively, that we shouldn't have gone in at all:  or that, if we did, we should have cleaned house and then left, not hanging around for years as we have done.  We didn't, due to very misguided national and military policies.  We're now left to extricate ourselves from the mess as best we can.  This cannot and will not be done through victory, because victory is not possible under the constraints set for us by our civilization.  So . . . how?

Solomon is right.  We need a new approach.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Sobering thoughts on self-defense firearms from a Minnesota cop

I have a friend who's a police officer in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota.  He's got more than twenty years service, and is looking forward to retiring soon.  He's had a lot of "street" and "hands-on" experience, and knows whereof he speaks.  I'll call him Mike for the purposes of this discussion (not his real name).

Mike got in touch a few days ago.  After the usual pleasantries between friends, he got down to business.  He said that the current crop of synthetic marijuana, sometimes known as "spice" (and by up to 700 other street names), is producing some truly weird and sometimes very dangerous effects in its users.  He's personally encountered several addicts with superhuman strength, who don't seem able to feel pain at all.  Even a Taser will only slow them down, not stop them.  If they're shot with standard police handgun rounds, they often don't go down, and require a large number of rounds to do the job (which are often lethal, of course).

Mike warned me that such addicts are being encountered more and more often, and in more and more areas.  He said that it's no longer safe to assume they're a big-city problem;  they're being encountered in smaller towns and rural areas too.  He also said, very soberly, that typical deep-concealment (i.e. small, lightweight) pocket revolvers and pistols are simply not adequate to deal with people under the influence of this stuff.  His personal opinion was that .32 ACP, .380 ACP, .38 Special, and even 9mm. Luger or .357 Magnum rounds, if fired from smaller weapons whose barrels aren't sufficiently long to give high velocity and promote bullet expansion, are not going to get the job done against a hopped-up addict who won't even realize he's been shot.

Mike knew I had a couple of revolvers chambered in .44 Special and .45 Colt.  He recommended very strongly that I get a couple more, and use them for pocket carry instead of smaller weapons, because with the right ammunition (I use Buffalo Bore's .44 Special hard-cast wadcutter), they're much more effective at stopping someone who won't notice hits from smaller calibers.  He says they're not nearly as good as a shotgun slug, which he recommends from personal experience, but in a small, concealable weapon, he says such rounds are more likely to get the job done, particularly at halitosis range.

I'm taking Mike's advice;  and I thought I'd share it with my readers, in case any of you have read reports about this sort of thing in your area, and want to be better prepared to deal with it if the need should arise.  Please God, it won't:  but in this day and age, one never knows.

If you don't have a compact revolver in either .44 Special or .45 Colt, consider the Charter Arms offerings.  I've handled and fired both the .44 Special Bulldog (reviewed here, and shown below) and the .45 Colt Bulldog XL (reviewed here:  it no longer appears on Charter's Web site, so it may be discontinued).  I recommend either model as a low-cost entry-level revolver.

Charter Arms' quality control can be spotty, so one has to inspect their revolvers carefully and test-fire them to make sure everything works;  but if you get a reliable example, they're worth having, and at a reasonable price, too.  Holsters of various kinds are freely available to fit them.


The tenuously United States of America

Yesterday's mid-term elections have highlighted one factor in particular:  the fact that the United States are only barely united, with many influences dividing her people.  A big part of that divide is urban versus rural;  people in the latter areas appear to be far more conservative and "traditional" than those in the former.  Since cities are growing at the expense of smaller towns and the countryside, that divide is going to favor them to an ever-increasing extent . . . but what about the rest of the country?  Can urban voters override rural ones, and expect to get away with it - or will that lead to a rebellion of some kind?

This is made worse by the fact that the major political parties differ only slightly, in relative terms, from each other in terms of policy.  Both are focused on power above all things, and both will pander to voters who can deliver that power to them.  That means both parties will increasingly focus on offering policies that appeal to the biggest block of voters in the country - the urban electorate.  Cold comfort for those living outside the larger cities . . .  Jeff Deist points out:

By any objective measure, the ideological and policy disagreements between the national Democrat and Republican parties are not significant. Both accept the central tenets of domestic and foreign interventionism, both accept the federal government as the chief organizing principle for American society, and both view politics simply as a fight for control of state apparatus.

Similarly, differences between policies actually enacted by Mr. Trump and the existing Congress and those likely to have been enacted by Mrs. Clinton and the same Congress are fairly small. While Mr. Trump alarms the Left with his tone and tenor, his actual views on taxes, spending, debt, trade, guns, immigration (the "Muslim ban" was neither) and war (unfortunately his good campaign rhetoric is largely abandoned) plainly comport with the general thrust of Clinton's neo-liberalism.

Today's ugly midterm elections are about style rather than substance, party rather than principle, and power rather than ideas. Americans do not much argue about whether we are governed by DC, and only slightly over how we are governed by DC. But we argue viciously about who governs us from DC.

There's more at the link.

The biggest problem is going to be how to maintain national unity as a people when our elected officials are displaying relentless, non-stop partisanship.  I fault both sides equally for this;  Republicans are no better than Democrats.  I trust neither party to put the country ahead of their bottomless thirst for power.  I also don't trust the so-called "Deep State", which has built up its power over generations, and isn't about to surrender it to elected officials without entrenched, massive, prolonged resistance.  All of us are likely to suffer as these conflicts play out.

What divides us has become more important to many than what unites us.  Victor Davis Hanson notes:

The various ties that bind us — a collective educational experience, adherence to the verdict of elections, integration and assimilation, sovereignty between delineated borders, a vibrant popular and shared culture, and an expansive economy that makes our innate desire to become well-off far more important than vestigial tribalism — all waned. Entering a campus, watching cable news, switching on the NFL, listening to popular music, or watching a new movie is not salve but salt for our wounds.

Again, more at the link.

I'll let Jeff Deist sum up the consequences.

America is barely a country at this point, defined only by its federal state. It is not a nation, lacking cohesion or commonality: we fight over history, the Constitution, the Electoral College and other constitutional mechanisms, immigration and birthright citizenship, not to mention sex, race, class, and sexuality. This utter politicization of American society — a Progressive triumph — is unsustainable over time.

In this environment, democratic voting and elections become an exercise of brute force — vanquishing the other side without resorting to outright violence and warfare.

. . .

We should acknowledge this, sooner rather than later, to avoid a catastrophe. Federalism and subsidiarity, applied with increasing intensity, are the non-violent path forward. Insistence on universalism, decided by a slight majority and applied top-down from DC, will fail here at home in the same way — and for the same reason — nation-building fails abroad.

It's going to be an interesting two years until the next elections . . .


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Pakistan: the epicenter of instability in South Asia?

Strategy Page points out that Pakistan's own internal instability is destabilizing South Asian nations around it.  It's not a hopeful picture for US involvement in Afghanistan.

Imran Khan, the newly elected prime minister of Pakistan, has proved himself very much a tool of the Pakistani military. Khan openly and enthusiastically supports the Islamic terrorist violence in Indian Kashmir and denies any Pakistani responsibility for it. The Pakistani military can now do whatever they like without any risk of criticism from Pakistani politicians. The new head of the ISI is noted for his enthusiastic support for Islamic radicalism and the use of Islamic terrorism against India. There is a dark side to all of this, even for the Pakistanis. Indian leaders are running out of options and are seriously talking of raids and air strikes against Islamic terrorist facilities just across the border in Pakistani Kashmir. If that happens Pakistan says it will also escalate and that is the direction this is headed.

Pakistan also carries out even more undeclared military and terrorist operations against Afghanistan. Opposing Pakistani meddling in Afghan affairs is a popular issue among most Afghans and a growing number of Afghan leaders are calling for a declaration of war against Pakistan. Such a status has existed, in practice but unofficially, for years but Afghanistan refused to accept that reality and tried to reason with Pakistan and that has never worked. This shift in attitude, and openly discussing it, is more acceptable now because Pakistan has lost much of the support it once had in the American military and State Department (the diplomats).

The Pakistani military has stopped trying to pretend and interfered decisively in the recent Pakistani elections to get a government elected that does what the generals want. The Americans have cut all military and economic aid. Pakistan was hoping the Chinese would replace the American economic and military aid but that is not working out. The Chinese don’t give aid, they provide loans which they insist be repaid. In 2023 Pakistan has to start making payments on multi-billion dollar Chinese construction loans. This is a problem as Pakistan goes to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for the 13th time to obtain billions in loans to avoid economic collapse.

The main cause of these frequent appeals to the IMF are by now widely accepted; the Pakistani military gets too much of the government budget. The American decision to cut military aid to Pakistan is a big deal because over the last decade that aid has accounted for nearly 20 percent of the Pakistani defense budget. The U.S. aid has declined since 2010 (when it was $2 billion) but was still significant because the current annual Pakistani defense budget is nearly $9 billion. So an extra billion or so from the Americans makes a difference. While Pakistan can turn to China or Russia for all its weapons needs it won’t have access to the best nor will it get any gifts. China and Russia expect to be paid for military goods. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Army gets 47 percent of the defense budget, the Air Force 20 percent and the Navy 11 percent.

. . .

The Pakistani government tries to justify the high defense spending by pointing out that since 2011 Pakistan has suffered $57 billion in economic losses because of Islamic terrorism. That is tragic but the neighbors (and the United States) point out that those losses are largely because Pakistan has supported Islamic terrorists since the 1970s and continues to do so even though many Islamic terror groups have declared war on Pakistan. The IMF is well aware of all this and Pakistani Finance Ministry officials cannot expect much help (unless you count the usual threats) from the military in persuading the IMF to look the other way and bail out the profligate Pakistani military once more.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.