Friday, November 30, 2018

A treat for Peter Sellers fans, if you're quick

I note that the 1974 Peter Sellers comedy film "Soft Beds, Hard Battles" is currently on YouTube.  I've no idea how long it'll stay there, but if you haven't seen it, it's good for a giggle.  Wikipedia describes it as follows:

Set in Nazi-occupied France, the story follows Major Robinson of the British Army. Installing himself at a Parisian brothel, he assists the French resistance and works with Madame Grenier and her girls who find themselves eliminating high ranking German officers (using ingenious rigged beds and killer flatulence pills) right under the noses of the Gestapo. The girls find themselves enlisted in the Free French Forces and finally help to foil Hitler's plan to blow up Paris. They later receive medals from the French president.

Recommended viewing for Sellers fans.


Ebola's still getting worse, and I'm getting worried

The most recent Ebola outbreak, about which we've written before in these pages, is steadily getting worse.

The Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo is now the second biggest in history, with 426 confirmed and probable cases, the health ministry said late on Thursday.

The epidemic in a volatile part of Democratic Republic of Congo is now only surpassed by the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa, where more than 28,000 cases where confirmed, and is bigger than an outbreak in 2000 in Uganda involving 425 cases.

Ebola is believed to have killed 245 people in North Kivu and Ituri provinces where attacks by armed groups and community resistance to health officials have hampered the response.

There's more at the link.

The worst part of it is, those 426 "confirmed cases" are most likely the tip of the iceberg.  There are probably anywhere from two to five times as many, but they're not being officially reported or counted.  The reasons are numerous:
  1. That part of the world includes many isolated communities reached only by bush paths.  Officials using vehicles seldom, if ever, reach them, and so won't be aware of cases of Ebola in those communities.  There's also the very difficult mountainous and jungle terrain, which is a major factor in itself.  I know that part of the world.  I've been there.  One can pass a stone's throw from a thousand people in the thick bush, and never realize it.
  2. The stigma attached to Ebola is enormous.  Those suffering from it are regarded with superstitious fear, as if they'd been cursed by the gods, and their families are treated likewise.  There's huge social pressure to be sick with almost anything except Ebola, so many sufferers will insist they've got flu, or a cold, or something like that.  Even when they collapse and are near death, their families will carry on the pretense, because they don't want to be shunned by their communities or forcibly quarantined by the authorities.
  3. Because of the stigma, many who die of Ebola will be quickly buried by their families, and their deaths will not be officially reported for some time, for fear that the body will be exhumed and tested.  If a bureaucrat is told that so-and-so died of "a fever" six weeks ago, he'll have no official reason to record it as an Ebola fatality.  Indeed, the authorities would probably prefer that he didn't, to minimize the numbers and make them look better.
  4. As I've noted before, the entire Kivu province, and thousands of square miles surrounding it, is in a state of anarchy.  There are dozens, perhaps scores or even hundreds of armed groups, all preying on the local populace for whatever they can glean at gunpoint.  That makes it extraordinarily difficult and dangerous for health care professionals to move around, educating the people about Ebola, assessing the situation, and making an accurate count of the sick and the dead.

The risk to health care workers and international aid agencies is very real.

When medics tried to reach Ebola patients in a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during a recent surge in violence, they were blocked by men wielding machetes and axes.

Worried about being kidnapped, they turned back, the latest in a series of setbacks in their attempts to contain the central African country's worst outbreak of the deadly virus.

As fighting has worsened between rival militia seeking control of land and natural resources, vaccinations and vital treatments have increasingly been delayed and Ebola has spread.

The situation has become so dangerous in eastern Congo that humanitarian workers were temporarily evacuated last month from their base in the town of Beni in the North Kivu region close to Rwanda and Uganda.

. . .

"Sometimes in the field we hear bullets flying left to right and we tell ourselves maybe it is going to hit one of us," said Mimi Kambere, emergency response coordinator for nonprofit group Oxfam, whose team was confronted by the men with machetes.

"Sometimes the insecurity pushes us not to respond to calls, and not to go into certain areas for days," she told Reuters in Goma, the town on the northern shores of Lake Kivu to which she and other health workers were evacuated on Nov. 17.

Again, more at the link.

Keep a very watchful eye on this Ebola outbreak.  So far, it's relatively well contained to certain areas of the Congo.  If it breaks out into the neighboring states of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, it'll create mass panic, with tens of thousands of people trying to flee to safer areas - and taking the infection with them.  It's flatly impossible to quarantine that entire area;  it's tens of thousands of square miles, in terrain so rugged that one can't even begin to identify (let alone secure) all the ingress and egress routes on the ground.  It'd take aerial sensors and interdiction to do it, with bombs and rockets, and that simply isn't going to happen.

Once the disease reaches more major cities, richer people will try to get out by rail, road or aircraft, or by taking ferries across the African great lakes in the area.  That'll speed up the spread of Ebola by an exponential factor . . . and then the whole of central Africa, from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans, will be neck-deep in the dwang.  It won't take much more to spread the disease from there to every country having airline service to that part of the world.  That's not a happy thought.

I hope and pray that those fighting this disease on the ground can get a handle on the situation before things spiral out of control.  Let's all hope and pray so, for all our sakes.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Boys and their highly explosive toys

The Aviationist brings us this video of weapons tests at China Lake.

Located in California’s Mojave Desert, China Lake is home to NAVAIR’s Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD).

NAWCWD is responsible for supporting NAVAIR programs by:

  • Performing research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E), logistics, and in-service support for guided missiles, free-fall weapons, targets, support equipment, crew systems and electronic warfare
  • Integrating weapons and avionics on tactical aircraft
  • Operating the Navy’s western land and Sea Range test and evaluation complex
  • Developing and applying new technology to ensure battle space dominance
Among the services NAWCWD provides, there is also Missiles and Free-Fall Weapons Research and Development. This means that China Lake develops explosives and propellants, and conducts basic and applied research in science and technology of weaponry.

Weapon systems regularly developed at China Lake include Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), High-Speed Antiradiation Missile (HARM), Hellfire, Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), Penguin, Phoenix, Sidewinder, Sea Sparrow, Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM), SLAM-ER, Standard Missile, Tomahawk and Vertical Launch Anti-submarine Rocket (VLA).

There's more at the link.

Here's the video.

Frankly, I'd rather be far away from any weapon that accurate.  During my time under fire, back in the 1980's, projectiles and bombs were aimed by ye good olde Mark I Eyeball, or by relatively primitive radar bombing systems.  They could get within 100 yards of their targets most of the time, but not always, and direct hits were a relatively small percentage of the weapons launched.  These things . . . basically, if someone puts the crosshairs on you or your vehicle or your building, you're toast.  No fun on the receiving end.


It seems civil law trumps church secrets - and it's about time

For many centuries, the Catholic Church maintained that its clergy and religious (i.e. monks, nuns, brothers and sisters in religious orders) could not be tried in civil or criminal courts, but had to be dealt with by the Church itself.  That continued until the Reformation, and even after it in some countries.  The Church considered herself to be above most aspects of criminal and civil law.  In some ways, it appears to still hold that belief - witness, for example, the refusal by many bishops to refer clergy child sex abuse cases to the civil authorities for prosecution.

Part of that mentality was, and still is, for the Church to have secret archives of material it considers particularly confidential for one reason or another.  Members of the Church do not have access to that archive;  even most priests are not permitted to view its contents.  They're restricted to the bishop and assistants he designates to maintain the archive.  Some of its contents are routine - personnel assessments, that sort of thing.  Others are far more sensitive, such as details of accusations against clergy (whether proven or not), investigations, and so on.

The Diocese of Buffalo was in the news recently when its confidential archivist went public with details of clergy sex abuse cases that had not been shared with the authorities or the faithful.  I'm sure this caused consternation among other US Catholic bishops, who must have been asking themselves how much material from their own confidential archives may have been compromised in the same way.  It also led to a stern warning from the Federal government that secret archives should not be purged of material relevant to ongoing investigations of clergy sex abuse cases.

It now appears that at least one jurisdiction is tired of just asking for information, and has decided to go after it the hard way.

Dozens of state and local law enforcement swarmed the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston's downtown office Wednesday to seize records related to Father Manuel La Rosa-Lopez, the priest accused of sexually abusing at least two children who attended a Conroe church.

Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said the surprise search was aimed at a trove of employment and disciplinary records related to La Rosa-Lopez and his time at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Conroe.

If evidence of additional victims or accused priests were found outside Montgomery County, the Texas Rangers were there to seize it, Ligon said.

A set of confidential documents kept by each diocese, known as "secret archives" in Canon law, was among the records sought.

. . .

Ligon told reporters that "the Catholic Church has cooperated to a degree."

"Even if DiNardo is cooperative, the people working for him may not," Ligon said. "He can be transparent all he wants, but what he doesn't know, he doesn't know. I'm born suspicious as hell. I assume people are going to lie to me and not tell the truth."

. . .

The search warrant was the fourth one issued in La Rosa-Lopez's case after Montgomery County authorities previously searched the Conroe church, the Shalom Treatment Center in Splendora and the St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond where La Rosa-Lopez was most recently assigned.

"If there's something to cover up, I'm sure I'll find it," Ligon said. "If it leads to the Vatican, I'll be headed to Rome."

There's more at the link.

I can only applaud the authorities' determination to trace all available evidence, and not allow religious scruples to stand in their way.  I hope and trust that this step will be repeated throughout the country, in an effort to bring to justice all who deserve it.  I'm sure many bishops will object, but their own actions and outright mendacity have rendered such protests meaningless.  The Catholic Church no longer has any moral authority, in the eyes of the world.  It should have moral authority, but its own misconduct has stripped it of any and all such pretensions . . . and that's a tragedy in itself.


Stupidity. Detroit. But I repeat myself . . .

Not content with running their city into the ground, then complaining when others had to take over its administration, the Detroit city council have done it again.

The Detroit City Council approved a "Bullet Bill" gun control resolution Wednesday with a unanimous vote.

The resolution limits ammunition amounts that can be bought while requiring a mental health background check on buyers of ammo in Wayne County.

. . .

Detroit City Council member Andre Spivey ... sponsored the ordinance that would require mental health background checks on those looking to buy ammunition and it would also impose additional county taxes on ammo.

There's more at the link.

This is a classic example of fiddling while Rome burns.  The new law will achieve absolutely nothing to reduce violence committed with firearms in Detroit, because it lacks even the semblance of logic, and doesn't address the real issues.  Consider:

  1. Ammunition is completely passive unless and until acted upon by an external force.  It doesn't load itself into guns, it doesn't fire itself, and it doesn't aim itself at a target.  All those actions require human intervention.  To blame the instrument, rather than the person using it, is to deny reality.  It's like blaming his car for the injuries inflicted by a drunk driver, or the knife when one's own mistakes lead to a cut finger.  It's always the person who's to blame - never the thing - unless, of course, you're in Detroit, and want to blame anything but the person(s) involved.
  2. Mental health background checks to buy ammo?  What's next - mental health checks to buy gasoline or other flammable liquids?  The latter are just as dangerous (if not more so) than ammunition.  Besides, there are already mental health restrictions on buying firearms, but people find ways around them very easily.  They'll do the same with restrictions on buying ammunition.
  3. Limiting quantities of ammunition that may be bought in Detroit?  Congratulations - you've just established a new black market (you should pardon the expression), where enterprising young businessmen will drive a few miles outside the city limits, buy ammo by the crate or carton, and bring it back for resale to their homies.  This won't even be a speed bump on the road to firearm use.

This new law is so stupid, so guaranteed to be ineffectual, that it's almost laughable.  One can only wonder why the people of Detroit continue to elect officials who will waste their time (and the city's limited resources) on such nonsense, instead of doing something that might actually work - namely, crack down on the gang-bangers, thugs and criminals that infest their city.  They won't do that, of course.  It wouldn't be politically correct.  Even worse, it might upset those whose votes they need to stay in office.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

I think the President has a point about General Motors

Angry over General Motors' decision to shutter several US and Canadian auto manufacturing plants, President Trump recently tweeted:

A lot of left-wing and progressive sources are claiming that this is inaccurate, and that GM has repaid all the loans given to it as part of the auto industry bailout.  However, that ignores the reality that the US taxpayer lost almost $11.4 billion on the overall GM bailout package, as Pro Publica confirms.  Click the image to be taken to a full-size view at the organization's Web site.

There are those who claim that the GM bankruptcy deal cost the US taxpayer a lot more than that.  I think they have a point, and so does President Trump.  If GM is going to shed well over 10,000 jobs in the USA, to the detriment of our economy and our society, after receiving bailout funds, loans and other assistance totaling tens of billions of dollars, then I see no reason why the company should not be required to repay that loss to the taxpayer.  If it can't or won't, I think the President should withhold all subsidies, government orders, etc. from GM until such time that the loss has been made up.

GM should have been allowed to go bankrupt, IMHO, rather than rescued from a fate that (in the absence of post-bankruptcy reorganization and shedding corporate deadwood) will inevitably catch up with it again in the future.  Its conduct was so egregious towards its bond-holders and creditors, and to non-union Delphi pensioners, stripping them of their assets and income, that I vowed at the time that I'd never again buy a new GM vehicle.  (I had owned four of them prior to that time.)  I've kept that promise, and see no reason why I should change it.  This most recent development merely confirms to me that, ethically and morally speaking, I made the right decision.


Some crime certainly seems to pay

It seems that the Vancouver housing market has been floating on top of a huge pool of drug money.

The stately $17-million mansion owned by a suspected fentanyl importer is at the end of a gated driveway on one of the priciest streets in Shaughnessy, Vancouver’s most exclusive neighbourhood.

A block away is a $22-million gabled manor that police have linked to a high-stakes gambler and property developer with suspected ties to the Chinese police services.

Both mansions appear on a list of more than $1-billion worth of Vancouver-area property transactions in 2016 that a confidential police intelligence study has linked to Chinese organized crime.

The study of more than 1,200 luxury real estate purchases in B.C.’s Lower Mainland in 2016 found that more than 10 per cent were tied to buyers with criminal records. And 95 per cent of those transactions were believed by police intelligence to be linked to Chinese crime networks.

The study findings, obtained by Global News, are a startling look at what police believe to be the massive money laundering occurring in the Vancouver-area real estate market.

They are also an indication of how — according to police intelligence sources — Canada’s narcos are hiding the huge amounts of cash they are amassing from the fentanyl crisis, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Canadians last year.

While the study only looked at property purchases in 2016, an analysis by Global News suggests the same extended crime network may have laundered about $5-billion in Vancouver-area homes since 2012.

There's more at the link.

The amounts involved are staggering.  They certainly illustrate the almost complete, abject failure of efforts to contain the use of illegal drugs.  Even more, they illustrate how an entire market area - in this case, housing - can become just as addicted to, and dependent on, the profits of the drug trade as those who are addicted to its products.  I'm informed by friends in law enforcement circles that any attempt to intervene in such markets (they exist here in the USA, too) in order to prevent money-laundering is often actively resisted by those profiting from the sale of real estate, and/or the appreciation in the value of their own properties.  Drug money has corrupted entire regions in that way, up to and including local politicians.  (That's not surprising, of course - the same happened with bootleggers during Prohibition.  Ask Al Capone.)

The problem is, it's not confined to luxury housing.  As values rise at the top end of the market, so pressure grows to build more high-end housing to meet the demand.  That, in turn, means that middle- and lower-end housing is bought in order to demolish it and build "better" houses on the property thus made available.  The supply of affordable housing grows smaller, which pushes up the price of what remains.  That's great for those already owning property(ies) in the area, but lousy for those wanting to buy their first home at an affordable price.

I'd love to know how many major urban areas are affected by an influx of drug money, and the proceeds of other crimes as well.  I suspect it's a bigger problem than we think.


Not Freddie Mercury

Reader J. M. sent me a link - well, two of them, actually - that had me laughing out loud.

The late Freddie Mercury led the crowds at the 1985 Live Aid concert in a sort of wordless chant, getting the audience to follow his musical lead.

It seems someone with a sense of humor "married" that Freddie Mercury chant to images of a rodent.  The results are hilarious.

Musical mice?  What next - rapping rats?


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

He's his own biggest fan

Here's a great video of a collie getting all excited at a video of his own performance in a competition.

Good thing he never learned how to clap his paws - he'd have worn them raw by now!


A new potential war trigger in the Middle East?

I haven't seen this reported anywhere else, but Strategy Page claims:

Syria is apparently granting citizenship (and Syrian passports) to thousands of Iranian mercenaries like Hezbollah from Lebanon, some Iranians and Shia from other countries Iran recruited to fight in Syria. These newly created Syrians will be wearing Syrian Army uniforms as they take up position near the Israeli border. Israel suspected that Iran was planning this and now has to respond before these Iranian forces can carry out any attacks (as Iran has vowed to do) on Israel itself. Iran is desperate for a win because their recent efforts to hurt Israel have all been very embarrassing failures.

The report is part of a larger article on current developments in Syria.

If true, this is a potentially explosive development.  Israel has long had a "line in the sand" policy that Iranian forces and their surrogates could not operate close to Israel's borders.  Whenever that line was crossed, Israel struck back, hard.  Now, it will become almost impossible for reconnaissance flights and/or satellite imagery to distinguish Iranians from Syrians, if both are wearing the same uniform and occupying the same camps.  Israel can't afford that;  so it's likely to start hitting at any major concentration of military forces in Syria that are within a hundred miles of its border.  It can't afford to wait, only to find out the hard way that Iranian forces are launching an attack from a base that was left alone.

It's quite clear that Iran is seeking a confrontation with Israel at almost any cost - one where its forces' lack of technological sophistication can be offset by proximity.  Your super-duper guided weapons and precision strike capability are great at a distance, but they count for a lot less if I can get within knife-fighting range of you before you deploy them.  I suspect Iran would like nothing more.

This will bear watching, and in the short term, too.  Israel has to respond to this.  It has no real strategic or tactical alternative.  That may, in turn, draw the USA into greater involvement in Syria - one that will entangle us even more than we already are.  The New Yorker (admittedly not an objective source where the Trump administration is concerned) thinks that may already be happening.  That's not a comfortable thought, to put it mildly.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Big Brother is watching - and it's not doing a damned bit of good

As part of its overall anti-terrorism strategy, the British government introduced a program called Prevent.  It appears to have become more an instrument for Big Brother-style thought control, rather than an effective tool against terrorists.  Reason reports:

Part of a larger anti-terrorism strategy, Prevent was designed to prevent radicalization and seeks to monitor supposedly vulnerable people for evidence of extremism in the materials they peruse and the ideology they express. The idea is that, once identified, these individuals can be steered by authorities away from negative outcomes. "Interventions can include mentoring, counselling, theological support, encouraging civic engagement, developing support networks (family and peer structures) or providing mainstream services (education, employment, health, finance or housing)," according to the official strategy statement.

Primarily targeted at potential recruits to Islamist terrorist groups, but also at Northern Ireland-style sectarian violence and extreme right-wing terrorism, Prevent suffered mission-creep pretty much right out of the gate. In 2015, a politics student at the University of East Anglia was interrogated by police after reading assigned material in an ISIS-related publication ... A similar case arose at Staffordshire University when a postgraduate student was questioned for reading a textbook on terrorism in the college library. Concerned about ending up on a watch list, he hired a lawyer and dropped the course.

Prevent officials have demanded membership lists from university Islamic groups, creating a climate of "fear, suspicion, and censorship," according to reports. With ample reason, the students worry that they're being "spied upon."

Some professors are now running reading assignments past the authorities—"just in case there was anything too critical"—in hopes of avoiding more examples of students being hauled in for doing their homework.

Younger students are being scooped up for alleged radicalization, too. In 2016-17, 272 children under 15 years of age and 328 youngsters between ages 15 and 20 were flagged under the Prevent program "over suspected right-wing terrorist beliefs." The proportion of individuals referred to government officials "as a result of far-right concerns has risen from a quarter in 2015 to 2016 to over a third in 2016 to 2017," according to Britain's Home Office, so that likely represents only a fraction of young people questioned and "mentored" for their suspected ideological deviance.

Where do these referrals come from? Well, anybody can contact the authorities, but the situation is complicated by the duty the law imposes on both public and private institutions to report people seen as being at risk of radicalization, with very little guidance as to what that means beyond cover-your-ass. The imposition of the duty resulted in a surge in referrals by schools to the authorities.

Civil libertarians worry that the law has Britons far beyond schools looking over their shoulders and watching what they say ... As the example of students interrogated for reading their assignments shows, the definition of "extreme" speech gets very slippery when government officials are looking for something to do—and when people required to inform-or-else on violators make reports to keep themselves out of trouble.

There's more at the link.

This is what happens when unelected bureaucrats develop measures that they feel are necessary to do their jobs.  They aren't accountable, so they don't have to worry about how their measures impact ordinary citizens, or make our lives difficult.  One is reminded of the old joke about the Civil Service department that was fed truth serum in its morning tea - whereupon the salutation at the end of their letters to the public changed from "I am, Sir, your obedient servant," to "You are, mate, my obedient slave!"

The most annoying thing about this is that it's a panacea.  There is no evidence whatsoever that Prevent, or programs like it elsewhere in the world (including the USA), have prevented or deterred even one terrorist "conversion", where a member of the public became radicalized through exposure to inflammatory material.  Terrorists and their sympathizers will always manage to produce and circulate such material, despite any number of official laws, rules, regulations and policies to the contrary.

Remember the "War on Drugs"?  It began during the Nixon administration in the early 1970's.  Today, almost half a century later, we're spending almost $60 billion every year on it - but drugs are more freely available than ever, in greatly enhanced formulations with stronger addictive effects.  So much for that war.  What makes anyone think that an ideological "war" will be any more successful?


Heeeere, fishy, fishy, fishy . . .

A cat in China hasn't figured out the meaning of ice.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday morning music

I'm sure many of my readers have heard of clogging, a type of tap-dancing that began early in the Industrial Revolution and has spread to many countries.  An American variation on clogging is buck dancing.  Wikipedia describes it thus:

The term "buck," as in buck dancing, is traceable to the West Indies and is derived from a Tupi Indian word denoting a frame for drying and smoking meat; the original 'po bockarau' or buccaneers were sailors who smoked meat and fish after the manner of the Indians. Another source states that the word "bockorau" can be traced to the "Angolan" word "buckra', and was used to refer to white people, which is disputed. Eventually the term came to describe Irish immigrant sailors whose jig dance was known as 'the buck.'" Another origin of the term "buck dance" comes from the idea that this style of dance was a flirtation. The male dancer would show off his skills on the dance floor to attract the female, thus being compared to the buck's courting ritual of the doe.

One source states that buck dancing was the earliest combination of the basic shuffle and tap steps performed to syncopated rhythms in which accents are placed not on the straight beat, as with the jigs, clogs, and other dances of European origin, but on the downbeat or offbeat, a style derived primarily from the rhythms of African tribal music.

Buck dancing was popularised in America by minstrel performers in the late 19th century. Many folk festivals and fairs utilise dancing clubs or teams to perform both Buck and regular clogging for entertainment.

Traditional Appalachian clogging is characterised by loose, often bent knees and a "drag-slide" motion of the foot across the floor, and is usually performed to old-time music.

You can read another perspective on buck dancing here.

Among the best-known practitioners of buck dancing in the USA is Thomas Maupin.  At 80 years old, he's still active.  Here's a tribute video about him from the National Endowment for the Arts.

He took fiddler Hilary Klug under his wing (or should that be 'his foot'?).  She's become a top performer in the art of fiddling while buck dancing (or vice versa).  Here are a few videos of her performing.

I hope you enjoyed that as a change of pace from our normal Sunday morning musical excursions.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

On the road again

Miss D. and I are driving home today, after a brief but enjoyable research trip which included meeting some friends.  It's going to be a long day on the road, about 11 hours including stops, so we'll make an early start.

Prayers for travelling mercies are, as always, appreciated.  Blogging will be light today (and, as usual on Sundays, tomorrow too).  Regular service will resume Monday, the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Venezuela's starting to look a lot like tribal Africa

The internal collapse of Venezuela continues apace.  This description of life there at the moment is depressingly reminiscent of conditions I encountered in tribal Africa over many years.

It is quite interesting to hear what they have to say about the role of the law “enforcement” corps. They kidnapped people, asking for ransoms in foreign currency. The situation in the imprisonment facilities was . . . apocalyptical. Once they have collected enough money from the ransoms and what not, almost the technical stuff LEOs all of that city flee the country for good, and they are now in some place in Latin America (Colombia, perhaps?) . . . or even planning how to sneak up to the USA.

Go figure.

. . .

It is quite likely that we will see lots of nasty things in the near future, as the power structures diminishes and more and more members are “purged”. Losing control for this structure means that the ruling party in the rest of the country will be those with the uniform, the badge, and the gun or the AK. And without a legal system working, that is bad. VERY bad. As it can be supposed, this will not be a happy ending for those involved. They know that the entire world is against them. They are considered (as it should be) delinquents for good people all over the world.  They have stolen our gold and destroyed our capacity to generate wealth via oil production.

This said, I have suggested to my fellows to activate their stealth mode. Old clothing and shoes, avoid too clean cars, use the vehicles as little as possible . . . Jeez, even using dark bags in case they found some food is wise. There are plenty of stories about thugs grabbing grocery bags, sometimes even stabbing the holder, if some resistance was found.  Parking the car ready to leave the place is a need. A lot of assaults are carried on when people are getting into the vehicle. In my case, with my SUV busted, I had a backpack and perhaps my wife or one of the kids with another smaller backpack, and we got to the bike quickly. (How I miss my old motorbike!).

I have a lot of stuff that I was going to move from our house to my parent´s place, mainly equipment like electrical tools and similar productive, useful devices that a prepper usually has in place. But nowadays, roads are so lonely and LEOs are so . . . predaceous, that it is not a good idea any longer. A truck loaded with stuff will be a gold mine for those thugs. That is, provided that the gangs roaming in the desert interstate roads can be avoided, which is highly unlikely.

Rules have changed, and the very weak empire of law that once existed (the middle 70s to 90s?) is no longer present. It is not a countrywide situation, though. But now the Southern states, Amazonas and Apure are the kingdoms of the Colombian guerrilla. Thanks, Uncle Hugo!. You f—ed us well.

There have been reports on the roads to the East of the country (Cumana city for example) where 20 or 25 people gangs stop the cars and take whatever they want. LEOs will take whatever food you happen to carry, without bothering in giving you something else than a warning that you are lucky to not be going to jail. This is something to be expected in such a situation, and it can´t be more dangerous. However, it will not develop itself from one day to another; once things start to get bad and dope starts to be scarce . . . the hunger will make the beast leave out. The predators will go after the easier preys first. Or whatever they believe these preys are.

There's more at the link.

As I said, I'm very familiar with such conditions during my years traveling in Africa.  Life becomes precarious, dangerous, and unpredictable.  Survival from day to day is not guaranteed, and can only be achieved through constant vigilance, teamwork, and a willingness to do whatever has to be done to ensure safety for yourself and your loved ones.  That also requires an element of ruthlessness, a willingness to do unto others before they are able to do unto you.  That's hard for "civilized" human beings to wrap their minds around, but I'm here to tell you, it's reality.  BTDTAGTTSTPI.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let's be grateful we have so much to be thankful for.  Those in Venezuela and places like it can only dream of the abundance - and the security - we celebrate at this time of year.


Putting health-care costs under the microscope

Pro Publica is publishing a useful series of articles examining the health-care industry in the USA - and how its ultimate "beneficiaries" are not us, the patients, but the companies raking in huge excess profits and violating our privacy.  A selection of the articles so far:

1.  Why Your Health Insurer Doesn’t Care About Your Big Bills.  Patients may think their insurers are fighting on their behalf for the best prices. But saving patients money is often not their top priority.

2.  Health Insurers Are Vacuuming Up Details About You — And It Could Raise Your Rates.  Without any public scrutiny, insurers and data brokers are predicting your health costs based on data about things like race, marital status, how much TV you watch, whether you pay your bills on time or even buy plus-size clothing.

3.  Your Medical Devices Are Not Keeping Your Health Data to Themselves.  CPAP units, heart monitors, blood glucose meters and lifestyle apps generate information that can be used in ways patients don’t necessarily expect. It can be sold for advertising or even shared with insurers, who may use it to deny reimbursement.

There are several other articles in the series, with more to come.  If medical costs are a concern to you (and they sure are to me!), they're all worth reading.  Recommended.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Unanswerable logic!

Courtesy of Thomas Whispered:

Absolutely true.  My guns, while they've been in my possession, have never killed anybody, and won't unless that person is an immediate threat to the safety and security of myself and/or my loved ones.  Why should I give up my guns because of someone else's criminal actions?  And if a death by firearm wasn't a crime, but legitimate self-defense or justifiable homicide, why does that call into question anyone else's possession of a firearm at all?

Yet again, the gun-banners are trying to fixate on a thing, rather than the person who wields it.  A gun has no moral volition of its own.  Leave it alone, and it will just sit there, like a car, or a hammer, or a chainsaw.  None of those things are a threat if they aren't misused.  When they are, they aren't morally or legally liable - the person using them is the one held responsible for crimes committed using them.  What's more, if that person didn't have access to one instrument (e.g. a gun), he or she could very easily access an alternative (any of the other items mentioned, or many others equally dangerous in criminal hands).  To blame the gun is to miss the point completely.


A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to all my readers

Miss D. and I are several hundred miles from home this Thanksgiving, but we'll be joining many of her family to celebrate the season.  We had a safe (albeit long and tiring) journey yesterday, and are looking forward to some fun and interesting times over the next couple of days as we do some research for a future book and also meet interesting people.

Despite all the challenges of the past year, we have a lot for which to be thankful.  So does our nation, despite the many things wrong with it that seem intractable amid the political polarization and meanness that seems to dominate at present.  Let's be duly grateful, and leave division aside for a while as we thank God and each other for all that is good.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Quick road trip

Miss D. and I are heading out for a couple of days, doing a quick writing research trip while she has a couple of days off work.  Blogging will be light for three to four days.  I'll try to put up something every day, as time allows.

Please say a prayer for traveling mercies for us, if you're so inclined:  and we'll do the same for all of you traveling this Thanksgiving.  Stay safe out there!


Sailing on the ragged edge of disaster

I received this video clip last night via an e-mail list to which I belong.  I must admit, having sailed aboard yachts now and then during my younger days, I watched it with my mouth hanging open in amazement.  I "raced" according to the standards of 1970's ocean yachts - not the pro's, but weekend sailors out for some fun.  The high technology of these modern boats, and the speeds at which they move . . . it's breathtaking!  I can't imagine how the helmsmen keep them under control.  In fact, I wonder whether computer-assisted steering (possibly by adjusting the angles of the hydroplanes and "keels") is being employed?  I wouldn't be surprised.

Anyway, take a look and see for yourself how quickly things can go wrong.  Turn your volume DOWN - the soundtrack is far too loud and violent.

I'm afraid that's no longer a "sport" in the old-fashioned sense of the term.  It's professional, calculated to a nicety, and seems to offer little or no room for enthusiastic amateurs such as I used to be.  That's a pity.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Quote of the day

From Tamara Keel:

Overheard at @IndianaMuseum: "Yeah, Spatchcocked Mastodon is the name of my next band."


Cult nation?

I'm very familiar with religious cults, from a professional perspective (as a former pastor and chaplain) and from counseling those trapped in them, trying to help them break free.  I've seen signs of cult-like behavior on the extremes of the American political spectrum, but I've never consciously equated the two fields.  Now the Federalist makes the resemblance clear.

Consider for a moment today’s culture, which is saturated with the constant agitation of political correctness. It rarely allows for any real discussion or debate without automatic vilification of those deemed politically incorrect. Sadly, this is especially true in the very place where there is a tradition of people expecting to engage in real debate: the college campus.

We can’t deny that political correctness has a lot of disruptive effects on discourse, such as inducing self-censorship that can cause us to feel socially and mentally isolated; manipulation of our basic fear of ostracism through the threat of smears; promotion of mob rule; and an authoritarian nature that promotes the power elites who use it.

Wait, those features are all rather cult-like, no? This acceptance of the anti-thought nature of political correctness is pretty much everywhere: 95 percent of the mass media promote it, 95 percent of celebrity culture promotes it, and obviously, on college campuses, the academics are 95 percent in compliance with political correctness.

You can’t deny that cult-like tribunals against “wrongthink” are pretty much everywhere––in the media, in celebrity culture, in our legislatures, among judges, in human resource departments all over the corporate world, and most obviously, on college campuses, where youth are scared to death of being ostracized for expressing a politically incorrect thought.

Consider also how many Americans mindlessly parrot the perceived popular opinion along with its empty talking points that are never up for debate. In fact, there’s very little debate happening today. When real debate happens, it gets shouted down or pushed into a corner of the internet dubbed the “intellectual dark web.” Increasingly, our minds seem to be operating in a dangerous state of isolation, especially with increasing censorship and control over our conversations by mass media and tech titans. How is such constant censorship not cult-like?

What should most shock us is how often Americans seem to increasingly mimic many of the behaviors of cult recruits: self-censorship, peer-modeled behaviors, emotions ruling their sense of reason, obedience to the mob, and adulation of politically correct idols and celebrities ... Just as cultists check their brains at the door, too many Americans have likewise ceded their right to free speech on the thin promise of freedom from ostracism. That is a bad and dangerous deal that never ends well.

There's more at the linkHighly recommended reading.

I'd like to emphasize that such behavior is not confined to one side of the political aisle.  I've seen it - and remarked on it in these pages - on both sides from time to time.  I'm always cynically amused by the reactions of some people, who criticize me for daring to call out their side when obviously the problem is entirely and solely on the other side.  Either I'm being a goody-two-shoes liberal, or an alt-right supremacist of one kind or another, or whatever.  Sorry, but I'm just pointing out the reality of the situation.  All of us can behave like cultists over our pet hobby-horses, given a chance . . . and many of us do.

I had the same problem as a pastor.  There are fundamentalists who insist that to doubt God or question one's beliefs is a sign that one "isn't saved", or has weak faith.  Again, I couldn't disagree more.  We're human, with all the fallibility that implies.  We need to question the road we're on from time to time, and re-examine where we've come from, and look at where we are now in the light of where we want to be.  All too often, we don't undertake any sort of self-examination - or, at least, not an independent, careful, objective one - and so we can be led astray by those of stronger opinions who are in positions of authority or influence over us.

The same applies to blind faith in religious (or other) institutions.  Blind faith is always and everywhere dangerous.  Never trust anybody or any group to be faithful to the truth, and to what they're supposedly called to be.  Rather, monitor their behavior, and see whether or not it comports to what it should be.  As Ronald Reagan famously said, "Trust, but verify."  If they don't pass the verification test, call them out, and insist that they fix the problem.  If they won't . . . vote with your feet, and your wallet.

Think critically, be objective, and question almost everything.  It's your life, not someone else's - so don't let them live it for you, or tell you how to live their life instead of yours.  That way, you won't fall into the cultist trap.


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.