Friday, September 20, 2019

Not even remotely safe for work . . . but very funny

I try to keep this a family-friendly blog.  However, sometimes something not-entirely-family-friendly happens that is so ridiculously funny or stupid that it just has to be shared, even in as sanitized a form as possible.

That's the case with a video posted over at Chief Nose Wetter's place.  It shows a boy toddler who discovers one of his mom's "toys", and thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread.  Hilarity ensues.

WARNING:  This video is NOT safe for work, and requires you to have a sense of humor about boys and their toys, and ladies' ditto.

That said, for a good laugh, click over to Chief Nose Wetter and watch it.  Priceless!


Doofus Of The Day #1,054

Today's award goes to the faculty and students who took part in this nonsense.  Speaking as a Christian pastor, it's enough to make me cross (you should pardon the expression).

Students at Union Theological Seminary in New York City were instructed to confess to potted plants as an "expression of worship" and as a "liturgical response to our climate crisis."

Many online mocked a tweet from the seminary affiliated with Columbia University for celebrating the unusual chapel service where students of the cloth "held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor," asking: "What do you confess to the plants in your life?"

. . .

Cláudio Carvalhaes, Union Theological associate professor of worship who encouraged students to skip classes Friday for the global climate strike, put on the chapel for his “Extractivism: A Ritual/Liturgical Response" class, just one way he says he has helped "create rituals to mourn the earth."

There's more at the link.

Y'know, I could understand this in a non-denominational, non-Christian setting, where anything goes.  However, as far as I know, Union is a college teaching Christian theology, albeit of the liberal variety.  Wikipedia notes:

In the 20th century, Union became a center of liberal Christianity. It served as the birthplace of the Black theology, womanist theology, and other theological movements.

Is the list now to include horticultural hermeneutics?  I suppose it could, if the faculty are up to fertilizer . . .


Thursday, September 19, 2019


Found at Brigid's place, in a collection of funny dog tweets:

Who can resist a good doggie pun?  There are plenty more at the link.  Enjoy!


Tab clearing

Several items have crossed my monitor in recent days and weeks that I haven't had time to develop into full-length blog articles, but I think are nevertheless worth sharing.

1.  With the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks still fresh in our minds, here are two articles that you might want to bookmark for future reference.  They contain material that's timeless, and will be useful long into the future, particularly when speaking with people who weren't even alive when the attacks took place.

Images of 9/11: A Visual Remembrance

The 9/11 Attacks: Understanding Al-Qaeda and the Domestic Fall-Out from America's Secret War

Both are well worth reading, and bookmarking, and remembering.

2.  A well-known fact, but one many people forget:

Grocery stores would run out of food in just 3 days if long-haul truckers stopped working

If you haven't got a few weeks' basic needs stockpiled (food, at least a week's water, essential supplies like medication, etc.) then go read that article.  It'll provide encouragement for you to start work on that, right away.

3.  Larry Correia, author and friend in meatspace and cyberspace, is renowned for the quality and length of his rants when something or someone offends him.  He's just unleashed his latest, and it's a doozy!  I'm going to censor the title here, because some of his language is anything but family-friendly;  but when you read it, it's hard to disagree with his sentiments.


Go read.

4.  Michael Z. Williamson, another author buddy, takes on gun control (again) on his blog, and points out how much falsehood is involved in its arguments.

How Gun Control Supporters Lie to Themselves, Each Other, and Us

Good stuff, and all true.

5.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about Robert Mugabe's death.  In my article, I concluded:

By tolerating the existence of such brutal dictators, the West has basically made the problem of Africa much worse . . . both for Africans, and for the West as a whole.

Some commenters took issue with those words, accusing me of trying to shift blame for such tyrants onto the West, rather than African tribal culture.  No, I wasn't trying to do that:  but I think the evidence for Western tolerance of, if not active support for such dictators, is very clear.  One reader suggested this article about the Live Aid efforts of the 1980's, which supports my thesis:

Live Aid: The Terrible Truth

All that public outpouring of sympathy and money merely funded genocide.  It was almost entirely a wasted effort.

6.  Be careful who you label a Nazi.  The real Nazis were infinitely worse than mere present-day political opponents.

Dachau Does Not Believe in Tears

I made the same point during my fuss with Tor Books a few years ago (not that those throwing around the "Nazi!" accusation were willing to listen to facts or reason.  In my experience, they never are.)  Having had to deal with real neo-Nazis, I don't take loony-left accusations of Nazism very kindly, no matter who's being falsely accused.

I might add that if you visit the site of the former death camp at Auschwitz, and you listen very carefully at the site of the gas chambers . . . you can still hear the screams, if you listen with your soul.  I'm not making that up.  It's an uncanny and terrifying reality.  Similarly, visit the site of Bergen-Belsen, and just stand there silently, and listen.  If you don't believe the dead still speak, that should cure you of your disbelief, right there.

If you can't go to Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen, watch this video from 1945 of what a correspondent found when he entered the latter camp after its liberation.  Every word, every image, is true.

That's what Nazism meant, and still means.  Don't let others throw the term around idly, as if it were just another political label.  If anybody calls me a Nazi, they're comparing me to the men who did that.  They do so at their own risk.

7.  Finally, with reference to the recent New York Times attempt to slander Justice Kavanaugh of the US Supreme Court (about which I wrote a few days ago), I note that the Conservative Treehouse has very capably dissected the situation and exposed the real background to this brouhaha.  It makes very interesting reading.

Lawfare Group Begins Delegitimizing Supreme Court…

Essential reading, IMHO, to understand the rationale behind the NYT's scurrilous propaganda.

There you are.  That should give you reading matter for a few minutes, at least.


Socialism is grate!

Found on Gab:

In this case, emphatically:  no s***, Sherlock!


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

More about smatchets

I've had a few questions from readers about the World War II "smatchet" combat knife developed by William E. Fairbairn for Allied special forces, after I mentioned it in passing last week.  (You can read more about this remarkable man and his contribution to self-defense here.)  Here's an authentic smatchet, issued to Corporal R. T. Petteit of the Z Special Unit, which was active in the Pacific theater of war.  It's now in an Australian museum.  Click the image for a larger view.

The smatchet is a very large, very specialized knife.  Its sole purpose is combat - it's not easily adapted to any other role, due to both sides of the blade being sharpened.  It's been compared to the ancient Greek xiphos sword, although it's shorter than sword length, of course.  (See here for an interesting discussion about the xiphos and its use.)  Fairbairn codified simple techniques to use the smatchet in his 1942 book "All-In Fighting" and its later American edition, "Get Tough!", which are now out of copyright and available as an e-book from various sources on the Internet.  (Here's one, if you're interested.)  In that book, he said of the smatchet:

The psychological reaction of any man, when he first takes the smatchet in his hand is full justification for its recommendation as a fighting weapon. He will immediately register all the essential qualities of a good soldier – confidence, determination, and aggressiveness. Its balance, weight and killing power, with the point, edge or pommel, combined with the extremely simple training necessary to become efficient in its use, make it the ideal personal weapon for all those not armed with a rifle and bayonet.

I had the good fortune, in my younger days, to spend some time with a man, an acquaintance of my father's, who'd been trained to use the smatchet by William Fairbairn himself during World War II.  He said they were taught to use it in simple, uncomplicated ways.  As near as I can recall, he said, "If you try to get complicated in a knife fight, you're going to die.  Keep it simple, and be as brutal as you need to be to finish it fast.  The longer it goes on, the more likely you are to get hurt, too."  Given his extensive combat experience, attested to by several medals, I wasn't about to argue with him!

He also described the philosophy of knife fighting, as taught by various instructors during his training for the British Commandos.  Again, from memory, it went something like this.  "The first rule of a knife fight is, don't get into one, because you're as likely to get cut as the other man.  Rather kill him without warning.  However, if you have no choice, and things do turn into a knife fight, then you need to cut down your enemy's ability to fight back.  Don't try for the big kill all at once unless you have to, to stop him raising the alarm.  Rather slow him down by hurting him, then move in once he can't defend himself."  They were taught to "peck" at their opponent.  Specific moves he recalled included:
  • Cutting the forehead, which bleeds easily and profusely, so that the blood blinds your opponent ("he can't stab you while he's wiping his eyes");
  • Cutting at fingers and hands, knees and elbows as the enemy tries to stab or hit you with his weapon, keeping him at a distance ("if you cut off enough fingers, he can't hold his knife");
  • Slicing attacks at limbs and the torso as you move around each other, taking advantage of the enemy's movement to provide an opening for your blade ("if his arm muscles or tendons aren't working, he can't stab you, and if his leg muscles or tendons aren't working, he can't move").

He said that obviously, if speed and silence were of the essence, you didn't want to waste time in a long-drawn-out fight.  You had to attack quickly and silently, and dispose of your enemy before he could raise the alarm or fight back.  For that, he said, the smatchet was an outstanding weapon.  Its big, leaf-shaped blade appeared to cause paralyzing pain when it was thrust into the body, much more so than the thin, needle-like wounds caused by the better-known Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.  Yes, he spoke from experience . . . and he taught a very interested young man some of what he'd learned, using sticks rather than blades.  As I was to find out, many of the techniques were easily adapted for use with the panga, a machete-style blade that's common in Southern Africa, and was widely employed in tribal conflicts.

There have been several copies made of the smatchet by modern knife-makers (such as Boker's version), but none of them appear to be readily available at present at reasonable prices.  The most easily available and affordable version is Cold Steel's Shanghai Warrior knife (shown below), the blade of which is almost identical in shape and cross-section to the smatchet (albeit a little shorter than the original).  Its name is, of course, a tribute to Fairbairn, who learned his "trade" on the streets of that city before World War II.

There's also a smaller version, the Shanghai Shadow, which is about 2.5" shorter than the Warrior.  Both are relatively low-cost, but still appear to me to be pretty effective blades for what they are.  I don't like the ring on the end of the hilt, which is presumably there for use with an Oriental knife technique of some kind;  but I find them usable despite its presence.  I have one of each.  The hilts aren't the best or most easy-to-use shape, but wrapping them with overgrip tape makes them much more comfortable.  A couple of passes with a sharpening steel or stone or the equivalent, and they're ready for action.

The smatchet won't do as a general-purpose knife.  I wouldn't take one camping with me:  something like the Kershaw Camp Knife or a short machete would be far more versatile for that environment.  However, as a fighting knife, I submit the smatchet design is tested and proven, and has a lot to offer.  Yes, I know it's extremely unlikely any of us will ever get into a knife fight . . . but I've been in a couple, in my younger days, so I take even a remote possibility seriously.  (Yes, I have scars to prove it.  Ask my wife.)


Languages may be maddening, but they may help to keep you sane

It seems that being able to speak multiple languages, and/or being able to express oneself well, may help to prevent dementia.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo recently conducted a study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, to explore the association between multilingualism and dementia risk.

To do so, they examined 325 Roman Catholic nuns who were members of the Sisters of Notre Dame in the United States. They gathered the data from the Nun Study, which assesses the sisters and their brain health.

After reviewing the material, they found 6% of the nuns who spoke four or more languages developed dementia, compared to 31% of those who spoke only one language.

. . .

The team also evaluated the nuns’ writing and discovered those who could best express their ideas on paper also had a lower dementia risk.

There's more at the link.

When you think about it, I suppose that's logical.  One's mind has to work that much harder to translate, not just words, but concepts, between languages;  so it stands to reason that doing so often would "stretch" one's mental capabilities, just as physical exercise is a workout for the body's muscles.  If physical exercise helps to stave off physical disease or deterioration, why shouldn't mental exercise do the same for the mind?

However, I guess one would need to use that ability frequently if it's to have the desired effect.  I learned five languages in my younger days, in varying degrees of fluency:  English, Afrikaans, French, Zulu and Southern Sotho.  However, I haven't used the latter four (except in passing, very infrequently - the latter two usually to swear when I stub my toe!) since coming to the USA more than two decades ago.  I'm not sure whether simply having studied them, once upon a time, would confer any immunity to dementia if I'm not actually using them.

As for writing being an anti-dementia exercise, that's debatable.  Again, I think it depends on what you're writing.  If you're not actually using your brain to develop concepts and express them, is there any creativity involved?  And, if not, would that mental activity confer any sort of health benefit?  I'm not sure.  I've certainly heard of enough writers who've gone senile, or exhibited other mental problems.

Be that as it may, I guess I'd better write faster, just in case!


Eating like a medieval peasant

I was interested to read about a re-enactment group's issuing of a cookbook containing medieval English recipes - well, Cumbrian, actually.

Cumbria’s peasants, it turns out, ate much as we strive to today—though for vastly different reasons. Lack of access to an international array of foods meant the peasants’ diets consisted of plant-based, low-sugar meals of locally sourced, if not home-grown ingredients; the book’s simple “Roast Onions with Thyme” recipe is emblematic. Voluntary, intermittent fasting wasn’t uncommon either, says Jones, albeit in the name of religious self-discipline rather than detoxification. An excerpt from a contemporary work by Bishop Grosseteste indicates that table manners were to be observed (“Never eat bread with abandon till they have set down the dishes. People may think you are famished”). An aside on at-home cooking describes a “home-delivery system” that catered to the many families who, rather than couch-laden, had no kitchens whatsoever.

Elsewhere, Medieval Meals highlights the religious and culinary boundaries that shaped the peasants’ diets and made them so different from our own. A recipe for Monastic Beans with pork lard is a reference to the Rule of St. Benedict. With beans so easy to grow and hard to spoil, writes Appley, monks were prescribed a pound daily alongside a pound of bread—much to the recorded chagrin of many in the monastery. Peasants outside the clergy, whose days “started off with bread and ale,” fared little better. God’s animals were spared slaughter four days a week in reverence of Noah’s Ark, although Medieval Meals nods to a conveniently flexible, if not altogether bizarre, medieval interpretation of meat: “Fish didn’t count as meat … and beavers were eaten because of the superficial resemblance of the tail to fish.”

There's more at the link.

The cookbook may be ordered from the re-enactment group's Web site.  At the moment, due to "a sudden influx of interest" (probably due to the article cited above), they've sold out, but new copies will be in stock within days.  I'll be buying one.

(I must admit, the thought of a monastery where every monk ate a pound of beans, every day, is a bit daunting, due to their well-known side effectNot the odor of sanctity!)


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The past was another country, indeed . . .

One of the most famous quotations from L. P. Hartley's novel "The Go-Between" is this:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

I've been forcibly reminded of that while reading "A Builder of the West:  The life of General William Jackson Palmer" by John S. Fisher, published in 1939.

General Palmer (brief biography here) was a Civil War officer, later awarded the Medal of Honor for his battlefield courage.  He was the founder and first President of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, which has already featured in one of my Ames Archives novels, "Rocky Mountain Retribution".  He and his railroad will take center stage in at least one future Ames novel, too.

What's surprised me in reading this biography is the nonchalant attitude of General Palmer and almost everyone else in the Old West towards the casual slaughter of wildlife for no good reason except entertainment.  His letters repeatedly describe shooting from train windows at the vast herds of animals through which they passed.  For example:

"...they rode back to the railhead of the Kansas Pacific, and on by train to Sheridan, blazing away with rifle and pistol from the car windows at the great herds of buffalo.  He sits and writes to Queen Mellen (his future bride), then breaks off to fire at 'a portly and aged couple, both "bearded like the pard", who came up and defied us within fifty yards'."

And a few weeks later:

"We are out among the buffalo and antelope again, and passengers are getting out their guns to shoot at them from the car windows."

To our modern sensibilities, this is nothing short of monstrous cruelty to animals, killing purely for "sport", not even for food - the train didn't stop to collect meat from their kills.  However, in the 1860's and 1870's, it was so commonplace that it attracted little attention.  Indeed, in some circles it was regarded as praiseworthy, because every dead buffalo meant one less animal on which the Indian tribes could subsist.  By wiping out the buffalo, the destruction of the traditional Indian way of life - and their ability to prey on white settlers - was eventually assured.

I enjoy doing research like this.  Not only does it make my historical novels more accurate, it teaches me things of which I wasn't aware.  It's always good to stretch one's mind.

If you're interested in doing likewise, there are a large number of online resources where you can look for older reference works, long out of print, but containing information that simply isn't available online.  Two useful lists of available resources are here and here.  I tend to use four in particular;, of course, and then (in alphabetical order) Abebooks, Alibris and Bookfinder.  When those don't find what I want, I may expand my search to other Web sites, or I may just be patient and wait - it depends how badly I want the book.  I also try to narrow down the field of what I'm looking for.  If there are, say, twenty or so books covering the area in which I'm interested, I try to shortlist the five most useful volumes, based on what other readers and researchers have said about them;  then I search for that shorter list in particular.  It cuts out a lot of deadwood.

It's also worth being patient in your search.  Some old books, such as Fisher's volume cited above, can be very expensive;  it's not unusual to find it advertised at prices well into three figures.  However, by keeping a watchful eye out, one can sometimes find a vendor (perhaps a private seller, or a thrift shop that doesn't realize what they've got) asking a much lower price, particularly if it's readable, but otherwise not in very good condition.  (Readability is what I'm after, of course, rather than collectibility.)  In this case, I waited for over two years, doing a search every month or two to monitor availability, until I found a very nice clean copy on sale for under $40.  Needless to say, I grabbed it at once!

One of the difficulties, of course, is that one's collection keeps growing.  Miss D. and I culled about two-thirds of my library before we moved to Texas in early 2016, cutting back to "only" seven large (and very full) bookcases.  I currently have enough books to fill an eighth, if I allowed myself to buy it!  In sheer self-defense, I've started buying e-book editions of many of my old favorites if they're available, and setting aside the paper editions to sell or donate.  So far, that's kept my library within manageable proportions.  Whether it'll stay that way . . . who knows?


Updating the US Army's shooting training

The US Army's new publication TC 3-20.40, "Training and Qualification - Individual Weapons", has been temporarily withdrawn to amend a few politically incorrect entries;  but it nevertheless appears to be a fairly substantial revision to the training standards for modern US soldiers.  Strategy Page has more.

What it comes down to is that troops must demonstrate not just shooting accuracy each year, but a larger array of related skills. These include firing night and day as well as while wearing a gas mask. Troops must not only seek to hit the target on the firing range but to do so while moving and changing firing positions. These include standing, kneeling and prone. The firing exercise is also continuous and troops carry extra ammo in on them as they would in combat and are tested on how well they get new magazines from where it is carried and into the weapon. There is no longer just one target but multiple targets and you are rated on how well you quickly select and fire on the one that is the greatest threat. There are no longer time-outs for jammed weapons or other problems. You are rated on how well you deal with these realistic disruptions. These problems could be fatal in combat if you didn’t know how to handle it under fire. All this is done while moving downrange among other troops firing and facing the same problems.

The new weapons qualification test will not be as much as a shock to the average soldier because a lot of the new items tested because of TC 3-20.40 are already part of basic and advanced infantry training. This came about because the army quickly realized after 2001 that better weapons training was required for the infantry as well as everyone else. Especially everyone else. So you could say that you could say TC 3-20.40 has been a work in progress for over fifteen years.

By 2005 combat experience in Iraq had already changed the way the army trained its troops to use their rifles, machine-guns and pistols. Since two-thirds of the casualties are caused by roadside bombs and gunfire from ambushes, troops have had to learn to use their weapons reflexively. This is a special kind of shooting, and the army usually had its hands full just teaching the troops the basics. This was especially the case for combat support troops, who are not expected to use their weapons often, if at all. In Iraq, any combat support troops outside a base quickly learned that combat was a very real possibility at any time. Thus, by late 2003, more elaborate and intensive weapons training became a necessity.

. . .

This application of “lessons learned” continued to change training for years. Many of these lessons are the same ones picked up in every war the U.S. has fought in the last century. But this wisdom gets polluted, diluted and forgotten during peacetime. If you are patient, observant, and not too old, you can watch this process repeat itself over the next two decades. The army realized it had to institutionalize much of this valuable experience. Which was another reason for TC 3-20.40.

Put another way the army took its Iraq/Afghanistan reality check seriously and made the kinds of changes that make a difference.

There's more at the link, including details of the amended and updated training.

I'm very pleased to see these updates being "institutionalized".  Having undergone weapons training myself in the South African military, I can attest from personal experience that the range training we initially received had not very much to do with the demands of operational shooting.  Shooting against the clock on a timed course of fire is all very well, but it's nothing like the stress and adrenaline and fear of "If I don't kill that ****** right now, he's going to kill me!"  That's a whole different kind of clock . . .

The most valuable shooting training I ever received with military weapons was that developed by the Rhodesian Light Infantry (see the sections "Fire and Movement" and "The Rhodesian Cover Shoot" in this .PDF document for more information).  Their "jungle walk" course of fire emphasized accurate snap-shooting in a bush warfare environment, with both eyes open, scanning the surroundings and shooting at every target that popped up.  It was hair-raising and scary, but after a few runs through the course of fire, everyone's accuracy and speed on target improved enormously.  Later, in the bush, those "lessons learned" would save more than a few of our lives.

There was, however, a noticeable "disconnect" between the square-range training of basic instruction (and even of so-called "advanced" infantry training), and the "jungle walk" approach.  Some instructors maintained that unless one had first received adequate square range training (shooting at known targets over known distances, and scored for accuracy), one couldn't do well at "combat"-type shooting training.  In my experience, this wasn't so.  Those who came to the "jungle walk" from a background of hunting and farm defense operations frequently outshot everybody else in combat, even though they scored more poorly than the rest of us on the square range.

I'm pleased to see the US Army codifying its experience in this way.  Now, of course, the challenge will be to stop its instruction "ossifying" over time, until the "lessons learned" have been forgotten - and have to be re-learned the hard way, all over again.


Social services and prisons: is there a cause-and-effect relationship?

I was struck by two articles, written on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, that I came across within the past few days.  I think that in isolation, each is self-explanatory;  but when read together, the synergy between them is clear.

The first article is from the New York Post, and is titled "Social services used to build character — now they blame society".

“Those who have much to do with plans of human improvement,” [Charles Loring Brace] wrote, “see how superficial and comparatively useless all assistance or organization is which does not touch . . . the inner forces which form character” ... [he described the approach] as “to avert rather than cure.”

This philosophy was practiced throughout much of American history through non-governmental groups we today call civil society. New York’s Henry Street Settlement, for example, not only taught English but how to manage a healthy household. Indeed, my own father was placed in foster care and looked after by a purely private, philanthropic enterprise, Philadelphia’s Juvenile Aid Society. A wealthy volunteer would visit him and emphasize the importance of such virtues as “honor, confidence, trust, self-control, truth, honesty and good manners.”

The common thread in all this? A focus more on the formative than the reformative.

Some today denigrate such values as “bourgeois norms,” but they were actually values promoted to the poor by established, affluent Americans who understood they were the keys to upward mobility and life satisfaction.

. . .

We have come to neglect the promotion of these values. This is largely because our civil society has been changed, drawn into an embrace with a vast social-service state on which government spends tens of billions of dollars — even as the country struggles with an opioid crisis and a retreat, by prime-age adults, from work and purpose.

We are good at funding programs and paying social workers to help “clients” whose lives have gone awry, whether because of substance abuse, teen pregnancy or domestic violence. At the federal level, the Administration for Children and Families disburses some $53 billion annually on such programs, which is more than the individual budgets of the departments of Justice, Treasury or Interior.

. . .

Today, our independent sector, which once promoted constructive virtues and values, has become a propaganda machine, preaching the structural failings of the American system, rather than counseling the poor on how to succeed within it.

There's more at the link.

The second article, from Britain, is titled "Prison governor attacks 'fantasy' that criminals can be rehabilitated behind bars".

Rehabilitation of criminals is a “fantasy”  as the prison system cannot be expected to undo a lifetime of troubles in a few months, a leading official has said.

James Bourke, the governor of HMP Winchester, said Britain’s prisons may work in scaring white, middle class people, but for others they can simply become a “place of refuge”.

He suggested the main purpose of custodial sentences should be punishment - because no other form of sentence seemed to have an effect on offenders.

. . .

He told an audience in central London: "People quite understandably want to see people punished if they have caused harm in their lives.

"Unfortunately, everything else we have tried so far has not worked. Imprisonment works in the sense it does punish people.

"They arrive with me after years of (problems) with their family, their education, their social services system, their healthcare for a sentence of four or five weeks and I'm going to rehabilitate them? It's a fantasy."

. . .

Mr Bourke continued:  "I think the reality of prison is that it is designed by nice, white middle-class people and it works for nice, middle-class people.

"For any one of us in this room to go to prison would be a disaster, but what we have created is a group of people, a section of our community, who go to prisons and it is not a personal disaster - in fact it becomes a place of refuge for them."

He claimed the rising cost of housing and higher education risked leaving behind swathes of the population to whom the prospect of prison offered stability, rather than punishment.

Again, more at the link.

If you read the second article in the light of the first, it makes scarily good sense.  If the social support networks and organizations we've built in our society don't actually lead people to take responsibility for their own lives, but instead keep them dependent on those networks (in the process creating jobs for millions who are employed to keep them dependent), personal responsibility and "standing on your own two feet" go out of the metaphorical window.

I saw this during my service as a prison chaplain.  The "system" (certainly as far as most state and local prisons and jails was concerned, and often the better-funded federal system as well) was designed to warehouse offenders, rather than do something constructive and positive with them.  The message was "Stay out of trouble, do your time, and you'll get out of here and back to a normal life".  Few, if any, staff members thought about what the normality of such a life might be.  For all too many of our inmates, it was right back into a dependency network where they were provided with support without having to exercise any personal responsibility to obtain or keep it.  They went from being dependent on prison staff for everything they needed, to being dependent on outside support networks . . . and came right back into the prison support network when they reoffended.  They were never challenged to change themselves.

I tried to do that as a chaplain, based on spiritual beliefs.  I had very limited success.  I'm afraid the stories of "jailhouse conversions" are largely true.  Many people will pretend to believe, in order to get additional benefits behind bars, but abandon their pretended faith as soon as they're back on the street.  Perhaps one in ten "converts" was genuine . . . but the only way to tell was to watch what they did, rather than what they said.  It's striking how many convict converts went right on lying, stealing, cheating and being violent after their "conversion", even when they knew I was watching.  Somehow, they thought they could persuade me this was an aberration.  (They didn't.)

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but reading these two articles in rapid succession reminded me of many years' work with the allegedly "downtrodden" of society.  In many cases, they were downtrodden because they refused to get up and walk on their own - and the social service and support networks and organizations available to them never tried to make them do so.  Instead, they kept them as dependent as possible.

Makes you think, doesn't it?


Monday, September 16, 2019


I found this over at Wirecutter's place, and had to laugh:

I found it particularly amusing because, despite being born and raised in Africa, I'm of Caucasian ancestry.  When I came to the USA, more than two decades ago, I used to enjoy introducing myself as "the only real African-American in these parts".  My black friends would often respond with something along the lines of, "No way, man - you's a honky!"  Much mutual amusement resulted.

The thought of a "honky" King Kong-type gorilla is just too funny . . .


The Saudi oil attacks - read the map

I note that Yemeni rebels have claimed responsibility for attacking Saudi Arabian oil refining facilities using (presumably) Iranian-manufactured and -supplied drones over the weekend.  I'm not so sure.  Consider this map of the region, with the area of the drone attacks highlighted by a red marker.

That's an awful long way from Yemen, where the Houthi rebels are fighting.  What's more, the Yemeni border area is well covered by radar, with missiles and fighter aircraft on permanent standby to intercept ballistic missiles and other attacks launched from rebel territory.  To suggest that the drones flew all that way north, penetrating all those air defenses, without being detected, is (to me) suspicious on the face of it.

On the other hand, look at Iran, the main supporter (and supplier of armaments to) the Houthi rebels.  It's much closer to the target area, and could conceivably get operators even closer through using innocent-looking ships to approach the Saudi coast without incurring suspicion.  What's more, according to the BBC, "the US government believed that 15 buildings at Abqaiq had been damaged on the west-northwest sides [i.e. the sides facing towards Iran], not the southern sides facing Yemen".  On the face of it, without any evidence to prove that the drones did, in fact, come from Yemen, I'd suspect that Iran launched and controlled the drones (or cruise missiles) directly.

The question is, what can be done about it?  I don't think the United States should get directly involved;  after all, our territory and/or personnel weren't attacked, so we have no axe to grind here, apart from our ally being the victim.  I think we should leave it up to the countries in that region to coordinate a response among themselves.  (Israel also plays into this;  it has its own problems with Iran, and might be more than willing to join a coalition effort against that country.)  What's more, using a similar tactic against Iran (drone attacks on its infrastructure) might be just as effective, and provide plausible deniability as well.  ("Oh, some of your Houthi friends' drones must have gone off-course, and hit you instead of us.  Terribly sorry about that, and all that sort of thing.")

The situation is complicated by the fact that Iran has, effectively, two governments and two militaries.  The "regular" government is one thing:  the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (recently designated as a terrorist organization by the USA) is entirely another.  The latter is much more radicalized, and usually operates at the direction of fanatical religious leaders rather than the national political authority.  If Iran did, in fact, launch these attacks, I'd say they were much more likely to come from the Revolutionary Guard than from the country's "traditional" armed forces.

I think we're very fortunate that the USA is, as near as makes no difference, self-supporting in oil production.  Most of the rest of the world isn't so fortunate, and is at greater economic risk if oil supplies are disrupted.  That's now more than a theoretical possibility.


If at first you don't succeed, lie, lie again

The brouhaha over a (very tenuously) alleged "assault" by Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, reported by the New York Times over the weekend, is utterly ridiculous and nonsensical.  It also exposes that newspaper (yet again) as a hollow shell of its former self, a propaganda organ rather than a serious journalistic endeavor.  Consider:
  • The alleged "victim" of the "assault" has no recollection of it ever occurring, and refuses to discuss it.  As another reporter noted, "Omitting this fact from the New York Times story is one of the worst cases of journalistic malpractice in recent memory."  The newspaper later updated its story to reflect this, but by then the damage was done.
  • The person the NYT claims made the allegations, Max Stier, was a Clinton lawyer during the Whitewater investigations in the 1990's, pitting him against Kavanaugh, who was at the time on the staff of independent counsel Ken Starr.  This provides potential grounds for animosity and/or lack of objectivity on Mr. Stier's part (which were not mentioned in the accusatory article).
  • The newspaper tweeted, then deleted, a weird message that appeared to come as close as possible to slandering Justice Kavanaugh without actually crossing the legal line defining that crime - again, without any first-hand evidence that the incident in question ever occurred.
  • As if prearranged and scripted in advance (which would not surprise me), almost every left-wing, progressive Democratic Party candidate for the Presidential elections in 2020 immediately began to parrot calls for Justice Kavanaugh's impeachment, despite no evidence whatsoever being advanced to support the allegations against him.

The entire episode is so blatantly scripted, so clearly the product of innuendo and suggestion rather than established fact, that it's sickening.  It's a new low even for the New York Times, which appears to have progressed (you should pardon the expression) from "all the news that's fit to print" to "all the partisan propaganda we think we can get away with".

I have a personal theory about the timing and nature of this attack on Justice Kavanaugh, which is not based on any private information or evidence, but is, I think, at least within the realms of possibility.  Justice Ginsberg, one of the leading left-wing judges on the Supreme Court, is elderly, and has suffered serious health issues in recent years (most recently pancreatic cancer, a disease with a five-year survival rate of less than one in ten patients).  What if it was known or suspected, in certain political circles, that her illness was, or is, rather more serious than has been publicly reported?  What if, privately, she isn't expected to live for much longer?

Would that be sufficient motivation for left-wing and progressive opinion-shapers to coordinate their attacks on Justice Kavanaugh, seeking to remove him from the court (or at least render his judgments suspect, to put it mildly), in advance of fighting to prevent another conservative judge from being appointed to replace Justice Ginsberg?  Both measures would (hopefully, from their point of view) affect the current conservative majority on the court, and if President Trump does not win re-election in 2020, might allow a Democratic Party successor to reverse it - or, at least, restore SCOTUS to a balance of perspectives, politically speaking (if not reverse the current situation).

As I said, I have no evidence whatsoever for that theory . . . but I find it compelling, nonetheless.  Hey, if an "authoritative" source like the New York Times can advance opinions without a single shred of evidence to support them, why can't I?


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sunday morning music

Here's something rather different, courtesy of Australian reader Snoggeramus.  It's the famous "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's opera "The Barber of Seville" . . . played on a rubber chicken!

So help me, I'll never be able to get my hair cut again with a straight face . . .


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Newspaper headline of the week

Yes, it's a real headline, from the Telegraph in Britain:

Clearly, there's no movement in the case . . .


On the road again

Miss D. and I are headed for the Texas Panhandle, to spend time with our friend Alma Boykin and take in a little local culture at the Tri-State Fair and Rodeo(Yeeeeeee-haw!)  We'll be back home tomorrow evening.  Please say a prayer for traveling mercies for us, if you're so inclined.

I've queued up a post for tomorrow morning.  For more reading matter, please visit the bloggers listed in my sidebar.  They do good work, too!


Restoring marriage

The problems inherent in marriage are discussed in an article at National Review.  The excerpt below highlights many of the issues they discuss, and I've highlighted one paragraph in bold, underlined text for further discussion.

Who or what is to blame for this unraveling of marriage and the complete breakdown of trust in Rob’s world, and in the world of so many white, working-class people like him?

Economic instability is most immediately evident ... Less visible but more dramatic is the role of social alienation. At least two generations have now come of age in the aftermath of the divorce revolution, and whatever the original causes — was it economic change or cultural change that mattered more? — the trauma that generations of children in fragmented families have experienced has become a main factor explaining the great unraveling. “Trust issues” run rampant.

Simply put, when you grow up without any positive marriage models, it’s more difficult to trust the opposite sex and to have confidence in marriage.  “Back in the Fifties, yeah, love existed,” was how one young gas-station attendant put it. “Now it don’t. . . . Love is just a word. It’s just fake.”

It’s also the case that in the proliferation of trauma and family chaos — high rates of children born outside of marriage, the opioid epidemic — marriage sometimes becomes about filling loneliness and healing broken selves: two emotionally needy people seeking solace and loading marriage with expectations that it can’t possibly fulfill ... Further, social alienation has left a vacuum in which many working-class young people are even more vulnerable to (misleading) cultural cues about relationships and marriage. In the absence of in-the-flesh marriage models, what entertainers and educators say has unmitigated power.

Particularly damaging is the popular story about love, because it is foundational for all else — choosing a partner, the timing of sex, the meaning and purpose of marriage, the bounds of family. For instance, if love is primarily a feeling that just happens to you, then finding a spouse is less an active process of discernment and more an “aha” moment. You can fall in love, and out of it. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck contrasts this “fixed mindset” with a “growth mindset” about love, which expects feelings to ebb and flow with the circumstances of life and sees that it takes effort to overcome inevitable differences and create lasting love.

Whereas even ten years ago the public conversation about the marriage gap — that is, the divergence of marriage trends across class lines — felt relatively one-sided depending on a person’s ideology, today it’s common to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of the marriage retreat. There is a growing awareness that it’s not simply about bad choices or malignant forces. There is no one thing killing marriage. Instead, a dizzying array of economic, social, and cultural causes are intersecting with people’s free choices.

There's more at the link.

I don't necessarily agree with the conclusions expressed in the final paragraph above.  Many of those problems have been with us for centuries.  There's nothing new about them.  What's either absent, or has been warped and twisted into some romantic ideal that has nothing to do with reality, is love.  I'd like to talk about that for a while.

First off, romantic love is not, repeat, NOT an essential foundation for a marriage.  It's very nice to have, sure;  but in centuries past, a vast number of marriages were contracted by arrangement between the families, rather than any genuine feeling between the partners.  They managed to have happy, fulfilling marriages in spite of that lack, because they were brought up to understand that building a marital relationship involved hard work and mutual accommodation.  They expected that from the start, and had the lived example of their parents and (if they were lucky) earlier generations of their families to prove it to them.  If love developed on top of that, it was the icing on the cake, the cherry on top.  Remember Tevyeh and his wife in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof"?

That approach to marriage was true of an astonishing number of people, and it remains so today in many parts of the world.  In traditional, tribal Africa, for example, the woman is "bought" from her father by her husband for a "bride price" or lobola.  (Being from Africa, I jokingly offered one to her American father when I was courting Miss D., and assured him that it didn't have to be paid in cows in this day and age - TV sets were all the rage.  He wasn't quite sure how to take that!)  In other parts of the world, it's often the other way around, where the bride is expected to bring a dowry with her into the marriage.  If it isn't considered sufficient, particularly in India and nearby countries, murder or suicide may result, so-called "dowry death".  Love doesn't enter into such commercial transactions;  indeed, love may be an obstacle to the bidding process.

Another problem, and a very significant one in post-religious, relatively moral-less First World society, is the conflation of "love" with "sex".  Far too many people mis-identify the release of oxytocin during and after sex with the feeling of being in love.  It's anything but!  It's just a physical manifestation, a by-product.  What's more, it occurs with multiple sexual partners, not just with those for whom one feels a romantic attraction.  In today's hookup culture, sex has become almost completely divorced from real love - and that's a tragedy, in my opinion.  After dozens, or scores, or even hundreds of casual sexual partners, what has a man or a woman got to offer in the way of real intimacy to a life partner in marriage?  As a graffito in England claimed some years ago, "Love is five minutes of squelching noises".  If that's the case, why believe in or look for love at all?  And, if love is off the table, why bother getting married?  If sex is what it's all about, that's freely available without the bother and expense of a long-term relationship.  We've all heard the old saw, or variations on it:  "Why buy your own cow, when you can get cheap milk at the supermarket whenever you want it?"

The unshackling of sex from the marital relationship has just about destroyed the latter, even as it's devalued the former.  When one had to be married in order to have access to "sex on demand", it meant that one valued sex that much more highly - particularly all that came with it, such as marital rights, children, and so on.  It wasn't something to take lightly.  Yes, I accept that was exploited by men more than women, to the point where the latter were often oppressed because of it.  However, that "wrong" doesn't make the entire institution of marriage wrong as well.  It means that our wrong attitudes and sinful tendencies (yes, there's that word "sin" rearing its ugly head - morality intrudes!) need to be resisted and reformed if our marriages are to succeed.  That applies to a whole range of social interaction, not just marriage.  When John Adams, second President of the United States, famously said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other," he wasn't joking.  He meant every word.  (Which may help us to understand why basic Constitutional laws and norms are under such fierce attack in US politics and society today.)

Getting married is often portrayed in popular entertainment as the culmination of love, the star on top of the progressively more decorated tree, the crowning glory of an emerging relationship.  In times past, it was seen as the end of the beginning, the time when learning to live together really started.  The couple were expected to help each other through the process, making allowances, rubbing off the sharp corners in each other's lives until they could get along together.  Failure to do so was seen as a personal failure, which wasn't always fair if one partner was particularly difficult, but it was nevertheless an expectation.

I can cite my own parents as examples.  They met during World War II when my father fell on top of my mother on a Birmingham bus during an air raid, and flattened the breath out of her.  Not an auspicious beginning!  When she agreed to marry him, it was a rushed decision for both of them, because he was about to be posted overseas, and neither of them knew whether they'd ever see each other again.  A few weeks after their rushed, hurried wartime wedding, he left on a convoy heading for Singapore.  (If he hadn't been taken off it in South Africa to provide urgently needed engineering assistance to the South African Air Force, he'd have reached Singapore just in time to be taken prisoner by the Japanese.  Seven out of ten of the men in his convoy died in captivity.)

My parents didn't see each other again for over three years.  I think they realized at that point that their wartime marriage was not made in heaven;  that they had many differences, and would encounter many difficulties in getting along together.  Nonetheless, they'd both been brought up with the attitude that marriage was something one made work through hard work.  They persevered, and in 64 years together raised four kids, lived on three continents, and had a moderately successful life together.  They weren't always happy - in fact, some of the conflicts between them were so profound that they affected all of their children for many years, and probably still do - but they made it work, because that was the expectation in which they'd been raised.  Love had little to do with it, compared to the reality of having made a commitment, and being willing and resolved to work at making the commitment a fact.

I fear that "falling in love" has nowadays been replaced by "falling in lust" - a very different emotion, with very different long-term expectations and outcomes.  Sooner or later, in every relationship, lust dies down.  The fires don't go out, but they don't burn as brightly.  In some cases, health issues become so serious that physical expression of love becomes difficult, if not impossible.  However, where the partners are dedicated to making their relationship work, that's not an insuperable problem.  They can, and frequently do, remain very happy together, because they put extra work into making the other areas of their marriage better, to compensate for the "lackanookie".  As a pastor, I saw that often enough to make me very grateful for such people, and the example they set.  I tried to bring them into my ministry as auxiliary marriage counselors whenever possible, to show couples in trouble that they didn't have to despair, that success was possible even with major obstacles to overcome.

I think it's also vital to remind our partners, our spouses, that we love them.  Part of that's by bringing our part to the relationship;  doing domestic chores reliably and trustworthily, not nagging, not seeking to remake the other in our own image.  Part of it is acknowledging openly, to ourselves and the world, that we do love each other, and we are important to each other.  I don't let a single day go by without telling Miss D., several times, that I love her;  and I'm grateful that she does the same for me.  We still unashamedly hold hands and enjoy each other's company, publicly or privately, to the point where some of our friends comment on how silly we look, acting so "romantic" after almost ten years together.  We don't find it silly at all.  We cherish it, and we work at it, to keep it real.  That's one of the many reasons I love my wife.

Finally, of course, there's the question of whether marriage is a purely human relationship, or something more, something with divine sanction.  I have my own views, based on my faith, but I know many others don't share them.  That's OK with me.  I can still talk with them about the issues discussed above, and generally find common ground.  The fact that I seek divine help to get those issues right, while they may not, doesn't need to derail such discussions.  Too many of us insist dogmatically that others need to see marriage through our eyes, or through the Bible's perspective.  That can hinder, as much as help, mutual understanding.  Seek common ground, find it and affirm it, and only then look to go further, one step at a time.

Love is a decision, not a feeling;  an act of the will, not of the body.  Unless and until our young people re-learn that reality, they have little or no chance of making marriage work for them.  What's more, it's largely our fault for having failed to show them that, by example rather than our words, as they were growing up.  If we want to "fix" marriage, we have to start by fixing ourselves and our own relationships, on the basis of reality rather than wishful dreams.  Anything else is doomed to failure before we start.


Friday, September 13, 2019

You want an earworm? I got your earworm right here!

In e-mail correspondence with an overseas contact, whose native language is not English, he asked at one point "What is an 'earworm'?"  Well, of course, I volunteered to provide an example!  As a matter of fact, it's one I blogged about in 2015, when I first encountered it.  (The comments at that earlier blog post are worth reading, too.)

At any rate, here's Austrian "DJ Ötzi" with his (in)famous "Burger Dance", which went gold in Germany and hit #1 on the charts there (why, I don't know!).  His teenybopper audience appear to be singing right along, and getting into the spirit of the thing.

If that isn't the living definition of an earworm, I don't know what is!  The song was written by the British group Fast Food Rockers, who called it simply the "Fast Food Song".  Their official music video may be seen here.  However, I prefer the Austrian version, for some weird reason.  (Perhaps it's the "Rocky Horror Picture Show"-style pelvic thrusts from the dancers?  I still can't figure out how they go with any of the restaurants named . . . at least, I've never seen diners there perform them!)


Another interesting read for SF geeks

Alma Boykin is no stranger to readers of these pages.  She's a friend to Miss D. and I in meatspace as well as cyberspace, and we've enjoyed her books for years.  (We'll be spending time with her this weekend.)

Her latest novel in the "Colplatschki Chronicles" series is an interesting one.  "Fountains of Mercy" is the eighth in the series, but is actually a prequel to the other books.  It might appear at first to be a dystopian novel with science fiction overtones, but it's far from the run-of-the-mill in both genres.  Alma makes things much more technically interesting, and given her very extensive and varied background and education, she makes them believable, too.

The blurb reads:

Fires dance in the sky, and the great machines fail.

Colonial Plantation LTD can't decide what to do with Solana, also called ColPlat XI. Should it be a nature preserve, a living museum of pre-industrial techniques, or a standard colony? As the bureaucrats wrangle, a solar storm disrupts technology and reveals deep rifts between the colonists and their administrators.

Susanna "Basil" Peilov clawed her way out of the slums and wants nothing to do with the Company. Peter Babenburg just wants to build his water system and stay out of trouble. When the sky-fires come, Basil, Peter, and their families and friends stand between the colony and chaos. Company administrators assure everyone that replacement parts and assistance is coming, will come. Without those supply ships from the stars, everything falls apart and the colony will die. All that people can do is wait and hope for rescue.

The administrators never planned on facing a group of engineers, a crazy farmer and his wives, and colonists determined to protect their home. Hope comes from some unlikely places, and courage takes eccentric shapes.

It's an interesting book, and is currently keeping me busy turning the pages.  Recommended reading.


Combat resupply gets easier - and cheaper

The JPADS GPS-guided cargo parachute system has been in service with the US armed forces for some years.  It's proven very useful in remote terrain in places like Afghanistan, where resupply over long distances is expensive and dangerous.

Now it looks like something better - at least for smaller loads - is on the horizon.

Yates Electrospace unveiled at the Defense & Security Equipment International (DSEI) show in London a larger variant of its unmanned cargo glider, the Silent Arrow GD-2000, that can fly with a gross weight of 907kg (2,000lb).

The US-based company says it will start full-rate production in October and has contractual commitments for 3,020 aircraft.

The Silent Arrow is essentially a 2.43m (8ft)-long rectangular box with two-sets of attachable wings, a nose cone and tail assembly. The wings, nose cone and tail can be packed inside the aircraft’s fuselage for shipping. The UAV has a cargo volume of .75cb m (26cb ft).

The glide drone can be dropped from a Boeing C-17, Lockheed Martin C-130, Sikorsky CH-53, Bell Boeing V-22, as well as various side-door aircraft or from below a helicopter using a sling, says Yates Electrospace. It is designed to be used to resupply troops in hostile or austere locations with weapons, ammunition, equipment or food.

The UAV has been drop tested at 1,500ft above ground level up to 25,000ft mean sea level, the company says. It has a glide ratio of 8.4 to 1, which translates to a standoff range of 64.4km (40mi), says the aircraft designer.

There's more at the link.

Here's a manufacturer's video of a test flight of the new cargo glider.

According to another source, the GD-2000 can carry up to about 1,600 pounds of supplies, delivering them at less than half the cost of JPADS.  The present aircraft is single-use, but more versions are under development, including multi-use/reusable gliders, and an electrically powered version for extended range.  Models are also planned for humanitarian use (e.g. delivering aid supplies in an emergency) and commercial resupply missions.  The military will use the GD-2000 for smaller loads, but will still need the JPADS system for larger cargoes (it can deliver up to 60,000 pounds at present, and also cope with high-bulk loads like vehicle tires, far heavier and bigger than these gliders can handle).

That looks pretty handy!  I wish we'd had something like it (or JPADS) available when swanning around the bush in African war zones a few decades ago.  It would have made resupply a heck of a lot easier.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Nature, red in tooth and claw

Tennyson's famous phrase was (and still is) very familiar to those growing up in Africa, and I daresay in places like Alaska and other wildernesses too.  It's the simple fact of life.  Nature is predatory and ruthless, and almost all animals die through being killed and eaten by others, sooner or later.  Those who die from other causes end up being eaten anyway!

I was reminded of that by this photograph, found at SNAFU's place.  Clickit to biggit.

The Nile crocodile is endemic in Africa, with uncounted numbers infesting that continent's rivers and lakes.  (Some idiot's even released a few into the wild in Florida!)  They take hundreds of human victims every year, not to mention animals by the tens of thousands.  Scenes such as that shown below, during the annual wildebeest migration in Kenya, are so well-known as to have become a tourist attraction, as you can hear in the soundtrack of the video.

Yet somehow, people get upset when they see animal "cannibalism" like the photograph above.  I don't know why.  Animals are animals, without any moral sense or ethical motivation.  If they're hungry, they'll eat whatever is available.  I'd guesstimate that any full-grown crocodile or alligator must have eaten scores, if not hundreds, of smaller ones on their way to adulthood.  It's the way of the species, and the way of Nature as a whole.  The strong survive;  the weak go to the wall.  American alligators follow the same rule, it seems.

I'm rather glad civilization has sheltered many of us from that reality . . . but it doesn't shelter those having to live in the middle of it.  The figures for animal predation on humans bear that out.  We're not all that high up the food chain, when push comes to shove.



Stephan Pastis' cartoon yesterday made me laugh out loud.  (Click the image to go to a larger version at the Pearls Before Swine Web page.)

Somehow I don't think my elementary school English teacher would have let me get away with that!  Miss de Smit was an old tartar, who wasn't afraid to use corporal punishment when necessary (and yes, that was legal back then, which may shock modern sensibilities).  Nevertheless, her methods must have worked, because we all graduated from her class with a pretty clear idea about English grammar, vocabulary and usage.


Arguing from authority - by making up the authority

I've noticed a rash of spurious "quotations" from famous people in recent weeks, focusing on the debate about the Second Amendment and gun "rights", but also spreading to encompass almost every aspect of individual liberties and freedoms.  It troubles me that people aren't taking the time to verify the sources they cite so glibly;  and it troubles me even more that many of those sources are imaginary, to a greater or lesser extent.  The individuals named as sources never said what they're alleged to have said, rendering spurious any arguments based on those quotations.

Here, for example, is something Thomas Jefferson never said - but it's being spread around the Internet as true.

It's actually a paraphrase of a much longer excerpt from an Italian book published in 1774, which Jefferson copied (in the original Italian) into his "Commonplace Book".  The story behind it may be found here.

Jefferson is perhaps one of the most widely misquoted authorities from history (there's a very useful list here of spurious quotations attributed to him, which makes interesting reading).  However, he's far from alone.  I've seen Shakespeare misquoted more times than I can tell, not to mention the Bible (*ahem*Nancy Pelosi*ahem*) and almost every well-known politician or ruler in history.  The problem's become so bad that there are articles and books about it.

It's gotten to the point where, when someone bases their argument (or relies for support upon) a quotation from an historical figure, I automatically double-check their sources.  I'm no longer surprised (although I'm often annoyed) to find that they didn't bother to do so themselves, and therefore they've built their argument or position around a "straw man".  When called on it, they frequently try to duck and dive their way out of their self-inflicted predicament by saying that the false citation doesn't really matter;  that their argument is based on truth or fact, and they merely used the quotation to illustrate their position.  When they haven't advanced any other authoritative evidence or support for their claims, that rings hollow, to say the least.

In these troubled times, when traditional, classical and constitutional values and norms are under relentless attack everywhere, it behooves us to defend them using accurate citations, quotations and attributions.  Every time their enemies catch us misquoting something (or, God forbid, making up our supporting citations out of whole cloth, which I've seen too often for comfort), they triumphantly parade that fact as evidence to discredit our entire position.  Let's not give them that satisfaction, or that leverage;  and if we rely on some person or authority to back up our position, let's do our research first, and provide a link to the original, so our "work" can be checked.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Special Forces transports get down in the dirt

The USAF operates several dozen Lockheed Hercules MC-130J Commando II aircraft, to transport special forces to and from their operations, refuel associated aircraft in mid-air, and other tasks outside the normal transport function.

Recently a formation of four MC-130J's made several passes through the Mach Loop in Britain, a well-known plane-spotting area where military aircraft of all types practice low-level penetration of enemy airspace.  Courtesy of The Aviationist, here it is.

The pilots were clearly enjoying themselves, but I can't help wonder how difficult it was to fly that low.  A big transport reacts a lot more slowly than a nimble jet fighter or strike aircraft.  If they were a split-second late in responding to the aircraft's movements, it would be all too easy to fly the plane into the ground - not the sort of landing from which one can walk away!


The deadly risk posed by some MRI dyes

I wasn't aware that some Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) dyes have a history of causing severe health problems, some so serious that they're life-threatening.  Award-winning journalist Sharyl Attkisson reminds us of the scope of the problem.

Since 2017, I’ve reported on the increasing safety issues surrounding some commonly-used MRI dye known as “gadolinium.” I told the story with help from the wife of Chuck Norris who almost died from gadolinium toxicity after a series of MRIs.

After my initial report on Full Measure, the questionable dyes were banned in many countries. However, the FDA chose instead to issue a warning.

The problem is, not many people have heard of the warning and it’s not easy to find on the FDA website, as I reported.

Many doctors are also unaware. One expert explained to me that the medical doctors who refer patients for MRIs count on the radiologist to know about the dye warnings and risks. However, the radiologists who do know typically don’t see or consult with the patients, so the information is not transmitted.

My Full Measure story below is the only place I know of where the safety information– by brand, according to the FDA– is easily accessible.

There's more at the link.

This report came as a real shock to me.  I've had several MRI's, most without dye injections, but a couple with them, and I've never been informed by any of my medical practitioners that there might be an issue with the dyes.  I wish I'd known then what Ms. Attkisson has uncovered in her report.

Since almost all of us are likely to undergo an MRI at some time in our lives, I strongly suggest that you click over to the report, read it in full, watch the video clip Ms. Attkisson provides, and make notes.  If your medical practitioner refers you for an MRI involving dye, you need to be fully informed, so as to be able to insist on the least risky procedure.  In this case, forewarned is definitely forearmed!