Monday, January 21, 2019

Rigging the vote - soon in every state in the Union?

The Wall Street Journal describes how the Democratic Party used a combination of shenanigans to dominate the recent elections in California - and how it's trying to extend the same shenanigans across America.

The GOP wipeout came after the Democrats who dominate Sacramento passed laws aimed at greasing their voting machine. The project started in 2015 when California became the second state after Oregon to move to automatic voter registration.

Can’t be bothered to register? California does it for you, automatically adding to its rolls any person who has any interaction with its Department of Motor Vehicles. The system is already a threat to ballot integrity, with the DMV acknowledging in September it had incorrectly registered 23,000 voters.

In 2016 California passed the Voter’s Choice Act, which allows counties to mail every voter a ballot. Lots of Californians use mail voting, though previously they had to request it. Now ballots arrive automatically, whether voters want one or not. Thirteen million California voters received ballots in the mail last year, compared to about nine million in 2014.

The biggest score for Democrats is a separate 2016 law pushed heavily by unions that legalized what’s known as ballot harvesting. This allows any person—union activists, canvassers, community organizers, campaign staff—to show up at homes and collect mail ballots on behalf of voters.

. . .

This creates opportunities for harvesters to “help” voters complete their ballots, or even pay to finish them, and it’s easy for the unscrupulous to lose ballots they think may go for the wrong candidate. This is why ballot harvesting is illegal in many states, or at least limited to drop-offs by family members.

House Democrats are now moving to impose much of this on the other 49 states. Their For the People Act, or H.R.1, would require all states to adopt automatic voter registration based on names in state and federal agency databases. This means anyone receiving federal food stamps in, say, Ohio, would be automatically registered to vote.

The bill also requires states to allow same-day and online voter registration. It mandates looser rules on provisional ballots, requires every state to provide two weeks of early voting, prohibits restrictions on mail voting, and limits states’ ability to remove voters from rolls. Oh, and it will require that the United States Postal Service deliver ballots for free. Vote harvesting isn’t in H.R.1 but give Democrats time.

All this is an affront to the American tradition of letting states set their own election rules. Few states have automatic registration, on the principle that voting is voluntary. Even liberal Slate magazine, in suggesting that the House bill would “Save American Democracy,” acknowledged that some of the bill might not survive Supreme Court scrutiny.

California has become a one-party state, and Democrats have used their dominance to make it even harder for Republicans to compete. Now they want to use their new House majority to do the same for the rest of America.

There's more at the linkEssential reading, IMHO, for anyone and everyone who cares about our Constitution and democracy in the USA.

The only problem I have with the WSJ article is that it doesn't describe the Republican Party's attempts to rig the vote as well.  Both parties are equally guilty - they've just used different tactics.  Redistricting of constituencies by so-called "gerrymandering" of their boundaries is a very old trick, one that the Republican Party has used in many states to ensure that it gets a higher proportion of the seats in that state than it has voters in the population overall.  It's just as dirty a trick as those described by the WSJ, and deserves to receive just as much criticism.

Trouble is, I don't know how to solve this conundrum.  It's easy to say that there should be a central, national, unified standard for how to arrange constituencies and voting in federal elections;  but the US Constitution leaves such matters to the individual states (Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1).  It would take a Constitutional amendment to change that, and in the present fevered, frenzied state of our national politics, I daresay that's a non-starter.  As for gerrymandering, the Supreme Court has so far failed to act in that regard;  but two cases are due to come before it this year.  One hopes that a reasonable, rational standard may emerge from the legal tussle . . . but there's no telling.  Since both major political parties have employed the tactic, neither will be willing to let it go without a fight.

Let's face it.  Neither Republicans nor Democrats want a level playing field when it comes to elections.  Both parties will seize upon any and every opportunity to win at any cost, regardless of our views or preferences.  As Wendell Phillips warned us in the 19th century (drawing on a perspective that predates his words):

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.

He said that in 1852.  Sounds prescient, doesn't it?


A ship tries to illegally immigrate???

The 5,000-ton Panamanian-registered cargo vessel MV Murueta tried to come alongside a quay in Barranquilla, Colombia last week.  It didn't go very well.

And the headline of this article?  Well, you'll note from the video that the ship broke one of its anchors against a bollard.  Half was left on the quayside, and the other half in the water next to the quay.  That's what I call an anchor, baby!


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday morning music

The Swingle Singers were founded in Paris in 1962, and have been through several incarnations since then.

Until 2011, the group consisted of eight voices: two sopranos, two altos, two tenors and two basses. The French group performed and recorded typically with only a double bass and drums as accompaniment. In 1973, the original French group disbanded and Ward Swingle moved to London and hired members who debuted as Swingle II. The current group performs primarily a cappella.

The group later performed and recorded under the name The Swingles, then The New Swingle Singers and The Swingle Singers before settling on The Swingles. The group has never disbanded. As individual members have left the group, remaining members have held auditions for replacements.

The Swingles, under their prior and current names, have a vast output, so large it's impossible to list here.  I've selected just a few of their works to give you a taste of their range.

To start with, here's Johann Sebastian Bach's Fugue in G Minor, BVW 578.

Next, Pachelbel's famous Canon.

Here's Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee.

Moving on to something much more modern, the Swingles are joined by the Ayoub Sisters in this performance of Astor Piazzolla's Libertango.

Finally, here's an amalgamation of two songs by the BeatlesBlackbird and I Will.

YouTube has many more of the Swingles' songs in their various incarnations.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Looks like we'll pay to have our privacy invaded - whether we want to or not

Eric Peters points out the downside to all these new-fangled car gadgets and systems.

There is a saying that goes, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. But what if you’re paying for it – and you’re still the product?

Welcome to your next new car – previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas earlier this month – in which you’ll be surrounded by new technology designed to “monetize” everything from your musical preferences (it knows which stations you like) to where you like to go (it keeps track of where and when) and what you like to eat.

. . .

That data [will be] used to construct a pastiche of your inclinations, which will then be sold to a company interested in trying to sell you something based on that knowledge of your inclinations.

And the insurance mafia is interested as well. Have you been buckling up? Accelerating – or braking – “aggressively”? It’s no longer just between the two of you – you and your car.

Your car is now a narc – one you get to pay to narc you out.

. . .

One of the companies developing this tech, Eyeris, uses artificial intelligence in conjunction with the cameras and sensors – to calculate what you are likely to do based on what you’ve already done – and then take the appropriate steps to correct for “undesirable behavior.”

The Partie Line is, of course . . . saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety.

You are to be monitored and catalogued for your own good, in your own car.

. . .

We are to have no say in the matter. We are like cattle given the “choice” of Chute A vs. Chute B – but never the option to leave the corral.

There's more at the link.

This infuriates me.  We can't even switch off many of these intrusive systems because, increasingly, the car's central computer won't allow it to be driven unless all its "safety" systems are operational.  I'm told that even putting a piece of tape over the in-car camera, pointed at the driver, will register as an error with the central computer, which won't let you drive off until the tape is removed.  I hope that's not the case, because if it is, I won't be able to drive anywhere!

I'm determined never to submit to this kind of intrusive monitoring.  I guess I'll just have to buy older cars lacking such technology, and keep them running as long as I can.  Fortunately, I'm at an age where I may be able to do so until I die . . . but younger people today will probably be S.O.L.

I resent, bitterly, the invasions of my privacy that have been growing year by year, allowing me no say in whether or not I'm prepared to permit them.  To the extent possible, I block them.  I'm an old-fashioned guy, who believes in personal privacy and is prepared to invest in it to the extent I can.  Unfortunately, such attitudes appear to be vanishing among modern young people.  They've been raised in an era of corporate and government intrusiveness, to such an extent that they see little or nothing wrong with it.  They even pay for voice-operated and/or "smart" gadgets in their homes, to make their lives more "convenient" - forgetting that those same gadgets can record anything and everything they do, and make it available to marketers and others.  Want a passionate evening with your lover?  If you have one of those gizmos in your bedroom, there will be a record of it - and who knows who may listen to it?  If a divorce results from your behavior, will a lawyer obtain a court order to get a copy of it, and play it in open court to prove infidelity?  What will that do to your reputation?

*Sigh* . . . I feel like a technological and ethical dinosaur.  Oh, well.  Extinction is something we all face, sooner or later.  I hope mine arrives before I become nothing more than a digit in the global, all-encompassing system.  At least I can go out extending a more appropriate digit to all concerned!


Some great Navy video

Courtesy of Chant du Depart, here's a video clip of Navy aircraft landing on carriers.

It's thought-provoking to realize that many of the hard-learned skills demonstrated in this video are slowly being automated, to the point that even a novice pilot may be able to land on a carrier in a few decades' time.  The computer systems aboard modern military aircraft and carriers "talk" to each other, coordinating the approach and landing, so that even at night, in a howling gale, driving rain and zero visibility, landings and takeoffs may eventually become "normal".


Friday, January 18, 2019

A non-apology - and he's quite right, IMHO

Matt Walsh is unapologetic about his views on the #MeToo brouhaha.

I was invited on Fox this morning to discuss that now infamous Gillette ad. During the course of that brief discussion, I criticized MeToo and said that I learned nothing from the movement because I already knew, and have always known, that it's not okay to abuse or harass women. I also pointed out that women would be pretty upset if some company released an advertisement lecturing them for bad stereotypical female behavior like gossiping, nagging, and shopping too much.

These comments were picked up by Media Matters and The Daily Beast, and I have since received a number of messages and emails from angry people — readers of those sites, I assume — who are upset and demand that I apologize. The bit about having learned nothing from Me Too seems to be the biggest sticking point. And it is for all of my comments on this issue, but that one comment in particular, that, after careful reflection, I have decided to officially and formally not apologize. I'm not sorry at all, even slightly.

. . .

It's not just that I learned nothing from MeToo, it's that nobody learned anything from MeToo. Men who don't harrass and abuse women already knew that they shouldn't (which is why they don't). Men who do or did harass and abuse women also already knew that they shouldn't. They did it anyway, because, in our flawed human nature, we often do things we know we aren't supposed to do. Very bad people do very bad things they know they shouldn't do. Sometimes those things are the worst sorts of things, like rape and murder. Rapists and murderers do not lack information. They are not confused. They are not short on awareness. Rather, they are short on morality and restraint and compassion and humanity and probably a dozen other things that an awareness campaign cannot provide them.

. . .

MeToo lumps every allegation of sexual misdeeds together and does not allow them to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This detracts from the seriousness of the really bad misdeeds and lends undue seriousness to minor misdeeds, and makes it difficult to distinguish between the two. Also, MeToo categorically prohibits any discussion of a woman's potential role in creating sexually inappropriate situations. Even less does it allow discussion of false allegations, which is a real and serious problem. Also, MeToo simplifies a complex issue, making innocent damsels out of women and cartoonish villains out of men. Sometimes women really are innocent and men really are villains. There can be grey areas, though, and there can be situations where the roles are entirely reversed. MeToo will not acknowledge that fact or make any allowances for it. There are other problems I could highlight, but you get the point.

There's more at the link.

I don't always agree with Matt Walsh's perspective, but in this case I think he's absolutely right.  We've demonized so many things under the #MeToo hashtag that it's become effectively meaningless.  Man opens door for a woman?  #MeToo!  Man invites woman to lunch?  #MeToo!  Man tries to kiss his date at the end of a pleasant evening together?  #MeToo!  I could go on, but you get the idea.

This has become a politically correct nightmare for far too many people, both male and female.  I don't intend to humor it - or those who proclaim it the loudest - to even the slightest extent.  I have better things to do with my time.  Deal with serious issues of sexual predation and harassment?  Sure.  I'll back those all the way.  Describe any and every male-female interaction in the same terms?  Get knotted.


Oh, well played, ma'am!

This news is a few years old, but I only just came across it:  so, even if it isn't Halloween, here it is.

We all have that one neighbor on the block who goes beyond the call of duty in terms of making the neighborhood festive for the holidays. And in Cleveland, Ohio that person is Amanda Destro Pierson, who turned her ordinary garage into something, dare we say, spooktacular. (Sorry, we had to...)

Just take a look at what happens when the garage door goes up.

There's more at the link.

Here's the video.

Clever!  I particularly like the warning notice outside.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

The F word comes in for heavy play - but it's still very funny

Friends recently introduced me to the song "I've no more F****s to give", by banjolele player Thomas Benjamin Wild.  It's very rude (the F word pops up in almost every line, and sometimes more than once - in fact, the F word is the subject of the song!), but it's also extremely funny.  Those with a more scatological sense of humor, particularly those with a military background, will be rolling on the floor laughing.

I daren't embed the video here, this being a family-friendly blog, and it's most emphatically NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!!  However, if you're in a place where you can safely watch it without offending others, and the subject matter doesn't offend you, you'll find the video here.  Enjoy!


The downside of electronic drivers licenses

Miguel at Gun Free Zone made a good point yesterday.

Many states are now offering electronic drivers licenses, downloaded to your cellphone.  The idea is that if you need to identify yourself (say, during a traffic stop, or when voting), you simply call up the license and hand your cellphone to the nice officer.

That, right there, may be a problem if you've been stopped in the course of a law enforcement function.  You've just handed the officer your unlocked, fully accessible cellphone.  If you're arrested, the officer can now skim through anything and everything stored on that phone.  (It may or may not be legal for him to do so, but after the fact, excuses or extenuating circumstances can always be concocted.)  Even if you're innocent of any crime other than speeding, the officer may decide that there are grounds for suspicion (even if only in his own mind), and scroll through every one of your contacts, text messages, e-mails, etc.  You may never know he's done it, but your privacy will have been effectively shredded.  If that thought doesn't make you uncomfortable, it should.

For myself, I'm going to stick to the old-fashioned credit-card-sized physical drivers license.  I feel safer that way.


Subsidizing homelessness

The late President Ronald Reagan famously said, "If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it."  The truth of that dictum has been demonstrated many times in the past, and nowhere more clearly than the epidemic of homelessness affecting many US cities.  For example, City Journal reported last year:

Seattle is under siege. Over the past five years, the Emerald City has seen an explosion of homelessness, crime, and addiction. In its 2017 point-in-time count of the homeless, King County social-services agency All Home found 11,643 people sleeping in tents, cars, and emergency shelters. Property crime has risen to a rate two and a half times higher than Los Angeles’s and four times higher than New York City’s. Cleanup crews pick up tens of thousands of dirty needles from city streets and parks every year.

At the same time, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, the Seattle metro area spends more than $1 billion fighting homelessness every year. That’s nearly $100,000 for every homeless man, woman, and child in King County, yet the crisis seems only to have deepened, with more addiction, more crime, and more tent encampments in residential neighborhoods. By any measure, the city’s efforts are not working.

Over the past year, I’ve spent time at city council meetings, political rallies, homeless encampments, and rehabilitation facilities, trying to understand how the government can spend so much money with so little effect ... for now, four ideological power centers frame Seattle’s homelessness debate. I’ll identify them as the socialists, the compassion brigades, the homeless-industrial complex, and the addiction evangelists. Together, they have dominated the local policy discussion, diverted hundreds of millions of dollars toward favored projects, and converted many well-intentioned voters to the politics of unlimited compassion. If we want to break through the failed status quo on homelessness in places like Seattle—and in Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, too—we must first map the ideological battlefield, identify the flaws in our current policies, and rethink our assumptions.

There's more at the link.

$100,000 per homeless person, per year?  It'd be cheaper to pay every homeless person half that sum to go away and look after themselves!  How many people and organizations are funding themselves by demanding public funds to help the homeless?  I suspect most of those involved are doing precisely that, at taxpayer expense.

A business in San Diego is now standing up for its rights against the compassion fascists.  City Journal again, a few days ago:

Last month, the downtown San Diego franchise of the Burgerim restaurant chain closed its doors, contending that chaotic conditions caused by large numbers of homeless people in and around nearby Horton Plaza Park had driven customers away and made it impossible to operate, even during the Christmas season. The shuttering of the Burgerim location, which had been open for little over a year, was a warning signal to the San Diego business community—and to city hall, too. Burgerim would not be leaving quietly. The franchisee, backed by parent company Burgerim USA, intended to sue in state court, claiming that neither its landlord nor the City of San Diego had lived up to their responsibilities to keep the city’s historic Gaslamp Quarter clean and suitable for business.

Burgerim’s legal action will be of special interest to members of the multi-billion-dollar homelessness industry nationwide ... San Diego County’s homeless number about 8,500, which means this beautiful Southern Californian region has the nation’s fourth-largest homeless population (after New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle), a rank it has held for several years. The San Jose area is fifth.

Despite the many billions spent on homelessness, however, the problem is getting worse, especially in California. Along with homeless encampments come deadly outbreaks of hepatis A, typhus, and other communicable diseases, driven by attending drug addiction. Some parts of the city are littered with syringes. A desperate San Diego now steam-cleans its streets and sidewalks. Even in expensive neighborhoods, unguarded greenery is often strewn with trash and toilet paper, revealing where homeless people have spent the night. The city tries to keep the squalor at bay with improved shelter programs. It even plans to provide 500 bins, where the homeless can stash their belongings, but that effort alone will cost the city about $2 million a year in overtime for the cops who guard the lockers. Advocates suggest that these overtime millions could be better spent placing hundreds of homeless in their own studio apartments.

Will Burgerim’s lawsuit have any effect on this complex, expensive, and apparently intractable social issue? Can retail and restaurant tenants really use the courts to force landlords and municipal governments to protect them against a problem that no one seems able to solve?

Again, more at the link.

I think President Reagan provided the obvious solution in the quote that began this blog post. If we continue to subsidize homelessness, the problem will continue and get worse. That's already clearly visible in the movement of homeless people to cities and states where compassion fascists rule the roost. Those places offer more money to "help" the homeless: therefore, the homeless move there, to take advantage of their generosity. If you want to cut down on homelessness, stop subsidizing it. Before long, when it's no longer made viable by taxpayer dollars, many of the homeless will change their lifestyles.

Does that sound heartless? Does that solution appear to lack compassion? I beg to differ. I've worked with the homeless on city streets in both South Africa and the USA. I know something of the problem at first hand. Some of the homeless are certainly in need of institutional treatment, probably involuntary, because they're mentally ill. Some are drug addicts or alcoholics, homeless because all their income and assets have gone or are going to support their addiction. For those people, we need effective intervention, something that will either solve their problem, or remove them from the streets to places where they're less of a danger to others and themselves.  On the other hand, many of the homeless are shiftless and irresponsible in their lifestyles, preferring to do as little as possible to support themselves. They're only going to change if they have no alternative but to change . . . and as long as we subsidize their homelessness, we're not only enabling them, we're also enabling the legion of compassion fascists who live off our taxpayer dollars in an endless loop of trying to solve the insoluble problem. People have built entire careers off this issue, living for years, even decades, at taxpayer expense while accomplishing precisely nothing to actually solve the problem (as opposed to applying temporary panaceas that never work).

It's time we learned the lesson. Stop subsidizing homelessness.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Close call!

I received this video via an e-mail this morning.  It shows an encounter between a homeowner and a grizzly bear in Canada last October.  At the time, the Mirror reported:

An inquisitive grizzly bear was wandering close to a home in Bella Coola, Canada, with its three cubs, when homeowner Lawrence Michalchuk tried to scare him back in the woods.

Mr Michalchuk decided to shoot a warning shot into the air to get the animal off his property and it appeared to work, as all four animals started retreating.

. . .

Mr Michalchuk told CTV Vancouver that he ran out into the garden to "keep her moving".

He said: “As soon as I did that she just put her ears down and head back and came [at me] full blast."

Mr Michalchuk shot at the bear with a pellet in the leg, causing her to trip up, and giving him enough time to get away.

“Thank God it worked because it tripped her," he said.

“All I wanted to do is trip her. I dived in the door as quick as I could and I slammed the door and then she turned back towards her cubs.”

There's more at the link.

Here's the video.

That was a pretty close call.  Full marks to the homeowner for waiting until he couldn't miss, and knew the birdshot in his shotgun would hold together in a solid mass, providing maximum impact effect on the bear's leg.  Inexperienced shooters would have fired at too great a range, meaning that the shot would have spread and had minimal impact effect.  Even so, I wouldn't have gone out there by choice with a shotgun holding only one or two rounds - and it would have had Brenneke rifled slugs in it to confront a bear, not a lesser round like birdshot!


Focusing on the core mission - or losing a valuable capability?

I'm puzzled by a report that the US Army is closing down many of its watercraft systems and units.

U.S. Army Maritime capabilities will be radically reduced this year as the service deactivates and divests itself of numerous vessels, watercraft equipment, watercraft systems, Soldiers, and Units. At least eighteen (18) of its 35 Landing Craft Utility (LCU) will be sold off or transferred to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO). Landing Craft Utility (LCU), a versatile 174- foot landing craft capable of carrying 500 tons of cargo, personnel and containers, is the workhorse of the Army Watercraft field.

. . .

Eight Army Reserve Watercraft Units and their civilian maintenance facilities are listed for closing. These Units represent hundreds of AGR (Active Reserve), TPU (Reserve), and Civilians. These units presently support, train, and deploy Army Watercraft Soldiers throughout the world, and maintain dozens of watercraft, from 70 ft. Small Tugs to 315 foot LSVs and Barge Derrick Cranes.

As stated in the Army’s Memo initiating this decision, “Army Watercraft Transformation Through Divestment of Capability and Force Structure by Inactivation of Units”, the intent is to “eliminate all United States Army Reserve and National Guard Bureau AWS (Army Watercraft Systems) capabilities and/or supporting structure”.

. . .

Army officials are also removing Watercraft positions within the assignment system, to ensure Soldiers in the future cannot be assigned to maritime duties, indicating there is no plan by the Army to reconsider their actions, or bring back a watercraft capability should the world situation change.

There's more at the link.

Here's an image of one of the 35 Runnymede-class LCU's currently in US Army service.  Malvern Hill was photographed in Alaskan waters.

I must admit, I'm puzzled by this decision.  I can understand the Army wanting to save money by getting rid of non-essential equipment, units and elements.  However, in most of the wars I've studied, water operations - crossing rivers and lakes, ferrying supplies along coastlines, rescuing survivors during emergencies and transporting relief supplies, etc. - have necessitated specialized transport units to perform them.  If that core capability is lost, or diminished to the point where it won't be able to cope with the demand for its services, where will the US Army turn when it needs it again - as it surely will?  I don't see competitors and/or potential enemies divesting themselves of their capabilities in that field, so why is our Army doing so?

Furthermore, the cost of maintaining a waterborne transport capability - particularly when it's operated largely by the Reserve - appears minuscule compared to that of many other units.  Isn't getting rid of it, or so drastically reducing it, a good example of being penny wise but pound foolish?  I felt the same over the Army's decision to deactivate its Long Range Surveillance capabilities a few years ago.  Historically, they've been needed often enough to indicate that they'll likely be needed again - but if they are, the Army will have to stand up that capability again from scratch, taking a lot of time and effort to do so when it may have neither to spare.

This decision is a puzzle.  If anyone can shed light on it, please tell us more in a comment to this blog post.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Doofus Of The Day #1,034

Today's award goes to a romantically challenged poacher in Oklahoma.

Game warden Cannon Harrison probably wasn't expecting to make his latest bust on a dating app. But that's what happened after he matched with an Oklahoma woman on Bumble.

As they struck up an online conversation, the woman immediately shared that she had just killed a "bigo" buck — "obviously not knowing Cannon is a game warden," wrote the Oklahoma Game Wardens in a Facebook post.

. . .

In the process, the woman, whose name was not released, revealed to Harrison that she had committed two illegal acts — shooting the deer with a rifle outside of rifle season and using a spotlight at night to help her shoot the deer ... Further investigation showed the woman had committed a third illegal act — harvesting only the head and back-strap meat of the animal. The woman and an accomplice pleaded guilty and paid $2,400 in fines, according to the Tulsa World.

The local community had plenty of jokes about the situation. "I'm pretty sure a court date wasn't the type of date she was looking for," wrote one commenter on Facebook.

There's more at the link.

Clearly, she needs to distinguish between "dear" and "deer" - and certainly not mention both on the same dating app!


A different perspective on the NRA

I've long been an opponent of the National Rifle Association.  My reasons are many.  Boiled down to main points, they include (but are not limited to):
  • Rampant disrespect for its members by treating them as if they were a cash cow.  I rapidly grew to resent the seemingly endless phone calls, junk mail and other entreaties for funds, particularly at a time when my income was small enough that even affording the annual membership fee at my local range (which included a required NRA subscription) was tough enough.
  • Apparent disregard for members' priorities, focusing on what the NRA considered important instead of what its grassroots supporters wanted.
  • Trying to "muscle in" on others' turf, particularly when it came to claiming credit for gun rights victories (such as Heller) in which the NRA's initial involvement had been zero to minimal.
  • Blatantly unethical behavior in the insurance marketplace by freezing out an existing vendor, with whom the NRA had a previous business relationship, so as to bring to market a directly competing product (which eventually proved to be a bridge too far for the organization, giving its enemies the opportunity to hamstring it legally and financially).

For those and other reasons, I didn't bother taking out an individual membership of the NRA when my range membership lapsed after I moved to another town, and I haven't bothered since.  I regarded the organization as a liability rather than an asset.

However, there's another approach.  Here's NRA Board Member Duane Liptak's perspective.

Is the NRA perfect? Oh, heck no! No organization is. But they are our only real chance. The NRA, with the help of the NSSF, also, has killed an actual AWB and magazine restrictions on the national level several times in the past few years alone. I, or our lobbyists, have seen it. No one else was even considered part of the conversation, regardless of posturing. We also wouldn’t have FOPA, and if anyone wants to complain about Hughes, which I hate as much as anyone, if you were currently living under GCA ’68, and had the chance to get the FOPA protections, but someone slipped in the Hughes amendment at the last minute to try to poison the bill, you’d still support passing it.

The NRA didn’t give you GCA ’68. They tried to minimize damage in another time when overwhelming support for even worse gun control existed after Kennedy and King were assassinated. NFA originally included handguns, also, and was in a similar period of hysteria about mob violence. Without the NRA and also the NSSF, we wouldn’t have had the Lawful Commerce in Arms act of 2005, and the entire firearms industry in the US would be out of business by now—sued into bankruptcy just by fending off lawsuits from Bloomberg lawyers.

There are a lot of wins there, but make no mistake…I want more, too. However…please understand that even with the R majority we had for the last two years... soft Rs like Flake, Rubio, and the other purple district congressmen and senators had us in a bad spot even then. Repealing the NFA, as much as I want that to die, has about 5% support in Congress right now. You’re not getting that legislatively unless you change out 95% of Congress, no matter how hard we could push for it, or how many “strong statements” anyone makes.

We are, in reality, barely hanging on to a slim majority of elected officials at the national level that even believes the 2A is an individual right!

The only path to right this course, especially with states like CA, CO, NJ, MA, NY, WA, etc., is through judicial review. And... love Trump or hate him, regardless of anything else he has done, if it were Hillary putting 2, possibly 3 judges on the USSC bench, the 2A would be dead in 10 years. That’s why NRA went all in with him. Not because he was a philosophically pure candidate on all of 2A, but because he was willing to put pro 2A judges on the bench, and because he could win. No one else on our side could, and the alternative—a Hillary presidency—would be disastrous.

. . .

I’ve seen too much NRA bashing lately by those who don’t know what’s even going on in DC. It’s a mess. I hate going there. But, the NRA is actually our best advocate there, regardless of what you think about some of the publicly stated positions. Making a press release that says, “We support repealing the NFA and doing away with the 4473 and all other remnants of GCA ’68,” doesn’t actually accomplish anything if you can’t produce results. It actually damages the ability to explain the real downsides of the issues that are at hand, with support, that need to be killed, because you won’t even get to talk to the people on the fence to make your case. Dems tend to ask for “common sense gun reform”, which we know means disarm America. Consider looking at NRA public statements through the same lens, in reverse. Maneuvering the swamp requires talking in less than absolute terms, even when behind the scenes, your goal is absolute.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading, even if (as I do) you don't like the NRA.

I remain angry at the NRA for taking its members for granted, for appearing to be focusing far more on fund-raising and funding the lifestyle of its own executives rather than dealing with issues more important to its members, and other causes.  I'm still unlikely to take out an individual membership, much less a life membership;  but that's me, and I may well be wrong.  I think Mr. Liptak's perspective deserves attention, and perhaps the support of those less annoyed than I am.  I leave it up to my readers to make their own choice.


Another great restaurant find

Miss D. and I have found several very good restaurants by sheer happenstance during our travels, and enjoyed them immensely.  We ran into another one yesterday, on our way to Shreveport for a quick business trip.

Scrumbscious Burgers & Pieshakes is in a shopping center in Forney, TX, a little to the east of Dallas, just off US Highway 80.  Feeling hungry, we'd gotten off the highway and were idly glancing at restaurants as we drove through the parking area.  The place caught our eye, and on a whim we decided to try it.  We're glad we did!

Scrumbscious is a family business, run by a husband-and-wife team (with eight kids, no less, so one understands their urgent need to be able to produce large quantities of tasty food in short order!).  We wandered in to ask what a "pieshake" might be.  Turns out they offer a range of pies (chocolate creme, banana creme, coconut creme, sweet potato, peaches & creme, razzleberry, pecan, strawberry creme and vanilla creme) which can be either eaten in the traditional way, or whipped up with milk and cream into a shake.  Their pieshakes are apparently well-known at the Texas State Fair.  We sampled a chocolate creme pieshake, and it was very tasty.

Intrigued by the story and the atmosphere, we each ordered a Scrumbscious Burger, consisting of two giant patties and cheese with a range of trimmings.  They were IMMENSE!  They have to be the biggest burgers I've ever seen anywhere.

The owner assured us that there were twelve ounces of meat in each Scrumbscious Burger - but as Miss D. commented in an awed tone, she must mean cooked weight, not raw!  I'd swear there was more like a pound of meat in there.  There were a range of available toppings, some free, some at additional cost.  I went with grilled onions and mushrooms, and was very satisfied.  My wife had grilled onions and dill pickles.  Side dishes were sweet potato fries for her, onion rings for me - the best-seasoned onion rings I can ever remember eating, too, accompanied by a dipping sauce.  Delicious!

There was no way we could finish such immense portions, but we tried valiantly.  We were far too full for dessert, but wanted to sample the intriguingly named "razzleberry" pie (three different kinds of berry, combined in a single dish), so we ordered one to share.  It was extremely tasty, sweet but not cloying.

We ended up with three takeout boxes, which accompanied us the rest of the way to Shreveport.  We're tempted to drop in there again on the way back, to pick up takeout for our friends in north Texas;  but we have no way to keep the food hot and fresh on the drive home.  Pity about that.

We'll definitely be stopping at Scrumbscious again when we pass that way;  and if you find yourself east of Dallas, TX, it's well worth going out of your way to visit the restaurant.  Just make sure you're hungry when you get there!


Monday, January 14, 2019

Kids earning pocket money?

The Silicon Graybeard recounts the story of a nine-year-old girl who wanted to earn some extra money.  Her mother advertised her availability to help with domestic chores - leading to a visit by the police, to ensure she wasn't being exploited.  The mother concluded:

The knee-jerk distrust of all adults around all kids is a hallmark of our times. Where we could see verve, we see vulnerability. Where we could see neighbors helping neighbors we imagine the worst. Where we could see kids growing up with confidence and competence, we see a rising tide of anxiety.

Letting kids do some work for money isn't making them into slaves. It's making them into adults. That shouldn't be a crime.

I couldn't agree more!

When I was a child, as soon as I was old enough to understand the concepts of "money" and "work" and "earning", my parents gave me a list of domestic chores.  (It changed over time as I grew older and more competent, of course.)  I was given pocket money of five cents for every year of my age, provided that I'd completed the chores allocated to me (cleaning up dog poop, mowing the lawn, washing the car, etc.).  If I didn't do one of them, I was docked one cent, every time.  I rapidly ended up "owing" my parents about three weeks' pocket money - and learned the hard way that if I wanted spending money of my own, I had to earn it.  It was an early and object lesson in the realities of life.

As I grew older, and wanted more expensive things (like a bicycle, for example), I was expected to come up with a proportion (usually half) of their cost, earning the money by doing extra chores for my parents or odd jobs for the neighbors.  When I became a teenager, that expanded to include holiday employment at local shops.  I mucked out cages and tanks in a pet shop, and worked as a shop assistant at a snooty upmarket store (having to wear a smartly pressed shirt and tie, and act politely and respectfully to customers, too - anathema to a teenager!).  My parents would wait until I had my share of the cost, then contribute the other half.  Having got what I wanted, I was expected to use it, not just let it lie around gathering dust.  When I got my bicycle, I rode it to school, a mile and a half away, thereby saving my parents the cost of the drive there and back twice a day (we had no school bus system in South Africa at the time).  I didn't complain.  It seemed perfectly logical and natural to me.

I think this mother's doing precisely the right thing by encouraging her daughter to earn the money she needs to buy what she wants.  I reckon she'll appreciate it much more after having had to invest her time and energy to get it.  I think it's a sad reflection on our society that such incentives to independence are now frowned upon.

What say you, readers?  How many of you were expected to bring your part by your parents when you were growing up?  How did you earn extra money?


Another dose of economic reality

Last week I published two articles examining the real inflation rate in the USA and its implications for your money's buying power:
  1. A level-headed, sober view of US economic reality
  2. Your money's vanishing buying power

A number of readers commented on those articles, both here on the blog and in e-mails.  Through them, I learned of a report from Devonshire Research Group dated April 2017, titled "Consensus of the Contrarians:  The Alternate Macro Economic View".  It, too, posited that official inflation figures and calculations were woefully inadequate.  Here's its Executive Summary.

A wide variety of Price Indices are used to adjust for the effects of Inflation on the economy. These adjustments are widely applied to derive a number of common measures and underlie many critical economic and asset management concepts.
  • Price Indices: the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Producer Price Index, the GDP Deflator
  • Economic concepts: the Standard of Living, Real Income and Output, Real Economic Growth
  • Asset Management concepts: Real Interest Rates, the Risk-Free Rate of Return, the Cost of Capital
  • Conclusion: These indices and concepts are intimately commingled which is leading to a wide ranging divergence between reality, published government statistics and the assumptions used for investment decisions

A rising tide of Contrarians is arguing that Inflation is understated by the Price Indices chosen by U.S. government agencies in numerous ways for complex reasons.
  • The CPI fails to measure a simple basket of goods that consumers typically purchase “out-of-pocket”
  • The weights in the official baskets shift over time in ways that mute the impact of higher priced products
  • Price increases attributed to quality improvements (hedonic adjustments) are subjective and overstated
  • U.S. government agencies have incentives to downplay CPI increases to lower cost-of-living payments, reduce borrowing costs, and increase apparent real economic growth
  • Conclusion: The Consensus of Contrarians is growing, shared across several independent critics and supported by concerns among many that official statistics paint on overly optimistic picture of the U.S. economy.

To the extent that the Contrarians are correct, the implications for the U.S. economy and for investors are profound:
  • The Standard of Living may be far more difficult for many Americans to maintain than published statistics suggest
  • Real Economic Growth may be flatter or actually negative, suggesting a prolonged 21st century recession, not recovery
  • Real Interest Rates, already seen at historic lows, may be strongly negative making Fixed Income returns unattractive
  • The Cost of Capital most commonly used to measure investment returns may be far too low
  • Conclusion: The Consensus of Contrarians suggests that many investors are using incorrect assumptions in their asset allocation models and investment decisions. Capital preservation is compromised, portfolio allocations are distorted and return  performance is overstated. The broader effect on capital markets is likely profound and complicated.

There's much more at the link.  If you're interested in this subject (and I hope you are, because every dollar in your pocket or wallet or bank account is affected by it), I urge you to click over there and read the entire report.  It's worth it - and it generally supports what I had to say in my articles last week.


Tongue not necessarily in cheek?

Found on Gab this morning, origin unknown (clickit to biggit):

At least he didn't mention meteorology - frozen steel posts during an icy winter . . .  What other sciences can you recommend that should (or should not) involve licking something?  Please tell us in Comments.  This could be fun!


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday morning music

Let's have a slightly zany look at a ridiculous song that grew out of 1960's rhythm & blues, segued into rock 'n roll, and went from there through punk rock, thrash rock and even Brazilian self-described "porno rock".

In 1962, the Rivingtons recorded a nonsensical doo-wop song titled "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow".

They went on to adapt the song into a follow-up tune called "Mama-Oom-Mow-Mow (The Bird)".

They developed this, in turn, into a third song called simply "The Bird".  Here's a live performance, showcasing the dance they "developed" for it.

That should sound familiar, because The Trashmen combined "Mana-Oom-Mow-Wow" and "The Bird" to produce a close copy of the songs.  They called it "Surfin' Bird".  It became a big hit for them in 1963.  They originally claimed it was their work, but the Rivington's lawyer intervened.  Thereafter, the latter group was credited as the originators.

You'd think the songs, individually or in combination, would die a natural death as later musical styles and genres succeeded them;  but you'd be wrong.  They've been recorded by a number of groups in different styles over the years, their nonsensical lyrics lending themselves to adaptation.  Here, for example, is disco star Giorgio Moroder's first hit, "Looky Looky", from 1969.  The backing singers are using "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow" as a lyric.

Punk rock group The Ramones produced their rendition in 1977.  This recording is a live performance from late 1978.

German thrash metal band Sodom also performed the song.  I'd have thought it anything but suitable for that genre, but I guess anything can be made to fit if you beat it heavily enough!

Let's have one last example.  Brazilian rock group Os Cascavelletes (who described their genre as "porno rock") had a go at it in the 1980's.  They called their version "Pombo Surfista", and recorded it on their demo album.

I have little doubt future versions will be recorded, by groups and in genres as yet unknown.  The Bird lives!


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Tired puppy

It's been a long week.

I've been going through our pantry and reserve food supplies, checking the expiry dates of everything, discarding what's too long expired, and buying new stocks to replace what we've used up.  It's been a busy time, and my back's letting me know it didn't appreciate all the standing, bending, lifting, and packing that's been going on.  Still, it's almost done now.  Our two pantry cupboards are pretty well organized, a box of long-out-of-date food has been trashed, another box of still-within-usable-date food is ready to go to the food pantry, and several heavy bags of cans have been packed into our ready-use pantry.  Reserve foods have been rearranged, new additions vacuum-sealed and packed into containers, and things are looking a lot more usable.

It's a good idea to do this once every year.  Unfortunately, we've let it slip two years in a row due to other commitments, or illness, or whatever, so our pantry had gotten rather disorganized.  It's good to have put it right again . . . but it was a lot of work.  Must do better next year!

BTW, Commander Zero had a very useful tip for storing batteries with, but not in, devices that need them (thereby avoiding problems with leaking batteries over time).  I already have some of the Storacell battery containers he recommends, and have found them very useful.

If I'm going to tie them to appliances that need them, as he suggests, I must buy some more.  Fortunately, they're not very expensive.


Financial stability in hard times

I wrote recently about the problem of living paycheck to paycheck.  (Comments on that post are also worth reading.)  Today, we're seeing complaints from many Federal workers that they don't know how they're going to cope with the lack of a paycheck during the current government shutdown.  I know several younger people who are currently living at home with their parents, because they can't afford to live on their own . . . but all of them have recent-generation smartphones, and buy clothes at fashionable stores, and eat out with their friends several times a week.  Very few of them contribute to their parents' household budget - and for that I blame the parents as much as I do the children.  From the time I left home, if I visited my parents for more than a few days at a time, it was expected that I'd contribute towards the extra expenses they incurred by providing for me.  There was no issue about it;  it was simply the done thing, and I was glad to do so.

Those realities make me wonder how it is that no-one's taught younger people how to manage their personal budgets, and take charge of their financial lives.  It may be because their parents lived in a financially irresponsible way, of course.  Schools have never covered such a subject, at least in the countries where I've lived.  However, it's not difficult to get the financial education one needs.  There are lots of independent sources for it.

One of the best, in my experience at least, is Dave Ramsey's books and courses.  I'd learned many of the lessons in his most popular book, "The Total Money Makeover", before ever I'd heard of him, but I was glad to find them all in one place and so easily accessible.

Since then, I've usually kept at least one copy of that book on hand, to give to those who are struggling financially and help them reorganize their finances and their lives.  It's that good.  If you haven't read it, or learned Ramsey's basic financial approach from his Web site, I highly recommend investing in a copy, studying it carefully along with your significant other, and applying it.  Teach your children its methods, too.  They'll thank you, later.

Once you're applying Ramsey's methods (or those of any other competent financial guru of your choice - there are plenty of others out there), you can start to turn your financial life around.  It becomes a matter of spending what you need to, rather than what you want to, and living that lifestyle from now onward.  It also becomes a matter of reorienting your life and looking for better opportunities if necessary, as I covered in my earlier article.  The two go hand in hand.  A better job and more money won't help you if you're spendthrift.  Financial discipline in and of itself won't get you a better job and/or more money - but it'll help you make the most of what you have, and give you a foundation for growth.

Above all else, it's time to get off the consumer bandwagon.  Our modern economy is dominated by the "spend at all costs!" attitude - buy what you want, when you want it, even if you don't need it or can't afford it.  We have all sorts of Web sites offering daily e-mails containing "bargains" or "must-have items", none of which are either bargains or neededUnsubscribe from them.  Cut up your credit cards, except for one in case of emergencies.  If you use a credit card (as Miss D. and I do), pay down any outstanding balance, and then get into the habit of paying it off in full, every month, so you don't incur interest charges at exorbitant rates.  Don't buy on credit unless you absolutely have to, and then only for items of medium- to long-term value, such as a vehicle or a home.  If you need something, save up for it, or try to do without it.  Live debt free, as far as possible.

Above all, get used to the fact that no-one owes you a living.  Too many people today believe - or want to believe - that the Government must and will provide everything they need.  Can't afford medical insurance?  There's Medicaid, or Medicare when we're older.  Can't afford to save for retirement?  There's Social Security.  Can't afford to buy a house with a commercial loan?  There's Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac, or the VA, or any number of other government assistance programs that allow you to buy a house with minimal money down and low repayments.  (Of course, if you can't pay even those, your home can still be taken away from you in foreclosure - but some politicians argue that the government should forgive or take over your loans in that case, so you can carry on living there.  It gets them votes.)

The upshot of that "government-will-provide" attitude is our current budget, where entitlement programs dominate spending on federal and state level, and are steadily driving our nation into bankruptcy.  Remember, if it's too good to be true, it probably is.  As economist Herbert Stein pointed out, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."  When the burden on our economy becomes too great, all those assistance and entitlement programs will grind to a halt - and then where will the people be who'd come to depend utterly on them?

Don't be one of them.  Take charge of your financial life now, while you have time, and make sure you're in as good shape as possible, monetarily speaking.  Even if that isn't very good, it'll probably be better than most of those around you when the crunch comes.  In particular, pay attention to Ramsey's (and others') advice to build up an emergency reserve fund.  It can be a life-saver.  I've learned that lesson the hard way already.


Friday, January 11, 2019

When characters get out of an author's control

Over at Mad Genius Club this morning, I discuss what happens when characters develop a life of their own, spiral out of the author's control, and take on new roles and significance far beyond what he/she had intended for them.  Every writer will have experienced that in one way or another as our Muse, silly domineering b**** that she is, decides to throw us a curve ball or three every now and again.

I include a very funny Goon Show episode dealing with precisely that subject.  Those of you who like zany British humor will love it.  Click on over there and enjoy!


The War on Drugs, and the conundrum of laws versus human nature

My blog post yesterday, 'So much for drugs being a "victimless crime" ', attracted numerous commenters.  Some waxed almost vitriolic about how stupid I and others were being for not understanding that human behavior is a constant, and one can't legislate morality (or words to that effect).  I won't repeat them here, but I invite you to click over to the earlier article and peruse them for yourself.  When you're done, come back here and continue reading.

I suppose commenters there can be divided into two main groups.  The first are those who believe that there is absolute good and absolute evil;  things that are intrinsically right or wrong.  (I fall into this group.)  Drug abuse would fall under the "intrinsically wrong" category.  Therefore, measures to discourage and/or prohibit drug abuse are essentially moral, and exist for the good of society.  (Note that this view does not specify what measures are good or bad, effective or ineffective.  I'll be the first to agree that many of the laws, regulations and measures enacted in the name of the War on Drugs have proved to be very damaging to society, and need to be ended.  Nevertheless, I agree with the need for a legal prohibition on the illegal use of narcotics.)

The second group might be called libertarians, to a greater or lesser extent.  They argue that the abuse of narcotics, or alcohol, or anything else, is inevitable, because some human beings simply roll that way:  therefore, to prohibit it is to defy human nature, and doomed to failure from the start.  Therefore, they argue, there should be no such laws - or, at least, the laws should punish behavior while under the influence, but not the use of the mind-altering substances themselves.  Some argue that to think otherwise is evidence of a belief system, a closed mind, rather than an understanding of reality.

I suspect the real problem is that neither side of this debate is willing to accept that there is no "hundred per cent solution".  Yes, laws on drugs can never succeed in eliminating the problem, human nature being what it is;  but they can reduce the scale and scope of the problem.  I've personally spoken to many drug users (and a few dealers) who were "scared straight" by an encounter with law enforcement, or some other official intervention.  Sure, such encounters don't work for all of the people, all of the time;  but they do work for some of the people, some of the time.  To my mind, that makes them worthwhile.  If the laws are too onerous, or are applied in a way that prejudices society more they should, then we should by all means reform those laws.  (So-called "asset forfeiture" is a prime example, as are no-knock raids where the officers concerned make no effort to avoid injury to innocent persons or damage to innocent people's property).  Those things are bad, and should be stopped.  However, that should not prevent more worthwhile efforts and interventions from proceeding.

Those of us on the more "law and order" side of the spectrum will also have to accept the truth of the libertarian argument that, human nature being what it is, we'll never succeed in eliminating the drug problem by diktat.  Our society is not prepared to accept the level of official violence that would be needed to do so (and people like myself are not prepared to accept it on moral and ethical grounds), so it's a non-starter.  We shouldn't fool ourselves that efforts to prevent or discourage illegal drug use will completely succeed.  On the other hand, I think if we targeted our efforts to tackle areas where intervention has proven to be most effective, we'd improve our success rate overall;  and by curtailing efforts in areas that have proven to be less successful, or more onerous to society, we'd reduce the burden that the War on Drugs has come to represent.

I suspect the Pareto Principle (the so-called "80:20 rule") applies.  Most of our success will be achieved by just a few targeted, highly effective programs.  We need to put our effort behind those programs, and push them hard, because that's where we'll achieve the best results.  The remainder of the programs, needed to achieve the last 20% of success, will probably require much more effort for a far smaller return - and, in doing so, they'll probably affect society negatively to a much greater extent.  Should we not be willing to let go of those elements, and concentrate on what works best?

As for libertarians and those opposed to legislation, what about trying the same approach?  Given the reality of human nature, why not support programs that don't deny it, but seek to channel it into avenues of self-interest and "what's good for me"?  They would include drug education, diversion programs for those who haven't gone too far down the path of addiction to be helped, health care for those still able to benefit from it, and support for law enforcement in tackling the supply side of the problem.  Would it really be anti-libertarian to do that - and, even if it would, is ideological purity worth the cost to society in this case?  Why not be willing to negotiate and compromise on, say, 20% of your principles, if it would achieve 80% success?  If the other side is also willing to do so, wouldn't that be a win all round?

We have to stop talking past each other, acknowledge that each perspective has at least some right on its side, and find common ground.  If we don't, we won't be part of the solution:  we'll be part of the problem.


Now that's a protest I could support!

I note with pleasure that the "yellow vest" protesters in France have come up with a tactic that will delight many motorists.

Members of the "yellow vests" protest movement have vandalised almost 60% of France's entire speed camera network, the interior minister has said.

Christophe Castaner said the wilful damage was a threat to road safety and put lives in danger.

The protest movement began over fuel tax increases, and saw motorists block roads and motorway toll booths.

Some protesters feel speed cameras are solely a revenue-generating measure which takes money from the poor.

The BBC's Hugh Schofield, in Paris, said evidence of the vandalism is visible to anyone driving around France, with radar cameras covered in paint or black tape to stop them working.

But the extent of the damage - now believed to affect more than half of all 3,200 speed cameras in the country's network - was unknown until Mr Castaner's statement on Thursday.

He said the devices had been "neutralised, attacked, or destroyed" by members of the protest movement.

There's more at the link.

I entirely agree that "speed cameras are solely a revenue-generating measure".  All the pontifications about their being a safety measure are so much hogwash.  How many accidents have they prevented?  Count them, and let me know the total, will you?  One can't, of course, because it's impossible to prove that claim.  On the other hand, they've provided massive revenues to municipalities - and, more importantly, to the companies that install, maintain and operate them.  It's become a self-sustaining industry, paid for by hapless motorists.

If the protesters shut down every speed camera in France, I'll be delighted.  If that particular form of protest spreads to other countries, I'll be even more pleased.  It'll satisfy my inner vandal (and H. L. Mencken's famous dictum).


Thursday, January 10, 2019

When "fake news" media shoot themselves in the foot

I'm still a bit mind-boggled by NBC News' article about the scaled-down border barrier offered by President Trump as a compromise in the present dispute with Congress.  Here's an excerpt.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis, and will be commented on after the excerpt.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as "absolutely critical to border security" in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

. . .

Responding to the picture from the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday morning, Trump claimed "that’s a wall designed by previous administrations."

While it is true that previous administrations used this design, the prototype was built during his administration.

. . .

In a statement, DHS Spokeswoman Katie Waldman said, "The steel bollard construction is based on the operational requirements of the United States Border Patrol and is a design that has been honed over more than a decade of use. It is an important part of Border Patrol's impedance and denial capability."

. . .

"The steel bollard design is internally reinforced with materials that require time and multiple industrial tools to breach, thereby providing U.S. Border Patrol agents additional response time to affect a successful law enforcement resolution. In the event that one of the steel bollards becomes damaged, it is quick and cost-effective to repair.

"The professionals on the border know that a wall system is intended not only to prevent entry, it is intended to defer and to increase the amount of time and effort it takes for one to enter so that we can respond with limited border patrol agents. Even a wall that is being breached is a valuable tool in that it allows us to respond to the attempted illegal entry."

In response to KPBS, CBP spokesman Ralph DeSio said the prototypes "were not and cannot be designed to be indestructible," but were designed to "impede or deny efforts to scale, breach, or dig under such a barrier, giving agents time to respond."

In his address to the nation Tuesday, Trump said the steel fence design is "what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense."

. . .

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D.-Miss., said there is "nothing special" about Trump's wall design.

"President Trump likes to pretend a wall will solve all our problems, but it's been clear for some time that it is little more than a very expensive vanity project," said Thompson. "Whether steel or concrete, there is nothing special about his wall and it will not secure our borders. Democrats are willing to work with the administration to improve our border security, but let's get back to proven and effective solutions."

There's more at the link.

NBC is making much ado about nothing.  Consider:
  1. So the prototype can be cut through?  Sure it can.  A wall can be undermined or blown up or driven through with a bulldozer.  A steel slat can be cut through with a power saw or angle grinder, or blown up (ever seen what a few coils of det cord do to a steel pole?  It's impressive, I'm here to tell you!).  There is no such thing as an impenetrable barrier if one has enough time, equipment and manpower to do something about it.  What's NBC's point?
  2. Why is NBC trying to imply that President Trump lied when he said the design had been developed under previous administrations?  It asserts that this prototype was built under his administration, but that doesn't contradict a word of what he said about its design.  Is NBC merely looking for any mud it can sling at the President, and mixing its own mud when it can't find any?
  3. Security professionals are quoted as saying that the prototype in question is not indestructible, and is a method to impose delays on would-be illegal aliens rather than an impermeable structure that will keep them out forever.  As pointed out in (1) above, there ain't no such thing.  President Trump claims that the prototype is "what our professionals at the border want and need" - as the NBC article itself confirms, by quoting them.  What's the problem with either statement?  Why is NBC devoting so much attention to them?  Is the network trying to insinuate that because the barrier isn't an impermeable, impassable barrier, there's something wrong with it?  Neither the President nor the security professionals concerned have ever said that it is - so why the nagging attention?
  4. I note that the report ends with a Democratic Party spokesman commenting on how ineffective any wall - concrete or steel - will be.  Israel would beg to differ.  So would many major US politicians and many of their wealthier supporters, as President Trump has already pointed out.  However, those alternate viewpoints aren't mentioned at all.  One-sided, biased reporting, much?

I have no objection to news media offering their own opinions about policy and procedures.  They have the same free speech rights as I do, and since I value mine, I won't do anything to denigrate or diminish theirs.  However, I object to their making up negative news that isn't, in fact, negative news at all - merely a known fact being spun out of all recognition to attack the President's proposals.  This is dishonest and (in my definition of morality, at any rate) immoral.

I wonder how NBC would like it if all the other networks were to criticize its operations in similarly negative, deliberately skewed fashion?  I daresay it'd complain mightily about the unfairness of it all.  Well, NBC, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  One day, your mendacity may come back to bite you in the proverbial backside.  I can only hope it does.

I've crossed a large number of international borders.  Some, under the stress of the moment (i.e. military combat operations), were crossed without benefit of customs and immigration processing.  Others were crossed as part of humanitarian work, supporting refugees and trying to bring to safety the survivors of appalling events and conditions.  Under such circumstances, the last thing we worried about were administrative formalities!  However, I also know that where crossing was difficult, due to natural or man-made barriers, there was a lot less of it.  Everyone hunted for the easiest, least risky path, and took it.  The wall, particularly if properly built, monitored and patrolled, will stop much of our present illegal alien problem, and much of our drug smuggling problem as well.  It'll at least reduce it to manageable proportions.  I speak from experience when I say that.


EDITED TO ADD:  CBS also shot themselves in the foot by trying to "fact-check" President Trump on the number of female illegal aliens assaulted on their way to the border.  They merely succeeded in confirming that the problem is even worse than he'd said it was! Clearly, we have super-geniuses at work in our news networks . . .

That's quite the load . . .

A tip o' the hat to reader N. D. for alerting me to this video and the accompanying news report.

The large pipe currently being transported is [a] piece of petrochemical developmental equipment called a splitter that weighs 820 tonnes and is 96 metres long, stated Steve Noble, senior communications adviser with Inter Pipeline.

It is currently being moved to Fort Saskatchewan from Edmonton where it will be installed at the Heartland Petrochemical Complex to produce polypropylene plastic. The equipment is approximately the length of a CFL football field. The Alberta government said it is the heaviest load in the history of Alberta’s highway network.

. . .

On Tuesday, the equipment is expected to move to Lamont from Highway 21. It is expected to complete the journey to Fort Saskatchewan on Wednesday.

The equipment will be moving below the speed limit and will make frequent stops, said an Alberta government news release. The load is the width of a two-lane highway and will occasionally travel against the flow of traffic.

The news release said the equipment is accompanied by guide vehicles and safety personnel. Vehicles travelling behind the load will face delays.

The City of Edmonton spent more than 12 months working with the provincial government planning the route as well as how weight would be distributed across the transport vehicles.

“The load included added trailers and tires to distribute the weight more evenly, which mitigates any risk of damage to the road,” Rohit Sandhu, a spokesperson for the city, stated in an email. “The potential threat to damaging the roads would have been no different than the movement of a regular truck.”

There's more at the link.

That's big, all right!  I'm glad I'm not driving in its vicinity.  I imagine it's causing a fair amount of traffic disruption as it inches along.