Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A breath of fresh air (NOT!)

Fellow blogger aepilotjim forwarded a Facebook link to Miss D. and myself last night.  There, we found this:

At first I was sure this was some sort of Internet hoax.  Surely no-one could be as stupid as that?  Lo and behold, an Internet search on "fart rape" soon proved that it was no hoax, as this 2013 report shows.

Top feminist academics that have respectable diverse doctorates from medieval art, 6th century English to Women’s Studies gathered at the University of Toronto meeting center to discuss if human flatulence could be sexist.

Ashleigh Ingle a proud feminist and an anarchist argued that because of patriarchal gender norms women were not allowed to release gas in public because of men’s unreal expectations of women to be clean and feminine. Furthermore she articulated that if a woman was to fart in the presence of a man and the man responded by farting louder than the woman, than that would be rape.

. . .

[The] twitter hash tag #FartRape has started to trend as women are taking control of their own bodies by naming and shaming men guilty of fart rape ... But Ingle argues that it simply isn’t enough, “Don’t tell women to fart louder tell men not to fart so loud” This is clear victim blaming and government should pass laws to make male farts above a certain decibel illegal to make human flatulence equal and not discriminate against women.

Science advocates have argued that because of sexual dimorphism men are larger, need a higher protein intake and thus can relieve more flatulence, but the speakers at the conference were adamant that it was a socially constructed gender norm that oppressed women to the point that they physically do not release equal amounts of gas as men.

There's more at the link.  The comments are also worth reading.

Clearly, it's bizarro-world in feminist circles.  However, the brouhaha appears to have aroused more amusement than hot air (you should pardon the expression).  In another article, I found my favorite comment on the matter.

Sorry all, I just can't stop laughing. I once ate two chili-cheese hot dogs and raped everyone at Sea World.

Perhaps I should have titled this blog post "Air on the G-string"? (With apologies to Bach and Wilhelmj, of course!)


Would somebody please invent a laxative for kidney stones?

I'm very fed up with my body at the moment.

As regular readers will know, I developed my first kidney stone (a milestone I wish I'd never experienced!) back in 2015.  I had two procedures that year, lithotripsy followed by an ureteroscopy, to get rid of it.  It wasn't fun, to put it mildly.  Thereafter, I had a hiatus for a couple of years, but in 2017 another kidney stone formed.  The local urologist was (in my opinion) very unprofessional in his approach, so I refused to proceed with treatment from him.  Fortunately, the problem eased off on its own within a week or two, presumably the result of the stone passing naturally.

Over the past year or so, I've passed three more kidney stones au naturel, as it were.  The pain's been severe enough to be a problem, but not crippling, so they were probably either small stones or fragments off a larger one.  However, about two months ago I was hit with another serious bout of pain, and had to ask my local health care provider to schedule an appointment with a specialist.  I wasn't prepared to trust the local urologist after my earlier experience, so I was referred to UT Southwestern in Dallas, where a very professional professor (there's a nice play on words!) checked me out.  We'd scheduled an ureteroscopy for next week.  However, my body, in a fit of independence, decided to act sooner.  After hanging on to the stone like grim death for weeks, it finally let go of it over the weekend.  My pain levels are now subsiding, and I'm beginning to feel like a human being again.

My question is:  why can't someone invent some sort of laxative for kidney stones?  If we could arrange to pass them at the first sign of trouble, think of how much pain and misery would be saved!  I'm getting fed up with my body doing its own thing and expecting me to put up with it.  On the other hand, I'm getting older, and I'm told I must expect more of that sort of thing as parts begin to wear out.

I think I need an internal organ mechanic.  A kidney rebore, valve grind and top end overhaul sounds like a very good idea right now!


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"To build the cities of the future, we must get out of our cars"

That's the title of a long and thought-provoking article at National Geographic.  The problem with the article, as I see it, is that it prescribes to city-dwellers what they need, what they should want, whether or not they really want it.  It relies on official policy rather than public demand.  Here's a brief excerpt to illustrate my point.

“The problem with urban environments that are auto oriented,” [Calthorpe] said, as we wound our way toward the Bay Bridge, “is that if there’s no choice, if the only way to get around is in a car, lo and behold, people are going to use cars too much. Too much for the climate, too much for people’s pocketbooks, too much for the community in terms of congestion, too much for people’s time. I mean, every way you measure it, it has a negative—no walking is a prescription for obesity. Air quality feeds into respiratory illnesses.”

In Calthorpe’s utopia, in China or America or elsewhere, cities would stop expanding so voraciously, paving over the nature around them; instead they’d find better ways of letting nature into their cores, where it can touch people. They’d grow in dense clusters and small, walkable blocks around a web of rapid transit. These cities of the future would mix things up again: They’d no longer segregate work from home and shopping, as sprawl does now, forcing people into cars to navigate all three; they’d no longer segregate rich from poor, old from young, and white from black, as sprawl does, especially in the United States. Driving less, paving less, city dwellers would heat the air and the planet around them less. That would slow the climate change that threatens, in this century, to make some cities unlivable.

To do all this, in Calthorpe’s view, you don’t really need architectural eye candy or Jetsons technology—although a bit of that can help. You need above all to fix the mistakes and misconceptions of the recent past.

. . .

In 2016 the [Chinese] Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council, the highest organs of the state, issued a decree: From now on Chinese cities were to preserve farmland and their own heritage; have smaller, unfenced blocks and narrower, pedestrian-friendly streets; develop around public transit; and so on. In 2017 the guidelines were translated into a manual for Chinese planners called Emerald Cities. Calthorpe Associates wrote most of it.

There's more at the link.

You see?  Calthorpe's prescription might be made to work in China, where the state controls everything and private citizens have little or no choice in the matter.  However, we live in the United States, where individuals assert their freedom and independence from authority.  How are you going to persuade them to give up that freedom and independence, and submit to greater regimentation of society by the "experts"?  Aren't "experts" the ones who got us into our present urban sprawl mess in the first place?

I distrust any proposal that requires me to surrender my individual liberties, freedoms, rights, etc. in the name of solving society's problems.  America was built around the individual, not the group.  This sort of article focuses almost exclusively on the group, the community as a whole, and expects its individual members to co-operate.  What if they don't want to?  What if some of them prefer a different approach?  Under such plans, they lose.  They'll be forced to comply, whether they want to or not, because their alternatives will be legislated or regulated out of existence.  That's the road that leads to totalitarianism - Big Brother writ large.

I highly recommend reading the article in full, because it makes a very good case for solutions to our present urban problems:  but I also recommend finding alternatives to the solutions it proposes, ones that safeguard our freedoms as well as improving our quality of life.


This bird is the (last) word!

I was mind-boggled to read about a recently retired racing pigeon.

A champion pigeon has been sold for a record €1.25m ($1.42m; £1.07m).

Auction house Pipa called Armando the "best Belgian long-distance pigeon of all time". He's also been dubbed the "Lewis Hamilton of pigeons".

Before this sale, the record was €376,000 (£321,800). However, Pipa says this was beaten within a day of Armando being put up for bids.

The champ, who turns five this year, is now enjoying his retirement and has already fathered a number of chicks.

There's more at the link.

$1.42 million for something that I'm used to thinking of as the source of splatters on my car's paintwork and windshield?  Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .

I hope they keep him safely in Belgium, or somewhere similar.  When dove season opens up in the South, parts of this state sound rather like they're filled with entire batteries of anti-aircraft artillery, going off for hours every day.  I suspect Pipa might become the filling in the world's most expensive pigeon pie!

Oh, well.  In Pipa's honor, what else can I do but play this?


New Zealand, ethics, morality, and reality

When I posted about last week's massacre of Muslims in New Zealand, I wasn't surprised - saddened, yes, but not surprised - to read commenters spouting the usual anti-Muslim drivel.  All over the Internet, there are those pointing fingers, comparing the lack of publicity accorded by the mainstream media to Muslim massacres of Christians to the overwhelming publicity given to the Christchurch shootings - as if two wrongs could somehow make one of them right.  Essentially, they're blaming Islam for what happened to Muslims in Christchurch.  It's been a sickening display, and I'm not the only person who's felt that way.  Here's another blogger's opinion - only one of many I could cite.  (Read the comments there, too, if you can stomach some of them.)

Let me say at once that I have no tolerance for terrorism at all.  I've spent many years of my life fighting it, in many forms, including armed conflict with terrorists (as those of you who've been reading here for a while will know;  if you haven't, try this post for a sample, and follow some of the links provided there).  As far as I'm concerned, no matter what its origin or motivation or expression, terrorism is a crime against humanity, and terrorists have no place in our society.  I've had the opportunity to see to it that some of them didn't, and I have no regrets about that whatsoever.

The trouble is, many of those who have a knee-jerk reaction against Islam in general, and Muslims in particular, have little or no idea what they're talking about.  They've been fed a diet of extremist commentary about Islam, and they parrot off the propaganda they've absorbed like automatons.  If you try to engage them in reasoned discussion, you can't - they simply duck and dive off at a tangent, refusing to actually engage, instead finding new propaganda points to spout.  The New Zealand tragedy has been no exception.

"Fifty Muslims have been killed in New Zealand by a terrorist."

"Well, they shouldn't have been there.  They should go back to their own countries instead of invading ours."

"What's that got to do with fifty of them being murdered?"

"If they hadn't been there, they wouldn't have been murdered!"

"Can't you feel any sorrow or compassion at all for the victims?"

"No, because it's their own fault they were victims.  They shouldn't have been there. Besides, what about all the Christians killed by Muslims all around the world?  Why don't the media ever report those?"

"They do report them.  It's just that most people don't bother to read or watch world news reports - they stay with local news, and read only those internet sources that align with their own interests."

"No, they don't report them!  What about this, or that, or the other incident?"

"I can show you mainstream media reports about all of them."

"Well, those are the exceptions that prove the rule!"

And so on, and so on, ad nauseam.  The same web sites keep churning out their propaganda, and the same idiots keep absorbing it and prattling it as if it were Gospel truth.  None - or, at least, very few - of them have ever actually lived among Muslims, and gotten to know them as individuals.  Those who claim to have done so have often been expatriate workers in Muslim countries, where they lived in ghettos that provided little or no contact with local people except as servants or employees.  That's not enough to understand them.  Some, particularly returned servicemen from "the sandbox", will speak dismissively, even contemptuously, of Middle Eastern and Islamic culture (or what they perceive as the lack thereof).  When I wore uniform, and some people were trying to kill me, I did the same about them and their culture.  It seems to go with the territory when one's fighting a war.  It takes a certain amount of distance (not to mention time) to recover one's perspective.

I'd like to propose a moral and ethical approach to such atrocities that I think can be valid for almost everybody, of any religion or none, of any philosophy of life or none.  It's based on the Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity, which is found in every major religion and philosophy in one form or another.  Christians have for centuries paraphrased it as "Do to others as you would have them do to you".  The beauty of this approach is that it governs not just how we act, but also how we react.  If you don't want someone to do something to you, don't do it to others.  If you would react negatively if something was done to you, you should react negatively when it's done to others.  It doesn't matter whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not, whether you want them in your country or not.

That puts the New Zealand mosque massacre into perspective.  If it's wrong to shoot innocent Christians, or Westerners, or whatever, then it's automatically also wrong to shoot innocent Muslims.  If one reacts to the murder of members of one group with anger, disgust and vengeful fury, one should feel the same way about the murder of members of another group.  It's a universal standard, one that applies equally to everyone in every situation.  It doesn't give us a cop-out, allowing us to say, "Well, it's their fault it happened to them, because they shouldn't have been there".  No.  If it shouldn't happen to us, it shouldn't happen to them, either.  Forget all the qualifications and excuses and weasel words.  If something is good, it's universally good.  If it's bad, or wrong, or evil, that's all she wrote, across the board.  Simple as that.

The Golden Rule also forces us to examine our own conduct and attitudes.  Everything really does begin with us.  What do I want others to do to me, or not do to me?  Why?  Am I doing them, or not doing them, to others in my own attitudes and actions every day?  If I am/am not, what do I need to change to get to where I need to be?  This does not suggest that we need to become "willing victims", or roll over and play dead, in response to violence directed against us.  It means that we need to find balance, find our own roots, so that we can respond (and, if necessary, defend ourselves) with confidence that we're doing the right thing.  (That's very much the Christian approach, too, for those who espouse that faith.)

The fundamental element in all this is that morality and ethics begin with us - each of us, as individuals.  If we allow others to think for us, or react on our behalf, without considering whether or not they have the right to do so, or are right in their approach . . . we make ourselves complicit in their error.  If we condemn an action when it's done to us, but condone it or make excuses for it when it's done to others, we expose our own shortsightedness and lack of balance.

Animals just react.  Human beings think first.  That's what distinguishes us from animals.  If we abdicate that right, and that responsibility, heaven help us all.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Tactical helicopters and tight landing zones, revisited

Some months ago I looked at Bell's V-280 Valor entry into the US Army's Future Vertical Lift competition.  I noted:

When you consider safe separation distances in a landing zone, combined with the probability of having to perform insertions and extractions in confined terrain (natural or man-made - i.e. urban), I'm not at all sure how well the V-280 design will perform, simply because it's so big.  It may be forced to land and take off in more open spaces, further away from the action.  That will force troops to march further to where they're needed, or fight their way back to their helicopters for extraction.  That'll add time and, probably, casualties to the operation - and that can't be a good thing.

. . .

Sikorsky-Boeing's SB-1 Defiant proposal for the FVL program, on the other hand, has a similar footprint to conventional helicopters, despite being much faster.  It's not flying yet, but here's a promotional video from Sikorsky-Boeing, showing what it will look like.  Note that they're showing it operating in a confined urban environment - perhaps deliberately, to emphasize that it'll be compact enough to be able to work there.

There's more at the link, including videos and other images.

I was reminded of that earlier article when I came across this video clip at The Aviationist.  It shows helicopters from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, exercising in the streets of Los Angeles.  Note the very tight landing zones used by the helicopters.  Even the small MH-6 Little Bird helicopters must require very careful handling to get in and out of such spaces, much less the larger Blackhawks (both types are shown in the video).

The video drives home my earlier concerns.  Landing on streets like that, with wires, tree branches, etc. obstructing access,  is difficult enough even in a small helicopter.  The SB-1 Defiant, with its coaxial main rotor system, should be able to get into far more compact landing zones than the V-280 Valor (as described in the earlier article).  From my own experience with helicopters as a passenger "up the sharp end", I'd say that's a supremely important consideration;  yet the tilt-rotor V-280 is considered a viable contender in the competition.

What say my military and veteran readers?  Am I putting too much emphasis on this tactical consideration, rather than other elements of the competition?  Are there other factors that make the size and accessibility of the landing zone a less important requirement?


An example of American Socialism?

Larry Lambert startled me with this comparison.

If you want to see how socialism works under the American Government, the best place to begin is an Indian reservation. Start with one that doesn't have a massive casino or oil wells. The medical care is on par with what you could expect in almost any clinic in Africa and the lifestyle as people wait for their 'free' government allotment is legendary.

There's more at the link.

Larry also linked to this article for supporting evidence.

Of the top 100 poorest counties in the US, four of the Top 5 and ten of the Top 20 are on indian reservations. In all, 24 counties with high Indian populations made the Top 100 Poorest Counties list based on the 2000 Census.

Living conditions on many Indian reservations are so poor that they are comparable to conditions in Third World countries.

Again, more at the link.

I've never visited a Native American reservation (although I must have driven through many of them in Oklahoma as I sped along I-40 east- or westbound).  I have no personal experience of conditions there.  However, if this is true, I'd love to know why it's true.  Is it some sort of tribal/group or individual Native American problem?  Is it caused by government mismanagement?  Is it anything else, or a combination of several factors?  I have no idea.

I'd like to hear from readers who know more than I.  What caused this, and what (if anything) can be done about it?


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday morning music

Yesterday I came across this track over at IOTWReport.  I'd never heard of David Bromberg:  and, after reading a little about him, I'm fascinated to see a New York Jewish musician and his eclectic band playing bluegrass/southern/whatever so well.  I'm definitely going to have to find more of his music, of which YouTube has a fair selection.

I've already picked up on these interesting tracks, illustrating the wide variety of styles he performs.

It's always fun discovering a new group or performer.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Lucky to be alive

A motorist in Modesto, California is very lucky to be alive after his/her Honda went between a truck and trailer that had overturned.  The towbar flattened the passenger compartment of the car like it was so much tinfoil.  California's Highway Patrol police posted this picture (click it for a larger view):

You can see the truck and trailer, and the towbar, in the background.  Amazingly, there were no serious injuries.

Methinks the Honda driver owes his/her guardian angel a beer!


A surprising relic from World War II

I was surprised to learn that a prototype bridge constructed during World War II is still standing - the oldest example of its type in the world.

Donald Bailey designed his world-famous Bailey Bridge in 1940, using the back of an envelope for the initial sketch.  After development during 1941, it entered service during 1942.  Millions of linear feet of bridge structure were manufactured in the UK, Canada and the USA during the war.  It remains such a simple, effective, easy-to-use design, even compared to more recent developments, that the Bailey bridge is still widely used to this day (and a modernized version is still in production).  General Eisenhower called it "One of the three pieces of equipment that most contributed to our victory in Festung Europa."  (You can read a 1945 article about the effectiveness of the bridge here, and see many photographs of wartime bridges - some of them spectacularly large and/or long - in this article.)

It all started with a prototype installation across Mother Sillers Channel at Stanpit Marsh in southern England in 1940.  That first-ever Bailey Bridge is still standing.  Here's a video description of it, and the development of the bridge.  (Don't let the detour into Middle Eastern history fool you - it's all relevant to the story.)

I have warm fuzzy feelings about the Bailey Bridge, because I drove over several of them in South Africa's Border War operational area.  They were the standard portable bridge used by SA engineers.  They were very effective, and got us into (and out of) our combat zones with no trouble.

I'm pleased to know that the original Bailey Bridge is still standing, and still in use, 79 years after it was erected.  I think that somewhere, Sir Donald Bailey (knighted for his wartime efforts) is smiling down on it with fond affection.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Conversation with hospital flunky

(Telephone rings)

ME:  Hello?

HOSPITAL FLUNKY:  Hello.  This call is for Mr. Peter Grant.

ME:  Speaking.

FLUNKY:  Ah, good afternoon.  I'm calling to confirm the billing details for your procedure on (date).

ME:  Go ahead.

FLUNKY:  The insurance cost for the procedure will be $XXXXX, and your 15% deductible for that procedure will be $YYYY.  Will you please provide a credit card number for your payment?

ME:  Hold on a moment.  That's not a 15% deductible - it's more like 22%.

FLUNKY:  The computer says that's your deductible, sir.

ME:  Tell the computer to recalculate.  Your numbers are wrong.

FLUNKY:  But... the computer doesn't make a mistake, sir!

ME:  This one has.  Get a calculator and work it out for yourself.

FLUNKY:  Ah... hold for a moment, please, sir.

(Sound of muzak in the background until the flunky returns.)

FLUNKY:  Ah... sir, I'll have to go back to the billing department and ask them to review this charge.

ME:  I should think so!  [Mentally translates to self:  No s***, Sherlock!]

FLUNKY:  Ah... thank you, and goodbye.

Dammit, don't they teach mental arithmetic in schools any more?  When I was growing up, any twelve-year-old could have spotted that kind of error with his eyes closed!


EDITED TO ADD: Aesop had his own run-in with the arithmetically challenged, on the same day. Go read.

That's going to be expensive . . .

A French fishing trawler went into dry-dock at a shipyard in Spain last week for repairs.  Perhaps they should have chosen a different yard.



The New Zealand terror attacks

So it's happened again - this time in one of the most remote, yet friendliest, nations on earth.  In two terrorist attacks, it appears that at least 49 people have been killed and another 48 injured.  Both totals may rise.

The motivation of the terrorist(s) - their numbers are as yet unclear - is easy enough to discern, based on the evidence they left behind.  They claimed to be responding to prior acts of terrorism by Muslim fundamentalists.  The fact that no such attacks have ever taken place in New Zealand, and that there's no evidence whatsoever that their victims ever espoused, encouraged or committed such acts, was clearly not a factor in their considerations.

Several years ago, after the Paris terror attacks of November 2015, I said about the Muslim terrorist attackers:

The perpetrators committed their crimes because they didn't regard their victims as being human.  They were guilty by virtue of not being Muslims, or (in some cases) being Muslims who lived in too close an association with non-Muslims, thereby making themselves targets as well.  The victims were 'guilty' of being infidels, and paid the price for their 'crime'.  That's the way it is, for the attackers.  We're justified in what we're doing, because God as we understand him has authorized and encouraged us to do it.

So, now we see the bitter fruit of such attitudes.  The terrorist(s) in New Zealand had precisely and exactly the same attitude, in mirror image.  They regarded their victims as guilty by virtue of being Muslims.  It's a perfect illustration of how Newton's Third Law of Motion applies to politics and philosophy as well as to physics.  "Every action begets an equal and opposite reaction."  In Paris in November 2015, the "action" was against non-Muslims.  In New Zealand, the "action" was against Muslims.  Both were terrorism, pure and simple.  Pot, meet kettle.  Kettle, pot.

What's more, I guarantee you that right now, Muslim fundamentalist terrorists are outraged at this attack against their people, and are already planning a response in similar vein.  It may be in New Zealand, or it may be elsewhere, but it will involve attacks against innocent non-Muslims in revenge for attacks against innocent Muslims.  You can be absolutely sure of that.  Goose sauce, meet gander.

Those attacks, in turn, will inspire more retaliatory terrorism . . . and yet more . . . and so the cycle will be perpetuated.  At least some of the children's children of those who died today, and those who react to their deaths, will still be killing each other when we're all long gone.  I warned about that, too, in my earlier article.  I urge you to read the whole thing, to better understand the context of these remarks.  Here's how I concluded it.

The attacks of 9/11 merited - required - a response.  I have no problem with that at all.  However, the response was not carefully planned, or thought out, or targeted.  It's proved to be almost completely ineffective in curbing fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, which was the enemy responsible for those attacks.  Instead, tens of thousands of American lives have been lost, or ruined due to crippling injury;  entire nations and regions have been destabilized;  the forces of Islamic fundamentalism have been galvanized into renewed efforts that have taken on new faces and forms and engendered even more dangerous terrorists;  and tens of thousands of innocent civilian lives have been lost, and the lives of literally millions of civilians have been disrupted and uprooted, without any lasting solution having been forthcoming.

The War on Terror could not and did not prevent Paris 2015.  It cannot and will not deter similar attacks in future.

And in the end, the bodies lying in the ruins, and the blood dripping onto our streets, and the weeping of those who've lost loved ones . . . they'll all be the same.  History is full of them.  When it comes to the crunch, there are no labels that can disguise human anguish.  People will suffer in every land, in every community, in every faith . . . and they'll turn to what they believe in to make sense of their suffering . . . and most of them will raise up the next generation to hate those whom they identify as the cause of their suffering . . . and the cycle will go on, for ever and ever, until the world ends.

We cannot 'kill them all and let God sort them out' (and let it never be forgotten that those obscene, inhuman instructions were reportedly issued, not by a Muslim fundamentalist, but by an Abbott and Papal Legate of the Catholic Church).  There are too many of 'them' to kill them all, just as 'they' can never kill all of 'us'.  We cannot kill our way out of terrorism.  We cannot kill our way out of the dilemma of being human, with all the tragedy that entails.

May God have mercy on us all.

I have no answers - nobody does.  Perhaps the author of Ecclesiastes came close, in Chapter 9, verse 3.  I don't know that it applies to all of us, but it certainly fits terrorists:

This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

May Almighty God, by whatever name we know the Deity, have mercy on all who died in the New Zealand attacks, and also on us, who must strive - sometimes in vain - to make sense of it all.  May we not be driven to the same evil as the attackers, in thought, or word, or deed.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

The siren song of the Gordian Knot

I've been thinking about Charles Hugh Smith's comments, mentioned in my previous blog post.  The danger of politics no longer being able to solve our problems is very real, and leads to the illusory appeal of the Gordian Knot.  Wikipedia describes the legend:

The Phrygians were without a king, but an oracle at Telmissus (the ancient capital of Lycia) decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king. A peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox-cart and was immediately declared king. Out of gratitude, his son Midas dedicated the ox-cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios (whom the Greeks identified with Zeus) and tied it to a post with an intricate knot of cornel bark. The knot was later described by Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus as comprising “several knots all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to see how they were fastened.”

The ox-cart still stood in the palace of the former kings of Phrygia at Gordium in the fourth century BC when Alexander [the Great] arrived, at which point Phrygia had been reduced to a satrapy, or province, of the Persian Empire. An oracle had declared that any man who could unravel its elaborate knots was destined to become ruler of all of Asia. Alexander wanted to untie the knot but struggled to do so without success. He then reasoned that it would make no difference how the knot was loosed, so he drew his sword and sliced it in half with a single stroke.

There's more at the link.

The legend has become famous throughout history;  but there's a sting in its tail.  The moral of the story is that direct action can produce results where indirect action becomes so bogged down in details as to become impossible.  There are certainly times when that's a good idea.  However, it's also too easy to use as a cop-out.  "It's too much trouble to listen to every opinion and take into account every perspective.  We know we're right;  so why don't we just impose our policies on everyone, and then defy them to do anything about it?  Let's cut through the Gordian Knot of democratic negotiation!"

That's the way to civil war, and sometimes to wars between nations and alliances as well.  If one presents people with a fait accompli, sometimes they'll accept it:  but other times, their response will be to try to impose their own fait accompli in response.  "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!  What goes around, comes around!  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you:  therefore, since you've done this to us, we're going to do the same unto you!"  The excuses are legendary, but they all amount to the same thing:  conflict.

Bismarck was quite right when he said that "Politics is the art of the possible":  but possibility isn't just the ability to enforce your will, riding roughshod over the desires of others.  (That's what too many recent Presidents have tried to do.  Remember "Stroke of the pen.  Law of the land.  Kinda cool."?  That was Paul Begala, speaking of the Clinton administration.  Remember President Obama "negotiating" with Republicans?  "Elections have consequences.  And at the end of the day, I won. So I think on that one I trump you."  Not very much negotiating in that, was there?  Remember the "nuclear option" on the filibuster?  "Even if Republicans want to do away with the filibuster someday, Reid said, Thursday’s move was worth it because the current climate had become too hostile to get anything significant done. Reid said he faced a choice: 'Continue like we are or have democracy?' ”

However, when the Presidency and the Senate changed hands, former supporters of such measures were a lot less willing to support them than they had been.  They were willing to "cut the Gordian Knot" when the political winds were in their favor;  but when those winds changed, they found their daring stroke coming back to haunt them.

That's why those advocating violence, or "resistance", or whatever, to overcome the present mess in US politics, on both sides of the political divide, are fundamentally misguided.  They want a simplistic solution:  cut through the Gordian Knot (and, if necessary, their opponents) and solve the problem in a single stroke.  Impose the solution they prefer, and devil take those who don't.  They ignore the fact that once one has committed to such means, one has effectively given license to one's opponents to do precisely and exactly the same thing in reply.  The Golden Rule applies.  "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you."  Do unto them aggressively, or pre-emptively, or violently, and you can expect the same response.  That applies in life, and in politics.

That's not so much fun, is it?


"What If Politics Can't Fix What's Broken?"

Charles Hugh Smith asks the question.

The unspoken assumption of the modern era is that politics can fix whatever is broken: whatever is broken in society or the economy can be fixed by some political policy or political process-- becoming more inclusionary, seeking non-partisan middle ground, etc.

What if this assumption is flat-out wrong? What if politics is incapable of fixing what's broken?

. . .

This is of course heresy of the highest order, for a belief in the supremacy of politics is the secular religion of our era. The orthodoxy is: there is no problem that can't be solved with a political policy: a tax cut, a new tax, a new incentive, a broader definition of criminality, and so on.

What if the status quo is failing for reasons that are beyond the reach of politics? Politics assumes that tweaking incentives and disincentives via rewards and punishments, centralizing control of assets and income streams and manipulating the issuance of currency and interest rates can fix any and every problem.

The limits of politics are the limits of government. In the present era, all government seeks to further centralize power and capital because the era's quasi-religious belief is that centralization is the solution to everything.

This is of course false. Centralization works until it becomes the problem, at which point further centralization of power and capital only speeds system-wide failure.

. . .

Government can't rescue a status quo which is failing due to negative return on investment (ROI), gross inefficiencies, the loss of trust in corrupt institutions , and all the other ills that are intrinsic to centralization of power and capital.

As a result, the greater the government's power, the greater the polarization as the self-serving elites seek to protect their share of the pie as the pie shrinks. Each camp becomes increasingly extreme, and compromise is recognized as a process that erodes every camp's power and income.

. . .

This is the politics of decline and collapse.

There's more at the link.

I think Mr. Smith has a point.  One can illustrate it by recalling Bismarck's famous remark that "Politics is the art of the possible".  If political progress becomes impossible, due to entrenched interests that each insist on their own self-aggrandizement at the expense of all the others, then politics itself - political discourse, free and fair elections, and the like - is, in practical terms, no longer possible.  Once politics is no longer possible, what takes its place?  Throughout history, the answer has all too frequently been civil (and sometimes military) conflict.  Therein lies civil war.

May God spare us from that in these increasingly dis-United States, and in all the other nations where entrenched special interests are trying to have their way over all the others at any cost.  For a good current example of that, see formerly Great Britain, where the will of the people (the Brexit referendum) is being blocked at every turn by the "remainers", who think they know better than the people what Britain - or, rather, what they - need.

(Clearly, the "remainers" haven't heeded another prescient warning from Bismarck:  "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made".  By exposing their shenanigans to the light of day, they've lost a great deal of credibility, despite all their protestations of wanting to do what's best for Britain.)


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Doofus Of The Day #1,037

Today's award goes to the organizers of and participants in a gliding competition in England.

Glider pilots have been told to register their flights after a near miss with two F-15 fighter jets.

The British Gliding Association has now advised its members to issue special notices to other aviators when flying in large groups such as competitions.

It comes after a pair of of the US Air Force planes, flying at 380mph, came within a split second of smashing into a glider, a report has revealed.

One of the US pilots estimated that the gilder had flown just 100ft beneath them and just 330ft ahead.

. . .

The United States Air Force criticised the glider pilot, saying: "The wisdom of operating just to the south of the extended centreline of the main instrument runway of one of the busiest fighter bases in the UK must be questioned."

UKAB members rated it as a Category B incident, where "safety had been much reduced below the norm".

The report also questioned how the glider pilot assessed the collision risk as low, saying it had "caused some members to wonder whether he had a particularly robust approach to the risks of fast- jets flying so close by."

UKAB noted that the gliding competition organisers had not put out an official ‘Notice to Airmen’, known to aviators as a NOTAM warning, about unusual air activity, because they believed it was unnecessary due to all of the pilots being local.

There's more at the link.

"A particularly robust approach to the risks of fast- jets" . . . love that British understatement!  You're in a plastic-and-carbon-fiber cockleshell, without an engine, sailing along in silence, and suddenly your peace and quiet is shattered by two steel-and-electronic monsters, each weighing well over 50,000 pounds, screaming past almost within touching distance at several hundred miles per hour.  That'd cure anyone's constipation for sure - on both sides of the contact!


Tired, sore and aching

I'm not having a good time health-wise this week.

Monday I went down to Dallas, where a urologist informed me that I'll have to have another ureteroscopy to remove a big kidney stone that's been bugging me for some time - it won't pass on its own, as smaller ones have done.  I'm in the process of getting a CAT scan and other preliminary steps.  I've had a ureteroscopy before . . . very painful, very uncomfortable, and necessitating wearing an adult diaper for five days until the damn thing comes out.  Not looking forward to that at all.

To add insult to injury, yesterday I began to get a sore throat.  I went to the doc this morning, to be informed that it's not flu or strep throat (both of which are going around here at present), but it's "definitely something"!  I've been put on precautionary medications to keep it under control until the surgery is over.  If it blows up before then, I'll have to postpone the ureteroscopy - apparently operating room teams don't like patients infecting all of them, and the operating room to boot.

For even more fun, Miss D. had a series of allergy tests this morning, involving scratching her skin, rubbing in various contaminants, and seeing which ones made her swell up like a balloon.  She's not a happy camper, either.

Anyone like to take our places for a few weeks, until all this is over?


This makes me feel like a technological dinosaur

As regular readers will be aware, I served in South Africa's armed forces during the 1970's and 1980's, initially full-time and then in reserve status.  I traveled in a number of then-current armored vehicles, and was reasonably familiar with their systems.

However, the state of the art has advanced so much since then that I don't think I could even begin to take advantage of it.  Here's Israeli company Rafael's Suite for Armored Fighting Vehicles.

I suppose, to the video game generation, such electronic wizardry in an armored fighting vehicle is not a new concept;  but to those of us from an earlier era of combat, it's mind-boggling.

Here's an interview with a senior Rafael executive, discussing the system.

It looks like an excellent system, and given Israel's and Rafael's long-standing reputation for innovation and high-tech solutions, it'll probably work very well - as long as power is available.  Its Achilles heel is electricity.  Knock out the vehicle's generator, or drop an EMP weapon such as CHAMP over the battlefield, and all those electronic marvels will come to a grinding halt.  At that point, you'd better be ready, willing and able to fight the old-fashioned way - or die.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Yet another excuse to control everybody

A new report draws racial inferences from pollution - and uses them as a rationale to propose additional restrictions and controls on society.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

A study published Monday in the journal PNAS adds a new twist to the pollution problem by looking at consumption. While we tend to think of factories or power plants as the source of pollution, those polluters wouldn't exist without consumer demand for their products.

The researchers found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans' consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans.

"This paper is exciting and really quite novel," says Anjum Hajat, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study. "Inequity in exposure to air pollution is well documented, but this study brings in the consumption angle."

Hajat says the study reveals an inherent unfairness: "If you're contributing less to the problem, why do you have to suffer more from it?"

. . .

While more research is needed to fully understand these differences, the results of this study raise questions about how to address these inequities ... Diez Roux thinks that stronger measures may be necessary.

"If want to ameliorate this inequity, we may need to rethink how we build our cities and how they grow, our dependence on automobile transportation," says Diez Roux. "These are hard things we have to consider."

There's more at the link.

I think any racial angle in the study is almost certainly grossly overstated.  All over the world, poorer people of any and every race live in less desirable, less pristine, more polluted and/or overcrowded neighborhoods than those with more money.  Poorer people also buy less than more affluent consumers.  To try to insinuate that exposure to pollution is therefore a racial problem, because whites consume more than blacks or hispanics, is (IMHO) stretching things way too far.

However, as always with left-wing talking points, note the sting in the tail.  Just like alleged anthropomorphic climate change, if this is a problem, then obviously we must do something to fix it:  and the way to fix it is to impose greater controls on society.  To hell with free choice - it's for the chiiiiiiiiillldren!  We must order people around and restrict their independence!

Funny how often moonbats come up with that answer, isn't it?


Yes, that's windy!

A strong storm brought Force 12 (hurricane-strength) gusts of wind to the port of Antwerp over the weekend.  Watch as they topple a stack of 40-foot shipping containers.

Clearly, the container that fell into the harbor was empty, or at least very lightly loaded (otherwise it wouldn't have been floating so high out of the water).  Even so, an empty 40' container weighs more than 8,000 pounds (four US tons);  yet it was tossed around as if it were so much scrap paper.  Definitely a strong gust of wind!


"Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat"

The famous quip in the title ("Whom God would destroy, he first makes mad") is from "The Life of Samuel Johnson" by James Boswell, published in the late 18th century.  I think it perfectly describes the insane idiocy exhibited by many of the overly tolerant "feminists" of our day.

Consider this (possibly NSFW) Instagram post by actress Debra Messing.  It portrays a series of cupcakes, decorated to resemble female genitalia.  I'm sure she meant it to celebrate her version of femininity;  but the comments from many transgender viewers (lacking such genitalia) and their allies were very negative.  Ms. Messing therefore added the following mea culpa:

I want to apologize to my trans sisters. This photo was supposed to be light, & sassy. The first thing I thought when I saw this photo was “wow how wonderful. Each one is unique in color and shape and size. The porn industry has perpetuated this myth of what a “beautiful” vagina looks like and as a result there are women who feel shame or insecure about the shape of the vulva. I loved that this picture said “every single one is beautiful and unique and that’s powerful.” I did not, however, think “but there are innumerable beautiful, unique and powerful women who don’t have a vagina. And I SHOULD have. And for that I am so so sorry. Thank you for righting my wrong.

Sorry, Ms. Messing.  The chromosomes have it.  With the vanishingly small exception (far less than 1% of the human race) of those who are born "intersex", those born with XX chromosomes are female, and those with XY chromosomes are male.  The former have vaginas naturally;  the latter do not.  Transsexual self-described "women" who have XY chromosomes are not women, whether or not some surgeon may have removed their male genitalia and/or constructed an artificial vagina for them.  Feminist and other perspectives can argue the distinction between biological sex and gender until the cows come home, but nature has made up its mind already, and will not be denied or altered by delusions.  Political correctness can't trump medical and scientific reality.  Those with that delusion may need the assistance of a psychologist or psychiatrist to help them cope with their issues - but not a surgeon.

I'm getting very tired of attempts by the politically correct, feministically enlightened and "woke" among us to force everyone else to accept and adhere to their blatantly false and dishonest narrative.  I suppose the best answer is mockery.  Kudos to Gab user Dr. Mauser for this comment, summing up many current controversies (scroll down at the link to see it) by punning on an historical reference:

The University turned down my request to do the Vagina Monologues in Blackface and call it The Menstrual Show.

Er . . . quite so!


Monday, March 11, 2019

"The world as 100 people"

Bill Gates put out an interesting tweet a while back, containing an even more interesting graphic.  Click the image for a larger view.

An article at Our World in Data describes how these charts illustrate history.

A recent survey asked “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”. In Sweden 10% thought things are getting better, in the US they were only 6%, and in Germany only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.

What is the evidence that we need to consider when answering this question? The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must therefore consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.

To see where we are coming from we must go far back in time. 30 or even 50 years are not enough. When you only consider what the world looked during our life time it is easy to make the mistake of thinking of the world as relatively static – the rich, healthy and educated parts of the world here and the poor, uneducated, sick regions there – and to falsely conclude that it always was like that and that it always will be like that.

Take a longer perspective and it becomes very clear that the world is not static at all. The countries that are rich today were very poor just very recently and were in fact worse off than the poor countries today.

To avoid portraying the world in a static way – the North always much richer than the South – we have to start 200 years ago before the time when living conditions really changed dramatically.

There's much more at the link, including larger versions of the individual charts above.

I think this is a very valuable series of charts, particularly when speaking to younger people today who've never known what it was like to be poor, or not to have some of the conveniences they take for granted.  That applies even in the First World.  I can recall my mother using a relatively primitive washing machine, with a mangle on top to press water out of laundry;  but those older than I will recall a time when there were no washing machines at all, and everything had to be laundered by hand.  Today's automatic appliances were unheard-of.  Another example:  how many of you recall a long drive in your car in which you confidently expected to have at least one puncture along the way (if not more than one), and tire life was measured in the low five figures, if not four figures?  Today's tires, almost puncture-proof and rated for many tens of thousands of miles, were a pipe-dream back then.  Want another?  How about polio?  When I was growing up, I knew children who were paralyzed or deformed as a result of polio.  Some were confined to iron lungs.  I was born just in time to benefit from Dr. Salk's polio vaccine.  They just missed it.

Those charts, and the accompanying article, are very informative.  Recommended reading.


Russia continues Soviet disinformation tactics

I've noticed something of a blitz of pro-Russian propaganda, particularly in the military technology sphere, over the past couple of years.  It's gotten so bad that some outlets (yes, I'm looking at you, Zero Hedge) run pro-Russia articles almost daily, trying to portray that country as a neglected superpower that can still make a lot of trouble for the USA.  Unfortunately, those behind this campaign have overplayed their hand.  Their non-stop bombardment of propaganda is beginning to wear thin, because there's very little fact backing it up.

Russia's submarines are certainly capable of posing a threat:  the US armed forces are reconfiguring their patrols and changing deployments to monitor the situation.  However, for the rest of its armed forces, not so much, as Strategy Page reports.

It was bad enough when Russian staff officers and Defense Ministry analysts said it but now foreign nations are saying it too; Russia is weak and getting weaker both economically and militarily. The navy rebuilding program has collapsed because the shipbuilding industry was never able to modernize after 1991 and lost its best people to migration or better jobs elsewhere in Russia. The air force is better off because export orders from China and India kept warplane production and development going. But China was buying mainly so they could clone the latest Russian designs and eventually go on to producing their own designs which they are now doing. The army is stuck with a lot of Cold War era weapons and a growing personnel shortage.

Prospects for improvement are dim and the government has resorted to the Iranian tactic of full time faking it. That means a continuous stream of press releases about new weapons and technologies that, at best, exist in small quantities and in most cases are still stuck in development. This works for a while but eventually becomes tragicomic and counterproductive. Western media will eat this fluff up for much longer because it provides viable clickbait. But the military analysts (intel and staff experts) know better as do American troops who have served anywhere near Russian troops. Israel also provides a lot of useful data as so the recent NATO members from East Europe. The military decline is also accelerated by chronic Russian economic problems and persistent corruption.

Since the oil price collapse in 2013 the Russian economy has contracted and the government budget had to shrink along with it. Russian leaders compounded the problem by invading Ukraine in 2014 and triggering economic sanctions. The government response was a growing number of threats to shoot back at imaginary enemies (mainly NATO nations) using weapons Russia did not have or would not dare use (the nukes). It was also public knowledge that the military could not recruit or conscript enough men to keep the armed forces (now officially 8o percent smaller than when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991) up to strength (about a million personnel). Press releases from the Defense Ministry declare the creation of dozens of new brigades and divisions for which there are no troops. New weapons are either not delivered or do not work when they are. Another obvious problem is that needed work to rebuild decrepit or non-existent Cold War era infrastructure (roads, railroads, utilities and such) has come to a halt. The financial and economic problems increase dependence on China. Meanwhile, China is also having problems that tend to spotlight how weak Russia is.

There's more at the link.

Part of the problem is that so few (allegedly) reputable news sources actually conduct serious investigations of the propaganda being fed to them.  Those knowledgeable about military affairs will not be surprised to read the Strategy Page report above.  However, to someone less knowledgeable, "scare" reports (such as, for example, this one) appear to indicate that the big, bad Russian bear is bigger and badder than ever - when that's simply not the case at all.  Most, if not all, of the "super-weapons" of which it's boasting are still under development, and may never achieve production status.  Indeed, some are simply repurposed weapons from other programs, hastily adapted to a new role, and not new at all (like this, for example - there's no solid evidence of testing at all, merely photographs and video of it being carried on an aircraft, and "something" being launched from that aircraft in more distant, fuzzy video).

What's more, the much-vaunted air defense system protecting Russia may not be so vaunted after all.  A Swedish report suggests that it's far less comprehensive than it's touted to be.

Much has in recent years been made of Russia's new capabilities and the impact they might have on the ability of NATO member states to reinforce or defend the vulnerable Baltic states in case of crisis or war. On closer inspection, however, Russia's capabilities are not quite as daunting, especially if potential countermeasures are factored in. In particular, surface-to-air missile systems currently create much smaller A2/AD bubbles than is often assumed and a number of countermeasures are possible. Experiences from Syria also raise questions about the actual capabilities of such systems in combat, relative to their nominal capabilities. Anti-ship and anti-land systems pose a greater threat but, here too, countermeasures are available. The dynamics of this strategic vortex affect Sweden directly and indirectly. This is one of the reasons why Sweden's security is increasingly interlocked with that of its neighbours and of the transatlantic alliance.

Again, more at the link.  The full report makes interesting reading.  Recommended.

We've concentrated on military issues, but as far as geopolitics is concerned, Russia doesn't exert nearly as much influence as she would like to portray.  There's an interesting summary of US-Russian geopolitical relations in this article.  As for European-Russian geopolitical considerations, see here for a useful analysis.

So, when you read strongly pro-Russia articles, or others suggesting that it has undue influence over aspects of US politics, bear in mind that there's a constant propaganda barrage from that country and its surrogates and supporters, designed to make you think that it's much stronger and more influential than it really is.  It's a continuation, in many ways, of the Soviet Union's disinformation campaign, which was remarkably effective in its day.

Of course, that reality makes the whole "Russia! Russia!" scare over the 2016 election that much more laughable . . . but the mass media will never admit that.  It also calls into question many of the alleged facts relied upon by the media in their attacks on President Trump.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sunday morning music

A few weeks ago in our Sunday Morning Music series, I looked at a popular song, "Surfin' Bird", and how it's passed through different genres of modern music.  I was amused to see that it attracted a certain amount of rather startled reader comment, because it was far from my usual fare!

This morning I'd like to tackle a classical piece in a similar fashion.  Johann Pachelbel's famous Canon in D (more properly titled "Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo") is a baroque piece, but it's almost never heard today as it would originally have been played.  That's because it was lost or ignored for a couple of centuries, before a 19th-century adaptation for the orchestra of that era gained renewed popularity.  Its baroque origins have been largely neglected.  Let's begin by setting that right.  Here's a version of the Canon played in baroque style, on baroque-era musical instruments.

From those lovely beginnings, and later classical adaptations, things began to go wrong for poor Pachelbel in the 20th century.  A lot of musicians decided that the Canon needed to be "improved", and did so with gusto (if not necessarily with fidelity to Pachelbel's musical vision).

Let's begin with a recording by the Youngstown State University's guitar ensemble in 2014.  They take the Canon and reinterpret it according to numerous different musical styles.  It's quite fun.  They call it a "Loose Canon".

Next, The Piano Guys use the Canon as the foundation for a musical (?) excursion.

Here's a rather interesting percussion version of the Canon.

Taiwanese guitarist JerryC famously performed the Canon in heavy rock style.  It's gained tremendous popularity.

And finally, how could we consider the Canon without taking into account Rob Paravonian's (in)famous musical rant about the piece?

That's telling 'em!


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Nature has some truly weird critters . . .

I was astonished to learn that octopus and squid are different from any other critters in the sea - or on land - as far as their genetics are concerned.

In a surprising twist, in April 2017 scientists discovered that octopuses, along with some squid and cuttlefish species, routinely edit their RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences to adapt to their environment.

This is weird because that's really not how adaptations usually happen in multicellular animals. When an organism changes in some fundamental way, it typically starts with a genetic mutation - a change to the DNA.

Those genetic changes are then translated into action by DNA's molecular sidekick, RNA. You can think of DNA instructions as a recipe, while RNA is the chef that orchestrates the cooking in the kitchen of each cell, producing necessary proteins that keep the whole organism going.

But RNA doesn't just blindly execute instructions - occasionally it improvises with some of the ingredients, changing which proteins are produced in the cell in a rare process called RNA editing.

When such an edit happens, it can change how the proteins work, allowing the organism to fine-tune its genetic information without actually undergoing any genetic mutations. But most organisms don't really bother with this method, as it's messy and causes problems more often that solving them.

"The consensus among folks who study such things is Mother Nature gave RNA editing a try, found it wanting, and largely abandoned it," Anna Vlasits reported for Wired.

But it looks like cephalopods didn't get the memo.

In 2015, researchers discovered that the common squid has edited more than 60 percent of RNA in its nervous system. Those edits essentially changed its brain physiology, presumably to adapt to various temperature conditions in the ocean.

The team returned in 2017 with an even more startling finding - at least two species of octopus and one cuttlefish do the same thing on a regular basis.

. . .

It's true that coleoid cephalopods are exceptionally intelligent. There are countless riveting octopus escape artist stories out there, not to mention evidence of tool use, and that one eight-armed guy at a New Zealand aquarium who learned to photograph people. (Yes, really.)

So it's certainly a compelling hypothesis that octopus smarts might come from their unconventionally high reliance on RNA edits to keep the brain going.

There's more at the link.

Hmmm . . . if we could figure out how to switch that RNA editing function on and off, perhaps we could develop calamari that seasons itself?


The Waco biker shootings: the law enforcement narrative falls apart

I'm sure many of my readers remember the Waco biker shootout four years ago.  Nine people were killed, eighteen injured, and over 170 arrested.  There were all sorts of allegations about biker gang feuds, deliberately planned fights, and so on.

Well, guess what?  The entire law enforcement and prosecution narrative appears to have fallen apart.  It may be that the dead and injured were the victims of officially sanctioned murder and attempted murder.

From the start, lawyers and others pointed out that it was very unlikely indeed that all the arrested had committed any crimes at all, and that the initial $1 million bond for all of them charged with a blanket crime of "engaging in organized criminal activity" seemed unreasonably punitive. The police strove in the aftermath to keep a detailed account of what actually happened from reaching the public eye, or that of defense attorneys.

As the years under which those people had criminal charges hanging over their heads went by—with all the problems that come with that on top of the missed work and rent and family responsibilities that bedeviled them from their initial time in custody under that absurd bond—dozens of the arrested went unindicted as grand juries expired, and last year charges began to be dropped against many of the defendants, with not a single successful prosecution having happened yet nearly four years after the mass arrests.

Many of the bikers who had charges eventually dropped have filed civil rights suits against local police and district attorneys over the absurd arrests and incredibly long times to get any of them to trial.

This week the whole case continued its painfully slow unraveling, as three more bikers, the last still facing that first set of indictments, saw their cases dismissed. A team of special prosecutors eventually assigned to the case declared that the initial mass arrests seemed, in the words of one of them, Brian Roberts, "simply a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality....I can't imagine what (former McLennan County DA) Abel Reyna was thinking other than this was a big case and it was somehow going to be beneficial for him or his office," the Waco Tribune reports.

Roberts went on to echo the critiques against the Waco prosecution heard by many lawyers and media watchers over the years: Namely, that the bogus arrests hung over so many people's heads for far too long.

There's more at the link.

Did those nine people die for nothing more than a DA's ambition, and/or local law enforcement's determination to be seen to be the biggest, baddest dudes in their area of jurisdiction?  It begins to look rather like that.  As far as we can currently determine, not a single one of the injuries or deaths resulted from bullets fired by the bikers.  It looks as if all of them were caused by police gunfire.  This is compounded by what appears to be a deliberate, sustained, and initially successful post-shooting effort to prevent the news media and the bikers' lawyers from finding out what really happened.

Four years later, it seems the truth is finally coming out.  Will charges follow against the now-former DA and the law enforcement personnel involved?  If they don't, it'll be a travesty of justice - and will probably mean a lot more problems, further down the road, between bikers and cops in the Waco region.  Frankly, if I were a biker, I'd be seething - and rightly so.

This entire mess stinks of injustice, malpractice, and law enforcement and prosecutorial overreach.  Let justice be done - and let those responsible pay the price for their actions.  They've not only killed and injured innocent people under cover of law, they've severely damaged law enforcement as a whole by their actions.  If the agencies involved encounter increased public resistance to them in the performance of their duties, because of this incident and its aftermath, they certainly won't be able to blame the public for such a reaction.  They'll have earned it the hard way.


Friday, March 8, 2019

So much for the Fourth Amendment!

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Effectively, it forbids warrantless searches of one's possessions.

It seems the Nevada legislature - or, at least, some of its members - don't agree.

Nevada bill AB200 allows police to search the phones of everyone involved in a car crash.

"An act relating to motor vehicles; authorizing a peace officer at the scene of a traffic crash to use technology to determine if a driver was using a handheld wireless communications device at the time of the crash; requiring the suspension of the driver’s license of a driver who refuses a request by a peace officer to use such technology; providing penalties;and providing other matters properly."

. . .

The bill states that motorists give up their rights simply by driving in Nevada.

"Section 1 further provides that any person who operates a vehicle in this State is deemed to have given consent to the use of an investigate technology device on the handheld wireless communications device when requested by a peace officer at the scene of a crash. If a person refuses such a request,the peace officer is required to seize the driver’s license or permit of the person and issue an order suspending the license or permit for 90 days."

What does this mean?

If you are granted the privilege to drive by the government you agree to give up your Fourth Amendment right against being searched without probable cause. Do you still think America is the land of the free?

. . .

Being coerced into giving a government employee your personal information means law enforcement has essentially been turned into the TSA. In the coming years we can expect every state to pass laws allowing police to search motorists smartphones.

There's more at the link.

Big Brother indeed!  The problem is, such investigations can go much further than simply determining whether or not one was using one's cellphone at the time of an accident.  The "investigative device" can (and almost certainly will) download everything on your smartphone:  your call and text message history, your contacts, your online passwords . . . whatever you've stored on it.  That's already technically possible, and is increasingly common.  Once such information has been downloaded, there's nothing to stop police - or anyone else who can access it;  the IRS, say? - using it to check on anything and everything about you.

This legislation needs to be defeated;  but I daresay there are enough votes to ram it through.  Our constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms have been eroded almost to vanishing point.  This is yet another nail in their coffin.

When are Americans going to stand up and say, "Enough!"?


A long overdue health care improvement

The special interests who've long manipulated our health care prices in secret may soon be exposed.

The Trump administration is sounding out the medical industry on requiring hospitals, doctors and other health-care providers to publicly disclose the secretly negotiated prices they charge insurance companies for services, a move that would expose for the first time the actual cost of care.

. . .

The administration’s vision—which would possibly include fines for noncompliance—is to arm patients with information needed to make health-care decisions much like shopping for other consumer services. Rates potentially could be posted on public websites, where consumers would check the negotiated price of a service before they pick a provider. That, in turn, could lead to lower copays or deductibles.

. . .

The prices charged for health care vary widely depending on whether a provider is in or out of the patient’s insurance network and on the insurer’s undisclosed price agreements with hospitals.

Employers and patients are often unable to see which hospital systems and doctor’s offices are driving prices upward. Some health-care economists argue that the secrecy is a factor in why the U.S. spends more per resident on health care than any other developed nation.

Fully forcing the rates into the open could change the dynamics of the health market. Employers and patients, given clearer comparisons, might change their habits—though consumers often show limited inclination to shop for health-care services, even when they face significant costs under high-deductible health plans.

“You can’t shop for care if you don’t know what the prices are,” said HHS’s Mr. Rucker.

Once publicly available, patients may have the benefit of third-party technology companies aggregating the price data and building shopping tools that show the negotiated costs for services charged by various hospitals and providers.

Out-of-network doctors could try to compete with in-network negotiated rates. Health systems that charge higher negotiated rates could lose business if they don’t match competitors’ rates or justify the reasons for their steeper costs. Employers could press their insurers to include hospitals with lower negotiated rates in their networks.

Hospitals are likely to push for insurers to be under the same transparency rules and be required to release the negotiated discounts they pay for patient care.

There's more at the link.

I'm all in favor of this move.  I've seen the ridiculous disparity between "official" hospital prices for services versus what my medical insurance actually pays, and I'm not impressed - particularly because uninsured patients are being forced to pay the "official" prices, whereas those of us with insurance are getting off with charges many times lower.  I've also been able to compare industry standard prices for procedures with those charged by the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, which is a cash-up-front establishment that posts its prices on the Web for all to see.  I've found many cases where SCO charges more than ten times less than an equivalent procedure at a hospital!

This, plus removing the restriction on importing drugs from other countries (thereby undercutting the ruinous prices their manufacturers charge in the heavily-restricted US market), will go a long way towards reducing our medical costs.  Bring it!