Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ebola is now a global health emergency - for the second time

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2013-16 was declared a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" by the World Health Organization, one of only five such events in history that have been officially given that title.  I don't know that the declaration did much in practical terms, apart from give warm fuzzies to the bureaucrats who issued it;  but it did underline the seriousness of the outbreak, and the potential threat it posed.  The world avoided a major international health crisis by the skin of its collective teeth in that outbreak, by shutting down as much travel as possible from the affected area unless passengers had been screened.  The screening wasn't very effective (a number got through despite it), but it at least kept the numbers to manageable proportions.

Now, for the sixth time in history, another such emergency has been declared - and, for the second time, it involves Ebola;  this time, the 2018-2019 outbreak in Congo.

The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday after a case was confirmed in a city of 2 million people ... More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone.

A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.

The declaration comes days after a single case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border, with an international airport. Also, a sick Congolese fish trader traveled to Uganda and back while symptomatic — and later died of Ebola.

. . .

Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said she hoped the emergency designation would prompt a radical reset of Ebola response efforts.

“The reality check is that a year into the epidemic, it’s still not under control, and we are not where we should be,” she said. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”

Liu said vaccination strategies should be broadened and that more efforts should be made to build trust within communities.

There's more at the link.

I'm sorry that I'm not overwhelmed by medico-religious fervor at this news;  but the WHO has been dilly-dallying over this issue for far too long.  It's probably too late for this declaration to have the desired effect.  It should have been declared months ago, when a major push to screen for new cases and vaccinate those exposed to Ebola might have made a difference.  However, due to the dangers of operating in a war zone, that wasn't done.  It would have been too difficult, too dangerous.  As a result, the virus is now poised to break out into three or four new countries.  I'm taking bets that it will do so before long.  I know that area from personal experience.  Just look at this map (courtesy of the Daily Mail) of where the epidemic has spread, most recently to Goma, a city of at least one million people (according to informal estimates, double that).  Click the image for a larger view.

Notice how the centers of the epidemic are roughly aligned with the lakes that run from north to south along the spine of Africa.  There's a reason for that.  In the old days, commerce ran along those lakes, because water transport (by canoe, or raft, or colonial steamboat) was a lot easier than hacking one's way through equatorial forest.  Nowadays there are roads, but some are awarded that title only by courtesy.  The population is still concentrated along the old trade routes, and absent some major upheaval, it'll stay that way.  What's more, traffic is still concentrated along those routes.  That's why Ebola has spread north-south in that part of the world;  it's following the traffic.

Unless we're very lucky, look for Ebola to reach Burundi next, and from there, slowly but surely, all the way down the central African lakes and their connecting rivers to Zambia and Malawi.  Look at the blue areas on the map below.  That's how informal, local trade travels, and (like many others, such as the Black Death in Europe in the 14th century) this disease follows trade.  It will not be possible to screen all travelers using such routes.  It's physically impossible to intercept them all - and given their mistrust of graft-seeking officialdom (of which more below), they'll have every incentive to avoid checkpoints.  They'll simply take to the bush and walk around them, or sail past them.

After the Rwanda massacres in 1994, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Goma, and still live there in camps.  Traffic across the border is almost completely uncontrolled (or was when I was last there).  People cross wherever they feel like it, to visit relatives, or shop for food, or whatever.  It's a nightmare for those trying to stop Ebola spreading any further.  That's probably going to be flatly impossible in such a location.

"Isolated cases" of Ebola have now been reported from Uganda and Kenya, with the latter subject to official denials.  (If you believe them, I have a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC, to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills.)  Officials in surrounding countries are terrified of admitting to Ebola cases on their territory, because they may bring with them restrictions on travel, trade, and all sorts of things that may affect their economies - and, consequently, the graft, bribery and corruption they rely on to fill their wallets.  Can't have that interrupted, can we?  This is Africa, after all!  (That's how wealthier refugees from Ebola will evade travel restrictions, even though they may be carrying the disease.  A suitable bribe, and they'll be waved through.  How do I know this?  Because I've done it myself to evade travel restrictions, in more than one country in Africa.)  That being the case, distrust any and all official statistics coming out of the affected areas.  They may or may not be correct.  I'll trust Doctors Without Borders' figures before I trust those from any health ministry (or the World Health Organization).

I've been warning about the risks of this latest outbreak for almost a year.  Aesop, over at Raconteur Report, has been doing likewise, in rather stronger terms.  I can only draw your attention to those earlier posts, and urge you to do what you can in terms of personal preparedness.  That isn't much.  If this breaks loose over here, it's not going to be good.  (That's known in the trade as an "understatement".)


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Not family friendly, but fiendishly funny!

I try to keep this blog family-friendly, without too much exposure to profanity or things that aren't child-safe.  However, sometimes something is so pertinent (and, in this case, so damn funny) that I can't help myself.  Sorry!  (Well, in this case, not really!)

Courtesy of Wirecutter:

Try to avoid the mental picture . . .


Ye Gods and little Vikings!

Finland has just hosted the world's first Heavy Metal Knitting World Championship.  Why it was hosted at all remains an open question!

Fox News reports:

The task was simple: Showcase your knitting skills while jamming out to heavy metal music.

“It's ridiculous but it's so much fun,” said Heather McLaren, an engineering Ph.D. student who traveled to Joensuu, Finland, from Scotland for the competition. “When I saw there was a combination of heavy metal and knitting, I thought ‘that's my niche.’”

The competition drew about 200 people, including heavy metal fans in a country where the musical genre is very popular.

“In Finland, it's very dark in the wintertime, so maybe it's in our roots. We're a bit melancholic, like the rhythm,” Mark Pyykkonen, one of the judges of the competition, said.

Participants in the competition came from nine countries, including the U.S., Japan, and Russia.

It was the five-person Japanese group named Giga Body Metal who won the title. The team put on a show featuring sumo wrestlers and a man dressed in a kimono.

There's more at the link.

Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .


Automatic, real-time censorship... the future of the Internet?

I might consider that headline alarmist, except that it's already happening in China, and it appears to be on the way in this country too - driven by ideologically motivated corporate executives who are also politicians.

First, China.  Technology Review reports (bold, underlined text in all quoted excerpts is my emphasis):

WeChat is a window into the future of the internet in many different ways.

Based in China and boasting over 1.1 billion global users, it’s one of the world’s most advanced and popular apps. What’s remarkable is the way it reaches into so many corners of a Chinese person’s life: it’s the way much of the country chats, pays, plays, moves, and much more. As Mark Zuckerberg contemplates the future of Facebook, it’s increasingly WeChat he’s trying to emulate.

There’s more to this so-called “super app” than messaging, food, cars, and payments. The all-encompassing ambition of WeChat includes some of the most cutting-edge, quick-acting, and far-reaching censorship technology on earth.

New research from the University of Toronto’s CitizenLab pulls the curtain back on how WeChat’s real-time, automatic censorship of text and images is used to exert control over political discussion on topics ranging from international issues like the trade war with the US to domestic scandals like the disappearance of court documents in a 2018 dispute between two multibillion-dollar Chinese mining companies. All discussion is ultimately subject to the Chinese government’s approval.

. . .

“This has really become a mega-app,” says Sarah Cook, the senior research analyst for East Asia at the pro-democracy research group Freedom House. “It’s really hard to function in modern Chinese society without using WeChat, and so the chilling effect is real.”

There's more at the link.

Think that won't happen in these "democratic" United States?  Think again.  I'm obliged to The Silicon Graybeard for mentioning a very interesting - and chilling - piece of research from Spinquark.  Regardless of your political affiliation, if this doesn't scare you, there's something wrong with you - because if one side of the political spectrum can do this, so can the other side.  It's an existential threat to freedom in the raw, not just to shades of opinion.

... what if I told you a Policy Director at Facebook was Nancy Pelosi's Chief of Staff before taking said job directing policy at Facebook? What if I told you the head of algorithm policy at Facebook worked for Hillary at The State Department? Or that the Head of Content Policy worked for the Hillary presidential campaign? What if I told you the person in charge of privacy policy at Facebook used to work for Al Franken, before he worked for Senator Bonoff, before he worked for Congressman Oberstar? Or that the Director in charge of "countering hate and extremism" at Facebook came from the Clinton Foundation? Did you know that the person at Facebook who currently "oversees programs on countering hate speech and promoting pluralism", and "develops internal third party education and drives thought leadership on hate speech and content moderation" was one of Obama's policy advisers at The White House? ... Why does Facebook have someone whose job is to show others how to use their platform as a type of privatized government and "exert influence" over the public? And what exactly does it mean for Facebook to "exert influence" over the public?

. . .

What if I told you a Policy Manager at YouTube, before becoming a Policy Manager at YouTube, was employed by Hillary for America and was a manager in Obama's campaign before that? What if I told you YouTube's Global Content Policy Lead previously worked at the DNC? Did you know the person responsible for "growing the next generation of stars" on YouTube worked in the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House under Obama? Or that the person in charge of developing the careers of YouTube creators was the Director of Video for Obama? Speaking of helping the careers of creators, did you know Vox, the company that got Steven Crowder demonetized, was one of the companies that YouTube doled out $20 million dollars to, for 'educational videos'?

Ten people, directly connected to the progressive Democrat political machine who are now controlling our conversations online. Sounds like an important alarm, no?

What if I told you there were nearly a hundred more?

. . .

Each day we wake up and see the latest way conservative voices are being censored, shadowbanned, silently deleted, hidden from view, buried in searches, algorithmed out of existence ... These aren't just Democratic voters, but former employees from the DNC, from the offices of Pelosi, Hillary, Obama, Feinstein, Giffords, Schumer, Reid, Planned Parenthood, even Rachel Maddow, who are migrating en masse to gate-keeping positions in social media companies ... They are taking up residency in the policy departments across the web; shaping the conversation, pushing agendas, picking who gets featured, deciding who gets blocked, judging who gets banned for life, dictating the parameters of the algorithms we'll never be allowed to see, and making cases for censorship - that always seem to ratchet in one direction.

They cannot stop speech at the government level, it would never get past the Constitutional review. But private companies do not need to abide by the Constitution. As our lives become digital conduits that flow through private companies, they have congregated at the helms of these companies, silencing the right starting with the fringe and working their way in as far as they possibly can.

Again, more at the link.

Spinquark says of itself, in a request for support:  "In the following months Spinquark will begin leading the charge to fight back, to equal the playing field and to apply truth to power. Please Join Us."  Based on the report quoted above, I'm certainly interested.  I'm not going to commit to supporting it yet, because I want to find out more first;  but it's a fight that needs fighting.  That's a good starting point.

Oh - and in case you think Spinquark's claims are far-fetched, and would never amount to a threat to democracy by private US companies . . . try this for size.  Despite what left-wing and progressive politicians and media would have you believe, this video is entirely factual.  Nothing's made up at all.  I think this may be one of the most important videos published online this year.  Do please watch it - if necessary, schedule time for it in your busy day.  It's that important.

Think that video is staged or somehow contrived?  Think again.  Its factual nature is demonstrated and supported, IMHO, by a recent Facebook patent for censoring online comments that Gizmodo - anything but a conservative source - decried yesterday as "Facebook Patents Shadowbanning".  That video foreshadows reality.  It's not far-fetched at all.

Do, please, investigate the sources I've linked above for yourselves, and decide for yourselves whether or not this threat is real.  I think it is - and I'm not just saying that because of my own political views.  I don't vote for a party;  I vote for an individual, and will vote for either a Republican or a Democrat, depending on whether that particular candidate is worthy of support.  I'm pretty much a centrist, albeit with a more conservative moral perspective (faith-based rather than political) that's conditioned by my age, upbringing and experiences.

The real threat is that, if one side of the political spectrum can dominate online discourse in this way, so can the other side, if they can figure out a way to reverse things.  It's not so much which side is doing it as that any side is doing it.  Our freedom is genuinely at risk when, as Dr. Robert Epstein suggests, ""Liberal tech companies ... can shift upwards of 15 million votes with no one knowing they’ve been manipulated, and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace”.   Would liberals be happy if conservatives could do that?  Of course they wouldn't - but then, why are they happy at the prospect that they may be able to do that?  It's very much a two-edged sword.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It's a good thing that wasn't the stinging kind . . .

I'd hate to come across a man-sized jellyfish like this.

I've been stung by what we used to call "bluebottles" in South Africa, small jellyfish that could inflict a painful wound.  The thought of a bluebottle that size is enough to make me shiver!


It pays to be a Palestinian terrorist

When I worked as a prison chaplain, I came across more than one Palestinian terrorist behind bars.  They usually received a check each month, deposited into their prison commissary accounts, from "their family in Palestine".  We all knew this was from the Palestinian government.  It was routine.

Strategy Page discusses what it calls this "pay-for-slay" terrorism, and its consequences for Palestine.

In the West bank the Palestinian Fatah government accuses Hamas of being unable to control all its Gaza factions and make it possible to form a unified Palestinian government. That is an accurate assessment but it ignores the fact the Fatah is equally self–destructive and unable to control its radical (terrorist) factions.

Case in point is Fatah threatening to cause an economic catastrophe in the West Bank by refusing partial payments from Israel and donor nations unless the donors and Israel stop deducting the money Fatah spends on supporting and encouraging terrorist activity. This has become more of an issue since 2018 when Israel passed a law to deduct from the $130 million a month it collects in taxes and fees for the Palestinians in the West Bank, the amount (over $20 million) Fatah pays out to Palestinian terrorists in prison or to the families of deceased terrorists. The U.S. had already enacted a similar law and was deducting a similar amount from the $300 million it currently gives to the West Bank Palestinians. Other foreign donors have taken similar measures. Fatah reuses to deal with this and as aid it cut Fatah maintains payments to terrorists by cutting government services it controls. That includes less money for Palestinians to receive medical care in Israel. To justify this Fatah complains that the U.S., Israel and other donors are being unfair.

. . .

Monthly payments to jailed Palestinians vary according to how long they have been in jail, how many dependents they have and so on. There are also bonuses for how many Israelis the prisoner killed or injured.

. . .

The Arab language media throughout the Middle East take for granted that these payments are just and necessary for the war against Israel. In response to the current American and Israeli efforts to penalize Fatah for what is spent to encourage terror attacks Fatah made it clear it would not halt payments to families for dead or jailed terrorists. Instead it cut pay to Palestinians who worked for the West Bank government. But by refusing money still being offered Fatah will cause widespread shortages of food and other necessities in the West bank.

There's more at the link.

As with aid to African countries, I think there's only one solution.  Stop funneling aid through the Palestinian and Gaza governments altogether.  Instead, distribute it through trustworthy aid organizations (which would automatically exclude most of the Muslim agencies and the United Nations, who are notorious for funneling aid money to terrorist groups and individuals).  If that can't be done with adequate safeguards to prevent the funds being used for terrorism, then don't give money at all.  Wait until such safeguards can be reliably implemented.

There are, of course, those who'll argue that this will impact innocent people who don't deserve to be caught in the backwash.  Sorry, but that's disingenuous.  It's those same innocent people who overwhelmingly elect extremists (including terrorists) to govern their territories, again and again.  Let them make a choice.  They can support terrorism, or they can eat.  If they choose not to eat, pretty soon they won't be able to support terrorism, ever again.  Starvation will do that.  Works for me.


So much for trust

There's a growing groundswell of opinion on the left that businesses should not do background checks on their customers - or even on their employees.  In fact, in some jurisdictions, laws have been passed making it illegal to do criminal background checks on prospective renters of property, or certain classes of employees, because this is believed to "disadvantage" people of color.  (The fact that people of color are statistically more likely to commit certain crimes is, apparently, neither here nor there.  That's not a racist statement, either - it's a factual one.  See the FBI crime statistics for details.)

Well, one company has just learned the hard way that taking customers on trust in a crime-ridden city is really not a good idea.

April 15, a Monday, should have been sleepy this year for the Chicago team at Car2Go, a car-sharing service that automaker Daimler AG introduced more than a decade ago.

. . .

There was a spike in rentals for Car2Go’s higher-end cars, Mercedes CLA sedans and GLA sport utility vehicles. And these rentals lasted much longer than Car2Go’s average 90-minute ride—in fact, many of the Benzes weren’t being returned at all. Instead, employees at Car2Go headquarters in Austin watched on a digital map as dozens of their vehicles congregated on a few blocks in West Chicago, in a neighborhood right outside the company’s coverage area.

Car2Go sent several workers to retrieve the vehicles, only to find that a group of thieves had claimed them as their own. Some blocked the vehicles in to prevent repossession; others threatened the company’s employees, according to someone with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

. . .

After its failed attempts to recover the cars itself, Car2Go asked the Chicago Police Department for help. By midweek the company suspended service in Chicago altogether, an acknowledgment that it couldn’t figure out how to distinguish legitimate customers from the group of thieves. Kelton says about 75 cars in total were compromised. All were eventually recovered, though some only after being stripped of doors, seats, and other parts.

. . .

The Mercedes plot owed to one strategy Car2Go’s management implemented to draw in new members: making it easier to sign up. For the past several years, Car2Go has subjected all its users to background checks conducted manually by humans. They take a day or two to complete, a lag that seemed onerous to customers used to the immediate gratification that other mobility services offer. “You see Uber or Lyft, or Airbnb, or all the scooters—they all have instant verification,” Kelton says.

The executive team in Europe, where rates of fraud are much lower, was eager to lower barriers to entry. So in April, Car2Go stopped conducting the manual background checks. The company says that on April 13 about 20 people who went on to orchestrate the Mercedes thefts set up some 80 phony accounts in Chicago, using fake or stolen credit cards as their payment methods. It’s unclear whether the timing was a direct response to Car2Go’s policy change or just an illustration of how often its systems were being probed for weaknesses.

. . .

A coordinated attack on this scale was unprecedented, but there has been a near-constant stream of smaller incidents, according to three people with knowledge of the industry who spoke on condition of anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements ... Car2Go ... quickly reverted to manually reviewing new accounts and says it hasn’t had any serious issues in the two months since then.

There's more at the link.  It's a very interesting article, worth reading in full.

The article notes that other car rental companies have experienced similar problems, leading to some services being withdrawn altogether in certain cities.  I'm afraid that's likely to get worse, not better.  You simply can't run a business based on trust (that a customer will return his or her ride in good condition, when they're supposed to) in a low- or no-trust community.  It's a veritable definition of failure.

The question is, what are businesses going to do when more and more cities are becoming low- or no-trust environments?  Solid citizens have been moving out of such areas for decades.  What they leave behind are the people with whom it's a lot more risky to do business.  That's why there are few, if any, supermarkets in such areas - they get robbed blind by their "customers".  In one town I know, there are three Walmart stores.  The first two are in "nice" areas, and have only minor problems with shoplifting.  The third is in an area that's degenerating, and it has many times more cases of shoplifting every day, to the point that I seldom pass it without seeing a police car parked outside to pick up the latest batch.  The manager at one of the other two stores confirmed to me that his regional management were seriously considering shutting down the "problem" store, and/or relocating it to a better area.  You want to know why "food deserts" exist?  There's one reason, right there - and a big one.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Not quite Biblical

Stephan Pastis nails it again!  Click the image to be taken to a larger version at the comic's Web site.

It may not be Biblical, but there've been times in my life when I've been sorely tempted (and may even have given in to the temptation) to follow Rat's credo instead of the more orthodox version . . .


Is the Epstein sex crimes case evidence of a rift in the "Deep State"?

I'm sure most of my readers are familiar by now with the prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy.  It reportedly has the potential to be absolutely explosive in its impact.  However, there may be another aspect to it.  Charles Hugh Smith speculates that it may be evidence of, and/or the result of, a conflict between factions within the so-called "Deep State".

I have long held that there is a camp within the Deep State that grasps the end-game of Neocon globalism, and is busy assembling a competing nation-centric strategy. There is tremendous resistance to the abandonment of Neocon globalism, not just from those who see power slipping through their fingers but from all those firmly committed to the hubris of a magical faith in past success as the guarantor of future success.

. . .

The faction within the Deep State that no longer accepts traditional fictions is gaining ground, and now another fracture in the Deep State is coming to the fore: the traditionalists who accept the systemic corruption of self-serving elites and those who have finally awakened to the mortal danger to the nation posed by amoral self-serving elites.

The debauchery of morals undermines the legitimacy of the state and thus of the entire power structure. As I recently noted ... America's current path of moral decay and soaring wealth/power inequality is tracking Rome's collapse step for step.

Enter the sordid case of Jeffrey Epstein, suddenly unearthed after a decade of corporate-media/elitist suppression. It's laughable to see the corporate media's pathetic attempts to glom onto the case now, after actively suppressing it for decades: Jeffrey Epstein Was a Sex Offender. The Powerful Welcomed Him Anyway (New York Times) Where was the NYT a decade ago, or five years ago, or even a year ago?

Of all the questions that are arising, the signal one is simply: why now?

. . .

Here's my outsider's take: the anti-Neocon camp within the Deep State observed the test case of Harvey Weinstein and saw an opportunity to apply what it learned. If we draw circles representing the anti-Neocon camp and the moralists who grasp the state's legitimacy is hanging by a thread after decades of amoral exploitation and self-aggrandizement by the ruling elites, we would find a large overlap.

But even die-hard Neocons are starting to awaken to the danger to their power posed by the moral collapse of the ruling elites. They are finally awakening to the lesson of history, that the fatal danger to empires arises not from external foes but from inside the center of power as elite corruption erodes the legitimacy of the state.

The upstarts in the Deep State have united to declare open war on the degenerates and their enablers, who are everywhere in the Deep State: the media, the intelligence community, and on and on.

There's more at the link.  The entire article makes very interesting reading, as do the references it contains.  Recommended.

Obviously, I have no idea whether or not Mr. Smith's speculation comes near to the truth or not.  However, I agree with his thesis that out-of-control moral corruption within a state has usually proved to be a sure sign (with the benefit of hindsight) of that state's impending collapse.  That's a lesson that history teaches us time and time again.  He uses Rome as his example, but one could cite the same factors in many other nations, kingdoms and empires around the world over millennia.  We've seen it most recently in states such as the former Soviet Union, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and most recently Iran, where a coterie of corrupt mullahs and their "revolutionary" allies is effectively running the state for their own purposes, ignoring the needs of the people and siphoning off taxes and profits to fund their own priorities.  It's already led to internal protests, which are apparently increasing.  Can Iran survive this internal conflict?  Not indefinitely, IMHO.  Sooner or later, either the regime must collapse, or it must try to ensure its survival by bringing about the collapse of any and all social structures opposed to it - just as we've seen in Venezuela.

There's been much speculation that Epstein's success has been the result - the fruit - of blackmail and extortion.  If that speculation has now reached the point of public comment, exposing its authors to legal action for slander and libel, yet they're still confident enough to make such assertions . . . draw your own conclusions.  This is clearly informed comment, not just scandal-mongering.  They wouldn't be saying it if they weren't confident of their ability to defend themselves, if necessary.  From where is their information coming?  Could it be that factions within the "Deep State" are providing it?

I'm certainly looking forward to hearing more about former President Bill Clinton's "at least 26 trips aboard Epstein’s Boeing 727, between 2001 to 2003".


Quote of the day - Chicago pensions edition

Last Saturday I pointed out that my earlier predictions about Illinois and Chicago's pension crisis were proving to be precisely as I'd forecast.  The city is seeking a state bailout of its untenable position.  If it succeeds, I'll bet the state will seek a federal government bailout of its suddenly expanded pension obligations (which it already can't afford).

John Ruberry sums up the pensions plight of Chicago and Illinois in a single sentence:

That’s like having Puerto Rico transferring its financial problems to Venezuela.

Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn't it?


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday morning music

There are some songs, or musical works in general, that have come to define their composers and/or performers, rather than the other way around.  When we hear the music, we instantly think of the performer - it's indelibly associated with them, and no amount of performances by other artists can break the mental link between "this song" and "that performer".  They define each other, as it were.

I thought that today, I'd pick half a dozen of those pieces that are fixed in my memory from the days of my distant youth.  I can't hear them without thinking of their performers.  I daresay there are many others, and I may put up more of them from time to time;  but here's my first-pass effort.  I'll list them in chronological order.

First, from 1964, here's The Animals with "House of the Rising Sun".  They didn't compose it - it's far older than that - but their performance has become iconic of the piece.

From 1966, here's The Rolling Stones with "Paint It Black".

From a year later, here's The Moody Blues with their classical/rock blend on "Nights In White Satin".  This is the original footage released to publicize the song and the album from which it came . . . and boy, does it look dated!

There are two songs from 1969 in this mix.  The Who released their rock opera Tommy in May of that year.  From that double album, here's "Pinball Wizard".

In October of the same year, King Crimson released their debut album, "In The Court Of The Crimson King".  It was a dramatic redefinition of the then-new progressive rock genre.  From that album, here's the title track.  This is a live performance from, I think, 1970.

Finally (at least for today's collection), from 1973, here's Jim Croce with "Time In A Bottle".  He wrote it in 1970 after learning that his wife was pregnant.  It reached the top of the charts after the singer's untimely death in an aircraft accident.  I've always wondered what he might have achieved, musically speaking, had he lived.  He was very gifted.

Some may wonder why I chose "Time In A Bottle" instead of another Jim Croce hit, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown".  The reason is that many performers have produced versions of the latter song, and it's associated with many of them;  but the former is indelibly Croce's, and probably always will be.

Well, there you are;  six songs forever intimately associated with six artists.  If you have your own songs like that, please let us know in Comments.  I may feature them in a future Sunday Morning Music post.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

I hate being proved right like this, at taxpayer expense

I've warned many times about the catastrophic state of many city and state pension funds.  Particularly (but not only) in Democrat-controlled areas, many of them are underfunded, overdrawn, and not in a fit state to pay out the demands that will, according to actuarial calculations, be made upon them.  I've predicted several times that efforts will be made to foist their pension debt onto the backs of all US taxpayers, in the form of a federal government bailout of insolvent pension funds.  Back in May, I highlighted an underhanded attempt to use federal funds to bail out multiemployer (read: union) pension funds, and ultimately to write off their arrears. I'm sure there'll be more such attempts.

Now comes word that the new Mayor of Chicago is trying to shed her city's monumental pension debt onto the backs of state taxpayers.  If she succeeds, I guarantee that the next step will be for the state to demand a federal government bailout, because it can't afford to pay its now-expanded pension obligations (not that it can afford those it has at present, anyway).

According to knowledgeable sources in Chicago and Springfield, after weeks of preliminary maneuvering the mayor is pitching nothing less than a state takeover of the city's cash-short pension funds, which under current law will require upward of $1 billion in new city tax hikes over the next three years to reach a path to full actuarial funding. Her proposal would consolidate city pension money with smaller downstate and suburban pension funds in a new statewide system. In some cases, those non-Chicago funds are even worse off than the city's.

Insiders say Chicago might be willing to forgo some revenue it now gets from the state in exchange for relinquishing responsibility for the funds, which now are about $28 billion short of the assets they'll eventually need to pay promised benefits. To pay the cost, Lightfoot reportedly supports state legislation to tax retirement income of better-off seniors—taxing income above $100,000 a year would net roughly $1 billion annually, according to the Civic Federation—or extending the sales tax to cover high-end services such as accounting and legal advice.

. . .

[Illinois Governor] Pritzker has been talking about pension fund consolidation, but in a different sense. The governor has a task force examining how much money could be saved by combining into one, more efficient fund hundreds of small funds, mostly for police and firefighters, that now are scattered across the state.

Lightfoot's move somewhat echoes what happened last year with Chicago Public Schools' pension fund. It still is separate from the state system that covers all other Illinois school districts, but now the state is picking up an increasing share of the cost.

. . .

Should the state pick up part or even all of those [pension] costs? "Yes," said [Chicago Civic Federation president Laurence] Msall, arguing that the state sets pension rules and has limited how the city and other communities can deal with the problem. "The state needs to help manage the financial liability."

There's more at the link.

This is typical of the tax-and-spend mentality.  Squeeze all the taxes you can out of people;  spend them all, and borrow even more when tax revenues are not enough;  short-change pension funds of their annual required contributions so that you can spend the money you've "saved" on buying more votes and keeping your constituents happy;  and then shuffle off the resulting debts onto someone else's shoulders, leaving you with a clean balance sheet (on the strength of which you can immediately borrow more money, and get into the same hole all over again).

In a just world, I'd look for every politician who does this to expire of an immediate heart attack (or, if I were less merciful, more slowly of some painful, loathsome disease).  Chicago is only the bellwether for dozens of other major US cities who are in the same funding mess.  They'll follow its example, sure as we're standing here;  and their states will all try to shuffle off their fiscal shortfalls (caused by their own fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement) onto the federal government.  I hope and pray that President Trump, and Republican representatives and senators, will have the courage of their (alleged) convictions, and vote down and/or veto any and all such attempts;  but sooner or later, we're going to have a change of administration - and who knows what the next president will do?  Furthermore, if the Democratic Party ever gets a stranglehold on both the House and the Senate, you know full well they're going to pass such a bailout on the grounds of "It's for the chiiiiiilllldren!" or some such siren SJW song.

Chicago is probably beyond redemption by now.  As I mentioned some time ago, its politicians exhibit incredible contempt for its residents.  The latest property tax hikes have already sparked a wave of emigration . . . but those people will get less for their properties as a result of the higher taxes.  Don't wait until it's too late.  If you live in Illinois in general, and Chicago in particular, leave now, and take with you everything that you can.  If you don't, it'll be sucked into the rapacious maw of the tax-and-spend politicians who govern you.  I guarantee it.  On the basis of their previous behavior, it's a certainty.


Ever heard of "rabbit hopping" as a sport?

I hadn't either, until I came across this article about competitive rabbit hopping in Australia.

A cute companion, a pest and a free lawnmower — that is usually how a domestic rabbit is described. Now 'athlete' can be added to that list, because rabbit owners are training up their furry friends to hop competitively, like a miniature version of the equine sport, show-jumping.

. . .

President of the Rabbit Hopping Society of Australia (RHSA), which was formed in 2013, Neil Worley, said hopping rabbits in Australia were yet to achieve elite status but were on the right track.

Elite rabbits can typically jump as high as 50 centimetres.

"It's like any normal athlete, you want to improve," he said.

"The rabbits want to do that too, because I think they really enjoy doing it."

. . .

First formed in 2013, the RHSA was set up with the help of officials from Denmark, the world leaders in rabbit hopping.

Mr Worley said two Danish officials came to help organise and train members of the RHSA to ensure their competitions met world standards.

Some years later, he said rabbit hopping was in good form in Australia, with hopes of hopping to the top of the podium in international competition.

"We all work together, because it's a small community," Mr Worley said.

There's more at the link.

Here's a video about the sport.

I somehow can't see crowds going wild with excitement watching that.  On the other hand, there is this advantage:  if your rabbit turns out not to be a jumper, he can always wind up on the menu, to encourage the others!  (Would you serve it at IHOP?)


Friday, July 12, 2019

Keeping cool in an Alaskan heat wave

With Anchorage sweltering in 90°+ temperatures last week, this moose found a good way to keep cool.

Miss D. tells me that's not uncommon behavior in that part of the world.  The fun starts when you want to go outside to shut off the sprinkler . . . and the moose objects.


But is it milk?

I had to laugh at this report.

Cinnamon Ridge Dairy Farm is ranked number two in the country for milk production and it may be because their cows are fed a different ingredient.

It might sound utterly weird, but the dairy cows at Cinnamon Ridge run on coffee creamer.

“This is an oddball ingredient,” says John Maxwell, farmer and owner of Cinnamon Ridge. “It does sound a little cannibalistic, but that’s not true at all.”

He says it’s the sugar in the creamer that helps his cows produce some of the best milk in the nation.

“This is energy in my hand, energy that produces milk” Maxwell explains. “Sugar and all those carbohydrates produce milk.”

. . .

½ lb. of coffee creamer is fed to each cow every day, which adds up to 4 lbs. of milk per cow daily.

Before feeding the cows creamer they used to feed them chocolate cake mix, but found more benefits from the coffee creamer because of the higher sugar levels.

There's more at the link.

But . . . but . . . if a cow produces cream . . . on a diet of non-dairy creamer . . . is the cow's cream still cream, or is it now a genetically modified substitute?  And what about that chocolate cake mix?  Did the cows produce chocolate milk?

This reminds me of the advertisement for Cremora coffee creamer that came out in South Africa in the 1980's.

On that diet, I wonder if the cow's "not inside, it's on top" of the barn?


A bit wobbly, perhaps, but ingenious!

I had to laugh when I saw this photograph on Gab:

I can just see some poor tractor driver deciding that he's going to keep the rain and dust out, no matter what!  I'm not sure about tight turns, though.  That cab's got to be delicately balanced in position.  Turn too sharply, and a support might shear, and dump the occupants and the cab in the dirt.  As for practicality . . . well, one can't have it all!


Thursday, July 11, 2019

It's never nice when friends fight . . .

. . . even online friends and fellow bloggers;  but sometimes it happens.

Borepatch argues that the War On Drugs is a colossal failure;  therefore, drugs should be legalized and regarded as a source of tax revenue.

It's way past time to declare victory and brings the troops home.  Legalize it all, tax it (use some of the revenue to fund treatment centers) and be done with it.  This sure isn't working.  It's  a stupid game and we shouldn't play.

There's more at the link.

Aesop responds in two articles with his usual acerbic, biting style, pointing out the many negatives associated with legalizing drugs.  In the first, he points out:

As it is now, people here since marijuana legalization are keeping their kids home from the beach, overrun as it is with homeless junkies, because of discarded needles in the sand.

When you have to explain to some mom why her three-year old will probably get Hepatitis A, B, & C, and why she should have all her kids vaccinated as if they were cops or paramedics working Skid Row, give a holler. I want to hear your take on that conversation. I've already delivered it or listened to it delivered twice, this year.

So, should we also "legalize and tax" discarding drug needles on the beach?  Wouldn't prosecuting such things be another "War On Drugs"?? Or should we simply cede all public space to society's dregs and wastrels? How's that cunning plan working out in San Franshitsco and Los Angeles? Or anywhere else?

Again, more at the link.  In a subsequent article, he continues:

If We Legalize And Tax Drugs, It Will Totally Work Because...
...drug dealers and narco-cartels will line up twenty deep to pay their taxes on their newly legalized products, they being such law-abiding and tax-paying folks since forever.

...cartels will not smuggle drugs in illicitly, unlike they already do with legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco products, which was your most recent argument for why we should stop trying to stop drugs from getting here.

...drug cartels and dealers will not undercut the price of legal, taxed drugs by selling their product for less, exactly unlike they've been doing with pot in Califrutopia since 0.2 seconds after weed became legal here, because they're not capitalists, and will do nothing to maintain and expand their market share, and profits, even by continuing to break the law.

...the cartels will not get fifty times wealthier, once getting their product safely into the U.S. will become virtually consequence free once it hits our shores, and thus be emboldened to try to take over this country de facto if not actually de jure, as they already have in any number of nations south of the Rio Grande.

...drug dealers will never, ever allow minor children to get their hands on drugs, just like that never happens with alcohol and tobacco now.

...they will never expressly market their products to younger users, knowing that the actuarial tables means that as their old clientele dies off from using their products, that's the only way to continue raking in fabulous sums of money, unlike producers of legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco do right now, and since forever.

...junkies desperate for a fix will not rob, burgle, and thieve any longer, despite not being able to afford a fix, because they are such law-abiding citizens, and so well-provided with long-term planning and financial responsibility skills.

More at the link.

I find myself caught on the horns of a dilemma.  I think Borepatch is quite right - self-evidently so - that the War On Drugs is a failure.  It's never been a success, in over fifty years of being waged!  On the other hand, Aesop is also correct.  My experience as a pastor, particularly in inner-city areas, and as a prison chaplain, teaches me that all the negative consequences of legalization that he predicts will, indeed, happen, and sooner rather than later.  Therefore, no matter how flawed it may be, I don't think there's any alternative to declaring drugs illegal and waging a legislative and judicial "war" on them, and their vendors and users.

The fact remains, as conventional wisdom would have it, that "insanity consists in doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting different results".  From that perspective, the War On Drugs is insanity.  It's failed to achieve its objectives in almost every single year one cares to examine.  Therefore, why are we continuing it in its present form?  There has to be a way to "work smarter, not harder" - although this may not be it.

If we crack down - I mean really crack down - on drug dealers and users, we can, indeed, win the War On Drugs . . . but that would mean real punishment, probably including execution after a certain number of offenses, or after causing a certain degree of damage (e.g. killing or injuring others while under the influence of illegal narcotics).  I don't think our society has the stomach for that.  Absent such a crackdown, what can be done to achieve better results?  Borepatch is right that continuing to do the same old thing is untenable;  but Aesop is also right, that failure to fight against drug abuse will lead to worse consequences in any way one cares to consider the matter.  So . . . what do we do?

Any ideas, readers?


Political correctness gone mad, yet again

A Christian doctor in England has apparently lost his job because he refused to acquiesce to politically correct nonsense.

Dr David Mackereth, 56, claims he was sacked as a disability benefits assessor by the Department of Work and Pensions over his religious beliefs.

The father-of-four alleges he was asked in a conversation with a line manager: “If you have a man six foot tall with a beard who says he wants to be addressed as ‘she’ and ‘Mrs’, would you do that?”

Dr Mackereth, an evangelist who now works as an emergency doctor in Shropshire, claims his contract was then terminated over his refusal to use transgendered pronouns.

He argues that he was dismissed “not because of any realistic concerns over the rights and sensitivities of transgender individuals, but because of my refusal to make an abstract ideological pledge”.

The doctor is now suing the government at an employment tribunal for discrimination on the grounds of his religious belief.

There's more at the link.

Frankly, I think the good doctor is arguing along the wrong lines.  He may feel that his religious beliefs are being discriminated against, but even worse than that, scientific fact is being discriminated against as well.  As we've discussed several times before on this blog (most recently just last month), one's sex is determined by chromosomes, not by feelings.  It doesn't matter how much one "feels like" or "wants to be" a different gender than one's physical sex;  the chromosomes are the final and ultimate arbiter.  That's the plain and simple truth of the matter, and all the waffle in the world about gender being different from sex, or psychological and/or psychiatric factors being determinants of one's gender, won't change that.  Science is science.  Facts are facts.  Chromosomes are chromosomes.  Ain't no arguing with any of them, no matter how much some might wish to do so.

If I encountered "a man six foot tall with a beard who says he wants to be addressed as ‘she’ and ‘Mrs’," my immediate response would be to refer them for psychiatric evaluation and mental health intervention.  Medical and scientific reality demands no less.


Yes, you really can compare apples to oranges

Old NFO sent me a link to an article proving that the old "apples to oranges" comparison is actually not as silly as it might seem.  It's from Improbable Research, the people who bring us the annual Ig Nobel awards.

... it is not difficult to demonstrate that apples and oranges can, in fact, be compared (see figure 1).

Materials and Methods

Both samples were prepared by gently desiccating them in a convection oven at low temperature over the course of several days. The dried samples were then mixed with potassium bromide and ground in a small ball-bearing mill for two minutes. One hundred milligrams of each of the resulting powders were then pressed into a circular pellet... Figure 2 shows a comparison of the 4000-400 cm-1 (2.5-25 mm) infrared transmission spectra of a Granny Smith apple and a Sunkist Navel orange.


Not only was this comparison easy to make, but it is apparent from the figure that apples and oranges are very similar. Thus, it would appear that the comparing apples and oranges defense should no longer be considered valid. This is a somewhat startling revelation. It can be anticipated to have a dramatic effect on the strategies used in arguments and discussions in the future.

There's more at the link, including the figures referred to above.

Just goes to show:  never challenge a scientist unless you're willing to live with the consequences!


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A voyage in a vacuum produces a different sort of vacuum

I didn't know that the Dustbuster was the fruit of the Apollo moon landing program, but it seems it is, along with several other iconic products.

The Dustbuster was only made possible thanks to Black & Decker’s work with NASA on developing a lightweight and power-efficient tool for the Apollo Lunar Surface Drill. The same motor design used on the 1969 moon landing was then used to create the Dustbuster.

There's more at the link.

There's a certain wacky circular logic to that.  Design a motor that will work in a vacuum - then use the same motor to power a vacuum-cleaner in atmosphere.  It's a sort of function reversal, isn't it?


But . . . WHY???

It seems that a Chinese inventor has come up with a hair washing machine.  Looking at it in action, all I can think is that a conventional shower would be a whole lot less fuss and bother, and much more efficient!

Also, the opportunities for mischief by naughty friends or family members are almost endless.  Think of tying the user's victim's shoelaces to the retaining device while he's upside down, or dripping something unpleasant into his breathing tube while he's inverted.  This has the potential to make washing one's hair a survival experience!


ISIL terrorists are still having an effect, even after their deaths

ISIL has been defeated as an occupying power in Iraq.  Its "conventional" forces are almost all dead, and the survivors have disintegrated into small cells, which are still active in Iraq and elsewhere and trying to maintain what influence they can by terrorism.  However, Strategy Page reports that ISIL terrorism isn't limited to current actions.  It's also affecting millions through its earlier incarnation.

The Iraqi government has encountered a major problem with people who fled their homes to escape approaching ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) forces. Many of these civilians have been refugees for nearly five years. Overall more than five million Iraqis fled to avoid living under ISIL rule. Over a million are still unable to return home and most of these civilians are from cities and large towns that ISIL occupied for at least a few years.

. . .

By 2016 it was apparent that ISIL had decided on a suitable punishment [for those who fled]. This consisted of planting hidden bombs in the homes or businesses of departed civilians, especially those who were known (or suspected) to have later cooperated with the government against ISIL. As a result over a million internal refugees will not return home because the homes, and the neighborhoods they are in, have not yet been cleared of such explosive traps.

The worst situation is in Mosul where the situation is complicated by the many buildings that were rigged with these explosive traps but were then destroyed by artillery or smart bombs by the advancing Iraqi forces. There are still over seven million tons of such rubble and debris waiting to be cleared and that task is complicated by the fact that most (at least 60 percent) of the remaining explosive traps are buried under that rubble. While some of these explosive traps were set off when the building was reduced to rubble, many were not. Even if the triggering mechanism was destroyed, the explosives and detonators remain.

Clearing such rubble piles is dangerous and expensive. The fact that the rubble occupies prime city real estate further complicates the situation. None of the dangers are theoretical because EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams have already found and removed (or destroyed in place) 44,000 “explosive hazards.” Less than half these hazards were explosive traps, but that was enough to supply EOD analysts with sufficient data to estimate how many more of these hazards there were still waiting to be found. While this is pretty scary for the rubble clearance crews and EOD teams, the risks are also well known to many of the remaining refugees. Many have lost friends or family to these ISIL bombs and refuse to return until certain the bombs are gone.

There's more at the link.

I've seen the same result in various parts of Africa, where large swaths of terrain were sown with landmines without any care or concern to map or document their locations.  The various parties to the fighting eventually moved on, but left these instruments of death in place.  As a result, four out of the top 10 most landmine-infested countries are African.  Left-behind landmines kill thousands of people every year, and injure tens of thousands more.  They also render land unproductive, because if it's not safe to enter an area, farming, mining and other productive uses of that land are simply impossible.

Iraq's facing a similar problem now, thanks to ISIL booby-traps.  Not only are entire neighborhoods off-limits to their former residents due to the risk of explosions, but the economic potential of those neighborhoods is lost, because it's not safe to work there.  Worse still, the refugees displaced from their homes and places of work by these booby-traps must be housed, fed and clothed by the government, diverting vital national income from other priorities to their support.  The "knock-on effect" is huge.

Iraq isn't alone in having problems with left-over munitions of war, of course.  Afghanistan is suffering more landmine casualties (10-12 every day, according to one source) among its civilian population than any other nation.  This is a factor fueling illegal migration from such conflict zones to safer Western countries.  It's not just the lack of education or economic opportunity in their home countries that drives many migrants;  it's the danger of staying there.  When one's life, or the life of family members, is not unlikely to be drastically affected by explosive devices, there's a great incentive to move somewhere else!

Of course, I'm opposed to illegal immigration to/in this country, and I've said so many times in the past:  but we should understand the very real concerns that drive at least some illegal migrants.  In some cases, they really are running for their lives.  If we want to stem the tide of illegal migrants, we should consider how we can make it safer for them to stay at home.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Doofus Of The Day #1,046

Today's award goes to the Patrouille Suisse, the aerobatic display team of the Swiss Air Force, for this mistake.

A rather unusual as well as bit embarrassing “incident” occurred to the the Swiss Air Force’s “Patrouille Suisse” Display Team on Saturday Jul. 6, 2019: the team’s jets were scheduled to fly over Langenbruck, in northwestern Switzerland, south of Basel, where the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Swiss aviation pioneer Oskar Bider was held, but they flew over Mümliswil, missing the target by about 6 km (about 3¾ miles).

“Unfortunate circumstances” were the root cause of the mistake according to a spokesman of the Swiss Air Force. In fact, as reported by Le Matin media outlet, during the approach to the target, the leader of the team spotted a large festival area with a tent, with a tent in Mümliswil, which prompted him to fly over it. The 31st yodel festival in northwestern Switzerland was being held there: people attending this festival enjoyed the unplanned flyover.

There's more at the link.

I can't help thinking that the yodeling festival was probably greatly improved when the jet engines drowned out the sound of the alleged "singers"!


"Government" and "Efficiency" . . . two words seldom found together

In recent weeks, two fellow bloggers have posted strong views on government (in)efficiency.

Aaron, a lawyer blogging at The Shekel, notes that "Your Call Back Time Will Be In Approximately 1,144 Minutes".

So in short, USCIS has lost an application, refuses to do anything about it, refuses to connect me to anyone who can do something about it and this should in a normal world not take this farging long and this much time to even get to the point to find someone to fix their mistake, and we're still not there. And all this for a simple I-129 application that should have been granted over two months ago now.

Meanwhile, Illegals can waltz across the border and work illegally with fake social security numbers have no such troubles.

I halfway want to tell the kid to change his name to Sanchez, have his employer pay him under the table, move to California so he gets free healthcare, and everyone will be happy, unfortunately that's just not good legal advice.

Just wait until government controls your healthcare, expect your service times and levels of customer service to be similar.

There's more at the link.

I can only sympathize with Aaron's (and his client's) predicament.  I ran headlong into administrative issues at the USCIS when first applying for U.S. citizenship, some years ago.  I won't go into detail, but basically it involved different (and conflicting) requirements and regulations at the USCIS and the IRS.  The officials concerned, in both departments, absolutely refused to understand or accept that I was the meat in a bureaucratic sandwich, trying to satisfy requirements that were mutually contradictory.  I eventually gave up, and waited another five or six years until I'd been able to build up new records that finally satisfied the USCIS's requirements.  Only then could I apply for citizenship (which was recently granted).

Next, Borepatch points out that bureaucrats have done nothing, for the past 40-odd years, to solve an ongoing problem whose solution is not hard to understand.

For those readers who blessedly have not had to drive I-95, it is a national disgrace.  It has been congested for as long as I can recall (over 30 years of personal experience with the stretch shown, and what we drove yesterday).  It has been congested in exactly the same locations for those 30 years.

The same exact locations.  30 years.  Offered for your consideration, the 20 miles on each side of Fredericksburg, VA.  It was a parking lot in the 1980s; it was a parking lot yesterday.  The reason then was that the highway lost a lane (more lanes in Richmond to the south and Washington to the north).  The reason now is the same.

So riddle me this, Big Government Man: how in 30 years is it not possible to widen 40 miles of Interstate to remove what everybody in the Northeast Corridor knows is a notorious choke point?

. . .

And yet we have an entire political party running for office on a platform that the government should be responsible for even more of the economy, and of our lives.  They promise even more "services".  I'd be more impressed if they'd fix I-95.  Granted, that's a very low bar, but they can't even seem to do that.

Again, more at the link.

Bill Bonner wrote an essay a few years ago titled "The A to A of Government Inefficiency".  Go read it.  Nothing's changed.  Similarly, Monty Pelerin (a pseudonym) pointed out some years ago, during the Obama administration, that "Government Ain't Fixable".

Government is too far gone and too deeply entrenched. It is a gigantic blob immune to common sense, cost control or the will of the citizens it pretends to serve. People are expected to serve it, a complete contradiction of the stated goal of the Founders. It grows and enriches itself (and its members) simply because it can.  It is no different from an unaccountable criminal enterprise, exempting itself from laws it imposes on others. In point of fact, it is less efficient than organized crime which must generate a profit under less than ideal circumstances. Most Mafia-run businesses provide a service or value to their customers in excess of what it costs. Government has not need to do so and is especially ineffective and inefficient.

Government is Leviathan. It looks out for itself and no one person or small group can alter that condition.

. . .

Everyone has heard more than their share of stories about government inefficiency and stupidity. It is difficult to point to any government agency run effectively or achieving the ends for which it was created. The War on Poverty has increased poverty. The Department of Education was formed at the peak of educational effectiveness and everything has gone downhill since. What does the Department of Energy do besides make it more difficult to achieve more energy? The Internal Revenue Service has become a political tool to hammer opponents who do not hold the presidency. Hasn’t the Veteran’s Administration done a wonderful job for the medical care of our veterans? ObamaCare has driven health-care costs through the roof and put a damper on the creation of jobs like nothing else.

More at the link.

One of President Trump's campaign promises was to cut two government regulations for every new one that was enacted.  So far, he appears to be doing rather better than that, by a ratio of 12-to-1.  That may end up being one of his signature accomplishments, and most important contributions to our future well-being . . . provided that a future President doesn't put 'em all back again!


Getting his priorities straight . . . sort of

I giggled at this edition of "The Whiteboard".  Click the image to be taken to the cartoon's Web page for a larger view. If you aren't already setting aside time in your day to read that comic strip, may I suggest you do so? It's a lot of fun.

I've known people with exactly that attitude.  As a matter of fact, many military veterans exemplify it!


Monday, July 8, 2019

Nifty, but what would you use this for?

I was interested to see this video of a new jumping robot.  The blurb reads:

Salto-1P is a small monopedal jumping robot capable of continuous high-power hopping.  We demonstrate a new control algorithm that can land Salto-1P's foot at particular spots on the ground like jumping on stepping stones or playing one-leg hopscotch.  We call this "deadbeat foot placement hopping control".  Precise foot placement enables Salto-1P to jump on surfaces like furniture.  This work will be presented at the 2018 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.

Here's the video.

What I want to know is, what's it for?  If it's just a demonstration of a new control algorithm that allows greater precision in maneuvering the robot, all well and good.  However, in the real world, what function might need a hopping motion like that, or great precision in executing it?  Could one build it into an artificial intelligence pogo stick, so that one always kept one's balance?

(Of course, there's always cat toys.  Our two would go absolutely ape if they saw that thing!)


Look what's coming!

The third Western novel in my Ames Archives series is almost ready for publication.  All the editing and corrections have been completed, and it remains only to format it for e-book and print editions.  I'm also re-issuing the e-book editions of the first two books in the series, "Brings The Lightning" and "Rocky Mountain Retribution".  I'll do them first, with the third book to follow.  All three should be out within the next couple of weeks, God and willing.

To whet your appetite, here's the cover for the third book.

The cover image is cropped from Frederic Sackrider Remington's 1889 painting, "A Dash for the Timber".  The picture launched his national career, being received with acclamation when it was exhibited at the National Academy that year.

Want more?  Here's a brief excerpt from the book, to go with the snippet I posted last month.

     Late in the afternoon of their fourth day in Mexico, they reached the small town of Nueva Rosita. There appeared to be some sort of festival in progress; a small band was playing, stalls had been set up in and around the main square, and vendors were doing a brisk trade selling food and drink. Walt was conscious of the eager eyes of his men on the goings-on, and made a snap decision.
     “Boys, we’ll make camp for the night on the far side of town. I want four men on watch at all times. The first four will guard the camp an’ the hosses while the rest come back here to have some fun. I’ll make sure they’re relieved by seven, to let them do the same. Don’t flash your money around, and don’t bully or shove your way through the crowds. Remember, this ain’t our country – it’s theirs, and we want ’em to sell us their hosses. Treat ’em the way we’d like our guests to treat us.”
     The horses were watered at a nearby stream, then picketed in a field to prevent them straying. Their saddles and pack saddles were piled in the campsite. Walt warned everyone, with a grin, “Put your bedrolls out ready before you go into town. You may find it tricky when you come back later tonight, if you’ve been celebratin’ too hard!” With laughter and quips flying back and forth, the men complied.
     Walt had a word with the first four guards, and those he’d delegated to relieve them later, before walking back to town. “Keep your eyes open and don’t slack off. Remember, we’ve had those men watchin’ us ever since we crossed the border. I’d not put it past them to try somethin’ tonight, while we’re all sleepin’ off the fun. Don’t let them get past you because you’re day-dreamin’ about the fun you’re gonna have, or did have, in town.”
     “Got it, boss.” “I hear ya, boss.” The four rumbled their agreement, and kept their rifles in their hands as they watched the surrounding countryside.
     Satisfied, Walt followed most of his men back into town. It was only a couple of hundred yards to the main square, so they didn’t bother to take their horses. The men split up into small groups and wandered around, buying food from this stall, a drink from that, and eyeing the attractive Mexican girls with appreciation.
     Walt drew laughter from onlookers when he stopped at a stall selling straw products – baskets, hats and the like. He took off his Stetson hat, laid it on the table, and picked up a sombrero with an enormous brim, almost a yard wide. The children in particular seemed to find that very funny, giggling at this strange gringo trying on one of their hats, trying to look like one of their people. They couldn’t help staring at the metal hook on his left wrist. He bent down to their level and wriggled it back and forth, drawing shrieks of merriment from the little boys and smiles from their parents as they scrambled back to get away from it.
     As he straightened up, an unkempt, unshaven man wearing greasy, dirty clothing stepped in front of him and picked up his Stetson from the table. “Esto es mio ahora,” he said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “This is mine now.”
     Walt was sure he’d seen this man through his spyglass. He’d been one of those following them over the past few days. Three more men shouldered their way through the crowd to stand in a half-circle behind him. The locals fell silent, edging away to make space around them.
     “No, it’s not. It’s mine,” Walt told him as he took off the sombrero and set it down on the table.
     “I didn’t ask you,” the man replied with a cold grin. “If I want something, I take it.”
     “You’re not taking that one. I’ll tell you just once, politely, to put it down.”
     “Why don’t you make me, cabron?” He tossed the hat behind him as he bent forward, hand hovering menacingly over the knife on his hip. A little girl operating the stall next door, selling what looked like lemonade or something similar, let out a cry of anguish as the flying hat knocked her big glass jug off the table. It shattered as it hit the hard ground, broken glass and liquid flying in all directions.
     Behind the speaker, the other three men tensed for action. Walt realized at once what they were trying to do. The border officials had seen that he, as leader, was carrying the group’s money. If anything happened to him, these men – or those who had sent them – probably reckoned that the rest of the group would be easier to deal with.
     Without warning, or telegraphing his movements by getting into a better position, he launched a forward stamping kick that smacked into the kneecap of the man facing him, hard enough that his knee joint reversed itself with a sickening crack! The man screamed in sudden anguish and toppled sideways, his hands going to his injured leg as he writhed in agony on the ground. Behind him, the other men’s hands stabbed towards their holsters – only to come to a frozen halt as Walt’s right hand made a sight-defying flip, and his revolver lined rock-solid on them.
     There was a sudden, deafening silence around the stall, spreading out into the square. Only the sobs of the girl behind the next table and the moans of the injured man could be heard.
     Walt said slowly, softly, “Do you want to live, or do you want to die?”
     Their mouths still agape, for a moment none of the three could answer. At last one said, shakily, “L-live, señor.”
     “Then shed your guns, very slowly, very carefully. Use one finger and thumb only. Let them fall at your feet. Your knives, too.”

I hope you enjoy the book.  I've had a lot of fun writing it.

August should see the publication of a stand-alone fantasy/historical novel, "Taghri's Prize".  I've set it in a world similar to Arabia and the Persian Gulf, but where Mohammed was never born and Islam did not arise.  It draws on the pagan gods of pre-Islamic times, and the cultures that developed prior to monotheism.  I published a teaser excerpt last December.  Here's the cover.

I hope you enjoy both books.  I'm working on the sixth volume of the Maxwell Saga, and the third and final volume of the Laredo War trilogy, as I write these words.  Look for them soon!