Thursday, February 28, 2019

It looks funny, but it could get people killed

A few weeks ago I wrote about a criminal who was caught in the act of painting a shotgun to look like a toy, presumably to deceive police and/or his prospective victims.  Now, courtesy of Wirecutter, we find this, presumably AR-15-type rifle, disguised even more effectively.

That's spendidly camouflaged . . . dangerously so.  We can laugh at it as an over-the-top "boys and their toys" sort of display, but imagine you're a cop on patrol, and you encounter someone carrying that in the street.  Your instinctive reaction would be to laugh out loud, and perhaps call to them - but what if they suddenly fired on you with it?  Your reaction times would be slower than normal, and you could end up dead or seriously injured.

Then, think of the consequences of that happening even once.  The very next time any cop sees any kid carrying an ornately decorated toy gun, he's going to assume - he'll have to assume, for his own safety - that the gun is real, not fake.  He's very likely to draw his own gun and train it on the "suspect" while he yells at them to drop it.  What if they panic (as children have been known to do)?  What if they don't drop it, but clutch it more tightly to themselves?  What if they try to run away, still clutching it?  What if the cop reads that action as a potential threat, and pulls his gun's trigger?

You'll have a wounded or dead child, and he'll be facing mass condemnation by the community for his "over-the-top", "over-aggressive" response.  In the light of the first shooting, it won't be "over-the-top" at all, from his perspective . . . but he and his agency will never win the public relations battle on that score.

I don't know what the answer to this mess might be.  Laws wont help - criminals don't obey laws in the first place, so they'll ignore them.  Appeals to kids' common sense won't help, either, because young kids generally don't have much common sense, and their parents often have even less!

An imitation toy like that shown above is a truly frightening thing.  It can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences - and tragedies.


Slip slidin' away - aviation edition

A Gulfstream G200 executive jet had an "interesting" landing in Moscow a couple of days ago.  I'm sure the snow (and, probably, ice on the runway) had a lot to do with it.  I suggest you watch the video with the sound turned off - some idiot loaded a music soundtrack over the surveillance footage.

I imagine the occupants had a wild ride!  You can read more about the incident here.


Spaghetti Bolognese . . . isn't spaghetti, and isn't Bolognese

Looks like the foodie wars are still raging.

“It is strange to be famous all over the world for a dish that isn’t ours,” [the Mayor of Bologna, Virginio Merola] told the Telegraph. “Of course we are happy that it draws attention to our city, but we would prefer to be known for the quality food that is part of our culinary tradition.”

The succulent, meat-filled triangular tortellini for example, or even mortadella, a deli pork meat that has inspired knock off products known as “baloney” - and often spelled “Bologna” - in the US.

Under the leaning towers and pastel porticoes of the city known for good food, leftist politics and its ancient university, it is a colossal foodie faux pas to ask for Spaghetti Bolognese.

Waiters grimace, look perplexed and repeatedly explain to tourists that the dish they are referring to is locally called Tagliatelle al Ragù, or Tagliatelle Bolognese, a flat, handmade egg dough pasta covered in a slow-cooked meat sauce that also has bits of celery, carrots, onions, tomato sauce, slowly simmered with wine.

Spaghetti Bolognese has sparked heated online controversies as exasperated Italians try to defend the proper Ragù alla Bolognese - with tomatoes and red wine as key ingredients.

Viewers complained vociferously on social media in 2017 when Mary Berry, former Great British Bake Off star, made the Italian classic on her BBC Two show using garlic and adding thyme and cream.

Had she attended the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2016, Ms Berry would have been forewarned that herbs were a no-no by Italian gastronomy expert Antonio Carluccio.

“When you think Italy, you start to put oregano, basil, parsley, garlic, which is not at all [right],” Mr Carluccio told festival participants.

Not only are there no herbs nor garlic, it simply cannot just be slathered on just any kind of pasta. Bolognese Ragù is one of the chunkier sauces, hence served with sturdier pastas like tagliatelle or tortellini, but, ironically, never spaghetti.

There's more at the link.

I don't know how many truly authentic regional cuisines have survived.  For example, I've eaten Indian food (under the catch-all name of "curry") in over a dozen countries, and it's been subtly (or less subtly) different in every one of them.  What's more, a lot of it has been cooked by Indian people, so there's no cultural appropriation involved!  As for Italian food, South Africa has a very rich heritage in that regard, stemming from the tens of thousands of Italian prisoners-of-war who were detained in that country during World War II;  but again, variations have crept in until "real" Italians might be astonished to find some of the dishes under their traditional names.  I don't mind - I just enjoy it all!

As for spaghetti, I'm not going to get involved in the war of words.  I want my pasta with no strings attached.

(Aaaand . . . if one is taken prisoner in the food war over spaghetti, is one in durum vile?)


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The fake martyrdom of Trayvon Martin

Seven years ago, on February 26th, 2012, Trayvon Martin was legally shot, in self-defense, after he attacked George Zimmerman.  The latter's trial established the facts clearly and unambiguously.

However, Martin is still being held up as a martyr and a symbolic victim of white racism.  Here are just two examples out of hundreds seeking to exploit the anniversary. Click each image to be taken to its source page on Twitter.

Like I said - all lies.  You can read the facts of the trial for yourself.  Nevertheless, the perpetually aggrieved social justice warriors wimps among us will continue to try to exploit this case, and many others like it, for their own ends - and truth be damned.

That's a pretty good litmus test for someone's value as a human being.  If they espouse facts - support them.  If they perpetuate lies - shun them.  That applies not just to politicians, but to everyone.


Money, money, money (or the lack thereof)

We've had a lot to say about debt in these pages, most recently earlier this month.  If anyone's unclear as to why excessive debt is a bad thing, for individuals, corporations or governments, see here.

The magnitude of corporate debt has now become so great that it's causing alarm among international banks and financiers. This may sound boring, nothing that affects you personally, but it does - because almost every company with whom you deal, or from whom you buy your daily needs, uses corporate debt to finance itself.

Global issuance of corporate bonds has doubled to $US13 trillion over the last decade and standards have deteriorated dramatically, raising the risk of "fire sales" and a self-feeding chain reaction in times of stress.

The OECD is raising alarm over corporate debt levels, warning the easy money climate of recent years may have given investors a false sense of security.

"In the case of a downturn, highly leveraged companies would face difficulties in servicing debt, which in turn, through higher default rates, may amplify the effects," said a detailed report by OECD's corporate finance division.

"Any developments in these areas will come at a time when non-financial companies in the next three years will have to pay back or refinance about $US4 trillion worth of corporate bonds.

"This is close to the total balance sheet of the US Federal Reserve," it said.

. . .

Borrowing costs soar and "default contagion" spreads. It becomes even harder to refinance debt. This can lead to a vicious circle.
Regulations and internal investment mandates restrict insurance companies, pension funds and mutual funds, among others, from holding junk bonds (bonds rated below BBB-).

They have to offload their portfolio into a falling market if there is a downgrade. "Investors will have a hard time finding potential buyers," it warned.

. . .

The report warned that companies must increasingly compete for capital in a world without the succour of central banks.

The Fed, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England were together buying $US2 trillion of bonds each year at the peak of quantitative easing in 2016. This dropped to zero late last year and is now turning negative.

. . .

Emerging markets must repay or roll over 47 per cent of their outstanding liabilities over the next three years, double the percentage in 2008 ... It is striking that debt securities now make 57 per cent of all international credit ... . Tough new Basel rules may have made banks safer, but these anachronistic lenders are no longer the core of the global system.

The risk has migrated elsewhere, to investment funds crowded into illiquid assets and above all into corporate bonds.

There's more at the link.

The problem, basically, is that companies have issued bonds - IOU's, in so many words - to fund current operations.  Those bonds must be repaid out of future earnings, which permanently hobbles those earnings and prevents them being applied to then-current needs.  (The "drawing on the future" conundrum was explained here.)

When those bonds fall due, companies can pay them if they have the funds available to do so;  or, alternatively, they can issue new bonds to replace the old (a process known as "rolling over" debt).  This assumes that the holder of the existing bond will be willing to accept a new bond to replace it, instead of money;  or that new buyers will emerge for the new bonds, so that the money they pay for them can be used to pay off the old bondholders.  If there are no new buyers, or existing bondholders are unwilling to roll over the debt, then the company is in a very precarious position.  (This is known as the "refinancing risk").  It's very similar to our situation if we're heavily indebted on a credit card, and the card issuer decides that we're a poor credit risk.  It demands that we repay the amount owed;  but we don't have sufficient funds to do so.  If it calls in the total debt due to non-compliance with its terms and conditions (for example, we've routinely exceeded our credit limit, or something like that), we're neck-deep in the dwang.

The article is pointing out, in so many high-falutin' financial and economic terms, that this is what many companies are facing in today's market.  (The most recent - and very public - example is the Sears bankruptcy.)  If financing is limited due to its being tied up in so many other investments (government bonds, stocks, natural resources, futures, etc.), then companies that in the past have been able to draw on that investment pool will find themselves on barren ground.  That can lead to all sorts of "interesting times", in the sense of the apocryphal Chinese curse.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Hedgehog man?

A man in Brazil learned the hard way that with "friends" like his, who needs enemies?  They glued several dildos onto his back, which eventually required the services of a hospital to remove them.  I don't know what he's saying, but it doesn't sound very friendly!

The video, which you can watch here (I won't embed it, because I try to keep this blog family-friendly), isn't safe for work . . . but it is very funny.  His "friends" remind me of some of my fellow servicemen during my military days!

You can read more about the story here.


"If self-driving cars were Southern"

The South will rise again - automotive edition!

A tip o' the hat to reader Carl S. for sending me the link.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Quote of the day

From Mom's Scribbles:

I swear, if God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.

Oh, boy, do I hear you as I grow older . . .



Found on Gab;  the perils of being a wizard without reading glasses.


Lobster armor? Talk about a throwback!

I'm amused to see that the humble lobster may be the inspiration for a new generation of personal armor protection.

In a new paper ... researchers reveal that the soft underbelly of the American lobster is so great at protecting the creature’s insides from the jagged ocean floor that a similar material could be useful for humans as full-body protection.

The underside of the lobster’s tail is equipped with a membrane of incredible strength. Unlike the more rigid panels that cover the top side of the creature, the coating on its belly is very flexible. The team even compares it to industrial rubber in terms of its strength. Such materials are typical used in things like car tires and garden hoses, MIT says.

“Most modern body armors sacrifice limb protection to gain mobility, simply because none of the existing armor materials are flexible enough and they all inhibit movement of the arms and legs,” the researchers write. “Herein, we focus on the mechanics and mesoscopic structure of American lobsters’ soft membrane and explore how such a natural flexible armor is designed to integrate flexibility and toughness.”

There's more at the link.

This is amusing because, in the English Civil War (1642-1651), a unit of Parliamentarian cavalry formed and led by Sir Arthur Haselrig was proudly known as the London Lobsters.  "The unit derived its name from the regiment being one of very few units raised as cuirassiers, equipped in suits of plate armour reaching from the head to the knee."

Talk about being ahead of your time!  I daresay the shades of those old cavalrymen are raising a glass or two of their favorite beverage at the news of this advance in technology.


The string of fake "attacks", and political resentment

The Jussie Smollett imbroglio is only the latest in a long, long line of alleged attacks against liberal, left-wing and progressive causes and individuals by alleged supporters of President Trump.  Almost all of those allegations have proved to be false, made up by their alleged victims.  There's a list of some of them here, if you're interested - and it's by no means exhaustive.

I suspect the underlying reason for these fake attacks is resentment, pure and simple.  The "enlightened" classes are furious that the voters of America elected Donald Trump in the first place.  How dare the "deplorables" reject the guidance of those who know better, and elect someone who's so beyond the pale?  They're showing that resentment by trying to tarnish both President Trump's reputation, and that of everyone who voted for him, with racist and other politically incorrect propaganda.  So far, they've failed miserably as far as Trump supporters are concerned . . . but they're succeeding in the sense that their own people, those who opposed Trump from the beginning, are all too often taken in by such propaganda, and in a knee-jerk, reflexive response, reiterate the same tired old anti-Trump catcalls yet again.  It's a self-reinforcing echo chamber.

On the other hand, the resentment of those who elected President Trump is equally real - and far more justified, IMHO.  To explain, here's a January 2016 blog post by John Michael Greer.  That blog has been closed, so this excerpt is taken from an archived edition of his post.  (You can find his current work at his new blog.)  Bear in mind that Mr. Greer's words were written before President Trump was elected.

The dreary insults that have been flung so repetitively at Donald Trump over the course of his campaign are fine examples of the species: “deranged Cheeto,” “tomato-headed moron,” “delusional cheese creature,” and so on.

The centerpiece of most of these insults, when they’re not simply petulant schoolboy taunts aimed at Trump’s physical appearance, is the claim that he’s stupid. This is hardly surprising, as a lot of people on the leftward end of American culture love to use the kind of demeaning language that attributes idiocy to those who disagree with them. Thus it probably needs to be pointed out here that Trump is anything but stupid. He’s extraordinarily clever, and one measure of his cleverness is the way that he’s been able to lure so many of his opponents into behaving in ways that strengthen his appeal to the voters that matter most to his campaign.

. . .

It so happens that you can determine a huge amount about the economic and social prospects of people in America today by asking one remarkably simple question: how do they get most of their income? Broadly speaking—there are exceptions, which I’ll get to in a moment—it’s from one of four sources: returns on investment, a monthly salary, an hourly wage, or a government welfare check. People who get most of their income from one of those four things have a great many interests in common, so much so that it’s meaningful to speak of the American people as divided into an investment class, a salary class, a wage class, and a welfare class.

. . .

Just as the four classes can be identified by way of a very simple question, the political dynamite that’s driving the blowback mentioned earlier can be seen by way of another simple question: over the last half century or so, how have the four classes fared?

The answer, of course, is that three of the four have remained roughly where they were ... [but] ... Over the last half century, the wage class has been destroyed.

. . .

There’s a further barrier, though, and that’s the response of the salary class across the board—left, right, middle, you name it—to any attempt by the wage class to bring up the issues that matter to it. On the rare occasions when this happens in the public sphere, the spokespeople of the wage class get shouted down with a double helping of the sneering mockery I discussed toward the beginning of this post. The same thing happens on a different scale on those occasions when the same thing happens in private. If you doubt this—and you probably do, if you belong to the salary class—try this experiment: get a bunch of your salary class friends together in some casual context and get them talking about ordinary American working guys. What you’ll hear will range from crude caricatures and one-dimensional stereotypes right on up to bona fide hate speech. People in the wage class are aware of this; they’ve heard it all; they’ve been called stupid, ignorant, etc., ad nauseam for failing to agree with whatever bit of self-serving dogma some representative of the salary class tried to push on them.

And that, dear reader, is where Donald Trump comes in.

The man is brilliant. I mean that without the smallest trace of mockery. He’s figured out that the most effective way to get the wage class to rally to his banner is to get himself attacked, with the usual sort of shrill mockery, by the salary class. The man’s worth several billion dollars—do you really think he can’t afford to get the kind of hairstyle that the salary class finds acceptable? Of course he can; he’s deliberately chosen otherwise, because he knows that every time some privileged buffoon in the media or on the internet trots out another round of insults directed at his failure to conform to salary class ideas of fashion, another hundred thousand wage class voters recall the endless sneering putdowns they’ve experienced from the salary class and think, “Trump’s one of us.”

The identical logic governs his deliberate flouting of the current rules of acceptable political discourse. Have you noticed that every time Trump says something that sends the pundits into a swivet, and the media starts trying to convince itself and its listeners that this time he’s gone too far and his campaign will surely collapse in humiliation, his poll numbers go up?

There's more at the link.

That resentment got President Trump elected, and it still works for him today.  Just look at the crowds flocking to every public rally he calls.  They're not just numbered in hundreds, or thousands, but in tens of thousands.  They vastly outnumber similar crowds (or the lack thereof) attending left-wing politicians' rallies.  The resentment of the "wage class" is still just as strong as ever, and that's because the insults directed against it by the other classes are still just as small-minded, mean-spirited and bigoted as ever.

Now, consider Newton's Laws of Motion, particularly the Third Law, which can be summarized as:  "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction".  These are laws relating to the physical universe, but this one in particular has proved applicable across many other fields as well.  In response to the resentment of the wage class, the other three classes are getting equally resentful, although without the same grounds for doing so.  How dare the "deplorables" challenge the greater wisdom, insight and intellectual understanding of their betters?  I think that has a great deal to do with the string of fake attacks on left-wing and progressive individuals, and attempts to use them to attack President Trump and his supporters.  "If we can't persuade them by logic, let's shame them into abandoning Trump by showing how racist/sexist/whatever-ist his supporters are!"  Needless to say, it's not working.  The fake nature of most such attacks is usually immediately apparent . . . except to those who want to be fooled by them.

It seems resentment is now a major factor in the American political equation.  That's not healthy, and not a good foundation for the future, but I don't see any way of minimizing or avoiding it, given all that's led up to our present circumstances.  Both sides resent the hell out of each other, neither is willing to view the other through anything except the filter of resentment, and both are acting in accordance with that filter.  That bodes very ill for our nation's future.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sunday morning music

In 1999, Mike Oldfield produced "Guitars", his 19th album.  It was distinguished by two factors.  First, guitars were the only instruments used - plus, of course, the electronics associated with them.  Second, he alone played all the instruments.  It's a solo album.  He is, of course, a vastly talented musician, but even so, that's quite an achievement.

Here are three tracks from the album.  First, the opening track, "Muse".

Next, the third track, "Embers".

And finally the eighth track, "Enigmatism".

The whole album is worth listening to, but it doesn't seem to be readily available in the USA.  One can buy used CD's or vinyl copies on Amazon.  Fortunately, it's available on YouTube.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

No s***, Sherlock!

Sent in by several readers, original post not seen:

It might indeed!


The manipulated media, and how it manipulates you

Sharyl Attkisson describes how the news media and social media are manipulated by special interests, and how they in turn try to manipulate us.  In the light of the Covington affair, the Smollett fiasco, and other recent events, this is well worth watching.

Ms. Attkisson has been independently investigating and reporting on scandals for years.  She knows whereof she speaks.


Friday, February 22, 2019

Catholic bishops and the "action plan" - wrongly focused

Yesterday Pope Francis presented an "action plan" to a summit meeting of bishops, for combating the sexual abuse of children by priests.  I find it woefully inadequate, a mere re-hash of concepts and proposals advanced many years ago, with no new thinking.  I fear it will be completely useless, because it's focused on the wrong problem.  Priests, in general, are a reflection of those who select, train and ordain them - the bishops;  and it's among the Church's bishops that the solution to the problem must be sought.

I wrote some years ago about the problem of "organization men", and how bishops were selected all too often from among such individuals.  That's not the entire problem.  The organization of the Church as such has effectively removed much of their everyday authority and responsibility from bishops, by submerging them in minutiae.  If they're trapped at their desks, reading reports, signing documents, and shuffling papers, they can't be out there among the people of God, seeing at first hand, up close and personal, how they're living and the nature of the problems that confront them.  They can't be in the trenches with their priests, seeing the difficulties they face in "tending the flock of God".  They're cut off, isolated, from that reality - and it shows in the way the clergy child sex abuse scandal has been handled.  All too often, the knee-jerk response from bishops has been to circle the wagons and defend the institution of the Church, rather than the victims of the abuse.  It's almost as if the latter had become an afterthought, a mere irritation compared to the real issue.

Until the 20th century, most bishops in most dioceses had to spend a lot of time on the road, traveling from one end of their see to the other.  In the process, they had plenty of time to spend in parish rectories and the homes of the faithful.  They couldn't help but notice what was going on there.  In the same way, they visited institutions in their diocese much more often - convents, monasteries, schools, etc.  They could keep their fingers on the pulse of activity far more routinely than they do today, where every visit is scheduled weeks or months in advance, usually highly scripted, and time-managed to such an extent that there's little or no opportunity for the bishop to "manage by walking around" and see things for himself.  The advent of technology - travel by train, car and aircraft, the telephone, fax and e-mail, business administration machines and programs - made it easier to travel, but also made such travel less necessary, in that much can be done remotely that previously had to be done in person.  It's been a two-edged sword.

Because of their more office-bound, sedentary, "managed" day-to-day existence, bishops have in all too many cases lost focus on the pastoral aspects of their ministry.  They're glorified (you should pardon the expression) managers rather than apostles, business executives rather than shepherds of the flock, bureaucrats rather than pastors.  They tolerate, even accept this changed role, one that many of their predecessors would regard with horror as not just un-pastoral, but actively anti-pastoral.  As a result, they don't share the day-to-day problems and burdens of their priests, and all too quickly forget what they experienced of them during their own pastoral careers.

In their famous book, "The Peter Principle", Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull point out:

Most hierarchies are nowadays so cumbered with rules and traditions, and so bound in by public laws, that even high employees do not have to lead anyone anywhere, in the sense of pointing out the direction and setting the pace.  They simply follow precedents, obey regulations, and move at the head of the crowd.  Such employees lead only in the sense that the carved wooden figurehead leads the ship.

In my opinion, that perfectly describes what far too many bishops had become by the time the clergy sex abuse scandal reared its evil, predatory head.  They were no longer leaders.  They had become mere figureheads - and far too many of them were content to remain figureheads.  Even worse, as has since become clear, some of them - including some in very senior positions - were active participants in that evil, even as they put on a holy public face and pretended to participate in finding remedies for it.  I honestly don't know whether that sin can be forgiven, even by God.  I suspect it cannot.

This is a major reason why the problem of clergy child sex abuse became so serious.  The bishops abdicated their primary responsibility to their clergy, who are officially defined as their "co-workers" (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 893).  All too often, priests were (and still are) treated not as valued co-workers, but as unruly subordinates who have to be kept under the bishop's thumb, distrusted unless they constantly "suck up" to the powers that be.  That's why so many priests, including myself, were so angry at the initial measures enacted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to deal with the crisis.  They treated all priests with suspicion, as criminals until proven innocent.  This was completely unacceptable.  It still is.

That's why I don't believe that a conference of bishops is the right vehicle to study the problem of clergy child sex abuse, or find solutions to it.  Many of the bishops taking part in it are guilty of precisely the failings described here.  They will not be able to come up with any effective solutions, precisely because they are not effective bishops.

That's how I see it, anyway.  Others may differ.


Data: defining ourselves by what we do

A very interesting article by Jacob Ward points out that privacy, as such, is no longer the critical issue for us:  rather, it's the data about us accumulated by service providers that results in the effective demolition of any concept of "privacy" as such.

Facebook and other companies may very well be protecting your privacy — but they don’t need your personal information to determine exactly who you are and what you’ll do next.

. . .

First, understand that privacy and data are separate things. Your privacy — your first and last name, your Social Security number, your online credentials — is the unit of measure we best understand, and most actively protect ... But your data — the abstract portrait of who you are, and, more importantly, of who you are compared to other people — is your real vulnerability when it comes to the companies that make money offering ostensibly free services to millions of people. Not because your data will compromise your personal identity. But because it will compromise your personal autonomy.

"Privacy as we normally think of it doesn’t matter,” said Aza Raskin, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology. "What these companies are doing is building little models, little avatars, little voodoo dolls of you. Your doll sits in the cloud, and they'll throw 100,000 videos at it to see what’s effective to get you to stick around, or what ad with what messaging is uniquely good at getting you to do something.”

. . .

... data can predict not just which shirt you might be willing to buy, but which topics are so emotionally charged you cannot look away from them — and which pieces of propaganda will work best upon you. And that makes the platforms that collect data at scale an amazing way to influence human beings. Maybe not you. Maybe not today. But it’s enough influence, at scale, over time, that the outcomes on the whole are both overwhelmingly consistent, and yet individually invisible.

Tim Wu, professor at Columbia Law School, and author of The Attention Merchants, believes this makes social platforms — and Facebook in particular — a tremendous liability. "There’s an incredible concentration of power there. So much data, so much influence, makes them a target for something like Russian hackers. To influence an election, you used to have to hack hundreds of newspapers. Now there’s a single point of failure for democracy."

And the categories into which your data places you can be used for much more than just selling you stuff or determining your political preferences. Without your ever telling a company your race, or sexual orientation, your behavioral history can reveal those things.

There's more at the link.

That's a scary thought, but it makes a lot of sense.  I block advertisements on almost every electronic medium I frequent, from my cellphone, through my computers, to my refusal to have a TV at all in my home.  I'm simply not exposed to 99% of the advertising out there, and I take care to make sure of that, because I find most modern advertising incredibly intrusive and annoying.  Nevertheless, if the author's thesis is correct, advertisers don't actually need to get to me with their messages in the old-fashioned way.

For example, can simply analyze my buying patterns over time, and suggest items that might also interest me.  The company can also analyze my wife's buying patterns, be aware of the relationship between us, and correlate our mutual buying patterns to suggest things that we might find important as a family, if not as individuals.  It can share such data with other service providers who have different insights into our patterns of life, and build up a comprehensive picture of us.  In time, it can even do that for our friends, as we buy gifts for them from each other's wish lists.

I'd love to know how detailed a profile has been built up of me - or of the kind of people, the category of human, into which I fit.  I'm aware that the major political parties have invested huge sums of money and time and effort into building voter profiles, so that local activists can approach us in the "right" way to obtain our support for their candidate.  That's already common in the USA, but it's spreading fast:  recent reports from Canada and Australia highlight how it's being applied there.  Still, that's only one example of how such data is used.  In what other ways are companies and "influencers" trying to manipulate us, using data about us to target us by profile rather than by name?

Thought-provoking, indeed . . .


Thursday, February 21, 2019

And the hate crime Oscar goes to . . .

Sent in by several readers:

It'll be hard to choose from a list like that . . . they all deserve to win!  On balance, I'd say Christine Ford would get my vote.  How about you, readers?  Any other nominees to suggest?


Half cruise liner, half cargo ship

While on the subject of shipping news (see my first post this morning), I came across a travel blog report on a unique ship:  the Aranui 5, a vessel that's half luxury cruise liner and half cargo carrier.

She plies the waters of French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean.  She's almost literally the lifeline for much inter-island trade:  in many cases, if she doesn't carry it, it doesn't get there.

A travel blogger, Barbara Weibel, took a trip aboard Aranui 5 last year.  Instead of just focusing on the touristy stuff, she also studied the ship's cargo operations, and found out more about what it was like in the old days, before powered cranes and modern vessels.  Here's her video report.

Cruise ship passengers often pass through their destinations without thinking much about how ordinary people live there.  This cruise ship makes it impossible to ignore that, without her, the islands' populations would be left almost destitute.  It's an interesting combination of luxury and bare-bones necessity.

I've always said I'll never take a cruise - particularly not on the monster cruise ships that tend to frequent US harbors.  Why would I pay for the "privilege" of being crammed cheek-by-jowl into an artificial steel island, surrounded by noisy people and exposed to nasty infections?  However, something like the Aranui 5 might be a very different proposition, with far fewer people and a very interesting practical itinerary, not just a tourist trap.  Have any of my readers sailed aboard her?  If so, please let us know what you thought of her in Comments.


The resurrection of a container ship

Early in March last year, the giant container ship Maersk Honam caught fire in the Arabian Sea.  Five crew members were killed, and the rest of the crew abandoned ship.  (For larger versions of the photographs, follow the links provided.)

The vessel was later towed to the port of Jebel Ali, where her cargo was offloaded and the ship inspected.  Her bow section had been damaged beyond repair:  but the rest of the ship was still in good condition, and is almost new (delivered in 2017).  Rather than lose their investment in her, Maersk decided to cut off the ship's bow altogether, leaving the rear two-thirds of the hull and her propulsion machinery intact.

The rear portion has now been loaded onto a carrier vessel, to be returned to the South Korean shipyard where she was built.  There, an entirely new bow section will be fabricated and joined to the stern, making a complete vessel once more.

It's an expensive solution, but not as expensive as losing the whole ship - and the insurers will be paying for it all.  I bet Maersk's premiums went up, though!


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

After Covington, a helpful reminder from Mark Twain

The news media's performance over the Covington affair was so shameful as to almost defy belief . . . yet they're mostly unapologetic, and even eager to do it all over again at the earliest possible opportunity.  The truth is not in them.

In that light, this quotation from Mark Twain is worth remembering.  (A tip o' the hat to HMS Defiant, where I found the graphic.)



After 60 years, the F-4 Phantom is on the way out - but it's still very impressive

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II first flew 60 years ago.  It became the mainstay of the US Air Force and Navy, and was exported to countries all over the world.  It's still in front-line service in Greece, Turkey, Iran, South Korea and Japan.  However, the last-named country is about to phase it out at last, after 50 years of service.  An F-4 squadron will be converting to the F-35 later this year.

In preparation for the phase-out, aviation photographer Carl Wrightson and Rich Cooper, head of the Center of Aviation Photography, made a pilgrimage to Japan for a final photo shoot of the JASDF Phantoms.  The Aviationist has a collection of some of their beautiful images, including this one (click it for a larger view).

The article accompanying the images is well worth your time, if you're an aviation enthusiast.

For fans of the F-4 Phantom, here's a twenty-minute video showing takeoffs and landings of some JASDF aircraft early this month, in mid-winter.  There's some spectacular footage and sound, all in 4K, so watch it in full-screen mode and save a copy, if you can.

Great big roaring beasts, aren't they?  I understand someone once said that the F-4 is proof that, given enough thrust, you can make even a brick fly!  Despite their ungainly appearance, the Phantoms have built up an enviable combat record over the decades they've been in service, and can still draw a crowd of enthusiastic admirers whenever one shows up.  They've earned their stripes the hard way.


Your job - and what will replace you

It won't necessarily be a "machine" as such - it may be a computer program instead.  Nevertheless, a very large proportion of traditional blue-collar and white-collar jobs are, right now, being replaced by automation;  or, at the very least, their replacement is already being planned.  The threat is real, and it's immediate, not sometime in the future.

A couple of days ago, I mentioned, in passing, a New York Times article titled "The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite".  Here's an excerpt. Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

All over the world, executives are spending billions of dollars to transform their businesses into lean, digitized, highly automated operations. They crave the fat profit margins automation can deliver, and they see A.I. as a golden ticket to savings, perhaps by letting them whittle departments with thousands of workers down to just a few dozen.

“People are looking to achieve very big numbers,” said Mohit Joshi, the president of Infosys, a technology and consulting firm that helps other businesses automate their operations. “Earlier they had incremental, 5 to 10 percent goals in reducing their work force. Now they’re saying, ‘Why can’t we do it with 1 percent of the people we have?’”

. . .

A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 53 percent of companies had already started to use machines to perform tasks previously done by humans. The figure is expected to climb to 72 percent by next year.

. . .

Kai-Fu Lee, the author of “AI Superpowers” and a longtime technology executive, predicts that artificial intelligence will eliminate 40 percent of the world’s jobs within 15 years.

. . .

For an unvarnished view of how some American leaders talk about automation in private, you have to listen to their counterparts in Asia, who often make no attempt to hide their aims. Terry Gou, the chairman of the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn, has said the company plans to replace 80 percent of its workers with robots in the next five to 10 years. Richard Liu, the founder of the Chinese e-commerce company, said at a business conference last year that “I hope my company would be 100 percent automation someday.”

. . .

There are plenty of stories of successful reskilling — optimists often cite a program in Kentucky that trained a small group of former coal miners to become computer programmers — but there is little evidence that it works at scale. A report by the World Economic Forum this month estimated that of the 1.37 million workers who are projected to be fully displaced by automation in the next decade, only one in four can be profitably reskilled by private-sector programs. The rest, presumably, will need to fend for themselves or rely on government assistance.

There's more at the link.

If you think that article is unduly alarmist, think again.  Here are a few headlines from the past week or so.  Follow the links to read them for yourself.

  • Citi Ready To Replace "Tens Of Thousands" Of Call-Center Workers With Robots (if the link leads to a paywall, see the summary here).  Money quote:  "Under pressure to bring its cost base in line with peers, Citi executives have been upfront about the impact of technology on their 209,000-strong global workforce, including last summer’s warning that as many as half of the 20,000 operations staff in its investment bank could be supplanted by machines."
  • The Most Mindnumbing of Office Tasks Made One Man $360 Million.  "Takahashi’s firm provides so-called software bots for more than 500 companies ... It helps them to automate routine tasks such as inputting data and checking invoices ... “There’s a huge market for software robots using AI technologies,” he said. “Just like industrial robots in factories, if software bots can take on the tedious routine work in offices, we can create a productivity revolution for white-collar jobs."
  • OpenAI's new multitalented AI writes, translates and slanders.  "OpenAI’s new algorithm, named GPT-2 ... excels at a task known as language modeling, which tests a program’s ability to predict the next word in a given sentence. Give it a fake headline, and it’ll write the rest of the article, complete with fake quotations and statistics. Feed it the first line of a short story, and it’ll tell you what happens to your character next. It can even write fan fiction, given the right prompt."  (Not a comforting thought for me, as a writer!)
  • China has produced another study showing the potential of AI in medical diagnosis.  "Researchers found that the AI system was able to meet or outperform two groups of junior physicians in accurately diagnosing a range of ailments, from asthma and pneumonia, to sinusitis and mouth-related diseases. The AI was also able to meet or exceed diagnostic performance with some groups of senior physicians, for instance, in the category of upper respiratory issues ... In no category did the AI model dip below a diagnostic accuracy rate of about 79%..."

It used to be said that only repetitive office tasks such as basic book-keeping, order entry, etc. were at risk of automation in the short term.  However, as the links above show, that now extends deep into white-collar territory.  It also has implications for supervisory and management positions.  If the junior staff aren't there, they don't need supervisors or managers, do they?  Some expertise will have to be retained in-house, but I'll be surprised if it's as many as one in four of the numbers who used to be employed in such tasks.  I think it'll be more likely to be one-in-six, perhaps one-in-eight - and the ratio will decrease even further over time.

If you're in any job that can be handled by an automated system, whether blue-collar or white-collar, you need to be looking into re-training and re-skilling yourself, right now.  It's as critical as that.  It can no longer wait for some nebulous future date - and if you do wait, you'll be part of a flood of newly unemployed people, all trying to do the same thing.  The competition will be intense, perhaps ruinous.  Far better to beat the rush and start the process now, even (if necessary) at the cost of some short-term monetary pain.  If you work for a company such as, with its Career Choice program, your employer may pay most of the costs:  if not, sadly, you'll have to fund them yourself - but it remains a worthwhile and necessary investment.  Train for a job where you can make yourself indispensable, or where a machine or AI replacement will be difficult to accomplish.  (The skilled trades look very good right now - plumbing, HVAC, vehicle repair, etc. are unlikely to be automated anytime soon, due to non-standard conditions in the field to which a robot or AI system will find it hard to adjust.  However, I daresay their time will come.)

As for me, I'd better write better!  If an AI can produce "formulaic" fiction good enough to sell, I'd better make sure I can write to a higher standard than that, so I can continue to make a living.  Forewarned is forearmed!


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

That brings back teenage aviation memories

British Airways is marking the centenary of its founding, on August 24th, 1919, as Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited (AT&T) - an acronym familiar to US readers for rather different reasons!  You can find a condensed history of the company here.

As part of its celebrations, the airline is painting five of its fleet in historic color schemes.  This Boeing 747-400 is painted to resemble British Overseas Airways Corporation's 747-100's, the first generation of the "Jumbo Jet".  Click the image for a larger view.

Back in 1973, my father was President of the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce in South Africa.  When BOAC began its 747 service between South Africa and England, he was one of those invited to accept a complimentary ticket on the inaugural flight.  He promptly pulled every string he could get his hands on, and got a second ticket for me - my introduction to foreign countries.  Our aircraft bore the same paint scheme as that shown above, gleaming new and fresh.

We had a pleasant enough flight, stopping at Nairobi to refuel and take on additional passengers (as was common in the shorter-ranged aircraft of those days).  We spent a few days with my sister and her husband in England, then flew to Zurich aboard a BOAC Vickers VC-10 airliner (shown below), a contemporary of the Boeing 707 that my father always said was one of his favorite aircraft.  It was certainly a very smooth flight, albeit a lot more cramped than aboard the much more spacious 747.

We took a train to Lausanne, where we spent a couple of days, then took another train through the Simplon Tunnel to Rome, Italy.  A couple more days there, and then we flew back to South Africa (again via Nairobi) aboard a BOAC Boeing 707.

Seeing that vintage BOAC paint job has brought back lots of nostalgic memories . . .


Not the worst dating idea I've ever heard . . .

From The Whiteboard, one of my favorite comic strips.  Click the image to be taken to a larger view at its Web site.

The thought of an alligator as a powered surfboard gives me warm fuzzies . . . just as long as someone else is riding it!


Monday, February 18, 2019

OK, that was a goal to remember!

I'm not a big fan of ice hockey, and seldom watch it:  but this goal by Aleksander Barkov yesterday, for the Florida Panthers against the Montreal Canadiens, was really something.  He fired the puck backwards, between his legs, to wrong-foot the goalie.  Watch the slo-mo replay to see it.

Talk about a man on top of his game!  What's more, he's only 23 years old, with many years of development still to come.  What's he going to be like at 33?

Barkov ended up with a hat-trick, and the Panthers defeated Montreal 6-3.  Congratulations to all concerned.


Economic reality is about to bite - and it won't matter who's in power

Charles Hugh Smith highlights two charts from the Federal Reserve that sum up, in the most graphic fashion (literally and figuratively), why all the arguments about Republicans versus Democrats, or socialism versus capitalism, or anything else, are less and less relevant to reality.  Both parties have mismanaged our economy to such an extent that we're no longer able to avoid the economic hard times bearing down on us - and when they arrive, we won't be able to afford either party's pet policies.

Take a look at these charts of total liabilities/debt and federal income tax collected and ask yourself: are these trends sustainable in an economy growing by a few percent a year?  [Click both images for a larger view.]

Federal income taxes collected have practically doubled from the recessionary nadir of 2009: does anyone really think they can double again in the next 9 years?

These geometrically rising trendlines are the acme of unsustainability. The limits have been reached and reversal looms. Ask yourself why multiple bids for real estate have vanished and why the Fed is so anxious to publicly trumpet its dovishness. If the limits were far from being reached, why the tone of desperation?

As I noted yesterday, every injection of stimulus weakens the response of the following dose. After a decade of never-ending stimulus, the positive effects of stimulus have been exhausted. Increasing the stimulus is toxic to an exhausted system pushing its intrinsic limits.

There's more at the link.

Those charts say it all.  The pattern they portray is simply unsustainable.  It cannot continue:  and, as economist Herbert Stein famously pointed out, in the "law" of economics named for him:  "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."

The evidence for this, the fruit of the policies portrayed in those graphs, is all around us - but most of us are refusing to see it, because we'd rather ignore it.  I cite the following recent headlines as evidence:

I've said it many times before, most recently just last month.  I'll say it again.  Get ready for hard times.  They are coming, despite all the froth and bubble on the surface of the economy.  If you think they're not . . . go look at those graphs again.  Mathematics is an exact, hard science.  There's nothing fuzzy or wishy-washy about it.  The numbers don't lie . . . and those numbers are scary as hell.

It doesn't matter who's in the White House, or which party controls Congress, or how much we're spending on defense, or whether or not we have illegal aliens coming across our border. All of those issues are going to be swamped by the economic reality bearing down on us, whether we like it or not - and neither Democrats nor Republicans, and certainly no leading politicians of either party, have shown any understanding of, or commitment to, solving the real problem.


Displaying ignorance is seldom a good thing

Last week I wrote an article titled, "Bait and switch" prices are still going strong".  In it, I made this statement:

What's more, many of the prices charged for goods bear no relation whatsoever to the actual cost of production of those goods - another con game.

I was immediately pilloried by various commenters, both here and on Instapundit (which linked to the article).  A common reaction was to describe that statement as "socialist", and to decry any linkage whatsoever between cost of production and selling price.  I was publicly attacked for my "ignorance" on some other blogs (although I note with some cynicism that when I attempted to post a comment replying to such attacks, that comment was seldom published).

However, those disputing my statement were, in fact, displaying their own ignorance on the subject.  I think it deserves a short explanation, for their sake if nothing else.  BTW, my "credentials" in this discussion are that I've studied economics at undergraduate and graduate level.  I don't consider myself an "economist" in professional terms, but I know enough about the subject to consider myself economically literate at a businessman's level.  I'm not just sucking this stuff out of my thumb.

To begin with, cost of production is only one of many factors that affect the price of an item.  There's an entire field of economics dealing with the subject, and it would be impossible to summarize it here.  For those interested in reading more, try one or more of these sources:

There's a fundamental relationship between what something costs to produce, and the price for which it's sold.  Basically, any businessman wants to make as much money as possible off each product:  but he's constrained by reality.  If he's selling it for, say, a hundred times what it costs him to make it (or buy it from someone who makes it), he's seemingly sitting pretty:  but every other businessman out there will notice that sort of profit margin.  Before long, they'll be selling similar products and undercutting him on price.  In other words, he has to set his price at such a level that the profit margin doesn't tempt others - or, at least, too many others - to enter his market.  The cost of production or acquisition is therefore an indispensable consideration (although, as stated above, not the only one) in the price of that product.

There's also the factor that excessive profit will attract public objection, and possibly political and regulatory intervention.  The past few years have provided some high-profile examples.  Consider, for example the scandal over the soaring price of Epipens, or the fury over the increase in price of Daraprim, both long-established medicines.  In both cases, the cost of production of the product concerned (tiny in relation to what consumers were expected to pay) was repeatedly cited in objections to their outrageous and egregious price increases.  Attempts by executives of the companies concerned to explain their actions went nowhere fast.  Both instances were very clearly "profit grabs", and the public and politicians saw through them and demanded action.  Any business trying to price its product at such excessive levels can expect such pushback, from the buying public at least, and possibly from the authorities if customers make enough fuss about it.  They will, if it's important enough.

Consider also the laws against price gouging passed in several states, that prevent businesses from raising prices on their existing stocks of critical items (e.g. fuel, emergency food supplies, etc.) during an emergency.  One can argue that such laws are misguided, because such increased prices serve to balance the (extremely limited and temporarily irreplaceable) supply with the sudden, vastly increased demand for it;  but that's beyond the scope of this article.  Suffice it to say that the reason such laws were passed is because consumers in those states knew full well that some businesses were making a fortune by charging vastly more for their stock in trade than it had cost them, and they resented it.  That resentment translated into passing laws to prevent and/or punish such profiteering.  Like it or not, the price of the article was legislatively linked to its input cost/cost of production, and that remains the law in those areas to this day.  I don't see it changing anytime soon.

"Pure" laissez-faire economics would certainly postulate that there should be no linkage between the cost of production of an item, and its selling price.  However, there is no such thing as "pure" laissez-faire economics, anywhere in the world.  It's no more than a theory, a pipe-dream, in precisely the same way that "pure" libertarianism would be completely unworkable as a means of running society.  There have to be checks and balances on the "purity" of both concepts, lest their "perfect" theory should run headlong onto the rocks of practicality in day-to-day life.

One such "check and balance" is the concept of a moral and/or ethical price.  Every major religion in the world, and most developed philosophies of life, embody, directly or indirectly, considerations of what is just and unjust in economic terms.  That includes the pricing of goods for sale.  It's generally considered unjust to set an excessively high price for necessities in terms of their actual cost, because people will suffer without them.  Their cost figures into what is considered a "fair" or "just" profit margin in pricing them.  For example, usury (the lending of money at excessive rates of interest) was (and still is) generally condemned as wrong, even sinful.  The modern version of an usurer, a loan shark, is considered a criminal in terms of many civil laws based on such norms.  The Epipen scandal referred to above was said to have "crossed ethical boundaries".  There are many other examples.  Such moral and ethical (and sometimes legal) constraints are a fact of life when setting a product's selling price, and we ignore them at our peril.

I'm not going to waste your time by going into more detail here.  I've provided sources you can read if you'd like further information.  However, let me close by reiterating that its production cost is inextricably linked to the selling price of a product.  That's not socialism, although socialists like to claim it as one of the tenets of their philosophy.  It's basic economic reality.  There are many other factors affecting price, to be sure:  but production or acquisition cost is unquestionably one of them.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sunday morning music

Something slower and more thoughtful this morning.  Here's Handel's Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 7.  This performance is from the Classical Music Studio of St. Petersburg, conducted by Alexander Titov.

Music by a composer of German origin, composed and presented in England, and here performed by a Russian orchestra and composer.  Who says music is insular?


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Rush to judgment, much?

The Jussie Smollett "assault" case, submission #1:

Submission #2:

Submission #3:

Aaaaaannd Submission #4:

Brothers say Jussie Smollett paid them to participate in alleged attack, source says

The two Nigerian brothers arrested in connection with the assault on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett are no longer suspects in the attack. They're now cooperating with police.

A source close to the investigation confirms to CBS News the brothers told detectives Smollett paid them to participate in the alleged attack on January 29 and that they purchased the rope — which was found around Smollett's neck — at a nearby hardware store. The source said detectives have evidence to corroborate the sale, something the men's attorney alluded to Friday night.

"New evidence that was brought to their attention, obviously I had it, my clients had it," said Gloria Schmidt, the brothers' attorney.

The Chicago Police Department released a statement Saturday night saying information from the brothers had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation."

"We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation. We've reached out to the Empire cast member's attorney to request a follow-up interview."

Left-wing progressive politicians rushing to one-sided, self-serving judgment? Say it ain't so!  Clearly, they've learned nothing from the Covington affair, or from so many similar imbroglios in the past.  Perhaps they don't want to - or, more realistically, don't intend to.  Instead, they're following the Rahm Emanuel playbook.


This is why you slow down when driving in slippery conditions - and what happens when you don't

This was filmed on I-70 outside Kansas City, MO yesterday.

I'm very glad I was nowhere near that!  Apparently 47 vehicles were involved.  One person died, and seven were injured.  Allowing for the time it would have taken responders to arrive at the scene, and the time needed to remove just one vehicle (even with several tow trucks working at once), I have to think it took the best part of a day to clear away that lot . . .


"Politics is the art of the possible"

German chancellor Otto von Bismarck famously pointed out, "Politics is the art of the possible".  Any successful politician has to learn the arts of negotiation and compromise - not to mention the Pareto principle, otherwise known as the "80/20 Rule".  If he can get 80% of what he wants with a tolerable amount of effort, and getting the final 20% of what he wants will consume an inordinate amount of time, energy and resources, he's often better advised to take what he can get and let go of the rest.  To use another well-known idiom, "the best is the enemy of the good".

However, when we view the current debate over the border wall, many of the passionate partisans on both sides are ignoring all those well-known pragmatic realities.  They want it all, they want it their way, and they want it now - and to hell with opposing opinions.  That, in a nutshell, is why US politics and politicians can't achieve anything meaningful these days.  They're too busy insisting on "my way or the highway", and too focused on denying the opposition any victories at all, even partial ones.  For too many of them, it's all or nothing.

I find this very disturbing on many levels, but particularly because reasonable people should be able to compromise along the lines of the 80/20 rule.  If one side wants something badly enough, and is willing to fight for it, what's wrong with the other side saying, "OK, we'll concede most of what you want, although we insist on these limitations:  but only if you give us most of what we want on this other issue."  The second party could then say, "OK, but we want these restrictions on it."  By a process of back-and-forth negotiation, both sides could end up with a win . . . but not in US politics today.  For both major parties, it's all or nothing.  They won't talk to each other, they won't listen to each other - and the country is the poorer for it.  Both sides are equally bad.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is just as bad as Ann Coulter, and vice versa.  Both come across as intolerant, histrionic harpies, and I wish they'd both shut up for a while.  (I know, I know . . . fat chance!)

This is one of President Trump's weaknesses, too.  His personal style is abrasive and combative - not surprising for a New Jersey/New York businessman, to be sure, but not ideal in a politician.  I support his call for a border wall, and would even be prepared to pay higher taxes, if necessary, to build it;  but I'm not in favor of destroying bipartisanship in order to accomplish that.  (I accept that he's not alone in that destruction, of course.  Both sides are equally guilty of it.)

I've noted before in these pages that US politics is descending perilously close to the sort of division that sparked the American Civil War.  I don't know if we can get back to rationality and reasonable discourse before we end up in a second . . . certainly, events such as the Covington affair and the brutal, savage reactions to it suggest that it's likely to be a steeply uphill battle.

I think we have to accept that extremism has taken root in Congress and the Senate, and is unlikely to be uprooted from those institutions until it's been uprooted in our society as a whole.  That being the case, reasonable men and women will have to accept that they're in a permanent minority.  The "screaming classes" will insist that if we don't support their side, we must automatically belong to the unmentionable other side, and are therefore their enemies.  The only way to avoid that is to avoid political discourse altogether - and fierce partisans will try to deny us the right to not be involved.  They won't accept neutrality.  To them, that's a weakness;  one they must eradicate from national discourse.

We live in troubled times, and I don't have answers for it, no more than anyone else has.  The best advice I can offer is to keep our heads down, and don't be or become extremists ourselves, on one side or the other of the political divide.  Remember Bismarck.  "Politics is the art of the possible."  Let's strive to achieve the possible, and ignore the rest.  Remember the 80/20 Rule.  Let's strive to achieve the 80% while avoiding the over-the-top, very costly final 20%.  Let's be pragmatic, be reasonable, and do our best to survive as individuals, as families, and as communities.

Finally, if the fiercely partisan extremists won't let us do that, let's become equally extreme in our refusal to tolerate them.  Let them spout their nonsense to all and sundry, but not to us, and make it clear that we won't permit them to radicalize us.  It may come to something like another civil war - which God forbid - but let that not be because we helped it become reality.