Friday, May 31, 2019

Book updates

As most readers will know, my problems with kidney stones caused a hiatus in my writing for several months while I battled with increased pain levels, disrupted sleep, and all that goes with it.  It wasn't a happy time.  However, now that I've found something that appears to control my kidney stone problem, things are looking up, and I'm hard at work once more.  In fact, so far this week, I've written more than 20,000 words.

I'm working on four books right now, two as a short-term priority and two in the medium term.

  1. The third Western novel in the Ames Archives series will be titled "Gold on the Hoof".  It's more than halfway finished, and flowing nicely.  Completion is expected by the end of June, with publication in mid- to late July, if I can get all my ducks in a row.
  2. The sixth Steve Maxwell novel, as yet unnamed, is more than a third complete, and also making progress.  Completion is expected by late July, with publication sometime in August, God willing.
  3. The third and final volume of the Laredo Trilogy, "Knife to the Hilt" is pending.  The basic plot has been worked out, and it awaits time and energy to write it.  I hope to get it done this year.
  4. My promised book on emergency preparations and surviving crises of various kinds is also pending.  I'm assembling materials, both from previous blog articles and other sources, particularly relating to disasters I've personally experienced.  I hope it, too, will be out this year.

Finally, there's a very exciting collaborative novel about to get under way with a well-known author.  I won't post details yet;  I'll leave it to him to announce it first.  The contracts have been signed, and we hope to get started in July.  It'll have to be quick work, because of publication deadlines, so it may delay work on 3 or 4 above;  but I'll try to keep them going as well.

Anyway, that's where I'm at right now.  Watch this space for more details!


Quote of the day

Received via e-mail, original source unknown:

That would certainly solve most of our problems, political, social, economic and cultural.  Sadly, few people are willing to do so.  They always want someone else to do it - and pay for it as well.


Doofus Of The Day #1,044

Today's award goes to the Crown Prosecution Service in England.

A multi-million-pound diamond scam case collapsed after it emerged that the prosecution’s star witness was a fantasist with no qualifications.

Between May 2011 and February 2015, more than 70 victims - mainly vulnerable pensioners - were conned into investing into one of five companies which invested in the diamond and carbon credit industries.

In total, they lost £3.5million [about US $4.4 million] and today at Southwark Crown Court eight defendants walked free from court after a judge was forced to deliver not guilty verdicts on multiple fraud charges.

The case collapsed following “chaotic” disclosure failures and after the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) key witness, Andrew Ager was discredited as “wholly misleading”.

Police officers have also confirmed that an allegation into his conduct has been referred to the National Crime Agency, while defence lawyers told The Telegraph that “the safety of the convictions in every previous carbon credits prosecution is now in question”.

. . .

Mr Ager, the CPS’s expert witness on the carbon credit trading market, admitted that he had no academic qualifications, had received no training nor had he attended any course on the carbon credit trade.

He said that could not remember if he had passed any A-levels and that he had never read the only book published on what was supposed to be his area of expertise. Instead, he claimed that he had learned “from his environment”.

. . .

Ager’s lack of qualifications only came to light after the defence made four applications to exclude his evidence. All four had been opposed by the prosecution.

There's more at the link.

Would someone please explain to me how the prosecution authorities could so utterly fail in their duty?  If they've used this "expert witness" in 50 to 70 other cases, as claimed, then every one of the convictions achieved through his testimony must now be overturned, and the cases re-tried, at ruinous expense - and that's not counting lawsuits for damages.

As for Mr. Ager himself, I think a fair and reasonable punishment would be to total up the sentences imposed in every case during which he testified, and make him do the lot - all the fines, all the jail time, without exception.  He'll have only himself to blame, after all.  (Frankly, if the person or persons in the Crown Prosecution Service who hired him were to share equally in that punishment, I think that might be entirely appropriate, too.)


Thursday, May 30, 2019

This definitely falls under the heading of "Boys and their toys"!

Here's a short, but spectacular collection of car stunts and crashes from the movies.  Some of them were new to me.  Fasten your seatbelts!

I wonder how much all those destroyed cars cost?  It's no wonder making modern movies is so expensive!


What precisely is Robert Mueller trying to do?

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around Robert Mueller's press conference yesterday.  He almost openly invited Congress to institute impeachment proceedings against President Trump, which is so far outside his terms of reference as a special counsel that it defies belief.

Mr. Mueller’s report outlined Mr. Trump’s myriad efforts to interfere with or shut down the special-counsel investigation but didn’t recommend charges, dodging the central questions of whether it amounted to a crime. “This report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the report found. Mr. Mueller on Wednesday emphasized this in his remarks, saying, “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

Mr. Mueller said he was bound by departmental policy, which is based on two opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 1973 and 2000 that concluded that a sitting president couldn’t be charged with a crime because it would unduly interfere with the constitutional responsibilities of the office. Under the Constitution, Congress can remove a president for alleged wrongdoing through the impeachment process. Criminal charges could then be brought after the president leaves office or is removed, the department concluded.

There's more at the link.

What I don't understand is Mr. Mueller's deliberate fudging of the issue of criminality.  As special counsel, he and his team were to establish whether or not there was sufficient evidence to bring charges against President Trump (ignoring, for the moment, the question of whether those charges would be brought while he was in office, or afterwards).  That was his sole mandate.  He did not have any mandate to decide whether the President was guilty or innocent - only whether or not there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.  The judge and jury would have then settled the question of guilt or innocence.  That's their job.  It's not a special counsel's job!

By speaking as he did, and choosing the words he did, Mr. Mueller essentially said that extra-judicial proceedings would be the best way forward - namely, impeachment proceedings in Congress.  It's as good as saying, "Well, I couldn't find a way to nail President Trump in court, but in my personal opinion he deserves to be nailed, so Congress, it's up to you."  That's so grossly unprofessional, so clearly biased and outside any possible parameters of his position, that I'm left shaking my head in disbelief.

I think this verifies beyond any possible doubt the existence of what President Trump has called "the swamp" in Washington D.C.  I think it has also verified beyond any possible doubt that Mr. Mueller is one of the major players in the swamp.

I foresee all sorts of difficulties ahead.  If the swamp can be this brazen, this open, about its determination to overturn the results of an election, and the will of the American people . . . then this Republic is in very real danger of being overthrown by its own bureaucrats.  There may be literally nothing that they're not willing to do to enforce their will over ours.  (For one fictional example, see Matthew Bracken's "What I Saw At The Coup".  Suddenly that no longer seems nearly so far-fetched as I once thought it was.)

That's a horrifying thought.  The question is, what are we, the people, prepared to do about it?  I suspect we're going to have to act, sooner or later.  We certainly can't trust our politicians to fix the problem on our behalf.


We need a season to dry out from summer!

It's been far wetter and stormier than usual in northern Texas during spring, and that looks set to continue into early summer.  Miss D. and I have only lived here for three and a half years, but people who've been here all their lives are also complaining.  The ground is sodden - it has almost no capacity to absorb new moisture, so any fresh rain that falls simply runs off into creeks and rivers.  This is the result (clickit to biggit):

That's the Red River, on the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma, where it's crossed by Interstate 44.  It's been about ten feet wide and six inches deep through the winter.  Now, it's in flood, so make that three-quarters of a mile wide, including the flood plain, and about ten feet deep at the time that photograph was taken (by Miss D.) yesterday afternoon.  We drove up to see the river in flood, as many locals have done.  It hasn't been this impressive for a long time, or so we're told.  The tornado watches and warnings have also been impressive!  Looks like they're that way over a wide area.

All that water is on its way to Louisiana, so Shreveport and Alexandria are in for some interesting times when it gets there.  From there, it'll join the Mississippi, and head for the Gulf of Mexico.

Mowing our back yard has become an exercise in frustration.  First off, we have to wait until we can walk on the grass without sinking into it with a soggy squelch!  That means waiting for three days rain-free, to allow ground water to drain off.  By the third day, we can usually run the mower.  Trouble is, it's Texas grass.  If it catches even the merest sniff of water, it's going to grow!

We cut the lawn on Monday morning.  By yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) it was visibly taller, by at least an inch.  Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were wet and stormy again, and more rain is coming.  In fact, its next cut will probably have to wait another twelve to fifteen days.  Look what's forecast:

We've got to wait for all that water to run off before we can cut the grass again.  By the time that happens, we may need a brush hog rather than a lawnmower!

I hope most of my readers are keeping a little dryer than we are.  On the other hand, our ranchers are generally pretty happy about their fields.  The water's an inconvenience for farmers, and has delayed planting in some areas, but the cows are loving the fresh, green, rapidly growing grass.  I predict a bumper Texas steak harvest this year!


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Crocodile tears for the swamp denizens

I was very pleased to read about one attempt to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.

Two small agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) may be moving outside of Washington, D.C. and the federal employees involved are not happy about that. Both agencies are seeing an increase of resignations on a monthly basis.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced his intention to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) from the swamp to the heartland. Perdue said to think of it as moving the department’s scientists closer to its “customers”, the farmers. Perdue thinks the move will improve customer service and agency performance. The majority of staffers will be asked to relocate, but the actual location of the move has not yet been announced.

. . .

ERS employees are members of the American Federation of Government Employees. They only just joined the union earlier this month. Employees at ERS voted 138 to 4 to unionize. NIFA workers will hold a vote in June. Union representative Peter Winch said the move doesn’t make sense and the government workers don’t want to move.

. . .

“We will, frankly, be wanting to delay this move,” said Winch of the AFGE. Workers were told they would be given until the end of September to move to the new city, he said. “We would like a lot more leeway than that,” Winch said.

There's more at the link.

I'm not surprised that those who live in the swamp like it there, and don't want to move.  There are lots of advantages to being there, particularly communities that have grown rich on swamp-level salaries, and consequently offer better schools, facilities and opportunities than poorer areas throughout the country (that would be most of them).

On the other hand, I think the Secretary of Agriculture is entirely correct.  Why should his staff live and work in a bureaucratic hot-house, isolated from the challenges and difficulties facing the very people they are being asked to serve?  How can they understand those realities if they never experience them?

I think a move like this makes sense, for all the right reasons.  That it represents another step towards draining the swamp just happens to be a fringe benefit.


It's about time funeral homes got shaken up

In my years as a pastor, I became very cynical and negative about the funeral home "industry".  I saw far too many grieving families, particularly older bereaved partners, conned into spending far more money than necessary on funeral arrangements.  The funeral home directors and employees were experts at playing on emotions, tugging at heartstrings, and using the natural grief and lack of concentration of the bereaved to persuade them to buy unnecessarily elaborate coffins, flower arrangements and other impedimenta, pay for unnecessary funeral home and graveside services, and generally open their wallets to being outrageously abused.

To my fury, I even found that certain ministers of religion would cooperate with funeral homes to "up-sell" funeral arrangements, in return for a fee or a percentage of the profits.  I was actually approached to do this by two funeral homes, early in my ministerial career in this country.  I was very rude to them, and they went away with several fleas in their ear.  I couldn't get over their act of injured innocence.  "It's just business!" "That's the way we do things over here!"  Yeah, right!  If "just business" is ripping off those already mourning and grieving, I want no part of it, thank you very much!  I took care to steer my flock away from those funeral homes whenever possible.

I was therefore very glad to read that two Web sites are upsetting the funeral homes' applecarts. and are two startups that enable the bereaved to shop for caskets, embalming and cremation services — and search for the cheapest option, as they can when booking an airplane flight, a car or a hotel.

. . .

The funeral home business is notoriously murky when it comes to pricing. Some critics claim undertakers can take advantage of clients who are of no mind to bargain when grieving their loved ones, sources said.

“Prices tend to stay higher when there is no transparency, and that describes the funeral industry,” said Josh Slocum of the Funeral Consumers Alliance told The Post. “There is no other retail sector that routinely hides its prices to get people to come into the sales office” so it can sell them a pricey package, Slocum said.

Currently, just 25 percent of the 20,000 funeral homes in the US provide pricing information on their sites, according to FCA, a nonprofit consumer watchdog group.

“This is an industry that is 40 to 50 years out of date technologically and culturally,” Slocum added.

When reached by The Post, undertakers said they didn’t want their prices online for a whole host of reasons, ranging from fears of being undercut by the competition to causing customer confusion.

. . .

Funeralocity launched in April after testing its technology in Atlanta for two years and setting up call centers to collect its information on funeral homes. It allows grieving consumers to look at a detailed menu of prices along with photos of funeral homes and customer reviews.

Both websites offer their listings for free to consumers and don’t charge funeral homes. They make money by promoting businesses that agree to pay a fee and meet certain qualifications to be listed as a top provider.

There's more at the link.

I note that neither Web site shows the prices of funeral homes in my area, but then we're a long way away from their normal stamping-grounds.  I daresay those in larger cities, particularly in states that legally require funeral homes to publish their rates, will be better served.

I hope we get more such Web sites and services soon, offering more widespread coverage of funeral homes.  This is one racket that needs to be laid open to public inspection, and the sooner the better.

(I've already told Miss D. and my close friends that, when my time comes, they're not to spend a lot of money on a big, expensive funeral.  Just cremate me and put me away without worrying too much about ceremony.  Instead, use the money for a good party to celebrate my life, have a lot of fun, and give thanks for all we shared and did together.  If it's given to me to know what's going on, I'll be there, flicking ghostly ice cubes at the guests and enjoying the squeaks!)


Sometimes African tribalism can work in our favor

I recently wrote about tribalism as a dominant force in Africa and elsewhere, both in terms of anti-terrorist security and the fight against Ebola.  It's usually a negative factor, from the point of view of the First World.  However, sometimes it works in our favor, too - as in Somalia, where the fight against Al Qaeda offshoot Al Shabaab continues, with considerable success.  Strategy Page reports:

Most Somalis do not trust any armed organization that does not have clear clan ties ... Therein lies the core problem with Somalia; clan loyalty is seen by most Somalis, as more important than any other government or religious allegiance. That is why al Shabaab is not as “religious” as Islamic terrorists in other parts of the world. Somalis organize profit-making enterprises, usually under the patronage of a clan or a powerful warlord who knows how to respect and exploit clan allegiance. Al Shabaab is more warlord than religious fanatic ... There are over a hundred clan militias and these survive by being clan-based and able to use clan loyalty to recruit and motivate members. While there is a region known as Somalia and people known as Somalis there is no Somali nationalism to unite the nation of Somalia. Clan loyalty is supreme.

Another recent example of this can be seen in the far north where an unexpected failure of the annual monsoon rains has caused severe drought, major crop failures and many people facing famine and starvation. Aid for this is difficult to obtain because of the chronic corruption that often cripples such aid efforts and enriches a few local officials and gangsters. These droughts and famines have always been present in this region but emergency foreign food aid is a late 20th century development that has saved a lot of lives and made a lot of local leaders and gangsters rich. Much of the food never gets to those who need it most (the ones who cannot afford to even buy food) but enough of the food does reach famine victims to make it worthwhile to keep trying.

Part of the foreign aid problem is the nature of Somali culture. It is very competitive, entrepreneurial, violent and resourceful. For most Somalis, al Shabaab is not so much a religious movement as it is an opportunity to make some money. Al Shabaab is very much a criminal organization whose main goal is to make more money so it can recruit more members, arm them and use violence, bribes and extortion to obtain still more power and wealth. This Somali outlook put al Shabaab at odds with al Qaeda and other international Islamic terror groups. In the end, the Somalis won that argument in Somalia.

. . .

Most situations where al Shabaab is having problems doing business it’s because they have run afoul of a powerful (and usually heavily armed) clan. Al Shabaab tries to intimidate clans into cooperating but failing that al Shabaab must either fight, make a deal or move somewhere else. Somalia is a patchwork of areas where al Shabaab tries to avoid because of the powerful clan organizations. These clans are usually the ones with “clan elders” who can negotiate with al Shabaab.

There's more at the link.

That also explains why piracy was, until recently, a major problem off the horn of Africa and the Somali coast.  The clans in the area did their clan thing, and made a good living out of it.  It took military intervention by the world's major powers, including a permanent warship presence off the coast, to stop piratical clans in fishing dhows and faster small craft from continuing what has been a centuries-old practice in the area.  It was, and remains, clan-based;  and, to deal with it, the clans responsible have had to be attacked directly, from the sea and from the land.  The Russians and French have been particularly good at this, because the forces they committed to do the job acted ruthlessly and without hesitation.  "You pirate, you and your clan get clobbered, hard."  They got the message across, and it worked.

Somalia is, in terms of its clan problem, emblematic of the situation in Africa as a whole.  One's primary loyalty is to the clan, and to the tribe of which it's a part.  Anything less, and the other clans will eat you alive.  That means efforts by Western aid agencies to get into conflict zones, where clan is fighting clan and tribe is fighting tribe, are often fruitless (and pointless to begin with).  They are owed no loyalty.  They are not a clan or tribe;  therefore, they don't even have a reason to exist, as far as the locals are concerned.  They're horning in on a problem that's none of their business.

That explains a lot . . . and, along with primitive superstition, it's why efforts to contain the Ebola crisis in Congo are failing.

(By the way, try this exercise.  Compare and contrast US inner-city and prison gangs with African tribes and clans.  The parallels are almost exact, no matter what the race or ethnic origin of the gangs concerned.  In fact, while working as a prison chaplain, I learned to treat prison gangs as just another version of African tribes.  That approach worked very well as far as interacting with them went.  It didn't stop them being almost primitively [and sometimes very violently] focused on their criminal ends;  but it made it easier to understand them, and therefore deal with them.)


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Beating the far-left extremists like a rented mule

Frankly, I'm astonished that the far left hasn't yet caught on to how well they've been played by the Internet underground.  Take, for example, Antifa.  This is one of their propaganda pieces (clickit to biggit):

If you're wondering how those symbols came to be associated with the far right, here's a clue.

Members of the notorious internet forum 4chan have proposed a new troll campaign aimed at converting the hashtag into a white supremacist symbol.

In a post, on the /pol/ or “politically incorrect” message board, an anonymous user calls on his fellow forum frequenters to begin creating propaganda that incorporates the commonly used pound sign.

“We must start using # to represent the swastika on memes and social media,” the user states ... “It will be a perfect win-win situation,” the user adds. “Either Twitter will have to accept blatant Nazism on its forums or it will effectively have to find a way to get rid of the site’s core mechanics.”

. . .

Although the idea was met with mixed reviews, a slew of campaign posters and memes began circulating on Twitter. The posts were purported to originate from sources such as antifa–a far-left collective known for using direct action or violence against far-right groups.

. . .

In perhaps its most successful campaign, 4chan was seemingly able to convince countless people that the “OK” hand gesture was actually a secret white supremacist signal. It became so prominent that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), one of the country’s oldest civil rights organizations, released a statement calling on individuals to consider the context in which the hand gesture is used.

“Has the simple thumb-and-forefinger ‘OK’ hand gesture become a common white supremacist hand sign?” the group asked. “Not quite, but it has become a popular gesture used by people across several segments of the right and far right—including some actual white supremacists—who generally use it to trigger reactions, or what they would describe as ‘trolling the libs.'”

While 4chan’s latest campaign is almost certain to be largely ineffective, the hoax highlights how the battle of ideas is fought in the digital era.

There's more at the link.

I've known the circle-of-approval finger-and-thumb gesture since I was a child, and I've used it since that time, too.  It's always meant simply "That's great!" or "Nice!" or something like that.  Never in my life had I heard of it being used as a secret neo-Nazi symbol until the idiots of Antifa began claiming that.  I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now - and if any Antifa member sees me using it and takes offense, I shall point that out to them in words of approximately one syllable.  Actions may be more appropriate than words, of course.

(Hmmm . . . "Idiots of Antifa" . . . sounds like a catchy title to me!)

Be that as it may, I've also never heard of the hashtag as a neo-Nazi symbol, or (at least in the circles in which I move) 1488 or Pepe the frog.  I reckon it's all trolling of the far Left - and very successful trolling, too!

I'll have to think up a few more such memes.  I mean, why should 4chan have all the fun?


That'll get your heart rate up!

Courtesy of a link at Reddit, here's "Scared S***less Fitness", an entirely new form of exercise.  Language alert:  the S-word flows freely.

Yeah, I reckon that'll get the old bloodstream moving!


Corruption in action

California provides us with yet another example of legislative shenanigans.

On Thursday the California Assembly passed a bill that would require customers to request a paper receipt before they can be given one ... Starting in 2022, AB 161 would forbid businesses from providing customers with a traditional paper receipt unless they ask for one. Beginning in 2024, businesses would also be required to provide digital proof of purchase should a customer so request.

. . .

Should you be caught printing up receipts in violation of the law, you'll get two warnings, after which you could be fined up to $300 a year.

To make the environmental case against receipts, Ting's bill relies on Green America, a D.C.-based group whose "Skip the Slip" report says that receipts produce about 150,000 tons of waste each year.

The chairman of Green America's Board of Directors is Jeff Marcous. Marcous also serves as CEO of Dharma Merchant Services, which sells digital point-of-sale technology—the kind that Ting's bill would require stores to adopt.

There's more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

Would someone please tell me why, under any normal ethical standard, Mr. Marcous isn't under investigation on charges of (at the very least) corruption?  I wonder how many "favors" were done, and how many contributions were made to "re-election campaigns", and how many arms were twisted ("You do me this favor, and I'll do you a favor in future"), to get this bill passed?

One hopes that the bill will be derailed before it's signed into law . . . but this is California.  Such behind-the-scenes skullduggery appears to be the norm there, rather than the exception - much like Washington, D.C., I daresay.


Monday, May 27, 2019

The first Memorial Day

Memorial Day, celebrated today in the United States, wasn't always called that.  It was named Decoration Day by the man who started it, General John A. Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of veterans of the Civil War Union forces.  The celebration was first observed on May 30, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery.  It was renamed Memorial Day in 1967.

Here's the original Proclamation that started the ball rolling.

General Order No. 11
Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic
Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By order of JOHN A. LOGAN,

N.P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant General

I'm far from my dead comrades in arms this day.  I, and they, served in another country, on another continent, many years ago.  Nevertheless, I shall remember them;  and I'll join with my new fellow citizens in the USA to remember this country's fallen.  May they all rest in peace.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sunday morning music

Time to ring the changes again.  I decided, on a whim, to look for songs with the word "black" in their titles.  I had no idea there were so many!  There's certainly dozens, probably scores, and possibly hundreds of them out there.  That's unmanageable:  so I decided to pick eight at random that I knew, and that I'd enjoyed when they came out.  (Yes, it makes me feel old to realize how many years I've accumulated since then!)  I've listed them in chronological order.  If you have another favorite, let us know about it in Comments, and post a link to its video on YouTube if it has one.

Let's start with a very well-known one indeed:  the Rolling Stones and "Paint It Black".  This song, released in 1966, became emblematic of the Vietnam War after its use in numerous films and TV programs about that conflict;  so let's have a video with images from that era.

From 1970, here's one that rocked the following decade:  Deep Purple with "Black Night".  I can recall trying to make the cha-cha dance's rhythm fit this song's beat.  I failed miserably, of course, but much fun was had by all concerned.  Yes, alcohol may have been involved.

1971 was a prolific year for hits mentioning "black".  First, Johnny Cash explains why he became "The Man in Black".

From the same year, here's Uriah Heep with "Lady in Black".

And, last but not least from 1971, Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog".

Moving right along, from 1980, here's AC/DC with "Back In Black".

Metallica released "Fade to Black" in 1984.  Despite its dark focus on suicidal thoughts, this power ballad has become one of their most popular songs. Here's a live performance from last year, in which lead guitarist Kirk Hammett plays a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar previously owned by Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green.  It had been advertised for sale at an eye-watering $2 million, although its actual sale price isn't known for sure.  Nice, if you can afford it!  You can read about it here, and listen to Kirk describe its unique sound.

Finally, from 1998, here's Kenny Wayne Shepherd with "Blue on Black".

So, there you are:  eight songs mentioning "black" in the title.  Do you have a favorite that wasn't included?  Let us know in Comments.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Boys and their (highly) modified toys

Who would take a Bentley sports car and modify it into a sports tank?

These guys would.

I don't know if I want to drive it, but it's certainly interesting to watch!


Sometimes the jokes just write themselves

I did a double-take on reading this report.

The owner of the life-size replica of Noah’s Ark in Northern Kentucky has sued its insurers for refusing to cover, of all things … rain damage.

Ark Encounter, which unveiled the 510-foot-long model in 2016, says that heavy rains in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on its access road, and its five insurance carriers refused to cover nearly $1 million in damages.

There's more at the link.

But . . . what if the insurers claim that rain damage to (of all things!) Noah's Ark was, almost by definition, an Act of God?


Friday, May 24, 2019

A possible solution for kidney stones?

As regular readers know, I've been plagued with kidney stones since 2015.  Most recently, they - or, rather, the pain they caused - prevented me from writing from roughly the middle of last year until March this year.  I find the creative part of my brain simply shuts down when the pain level gets too great.  That's no fun, and it makes putting food on the table a bit tricky, too.

I've been to several doctors, both general physicians and urologists, to see what could be done.  They uniformly assured me that once kidney stones become established, there are three - and only three - possible solutions.  The first is for the body to pass the stone itself;  the second is lithotripsy;  and the third is an ureteroscopy.  Both medical procedures are typically day surgeries.  I'm here to tell you, the last option is extremely painful for several days afterwards - worse than the kidney stone, at least in my case.

There are some preventive measures recommended, such as drinking at least two quarts/liters of liquid per day to keep the urine stream diluted.  However, these didn't seem to help in my case;  and having experienced both types of medical intervention, I was highly motivated to find another way.  (Besides, the ongoing cost of such procedures isn't negligible, to put it mildly, even if you have medical insurance!)

I therefore started to research the problem, and came up with two non-medical remedies, one a traditional South American herbal treatment, the other a calcium "protector" that was alleged to stop the formation of new calcium crystals in the kidneys.  Since I had nothing to lose but my pain, I decided to try both.

The first I tried was Chanca Piedra, a South American herb colloquially known as "stone breaker".  Quite apart from my online research, an Ecuadorian woman (herself a kidney stone sufferer) assured Miss D. that it really was a folk remedy in that country, and it really did work.  Unfortunately, there are many different brands offering Chanca Piedra as an ingredient, some genuine, some not so much.  It took a lot of checking user reviews, looking for scam alerts, and so on before I settled on this brand.

I took it in the recommended dosage for six weeks, and was encouraged to find that my kidney pain diminished measurably.  It didn't go away completely, but it was much better than before.  This motivated me to look at a second treatment, designed to prevent the formation of calcium crystals (the leading cause of kidney stones).

I stopped taking the Chanca Piedra and started the recommended daily dosage of Kidney C.O.P.  Within two weeks, my kidney pain had disappeared entirely, and it hasn't come back.

I don't know that either treatment is "better" than the other, because they seem to work in different ways;  but I'm convinced, on the basis of personal experience alone, that they dramatically decrease the symptoms of kidney stones in me.  Only time will tell whether they can do so on a permanent basis, but so far, so good.  I've settled on a pattern of taking Chanca Piedra for one month, then Kidney C.O.P. for the following month, before repeating the cycle.  The former costs me about $10 for a month's treatment, and the latter about $30, but I regard that as cheap at the price compared to the pain of dealing with kidney stones.

I can't claim or guarantee that these have any therapeutic medical benefit, and their manufacturers offer the usual FDA-mandated disclaimers about their use.  Nevertheless, they appear to have worked for me.  If you suffer from kidney stones, particularly calcium-based ones, I suggest you may find them worth an extended trial - say, two months of each, alternating them each month.  You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

(No, I'm not being compensated in any way for recommending them.  I merely want to share a solution to excruciating kidney stone pain that has worked for me, and may therefore help those of my readers with the same problem.)


Desperation makes them risk their lives - and many lose them

Earlier this month, I wrote an article titled "Why African migrants will flood the world over the next half-century".  As if to highlight the sheer desperation for something - anything! - better that most migrants exhibit, the BBC has published a remarkable in-depth article about a young Ghanaian man who decided to try to document the risk, abuses and crimes faced by literally millions of would-be migrants as they journey through Africa on their way to the Mediterranean Sea and, hopefully, Europe.  It's chillingly blunt about the dangers they face.

Here's a brief excerpt from a very long article.

It was night when the trucks came to an abrupt stop, jolting Azeteng from a half-sleep. Voices called out from the dark, ordering the migrants to get out, and they were surrounded by men in military fatigues carrying AK-47s. They had hit the first Tuareg rebel checkpoint.

The rebels fired shots into the air and ordered the migrants to line up to pay. Those who didn’t have enough money were told to form a separate line and had their pockets searched and possessions taken. Then they were beaten. Azeteng was hit hard in the side of the head, knocking his glasses off his face. A migrant in front of him was hit with a metal pole and bled from the mouth. A Gambian man, whom Azeteng had befriended on the journey, held up his Koran and begged in vain for them to stop.

Azeteng put his glasses back on and, overcoming a swell of fear, pressed the tiny button under the arm. The grainy footage captured the migrants shuffling past a militant holding out a large plastic bowl, depositing cash. When the bowl was full, another militant tipped it into a larger bowl. Those who had paid were ordered to sit on the sand and wait. The wind whipped up and the cold started to bite.

It was then that Azeteng saw the two Nigerian women again, the women who had sat up front with the driver. Women from Nigeria, more than any other African nation, have fallen prey to the sex-trafficking trade to Europe. A well-established criminal network entraps them with promises of well-paid jobs as hairdressers or houseworkers or similar, then sells them into sex work. “As soon as they leave their family and community network they become extremely vulnerable,” Michele Bombassei, a UN expert on West African migration, told me. “And this is the moment the sexual exploitation begins.”

Azeteng had spoken to the Nigerian women briefly, back in Bamako. They were confident and outgoing. They had joked and laughed. Now their heads were bowed, and Azeteng watched as they walked silently into the desert escorted by seven armed men from the checkpoint. The seven men gang-raped the two women on the desert floor, close enough for the migrants to see.

When it was finished, the women were brought back and put in the front of the truck and the migrants were put in the back of the truck, and a heavy silence settled on them. The jubilation of earlier that day had given way to fear.

. . .

Azeteng helped Sekou to a hospital. Four days later, Sekou was dead. Some smugglers collected the body, and Azeteng followed them to a migrants’ graveyard near the edge of town. He watched as they took Sekou’s body from the bed of a pick-up. The dead man had been wrapped in a white sheet, one arm bound straight along his side and the other folded across his chest. They lowered the body into a shallow grave and covered it with sand and gravel and bricks. Adjacent to the migrants’ graveyard was a graveyard for Algerian citizens, with orderly plots and headstones. The migrants were buried haphazardly and close together, with nothing to mark their passing but the disturbance of the earth. Azeteng began to count, first one by one, then in rough batches, and by the time he gave up he’d counted 700 graves.

. . .

Ibrahim started out from Ghana with almost no money, and he was subjected to levels of hardship and brutality that Azeteng had paid to avoid. Locked into debt bondage, he worked for five months in Mali and Algeria with little or no pay. “It is so hard, so hard,” he said. “Work, work, work, work, work.” He pinched a fold of his skin. “My body was not good, it changed because of no food.” Ibrahim walked for five days in the desert after he and others were dumped by the smugglers, he said. He saw hands and feet sticking out of the sand, and helped bury a man who sat down on a dune one day, closed his eyes, and died.

There's much more at the link.

The illegal aliens who are flooding across our southern border are in many ways similar to those flooding out of Africa into Europe (and, increasingly, into the USA as well).  They have nothing at all to live for at home.  Their only hope of a better life is to get to a country with a better economy, offering them the chance to earn more and improve themselves (and, particularly, their descendants in due course).  That's why they keep coming, even in the face of such dangers (which are as real in South America as they are in Africa).  That's why we need a border wall, and vastly increased border security, and everything else necessary to prevent our economy - and our own future - being submerged, and swamped, and drowned in the sea of despair that wants to invade us.

There is no simple, easy answer.  There's certainly, in my opinion, an ethical and/or moral obligation on us to help those less fortunate than ourselves;  but that should not mean we have to sacrifice our own national future, and that of our children, to be swamped by those who would drag this country down to the depths from which they've managed to escape.  That's no answer at all!  Nevertheless, we need to understand the desperation that drives so many illegal aliens.  They're not refugees from oppression, or seeking asylum due to persecution.  They're economic migrants, pure and simple.  We have to understand their motivation in order to deal with them, and with the countries from which they're fleeing;  because unless we help those countries improve their own economies, more and more of their inhabitants are going to flee in our direction.

The irresistible force meets the immovable object.  Who will win?  Right now, in the absence of meaningful border security, it's the invaders.


A sobering reminder of an eternal reality

Daniel Greenberg, who blogs at Sultan Knish, is going through the slow, but inevitable loss of a loved one.  He's written about it, very personally and very movingly.

Our lives are defined by numbers. Our deaths are defined by them too.

Somewhere out of sight, in the world or in our bodies, a clock ticks insistently away. Most of the time we are fortunate enough to be deaf to the relentless clockwork march of time.

Until we begin to hear. And are unable to stop.

There are many clocks in the hospital room where she lies dying beneath a plastic blanket inflated and deflated by one of a dozen machines in the room.

There is an old fashioned clock ticking inaudibly on the wall, there are digital clocks and timers embedded in everything. And there is the insistent count of heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen. The numbers keep going down.

The beeping is constant. One alarm, for the heart rate or the oxygen or the IV follows another. The alarms are a count. The numbers they measure are ultimately the only numbers that matter. They are the numbers of life.

I had often heard the term deathwatch, but standing on the plastic pine floor while the nurses come and go, I understand it. I am waiting for a death that I have been told is inevitable. I am waiting and dreading it all at once.

The Rabbi has come and gone. He has said his prayers and words of comfort. And I have said them with him. All the prayers in the end form one greater prayer. A fervent hope that our lives are defined by more than these numbers.

There's more at the link.  Very highly recommended reading.

I've sat the deathwatch with people - friends, parishioners, strangers - many times.  It's never the same . . . and yet, it's always the same.  Sooner or later, the change comes.  We all must leave this life behind, and go on to whatever lies on the other side of death.  What that may be is a mystery we can only solve in one way.

I'll be praying with and for Mr. Greenberg, and for his dying relative, and for his family.  I don't share his faith, but we share the same God, and I pray that his loved one, and he, and I, and my loved ones, may all receive the same mercy in the end.  I hope those of you who are similarly inclined will join us in our prayers.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Tool expectations

Found on Gab:

I've met mechanics like that . . .


Some very interesting thoughts on the economy

Four articles have caught my eye over the past few days.  Each contains a worthwhile insight into our present economic situation.

The first, from Reuters, points out that US economic growth over the past few years has relied almost exclusively on expanding the national debt.

U.S. growth appears to be based “exclusively” on government, corporate and mortgage debt and the economy would have contracted if the United States had not added trillions in debt, Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, said in an investor webcast on Tuesday.

“Nominal GDP growth over the past five years would have been negative if U.S. public debt had not increased,” said Gundlach. “One thing everybody seems to miss when they look at these GDP numbers ... they seem to not understand that the growth in the GDP it looks pretty good on the screen is really based exclusively on debt - government debt, also corporate debt and even now some growth in mortgage debt.”

If the U.S. Treasury had avoided increasing its debt then nominal GDP would have been negative in three of the last five years...

. . .

Against this debt backdrop and financial markets “addicted to Federal Reserve stimulus,” these are “very, very dangerous times” for the next U.S. recession, Gundlach, who oversees more than $130 billion in assets at DoubleLine Capital, said.

There's more at the link.

I've written often enough about debt in these pages to make the point clear:  economic expansion based on debt is a fool's paradise, and must inevitably collapse sooner or later.  I suspect we're on the "sooner" end of that equation right now.

The other three articles come from the always interesting Charles Hugh Smith.  In the first, he points out that fraud is becoming normalized and institutionalized in our economy.

I am indebted to Manoj Samanta for the insightful concept the commoditization of fraud. The first step in the commoditization of fraud is to normalize fraud as Business as Usual (BAU) to the point that it's no longer viewed as "wrong," destructive or an aberration of evil-doers but as an accepted way to maximize gain and offload risk onto others.

The last step in the process is to institutionalize fraud within central banking and government policies.

How is selling shares in a money-losing corporation at outlandish valuations not the commoditization of fraud?

. . .

How is private equity loading companies up with debt as a means of paying outlandish dividends to themselves not commoditized fraud? How is paying dividends with debt rather than earnings not fraud? The net result of this fraud is the debt-burdened company eventually defaults on its debt, defrauding the investors who were suckered into the scam.

. . .

How is understating inflation so Social Security retirees get near-zero cost of living adjustments as real-world inflation pushes 7% not normalized, institutionalized fraud? We all understand the motivation for this institutionalized fraud: to limit the increasing cost of Social Security and mask the erosion of household income's purchasing power.

Again, more at the link.

Those are very good questions:  and I entirely agree with Mr. Smith - those are excellent examples of institutionalized fraud.  I've watched leveraged buyouts of companies by companies such as Bain Capital, etc. for years.  In almost every case, once they've stripped the companies of assets and burdened them with debt - all paid to themselves as the investors, of course - they cut them loose and allow them to sink.  In my book, that's not even fraud so much as legalized daylight robbery!  (It also makes me question the sanctimonious political discourse of Mitt Romney, founding partner of Bain Capital, who's currently a US Senator.  If he could be that ruthless and money-grabbing in business, what's he doing behind the scenes as a Senator?  I'd love to know!)

Next, Mr. Smith talks about technology and financialization transforming the economy.

... the speed with which technology is transforming the economy is increasing: there is no golden era to return to. The economy they long for (strong unions, full employment, rising wages, declining inequality, political bipartisanship, financial stability and security, etc.) has already slid into the dustbin of history.

They are equally blind to the reality that the central state they revere as the "solution" to financialization is itself the source of wealth/power asymmetry and the enforcer of Big Tech and Big Finance domination.

Proponents of technology implicitly assume that financialization's skims and scams have no impact on technology's golden promise of glorious advances which both enrich the few who own the technology and free the many to enjoy robots doing their work and endless entertainment (for a modest monthly fee, of course).

They are largely blind to the inconvenient reality that replacing tens of millions of workers with robots and software means there is no longer a mass-consumption economy for all the technological wonders, as the supposed solution--Universal Basic Income (UBI)--can't provide either paid work or enough income for the millions who will be receiving UBI subsistence to borrow or spend enough to keep the consumer economy afloat.

Financialization's solution--creating more credit / debt-- simply insures that the UBI recipients will be devoting much of their subsistence income to debt service rather than tech toys.

More at the link.

What this means, of course, is that since the broad mass of the population - including you and I - is shut out of both the technological giants and the financialization of markets, we're the ones who are going to be left in the dust.

Finally, Mr. Smith points out that "Technology Is Not Just Disruptive, It's Disastrously Deflationary".

While AI (artificial intelligence) garners the headlines, the next wave of disruptive technologies extend far beyond AI: as the chart of technologies rapidly being adopted shows, this wave includes new materials and processes as well as the "usual suspects" of machine learning, natural language processing, data mining and so on.

While many voices seek to assure us these technologies won't displace human workers, the reality is cutting labor inputs is the core driver. What few pundits seem to understand (perhaps because they've never experienced a truly competitive market?) is that the rush to incorporate these technologies into existing enterprises is deflationary not just to prices but to profits.

Reducing labor inputs and improving productivity of capital and the remaining labor force is not going to generate profits if competitors can access the same tools and processes. The race isn't to maximize profits, it's to survive the inevitable deflationary spiral in prices as competitors are forced to pass along cost savings to customers to retain market share.

. . .

Everyone counting on trillions in tech profits is overlooking the inconvenient reality of the S-Curve for cheap credit, cheap energy and cheap labor--the three drivers of global expansion. Once credit dries up or becomes more expensive, once cheap energy is only a memory (or future fantasy) and once employment sags under the pressure to reduce labor inputs, the ranks of those with the earnings or credit to buy, buy, buy will be thinned.

Stagnant wages can only be supplemented with borrowed money until the costs of servicing the debt (interest) eats the borrower's budget. At that point, lenders will have to face the unpalatable truth that any additional loan will end in default, a process that will also collapse the entire unsustainable mountain of debt the household is struggling to service.

More at the link.

I strongly urge you to read all four articles, and ask yourself very sincerely:  where am I on this economic continuum?  Am I on top of the heap, or struggling in the middle, or left in the dust at the bottom?  Very few of us are at the top . . . and the rest of us are going to find all these factors combining against us in the very near future.

I believe the only solution is what I've suggested before:  exercise financial discipline, get out of debt as far as possible, and live within our means.  Anything less is setting ourselves up for failure.


Yes, that explains a lot

Scott Adams has been poking fun at the business world in his Dilbert comic strip for decades, but he never seems to get stale.  He hit one out of the park yesterday.  Click the image to see a larger version at the comic's Web site.

Sadly, I never came up with any excuse that original . . .


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The ammo debate rears its head again . . .

A "combat medic" argues that 9mm and 5.56mm rounds are ineffective in combat . . . then undermines his own argument.

I was an EMT and a trauma tech working on a truck and in a trauma room for about 10 years and I was an army combat medic for eight years ... I have treated an inordinant amount of gun shot and blast injuries in places where surgical treatment was often well over an hour away ... I kept mission logs and patient logs ... I have recorded 371 gun shot wounds and significant blast injuries.

. . .

In just about every country I have been in, our host nation counterparts — army and police — used the 9X19 NATO round ... I’ve seen a lot of pistol shootings, much more than US police would ever see, and much more than experienced by most medics deploying solely with US personnel. And yet, I have zero, not one single experience, where a single gunshot wound from a 9X19 NATO round killed someone prior to them being able to return fire or flee. This includes people shot in the chest, back, back of the head (one hit behind the left ear) the neck and the face.  None.

Unfortunately, the same goes for the 5.56 NATO round. I have yet to witness a single shot quick kill with this round ... in every experience, at ranges from zero (negligent discharges) to 35 yards (my closest, and worst-placed, shot on a person) to 400 yards (our average initial engagement distance in Afghanistan) individuals shot with a single 5.56 NATO round had time to fire, maneuver, or both. Did I see single shots that killed eventually? Yes. Does that matter in combat? Not one damn bit if you are the one they are still shooting at.

. . .

Take from that what you will. For me, what I learned is, when it comes to combat, shoot the heaviest rifle round I can, shoot at what I can hit, and then shoot it again if I can.

. . .

As an aside, Chris Kyle (FWFS, brother) was a friend of mine, and while not so patiently listening to one of my Crown-induced rants on the 5.56 NATO, he suggested that it was not caliber I hated, but the bullet. He told me to load up the case as fast as I could, push a 64 grain or heavier soft point round and see what happens. So I had Underground Tactical built me an AR in 5.56 which I swore I would never own, and built rounds ranging from 64 to 75 grains with it. I’ve taken 11 deer with them, and the wound tracks are nothing like I saw with the NATO round. I’ve never had to look for an animal, and a little Underground 5.5lb AR in 5.56 is my go-to hill country deer gun now, which is just crazy.

There's more at the link.

Talk about cognitive dissonance!  The author's last paragraph undermines almost everything he's said before, but he can't see it.

For the record, I agree with him that 9mm and 5.56mm military ball (i.e. solid, non-expanding) ammunition is by no means a reliable "stopper" in either cartridge.  I've fired enough of the stuff myself, in both military and civilian environments, in actual engagements, to be satisfied that its performance is marginal.  Sure, there are always those who argue that better shot placement will solve the problem;  but in a high-intensity firefight, when both you and your opponent are moving, ducking, dodging and weaving, you aren't going to be able to take out the brain stem or cervical spine with laser-like accuracy.  It's simply impractical.  Under such circumstances, you want to slam your opponent as hard as possible, as often as possible, and repeat the treatment until, as Jim Higginbotham puts it, "the target changes shape or catches fire".  True dat.

Military ball ammunition is not designed to do that.  It's designed to be subject to the restrictions of the Hague Convention of 1899 (whether or not the nation concerned is a signatory to that treaty - the USA is not).  Those restrictions limit its terminal effectiveness.  Hunting rounds, on the other hand, are not so restricted.  They use soft-point and hollow-point bullets, or larger solid projectiles with more effective designs (e.g. "wide flat nose" or "full wadcutter"), that greatly increase the effectiveness of the round.  As the author notes in the final paragraph cited above, the same 5.56mm cartridge that he derides as ineffective becomes much more effective when loaded with better-performing bullets.  He never stops to think that it might become just as effective against human beings as against animals, if similar bullets are used.

When looking at solid bullets, without expanding features, I agree;  9mm and 5.56mm are not optimal, and I would hesitate to trust my life to them unless I had no other choice.  However, when modern expanding ammunition is available, they are boosted to a whole new level of performance, and become much more reliable.  I agree with naysayers who argue that larger calibers such as .45 or .308 are more effective, with their bigger, heavier bullets.  That's undeniable.  Nevertheless, the smaller rounds do become more viable when the right projectiles are used.

For defensive use, in 9mm I've standardized on Federal's excellent HST range as my primary defensive round.  I carry the 124gr. JHP +P round in my larger pistols, and the 147gr. JHP at standard velocity in my smaller 9mm. pocket pistols and my Ruger PC carbine.  I have little doubt both will perform well if I need them the hard way.  In 5.56mm, I use either the Winchester Ranger 64gr. Power-Point round, or Beck Ammunition's loading of the 64gr. Nosler Bonded bullet, a soft-point bullet that's a proven performer on game up to deer-size.  I'm confident it'll do what's needed against two-legged foes, if necessary.  Any of these rounds, or those recommended in this exhaustive analysis at, should serve you well.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Whatever defensive ammo you select, you should put at least 100 rounds of it (I prefer 200) through your chosen defensive weapon, using your defensive magazines, without a single malfunction, in order to prove that they work well together.  Even one malfunction should cause you to start the entire test all over again.  Two malfunctions, and I'd ditch that round and go to another one, again testing it to make sure it's 100% reliable in your gun and your magazines.  Yes, it's expensive to do that . . . but so is finding out the hard way, when a bad guy is about to shoot or stab you and/or your loved ones, that your gun and ammo combination don't work.  Check that out beforehand!

Finally, be careful when reading articles such as that cited above.  If they're talking only about military ball ammo, with no more effective projectiles in the mix, they're definitely not addressing the current reality of the situation for civilian or law enforcement defensive shooting.  (Sadly, New Jersey does not allow private citizens to own or use hollow-point ammunition, so in that state, you might have to adopt alternative measures.)


The "American Taliban" and a justice system that can no longer protect us

I note that the so-called "American Taliban", John Walker Lindh, is scheduled to be released from prison tomorrow, May 23rd.  Criticism is being leveled at the Bureau of Prisons (where I worked as a chaplain for some years) over his release.

“We must consider the security and safety implications for our citizens and communities who will receive individuals like John Walker Lindh, who continue to openly call for extremist violence,” Sens. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., wrote in a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons late last week that was obtained by the Washington Post.

In the letter, the lawmakers reportedly sought details on how the agency is working to prevent prisoners such as Lindh from committing additional crimes after their release. They also asked which other “terrorist offenders” are next in line to be freed and how the Federal Bureau of Prisons determines whether or not someone is an “ongoing public threat.”

There's more at the link.

This criticism, actual and/or implied, is completely misplaced.  The Bureau of Prisons does not determine sentences.  That's done by the courts.  The BOP merely implements the judgment of the courts, and has no discretion to extend a period of incarceration once a convict has "done his time".  To question the BOP about "security and safety implications for our citizens" is ridiculous.  That's not the BOP's responsibility, and if it tried to assume that responsibility, it would be (rightly) pilloried for overreaching its mandate.

That's not to say those of us who've worked at the BOP didn't sometimes wish we could do that.  After all, we often know the inmate better than any other reliable source, and can predict his/her likely future actions.  In my memoir of prison chaplaincy, I wrote:

Sometimes we wish we could go to court and say bluntly, “If you let this man out, he’s going to hurt or kill others. He’s a permanent danger to society. He needs to stay behind bars.” Very sadly, we don’t have the legal right to do that, and courts in most states don’t have the authority to order permanent incarceration for such offenders. Every year we’re legally obliged to discharge inmates ... on completion of their sentences, in the sure and certain knowledge that someone out there is going to suffer, perhaps even die, because we’re doing so. It tears your guts out sometimes.

That's the blunt reality of the situation.  John Walker Lindh is going to be released by the BOP because, in terms of the laws and regulations in force at the time of his conviction and sentence, he's "done his time".  The BOP will therefore have no further jurisdiction over him, no matter what politicians (not to mention the rest of us) might prefer.  What's more, the BOP has no legal way to "prevent prisoners such as Lindh from committing additional crimes after their release".  That's not its job.  It only has responsibility for inmates while they're incarcerated.  Once they walk out of the prison doors on completion of their sentence, the BOP is out of the picture.

There are some who will criticize the court for imposing a relatively light sentence on Lindh.  That's unfair.  The courts can only sentence convicts for the crimes of which they were convicted - and Lindh was convicted of relatively minor crimes, compared to those with which he might have been charged if the prosecution had done a better or more thorough job.

The initial charges leveled against the then 20-year-old Lindh in 2002 included one for murder conspiracy due to the role he played in the deadly prison rebellion.

However, nine of the ten counts in an indictment were then dropped and Lindh ended up pleading guilty to disobeying an executive order outlawing support to the Taliban and for possessing a weapon in Afghanistan.

If the prosecutor doesn't press certain charges, the defendant can't and won't be convicted of them.  Too many prosecutors do this, "plea-bargaining" a serious offense down to something they're sure they can win without too much time, trouble or expense in court.  Don't blame the courts.  They don't choose the charges.

As for the ongoing threat Lindh is said to pose:

In 2017, the National Counterterrorism Center, according to documents obtained by Foreign Policy, underscored that Lindh continued to "advocate for global jihad and write and translate violent extremist texts."

Furthermore, he is alleged to have told a TV producer last March that he would “continue to spread violent extremism Islam upon his release.”

That certainly sounds damning . . . but in the United States, we don't prosecute people for thoughts or intentions.  We prosecute them for actions.   Lindh may well pose a serious threat to people and society after his release, but unless we wish to live in a nation where "thought crime" is punished rather than actual crime, we can't convict him for having evil/wrong/criminal ideas.  If he can be convicted of them, anyone can - and who determines what, precisely, constitute such ideas?  Anyone might end up convicted of "wrongthink" under such circumstances.  Republicans might convict Democrats.  Democrats might convict Republicans.  Both might convict Nazis or Communists.  The possibilities are endless . . .

Lindh will have to adhere to strict conditions for at least an initial period after his release.  If he transgresses those conditions, he can be charged accordingly, and sentenced to another term in prison.  However, he can't be denied his freedom just because we don't like the idea.  If we do that to him, then "Big Brother" can do it to anyone - even us.  We can't have one law for those we like or approve of, and another for those we don't.  We either have a justice system, or a prejudice system.  Which would Americans prefer?

The only answer to the safety of society is for every member of that society to be vigilant, concerned for their own personal security and that of those around them - and prepared to take action to defend that security, if necessary.  It boils down to individual, rather than collective, responsibility.  Certainly, we can't rely on law enforcement to protect us.  They have no constitutional duty to protect individuals, after all.  The Supreme Court has said so.

As always, it's up to us, not the state, to defend and protect ourselves.  If Mr. Lindh persists in his anti-social, ideologically perverse ways, and becomes an active danger to society once more . . . I daresay he may be reminded of that.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019


A Midland sheriff's deputy found out the hard way that, no matter how urgent the call you're on, you need to look both ways before storming over a level crossing.  A tip o' the hat to reader Glen W. for sending me the link.

According to a news report, the deputy behind the wheel was "taken to the hospital with minor injuries including bruising throughout his body".  I think he's amazingly lucky not to have suffered anything more serious - and I bet he won't go through a level crossing like that again!


This is a VERY important video

Last month, Kimberley Strassel discussed the Deep State conspiracy against President Trump in great detail, with emphasis on the FBI's abuse of power.

I think this is a VERY important presentation - one that all Americans, on both sides of the political aisle, need to see.  Please publicize it on your own blogs and in social media, if you will.  Let's spread the word!

Thank you, Ms. Strassel, for a masterful analysis.


I daresay Sgt. Furrh was looking down and smiling proudly

Here's your feel-good story of the week.

Terri Furrh was a little confused at first when she was asked to get out of alphabetical order at the Moulton High School graduation Friday night and go to the back of the line.

But as soon as principal Jamie Dornak spoke about the stretch of highway between Moulton and Shiner, a line of law enforcement officers and first responders walked up to the left side of the stage in the gymnasium in place of their fallen brother, the late Sgt. David Furrh, she understood.

. . .

Furrh was killed in 2000 while serving a search warrant. Terri Furrh was only about 3 months old at the time.

. . .

Each officer, deputy and first responder hugged Terri Furrh after she received her diploma. Representatives from law enforcement agencies all over Texas, including Moulton, Gonzales County, Lavaca County, Shiner, Smiley, Nixon, Orchard and Victoria traveled to support the 18-year-old Moulton grad.

The officers stayed until the end of the ceremony and lined up in two lines for the graduates to pass through.

“It was really touching,” Terri Furrh said.

She plans to attend Texas State University and major in criminal justice.

There's more at the link.

I daresay there weren't too many dry eyes at that ceremony.  Mine weren't all that dry, just reading about it.

I hope and pray that, if such things are given to us in the next life, Sgt. Furrh knew what his brothers and sisters in blue had done for his daughter.  I know she'll never forget it.  She may have been too young when he died to remember her father, but his law enforcement comrades gave her plenty to remember about what he meant to them.

Well done to all concerned.