Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday morning music

I write this post "on the road", as it were.  Miss D. and I are currently in Brevard, North Carolina, savoring a weekend in the natural beauty and fresh air of the Pisgah National Forest.  It's a beautiful place, and we're enjoying ourselves very much.

One of the features of this small town is the annual Brevard Music Festival.  It's a summer program bringing together several hundred performers and teachers for three months of hard work, making music, and a lot of fun.  The performers range the gamut of the musical experience, from folk to pop to rock to classical and almost everything in between.  Live performances are a regular feature of the Festival.  For today's blog post, I thought I'd bring you a few examples of what they offer.

To start us off, BMF artistic director Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops orchestra, talks about the Music Festival experience.

Here's folk and country musician Darrell Scott with "Long Wide Open Road" from the 2010 Festival.

Here's soloist Tong Wang with Alexander Scriabin's Waltz in A Flat Major, op. 38, at the 2017 Festival.

Next, Zuri Wells on the marimba (an instrument with which I'm very familiar in its original, primitive African version - the one she plays is a modern version, much larger than usual, and clearly Westernized in its orchestral capabilities).  Her comments are interspersed with her performance of an unnamed piece at the 2015 "Soloists of Tomorrow" performance at the BMF.

Let's move on to a couple of orchestral works.  Here's pianist Yekwon Sunwoo with Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto Op. 54.

Finally, here's the Brevard Music Center Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, in a 2012 performance of the fourth movement from Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 4.

Lovely music, in a very beautiful mountain and woodland setting.


Saturday, June 29, 2019

Day 6 on the road: bees, honey, good food and good company

Friday was a fun day, albeit a painful one for me.  My spinal injury in 2004 resulted in permanent nerve damage.  One of its effects is that, approximately every ten days to two weeks, on a variable schedule, I have a "bad pain day", for want of a better term.  My injured nerves just throb and moan at me, and I have to increase my pain medication intake and restrict my physical activity until they decide to quieten down again - until the next time, anyway.  Friday turned out to be one such day, probably sparked by several days on the road and about 1,600 miles covered so far.  (There's another 1,200 or so miles still to go on this trip.)

As a result, I wasn't up to much physical activity yesterday.  Miss D. and I drove out to a rendezvous at the Bear Tracks Travel Center near Lake Toxaway, from where transportation was provided to Killer Bees Honey for their deluxe tour of the premises, which was very interesting.  The owners, Sean and Denise, are clearly very knowledgeable indeed about their subject, and passionate about it, too, to the extent of pursuing certification in Italy and elsewhere that's far above the level to which most beekeepers would aspire.  They have plans to serve as what I might term "ambassadors for beedom", making people more aware of the fascinating ecology of these creatures and the multiple threats to their long-term survival and well-being.  Without bees, we won't be able to pollinate or propagate up to 50% of the crops on which we and food animals rely, so they're a critical part of our ecosystem.

Killer Bees Honey had a difficult year in 2018, thanks to double the normal rainfall, which severely hampered honey production.  They've restocked their hives and spread them around for 2019, and have already harvested the first of this year's honey "crop".  (Their first harvest sold out in ten minutes, literally!  Clearly, their reputation is spreading far and wide.)  They were eager to show their visitors how the "ladies" (as they refer to their bees) were doing.  I didn't tackle the more physical parts of the tour, donning bee-proof suits and working hands-on with hives and honey.  A certain unsteadiness of balance, unavoidable during my bad pain days, made that seem unwise, particularly with critters that can sting!  Miss D. did the whole thing, and was suitably impressed by the experience.  I sat in the main house, and enjoyed the company of Denise and the family cats until the others returned for a honey-tasting experience, which was gastronomically as well as intellectually interesting.

We learned a great deal about how much of the honey on the US market is adulterated, including visual demonstrations of how quickly air moves from one end of a jar of honey to the other when it's upended.  The faster it moves, the more sugar, or corn syrup, or other adulteration is likely in the honey.  It's eye-opening to watch major brands of honey reveal almost instantaneous transitions of the air bubble, whereas the real deal - raw, unadulterated honey - shows glutinously slow movement.  Certainly, Miss D. and I were confirmed in our opinion that it's preferable, on the grounds of food safety as well as taste, to pay more for high-quality honey, where its background, ingredients and composition are known, rather than buy cheap stuff that's almost certainly adulterated, even polluted, with sub-standard ingredients.  (Needless to say, given our previous delicious experience with Killer Bees Honey, they'll continue to be our premier source of supply.  Their honey is expensive, to be sure - that's only to be expected when the supply of a premium product is so limited - but it's simply the best we've found in the entire United States so far.  Taste tells - and sells!)

We made our way back to Brevard, where I took an extended nap (courtesy of another pain pill) while Miss D. enjoyed the local art galleries and other attractions.  We joined Sean and Denise for supper at a new local restaurant, which provided very good food and service.  A good time was had by all.

Miss D. and I plan to relax over the weekend.  There's a farmers market on Saturday, which we always enjoy visiting to see what local produce and products are available (one can often pick up jars of interesting and appetizing preserves, jams and savories to take home for later consumption).  There are also lots of other touristy things to do, and the scenery is lovely.  We may take in a leisurely tubing expedition to a local river, depending on what else we decide to do.  It'll be nice to kick back and unwind for a couple of days.

(Oh - just in case anyone wonders whether I'm being compensated for "boosting" Killer Bees Honey, no, I'm not.  I never accept compensation of any kind in return for mentioning a product or vendor in these pages.  I simply like to share good things I find with my readers, and KBH produces honey so good that I honestly can't remember ever tasting anything as good or better, anywhere in the world.  That's why Miss D. and I are, and will continue to be, repeat customers.)


Friday, June 28, 2019

Day 5 on the road: to North Carolina

Following a productive visit to Dayton, Miss D. and I hit the road on Thursday morning, and turned south towards North Carolina.  After a period of heavy traffic making our way through the Cincinnati metroplex and across the Kentucky border, we settled down to a steady pace on what was probably the most enjoyable day on the road of this trip so far.  The roads through Kentucky were generally pretty good, the traffic was bearable, and the weather was enjoyable.

All went smoothly until we passed through Knoxville, TN.  Google Maps warned us of a couple of slowdowns ahead, one quite small (which we ran through without trouble), but the other much larger, which would have delayed us for a couple of hours.  Rather than endure that, we opted to go through minor mountain roads to Asheville, NC.  That was a very scenic detour, offering a glimpse of life as it must have been in pioneer days as settlers expanded from the coast into the interior of the USA.  The road was narrow and winding, and if one came across a local who was driving slowly, well, all of us who'd taken the detour just had to slow down as well, because the residents of the area weren't about to get out of the way!  The occasional farm tractor made things even more interesting.  The scenery was beautiful, particularly the French Broad River as it meandered to and fro.  The picture below (courtesy of Wikipedia) was taken in the autumn, but with all the rain recently, the river was just as full when we passed it.  The rapids were running hard, and looked pretty rough in places.  Canoeists, with kayaks perched on top of their vehicles as they searched for put-in locations, were much in evidence.

After about eight hours on the road, we arrived in Brevard, NC.  It's a small town that very clearly relies for its economic well-being on tourists visiting the Pisgah National Forest and nearby attractions, with lots of restaurants, art galleries and other touristy things to enjoy.  I'm not sure who decided to name this area Transylvania County, as it bears little or no historical resemblance to its fabled namesake in Europe;  but for better or worse, someone did.  Personally, I think it deserves better!

We're staying at a very lovely B&B called The Bromfield Inn.

The house was built in 1926, and has been completely restored.  It's filled with antique furniture and lovely fixtures and fittings, exuding luxury and old-world charm.  My chair last night was placed approximately at the point where the picture below was taken (and very comfortable it was, too).

We've settled in very happily for a few days of rest and relaxation, along with frequent appeals for scritches from the local dog, who's very welcoming to everyone who dispenses them.  Our hosts offer wine and hors d'oeuvres every evening at 5.30, and serve a three-course breakfast every morning.  So far, so very good!  We're treating ourselves to the Bromfield Suite, with a mammoth four-poster bed (extremely comfortable) and an enormous attached bathroom in the old style.  One could virtually live in the latter, if one moved in a bed and cupboard - there's certainly room enough to do so!

Thursday night was a combination of tourism and necessity.  We dropped off a double load of laundry at a laundromat, and started it running in one of their big washers;  then we hurried off to a local restaurant for supper (a tasty fresh seafood pasta for Miss D., and veal marsala for me - yum!).  We made it back just in time to transfer our laundry to a dryer, then went off to look for a coffee shop that had been recommended to us.  It was closed, but a nearby art gallery wasn't, and Miss D. found a pair of handmade earrings that look very good on her.  We headed back to the laundromat, packed up our clean, dry laundry, and went back to the B&B for a well-earned night's rest.

On Friday, we'll be visiting our friends at Killer Bees Honey, whom we've met in these pages before.  They offer tours to visitors, so we're looking forward to seeing where our favorite honey comes from and how it's produced.  After that we have the weekend free, and we're going to spend it relaxing and having "couple time" together.  We don't often get the chance for that, being able to enjoy each other's presence without interruption, so we're going to make the most of it.

I'll put up more blog posts over the weekend, as I have time and inclination.


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Day 4 on the road: running around Dayton, Ohio

Wednesday was a business day for Miss D. and her family.  They had to deal with various issues, none of which directly involved me, so I was a bit of a spare part for most of the discussions.  I spent the morning with them, then went back to our hotel for an afternoon nap while they continued their work.  We met up again for supper at a Chinese buffet (good food, BTW, and very tasty).

While running around town, I was struck by the "two Daytons" feel of this city.  There's a fair amount of gentrification in some areas, with older buildings being restored and upgraded, and a feel of returning urban hope.  On the other hand, there's a lot of old "Rust Belt Dayton" still there;  run-down residential areas where houses still sell for very low prices ($15K-$25K will buy a smaller house, and $50K will buy a two-story, four-bedroom, two-bathroom place in fair to good condition).  A lot of small-scale property investors have jumped into the latter market, buying low-cost properties, renovating them to the extent necessary to make them habitable (but no more), and then renting them out to college and university students and other low-income residents.  That's a good thing for the investors, but it also reduces the stock of low-cost housing available to people wanting to "get their feet on the property ladder" as owners.  Long-term, I'm not sure how it will work out for all concerned.

The same goes for commerce and business in Dayton.  There are lots of restaurants and eateries, and numerous small businesses in the arts-and-crafts line, but there don't appear to be any major employers other than city, state and federal government agencies and branches, plus the health care industry.  That's a big danger sign, right there.  Governments consume income;  they don't generate it.  They can only spend what they take in by taxation or borrowing.  For an urban area to be dependent for its survival on the salaries and wages paid by government entities is therefore risky, because if tax income decreases or is reallocated, those salaries and wages go away - with nothing to replace them.  A business generates profit (otherwise it goes out of business), and buys and sells goods and services, thereby generating more economic activity.  An urban environment without major businesses to provide that economic energy doesn't have much to keep it going in the longer term.

(Dayton's far from alone in facing that conundrum, of course.  It just happens to be the city staring me in the face right now.)

That, of course, brings up another challenge of the "new economy".  In my opinion, far too much economic activity right now consists of services that are not essential.  Take restaurants, for example. There are dozens of them, all over the place, and all chasing the same consumer dollar;  yet none of them are necessary for people to survive.  If money is tight, people can and will prepare their own food at home, at a much lower cost than eating out.  The same applies to garden services, pressure-washing houses, etc. - all commonly seen advertised around big cities.  When that happens, those who depend for their income on such discretionary spending are going to be S.O.L., because people will do it themselves (or do without) rather than pay for a service they can no longer afford.

Another aspect of the same issue is the number of businesses who produce nothing themselves, but skim 20% to 30% off the top of other people's businesses.  Examples include food delivery services, aggregation services for travel, hotels, etc., and the like.  They all offer "hubs";  web sites where you can compare prices, select what you want, and order it through them, for which service they take a piece of the purchase price as "commission".  However, again, they offer nothing essential in and of themselves.  You can get the same deals (and often better ones) by going direct to the service provider and cutting out the middleman.  (We did that with our hotels for this trip;  looked up what we wanted in various locations, then went direct to their Web sites to make our bookings.). When money is tight, that happens a lot;  and at that point, those who provide or work for such "middleman businesses" are going to find their revenue drying up.

Cities such as Dayton appear to be full of businesses and services of those types.  Just driving around the streets, and looking at storefronts, there appears to be little genuine entrepreneurship.  Small business appears to be dominated by service industries (e.g. restaurants) and "middleman" type operations.  To be fair, much of the "old economy" businesses such as repair shops, etc. are no longer viable, because so many modern goods are made in such a way that it's cheaper to throw them away when they break, and replace them with a new unit, rather than repair them.  Many of them can't be repaired at all, because you can't buy spare parts for them - only complete units.

People are chasing the same low-dollar jobs, sometimes working two or three of them at once to make ends meet.  Few jobs offer benefits like in the old days;  Obamacare's mandates on employers have severely restricted the number of hours they're prepared to offer employees, and in many cases they don't employ full-timers at all, preferring part-timers.  The "gig economy" is rampant.  Others are trying to make a living by selling things at flea markets and garage sales (there's a whole buy-and-sell industry built up around garage sales, buying other people's junk for pennies and hoping to sell it for dollars).    There are a whole lot of people chasing jobs with poor income and prospects, and no prospects to move up the employment ladder in due course, because there are few if any better jobs available.

There's not much one can do about this as an individual, of course.  One has to play the hand one's dealt, and that means adjusting to one's economic opportunities as best one can.  Even so, knowledge is power, as the saying goes.  The better one understands the economic forces at work, the better one can adjust to take advantage of them whenever possible, and the better one can position oneself to be insulated against their vagaries.  Certainly, one should not be living day-to-day in this sort of economy without having a weather eye out for changes on the horizon, and being ready to "jump ship" to another way of making a living when the need and/or the opportunity arises.  Multiple income streams are also a good idea;  if one falters, the other(s) may help to tide one over until one can replace it.

Well, enough about the economy for now.  Those are perhaps gloomy thoughts, inspired by looking at Dayton and seeing how the city is struggling to find a place for itself in the "new economy".  Nevertheless, they're important considerations.

Tomorrow, Thursday, Miss D. and I will head south for North Carolina.  We're looking forward to a few days to relax, catch up with friends, and recharge our batteries before heading home next week.  I'll put up blog posts as and when I can.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Leaving out the critical element

I was saddened to read about the deaths by drowning of Oscar Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria as they attempted to gain illegal entry into the USA.  The tragedy shows very clearly the need to prevent such illegal crossings, and thereby avoid more such tragedies in future.

However, the forces opposed to law and order lost no time in obfuscating the issue.  In particular, Senator Schumer (D - NY) put on his usual display of nauseating hypocrisy and misleading half-truths.

"How could president Trump look at this picture and not understand these are human beings, fleeing violence and persecution, willing to risk a perilous - sometimes fatal - journey in search of a better life," he said.

Senator Schumer left out three critical words.  He failed to add "at our expense" to his sentence.

That's about the size of it.  Mr. Ramirez was not forced to emigrate due to circumstances beyond his control.  As far as we know, he was an economic migrant, seeking a better life, not trying to escape "violence or persecution".  In other words, he expected the USA to give him what he wanted, whether or not he qualified for it under US law and regulations.  What's more, he expected the US government to allow him to get it.

Sorry, Senator Schumer.  I'm not buying your crocodile tears.  America does not owe everyone a living, or the opportunity to earn a living.  That's reserved for those who are legally here.  It's terribly sad - particularly for young Valeria - that some people die while trying to obtain that illegally . . . but that's not the USA's fault, nor is it President Trump's fault.  It's their fault.


Day 3 on the road: onward to Ohio

Yesterday (Tuesday) Miss D. and I rose at a leisurely hour and hit the road for the short hop from Indianapolis to Dayton, Ohio.  It's only a couple of hours' drive, by far the shortest leg of our journey, so we weren't stressed for time and could relax and enjoy the sights.

We were glad to see that agriculture in this part of the world is in a somewhat healthier condition than any other state we've been through so far this trip.  We began to see fields where planting had been accomplished, although the crops weren't as tall as they should be by now.  The old saying is that one's corn crop should be "knee high by the Fourth of July" if one was to get a worthwhile yield from it.  There were a few fields that met that standard, but most did not.  Other fields were still so water-logged that the farmers hadn't even bothered to plant their seed yet.  If they plant at all this year, it'll have to be something with a short growing cycle and (probably) a relatively low yield.

For the first time, on the evidence of our own eyes, I'm seriously worried about American farmers and their crops this year.  Based on what we've seen so far, I doubt that yields will be even 50% of what they normally are.  If you need staple crops like corn, wheat and the like, they may be in very short supply later this year and early next year.  I'm so concerned by what I've seen that I'm going to take steps to lay in some extra vegetables when we get home again.  I may buy a small chest freezer and fill it, or stock up on canned vegetables, or both;  but I have a feeling that, in a few months' time, the abundance and variety of fruit and vegetables we've come to expect in American stores may not be so abundant, or its quality so good, as we'd like.  It may also affect meat supplies, as corn and milo are primary animal feeds.

As for corn used to produce ethanol to supplement gasoline . . . I think that may be a real problem next year.  It may boil down (you should pardon the expression) to a choice between eating our limited supplies of corn, or making ethanol from them, but not both.  If that happens, let's be very grateful that the US now has oil enough to export it, rather than have to import it.  If we have to, we can dispense with ethanol in our gasoline and use plain oil products instead.  I'm sure "Big Agriculture" will fight that tooth and nail - after all, they make billions of dollars every year in government subsidies and price supports to produce corn for the ethanol program - but if there isn't enough corn for normal food use, they may not have much choice.

Another worrying thing is barge traffic on the Mississippi and other major rivers.  I'm accustomed to seeing heavy barge traffic during the summer months, what with agricultural chemicals and other support materials going up-river to the farms, and export crops going down-river to harbors and grain terminals.  The flooding caused by all this rain has backed up barge traffic to an astonishing extent.  I know that hundreds of barges are literally tied up on the major rivers, laden with cargoes that simply can't reach their destinations due to locks that can't be operated in the flooded conditions.  They, in turn, can't be used to transport the harvest to waiting ships until they're unloaded - but if farmers no longer need their cargoes of fertilizers and the like (because it's now too late to use them), when and where will they be unloaded?

What about the barges' cargoes?  Can agricultural chemicals be stockpiled until next season?  If so, where?  Do we have the space and/or the facilities to store them safely, out of wind and weather?  Will they still be usable next season?  What about the companies that produce and/or sell them?  If they have no market this year, will they survive until next year?  If their inventories are filled with unused product from 2019, will they buy any more in 2020?  If they don't, what about the factories that need new orders if they're to survive?  All that, of course, says nothing about the number of farmers who may face financial difficulties this year.  I think the complications from the present situation may be a lot more complex and difficult than we've thought about.

Anyway . . . those thoughts are worrying, to be sure, but there's nothing we can do about them right now.  Miss D. and I will be in the Dayton area for a few days, so that she can sit down with her parents and others and conduct family business.  I'll be a spare part for most of the discussions, as they won't directly involve me, but I'll provide what support I can.  In my free time (if there is any) I'll continue to edit a fantasy novel, prepare to publish the third Western novel in my "Ames Archives" series, and prepare the first two in the series for republication in e-book format.  No peace for the wicked!

We took time yesterday afternoon and evening to visit with Cedar Sanderson and her husband Sanford.  They're friends of long standing, and it was great to see them again.  They took us to a local Korean restaurant, where I was introduced to the delights of bulgogi (complete with warnings against asking for too high a spice level - apparently Korean spicy is as dangerous as "native-strength" Thai!).  Afterwards, we adjourned to their home and sat out on the porch in a delightfully cool evening (much less hot and humid than usual in this part of the world at this time of year - another by-product of the heavy rains so far during spring and early summer).  We were enthusiastically greeted by the family dog, and purred at by the neighbor's cat, who demanded contributions of petting and scritches.  It was a very pleasant evening.

Some readers have sent invitations to visit with them on our way through their areas.  Thank you all very much;  but we're on a schedule, and don't have much latitude to deviate from it.  We'll have to take the wish for the deed, this time.  Sorry about that.

Updates will continue tomorrow, God willing.


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Day 2 on the road: onward to Indianapolis

Following our exhausting day's drive yesterday, Miss D. and I took extra time to rest this morning, rather than make an early start.  That was no problem, because our destination, Indianapolis, was less than four hours by road from St. Louis.  We hit the road by about 10 a.m., and got in at about 3 p.m. local time (changing from Central to Eastern time zones in the process, thus gaining an hour).

The roads through Illinois and Indiana were not very impressive.  I don't know whether it's the more extreme climate in the north central USA, or a different way of doing things, or just plain budget shortages, but the roads seem to get worse as we travel further north from Texas.  Oklahoma has some good (the tollway from Oklahoma City, through Tulsa, to Joplin in Missouri) and lots that are pretty bad (I-40 from OKC to the Arkansas border, or US 287 from the Texas Panhandle to the Colorado border).  Missouri had stretches of interstate that were obviously recently upgraded, and quite good, but other parts were pretty poor.  Every Illinois interstate I've been on since coming to this country, twenty-odd years ago, has been in poor condition.  Indiana's interstates around the international airport in Indianapolis are pretty good, but getting there from the Illinois border was a bumpy and uneven ride.  I guess we'll see whether the stretch to Ohio tomorrow will be any better.

We met up with Mad Mike for supper, along with his wife and their scarily smart daughter.  "Small person", as Mike refers to her, has two certified geniuses (genii?) for parents, and boy, does it show!  Despite her still very tender years, she's smart as a whip.  I'm really looking forward to seeing how she does as she matures.  I think she's going to be a very impressive young lady.  It was good to see her parents again, too.  They're great people, and Dot and I value their friendship highly.  Mike has an interesting and esoteric collection of weaponry, including a few recent acquisitions that made my mouth water (how about a 19th-century Damascus steel muzzle-loading 12 gauge double-barreled shotgun in very good condition and working order, or a Canadian Inglis Hi-power complete with original wooden holster doubling as a shoulder stock, and the original leather strap, all in excellent condition?).

Tomorrow we head to southern Ohio for a couple of days.  Miss D. has some family business to attend to, so I'll play chauffeur for her and help as best I can.


Monday, June 24, 2019

On the road again

Miss D. and I are on the road again.  She has some family business to attend to, so we're on our way north to take care of that.  Unfortunately, it'll prevent us from attending LibertyCon this year (scheduled for the coming weekend).  We had planned on attending, but the date and venue of the convention were changed, without sufficient notice for us to be able to accommodate it by altering other plans;  so this year, we'll have to rely on our friends to represent us and create as much mayhem as possible in our absence.  Knowing our friends, they'll do just fine at that!

Yesterday (Sunday) was a very long day - almost thirteen hours on the road, thanks to a driving rainstorm (at times gully-washer strength) that didn't let up for nine solid hours, and the resulting traffic slow-downs and snarl-ups.  We ended up taking a two-hour detour off the interstate, over less traveled roads, in order to avoid the worst of an hour-and-a-half delay caused by a very big pile-up.  It cost us an extra hour, but was still an hour faster than if we'd sat in traffic moving at a slow crawl for miles on end - something I'd as soon avoid whenever possible.  Fortunately, we're in a very comfortable vehicle, which makes it easier to face long days in the saddle.

We're overnighting near St. Louis, Missouri.  We got in shortly before 7 yesterday evening, dropped our bags in our hotel room, and went out again to enjoy supper with friends Jason Fuesting (whom we've met in these pages before) and his lovely wife Amanda.  It was great to see them again, and catch up on each other's news.  We were pretty tired, for obvious reasons, so we didn't stay up late, but there'll be other visits.  Jason is working hard to prepare his second novel for publication, and we've invited him to "make a pilgrimage" to the North Texas Writers, Shooters and Pilots Association where we live, to acquire a little "background color".  We're an eclectic bunch, and we have a lot of fun together.

Today (Monday) we'll be heading further north and east.  We'll visit with Mad Mike (a.k.a. Michael Z. Williamson, friend, author, knife fundi, and all-around good guy), then head further east for Miss D.'s family rendezvous.  From there, it's on to the woods of North Carolina to visit our friends at Killer Bees Honey (which we've also mentioned in these pages before).  We'll take a few days to relax there before heading homeward once more.  I daresay we'll be accompanied on our return journey by several more jars of KBH's best!

Blogging will occur as and when I can find time and place for it.  Some days will be sparse, others should have a normal complement of posts.  Quite apart from Miss D.'s family business, I'm preparing two books for publication over the next couple of months, so I won't be short of work to do!  Volume 3 of the Ames Archives, titled "Gold on the Hoof", is now edited and ready;  it needs only a cover and typesetting, which should happen by the end of July at the latest (hopefully sooner).  "Taghri's Prize", a stand-alone historical fantasy novel, is in the process of alpha and beta editing, and should be ready soon after.  I'll put up another teaser from it in a short while, to whet your appetite.

That's it for now.  It's not even four in the morning here - my back woke me up, complaining about thirteen hours in the car yesterday, so I took a pain pill and decided to write this blog post while waiting for it to kick in, before going back to sleep.  I hope y'all are sleeping better than I am!


Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sunday morning music

Here's one of my favorites from the 1960's.  How many of you remember Noel Harrison?  And how many remember this song?

Noel was greatly underrated, IMHO, as a crossover folk/pop singer.  Apart from "Windmills Of Your Mind" (written for the film "The Thomas Crown Affair";  the song won an Academy Award in 1969), he never achieved great success in the charts.  Nevertheless, he produced some very original work, and never got swept into the commercial grinder where everyone else sounded the same.

Here are three more of his songs.  First, from a performance on the Playboy After Dark TV program, here's "In My Time".

Next, from the Andy Williams Show, here's "In A Dusty Old Room".

Finally, here he is with the Smothers Brothers in a comedy song that fits our politically divided republic rather well right now.

Noel Harrison died in 2013.  A Web site dedicated to his life and music provides more information for those interested.  There's also a fan channel and topic channel on YouTube containing more of his music.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Flat tire in Alaska

Found on Gab:

I'd like to see someone try to fit an inner tube to that flat tire - not to mention re-treading it!  (I suppose both concepts are foreign to those who've only known modern tires, that seldom [if ever] need either procedure.  Us old farts remember, though . . . *sigh*)


Poetry in motion - frozen variety

Here's a time-lapse video of two Russian nuclear-powered icebreakers of the Arktika class, maneuvering in the Arctic Ocean.  The main "actor" is Yamal, with her distinctive shark's mouth painted on her bow.  She meets up with 50 Let Pobedy (literally, "50 Years of Victory) along the way, and escorts an unnamed merchant vessel through the ice.

The video blurb is in Russian, but I fed it through Google Translate and got this:

This video was shot in the Arctic Ocean in March 2018. For 7 days the film crew passed through the Barents Sea to Karsky around the Novaya Zemlya archipelago on the nuclear icebreaker Yamal - we saw the northern lights and polar bears, watched the ships stuck in the ice being towed and were very cold.

In the video you can see two Russian icebreakers - “50 Years of Victory” and “Yamal” with a capacity of 75,000 horsepower and a distinctive shark mouth, which appeared on it in 1994 during one of the children's humanitarian programs. According to legend, someone suggested drawing a smiling shark mouth on the nose to make it more fun for children. At present, Russia has the only nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet in the world. They are used to provide wiring ships in the waters of the Northern Sea Route in the freezing ports of the Russian Federation, research expeditions, rescue operations and tourist cruises.

In addition to the extreme weather conditions, the shooting was complicated by the fact that the icebreaker was always in motion. And if the quadrocopter DJI Inspire 2 was flying over the radar tower, the recording file was damaged.

Here's the video.  Listen to the sounds of the ice breaking up beneath and around the ship.  The Arktika class can apparently break through ice with a thickness of up to 16 feet, which is pretty darn impressive, if you ask me.

I found it interesting that the Arctika class vessels have to sail in very cold water, because it's an essential part of their reactor cooling mechanism.  Apparently they can't sail too far south, because the warmer water would cause their reactors would overheat.  They can therefore only operate in the Arctic Ocean, and aren't able to transit to the South Pole to operate in the Antarctic (although I suppose they could be towed there, with their reactors shut down, if absolutely necessary).

Part of me would love to make a voyage on one of those icebreakers, to experience that for myself . . . but then the sane part of my brain reminds me that I'll be a lot warmer if I stay in Texas!


Satire, skirting dangerously close to reality

I enjoy satirical news articles, poking fun at the shibboleths of modern living.  Unfortunately, sometimes the satire is very near the bone.

In a move to make purchasing congresspeople easier and faster for lobbyists, Congress voted to approve a new measure that calls for congresspeople to wear barcodes on their foreheads so lobbyists, activists, and corporations can simply scan them and self-checkout.

Self-checkout machines will be installed at all exits of the Capitol Building, so once they've added congresspeople to their cart, lobbyists can pay right on the way out.

"Purchasing congresspeople used to be a time-consuming, expensive process," said a Planned Parenthood representative. "Now, we can simply walk through Congress, scan all the congresspeople that are for sale, and checkout without having to interact with any humans."

There's more at the link.

Given the amounts invested in lobbying, "contributions to re-election campaigns" and other kickbacks, bar-codes on Congressional representatives and senators probably aren't that much of a stretch.  Next step:  buying them online on, with overnight Prime delivery of what you've paid them for!


Friday, June 21, 2019

Another electric aircraft to transport paying passengers?

A few months ago, I noted that an electrically powered conversion of the De Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver aircraft would soon be flying for Harbor Air Seaplanes.  As far as I know, this will be the first commercial use of electrically powered aircraft in the world.

Now comes the news that a brand-new electric aircraft design is set to enter commercial operation in the north-eastern US.

Israeli start-up Eviation Aircraft has announced Cape Air as the commercial launch customer for its Alice all-electric aircraft, with the “double-digit purchase option” from a long-established airline helping to validate the in-development design and put the nascent sector on the map.

Eviation has not disclosed how many aircraft the Hyannis, Massachusetts-based operator has ordered, but company co-founder and chief executive Omer Bar-Yohay says the first example will be delivered in 2022.

The Alice is making its debut at Paris with the first fully-equipped full-scale prototype on display on the static [shown below].

The Alice uses one main Hartzell five-blade pusher-propeller at the tail and two at the wing-tips, to reduce drag, increase redundancy and improve efficiency. Each prop is driven by a 260kW electric motor – supplied by Siemens and MagniX – powered by a 900kWh lithium-ion battery pack, giving Alice a range of 540nm on full charge and a cruise speed of 240kt (440km/h). Bar-Yohay says the battery weighs around 3,700kg (8,200lb), which accounts for around 60% of the Alice’s 5,900kg take-off weight. “[The Alice] is a huge battery with a plane painted on it,” Bar-Yohay says.

The all-composite Alice will seat up to nine passengers and two crew in its 12m (39ft)-long fuselage. The aircraft also features a bespoke fly-by-wire system and flightdeck, supplied by Honeywell.

There's more at the link.

Here's an interview with the chief executive of Eviation at the Paris Air Show this past week, in which he discusses the Alice aircraft and its design philosophy.

I note that the powerplant supplier, MagniX, is the same that's providing the powerplants for the converted Beavers in Canada.  Clearly, they're mounting a big push to dominate the market in this aircraft segment.

I'll watch this with interest.  Cape Air flies short legs with few passengers, feeding them into the larger commuter airliners and mainstream airlines.  An electrically powered aircraft is a very logical development for such transportation, while the manufacturers scale up their powerplants and batteries to fit commuter planes (so-called "puddle-jumpers").  I won't be surprised to see such aircraft powered by electricity within the next ten to fifteen years.  I don't know how long it will take before mainstream airliners will follow, but I doubt I'll be alive to see it.

In theory at least, there's no reason why something the size of a Boeing 737 can't fly using batteries, propellers, and solar cells lining the top of the cabin and wings to top up the batteries in flight.  All that's required is the technology to make the batteries and solar cells take up less space and weigh less.  Given that, almost anything's possible.


Why the national debt will cripple our economy

I've lost count of how many times I've warned of the perils of debt in general, and the national debt (i.e. what the US government owes) in particular.  Deficit spending (the primary cause of the problem) is currently growing the national debt at almost $1 trillion per year, and it's getting worse.

Prager University has just published this video, setting out in plain and simple terms why this is unsustainable, and must be stopped.  I can't recommend too strongly that you watch this all the way through, and then send the link to your family and friends.  Unless all Americans unite around this issue very soon, the damage will span multiple generations.  It'll certainly impact all of our futures and all of our retirements, no matter how old (or young) we are.

As to how the national debt can be addressed, the Manhattan Institute has some ideas.

Nearly all the projected growth in budget deficits over the next 30 years comes from Social Security and federal health benefits (particularly Medicare and Medicaid). Yet past deficit-reduction deals relied mostly on cuts to discretionary spending and payments to Medicare providers, which may not be able to sustain additional large reductions. Tax increases on the wealthy have played a modest role in past deals yet cannot fully close more than a small fraction of the fiscal gap. Most deficit reduction in coming years will need to come from entitlements—such as Social Security and Medicare (beyond more provider cuts)—that have often proved resistant to reform.

Budget deficits are set to exceed $1 trillion in the next year, on their way past $2 trillion within a decade if current policies continue. Over the next three decades, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecasts $84 trillion in new deficits, which will bring the federal debt to 150% of GDP. And that is the rosy scenario—it assumes peace, prosperity, low interest rates, no new government programs, and the expiration of most of the 2017 tax cuts. More realistically, the debt could surpass 200% of GDP.

While much has been written about the dangers of the ever-growing debt—and the need for a bipartisan “grand deal” to avert a fiscal calamity—the reality is that Congress and the White House are moving in the wrong direction. Republicans are cutting taxes, while Democrats are promising massive new spending.

There's more at the link.  Well worth reading, even if unlikely to succeed (because our partisan politicians simply won't get down to business and work together, even on a project of such overwhelming national importance).

We clearly need a better class of politician, on both sides of the aisle.


A spectacular arrival

Take an international air show filled with spectacular flying displays.  How does one impress a crowd so jaded with aerial expertise?  This isn't a bad start (or end, actually).  Here's the USAF's newest tanker aircraft, the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, landing in true military style at the Paris Air Show.

From the looks of it, that might have been a teeth-rattler!  The long-distance shot tends to minimize the sheer size of the aircraft.  Anywhere else but an air show, where display is the name of the game, that sort of landing might lead to penalties for the pilot(s) concerned.


Thursday, June 20, 2019


Found on Gab, under the title "Cuteness Overload":

The comments at the link are pretty funny, too.

(I just like puppies and kittens.  Yeah, call me a softy if you like.  I don't care.)


What to do with hard-core terrorist prisoners?

That problem is rearing its head in the Middle East right now - but it's likely to impact many countries, sooner or later.  Strategy Page reports:

In northeast Syria the U.S. backed SDF (Kurdish led Syrian Defense Forces rebels) have a growing problem with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) wives (and their children) that ISIL had ordered to surrender as SDF captured the last ISIL controlled territory in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province). The mass surrenders began at the end of 2018 and by April the SDF had 63,000 of these refugees. Since then that has grown to 74,000 and the SDF is pressuring the U.S. and the UN to provide more than the $9 million a month just to supply the main al Hawl refugee camp with food and other supplies ... The problem is essentially how to deal with a lot of hostile prisoners that are largely foreigners but whose loyalties are often uncertain, or definitely pro-ISIL. No wonder the nations these “refugees” came from refuse to take responsibility for them.

. . .

Most foreign, especially Western, nations are refusing to take their citizens back. That’s because the legal systems in the West demand a higher degree of proof which is not available to the degree Western trails demand. Yet Western authorities realize the ISIL family returnees, especially the mothers, are often still true believers and are teaching their children to think the same way. Most of these returnees would be turned loose by the courts for lack of sufficient evidence of past terrorist crimes or current attitudes. The Western nations do not want to raise another generation of Islamic terrorists within their borders. Meanwhile, the SDF is stuck with over 50,000 of these possibly pro-terrorist women and children.

. . .

Some Moslem countries (Kazakhstan, Morocco, Macedonia, Sudan, Indonesia, Russia, Iraq, and Kosovo) agreed to take back their citizens and a few Western nations took back a few, But none of the Western nations are interested in taking back all of their citizens and in many cases the Western states simply canceled the citizenship of those who went off to live in the caliphate and now want to “go home.” Worse, these Western nations are unwilling to contribute the cash to improve conditions in al Hawl and assist the SDF in sorting out the innocent from the ISIL. SDF is telling anyone who will listen (a small and dwindling group) that if help is not forthcoming the result will be bad for everyone. Future historians and pundits will go on about, “if other nations had acted” when they could and should have. The SDF can see the future in this respect because they are living through it.

There's more at the link.

Having seen refugee camps, some more or less prisons, others less so, in various parts of the world, I can sympathize with the SDF in its dilemma.  They took prisoners because they had their Western allies looking over their shoulders, telling them not to kill surrendering ISIL terrorists and their families out of hand because that would look bad in the world's news media, and bounce back on the governments supporting the SDF.  On the other hand, now that they've taken them prisoner, those same governments want to pretend the problem doesn't exist.  "We don't have any citizens in SDF custody!"  Sure, they don't - because they stripped their ISIL-sympathizing citizens of their citizenship, rendering them officially stateless.  That leaves the SDF holding the baby (sometimes literally).

Of course, the Middle East has long had a "traditional" solution to this problem.  It typically involved not taking prisoners at all, or doing so only long enough to separate those with important information (or wealth that could be extorted or tortured out of them) from those who had nothing of value to offer.  The latter were then killed out of hand, while the former usually wished before long that they'd been granted that mercy.  Nowadays, in the full glare of publicity, that's not an option . . . not, at least, until some major distraction gets the world looking elsewhere.  As soon as something like that comes up, I'm willing to bet that the ISIL prisoner issue will simply "go away".

You think that's far-fetched?  No, it isn't.  In the West, we call it "ethnic cleansing" or something similar these days.  It's been pretty common in Europe for a long time (centuries, if not millennia).  It was used indirectly in North America to deal with "the Indian problem" (see the destruction of the buffalo and the deliberate spreading of disease, to name but two examples - not to mention the enlistment of one Native American tribe against another, which happened frequently).  In Africa, defeated enemies of a tribe were usually either enslaved or slaughtered.  No-one needs to be reminded of the monumental atrocities perpetrated by Mao, Stalin, Hitler or Pol Pot.  The Middle East has had its share of the same thing, as any student of history will confirm.  There's no reason why it can't happen again, because despite our veneer of "civilization", humanity hasn't changed much.

I think the West should "man up" and accept responsibility for its citizens who went to the Middle East to join or support ISIL.  That means passing laws that can be used to incarcerate or otherwise control them, and then using those laws, regardless of what bleeding-heart social justice ****ers say about them.  If we don't, we're effectively giving implied consent to genocide - because that's what will happen, if no other solution is forthcoming.


A self-centered, narcissistic, "I'm entitled!" whiner

Kim du Toit refers to some things as "RCOB moments", meaning "Red Curtain of Blood".  Something is so egregiously wrong, or stupid, or ridiculous, that one experiences a red curtain of blood over one's vision as one instantly loses one's temper.  Comprehensively.

I had such a moment - several of them, in fact - while reading this article.

I have $235,000 of student debt. The first $120,000 came with a bachelor’s degree from my state school. Another $70,000 or so came with my master’s degree. The remainder is accrued interest.

. . .

I would have to begin devoting half of my income to debt payment if I cared to pay it off by 2042. I can’t do that because I make just under $4,000 per month. And that income is a fairly new development in my life. Why would I choose to pay down my debt if it meant I wouldn’t be able to afford basic living expenses?

Short of winning the lottery, there’s no way I could ever afford to pay off my debt.

. . .

I’m privileged to have made it through the first few years of repayment. With a financial hardship agreement with Sallie Mae, my parents – cosigners on my private loans – pay $600 per month to keep default at bay from our family and allow me to live a decent life. And through an income driven repayment plan (IDR) with Navient, I’ve been paying less than $50 per month on my public loans, though that could change as my income changes.

My parents cosigned my loans because we’re first-generation immigrants. Moving to the U.S. was about giving me a chance to live my best life. College was a critical component and we couldn’t afford it any other way. The only reason they can afford those $600 monthly payments now is because they paid off their 30-year mortgage just a few years ago.

My parents are in their 60s and 70s and will live the rest of their lives with my student debt. Likely so will I.

. . .

Some economists say that forgiving student debt would boost GDP by $100 billion per year for ten years and add several million jobs to the economy. It would unlock the capacity of 44 million Americans to buy homes, launch small businesses, and retire with dignity.

Congress could pay for it by repealing the $1.5 trillion tax cut it passed in 2017. Primarily benefiting the wealthy and corporations, even Goldman Sachs says that whatever economic boost the tax cut brought with it has passed.

And to keep future generations from suffering under the burden of student debt, Congress could make public colleges, universities, and trade schools in the United States free.

. . .

I’m focused on keeping the cost of servicing my debt low while I do other things a 29-year-old should be doing, like saving for an emergency fund or a down payment on a house.

I’m spending my money in a way that invests in my future. Can the country do the same?

There's more at the link. (Yes, there really is more of this whiny, self-indulgent crap.)

There's so much wrong with this article (or, rather, with its author) that one hardly knows where to begin.  Still, I'll give it a try.
  • "I have $235,000 of student debt".  And whose fault is that?  Yours.  If you were dumb enough to sign for that debt, it's on your head.  Man up and accept responsibility.
  • "The first $120,000 came with a bachelor’s degree from my state school".  If you were idiot enough to pay that much, to a state school, for a four-year bachelor's degree, without taking advantage of any student aid, or lowered tuition rates for in-state students, or any other of the many means offered to make an entry-level degree affordable, you deserve that debt load.  I know people with doctorates whose total student debt, across three degrees, is far less than that figure.
  • "Short of winning the lottery, there’s no way I could ever afford to pay off my debt".  Then why did you take it on?  Isn't it a basic tenet of honesty and ethical conduct that one doesn't mislead lenders, by promising to repay a sum that one knows one can't afford to repay?
  • "my parents – cosigners on my private loans – pay $600 per month to keep default at bay from our family and allow me to live a decent life."  And shame on you for putting them into that position!  Does your conscience not bother you that you dragged them into co-signing a loan or loans that you admit will never be paid off?  They're going to go to their graves carrying your debt load, or a substantial part of it, while you laugh it off;  and their estate will be crippled by the debt residue.  Shame on you!
  • "forgiving student debt would boost GDP, etc."  Why don't you say what you really mean?  "Forgiving student debt would allow spendthrift wasters like me to get off the hook and avoid personal responsibility for having to meet the commitments we made."  That's more like it!
  • "Congress could pay for it by repealing the $1.5 trillion tax cut".  So the rest of us have to accept a bigger financial burden, just so that spendthrift wasters like you can duck out of your responsibilities?  Am I supposed to feel grateful for this "opportunity"?
  • "I’m spending my money in a way that invests in my future."  No, you're not.  You're spending money that is rightfully owed to others, and imposing a crippling financial burden on your parents, all because you don't want to accept responsibilities for which you signed on the dotted line.  You're being fundamentally dishonest, with your creditors, your parents, your readers, and your country.  How does it feel to be a thief? - because that's what your conduct amounts to, in so many words.

It's a good thing I'm not a dictator in charge of this country.  I know exactly what I'd do to this writer . . . and it wouldn't be compassionate, or touchy-feely, or politically correct.  He'd get a dose of reality, good and hard.

I don't think I'm being unreasonable in feeling that way.  I hold four university qualifications, two undergraduate (Bachelor's degrees) and two post-graduate (a graduate certificate program and a Master's degree).  All were earned part-time, while working to support myself.  In the early years, for my first degree, my father helped with some of the costs;  but I had to contribute my share, right from the start.  I graduated from each degree free of student debt, and never carried any debt forward.  I'm far from alone in doing that.  There are some degrees (e.g. medicine, engineering, etc.) where one probably can't get away with minimizing expenses like that;  but those degrees usually carry with them salaries (after graduation) that are sufficient to pay off the student loans they involve.  If anyone takes on that level of debt without being certain that their income after graduation will be sufficient to pay it off, that stupidity is on them - not the rest of us!

Didn't some older cultures and nations condemn defaulting debtors to be galley slaves until their debt was paid?  Given the number of those defaulting on their student loans, with attitudes similar to that displayed above, I think we might have an old-is-new-again, "green" marine propulsion system just waiting in the wings here!  (Ever heard of "floating a company"?  Well, there you are, then!  Economics in action!)


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A 150 mph lawnmower???

Several readers sent me the link to this report, or a similar one.

Honda maintains its grip on the much-coveted record for world's fastest lawnmower. It's Mean Mower V2 is powered by a stock CBR1000RR Fireblade SP engine, which allowed it to reach 100 mph in 6.29 seconds under the watchful eyes of Guinness World Record representatives in Dresden, Germany.

The achievement bests Honda’s previous record, set with the original Mean Mower back in 2014, which saw a top speed of 116.87 mph. Mean Mower V2 clocked 150.99 mph.

. . .

The 200 hp and 84 pound-feet of torque provided by the motorcycle engine are impressive in their own right, but when mated to a 308-pound machine (give or take a few pounds), the power-to-weight ratio tops even that of a Bugatti Chiron. And in case you were wondering, the CBR1000RR SP tips the scales at around 430 pounds.

In order to qualify for consideration for this particular record, Mean Mower V2 also had to show it was still capable of getting its chores done, so had to prove that it still could cut grass. Two carbon-fiber blades beneath the cutter deck achieved the feat without issue.

It also has to look like a lawn mower, so Honda designed this speed demon around its HF 2622 lawn tractor.

There's more at the link.

Here's a video report on the record attempt.

I can already see some not-so-young men of my acquaintance trying to figure out cornering speeds and distances while they cut their lawns with that beast . . .


The snark intensifies

Many of us have long enjoyed satirical Web sites such as Duffelblog or the Babylon Bee.  Now comes news that IMAO is putting up political satire as well.  It now has a sidebar heading "IMAO Headlines", containing some truly funny "fake news" stories.

Here's an example.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A local software innovator has created the perfect armor for deflecting individual accountability in the form of a new app called Blame-a-Lyzer, which helps you select just the right target group of people who have absolutely nothing to do with your life that you can blame for most, if not all, of your personal problems.

Blame-a-Lyzer creator Dr. Emmett Lathrop Brown said the idea for the app just “came to him” when he slipped off the edge of his toilet while hanging a clock in his bathroom and hit his head on the sink.

“I was so embarrassed,” said Brown. “I had this big bandage on my forehead, and I was just trying to imagine how I was going to explain it to people. I must’ve spent an hour trying to come up with a story that didn’t make me look like a complete idiot. Finally, I decided to blame my dog, Einstein, for the fall. But afterward I got to thinking – why did I waste so much time coming up with a scapegoat for something that was my own fault? Then I thought – why not create an app that will do it for me so I don’t have to waste the time? I mean, the alternative was to just take responsibility from the get-go, and brother, THAT ain’t happening!”

There's more at the link.

Other examples include:

I've stopped by IMAO now and again for several years.  If their "news service" continues in this vein, I'll be a more regular visitor for sure.


Politically incorrect, but still funny

The latest Chuck Norris meme, as found on Gab:


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Far Eastern not-so-"Freedom Fighter"

At this year's Paris Air show, currently in progress, Pakistan demonstrated the JF-17 Thunder light fighter aircraft.

The background to this aircraft is interesting from many perspectives.

Back in the 1980's, during the period of rapprochement with China that preceded the Tiananmen Square massacre, US firm Grumman became involved with Pakistan and China to design an upgraded version of the latter country's Chengdu J-7, itself a licensed variant of the late-1950's-vintage Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21.  They came up with a concept they called the Grumman/Xian Super-7, shown in the outline drawing below.

Due to various factors, particularly the disastrous effect of the Tiananmen Square massacres on Sino-US relations, the project never went beyond the design study stage.

Pakistan was in urgent need of modern fighter aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of Shenyang J-6 fighters (a Chinese version of the Soviet MiG-19).  It would also have to replace its Dassault Mirage III and Mirage V, Nanchang A-5 and Chengdu J-7 aircraft in due course.  In total, it would have to replace several hundred airframes, but could not afford to do so with the (very expensive) designs available from Western exporters.  It needed a simpler, cheaper, more affordable approach.  It turned to China to co-design and co-develop such an aircraft.  The Grumman Super-7 design reportedly served as the basis for the project.  The result was the JF-17 Thunder, which first flew in 2003 and entered service several years later.  Until recently, Pakistan was the only operator, but JF-17's have been observed in Myanmar and are being offered to other nations.  The latest, upgraded Block 3 version is claimed to be comparable or superior in capability to the US F-16C.

In many ways, the JF-17 is a modern incarnation of the 1960's Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter and its successor, the F-5E Tiger II.  It's not dissimilar in concept to the Northrop F-20 Tigershark, which was proposed as the ultimate successor to the F-5 program, but never put into production (note - see the last paragraph of this article for what might have been!).  The JF-17's relatively low cost, about half the price of modern Western equivalents, makes it much more affordable to Third World nations, and affordable for Pakistan to buy hundreds of the plane to replace its earlier, outdated aircraft.

The USA no longer has an equivalent to the F-5 program, but one may be on the horizon.  Boeing and Saab collaborated to win the US Air Force's T-X program for a new supersonic jet trainer.

Back in the 1950's, Northrop supplied the T-38 Talon to the USAF, and it's still in service.  It was also the root of the F-5 program;  the two aircraft looked visually very similar.  I think there's no reason why the Boeing/Saab T-X might not be developed into a useful lightweight fighter, just as its predecessor was.  If so, it'll be a natural competitor for the JF-17, in price, in sales, and conceivably in combat.  Boeing predicts thousands of potential sales for the T-X design, and I'm sure not all of them will be as trainers only.

(There's an interesting historical footnote to the Northrop F-20 Tigershark program.  During the 1980's, South Africa was trying to develop its own fighter aircraft, since international sanctions prevented it from buying what it needed on the open market.  I've written about the process at some length.  There were persistent rumors, among those in a position to know, that South Africa had obtained a set of plans for the F-20.  They were allegedly studied, and considered for adaptation to use the French Atar 09K50 turbojet engine (which South Africa had a license to produce).  However, this would have been structurally difficult, and the less powerful French engine would apparently have imposed limitations on performance, particularly combat radius and weapons carrying capacity.  In the end, it was reportedly decided that those factors made the re-engined F-20 unsuitable for the country's requirements.  I don't know for a fact whether the rumors were true or not, but a couple of people with whom I had contact at the time were adamant that they'd actually seen the F-20 plans.)


A snippet for my Western fans

The third Western novel in my Ames Archives series, to be titled "Gold on the Hoof", is complete, and currently going through the alpha/beta reader process.  Look for it next month, God willing.  (I'll also be republishing new e-book editions of the first two books in the series.  They're currently available in paper editions.)

As a teaser for readers who like my Western series, here's a brief snippet from the book.

The feed barn was a different matter. The proprietor smiled unpleasantly as he said, “Prices have gone up. You owe me a lot more than that now.”

Walt stiffened. “A deal is a deal, Mr. Eslin. You entered into a contract, and took money for it. I’m holdin’ you to it.”

“Too bad! Iffen you want your oats an’ grain, you’ll pay double what’s outstandin’ on that invoice, or I’m keepin’ it all.”

Walt shot out his hand, grabbed the front of Eslin’s shirt and hauled him bodily over his own shop counter. Yelling in protest, the feed barn owner swung a wild haymaker. Walt avoided it, then landed a hard kick in the man’s groin, doubling him over and sending him gasping and wheezing to the floor. He laid hold of his collar with the hook on his left wrist and dragged him out of the feed barn, then kicked him stumbling towards where he’d seen the mayor’s office.

As they made their way down the street, people burst out of their shops and houses to goggle at what was going on. The town marshal yelled, “Hey! You! What the hell are you doin’?”

“I’m taking Mr. Eslin here to talk to the mayor.”

“But you can’t treat him like that!” The marshal’s hand sank towards his holster.

Walt stopped dead in his tracks, turning to face the lawman, his own hand ready over his gun. “If you pull that, marshal, it’ll be the last thing you ever do. Instead o’ fussin’, why not come down to the mayor’s office with me, an’ find out what’s goin’ on?”

“I… ah… Hey! Wait for me!”

Waving his hands helplessly in the air, the marshal followed as Walt kicked and shoved Eslin onto the porch of the mayor’s office and through the front door. A big, burly man sprang to his feet behind a desk.

“What the hell is this?”

Walt waited for the marshal to enter, then closed the door as Eslin collapsed into a chair, half-sobbing, panting for breath. He glanced at the nameplate on the desk. “Mayor Dowell, I’m Walt Ames. Happen you’ve heard of me.”

“Ah… yes, Mr. Ames. We heard you were coming to El Paso to buy horses.” The mayor was staring in undisguised fascination at the steel hook on Walt’s left wrist.

“Lots o’ horses.” Walt gestured towards the street outside through the office windows, the view now almost blocked by pointing, staring spectators. “Small town, this, Mr. Mayor. I’d guess you’ve got less than a hundred fifty people, right? Maybe as many again, or a few more, in the Mexican town across the Rio Grande?”

“That’s Paso del Norte. It used to be one town with this, until we beat Mexico in the 1846 War an’ the river became the boundary ’tween it an’ Texas. El Paso became a city just this year. I’m its first city mayor.”

“Uh-huh. A place this small needs business to grow. I’ve brought twenty-five men with me, and there’s a lot more comin’. I was plannin’ to spend thousands of dollars on Mexican hosses over the next three, four months, based outta the old Baker place, plus a lot more on supplies – but now this sonofabitch is trying to cheat me.” He tossed the invoice and receipt onto the desk. “My advance party paid half up front. Now Eslin’s tellin’ me I have to pay double the balance to get my goods. If that’s the way your shopkeepers are gonna treat us, I’ll take all my money, an’ all my men an’ their wages, an’ all my business, and head for Las Cruces in New Mexico. It’s a much bigger town, an’ it’s only two day’s ride from here. I reckon they’ll appreciate havin’ a few thousand dollars in their pockets, rather than yours; an’ I can arrange with the Army to do business through Fort Selden there, ’stead o’ Fort Bliss here. What d’you say, Mr. Mayor?”

“Er… ah… I’m sure this is all a simple misunderstanding, Mr. Ames.”

“Uh-huh. Suuuure it is. Tell you what. Explain to Mr. Eslin, and every other business in town, that happen there’s another ‘misunderstanding’ like this, we’ll be gone. Eslin, get my order out to the Baker place before sunset, at the original price, as agreed. Two wagonloads of oats an’ grain, best quality, in sacks – and you make damned sure there’s nothin’ been taken out o’ those sacks, an’ dirt or gravel put in its place, you hear me? If I find anything like that, I’ve got a dozen Navajo scouts. I’ll tell them you’re the reason their hosses are gonna be short of grain, then I’ll let ’em come lookin’ for you. Believe me, you won’t enjoy it when they find you.”

The town marshal stiffened, clearly alarmed. “Injuns? You’d better keep them out o’ town, mister. Folks round here had too much trouble with Comanches and Apaches, an’ they won’t stop to ask what tribe your scouts are.”

“Sorry, marshal. They’re here legally, with permission from the U.S. Government. That being the case, they’ll come into town in small groups to shop. I’ll send a couple o’ my other men with them when they do, to sort out any problems. My scouts know it’s illegal to sell whiskey to Injuns, so they won’t try to go into the saloons. You just make sure they’re treated fair, you hear me? I don’t want to hear of anyone tryin’ to make trouble for them, or my other men. You treat us right, and I’ll do the same for you, and pay the fines for any of my men who get into trouble. On t’other hand, if you give them trouble for no good reason, I’ll hear about it sooner or later, even if I’m outta town at the time. When I get back, I’ll be along to talk to you about it. You don’t want to make me do that.”

“You can’t threaten me!”

“Ain’t threatening you, marshal. I never threaten. I make promises – and I keep ’em.” Walt’s voice was cold, flat and hard.

“I’ll pass the word to everyone, Mr. Ames,” Mayor Dowell promised. “With all the business you’re bringing to town, they’ll understand.”

Walt took his wallet from his pocket, extracted a dollar bill, and tossed it on the mayor’s desk. “While you’re at it, buy a drink for the marshal and yourself, and one for Mr. Eslin too. He looks like he needs a pick-me-up. It’ll help him remember not to try to cheat me next time.”

He turned on his heel and walked out. The three men stared after him in stunned silence.

This book has been a lot of fun to research and write.  (As an example, the first mayor of El Paso after it became a city in 1873 was, indeed, named Dowell, although I've no idea whether he was anything like the fictional character I've chosen to portray in the novel.)  I hope you'll enjoy it.

I've also almost completed a fantasy novel, from which I posted an excerpt late last year;  and the sixth novel in the Maxwell Saga is running along nicely.  I expect to publish three books over the next four to five months, God willing.  Two more are simmering on the back burner.