Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Did Israel bomb Iranian targets in Iraq?

News reports in Israel and from an Arab news source suggest that they did.

Israel has expanded its operations against Iranian targets to Iraq, where Air Force jets have struck twice in ten days, a report said Tuesday morning.

. . .

Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London, cited Western diplomatic sources as saying an Israeli F-35 plane was behind a July 19 strike on a rocket depot in a Shiite militia base north of Baghdad.

The Saudi-based al-Arabiya network reported at the time that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah had been killed in the strike. It said the base had shortly before the strike received Iranian ballistic missiles, which had been hidden inside trucks.

Asharq Al-Awsat also said that Israel was behind another strike in Iraq carried out Sunday at Camp Ashraf, the former headquarters of the exiled People’s Mujahedin of Iran, located 40 kilometers northeast of Baghdad and 80 kilometers from the Iranian border.

That strike targeted Iranian advisers and a ballistic missile shipment, the report cited sources as saying.

The report also mentioned a strike in Syria last week blamed on Israel, in which nine were killed including six Iranians fighting for the Syrian regime, claiming it was meant to prevent Iran from taking over a strategic hill in the Daraa province in the country’s south.

There's more at the link.

Of course, Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria are nothing new;  but to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time it's hit Iranian targets in Iraq.  That's a significant expansion of hostilities.  Israel is no longer waiting for Iran to move weapons into Syria;  it's hitting them before they can get there.

We should also view this from the perspective of the burgeoning "tanker war" in the Persian Gulf.  Iran is taking a hard line there, but these attacks are a reminder to its Revolutionary Guard that if they concentrate too much on one area, they render themselves vulnerable in another.  Israel's "guarding the back door", if you will.  I think, if Western powers launch strikes against the Revolutionary Guard in coastal Iran, Israel will seize the opportunity to hit them in other areas at the same time.

I'm also fairly sure that Israel would not have expanded its hostile actions against Iran into Iraq without first discussing it with the USA.  I daresay there was at least tacit approval for its actions before they happened.

The Middle East is getting "interesting", in the fabled Chinese curse sort of way . . .


Doofus Of The Day #1,048

Today's award goes to some red-faced Green protesters in England.  A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus for the link.

Bungling climate change activists chanted slogans and banged drums outside a London office block today, only to discover the energy company they thought was based there has long moved on.

Protesters from a group called 'Reclaim the Power' picketed what they thought was the office of gas plant firm Drax in London's Moorgate this morning, closing the usually busy road for hours and causing fury among local workers.

But their chants aimed at upsetting Drax's bosses were in vain after it emerged the power company moved out of the building more than a year ago.

Ironically, the block is now home to Norwegian firm Statkraft, Europe's largest renewables generator, whose staff were unable to get into their offices as a result of the protest.

There's more at the link.

The protesters went the whole hog, too, locking themselves to doors, chanting, banging drums, the whole schmear.  They're the usual far-left-wing moonbats, chanting for "Revolution!" and "We've got to get rid of the rich!"  You can see them in this video clip, if you're interested.

The irony of protesting a non-climate-friendly company by harassing (albeit mistakenly) a very-climate-friendly company was probably entirely lost on them . . . but not on us - hence this Doofus award.


Stuff here, stuff there, stuff everywhere . . .

I mentioned in a blog article yesterday that we waste a lot of money on things that have no lasting value.  As source material, I referenced an article at Intellectual Takeout.  I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight some of its findings.

1. There are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times).

2. The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years (NPR).

3. And still, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. (New York Times Magazine).

4. While 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle. (U.S. Department of Energy).

5. The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation. Thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self storage roofing (SSA).

There's more at the link.

Miss D. and I certainly qualify for #4 above - and that's my fault, not hers.  I tend to accumulate clutter, even though I really do believe most of it is genuinely useful clutter.  I've promised her to get rid of as much of it as possible, as soon as the Texas summer heat passes and it's possible to work in the garage again without taking a sauna at the same time.  It's going to feel like pulling my own teeth . . . but she's right.  It's necessary.

"Lean and mean" isn't necessarily always good, but on the whole, I suspect it's a lot healthier, in every way, than "fat and bloated" - both in terms of our bodies, and in terms of our possessions.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The "housing affordability crisis" is more a crisis of wasteful spending

According to Yahoo! News, the housing affordability crisis is spreading.

What began on the coasts, in areas like New York and San Francisco, is now radiating into the nation’s heartland, as well as to cities from Las Vegas to Charleston, South Carolina. Entry-level buyers are scrambling to purchase homes that are in short supply, sending values soaring.

Expectations that the Federal Reserve will reduce interest rates this week will do little to change the sober reality: For many, prices have risen much faster than incomes, pushing homeownership out of reach for a new generation of hopeful buyers. That’s cooling the market, with the 2019 spring season shaping up as the slowest for sales in five years, according to CoreLogic Inc.

“All signs point to a housing market that should be doing really well and it’s not,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for “The No. 1 constraint, despite low mortgage rates, is that people can’t find housing that they feel is affordable.”

Many buyers in expensive West Coast cities have already retreated after a surge in prices squeezed them out. But in other areas, demand is still robust, fueled by a strong economy and this year’s rapid decline in borrowing costs. There’s just too little to buy, and too much competition.

There's more at the link.

There are undoubtedly systemic issues - the buying up of lower-cost housing stock by major investors;  the lack of new-build affordable housing, due to builders concentrating on the mid- to upper levels of the market;  the ongoing squeeze on salaries and wages, stemming from the 2007-08 financial crisis;  and so on.  However, I strongly suspect that one of the biggest reasons for the problem is that people simply waste an enormous amount of money on frills, fripperies and unnecessary luxuries.

Let me use my parents, and then my wife and myself, as examples.  In 1960 my parents bought a 70-year-old house, two-story, with 17 rooms.  The only reason they could afford it (at a price of 6,000 UK pounds in those days) was that it was in very poor condition internally, and therefore sold for well under half what it would have fetched in good condition.  Over the next decade, my father renovated and restored the place.  He invested the equivalent of another 6,000 pounds, plus hour upon hour of his time in "sweat equity".  (I can remember "helping" with the wallpaper . . . although I suspect my parents re-did the bits I helped with, after I'd fallen asleep!)  They paid for it all by cutting back in other areas.  We kids had to play in the garden rather than go out for entertainment, and do without the plethora of toys that others had;  but I don't think we suffered from it at all.  When my parents sold the house in the late 1970's, it fetched about seven times more than they'd paid for it.

When Miss D. and I married, we brought some large medical bills and other debts into the marriage with us.  We were determined to pay them off as fast as possible, and position ourselves to buy a home.  We did so by simple, yet effective measures like not having any pay TV service at all;  buying clothes from thrift stores, or on sale at Walmart;  buying older used cars for cash, and keeping them running as long as possible, rather than paying interest on a car note;  and eating simply, by shopping at Aldi and other low-priced food stores.  We were still able to enjoy the occasional meal out, and now and again we'd raid delis and foreign food stores to buy a few luxuries, so we didn't deprive ourselves unduly.  By the end of six years, we'd paid off every penny we owed between us, and accumulated enough savings to put down a 20% deposit on our home in Texas, take out a 15-year housing note for the balance, and pay the moving costs to get here.  (Buying a house in an area where it was affordable also helped a lot!)

When I look at the spending patterns of the average family today, I shake my head in disbelief.  Some spend over $100 a month on TV and movie subscription services;  $100 or more (sometimes a lot more) a week on take-out food or dining out;  kids' activities like sport, gym, dance, etc.;  annual vacations that can easily cost a family $500 per day or more;  and so on.  When you add up the total amount of those expenditures, it can be well over $1,000 per month without even trying . . . but that's money spent on transient goods, with no lasting value.  I won't say it's always wasted, but much of it is certainly not essential.  (For example, "the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily".  See other statistics about the average family's possessions at that link, too.  They're mind-boggling!)

I think, if most families cut back on those expenditures and did more as a family to entertain themselves, they'd save a bundle.  Yes, that would probably mean that one family member would have to work part-time (or, in a big family, not at all) to keep an eye on everyone;  but our ancestors did so without thinking twice.  Some will object that families can't live on a single income today, and that's probably valid - if they want to maintain a two-income standard of living.  I know some families where they've made a conscious decision to cut their coat according to their cloth, and live much more cheaply and simply.  They seem perfectly happy to me - and they avoid the trap of drowning in "stuff".

If a lot of families, particularly couples with no or few children, would try that for a couple of years, they could pay off a lot of their debt and/or accumulate enough to put down as a deposit on a home.  Right now, they're trying to roll over credit card debt, buy all sorts of things they don't really need, and wondering how to afford a house on top of all that.  The simple answer is, they probably can't!

I highly recommend Dave Ramsay's financial courses.  They teach a lot of the basics that many people today just don't seem to get from their parents or school.  Applying those lessons can make a huge difference.


Apple Mac versus Windows 10 - the verdict

Last year I mentioned that I was going to buy a refurbished Apple Mac Mini (the 2014 model) to run Vellum (publishing software that would help me produce cleaner, better-formatted manuscripts).  In that article, I concluded:

It's too early to say yet, but I might be tempted in due course to transition entirely to Apple hardware and software, and move away from the PC altogether.  Being my own boss as a writer and not having to run an employer's PC-specific software, I have that flexibility.  I never thought I'd say that (yes, I've joked about Apples and their fanbois for many years, along with the rest of the computer world), but now that I'm actually using an Apple computer, I'm enjoying it very much.  We'll see what the next year or two brings. (I can hear the catcalls now . . . "Come over to the dark side!  We have Apples!")

Initially, I found enough differences between the Apple and Windows worlds to be frustrated by them.  Vellum was a good enough program to warrant using a Mac to run it, but I didn't (at first) make the effort to do the rest of my work on that platform.  However, having made the commitment to Vellum, I decided to persevere.  Over the next few months, I learned that the Mac came with software that allowed me to do almost everything I did in Windows on that computer instead.  (It helped that a lot of popular programs such as LibreOffice, password managers, VPN's, etc. have versions available for both operating systems.)  What's more, programs like LibreOffice have improved to the point that they can genuinely replace Microsoft Office and other higher-powered proprietary packages, making it much easier (and cheaper) to justify switching to them.  I therefore canceled my subscription to Office, which was a useful saving in annual costs.  I haven't missed it.

While I was experimenting with the Apple ecosystem, my frustrations with Microsoft and Windows 10 were growing.  On more than one occasion I lost work when Windows arbitrarily decided to install updates and restart itself, without giving me an opportunity to save my documents.  This could happen at the drop of a hat, even if I walked away from my computer for a moment to make a cup of tea.  I was also irritated by the growing "bugginess" of the whole Windows ecosystem.  It just felt top-heavy, as if it had added line after line of code, to the point where new code was arguing with old code and they couldn't come to any agreement.  Compared to the relatively slim-line and efficient Windows 7, Windows 10 was feeling more and more clunky.  Along with most users, I'd hated Windows 8 - but Windows 10 was beginning to behave more and more like its notorious predecessor.

I considered a hardware upgrade to a faster, more powerful computer to run Windows 10;  but my experience with Apple gave me pause.  I'd bought a 2014 model Apple Mac Mini, far from that company's most powerful product;  yet it was humming right along, running LibreOffice with my biggest files, Vellum, and other programs, and clearly not suffering from "software bloat" to anything like the same extent as Windows 10.  If it was that efficient, why not switch to Apple architecture entirely?

The long and the short of it is, that's what I've done.  A few months ago, I purchased a refurbished 2018 model 13.3"-screen Apple Macbook Air to replace my HP Envy laptop for mobile use.  (Buying refurbished gear from the Apple Store can save several hundred dollars compared to new hardware.  With two good experiences now under my belt, I intend to go on doing that.  I apply the savings towards purchasing an extended hardware warranty from Apple.)

It was initially astonishing to feel how small and light the Macbook Air was, compared to my former boat anchor;  but I rapidly got used to it.  To my surprise, the much smaller screen and keyboard proved perfectly usable, provided I took care to position them appropriately and adopt the correct body posture to avoid aches and cramps.  The new laptop meshes seamlessly with my Mac Mini, so much so that I've already used it (along with Apple's support software) to recover passwords and update files for my earlier system.  It appears to be a far more efficient integration of desktop and laptop platforms across a single infrastructure than I experienced with Windows 10.

My latest novel, "Taghri's Prize", is the first book I've written using both computers, the Mac Mini and the Macbook Air, depending on my location.  I used Vellum on the Mini to format it for publication.  Vellum kindly offers the facility to load a second copy of their software on another computer, so I'll be doing that on the Macbook Air shortly, to have it available as a backup if needed.  I've never owned an iPhone, but it looks like it integrates with the computers as well.  That's a good argument to get one when I next upgrade - not the latest model, because I don't need that much horsepower in a phone, but one that will talk to my computers if necessary, and vice versa.  I don't know whether the iPhone's operating system is as much better than Android as the Mac's is to Windows 10, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

The more I use the Apple ecosystem, the more I find I like it.  It's just better integrated, more logical, and more seamless than what I was used to under Windows 10.  I'm glad I made the switch.


A big "Thank you!" to all my readers

I honestly wasn't expecting great things from the launch of my latest book, "Taghri's Prize", yesterday.

It had been almost a year since I'd last published anything, thanks to a prolonged bout of ill-health fighting kidney stones.  (My creative muse goes on strike when pain levels get too high.  It's no fun.)  I was expecting to have to rebuild my "name recognition" on Amazon, and build up a new readership cadre.

I suppose that's still a requirement;  but my existing readers clearly haven't forgotten or abandoned me, for which I'm very grateful.  After just one day on sale, my book's statistics look like this:

That's better than I'd dared to hope for.  It's also (at the time of writing) hit #19 on Amazon's "Hot New Releases" list for Epic Fantasy, and #18 on the Sword And Sorcery list.  That really pleases me!  In the past, when I was publishing more frequently, I'd expect my books to break into the top 2,000 in the Kindle Store, and perhaps into the top 1,000 if they were particularly popular.  This isn't quite there, but it's close enough that I'm very satisfied.  It gives me a solid foundation on which to build.  (Of course, the ranking will drop rapidly;  the present numbers are in response to the launch, and will taper off quickly, but it's still a good start.)

Meanwhile, Amazon has also released the new e-book edition of "Rocky Mountain Retribution".  It's not yet linked to its hardcover edition, with all the previous reviews, but that'll happen pretty soon.

The sidebar link to my Ames Archives series links to the paper edition, if you'd prefer that.  They'll be combined into a single link within days.  The third, new book in the series, "Gold On The Hoof", will be published during the second half of August.

All in all, I'm satisfied with progress so far.  If I can complete and publish two more books this year, along with "Taghri", "Gold" and the two re-issues of the earlier Ames Archives books, I'll be a happy camper (not to mention writer!).  I'll also be working on a collaborative novel with a well-known author, and trying to update earlier editions of most of my books with more readable versions (thanks to the Vellum software I'm now using to format them).

Thank you again for your support.  It means more than I have words to express.


Monday, July 29, 2019


I empathize.  (Click the image to be taken to a larger view at the comic's Web site.)

After walking and squats at the gym this morning, I'm tempted to try Pig's recipe!


A new - and dishonest - tool in the progressive far-left toolbox

It seems some progressives are prepared to deliberately twist copyright laws to use them against those whose political views they abhor.

RJ Jones writes, "My friend gave me a tip! If you need to drown out fascists, bring a speaker & play copyrighted music at their rallies cause it will be easy to report their videos & get them taken down for copyright."

This is a reference to Youtube's idiotic Content ID automated takedown system (soon to be mandatory for all online platforms in the EU), which indiscriminately blocks anything that it believes to contain a copyrighted work. It's not clear whether Jones is describing a hypothetical or a reality, but a reliable source in Berlin tells me that this is an established counterprotest tactic there.

. . .

The reality is that incidental background music at a political rally is not a copyright infringement, but automated systems can't make sense of fair use claims, which require human judgment.

The inability of Content ID to tell fair use from infringement is a feature, not a bug. It's why 7 hours worth of lectures at a scientific symposium were wiped out when the cameras picked up some copyrighted music being played during the lunch break.

There's more at the link.

It's logical, of course.  Take human beings out of the judgment loop, automate systems to delete anything resembling copyright infringement, and sooner or later someone will use those systems against you - or against anyone with whom they have any kind of disagreement.  Attack, meet defense.  Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

As long as honesty is removed from our political discourse (which it has been for years, if not generations), this sort of thing will continue.  All we can do is remain alert for it, call attention to it when we see it, and put pressure on service providers to continually improve their systems to avoid being used in this way.


"Taghri's Prize" is published!

My new fantasy novel, "Taghri's Prize", is now available in e-book format on Amazon.  A printed version will follow as soon as the cover is ready.

The blurb reads:

Taghri has left the Sultan's army to seek his fortune - and he seizes opportunity when it knocks. In the confusion of a pirate raid on a trading caravan, he kills their leader and captures their ship. The vessel is now his prize of war... but some prizes may be more trouble than they're worth!

Nestled among the gold coins in the captain's cabin is a stolen Temple sacrificial knife, whose Goddess is now paying close attention - too close! - to its new owner. Among the slaves he's freed is a princess, formerly being held for ransom, who comes with political and personal intrigues all her own. Even if he survives the attention of both, there's also a pirate lord out there, hell-bent on avenging the death of his son.

It's going to take all of Taghri's skill, experience and cunning to survive winning this prize!

I had a lot of fun writing this novel, beginning with its setting.  In an author's note to the book, I wrote:

A year or so ago, I was pondering the idea of writing another fantasy novel. I mulled over several potential scenarios, plots, and so on, but couldn’t find one that really caught my imagination. Then, one night, I woke up unexpectedly in the small hours of the morning, thinking, “What would the Middle East have been like if Mohammed had never lived, and Islam had never arisen?”

The next morning, I began research into pre-Islamic Arabia and surrounding territories. I had previous exposure to the southern Red Sea area (Yemen, Ethiopia and northern Somalia) in the 1980’s, and I’d been to Morocco, but I didn’t know much about the Persian Gulf. I read as much as I could find about pre-Islamic cultures and systems of belief (which wasn’t very much), and began to develop the plot for this book.  I used all three areas and melded them to create my fictional world, rather than rely on only one; and I moved it a millennium or so into the future, to allow the use of relatively primitive firearms.  The names of the gods mentioned in this book are all based on those mentioned in pre-Islamic literature, although I’ve no idea of how they were worshipped or whether they had orders of priests or priestesses serving them. I used my imagination.

More good news:  the first Western in my Ames Archives series has now been republished in a new e-book edition.  "Brings The Lightning" is now available on  It'll be followed later this week by the second volume in the series, "Rocky Mountain Retribution".  As soon as both e-books are up and running, I'll prepare the new volume in the series, "Gold On The Hoof", for publication.  It's complete and ready to go.  Look for it in the second half of August.

As always, if you enjoy the book, please leave a review on  Independent authors such as myself stand or fall on attracting reader interest, and your reviews are a very large part of that, both in quantity and in quality.  Also, I'll be very grateful if those of you with social media accounts - blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Gab and so on - would please mention the new book there, so as to spread the word to potential readers.

Thank you all for your patience as I worked through a period of poor health, to come out writing furiously on the other side.  I hope that won't recur.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday morning music

Here's a group guaranteed to get your toes tappin' and your fingers slappin'.  It's a Belorussian medieval folk group, Stary Olsa.  They've been around for 20 years, and have established quite the following in Europe.

Here's a studio recording of one of their songs, "Vitaut" (which Google Translate doesn't recognize, so I can't tell you what it means, but the video theme suggests it's a martial number).

Where the group shines is in live performances, where they string together several songs or instrumental numbers into a medley.  Here are two such lengthy pieces.

Last, but by no means least, the group also covers many Western pop and rock tunes in medieval style.  Here's their version of Deep Purple's 1970 hit "Child In Time".

You'll find many more of their performances at their YouTube channel, or on the band's Web site.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

An old weed becomes a modern problem

The so-called "Sargasso Sea" in the North Atlantic Ocean is a time-honored name, dating back to well before Christopher Columbus' day.  It may have been known as early as the sixth century BC, according to one ancient navigator's oral history.  The map below is courtesy of Wikipedia.

Its name was derived from the sargassum seaweed that proliferates there.  In more recent times, the Sargasso Sea has become the heart of the so-called North Atlantic Garbage Patch.

Now it looks as if sargassum is spreading south, into equatorial regions, and posing a new and highly unwelcome threat to the tourist industry in South America, the Caribbean, and even Florida.

Stretching up to 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) from the Gulf of Mexico to just off the coast of western Africa, the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt appears to be the product of natural and human-caused factors.

. . .

[Researchers] identified a tipping point around 2009 when discharge from the Amazon River brought unusually high levels of nutrients into the Atlantic Ocean. Upwelling of nutrient-rich water off the west coast of Africa in the winter of 2010 further enriched surface waters with deep-sea nutrients; that upwelling also lowered temperatures of that surface water, allowing sargassum to thrive in the summer of 2011 ... The largest recorded bloom occurred in 2018, when the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt grew to a mass of more than 20 million metric tons.

. . .

"As sargassum decays it consumes the oxygen, creating low oxygen conditions, which is not a good condition for marine life in a coastal ecosystem," Wang said. Coral reefs and seagrass ecosystems can suffer when high levels of sargassum change water chemistry and block organisms from moving freely.

"Sea turtles sometimes can't swim through the dense mats to return to open water after laying their eggs," she said.

The Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt is also having an effect on coastal tourism ... In addition to disrupting coastal ecosystems, decaying sargassum releases hydrogen sulfide, a potentially harmful gas that smells like rotten eggs.

There's more at the link.

Here's a video report showing the extent of the problem for the tourism industry.

It seems to me that recyclers are ignoring a potentially useful resource here - one that tourist centers might actually pay them to take away.  Sargassum, like other seaweeds, is often used as fertilizer in other parts of the world.  Why can't it be collected and used the same way in nearby areas?  There are many other economic uses for seaweed;  follow those four links for more information.  Why not take advantage of those markets to dispose of a problem?


Political correctness versus reality - Chicago edition

I see the new mayor of Chicago - now Heronner instead of the traditional Hizonner - is trying to blame outside factors for her city's culture of crime and death.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot weighed-in over the weekend on her city’s unprecedented gang violence; blaming nearby Indiana for the flow of guns into the region.

“Previously we had a law enforcement first and only strategy and it wasn’t working. It’s not working when you talk about neighborhoods where the unemployment rate is 25% or higher. It’s not working when you think about the fact that in many communities, 90% or more of residents are depending on public assistance and where neighborhoods haven’t been invested in, where there’s no real legitimate economic activity,” said Lightfoot.

“The fact that you can cross the border, go into Indiana and purchase military-grade weapons at any number with no background check is a terrible thing, not only for a city but look at the devastation that gun violence is wreaking every single day in our community,” she added.

There's more at the link.

In the first place, of course, that's simply not true.  Indiana is as subject to federal firearms laws as is Illinois, and in neither state is it possible to (legally) buy firearms without jumping through the required regulatory hoops - including background checks.  What's more, firearms recovered at crime scenes and during investigations are twice as likely to come from Illinois sources as from Indiana.

The real problem isn't the tools used;  it's the attitude and mentality of those using them.  A recent report illustrates the scale of the problem in Chicago's inner-city neighborhoods.

It seemed a safe place for a peace walk.

Early Monday evening, the sidewalks at Western Avenue and 68th Street gleamed from the setting sun. Cars streamed through the intersection, and neighbors poked their heads out of apartment windows over a corner store.

But the family of 15-year-old Austin Rogers was still wary. The teen had been killed a few blocks from here a month ago, and they believed the killer was somewhere in the neighborhood. This march was meant to stand up to him. “His killer’s bold. We going to have to be bold too,” explained Austin’s mother, Lola Rogers.

The march hadn’t even begun when someone spotted a familiar face on the other side of Western: the person the family suspected of shooting Austin. People began calling 911. Young children were rushed inside the store. Austin’s older brother tore from the crowd and ran halfway across the street. Rush-hour traffic screeched to a halt, angry horns blaring as relatives pleaded with the brother to come back.

Across the street, the person grinned, pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the marchers.

The family was able to hold Austin’s brother back as the person and several other males around his age ran west on 68th without firing shots. Police cars, lights flashing, circled the area minutes later, but no arrests were reported.

“My boy dead and he walking free,” Rogers said, still standing at the intersection. “They were in broad daylight, they were on Western. It’s just crazy.”

It is not uncommon in Chicago for families’ demands for justice to be met with taunts and threats and even more gun violence. At a vigil in Chatham in January 2017, seven people, including a 12-year-old boy, were shot while paying respects to a woman slain in a shooting that same week.

Clearance rates for homicides and shootings in Chicago are well below the national average. In a Tribune series last year, residents talked about having to live in the same neighborhood, even the same block, as someone they knew shot or killed someone and was never arrested.

Again, more at the link.

With attitudes like that, gun control is a non-starter.  If the perpetrators can't get guns, they'll use knives, or machetes, or gasoline and matches, or baseball bats, or whatever they can get their hands on - just as their ilk do in every other country in the world.  Violence is like that.  It's not the instrument;  it's the people that are to blame.  The politicians understand that.  It's just that they won't admit it, because that would mean acknowledging that the voters who elected them are part of the problem.  It's easier for them to blame a thing, rather than a person.

If you want to get a handle on the scale of Chicago's crime problem - and the corruption, inefficiency and disastrous incompetence of the city's leadership - there's no better source than the Second City Cop blog.  Go read a few weeks' worth of its articles.  They're eye-opening.

As for comparing Chicago's problems - and those of Illinois, its parent state - to Indiana, consider this graphic.

Ask yourself which party runs Illinois, and which runs Indiana.  Consider the votes that elect those parties, and where in each state they come from.  Then, wonder no more at Chicago's mayor and her wilful blindness to reality.  She was elected by the same political machine that's ruining her state.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Book updates

First the good news.

  1. I've edited and formatted new e-book editions of the first two Westerns in my Ames Archives series, "Brings The Lightning" and "Rocky Mountain Retribution".  They're awaiting publication by Amazon, following which I'll immediately publish the third book in the series, "Gold On The Hoof", which is ready to go.

  2. My fantasy novel, "Taghri's Prize", is edited and ready for formatting.  That'll happen over the weekend, and I hope it'll be available next week.

The holdup at the moment is on Amazon's side - and I don't blame them for it in the least;  it's just the legal facts of life.  You see, my first two Western novels were initially released through Castalia House.  Their rights have now reverted to me, and I'm therefore publishing new e-book editions;  but as far as Amazon's concerned, if they've already been published, their original publisher has to confirm that the rights have reverted, and that I'm legally able to produce new editions.  This is normal, and I don't mind . . . except for the problem of talking to too many people, and getting crossed wires in the process, and waiting on others to do things.  I hope to have it all sorted out within the next week or two.

I'd planned to release the new Western first, in July, and then the fantasy novel during August.  It now looks like I'll reverse that sequence, to allow for the delay.  I hope "Taghri's Prize" will be available early next week, and that "Gold On The Hoof" will follow in mid- to late August.

I've started writing "Knife To The Hilt", the third and final novel in my Laredo War trilogy.  If all goes well, look for that soon.  I'm also working on the sixth Maxwell Saga novel, "Venom Strike", which I hope to complete before year-end.  To make life even more interesting, I'm going to start work soon on a collaborative novel with another author, to be published next year.  All I need is time to eat, shower and sleep!


The devil's in the details - naval edition

The old idiom "The devil's in the details" has, in my experience, been proven true time and time again.  The "big picture" may look fine and dandy, but there's always something, some little detail that's escaped attention, that can screw it up to a fare-thee-well.

The Norwegian Navy learned that the hard way last year, when its frigate Helge Ingstad collided with another vessel, and subsequently sank.

(Above image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The subsequent inquiry revealed that after the collision, the watertight compartments of the frigate functioned as intended . . . except for one crucial detail.

While there was some uncertainty as to whether the steering engine room, the aftmost compartment, was also filling up with water, the report states that the crew definitely found that water from the aft generator room was running into the gear room via the hollow propeller shafts and that the gear room was filling up fast.

From the gear room, the water then ran into and was flooding the aft and fore engine rooms via the stuffing boxes in the bulkheads.

Based on the findings, AIBN has recommended Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, the vessel’s designer, to look into the issues identified during the investigation and to determine whether this was also an issue with other vessels.

There's more at the link.

Uh-huh.  The "technologically advanced" hollow propeller shafts may have been as much of an advance as claimed during normal operations;  but they had to penetrate more than one watertight bulkhead to get from the engine-room to the propellers.  When the shaft(s) was/were breached by the collision and/or the subsequent grounding of the frigate, inrushing seawater had a clear path from one compartment to the other, effectively destroying the ship's watertight integrity and leading to its total loss.  The cost of repairing it will be greater than the cost of a new ship, so it'll be scrapped.

I wonder how many other modern vessels have incorporated this technology?  After the experience of the Norwegian Navy, how many of them will have their "advanced" hollow propeller shafts replaced with the good old-fashioned version?  Is that even possible, given that a ship's propulsion systems are a series of machines finely tuned and adjusted to work with each other?  Can the engines handle the increased mass and inertia of heavier, solid shafts?  If they can't, those ships will have to live with reduced watertight integrity.  That's not going to make their crews happy . . .

Devil, meet details.  Details, devil.


Letting the camel's nose into the [moral] tent...

There's an old Arab proverb that warns, "Never let the camel get its nose under the tent, because the rest of the body will follow".  It's a variation on the Western proverb that "if you give someone an inch, they'll take a mile".  I daresay the concept is common among almost all cultures.  In politics, they call it "moving the Overton window";  starting with discussion within a socially accepted range, then moving the discussion to gradually include more and more extreme elements, getting people accustomed to the new concepts.  In due course, society will accept as common or normative things that were until recently beyond the pale.  (See also the boiling frog.)

That's long been a deliberate tactic on the part of "fringe" elements of Western society, who've used it to edge their formerly "extremist" beliefs slowly but surely into the mainstream.  The gay and lesbian lobby is a good example, moving from widespread rejection, scorn and disgust to acceptance by most people, largely based on the argument that one's sexuality is not a choice, but predetermined.  (That's not been proven to be genetically or chromosomally valid, AFAIK, but it's nevertheless become the socially accepted view.)  They've been very successful at it.

Sadly, as always in any movement, there are those with ulterior motives, seeking to "piggyback" on the success of the movement to advance their own particular (and often peculiar) agendas.  A good example is a Canadian born as Johnathan Yaniv, who prefers to be called Jessica Yaniv.  This person appears to be using Canadian law as a weapon to extort money from those who won't conform to its demands, and as a shelter for some truly perverted ideas.  This being a family-friendly blog, I'm not going to go into detail in these pages.  Anyone wanting to know more will find the whole sordid story at this link.  I find it sickening and disgusting, but I do recommend reading it to see just how much damage one particular camel's nose inside the tent can do, and how much societal havoc it can wreak.  That article is what gave rise to this one, and the thoughts it contains.

Note, too, how the deliberate engineering of social acceptance has discredited previously axiomatic ideas and social norms, as far as the law is concerned.  To illustrate, consider the preceding paragraph in the light of those who insist that public bathrooms should be gender-neutral.  In the not very distant past, any parent would have considered it axiomatic that a bathroom was reserved for one or the other sex, and that gender had little or nothing to do with it.  If a man tried to enter the ladies' bathroom, he'd be told to get out.  Now, we're told that if a transgender male wants to use the ladies' bathroom, with members of our family inside, he/she/it has the right to do so.  Not in my book!  My Overton window hasn't moved that far, and probably never will.  If any visibly male individual tries to enter a bathroom where my wife is taking care of business, as far as I'm concerned, he's putting her at risk.  The only thing stopping me from stopping him will be the knowledge that my wife is aware of the risk and is more than capable of doing so herself, if necessary the hard way.  (Have I mentioned that I love my wife, and her demonstrated competence in so many areas?)

Many of us were raised in traditional religious faiths, where sexuality was considered to be governed by what we understood to be God's laws and moral norms.  Nowadays, trying to live according to those norms, and educate one's children accordingly, can be seen as a "hate crime".  Pointing out that the Bible's moral norms are directly at odds with modern notions of sexuality and sexual freedom can lead to one being investigated by the authorities for bias and intolerance, or denied the right to adopt because one's views are "out of step with society", or even charged with a criminal offense for refusing to accept someone else's assertions about what's "normal".  The camel's nose has shoved so far into the tent of our lives that it's now disrupting almost every other area of our lives.  I, for one, think that's gone way too far.

I have no problem with anyone believing whatever they wish about life, the universe and everything (including sexuality).  As long as they keep it to themselves, it's their business.  I'm not going to foist my opinions and beliefs upon them, and I won't allow them to foist theirs onto me.  On the other hand, I'm not prepared to be told that my outlook on life is somehow "oppressing" them because it disagrees with theirs.  It doesn't have to.  I have as much freedom of choice as they do.  To legislatively force tolerance and acceptance of views that are anathema to my own isn't right or just - it's oppression under another name.  By all means, legislate against unfair, coercive discrimination;  but don't legislate for unquestioning acceptance and approval.  That's far too much of the camel inside society's tent!

IMHO, it's long gone time our politicians stopped kowtowing to political correctness, and enacted that principle into our laws.  That, at least, would provide some defense against the Jessica Yaniv's of this world, without forcing us to (if necessary) take the law into our own hands to do so.  Suffice it to say, if that individual's fantasies about young girls and their bodily functions, protected elsewhere by socially progressive laws, were to come anywhere near where I live, most adults I know around these parts would feel absolutely justified in ensuring that those fantasies ceased to be a problem, forthwith and forever - and political correctness be damned.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

A blast from my motorsport past

I've mentioned a few times that I used to do rallying in South Africa when I was (much) younger (and a lot less wise).  I drove a Ford Escort Mk. 2 most of the time, with a two-door body and a 1,600cc engine with a manual transmission (stick shift, for Americans).  It had a few components replaced with upgraded versions for sporting use, but basically it was pretty much the same vehicle you could buy off any Ford dealer's lot.  It's probably long since been scrapped, but I remember it with fondness.

I was therefore very happy to come across this video of Ford Escort Mk. 2's rallying in Sweden.  Different country, different terrain, but the same vehicles.  It brought back a lot of happy memories, so I'd like to share it with you.  Enjoy!

Warm fuzzies there . . . The Swedish cars appear to be using the more powerful 2-liter engine, and free-flow exhausts too, so they'll be a lot more powerful than the one I drove;  but they still look the same.  Mine also looked similar to the bashed one at the end of the clip, on more than one occasion!


Marriage and the "loaf of bread test"

I was pleased to read an Australian article offering a fresh perspective on what makes a good, sound relationship.  It may seem trite, but it echoes what I used to say to couples in marriage counseling (as a pastor) for many years.

The Loaf of Bread Test was unwittingly invented by the husband of a friend. He made sandwiches for my friend and himself. There wasn't much bread left so he made his sandwich with the crusts and gave her the good slices.

It was such a tiny gesture — mundane even. It's not Insta-worthy, you wouldn't put it on Facebook and tag your partner in it, and it's unlikely the producers of The Bachelorette could build a date out of it. But what the sandwich represented to my friend was that after 14 years of marriage, her husband was kind and thoughtful and still wanted more for her than he gave himself.

The Loaf of Bread Test is a metaphor for all the little, unremarkable, yet absolutely vital, gestures that happen every day in a good and healthy relationship.

It's factoring in your partner's needs before you make both big and small decisions, from changing jobs to going away with your mates for the weekend.

It's pulling your weight with domestic work and child care responsibilities. It's reading your partner's emotional and physical health and stepping up to do more when required.

It's putting down your phone and giving your partner your full attention. It's recognising and celebrating their everyday triumphs and supporting them through their disappointments.

And it's noticing when your partner puts you first and then expressing your appreciation and gratitude.

I know this all sounds about as romantically exciting as spending Friday night in folding the laundry ... but two or three big gestures a year is unlikely to sustain you if you feel taken for granted, ignored or unimportant for the remaining 363 days.

There's more at the link.

I suppose it's a bit like the time-honored financial advice that's become a proverb in England:  "Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves".  I grew very tired of hearing my parents tell me that when I was growing up . . . but I soon found out that they were absolutely right.  (That's also why so many people today are mired in debt, because they aren't "taking care of the pennies".  A lot of small, frequently unnecessary expenditures add up to a big financial problem!)  I guess the "pennies", in relationship terms, are the little things that add up to a big contentment factor (the "pounds").

Good advice, which I've striven to apply in my own life.  How well have I succeeded?  You'll have to ask Miss D. about that.  We've been married for almost ten years, so clearly at least some things are working!


It depends how you look at life

I was somewhat taken aback by a British survey claiming that four out of ten people were unhappy about life choices they'd made.

According to a survey of 2,000 British adults commissioned by UK charity consortium Remember A Charity, four out of ten people regret how they have lived their lives so far. Spending too much time at work and not traveling enough were among respondents’ biggest regrets.

Other common regrets among those surveyed included neglecting their health and not spending enough time with their family. Many wished they had been a better parent to their children. All of that regret seems to be a big motivator as well, with 40% of respondents claiming that they want to make some positive changes in the near future.

. . .

While the survey’s findings are a bit bleak at first consideration, many believe all hope is not lost; more than half of respondents say that they know it’s not too late for them to change paths and accomplish more in life. Inaction seems to be the biggest cause of regret, with three in four adults claiming that their regret is mainly caused by things they wanted to do but never got around to.

There's more at the link.

The first issue, IMHO, is that those aren't so much life choices as lifestyle choices.  None of them are the be-all and end-all of existence;  many deal with matters that are within our control, and can be changed at will.  Spending too much time at work?  Not traveling enough?  Those problems can be fixed by a simple act of will, a decision to change.  They're lifestyle issues.  To my mind, life issues are much larger and more important.  What career should I choose?  Should I marry - and if so, who should I marry?  Should I/we have children?  Should I/we divorce?  Should I/we emigrate to another country?  How will I/we deal with a sudden, unexpected diagnosis of cancer?  Those are life-changing issues that can alter our future, in ways often impossible to foresee and forecast . . . yet none of them are mentioned in the survey.

The second issue is that major decisions, life choices, aren't always under our control.  Often we're driven by circumstances around us, reacting to them rather than making fully voluntary decisions.
  • What if your country is defeated in a war, making it impossible for you to stay there in any degree of safety and/or comfort?  Your only hope for a halfway decent future may be to emigrate, by hook or by crook.
  • What if the economy tanks, depriving you of your job and the career you'd planned, and forcing you to take any work available, no matter how menial or undesirable, to keep food on your family's table?
  • What if a sudden health crisis deprives you of job, home and future prospects, leaving you destitute?
  • What if you live and work in an area, or a country, that has very limited opportunities?  You may want to be an aircraft engineer, but if you live in a farming community that has limited school subject choices, and no local and/or affordable access to a university offering that qualification, you're going to have to push yourself to extremes if you're to have any hope of fulfilling your desire.  It may not be feasible at all.

You may have to accept what jobs you can, and follow a career that doesn't appeal to you, simply because they're what's available to you in a given place at a given time, and there are no alternatives.  For example, ask those who, in Western society, until the second half of the 20th century, became pregnant outside wedlock.  They were given little choice except to get married, and for the man to support his wife by taking any job available for someone with his present qualifications - which might not have included high school graduation.  There were no ifs, ands or buts about it - that was simply the way it was.  How many career aspirations were nipped in the bud because of that?  How many potential doctors, or astronauts, or engineers, were lost to us because those individuals could never pursue their dreams?  We'll never know.  I know some of my readers who can speak about that subject from first-hand experience.

The third aspect is that, even if our major life choices turned out to be not very fulfilling, or not what we expected, we can still look for silver linings in the cloud.  We don't have to allow ourselves to get depressed at what's happened to us.  If you'll permit, I'll use myself as an example.  I expected to serve as a pastor for the rest of my life, until the debacle of the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal destroyed my trust in the human institution(s) of the Church, and caused me to walk away from what had, until then, been a firm lifetime commitment.  It cost me my pension and security in retirement, too.  I could complain about that all I like . . . but it wouldn't do any good.  As we say in Africa, I'd be farting against thunder.

On the other hand, I can look on the positive side.  I can be grateful that being a pastor opened the door for me to legally immigrate to the USA (on a religious worker visa, subsequently upgraded to a green card, and later full citizenship).  I can be grateful that being in this country spared me a great deal of hardship in my former country, which looks set to descend into chaos if current trends continue.  I can be grateful that being here has led to my making a whole new set of friends, and meeting the lady who later became my wife.  I have so much to be grateful for that it helps to make up for the mental and spiritual trauma (and it really was trauma) of having to make the decision, driven by conscience, to walk away from my vocation.

I'm sure I'm far from alone in having to face such life-changing circumstances.  Many of us have made career and life choices that have led to us being disappointed, traumatized, bereft, broke, whatever.  Equally, many of us have "rolled with the punches" and rebuilt our lives, often to greater happiness because we've learned from our mistakes.  Only fools keep on wallowing in the mire of past difficulties, refusing to get up out of the muck and try again.

It all boils down to whether or not you accept that it's all up to you.  No-one else is going to do it for you.  Life may knock you down, but it's your decision whether to stay down, or get up and try again - and again, and again, as often as necessary.  I think William Henley had the right of it in his poem "Invictus" (which he wrote during severe health issues that threatened his life for many years).

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Truth . . . and the very opposite of regrets about "poor life choices".  Sometimes we have no choice about the hand life has dealt us;  but that's no reason not to play it.  As Robert Heinlein said, through his most famous fictional character, Lazarus Long:  "Always cut the cards... and smile when you lose."  Who knows?  Sooner or later, you might win anyway - particularly if your opponent, for once, has worse cards than you!

Sorry if that all sounds a bit preachy;  but I was bothered by the "Oh, dearie me, look at me with pity, because I made bad choices" tone of the original article.  If that's the case, get over it and get on with it!


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Everything you ever wanted to know about car bombs, but were afraid to ask

Hugo Kamaan has produced an in-depth report for the Middle East Institute titled "Car Bombs As Weapons Of War - ISIS's development of SVBIEDs, 2014-19".  The link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format.  The executive summary reads:

The suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) has been one of ISIS’s most powerful and versatile weapons. The group consistently adapted the SVBIED design based on operational environment and other factors, with modifications in armor, payload organization, color, and detonation technology. Advanced SVBIED designs have been distributed between many ISIS provinces, not only within Iraq and Syria, but also globally to provinces in Nigeria and the Philippines. ISIS’s research and development of SVBIED technology presents a continued threat, even after the collapse of the territorial caliphate, due to the group’s ability to export its designs and enable nascent ISIS provinces to launch powerful attacks on unsuspecting communities globally.

There's much more at the link.

Suicide bombers aboard armored vehicles, able to approach their targets despite counter-vehicle fire, have been a deadly weapon in ISIS' arsenal over the years.  The report provides many details and images of their vehicles and the attacks in which they were used.  It's probably a very useful central reference point for countries to which ISIS terrorists are returning, after being driven out of Syria and/or Iraq.  I daresay those countries may soon experience the same sorts of car-bombing that the Middle East has had to endure for the past several years.  They're already facing terrorist bombings inspired by the same source (for example, the church bombings in Sri Lanka earlier this year).

YouTube has many videos of SVBIED's in action in Iraq.  Here are a couple of examples.

There are many more at the link.

The report makes for informative reading.  Recommended.


The mane attraction

Here's a lovely image (found on Gab yesterday) of a male lion with a truly magnificent (and unusually dark) mane.

Lions are usually thought of as the only members of the cat family with a mane, but there must be a recessive gene or two in other cat populations as well.  Our farm cat, Ashbutt, has a lot of Maine Coon in his ancestry, and he unquestionably has a mane.  Being all black, it's hard to see unless one gets close to him - otherwise, he just looks like a very long-haired cat - but his mane is undoubtedly the same shape as the one shown above, extending down from his shoulders to his chest and all the way back along his body, as you can see in the photograph below.  If you shaved off all that hair, he'd look very skinny.

(Yes, that's freshly dried laundry he's lying on.  As far as he's concerned, all warm, fluffy laundry belongs to Cat.  That's just the way it is.  What?  You want to fold it?  Only after it's cooled down!)

How many of my readers have cats with manes?  It might be interesting to make a rough tally of them.  Please let us know in Comments.


I'd hate to go to war in a ship like that - but men did

Following on from our discussion yesterday about a shipwreck discovered deep beneath the Baltic Sea, and comparing its size to Columbus' three ships that he used to cross the Atlantic, I was taken with the story of USS Providence in the Revolutionary War.  She was a sloop-of-war, approximately 65 feet in length, with a crew of 54 and carrying 12 four-pounder cannon (just about the smallest naval cannon of their day).  Since each cannon usually required a crew of six or more gunners, a crew that small meant that she could fire only one broadside (i.e. the guns on a single side of the ship) at a time, but not both, because the gun crews would have to move from one side to the other to man the cannons there.

To begin with, let's mention that a replica was launched in 1976, and used for sail training.  The replica was severely damaged when it was toppled from its drydock stands during a winter storm.  The video below shows its restoration, and return to the sea.  (I hate the cheesy soundtrack, but all I can do is suggest watching it with the sound turned off.  Why people can't just let the footage speak for itself, without adding muzak, I just don't know!)

Bear in mind that the replica is shown without cannon on deck.  In reality, the presence of those cannon would have taken up more than half the deck space, making it awkward and potentially dangerous (particularly in a storm) to move around the ship.

Tiny as she is, that little ship had a pretty impressive war record.  She captured, or assisted in the capture of, no less than two dozen other vessels, and was for a time the first combat command of the legendary John Paul Jones, then a Lieutenant.  I can't help looking at images of the ship and shaking my head in disbelief.  More than 50 men shared that tiny hull with a dozen cannon, supplies for several weeks, spare sails and other ship's stores, etc.  Despite her tiny size and gross overcrowding, she did an immense amount of damage, all while avoiding the much more powerful warships of the Royal Navy.  It's mind-boggling to us in this day and age, when the smallest seagoing warship in the US Navy is the Cyclone class patrol craft, 178 feet in length (almost three times longer than the Providence), crewed by 28 people.

I guess our maritime seagoing ancestors were a lot tougher men than most of us today!


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Holy Grail of the nuclear industry

I note with interest that Lockheed Martin's experiments with nuclear fusion technology are moving right along.

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works is building a new, more capable test reactor as it continues to move ahead with its ambitious Compact Fusion Reactor program, or CFR. Despite slower than expected progress, the company remains confident the project can produce practical results, which would completely transform how power gets generated for both military and civilian purposes.

. . .

"The work we have done today verifies our models and shows that the physics we are talking about – the basis of what we are trying to do – is sound," Jeff Babione, Skunk Works Vice President and General Manager, told Aviation Week. "This year we are constructing another reactor – T5 – which will be a significantly larger and more powerful reactor than our T4."

The T5's main job will be to further test whether Skunk Work's basic reactor design can handle the heat and pressure from the highly energized plasma inside, which is central to how the system works. In a nuclear fusion reaction, a gaseous fuel gets heated up to a point where the pressure is so intense that its very atomic structure gets disrupted and certain particles fuse together into a heavier nucleus. This process also involves the release of a massive amount of energy, which, in principle, could be used to run a traditional thermal power generator.

“We are currently scheduled to have that [the T5] go online towards the end of this year," Babione said. "So that will be another significant leap in capability and towards demonstrating that the physics underlining our concept works."

. . .

Containing the reaction, the same one that occurs in our sun and other stars, and doing so for a protracted period of time, remains the biggest hurdle. Nuclear fusion creates temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees Fahrenheit, which, in turn, also generate extremely high pressures inside the reactor vessel. The energy from fusion reactions can be so powerful that countries have already weaponized it in the form of hydrogen bombs.

. . .

Lockheed Martin says that the CFR design could eventually be small enough to fit inside a shipping container, but still be able to power a Nimitz class aircraft carrier or up to 80,000 homes. The patent documents suggest it might eventually be compact enough to even power a large aircraft.

There's more at the link.

Here's a video report from Lockheed Martin about their project, and its implications for the future.

The nation that first achieves commercially viable nuclear fusion will - at least for a time - have a monumental advantage over all others.  It'll have, essentially, the power of the sun available to generate unlimited electricity, without any risk of radioactive pollution from the wastes generated by traditional nuclear fission reactors.  Other countries - particularly the ITER international consortium, plus China - are far advanced with their own research in the field, and are generally believed to be ahead of US scientists (although it's impossible to say for sure whether that's true or not, due to the secrecy surrounding many developments in the field).

Good luck to Lockheed Martin with their research.


Putting Columbus' achievement in seafaring perspective

The Old Salt Blog (an invaluable resource if you're interested in ships and the sea, and their history) reports that a 500-year-old shipwreck has been discovered, almost intact, on the floor of the Baltic.

Earlier this year, technicians operating a robotic camera surveying a route for a natural gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, were surprised to find a 500-year-old shipwreck virtually intact on the seafloor. The ship was found at a depth of 141 meters. The lack of oxygen in the cold and brackish waters of the Baltic Sea help to slow the decay of the ship, which is sitting on the bottom with two masts still rising vertically, the beakhead and bowsprit still projecting from the prow. The remains of a yard rests diagonally on deck while nearby an unlaunched ship’s boat sits snug against the portside gunnel. A bilge pump, capstan, and an anchor, still catted to the bow, are also visible. The shape of the ship’s anchor help date the ship to the late 15th or early 16th century.

The ship, though fitted for swivel guns, is believed to be a merchantman. She is believed to have sunk near the time that Columbus made his transatlantic voyages. The Baltic ship at 50-60 feet long is roughly the same size as the ships of Columbus’ flotilla

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

Here's a (silent) video showing some of what the undersea robotic exploration vehicles found.

Ships in the Baltic didn't have to face the fierce storms of the Atlantic Ocean, so their design wasn't as tall (to raise their decks above the waves) or as seaworthy.  Nevertheless, it's worth thinking about this ship's size, and looking at the picture and video above.  Columbus' flagship Santa Maria was almost exactly the same length, at 58-62 feet, depending on the source, and carried 42 on board.  His other two ships, Pinta and Nina, were slightly smaller (56 and 50 feet respectively).  In the Atlantic, the ships' crews would have sailed for weeks on end without sight of land, overcrowded, and without fresh provisions.  When storms blew up (as they inevitably did), the ships would be tossed like a cork on the waves, and if caught in particularly heavy seas, they didn't stand much of a chance.  Sailors took their lives in their hands every time they ventured out on the ocean, and many lost them.

Being able to see the actual, physical size of this vessel, and picture Columbus and his crews sailing aboard something of similar size, puts the latter's achievement in perspective.  His ships weren't much larger (and were arguably less seaworthy) than modern ocean-going yachts.  It was a hell of an accomplishment to cross the Atlantic as he did, and then to make it safely back again . . . and then to repeat the voyage three more times.  It's no wonder he, and other seafarers of the time, were regarded as heroes.  They earned their reputations the hard way.