Monday, September 30, 2019
I enjoyed a "what-if?" short story by Angry Staff Officer, imagining what might have happened if President Lincoln had accepted an unsolicited gift instead of declining it.
Brigadier General Solomon Meredith stood with his frock coat unbuttoned outside his tent, airing out his tall frame from the long march. He commanded this brigade, nicknamed the “Iron Brigade” for its ferocity on the battlefield. The only all-Midwestern brigade in the Army of the Potomac, the Iron Brigade had a reputation as the toughest unit of the lot. Meredith was staring down the road, waiting impatiently for his last unit to arrive. The form of Colonel Rufus Dawes, commander of the 6th Wisconsin, hove into view. The two exchanged pleasantries and Meredith asked Dawes how his Badgers were doing.
“Mighty fine, sir, and thank you for asking,” said Dawes. “They’re ready to revenge Chancellorsville.”
“I think we all are,” said Meredith. “And from what I hear, we’ve got some fine new troops to help us out. Some of your Ohio fellows are on their way.” Dawes, originally from Ohio, smiled, and assented that there were no finer troops in the Union. His smile faded somewhat as, out of the gloom, the sound of thunder could be heard.
“Do hope it won’t rain on the boys,” he said. Meredith shifted his booted feet uncertainly.
“No, colonel, that isn’t rain, I don’t reckon,” he said. “That would be the 198th Ohio Mounted Infantry Battalion.”
“Jiminy!” said Dawes. “Are they giants?”
“Wellllll…” Meredith trailed off. “They’re not precisely infantry and they’re not precisely cavalry. To be fair, I don’t know quite what to do with them, because…”
They were interrupted by a scream from the picket line, a wild gunshot fired into the night air, followed by the sight of the picket guard running in, faces pale, gibbering that the world had come to an end. Dawes scrambled for his sword but Meredith told him not to bother.
“Watch,” he said, gesturing down the road.
A massive bulk appeared in the firelight, flames casting its shadow ominously onto the roadway, as the sound of stamping feet echoed for a mile behind it. Two large ears flapped with unconscious gravity while a long proboscis-like nose reared skywards and unleashed a braying blast, which was echoed rearwards – echoed with surprisingly regularity, almost as if it were the call for a halt. Mounted on this beast’s back was a tall, thin man in the blue of the U.S. Army.
“Major Thomas W. Custer,” said the officer, saluting, awkwardly. “Operating on temporary commission from the War Department, I do have the honor of presenting the 1st Ohio Pachyderm Battalion, 445 officers and men, fifty-one of the finest Siam elephants in good health, arranged in five companies. Spent these last five months training, sir, and I beg to report that the men and beasts are ready for a fight.”
There's more at the link. Go read, and have fun.
I'm sure most of us know the ancient fable about the boy who cried "Wolf!".
There was a Shepherd Boy who tended his sheep at the foot of a mountain near a dark forest. It was lonely for him, so he devised a plan to get a little company. He rushed down towards the village calling out “Wolf, Wolf,” and the villagers came out to meet him. This pleased the boy so much that a few days after he tried the same trick, and again the villagers came to his help. Shortly after this a Wolf actually did come out from the forest. The boy cried out “Wolf, Wolf,” still louder than before. But this time the villagers, who had been fooled twice before, thought the boy was again lying, and nobody came to his aid. So the Wolf made a good meal off the boy’s flock.
Journalist and satirist H. L. Mencken applied the lesson to politics:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
However, he failed to add that if enough politicians raise enough imaginary hobgoblins, sooner or later the electorate stop listening to them. They come to regard every one as yet another example of crying "Wolf!".
I fear that domestic US politics has now reached that point. Our politicians - on both sides of the aisle - have raised so many alarms, and decried each other so stridently, and postured and pimped themselves and each other to such an extent, that most of us no longer believe them. We regard them all as "swamp creatures" or "political prostitutes", and want the whole damned lot of them swept away, never to return. Just this weekend, I heard several close friends express the ardent desire to impeach every current politician, bar them from office, and replace them all with "new blood" - with no exceptions. I couldn't disagree with them, in all honesty.
The current impeachment crisis is a perfect illustration of this. I'm completely open to having any President investigated honestly and impartially for any potentially illegal or criminal activity. That's Congress' job, and they should do it. However, when that same Congress has postured, and primped, and jumped up and down and screamed "Wolf" for the past three years, is it any wonder that many of those listening no longer believe its accusations? When an Adam Schiff makes up his allegations out of whole cloth, in front of the camera, and expects them to be believed, why should we give him any credibility at all? And when a Jerrold Nadler abuses his office to impose partisan politics upon what should be an impartial legislative forum, and does so openly and continuously and rampageously, why should we trust him to even give us the correct time of day?
Of course, that's not confined to Democrats. When Mitch McConnell blocks a Presidential SCOTUS nominee (Merrick Garland) for a blatantly partisan political reason, then turns around and glibly refuses to do the same if a similar situation should arise under a President he favors, it speaks volumes about his hypocrisy. When Republicans in both the House and the Senate point fingers and shout and scream about Democratic Party policies over illegal immigration, and the latter's failure to pass legislation to solve the problem, they carefully fail to point out that they, too, have consistently, even when they were in control of both Houses, failed to pass legislation to fix the problem. They preferred to "punt" it to future generations whilst blaming their opponents. (As I've said many times before, I'm neither Republican nor Democrat, and I distrust both political parties equally. I'll also point out both parties' inconsistencies and fraudulent positions, without fear or favor.)
The current impeachment imbroglio has so many unmistakable signs of deliberate, malicious planning, to the point where one can call it a "conspiracy" without exaggeration, that it's impossible to take it seriously. The basic plan was openly discussed even before President Trump's inauguration. It's partisan politics, pure and simple. I don't trust a word the Democratic Party is saying about it. They've lied so consistently to the American people, and cried "Wolf!" so often, that their credibility is shot to pieces. However, the same applies to the Republican Party. Their own actions and words condemn them just as surely, on many other issues. The political mainstream in America has discredited itself, and frankly, I don't see any way in which it can redeem itself. It's too far gone. If Congress should impeach President Trump tomorrow, I'd regard it as yet more partisan political posturing, rather than a meaningful, serious attempt to defend American politics. I no longer trust Congress to act rationally, honestly or forthrightly - and that applies to both sides of the aisle, whoever is in power.
For that matter, I expect financial self-interest to corrupt our politicians at least as much as (if not more than) partisan politics. I'd like to see every politician forced to account, in detail, for every cent he or she earns, in any way, while in office. If they can't explain their income satisfactorily, and prove beyond reasonable doubt that none of it came from legislative shenanigans or the misuse of their political office, then they should lose it. All of it. For a quick (if slightly out-of-date) overview, see "Changes in Net Worth of U.S. Senators and Representatives".
If a new political party were to arise tomorrow, with its only policy proposal being to impose stringent term limits on any and every elected office (I suggest 3 terms for Congressional representatives and 1 term for a Senator, both amounting to a maximum of 6 years in those offices), and kick out every politician who has already exceeded those limits . . . I'd vote for them in a heartbeat. They couldn't be worse than our present politicians, and at least they'd hold out the hope for a regular infusion of new brooms to clean out the Augean stable that the Capitol has become.
Unless and until that happens, the only thing we can do is to vote for the least damaging option(s) open to us. That's a pretty poor option, but nothing else is available through the ballot box. The other options are all worse, in the sense that they'd replace the ballot box with something a lot more dangerous and unpredictable.
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Maddy Prior is a legend in her own lifetime to English folk music enthusiasts. Lead vocalist for Steeleye Span, a solo artist with a prolific output, and performer with many other individuals and groups (including Mike Oldfield, Strawbs, and many others), she's a modern icon of the field. I have a lot of her music, solo and with others, and enjoy it very much.
Back in 1999, she released her solo album "Ravenchild". Among more traditional music, it contains a six-song cycle about ravens. For those of you who have never read about the bird, it repays attention. When I was courting Miss D. in Alaska, we both marveled at the aerial acrobatics of the birds (particularly considering their very large size), and their uncommon intelligence. They've fascinated musicians, writers and poets down the centuries. In particular, they're a symbol of the Morrigan, the mythological Celtic goddess-queen of battle.
For my pleasure as much as yours, here's the full six-song cycle. In order, they are:
- In the Company of Ravens
- Young Bloods
- The Masts of Morrigan
- Rich Pickings
- Dance on the Wind
Saturday, September 28, 2019
The sheer scale of the malevolence of the Democratic Party and its operatives within the "Swamp" or "Deep State" (call it what you will) in Washington D.C. is staggering. They're bound and determined to overturn the result of the 2016 election, and/or to prevent a repeat of it in 2020, by any and all means necessary, including manufacturing fake crises to smear the Trump administration as often as possible. They're aided and abetted in this by the mainstream news media, which offers them a compliant, obedient channel to the public, while at the same time suppressing evidence that contradicts their strident, vitriolic claims.
I've said for many years that I'm neither Republican nor Democrat. I vote for the individual, not the party, and I distrust both mainstream parties equally. I see them as being in bed with each other, willing to "go along to get along" and putting their partisan interests ahead of those of the nation as a whole. However, I'm now beginning to think the so-called "Swamp" or "Deep State" is in control of so many Democratic and Republican representatives and senators that the term "Uniparty", bandied about for a long time in some circles, is in fact an accurate description. I'm beginning to think that we'll have to dismantle and destroy the forces behind the Uniparty - and, of course, the Uniparty itself - if we're to have any hope of restoring our constitutional republic. Whether or not that's actually possible is not clear at present.
Just look at the evidence that's been uncovered in the past forty-eight hours about how the Ukraine scandal has been manufactured, and set up, and manipulated. I'll cite brief excerpts from the articles, but I highly recommend you read each one in full, and make up your own mind. Kudos to the reporters concerned, who've gone above and beyond to uncover the truth of the matter.
Breaking – ICIG Whistleblower Form Recently Modified to Permit Complaint “Heard From Others”
Prior to the current “whistleblower complaint” the Intelligence Community Inspector General did not accept whistle-blower claims without first hand knowledge. However, the ICIG revised the protocol in August 2019 allowing for the EXACT type of complaint now registered from the CIA whistleblower.
The IGIC revision was made at the same time HPSCI Chairman Adam Schiff was tweeting in August about President Trump, Rudy Giuliani and holding back funding pending assistance with political opponents ... The timing here is far too coincidental. This was a set-up.
Intel Community Secretly Gutted Requirement Of First-Hand Whistleblower Knowledge
The brand new version of the whistleblower complaint form, which was not made public until after the transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and the complaint addressed to Congress were made public, eliminates the first-hand knowledge requirement and allows employees to file whistleblower complaints even if they have zero direct knowledge of underlying evidence and only “heard about [wrongdoing] from others.”
. . .
A previous version of the whistleblower complaint document, which the ICIG and DNI until recently provided to potential whistleblowers, declared that any complaint must contain only first-hand knowledge of alleged wrongdoing and that complaints that provide only hearsay, rumor, or gossip would be rejected.
Phase #2 – With Newly Authorized: “Heard From Others”, Lawfare Group Circles Back To Trump-Kislyak Meeting
Not enough people understand the role of the Lawfare group in the corruption and political weaponization of the DOJ, FBI and larger intelligence community.
. . .
The Lawfare continuum is very simple. The corrupt 2015 Clinton exoneration; which became the corrupt 2016 DOJ/FBI Trump investigation; which became the corrupt 2017 DOJ/FBI Mueller probe; is currently the 2019 “impeachment” plan. Weissmann and Mueller delivering their report evolved the plan from corrupt legal theory into corrupt political targeting by Jerry Nadler in the House Judiciary. Every phase within the continuum holds the same goal.
The current “impeachment strategy” is planned-out within the Lawfare group.
Whistle-blower Complaint is The Schiff Dossier
It now looks like the Lawfare network constructed the Schiff Dossier, and handed it to allied CIA operative Michael Barry to file as a formal IC complaint. This process is almost identical to the Fusion-GPS/Lawfare network handing the Steele Dossier to the FBI to use as the evidence for the 2016/2017 Russia conspiracy.
Pelosi’s House Rule Changes are Key Part of “Articles of Impeachment”, Being Drafted Over Next Two Weeks
Back in December 2018 CTH noted the significant House rule changes constructed by Nancy Pelosi for the 116th congress seemed specifically geared toward impeachment ... With the House going into a scheduled calendar recess, those rules are now being used to subvert historic processes and construct the articles of impeachment.
A formal vote to initiate an “impeachment inquiry” is not technically required; however, there has always been a full house vote until now. The reason not to have a House vote is simple: if the formal process was followed the minority (republicans) would have enforceable rights within it. Without a vote to initiate, the articles of impeachment can be drawn up without any participation by the minority; and without any input from the executive. This was always the plan that was visible in Pelosi’s changed House rules.
. . .
Pelosi’s earlier House Rule changes now appear intentionally designed to block republicans during the article assembly process. The minority will have no voice. This is quite a design.
I'll let James Kunstler summarize the situation.
A Dumpster Fire on a Garbage Barge
Everyone and his uncle remembers the infamous threat issued to Mr. Trump by Senator Schumer during the transition period in January, 2017: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Perhaps Senator Schumer should have kept his pie-hole shut on that. He made it official that the Intel Community would act as an adversary and antagonist to the President, and that appears to be exactly what has happened. One suspects that this rogue agency has captured The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, and several TV cable news networks as well. And now they are metamorphosing into an enemy of the people.
The moment approaches when Mr. Trump will have to carry out a severe housecleaning of the CIA and perhaps many other agencies under the executive branch of the government. Their ongoing campaign to undo the 2016 election is igniting a civil war. Clearly a part of the whistleblower gambit was an attempt to discredit Attorney General William Barr and set up a device that would force him to recuse himself from any further inquiry into shenanigans carried out in and around Ukraine since 2014, when the CIA and the Obama State Department overthrew the government of Viktor Yanukovych. Mr. Barr is a sturdy fellow. He may have seven ways from Sunday for countering their seditious monkeyshines. Wait for it.
The most stunning thing about the current crisis is the utter contempt in which the intelligence community, the political class, and the mainstream media seem to hold the people of this country. We exist, in their eyes, to be manipulated, whipped up, smacked down, and generally treated like garbage. Our interests aren't important. Only the insiders count; and what they want is what the country is going to get, no matter what the rest of us may think - unless we can stop them getting away with that. I hope and pray we can . . . but it won't be easy. The coordination and cooperation the various elements of the Swamp have displayed - House rules, intelligence community collaboration, mainstream media subservience, and so on - is frighteningly efficient and well-planned. We're going to have to pick up our game to the same level if we're to have any hope of stopping them.
I think it's up to each and every one of us who retain an independent voice to use it, to point out to friends, family and co-workers what's really going on here. Our individual voices may be small, but united they can raise a mighty shout. It's time to do so.
I'm not a fan of President Trump. I wish we had a less strident, less knee-jerk-reactive, more thoughtful, more statesmanlike President. However, I'll give him my support, precisely because the "Deep State", or the "Swamp", or whatever you want to call it, so clearly regards him as its mortal enemy. That's good. It's going to take that sort of mortal enemy to bring down the Swamp and stamp it out. Whether or not President Trump can do so isn't clear right now; but it's a battle that must be fought, and must be won, if we're to remain a constitutional republic.
Benjamin Franklin was famously asked by a bystander, after the passage of the Declaration of Independence, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” He replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
The Deep State wants to make sure that we don't keep it; that they, not we, get to dictate this country's future. If we want to keep it . . . it's up to us. This manufactured Ukraine scandal is the clearest possible evidence that we dare not waste any more time. The enemy is upon us. It's time to fight back.
Friday, September 27, 2019
The Tampa Bay Times has a disturbing report about a local mental health institution, North Tampa Behavioral Health, and its alleged habit of keeping them as long as possible - whether they need it or not.
More than two thousand people arrive each year at North Tampa Behavioral Health in extreme crisis.
They are checked in under a state law that lets mental health centers keep people who might hurt themselves or others for up to 72 hours.
But when that time is over, some patients find themselves held captive by the place that is supposed to protect them.
Priya Sarran-Persad had a psychologist threaten to commit her a second time if she didn’t volunteer to stay longer. Michael Jenkins hired a lawyer to help him get out but couldn’t for a week because the hospital never sent his paperwork to a judge. Robert Allen was held an extra three days for not participating in group therapy. His family was stunned. Allen is deaf and wasn’t given his hearing aids.
Each night they stayed, more money flowed into the psychiatric hospital.
A Tampa Bay Times investigation has found that North Tampa Behavioral makes huge profits by exploiting patients held under Florida’s mental health law, known as the Baker Act.
The hospital illegally cuts patients off from their families. Then it uses loopholes in the statute to hold them longer than allowed, running up their bills while they are powerless to fight back.
Some patients describe getting virtually no psychiatric treatment. Meanwhile, people at risk of suicide have been allowed to hurt themselves, and helpless patients have been attacked on the ward.
For this, the hospital charges up to $1,500 per night.
There's more at the link.
The Tampa Bay Times has already established quite a reputation for investigative journalism, such as its list of the 50 worst charities in America. This latest article is apparently the first in an occasional series about Florida's mental health issues. I'll look forward to reading the others as they come out.
The thing is, this isn't just important for Florida readers. This sort of heavy-handed state intervention, handing authority over patients to care providers, is already being promoted elsewhere. (It's eye-opening to see that many of those supporting it are health care providers like hospitals and clinics. The reason for their support is obvious - they stand to make money out of it.) The consequences can be disastrous. Not only are jobs and (potentially) relationships at risk, but there are legal implications. Mental health issues can directly affect your right to keep and bear arms. If you're involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, that may result in you losing that right.
I recommend you read the whole article, and think about the laws where you live. It might be worthwhile to see whether a local equivalent of Florida's Baker Act is being proposed, and if so, who's pushing for it. Gun-owners in particular may want to be wary about it, and possibly organize against it if their rights are not sufficiently protected.
Well, here's a development I didn't expect!
DOH! Did You Know There’s a Treaty Between the USA & Ukraine Regarding Cooperation For Prosecuting Crimes?
My goodness. It was passed when Joe Biden was a member of the U.S. Senate and then signed by then-President Bill Clinton.
A comprehensive treaty agreement that allows cooperation between both the United States and Ukraine in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.
It appears President Trump was following the law to the letter when it comes to unearthing the long-standing corruption that has swirled in Ukraine and allegedly involves powerful Democrats like Joe Biden and others.
There's more at the link.
Why haven't we heard a word about this from the mainstream media, or the Democratic Party?
Hmmm . . .
Thursday, September 26, 2019
While doing research for a future book, I was fortunate to stumble across the Web site of Neil Burridge, who makes authentic replicas of historic Bronze Age swords, spears and other artifacts, mostly based on archaeological discoveries of actual weapons. His craftsmanship is remarkable. Here's an excerpt from his Web site, interspersed with photographs of some of the swords he's made (reduced in size to fit this blog).
My name is Neil Burridge and this site showcases my work as a bronze sword smith. Over the last 12 years I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the leading archaeologists in the study of ancient weapons.
Middle Bronze Age, Canaanite "sickle sword"
This has enabled me to have hands on experience of the original artifacts and has greatly helped me in the understanding of their manufacture and the skills of the ancient metal-workers. In my work I strive to recreate the quality and elegance of the ancient bronze swords.
Bronze Age trilobal arrowheads
Apart from the design, the three qualities that you would look for in a bronze sword are, weight, balance and alloy, the level of skill Bronze age sword makers achieved with clay casting technology is stunning, and the fact that no one can match them today, is even more humbling.
Mycenaean Type G sword
All bronze age sword edges were hardened and sharpened at the same time, the edges were forged down to a thin, hard wafer. The work is so neat, its not easy to understand how they achieved it.
Late Bronze Age spear head
Over the past couple of years I have had some interesting interactions with archaeologists researching bronze swords. Subsequently I have come to the conclusion that we only see bronze swords in drawings in one dimension, and have little understanding of their weight, balance and how they were used.
Late Bronze Age Ewart Park sword, found in England
The first thing we would all say, when a bronze age sword was paced in are hands is, "it's so small", and they were small! It is only by the end of the bronze age that swords were getting any thing like the size we imagine, so 67cm [about 26"] would be a very big sword, and would probably weigh around 700 grams [about 24.6 ounces].
There's much more at Mr. Burridge's Web site. I highly recommend that you take some time to browse the pages in the pop-out menu bar at the side, and see his craftsmanship for yourself. It's remarkable.
I think I might just have to save up my money to buy one of his bronze swords. Not only will it be a fine example of historical metalworking, but it'll be a very real reminder of how war has shaped and formed our civilization since before recorded history.
Now that the full complaint by the so-called "whistleblower" against President Trump has been released, we can zero in on what is, to me, the most critical part of it.
"I was not a direct witness to most of the events described. However, I found my colleagues' accounts of these events to be credible ... I do not know which side initiated the call."
Are you s******g me? Do you really expect me to support official, judicial or legislative action on the basis of hearsay? Any court in the country would toss out such a case even before it began, on the grounds that hearsay testimony is not admissible as evidence. Instead of saying "I saw or heard this happen", all the "witness" can attest to is that "I heard someone say that this happened".
Now, if we were talking about a romantic relationship . . .
However, we're not talking about a romantic relationship. On the basis of the facts of the matter, the Justice Department appears to have been quite correct in its analysis.
The Justice Department’s Criminal Division has already investigated President Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president about Joseph R. Biden and concluded Mr. Trump did not violate campaign finance laws, officials announced Wednesday.
And a separate division of the department has also ruled that the administration did not break the law by failing to quickly share a whistleblower’s complaint with Congress, saying the matter didn’t meet the definition of “urgent” that would trigger the law.
. . .
“The question is whether such a complaint falls within the statutory definition of ‘urgent concern’ that the law requires the DNI to forward to the intelligence committees. We conclude that it does not,” wrote Steven A. Engel, assistant attorney general at the OLC.
They also ruled that the president’s conversation was a diplomatic communication and not an intelligence activity, and the president isn’t a part of the intelligence community anyway, so his behavior is not part of the DNI’s purview.
“Such matters simply do not relate to ‘the funding, administration or operation of an intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority’ of the DNI,” Mr. Engel concluded.
There's more at the link. It seems to confirm what I said yesterday.
Add to that the many deliberate, blatant lies being published in the mainstream media. Example: this Washington Post headline, republished at MSN:
Acting director of national intelligence threatened to resign if he couldn’t speak freely before Congress on whistleblower complaint
Really? Well, guess what?
... a statement from Maguire in response to the WaPo report said:
“At no time have I considered resigning my position since assuming this role on Aug. 16, 2019. I have never quit anything in my life, and I am not going to start now.”
Apparently the Washington Post didn't even try to contact Maguire to confirm its "report". It just published it, clearly in the hope that it would add to the confusion, controversy and conjecture surrounding the incident - and truth be damned.
This whole brouhaha appears to be founded on hearsay and lies, all blown up into a whirlwind of speculation in a desperate attempt to bring down a legitimately elected President. I think Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal had it right when she said yesterday:
This is another internal attempt to take out a president, on the basis of another non-smoking-gun.
It's sickening, disgusting, and a terrible reflection on those trying to use it as a weapon against a sitting President. If impeachment is in the wind, I think they should be its target, rather than President Trump.
It seems a South Korean factory had an unexpected delivery the other day, courtesy of the US Armed Forces.
A U.S. military helicopter accidentally dropped a metal container unit being airlifted Monday in South Korea, damaging a building but causing no injuries, officials said.
The container was being carried via sling load by a 2nd Infantry Division helicopter when it fell onto a building in Yongin, just south of Seoul.
“By all accounts, it did cause property damage, but nobody was injured,” said 2nd ID spokesman Lt. Col. Martyn Crighton.
There's more at the link, including a picture of the flattened factory. Apparently there was nobody in the factory at the time, which is a mercy.
The incident reminded me of one in South Africa many years ago, in which a helicopter was participating in a game capture and relocation project in one of that country's private nature reserves. The way it was described to me, a young (half-grown) rhinoceros was darted and tranquilized, then loaded into a cage sort of thing for transport to its new home. Unfortunately, the chopper was delayed, so by the time it arrived and hooked up the cage, the rhino was awake, and objected violently to this noisy, windy thing above his head. As the chopper lifted the cage off the ground, the rhino charged the gate; and since he was half-size, not full-size, he had enough room inside to work up a head of steam.
He burst open the swing doors, breaking the padlock securing them (which was obviously not rhino-proof), and charged out of the cage, looking for whoever was responsible for his incarceration in durance vile. The ground crew scattered in all directions at high speed (something that is very strongly recommended when dealing with obstreperous rhinocerii at halitosis range). The young rhino chased after a couple of them, but rapidly decided that putting distance between himself and that nasty flying buzzing thing was more important than pounding them into the African veld.
Meanwhile, the helicopter found itself with a suddenly wildly swinging cage, disturbing its center of balance or whatever pilots call it. As it lurched in mid-air, the pilot decided it was long gone time to get rid of his unstable load, and hit the jettison button. The swinging cage had just reached the point in its trajectory where a pickup truck was within reach; and when the pilot hit the button, you can guess where it landed. I was told that half a ton of (allegedly) rhino-proof cage does no good whatsoever to a one-ton pickup when it lands on top of the cab.
I was also told that the language from all concerned, as they picked themselves up and/or extricated themselves from the thorn bushes, was not of the sort that would commend itself to genteel discussion of the animal kingdom . . .
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
I've been researching the impeachment allegations against President Trump for a couple of hours, to try to get a handle on why the Democratic Party thinks it can impeach him over his conversation with the President of Ukraine.
I have two questions. The way I see it, if neither can be affirmatively answered, then the President has no case to answer. Instead, as Kimberley Strassel noted this morning, "This is another internal attempt to take out a president, on the basis of another non-smoking-gun."
1. The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998, and subsequent legislation, specifically reference intelligence operations. Slate - hardly a pro-Trump source - explains:
The act protects intelligence officials—just as a similar 1989 bill protected other federal officials—who report actions that constitute “a violation of laws, rules or regulations, or mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety.”
What’s so dramatic and controversial about the current crisis is that the whistleblower filed a complaint of “urgent concern,” which the act defines as a “serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or Executive Order, or deficiency” relating to intelligence activities and involving classified information.
Would someone please identify any intelligence activity, or any classified information, or any function of any intelligence department whatsoever, that was discussed between President Trump and President Zelensky? If there were none, as appears to be the case from the transcript of their conversation, surely the "complaint" from the as-yet-unidentified whistleblower does not concern an actionable offense, and does not fall under the protection of the laws mentioned above? If there was no criminal act, no "high crime or misdemeanor", how can impeachment be justified?
2. It might well be an impeachable offense if a sitting President were to ask a foreign leader to investigate his opponent in a forthcoming Presidential election. However, former Vice-President Biden is one of many candidates currently contesting the Democratic Party's nomination for the Presidency in 2020. He is not - at least, not yet - President Trump's electoral opponent. How, therefore, is it impeachable for the President to request an investigation of potential offenses to which Biden has already openly admitted, on camera?
In sum, we appear to have no impeachable crime being committed, and no influence being exerted against a duly nominated political opponent. Therefore, what grounds exist for impeachment? I simply can't see any, in terms of U.S. law.
Readers, can you help me out?
From the Z man, commenting on the impeachment brouhaha in Washington DC:
The Washington press corps is full of hysterical females, convinced Trump will stuff their uterus with Bibles and sew their legs shut.
His entire article is worth reading, as he points out the yawning pit that the Democratic Party is digging for itself over this mess. Go read.
That's the title of a very interesting article in Popular Mechanics. It's a long article with a lot of detail, far too much to include here; but I'll post a series of short excerpts to give you an idea.
... two humanitarian medical workers helping out with the Ebola crisis in Liberia had come down with it. Their names were Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, and while everyone wanted to get them home, they had no idea how to do so safely. “The general dogma was, you don’t bring the zombie apocalypse to a city that doesn’t have zombies,” Walters says. But Walters had remembered what Dent had told him ... which was that as a joint consequence of ferrying Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control luminaries around and being down for just about anything, Phoenix Air had developed a proprietary system for the transport of extremely sick people with extremely contagious diseases.
. . .
To build the Aeromedical Biological Containment System (ABCS), Phoenix Air had employed CDC and Department of Defense engineers who handled samples of the most threatening diseases and chemicals on earth.
The ABCS consists of a frame of metal tubing contoured to fit inside an airplane’s fuselage, supporting a disposable plastic cocoon—a giant zippered sock made out of what looks like a double-thick shower-curtain liner. Everything inside the sock is disposable, including a stretcher, a bucket toilet, medical supplies, and leads for health monitors that can be operated by the medical crew from outside.
. . .
William Walters drew up a contract that made Phoenix Air an official provider for the U.S. Department of State, which would make all the life-and-death decisions itself. Walters wanted to do this anyway—Phoenix Air was the only company in the world equipped to transport extremely infectious patients. BP, ExxonMobil, and the Chinese government, all of which had extensive infrastructure in Africa, were circling in an effort to nail them down for themselves.
In the end, Phoenix Air flew about 40 people who had, or who had been exposed to, Ebola from West Africa to treatment centers in the U.S. and Europe. Only two patients died, neither of them aboard the plane.
. . .
In 2014, Paul Allen, of Microsoft fame, decided he wanted to put some of his fortune to use combating Ebola. He asked the Department of State what he could do to help, which is how he, together with Phoenix Air and a research company called MRI Global, came to build the Containerized Biocontainment System (CBCS).
If the ABCS is a rubber raincoat, the CBCS is a submarine, down to 400-pound airtight doors that separate the clean, gray, and biohazard sections. The size of a semi-truck trailer, it has its own power and medical oxygen, and can be loaded onto a Boeing B-747/400 and shipped out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport within 24 hours. The CBCS solves a major problem Phoenix Air faced during the 2014 epidemic, which was that they could only pick up one patient at a time, every three days, potentially dooming anyone left behind to wait for a later flight. The CBCS can transport four extremely sick, extremely contagious people, along with six medical staff, simultaneously.
There's more at the link, including photographs. Recommended reading.
Considering the current status of the Ebola epidemic in Congo, and how it appears to be spreading, I presume Phoenix Air is dusting off its equipment and getting ready to do it all over again. It must be a horribly expensive flight, though. The ABCS is destroyed after use, so there's that write-off; and then there's the hourly cost of an executive jet, plus its crew, plus the medical staff, and everyone else concerned. I doubt whether regular medical insurance would cover the expense. I guess it'll only be deployed if Uncle Sam is paying for it, with our tax dollars. However, I'd much rather my taxes were spent on that than on some of the more wasteful and disgraceful pork barrels out there . . .
A tip o' the hat to Solomon for putting up this video clip of a new small craft suspension system.
It turns out that Nauti-Craft is an Australian company, with ambitions to apply their suspension to all sorts of smaller craft. Being a former military man, I was interested to read their perspective on its military use: "Provides significant reduction in Whole Body Vibration (WBV) and stabilised platform for increased operational capability for military personnel. Provides a competitive technical advantage where operational success is critical."
This is of even greater interest when one learns, from their Web site, that Nauti-Craft has partnered with Metal Shark in the USA. Metal Shark has won two significant US Navy contracts, one for the PB(X) 40-foot-class patrol boat (supplying up to 50 vessels), the other for the Near Coastal Patrol Vessel (NCPV), an 85-foot vessel to be built for US partner nations. Up to 13 may be constructed, in terms of the initial contract. You can see Metal Shark's publicity page for the PB(X) here, and for the 85-foot Defiant class NCPV here.
Both vessels would appear to be suitable candidates for further development into a multi-hull version using Nauti-Craft's suspension system, which that company says is suitable for "up to 100 foot commercial workboats". That would make them a great deal more comfortable for their crews during extended missions, and possibly make them more stable weapons platforms if it should come to that. I'm intrigued by the possibilities. There's also the small craft used by US Navy SEAL teams - for example, the Mark V, the Combatant Craft Medium, the Combatant Craft Heavy and the M80 Stiletto (although not all may be in service - not very much is reported about them in the public domain). Could some of them be augmented or replaced by a boat with a suspension system, for greater flexibility?
There's also the question of civilian work boats. One of the biggest problems in transferring people between a smaller and a larger vessel is the rise and fall of both in relation to each other, or between a small craft and a fixed station like a quay or the leg of an oil rig. If Nauti-Craft's technology can help to keep the boat's deck more or less stable in relation to the transfer point (as demonstrated in the video clip above), it'll be a big step forward (literally and figuratively). I reckon that'll only be possible in milder sea states, but I'm sure they're working to improve that already. Having fallen into the sea on more than one occasion while transferring between vessels in rough weather, additional stability while doing so is something I can certainly appreciate!
The big question is, how reliable will Nauti-Craft's suspension system prove in long-term service? It'll take a pounding in continuous use, particularly if the boats using it have to put to sea in any and all sea states and weather conditions. Will it stand up to that? If so, I think it has a very bright future. If it doesn't, then it'll be at best a short-lived flash in the pan. I guess we'll wait and see.
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Helicopters (the Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil, specifically the B3 high-altitude version, the first helicopter to land on the summit of Mount Everest in 2005) are used to rescue climbers in difficulty in the Himalayas. Here's a montage of footage shot from them during their missions. Some of it is amazing.
I almost got vertigo watching some of the shots in full-screen mode. I imagine the pilots have to be amongst the best in the world at what they do, to manage a helicopter in the extremely thin air and high winds of those altitudes.
Two reports have made me seriously wonder whether ordinary people care any longer about the last shreds of privacy remaining to them.
The first report, " Silicon Valley’s final frontier for mobile payments — ‘the neoliberal takeover of the human body’ ", examines the use of physical features and attributes as a payment mechanism.
Biometric mobile wallets - payment technologies using our faces, fingerprints or retinas - already exist. Notable technology companies including Apple and Amazon await a day when a critical mass of consumers is sufficiently comfortable walking into a store and paying for goods without a card or device ... Removing the last physical barrier - smartphones, watches, smart glasses and credit cards - between our bodies and corporate America is the final frontier in mobile payments.
There's more at the link.
The second article, "This ID Scanner Company is Collecting Sensitive Data on Millions of Bargoers" has worrying echoes of Big Brother - but it's a private company, without statutory authority.
The PatronScan kiosk, placed at the entrance of a bar or nightlife establishment, can verify whether an ID is real or fake, and collect and track basic customer demographic data. For bars, accurate ID scanners are valuable tools that help weed out underage drinkers, protecting the establishments’ liquor licenses from fines and scrupulous state alcohol boards. But PatronScan’s main selling point is security.
The system allows a business to maintain a record of bad customer behavior and flag those individuals, alerting every other bar that uses PatronScan. What constitutes “bad behavior” is at a bar manager’s discretion, and ranges from “sexual assault” to “violence” to “public drunkenness” and “other.” When a bargoer visits another PatronScan bar and swipes their ID, their previously flagged transgressions will pop up on the kiosk screen. Unless patrons successfully appeal their status to PatronScan or the bar directly, their status can follow them for anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months, to much, much longer. According to a PatronScan “Public Safety Report” from May 2018, the average length of bans handed out to customers in Sacramento, California was 19 years.
The same report indicates that PatronScan collected and retained information on over 10,000 patrons in Sacramento in a single day. Within a five month period, that added up to information on over 500,000 bargoers. PatronScan claims to have a networked list of more than 40,000 banned customers, many of whom may not even know about their eighty-sixed status until they try to gain entry into another bar covered by the system.
Again, more at the link.
What happens when data aggregators put all that information together, along with all the other data harvested about us from all other sources? You get a corporate equivalent of China's "social credit" system - but with no accountability.
The most disturbing attribute of a social credit system is not that it’s invasive, but that it’s extralegal. Crimes are punished outside the legal system, which means no presumption of innocence, no legal representation, no judge, no jury, and often no appeal. In other words, it’s an alternative legal system where the accused have fewer rights.
Social credit systems are an end-run around the pesky complications of the legal system. Unlike China’s government policy, the social credit system emerging in the U.S. is enforced by private companies. If the public objects to how these laws are enforced, it can’t elect new rule-makers.
An increasing number of societal “privileges” related to transportation, accommodations, communications, and the rates we pay for services (like insurance) are either controlled by technology companies or affected by how we use technology services. And Silicon Valley’s rules for being allowed to use their services are getting stricter.
If current trends hold, it’s possible that in the future a majority of misdemeanors and even some felonies will be punished not by Washington, D.C., but by Silicon Valley. It’s a slippery slope away from democracy and toward corporatocracy.
In other words, in the future, law enforcement may be determined less by the Constitution and legal code, and more by end-user license agreements.
More at the link.
If this doesn't worry you, it should.
- What happens when you're refused car insurance, because you won't allow the insurance company to install a monitoring device in the vehicle that constantly records how you drive, and who's behind the wheel?
- What happens when you aren't allowed to buy something important because you insist on using an "antiquated" method of payment such as cash or a physical credit card, rather than allow your biometric details to be used to access your bank account?
- What happens when you renew your drivers license, only to be informed that you have to install a breathalyzer device in your vehicle, to prove you're not drunk before you drive, every time - because you've been flagged on a service like Patronscan?
- What happens when you're refused entry to a business because the owner doesn't like the fact that you're known to own guns, and considers you a threat because of that?
Orwell would be horrified at how easily and willingly we've allowed ourselves to be taken over by Big Brother.
One does get very tired of watching the Washington DC "Swamp" at work, along with its mainstream media allies. In this case, the alleged "scandal" over President Trump "pressuring" Ukraine to investigate former Vice-President Biden's son for corruption, the storyline being peddled by the mainstream media and the Democratic Party consistently ignores any and all facts that might derail it, if their "investigation" were in any way impartial.
Consider these facts, all confirmed and verified from original sources.
1. Biden does, indeed, face accusations of a conflict of interest for his behavior towards Ukraine during his Vice-Presidency. He's openly and blatantly admitted them on television - there is no doubt whatsoever about his actions. The New York Times reporter who broke the story back in May has added that "potentially damaging details have yet to be reported".
2. The initial approach over the Ukraine affair came from Ukraine, via the US State Department, to Rudi Giuliani, who met with Ukrainian officials in response to their request. It was not an overture by President Trump to a foreign country, to put pressure on it - it was a response to that country's overture.
3. President Trump apparently did not try to link his request for an investigation to US foreign aid or loan guarantees, as former Vice-President Biden has openly stated he did back in 2016. Ukraine has stated this openly. Even the anti-Trump Washington Post has acknowledged this, despite its later attempts to link other, seemingly non-related issues to the scandal.
4. The "whistleblower" who allegedly started this whole brouhaha turns out to have no first-hand knowledge of the conversation between President Trump and Ukraine. He only has third-hand, hearsay "evidence" - which is no evidence at all, in terms of the requirements of a court of law. In fact, such "evidence" - or the lack thereof - does not appear to be sufficient grounds to constitute a "whistleblower" complaint or submission, in terms of applicable legislation. This is apparently why (at least so far) the Trump administration has resisted submitting the complaint to Congress.
5. Apparently irritated that none of the mud they're flinging seems to be making a difference, some mainstream media outlets are now trying to characterize President Trump's response as being, in itself, a problem. Consider this headline in the Washington Post, reproduced on MSN: "Trump’s Ukraine call reveals a president convinced of his own invincibility". Really? Was there no more substantive complaint left to make? And the article is itself filled with inaccuracies, not to say outright lies. Go figure.
6. I'll let Jim Kunstler summarize what he thinks is going on (I largely agree with him).
The swamp abides. The latest news media dumpster fire over President Trump’s phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is a three-way ruse. Ruse 1: deflect attention from the main issue, which is Joe Biden’s trolling for payoffs on his missions to foreign lands as vice-president, first Ukraine, where son Hunter was gifted a board of director’s chair and $50K-a-month salary with Ukrainian gas company Burisma, and then a $1.5 billion “private equity investment” to Hunter Biden’s wealth management fund from the state-owned Bank of China. Ruse 2: to deflect attention from the damage soon to be inflicted on the Deep State by the forthcoming DOJ Inspector General’s report on FISA court abuses. Ruse 3: To set in motion yet another obstruction of justice trap for Mr. Trump on the basis of false charges.
. . .
The coordination between the news media and the Deep State is impressively blatant in this new gambit, with former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe (dismissed for cause in 2018), in his new position as a CNN “contributor” (while awaiting prosecution) teeing up a new “Trump collusion” narrative with The New York Times, WashPost, and NBC marching in step. In this new age of disinformation, narratives are the political weapon of choice in the campaign to harass and disable the winner of the 2016 election. The big play of RussiaGate failed, the play of “racism” is failing, so UkraineGate is next up.
It’s also obviously an effort to reenergize the impeachment operation in congress, badly botched so far by Jerold Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee.
. . .
Something or somebody will have to put a stop to these seditious turpitudes. The machinery of the law must be turned on the “resistance” and its operatives in the Deep State.
I note that the Democratic Party is facing renewed calls to impeach President Trump over the Ukraine affair. Its allies in the mainstream media are already making the case for it. I think that might be a very double-edged sword indeed. If what President Trump did rises to the level of an impeachable offense (which, frankly, I doubt on the basis of the evidence currently available in the public domain), then what Vice-President Biden did in 2016, and to which he's openly admitted, is doubly so. Double impeachment, anybody?
Monday, September 23, 2019
After Larry's fulminations against Mike Glyer and File 770, it seems that progressive loony-left agitators are reporting anything and everything he says on Facebook as a breach of that platform's code of conduct, resulting in multiple bans. This doesn't exactly worry him - he's got hundreds of thousands of his own followers who couldn't care less what Facebook thinks - but it's frustrating, nonetheless.
Anyway, I thought I'd cheer Larry up by posting yesterday's Pearls Before Swine cartoon strip. I think it sums up the situation very nicely. Click the image to go to a larger version of the cartoon on its Web site.
It must be frustrating for the poor, hardworking (?) social justice warriors over at Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. So few of us give a damn about them any longer . . . and there are a growing number of worthwhile alternatives that don't censor their users (e.g. MeWe, Gab, etc.)
Military buffs will find a report from the Middle East Institute very interesting. It's titled "The Lion and The Eagle: The Syrian Arab Army’s Destruction and Rebirth". Here's the summary.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has been decimated by eight years of civil war. Defections, deaths, and a lack of funding have gutted its ranks while heavy losses of armored vehicles have significantly reduced the mechanized capabilities of what was once the sixth-largest armor fleet in the world. The inability of Damascus to fully deploy its official army led to the rise of paramilitary militias and an influx of pro-regime foreign fighters. Furthermore, the way in which the SAA units were deployed, by “task-organizing” divisions into reliably loyal units of approximately one brigade, led to the disintegration of brigade-division administrative ties.
As the regime attempted to reorganize beginning in 2014 and 2015, new divisions and brigades were created based on regional deployments. This strategy attempted to address the logistical and command issues that resulted from brigades operating hundreds of miles from the rest of their division. Russia’s fall 2015 intervention also ushered in a new era of attempted rebuilding. Between late 2015 and late 2018, Russia and Damascus engaged in four distinct initiatives to both rebuild the SAA and integrate militias under Damascus’ direct control. This report details the causes of the collapse of the SAA and its attempted rebirth and ends with a detailed examination of its current order of battle.
There's much more at the link, in considerable detail.
It's very interesting to see how a multi-party internal insurgency and geographical disintegration affected the Syrian Arab Army, and how it's had to reinvent itself (with considerable outside assistance), learning its job all over again. It's succeeded to the point that it now controls at least half of the territory of Syria, but still faces enormous challenges in dealing with insurgent regions and units, as well as a geopolitical situation that's very unfavorable to Syria at present. The pressure from Iran, both political and military, is also a factor that has to be taken into account.
All in all, this report offers some fascinating insights into the past decade in that part of the world. Recommended reading.
In a July article about the Ebola crisis in Congo, I wrote:
Officials in surrounding countries are terrified of admitting to Ebola cases on their territory, because they may bring with them restrictions on travel, trade, and all sorts of things that may affect their economies - and, consequently, the graft, bribery and corruption they rely on to fill their wallets. Can't have that interrupted, can we? This is Africa, after all!
I hate being right about something so serious - but it looks as if I was.
The World Health Organization issued an extraordinary statement Saturday raising concerns about possible unreported Ebola cases in Tanzania and urging the country to provide patient samples for testing at an outside laboratory.
The statement relates to a Tanzanian doctor who died Sept. 8 after returning to her country from Uganda; she reportedly had Ebola-like symptoms. Several contacts of the woman became sick, though Tanzanian authorities have insisted they tested negative for Ebola.
But the country has not shared the tests so they can be validated at an outside laboratory, as suggested under the International Health Regulations, a treaty designed to protect the world from spread of infectious diseases.
It is highly unusual for the WHO, which normally operates through more diplomatic means, to publicly reveal that a member country is stymying an important disease investigation.
“The presumption is that if all the tests really have been negative, then there is no reason for Tanzania not to submit those samples for secondary testing and verification,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told STAT.
“It’s only upside for them to do that, to put any of these issues to rest. And the fact that they’re not doing that, I think both raises concern and … whatever they do next, people are going to have less confidence in it,” Jha said.
Further, Tanzanian authorities waited four days to respond to the WHO’s first urgent request for information — a wait that is well outside what is required of a country under these circumstances.
There's more at the link.
I'm willing to bet that the authorities in Tanzania, at least on a local and regional level, are desperately hoping against hope that the problem will go away. It won't, of course. If the initial reports are correct - and, knowing Africa in general and that part of the world in particular, my basic assumption is that they are - I'd say that Ebola has arrived in that country. What's more, if there have been cases in Tanzania, the odds are very good indeed that there have also been more cases in nearby countries - Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. As I discussed earlier, that's the logical route for the disease to spread, down the great lakes and rivers of Africa.
The fact that no such cases have been reported is no guarantee that they haven't occurred. Official ass-covering is one factor; another is the stigma and terror aroused by this disease, making families and entire communities afraid to acknowledge its very existence, let alone that it's in their midst. "If we ignore the boogeyman, he'll go away!" is a tragically common reaction - and not just in the Third World.
Sunday, September 22, 2019
Bert Jansch (who died in 2011) was, despite his German surname, a Scottish musician, the descendant of Victorian-era immigrants to that country. He was very well-known in British folk music and guitar circles, both for his extensive solo career and as a member of Pentangle in its various incarnations from the 1960's until his death. His guitar work is particularly noteworthy, having influenced many of the greats in that field for decades.
Here are just a few samples from his very large output over the years. I've concentrated the short pieces on his instrumental works, with one notable exception. His 60th birthday concert is included in full to give an idea of the extent of his range.
First, here's the instrumental "Kingfisher" from his 1979 album "Avocet".
Next, he collaborates with John Renbourn, also renowned as a solo musician and a member of Pentangle, for "First Light".
Here he is with Jacqui Mcshee's Pentangle, the last iteration of the group of that name, with a very interesting rendition of the traditional folk classic "Scarborough Fair". It's one of my favorite versions of the song.
Here's an interview he gave to Dusty Wright in New York in 2011, shortly before he died. It helps to fill out his background, for those who don't know him.
And, last but far from least, here's his 60th birthday concert. The titles of each song are as follows:
01 - Blues run the game
02 - Black waterside
03 - Running from home
04 - Moonshine
05 - Angie
06 - Edge of a dream
07 - Crimson Moon
08 - Bruton Town
09 - Train Song
10 - I've got a feeling
11 - It don't bother me
12 - Fool's mate
13 - The River Bank
14 - Strolling down the highway
15 - Carnival
Bert Jansch was a folk music treasure, and his death was truly a loss. Fortunately, he's left us an amazing breadth of recordings to savor.
Saturday, September 21, 2019
I'm going to try to post more of my writing from time to time, as many of you seem to enjoy reading it. It'll be drawn from work(s) in progress, to give you something to anticipate.
This morning's snippet is from the sixth volume of the Maxwell Saga, to be titled "Venom Strike". The protagonist in this chapter is a former Spacer and Warrant Officer in the Bureau of Security of the Lancastrian Commonwealth Fleet, now a private detective. He'll later work with Steve Maxwell on what he discovers.
The rain grew steadily heavier as the autobus moved out into the suburbs. By the time it reached the terminus where it would turn around to head back into the city, the last of the daylight had left the sky. The night was rent by flashes of lightning, and the windows trembled to the boom of thunder. Tom stayed in his seat as the few remaining passengers disembarked, hunching their shoulders against the rain and muttering curses. No new passengers boarded before the bus commenced its return journey towards the center of town. Tom relaxed a little. He could now be fairly sure that no-one aboard the autobus had been following him.
Twenty minutes later, he got off the bus on a street lined with strip malls. Cheap eateries, pawnshops and used clothing stores vied with each other for the meager income of the workers living in the run-down low-rise apartments and tenements behind the malls, interspersed with a few individual dwelling units and duplexes. Tom paused to get a quick meal at a take-out stall, not because he was hungry but to gain time to survey his surroundings. He hurriedly shoveled the food out of the box and down his throat, not bothering to taste it as his eyes scanned all around him. He made a mental note of a robocab rank across the street in case of need. A block further down the road a nightclub was already blasting the evening with a thudding bass beat, noisy groups of teenagers jiving under the awnings of the adjacent shops in the strip mall as they tried to persuade the bouncers to admit them.
He tossed the empty container into a garbage can as he walked down the road towards the tenements, dimly lit by intermittently working streetlights. The driving rain pounded on his hat and face and ran down his overcoat in streams, soaking the bottoms of his trousers and his shoes. He cursed softly as drops of water dripped from his hair, creeping past the upturned collar of his coat, finding their way into his shirt, running down his back, making him shiver. He consulted a map on his comm unit and made his way deeper into the maze of side streets. Only an occasional vehicle passed, most of them autovans making their last deliveries of the day, bumping over the badly-maintained, rutted road surface. In this area there’d be few private vehicles, he knew.
He turned a corner and glanced down the road, counting building numbers. More than half of them weren’t clearly posted or illuminated, as required under municipal regulations, and the street’s lights were all out; but he could see enough to estimate that his destination should be in the next block. He set off towards it.
As he approached, a small van coasted silently to a halt in front of him at the head of a narrow alley separating the two blocks. It wasn’t showing any lights. Moved by a sudden impulse, Tom shrank into the doorway of an apartment building, peering out into the gloom. He saw the van’s interior light come on as two doors opened on its far side. Three figures got out, closing the doors behind them. The driver remained behind the wheel, power unit still humming gently, watching his companions as they walked down the block. Tom took advantage of his preoccupation to move closer, crouching behind a dumpster on the corner, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the smell coming from the garbage inside.
The three figures stopped outside a small house, glancing at the illuminated ‘327’ on the postbox at the gate. Tom suddenly realized that it was the same address he was seeking, even as they drew black objects from their pockets. One opened the gate and they filed through it towards the front door of the house. What the hell do I do now?, Tom asked himself feverishly as his hand went to his overcoat pocket, coming out with his silenced pulser. If they’re also armed, there’s no way I can take on four of them!
He waited on tenterhooks behind the dumpster, straining his ears. He thought he heard a door open, followed by a couple of muffled thumping sounds and a scuffle… then silence. The van driver continued to peer down the street, his hands below the level of the window so Tom couldn’t see whether he was holding a weapon. Better assume he is, he cautioned himself grimly. I doubt those other three were taking calling cards out of their pockets.
Three seemingly endless minutes passed, until one of the shadowy figures reappeared at the gate of the house, holding a flat object wrapped in what looked like a plastic garbage bag. He hurried down the sidewalk to the van. As he approached, he called softly, “We got them both. Here’s the painting. The others are checking to see if there’s anything else worth taking.”
The driver replied, through the open window on the far side of the van, “Put it in the back, out of the way. Don’t want anyone sitting on it, do we?”
The other laughed as he walked to the back, fumbling with the catch on the cargo door. Tom moved to the rear of the dumpster, watching as he lifted the plastic-wrapped object, which looked to be about half a meter long by a third of a meter wide, and laid it carefully on the floor of the load compartment. As he straightened and reached up to close the door, Tom stepped silently out from behind the dumpster and clubbed him hard behind the ear with the butt of his pulser. Without a sound, the figure folded forward. Tom grabbed him and laid him silently on the roadway, then closed the cargo door.
The driver hadn’t noticed anything over the noise of the wind and the rain. He was still staring down the sidewalk towards the house, paying no attention to the rear of the van. Tom moved soundlessly down the side of the van until he was at the driver’s door. He shifted his feet to be sure of his balance, then reached for the handle and yanked the door open suddenly.
As the driver started in surprise and began to turn his head, Tom reached inside with his left hand and grabbed his collar, hauling him halfway out of the door as his right hand came down. The butt of the pulser thudded hard between his eyes, and he moaned aloud, trying to bring up his hands. Instantly Tom hit him again, even harder, in the same spot. His eyes rolled up and he slumped, only his seatbelt holding him inside the van. Tom reached over his limp body and pressed the catch, releasing the belt, allowing him to tumble out of the seat onto the road.
He glanced through the van towards the house. The two remaining figures were coming down the path from the house to the gate. There wasn’t a moment to lose. Tom jumped into the van, slammed the door, and gunned the still-running power pack.
With a squeal of tires on wet pavement, the lightly loaded van jumped out of the alley, lurching over to one side as Tom hauled the wheel around to head back in the direction from which he’d come. Through the open windows on the other side of the van, he heard shouts from behind him, followed by several muffled popping noises. The rear window shattered, spraying shards of safety glass in all directions, and a hole suddenly appeared in the windscreen in front of him as a pulser bead blasted the length of the van.
Tom ducked, keeping his foot hard down on the accelerator, and hauled the wheel over again. The van lurched into another side street. He twisted left and right through a few more streets, trying to head in the general direction of the main road, cursing to himself as adrenaline coursed through his veins. It had been a long time since he’d last been under fire. I’m getting too old for this crap, he told himself bitterly.
"Venom Strike" will be published in early 2020, God willing.