Saturday, November 30, 2019

Saturday Snippet: Elephants and their noses

Rudyard Kipling is famous for many books, but not too many people on this side of the Atlantic Ocean are aware of his "Just So Stories".

It's a volume of a dozen stories for children, including many favorites such as "How the Camel got his Hump" and "The Cat that Walked by Himself".  I grew up with them, and greatly enjoyed them (and still do).

In order to introduce them to those who don't know them, here's one of the stories in full.  It's titled "The Elephant's Child", and tells how the elephant got his trunk.  The cover illustration above depicts it.

     In the High and Far-Off Times the Elephant, O Best Beloved, had no trunk. He had only a blackish, bulgy nose, as big as a boot, that he could wriggle about from side to side; but he couldn’t pick up things with it. But there was one Elephant – a new Elephant – an Elephant’s Child – who was full of ’satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions. And he lived in Africa, and he filled all Africa with his ’satiable curtiosities. He asked his tall aunt, the Ostrich, why her tail-feathers grew just so, and his tall aunt the Ostrich spanked him with her hard, hard claw. He asked his tall uncle, the Giraffe, what made his skin spotty, and his tall uncle, the Giraffe, spanked him with his hard, hard hoof. And still he was full of ’satiable curtiosity! He asked his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, why her eyes were red, and his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, spanked him with her broad, broad hoof; and he asked his hairy uncle, the Baboon, why melons tasted just so, and his hairy uncle, the Baboon, spanked him with his hairy, hairy paw. And still he was full of ’satiable curtiosity! He asked questions about everything that he saw, or heard, or felt, or smelt, or touched, and all his uncles and his aunts spanked him. And still he was full of ’satiable curtiosity!
     One fine morning in the middle of the Precession of the Equinoxes this ’satiable Elephant’s Child asked a new fine question that he had never asked before. He asked, ‘What does the Crocodile have for dinner?’ Then everybody said, ‘Hush!’ in a loud and dretful tone, and they spanked him immediately and directly, without stopping, for a long time.
     By and by, when that was finished, he came upon Kolokolo Bird sitting in the middle of a wait-a-bit thorn-bush, and he said, ‘My father has spanked me, and my mother has spanked me; all my aunts and uncles have spanked me for my ’satiable curtiosity; and still I want to know what the Crocodile has for dinner!’
     Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, ‘Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.’
     That very next morning, when there was nothing left of the Equinoxes, because the Precession had preceded according to precedent, this ’satiable Elephant’s Child took a hundred pounds of bananas (the little short red kind), and a hundred pounds of sugar-cane (the long purple kind), and seventeen melons (the greeny-crackly kind), and said to all his dear families, ‘Goodbye. I am going to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to find out what the Crocodile has for dinner.’ And they all spanked him once more for luck, though he asked them most politely to stop.
     Then he went away, a little warm, but not at all astonished, eating melons, and throwing the rind about, because he could not pick it up.
     He went from Graham’s Town to Kimberley, and from Kimberley to Khama’s Country, and from Khama’s Country he went east by north, eating melons all the time, till at last he came to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, precisely as Kolokolo Bird had said.
     Now you must know and understand, O Best Beloved, that till that very week, and day, and hour, and minute, this ’satiable Elephant’s Child had never seen a Crocodile, and did not know what one was like. It was all his ’satiable curtiosity.
     The first thing that he found was a Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake curled round a rock.
     ‘’Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child most politely, ‘but have you seen such a thing as a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?’
     ‘Have I seen a Crocodile?’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, in a voice of dretful scorn. ‘What will you ask me next?’
     ‘’Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘but could you kindly tell me what he has for dinner?’
     Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake uncoiled himself very quickly from the rock, and spanked the Elephant’s Child with his scalesome, flailsome tail.
     ‘That is odd,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘because my father and my mother, and my uncle and my aunt, not to mention my other aunt, the Hippopotamus, and my other uncle, the Baboon, have all spanked me for my ’satiable curtiosity – and I suppose this is the same thing.’
     So he said good-bye very politely to the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, and helped to coil him up on the rock again, and went on, a little warm, but not at all astonished, eating melons, and throwing the rind about, because he could not pick it up, till he trod on what he thought was a log of wood at the very edge of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees.
     But it was really the Crocodile, O Best Beloved, and the Crocodile winked one eye – like this!
     ‘’Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child most politely, ‘but do you happen to have seen a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?’
     Then the Crocodile winked the other eye, and lifted half his tail out of the mud; and the Elephant’s Child stepped back most politely, because he did not wish to be spanked again.
     ‘Come hither, Little One,’ said the Crocodile. ‘Why do you ask such things?’
     ‘’Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child most politely, ‘but my father has spanked me, my mother has spanked me, not to mention my tall aunt, the Ostrich, and my tall uncle, the Giraffe, who can kick ever so hard, as well as my broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, and my hairy uncle, the Baboon, and including the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, with the scalesome, flailsome tail, just up the bank, who spanks harder than any of them; and so, if it’s quite all the same to you, I don’t want to be spanked any more.’
     ‘Come hither, Little One,’ said the Crocodile, ‘for I am the Crocodile,’ and he wept crocodile-tears to show it was quite true.
     Then the Elephant’s Child grew all breathless, and panted, and kneeled down on the bank and said, ‘You are the very person I have been looking for all these long days. Will you please tell me what you have for dinner?’
     ‘Come hither, Little One,’ said the Crocodile, ‘and I’ll whisper.’
     Then the Elephant’s Child put his head down close to the Crocodile’s musky, tusky mouth, and the Crocodile caught him by his little nose, which up to that very week, day, hour, and minute, had been no bigger than a boot, though much more useful.
     ‘I think,’ said the Crocodile – and he said it between his teeth, like this – ‘I think to-day I will begin with Elephant’s Child!’
     At this, O Best Beloved, the Elephant’s Child was much annoyed, and he said, speaking through his nose, like this, ‘Led go! You are hurtig be!’
     Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake scuffled down from the bank and said, ‘My young friend, if you do not now, immediately and instantly, pull as hard as ever you can, it is my opinion that your acquaintance in the large-pattern leather ulster’ (and by this he meant the Crocodile) ‘will jerk you into yonder limpid stream before you can say Jack Robinson.’
     This is the way Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snakes always talk.
     Then the Elephant’s Child sat back on his little haunches, and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and his nose began to stretch. And the Crocodile floundered into the water, making it all creamy with great sweeps of his tail, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled.
     And the Elephant’s Child’s nose kept on stretching; and the Elephant’s Child spread all his little four legs and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and his nose kept on stretching; and the Crocodile threshed his tail like an oar, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and at each pull the Elephant’s Child’s nose grew longer and longer – and it hurt him hijjus!
     Then the Elephant’s Child felt his legs slipping, and he said through his nose, which was now nearly five feet long, ‘This is too butch for be!’
     Then the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake came down from the bank, and knotted himself in a double-clove-hitch round the Elephant’s Child’s hind legs, and said, ‘Rash and inexperienced traveller, we will now seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension, because if we do not, it is my impression that yonder self-propelling man-of-war with the armour-plated upper deck’ (and by this, O Best Beloved, he meant the Crocodile), ‘will permanently vitiate your future career.’
     That is the way all Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snakes always talk.
     So he pulled, and the Elephant’s Child pulled, and the Crocodile pulled; but the Elephant’s Child and the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake pulled hardest; and at last the Crocodile let go of the Elephant’s Child’s nose with a plop that you could hear all up and down the Limpopo.
     Then the Elephant’s Child sat down most hard and sudden; but first he was careful to say ‘Thank you’ to the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake; and next he was kind to his poor pulled nose, and wrapped it all up in cool banana leaves, and hung it in the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo to cool.
     ‘What are you doing that for?’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake.
     ‘’Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘but my nose is badly out of shape, and I am waiting for it to shrink.’
     ‘Then you will have to wait a long time’, said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. ‘Some people do not know what is good for them.’
     The Elephant’s Child sat there for three days waiting for his nose to shrink. But it never grew any shorter, and, besides, it made him squint. For, O Best Beloved, you will see and understand that the Crocodile had pulled it out into a really truly trunk same as all Elephants have to-day.
     At the end of the third day a fly came and stung him on the shoulder, and before he knew what he was doing he lifted up his trunk and hit that fly dead with the end of it.
     ‘’Vantage number one!’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. ‘You couldn’t have done that with a mere-smear nose. Try and eat a little now.’
     Before he thought what he was doing the Elephant’s Child put out his trunk and plucked a large bundle of grass, dusted it clean against his fore-legs, and stuffed it into his own mouth.
     ‘’Vantage number two!’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. ‘You couldn’t have done that with a mere-smear nose. Don’t you think the sun is very hot here?’
     ‘It is,’ said the Elephant’s Child, and before he thought what he was doing he schlooped up a schloop of mud from the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo, and slapped it on his head, where it made a cool schloopy-sloshy mud-cap all trickly behind his ears.
     ‘’Vantage number three!’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake. ‘You couldn’t have done that with a mere-smear nose. Now how do you feel about being spanked again?’
     ‘’Scuse me,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘but I should not like it at all.’
     ‘How would you like to spank somebody?’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake.
     ‘I should like it very much indeed,’ said the Elephant’s Child.
     ‘Well,’ said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake, ‘you will find that new nose of yours very useful to spank people with.’
     ‘Thank you,’ said the Elephant’s Child, ‘I’ll remember that; and now I think I’ll go home to all my dear families and try.’
     So the Elephant’s Child went home across Africa frisking and whisking his trunk. When he wanted fruit to eat he pulled fruit down from a tree, instead of waiting for it to fall as he used to do. When he wanted grass he plucked grass up from the ground, instead of going on his knees as he used to do. When the flies bit him he broke off the branch of a tree and used it as fly-whisk; and he made himself a new, cool, slushy-squshy mud-cap whenever the sun was hot. When he felt lonely walking through Africa he sang to himself down his trunk, and the noise was louder than several brass bands.
     He went especially out of his way to find a broad Hippopotamus (she was no relation of his), and he spanked her very hard, to make sure that the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake had spoken the truth about his new trunk. The rest of the time he picked up the melon rinds that he had dropped on his way to the Limpopo – for he was a Tidy Pachyderm.
     One dark evening he came back to all his dear families, and he coiled up his trunk and said, ‘How do you do?’ They were very glad to see him, and immediately said, ‘Come here and be spanked for your ’satiable curtiosity.’
     ‘Pooh,’ said the Elephant’s Child. ‘I don’t think you peoples know anything about spanking; but I do, and I’ll show you.’ Then he uncurled his trunk and knocked two of his dear brothers head over heels.
     ‘O Bananas!’ said they, ‘where did you learn that trick, and what have you done to your nose?’
     ‘I got a new one from the Crocodile on the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River,’ said the Elephant’s Child. ‘I asked him what he had for dinner, and he gave me this to keep.’
     ‘It looks very ugly,’ said his hairy uncle, the Baboon.
     ‘It does,’ said the Elephant’s Child. ‘But it’s very useful,’ and he picked up his hairy uncle, the Baboon, by one hairy leg, and hove him into a hornet’s nest.
     Then that bad Elephant’s Child spanked all his dear families for a long time, till they were very warm and greatly astonished. He pulled out his tall Ostrich aunt’s tail-feathers; and he caught his tall uncle, the Giraffe, by the hind-leg, and dragged him through a thorn-bush; and he shouted at his broad aunt, the Hippopotamus, and blew bubbles into her ear when she was sleeping in the water after meals; but he never let any one touch Kolokolo Bird.
     At last things grew so exciting that his dear families went off one by one in a hurry to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, to borrow new noses from the Crocodile. When they came back nobody spanked anybody any more; and ever since that day, O Best Beloved, all the Elephants you will ever see, besides all those that you won’t, have trunks precisely like the trunk of the ’satiable Elephant’s Child.

And there you have it!  To find out how the camel got his hump, and other natural wonders of the world, you'll have to read the book for yourself.  Read it to your children and grandchildren, too - I find it's a perennial favorite with youngsters, despite having been published 117 years ago.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Ebola: just when things were looking up, the killing starts again

It had begun to look as if the authorities in the Congo, and the international medical teams, had started to get on top of the big Ebola outbreak there.  Sadly, their progress has just come to a grinding halt.

Three health workers were killed when Mai-Mai fighters attacked a center run by the United Nations health agency overnight in Biakato, a local official, Salambongo Selemani, told The Associated Press. One resident also was killed and Congolese forces killed one attacker and captured two others, Mr. Selemani said.

Warnings had been posted earlier demanding that the health workers leave or face “the worst,” he said.

Health workers trying to contain the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history have been targeted in the past, but the current outbreak has been described by some observers as more complicated than any other. Several rebel groups are active in the region, and local officials have said that some of the insurgents believe that the reports of Ebola are a political trick.

. . .

The Ebola response was put on lockdown in Beni, dismaying health experts who say every attack hurts crucial efforts to contain the deadly virus. Most recent new cases have been reported in the newly targeted communities of Biakato, Mangina and Beni.

The number of cases had been dropping in the yearlong outbreak, which has killed more than 2,100 people and was declared a global health emergency earlier this year. Several days this month, zero cases were reported, but cases have surged after attacks on health workers and facilities.

In one example of how any pause can sharply affect Ebola containment efforts, the World Health Organization has said that no one in Beni could be vaccinated against the virus on Monday. The health agency could previously trace more than 90 percent of contacts of infected people in the city, but that figure has dropped to 17 percent, a United Nations spokesman said on Tuesday.

There's more at the link.

The containment effort against Ebola has depended very heavily on "boots on the ground":  local workers, helped by foreign doctors and specialists, going from house to house, checking on the health of everybody in an area, taking the sick to treatment centers, and quarantining their contacts until it was certain they had not spread the disease.  If the price of doing that is a bullet, there isn't going to be much more of it, that's for sure!

My prayers go to those who were killed.  That won't comfort their loved ones, of course, and it won't help stop the resurgence of Ebola if the primitive, animist militia in the area can't be controlled or contained.  Prayer won't do that - it'll take more boots on the ground, these ones armed and trained military personnel.  Local troops won't do.  They're largely untrained, and most of them are so ill-educated they probably believe, as the militias do, that Ebola is actually a Western plot against the African population.  It'll take more effective, more efficient international intervention - but international troops, if they have any sense, will resign rather than allow themselves to be sent into a region where their chances of dying of the world's most loathsome disease are better than average.

Absent such intervention, this local and regional crisis could still spiral out of control, and become global.

Ebola isn't the only health crisis in Africa, either.  How about new cases of polio that appear to be caused by a mutation in the polio strain used in the oral vaccine widely distributed there?  If the vaccine itself is the problem, that's a very major issue indeed.


The lighter side of Thanksgiving

To help us digest all that Thanksgiving food and drink, here are a few giggleworthy mementos of the feast, sent in by readers, to whom my grateful thanks.

First, for those who like the whole Turducken thing, with a side of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos:

And for those who like to deep-fry their turkey (I've sampled it, but I've never liked it as much as a slow-baked, oven-cooked bird):

And finally, from a couple of years ago, what happens when the Irish try American Thanksgiving food?

But wait - there's more! What about the Irish sampling weird Thanksgiving food?  (And some of it sure is weird!)

I wonder how an Irish Thanksgiving meal would look?  The biggest bird in the Emerald Isle is said to be the Mute Swan, but it'd fall foul of all sorts of animal protection regulations to bake one of them.  Perhaps if they put wings on a corned beef roast, and called it a bird?  That certainly has an Irish ring to it . . .


Thursday, November 28, 2019


Why is today called "Thanksgiving"?  George Washington, first President of the United States, informs us.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

— George Washington

One wishes that the spirit George Washington hoped to engender among his fellow countrymen were more prevalent today, instead of the nastiness of partisan politics that threatens to ruin any such mood.  Two examples (out of all too many candidates) from Twitter:

I don't think there'll be much thanksgiving in those households, that's for sure!  However, some of us (hopefully, many of us) have more sense than that.

From my household to yours, may we all be thankful this day for our many blessings, to God if we believe in a deity, and in general if we don't.  May we be granted such blessings anew in the year that lies ahead.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Yes, you can cook a frozen turkey

I've been caught short more than once by a turkey that didn't defrost fast enough to be fully thawed by the time I was ready to cook it.  I wasn't aware of it until now, but apparently there's a method to cook even a deep-frozen turkey without first defrosting it.  San Francisco DJ Rick Stuart tells us how.

I just put the frozen turkey in a 325 oven on a lower rack in a rimmed baking sheet like you would use for cookies. That way hot air can get around it to cook. Don't use a roasting pan with high sides. Put a cup of water in the baking sheet. That's pretty much it.

So simple.

About 2 hours in I pulled out the packet inside and everything else. I put some bbq rub inside and outside. I was tempted to put some cut onions and things like that inside the turkey but I think you need to keep it open as much as possible to get the hot oven air inside the bird.

I made sure all of it got to 165 especially down near the bones but not on the bone. The breast will overshoot but that was ok. Have a reliable and calibrated thermometer to check the internal temperatures. Don't use those silly pop up things.

Total cooking time was about 5 1/2 hours.

There's more at the link.

I presume that if you put the bird in an oven roasting bag, as I normally do when I roast a turkey, it will retain more moisture than if you just put it in "naked", with no covering.  I won't need to cook from frozen this Thanksgiving (I hope!), but I'll keep this article in mind for future reference.

Mr. Stuart also provides helpful links to other articles on cooking a turkey, including one describing how to slow-cook it overnight at low temperatures.  Very useful.


F-4 Phantoms at play in the dusk

Some months ago I put up a video clip of Japanese Air Force F-4 Phantom aircraft, filmed in slow motion at and around the Hyakuri airfield.  Now a companion video has emerged of the last two squadrons of Japanese Phantoms, filmed at dusk and during the twilight hours, also in slow motion.

The Aviationist notes:

All the remaining F-4 Phantoms of the Japanese Air Self Defense Force are stationed at Hyakuri Base ... a fighter squadron, the 301 Hikotai, and a reconnaissance squadron, the 501 Hikotai.

The 501 Reconnaissance squadron is scheduled to cease operations and become a fighter unit in March 2020 whereas the 301 Hikotai is slated to move to Misawa  to become the second F-35A unit later in 2020.

. . .

While they prepare to retire their current aircraft type, the two squadrons continue to fly the F-4Es round-the-clock.

The video below shows, in stunning slow motion, the 301 and 501 Squadron Phantoms during night operations, usually carried out at the beginning of the week, on Tuesday (this is why Hyakuri F-4s flying at dusk/night are dubbed “Tuesday Moon Ghosts”).

There's some superb photography here.

Sadly, the days of the Phantom are numbered.  Only a few air forces still fly them, typically because they can't afford to replace them or can't obtain more modern aircraft for one reason or another.  Soon those, too, will be gone.  Still, the aircraft has had a great career, having first flown in 1958, 61 years ago.  Well over 5,000 were built.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Fake science, sexual reality, and gender identity

Last week I noted that the ACLU's claim, that one can be a man and still have periods, get pregnant, etc., was scientifically false;  that sex was determined by the chromosomes, and they are definitive.  Since then, I've received a certain amount of pushback from transgender individuals and/or lobbyists, trying to persuade me (or browbeat me into accepting) that the science is rather more involved than that, and that gender fluidity and/or identification is not a matter of the chromosomes alone.

I accept that psychological or psychiatric problems can lead some people to adopt a different mental outlook on their gender and sex;  but I emphatically deny and reject any assertion that this has a physical, genetic, medical or scientific basis.  The evidence just isn't there, according to any rational, hard-science analysis of the evidence.

One article put forward as evidence of my "mistake" is from the Scientific American.  It's titled "Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia:
Actual research shows that sex is anything but binary".  Unfortunately, while the article itself contains scientific facts, they're misapplied to obfuscate and obscure the issue by bringing in extraneous factors, none of which are relevant to an adult human being.  Here are some examples.  In each case, a citation from the article is followed by my response.

Claim:  "The truth is, your biological sex isn’t carved in stone, but a living system with the potential for change."
Response:  Bull!  As mentioned in my earlier article, those who are classified as intersex (a vanishingly small proportion of the population) may have a more indeterminate sexuality/gender, but for everybody else, once one's reached sexual maturity, that's it.  One's biological sex is, indeed, carved in stone.  For almost all of us, the chromosomes have it.

Claim:  "A newly fertilized embryo initially develops without any indication of its sex. At around five weeks, a group of cells clump together to form the bipotential primordium."
Response:  So what?  If you leave the embryo alone, its sex will pretty soon become apparent, as nature takes its course.  It's meaningless to say that right at the beginning, you can't tell its sex.  That's all right.  Nature can! - and it'll pretty soon make its sex obvious.

Claim:  "While brief and coordinated SRY-activation initiates the process of male-sex differentiation, genes like DMRT1 and FOXL2 maintain certain sexual characteristics during adulthood. If these genes stop functioning, gonads can change and exhibit characteristics of the opposite sex. Without these players constantly active, certain components of your biological sex can change."
Response:  Again, so what?  In a normal, healthy individual, all of those genetic components work as they should.  They don't stop functioning - in fact, to do so is vanishingly rare.  If they do, that's a problem for medical science to solve, so that the person can resume their normal lives and sexual identity (which the chromosomes have already determined).  It's not evidence of gender fluidity or the ability to choose one's sex.

Claim:  "But a half century of empirical research has repeatedly challenged the idea that brain biology is simply XY = male brain or XX = female brain. In other words, there is no such thing as 'the male brain' or 'the female brain'."
Response:  The argument is not whether there's a "male" or "female" brain.  Physically, those organs are pretty much alike.  Psychologically, they're far from it!  Determining why men and women view the world differently is a matter for science to investigate - but their differing outlooks on life are not physically determinative of sexual and/or gender identity.  The latter are merely factors to deal with in the individual.  They cannot and do not affect that individual's biological sex, because they have nothing to do with it.

Claim:  "It’s easy to see sexual dimorphisms and conclude that the brain is binary; easy, but wrong. Thanks to the participation of trans people in research, we have expanded our understanding of how brain structure, sex and gender interact. For some properties like brain volume and connectivity, trans people possessed values in between those typical of cisgender males and females, both before and after transitioning. Another study found that for certain brain regions, trans individuals appeared similar to cis-individuals with the same gender identity. In that same study, researchers found specific areas of the brain where trans people seemed closer to those with the same assigned sex at birth. Other researchers discovered that trans people have unique structural differences from cis-individuals."
Response:  This is irrelevant.  So what if there are certain differences between various aspects of the brain?  They still do not determine one's biological sex!  They may influence what one feels or thinks about it - one's "gender identity", if you will, as opposed to one's biological sex - but they cannot determine or dictate biological reality.  Feelings like that are a psychological or psychiatric issue, to be resolved by those fields of medicine.  Feelings do not determine scientific and medical and biological fact.

The so-called "transgender" lobby is full of hot air and vapidity.  Their claims make no sense from a "hard science" perspective, no matter how much they may try to invoke those sciences, or obfuscate the issue through bringing in a "soft" science perspective.  All too often, they try to assert that non-physical factors are as important, as determinative, as physical ones.  Again I say, bull!  That's not scientifically valid, pure and simple.  Such factors can't be measured, can't be experimentally replicated, can't be analyzed using the scientific method.  They're all about the feeeeeeelings! - and feelings are not, repeat, not determinative of reality.  The transgender lobby insists that biological sex and gender identification are not the same thing, that the latter can override the former.  Science - hard science, not touchy-feely wishy-washy politically correct pseudo-science - says that's flat-out wrong.  Biological sex trumps any number of feelings.  One can feel, wish, hope, believe, pretend or play-act that one's gender is not the same as one's sex - but it's still a lie.

I've had the privilege of knowing three people who are intersex - their physical sex is more or less indeterminative, due to biological and genetic factors.  They are wonderful people, despite a real and serious medical issue that's plagued them all their lives, and I admire their courage in dealing with it.  I know five people whom I'm aware have had sex-change surgery.  I don't know whether they were intersex or not, and I don't care.  That's their business.  I'm on good terms with them, and I have no problem at all associating with them.  They understand my position on sex and gender, and that I don't necessarily see things their way - but I still like them, respect them, and associate with them, because there's no reason to discriminate against them.  They're good people, plain and simple.  I'm not a bigot, and I'm not blind to reality.  They had what appeared to them to be good and sufficient reasons to take the step they did;  and it's not for me to play God and denounce them for it.

Nevertheless, hard science remains hard science, and facts remain facts.  If we ignore them in favor of some touchy-feely, wishy-washy, "be whatever you feel like" approach to life, we risk abandoning our foundation in and on reality.  That's why the gender-benders deliberately seek to obfuscate the difference between sex and gender.  Again, that's bull.  Gender is a sociological and psychological and cultural construct.  If we claim a gender identity that differs from our actual sex, we are claiming that reality is trumped by perception.  No, it isn't, and it never will be.

Biology is determinative, no matter how much one might like to pretend it isn't or wish it wasn't.  With the vanishingly small exception of the intersex, men are male, with XY chromosomes, and women are female, with XX chromosomes, and that's the way it is.  So-called gender identity (a psychological, "soft" science perspectivecannot change one's fundamental, biological, chromosomal sexual identity (a reality-based, "hard" science fact).  Neither can medical science, at least not at present, even though surgical and hormonal intervention may change its outward appearance.  That's not the same thing at all.


Fish plastic and canal clearing

Two unrelated sources this morning turn into a single blog article.  Ah, the wonders of imagination . . .

First, Old Salt Blog brings us the news that an engineering graduate in England has won the James Dyson Award for inventing a biodegradable plastic made from fish waste.  You can read more about it at the link.

This is some very useful research.  I don't know how many of my readers have walked past a fish processing plant, and been assailed by the stench of rotting fish waste products.  It's . . . impressive . . . not to mention probably reportable as a biological weapon under various international laws!  If Ms. Hughes' research can make productive use of that waste, and remove its olfactory pollution, to produce something new that also solves another, far more serious pollution problem, then full marks to her.  I hope this gets taken further by industry.

The second source is Nourishing Obscurity, which brings us this video clip of what looks like an old barge tug clearing ice from an urban canal in the Netherlands.  I've traveled along some of those canals in summer, and enjoyed the experience - but I'd rather avoid them when they're frozen solid.  Let's hear it for global warming!

Those canals are used daily by both leisure and commercial/industrial traffic, as this next video shows. I've been aboard a vessel about that size as it went through several Dutch towns. I found it nerve-wracking to be that close to the shore - I kept expecting to hear a grinding, tearing noise! - but the helmsman didn't even blink. He was used to it.

Hmmm . . . if you wrapped the ships in biodegradable plastic made from fish waste, would they slide more smoothly over and/or through the water and/or ice?  And could it serve instead of fenders, to keep the ships from hitting the shore?  Now that would be some fun research!  Fishy bubble wrap, perhaps?


Monday, November 25, 2019

Three very important little books that everyone should own

One can argue until the cows come home about politics and partisanship.  Today the latter appears worse than ever, although I'm sure that's because we can't go back in time and see how bad it was in earlier generations.  Nevertheless, the "pressure groups" trying to influence society and politics are particularly active, and particularly vocal, at present.

Vilified by many people because of his perceived right-wing politics (which are often exaggerated and distorted by his critics), Vox Day has nevertheless been proved by events to be a very accurate observer of the extremist left wing of politics and culture.  He's just published a new book, "Corporate Cancer: How to Work Miracles and Save Millions by Curing Your Company", describing how they're trying to infiltrate and control corporations, as an extension of their political activities.

The blurb reads:

The corporate cancer of social justice convergence is costing corporations literal billions of dollars even as it drives both productive employees and loyal customers away, destroys valuable brands, and eats away at market capitalizations. From Internet startups to entertainment giants, convergence is killing corporations as they focus on social justice virtue signaling at the expense of good business practices, sales, profits, and retaining loyal customers.

In CORPORATE CANCER, Vox Day explains how you can fight social justice convergence in your own organization for both personal and corporate profit, and why you must do so if you want to keep your job.

Considering last week's headlines concerning Chick-Fil-A and its charity sponsorships, it's a pity the book has only just been published - otherwise that company's management might have learned something from it!

The book joins Vox Day's two previous analyses of how so-called "social justice warriors" operate.  Both have proved to be accurate so many times that it's almost superfluous to call them seminal analyses of what's wrong in our society.  Click on each cover image to learn more about the book.

I don't agree with Vox on some issues, but I've always found him to be approachable, incisive and clear when discussing topics of mutual interest.  I'm not interested in the mud that's been thrown at him, or in attempts to vilify or defame his fans by association with him.  He can argue very cogently for what he believes in, and whether or not anyone agrees with him, that's his right and his privilege.  (There's also the very salient point that one may know a person by the quality of their friends - and their enemies.  He's made enemies of so many of the "politically correct" that he must be a very superior sort of opponent!)

The three books mentioned above are all relatively inexpensive, whether in e-book or print editions.  I respectfully suggest they belong in the libraries of anyone who's trying to understand modern political, social, economic or cultural interaction.  Their accuracy is their chief selling point.

(No, Vox isn't compensating me in any way for promoting these books.  I'm doing so because I've found them to be accurate far more often than not, and I've benefited from reading them.  That's why I recommend them.  I do have a professional association with him, through Castalia House, his publishing firm, producing some of my books in paper format, but that hasn't influenced my recommendation at all.)


Never poke a bear with a stick . . . it might turn around and bite you

One thing that's struck me about the impeachment hearings in Congress over the past couple of weeks is the sheer mendacity of the proceedings.  So many people - witnesses, legal counsel and politicians - are lying, or "spinning" what's been said to suit their partisan purposes, that it's become very hard to sift through the dross to find the occasional nugget of truth.  That applies to both sides, of course.  There are honorable exceptions - for example, Rep. Elise Stefanik has been a breath of fresh air with her strictly fact-based analyses, and a joy to watch as she refuses to allow witnesses to obfuscate and bloviate - but they're few and far between.

However, many people with an agenda forget a time-honored truth:  if you're going to say that something isn't true, you'd better have something to back up your point, because if you don't, those who say it is true are going to nail your hide to the wall.  LtCol. Vindman, whose testimony has emerged as a critical element in the Democratic Party's plans to impeach President Trump (so much so that without it, their plans may fall apart), clearly forgot this.  He impugned the veracity of John Solomon, a reporter who has uncovered many of the facts about the Ukraine imbroglio despite official obfuscation.  So did other witnesses, leading to a review of Mr. Solomon's reporting by The Hill.  Now Mr. Solomon has responded, in forthright fashion.

I want to exercise my right to debate Lt. Col. Vindman about the testimony he gave about me. You see, under oath to Congress, he asserted all the factual elements in my columns at The Hill about Ukraine were false, except maybe my grammar.

. . .

Such testimony has been injurious to my reputation, one earned during 30 years of impactful reporting for news organizations that included The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Washington Times and The Daily Beast/Newsweek.

And so Lt. Col. Vindman, here are the 28 primary factual elements in my Ukraine columns, complete with attribution and links to sourcing. Please tell me which, if any, was factually wrong.

. . .

Lt. Col. Vindman, if you have information that contradicts any of these 28 factual elements in my columns I ask that you make it publicly available. Your testimony did not.

If you don’t have evidence these 28 facts are wrong, I ask that you correct your testimony because any effort to call factually accurate reporting false only misleads America and chills the free debate our Constitutional framers so cherished to protect.

There's more at the link.

Mr. Solomon lists 28 points of fact, and provides supporting links for every single one of them.  I think he conclusively demonstrates that his reporting has been factual and accurate, and that those witnesses who have maintained otherwise are themselves lacking in veracity.  As a famous British expression has it, they're being "economical with the truth" - or just plain downright liars.  You can make up your own mind.

Sadly, the mainstream media have not bothered to defend Mr. Solomon's veracity.  That's probably because they're emoting rather than reporting.  His facts are incontrovertible.  They can be proven by anyone willing to follow up and prove them against the evidence.  That's precisely why the mainstream media, who've long since abandoned truth as a standard in favor of partisan political ideology, won't defend one of their own.  He makes them look very, very bad.

Personally, I'm grateful to Mr. Solomon for uncovering so much of what's been going on.  I'll be sure to take that into account when voting in future.


Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday morning music

Guitar and rock aficionados will instantly recognize the name of Yngwie Malmsteen.  He's been active for over 40 years, and, a decade ago, was rated 7th out of 10 of the greatest electric guitar players of all time.  He has an almost cult-like fan following.

Although he's generally considered to fall into the heavy metal genre, his playing style has been described as neoclassical.  He's always been open about the influence of classical music and musicians on his playing style.  I thought rock and classical music buffs alike might like to hear him talk about that, and offer examples.  I close with a piece called "Toccata", where he performs with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra.


Definitely not your average heavy metal guitar player . . .


Saturday, November 23, 2019

Saturday Snippet: the perils of small game collecting in West Africa

In the 1950's, naturalist Gerald Durrell went to what was then known as British Cameroon in West/Central Africa to collect animals for zoos in Britain.  He chose the region of Bafut for his collecting activities, and recruited local tribesmen to help him in his hunt for specimens.  In a moment of whimsy, he christened his hunters, collectively, The Bafut Beagles, which became the title of the book he wrote about his adventures.  It was an instant best-seller when it was released, and remains popular today.

Here's how Durrell and the Beagles hunted the rock hyrax, an animal well known to me in South Africa as the dassie.  The picture of two of them below is courtesy of Wikipedia.

Rock hyrax can be found all over Table Mountain in Cape Town, where I grew up.

The language the hunters are using in the excerpt below is known as Pidgin English, one of a variety of such dialects in West and Central Africa.

‘Listen, Masa!’ [the hunter] said excitedly.

We all fell silent, and then from the valley ahead a strange cry drifted down to us; it started as a series of short, tremulous whistles, delivered at intervals, and then suddenly turned into a prolonged hoot which echoed weirdly from the rocky walls of the valley.

‘Na N’eer dis, Masa,’ the Beagles whispered. ‘’E de hollar for dat big rock dere.’

I trained my field-glasses on the big huddle of rocks they indicated, but it was some seconds before I saw the hyrax. He was squatting on a ledge of rock, surveying the valley with a haughty expression on his face. He was about the size of a large rabbit, but with short, thick legs and a rather blunt, lion-like face. His ears were small and neat, and he appeared to have no tail at all. Presently, as I watched, he turned on the narrow ledge and ran to the top of the rock, paused for a moment to judge the distance, and then leapt lightly to the next pile of boulders and disappeared into a tangle of convolvulus that obviously masked a hole of some sort. I lowered the glasses and looked at the Bafut Beagles.

‘Well?’ I asked, ‘how we go catch dis beef?’

They had a rapid exchange of ideas in their own language, then one of them turned to me.

‘Masa,’ he said, screwing up his face and scratching his head, ‘dis beef ’e cleaver too much. We no fit catch him with net, and ’e fit run pass man.’

‘Well, my friend, how we go do?’

‘We go find hole for rock, sah, and we go make fire with plenty smoke; we go put net for de hole, an’ when de beef run, so we go catch um.’

‘All right,’ I said; ‘come, we go start.’

We started off up the valley, Jacob leading the way with a look of grim determination on his face. We struggled through the thick web of short undergrowth until we reached the first tottering pile of boulders, and there we spread out like terriers, and scrambled and crawled our way round, peering into every crevice to see if it was inhabited. It was Jacob, strangely enough, who first struck lucky; he raised a sweaty and glowing face from the tangle of undergrowth and called to me.

‘Masa, I done find hole. ’E get beef for inside,’ he said excitedly.

We crowded round the hole and listened. Sure enough, we could hear something stirring inside: faint scrabbling sounds were wafted to us. Rapidly we laid a fire of dried grass in the entrance to the hole, and when it was well alight we covered it with green leaves, which produced a column of thick and pungent smoke. We hung a net over the hole, and then fanned the smoke into the depths of the rock with the aid of large bunches of leaves. Blown by our vigorous fanning, the smoke rolled and tumbled up the tunnel into the darkness, and then suddenly things began to happen with bewildering rapidity. Two baby hyrax, each the size of a large guinea-pig, shot out into the bushes with it tangled round them. Close on their heels came the mother, a corpulent beast in a towering rage. She raced out of the hole and leapt at the nearest person, who happened to be one of the Beagles; she moved so rapidly that he had not time to get out of her way, and she fastened her teeth in his ankle and hung on like a bulldog, giving loud and terrifying ‘Weeeeeeeee!’ noises through her nose. The Beagle fell backwards into a great blanket of convolvulus, kicking out wildly with his legs, and uttering loud cries of pain.

The other Beagles were busy trying to disentangle the baby hyrax from the net and were finding it a whole-time job. The household staff had fled at the appearance of the irate mother, so it was left to Jacob and me to go to the rescue of the Beagle who was lashing about in the undergrowth, screaming at the top of his voice. Before I could do anything sensible, however, Jacob came into his own. For once his brain actually caught up with the rapidity of events. His action was not, I fear, the result of any sympathetic consideration for the sufferings of his black brother, but prompted rather by the thought that unless something was done quickly the female hyrax might escape, in which case he would get no money for her. He leapt past me, with extraordinary speed for one normally so somnolent, clutching in his hand one of the larger canvas bags. Before I could stop him he had grabbed the unfortunate Beagle’s leg and stuffed it into the bag, together with the hyrax. Then he drew the mouth of the bag tight with a smile of satisfaction and turned to me.

‘Masa!’ he said, raising his voice above the indignant screams of his countryman, ‘I done catch um!’

His triumph, however, was short-lived, for the Beagle had come to the end of his tether, and he rose out of the undergrowth and hit Jacob hard on the back of his woolly head. Jacob gave a roar of anguish and rolled backwards down the slope, while the Beagle rose to his feet and made desperate efforts to rid his foot of the hyrax-infested bag. I regret to admit that I could do nothing more sensible than sit down on a rock and laugh until the tears ran down my face. Jacob also rose to his feet, uttering loud threats, and saw the Beagle trying to remove the bag.

‘Arrrr!’ he yelled, leaping up the slope; ‘stupid man, de beef go run.’

He clasped the Beagle in his arms and they both fell backwards into the undergrowth. By now the other Beagles had successfully bagged the baby hyrax, so they could come to their companion’s rescue; they dragged Jacob away and helped their fellow hunter to remove the bag from his foot. Luckily the hyrax had released her hold on his foot when she was crammed into the bag, and had obviously become too frightened to bite him again, but even so it must have been an unpleasant experience.

Still shaken with gusts of laughter, which I did my best to conceal, I soothed the wounded Beagle and gave Jacob a good talking to, informing him that he would get only half the price of the capture, owing to his stupidity, and the other half would go to the hunter whose foot he had been so anxious to sacrifice. This decision was greeted with nods and grunts of satisfaction from everyone, including, strangely enough, Jacob himself. Most Africans, I have found, have a remarkably well-developed sense of justice, and will agree heartily with a fair verdict even if it is against themselves.

There you have it.  Animal collecting in Africa in the 1950's.  I haven't been to Bafut, which is now in the country known as Cameroon, but I've been nearby from time to time.  I know my friend Lawdog is familiar with the area, and with the pidgin English spoken there (and almost universally in West and Central Africa).  He and I share a love of Gerald Durrell's writing, and we've enjoyed many a laugh together as we relive his stories.  Gerald Durrell played a part in one of Lawdog's most famous (and hysterically funny) story sequences about the ratel, or honey badger;  links to the episodes are available here.

Politically correct people today seem to think that Gerald Durrell and others of his kind were exploiting the natives, and treating them almost as trained apes rather than children.  I don't think that can be supported by his books.  Sure, they reflect a vaguely paternalistic attitude common in 1950's Britain, but they're anything but condescending.  The Fon of Bafut, for example (the hereditary leader of the area) is portrayed as a vibrant personality in his own right, certainly shackled to some extent by the primitive superstitions of his people, but nevertheless a shrewd and careful ruler who did his best to maintain a stable local environment in the face of all the geopolitical and regional turmoil of that period.  The Fon in Durrell's time, Achirimbi II, was a widely respected leader in the region.

As for the rock hyrax on Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa:  they've learned that tourists like to feed them.  There's a cableway up the mountain, just above the city center, with a restaurant at the top station.  In my day, and presumably still, it was infested with dassies, who hung around begging for french fries (preferably with ketchup, thank you very much) from tourists eating their burgers at the outdoor tables.  They were the fattest hyrax I've ever seen anywhere!  The local hawks lived very well off them, because they became so fat they could hardly waddle, let alone escape a fast-moving bird of prey;  but they were also so heavy that smaller raptors often had a real problem picking them up, to carry them off and eat them.  Their numbers never seemed to diminish, no matter how rich the raptor harvest might be.  I suspect there was a never-ending supply of young hyrax waiting their turn at the tourist bounty!  There are several videos on YouTube of Table Mountain's dassies doing their thing.

Gerald Durrell's many books have recently been re-released in very inexpensive e-book editions, to my great pleasure, as my paper copies were almost worn out.  I've had them in my library since I was a child, and fully expect to be re-reading them until the end of my life.  They're that good (and still very entertaining).  Highly recommended.


Friday, November 22, 2019

A priceless journalistic boo-boo!

This correction notice had me rolling in the aisles - and yes, it's genuine.  I'll let the tweet speak for itself.

A Purple Heart for an IUD injury?  I imagine emergency room staff all over the country would pay for the privilege of treating that injury . . . that is, if they could stop laughing long enough to do so!  As for the officer writing the citation for the medal, it could only be a miscreant Second Lieutenant fresh out of OCS!

Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .


America's first military intelligence chief?

In a blog post yesterday, my friend Cedar Sanderson asked "What are you reading?"  In her own list of books, she mentioned this:

Major General George H Sharpe (cool Civil War era spying biography)

I'd never heard of General Sharpe.  Intrigued, I did a quick search for information, and found this article.

Not many people today have heard of George H. Sharpe. I hadn’t heard of him until I happened to read a short CIA historical report that—in little more than a passing reference—credited him with having established “the first ‘all-source intelligence’ organization in U.S. history.” Sharpe was the director of the Bureau of Military Information of the Union’s Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. In contrast to all the dubious and romantic tales of femme-fatale spies and daring moonlight dashes on horseback that still choke the literature of Civil War espionage, the story of Sharpe’s unheralded reign as an intelligence chief is one of quiet, meticulous analysis—which nonetheless produced a series of coups that helped change the course of the Civil War from Gettysburg to the final siege of Richmond.

Although he never had more than about 70 men on his full-time payroll and though the intelligence challenge he faced was but a fraction of what a modern spymaster must confront, Sharpe nevertheless pioneered the fundamental principle of modern intelligence analysis and organization that remains valid today. As the CIA historical report notes, he “obtained, collated, analyzed, and provided reports based on scouting, spying behind enemy lines, interrogations, cavalry reconnaissance, balloon observation, . . . flag signal and telegraph intercepts, captured Confederate documents and mail, southern newspapers, and intelligence reporting from subordinate military units. This structured approach, which ended with the Confederate surrender, was not reinstitutionalized until 1947, when the CIA was created.”

. . .

Supplementing the intelligence derived from interrogations was a mass of reports from Sharpe’s own spies and scouts, from cavalry reconnaissance, and (less frequently but regularly) from intercepted enemy flag signal messages, purloined letters, and “open sources,” such as Southern newspapers. Although Sharpe did not directly command cavalry or balloonists or Signal Corps observation posts, he was vigorous in obtaining their reports and fitting them into his growing matrix of knowledge about the enemy. On occasion, officers from his bureau were informally attached to cavalry units, to help steer their intelligence-gathering efforts where they were most needed.

All of this data flowed into Sharpe’s headquarters, which initially had a permanent staff of about 18 men that traveled with the Army of the Potomac’s headquarters and reported directly to Sharpe. Over time, the range of topics covered was immense, encompassing not just tactical military intelligence but also political, economic, and psychological intelligence about the Confederacy: the price of flour in Richmond, the schedule of train departures, the state of civilian morale.

As its success and efficiency became known, Sharpe’s bureau grew, setting up “branch offices” throughout the Eastern theater, each with a team of some 30 to 40 scouts ... At its core the BMI [Bureau of Military Information] remained a small operation, but it was now a strikingly professional one that knew its business and produced a highly refined product that went directly to the top generals. “As a result of the BMI’s all-source capability,” writes Feis, the Union commanders “received not an assemblage of undigested bits of news seemingly of equal weight but true intelligence, the finished product of systematic information analysis.”

Unlike Pinkerton, Sharpe sent his scouts — most of them noncommissioned officers and enlisted men —right into the enemy military camps. Some masqueraded as smugglers or Federal deserters and hung about a Rebel camp for a few days before vanishing back across the lines; others, even more daringly, donned Confederate uniforms and posed as soldiers separated from their units or members of irregular Confederate forces like John S. Mosby’s rangers.

One especially daring BMI scout, Sgt. Milton W. Cline, managed to attach himself to a Confederate cavalry captain and rode the entire length of Lee’s lines a few days before the Battle of Chancellorsville. Among Sharpe’s papers are requests to Federal military authorities for tens of thousands of dollars in captured Confederate currency, for him to give to his military scouts and civilian spies to use.

There's much more at the link.  It's a long article, but very interesting, particularly to military history buffs and those with an interest in military intelligence (which, contrary to scornful popular opinion, is by no means always a contradiction in terms).

Having read the article, I've now bought the book Cedar mentioned.

I'm looking forward to reading it.  General Sharpe sounds like a very interesting man indeed, and one of the hidden architects of Northern victory in the Civil War.


But what if the power goes out?

Having had some little (very little) experience with ships, boats and such things, I couldn't help doing a double-take at the news that paper navigation charts appear to be on the way out.

[The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] is initiating a five-year process to end all traditional paper nautical chart production...

. . .

For nearly 200 years, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has produced traditional paper nautical chart products. Originally, this took the singular form of hard copy paper charts, today, there are several raster digital chart formats available to download or print through a NOAA certified agent. Similar to the transition from road atlases to GPS navigation systems that we have witnessed in this digital era, we are also seeing the increased reliance on NOAA electronic navigational charts (ENC) as the primary navigational product and the decreased use of traditional raster chart products. Since 2008, ENC sales have increased by 425%, while sales of paper charts have dropped by half.

The International Maritime Organization now mandates that all large commercial vessels on international voyages use ENCs. In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard started allowing regulated commercial vessels on domestic voyages to use ENCs in lieu of paper charts. Recreational boaters are also increasingly using electronic chart displays.

. . .

Ultimately, production will be shut down for all raster chart products and services associated with traditional NOAA paper nautical charts...

There's more at the link.

I can understand the rationale behind this.  Charts are very expensive to produce, requiring extreme accuracy, a high-quality paper, etc.  If the demand for them isn't there, they're probably no longer cost-effective to produce.  However . . . what happens when the electronics stop working?  Power failures, shipboard malfunctions, even an electromagnetic pulse due to enemy action, can disable electronics before you can say "Boo!" to a goose.  Without electronic or paper charts, what's a navigator to do?

I remember using the electronic Decca Navigator System in South Africa.  A World War II technology, it became standardized after the war in many countries as an aid to chart-based navigation.  It was relatively accurate for its day, and a big advance over older technologies.  However, there were far too many ships and navigators who came to rely on it to the exclusion of traditional navigation methods.  Some ships didn't even bother to have standard maritime charts of the coast.  When the Decca system went down, for whatever reason, some of them had some very hairy experiences trying to navigate their way out of trouble (particularly when ships and small craft around them were doing the same thing, and nobody was paying enough attention to what other vessels were doing.  Maritime near-misses and fender-benders were not uncommon.)

I'm always worried when an electronic or automated system doesn't have a physical or manual backup.  As all my naval buddies confirm (sometimes profanely), Murphy's Law is alive and well, particularly at sea!

I worry about this on land, too.  When I came to this country in the late 1990's, I navigated my way through over 30 states and dozens of cities using paper map books.  It was a little awkward sometimes, having to pull over to check a map, then go a couple of miles, then check the map again;  but they were adequate for their purpose.  I haven't used a paper map in the car for over a decade, thanks to GPS navigation systems . . . but those, too, can fail.  I still keep a paper map book in my vehicle, just in case that happens.  I wonder how many younger drivers have ever even used one of them?  Could they navigate themselves around the country, or through a strange city, without GPS?


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Is fake meat yet another dietary disaster waiting to happen?

An Austrian research team has just produced a report that demonstrates the extreme danger of dietary errors, and exposes the damage they can do.

A research team at MedUni Vienna's Center for Brain Research has found that high-fat maternal diets can cause life-long changes in the brains of the unborn offspring. When a pregnant woman consumes a diet high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, her body produces an excess of endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), which overload the fetal system and impair the development of healthy brain networks. Such a mechanism seems relevant to pathologies such as ADHD, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. It is unlikely that such damage can simply be reversed by a subsequent change of diet.

There's much more at the link.

Vegetarians, particularly vegans, and those eating vegetable-based meat substitutes such as Beyond Meat, have cause to be concerned by this research.  Karl Denninger points out:

The first sentence is highly misleading.

PUFAs, specifically those bearing Omega-6, are almost-exclusively found in plant-based sources.  Specifically, vegetable oils, essentially none of which are produced in nature, contain extremely high levels of this substance.  Note that there has been an extraordinarily-intensive campaign to get people to eat plant-based products, including their oils, rather than animal sources which tend to contain saturated fat and are in fact found in nature, obviously.

Now we have a study, albeit in animals, along with an identified molecular mechanism by which it is likely to translate directly into human development.

If you're vegan or vegetarian, or even if you're eating a "standard, high-carb and high PUFA American diet" you may be creating this very environment that leads to materially-high risk of irreversible fetal cognitive damage should you become pregnant.

Worse, it appears there's absolutely nothing that can be done about it post-birth.

. . .

Our government and "health authorities" appears to have, for decades, directly advocated that Americans consume a diet that irreversibly damages children in the womb.

Again, more at the link.

That's a heck of a leap to take from just one study . . . but Mr. Denninger poses a very valid concern.  Looking at the vast increase in the numbers of children diagnosed as ADHD, or "retarded" in some way, is it possible that the "recommended diet" on which they've been raised is responsible for that increase?

I think this calls for a great deal more research, and quickly.  However, given the entrenched interests who won't want to see their claims denied or reversed (not to mention those whose commercial success depends on getting us to eat vegetable-based meat substitutes, rather than the real thing), I suspect that's not about to happen.  Instead, I expect to see this research debunked, decried, and banished into academic limbo.


When moonbats defy science, medicine and reality

The American Civil Liberties Union sent this tweet a couple of days ago, on the occasion of International Mens Day.

Just for their information, the state of being known as "a man" or "male" is defined in medical science.  It involves having a Y and an X chromosome.  There are, of course, a number of people who are classified as intersex, where it's medically "difficult" to determine their sex;  but such cases are vanishingly few (less than one-tenth of one percent of humans, according to authoritative research in the field).  For all intents and purposes, the XY chromosome is determinative and normative.

If one has an XY chromosome pair, and intersex is not a factor, then one cannot, medically or biologically speaking, under any circumstances:
  • Have a period;
  • Get pregnant;
  • Give birth.
If one does any of those things, one is necessarily female, biologically and medically speaking, with an XX chromosome pair instead of an XY.  There are no two ways about it.  The chromosomes have it.

For the ACLU to pretend otherwise, in the name of political correctness (and gender identity politics gone mad), does nothing but damage its own good name.  Reality is reality - and it trumps any amount of feelings, sympathy, empathy or moonbattery.  I don't care how passionately someone believes they're a man, or identifies as a man - if the chromosomes don't agree, they aren't.  Period.

I think the ACLU should immediately terminate the employment of whoever wrote (and/or approved) that message, and in future stick to what is factual, empirically provable, and demonstrably true.  The fact that it won't do that is proof positive of how far this once-great organization has declined.  When it perpetrates a deliberate lie, rather than adhere to the truth . . . that's a very sad day indeed, and speaks volumes about its trustworthiness in any other sphere.


Wednesday, November 20, 2019


Received from friend, fellow author and blogger Cedar Sanderson via e-mail:

BTW, the beaver really was regarded as fish under Canon Law for a very long time, because it swam like one and had a broad tail. Also, it might be the only food available during Lent. Pragmatism triumphs again!

(Oh, yes - and I endorse the sentiment in the last entry. If you can take down a hippo, as far as I'm concerned, you can eat the damned thing whenever and wherever you like!)


Meal delivery services: all hat and no cattle?

In Texas, an expression I've often heard is that someone is "all hat and no cattle".  It means that someone is full of grandiloquent talk, but lacks the accomplishments or assets to lend substance to their words.

I've long felt that services such as Grubhub, Doordash and their ilk are pretty much "all hat and no cattle" in business terms.  They don't add even one cent of value to the goods they deliver.  Their entire business model is based on providing convenience for a price, but that's an entirely dispensable benefit.  If I'm short of cash, there's nothing stopping me cooking for myself, or even driving to a restaurant and eating there for no additional charge.  They aren't an essential service.

Now Wolf Street points out that they aren't economically sustainable businesses, either.

There’s no secret to success in tech. But like hitting a 98 mph fastball, it’s easy to describe, nearly impossible to do: Create a great product that can scale. Even better if you can build a patent moat around it. If, after five hard years of R&D, you create killer software at a cost of $100 million, then the first product you ship for $1,000 comes at a loss of $99.99 million. But by the time you’ve sold your millionth unit at almost no additional cost, you’ve grossed a billion. That’s scale.

Here’s the rub: You can scale intellectual property, you can’t scale labor. Your millionth pizza costs as much to deliver as your first.

Yet the meal-delivery guys claim they will scale when they create a critical mass. They will have the density they need to become profitable (none are yet) if they can somehow bag a huge market share. The density argument goes like this: if we can deliver enough meals in a given trade area, we can be like the post office in terms of efficiency (yes, the post office, I’m not being ironic). Nice idea, but it doesn’t wash.

. . .

Meal delivery is a discrete business. No one else in your zip code is ordering spaghetti Bolognese from Trattoria Pastaria at 6:30 on a Tuesday evening. Whether the Uber Eats guy drives to the restaurant or you do, it’s the same (except the food is hotter if you do it yourself). There is no way to string that discrete delivery into an efficient, cost-effective route. To that point, old-school pizza joints average about 2 deliveries an hour and their drivers start at the restaurant. Can a free-floating DoorDasher do more than two an hour?

In short, Mount Everest is scalable, meal-delivery companies are not.

. . .

Let’s get specific. DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats all deliver for McDonald’s. According to that most reliable of all sources, the internet, they charge about $5 to deliver your burger and fries. And it takes about 30 minutes from the time you order to delivery. This means that, like pizza, the driver can do about two trips an hour. This is a truly great service for the consumer too stoned to get his own milkshake at midnight.

But there is no way, no way, in the world this can be profitable for the meal-delivery companies (or the restaurants if they do it themselves). Ten bucks an hour won’t even pay for the driver’s gas and minimum wage, let alone his incidental car costs. What’s left for DoorDash on ten bucks an hour? Nothing.

There's more at the link.

That's the problem with so many allegedly "hi-tech" businesses in an Internet world.  All they're doing is piggybacking on someone else's hard work, charging a fee (sometimes a hefty fee) for delivering what someone else has made or done.  They aren't indispensable services in their own right.  As soon as money gets tight, or competitors enter the market, their business model collapses around their ears, because people won't pay excessive added costs if there's no added value.

I have a number of friends who've turned to driving for Uber, Lyft and such companies to make ends meet.  Those who've been doing it a while report that they made good money up to a couple of years ago;  but now the companies are paying them a lot less, or not passing on tips, or stiffing them in other ways.  The central company is trying to retain value at the expense of its contractors.  Guess how long that can go on before the contractors realize they're being stiffed, and start stiffing the company back in any way they can?  I know of more than a few Uber drivers who've made private arrangements with regular clients, being paid in cash at a discounted rate for a scheduled ride, and not sharing it with the company at all.  It works for them, and it works for the customer.

Ah, yes.  Modern economics . . .