## Thursday, December 31, 2020

### "The simple maths error that can lead to bankruptcy"

That's what the BBC calls the "gambler's fallacy", a widespread but mistaken belief in the odds of something happening.

Fifteen years ago, the people of Italy experienced a strange kind of mass hysteria known as “53 fever”.

The madness centred on the country’s lottery ... Sometime in 2003 ... the number 53 simply stopped coming up on the Venice wheel – leading punters to place increasingly big bets on the number in the certainty that it must soon make a reappearance.

By early 2005, 53 fever had apparently led thousands to their financial ruin, the pain of which resulted in a spate of suicides. The hysteria only died away when it finally came up in the 9 February draw, after 182 no-shows and four billion euros worth of bets.

While it may have appeared like a kind of madness, the victims had been led astray by a reasoning flaw called the “gambler’s fallacy” – a worryingly common error that can derail many of our professional decisions, from a goalkeeper’s responses to penalty shootouts in football to stock market investments and even judicial rulings on new asylum cases.

To find out if you fall for the gambler’s fallacy, imagine you are tossing a (fair) coin and you get the following sequence: Heads, Heads, Tails, Tails, Tails, Tails, Tails, Tails, Tails, Tails, Tails, Tails. What’s the chance you will now get a heads?

Many people believe the odds change so that the sequence must somehow even out, increasing the chance of a heads on the subsequent goes. Somehow, it just feels inevitable that a heads will come next. But basic probability theory tells us that the events are statistically independent, meaning the odds are exactly the same on each flip. The chance of a heads is still 50% even if you’ve had 500 or 5,000 tails all in a row.

For the same reason, HTHTTH is just as likely as HHHHHH. Once again, however, many disagree and think that the mixed sequence is somehow more probable than the streak.

As its name suggests, the gambler’s fallacy has been of most interest to researchers studying games of chance. Indeed, it is sometimes known as Monte Carlo Fallacy, after a notorious event at one of Monaco’s roulette tables in 1913, with 26 blacks in a row. Observational studies – using casino security footage – have confirmed that it continues to influence bets today.

Surprisingly, education and intelligence do not protect us against the bias. Indeed, one study by Chinese and American researchers found that people with higher IQs are actually more susceptible to the gambler’s fallacy than people who score less well on standardised tests. It could be that the more intelligent people overthink the patterns and believe that they are smart enough to predict what comes next.

I've seen this error at work in many ways, and made it myself on more than one occasion.  It falls under the heading of "probability errors", of which there are more than a few.  (There's an interesting discussion of that topic here:  I recommend clicking over there to read it, to learn from others' mistakes before we make them ourselves.)

Peter

### Authoritarianism in the USA: technological, rather than political?

Glenn Greenwald provides a timely warning about the parlous state of our democracy in an era of economic and technological oligarchy.  Here's an excerpt.  Bold, italic print is my emphasis.

The U.S. Founders most certainly did not envision or desire absolute economic egalitarianism, but many, probably most, feared — long before lobbyists and candidate dependence on corporate SuperPACs — that economic inequality could become so severe, wealth concentrated in the hands of so few, that it would contaminate the political realm, where those vast wealth disparities would be replicated, rendering political rights and legal equality illusory.

But the premises of pre-Trump debates over how grave a problem this is have been rendered utterly obsolete by the new realities of the COVID era. A combination of sustained lockdowns, massive state-mandated transfers of wealth to corporate elites in the name of legislative “COVID relief,” and a radically increased dependence on online activities has rendered corporate behemoths close to unchallengeable in terms of both economic and political power.

. . .

These COVID “winners” are not the Randian victors in free market capitalism. Quite the contrary, they are the recipients of enormous amounts of largesse from the U.S. Government, which they control through armies of lobbyists and donations and which therefore constantly intervenes in the market for their benefit. This is not free market capitalism rewarding innovative titans, but rather crony capitalism that is abusing the power of the state to crush small competitors, lavish corporate giants with ever more wealth and power, and turn millions of Americans into vassals whose best case scenario is working multiple jobs at low hourly wages with no benefits, few rights, and even fewer options.

Those most disgusted by this outcome should not be socialists but capitalists: this is a classic merger of state and corporate power —- also known as a hallmark of fascism in its most formal expression — that abuses state interference in markets to consolidate and centralize authority in a small handful of actors in order to disempower everyone else. Those trends were already quite visible prior to Trump and the onset of the pandemic, but have accelerated beyond anyone’s dreams in the wake of mass lockdowns, shutdowns, prolonged isolation and corporate welfare thinly disguised as legislative “relief.”

What makes this most menacing of all is that the primary beneficiaries of these rapid changes are Silicon Valley giants, at least three of which — Facebook, Google, and Amazon — are now classic monopolies. That the wealth of their primary owners and executives — Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai — has skyrocketed during the pandemic is well-covered, but far more significant is the unprecedented power these companies exert over the dissemination of information and conduct of political debates, to say nothing of the immense data they possess about our lives by virtue of online surveillance.

Stay-at-home orders, lockdowns and social isolation have meant that we rely on Silicon Valley companies to conduct basic life functions more than ever before. We order online from Amazon rather than shop; we conduct meetings online rather than meet in offices; we use Google constantly to navigate and communicate; we rely on social media more than ever to receive information about the world. And exactly as a weakened population’s dependence on them has increased to unprecedented levels, their wealth and power has reached all new heights, as has their willingness to control and censor information and debate.

. . .

These tech companies are more powerful than ever, not only because of their newly amassed wealth at a time when the population is suffering, but also because they overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party candidate about to assume the presidency. Predictably, they are being rewarded with numerous key positions in his transition team and the same will ultimately be true of the new administration.

The Biden/Harris administration clearly intends to do a great deal for Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley is well-positioned to do a great deal for them in return, starting with their immense power over the flow of information and debate.

The dominant strain of U.S. neoliberalism — the ruling coalition that has now consolidated power again — is authoritarianism. They view those who oppose them and reject their pieties not as adversaries to be engaged but as enemies, domestic terrorists, bigots, extremists and violence-inciters to be fired, censored, and silenced. And they have on their side — beyond the bulk of the corporate media, and the intelligence community, and Wall Street — an unprecedentedly powerful consortium of tech monopolies willing and able to exert greater control over a population that has rarely, if ever, been so divided, drained, deprived and anemic.

All of these authoritarian powers will, ironically, be invoked and justified in the name of stopping authoritarianism — not from those who wield power but from the movement that was just removed from power. Those who spent four years shrieking to great profit about the dangers of lurking “fascism” will — without realizing the irony — now use this merger of state and corporate power to consolidate their own authority, control the contours of permissible debate, and silence those who challenge them even further. Those most vocally screaming about growing authoritarianism in the U.S. over the last four years were very right in their core warning, but very wrong about the real source of that danger.

I strongly recommend that you read Mr. Greenwald's article in full.  It's worth your time.

Peter

### Holding officials accountable for their decisions and actions

Americans are now faced with the probability that - unless some form of miracle occurs - we're about to be governed by a President who was not legitimately elected to office, but whose party machine stole that office in a barefaced raid on democracy.  Joe Biden is not, and never will be, the freely and fairly elected President of the United States.

That won't stop the authoritarian Establishment, the 'Deep State' as it's often called, from asserting its authority (threadbare and tattered though it may be) over ordinary Americans.  We've seen more than enough of that during the COVID-19 pandemic to know what's coming.  Increasingly, there will be attempts to rule by diktat;  to prescribe, to demand, to insist, and - above all else - to control.  In the end, that's what it's all about:  control, the ability to order people about like digits in a system.

Failure to cooperate will result in punishment, even though it won't be termed 'punishment' as such.  "Oh, you won't play ball with us?  Well, let's see how you get on without your unemployment benefits, or your Social Security check, or your Medicaid.  Sure, you're entitled to them, and you'll get them . . . when we see fit to make them available.  We're not depriving you at all!  How dare you suggest that?  It's just that your payments are somehow 'lost in the system' for a while.  You just have to be patient!  Oh - and to speed up their 'retrieval', perhaps you'd better shut up and play ball, rather than be so vocal in your opposition.  Hadn't you . . . citizen?"

The thing is, as we discussed last week, "all politics is local".  Decisions from higher up have to be implemented on the ground.  That means the officials, bureaucrats and administrators who are charged with actually carrying out official policy - as opposed to setting it - are going to be local, too.  Their names and faces and personal details will be known to at least some people in the areas where they work.  That means they can be held accountable for their actions, and their service to illegitimate 'authority'.

I'm not suggesting some form of vigilante 'justice'.  That's a two-edged sword that almost always backfires on those who use it.  Step outside the law like that, and one's opponents can (and usually will) do precisely the same in response.  No, I'm talking about holding people accountable in the communities where they live.  If a local bureaucrat becomes unbearably officious and domineering towards people, those same people can shun them;  refuse them service in shops and restaurants;  launch verbal attacks on them whenever they see them in public;  ostracize their families;  and so on.  Pretty soon their everyday lives will become intolerable.

I've seen that done in several countries (sadly, often involving physical attacks as well as non-violent opposition).  In particular, the families of law enforcement officers, prison guards and officials, and military personnel have been victimized as an expression of disapproval (to put it mildly) of their breadwinners.  That's tragic, and is indefensible in a democracy - but when democracy is stolen, and honored more in the breach than in the observance, the same thing happens to ethics and morality.  Again, I've seen that far too often to be in any doubt about it.

It's already happening in this country.  Ask police in cities like Portland, or Seattle, or Minneapolis, or anywhere else where cries of "Defund the police!" are being heard.  They're not just verbal.  Police have been physically attacked during riots, and even off-duty have to be very careful not to enter certain areas where they may be recognized, and in some cases have had to take their kids of school due to threats made against them.  Ask police officers who have not been convicted of any offence, but are regarded as guilty by certain segments of public opinion.  Despite their official blamelessness, they've lost their jobs, been hounded out of the communities in which they lived, and in some cases have lost their careers, because no other police force dares hire them for fear of the public backlash that would result.

The extreme left of US politics has embraced targeting individuals as a standard practice.  Very well - let's turn that back on them.  Start making your own lists, and sharing them with people in your area.  Elected and appointed officials who begin to behave like tinpot dictators (from Governors such as Newsom in California, Whitmer in Michigan, Brown in Oregon, Inslee in Washington, Cuomo in New York, etc. all the way down to local bureaucrats and administrators who implement their policies) should be "named and shamed".  If they prove untrustworthy in office, their names should be recorded, so that future opposition to their re-election or reappointment or promotion can be coordinated.

• If a local judge proves biased and politicized in his or her decisions from the bench, they should not be allowed to stand for election to a more senior judicial position without a fight.
• If a bureaucrat proves domineering and overbearing, make sure public criticism of his or her wrong actions and attitudes is overwhelming, making it more difficult to promote them.
• If a law enforcement officer or agency is over-zealous in enforcing unfair and illegitimate regulations, make sure their conduct is openly criticized and meets the pushback it deserves.
• If a local political party official expresses approval for dictatorial actions and decisions, make sure he or she is never selected to run for higher office.
There are many ways in which public pressure can be applied.  Our enemies are using them daily.  Let's learn from them, and use the same tactics in return.  If a wannabe tinpot dictator meets resistance right from the beginning, in positions of lesser authority, he or she is less likely to think they can get away with murder as they climb the promotion or political ladder to more senior positions.  Their seniors are also more likely to reconsider their support for them.  A 'hot potato' can become too hot to hold - so, rather than try to hold it, they're more likely to abandon it and look for someone less provocative, who'll provoke less public resistance.

There's also the issue of the reaction that undemocratic, dictatorial politicians and bureaucrats may provoke.  Try telling the average local cop in America that he or she is going to have to raid the houses of their neighbors and confiscate all weapons found.  The answer in many parts of the country will be, "Not just no, but HELL, NO!!!"  They know full well that the response to such unconstitutional tyranny will be physical rather than verbal, and they don't want to be the ones to endure it.  That applies even in Democratic Party-controlled states and regions, as evidenced by this news report from 2014 after the passage of more stringent gun control legislation in several states (where, as we noted recently, civil disobedience became a widespread response).

Lord Acton put it well, almost two centuries ago.  Here are a few of his aphorisms that are as true today as they were when he said them.

The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Men cannot be made good by the state, but they can easily be made bad. Morality depends on liberty.

Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.

Let us be on our guard against such evils;  and let's make a list of those who succumb to them, so that we can resist them.

Peter

## Wednesday, December 30, 2020

### OK, gun nuts, this one's for you!

Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons has just released his latest video, in which he examines the firearms used in the original Star Wars movie, released in 1977.  They were based on real firearms, but embellished with add-on components and props to look more like science fiction weapons.

I found the presence of an OEG (occluded eye gunsight) particularly interesting, because this was originally developed in South Africa (a few years after Star Wars came out).  I used one of the first models to be produced there, and found it intriguing.  Basically, one doesn't look through the sight at all:  it's a solid object that can't be seen through.  One keeps both eyes open, so that with one eye one sees the target, and with the other the red dot image in the otherwise blank sight.  One's brain superimposes the dot on the target, making it relatively easy to hit what one's aiming at.

I must admit, though, I prefer today's red dot sights, where I can see the target through the sight.

Peter

### Terrorism as a response to electoral fraud? It's far from impossible

I've said on more than one occasion that if our electoral process is corrupted beyond redemption, extremists may well turn to "kinetic means" to express their anger, frustration and discontent.  I've cited examples such as the Metcalf attack in California in 2013, and the vulnerability of the US electrical grid to such attacks.

Recent news headlines have pointed out that it's not just right-wing terrorism we need to worry about.  Extremists on the other side of the political spectrum are also involved.  For instance, it appears that anti-pipeline activists are trying to disrupt rail transport in Washington state, using so-called "shunts" to cause problems that have gone so far as to derail trains.  The most recent example occurred just before Christmas.

Officials are trying to figure out how a BNSF train carrying crude oil derailed in Whatcom County, Wash., on Dec. 22. The accident caused a fire that lasted well into the night.

First responders eventually got the fire under control. About seven railcars left the tracks near Custer, Wash. No injuries were reported and the scene was still being cleaned the morning of Dec. 23.

. . .

The state of Washington has been experiencing deliberate acts to paralyze trains over the past year. Since January there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the placement of shunts on the BNSF tracks since Jan. 19.

Nor are such incidents confined to railroads, as residents of Aspen, Colorado have just found out the hard way.

The FBI has joined a criminal investigation of what police said appears to be an "intentional attack" on gas service lines in Aspen, Colorado, that left thousands of residents and businesses without heat as temperatures in the skiing mecca plunged to near zero degrees.

. . .

Aspen police said the apparently coordinated acts of vandalism occurred Saturday night at three separate Black Hills Energy gas line sites, one in Aspen and two elsewhere in Pitkin County.

At one of the targeted sites, police said they found the words "Earth first" scrawled, and investigators were looking into whether the self-described "radical environmental group" Earth First! was involved.

. . .

Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn told reporters that the saboteurs appeared to "have some familiarity" with the natural gas system.

“They tampered with flow lines. They turned off gas lines," Linn said.

. . .

"It’s almost, to me, an act of terrorism," Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper, who lost heat in her home due to the vandalism, told The Aspen Times newspaper. "It’s trying to destroy a mountain community at the height of the holiday season. This wasn’t a national gas glitch. This was a purposeful act. Someone is looking to make a statement of some kind."

In both of the examples cited above, a certain amount of familiarity with the systems involved was required for the attacks to be effective.  The same was true of the Metcalf attack, where the snipers knew what to target and what pieces of equipment to hit to have maximum effect.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

Nobody has been arrested or charged in the attack at PG&E Corp.'s Metcalf transmission substation. It is an incident of which few Americans are aware. But one former federal regulator is calling it a terrorist act that, if it were widely replicated across the country, could take down the U.S. electric grid and black out much of the country.

The attack was "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred" in the U.S., said Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time.

. . .

"This wasn't an incident where Billy-Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskis, to come in and shoot up a substation," Mark Johnson, retired vice president of transmission for PG&E, told the utility security conference, according to a video of his presentation. "This was an event that was well thought out, well planned and they targeted certain components." When reached, Mr. Johnson declined to comment further.

. . .

Utility executives and federal energy officials have long worried that the electric grid is vulnerable to sabotage. That is in part because the grid, which is really three systems serving different areas of the U.S., has failed when small problems such as trees hitting transmission lines created cascading blackouts. One in 2003 knocked out power to 50 million people in the Eastern U.S. and Canada for days.

Many of the system's most important components sit out in the open, often in remote locations, protected by little more than cameras and chain-link fences.

Transmission substations are critical links in the grid. They make it possible for electricity to move long distances, and serve as hubs for intersecting power lines.

. . .

The country's roughly 2,000 very large transformers are expensive to build, often costing millions of dollars each, and hard to replace. Each is custom made and weighs up to 500,000 pounds, and "I can only build 10 units a month," said Dennis Blake, general manager of Pennsylvania Transformer in Pittsburgh, one of seven U.S. manufacturers. The utility industry keeps some spares on hand.

A 2009 Energy Department report said that "physical damage of certain system components (e.g. extra-high-voltage transformers) on a large scale…could result in prolonged outages, as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years."

Mr. Wellinghoff said a FERC analysis found that if a surprisingly small number of U.S. substations were knocked out at once, that could destabilize the system enough to cause a blackout that could encompass most of the U.S.

. . .

Overseas, terrorist organizations were linked to 2,500 attacks on transmission lines or towers and at least 500 on substations from 1996 to 2006, according to a January report from the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry-funded research group, which cited State Department data.

To some, the Metcalf incident has lifted the discussion of serious U.S. grid attacks beyond the theoretical. "The breadth and depth of the attack was unprecedented" in the U.S., said Rich Lordan, senior technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute. The motivation, he said, "appears to be preparation for an act of war."

. . .

After walking the site with PG&E officials and FBI agents, Mr. Wellinghoff said, the military experts told him it looked like a professional job.

In addition to fingerprint-free shell casings, they pointed out small piles of rocks, which they said could have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.

"They said it was a targeting package just like they would put together for an attack," Mr. Wellinghoff said.

More at the link (article may be behind a paywall).

The Metcalf attack required inside knowledge of how to disable communications lines, select targets in the facility, and work around law enforcement patrols.  Security measures at such installations have, of course, been stepped up since then.  However, that's not always the case.  Something as simple as shooting at the insulators on electrical transmission towers, or the lines themselves, can produce very damaging and expensive results.  No specialist knowledge is required for that, and no special or military equipment need be involved - just the "traditional" hunting rifles owned by tens of millions of Americans.

There are many other potential infrastructure targets:

• The bridges and overpasses on the nation's highways;
• Natural gas and oil pipelines running from state to state, which have already suffered many damaging accidents;
• Communications hubs such as the AT&T facility targeted in Nashville a few days ago;
• Exposed vital infrastructure such as cellphone towers, radar installations at airports, etc. - all vulnerable to a simple sniper attack, and not requiring sophisticated knowledge or infrastructure to accomplish.

I think we're likely to see an uptick in attacks on such facilities in the not too distant future.  Left-wing-dominated cities are likely to see the worst of them, cutting off power and utilities coming in from outside.  When ordinary people see their ability to affect and influence national policies being stolen from them, they're going to lash out.  It happens on both the left and the right of politics;  it's far from new;  and in the light of last November's electoral fraud, it's likely to get worse in short order.

If you live near any vital infrastructure such as discussed above, you might want to have an evacuation plan in place.  You may need it.

Peter

### Election fraud in Georgia - will 2021 be the same old, same old?

Tweeted by Doug Stafford yesterday:

This, in a state where a judge (the sister of one of its leading progressive Democratic Party politicians) has just blocked the removal of invalid voters' names in two counties.  She was asked to recuse herself from the case due to that relationship, but stated that "she found no reason for doing so".  If she'd been the relative of a Republican politician, do you think her refusal would have met with the same quasi-conspiratorial, silent assent from the mainstream media?

This all comes after some truly weird statistical anomalies in Georgia during the November 2020 elections.

In Georgia, Biden overtook Trump with 89 percent of the votes counted. For the next 53 batches of votes counted, Biden led Trump by the same exact 50.05 to 49.95 percent margin in every single batch. It is particularly perplexing that all statistical anomalies and tabulation abnormalities were in Biden’s favor. Whether the cause was simple human error or nefarious activity, or a combination, clearly something peculiar happened.

I wouldn't call it "something peculiar".  I'd call it criminal electoral fraud!  What other explanation can there possibly be for such a statistical improbability???

There's also the issue of missing chain-of-custody documentation for almost half a million absentee ballots in Georgia - documents that are legally required by the state.  Without them, the validity of those ballots is in question;  yet, despite its own laws and regulations, the state appears willing to accept them without any investigation, despite their flawed and potentially fraudulent handling.

After the shenanigans there during last month's election, I've got Georgia on my mind, all right . . . as a synonym for electoral fraud!  Are you willing to bet that the January runoff elections there for two US Senate seats will be conducted freely, fairly and honestly?  I can't say I am.

This leaves us in a parlous position indeed, with very few (if any) alternatives, as I pointed out on Monday.

Peter

## Tuesday, December 29, 2020

### What happens when BLM/Antifa takes over your neighborhood

There are lessons to be learned from the recent "Red House" protests in Portland, OR.  One of the most important is that when extremists get involved (as Black Lives Matter and Antifa did in those protests), everyone in the vicinity suffers.  Here's part of one homeowner's account.

They blocked the alleys and they blocked the side street of my house. They wouldn't allow us to move our cars because they had fully barricaded us in. They said they had basically claimed the area and we weren't able to leave.

On Saturday last week, an individual went around and broke the Ring cameras off of people's front doors, on their doorbells, with a crowbar.

It was just a huge, huge, raging party occupation: giant bonfires on the hill, bonfires everywhere in the street. They built the barricades. They had weapons behind it. They had bottles and rocks and Molotov cocktails and all that stuff.

They had sentries, essentially, that are posted up there. They had an individual with an assault rifle positioned right next to our driveway. They have people regularly back at their station, but they also patrol around the block with weapons and tactical gear and bulletproof vests. They watch us, you know, and they're regularly standing around as we move in and out of our backyard.

I could go out front on foot, but there were several people outside, and they were armed and they would watch us. They'd follow us around the block. And they were very suspicious that we were coordinating with the police. Like I said, they had guns up front, too, in addition to everyone inside of the zone.

. . .

Everyone thought the cops were going to come down, so they were prepping for that. The side streets were lined with tires and wood that they were soaking in gasoline and lighter fluid in anticipation that, when the police would come, they were going to light it on fire and create a big flaming barricade to prevent them from coming in.

They had bonfires on and adjacent to our property next to the gasoline-soaked tires. We were asking them to put it out—and they refused to do so and would yell at us.

They got really hostile and told me to **** off and that we were part of the problem, or that we were just another gentrifier. We were scared they were going to attack us in our house.

. . .

Everything's still trashed. Everything's still covered in graffiti. Everything's a mess. My house, my sidewalk, everything's covered in garbage now.

There are several lessons to be learned here.

1. If the police won't do their job and keep the neighborhood under control, extremists will take over.  There's nothing you or your family, as individuals, can do to stop them.  The only way to do so is to band together and arm yourselves, to match the organization and armament of the intruders - and if you do that, in many jurisdictions, law enforcement will act against you rather than the intruders.  That's the politically correct environment in many cities today.  Therefore, your odds of success are slim to none.
2. This can happen without warning.  Nobody saw these protests coming.  The eviction of one family was seized upon by extremists as a pretext for action, and they made the most of it.  Those living nearby were given no opportunity to do anything about it.  They found themselves confronted by a fait accompli.
3. Once your area is dominated by extremists, you're treading on very thin ice indeed.  They may take offence at anything, following an agenda and a perspective you don't share and don't understand.  Keeping a low profile is about your only chance of surviving the situation - and there's no guarantee it'll work, either.
4. Overt negative reactions to what's going on will lead to retaliation by the extremists.  They don't care what you think, and their way of dealing with opposition is to crush it, as an example to others who may get out of line.  They'll stomp you flat without a second thought.  If you resist them, they'll redouble their efforts - and if you succeed in resisting them, the politically correct authorities will target you for doing so.
5. If push comes to shove, and the police act to break up the situation, understand that your property and your family may become just another element of "collateral damage" to both sides.  You aren't important to anyone.  You're just in the way.  If those BLM/Antifa extremists had set fire to their "big flaming barricade" and it had spread to neighboring houses, do you think they'd have cared?  Of course they wouldn't!  As for the fire department or ambulances, they usually won't enter an area until it's secure - which means your belongings will be burned to ashes, and possibly your family as well.

The single most important factor is this:  if you're living in a city subject to that kind of threat, where the authorities won't do anything to ensure your safety, you need to get the hell out of there.  Don't delay.  If you have to lose money to get to a safer place, or take a lower-paying job with fewer prospects in a safer area, accept that those are necessary elements in ensuring your and your family's safety.

Don't let naysayers hold you back.  If other members of your family hesitate, and say they're sure things will improve, let them find that out for themselves.  You don't need to hang around to become a victim along with them.  In fact, you may be their lifeline, because if they have to "get out of Dodge" in a hurry, your new home may be the only place they can go in the short term.

This sort of reality is a part of everyday life in some cities right now.  It's only going to get worse.  Why wait for the hammer to come down on you?  Get out from under it while you still can.

Peter

### That gets it said

Orthodox Reflections is a Web site focusing on "how the Orthodox Faith interacts with, and is perceived by, the American culture".  I was recently sent the link to an article there titled "Conservatives Remember What Can Happen When You Lose".  I don't identify as a political conservative per se - morally, yes, in the Christian tradition, but if I have to pick a political label, I daresay I lean towards "classical Liberal".  Even so, I think it's worth quoting at length from the article, because it speaks for many of us in this country today.  Emphasis is in the original.

Tens of millions of us are looking out over the landscape of contemporary America and feeling besieged. This year, we’ve watched BLM / Antifa rioters allowed to pillage and burn with impunity. Police stood down in the face of violent disorder, and refused to protect innocent civilians. Citizens who tried to protect themselves and their property were vilified and some have even been charged with crimes. Not even senior public officials such as senators and congressmen were safe from the fury of the mobs. The riots have destroyed thousands of homes and businesses causing billions in damages. Churches have not been spared, some even being attacked while worshippers prayed inside. Statues of Jesus, the saints, and American heroes have been pulled down and desecrated.

The media and the politicians have made excuses for all this or intentionally downplayed it. The words “mostly peaceful” have entered our lexicon now, along with “flatten the curve” and the “new normal.”

The mobs were also active on social media. As a result of pressure campaigns, historical place names are being changed. Books are being banned. Beloved authors are being consigned to the memory hole because they were the wrong color or because they wrote about the wrong topics. As the old American culture is erased bit-by-bit, a new one arises that none of us can even recognize.

Truly the barbarians have breached the gates.  Only this time, the rulers invited them in.

But it’s not just the violence in the streets and the pressure of woke Twitter mobs that are changing our nation. We’ve watched with concern for decades as executive power has grown unchecked, only to discover in 2020 that the situation is even worse than we could have possibly imagined. Mayors, health officials, and governors can lock us in our homes, shut down our businesses, close our churches, close our schools, and even change the rules for how we vote. Police around the country enforce these clearly unconstitutional orders as if they were the law of the land. City councils, state legislatures, Congress and courts have all proven ineffectual in reigning in executive overreach. On the off chance a court declares one arbitrary rule or another unconstitutional, the executives seem to always find a way to keep their boots on our necks.

If the fear of a virus with a 99.7% survival rate can be leveraged to transform our entire society, are there any limits on what government can do in a “crisis”?

Throughout this nightmare of a year, we consoled ourselves with one thought – at least we can vote the bastards out. Or, maybe not … There is so much evidence of fraud in this election that a blind squirrel could find it. And that leaves Red State voters asking each other, “If they can steal an election this brazenly, does it matter if we vote ever again?”

Despite all the evidence, the courts are not interested in even hearing the cases brought before them. The state legislatures appear uninterested in exercising their constitutional duty to oversee the selection of electors in a fair manner. The old guard of the Republican Party can’t seem to surrender fast enough.

. . .

Conservatives are angry at what they perceive as having their votes stolen ... But there is another, extremely important reason that conservatives refuse to accept the results of this election. They are terrified that the last year has only been a dress-rehearsal for what comes next.

Conservative Americans realize they are facing the very real threat of being governed by politicians that absolutely hate us and who have no meaningful restraints on their power.

We started out as “deplorables” and have now progressed to “f**kers.”  We are even being dehumanized by some writers and cartoonists as “rats.” In the current storm of insults, Trump supporters are even being cast as traitors. At least one Democratic congressman has called for attorneys representing the president in legal challenges to be disbarred and to strip House members who supported Texas v. Pennsylvania in the Supreme Court of their seats in Congress. One of the defendants in that case described it as a “seditious abuse of the judicial process.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) went on CNN with this accusation, “These senators and members of Congress who have refused to acknowledge that we had a free and fair election in which Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by over 7 million votes, are bordering on sedition and treason.” Not only can we not get our day in court, even asking for one is tantamount to treason.

. . .

To cement their power, the Democrats openly discuss transforming our system of government by abolishing the Electoral College, admitting new states to the union to gain permanent control of the Senate, and packing the Supreme Court with reliably liberal votes to rubber stamp everything. Conservatives also hear calls for retribution from progressives that include “re-education,” “truth and reconciliation commissions,” and nationalizing the lockdowns and mask mandates (see ya’ free state of Florida). Those proposals are just for starters, as the in-coming Biden Administration also keeps discussing executive orders to “deal” with gun violence, forgive student loans, and further “reform” the criminal justice system. And the granddaddy of them all – climate change, of course.

. . .

Whatever is left of our economy after fighting COVID will surely be finished off fighting climate change.

Conservatives fear they are facing a string of emergency orders that will destroy our economy and rob us of our freedoms. These orders will be issued by politicians with unchecked power, supported by rampaging street mobs, who hate conservatives passionately and consider them sub-humans with no rights. The politicians will be protected from electoral accountability by an intricate system of election rigging hidden in plain sight. This is a nightmare scenario conservatives will be powerless to resist by any legal or constitutional means.

Such fears tend to bring out fanatical tendencies in even the most even-tempered of people.

A great many Americans, including this author, are determined not to be railroaded into accepting the results of a manifestly fraudulent, dishonest election outcome.  We will not sit idly by and see the Presidency of our nation stolen by a usurper.  If that happens, resistance can and will occur.  How widespread it will be, and in what form, and to what effect on our society and our constitutional republic, is as yet unknown and unclear.

May God forbid that it should become necessary . . . but increasingly, that looks like a pipe dream.  Therefore, let us gird up our loins and stand ready.  As Winston Churchill reminded us:

One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!

Word.

Peter

### Not a poultry achievement!

My mind boggled to read the headline:  "KFC launches game console with built-in chicken warmer".  Surely not?  However, a quick check online revealed that Snopes rated the story true, and Gamespot has the technical specs.  Reluctantly, I'm forced to conclude that it's not an early April Fool story.  There's even a Web site advertising the beast.

The BBC reports:

Fast food chain KFC is launching a gaming console that warms up chicken.

"The chicken chamber will keep its contents hot, ready for consumption during intense gaming sessions," KFC said.

The company said the console was designed by a global hardware maker and could play top-level games like other gaming machines.

Many people thought the gaming console was a spoof marketing campaign when it was revealed in June.

KFC said its new console had a custom-built cooling system that uses heat produced by its components to warm the chicken chamber.

"This machine is capable of running games at top-level specs, all on top of keeping your meal warm for you to enjoy during your gaming experience... what's not to like?" KFC spokesman Mark Cheevers told the BBC.

"If Sony or Microsoft want any tips on how to engineer a chicken chamber for their efforts next time, they'd be welcome to get in touch."

The fast food chain said it currently had no details on the expected price of the gaming console or a release date.

Frankly, during my dim and distant youth, I never regarded fried chicken as having anything whatsoever to do with computer games.  The two were hardly synonymous in our minds, and I daresay they still are for most game players.  The mental association is a bit mind-boggling, to say the least!

On the other hand, I daresay this invention has implications for a whole range of game situations.

• You can no longer claim "My console is fried!"  The chicken within it may be fried, but the console is toast.  A chicken sandwich, perhaps?
• You can no longer egg on your team (unless the eggs are as fried as the chicken that produced them).
• Having a chicken kept warm during a heated encounter on-screen is going to lend a whole new meaning to the term "co-processor".
• What of the time-honored stricture of mothers about not playing with your food?  If it's inside your console, you can't help but play with it!
• You may be able to suit the food to the game.  If the screen is displaying brutal, gory combat, 'battered' fried chicken might be appropriate.
• Would the warming of buffalo wings in the console constitute the use of an illegal performance enhancing substance during a game?

Peter

## Monday, December 28, 2020

### The world's first sleeping bag?

Over the weekend, I was intrigued to read a BBC report about the "Euklisia Rug", a Welsh invention that's claimed to have been the world's first sleeping bag.

A 2010 report notes:

The Euklisia rug - patented by Powys entrepreneur Sir Pryce Jones in 1876 - was exported around the world in the late 19th Century.

No examples of it survive, but researchers on the BBC's Wales and the History of the World programme recreated it using the original patent.

Documents in Powys archives in Llandrindod Wells show Pryce Jones sold 60,000 rugs to the Russian army.

BBC Wales researchers have also found records of the rug in the Australian outback, and at missionary posts in the Congo.

Wales and the History of the World presenter Eddie Butler said: "It was great to see this Welsh first brought back to life.

"It didn't look anything like a sleeping bag today - it's more of a folded rug. But you can see it only needed a couple of fasteners to be more recognisable as a sleeping bag.

"However simple it is, it must have been a great bonus for troops - especially in places like Russia. I expect this Welsh invention helped thousands of soldiers to get a better night's sleep."

The rug featured a sewn-in blow up pillow, which would probably have been made of vulcanised rubber.

An advertisement from Pryce Jones to sell surplus Euklisia Rugs to the public has survived.

Brown Patent

EUKLISIA

Rug or Blanket

--.--

2 Yards and 11 Inches Long

BY

1 Yard and 31 Inches Wide

--.--

3/11 EACH

--.--

Pryce Jones has the honor of calling the special attention of Ladies to the following.

He has on hand seventeen thousand Brown Army Blankets (fitted with an air tight pillow, as per sketch above) which were expressly made for the Russian Army. These are the remains of a Contract of Sixty thousand, delivery of which was to have taken place at the rate of 6,000 per week. Plevna fell, and the order was cancelled. These goods have remained in his possession ever since, carefully packed in bales of fifties.

P.J. proposes to clear off the lot at a great sacrifice - he intends removing the air tight pillows and sewing up the slot, the space may, if required, be refilled with a pillow of feathers, wool, cotton or straw, and may in this manner, be utilized for the poor - being a bed and blanket combined.

These are much wider and longer than ordinary rugs.

These Blankets may, if desired, be obtained with the patent pillow attached, the cost of each rug would then be 3/- more than price named above.

As P.J. offers these goods under cost of production, he solicits and hopes to receive early orders.

Royal Warehouse

Newtown, N. Wales.

Considering how many nights I've spent in sleeping bags, military and civilian, it's interesting to find out where the concept had its beginning.  If you'd like to learn more about the history of sleeping bags, see here for some interesting pictures.

Peter

### Why the "ruling class" is out to get rid of President Trump, no matter what

If you've been wondering why such immense effort was put into stealing last month's election, to get rid of President Trump by any means necessary, it helps to understand just how profoundly he undermined the "Washington way" of doing business when he was unexpectedly elected in 2016.  The Conservative Treehouse lays that out very neatly.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

Congress does not write laws or legislation, special interest groups do. Lobbyists are paid, some very well paid, to get politicians to go along with the need of the legislative group.

When you are voting for a Congressional Rep or a U.S. Senator you are not voting for a person who will write laws. Your rep only votes on legislation to approve or disapprove of constructs that are written by outside groups and sold to them through lobbyists who work for those outside groups.

While all of this is happening the same outside groups who write the laws are providing money for the campaigns of the politicians they need to pass them. This construct sets up the quid-pro-quo of influence, although much of it is fraught with plausible deniability.

This is the way legislation is created.

If your frame of reference is not established in this basic understanding you can often fall into the trap of viewing a politician, or political vote, through a false prism. The modern origin of all legislative constructs is not within congress.

. . .

Now, think about this reality against the backdrop of the 2016 Presidential Election. Legislation is passed based on ideology. In the aftermath of the 2016 election the system within DC was not structurally set-up to receive a Donald Trump presidency.

If Hillary Clinton had won the election, her Oval Office desk would be filled with legislation passed by congress which she would have been signing. Heck, she’d have writer’s cramp from all of the special interest legislation, driven by special interest groups that supported her campaign, that would be flowing to her desk.

Why?

Simply because the authors of the legislation, the originating special interest and lobbying groups, were spending millions to fund her campaign. Hillary Clinton would be signing K-Street constructed special interest legislation to repay all of those donors/investors.

Congress would be fast-tracking the passage because the same interest groups also fund the members of congress.

President Donald Trump winning the election threw a monkey wrench into the entire DC system…. In early 2017 the modern legislative machine was frozen in place.

The “America First” policies represented by candidate Donald Trump were not within the legislative constructs coming from the K-Street authors of the legislation. There were no MAGA lobbyists waiting on Trump ideology to advance legislation based on America First objectives.

As a result of an empty feeder system, in early 2017 congress had no bills to advance because all of the myriad of bills and briefs written were not in line with President Trump policy. There was simply no entity within DC writing legislation that was in-line with President Trump’s America-First’ economic and foreign policy agenda.

Exactly the opposite was true. All of the DC legislative briefs and constructs were/are antithetical to Trump policy. There were hundreds of file boxes filled with thousands of legislative constructs that became worthless when Donald Trump won the election.

Those legislative constructs (briefs) representing tens of millions of dollars worth of time and influence were just sitting there piled up in boxes under desks and in closets amid K-Street and the congressional offices. Legislation needed to be in-line with an entire new political perspective, and there was no-one, no special interest or lobbying group, currently occupying DC office space with any interest in synergy with Trump policy.

Think about the larger ramifications within that truism. That is also why there was/is so much opposition.

. . .

Without the ability to position personal wealth for benefit, why would a politician stay in office? The income of many long-term politicians on both Republican and Democrat sides of the aisle was completely disrupted by President Trump winning the election. That is one of the key reason why so many politicians retired immediately thereafter.

When we understand the business of DC, we understand the difference between legislation with a traditional purpose and modern legislation with a financial and political agenda.

Lastly, this is why - when signing legislation - President Trump often says “they’ve been trying to get this through for a long time” etc. Most of the legislation passed by congress and signed by President Trump in his first term is older legislative proposals, with little indulgent value, that were shelved in years past.

Example: Criminal justice reform did not carry a financial benefit to the legislative bodies, and there was no financial interest funding the politicians to pass the bill. If you look at most of the bills President Trump has signed, with the exception of a few economic bills, they stem from congressional construction many years ago.

When you understand that any changes to this system will not be accepted by those who command power and affluence; when you accept their willingness to deploy government institutions around themselves in order to protect them from you; and when you realize they will use every system, including the ballot counting machines, to stop the American people from disrupting this corrupt system of self-aggrandizing elitism; you start to realize the diminished options for removing them from office…

There's more at the link.  It's well worth reading the whole thing.

If you want to see this in action, look no further than last week's COVID-19 relief legislation.  It's absolutely stuffed with special interests being funded - except for the American people.

There are billions upon billions of dollars being thrown at every conceivable cause, but Americans are fobbed off with a mere \$600 each in a one-time payment.  It's so ludicrous it's sickening . . . but that's the interest of lobbyists, pressure groups and corporate sponsors at work.  Money talks, and as the saying goes, our politicians are the best money can buy.  They were duly bought.

Oh - and in case you were wondering how sending money overseas leads to local paybacks, Karl Vincent sums it up nicely.

This is why so much was done to steal last month's election.  President Trump was - and still is - anathema to those trying to control the reins of power.  His policies stood in their way.  They acted to remove him, so they could regain control, and feed out of the public (taxpayer) trough once more.

This is also why I say that, unless the fraudulent results of last month's election are overturned, we will never have another free and fair election in the United States.  The powers that be are determined, not only to remove a legitimately elected President, but to ensure that there will never again be a President who will not be under their control.  Unless they're stopped now, the fight at the ballot box will essentially be over, and the only way forward - the only way to regain the right to genuinely free, democratic elections - will be to retake it by force.

There's a meme going around the Internet that compares where we are now to the "four boxes" - the soap box (freedom of speech), the jury box (equality before the law), the ballot box (free and fair elections) and the bullet box (what's left when the other three boxes are no longer available).

That illustration is, quite literally, where we soon may be, unless we can overturn last month's electoral fraud.  If we value our freedom as citizens, if we value our constitution and laws, we will have no peaceful alternative left.  We will have to start taking our country back, one community at a time;  and the corrupt authorities imposed on us by the "system" will leave no stone unturned to stop us doing that.  It'll be the 1946 "Battle of Athens, Tennessee" all over again, this time across the country.

The "ruling class", the "political class", the "powers that be", the "Deep State" . . . they're determined to crush any and all resistance.  They think they can overcome even the last box of all.

They may be right.

They may also be wrong.

I hope and pray that they are wrong, because I, for one, will not live on my knees.  I will not allow corrupt criminal politicians, and their moneybag masters, and their lapdog hangers-on, to dictate to me what I should think and feel and how I should live.

I most sincerely hope that many Americans feel the same way.  The time is fast approaching when all of us will have to make a choice.  Will we put up, or shut up?  Will we fish, or cut bait?  As they put it here in Texas, will we be "all hat and no cattle", or will there be enough cows to make a herd?

Peter

### Memes that made me laugh 38

Gathered over Christmas week around the Internet.

The first meme collection of 2021 is just around the corner.  I don't know whether that should make you laugh or cry . . .

Peter

## Saturday, December 26, 2020

### Christmas hiatus

I'm taking a couple of days off blogging for the Christmas weekend.  Normal service will resume on Monday morning, December 28th.  Until then, please amuse yourself with the folks (and their blogs) in my sidebar.

May the blessings of the season continue for you and yours.

Peter

## Thursday, December 24, 2020

### Christmas 2020, and a memory that's still fresh

I wish all my readers and friends a blessed, holy, merry and happy Christmas (in that order!).  May the "Reason for the season" be alive in our hearts this day.

He came alive in my heart on a particularly bad Christmas Eve back in South Africa, the best part of forty years ago.  I wrote about it in my first year of blogging.  Perhaps it's time to republish it, for the benefit of those who haven't yet read it.  I called it "The Night Christmas Became Real".

Members of the so-called 'Mass Democratic Movement' (MDM - a front organization for terrorists) had been trying to 'politicize' a township in South Africa for some time. Most of them were members of one particular tribe - and in Africa, one's tribe counts for quite a lot. Their efforts had been resisted by many residents, who were members of another tribe, and didn't see why these upstarts from an 'inferior' tribe should be allowed to push them around.

Needless to say, the apartheid police, always eager to 'divide and rule', had encouraged the rivalry through not-so-discreet egging-on of the resisters. If Black people could be induced to spend their time fighting each other, instead of uniting to fight apartheid, it was a net gain for the State. Who cared about those who got caught in the crossfire? They were only Black, after all, and the State was White. That's the way it was, in that year, in that part of the country.

Matters came to a head the week before Christmas. The MDM moved a group of 'comrades' into the township, trying to enforce a consumer boycott of White businesses, threatening violence to those who resisted. Some women were forced to drink the liquid soap and cooking-oil they'd bought, and ended up in hospital. Others were threatened. Minibus taxis taking shoppers to a nearby town were met at the outskirts of the township, and forced to turn back. In response, the police shut down deliveries to the few shops in the township itself. Very quickly, people began to run out of food and essential supplies.

I got a phone call in the afternoon of December 24th from a pastor in the township. I'll call him 'Fanyana' for his safety (he's still working there).

"Hey, Fanyana, what's up, brother?"

"It's bad, Peter." (Sound of scattered gunshots in the background. He was breathing quickly, shallowly, the fear evident in his voice.) "The 'comrades' have been trying to shut the place down all week, and the miners have finally had enough. They've ganged together and they're out on the streets, looking for the outsiders. It's bad, man."

I sobered, very fast. If Fanyana was this scared, and didn't mind showing it, it was bad indeed. The previous year he'd dragged me clear of a riot, both of us bleeding, me almost unconscious. He had guts to spare.

"Oh, hell, man, the usual, you know! They're sitting on the outskirts, watching the fighting, and doing ****-all. They don't care."

"What do you need?"

"Can you get the brothers and sisters together, Peter? I'm opening the church to refugees, but we have nothing. Nothing. The 'comrades' have stopped all shopping in (the White town nearby), and all the shops here are empty. We need food, medical supplies, and anything else you can find for us."

"We're on our way. Usual meeting-place?" (A crossroads on the outskirts of town, on the bush side, where the police usually didn't go.)

"Yes. I'll try to have someone there in three hours to meet you. Be careful, my brother. You've got the wrong color of skin to be in here after dark, remember."

He wasn't joking about that. To have the wrong color of skin, or be a member of the wrong tribe, or have the wrong political sympathies, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, had been a death sentence for all too many South Africans of all races in the past few years.

I set the telephone chain in motion. We were a small group of people who cared. We didn't give a damn about the politics of those in need - although all of us were opposed to apartheid, and wanted to see South Africa a genuinely democratic nation. We were all believers in our particular faiths, and saw it as our duty to help the helpless, rather than shout political slogans. We went into townships where violence had erupted, tried to get the injured to safety, took in supplies for distribution through local churches, and generally tried to bring a little light into the darkness of the turmoil that was spreading throughout the country like a cancer.

We were of all races, and all religions: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, animist, Hindu... you name it, and the odds were we had at least one member of that faith in our loose network. It didn't matter to us. If you believed strongly enough in your faith that you were willing to put your life on the line to help those in need, that was all that counted. We were brothers and sisters from that moment. We would worry about the theology later.

Of course, the fact that we were trying to help the victims of violence made us targets. The terrorists wanted to make the Black townships, segregated under apartheid, ungovernable, havens of sanctuary for their resistance. If they had to do so by a rule of terror, they had no scruples about it - and they didn't want anyone giving hope to those living in fear. The authorities, on the other hand, didn't want the true conditions in the townships to be exposed. They used the Group Areas Act and other legislation to keep outsiders away. If you didn't have a permit to be in an area reserved for another racial group, you could be - and often were - arrested on the spot. People like us, who ignored the law and went in to help others, were a threat to them. The fact that we were a multi-racial group, not segregated, made it worse in their eyes.

As a result, we faced violence from both sides. Twenty-seven of us would die in the course of the unrest, and many more of us bear the scars of those years to this day.

It took almost two hours for various people to get away from work, pick up what supplies they had available, and get them to our meeting-place in Hillbrow, a high-rise, run-down, seedy suburb of Johannesburg. Those who could brought money, and hastily shopped for essentials at a local supermarket, competing with long lines of people doing last-minute Christmas shopping. Their carts and baskets were filled with cheap, tawdry gifts. Ours held cornmeal, beans, cooking oil, kerosene for cooking stoves, bandages, disinfectant.

We loaded the boxes and bags into a rattletrap old minibus that one of the group had made available to us. It was a Toyota Hi-Ace, similar to those shown below (and the same color as the first), dating from the mid-1970's.

It smoked, wheezed and backfired with every mile, and shook like a dervish on even the best-paved roads. Rust streaked the body, and a couple of the windows were cracked, held together with tape... but it ran, and it was inconspicuous in a township environment. That could keep a man alive, in those days. To stand out was sometimes to die.

It was a hot, dry night. (South Africa's in the southern hemisphere, so Christmas falls in high summer, to the confusion of many in the Northern hemisphere who associate the season with snow and cold. To us, it was a time for salads and sodas, not heavy meals and eggnog.) We set out as the sun sank low on the Western horizon, myself driving, three others - one Indian, one Colored (mixed-race in South African parlance), and one Black - in the seats alongside and behind me, the back of the van piled high with supplies. We threaded our way through the late rush-hour traffic and headed South.

After an hour, we turned off the freeway and headed into a farming area. We were coming up on our destination from behind, through the farmlands and bush, rather than approach it from the nearby White town, where police were sure to be manning roadblocks. They wouldn't be in a good mood. They wanted to be at home with their families on Christmas eve, wrapping presents for the kids. Instead they had to stand guard while the kaffirs fought each other. (The term was originally an Arabic word meaning 'unbeliever', but in South African parlance had become a derogatory term for a Black person, similar to - but worse in meaning than - the US term 'nigger'). Those of us trying to help them were contemptuously referred to as kaffirboeties - 'kaffir brothers', meaning much the same as 'nigger-lovers' in the US.

We could see smoke rising ahead of us in the fading light. Buildings were already burning in the township, that was clear. We slowed down, and crawled closer to the crossroads. All of us tensed as we saw the flashing lights of a police roadblock ahead. Too late to turn back - they'd only be suspicious, and pursue us to find out who we were and why we'd tried to run.

I moved up to the roadblock, and stopped. A uniformed Sergeant came to the door. I relaxed slightly. I'd met him before. While he was no friend, and as racist as any other policeman at the time, he was amenable to 'persuasion'.

"What do you - oh, it's you again!" He spat contemptuously into the dirt. "Come to help those dumb ****ers again, have you? Just look at the stupid ****ers!" He gestured at the smoke billowing up behind him. "It's ****ing Christmas, and they haven't the sense to stop their **** and shut up for a bit so we can have a break!"

"Er . . . yes. We've brought supplies. We want to take them to the **** Church, where the pastor's setting up a refugee center."

"No way, man. The township's ****ing closed to outsiders. You know the drill. Come on, let's see your ID."

I did, indeed, know the drill. I extended my arm through the window, handing him my 'Book of Life', the fat passport-like identity document issued to all South Africans. Inside the front cover I'd tucked five twenty-Rand notes - not a small sum, at that time.

He flipped through the pages, glancing casually over his shoulder at his men, who were lounging in and around their vehicles, watching us disinterestedly. He handed the document back to me. The banknotes had miraculously disappeared.

"You get into trouble, you're on your own, hey? No way we're coming in there to get you."

"I understand."

"On your way." He waved at the two constables standing in the road, assault rifles held ready, and they stepped aside. I accelerated past them, weaving my way down the dirt track.

We arrived at the crossroads as the last of the light began to fade. A stripling in ragged shirt and trousers was waiting, jumping up and down and waving at us as we approached. He ran to my window.

"Oh, Baas Peter! Baas Peter! The Pastor says to come quick! Is bad!"

I hated to be called Baas ('Boss', a common subservient term of address from Black South Africans to White, a relic of the days of slavery), but this was no time to stand on ceremony. "Get in, quick, and show us a safe way to get there."

David got out of the passenger seat next to me, getting in the back, and the boy took his place. We bumped into the back roads of the township, the familiar smells growing stronger by the yard. The stench of excrement overlaid every other odor - this township didn't have a sewage system, and relied on buckets to catch the 'night soil' deposited by its inhabitants. Acrid smoke mingled with the fecal smell, and if you had an active imagination, you could smell the fear too. You could certainly smell it in our vehicle - all of us knew what we were facing.

The dirt roads were dusty, except where runnels of sewage ran down the middle of some of them, adding a noisome mud to the scenery. Feral dogs cringed out of our path as we drove past. No-one was visible on the streets at all. They were either locked in their homes, hoping and praying that the violence didn't move in their direction, or they'd fled to a place where they imagined they'd be safer.

We came to the church hall, a run-down mud-brick structure with a corrugated asbestos roof. No lights were on in the hall, but two or three strong men stood guard outside, armed with sticks and spears. As we pulled up, two of them moved towards us.

"Who are you? What's your business - oh, it's you!" Smiles broke out across their faces, their white teeth gleaming against their dusty charcoal-black skin.

"Yes, we've brought you what we could. Can you help us unload?"

"Yes. Pull your van over there, out of sight. It's not safe for you to be seen right now."

Our cargo was swiftly offloaded by eager hands. Within five minutes the roar of kerosene stoves was added to the distant tumult, as women set them up outside and balanced huge pots on top of them, heating water to make putu (a thick cornmeal porridge, almost dense enough to be cut with a knife). Others opened tins of beans and a few precious luxuries, cans of corned beef, cutting the meat into cubes and adding it to the beans as they bubbled in their pots. Fanyana came out and hugged us, tears of gratitude in his eyes. He had over two hundred refugees crammed into his church hall, all of them having fled from homes near the center of the violence, and they had only the clothes on their back. At least they'd eat tonight.

We passed out the paper plates and cups and plastic eating utensils we'd brought, and everyone was given a small helping of the putu, covered with a ladleful of beans and a few shreds of corned beef. For many, this was the only meal they'd had all day. There was no tea or coffee: those who were thirsty drank water from the tap at the corner of the hall. (This township had no indoor plumbing - if you needed water, you got it in cans from communal taps, set every hundred yards or so. There was no electricity either, candles and kerosene lanterns providing the only light.)

I put down my plate, to have it swiftly taken by a young child, who carefully washed the plastic utensils and put them in a bag. In a place where poverty was so rampant, there was no such thing as 'disposable' cutlery. Even the dirty paper plates, which couldn't be washed, would be kept after being scraped clean. When dried and torn into strips, they would serve as kindling to light fires. Nothing was wasted here.

It was full dark now. Fanyana and I stood silently together outside the hall, watching the skyline to the East. It glowed and flickered as burning buildings sent up the light of their flames. We could see them reflected from the smoke clouds . . . black, sooty smoke, from car tires. If those nearby were fortunate, the tires would be burning only as barricades across the street. If they weren't, some of those tires would be burning around the necks of anyone suspected of being an informer, or lacking sympathy for the 'revolution'. They'd scream their last as the gasoline-soaked 'necklaces' roasted their faces and heads into charred caricatures of a human being.

I almost lost my faith that night. I'd been on the brink for some time, furiously angry at Church leaders who preached politics instead of the Gospel, who supported political factions instead of standing for all believers, who talked a good fight instead of going into the streets and actively ministering to those who most needed their help. To me, the Gospel was deed rather than word - and all I was hearing from these leaders was words. It made me sick, and I was on the point of abandoning my membership of any organized Church. Looking at those flames in the distance, knowing that people were suffering and dying there, I cried out internally to God, asking Him, "Where are your bishops and priests and pastors and ministers now? Why aren't they here, with Fanyana and others who need them? Where is the love they proclaim so loudly, but never live out?"

I got no answer... not right away.

A man ran along the street, staggering, at the last extremity of exhaustion. He came up to us, wobbling on unsteady feet, and Fanyana and myself caught him as he almost collapsed.

"Pastor! The tsotsis (thugs) are moving towards you! They've heard that people have gathered here. You must get out!"

Fanyana looked at me. "We can head for the old factory. It was burned out long ago, but the walls are still standing, and part of the roof. I think we'll be safe there." He hesitated. "We've got some old people who can't walk fast. Some can't walk at all. Some are in here, some are still at home. Can you help us get them out?"

"Let's go!"

The next hour or two was organized chaos. Groups of men, women and children hurried from the hall, carrying kerosene stoves, the supplies we'd brought, and the pitifully meager possessions they'd been able to salvage. Some of the men formed a fighting group, armed with sticks, axes and spears, and moved down the street, to hold off the forerunners of the gang heading in our direction, buying time for us to get clear. David, Alex, Sammy and I made a dozen shuttle runs in our old minibus, loading it with old people, one of us driving them to the ruined factory building while the rest of us went from door to door, checking whether anyone needed a ride, organizing them into groups of six to eight people, ready for the next run.

The last run was the worst. The 'comrades' had been setting fire to buildings and tires as they moved in our direction, and the wind had shifted, covering us in the rank smoke. We coughed and spluttered as we urged the last group together. One old man tried desperately to persuade us to bring his bed as well - the only possession of any value in his home. We had to be brutal in forcing him out, leaving the bed behind, great wracking sobs coming from him as he abandoned all he had in the world to the violence he could not understand.

We loaded the last group, and Sammy headed for the factory while the rest of us ran up the street with Fanyana, yelling to the fighting group to disengage and fall back to the hall. They did so, several of them bleeding from cuts and bruises, two wounded by bullets. Some of the 'comrades' had brought AK-47's with them, it seemed. We heard several full-auto bursts of fire, the distinctive sound of the Communist weapon a familiar and dreaded backdrop to the discordant symphony of violence being played on the stages of townships across the country.

Fanyana's wife, Miriam, stood at the hall, waiting for us. His face contorted with fear as he saw her. "What are you doing here? I sent you to the factory! Where are the children?"

"They are there, safe. Did you think I'd leave you to die, not knowing what had happened?"

I had to smile. No shrinking violet, this. She'd stand by her man in the face of mob violence and death if she had to.

Fanyana wasn't impressed. "I'm not dead, and you're a fool! Come on!"

As we ran up the street into the darkness, abandoning the church hall, the rest of us had to try desperately to hold back our laughter as his wife told Fanyana in no uncertain terms that she was no fool, and if he thought she would leave him to die alone, he'd better think again, and...  One of the men muttered, "Hau! And to think my parents want me to get married to a good Christian girl! What do I want with a woman who'll talk to me like that?" Those around him chuckled grimly. In a male-dominated tribal culture like theirs, the pastor's wife was an exception to the rule.

We moved out of the township into open scrub land. About two hundred yards ahead of us, the silent, black ruins of the old factory loomed up beneath the starlight. We ran across the grass, stumbling on hummocks and stepping in holes, wrenching at our ankles, our breath catching in our throats. We slowed as we came to the walls, and stopped, and looked around. Behind us the glow of flames and the billowing smoke was higher than ever, moving in our direction. We knew the church hall would most likely not survive the night. One of the men said as much to Fanyana, and he shrugged. "Buildings... are just buildings. At least we are alive."

We walked into the ruined main building. Its walls were standing, but most of the roof was gone, leaving only a third of it covered. Already those who'd first arrived had swept the concrete floor clear of the debris and detritus of years, and several hundred people were sitting down in family groups. Candles and kerosene lanterns flickered here and there, shedding an eerie dim light over the scene.

Another group of women had lit the kerosene stoves from the church, and were boiling water. As we came in, they beckoned to us, and cleaned and bandaged the wounds of those who'd been injured covering our escape. They organized men to go with buckets to fetch more water from the nearest tap in the township, and David took the minibus to help them get it as quickly as possible. He made several trips, and they filled every available container to the brim. We didn't know when we'd be able to get more, after all.

I knew the four of us were stuck here until at least daybreak. We wouldn't be able to see whether we were driving into danger, so we couldn't risk trying to return to Johannesburg. While the others found their families, or fetched water, or helped in other ways, I walked outside, looking up at the stars. I was in a foul mood. Anger at the pettiness and political shenanigans of organized religion, frustration at not being able to protect these people's homes from destruction, bitterness at yet more destruction in the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence that had engulfed my country, the disgrace of police sworn to 'protect and serve' who instead sat back and let rival groups destroy each other, enjoying the spectacle... I was in a bleak state indeed. I couldn't even pray. If I'd tried, at that moment, I'd probably have cursed God.

I don't know how long I stood there, my mood as black as the night. It was a long time.

I was brought out of my miserable reverie by a tugging at my hand. I looked down. A small girl was standing there. She'd got hold of my finger, and was pulling at it.

"Baas Peter, come. Come! We are going to sing."

Sing??? What on earth could there be to sing about, on such a night? Still internally numb, angry, withdrawn, I allowed her to lead me back into the ruins.

Fanyana and Miriam had cleared a space in the center of the factory floor. The children had gathered together there. There must have been five or six hundred people inside, of whom maybe a quarter were kids under the age of ten. They were from two or three different tribes, and several different churches... but tonight, that didn't matter.

As I stood there, my tiny escort smiled up at me, then scampered to join the others. She reached them just as Miriam raised her hand.

The kids broke into a soft, gentle song. The words were in Zulu, but they'd originally been written in German... and I knew them well enough in English.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
'Round yon virgin mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Saviour is born;
Christ the Saviour is born.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth;
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

And I went outside, and I wept from the depths of my heart and my soul. I wept for Sue, my fiancĂ©e, who'd answered a call such as this on a night several years ago, and never came home, and was buried far away. I wept for my friends who'd died serving this seemingly hopeless cause. I wept for myself, for my own heart, which had hardened to near stone under the blows of the world, and which I'd allowed to harden... because I hadn't listened to the words of the One who came to us on that blessed Night, almost two thousand years before.

Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 18:3)

Children are not born with these things. They become thus after learning from adults. I'd forgotten to learn from God, rather than the chaos and anarchy around me. Those leaders had made the same mistake. Many of them are still making it to this day.

My inability to see God even in the midst of suffering?

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
(Habbakuk 3:17-18)

The press, and the politicians, and the so-called 'religious' leaders, preaching doom and gloom and disaster, hatred and violence, envy and rebellion?

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation
And increased its joy;
They rejoice before You
According to the joy of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You have broken the yoke of his burden
And the staff of his shoulder,
The rod of his oppressor,
As in the day of Midian.
For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:2-6)

The lack of care shown by most so-called Christians, so few of whom were willing to share burdens such as ours, on this night?

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.

(Luke 2:1-16)

Jesus didn't come to a cathedral, or synagogue. He didn't appear in majesty before the prelates of the Sanhedrin, or the hypocrites of the Pharisees. He came as the lowliest and most helpless of humans, a new-born child: one for whom there was no room at the inn, and who was placed in a manger of straw. I think he - and Mary, and Joseph, and the shepherds - would have felt right at home in that ruined factory, that night.

And so a new journey of faith began for me that night, one that was to lead me to become a pastor. Even so, I've grown more and more disillusioned with organized religion in all its forms: but the message of Christmas has never been in doubt for me since that night.

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

May His birth be a reality for you, this night.

God bless you all.

In this tumultuous 2020, it's worth reminding myself of the lesson I learned that night.  May we all remember it in future, no matter what our future may hold.

Peter