Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sunday morning music

A few days ago I was browsing through some blogs when I came across a piece of music at The Feral Irishman's place.  I'd never heard it before, and never heard of the group - Airbag.  It reminded me strongly of Pink Floyd's music, so I decided to find out more about them.

The group's Web site doesn't appear to have been updated since 2016, but it contains this bio of the band.

Airbag was formed in 2004 by five classmates from Oslo, Norway. The band recorded their first EP, Come On In, the same year, followed by Sounds That I Hear (2006) and Safetree (2008). Although recorded for promotional use, the EPs were offered for free on the band’s website and got over 230.000 downloads within just a few months. The networking paid off and Airbag signed with Norwegian label Karisma Records in August 2008.

Airbag’s debut album, Identity (2009), featured remixed versions of most of the songs from the Sounds That I Hear and Safetree EPs. The album exceeded all expectations and was received with rave reviews, – peaking with the single Colours at top 3 on Polish radio in early 2011.

The second release, All Rights Removed (2011), saw Airbag moving in a more conceptual direction with long, epic pieces and dramatic instrumentation ... All Rights Removed received six Best Prog Release of the Year 2011 awards and numerous top-ranking listings.

The Greatest Show on Earth (2013), Airbag’s third release, showed a darker side of the band, with lyrics dealing with the destructive forces in our society. This was also underlined by heavier guitars and dramatic arrangements.

Airbag’s fourth release, Disconnected, is to be released on June 10th 2016.

I don't know if they've released another album since then, or if they're still together.  If anyone has more information about them, please share it with us in Comments.

At any rate, having found that much, I looked for more of their music.  Here's one track from each of their four commercially released albums.  I can understand why many reviews refer to their music as being in the mold of Pink Floyd.

From their first album, "Identity", here's a live performance of "Colours", recorded in Veruno, Italy, in 2016.

Their second album, "All Rights Removed", was released in 2011.  This song from it, "Never Coming Home", is what I heard over at The Feral Irishman's place as my introduction to the group.

The album "The Greatest Show on Earth" was released in 2013.  From it, here's "Call Me Back".

Their fourth album, "Disconnected", was released in 2016.  Here's a live performance of the title track, from the release concert in Oslo, Norway.

That's enough to give you a taste of the band's progressive rock flavor.  So far, I like what I've heard.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

Saturday Snippet: a fake nun in the Army in Northern Ireland

The late Australian author Russell Braddon was one of the most extraordinary writers to emerge from World War II.  His prolific output includes "The Naked Island", his world-famous and best-selling account of his experiences as a prisoner of war under the Japanese;  "Cheshire VC", a study of the wartime career and post-war conversion of one of the top bomber pilots during the war (who is currently being investigated, along with his wife, for possible canonization as a saint by the Catholic Church);  "Nancy Wake: World War Two’s Most Rebellious Spy", a true account of an extraordinary woman and her exploits with the French Resistance;  "The Year of the Angry Rabbit", a very funny novel about the end of the world at the hands of giant mutated Australian rabbits;  and numerous other novels and works of non-fiction.

One of his funniest novels was "The Progress of Private Lilyworth".

It's about a British Army private in Northern Ireland during The Troubles of the 1970's.  Troubled in his conscience about the seeming daftness of it all, Private Lilyworth decides to dress as a nun and use "her" calming influence to end the riots.  Needless to say, this leads to riotous misunderstandings, and catastrophically funny consequences.  I laughed my head off when I first read it, and I've kept it in my library ever since.  Acerbic, biting and savagely satirical, it's a masterpiece of the genre.  Braddon pulls no punches in his portrayal of politics, organized religion, and the insanity of the then-current situation in Northern Ireland in general.

Private Lilyworth's antics will (he hopes) lead real nuns, and (in due course) Protestant clergymen as well, to emulate "Sister Theophila's" example and suppress the riots.  This is what happens when that gets started.

Outside [Lieutenant-Colonel Digby's] office milled a large crowd of journalists, photographers and cameramen;  and through them he and Lilyworth threaded their way.  Flash lights flashed, questions flew, Lilyworth looked nunly and Digby, time after time, snapped "No comment" - which made him feel importantly powerful - like a trade union leader emerging from yet another conference with the Prime Minister about yet another calamitous strike.

"Are you prepared to at last tell us," demanded the doyen of the journalists, "where Sister Theophila resides?"

"No," replied Digby, climbing into his jeep.

"May I have your autograph, please, Sister?" asked a genial looking man from M.I.5 disguised as Lord Thomson of the Sunday Times.  He offered a sheet of glossy paper on which he hoped she would leave her fingerprints for the edification of his boss - who was convinced that Theophila was a Russian spy.

Smiling sweetly, Theophila shook her head, kept her Russian fingers on her rosary beads and settled herself, like a virgin martyr, on the seat beside Digby.  Who, starting the jeep, drove it straight at the nearest journalists.  Leaping aside, his victims rushed for their hired cars and roared off in pursuit, their colleagues' cars behind them.

At the first crossroad a station wagon cut crazily into their convoy.  It was black with nuns and hunched over its wheel was a Mother Superior who knew no more of the Highway Code than she did of the Kama Sutra.

A second station wagon joined them when they halted at a traffic light.  Ignoring the mandatory red (because the Mother Superior who drove was color blind) it howled past their convoy - urged on by its complement of nuns - thereby obliging a corporation bus to go hard amidships and demolish a bookshop.

"That's a Protestant bookshop those bloody nuns have pushed us into," roared the Protestant bus driver.

"Good thing too," shouted one of his Catholic passengers.  "Full as it is of filth that any decent country would ban."

At which the Protestant conductor hit him on the head with his non denominational ticket machine;  and a Catholic girl hit the conductor on the head with her pill-packed handbag;  and war broke out in the bus.

Leaping out of his cabin, the driver rushed to the intersection and screamed for the police, the Special Constabulary and the Army:  and was just about to scream for the United Nations as well when a third station wagon full of nuns knocked him down and ran him over.

Skidding to a halt the other side of the intersection the Mother Superior sent one of her Sisters back to examine the victim.

"Are you a Catholic," enquired the Sister gently.  "Shall I fetch you a priest?"

"I'm a Protestant and I want a doctor," gasped the bus driver.

"And isn't that just like you heretics?" murmured the Sister - letting his head crash back onto the road.  "Condemned to eternal damnation though you be, it's your bodies you think of still, never your souls."  And, leaping to her feet, ran back to the station wagon - which roared instantly off on its errand of mercy.

Arrived there, it found it was late.  The enviable Sister Theophila was already being ushered through the front line by Corporal Campbell - and behind her marched a determined phalanx of earlier nuns led by two other Mothers Superior.

"Christ, Lily," murmured Campbell, "you've got a Papal f***ing escort."

By way of answer Lilyworth merely flexed a muscle in the arm held by Campbell:  then walked alone into a tumultuous no-mans-land.

From a position of safety, Michael O'Reilly, a half brick in his hand, surveyed Theophila with a mixture of resentment and fear.  Resentment, because the mob would turn on him if they caught him throwing his missile;  fear, because he'd be expelled from the Breakaway Branch of the Unofficial I.R.A. if he didn't throw it.

Torn between fear of the mob and fear of the I.R.A., he hesitated:  and while he did so the first of three Mothers Superior thrust through the front line - her subordinates, like black chickens after a black hen, following behind.

"Holy Mother of God," breathed O'Reilly, terrified, "more of 'em."  But his terror of the I.R.A. was even greater than his terror of mob and church combined:  so, furtively - in the great, still silence that enveloped Sister Theophila - he took aim.

And threw, just as the first of the Mothers Superior drew level with Theophila.

"Ooh, s**t," gasped Theophila, breaking her vow of silence as pain seared upwards.

"For that, Sister," rebuked the Mother Superior (as O'Reilly again took aim) "you'll say ten Hail Mary's..."

"But look what he's done," hissed Theophila, hoisting her habit to reveal a hairy, bleeding leg.

"Sister!" thundered the Mother Superior:  and then (O'Reilly having thrown his second brick) herself shrieked and - hoisting her habit - stared incredulously at her stockinged bleeding leg.

"Forget the ten Hail Mary's," she snarled.  "I'll get you a Plenary Indulgence instead." Then bellowed:  "Reverend Mothers, Sisters - charge!"

And, grimly, habits hitched, oval, well-scrubbed faces very un-nunlike, they charged.  And the mob, in several hundred different directions, fled.  And Theophila, turning soldierlike on her heel, made her way back through the black regiment of her Sisters in Christ to Digby and his Army jeep.

"Drive," ordered Digby, "like the clappers of hell."

But Sister Theophila drove off very sedately - followed by all the Press in all the hire cars in Belfast.  Followed until the first road block.  Through which she, armed with her permit from Digby, passed almost instantly.  While the Press cars were halted, and thoroughly searched.  And found, every one of them, to be carrying arms.  For the very good reason that arms had been hidden in them while their occupants were out watching Sister Theophila's most recent triumph over the forces of juvenile un-reason.

"You're under arrest for gun running," the occupants of each car were told.

"We're Press," screamed the doyen, to whom nothing so outrageous had happened since his arrest as an Israeli agent by the Irakis simply because he was circumcised.

"If you say so," said Digby's men politely, because Digby had told them, whatever they discovered in the journalists' cars, even if it was nothing, that they must be polite.  "But you're also gun runners;  so get out of your Mercedes Benzes and come this way, if you please, or do we have to f***ing shoot you?"

Things get even more screwy when Protestant clergymen join the fun, and politicians try to take credit for "Sister Theophila's" success, and things spiral completely out of control.  It's a magnificent satire, and I recommend it highly.


Friday, February 14, 2020

New Marine Corps rifle qualification

I was interested to read about the new standards being applied by the US Marine Corps to rifle qualification.  The Corps has always had the motto "Every Marine a rifleman", and it's good to see they still take that seriously.  Their new standards offer a useful yardstick to evaluate our own weapons skills, and perhaps improve our training accordingly (if we're young and supple enough to do so, of course!  I'm old and creaky now.  I daresay my days for such athleticism are long past.)

As a combat veteran from a different service (and nation, and continent) I'm particularly interested to see the emphasis on scoring.  Instead of a numeric point system, the Corps is going to score hits as "destroy, neutralize, suppress or miss. Only destroys count."  Furthermore, Marines will shoot the course wearing "full battle rattle" - all their standard combat gear - just as they would in a war zone.  This will make it more difficult to achieve high scores, and it's entirely right that it should.

I've written before about the training I received in the Rhodesian "jungle walk" combat shooting system, pioneered by the Rhodesian Light Infantry.  It built on the range-oriented basic training I received in the South African Defense Force.  It was, of course, oriented towards the closer-range, faster-reaction-time bush warfare combat environment of southern Africa.  It wouldn't work so well over longer ranges in more open terrain, where more deliberate aim is required.  Nevertheless, it saved my butt on a few occasions.  It sounds as if the Marines are going to emphasize similarly combat-oriented techniques, eliminating those suitable only to the "one-way range" of a training environment, and concentrating on what's needed to survive the "two-way range" of real warfare.  One can only approve.


The Border Wall may become a vital defense against coronavirus

News that President Trump is about to raid Pentagon funds once again to build more of the border wall between the USA and Mexico will doubtless enrage those who believe in free immigration, with or without official sanction.  However, the emerging coronavirus epidemic may make such a wall an even more important element of general US security.

If the coronavirus epidemic spreads to Central and South America, those living there are going to be in dire straits.  There are relatively few medical facilities available, poverty is rampant, and many local, regional and national governments are corrupt and inefficient.  That's a dire combination.  As a result, it's not impossible that a great many people will literally flee the epidemic, heading for the only place they can think of that has the resources to treat it.  Guess where that is?  That's right.  The United States of America.

We simply can't cope with such an invasion.  Our medical facilities are going to be stretched to the limit if coronavirus breaks loose here as well.  We won't be able to handle hundreds of thousands or millions more, particularly since they may be carrying the infection with them.  It shows few or no warning signs during its incubation period, so detecting carriers at or near the border will be almost impossible.  It'll become vitally important to keep them out altogether, rather than risk their spreading the infection out of control.

I'm willing to bet that nations south of us will be cracking down on the movement of illegal aliens as well, and probably far more harshly than we do.  Mexico has enough problems of its own without adding the coronavirus to them.  I can see armed guards firing on anyone trying to break into Mexico, even if they only want to transit the country on their way to the USA.  Mexico won't be able to afford the risk of their presence, any more than we can.  The same goes for countries south of Mexico.

My big worry is Africa.  There are only two or three countries on that continent with laboratory facilities to test for coronavirus infections, and most nations there don't have extensive hospital facilities.  If the disease gets loose in an area so overpopulated, ill-equipped and poverty-stricken, it might wipe out entire communities.  Even "normal" palliative measures such as decongestant sprays, treatments for colds and flu, etc. are simply not available there.  As for facial tissues, face masks, basic hygiene products, etc., forget it!  There aren't enough of them now, let alone under epidemic conditions.  There'll be no means to stop the coronavirus getting worse.  The rest of the world won't be able to help, either;  nations will hang onto what they've got, for the use of their own citizens.  Again, as in South America, one likely result will be desperate attempts, by anyone and everyone who can afford it, to reach any country offering greater protection against infection and/or better treatment.  Europe can expect a new tidal wave of illegal immigration from Africa, and it's likely to wash up on our shores too.

So far, this is all speculation.  We simply don't know how bad this is going to get.  However, if the coronavirus escapes the rigid top-down control of Chinese society, and becomes widespread in less regimented parts of the world . . . it's going to be interesting, to put it mildly.


"Respect mah authoritah" - or else!

A lot of old-school "peace officers" of my acquaintance are quietly (some not so quietly) vitriolic about modern "law enforcement officers" and their approach to their profession.  The former complain that the latter are all too often bureaucratic, hide-bound and rigidly by-the-book in the way they do their job, with little or no room for human considerations.  I tend to agree, based on my experience as a prison chaplain and my (frequent) contact with law enforcement in that capacity.  The human element appears to have become less and less important, and the autocratic, even arrogant approach appears to dominate.  (Not always, but a lot of the time.)

The animated TV series South Park satirized that attitude in a well-known meme:

That attitude is epitomized in this report.

The events began Jan. 25 when the 5-year-old girl was playing on one of the rope swings at Sky High trampoline park, according to the lawsuit. The girl slid down and was injured.

When she got home, she also told her parents, and they asked her if there was any more to it, such as had anyone touched her down there, according to the suit. The girl said no.

When the girl returned to school on Jan. 28, her teacher initiated a Child Protective Services investigation after she heard her say something about no longer bleeding and “Daddy touching her in her private parts,” according to attorney Powell, who represents the Lothers.

The three Mountain View police officers — Poirier, Motomura and Rogers — and social worker Phan showed up at the Lothers’ home that evening around 5. One of the officers pounded on the door instead of using the doorbell, which startled Danielle enough to think it was a “home invasion,” according to the suit.

The officers asked to speak with the girl, which Danielle allowed without knowing why they were there. The social worker was supposed to tell Danielle why they were there and about the allegations against her and her husband, yet refused to do so even after she asked numerous times, the family claims.

The girl was taken outside and questioned. The 5-year-old told the officers about the incident on the rope swing and that she was not hurting anymore.

When her father, Douglas, got home a few minutes after police arrived, Officer Motomura allegedly said they had received a call concerning the girl, but he did not explain the nature of the call.

The family, including the Lothers’ other daughter, were pulled outside one-by-one and questioned in front of their home, and each repeated the same story of the rope swing, according to the lawsuit.

Danielle offered to call the girl’s pediatrician, but Officer Poirier allegedly refused the offers.

A paramedic was called and asked to come to the home to examine the girl’s body, while Motomura allegedly told the parents that if they did not agree, she could be forcibly removed from their home and care.

The parents pleaded with the officers to not put their daughter through more trauma.

According to the lawsuit, Motomura “condescendingly” told Danielle at one point, “This shows how you’re not listening.”

This inflamed Danielle, who said, “I’m not listening? What are you talking about!?”

Motomura told her, “You’re doing it again. Are you willing to listen or not, because we are not leaving until this is resolved,” according to the lawsuit.

To which Douglas responded, “Well, it’s not going to happen, so where are you guys sleeping.”

Poirier said they needed to check to make sure the injury was healing properly. The parents said they would take her to the doctor the next day.

Motomura allegedly told them the investigation was going to happen whether the parents liked it or not and told Danielle she was being “disrespectful.”

There's more at the link.

As a result of this arrogant, callous and unprofessional behavior on the part of the officers, a lawsuit by the parents is about to be settled for $600,000.  That money will largely come from the taxpayers of that district, who are being unfairly saddled with that burden, thanks to incompetent, full-of-themselves "law enforcement officers" who - judging by their demonstrated attitudes and disregard for standards and procedures - aren't fit to polish the shoes of a real "peace officer".

I've had to deal with incidents of child abuse.  I've trained as a counselor in how to deal with such tragedies.  I can tell you that the behavior of those cops traumatized that poor girl in precisely the same way as if she had been abused.  Those cops, and the medic who assisted them, were the abusers in this case - but are they being called to account for their behavior?  The report doesn't say, but I'm willing to bet they aren't.

The long-standing motto of many police forces is "To protect and serve", or some variation on that theme.  These cops seem to have adopted the attitude that they're going to protect the bejeesus out of the people in their district, whether the latter want it or not.  Indeed, the people apparently exist to serve them through unquestioning obedience.  "Respect mah authoritah!" rears its ugly head yet again.  That's anything but how it's supposed to be.

Personally, I think those cops should be fired and blacklisted from ever again serving in a law enforcement function;  but I doubt very much whether that will happen.  It's like the tragedy of baby Bounkham Phonesavanh a few years ago.  Those responsible basically got away scot-free.  It wasn't right or just back then, and it's not right or just now.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

Coronavirus: a factual update

There's a lot happening around China's coronavirus epidemic.  Some is good news, much is not.  Unfortunately, the facts are all too often swamped by speculation and rumor-mongering.  For some reason, some people seem to like alarming everybody else, and they're spreading falsehoods and made-up nonsense all over the Internet.  Please fact-check every report you read, and consider the source.  It's hard to find good, accurate information out there.

However, there are some reports that appear to be telling the truth, and providing solid information.  I've gathered a few together here.

First, the disease itself, and how it progresses.  Dr Peng Zhiyong is the director of acute medicine at the Wuhan University South Central Hospital.  In a recent interview, he provided much useful information, including this.

I've observed that the breakout period of the novel coronavirus tends to be three weeks, from the onset of symptoms to developing difficulties breathing. Basically going from mild to severe symptoms takes about a week. There are all sorts of mild symptoms: feebleness, shortness of breath, some people have fevers, some don't. Based on studies of our 138 cases, the most common symptoms in the first stage are fever (98.6 per cent of cases), feebleness (69.6 per cent), cough (59.4 per cent), muscle pains (34.8 per cent), difficulties breathing (31.2%), while less common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting.

But some patients who enter the second week will suddenly get worse. At this stage, people should go to the hospital. The elderly with underlying conditions may develop complications; some may need machine-assisted respiration. When the body's other organs start to fail, that's when it becomes severe, while those with strong immune systems see their symptoms decrease in severity at this stage and gradually recover. So the second week is what determines whether the illness becomes critical.

The third week determines whether critical illness leads to death. Some in critical condition who receive treatment can raise their level of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, and see an improvement in their immune systems, and have been brought back, so to speak. But those whose lymphocyte numbers continue to decline, those whose immune systems are destroyed in the end, experience multiple organ failure and die.

For most, the illness is over in two weeks, whereas for those for whom the illness becomes severe, if they can survive three weeks, they're good. Those that can't will die in three weeks.

There's more at the link.  Very informative reading.

The good news from Dr. Peng is that, even though there are no drugs designed specifically to counter Kung Flu, palliative and symptomatic treatment seems to work in most cases, particularly if it's started by no later than the second week of infection.  I'm also hearing that patients who've been previously inoculated against pneumonia are able to resist the extreme progression of the coronavirus better than those who have not.  I'm very glad that Miss D. and I have both had a pneumonia shot (which is good for five years) within the last two years.  Furthermore, normal treatments for chest and nasal congestion seem to help with coronavirus as well.  I've made sure we're stocked up on decongestants, cough medications and other over-the-counter remedies.  Basically, if you have lungs that are less than optimal (particularly if you suffer from asthma, COPD or other ailments like that), and/or if you're an older person, you need to be particularly careful, and take extra precautions.

More good news is that the fatality rate from the current epidemic may be lower overall than previously feared.  The Telegraph reports:

The death rate for patients hospitalised with the coronavirus at the epicentre of the outbreak is nearly 20 per cent, according to new estimates.

But the researchers at Imperial College, London say the overall mortality rate is likely to be much lower - one per cent - because only the most severe cases of the disease in China are being tested.

. . .

In China only people with pneumonia are being tested so only the severe cases are being picked up, which explains the higher death rate here.

Again, more at the link.

There's an interesting study on what surface cleaners kill coronavirus.  The article analyzes what's available right now that works (and is officially certified as effective) against SARS and MERS (both caused by coronavirus variants).  If it works against them, it'll likely work against the current epidemic as well.  Two products in particular appear to be readily available, and (according to the study) are officially certified against generic coronavirus and at least one of the above diseases.  They are Diversey Oxivir TB (which is much cheaper per bottle in a 12-pack) and Clorox Broad Spectrum Quaternary Disinfectant.

Yes, I've bought some, just in case.  As Old NFO and I agreed when talking about them, the old proverb that "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" definitely applies here!  I think, if you have kids who attend school, or any other family members who go into situations where there are likely to be others around them who are infected, products like these can help to clean and disinfect anything like lunch boxes, etc. that they bring home.  That was our standard precaution against cholera, dysentery and other diseases in Africa, where they're endemic, so it should help here, too.  (These products could also be used to spray onto breathing masks after use.  That would help to deal with any infectious material on their surface, and might allow the masks to be re-used, if supplies are short - as they are right now.  Pure, concentrated bleach might also serve for that purpose.  You might find it useful to keep some concentrated bleach crystals on hand, to make up your own fresh, strong solution as needed.)

The same source offers another article about hand sanitizers that should be effective against coronavirus.  I recommend both articles to your attention.

So much for the health care side of the equation.  The economic fall-out from the coronavirus epidemic is beginning to gather speed - and it looks bad for the entire world, not just China or the USA.  For example, some Chinese firms are trying to plead force majeure to break their contracts for raw materials (particularly natural gas at present).  Suppliers are rejecting such attempts, but if the customers won't accept delivery, good luck in enforcing the contract in a Chinese court.

Countries that rely on China to buy their raw materials are facing dire economic straits.  The New York Times reports:

The coronavirus outbreak in China has generated economic waves that are rocking global commodities markets and disrupting the supply networks that act as the backbone of the global economy.

“We’re seeing a rippling out,” said Ed Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup in New York. “And we don’t see it stopping.”

Prices for key industrial raw materials such as copper, iron ore, nickel, aluminum and liquid natural gas have plummeted since the virus emerged. Currencies of countries that export these goods at high rates, including Brazil, South Africa and Australia, are near their lowest levels in recent memory. And manufacturers, mining companies and commodity producers of all stripes are weighing whether they will be forced to cut back on production for fear of adding to a growing inventory glut.

The woes of the commodities markets — arguably the worst-performing asset in financial markets this year — reflect the basic reality that China’s industry-heavy economy is the most important consumer of raw materials on earth.

And drastic efforts to quell the outbreak, including a lockdown of Wuhan, a city of 11 million, and severe curtailment of transportation nationwide, have slowed the Chinese economy sharply.

More at the link.

The nations mentioned above are also US trading partners, so their economic woes will affect our commerce with them.  If their major companies are struggling to survive the loss of their biggest market, they won't have much money available to buy goods from the USA.  They'll also have a big incentive to try to sell their products to us, even at fire-sale prices, in order to get through the depression in their own economies.  That has implications for US producers, who might find they can't compete on price against dirt-cheap commodity imports.  Worth thinking about, if you work in such an industry.

The epidemic is testing China's ability to cope with the internal tensions it's producing.

  • China confronts a version of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: African swine flu, Hong Kong crisis, trade war with US, and coronavirus epidemic.
  • China’s draconian quarantine and travel restrictions will accelerate its already slowing economy that will inevitably fall below the political and psychological 6% targeted annual growth rate.
  • A dramatically weaker Chinese economy will expose financially weak firms that have remained in business through creative accounting, resulting in large layoffs and possible social unrest.

More at the link.

What's more, the long-term fallout from the epidemic is likely to affect China's economy for years to come.

  • China’s post-coronavirus economic landscape will look far different from today with profound political, economic, and social changes.
  • Chinese and foreign businesses will reduce operations while developing the type of emergency protocols and disaster recovery plans reserved for politically volatile countries in the extraction industries for future similar.
  • China’s government lack of credibility and inability to act rapidly to national emergencies may have planted the seeds of Hong Kong activism amongst the Mainlanders.

More at the link.

The epidemic is already having a drastic effect on economic relations between the USA and China, driven by commercial and industrial reality rather than politics.

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak is speeding up the so-called “decoupling” between the U.S. and China more than their trade war did, according to an analyst from the Milken Institute.

“We talked about China and the U.S. decoupling. The coronavirus more than the trade war has sped some of that decoupling as countries, as businesses think about their supply chain for the long run,” said Curtis Chin, an Asia fellow at the Milken Institute, calling it an “increased disengagement” of both economies.

“It can’t all be in China, we’ve seen some of the consequences of over reliance on just one key market,” he told CNBC at the Milken Institute’s Middle East and Africa Summit in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

. . .

Chin said: “The reality is that the US and Chinese economies, from supply chains to investment and trade flows, will be intertwined for years to come. The coronavirus crisis, however, has underscored to the United States and all of China’s trading and investment partners the value of diversification away from China.”

More at the link.

Those are the nuggets of fact and reality that I've been able to dredge from the sea of rumors, misinformation and speculation out there.  Most of it bears no relation to reality at all - it's rampant fear-mongering and misdirection.  We're still weeks, if not months, away from fully understanding the coronavirus, much less finding a vaccine or a cure for it.  Meanwhile, let's not go overboard, and operate on the basis of facts as far as we can.


He's going to need more than a defroster . . .

Being from Alaska, Miss D. gets more than a little angry when she sees people driving around in cars from which they've not swept the snow and ice, so that it flies off at speed and hits the vehicles around them.  Apparently, in the frozen north, the cops ticket drivers who do that - which sounds like a good idea to me.

I thought about it after finding this picture on MeWe:

Look at that compressed rear suspension! I'd love to know what all that snow weighs . . .


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ancient fruit and modern tastebuds

I note that date palms with Biblical-era genetics have been grown from ancient seeds.

Scientists have cultivated plants from date palm seeds that languished in ancient ruins and caves for 2,000 years.

This remarkable feat confirms the long-term viability of the kernels once ensconced in succulent Judean dates, a fruit cultivar lost for centuries. The results make it an excellent candidate for studying the longevity of plant seeds.

From those date palm saplings, the researchers have begun to unlock the secrets of the highly sophisticated cultivation practices that produced the dates praised by Herodotus, Galen, and Pliny the Elder.

"The current study sheds light on the origins of the Judean date palm, suggesting that its cultivation, benefiting from genetically distinct eastern and western populations, arose from local or introduced eastern varieties, which only later were crossed with western varieties," the researchers wrote in their paper.

"These findings are consistent with Judea's location between east-west date palm diversification areas, ancient centres of date palm cultivation, and the impact of human dispersal routes at this crossroads of continents."

There's more at the link.

I'll be very interested to see whether there's any genetic link between the Judean dates and more modern varieties such as Medjool.  Dates from ancient Israel were known throughout the ancient world, and highly prized.  Can a resurrected (you should pardon the expression) Biblical-era date offer competition to modern cultivars?


This is just too cute!

This video of a baby tasting ice cream for the first time has gone viral over the past couple of weeks - with good reason.  It's irresistibly cute!

I think he's hooked.  I love the instinctive "MINE!" reaction!


SOCOM and the USAF: the internal politics could get interesting, to put it mildly

I was intrigued to read that the US Special Operations Command is looking into fielding up to 75 light attack aircraft.

The US Special Operations Command plans on buying 75 fixed-wing aircraft for its just-announced Armed Overwatch program.

The aircraft are intended for close air support of special operations troops, according to a notice announcing an upcoming industry day posted online 3 February.

“Armed Overwatch will provide Special Operations Forces deployable and sustainable manned aircraft systems fulfilling close air support, precision strike, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in austere and permissive environments,” says the notice.

The program is similar to a faltering light attack experiment within the US Air Force (USAF), which aims to show light attack aircraft, specifically the Textron Aviation AT-6 and Sierra Nevada /Embraer A-29, could cheaply boost the air-to-ground attack capabilities of US allies and foreign partners ... The Armed Overwatch program is closer to the USAF light attack experiment’s original goal of providing the US military with a cheaper alternative for air-to-ground attack missions, compared with expensive-to-fly fourth and fifth generation fighters such as the Boeing F-15E or Lockheed Martin F-35.

. . .

Initially, Armed Overwatch would be pursued as a prototype initiative to demonstrate the concept, says US Special Operations Command.

If the demonstration phase proves promising enough, US Special Operations Command plans to award a follow-on contract with a base 5-year ordering period, plus a 2-year option, for 75 aircraft and MRO support.

There's more at the link.

The USAF had been fiddling around with its Light Attack Aircraft Program since 2009, making little progress (and looking very much as if it didn't really want to make progress).  It finally killed it off this month, de-funding the program in its latest budget request.  Its slow progress and seeming lack of real interest in the project has caused concern (not to mention anger) in some quarters.  However, SOCOM has now stepped up to the plate with its own funding request.  This is intriguing, because the USAF has always lobbied hard against fixed-wing combat aircraft for any other service besides itself.  The Army can operate helicopters, but its attempts to provide its own fixed-wing light transport were strongly opposed (and eventually taken over, and then junked) by the USAF;  and as for brown-clad pilots in fixed-wing combat planes, that's always been a non-starter as far as the boys in blue were concerned.

The latest developments beg the question:  has the USAF decided to focus its efforts on the big/high/fast/expensive air combat and transport arena, and shuffle off the small/low/slow/cheap planes and missions onto the other armed services?  Budgetary reality may dictate such a changed perspective.  What's more, the light combat aircraft involved are already being flown by several Third World air forces (including Afghanistan, Nigeria, the Philippines and others) with great success.  Is that, perhaps, showing up the USAF's dilatory approach to the same aircraft as yet another case of the "not-invented-here" syndrome?  By "allowing" other US armed services to fly such aircraft, is it reserving the "first-class" missions for itself, and handing off the "second-class" stuff to others as beneath its notice?

The Army would love to get its nose into the tent as far as fixed-wing combat air operations are concerned.  There's no reason at all why Army warrant officer pilots couldn't be just as successful in fixed-wing aircraft as they already are in helicopters.  On the other hand, the USAF will doubtless be determined to set rigid boundaries, beyond which they won't allow competition for their services to develop.  I suspect SOCOM will be fighting lots of political battles, as well as budgetary and technical ones, to get a fleet of light attack aircraft into operation.  Nevertheless, it has budgetary reality on its side.  If the USAF can't afford to divert its money or its attention from its "primary mission", as it sees it, it's going to have a hell of a job persuading Congress that others shouldn't be allowed to tackle that mission in its stead.  If US lives are at stake on the battlefield, that commands attention.

My own limited military experience tends to suggest that light attack aircraft can be very successful, even if constrained by a restrictive air defense environment.  South Africa built the Aermacchi MB-326 training aircraft under license from the mid-1960's, under the name "Impala".  It went on to build 100 of the single-seat light attack version of the plane, known as the "Impala Mk. 2", shown below (image courtesy of Wikipedia - click it for a larger view).

These were employed very successfully in the light strike and counter-terrorist role in northern Namibia and southern Angola during the 1970's and 1980's (in much the same way as the Cessna A-37 Dragonfly was developed from the T-37 Tweet trainer, and used in Vietnam during the 1960's and 1970's).  They couldn't operate far into Angola, which possessed the most sophisticated Soviet-sourced air defense system (including radars, missiles, fighters, etc.) outside the Warsaw Pact;  but they could (and did) operate around and just inside the fringes of that system to good effect.  They suffered few losses, and scored some major successes, including shooting down six Angolan transport and attack helicopters in deliberate air-to-air ambushes.  They were a very useful adjunct to the South African Air Force's primary striking force of more capable (and much more expensive) Mirage aircraft.  I saw the Impalas in action on several occasions, to our great appreciation from ground level.

That experience, and the USAF's and allied countries' experience with the A-37 Dragonfly, suggests that SOCOM's plans are likely to be very useful in their type of operations.  I hope they succeed.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

No s***, Sherlock! - relationship edition

Found on Gab:


When civilized methods fail, the law of the jungle takes over

Adam Piggott points out that President Duterte of the Philippines may be a disaster from a modern, liberal, human-rights perspective, but he's very popular among his people for precisely the same reason.

Duterte has been in office for roughly the same time as Trump has been president, but we can call Duterte the forgotten man. When he first gained power the western press was all over him, how he was a horrible individual who was guilty of “human rights” abuses, blah blah blah, you know the drill. This went on for some time until suddenly it didn’t. From rather a lot of coverage the news went deathly quiet on the subject of the Philippine’s far-right leader.

The reason for the absence of news is down to how effective his policies have been, particularly as regards law and order. Duterte has a zero tolerance policy for drug dealers, drug users, and drugs in general. Which means that the police simply gun them down in the street. No long trials, no messy incarceration periods where the criminals can form their own powerful gangs while behind bars and then cause havoc in the country, (hello Mexico!)

. . .

I was speaking to one of the Filipinos in a private conversation when he brought up the subject of his president. He was most fulsome in his praise. Under Duterte the streets are now safe. His kids can happily play on the streets. Business is going well, and particularly without the criminal element extorting money from small family concerns. The man was so enthusiastic that I decided to ask a few other of the Filipino crew what they thought. I made sure to do it in private conversations so they wouldn’t feel pressured by those around them; I wanted to really know what their thoughts were on this guy.

To a man they love Duterte. One guy said that in the beginning he didn’t like the president; he had not voted for him and he considered him to be a bad guy. But now he was most enthusiastic in his support. Their quality of life has improved immeasurably under their leader’s policies. The conversations really left an impression on me.

There's more at the link.

I've seen the same thing in Africa, more times than I can count.  A national government may be more or less corrupt, or inept, or ineffectual:  but the right man, in the right place, can do a great deal to protect his people and impose peace upon his region.  He probably can't do so through so-called "civilized" means - after all, when the usual method of resolving interpersonal conflict is to reach for a machete or an AK-47, there's not much civilization involved!  Nevertheless, if the local criminals can be kept in check by solid citizens, who only need some basic equipment and training to do so, then everybody benefits.  Sure, the criminals get short shrift, which seldom involves a court of law;  but the law of the jungle has never been applied in court, anyway.

When one's life is stripped of so-called "civilized" niceties, things take on a very different perspective to what we take for granted.  Here, we accept that an intruder on our property has rights in law, and we can't violate them without being called to account for it.  There, an intruder knows the risks he takes by intruding onto someone else's property, even if intruding is all he does;  and when those risks bite him, nobody gives a damn (except, perhaps, his surviving family, who must now find a way to make a living without his assistance).  It's a hard way of life, but it's also a necessary way of life when there are no safety nets available.  Look after yourself and your own, or lose everything.  That's the law of the jungle.  Duterte is simply applying it on a national scale in the Philippines - and it's working, to the great satisfaction of its people.

Western liberals simply can't understand that, and never will, because they've never had to live from hand to mouth, aware that they can lose it all at the whim of any predator out there - two-legged or four-legged.  Living under such conditions changes one's perspective.  I know that from personal experience.  It changed mine, pretty much permanently.  That's why I laugh when I read about "preppers" and their multi-year stockpiles and stashes of survival goods.  If we ever reach a dysfunctional dystopia in our society, those stockpiles will attract every "have-not" in the vicinity;  and they won't be particular how they take them.  Even the authorities will do the same.  A local strong-man, perhaps armed with a law enforcement badge of some kind, or some other shred of "officialdom", will send his people around to "confiscate hoarded supplies for the good of the community".  They'll insist on searching your premises for them, and they won't take no for an answer.  If you resist, you'll regret it - briefly.  Your stash will then go into the strong-man's own hoard, to be dispensed to those whose support he needs.  You and your family (if any of you survive) will be S.O.L.

Think I'm exaggerating?  I'm not.  I've seen it before.  The only exceptions to that rule will be those who are strong enough to keep what they have, the hard way.  The Biblical motto still applies:  "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace."  If he doesn't, they aren't, and the society in which he lives collapses.  (For proof, look at the inner-city ghettoes in any major US urban area.  That's exactly what you see there.)

President Duterte clearly understands that.  So do his people.  Together, they're doing something about it.  Yes, "human rights" are suffering as a result - but they don't give a damn.  It's hard to blame them for that.


US naval expenditure: is reality finally beginning to bite?

I've long been annoyed and frustrated at the US Navy's visible incompetence and waste of taxpayers' time and money in designing, building and commissioning new generations of warships.  The "Little Crappy Ship" imbroglio, the Zumwalt train wreck and the USS Gerald R. Ford's litany of failures are only the first three programs to come to mind - there are many more.  Therefore, I wasn't surprised to see the Defense Secretary's decision about funding a new generation of nuclear missile submarines.

After years of warnings from U.S. Navy leaders that replacing the aging Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine will eat the service’s shipbuilding account alive, the year the first Columbia-class submarine is to be funded has arrived with the fiscal year 2021 budget request. But according to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the Navy shouldn’t expect any extra money to pay for it.

In an exclusive interview with Defense News Friday, Esper said the Columbia class is a Navy bill, just like Air Force nuclear deterrent recapitalization will be an Air Force bill, and the services will just have to find efficiencies in house to pay for it.

“Clearly, the Columbia is a big bill, but it's a big bill we have to pay,” Esper said. “That's the Navy's bill. The Air Force has a bill called bombers and ground-based strategic deterrent, so that's a bill they have to pay.

“We all recognize that. Acting Secretary [Thomas] Modly and I have spoken about this. He believes, and I think he’s absolutely correct, that there are more and more efficiencies to be found within the department, the Navy and the Marine Corps, that they can free up money to invest into ships — into platforms.”

The word from Esper that Columbia would be considered a shipbuilding bill seemed to put the final stake in the heart of years of efforts by Navy leaders and lawmakers to avoid crushing the Navy’s shipbuilding budget and negatively impacting other programs such as surface ship construction, ships that provide both a vital peacetime deterrence function and are popular with lawmakers with shipbuilders in their states.

There's more at the link.

The Navy will doubtless scream in protest:  but it doesn't have a leg to stand on.  It's wasted enough money on the aforementioned LCS, Zumwalt and Ford programs to more than pay for the entire Columbia class of missile submarines.  With the sole exception of the Ford class (if, and only if, it can be made to work as designed - that's not yet guaranteed), that money is a write-off.  Billions upon billions of dollars have been thrown away on programs that will be of little or no operational benefit to the Navy, in peace or in time of war.  As far as I'm concerned, any service that thinks it's OK to pour so much taxpayer money down the drain doesn't deserve more of the same.

The same applies to the Air Force and the Army - to the entire Defense Department, in fact.  It failed its first-ever financial audit a couple of years ago, and has racked up $35 trillion (yes, that's "trillion" with a T!) in accounting changes in the space of just one year.  Any commercial business running itself that way would have been driven into bankruptcy long ago!  Certainly, the oversight authorities would have long since taken action against it.  Why should the Defense Department be exempt from such investigations, and such oversight?

Other services are being forced to make major sacrifices in existing equipment and inventory in order to fund their new programs.  The Army's cutting back its purchases of the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and cancelling other important programs.  The Air Force is retiring hundreds of "legacy" aircraft to afford modern replacements (even though the F-35 program, which will replace them, is a poster child for waste, fraud and boondoggles;  it's become "the most expensive weapons program in history").  Why should the Navy not be required to do likewise?

The USA simply can't afford its "military-industrial complex" any longer.  The budget will only stretch so far.  We're already facing trillion-dollar-plus deficits every year for the foreseeable future, to fund the entitlement programs to which the American people seem to have become addicted.  More than half the US population receives money or other assistance from one or more government programs.  Given that reality, there simply isn't enough money left over to pay for flashy new toys as well - particularly when the armed forces have such a dismal record of waste, profligate expenditure and inability to police their own bureaucracy in managing their responsibilities.

Knowledgeable experts point to the expansion of our rivals' armed forces, and warn that we have to match them or risk being overmatched.  They're right.  However, if we can't afford that, we can't do it.  It's as simple as that.  The Navy has no-one to blame but itself for its current financial crisis.  It's wasted tens of billions of dollars on programs that don't work, and contribute little or nothing to its mission.  Unless and until it gets its financial house in order, its crisis of capability and affordability will continue.  There won't be any bailout in the form of more money coming from Congress.  The money isn't there.  The same applies to the other US armed forces.  They'll have to shape up, or do without.

(A good place to start would be with the bloated ranks of generals and admirals.  I reckon we could cut a third to a half of their slots, and retire their incumbents, without affecting the readiness of our armed forces in any way.  For example, at the time of writing the US Navy has 250 ships active in commission.  It has 246 admirals, from grades O-7 to O-10 [one to four stars].  I simply can't believe that the latter figure is justifiable in the light of the former number.  How about cutting them back to 150, a reduction of about 40%?  That would be a good start - and might even pay for a nuclear missile submarine or two, over time, just from the savings in salary and benefits!  Impose the same proportional reductions on the upper ranks of the Army and Air Force, and you might be talking some serious money.)


Monday, February 10, 2020

The not-so-sweet smell of political success?

Just in time for this election year, here's the perfect gift for the politically minded persons in your life - a candle made with (and smelling like) Kentucky horse doo-doo.  Just keep it out of your own home!

Ahh, politics. United, divisive, and smells like the same old s***. Burn it down and start over with a revolutionary new scented candle!

Featuring a subtle bouquet of profits over people, nothing ever changes, well whaddabout, also guns are actually people, and if you don't like it maybe you should move to Canada!  between layers of actual real deal dehydrated horse s***.

There's more at the link.

I wonder if they'd make an extra smelly version on request?  There are more than a few politicians who deserve it, IMHO.  In fact, I can see President Trump buying several cases of them, to present to (un)favored recipients!


The easy way to lower crime rates - fudge the statistics!

The Chicago Sun-Times points out that crime statistics for that city are being deliberately "fudged" by manipulating them.  This is, of course, a problem nation-wide, not just in the Windy City;  but it's good to see the issue brought out in public.

Closing more murder cases even though no one was arrested pumped up the high clearance rate the Chicago Police Department has touted, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis finds.

The police department cleared more murder cases in 2019 that didn’t result in an arrest than it has done in years, the Sun-Times found ... of the 261 murders that the police signed off on as having been cleared last year, 152 were closed “exceptionally” — what the department labels “CCX” for “cleared, closed exceptionally,” meaning no one was charged.

That means there was no arrest in 58% of the cleared homicide investigations.

. . .

When someone the police believe committed a murder has died or when prosecutors reject murder charges, the police department’s policy is to clear those cases exceptionally.

Chief police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the reason for the high percentage of CCXes last year is that prosecutors are rejecting murder charges more frequently.

According to the Cook County state’s attorney’s data, prosecutors rejected about 25 percent of the murder cases the Chicago police presented in 2019, compared with 14 percent in 2015.

There's more at the link.

The Second City Cop blog, which famously documents the real state of affairs in Chicago's Police Department compared to the "official" picture of what's going on, is caustic in its analysis.

We've been writing about this in one form or another since the beginning of the blog. McCompStat's [former CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy] entire career was built on falsifying crime data to the point a couple of ex-top cops in New York wrote the definitive book about it and teach come college courses regarding it.

Clear murders by blaming a dead shooter? Why not? He can't sue you for defamation, and what moron is actually going to step up and claim credit for a murder the Department has already buried?

Again, more at the link.  It's worth clicking over there and reading the comments following that article, many of them by serving Chicago cops, who are fully aware of the realities of the situation and just as unhappy about it as the anonymous SCC bloggers.

This is, as I said earlier, an endemic problem in US law enforcement.  By "massaging" the crime statistics, the politicians in charge (and their top law enforcement bureaucrats) make themselves look better to the electorate.  The only answer is to uncover the deceptions they foster, and expose them for the liars they are.  At least that way informed residents can understand for themselves the danger from crime, and take steps to minimize their exposure to it - and their means to counter it, if it should confront them.

Moral of the story:  If you live in Chicago, don't trust its "official" crime statistics.  If you live in any major US city (particularly those controlled by a Democratic Party machine and/or administration), don't trust its "official" crime statistics.  They're almost certainly unreliable, to put it mildly.


Can Bloomberg buy the US presidency?

There's a very interesting analysis of election spending at Axios, titled "Bloomberg's big bet on the power of money".  (Click the image below for a larger view.)

Why it matters: Bloomberg is betting that enough exposure — through a $300m+ ad campaign and a non-traditional run that looks past the early four states — will make him competitive in Super Tuesday, and make all Democrats stronger in the general election.
  • He’s blowing through cash to create a parallel (or bigger) unofficial, uncoordinated party infrastructure in case the DNC can’t help the eventual Democratic nominee enough in states that should be competitive with Trump.

. . .

The big picture: Bloomberg's campaign has repeatedly said its will spend "whatever it takes" to defeat President Trump. There’s nothing stopping Bloomberg from topping $2 billion.

  • With 2,100 paid staff, Bloomberg has three times as many as Trump, five times as many as Joe Biden and more than twice as many as Elizabeth Warren, according to data the campaigns provided to Axios.

. . .

By the numbers: In just over a month, Bloomberg spent more than the top 2020 contenders spent for the whole final quarter of 2019 combined, according to Federal Election Commission data. He also outspent the entire RNC and DNC.

. . .

Our thought bubble: The question is, will the anti-capitalist base of the Democratic Party reject a billionaire because of his very ability to self-finance, or could Democrats rally around the idea that it will take a billionaire businessman to beat Trump?

The bottom line: The American people are getting a lesson in how campaigns could be run if money were literally no object — and whether that’s enough to beat Trump.

There's more at the link.

It's an open question whether the radical wing of the Democratic Party will accept a less radical candidate, of course.  Last month, Steven Hayward had some interesting thoughts about that possibility.

Watching Bloomberg’s many long TV ads running out here in expensive California right now ... prompts the thought that Bloomberg is setting himself up to run as an independent this year, especially if Sanders is the nominee.

. . .

If you’ve seen any of Bloomberg’s ads, they are sustained attacks on Trump, which look like general election ads. He doesn’t mention he is a Democrat. He may yet attack Sanders directly before Super Tuesday, especially if Sanders wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, but I am sure his thinking runs like this: Sanders (or Warren) would be a landslide loser to Trump, so it might well be possible for a well-funded independent to siphon up enough votes from disaffected Democrats, independents, and other reluctant Trump voters to win a close three-way race. Bloomberg has the resources to outspend Trump.

I am surprised that there hasn’t been any media speculation about this, or reporters asking  the Bloomberg campaign direct questions such as the one posed to Trump in 2016: Will you support the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is? Maybe there’s a reason Bloomberg, unlike Tom Steyer, isn’t interested in appearing in any of the primary debates.

Again, more at the link.

I don't know what to think about the situation, because this is a new development in US politics.  The Citizens United decision kept the doors open to "big money" in political campaigns, but that was outside big money from donors.  It didn't consider a candidate rich enough to spend billions of dollars of his own money, without needing donations at all.  Can such political spending sway an electorate that, until now, has thought in political party terms?  What about those who've become accustomed to voting a "straight ticket"?  If Bloomberg runs as an independent, and his name doesn't appear on a party ticket at all, will that be a disadvantage for him?

Of course, the needs of party politics may allow Bloomberg's wealth to buy him support.  If he "bribes" the Democratic Party by promising to donate a billion dollars or so in support of their Congressional and Senate candidates, will that tip their support to him at their nominating convention?  It may be an irresistible carrot to dangle before the donkey(s).  With that sort of money, they could realistically hope to keep their current majority in the House of Representatives, and possibly even take control of the Senate.  That would mean that even if President Trump was re-elected, they'd be able to block his judicial nominations and stymie his policy agendas.

I guess only time will tell.  This is turning into a very interesting political equation.  We'll see how it works out in November.


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sunday morning music

A discussion with another writer brought today's topic to mind.  She told me she selects background music with specific reference to the genre in which she's writing.  For example, if she's writing fantasy, she'll play music from a movie in that genre, or general music that focuses on that sort of theme.  She'll even tailor the music to suit the specific scene (so that, say, a battle scene will involve fairly martial, warrior-type music, perhaps from Scandinavian thrash metal groups).  I don't take it that far, but I realized that I do pick music to write to so that the former "fits" the subject for the day.  If I'm writing a battle, I don't play lullabies!

That started me thinking.  In cinematic entertainment, the theme music and sound effects often make or break the movie.  Who could watch, say, Tom & Jerry cartoons without them?  Their absence would ruin the cartoons.  See (and hear) for yourself.

In a more serious vein, think of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.  The music is so intimately a part of its portrayal that it's impossible to imagine the movies without their soundtrack.  That can be said of many movies, of course, but it's particularly true of the LOTR trilogy.  Here's a video containing the entire soundtrack, labeled as to scene.  (You'll find the list, complete with timestamps, at the original YouTube listing).  Pick a couple of scenes you know well, watch them on YouTube by searching for them (or use your own copies of the movies), then listen to the music alone (on this video) without watching the visuals.  Both are so intertwined that neither completely makes sense without the other.

Definitely makes you think.  To what extent are our lives themselves framed by their "soundtrack" - the "theme music" to our everyday lives?  Take a big-city dweller.  If you took away the sounds he was used to - traffic, car horns, the hustle and bustle of so many people all around him - would his life be the same?  Would he seek to "insulate" himself from, say, country sounds by recreating "city sounds" around him?  Is that why so many holiday resorts resemble nothing more than the same overcrowded, noisy cities from where they draw their clientele?

That's also a thought for writers.  When we write, are we subconsciously composing the "theme music" for our scenes by selectively using words?  Are we choosing them for the way in which they resonate with our readers, the emotions they evoke, the reactions they produce?

Food for thought.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Saturday Snippet: the 1929 stock market slams headlong into reality

In their book "The Day the Bubble Burst", Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts examine the human side of the 1929 stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression.

There are many parallels between the behavior of markets and individuals prior to the Crash, and those we see today.  The divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" is at least as pronounced today, if not more so, and of course there are many more people in the country - and the world - to be affected by such divisions.  Attitudes are also very materialistic, the focus entirely on worldly reward and material wealth.

I recommend "The Day the Bubble Burst" as a very well-written snapshot from our nation's history of what happens when greed and hubris slam headlong into reality.  I fear we may be close to another such episode in the not very distant future.  Sadly, I don't think those in charge of running our country have learned much in the interim.

Here's the book's view of the consumer society ninety-odd years ago.

     Many of the dubious advertisements appearing in the U.S. press urged readers to invest in bonds and stocks. The circle between Madison Avenue and Wall Street was complete; they were inexorably linked, in a relationship developed in ten short years, during which the ad men had created an ambience invaluable to the continuing popularity of stock speculation. The limitless, desirable, and expensive goods coming onto the market—often products of companies quoted on the Stock Exchange—could only be sold by determined advertising campaigns. If those campaigns failed, the market would slump.
     To maintain his place in consumer society, a man was told he needed a car, radio, icebox, and refrigerator; his wife required a washing machine, automatic furnace, and one of the modish pastel-hued toilets. To complete their domestic bliss they would have the latest in bathrooms: a shrine of stunning magnificence, containing, among other items, “a dental lavatory of vitreous china, twice fired.” To buy it would cost the average American six months’ salary. But paying was no problem; there were the installment plans. It was also part of the advertising philosophy that it was no longer enough to buy a car, radio, or refrigerator. People must have the latest model—junking the old one, even though it was still useful. Failure to do so would cause factories to close from the Atlantic to the Pacific, ending what some newspapers called “the golden era.” To protect it, they told their readers, was the patriotic duty of every American; one way to express that was, “to buy until it hurts.”
     The farsighted were even encouraged to spend while alive to ensure a better hereafter. They could, for instance, find in the current issue of The Saturday Evening Post this advertisement from a New York casket and vault manufacturer: “How often we find cause only for regret in our memories of the manner in which we disposed of the remains of our loved ones. We were thoughtless, perhaps. It would have been so easy to provide adequate protection against the elements. However, it is idle to dwell on things past. Let us look into the future calmly and follow the examples of thousands of families who rely upon the Clark Graves Vault to defeat Nature’s destructive forces. For never yet has this vault failed to protect its contents from the hurtful elements of the earth.”
     And so, with that promise of bodily immortality, the forward-looking would not just be buried in old-fashioned graveyards; they would be “lovingly interred” in Gardens of Rest and Vaults of Sleep, “resting” in silver- or gold-plated coffins in sepulchers resembling Greek-pillared mausoleums, equipped with specially sealed boxes in which, if one wished, the departed’s stock certificates might be placed. The boxes would be hewn from “immortal” granite. If that was too expensive, the Rock of Ages Corporation offered sculpted headstones, with extra angels available on demand. For those who could not afford even that, a range of cut-price funeral parlors offered “a Repose Room, Free, and use of Twenty Palms.”
     The twin pillars of American civilization were now the copywriter and the salesman. Between them they supported the stock market. To do so they committed many sins in the name of prosperity. But the age of plenty seemed destined to go on forever as the manipulators continued to think of new ways to create still bigger gains in the Dow Jones and Times “averages.” The nation was being coerced and cozened by forces it blindly trusted—business, advertising, and journalism. The few voices that protested were ignored.
     Wall Street constantly encouraged Madison Avenue to persuade the public to extend its mortgage on the future. If it was necessary to buy a new car every year, it was far better to purchase two. A home should not merely have one bathroom—preferably with a dental lavatory—it needed a second. A radio was essential for every living room. Even the American Association of Wholesale Opticians had joined the clamor, urging people to wear one style of glasses for work, another for leisure, a third for sport. The jewelers urged brides to insist on platinum wedding rings, preferably encrusted with diamonds. If they had any doubts about the wisdom of not wearing plain old-fashioned gold bands, the advertisements informed them that by buying fancier and more expensive rings, they were giving employment to more American craftsmen than would otherwise be working. Patriotism was always a clincher. And it all helped to keep the market booming.
     By 1929 the Greeting Card Association of America was ready to play its part. In a few sickening verse-years, the association had come a long way from simply selling birthday and Christmas cards. Now they had get-well cards, sorry-I-forgot-your-anniversary cards, and even sorry-you-have-been-run-over cards. Under the benevolent gaze of the stock market, the association was out to make America anniversary conscious. And so it became necessary to create new ones.
     Mother’s Day was born.
     Combining the talents of the card makers, the candy manufacturers, and the florists, Mother’s Day became the perfect rip-off. Florists had always been in the van of advertising; they had also mounted a successful campaign to remove the unhappy phrase from newspaper death notices: “No flowers by request.” It had been replaced by the far more positive—and profitable—slogan: “Say Farewell with Flowers.”
     In a mother-orientated nation, no son, however cynical, could refuse to send flowers on that special day; the many florists in and around Wall Street—established originally to provide the carnation boutonnieres favored by fashion-conscious brokers—did a record business during the week before the bogus anniversary. As the day drew closer, the price of blooms soared—a practice perfectly understood in the countinghouses; it was known as pushing the price as high as the market would bear. In fact, candy manufacturers saw the price of their shares rise as a result of Mother’s Day. Western Union and other telegraph companies witnessed similar results. Western Union even prepared a selection of messages for those unable to think of what to say. The most popular one in 1929 was: “I send a blessing for every thread of silver on my mother’s head.”

Recognize any parallels between 1929 society and our own?


Friday, February 7, 2020

OK, the coronavirus has a name!

It's provided by commenter "elysianfields" over at Aesop's place, in a comment to his latest article on the subject.

Is it possible that the virus (to be referred to as "the sniffles" or maybe "kung flu", might remain active in the body?

"Kung Flu".  Brilliant!


About that "open container law" for Airbus aircraft . . .

. . . it looks like I wasn't far wrong!

Last week I wrote about electrical issues with three different Airbus aircraft after liquids were spilled on control panels in the cockpit, including uncommanded engine shutdowns.  I asked whether an "open container law" might be needed for Airbus cockpits.

What's the old saying about "There's many a true word spoken in jest"?  Flight Global reports:

Airbus A350 operators have been ordered to define a “liquid prohibited” zone in the cockpit, after two incidents in which beverage spillages on the centre pedestal led to in-flight shutdown of a Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine.

. . .

In an emergency directive the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has warned that inadvertent spillage on the engine-start panel or electronic centralised aircraft monitor panel – both located on the pedestal – could potentially result in a dual engine shutdown.

Preliminary technical investigation, it says, indicates “abnormal operation” of components in the panels resulting from the spillages. Uncommanded shutdown followed “some time” after the spillage and subsequent engine relight attempts were not successful.

Airbus has published a temporary revision to the aircraft’s flight manual, dated 4 February, defining a “liquid prohibited zone” for the cockpit and the procedures to be followed in case of a pedestal spillage.

There's more at the link.

What next?  Cup-holders in the cockpit, carefully positioned to keep drinks away from vulnerable consoles?  Perhaps the aircraft industry might learn from vehicle manufacturers, and festoon their cockpits with cup-holders in all directions!  How about a robotic "spill control steward[ess]" who'll quickly mop up the mess when pilots have an oopsie?  With all the automation already in aircraft cockpits, there's got to be room for that . . .