Thursday, May 28, 2020

Unexpected airport traffic

I had to smile at reports that three deer had a close encounter with Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter aircraft at RAF Coningsby recently.

Cute, I suppose, but animals on the runways and taxiways can be a real hazard.  In flying around Africa for many years, I grew used to pilots of smaller aircraft (from 40-50 seat regional airliners to small 4- or 6-seat puddle-jumpers) having to "buzz" over the runway at very low altitude, to scare off animals grazing or resting there.  Larger animals (of which Africa has a gracious plenty) would often be so used to this that they'd ignore the nasty buzzing creatures overhead, and go right on doing whatever they were doing.  Only when the pilot was absolutely sure that there were no animals within "hazard range" could he proceed - and even then, a sudden unexpected run by an animal could lead to disaster.  It's a not uncommon occurrence.

Miss D. assures me that the same thing has been known to happen in Alaska, where she learned to fly.  She says even larger airliners, like Boeing 737's, sometimes have to "clear the runway" at more remote airports in that state before they can touch down.  Apparently polar bears regard small aircraft filled with people in the same way that we'd regard a tin filled with delicious chunks of meat.  Not a comforting thought, that!

I wonder how a jet fighter pilot in England would react to critters like that on the runway?


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Sometimes the jokes write themselves . . .

I had to do a double-take at this headline:

I've heard about the dick-tates of fashion, but I never expected them to go to that extreme!


The real peril behind vote-by-mail

Tucker Carlson puts it into a short, concise segment.  This is a "must-see" if you're to understand why certain political parties, pressure groups and influencers are trying to promote universal vote-by-mail as a "solution" to the coronavirus pandemic and the risks it poses.

I think he's right.  If this pressure succeeds, you can effectively say goodbye to democracy in the USA.


Pun of the week

From Stephan Pastis, who likes puns almost as much as I do.  Click the image for a larger view at the "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip Web page.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The man who put the hole in the donut

I was intrigued to learn the history behind the hole in the donut.

Captain Gregory, 85, lived at the Sailor’s Snug Harbor in Quincy, Mass. His fame as the inventor of the modern donut had spread, and the Washington Post interviewed him in a story published March 26, 1916.

He told the reporter he discovered the donut hole when he worked as a 16-year-old crewman on a lime-trading schooner.

“Now in them days we used to cut the doughnuts into diamond shapes, and also into long strips, bent in half, and then twisted,” he said. “I don’t think we called them donuts then–they was just ‘fried cakes’ and ‘twisters.’ Well, sir, they used to fry all right around the edges, but when you had the edges done the insides was all raw dough. And the twisters used to sop up all the grease just where they bent, and they were tough on the digestion.”

He asked himself if a space inside the dough would solve the difficulty – and then came the great inspiration.

“I took the cover off the ship’s tin pepper box, and—I cut into the middle of that donut the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes!”

Gregory, born in 1832, would have had his insight around 1858. According to the New York Times, he rose to second mate at 19, mate at 21 and master mariner at 25. He sailed in all kinds of vessels from the lime coaster to a full-rigged ship.

But the donut made him famous. He had asked a tinsmith to fabricate a donut cutter for him, and soon, reported the Times, ‘cooks everywhere had adopted it.’

There's more at the link.

The dates in the article don't quite add up.  If Gregory had "invented" the donut hole at the age of 16, it would have been in 1848, not 1858.  Nevertheless, it's an amusing anecdote, and quite possibly true, given that no alternative explanation for the donut hole has ever been advanced.

The Smithsonian Magazine thinks that Gregory's mother may have had something to do with it.

Fast-forward to the mid-19th century and Elizabeth Gregory, a New England ship captain's mother who made a wicked deep-fried dough that cleverly used her son's spice cargo of nutmeg and cinnamon, along with lemon rind. Some say she made it so son Hanson and his crew could store a pastry on long voyages, one that might help ward off scurvy and colds. In any case, Mrs. Gregory put hazelnuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook through, and in a literal-minded way called them doughnuts.

Her son always claimed credit for something less than that: putting the hole in the doughnut. Some cynical doughnut historians maintain that Captain Gregory did it to stint on ingredients, others that he thought the hole might make the whole easier to digest. Still others say that he gave the doughnut its shape when, needing to keep both hands on the wheel in a storm, he skewered one of his mom's doughnuts on a spoke of his ship's wheel. In an interview with the Boston Post at the turn of the century, Captain Gregory tried to quell such rumors with his recollection of the moment 50 years before: using the top of a round tin pepper box, he said, he cut into the middle of a doughnut "the first doughnut hole ever seen by mortal eyes."

Again, more at the link.

I never thought of the donut as being part of seafaring history, as well as culinary.  One learns something new every day.


The demon of inflation has lost more of the chains holding it back

Demonocracy is known for its graphic illustrations of financial facts and figures that can be so large we simply can't grasp them.  It puts them into visual terms to which we can relate.  For example, here's $1 trillion in $100 bills, stacked up and arranged neatly together alongside objects with which we're familiar (a Boeing 747, an eighteen-wheeler, the White House, etc.) for scale.  Click the image for a larger view.

Demonocracy has used the same technique to visualize the current US stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  It's frightening when you realize just how big it is - and understand that the whole thing is based on borrowings and "printed money", generated out of nowhere, with no economic reality to back it up.  Here it is in video form.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode to get the full impact.

You can see the whole thing as a Web page at this link.  It's even more frightening like that than in a small video window.

Finally, remember that you and I - every single US taxpayer - is on the hook to repay that money, sooner or later.  I don't think that's economically or mathematically feasible, which leaves only two options.  Both may happen, separately or together.
  1. The rate of inflation will be deliberately allowed to grow, rendering "current" dollars almost worthless in relation to "historical" dollars.  Old debts can then be repaid with new dollars, a much less painful process.  Unfortunately, that leads to hyperinflation.  Just look what happened to Weimar Germany when it tried to do exactly that to repay war reparations.

  2. The US government will simply ignore fiscal reality and continue to borrow money to fund its expenditure.  This will see the deficit climb, and climb, and climb, until eventually no-one will buy US bonds or securities any more, because the "debt overhang" has become so great as to threaten the stability of the world's economic system.  At that point, the US government's ability to pay for all its programs will collapse - as will the US dollar as a world reserve currency, and the US economy as a whole.

As I said, the really scary prospect is that we may see both of those things happening simultaneously.  During the previous recession, the Federal Reserve ended up as the largest "buyer" of securities issued by the US Treasury, effectively printing money to pay for printed securities that weren't worth the paper they were printed on.  It's doing the same thing now, as international demand for US securities can't absorb the trillions of dollars required for the current pandemic stimulus package.  The Federal Reserve's balance sheet has grown astronomically over the past couple of months, and the growth shows no signs of slowing down.

There are those who argue that the current situation may lead to deflation, rather than inflation, due to asset prices taking a major hit.  In the short term, they may well be correct.  However, in the long term, the lesson of history is clear.  Dilute the currency in any way (adulterating precious metals with base, or printing money without any economic foundation to support it) and sooner or later, the chickens come home to roost.  Inflation is the inevitable result.

I think we're already seeing some of that affecting the consumer.  Have you noticed food prices lately?  I know they're attributed to market conditions, but I think they also reflect the underlying reality of inflationary pressure on the consumer.  I've demonstrated several times in the past that real consumer inflation, as measured by objective sources such as Shadowstats or the Chapwood Index, has been far higher than official figures.  As Miss D. and I do our shopping every week, we're seeing inflation even higher than that.  Some items' prices have increased by more than 25% since March!

What will dumping an extra few trillion dollars into the economy, money created out of nothing from nowhere, do to the rate of inflation over time?  I think we all know.


Miss D.'s new book is out!

My wife has just published her third novel, "Going Ballistic".  I think it's her best yet.

Dorothy is a pilot, and it shows to good advantage in this book.  She's able to describe the minutiae of flying, and the typical interactions of a pilot with airport and airline personnel, in a way that's authoritative, entertaining, and holds one's interest without becoming too technical.

A few other authors in the North Texas Writers, Shooters and Pilots Association, including yours truly, were consulted about the finer details of aircraft security, assault tactics, and other interesting military bits and pieces, so we were drawn into the action early on.  Some of our collective and individual memories of the loud-noises variety may be found in these pages, thinly disguised as fiction.

The blurb reads:

When her plane tries to come apart at apogee during a hijack, ballistic airline pilot Michelle Lauden handles the worst day she could imagine. After getting down without losing any passengers or crew, though, she finds her troubles have just begun!

The country she's landed in has just declared independence from the Federation. The Feds intended her passengers to be the first casualties in the impending war - and they're not happy she's survived to contradict their official narrative in the news.

The local government wants to find her to give her a medal. The Feds are hunting her to give her an unmarked grave. As they both close in, Michelle's running out of options and time. The only people able to protect her are an accident investigation team on loan from the Federation's enemies... the same enemies who sent her hijackers in the first place.

And they have their own plans for her, and the country she's in!

At present the novel is available in an e-book edition.  A print edition is in preparation, and will follow (God, the Internet and willing) within a month or so.


Monday, May 25, 2020

Memes that made me laugh 8

Another weekly roundup.

And this one isn't funny, just infuriating because it's true.


Memorial Day

Let Sergeant McKenzie speak for all veterans, and for all wars.

To those who stood their ground beside me, and did not come back . . . I remember you.  You are not forgotten.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday morning music

Now and then readers send me music recommendations, to which I always listen in the hope of discovering something new, interesting and enjoyable.  Even if I don't necessarily like what they recommend, it helps stretch my musical boundaries and keep me from staying in the same old rut.

One such recommendation came from reader Badfrog a few weeks ago.  He sent a link to a video on YouTube.  It's from Icelandic group Skálmöld, who are described by Wikipedia as "a Viking / folk metal band".

The band's name is literally translated as Age of Swords and also means "lawlessness", referring to the Age of the Sturlungs of Icelandic history, when a civil war broke out between the country's family clans.

. . .

From the beginning, Skálmöld's intention has been to combine the sounds of the traditional Icelandic music and metal. Initially, the band planned to use a lot of folk instruments, but soon decided to scale back and have three guitar players instead. The band's influences include such metal bands as Metallica, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Slayer, Amon Amarth and Ensiferum, as well as Jón Leifs, the classical Icelandic composer. Skálmöld's lyrics, written by Snæbjörn entirely in Icelandic, are inspired by the Norse mythology and Icelandic sagas. Furthermore, the lyrics conform to some of the Old Norse poetic forms, including fornyrðislag and sléttubönd.

All the band members are members of the heathen organisation Ásatrúarfélagið. Jón Geir Jóhannsson explained the way they believe in the Norse gods: "You shouldn't personify them. It's not people, it's stories that represent human nature. So yes, the ethics are there, but we don't believe in them as 'persons'."

There's more at the link.

I freely admit, I don't like their vocal style.  Their lyrics are sung in a hyper-aggressive growling tone typical of a lot of thrash metal groups, which I find grating and unpleasant on the ear.  On the other hand, their melodies are undoubtedly inspired by both the folk and the classical traditions, and make interesting listening.  Judge for yourself in this live performance (with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra) of the group's composition "Kvaðning" (which Google Translate renders as "Query" or "Question").

The track is taken from the group's 2013 live album "Skálmöld Og Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands" ("Skálmöld with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra").  The group also has five studio albums to its credit.  Many tracks are available on YouTube.  Here, for example, is the song "Vanaheimur" from their 2016 album "Vögguvísur Yggdrasils" (which translates as "Cradle of Yggdrasil" or "Yggdrasil's Cradle" - it appears to refer to the branches of the fabled tree of Norse mythology as the cradle of the life or lives that depend on it).

My verdict?  I like their melodic lines, and the innovation of blending the Viking and folk rock genres (or, more accurately, sub-genres).  I dislike (and I mean really dislike) their vocal style;  to me, its grating violence ruins the music behind the lyrics.  There are clearly many who disagree with me, or the group (and the many thrash metal groups like them) would not survive and thrive as they do.  Nevertheless, I'd like to hear an album of their music without the vocal track.  I think an instrumental version would be much more enjoyable to my old-fashioned ears.

I leave it to you to make up your own mind.  Meanwhile, thanks to reader Badfrog for broadening my musical horizons.  This was an intriguing diversion.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Saturday Snippet: Marriage proposals, noble and ignoble

Back in 1984, English author Rosalind Miles published a book titled "Modest Proposals:  or, May I Call You Mine?"

It's a light-hearted look at marriage proposals, real and fictional, down the ages.  My mother bought it when it came out, and had a good laugh over it:  and, when I was next at home, I did the same.  When I immigrated to America, I brought it with me as part of my library, so my copy is particularly well-traveled - from England, where it was printed and published, to South Africa, to the USA.

Here are a few excerpts.

The ideal proposal is a magical moment, a peak of ecstasy amid a whirl of impressions of beauty - ballgowns and roses, passion and palm trees, with the strains of heavenly music wafting in the distance.  But many people's experience falls far short of this ideal - they get the strains without the music.

Alida Baxter, for instance, found that her marriage proposal could hardly have occurred at a less propitious time and place.  As she ruefully confesses in her autobiography, "Flat On My Back":
I wouldn't be married at all if it weren't for that stomach upset I had in 1969.  I was run down, and being proposed to through the lavatory door caught me off guard.

Yes, well, it would, wouldn't it?  In fairness the Baxter swain had been doing sterling work nursing his inamorata through a combination of Montezuma's Revenge and the Black Death, on what was supposed to be a jolly holiday in Spain.  When language broke down with the Mediterranean medico, he even carried devotion to the extreme of miming her complaint for the doctor's better understanding - which was, in fact, diarrhea!

Now a man who'll mime diarrhea for you in front of a grinning foreigner is clearly a man of many parts, but a sense of timing was not among them.  He waited until his true love was philosophizing from the depths of the bathroom about the division of the Spanish nation into sadists and masochists - 'the sadists manufacture the toilet paper, and the masochists use it' - and chose this tender moment to pop the question.  As she says herself:
There can't be all that many people who've received a proposal of marriage through a lavatory door and I sometimes consider ringing up the Guinness Book of Records, but perhaps an ex-nurse friend of mine has the edge on me.  Her husband proposed to her after she'd given him an enema.

. . .

Of all prospective fathers-in-law, the most sorely tried must have been the father of Olivia Langdon, the best beloved of Samuel Clemens ('Mark Twain').  Clemens was a great admirer of women and by common consent at his best in their company:  'he loved the minds of women, their wit, their agile cleverness, their sensitive perception, their humorous appreciation, the saucy things they would say, and their pretty defiances', recalled one of his friends.  But he fell in love deeply only once, with the beautiful Olivia, as he confessed to his clergyman's wife:
I am in love beyond all telling with the dearest and best girl in the world.  I don't suppose she will marry me.  I can't think it possible.  She ought not to.  But if she doesn't I shall still be sure that the best thing I ever did was to fall in love with her, and be proud to have it known that I tried to win her.

There were tremendous obstacles in the way.  Although now so admired as a leading American writer and humorist, Clemens had had a rough life working and tramping in the Mississippi region, and traces of it survived in his manner ever after.  He was casual and irreverent;  he didn't give a fig for parlor protocol, and would make himself a terror to maiden ladies by putting his feet up on their tables and draping his loose-jointed legs over their chairs.  He was also an incorrigible prankster, and nothing was safe from his sense of the ridiculous.  More seriously, he had no position and poor prospects.  Stern Mr. Langdon was not about to entrust his daisy-flower to such an unpromising reprobate.

But Clemens was a smart man.  As soon as his feelings for Olivia were noticed on a visit, he was asked to leave.  But someone had removed the bolts from the back seat of the family station wagon - so when the horse moved off, the passenger was tumbled out of the back.  His resulting 'concussion' meant that he had to be carried back into the house, and nursed back to health - by Olivia!

Olivia herself was soon won.  But her father was unconvinced.  Finally he proposed that Clemens should provide some character references to establish his suitability as a husband.  Clemens wrote at once to half a dozen worthy citizens who had been on good terms with him earlier in his life.

Naturally any friend of Clemens would share his roistering sense of humor.  All his references obliged with outrageous replies stressing his rambunctious history and claiming that he would make about the worst husband since Blackbeard.  Clemens was summoned to the Langdon house to hear the verdict passed on him by his 'supporters'.  In his own words:
I couldn't think of anything to say.  Mr. Langdon was apparently in the same condition.  Finally he raised his handsome head, fixed his clear and candid eye upon me, and said, "What kind of people are these?  Haven't you a friend in the world?"

I said, "Apparently not."

Then he said, "I'll be your friend myself.  Take the girl.  I know you better than they do."

And so the day was won.

. . .

A proposal is a paradox - just as it can be the liberation of a woman, it can also be the clanging of the trap door for a man.  The state matrimonial has not always had a good press.  Marriage is an institution, said Oscar Wilde, and who wants to live in an institution?  His view received some support from Ogden Nash in a wry poem called "I Do, I Will, I Have":

How wise I am to have instructed the butler
to instruct the first footman to instruct the second
footman to instruct the doorman to order my carriage;
I am about to volunteer a definition of marriage.
Just as I know that there are two Hagens, Walter and Copen,
I know that marriage is a legal and religious alliance entered
into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut and a
woman who can't sleep with the window open.
Moreover, just as I am unsure of the difference between
flora and fauna and flotsam and jetsam,
I am quite sure that marriage is the alliance of two people
one of whom never remembers birthdays and the other
never forgetsam,
And he refuses to believe there is a leak in the water pipe or
the gas pipe and she is convinced she is about to asphyxiate
or drown,
And she says Quick get up and get my hairbrushes off the
windowsill, it's raining in, and he replies Oh they're all right,

it's only raining straight down.
That is why marriage is so much more interesting than divorce,
Because it's the only known example of the happy meeting of
the immovable object and the irresistible force.
So I hope husbands and wives will continue to debate and
combat over everything debatable and combatable,
Because I believe a little incompatibility is the spice of life,
particularly if he has income and she is pattable.

. . .

A very human story of a man's ambivalence, hesitating on the threshold of this great moment and undecided whether to go forward or back, is Jack Benny's courtship.  His girl loved him and had given him every sign of her feelings.  When he told her that he was leaving town, she blurted out, "If you were a gentleman, you'd ask me to go along with you!"

The effect that this simple line produced was devastating.  The great comedian, who had this effect on so many other people, himself literally fell on the floor and rolled about, laughing his head off.  Naturally somewhat miffed, our heroine lost no time in getting herself engaged to another man.  But as soon as her engagement was made public, she says:
... the phone rang.  It was Jack. "I hear you're getting married."

"Yes, I am," I replied.

"Well... the last month or so, I've been thinking about you... And if ever I WANTED to get married, I'd like to marry you... but I DON'T want to get married..."

"Well, that's fine for YOU," I said sarcastically, "but I'M getting married."

"Look," Jack went on, "... I really do think you're much too young to get married... But if you ARE going to get married, why don't you marry me?"

Without missing a beat, I said, "Fine."

"Well then," Jack said, "let's get married this Friday - BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND!"

There are plenty more stories in the book, many of them highly amusing.  It's long out of print, but used copies are freely available.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Pinky swear?

This news report made me do a double-take.

Shakespeare was right:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


EDITED TO ADD:  Overseas readers who may not understand the title of this post, see here.

Strip away the civilized veneer, and human beings are still capable of anything

I'm obliged to American Partisan for posting a video of the rebellion and civil war in the Congo in 1964, when white mercenaries and Belgian paratroopers had to restore order across thousands of square miles of equatorial forest and bush.  The video is explicit:  you'll see bodies and parts of bodies, all of them real, and most of them casually discarded or even used as decorations by the fighting men.  That's what such absolute disregard for human life does to those who encounter it.  Eventually, it grinds you down.  You become numb, inured to it, no matter how deep your faith or developed your conscience.

I'm not going to embed the video here, because it's very graphic in its depiction of brutality and horror.  Nevertheless, if you want to see what Africa can be like at its worst, I recommend you watch it.  You'll find it at this link.  When you've done so (or if you'd rather not watch it, for which I don't blame you), read on below.

The thing is, nothing's changed in Africa.  Precisely that same brutality is going on right now in the east of the Congo.  The terrorist groups who oppose (and sometimes attack and kill) the medical teams trying to deal with Ebola?  They're the descendants of the same people who slaughtered so many thousands in the sixties.  It's not just the Congo, either.  The Rwanda genocide, the Burundi civil war, the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, the South Sudan civil war, the Sierra Leone conflict, the First and Second Liberian civil wars, the Rhodesian conflict, South Africa under apartheid . . . the list goes on and on.  Nor is it just Africa.  The Killing Fields of Cambodia, the East Timor genocide, the Nicaraguan Revolution, the Salvadoran Civil War . . . need I name more?  For another example of this sort of casual brutality in action, see the documentary "Cry Freetown" about the civil war in Sierra Leone.  You'll find it at this link.  The same warning applies to that video as to the earlier one - it's brutal.

This is the reality of more primitive societies when the thin veneer of civilization is removed from them.  Decades of colonial rule, followed by independence and decades of alleged "education" and "development", have not changed that basic reality.  I know.  I've been in many of those countries, and seen that at first hand for myself.  Nor is it only allegedly "primitive" societies.  Our First World nations are just as vulnerable to such savagery.  Consider the Holocaust, or the lynching of black people during the civil rights struggle in the American South.  It's just that we (usually, but not always) take longer to strip away our slightly thicker veneer of civilization.

Many people in the First World today have become so insulated from this sort of reality that they literally can't conceive of it.  Yet . . . it's not very far from us.  Consider cartel violence in Mexico, or the worst of the crime-ridden inner-city ghettoes in the United States.  Precisely the same savagery is evident there.  It's almost indescribable to a Western audience, because their educated, civilized minds just can't wrap themselves around such things.  Yet . . . it's true.

We may degenerate more slowly than others, revert to savagery more gradually than others:  but in all of us, civilization is only so deep.  Pushed far enough, some - too many - of us really are capable of reverting to the most primitive savagery.  I hate to acknowledge that, and I don't want to believe it, but I've seen too much to doubt it.


Not a safe place to fall overboard!

An Australian fisherman was sailing his small leisure craft back to shore the other day when he ran into a so-called "bait ball" of small fish, being attacked by dozens of sharks.  The big predators were in a feeding frenzy.

Note the casual way he talks about his boat being bumped by sharks several times.  Me, I'd have been getting the heck out of there as fast as possible!  I've seen (off Seal Island in False Bay near Cape Town) how fast and brutally sharks rip apart their prey.  I'd want to make as certain as possible that I wasn't near enough to be even potentially on their menu!


Thursday, May 21, 2020

"A Band-Aid on a chest wound"

That's how the Guardian describes the rush by illegal immigrants to get in line for California's handout of taxpayer dollars to them.

Last month, California made headlines when it announced a first-in-the-nation plan to create a $125m coronavirus relief fund for undocumented workers. But its rollout got off to a chaotic start this week, with thousands of calls flooding phone lines, creating huge delays, and so many visitors to the official website that it crashed for hours.

Adding to already overwhelmed telephone systems, the state issued last-minute directives that said callers needed to reach a live person in order to apply for aid.

Nonprofits across the state selected to distribute the money reported huge demand as people rushed to secure a spot for the first-come, first-served program.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or Chirla, one of 12 nonprofits tapped by the state to distribute the funds, received more than 1.1m phone calls on day one of the program – 630,000 calls just within the first 90 minutes of opening the hotline.

“We knew the number of applicants would be high, but we were just overwhelmed,” Chirla’s executive director told the New York Times.

Lucas Zucker, the policy and communications director for a nonprofit north-west of Los Angeles that advocates for social and environmental justice, wrote on Twitter that the program’s rocky rollout was predictable.

“Websites and phone lines across the state crashed. Our team saw so much frustration, anger and sadness from folks just trying to feed their kids. The need here is way too large to be met with a one-time disaster relief fund. We’re putting a Band-Aid on an open chest wound,” wrote Zucker.

. . .

Undocumented immigrants make up an estimated 10% of the state’s workforce ... [there are an] estimated 2 million undocumented immigrants living in California.

There's more at the link.

Note the last paragraph cited above.  I daresay the sheer volume of calls demanding a share of that money gives the lie to the 2 million estimate.  (My law enforcement contacts in California privately estimate the number of illegal aliens there to be at least 5 million, possibly more.  They base that on their experience of traffic stops, criminal investigations, and so on.  I believe them.)

Of course, the state of California should not be rewarding illegal aliens for their presence with taxpayer dollars.  That's flatly insane, and can do nothing except encourage further illegal entry (which is probably the point, given the nature and policies of that state's government).  However, this stampede for assistance highlights the economic plight of the marginally employed.  We've already seen that many are apparently returning to Mexico under the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.  They have no jobs there, and Mexico has few (if any) social assistance or entitlement programs to help them.  Those who remain in this country aren't eligible for the federal government's assistance or stimulus package, yet are also at risk of losing their jobs not just temporarily, but in the long term, as the economy contracts.  To say that they're becoming desperate is to put it mildly.

What does this forbode for social stability?  I don't think it's anything good.  I expect demonstrations, even riots, in California as the illegals demand more sustenance to which they're not legally entitled (at least, not under federal law).  I expect California's government to cave in to their demands, and expend more taxpayer funds on them.  That, in turn, will arouse resentment and anger among taxpayers, who see their money being wasted on those who have no right to it.  I don't think that's going to end well.

Will this have an impact on the November 2020 elections in that state?  Is the special election there earlier this month an early "canary in a coal mine" for a sea change in California politics?  Who knows?  We can but hope . . .


In Memoriam: Chuck Taylor

Back in the late Southeast Asian unpleasantness, a.k.a. the Vietnam War, Chuck Taylor was a Captain in the US Army's Rangers.  He saw combat, was wounded, and came home with medals for valor in action.  In other words, he was the real deal, not an REMF or a "PowerPoint Ranger" (to use a more modern expression).

As such, I always gave extra weight to his opinions on self-defense equipment, tactics and training for civilians.  Not many instructors can boast that sort of real-world background, and being a combat vet myself, I naturally regard it as important.  (There's nothing quite like getting shot to remind you that you're neither invincible nor invulnerable.  How do I know this?  Ask my wife, who's had to pick shrapnel out of my old scars on more than one occasion.  As Clint Smith - another Vietnam combat veteran - has been known to observe, "Incoming fire has the right of way!")

Taylor was the first Operations Manager at Gunsite, the legendary shooting school founded by the late, great Jeff Cooper in Arizona in 1976.  He went on to found his own school, the American Small Arms Academy.  Some of its courses are still taught by Defense Training Associates.  He was also a member of the US National Team of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC).  Taylor taught civilians, law enforcement and military units for decades, passing on what he'd learned the hard way in combat and the techniques he helped develop in civilian life.  He was the founding editor of SWAT Magazine, still regarded as one of the premier firearms periodicals, and used its pages to convey much of the same instruction to its readers.

Some felt that Taylor was too rigid and dogmatic in clinging to what he'd learned by experience in combat, rather than being open to new technologies and techniques developed since then.  On the other hand, I think he was spot on.  To this day, I remain skeptical of "the latest and greatest thing since sliced bread".  If a new technology comes along that promises to make self-defense easier and more reliable, I want to have that thing wrung out six ways from Sunday, and proven in the field, not just in the laboratory or on the training range.  (Red dot sights are a good example.  Early models were all too prone to run their batteries down or suffer breakages just when you really, really needed them.  By the late 1990's and early 2000's, those initial teething troubles had largely been overcome, and they became so useful as to be almost indispensable.  The US Army and Marines have subsequently bought hundreds of thousands of them, with good results.)

Taylor was adaptable enough to change his views after such new technologies were proven.  His earlier books and articles reflected his initial attitudes about such things, but people reading them today often fail to take account of his later work, where he recognized their value after taking the time to prove (and im-prove) them.  He retained my respect as a man who'd "been there and done that", and therefore knew what he was talking about in a very practical, experiential way that most instructors can't match.

Sadly, Taylor passed away earlier this month, after only a year of retirement to relax and enjoy himself.  He joins Jeff Cooper, Ray Chapman and other stalwarts of the 1970's and 1980's on the Honor Roll of those who've made a tangible difference to the art and science of defensive shooting.  More and more of their colleagues are leaving us as age catches up with them.  The shooting world will be much poorer when the last of them has passed.  So vast an accumulation of practical, empirical knowledge can't be replaced, and can't be reduced to mere words on paper.  (That said, some of Taylor's books are still available, and are worth reading, IMHO.  Many of his articles are also out there, some available online.  He was particularly well known for his "torture test" of an early-model Glock 17 pistol, which has fired several hundred thousand rounds yet remains perfectly serviceable and reliable.)

May Chuck Taylor rest in the peace he so richly earned through his service to his country and the shooting community.


Your feel-good video of the month

A construction operator took a few moments to make two kids very happy.

I don't know if his employer gives a public relations award to worthy employees, but if they do, his name should be on it.  Well done, sir.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

State of the author, and a teaser snippet

I've had a number of readers ask how new books are coming along.  I guess I should give you an update.

As most of you know, I suffered a heart attack last November (my second, if anyone's counting).  I've recovered from it, but I'm on additional blood-thinning medication, and will be for several months yet.  In combination with the meds I already take for pain (from my 2004 disabling back injury) and other issues, this has had a nasty effect on my writing creativity.  It's hard to get my brain to think (and write) creatively in a fictional world.  It isn't a problem in terms of non-fiction;  I'm able to keep up this blog, for example, and I'm working on a non-fiction book.  However, novels have perforce been put on the back burner since then.

I'm glad to tell you that my wife has written another book, which I think is her best yet.

Look for it by the end of the month, if Amazon gets its publishing act together (they appear to be slower than usual at present).  I'm busy with that process as you read these words.  I'm glad editing and formatting aren't affected by my medications!

My current non-fiction book project is an examination of what's involved in preparing for emergencies.  I'm focusing on practical, everyday concerns (for example, weather events, earthquakes or wildfires), not a TEOTWAWKI event such as nuclear war, the zombie apocalypse, or an alien invasion.  (If something like that happens, we're probably going to die, no matter how well prepared we are.  Suggestions to the contrary are simply unrealistic, despite popular entertainment programming to the contrary.)  I don't have a working title yet:  I asked for suggestions here a while back, but nothing really "bit".  (One suggestion was "Camping on Vesuvius", which I really like, but it doesn't really convey what the book's all about.  Pity . . . it has a certain flavor to it, doesn't it?)  At any rate, it's well under way.  I hope to have it ready by late June or early July.

I have several fiction projects on the back burner.  I work on them sporadically, as and when I find inspiration, but it's difficult right now.  When I come off my new medications in a few months' time, I hope to get right back to work on them.  They include:
  • The sixth volume in the Maxwell Saga, "Venom Strike";
  • The third and final volume in the Laredo War trilogy, "Knife to the Hilt";
  • A sequel to "Taghri's Prize", as yet untitled;
  • The fifth book in the Ames Archives Western series, also untitled;
  • A Viking fantasy novel, of which you've seen three snippets in these pages already.

I very badly want to get moving with those books.  (For a start, my income, and ability to put food on the table, depends on them!)  Rest assured, as soon as my levels of medication permit (hopefully not too long now), I'll be hard at work.

To give you something to be going on with, here's a snippet from the sixth volume of the Maxwell Saga, "Venom Strike" - just to prove I'm still writing!

Tom knew there was something wrong the instant he slid open the door, and the detector in his chest pocket began to vibrate. He gave no outward sign that anything was amiss, instead pulling the door closed behind him as the lights came on. He looked casually around the outer office. The walls hadn’t been recolored in years, and had yellowed from their original pristine white to a muddy cream color. The desk was made of plain gray plastic, its surface and the chairs behind and in front of it slightly dusty, devoid of any evidence of use. Nothing was obviously out of place, but that didn’t mean anything when snooping devices could be smaller than the head of a pin.

He walked across the threadbare carpet to the corner kitchenette, putting down the bag in his left hand. As he took a sachet of coffee from a cupboard, filled the coffeemaker with water and started it brewing, he cast quick, covert glances around the room. None of the likely places to conceal a listening device or hidden camera showed anything suspicious. There was nothing to catch the eye in the inner office either. Its desk – twin to the one in the anteroom – and filing cabinet were seemingly just as he’d left them the night before. The room’s only concessions to comfort were a higher-quality chair behind the desk, and two moderately padded visitor’s chairs before it. The lights on the alarm panel were the same cheerful green as the previous evening, but the detector in his pocket continued to vibrate.

He kept his jacket on as he sat down, unlocked the drawer unit, and used a remote control unit to adjust the one-way vizpane in the outer bulkhead from its overnight opaqueness to a daytime transparency. Black letters on the outer surface proclaimed that this was the office of ‘HAGGARD INVESTIGATIONS’. He took a bacon and egg sandwich from the bag and ate it slowly, brushing occasional crumbs from his jacket and shirt, while waiting for the coffee to brew. He grimaced as he tasted the filling.  The eggs and bacon were vat-grown substitutes, like almost all food served in orbit. The plant had got the flavor right, but not the texture – immediately noticeable to someone who’d eaten better-quality food over many years in space.

Pouring a cup of coffee, he swiveled his chair to look out of the vizpane and began to study the walkway outside. The pedestrians passing the window mostly wore utility coveralls or Service Department uniforms, tool belts jingling as they moved purposefully from their lodgings and flophouses to the day’s tasks. They’d have looked completely out of place on the more fashionable levels of the space station. He looked up and down the walkway, watching for people moving more slowly than usual or standing around idly, giving special attention to shop fronts and alleys.

It took him several minutes to spot the lurker, in an alley next to a saloon three doors down. The watcher kept out of sight, but hadn’t realized how strong the light was over the side door of the saloon. It cast a faint shadow of a human head and shoulders onto the sidewalk at the entrance to the alley. With that to guide him, Tom didn’t take long to spot the slight bulge that had appeared on top of a piece of molding on the saloon’s tawdry façade. It was almost certainly a surveillance camera, watching his office door and sending back its pictures to the person in the alley. He probably had a link to whatever bug had been planted in here, too.

Tom sat back in his chair and thought. The saloon’s watchman would normally prevent anyone loitering in the alley. That meant either the lurker had enough influence to be allowed to stay, or the watchman had been threatened or bribed into compliance. Briefly he considered calling his contact in the Terminal police, but dismissed the idea. Even if the snooper didn’t hear his call and disappear before a patrol officer could arrive, the cop might not be able to find out who was behind the problem. He needed that information, so he’d have to deal with this himself.

. . .

He opened the door to the service alley cautiously, looking around before going out. No-one was in sight – not surprising at this time of the morning, when the workers in this area would all be making last-minute preparations for the daily trash compaction cycle. He walked down the alley to the next block and took the escalator up to the next level. He emerged one block behind the saloon.

Easing up to the corner of the alley, he saw the watcher leaning against the wall of the saloon, looking down at something in his hand. He guessed it was probably a monitor for the camera he’d placed on the saloon’s façade. His back was to him – and even better, he wore a set of earbuds, presumably listening to the bug in the investigator’s office. Tom grinned tightly as he drew a pliant, flexible sap from a jacket pocket, hefted it experimentally in his hand, and eased forward.

Some sixth sense must have warned the watcher. As Tom covered the last step, he dropped whatever he was holding and whirled around, eyes widening in alarm, hand flashing into the open front of his coveralls. It came halfway out, clutching the hilt of a knife, but Tom didn’t give him time to complete the movement. He swung his sap viciously, catching the snoop across the left side of his head. His earbuds came out as his eyes went blank, unfocused, and he tumbled to the deck. Tom caught him and eased him down, trying to make as little noise as possible.

He was surprised to see that the man’s face looked Chinese, unusual in this sector of space. He squatted next to his victim, took the knife from the man’s hand and examined it carefully. It was of a design he hadn’t seen before, its blade almost twenty centimeters long, relatively narrow with a strong, heavy spine. The inside of the hilt and the back of the blade were flattened, as if they were half of a knife that had been divided down its length. Feeling inside the coverall he found a second knife, also flattened on one side, clearly the twin to the blade in his hand. It was in a scabbard that contained slots for both blades, one behind the other. He took it out, sheathed the first blade alongside its companion, and leaned the scabbard against the wall of the saloon.

Investigating further he found a small console, probably for the bug in his office. Another pocket held a thick wallet containing a printed message in a language he didn’t know, the equivalent of a couple of thousand credits in four different currencies, and a merchant spacer ID issued by the planet Calaba in the name of Yao Bao. A third pocket yielded a soft linen bag, closed with drawstrings, containing what looked and felt like a large number of gold taels.

The other pockets of the man’s coverall were empty. The only other thing of interest was a black medallion on a silver chain around his neck. Tom eased the chain over the man’s head and stood up, easing his aching thighs, to examine the medallion more closely. It appeared to be made from a thinly-sliced piece of stone. One side bore the image of a coiled snake, its body thick and heavy, brown in color with white geometric markings at intervals. The triangular-shaped head was raised, tongue flickering out. The other side bore several Mandarin characters inlaid in white.

He was peering at them when his feet were kicked violently out from under him. Toppling backwards, he dropped the medallion in a desperate attempt to break his fall. He succeeded, but wrenched his left arm as he landed awkwardly. Looking up, he saw his erstwhile victim lunging for the knives leaning against the saloon. Seizing the scabbard, the man drew a blade with blinding speed as he spun around towards him. His face was twisted in a malevolent scowl.

Tom didn’t try to grapple with him – there was no future in that with a man who clearly knew how to use the blade in his hand – and he didn’t waste time trying to stand. His right hand flashed into the left side of his jacket, seizing the butt of a pulser with a fat, suppressed barrel, dragging it from its shoulder holster as he kicked out frantically, trying to hold off his attacker long enough to complete his draw. He felt a burning sensation as the other’s knife cut through his trousers into his shin, but didn’t let it distract him as he brought up the pulser, its laser targeting beam automatically activated by the draw. He placed the bright green dot in the middle of his assailant’s chest and pressed the firing button six times, as fast as he could cycle it.

The sound of the shots was a series of low, distinct phuts. The first round struck precisely on the point of aim, drawing a grunt of pain from the man as the next five rounds rose up his body, the pulser climbing under the impetus of recoil. The last round hit the bridge of his nose, penetrating all the way through his brain and smashing out of the back of his skull. His head snapped back as he crumpled limply to the floor, the knife falling from his hand.

I hope you enjoyed that.  Expect the book, God willing, in the second half of the year.


The coronavirus may damage nature for years to come

Having worked in the Third World (specifically sub-Saharan Africa) for many years, I've been expecting an uptick in human predation on the environment, due to many people being thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic and becoming desperate to survive.  It looks like that's already happening worldwide.  The BBC reports:

You might be forgiven for thinking that the global lockdown measures keeping us all at home can only have been good for the environment ... But in the world’s tropical forest regions, it’s another story. Environmental agencies have reported an uptick in deforestation during lockdowns, as well as increases in poaching, animal trafficking and illegal mining worldwide. The trends are alarming, environmental experts say, and could be hard to reverse.

“This narrative of nature having been given a break during Covid, it’s not entirely accurate. It’s accurate in cities and peri-urban areas,” says Sebastian Troeng, executive vice-president of Conservation International. “But unfortunately in the rural areas, the situation is almost the inverse.”

. . .

Brazil and Colombia have seen an uptick in illegal logging and mining; the Philippines has also reported illegal logging and wildlife trafficking; Kenya has reported increased bushmeat and ivory poaching, as well as increases in charcoal production, which has been illegal since 2018; Cambodia has seen an increase in poaching, illegal logging and mining; and similar reports have come from Venezuela and Madagascar.
Concerns have also been raised in Malaysia and Indonesia, which have the highest deforestation rates in South-east Asia, while in Ecuador, indigenous and afro-descendent communities have reported increased illegal mining in the Choco and Amazon rainforests.

There are two main factors that could be driving these trends, says Troeng. The first is criminal groups and opportunists expanding their activities, taking advantage of lockdown and diminished forest monitoring and government presence. The second is that people living in these rural areas are facing increased economic pressures and are forced to rely more heavily on nature for food and income. In some cases, such as Madagascar and Cambodia, there has been a large urban-rural migration as people lose their jobs in the cities or return home to be with their families during quarantine, which has put extra pressure on local environments.

“What worries me is that we’re seeing these emerging trends, and they’re not going to be reversed when Covid measures are lifted because they’re related to economic factors. So my anticipation is that we’re going to have to deal with this for potentially months and years,” says Troeng.

There's more at the link.

In my old African stamping-grounds, this is particularly evident.  When so many people are surviving on the ragged edge of starvation, any added burden like the coronavirus pandemic will drive those barely "making it", now deprived of what little opportunity they had, to turn to anything available - even if that means destroying nature around them.  It's that, or die, as far as they're concerned.  The BBC again:

It isn't just for food or money, either.  Animals that compete with humans for scarce resources will be regarded as a threat, and eliminated on the simple basis of economic competition.  Headlines from Botswana this week bear that out.

Wildlife authorities in Botswana, the country with the world’s biggest elephant population, are seeking an explanation for the death of 56 of the animals in the north west of the country.

Over the past week 12 carcasses were found, adding to the 44 found in a week in March, the environment ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. Tusks hadn’t been removed from the elephants, indicating that they were not the victims of poachers, the department said.

. . .

Elephants have become a political issue in the southern African nation with President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year lifting a hunting ban and saying more needed to be done to stop the 135,000 elephants in the country from damaging crops and occasionally trampling villagers.

Again, more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

I know that part of the world.  The only income - I repeat, the only income - in the area comes from tourism to the Okavango Delta, one of the greatest game reserves in the world.  It's an almost unbelievably beautiful place, one that I hope to visit again before I die . . . but the people living there must compete with wildlife to survive.  As long as they derive income from tourists, that's not a problem.  Take away the tourists (as has happened over the past couple of months), and it's a different story.  I'm willing to bet that those 56 elephants were probably poisoned, just as poachers in Zimbabwe have used cyanide to poison elephants in nature reserves and steal their tusks.  If it's a question of "we eat our crops, or the elephants eat our crops", the elephants will go to the wall.

Ecological and environmental sensitivity is basically a rich person's prerogative.  Those living on the margins are just trying to stay alive, and they'll do whatever it takes - even if that means destroying the world they live in.  As far as they're concerned, they're living for today.  Tomorrow?  If they live long enough to see tomorrow, they'll worry about it then.

That's already been a death sentence for ecologically sensitive areas and endangered animal (and human) populations all over the world.  It's likely to get worse, more's the pity, because the richer First World is preoccupied right now with economic survival and regrowth.  It doesn't have money to spare to help with Third World problems.


Nah. I'm sure there's no connection. None at all . . .

Headlines to make you see red, when taken together:

What a coincidence!  That the states falling over themselves to hand out taxpayer dollars to illegal aliens, the homeless and what they define as "needy" groups, should turn around and demand that the rest of us pay them ONE TRILLION DOLLARS for "coronavirus aid"!  And what a coincidence that only a few days after announcing millions in taxpayer dollars as a handout to illegal aliens, California's governor is asking state employees to tighten their belts!  There can't possibly be a relationship between them.  Right?  Right?  Anyone . . . Bueller?

Perish the thought that the "coronavirus aid" Western states are demanding might not be for costs related to the current pandemic, but instead to replenish their states' coffers that they've depleted wasted through misspending, overspending, ideological blindness and just plain incompetence - so they can turn around and waste that money all over again in the name of "compassion" or "tolerance" or "equality".

None of those things could possibly be more than coincidental . . . could they?


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Isn't this fraudulent misrepresentation?

I was baffled to read about a sales tactic by food delivery companies such as DoorDash and others.

In March 2019 a good friend who owns a few pizza restaurants messaged me ... For over a decade, he resisted adding delivery as an option for his restaurants ... But he had suddenly started getting customers calling in with complaints about their deliveries.

. . .

He realized that a delivery option had mysteriously appeared on their company's Google Listing. The delivery option was created by Doordash.

To confirm, he had never spoken with anyone from Doordash and after years of resisting the siren song of delivery revenue, certainly did not want to be listed. But the words "Order Delivery" were right there, prominently on the Google snippet.

. . .

Tricking businesses onto your platform and creating additional headaches for small business owners in the pursuit of Softbankian growth is a bad as it gets. Many restauranteurs were complaining about their Google listings being "hijacked" by Doordash, sometimes even usurping their own preferred delivery.

These underhanded tricks aren't unique to Doordash though. In recent weeks there has been some great work coming out around a Yelp - Grubhub phone scam. This one is just priceless (seriously, read this Buzzfeed piece). Grubhub for their own sites generates a phone number for each restaurant that goes to a centralized, Grubhub owned call center. If someone calls in and orders via this number, the restaurant gets charged a fee. Apparently, some enterprising BD folks came up with the idea that Yelp could put the Grubhub phone numbers in place of the real restaurant phone number on the Yelp listing. Customers who think they’re “helping” their local restaurants by calling in the order are still creating a fee for Grubhub.

There's more at the link.

I'd say that tactic is at least underhanded, if not downright dishonest.  How is it legal to publicly pass off a phone number for your company as the phone number to order from another company?  How is it legal to misrepresent your phone number as theirs, on other business Web sites?  How is it legal to have Google add your delivery service to the Web listing of another company, without that company's permission and authorization?  Isn't that almost the definition of the crime of fraudulent misrepresentation?  Why have no criminal charges or civil lawsuits been filed?  I'd appreciate comment from the legal eagles among my readers.

In this case, I'm glad to say that the misrepresentation backfired on Doordash when the owner of the pizza business found a way to make them pay him a lot of money at no extra cost to himself.  It's an amusing tale that I'll leave you to read for yourselves.

There's also the issue of delivery services charging fees to restaurants for referrals, even if customer calls didn't result in ordersGrubHub is in all sorts of trouble in New York over that practice.  It looks like Yelp got in on the scam as well.  I don't understand why charges haven't been filed against both companies.  Surely that's illegal?

All I can say is, if I found another company misrepresenting itself as my business, I'd be furious.  Those sorts of shenanigans are why so many small restaurant owners I know are very angry with food delivery services.  They claim they're costing them customer goodwill by delivering food late and cold, causing customers to blame the restaurant, and post negative reviews about it on social media.  In other words, they're blaming the restaurant for the delivery service's shortcomings.  In the restaurant's shoes, I'd try getting together with others to launch a class action lawsuit against the delivery companies concerned.

That's why I won't use most food delivery services.  I'd rather call in my order direct to the restaurant, making sure it's their number, not a third party's.  I'll use a delivery service with whom they've contracted, knowingly and honestly, or collect my order if necessary.  I don't want to reward dishonest misrepresentation with my customer dollars.


Sometimes the jokes write themselves

I'm still giggling after reading the news that two robbers in Louisa, Virginia wore hollowed-out melons over their heads as a disguise, to fool the security cameras.

Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

  • Clearly, since one has already been arrested, their efforts didn't bear fruit (even if the robbers did).
  • I daresay by now the arrested man is feeling melon-choly about the whole thing.
  • George Lucas will be jealous.  They look like ecologically correct stormtroopers!

Go on, add your own in Comments.  You know you want to!


Quote of the day

From Tamara: