Monday, July 31, 2023

Oh, too delicious!!!


I laughed out loud when reading this report.

Chechen police have detained three female con artists who talked fighters of the terrorist group Islamic State into sending them money for traveling to Syria.

The young women turned the tables on Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) by using their primary recruitment tool, social media, against them. Russia’s predominantly Muslim Chechen Republic is a prime target for Islamic State propagandists, who call on young men and women to join their cause and travel to the Middle East to become join their jihadist campaign.

But with the Chechen girls apparently the joke was on Islamic State, as they made a business of meeting recruiters online and pretending to be eager to go to Syria. The only obstacle, they said, was the lack of travel money, which the recruiters were often willing to provide. Once the money was sent via anonymous electronic transfers, the swindlers would simply cash the money and delete the social media account used in the con.

The three-girl operation managed [to] swindle some $3,300 from Islamic State recruiters before being caught by a Chechen police E unit specializing in monitoring online activities for evidence of crimes, Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper reported.

“I don’t recall any precedent like this one in Chechnya, probably because nobody digs deep enough in that direction,” Valery Zolotaryov of the E unit told the newspaper. “Anyhow, I don’t advise anyone to communicate with dangerous criminals, especially for grabbing quick money.”

There's more at the link.

Chechnya is home to probably more Islamic radicals than any other place on earth.  They've long been the backbone of many Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups all over the place.  One of their traditional ways of operating has been through social media, seeking to propagandize weak-minded individuals into their way of thinking and (hopefully) get them to volunteer to become "martyrs" for the cause.

It's too delicious to think that their own social media deceptions have been turned against them in this way.  Instead of paying for new recruits to join their terminally deceptive cause, they've funded a more hedonistic and worldly lifestyle for the very women they viewed as potential brides and martyrs!

I hope those ladies planned their disappearance very carefully.  Those they fleeced aren't noted for their forgive-and-forget ways, and they'll be looking for them.




Have you ever looked at all those icons on the dashboard of your vehicle, and wondered what they could possibly mean?

Fear not!  Roberta X explains all in a post on her blog.  Examples:

1. Motorcycles ran over snake three times, left.
8. Built-in adobe bread oven has been left open.
21. You are *so* fat-bottomed!
26. Warning! Anal probe unlocked!

There are many more at the link.  Click over there and enjoy!


Memes that made me laugh 170


Gathered from around the Internet over the past week.  Click any image for a larger view.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sunday morning music


Today I'd like to highlight just one song, by one performer, in two versions.

Ayron Jones has been performing and recording for close on twenty years.  He's particularly talented on guitar, and influenced by genres such as grunge, rock, hip-hop and soul.  I first heard of him through the 357 Magnum blog, and was intrigued to listen to his undeniable skills on the strings.  As a rock guitarist, he shines.  I don't enjoy most of his music, coming as I do from a very different background, but I salute his virtuosity, and a few of his tracks stand out.

I'd like to highlight his song "Blood In The Water" this morning, to illustrate his guitar technique.  First, here's the original electronic version.

And here's an "unplugged" acoustic guitar version.

There's some very interesting instrumentation there.

You'll find more of his music on his YouTube channel and at his Web site.  Most of it isn't to my (somewhat old-school) taste, because grunge and hip-hop are a long way outside my wheelhouse, but full marks to him for persevering and building a solo career based on real talent.  As the performances above illustrate, he deserves his success.


Saturday, July 29, 2023

Saturday Snippet: Self-reliance in history and today, and what it implies


We've met Charles Hugh Smith in these pages many times.  He's an insightful and incisive commentator on our economic scene, looking behind the obvious to examine the factors underlying developments and their implications for individuals and communities.

Last year he published a short book titled "Self-Reliance in the 21st Century".

The blurb reads:

Just as no one was left unaffected by the rise of globalization, no one will be unaffected by its demise. The only response that reduces our vulnerability is self-reliance.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his famous essay Self-Reliance in 1841, the economy was localized and households supplied many of their own essentials. In our hyper-globalized economy, we’re dependent on distant sources for our essentials.

Emerson defined self-reliance as being our best selves—thinking for ourselves rather than following the conventional path. Self-reliance in the 21st century means reducing our dependency on fragile supply chains and becoming producers as well as consumers.

Self-reliance is often confused with self-supporting (making enough money to support yourself) and self-sufficiency—the equivalent of Thoreau’s a cabin on Walden Pond. But self-reliance in the 21st century isn’t about piling up money or a cabin in the woods; it’s about humanity’s most successful innovation: cooperating with trustworthy others in productive networks.

This book explores the mindset of self-reliance and 18 principles that advance self-reliance in the 21st century.

It's an interesting book, summarizing in a concise, readable way the dilemma facing many of us in these troubled times.  How can we secure ourselves and our families against the vicissitudes of modern living?  How can we become more independent of often disrupted supply networks, and more self-sufficient in terms of our day-to-day needs?  Is "prepping" (physically, mentally, spiritually and societally) not just viable, but necessary - and if so, to what extent?

Here are the opening sections of the book.

The Difference Between Self-Reliance in 1841 and the 21st Century

What is self-reliance?

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice in his 1841 essay Self-Reliance still rings true today: “Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another.”

For Emerson, self-reliance means thinking independently, trusting your own intuition and refusing to take the well-worn path of conforming to others’ expectations.

This celebration of individualism is the norm today, but it was radical in Emerson’s more traditionalist day.  What’s striking about Emerson’s description of self-reliance is its internal quality: it’s about one’s intellectual and emotional self-reliance, not the hands-on skills of producing life’s essentials.

Emerson doesn’t describe self-reliance in terms of taking care of oneself in practical terms, such as being able to build a cabin on Walden Pond and live off foraging and a garden like his friend Thoreau. (The land on Walden Pond was owned by Emerson.)

Emerson did not address practical self-reliance because these skills were commonplace in the largely agrarian, rural 1840s. Even city dwellers mostly made their living from practical skills, and the majority of their food came from nearby farms. (Imported sugar, coffee, tea and spices were luxuries.)

The economy of the 1840s was what we would now call localized: most of the goods and services were locally produced, and households provided many of their own basic needs. Global trade in commodities such as tea and porcelain thrived, but these luxuries made up a small part of the economy (one exception being whale oil used for lighting).

Even in the 1840s, few individuals were as self-sufficient as Thoreau.  Households met many of their needs themselves, but they relied on trusted personal networks of makers and suppliers for whatever goods and services they could not provide themselves.

Households sold their surplus production of homemade goods and family businesses offered small-scale production of specialty goods (metal forging, furniture, etc.) and services (printing, legal documents, etc.).

For example, Thoreau’s family business was manufacturing pencils and supplying graphite (pencil lead). Before he took over this business on the death of his father, he earned his living as a surveyor.

Households obtained what they needed from local networks of suppliers who were known to them. If some item was needed from afar, the local source had their own network of trusted suppliers.

The government’s role was also limited. The government provided postal, judicial and basic education systems and collected tariffs on trade, but its role in everyday life beyond these essential services was modest.

The conditions of Emerson and Thoreau’s day—localized hands-on self-reliance was the norm and the elevation of the individual was radical—have reversed: now the celebration of the individual is the norm while few have practical skills. Our economy is globalized, with few if any of the goods and services we rely on being sourced locally. We rely on government and corporations for the essentials of life. Few of us know anyone who actually produces essentials.

Our primary means of obtaining the staples of life is shopping because producing basics ourselves is difficult compared to getting everything we need from global supply chains.

Emerson took the practical skills of self-reliance for granted because these skills were the bedrock of everyday life.  Now skills have become specialized: we gain narrow expertise to earn our living and only hobbyists develop multiple skills.

What is self-reliance in the 21st century?

Some may feel that having a job--being self-supporting--is self-reliance, but relying solely on goods and services from afar isn’t self-reliance. Should a few links in those long supply chains break, the entire chain collapses and we’re helpless.

Money only has value when it’s scarce. When money is abundant and essentials of life are scarce, money loses value. When supply chains break down, money is a measure of our helplessness, not our self-reliance.

The inner self-reliance Emerson described as being our best selves remains essential, but the material-world skills of self-reliance have atrophied. We rely on government and long supply chains for our necessities without understanding the fragility of these complex systems.

In the 21st century, even more than in the 1840s, self-reliance doesn’t mean self-sufficiency. Even Thoreau used nails and tools produced elsewhere. Building a cabin on a remote pond isn’t practical for most of us, and even Thoreau re-entered conventional life after two years.

What self-reliance means in the 21st century is reducing our dependence on complex systems we have no control over. This means reducing the number of links in our personal supply chains and reducing our dependence on goods and services from afar by 1) consuming less and eliminating waste and planned obsolescence; 2) learning how to do more for ourselves and others so we need less from the government and global supply chains; 3) relocalizing our personal supply chains by assembling trusted personal networks of local producers and 4) becoming a producer in addition to being a consumer.

Just as Emerson noted that self-reliance requires being our best self--something no one else can do--no one else can chart our course to self-reliance. Our path must be our own, tailored to our unique circumstances.

Self-reliance in the 21st century means moving from the artifice of trying to appear grander than our real selves in social media to the authenticity of being a producer anchored by a self-reliance that no longer needs the approval of others.

Here are some examples of what I mean by self-reliance in the 21st century.

By becoming healthy, we need fewer (ideally zero) medications that are sourced from afar and we’re less dependent on costly medical interventions.

By becoming a producer in a local network, we reduce the number of links in our supply chain from many to a few.  If we trade for food from local producers, there are only a few links in that supply chain. If we grow some of our own food, there are zero links in that supply chain.

By eliminating waste, we reduce our dependency on distant sources of food, energy and water—what I call the FEW essentials. If we eliminate 40% of our consumption, we’ve reduced our dependency on supply chains we don’t control by 40%.

By buying durable products that we can repair ourselves, we reduce our dependency on the global system of planned obsolescence and waste that I call the Landfill Economy. The less we need and the less we waste, the lower our dependency on fragile supply chains and the greater our self-reliance.

By moving to a location near fresh water, food and energy, we reduce our exposure to the risks of long supply chains breaking down.

The more we provide for ourselves, the less we need from unsustainable systems we don’t control.

Self-reliance has many other benefits. Self-reliance gives us purpose, meaning, goals, fulfillment, enjoyment and the means to help others.

Specialization and Fragility

Our economy is optimized (i.e., streamlined) for specialization because that’s how our economy became more productive. By mastering one skill, each worker can produce more than non-specialists. This is one of the key insights of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776: the comparative advantages of specialization increase the wealth of both buyer and seller.

As the global economy has become more cost-sensitive, specialization has increased. Enterprises want highly productive workers and this requires specialization.

The higher our skill, the more valuable we are and the more we earn. The financial incentives favor specialization rather than broadening our real-world skills.

The financial incentives for developing real-world self-reliance are marginal. If repairing a toaster takes two hours and we’re paid $25 an hour at our job, that’s $50 of time. If a new toaster costs $25, why bother learning how to repair the broken one? Hobbyists may repair things, but for most people, it makes sense to devote their time to making money and toss the broken toaster in the landfill.

This is why we have a Landfill Economy.  We measure prosperity by how much gets tossed in the landfill and replaced with something new. If we measured prosperity by how long products last and how easy they are to repair, we’d have much different incentives and a much different economy.

Valuing everything in terms of time and convenience makes sense in an era of endless abundance but it breaks down in an era of scarcity. If things are no longer cheap and accessible with an on-screen click, then the calculation of what’s valuable changes.

The conveniences of the 21st century come at a cost few recognize: our dependence on long supply chains that are inherently fragile. These chains of specialized production and distribution we depend on only function if every link works perfectly, but things are no longer working perfectly. These long supply chains are decaying right before our eyes.

The era of abundance has ended and we’re not prepared for an era of scarcity.

Since few of us know anyone who produces anything tangible, our social networks are completely disconnected from the production of life’s essentials. We’re completely dependent on products made thousands of miles away delivered by supply chains powered by diesel.

As these systems decay and scarcities drive prices higher, the incentives change. What becomes convenient and low-cost is producing essentials within our own local networks. Specialization will still be valuable in terms of producing surplus which can be traded or sold locally, but specialization is no substitute for practical knowledge.

Abundance gave us the time and means to express our uniqueness on social media. In a world of scarcity, our uniqueness will find expression in becoming productive in a network of other producers.

Self-reliance in the 21st century demands both the inner strengths Emerson promoted and the real-world skills and trusted local networks he took for granted that we have lost.

Many people believe that scarcities are temporary and abundance will soon be restored. They are mistaken, and it’s important to understand why.

What Are the Essentials of Human Life?

Before we address scarcity, we need to define essentials. There are two ways of thinking about the essentials of human life: one is psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which many visualize as a pyramid of physiological needs as the base, with the higher levels being security and love, belonging and self-worth, and what Emerson called being our best selves, what we now call self-actualization.

In this approach, food, water, clothing, shelter and energy are the basic physiological needs without which we perish. Above basic survival, we need safety / security and belonging to a supportive family and group. Above those basic emotional needs, we need self-respect. At the top of the pyramid is becoming our best selves via self-knowledge and self-expression.

The second approach is to look at the complex system that provides our basic needs as an iceberg where 90% of the system is not discernable.  For example, we think of food being available at supermarkets without grasping the immense system that grows and harvests the grains, raises and slaughters the animals, processes and packages all these products and delivers them thousands of miles to markets near us. The systems that provide us with fresh water, clothing, shelter and fuel are equally complex and costly.

In other words, our food supply doesn’t just rely on farms and farmers. It relies on roads and diesel fuel, because the vast majority of our food travels hundreds of miles on trucks. It depends on spare parts being available for tractors, trucks, aircraft and many other machines such as freezers, as well as parts for the oil wells, pipelines and refineries that provide diesel fuel for the tractors and trucks.

The grapes flown in from thousands of miles away require jet fuel, air cargo containers, refrigerants and spare parts for jet engines.

Many of our basic essentials come from overseas: fabric and clothing, minerals such as cobalt and the materials needed to make pharmaceuticals.

These long supply chains need millions of machines to work perfectly to function. All these machines depend on a vast industrial base for their manufacture, maintenance and operation.

Compare these fantastically complex and costly 21st century systems without which the basics of human life disappear with the sources of essentials in Emerson’s 19th century America. Food was grown within walking distance even for city-folk, clothing was often sewn at home and shelter was built out of local materials.

If we look at these systems as networks with nodes and connections, we ask: how many intermediary links are there between the source of the food and our table? In the 19th century, there was often no intermediary link at all: the harvest was turned into food within walking distance. Now there are dozens of links in every chain connecting us to the sources of what we need to survive.

If even one link in those chains fails, the chain is broken.

What are the essentials of human life nowadays? Food, water, clothing, shelter and energy, and all the parts of the vast industrial system that processes and delivers these essentials to us.

The greater our dependence on long, complex chains, the lower our self-reliance because we cannot possibly influence these chains. If they break, we’re helpless. Our only leverage is to reduce our dependency on these chains and reduce the number of intermediary links between the source of essentials and our household.

Reducing dependencies and shortening our supply chains are the core principles of self-reliance in the 21st century.

We cannot reduce our dependency on complex, costly supply chains to zero, but we can reduce our dependency in consequential ways. Which is preferable: to be 100% dependent on long supply chains for food, or source half of your food within walking distance? Which is preferable: to need 100 gallons of fuel a month just to get by, or 10 gallons?

Let’s look at why self-reliance will become increasingly valuable as unsustainable systems start breaking down.

Global Disruptions Are Affecting Everything and Everyone

The conventional media has a vested interest in maintaining confidence in the status quo, and so blunt realities are softened into acceptable pablum. For example, globalization is presented as win-win for everyone, when the blunt reality is the benefits flowed to the few at the expense of the many: American corporate profits soared from less than $700 billion in 2002 just after China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) to $3.4 trillion annually in 2022.

While America’s economy (GDP) rose 2.3-fold in those 20 years, corporate profits soared almost five-fold. (Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.)

This astounding increase in corporate profits was not a happy accident.

Corporate profits soared because Corporate America (along with other global corporations) shipped production to China and other low-wage, lax environmental standards nations, cutting costs and quality while keeping prices high.  Pressured by globalization, the wages of American workers lost ground.

Globalization was never win-win; it was win-lose: those reaping the immense profits won and everyone else lost. Yes, the cost of a few products dropped, but the quality dropped even more. Corners were cut to boost profits and so the poor-quality product soon ended up in the landfill.  Before globalization, products lasted decades; after globalization, they only last a few years and have to be replaced. How is that a win for consumers?

Now the boom in China is unraveling, and once again we’re not being told the blunt reality: corporations are shifting production out of China because the changing political and economic landscape is threatening their fat profits.

The dynamics disrupting the global economy are presented piecemeal, when in fact each source of disruption reinforces the others.

Once we understand the self-reinforcing nature of these disruptions, we realize the global system is changing permanently and these changes will affect everyone. These disruptions are not temporary or trivial. They are long-term and cannot be reversed, any more than time can be reversed.

1. Climate change.  Drought, flooding and extreme temperatures are disrupting agriculture and pushing habitable regions into being uninhabitable. Food will be scarce and expensive. (See the following section on the end of cheap food.)

2.  Disease and pandemics. Global air travel enables mutations and rapid spread of microbes.

3. Long supply chains. (See following sections.) These fragile chains are disrupted by pandemics, geopolitical conflicts, economic and labor turmoil and scarcities of essential commodities.

4. Domestic political turmoil. Global sources of disruption--soaring energy and food prices, hardship caused by climate change, financial bubbles popping--fuel political discontent.

5. Labor discontent. Demographics and labor shortages are pushing global wages higher; workers are demanding living wages, leading to strikes and other disruptions.

6. Depletion of cheap, easy-to-get resources.  If energy is still abundant, why are we drilling so deep in such inhospitable places and mining tar sands?  The low hanging fruit has been picked, what’s left is hard to get. This can’t be reversed.

7. War and conflict. Wars to control resources are disrupting supply chains and globalization. Wars are being waged on numerous fronts: cyber warfare, proxy warfare, Cold Wars, hot wars, rebellions, etc.

8. Unraveling of global finance.  Currencies, credit, risk and assets are all being repriced. Volatility is now the norm.

Everyone who is dependent on the global economy for goods, services and income has become dependent on a system that is unraveling. Disruptions in one region quickly spread, eventually affecting everyone. One domino topples a line of other dominoes that end up knocking down all the dominoes.

The idea that all these sources of disruption will go away and all the dominoes of global abundance can be set up again is not realistic.  What’s realistic is to start reducing our dependence on long supply chains by relocalizing our production of life’s essentials.  Since we can’t count on authorities being willing or able to move fast enough to matter, the best option is to relocalize our own supply chains and reduce our dependence on systems that are unraveling. The term that describes this is self-reliance.

The book goes on to analyze many areas where we can improve our self-reliance, and discusses how to go about it.  Interesting and recommended reading - and it's short (less than 100 pages), so it's easily digested.


Friday, July 28, 2023

Maybe Elon Musk has a point


I'm sure readers are familiar with episodes involving our senior politicians - senior in terms of age as well as years of service - that make us wonder whether they're all there.  This week we've seen Senator McConnell (R) "freeze up" at a press conference, while Senator Feinstein (D) appeared confused and disoriented during a roll call vote.  That's on top of repeated, almost daily incidents involving President Biden that appear to display increasing incoherence and inability to control his movements, suggesting either senile dementia or an equivalent problem.  There have been more than a few such moments in the past involving politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris and others.

In response to the incident with Senator McConnell, Elon Musk tweeted:

I think he may have a point.  One gets very tired of politicians (irrespective of their party) when they're performing business as usual, jabbering on inanely about subjects of which they know little or nothing, and expecting us to support them while they actively undermine our interests.  When their general incompetence is augmented by diminished capacity due to age and its effects, it gets even worse.  Based on what we saw this week, I daresay a case could be made that both Senators McConnell and Feinstein should be mandatorily retired as incompetent to exercise their office.  The signs are very clear that they're both "past it" - and they're not alone in that.

Perhaps a general age limit for elected political office (and, for that matter, appointed office, too) isn't a bad idea.  The Catholic Church requires bishops to tender their resignation to the Pope when they reach the age of 75 years.  He doesn't necessarily have to accept it, but in most cases he does, giving him an opportunity to bring in "fresh blood" to the episcopacy, and (hopefully) "cleaning house" of those who've become ossified in their thinking and reactions.  Perhaps that's a reasonable age limit for our politicians as well.  If 75 isn't right, what is?

That's one of the reasons I'm very dubious about voting for former President Trump.  Regardless of his policies, he'll be 78 years old if he's re-elected in 2024.  Joe Biden was that age when he assumed office - and we've all seen the very visible signs of age-related problems in him even before that.

There's simply a human and medical reality that as we get older, our capabilities and performance deteriorate to a greater and greater extent.  Can we ignore that in our national and political leaders?  I don't think so.  There's nothing stopping an older person from offering really useful advice and insights, but to have such a person's finger on the "nuclear button"?  To have such a person making and/or approving national policy that directly and immediately affects not only our future, but the future of the world?  To me, that's a very dangerous situation.

Let's hear your thoughts in Comments, dear readers.  I think this subject needs wider exposure.


Tucker Carlson and Ice Cube: the studio interview


Yesterday I posted a "street" interview between Tucker Carlson and rapper Ice Cube.  Today, let's follow that with the next episode from Tucker:  a twenty-minute studio interview with Ice Cube, talking in greater depth about some of the subjects raised yesterday, and going into new areas.  Like yesterday's excerpt, this is (or should be) very interesting to many who've never been exposed to the inner-city environment that produced Ice Cube and many others.  I think it's very important for that reason.

Full marks to Tucker Carlson for stretching the boundaries for many of his fans;  and full marks to Ice Cube for doing the same, and for speaking out about current affairs and America's problems without fear or favor.


Thursday, July 27, 2023

Tucker Carlson and Ice Cube talk about "the hood"


This is a very interesting and worthwhile discussion between Tucker Carlson (who needs no introduction) and rapper Ice Cube.  Highly recommended viewing to get an idea of what life is like in "the hood".

A very useful look at how many Americans live today.  Many of us aren't exposed to that way of life at all.  I saw its effects when serving as a prison chaplain, where many of the inmates to whom I ministered came from that background.  That's not to say that everyone in the hood is a criminal, of course;  it's just that many in that environment see no other way out but to turn to crime, which is tragic in itself.


I fear he may be right


Michael Anton recently published an article titled "The Pessimistic Case for the Future".  It really is pessimistic, but it's hard to argue with his analysis.

Recently, I was asked to make the “pessimistic case for the future.” I present instead more of a “pessimistic take on the present.” The future, while imminent, is obscure. The present, by contrast, is knowable. This is also not so much a “case” replete with exhaustive evidence—there isn’t space for that, nor is there a need—as a quick tour through our present hell. No one who thinks “everything is fine” will be persuaded otherwise. Those who see the seriousness of our problems hardly need proof. Nor have I made any attempt to be evenhanded, much less philosophically detached. My account is perforce one-sided. I hope it is wrong.

There's much more at the link.  It may be depressing, but I do recommend reading his article in full.  It lays out the facts of the matter in stark detail, so much so that it's no longer possible to hide from the reality that so many would prefer to avoid.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to "fixing" our country is that so many people believe - or hope - that somehow our problems will fix themselves.  One day we'll wake up to find that we've had a free and fair election, and our politicians have all turned overnight into honest men and women, and the bureaucrats have been tamed or dismissed, and our economy has turned around, and the future is all unicorn farts and rainbows.  Sadly, none of that is likely.  This article shows why.

The only advice I can offer is what I've been saying in these pages for a long time now:  prepare as best you can, and build or join a network of mutually supporting people that can help each other survive the hard times.  They're not coming - they're already here, and they're not going to improve in the short to medium term.

I have faith we'll make it through the present crisis.  What our nation will look like on the other side is, however, open to question.  There will be many who sit back and wait to find out.  There will, hopefully, also be enough who are willing to work hard and make sure that it's something better, stronger and more meaningful than what we have now.  May it be so!


A political advertisement I can get behind


From Senate candidate in Virginia, Hung Cao:

Works for me!


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Yes, some of them really think like this


On Reddit there's a thread with this discussion starter in the r/AskALiberal forum.

What do you think is the future of small town/rural America?

I live in rural New England, and it becomes apparent by the day that younger people are moving out. My town and surrounding towns are kept alive by a pulp mill that is starting to struggle due to supply chain issues. We already have issues with infrastructure and healthcare, so if that industry goes, our community collapses.

Do you see rural and small town America thriving again in the future? With the implementation of things like high speed broadband and remote work, is it feasible that younger people may move out of cities and repopulate these towns? Do you think new industries like microchip manufacturing could start a new generation of small towns? And additionally, do you think the politics of these areas will change?

I would like to hear your predictions for this specific subset of American communities.

Gab user Hans G. Schantz highlighted this response from one reader.  OK, admittedly, it's in an "ask a liberal" forum, but its heartlessness and doctrinal dogmatism are astonishing.

Some areas of rural America will soon be booming - specifically areas where there is a low-skilled labor pool that can be used to manufacture munitions and other arms. The US is about to become the industrial cradle of world-wide democracy as the Ukraine War has shown the superiority of western weaponry and created a new (world wide) demand to stockpile a ton of it. I would be pretty bullish about the industrial midwest - PA, OH, IN, IL, MI.

On the other hand, the left has now definitively seen that a certain portion of the rural US population is irredeemable and, frankly, not worth redeeming. The Trump phenomenon destroys the image of the "morally upright American farmer", replacing it with the image of the "militiaman/mass shooter in training that supports the Confederacy and Donald Trump".

Democratic policies aimed at convincing rural voters of a different path are utterly pointless. Even the Inflation Reduction Act, which has pumped an insane amount of federal money into rural hands, is not going to change any minds out there - rural voters are irredeemable.

So what is to be done? The Democrats should pursue policies that crush rural voters and make rural life as miserable as possible. Things like refusing federal flood insurance to rural areas, leaving rural roads wanting for federal dollars, not using federal money to build bridges or expand electric or sewer, ending federal ethanol subsidies and other farm subsidies, etc. - all of that can make rural life even less attractive than it already is and force that population of irredeemables into the cities where they can be reeducated and turned into citizens with something to contribute. With Trump, they let the mask drop and all of the country can now see: there is no reason for the United States to ever spend another dime on rural America, and the sooner rural America is just a memory, the better.

So small towns will come back. But the rural areas that are Trump country are going to face long term consequences for that and they should.

The very fact that any human being can feel that way about his/her fellow citizens is depressing enough:  but its blinkered approach to reality is even worse.  Just where does this writer think his/her food, fuel, electricity, water, etc. comes from?  They're all out there in the country, imported to the city where (presumably) he/she lives by road, rail, pipeline, electrical wires, and so on.  If those with such opinions "crush rural voters and make rural life as miserable as possible", just how long do they think those essentials and amenities will keep flowing?

As for yours truly, I moved to a smaller town because even years ago, I could see what hellholes our cities were becoming.  Today, they're places to leave and/or avoid.  Obviously, the writer above doesn't see it that way . . . but that reality is already a fact of life for many city dwellers, and it's going to become more so as time passes.  I'll pass, thanks.

What say you, readers?


So much for sanctions and technology, redux


A little over a year ago I noted that many Russian weapons were using US-made microchips and other hardware.  Following the outbreak of the Ukraine war the USA implemented strict sanctions to prevent Russia getting its hands on US technology to power its weapons.  However, it looks like they're not working as well as they should.

Russia is stepping up production of one of its most effective weapons, the Lancet-3 loitering munition or kamikaze drone. Television news footage shows a massive new facility with hundreds of the weapons being manufactured as the makers claim that production is being tripled.

. . .

The Lancet-3 has proven lethally effective in Ukraine. It has an eight-foot wingspan, weighs about 35 pounds and cruises at about 70 mph with a range of 25 miles and a highly effective anti-tank warhead: videos show Lancets apparently taking out Leopard 2 tanks and a wide range of other targets including artillery, anti-aircraft systems, personnel carriers, command posts. While there is a question over just what the hit rate is – misses may greatly outnumber hits – a large number of Lancets could do a lot of damage. Defense thinktank RUSI notes that the Lancet is becoming become Russia’s preferred weapon for counter-battery strikes, possibly for its ability to find and target artillery which has moved away from its firing position ... the Lancet relies on an imported U.S.-made Jetson TX2 chip for its brains ... this has already been superseded and NVIDIA now produce a successor, the Jetson Orin with around 200 times more computing power. It is an open question what sort of processors Zakharov can now acquire and in what numbers.

Zakharov says that the new production facility has been funded by State money, although it is not clear that any new order has been placed. The difficulties of the Russian procurement system appeared to have caused delays with getting Lancet-3s out, which is why they only started appearing in numbers several months after the invasion. Bendett quotes publicly-available Russian sources saying that the lancet costs about 3 million roubles or $35,000.

Meanwhile Russian volunteer groups are producing small FPV attack drones by the hundred, and the Russians continue to bombard Ukraine with larger Iranian-made Shahed loitering munitions – at least 25 of them in the Southern region on the night of 17th July according to Anton Gerashchenko, Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs. After a poor start, Russia is now embracing a new type of warfare with different sized of low-cost kamikazes for short, medium and longer ranges in what is increasingly becoming a war of drones. Whether Russia’s reality can match Zakharov’s claims is another matter.

There's more at the link.

Of course, one can't fully trust any reports coming out of either Russia or Ukraine.  Both sides are lying through their teeth, and most "news" from the combat zone turns out to be more or less propaganda.  Nevertheless, enough video footage of the current situation has emerged to demonstrate that the Lancet-3 drone is effective against Western-supplied armor.  Here's a Russian-sourced video clip illustrating how it works.  Bear in mind that this video is heavy on the propaganda, and is not necessarily a reliable news source.  I include it here only to show the Lancet-3 at work.

I'm not surprised to see that US-made components are getting through to Russia despite stringent international sanctions.  There's too much money to be made by selling them to stop the trade entirely.  Indeed, so-called "dual-use" technology (that may be used for civilian or military purposes) is almost impossible to stop, as consumer goods using it can be bought openly, shipped to their destination, and the technology extracted there for use in weapons systems.  (I previously described one way in which South Africa did this during the international arms embargo against that country.)

Russia also seems to be using its modern weapons more effectively.  It can't afford to make many advanced tanks and other major armament systems, but by turning to technologically more sophisticated systems like the Lancet-3 it's reducing its dependence on older systems and gaining flexibility.  Ukraine did surprisingly well to turn back the initial invasion efforts, but I think it'll find it more and more difficult to make headway against an increasingly efficient and better-equipped Russian military.  The war is turning into a technology-against-technology struggle, and the human factor seems to be less and less critical on the battlefield.

That's why it'll really suck to be a grunt on tomorrow's battlefield.  You're likely to become no more than a casualty statistic, without ever knowing what gee-whiz technology wiped you out.  At present most such weapons have a human operator, but increasingly they're becoming fully automated, making their own decisions about who and what to kill without any consideration of humanity or mercy.  Microchips murder without feelings or conscience, which is why I expect them to dominate future armed conflicts.  I suspect prisoners of war are going to become a rare breed . . . it's much cheaper and simpler to use technology to kill the enemy, rather than capture him, feed him, treat his wounds and house him.

I fear that such an approach may come to dominate internal security systems and policing as well, in nations that don't bother with inconveniences such as human rights.  As far as they're concerned, warehousing dissidents and criminals in prisons is expensive, so why not save money by disposing of them once and for all?


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

"Why parents of trans kids just can't move on"


In an interview with Peter Boghossian, journalist Helen Joyce discussed why parents of trans children just can't let go of the subject, and why they keep harping on about it.  The transcript below is courtesy of John Kass.

“Something you may not have thought of is that there are a lot of people who can’t move on from this. And that’s the people who have transitioned their own children. So those people are going to be like the Japanese soldiers who were on Pacific islands and didn’t know the war was over. They’ve got to fight forever. This is another reason why this is the worst, worst, worst social contagion that we’ll ever have experienced.

“A lot of people have done what is the worst thing you could do, which is to harm their children irrevocably, because of it. Those people will have to believe that they did the right thing for the rest of their lives, for their own sanity, and for their own self-respect. So they’ll still be fighting, and each one of those people destroys entire organizations and entire friendship groups.

“Like, I’ve lost count of the number of times that somebody has said to me of a specific organization that has been turned upside down on this, “Oh, the deputy director has a trans child.” Or, oh, the journalist on that paper who does special investigations has a trans child. Or whatever. The entire organization gets paralyzed by that one person. And it may not even be widely known at that organization that they have a trans child. But it will come out, people will have sort of said quietly, and now you can’t talk truth in front of that person, and you know you can’t, because what you’re saying is: “You as a parent have done a truly, like, a human rights abuse level of awful thing to your own child that can not be fixed.

“There are specific individuals who are actively against women’s rights here and it is not known why they are, but I happen to know through the back channels that it is because they’ve transed their child.

“So those people will do anything for the entire rest of their lives to destroy me and people like me because people like me are standing in reproach to them. I don’t want to be, I’m not talking directly to them, and I don’t spend my time bitching to them.

“But the fact is that just simply by saying we will never accept natural males in women’s spaces, well it is their son that we’re talking about. And they’ve told their son that he can get himself sterilized and destroy his own basic sexual function and women will accept him as a woman. And if we don’t, there’s no way back for them and that child.

“They’ve sold their child a bill of goods that they can’t deliver on.

“And I’m the one that has to be bullied to try to force me to deliver on it.

“So those people are going to be the people who will keep this bloody movement going, I’m sorry to say, because they’ve everything to lose, and it is a fight to the death as far as they are concerned.”

There's more at John Kass' article.

Tragically, that makes an awful lot of sense to me . . .


The greatest invention of all is... booze???


That's the suggestion of Alec Marsh, writing at Spiked Online.

The oldest brewery ever discovered – by archaeologists, in a cave near Haifa, Israel back in 2018 – is an astonishing 13,000 years old. That’s how long the bar has been open for. For context, 13,000 years ago there were still sabre-toothed tigers roaming around Britain and Stonehenge hadn’t been built yet. In fact, it wasn’t going to be built for another 8,000 years.

The chances are that this particular brewery wasn’t even the first one in the world. It’s just the oldest one we’ve found so far. In any event, it means that we have been drinking for longer than we have been farming – the invention of which is dated to about 12,000 years ago. For some humans, finding a drink has always taken priority over having a meal.

It’s almost comforting to think of our forebears, sitting huddled in furs in caves with the comparatively new innovation of fire to keep them warm, while also having a small beaker of ale to get them through the night. It seems that they, too, might have found solace in a beer. You can only imagine they needed it.

This is alcohol’s great gift to humanity. It doesn’t just help keep the cold out, it’s also a brief psychological off-switch from the great treadmill of life. It’s a cup of transcendence, one that comes without the need to light scented candles and squat on a mat in Lycra. It untethers the brain from the immediate and allows it to roam free.

Alcohol also brings people together – to celebrate, to commiserate, to fornicate. And sometimes to do all three at once. It’s done so for as long as we’ve been having parties, whether in caves, hovels, regency palaces, flats or suburban semis.

Many of us wouldn’t be here today but for the socially lubricating effects of alcohol. Because somewhere along the way, the introvert among your lineal ancestors would not have crossed the dancefloor without the assistance of Dutch courage.

. . .

To describe alcohol as a wonder drug is not to seek to conceal its hazards – the key word is drug, of course. It needs to be handled with care and respect. Like nuclear energy – another fantastic human innovation – it comes with dangerous trade-offs.

. . .

No one would invent alcohol now, of course. But there’s no doubt it serves us well, and it has done so since time immemorial. So let’s not damn it, but celebrate it for its enormous contribution to humanity. It’s time we raised a glass to booze.

There's more at the link.  Entertaining reading, as are many of Spiked Online's articles.  If you aren't visiting there regularly, you might want to bookmark the site.

I'm not sure I'd agree that booze is as benign as Mr. Marsh would suggest.  I've seen an awful lot of people get into an awful lot of trouble through over-indulgence in alcohol.  From military men who found themselves impaired in combat, to technical staff in the computer industry who got used to a drink or two every night to get over the stress of the day (and then found it became three, or four, or more) . . . it's a terribly easy drug to misuse, and that can have catastrophic consequences.  I know people who've lost their families, their homes, everything, because they over-indulged.

Because I could see what it was doing to people around me, I've usually been very, very careful around booze.  My wife and I enjoy a bottle of wine together over a meal, or an occasional evening glass after a long, hard-working day, but we're relatively light drinkers.  When we married, I still had a couple of bottles of the hard stuff that I'd brought with me from South Africa when I immigrated to America in 1996, fifteen years before.  We have several bottles in our collection right now that are up to a decade old, which we still haven't finished.  We spend very little on alcohol, and enjoy it now and then as a pleasantly relaxing tipple.

I do understand that for some people, alcohol is a deadly trap that's very hard for them to escape.  I'm very conscious of Gerald Manley Hopkins' warning:

... cliffs of fall ... Hold them cheap ... who ne'er hung there.

Alcohol is just as dangerous a "cliff of fall" as cigarettes or hard drugs.  Therefore, I won't "raise a glass to booze", but I'll gratefully tip my hat to whoever first discovered its useful, less harmful properties.  In moderation, it's made the world a more relaxed place for many of us.


Interesting news for aviation and military history buffs


A company called Catalina Aircraft has announced plans to re-launch the world-famous Consolidated PBY Catalina amphibious aircraft, which first flew 88 years ago.  It'll be updated with modern engines, materials and equipment.

Florida-based Catalina, which holds type certificates for the PBY-5A Catalina with both US and Canadian civil aviation regulators, plans to disclose the reboot on 25 July at the AirVenture Oshkosh air show in Wisconsin.

“Interest in the rebirth of this legendary amphibian has been extraordinary,” says Lawrence Reece, president of Catalina. “The capabilities this modernised iconic platform offers, being capable of performing so many unique missions, and in a variety of market segments, speaks to the heritage of the Catalina product line.”

The company is calling the updated flying boat the Next-Generation Amphibious Aircraft (NGAA) Catalina II. Reece says the new-production model will feature modern engines and avionics that will give the craft “capabilities no other amphibian can provide today”.

Pricing has not been disclosed, nor has the company confirmed orders. However, the firm anticipates beginning deliveries in 2029.

. . .

PBYs played a critical role during World War II, helping disrupt German U-boat operations in the Atlantic and locating the Japanese naval fleet steaming toward the Midway islands – a discovery preceding what proved among the most-decisive battles in the Pacific theatre.

Several airlines also operated Catalina flying boats, including Pan American World Airways and Australian carrier Qantas, which used the type from 1943 to 1945 to operate weekly nonstop flights between Perth and Colombo in Sri Lanka. At an average speed of 110kt (203km/h), those 3,592nm (5,652 km) flights took up to 32h, making them the longest-duration commercial routes at the time, according to the Catalina Preservation Society.

. . .

The company says NGAA Catalina IIs will be capable of operating from oceans, rivers and lakes, and from tarmac, dirt and grass runways.

The civilian variant will have maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 14,515kg (32,000lb), with capacity for 34 passengers or 5,443kg of cargo. The military version will have an expanded MTOW of 18,143kg.

The US military has expressed interest in water-capable aircraft in recent months ... Such projects are geared toward helping the Pentagon prepare for potential conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region – where vast swaths of open ocean and small, lightly developed islands present substantial challenges to military planners.

There's more at the link.

The new variant will use turboprop engines, rather than the reciprocating engines of the earlier model.  That should give it greater speed, although the long, thick wing may prevent any major increase.  As for the avionics, well, things have come an awful long way since the classic "six-pack" of analog instruments that became standard prior to World War II.  I wonder what the old Black Cat pilots of World War II would say to a modern "glass panel" cockpit?

Here's a documentary on the original Catalina.

I hope Catalina Aircraft's plans work out.  It'd be great to see an old warhorse in new, updated guise.


Monday, July 24, 2023

Do you remember the Gimli Glider?


40 years ago yesterday, on July 23, 1983, an Air Canada Boeing 767 ran out of fuel in mid-air, following a mix-up over metric versus imperial units of measurement of fuel volume.  The pilots managed to glide as far as a disused military airstrip that was in use that day for amateur drag races, and miraculously managed to land the aircraft without hitting any of the racers or spectators, saving the lives of everyone on board.  The airstrip was named Gimli, in Manitoba province, and the aircraft therefore became famous as the Gimli Glider.

Thirty years after the incident, the pilot and one of the passengers - both of whom had lost their spouses in the interim - met at a reunion event.  They fell in love and got married.  In an article at CBC News, they shared their memories.

Pearl Dion never expected to fall in love with the man who saved her life.

She was one of more than 60 passengers on the famed "Gimli Glider" — the nickname given to the Boeing 767 jet that made an emergency landing near the small community of Gimli, Man., on July 23, 1983, after running out of fuel due to a metric conversion error.

The Montreal-to-Edmonton Air Canada Flight 143 was piloted by Bob Pearson, whose flying skills allowed him to successfully land the plane on an abandoned runway near the town in Manitoba's Interlake region, saving everyone on board — including Dion, now his partner of 10 years.

"Never in a million years did we expect to be together," she told CBC on Saturday, a day before the anniversary of the flight — and her and Pearson's anniversary. "It's something from up above, I guess."

There's more at the link.  It makes for heartwarming reading.

Here's a documentary on the Gimli Glider incident.  Very interesting viewing for aviation buffs - and a warning to be very, very careful about one's units of measurement!

I'm very glad they all survived.  It could so easily have turned into a major disaster.  It's a blessing that Captain Pearson was an experienced glider pilot, and was able to translate that knowledge and experience into gliding an aircraft that was never designed to do so.


Memes that made me laugh 169


Gathered from around the Internet over the past week.  Click any image for a larger view.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Sunday morning music


Richard Cheese and his band, "Lounge Against The Machine", have been performing rock and pop hits in the style of big-band "swing" for more than two decades.  The person behind the persona, if I can put it like that, is Mark Jonathan Davis, and his backing band includes Bobby Ricotta, Frank Feta and Billy Bleu.  All the stage names, of course, are wordplays on the subject of cheese.

I have to admire their creativity in transforming well-known tunes and songs into a whole new genre of music.  I've selected just four this morning, to introduce you to their work, but there are dozens more.

Let's start with Metallica's "Enter Sandman".

Here's Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".

How about Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven"?

And to conclude this morning's lounge act, here's "Hotel California", originally by The Eagles.

You'll find much more of their music on their YouTube channel, and on the band's Web site.


Saturday, July 22, 2023

Saturday Snippet: The launch of a nautical career


Andrew Wareham is a prolific British author who has several best-selling series to his credit in Amazon's Kindle Store.  Some are better than others, particularly when it comes to the prodigious research he obviously conducts before writing them.  For example, his four-volume "The Earl's Other Son" naval series, set in the Far East in the time of the Boxer Rebellion, displays meticulous attention to detail in naval and social terms, and is thus a pleasure to read for history buffs.  Others, for example his "The Making of a Man" series, display less intensive research, and hence contain errors that left me irritated, despite the books themselves being well written.  Oh, well.  I guess I'm a stickler for detail.  Others won't have that problem.  Overall, I enjoy his books, and I'll continue to read them and look forward to more of his work.

For today's Snippet, I've chosen the opening chapter of the opening volume, "The Friendly Sea", in his 14-volume "Duty and Destiny" series.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, it follows its protagonist, Frederick Harris, as he progresses in the Royal Navy from midshipman to admiral.  The blurb for the first volume reads:

The second son of a Hampshire landowner, Frederick Harris has no expectations worthy of the name. He takes to the sea as a profession, rather than from love of the seafaring life. Early in the French Revolutionary War he seizes the chance to shine in a bloody sea battle. After promotion, he is sent to the Caribbean where he gains further promotion and the patronage of a senior admiral.

I've re-read the series several times, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Here's how the first volume begins.

Waiting, twitching, belly acid, tapping the hilt of his sword, checking his pistols in their holsters for the tenth time, the darkness pressing down on the silent longboat. They must not move any further inshore until the moon rose, a September, harvest moon, full and gold, sufficient to light up the whole of the bay clearly enough for their purposes but hopefully inadequate for a shore battery to take a clean aim. Not, of course, that there were any guns emplaced, they were very nearly certain of that, though the visibility had been poor when they had opened the mouth of the bay.

They would be singing in the church back home, Harvest Festival for the womenfolk and those of the men who could be bothered with church, who weren’t working or at war or down the beerhouse. ‘Bringing in the Sheaves’, that was always sung at this time of year, the choir at its best for some reason – no time for that now, this was no time to let his thoughts drift, there was business and they were a couple of hundred miles away from home.

Eight men rested on the muffled oars, a grapnel down as anchor in the two-fathom water of the tiny cove where they lay hidden. Four more squatted uncomfortably on the bottom boards, muskets upright; a fifth squeezed in below the tiller where Frederick Harris, master’s mate, sat next to Megson, the captain’s coxswain, sent for his experience gained in the American War.

Frederick peered anxiously at the long arm sticking up almost under his nose – the muzzle-flash of a careless shot would blind him even if the ball missed. It was uncocked, the hammer flat on the frizzen, the seaman’s hand holding the pan closed, the priming safe. They had had to load on board by lantern light – foremast hands did not have the soldier’s training in small arms, could not be relied upon to load by feel and instinct in the dark.

The five musketeers would fire a single volley, if necessary, then go in with the boarding axes at their belts. The short, back-spiked blades, sometimes called tomahawks, could be used equally to slash boarding netting or to rip up an enemy and required little more than enthusiasm in their use; they were good weapons for untrained men, even if a soldier might sneer at them.

There was a skip containing a dozen Sea Service pistols at Frederick’s feet, these with flasks of fine powder and bags of twelve gauge ball for reloads; they would be used later to hold any prisoners docile but they would not be risked in the dark confusion of a night boarding. They were inaccurate over any range, best used at one or two paces, and their flintlocks were clumsy, the sears weak, so that they might fire at any knock. The soft lead ball would batter any man down, wherever it hit, not even a Malay amok would keep coming with one of those in him, but they were weapons for daylight and careful handling.

The oarsmen would use their cutlasses in the coming fight, heavy, curved, slashing blades, clumsy and unbalanced, churned out of the new manufacturies in their thousands – cheap, sharp, brittle and immediately replaceable. Valueless to the swordsman, the cutlass was ideally suited to strong-armed labourers who had cut brush and chopped firewood since boyhood, was a crude, utilitarian tool of battle, lacking elegance and romance but simply efficient. Frederick approved of the cutlass as a symbol of the new age.

A second boat was waiting behind the opposite headland, smaller, only six oars, a dozen men and a midshipman squeezed into her, ready to follow Frederick down the half mile inlet to the single stone quay next to the shingle where the fishermen drew up. A small river came down to the sea here, the road on its bank connecting central Brittany to the Channel, a half-dozen small warehouses making a tiny port. They had spotted a brig tied up, deep-laden, ready to sail and carry more than a convoy of a hundred oxcarts could drag and at least five times quicker. It was worth the effort of taking this small vessel for the disproportionate disruption it would cause the wartime economy – not to speak of the prize-money.

The prize-money was not yet vital to Frederick Harris as he came from a family with sufficient capital to give its second son a small income for life, enough that a lieutenant’s half-pay would not be a disaster, though not in itself permitting a wife and children maintained in his own order of society. But he was not a lieutenant yet. Eventually he would need money, a very small fortune, just a couple of thousands to buy a house of seven or eight bedrooms and fifty or sixty acres of farmland, but as yet promotion and glory were more important to an ambitious youth; the cash would naturally follow success, he expected. The new war against France was to be his chance, the making of a name, rank, title, fame, eventually perhaps a dynasty, but he had to find a start, possibly tonight.

He had eight years of actual sea-going experience, having first gone to sea as a ten year old – ten years on his papers due to book time when he had been falsely mustered on a distant relative’s ship – and he had passed for lieutenant a year previously, during the peace. He had not been made yet, possibly because of shrewd guesses as to his real age, more likely because of peacetime sloth and lack of opportunity. He had passed his board as a matter of course – the captains accepting his journals and evidence of at least six years as a midshipman and noting that he seemed to be of eighteen years and was old enough to shave, and unofficially taking cognisance of the fact that he was a gentleman’s son of appropriate dress, deportment and accent. There had been an oral examination of his seamanship, but it had been cursory, the questions predictable and mugged up in advance – had there been a whiff of the wrong social order the test would have been far more searching – passage through the hawsehole, while still not uncommon, was reserved for grown men of thoroughly proven merit, and they often then found difficulty securing employment, particularly in peacetime wardrooms where skills other than nautical were prized.

For Frederick, though passing his board had been easy, this war had to be his opportunity to actually obtain a commission. Chances were rare when the family’s purely naval influence was not great, and his consisted solely of a cousin of his mother’s who was a post captain of average virtue, middle-aged on the list and unlikely to hoist his flag at sea, a yellow admiral at best. Frederick’s first promotion, like that of all unfavoured warrant officers, must depend on displayed ability – valour thrust, as it were, under an admiral’s nose – and the Pallas, the sloop on which he served, was not ideal for this purpose.

Pallas mounted twelve six pound long guns and a pair of twelve pound carronades, ample for the business of commerce raiding and dealing with the average private ship of war, but she was very fast, perfect for dispatches and therefore normally forbidden to hazard herself or delay for any reason – any French she saw she must report and avoid. Now, detached to the newly refurbished Channel Fleet and on passage from Gibraltar to Portsmouth, carrying nothing and therefore free of restriction, she was taking a minor detour along the French coast, stretching her orders just a fraction, translating ‘watching’ into something a little more like actively searching.

Frederick cracked the dark lantern by the compass, peered at his watch, careful not to rattle the steel chain anchoring it to his sword belt. The hunter had been sent out to him only the previous year, bought by the uncle he was named for, and marked him out as one of those rich enough to need to know what time of day it was.

“Ten minutes till moon rise,” he whispered. “Empty your bladders now, if needs be.”

There was a stir in the boat, cautious movement and surprisingly loud splashing. Frederick nodded contentedly – he had been told years before by an early mentor that he must always remember the men’s physical comfort, that otherwise they would move more slowly and carefully, more concerned not to wet themselves than to stretch out.

Nearly half of Pallas’ crew had been detached to the two boats – the best part: none of the boys, few of the old men, only the agile, strong and biddable. The captain and lieutenant had selected carefully to avoid fools and malcontents, those who could not and those who would not obey. On a job like this there was no room for error, no need to allow random mischance the opportunity to become disaster.

Frederick briefly repeated his orders, as much to calm his own nerves as to aid the men.

“Akers and Dale to the foremast, set the topsail and then a jib, not to get involved in any fight, unless needs must. Big Smith and Joby Barney to slip or cut the moorings. Mr Megson will take the wheel and bring her out. The rest of us will silence the crew and everybody aboard – no argument, and no time to make their minds up – put up or shut up!”

Nods and mutters of assent and understanding; they knew what to do.

“Boatkeepers, hold the boats till I whistle, only then tie on to her stern. If so be there is a company of soldiers waiting for us then you are our only way out.”

There was no reason to suppose there was so much as a platoon in the whole port – it had only been a thin mist and they had seen no signs of battery, fort or barracks – but Frederick thought it as well for the people not to be overconfident, a little apprehension was said to sharpen their wits.

He gave a strangled whisper as the edge of the moon touched the hills and the darkness eased a fraction, trying to shout an order silently. “Up anchor.”

They rowed slowly, dry, carefully round the point and into the sheltered river, the low waves moderating as they came out of the wind. The huddled blocks of cottages in the valley, scattered in sections behind the godowns and net lofts that had brought them into being, grew larger, took on definition under the waxing moonlight. They had seen no guard boats tied up during the daylight hours but Frederick was unwilling to omit any precautions, kept the boat quiet, the rowing unobtrusive and a little slower – better be called an old woman than stand at an unnecessary burial. A cable out and they saw the other boat, a hazy, dark lump low on the water and outlined by startlingly bright splashes as two of the men rowed clumsy and presumably unrebuked. There were audible indrawn breaths, disapproving tooth-sucking from Frederick’s crew, an almost visible indignation.

Frederick made a mental note to speak to Midshipman Denby, an ignorant brat of low breeding and less education – he frequently dropped his aitches - a typical small ship’s midshipman dragged out of the gutter where he had, no doubt, been perfectly happy.

“Stretch out now, lads,” he said quietly, just loud enough to be heard, rather pleased that he was able to hide his excitement – no one would know this was his first time. He stood, broad-shouldered but sadly short, more squat than genteel in his own eyes, swarmed over the brig’s counter as Megson brought the boat gently alongside, stumbled as Denby’s cutter slammed into the bows. Silence other than the pattering of bare feet: no sentry on harbour watch, no alarm from the quayside, no idler or fisherman to hear anything unusual. A sudden pair of abruptly strangled howls as the two shipkeepers below awoke from crapulous sleep and fell into terminal silence. Frederick ran on tiptoes to the side – halfboots were an out of place nonsense in an action of this sort, but an officer could not go barefoot – saw that the brig had been tied fore and aft to stone bollards and that Smith and Barney were already economically coiling the cables rather than wastefully and noisily hacking through them. The fore topsail flapped and Megson called men to the braces, eased the head away from the quayside, speed picking up as the jib flatted home and Denby set the main course, belatedly in Frederick’s opinion. Tide and offshore breeze together took the brig quietly away. She was just lifting her bows to the open sea when lights and distant, faint indignation broke out on the jetty.

“Home port, I reckon, sir,” Megson commented, his station sufficiently senior that he could open conversation with a junior officer, even one as young and aware of his dignity as Frederick.

“Officers at home and crew in the knocking shop,” Frederick responded. “All ready to set sail on the tide in the forenoon, late enough to have got over the worst of their hangovers. You’re happy with the course, Megson?”

Megson was and Frederick nodded and smiled his agreement. Men like Megson had the knowledge and capacity to tread the quarterdeck, could easily be commissioned to fill a gap caused by action or illness on a long cruise. Commonsense said to offer courtesy, at least, to these petty officers and to listen to anything they had to say – had Megson suggested a course change Frederick would have ordered it immediately, only enquiring why afterwards.

Clear of the land and there was a strong sense of satisfaction aboard in all except for Mr Denby who had suffered a brief, soft-voiced but vigorous exposition of his seamanship, officer-like qualities and prospects for promotion – respectively poor, limited and non-existent – and was now much inclined to sulk. Denby had been strongly advised that he should hope for a bloody battle where he might distinguish himself without need for the intelligence and ability that he otherwise so conspicuously lacked.

“Mr Denby, two men to get a meal together, if you please. Use the Frogs’ stores if possible, they should have provisioned today if they are sailing tomorrow. Our biscuit and cheese if you must, but something hot if you can.” Frederick turned to Megson, having got his official second off the deck. “I shall go below to look over the master’s papers, get some idea of what she is. Get the bodies over the side – no ceremony, they’re only Frogs. Clean up as necessary. Put a guard over any store of spirits or wine, ignore the odd bottles the men will have picked up by now. Make or shorten sail as seems good to you, unless you need an officer. Keep the men out of mischief, don’t let them get into trouble.”

“I could put them into two watches, let them get a couple of hours sleep, turn about, sir.”

“Make it so. Inform Mr Denby of my orders, please.”

Neither man smiled: each knew the other’s opinion of Denby and both would keep him out of the way, if possible without publicly humiliating him, or at least no more than was good for him.

* * * * *

 The Anemone, an elegant name for a round-bowed, ugly, ill-cared-for coastal trader of about one hundred tons burthen and possessed of a pair of two pound swivels mounted aft and a brass blunderbuss and two horse-pistols in the little booth that was the captain’s cabin, sufficient to provide a defence against rowing-boat privateers such as might be found off the Channel Islands or the coasts of Cornwall. The bills of lading showed sixty tons of wheat, twenty tons of sheet lead and four hundred barrels of saltpetre; an additional, separate, sheet referred to a private cargo of brandy in ankers, presumably undutied. The net effect was to overload the Anemone, but that was usual enough in any coaster – while she could swim the owners would carry on loading her, and if she sank she was almost certain to be over-insured, worth more under the water than floating on it.

Frederick, who could read French after a fashion, self-taught from a novel, a dictionary and an ancient primer for the verbs, began to calculate.

“Wheat standing at eight shillings the quarter in Winchester when we sailed, so the Chronicle mother sent said. Bad weather this harvest so the price will not be falling. Let me see, thirty two shillings the hundredweight, which is thirty two pounds a ton, nineteen hundred and twenty in total; in guineas, that is … never mind, no need to worry about them! Lead, stripped from church roofs, I doubt not! Twelve pounds a ton it was priced at three years ago when father put new roofs on the three tenant farms and replaced the flashing on the House after the great storm. Two hundred and forty, if not more. Saltpetre, for gunpowder, three pounds a barrel, best Indian comes in at: French stuff will be of poor quality, everyone knows French powder is inconsistent, but apothecaries and fireworks makers will snap it up. Brandy? How much? What quality? Grape or apple? It will sell, that’s for sure. Let us say three thousand five hundred and five more for hull and fittings. I keep watch so I share with Master and Lieutenant, one third part of an eighth, not less than one hundred and fifty after fees. Very nice for a night’s work, a pity we can’t do it every night!”

A farm labourer in Frederick’s parish would earn eight to ten shillings a week, more in the harvest and spring ploughing when he was working an eighteen hour day, less through the winter months after threshing was done. With payments in kind – bread, milk, a little meat, his tied cottage – his income might, just, total fifty pounds in a good year, with a kind, paternalistic employer. Compared to this, prize money was a massive fortune, even to a man like Frederick, by naval standards well-off.

Frederick’s father was second son to Viscount Alton and had inherited his mother’s portion, an estate made up to three thousand a year; he kept his own second son in uniforms and made him an annual allowance of a hundred besides, more than doubling the pay he received since becoming master’s mate. Frederick had expectations as well, the maternal uncle after whom he was named, his godfather, his mother’s only brother, a pederast of long standing and old habit; Frederick was natural heir to the small house and estate in Sussex and twenty or so thousands in the Funds, but a young favourite might well usurp his place in the Will. Frederick had met his uncle quite frequently, though always well chaperoned by his father, and liked him much – a charming, disgusting old man - and could not wish him to an early grave or a solitary end, felt it impolite to him to live on the offchance of his thousand or so a year, had resolved to make his own way. Now, moderately competent in his trade but well aware that he was not a natural born seaman, he hoped the war would make him; the Anemone was a good start. He wondered, very privately, just how he would react to real peril; he had passed through many a storm, but weather was impartial, a danger but not an enemy, was not the same as a nasty-minded Frog deliberately pointing a great big cannon at him.

“No doubt I shall find out one day,” he reflected, on deck to greet the dawn.

“Mr Denby, two hands to the swivels, load and slowmatch lit, if you please. Lookouts aloft! Small arms on deck.”

Megson stood at a loose attention at his side, gave his opinion that they had made good between three and four knots during the night with an unvarying light southwesterly. It had clouded up a mite, visibility might be a problem, but he thought they were within a touch of their rendezvous.

The light increased slowly, rain bands in sight, a grey day, autumn in the Bay.

“On deck!” The mainmast lookout. “Sail on the starboard bow!”

“Inshore of us, Megson?”

“Could be the wind was a bit stronger out here, sir, blew her a mite further than they reckoned in the night hours.”

“Perhaps.” Frederick was unconvinced. “Set fore and main courses. See if they give this old tub anything like a turn of speed.”

Megson obeyed instantly, gave the orders, mentally shrugged, ‘the boy was twitchy, it seemed, a pity.’

“On deck! Sail is ship-rigged!” From the mainmast.

“On deck! Pallas on the larboard quarter at three miles, sir.” The foremast lookout was able to estimate the distance away of his own ship, knowing her mast height from long familiarity.

“Up you go, Megson! What is she? Point up towards Pallas, quartermaster, just a fraction, gain us a few fathoms without it noticing.”

“Aye aye, sir. Unobtrusivelike it is.”

Megson shouting a commentary as the ship grew clearer against the land in the east that had obscured vision in the dawn light, within a few minutes was able to report that she was a corvette, a national ship, of sixteen or eighteen guns.

“On deck, please, Megson.”

“Heavy crew, sir,” Megson commented for Frederick’s private ear. “I could see men at both broadsides. Got to be a hundred and fifty aboard.”

Working her own coastal waters, never more than a day or two from port, it was possible to carry a very substantial complement, drinking water no problem. No British ship ever carried hands enough to man both sides fully, could only fire both by setting the men to run between them, never a popular policy with the crews.

“Get the bulk of the men out of sight, Megson, us and four visible, that’s all you would think to see on a coaster like this.”

“The corvette’s badly sailed, sir. Too much packed on the fore and pushing her bows down – she’ll tack like a pregnant cow in a thunderstorm. We might match her against the wind even in this thing.”

“Wait for the captain, Megson. I would expect him to try to slow her, just to be certain she won’t catch us. He’s got the gage of her, and I think he’ll look to cross her bows at a distance, cut her up a little and then shepherd us away. They said at Gib that the Revolution had hit their navy hard, officers and even warrants going to the guillotine if they was so much as suspected of being unreliable, and replaced by foremast jacks and politicians who said the right things. That’s why she’s being sailed badly, I expect.”

“There needs be some reason for it, sir. It ain’t no seamanlike way of doing things, that’s for sure.”

“Wear ship, Megson.”

The slow, safe manoeuvre, typical of an undermanned merchantman, would show her anxious to clear the scene of combat while in process making so slight a progress as to leave her in a position to offer such aid to Pallas as she could.

‘Perhaps the boy ain’t so twitchy, after all,’ Megson observed to himself, glancing at the short, upright figure at the starboard rail, eyebrows a rigid bar of concentration, swarthy, tanned face, hooked nose, pursed lips showing strongly as he scowled at the Frenchman.

“Oh, Christ!”

Frederick spun round at the exclamation, saw the Pallas in sail-flapping confusion. She had missed stays, failed to make her tack with her weakened crew, was crabbing helplessly across the corvette’s bows, the range closing uncontrollably. She fired a single broadside before she fell aboard the Frenchman, rigging entangled.

“Belay! Point me at her stern, Megson!”

“Fighting sail, sir?”

“No! All speed, as quick as may be or it’s too late to bother.”

Frederick ran to the companionway. “Mr Denby! All hands!”

Every man rapidly on deck, each with a firearm and a blade, looking to him for orders and reassurance.

“All hands to board, every last one of us, lads! We’ll go over her stern, in behind the Frogs. Give ‘em a volley then go in together, shoulder to shoulder. Try to pick out her officers. Kill the buggers, every last one of ‘em, till they give up!”

It was not a great speech, he reflected. How did others do it? He suspected, darkly, that some of them produced their battle speeches in advance on the chance that they might need one. Possibly many of them were written afterwards, what they should have said – that Shakespeare, now, ‘into the breach’, and all that – not very likely, when you thought about it.

No matter! Every one of them, apart from Megson who had taken the wheel, and a man at each swivel, knelt behind the rail, ready, swearing, shivering, waiting like hunting dogs for the off. Fighting dying down on the Pallas, the French pushing towards her waist, swamping the defenders with their numbers. Anemone crashing into the corvette’s stern, the swivels firing, two sharp cracks and four pounds weight of musket balls sweeping across the deck, followed by all the long arms, including the blunderbuss with its load of buckshot, then a roaring knot of boarders, only two dozen of them but wholly unexpected.

Two French officers dead on the quarterdeck, a screaming steersman with a belly full of slugs, no voice of authority organising a counterattack. Frederick led the charge to the bows and down on to Pallas’ deck, bellowing incomprehensibly and waving his sword. He was lucky – no officer had turned his men and they hit into the back of the French boarders just as they were easing down, their fight nearly over, the urgency gone. One of Pallas’ boys who had fled into the maintop pointed its swivel, triggered the flintlock.

“Pistols, Pallas!” Frederick shouted, was rewarded by a dozen shots more or less together. “Get in there, boys!”

They attacked, cutlasses slashing wildly, boarding axes more precisely wielded at very close quarters. A lieutenant went down, a midshipman screamed piercingly, unendingly, trying to hold his spilling intestines together. The French wavered, began to defend themselves, backing away, looking for a leader.

A cutlass dropped, one man with his hands up shouting for quarter, in a moment was followed by those around him, then the whole crew. The boy screamed still, on his knees now, holding himself round the middle.

“Megson, get the corvette’s colours down! Mr Denby! Prisoners below decks into Pallas’ hold. Quickly!”

“Mr Denby’s gone, sir, copped one in the chest, stuck ‘im through and out the other bloody side, sir. That little midshipman what’s making all the noise did ‘im, sir.”

“Thank you, Barney! Get them below, man!”

Frederick grabbed men at random, told them off into parties to make sail, to hold the prisoners, secure the corvette, guard the spirits rooms, get the wounded to the surgeons, form a skeleton of a crew on each of the three vessels and hold them together under steerage way. The carpenter was roused from gazing at his best wooden maul, all splintered and bloody, quite unusable, the nearest, most natural thing to hand when he had taken his mate, the two stewards and the cook into the losing fight, was set to his proper work, apologising profusely the while.

A few minutes and it occurred to Frederick that he was alone in giving orders, that the men were all turning to him. Captain, lieutenant and master were all his seniors, should have orders for him. All were dead, the lieutenant in the waist where he had led his last few back into the French when Frederick boarded; the master by the wheel, hit early by a musket ball; Captain Johnson pistolled, nobly refusing to surrender when all seemed lost.

“Eight dead, six more who’ll go for sure, sir, eleven flat on their backs for the next few days and the surgeon’s  mate at his wits’ end, sir.”

The surgeon had been found dead in a gutter in Gibraltar, knifed when drunk, pockets rifled. He had been no great loss, not even very good as a pox-doctor, his most normal function, but he would have been handy now.

“Kick the bastard till he does something useful, Megson. Thank Christ that boy’s stopped screaming! Has he died?”

“Probably, sir. Barney just heaved him over the side, finished the job he started. Great one for tidying up after himself is Barney.”

“Quicker for the poor little sod, but I doubt we need mention it elsewhere, Megson.”

Megson nodded, he had had no intention of making a public fuss about so minor a matter.

“Who have we got on the quarterdeck, sir?”

“Mr Dixon.”

The junior of the two midshipmen, blood-spattered and close to tears, a very little boy, still a squeaker, who might one day make a very good officer, and second senior aboard.

“He’ll have to take the Frog in, Megson, no question of that. You take Anemone, as is right and fair… and my report will say so.”

Megson stood a good chance of a commission, bringing in a prize after an affair as chancy as this one, would certainly be well looked after in the service, but Dixon must have a strong man behind him, could not be left on his own.

“Perhaps Mr Carter could go with Mr Dixon, sir? He’s cut about and his left arm’s in a sling so he can’t go aloft, but he’d be useful there, sir.”

Carter was the boatswain, senior of the tradesmen aboard, skilled in seamanship and a bloody-minded, bullying tyrant, feared and hated by all.

“I thought he would have gone overboard, Megson.”

“Nobody had time, sir.”

Unpopular officers had a habit of dying in close combat, when none could tell who had fired a shot or wielded a cutlass; Carter was very lucky.

“Good suggestion, Megson. Thank you.”

* * * * *

At noon Frederick shot the sun in solitary splendour, concerned less with establishing his position – the Breton coast was still clearly visible – than with reinstating routine. The fuss and bother was over, he implied, it was time to get back to proper work, to quietly and efficiently sailing from one port to the next as sailors should. The wind was rising and the Bay showed every prospect of becoming ill-mannered and he did not fancy a lee shore with one thin crew split between three vessels; he wanted to get north of Ushant as soon as might be possible, but could not realistically demand more than topsails of the men; he was not a happy acting captain, felt this degree of responsibility to be somewhat excessive. Two hours later a blockading frigate found him, led him thankfully to the admiral to be tucked away comfortably under the wing of his great ninety gun second rate.

The admiral made much of them, found men to temporarily flesh out the prize crews, sent them into Portsmouth under escort of his own despatch brig. Their entry in tidy line astern, Pallas followed by two prizes, national flag showing proudly over tricolour, a brig leading in a ship-sloop and a merchantman, attracted a deal of attention from the assembled ships in dock and Spithead, the more so as Pallas bore the traditional signs of a vessel mourning her dead captain and her pendant at half-mast.

The war was less than six months old and successes had been few as yet, particularly in home waters; the navy made the most of Frederick’s offering.

* * * * *

The newssheets made a great puff of the affair: sailors were heroes, everyone knew that, had known it for half a century, and everyone wanted to read what they already knew in their newspapers. More importantly, the war was young and politicians, who needed instant glory, found their yearning for surrogate heroism more than satisfied by Frederick’s act of valour and the grubby little hacks of the press, then as now, were delighted to grovel to government and kiss such parts of the body politic as were presented to them.

As a True Son of Britannia Frederick achieved instant evanescent fame, his commission and appointment as second lieutenant in the newly named Athene sloop – the capture of the Pallas – bought into the service and to be rearmed with thirty two pound carronades and a pair of chase guns.

The Port-Admiral, ancient, grossly fat and generally thought to be senile, drank wine with him and the mayor took tea in his company. More importantly to him a number of post captains sought him out to shake his hand and quietly comment on his good conduct.

The Athene was to go into dock to have her ports rebuilt and lined with sheet tin against the muzzle-flash of the short barrelled carronades, as well as to have her rigging purged of a number of uniquely French nastinesses which, it stood to reason, could not be as good as the English, and even if they was had no place in the navy. Her new captain was to join in the month, the meanwhile Lieutenant Harris should go on well-earnt furlough, and, by the way, was he going to my Lord Alton’s seat?

“No, sir, to my father’s estate at Boorley Green in Hampshire.”

The answer did his prospects no harm at all.

That's how the first book in the series starts.  It runs along at a cracking pace.  Recommended.