Sunday, June 30, 2024

Sunday morning music


This may be the best recording I've ever encountered of Vaughn Williams' "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis".  It may also be unique in my experience, thanks to three factors.

The first is the dividing of the orchestra into two parts.  Vaughn Williams conducted this piece in the Gloucester Cathedral in 1910, and specified this arrangement for the inaugural performance.  Wikipedia describes it thus:

The Fantasia is scored for double string orchestra with string quartet, employing antiphony between the three contributory ensembles. Orchestra I is the main body of strings; Orchestra II is smaller. The published score does not stipulate the number of players in Orchestra I; Orchestra II consists of two first violins, two seconds, two violas, two cellos and one double bass.

Most modern performances don't make the division, playing it as a single, united orchestra:  but it does make an audible difference when two separate groups play together.  In this case, the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra performs on and above the stage at the Kilden Performing Arts Center in that city.  Orchestra 1 is, as noted above, the majority of the orchestra:  Orchestra 2 is positioned behind and above it, on the rear balcony.  Listen for the distinctive interplay between the two music sources.  It works, and adds a new dimension to the piece.

The second is the technical quality of the recording.  Most modern performances of a lot of classical music emphasize the bass, and de-emphasize higher registers.  I've heard performances of the Fantasia that remind me more of a German oompah marching band than a hymn!  In this performance, the orchestra and the editors of the recording have returned to what I think Vaughn Williams himself would recognize as what he wanted;  a more balanced, measured sound where the interplay of the elements of the orchestra, the balance of the music overall, is more important than thumpity-thump.  I enjoyed it very much.

The third is the conductor, Tabita Berglund.  Despite her youth and relative inexperience, she's about to take over as Principal Conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  In this performance, she's simply magnificent;  and based on it, I suspect the standards of classical music in Detroit are about to take a distinct upward turn.  Her style of conducting is more flowing, more intimately expressive, than many other conductors in my experience.  She clearly puts herself into the music and conducts in terms of what it says to her, rather than merely reading dry notes on a music manuscript page.  For example, watch the last minute or so of this piece, particularly the final notes as they fade away.  Watch her body language, the expression on her face . . . and the sheer joy in her beaming smile as she looks up at the orchestra.  It's a musical vignette in itself.

Without further ado, here goes.

You can bet I'm going to look for more performances by the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, and particularly for more under the baton of Ms. Berglund.  Discovering their rendition of the Fantasia made my week.


Saturday, June 29, 2024

Further thoughts on the Biden candidacy


Yesterday I said:

I can only presume that the Democratic Party, knowing his health to be so poor as to preclude re-election, has been frantically looking for any way to remove President Biden from the election ticket, and possibly from his current office as well ... Biden's handlers almost literally threw him to the political wolves last night.

After reading many more comments about Thursday's debate, from both sides of the political aisle, I'm even more sure I was right.  I can't see any reason for the Democratic Party to allow a semi-senile President Biden to debate a former President Trump unless it was to provide a clear demonstration of the former's disastrous state of mental health.  Having exhausted most of their other options to replace him with a better candidate for November's election, they're now effectively providing the ammunition for his enemies - aided and abetted behind the scenes by Obama loyalists, who have in effect been running the Biden administration since its beginning - to remove him for them.

The trouble is, too many people seem to have forgotten one critical point.  President Biden has already won the Democratic Party's nomination to be its Presidential candidate in 2024.  That can't simply be ignored.  If he refuses to go, his party has almost no way left - in the time available - to legally replace him on the ballot with someone else.  If President Biden, angered and frustrated at the way he's being treated by his party, turns on them and rejects their demand that he resign, there's not much they can legally do about it in terms of internal party politics.

That leaves the available options as the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, and/or some other major health crisis.  Congress can order the President's removal under the 25th Amendment:  or, alternatively, if President Biden falls seriously ill or is injured by whatever cause, his Vice-President may be able to take over his office until (if?) he recovers.  That, in turn, might provide at least some legal justification to replace him as the candidate in November.

However, the latter case raises yet another issue.  I can't see Kamala Harris willingly resigning the Vice-Presidency;  and if she doesn't, she automatically becomes President if anything happens to her current boss.  That would, in turn, give her a relatively strong case to go into the November election as the incumbent, with all the advantages that provides to a candidate.  Sure, she's even more unpopular on a national basis than are most potential candidates to replace President Biden;  but she's got the inside track, and in the absence of a suitably tempting "carrot" to give it up, she probably won't be afraid to use it.

That brings up another factor favoring Kamala Harris.  We've never had a woman President.  If she succeeds to President Biden's office, she can claim to have "shattered the glass ceiling" keeping women out of the top spot (much as Hillary Clinton tried to claim during the 2016 election).  That might galvanize parts of the Democratic Party base who are currently wavering in their loyalty to the political establishment.  Yes, her personal unpopularity would still be a factor in the election, but (IMHO) less so in the presence of that reality.  She can argue that much of the former is due to men wanting to keep women down.  There might even be an element of truth in that perspective, given the sheer nastiness displayed by some of our politicians.

I have no idea what will happen.  I guess most of us don't.  However, behind the scenes, the unseen powers manipulating both political parties are making deals, calling the shots, and getting ready to impose their preferred solution on the rest of us.  I won't be surprised to see at least some of the following measures over the next month or two, not necessarily in this order.

  • Biden digs in his heels and resists calls to resign.
  • Congress invokes the 25th Amendment to force him out of office.  If confronted with a fait accompli, will Biden resign rather than be removed?  Is he still capable of making such a decision?  There's a distinct chance that things could turn nasty, and very publicly at that.
  • While that's going on, frantic negotiations take place behind the scenes to select a more electable candidate for November.
  • Kamala Harris might be allowed to take over the Presidency on a short-term basis (thereby "ensuring her place in history" by allowing her to claim that she "broke the glass ceiling" for all who follow her), but on the understanding she will not be the Democratic Party candidate for the position in November.  She'll demand, and almost certainly receive, a substantial quid pro quo for her cooperation.  Perhaps, if Gavin Newsom becomes the presidential candidate, she could take his place as Governor of California for a term?  I'm sure she'd also become considerably wealthier if she cooperated.  If she doesn't cooperate?  Well . . . accidents happen . . .
  • While all this is going on, I'm sure there will be immense resources devoted to finding the most electable Democratic Party candidate for November 2024.  Who that might be remains to be seen.  I daresay that, of the names currently in (public) play, Gavin Newsom and Michelle Obama are the front-runners;  but either will have to give up a lot of the power they've currently amassed among their existing supporters if they're to run.  Will they be prepared to do so?  And will enough Americans, already sickened and frustrated by the political corruption in both of their backgrounds, be willing to put aside their distaste and vote for them?
  • Finally, can the security, fairness and honesty of the November 2024 election be sustained?  Many have their doubts.  Others insist that there's no evidence of any attempt to fiddle with the results.  I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Will any of those things happen, or not?  In what sequence?  What else might happen?  Let's hear your forecasts in Comments.


Friday, June 28, 2024

Was yesterday's debate designed to give the Democratic Party an excuse to dump Joe Biden?


President Biden's performance at yesterday's debate was pitiful;  a shambling wreck of a re-election bid that must have given great aid and comfort to this country's enemies.  After all, if you were President Xi of China, or President Putin of Russia, or Kim Seriously-Ill of North Korea, how could you not be encouraged to realize that the current President of the USA was supposed to be the person holding you in check?

I can only presume that the Democratic Party, knowing his health to be so poor as to preclude re-election, has been frantically looking for any way to remove President Biden from the election ticket, and possibly from his current office as well.  After seeing that debate, I don't see how a 25th Amendment motion to remove President Biden from office can be resisted, on either side of the political aisle.  Biden's handlers almost literally threw him to the political wolves last night.  (I've been saying for years that the way they've been manipulating him is nothing less than elder abuse.  Last night's exhibition simply made that even more clear.)

The question is, who might take his place in the Oval Office, and on the ticket in November?  None of the usual suspects appear capable of attracting enough positive attention and support to succeed.  Kamala Harris?  Hillary Clinton?  Michelle Obama?  They all have their partisan supporters, but they've also attracted so much vituperation, disgust and dislike that I can't see them as viable candidates.  So . . . if not them . . . who?

Wouldn't it be fun if the Democratic Party chose Stormy Daniels to run against former President Trump?  Bring on those debates, boys!




A news report triggered a major flashback memory of my childhood.

The Hudson River Estuary Program fisheries staff reeled in a giant fish out of the Hudson River in New York last week.

The Atlantic sturgeon spreads six feet in length, weighing around 220 pounds, according to a Facebook post from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC).

It was caught near Hyde Park, about 80 miles from New York City.

. . .

The staff suspected the unique fish to be a female that had not yet spawned.

Atlantic sturgeons typically spend most of the year in the ocean, but the adults move in the Hudson during this time of year to spawn, the NYS DEC post said. 

Atlantic sturgeons are the Hudson River’s biggest fish, and New York State’s largest sturgeon species, the post said.

There's more at the link.

And the flashback?

Apparently, during World War II, American servicemen brought to the European theater a large number of songs from their homes.  My father, in turn, brought some of them home with him.  One of them, which my father used to hum (and, when my mother wasn't within hearing, sing), was "The Virgin Sturgeon Song".  The first verse is sort-of-suitable for polite company, so here it is:

Caviar comes from the virgin sturgeon.
The virgin sturgeon's a very fine fish;
But the virgin sturgeon needs no urgin' -
That's why caviar is such a rare dish.

There are many other verses, most less polite (and the lyrics at the link leave out all of the really "military verses" that Dad learned - he wouldn't sing those unless he was absolutely sure we kids were out of earshot!  I had to wait until I was in uniform myself before he'd share them.)  If you do an Internet search, you'll find several recordings of the song, some less... er... raw than others.  No, I'm not going to embed one here!  There are ladies among my readership!

It was weird.  As I read that report, I could literally hear my long-dead father's voice in my head, singing the Virgin Sturgeon Song softly to himself as he repaired a piece of furniture or worked on our car.  It was almost unconscious for him, a sort of meditative mouth music.  The song was also one of the less... ah... impolite pieces he brought back from the war, so if Mom caught him singing it (particularly in the presence of us kids), he wasn't in as much trouble as he would be if she caught him singing "The Rape of the Sphinx" or "The Old Bazaar in Cairo".  (An expurgated - highly expurgated - version of the latter may be heard here.)

Ah . . . memories!


Thursday, June 27, 2024

Oh, ye'll tak the (very) low road...


I recently came across "18 Amazing Stories About Scotland! – The Not Always Right World Tour!".  It's definitely giggle-worthy.  Fun and enjoyable reading.

While browsing around the site, I also came across a series titled "Never Pick A Fight With An Old Scottish Woman":

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Click over there and enjoy them.  Not always safe for work, but mildly so.


Canned food "expiration" or "best by" dates are a suggestion, not a law


I recently had an interesting exchange with a reader who was worried that most of her canned food emergency stash had "expired".  When asked what this meant, she said that the "best by" dates stamped on each can had all passed.  She had tried to donate those cans to a food bank, intending to replace them with newer, unexpired ones, but the food bank had told her it could not accept them because of the danger of disease from spoiled food.  She was almost panic-stricken.  Would she endanger her family if she used them in an emergency?

I was able to set her straight about that.  I routinely use cans that are up to ten years after their expiration date, and have never yet had a single problem with them.  Provided the can shows no signs of internal pressure or damage, it should be fine.  Obviously, some foods will keep longer than others, but the process of heat- and pressure-canning eliminates most food-borne poisons and diseases, and provided the can is airtight, will continue to do so until it's opened.

Here are a few articles covering the subject.  There are dozens more out there, as a quick Internet search will reveal.

Fellow blogger and "prepper" Commander Zero has taste-tested several older cans, and reports very few problems.  During years of trekking around Africa, in the most primitive environments, I had no problem (even in equatorial or desert heat and humidity, not the greatest of storage environments) eating canned foods up to a decade old or even older, provided there were no obvious signs of swelling, damage, etc.  Approaching old age, I'm still here to talk about it.  An expedition in Greenland in the 1960's left canned food behind, which was discovered (and eaten) by another expedition about 60 years later.  So much for expiration dates!  (For that matter, a 150-year-old (!!!) jar of pickles from the steamboat Arabia was taste-tested by one of the archaeologists on that project, and found to be perfectly edible.  My wife and I have visited the Arabia Steamboat Museum, and seen the recovered foodstuffs.  It's well worth a visit if you're in or near Kansas City.)

So, if your emergency preparations include "time-expired" tins of food, don't assume you have to throw them away.  Inspect them carefully for any signs of damage or spoilage.  If none are visible, go ahead and use them (although I'd taste-test older cans first, and possibly try some of their contents on animals to see if they have any odd reactions).


Media lies and misinformation - conservative edition


Yesterday we saw headlines like these about a Supreme Court ruling.  Click the links to read the articles.

They sound alarming to those of us who view Big Brother with intense suspicion, and see the courts as avoiding their constitutional responsibilities by failing to rein in said brother when necessary.  However, as worded, they are not true.  The Supreme Court made no such decision and no such ruling.  What really happened was rather simpler (although, to my mind, still not satisfactory):

In a 6-3 decision, the Court found that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue - as opposed to tossing the case on merit - just like the vast majority of election fraud cases which didn't make it past lower courts.

There's more at the link.

We may dislike it when a court decision goes in favor of the progressive left, and cheer when the opposite happens - but we're allowing our partisan likes and fears to color our understanding of the truth.  To claim that the Supreme Court yesterday allowed federal government censorship of social media is simply not true.  The fact that SCOTUS' decision allows a questionable relationship between government and social media to continue in certain forms unless and until plaintiffs with standing to sue take up the matter does not mean that it's legal, and does not mean that any illegal acts committed until a ruling is given can't be prosecuted.

That's why we have courts.  That's why we try to implement the rule of law, rather than partisan political perspectives, in our society.  The courts are supposed to prevent excesses, stop legal violations, and punish those that occur.  If they acted in an arbitrary, opinionated way instead of within the framework of the rule of law, the courts themselves would be untrustworthy - as partisan as the legislative branch of government, in fact.  We've seen in recent weeks how some of our courts appear to be precisely that, in cases against former President Trump in New York.  Even liberal/progressive judicial authorities have joined the chorus of disapproval and anger against such visibly partisan proceedings, and are calling for them to be overturned.  The outrage, the bias, is so blatant that I hope and trust the New York courts will be stopped in their tracks - but that has to happen through the legal system, not because those with one political viewpoint "win" over those with another.  If we stopped those cases by employing legally questionable tactics, just like those who "won" them, we'd be as guilty as they are of corrupting the law to serve partisanship.

I don't like yesterday's decision.  I don't like anything that gives the executive branch of government any form of censorship or control over news and social media.  I hope any and all such things will be systematically dealt with in future.  However, that will only happen if those who do have standing to challenge them, raise such a challenge.  Instead of moaning because partisan political perspectives (look at the political views of the challengers yesterday) were not able to impose their viewpoint on those of a different perspective, why don't we encourage the judicial (and, if necessary, the legislative) branches of government to clarify the laws and standards involved, so that loopholes are blocked and those with standing to intervene are defined more clearly?

When any side tries to manipulate, obfuscate or adumbrate the law for partisan advantage, we all stand in danger.  Let's not allow our own passions to lead us astray.

True dat.


Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Gee, who'd of thunk it?


Trust Politico to report the obvious with an appropriate headline.

You mean, if we make an effort to give our taxpayer dollars only to those who are entitled to them, we save money?  Say it ain't so!

DeSantis signed a law last year directing hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask patients about their immigration status when they seek treatment. While the law does not force patients to provide hospitals with an answer, immigrant rights groups feared the mandate would scare migrants away from seeking urgent medical attention. The DeSantis administration and other Florida Republicans say any marked decreases in spending are signs his immigration crackdown is working.

Florida’s Emergency Medical Assistance program for undocumented immigrants has seen a 54 percent drop in expenditures billed to Medicaid this year — with less than two months remaining in the fiscal year — since the state immigration law took effect, according to a POLITICO analysis. Thomas Kennedy of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said while there is no concrete evidence that the drop in Medicaid spending is a result of the law, which took effect in July 2023. there have been other signs of fallout.

“Obviously, there’s been somewhat of an exodus of migrants in Florida,” Kennedy said. “When this was all going through — we had warned about the exacerbated work[force] shortages and the distressed industries — we said this would be a bad idea.”

Federal law bars undocumented immigrants from Medicaid eligibility, even if they meet other requirements. But federal law also requires that states authorize limited Medicaid coverage for migrants facing a medical emergency, including dialysis, a pregnant woman delivering a baby or trauma.

. . .

Data provided to POLITICO by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show $148.4 million in state and federal Medicaid dollars went toward emergency coverage for immigrants in Florida in the year before the state’s new immigration law took effect. As of May 3, $67 million has gone toward emergency coverage this year. With two months left in the fiscal year that number will rise, but the state is still on track for a dramatic decrease in spending.

Thomas Kennedy doubtless has allies who believe that spending taxpayer dollars on those who are not entitled to them is "a bad idea".  Personally, I wish we had similar legislation in Texas.  Why should taxpayers be forced to subsidize those who broke the law to be here?


"Turn on, tune in, drop out" - 2020's style


Back in 1966, speaking to the flower power generation, Timothy Leary popularized the mantra "Turn on, tune in, drop out".  It was goofy, nihilistic, short-sighted, and solved nothing of the problems then facing society.

Over the past few months, as I've had no choice (thanks to kidney issues) but to spend a lot of time sitting or lying down, I've had the opportunity to read, watch and listen to all sorts of discussions about the problems our country, and our world, are currently facing.  We've discussed some of them in these pages on numerous previous occasions, and I'm not going to repeat all that now.  However, the headlines - even in mainstream media - are growing more and more alarmist.  I give you these few examples from the past week.  If you're interested, click the links provided to read them for yourself.

It's way too easy to absorb all the doom-gloom-and-disaster flying around the news and social media.  We can get so tied up in "Look what they're doing now!", "What are we going to do if this, or that, or the other happens?" and "The sky is falling!" that we ignore the reality all around us.  Whatever the big-picture developments, we still need to earn our living;  families need to keep raising and educating their kids;  and life as we know it goes on, and has to go on, despite the foolishness of national and world leaders.  Will the Trump-Biden debate today change a single thing about the way we live?  It's unlikely, I think - so why obsess about it?

I think Timothy Leary's slogan might not be a bad one to adopt in the midst of all these pressures and tensions.  Think about it:

  • "Turn on" - to what's happening around you, recognizing danger signs (e.g. inflation, shortages, etc.) for what they are.  Situational awareness is key.  What's my situation?  What's my family's situation?  We need to be "turned on" to those vital necessities far more than we are to hypothetical big-picture nastiness that may, or may not, affect us.  We can do nothing about the big picture.  We're small fry.  However, if each of us "small fry" takes care of what's put in front of us to do, our combined efforts might build up to a surprisingly influential weight in the scales of the big picture.  For example:  the nation is drowning in debt.  So are many families.  What can we, as individuals and families, do to pay down (and hopefully eliminate) our own debt?  It's no good yelling at our politicians for taking on more and more debt for the nation, if we're following their example locally.  Pot, meet kettle.  Kettle, pot.
  • "Tune in" - to what's going on in areas where we can make a difference.  Support local food banks, thrift stores, centers for community education, libraries, and so on.  We can't make a difference to or in our local community if we don't know what's going on around us.  Instead of focusing only on national or international news, click on the "Local News" sections of your local news sources and find out what's happening.  I've been pleasantly surprised to find out how many ways there are for people to help people and build our communities.  I'd never have known about most of them if I hadn't looked for them.
  • "Drop out" - of anything and everything where we can achieve nothing.  By all means be politically or socially active, but emphasize activities that can make a difference.  Demonstrating in the streets seldom does.  Writing angry letters to politicians achieves little, if anything - besides, our politicians almost never get to read our letters.  They're handled by lower-level functionaries.  Each of our congressional representatives, on average, has to look after more than a million constituents.  They can't possibly give individual attention to each of them - so trying to put individual pressure on them is a loser from the start.  Rather join others working to achieve reform, improvement, etc. in areas you think are important. In the same way, when it comes to preparing for hard times (something all of us will be well advised to do, as the headlines above give evidence), let's focus on things we will need locally.  Food, household products, fuel, a place to store our supplies, security for our family against societal breakdown, etc. - all of these have their place, and they're all important.  If we don't yet have the basics in place, we need to stop spending our money on less important things and get those basics right.  If we don't, the doom-gloom-and-disaster brigade will point and jeer at us and catcall, "We told you so!" - and they'll be right.  Drop out of what won't help us as "small fry".  Drop into practical, realistic, essential preparations for a hard time, whatever it may be.

The late President Theodore Roosevelt put it in a nutshell, as far as I'm concerned.

Truer words were never spoken.  We need to take his advice to heart, stop living in Panic City, and get on with it.  We can't change the world - we're small fry;  but we can change our small piece of it to resist most (sadly, not all) of the problems that threaten it.  Read those last three words again.  They don't read "in Washington, D.C." or "in your State capitol" or "in your city council".  They read "where you are".

Those are our marching orders.  We'll be very unwise indeed to disregard them.


Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Checking in


Got the stent out yesterday morning - then spent most of the rest of the day sitting or lying down, nursing a very achy abdomen.  Not fun.  Not fun at all.  To make matters worse, my waterworks (for want of a better term) have for two months been effectively prevented from functioning normally by stents, so that the flow has been unimpeded by internal valves, controls and whatsits.  Now that the stent is gone, they aren't sure how to function, and will have to get used to controlling things again.  This is all very well, but for the fact that I don't want to find myself dripping down the supermarket aisle!  Protective measures will be required for at least a few days.

Other than that, dearest wife returned safely late yesterday after driving to Chattanooga, TN and back for last weekend's LibertyCon.  From what she's said so far, it looks like a good time was had by all.  I wish I'd been able to be there, but unfortunately my kidney had other ideas.  Here's hoping for next year!  (You can read Old NFO's description of the con here.)

I'm going to take it gently (and gingerly!) this morning.  I'll try to post something later.


Monday, June 24, 2024

Anticipation . . .


By the time this post pops up on my blog, I'll be in the doctor's office, waiting with shrinking loins for the nice nurse to tug hard on a string and remove a stent from my kidney, down the internal passage bits, and out of my body.  When they tell you, "Don't worry, this won't hurt!" you know they're lying.  I've had it done once before.  Yeah . . .

Say a prayer for minimal pain, please.  I imagine I'll spend the rest of the day recovering from the trauma!  Blogging should resume tomorrow.



Memes that made me laugh 215


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

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Sunday morning music


Earlier this month came the news that iconic French singer Françoise Hardy had died, at the age of 80.  The BBC reported:

Hardy was born in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1944 and raised by her mother.

Like many girls at the time, she grew up listening to Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and other American and British stars on Radio Luxembourg and she signed her first record deal at just 17.

Her breakout as a musician came in 1962 with the simple, plaintive song, Tous les garçons et les filles, when she sang of all the boys and girls walking hand in hand, while "I walk alone through the streets, my heart aching". It was an instant hit in France and even broke through in the UK charts.

Her style captivated fashion designers, becoming a model for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Paco Rabanne, who designed a minidress out of gold plates for her.

Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger once famously called her the "ideal woman", while fellow singer-songwriter Bob Dylan penned several love letters to her.

There's more at the link.

Here's her breakout song, "Tous les garçons et les filles".  Use the Closed Captions button to see an English translation.

This is my personal favorite among her songs:  an English rendition of "My friend the rose".  (The original French version may be found here.)

Here's another of her French-language hits, "Des ronds dans l’eau".

And finally, another English hit for her, "All over the world".  The French original may be found here.

She had a lovely voice, and touched many hearts.  May she rest in peace.


Friday, June 21, 2024

Comment of the day


From reader HistoryPerson, commenting on a CNN report about the Boeing Starliner crew capsule, currently docked with the International Space Station pending resolution of several issues with its thrusters and other components:

How many Boeing people does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is unknown because nobody at Boeing knows how to change a light bulb.

Considering how much trouble the Boeing 737 Max airliner program is in, that might be all too appropriate . . .  Remember when Boeing blazed the trail that all other aircraft manufacturers followed?  How are the mighty fallen!


In memoriam: Donald Sutherland



Thursday, June 20, 2024

Making progress, slowly


Healing continues after last Monday's procedure.  I find that things are improving more slowly than I'd like, and more slowly than after the first two procedures, but I suppose that's inevitable.  One's body gets very tired of being pushed, prodded, cut and diced, and makes its unhappiness known.  I've had to deal with higher pain levels and greater tiredness this time round.  It's not enjoyable, but it goes with the territory, and if it produces a permanent "fix" and heals the problem, so much the better.

One of the trickier bits is coping with cats while fitted with a drain, so to speak.  Both of them like me, and like my company, so they try to get onto my lap for some cuddles now and again.  Unfortunately, Ashbutt is very large (about 18 pounds), so when he lands unexpectedly on my mid-section, it's . . . memorable.  Kili is only about half that weight, so her arrival is less traumatic.  Oh, well.  Ashbutt enjoys the sounds I make when he pounces, so I suppose I'm now a cat entertainment device!

I see the doctor again on Monday, and hopefully the final stent will be removed at that time.  I'm not looking forward to the process (I've been there before . . . "Just hold still, this won't hurt!" - TUG!!! - insert weeping, wailing and anguished noises here . . . ) but I'll be glad to regain control of my output, so to speak.  Being vulnerable to unexpected flooding is awkward, to say the least, particularly when the volume is such that it can actually be heard.  However, there's nothing I can do about it, so I have to put up with it - hopefully not for much longer!

Libertycon will be held in Chattanooga, TN this weekend.  I'd been looking forward to attending, but this procedure has prevented that.  My wife and many of our friends will be going, so I'll have to enjoy myself vicariously through their feedback.

Thanks again for your prayers for healing.  They're much appreciated.  As for the "streams of living water" bit in the Bible, I don't think the Lord had this sort of overflowing enthusiasm in mind!



Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Old, but it still makes me laugh out loud


This meme came out years ago, but every time I see it, I still laugh.  What's more, I have no idea where or when the picture was taken, but the tank resembles a South African-modified Centurion, and the scenery in the background is very like parts of South Africa, so it might even be from my old stamping-grounds.  Click the image for a larger view.

Ah . . . military memories!  I'm sure most veterans, seeing that, will be laughing too.


Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Bladder hell?


Thank you all for your kind wishes as I recover from surgery.  Some of the comments about catheters, etc. reminded me of an incident with a friend that still makes me laugh whenever I think about it.

He had some sort of bladder problem that required him to be fitted with a catheter and a urine bag.  So far, so good . . . until the first morning after he returned home.  His twin daughters, aged about 5 or 6 at the time, came running into the bedroom and jumped on the bed to be with Mom and Dad - and one of them landed right on his (full) urine bag.

His comment:  "Have you ever tried to pee backwards?  It sheds a new and horrible light on the human condition!"

I had to sympathize, even while laughing my tochus off at his predicament!


Good news, but greatly increased pain too...


Yesterday's surgical procedure (the third and last of 3 that were planned) appears to have gone well.  My right kidney has been suffering from a condition known as hydronephrosis, which basically means that it's been blocked internally, leading to bloating, twisting itself into weird shapes, and generally causing a lot of trouble.  Yes, a kidney stone was involved, but that's only one aspect of the condition.

The first two procedures cleared up part of the problem, but blockages remained.  They had to be dealt with, or else the kidney might deteriorate to the point that it could no longer recover, and might have had to be removed.  This third procedure appears to have cleared the final blockages, in that it's now working like a firehose.  That's a problem in itself:  from the first twinge that lets me know something wants to come out, to an eruption of fluid, can take as little as five seconds, and because I still have an internal stent, I have absolutely no control over it.  The volume is also significantly increased, so that conventional absorbent underwear (as discussed earlier) can accommodate only one incident before needing to be changed.  The (frequent) sudden scrambles for the bathroom also make it difficult to share a bed with my peacefully sleeping wife.  Our living-room couch, suitably waterproofed, will likely come in for some use over the next week or two!

As for the pain level, it's greatly increased at present, and I'm popping more painkillers than ever before.  I've been assured that as soon as the last stent is out, that will change.  Can't happen fast enough for me!  The doctor says I must give it a week or so to let the kidney empty itself out, then he'll remove the stent and we'll see how it copes over a few weeks of "normal" operation.  If it does, great.  If not, well, back to the drawing board, as they say in the classics.

Blogging will be ad hoc for the next day or two.  I hope to feel well enough to get back to a normal schedule by Thursday or Friday.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers and good wishes.


Monday, June 17, 2024

Under the knife again


By the time Blogger auto-publishes this, I'll be getting ready to go under the knife again for the third of three surgical procedures.  I hope the third time will do for all, and be successful.  If it works, I'll have a final stent removed in a week to ten days, and then my recalcitrant kidney will be back to normal.  If it doesn't, then I guess I'll end up losing that kidney - not a life-threatening situation, but one that puts a permanent "Handle with care!" sign on my other kidney.

Blogging will be as and when I can manage it for a day or two.  I hope to resume normal schedule by Thursday at the latest.

Prayers for a successful surgery and full healing will be greatly appreciated.  Thanks!


Memes that made me laugh 214


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

Saturday, June 15, 2024

No Snippet today


I'm getting ready for another surgical procedure on Monday, and trying to deal with a lot of bits and pieces before then;  so I haven't had time to prepare the usual Saturday Snippet.  Meanwhile, please amuse yourselves with the bloggers listed in the sidebar.

Prayers for a successful procedure on Monday, and a full recovery, will be gratefully appreciated.  Thanks!


Friday, June 14, 2024

So much for Pride Month!


First prize to whoever dreamed up this position statement.



Venezuela: will it go to war to avoid internal collapse?


Venezuela appears to be in a very parlous state, according to Peter Ziehan.  The brief video below is worth watching.

That puts a different emphasis on Venezuelan President Maduro's threat to take over a resource-rich area of neighboring state Guyana.

Venezuela continues to build up military infrastructure and hardware close to the border with Guyana as President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters scale up their threats to annex an oil-rich piece of Guyanese land.

In a report shared with CNN, the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) warns that while the Venezuelan government “has little to gain and much to lose from a full-blown conflict” it continues to play “a dangerous game” over its claim over the densely forested Essequibo region.

“The constant drumbeat asserting ‘the Essequibo is ours,’ alongside the creation of new military commands and legal structures to oversee the defense of the region, is helping to institutionalize a sense of perpetual prewar footing,” it wrote.

There's more at the link.

That's a very old tactic indeed:  distract one's population from severe internal or local problems by focusing them on an external grievance, war or other provocation.  Argentina did it with the Falkland Islands when the former's military junta was about to lose control of the economy and drive the nation into ruin.  An appeal to patriotism, particularly in a continent that fought a war over a soccer match (!), is almost guaranteed to divert attention.

Unfortunately, that won't help Guyana, which is much smaller and weaker than Venezuela;  and it won't help peace and stability on the entire South American continent, where drug cartels and other evils will use the distraction to shore up their own positions (and, probably, fight with each other to gain "market share" in the perennial drug war).  It might also drag the US into intervening in a war nobody except Venezuela wants.

This will bear watching.


A ... er ... sticky (legal) situation?


Well, here's a conundrum if ever I heard one.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday heard arguments over whether car insurance should pay out benefits to a woman who caught a sexually transmitted disease from a policyholder in his insured vehicle.

. . .

"Upon review of the parties’ arguments, the court finds that consensual sexual relations inside a car do not constitute a 'use' of the automobile within the meaning of the subject policy," the judge wrote in his decision. 

But M.O. and Brauner appealed to the Eighth Circuit to have the district court's decision reversed. The couple contends that the language of Brauner's insurance policy is so broad as to justify M.O.'s bodily injury claim ... Attorneys for GEICO disagree ... A three-judge panel consisting of U.S. Circuit Judges Steven Colloton, Michael Melloy and Raymond Gruender heard these arguments in court on Wednesday.

The judges questioned M.O.'s attorney, David Mayer, on whether his client's argument would make GEICO responsible for every unwanted pregnancy that might have occurred in an automobile.

"I don't believe that's a cause of action but that's a good question," Mayer responded.

. . .

... by quibbling over the meaning of what is an "appropriate" use of a car, Beck told the judges, "you are turning what is an automobile policy into a general liability policy without restriction."

There's more at the link.

If one takes the plaintiff's view to its logical conclusion, if a woman becomes pregnant after sex in a car, doesn't that make the car insurer liable for any and all medical costs incurred by the child during its entire life?  After all, none of those costs would have been incurred if pregnancy had not occurred.  Does that mean the insurer can insist that the woman must have an abortion, so as to avoid those costs?

Simple basic common sense should surely dictate that the insurer is not liable.  However, this is the USA, where litigation has long since lost all sense of balance and reasonableness.  Who knows how it'll turn out?

What's next?  A clause in insurance policies stating that no teenagers should ever be allowed to use the vehicle - or even get into it - except under the policyholder's direct and immediate supervision, for fear of the carnage that might result?


Thursday, June 13, 2024

Quote of the day


From Sgt. Mom at Chicago Boyz, writing about "the LGBT-BLT lifestyle":

It used to be said that it was the love that dare not speak its name, now it’s the love that never shuts up.

Word (or words!).


If you can't take the heat, keep this out of the kitchen


I was amused, but also concerned, to read this BBC headline:  "Denmark recalls Korean ramen for being too spicy".

Denmark has recalled several spicy ramen noodle products by South Korean company Samyang, claiming that the capsaicin levels in them could poison consumers.

. . .

But the maker Samyang says there's no problem with the quality of the food.

"We understand that the Danish food authority recalled the products, not because of a problem in their quality but because they were too spicy," the firm said in a statement to the BBC.

"The products are being exported globally. But this is the first time they have been recalled for the above reason."

It's unknown if any specific incidents in Denmark had prompted authorities there to take action.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration said it had assessed the levels of capsaicin in a single packet to be "so high that they pose a risk of the consumer developing acute poisoning".

There's more at the link.

Actually, I can understand the Danes' concern.  I regularly buy various flavors of ramen noodles, because both my wife and I enjoy them as quick snacks.  Some of the Korean offerings have proved to be so hot that I got heartburn after only one or two mouthfuls, and one left me with a very tender feeling in my chest, almost as if I'd been punched there.  I don't like super-spicy foods anyway, and I've learned to avoid the so-called "red and black label" Korean offerings as just too spicy for my palate.

I wonder if we're seeing with Korean ramen noodles what we've already seen in the so-called "hot sauce" market?  Ever since some hot sauce manufacturers realized that there were individuals who'd try anything once, they've been competing to make their sauce hotter than anyone else's.  There are innumerable videos on YouTube showing a "hot sauce challenge".  Some of them are downright scary, judging by the looks on their participants' faces.  I get particularly worried when I see kids being suckered into these contests.  I suspect their less developed bodies might suffer real injury if the spice levels are too high.

Be that as it may, I'll continue to avoid red-and-black-packaged ramen noodles.  I've already had two heart attacks, and I don't want a third!


Saving on household running costs


We've spoken often in these pages about preparing for emergencies.  Food supplies, weapons, security issues, and a host of other topics have been covered.  However, there are several areas that are seldom mentioned in "prepping" circles:  threats that are so everyday, so routine, that we lose sight of how they might escalate into a real problem - or make preparing for a real emergency harder to afford, because of other drains on our wallets.  I've been discussing some of them with correspondents in recent weeks, and in this article, I'd like to tackle a few of them.

Let's take property and vehicle insurance.  They've gone up a lot over the past few years:  I've seen estimates that they're up more than 25% since 2020, and some estimates put it at over 40%.  Certainly, my wife and I have seen ours go up steeply, but that's partly because our insurer calculates the replacement value of our home at a considerably higher figure than we do.  I'm in the process of discussing that with our insurer, citing local costs and sales prices to prove our point.  That should help to bring our premiums back down, but it won't erase the higher costs completely.

How does one "prepare" for such increased costs?  It's important to watch your premiums closely, particularly notices warning you of an increase.  Your insurer will rate the value of your home according to a formula for your area, which might add too much value for your specific town or location (e.g. a valuation formula for "Northern Texas" is not as focused as one for "Arlington TX" or "Muenster TX").  Don't be afraid to raise such issues with your insurer, and negotiate the replacement value of your home down to a more reasonable level - one that'll cost you less in premium increases.  By doing that every year or two, the cumulative increase in your insurance costs over several years might be quite a lot lower than if you didn't.

Another option is to buy less expensive vehicles;  either a smaller, cheaper new car, or a used vehicle at a lower price than a new one.  Their insurance rate is calculated according to their value.  Buying the higher-end model might cost as much as $50-$100 more per month to insure than buying the entry-level model - and does it really make that much difference to drive the less luxurious version?  When considered along with all the other increases, those savings start to look attractive.  (Until recently, given the outlandishly high prices being asked for used vehicles, it was in many cases cheaper to buy a lower-priced new one such as Kia's Soul or Ford's Maverick light pickup.  Not only did they cost less than a used smaller SUV, but they offered similar interior space for passengers, and depreciation losses in today's market are minimal compared to years past.  I know a number of families who did that, and they've generally been happy with the deals they got.)

How about electricity bills?  They've been rising pretty steeply in our part of the world.  Even though we aren't major consumers of electricity, we're paying several hundred dollars a month for it, particularly now as the heat of summer makes big demands on our HVAC system.  There are many ways to save electricity, from shutting off major appliances like water heaters, not using ovens to cook, adjusting the internal temperature to levels that don't require as much electricity to maintain, and so on.

I'm seriously considering installing a mini-split air conditioning system for our main room in addition to the central HVAC system, because the former functions off a 120-volt circuit instead of 240, and consumes less than a quarter of the power needed by the central system.  If we shut off our central HVAC system when we're out and about, and run only the smaller unit for six to eight hours a day, it'll keep the central part of the house at a comfortable temperature but consume a lot less electricity.  I figure that in two years, the savings will pay for the entire mini-split system, including installation, and after that the savings are all gravy, so to speak.  I've not made a final decision yet, but it's a tempting thought.

If your HVAC system is getting old and you're considering replacing it, it might be worth your while to look at installing two or more mini-split or multi-split systems instead of one big central system.  The cost of installing the former can be half to two-thirds the cost of the latter, and their power consumption, even taken together, will usually be at least a third less than a central system.  Add up those savings and it becomes a rather attractive option, provided your home is constructed in such a way that the smaller systems can be "plumbed into" it relatively easily.

What about municipal and/or county rates and taxes?  It's worth checking on their valuation of your home, and contesting any sudden increases.  Too many counties issue bonds to construct new infrastructure such as schools, emergency services, etc. and then clobber residents with big increases in their rates.  These can be contested, particularly if actual sales prices achieved by comparable properties in your area demonstrate that the valuation is too high.  A lower valuation leads to lower rates, saving you money.

These are just some ways one can economize on one's overall household expenditure.  I'm sure readers have more they can contribute.  If you do, please share them with us in Comments.  We're almost all finding it hard to make ends meet these days.  Why not help each other to make our dollars go further?


Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Knowledge workers run headlong into the threat from artificial intelligence


A journalist and writer ponders what she calls "My last five years of work".

I am 25. These next three years might be the last few years that I work. I am not ill, nor am I becoming a stay-at-home mom, nor have I been so financially fortunate to be on the brink of voluntary retirement. I stand at the edge of a technological development that seems likely, should it arrive, to end employment as I know it.

I work at a frontier AI company. With every iteration of our model, I am confronted with something more capable and general than before. At this stage, it can competently generate cogent content on a wide range of topics. It can summarize and analyze texts passably well. As someone who at one point made money as a freelance writer and prided myself on my ability to write large amounts of content quickly, a skill which—like cutting blocks of ice from a frozen pond—is arguably obsolete, I find it hard not to notice these advances. Freelance writing was always an oversubscribed skillset, and the introduction of language models has further intensified competition.

The general reaction to language models among knowledge workers is one of denial. They grasp at the ever diminishing number of places where such models still struggle, rather than noticing the ever-growing range of tasks where they have reached or passed human level ... The economically and politically relevant comparison on most tasks is not whether the language model is better than the best human, it is whether they are better than the human who would otherwise do that task.

. . .

Many expect AI to eventually be able to do every economically useful task. I agree. Given the current trajectory of the technology, I expect AI to first excel at any kind of online work. Essentially anything that a remote worker can do, AI will do better. Copywriting, tax preparation, customer service, and many other tasks are or will soon be heavily automated. I can see the beginnings in areas like software development and contract law. Generally, tasks that involve reading, analyzing, and synthesizing information, and then generating content based on it, seem ripe for replacement by language models.

There's more at the link.

Hers is a timely article.  With more and more white-collar workers being displaced by artificial intelligence and expert systems, it's going to be an ongoing and increasingly important debate:  what will we do when there's no longer anything that we're needed to do?

This also calls for a re-examination of the much-derided concept of universal basic income.  If automation reduces the number of available jobs far below the number of workers available to fill them, who's going to provide for the unemployed workers?  They can't be abandoned to starve, so some form of UBI appears to be inevitable.  What form that might take is currently being debated world-wide, but that it will be required seems incontrovertible.

Food for thought - particularly for a wordsmith, blogger and writer like myself.


A giant of the Cold War skies bids farewell


It's been announced that Russia's Air Force will retire its last remaining Antonov An-22 strategic transport aircraft this year.  The photograph below shows the prototype aircraft at the Paris Air Show in 1965, the year it first flew.

The An-22 was a behemoth.  It could carry up to 80 metric tons (approximately 88 US tons) of cargo, roughly equivalent to today's Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and almost twice the payload by weight of the contemporary Lockheed C-141 Starlifter.  It was routinely used to ferry intercontinental ballistic missiles around the Soviet Union, as well as carry large, heavy cargoes to favored client nations.  It was the largest turboprop-powered aircraft ever built, using the same engines that powered the Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber.

The An-22 was regarded by the Soviet Union as a strategic asset due to its missile-ferrying duties, which led to a potentially serious incident back in 1975.  At the time, the Soviet Union was pouring armaments and surrogate forces into Angola to support its favored MPLA "liberation movement" (a.k.a. terrorist organization).  South Africa, with US encouragement, was at the same time intervening on behalf of another such organization, UNITA.  I'm informed by sources I consider reliable that in late 1975, some South African special forces were camped out within sight of the runways at the international airport in Luanda.  They managed to get their hands on a number of man-portable ground-to-air missiles (presumably taking them off MPLA forces that "no longer needed them"), and sent an excited signal back to South Africa saying that they planned to sneak up to the runway and shoot down as many as possible of the parade of An-22's arriving every day, filled with armaments.  They would have been "sitting duck" targets, having no alternative airport within range to which they could be diverted after their long flight down the African continent.

I'm told that this was mentioned in passing between a South African liaison officer and the US embassy in Pretoria, and led to seismic-level upheavals.  The CIA was convinced that if South Africa shot down some of the Soviet Union's scarce strategic transports (only 68 were ever built), the Soviets would react very harshly, escalating the war in Angola out of control, and would probably act against other important US client states around the world.  The reconnaissance forces near Luanda were duly told not to carry out their plan, but to allow the An-22's to arrive and depart undisturbed.  They were bitterly disappointed, and I was told that some of the signals they sent back to Pretoria were "sulfurous" - but they obeyed orders.  I've often wondered what would have happened if two or three of these monster aircraft had bitten the African dust . . .

As far as I know, there's only one An-22 flying outside the Russian Air Force, a privately-owned example operated by Antonov Airlines of Ukraine.  I don't know whether it's still operational.  To give you some idea of the enormous size of this plane, here are two video clips showing its arrival and departure at European airports.

So, at last, a giant of the skies goes to its rest.  It will not be forgotten.