Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sunday morning music


Today I'd like to share with you some music I recently discovered, a fusion of heavy metal, rock and various folk traditions, primarily Scandinavian.  The composer and musician is Antti Martikainen of Finland, who describes himself and his music as follows on his Web site.

I'm an independent composer, producer and entrepreneur from Finland. I compose and produce mostly epic soundtrack music mixed with ethnic, folk, medieval, electronic and metal elements in my home studio. My songs are usually very melodic, strongly harmonic, rhythmic and simple yet very diverse. I aim to compose strong motifs, memorable melodies, epic structures and to offer my listeners and clients unique experiences. My music is a perfect match with various types of video games, trailers, performances, commercials and movies...and just for casual listening.

He's been composing and performing since 2013, and has built up quite a body of work.  You can buy or listen to them on YouTube and various other digital outlets.  Having just discovered his music, I intend to go through all of them over time.

I find a lot of similarities between his music and groups like Nightwish - except, of course, that his music is instrumental rather than vocal.  That's something of a relief, actually.  My big beef with Nightwish and many of their contemporaries is their open contempt for Christianity and/or their musical dedication to darkness and evil.  I've no idea where Martikainen stands on such issues, but since he's not singing about them, I don't have to endure vocals that are antithetical to my beliefs.

I'll put up just two of his works for now.  Let's begin with Lords Of Iron, a nine-minute Celtic metal track from his epic album "Northern Steel", containing almost two hours of music.

The comments to that video on YouTube are often very amusing.  Here's a brief selection.

"I was listening to this while knitting. My needles are now daggers and I'm lvl 10."

"My younger siblings, ages 4, 6, and 7 love this song. When I first started playing it the 7 yr old looked up and went 'they can make metal Scottish music??!! So cool!' Meanwhile, the 4 and 6 yr olds were already headbanging. I love being the big sister."

"When the bard rolls a natural 20."

"Most glorious toothbrushing i ever did was to this music."

"Played this for my parakeet. He's now a dragon. Also, my beard grew a beard."

Next, from the same album, his 25-minute opus "Kalevala".  YouTube provides the following details:

This song depicts myths and events in the Finnish national epic Kalevala in various folk metal styles. Time stamps for the different parts of the song:

I The Birth 00:00
II An Ode to Kalevala 02:44
III The Northland Trials 06:07
IV Old Man's Lament 08:56
V The Forger of Horizons 12:22
VI Witch of the Abyss 16:34
VII Battle for the Celestial Sphere 18:31
VIII Restoring the Sun and the Moon 21:05
IX Eternal Bliss 23:04

Rousing music that exploits electronic instruments to the full.


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Saturday Snippet: Doing business under Nazism (or any other extremism)


Published in 1939, Gunter Reimann's book "The Vampire Economy: Doing Business Under Fascism" has stood the test of time as an amazingly frank, blunt, revealing look at what happens when an extremist ideology takes over a nation and its economy.

One is struck by how common the problems are under Nazism, or Communism, or even under our modern, allegedly capitalist economy when it's taken over by "woke" zealots.  Extremism, by any name at all, remains extremism, and won't tolerate any alternatives except those that are ideologically correct.  As the book's blurb points out:

Vampires are not just mythical creatures that come out and prowl for victims during a full moon. Today's vampires are the politicians and bureaucrats who drain the lifeblood out of businesses through taxation, regulation, inflation, price controls, trade interference, fiat money, and attacks on private property. The Vampire Economy provides a frightening look at the consequences of state economic management.

That's a very timely requirement of what we're seeing coming out of the Biden administration, Congress and the Senate right now.  (Why else, do you think, does the current $3.5 trillion stimulus bill contain authorization for no less than 87,000 additional IRS agents?  They aren't needed to pass around coffee and cookies during interviews, I assure you!  They're there to get the government's claws into every business in the country, and every individual's bank accounts - remember the other provision it contains, to force banks to report every single transaction over $600, or any account with a balance over $600?  That's extremism in action.  It "follows the money" as much as any other ideology - and it wants as much as possible of that money for itself.)

Here's the second chapter of "The Vampire Economy".  I hope you find it interesting enough to order the book (it's only $2.99 in e-book format) and read the whole thing, because the powers that currently be would like nothing more than the same level of control over our economy.

HERR V. is one of the largest landowners in Eastern Prussia. He is a conservative old landowner who was once proud of being the free and independent master of a huge domain and who boasted of his patriarchal relations with his employees. As an ardent German nationalist he felt certain, when Hitler came to power, that the country had been “saved from the Bolshevists and the Jews.” He never dreamed that the new regime would dare interfere with his God-given rights far more than had the Social-Democratic government he had hated. Unable to grasp quickly enough the changes that were occurring, he did not conform to the ever-mounting requirements of the ruling Party. Soon he was on bad terms with the provincial Party secretary, whom he despised as an upstart. The Party leader tried to break his stubborn spirit by all manner of petty decrees and regulations, as, for instance, by ordering him to give lodging to S.A. men (Brownshirts) and members of the Hitler Youth League, who annoyed him endlessly.

There was no longer a Hindenburg, who as President of the Reich and Supreme Commander of the Army, would listen to the complaints of his agrarian friends and intervene with the government on their behalf. Herr V. learned only through bitter experience that there was no longer any court or official to protect him, and he began to fear that his estates might be expropriated. He visited his former banker, Herr Z., to whom he confessed:

I want to invest my liquid funds in a way which is safe, where they can’t be touched by the State or the Party. In the old days I always refused to speculate, to buy stocks. Now I would not mind. However, I would like best to buy a farm in South-West Africa. Perhaps my next crop will be a failure and I will be blamed, accused of “sabotage,” and replaced in the management of my estates by a Party administrator. I want to be prepared for such a contingency and have a place to go should the Party decide to take away my property.

The banker was compelled to inform his landowner friend that there was no such way out. The State would not allow him to leave Germany with more than ten marks. South-West Africa was closed to him; he would have to stay where he was.

Formerly numbered among the most independent and largest landed proprietors in Germany, with estates that had been in his family for generations, Herr V. today shares the despair of numerous German capitalists, none of whom can be sure that their property rights will be regarded as sacred by the State.

Manufacturers in Germany were panic-stricken when they heard of the experiences of some industrialists who were more or less expropriated by the State. These industrialists were visited by State auditors who had strict orders to “examine” the balance sheets and all bookkeeping entries of the company (or individual businessman) for the preceding two, three, or more years until some error or false entry was found. The slightest formal mistake was punished with tremendous penalties. A fine of millions of marks was imposed for a single bookkeeping error. Obviously, the examination of the books was simply a pretext for partial expropriation of the private capitalist with a view to complete expropriation and seizure of the desired property later. The owner of the property was helpless, since under fascism there is no longer an independent judiciary that protects the property rights of private citizens against the State. The authoritarian State has made it a principle that private property is no longer sacred.

The decree of February 28, 1933, nullified article 153 of the Weimar Constitution which guaranteed private property and restricted interference with private property in accordance with certain legally defined conditions … The conception of property has experienced a fundamental change. The individualistic conception of the State—a result of the liberal spirit—must give way to the concept that communal welfare precedes individual welfare (Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz).

The government of a totalitarian State would not be “authoritarian” if the courts still functioned independently, as they do under liberal capitalism.

The division of power between the executive or legislative branch on the one hand and the judicial branch on the other was formerly a guarantee to the owner of private property that his property rights would be protected even against his own government. The totalitarian State, in abolishing this separation of power, abolishes the sanctity of private property, which thereupon ceases to be a basic principle of society fundamental to State morality.

Constitutionally the businessman still enjoys guarantees of property rights. But what is the value of such constitutional guarantees without courts that dare to defy the omnipotent bureaucracy or to enforce laws that are “out of date"? The judge who had the temerity to attempt this would land not in a concentration camp but in a lunatic asylum. A totalitarian State does not tolerate any “second government,” any challenge to the power of the all-wise dictator.

“Within the constitution of the Third Reich any position independent of the will of the Fuehrer no longer exisits. The principle of separation of power is a thing of the past. Only the Party has a privileged position.”

Fritz Nonnenbruch, the financial editor of the Voelkischer Beobachter, states: “There exists no law which binds the State. The State can do what it regards as necessary, because it has the authority.”

“The next stage of National-Socialist economic policy consists of replacing capitalist laws by policy.”

This Nazi doctrine has nothing to do with Communism or Socialism. It is offered as a new justification for the State’s use of private capital and it is a means of placing drastic limitations upon private property rights in the “national interest.”

“National interests” are not determined by laws, courts, or any legislative body. The decision is made mainly by the Nazi party, or, rather, by its leaders, that is, by the State bureaucracy. It is a principle that only Party members shall occupy key positions in the government and in all organizations where the State influences the distribution of jobs. They must be engaged whenever there is a choice between a Party member and non-Party member. The carrying out of this essential part of the unwritten constitution is assured by the fact that Party members, devoted to the leader and to the maintenance of the Party’s authority, occupy all key positions and appoint all new officials.

In the early days of the Nazi regime, some of the conservatives holding economic key posts, such as Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, former president of the Reichsbank and former Minister of Economics, and Dr. Kurt Schmitt, director of the largest German insurance company and Dr. Schacht’s predecessor as Minister of Economics, sought to restrain the growth of bureaucracy. These men upheld the traditional position of conservative capitalists—economy in administration and efficiency in civil service—and they sought to win the leading Nazis to this point of view. In a speech to young bank clerks and students Schacht openly attacked Party careerists who sought a place in the new ruling caste and hoped to become a part of the privileged aristocracy, with nothing to recommend them except their record as loyal Party men. He declared:

The aim of National Socialism is an economic and social order where everybody, whoever he is and whatever he did before, can obtain the highest posts in the economy and in the State if he has the strength, the will and the ability to do his job. This principle has been fully applied by the Reichsbank. At the Reichsbank, in contrast to conditions in the State offices, any employee can rise from a low to a high position. He is not evaluated according to recommendations or good friends, nor according to other similar things which have nothing to do with his abilities, but he is judged merely by his fitness, his personal value, his knowledge and his performance.

At the same time, however, the Party leaders asserted their right to continue in control of patronage, of the distribution of State jobs and special privileges to trusted old Party members personally devoted to the Fuehrer. Ministerialdirektor Sommer, as spokesman for Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s official representative, wrote in the Deutsche Juristenzeitung of May 21, 1936:

The influence of the Party cannot be seen in laws, but in practice, and personalities are the important factor. A large number of the ministers [at present all ministers] are Party members. Some of them are also Reich leaders of the Party, all Reichstatthaelter are Party members, and most are also provincial leaders of the Party. All Prussian Oberpraesidenten are district leaders in their area. Other personal personal connections exist through the office of landrat [governmental chief of a district administrative office] and the corresponding Party leader of the district, and finally, in general all jobs of political importance are held by old reliable Party members.

This does not mean that there are only Party members in the government. Even important branches have many non-Party members. But they are technical experts without freedom of decision rather than independent administrators. They must be particularly careful not to hurt the prestige of the Fuehrer in the application of any law or instruction. Because they are not subject to the rigid discipline of the Party, they are always suspected of being “unreliable.” Consequently they are inclined to be stricter than Party members in adhering to the letter of the law or in refusing personal favors to a businessman. They have no “Party friends” in other key positions of the administration who can do anything for them or for their friends.

To a great extent a person’s status depends upon the personal opinions and impressions of the Party secretary. It is exceedingly difficult to appeal from his authority; he can oust any person from his job and deprive him of his rights by simply declaring him “unreliable.” Hence it is very important to remain on friendly terms with the Party secretary, for his one word “reliable” has greater value than the highest honors any king may bestow on his favorites.

In the administrative apparatus and the State police force all key positions are occupied occupied by individuals whose devotion has met the acid test.

The Party is the whip with which the leaders control the administration as well as the behavior of the citizen, be he the manager of the steel trust, a small shopkeeper or a worker. The Party has its own courts and judiciary because Party members are not bound by official laws in their activities; they are permitted and indeed required to violate the laws in order to defend the prestige and authority of the Party leaders.

The official Union of German Civil Servants has a membership of 1,200,000, of whom one-sixth—206,000—are Party members, but 81 per cent of the higher State officials in Prussia are members of the Nazi party—Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei, to give it its full name. In the national government, all leaders are in the Party and subject to its rigid discipline. Few exceptions are made to the rule that all important positions in the administrative apparatus must be held by Nazis. The majority of those holding State jobs are also leaders of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei (N.S.D.A.P.) in their districts or communities.

“No one is to be appointed unless in addition to the qualifications which fit him for his post he gives a guarantee that he will always defend the National Socialist State without reservation.” The equivalent of this German rule is common to all totalitarian countries.

In a totalitarian land where the “will of the Party” is in effect the unwritten constitution, the membership rolls are well guarded. Not everyone who declares himself a loyal supporter of Hitler can join. It is no ordinary party. Nor is it a party wherein members can help to formulate policy and criticize the leader, or choose the leader. The authoritarian Nazi party makes the will of the leader the supreme law.

“The Elite Guards [S.S. men] and the Brownshirts [S.A. men] do no productive work. They do not work for the State. They work solely and exclusively for the leader.”

The existence of the Party machine and its control of the government render hopeless any attempt of an industrialist or banker—though he may be the most important financial figure in the country—to get control of the executive power and to supersede the authority of the Party leaders.

The Party secretaries and those in leading positions jealously guard their authority, so that no businessman, large or small, can gain in influence at their expense. The Party machine, as the vehicle of absolute power, was and is too valuable an asset to let slip into other hands. At all costs, the vested power of the leadership must be preserved.

The existence of a state within the State—the Party and the bureaucracy—is a phenomenon of the post-[World War I] world.

The Party and the government bureaucracy are above the law, but it must be pointed out that this special status of being above the law is reserved chiefly for the leadership. To create stability on which the leadership relies, there are strict laws regulating relationships among private businessmen. It is even conceivable that a businessman or concern might be successful in an appeal to the courts against some regulation of an over-zealous Nazi official, provided such a regulation were a gratuitous interference with private property and had no bearing on the defense of the Nazi regime. However, court action has been very rare because most businessmen fear arousing the anger of Nazi officials who on some later occasion might have opportunity to take revenge.

As a rule, the relations between businessmen are still regulated by laws and customs. But customs have changed and modified law, and law has, in turn, been largely replaced by a vague conception of “honor.” It is easier for a businessman to win a case in the German courts by appealing to “National-Socialist honor” than by referring to the exact text of the law.

This would lead to complete anarchy in business affairs unless a businessman knew when the “honor” of a National Socialist required payment of a debt or the execution of a commercial transaction. Consequently chambers of commerce and group or ‘’estate” organizations in the various trades have instituted “Courts of Honor.” A businessman who objects to another firm’s conception of “honor” can apply to these “Courts” which settle commercial disputes. Officially they are only maintaining “national” or “group discipline.” In reality, however, “Courts of Honor” are a kind of self-help organization for businessmen. The Party-controlled official courts are replaced by courts made up of businessmen. No businessman is officially compelled to submit his case to the “Court of Honor” or to accept its judgment, but the official trade organization urges its members to stick to certain rules which the group organization has established, except in cases where members have close relations with influential Party functionaries who show little respect for the businessmen’s courts. On the whole, there is a definite trend toward substituting for the centralized State jurisdiction courts composed of businessmen representing different trades.

Businessmen feel the need of maintaining certain business rules and respect for property rights. Their self-help organizations are similar to the guild organizations of medieval times, which had their own courts for disciplining members. But at that time the State power was weak, while today the authoritarian State is strong in its maintenance of a gigantic bureaucratic and military machine. The “Courts of Honor,” therefore, will always have to consider Party interests so as not to arouse the anger of important figures in the Party.

Employers have been badly shocked by their new legal status, especially the “conservatives” who have held their property for generations and to whom the sanctity of private property has been a part of their religion. They might have excused previous violations of property rights as exceptional emergency measures, but they hoped that the buttressing of the State power through fascism would also bring about a strengthening of the sanctity of private property. They were independent and individualistic businessmen, not only economically, but politically and psychologically. For this very reason they are the most disappointed and unhappy over the new state of affairs and are likely to get into trouble with a Party secretary or the Gestapo (the Secret State Police) for having grumbled incautiously or for not having shown enough devotion to the Fuehrer.

The capitalist under fascism has to be not merely a law-abiding citizen, he must be servile to the representatives of the State. He must not insist on “rights” and must not behave as if his private property rights were still sacred. He should be grateful to the Fuehrer that he still has private property.

This state of affairs must lead to the final collapse of business morale, and sound the death knell of the self-respect and self-reliance which marked the independent businessman under liberal capitalism.

There you have it.  If that sounds reminiscent of Communism as well as Nazism or Fascism, it's because it is.  Political extremes of Left or Right are so close to each other in their authoritarian, anti-democratic, dogmatic extremism that there's often little to choose between them in their effect on society.

Note, too, that the influence of the "Party" over everyday life extends far beyond the business sphere.  We're seeing similar attempts to impose ideology over law, and political correctness over our constitution, in many walks of life.  (Consider the Loudon County, Virginia, and its school board, trampling roughshod over parental rights and the views of its citizens in an attempt to impose "woke" ideology in the schools it controls.  It's been taken over by extremists, who will brook no challenge to their authority, legal or otherwise.  It's going to take strong measures to get rid of them.  One can only hope the citizens of Loudon County have the guts and political will to do so, otherwise the jackboot will rest upon their necks forever.)

The Biden administration is merely the fig-leaf for an extremist movement that wants to seize and retain control over every aspect of our lives.  The current push to force COVID-19 vaccinations upon everybody, despite all the (very convincing) evidence that they're not effective (and may even be actively harmful to many), is merely a symptom of that.  If they can force obedience on that issue, they can use it as a lever to force obedience on others.  Get people accustomed to obeying without question, and they'll do it out of habit.  Get them used to the idea that one can't challenge "authority" without suffering the consequences, and they'll stop challenging it.  (You want proof of that?  Consider this administration's security priorities, and wonder no longer.)

May we learn from the many examples in our history, and stop the current extremists before they seize the power they seek - because if we don't, they'll never let go of it, and we'll be under their jackboot forever.

I, for one, have no intention of living that way.  I've had to take a stand once before that cost me my vocation, my career, my financial security and my pension.  If I have to, I can - and will - take such a stand again.


Friday, October 15, 2021

A British boy and his lawnmowing toy


A British engineer has broken the world speed record for lawnmowers, and done it in style.

Tony Edwards ... said: "I know that a guy from the UK had the record at one point, at 96mph. Then I think Honda had it at 116mph, and then a team from Norway did it at 132mph, and I thought I'd give it a try.

"I've always messed about with motorbikes and things since I was about 15. I built the whole thing from scratch.

"I got someone else in to do the welding on the chassis because I didn't trust my own welding. The front suspension is from a kit car and the rear suspension is from a trike conversion kit."

The engine is a mere 1300cc unit from a Suzuki motorbike that only puts down around 300bhp to the rear wheels.

And it cuts grass.

"It has to be able to cut grass. I had to send videos to Guinness to prove that it was a lawnmower," Tony added.

So, with almost two years to the day of hard graft, on a cloudy day in August, Tony took to the start line atop his creation. From a standing start, Tony was clocked at 143.193 miles per hour. For context, a Mitsubishi 3000GT or a Nissan 350Z would do around that speed.

. . .

It wasn't until a later conversation with a photographer that Tony discovered that the steering trouble was not caused my a mechanical gremlin, but rather an issue with his aerodynamic package.

"He asked me if I had trouble steering, and I said yes, and he showed me the picture of the front wheels off the tarmac. No wonder I had trouble steering."

There's more at the link.

Here's a video clip of the record-breaking run.

As one commenter on the story said, "At that speed, I could cut my lawn in about 7 seconds - but the U-turns at either end of the garden might be a bit tricky!"


Something fishy in the food supply pipeline...


The ingenious ways in which producers try to get around laws and regulations are on display in a customs dispute up in Maine.

A customs dispute at the U.S.-Canada border is threatening America’s supply of a key fish used for popular products such as fish sticks and fast food sandwiches.

The Alaska pollock has a complicated supply chain. After being caught as part of the largest commercial fishery in the U.S., the fish are transported by ship to New Brunswick, Canada, near the border with Maine. They are then loaded onto rail cars for a brief trip down 100 feet (30 meters) of track in Canada, before being put on trucks and crossing the border into the U.S.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has alleged that shippers are violating the Jones Act, which requires that goods shipped between U.S. ports be transported on U.S.-owned ships.

The agency has assessed more than $350 million in penalties to the shippers, records state. Two of the shipping companies have sued in federal court to stop the enforcement, which they characterized as heavy-handed, unexpected and unfair.

The dispute left 26 million pounds of fish in cold storage in Canada until a federal court judge issued an injunction on Sunday to let the seafood be shipped into the U.S. Members of the industry said they’re concerned about permanent disruption to the seafood supply chain if the disagreement continues.

There's more at the link.

The fishing companies are trying to launch a smokescreen of "Oh, it's for the good of all Americans, so you've got to let our fish through!"  That's not true, of course.  They're trying to evade the costly provisions of the Jones Act, which are quite specific, thereby saving themselves tens of millions of dollars.  They've been caught at it, so now they're trying every wriggle and twist they can think of to get off the hook.

Customs, on the other hand, has been turning a blind eye to this for years;  they only recently cracked down on this particular situation.  There simply aren't enough US-built and -flagged ships to transport all the cargoes needing to move between US ports, so companies have been employing such fig-leaf work-arounds for a long time.  They argue that they're adhering to the letter of the law - and they are.  Customs argues that they're violating the spirit of the law - and they are.

Meanwhile, the rest of us see how the deadweight of burdensome laws and regulations is affecting us, and we get more and more angry.  As Winston Churchill pointed out:

If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

The real problem lies with those who passed a law back in the days (1920) when there were plenty of US-flagged ships to do the fetching and carrying, and the volume of trade wasn't so high.  The law has not kept pace with current reality on the seas, where US-flagged ships are largely conspicuous by their absence.  Even if the fishing companies wanted to fully comply with the law, they couldn't, because they couldn't find enough qualifying ships to handle their cargoes.

That's what happens when pressure groups pass laws to their benefit, but bureaucrats don't build in enough flexibility.  I reckon at least half the laws on the books in this country fall into that category.  President Trump was on the right track when he decreed that for every new regulation they implemented, government departments had to retire at least two old, outdated ones.  It's a great pity that didn't go on long enough, and that he couldn't apply it to the laws themselves.

So, we may run out of fish sticks.  Oh, shuckydarn.  Having been almost force-fed the damn things through childhood, I'll try to bear up manfully under the blow . . .  Meanwhile, the Canadians had better hope and pray they don't suffer a power failure to the temperature-controlled warehouses containing those 26 million pounds of fish.  If they do, the problem will rapidly become aromatic rather than economic!


The "Green New Deal" turns out to be at the root of supply chain blockages in California


Sundance has done a deep dive into what's causing the massive container traffic snarl-up at California's ports and on its railways and roads.  It turns out to be two interrelated factors.

The trucking issue with California LA ports, ie the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) and the Port of Long Beach (POLB), is that all semi tractors have to be current with new California emissions standards.  As a consequence, that mean trucks cannot be older than 3 years if they are to pick up or deliver containers at those ports ... In effect, what this 2020 determination and settlement created was an inability of half the nation’s truckers from picking up anything from the Port of LA or Port of Long Beach.  Virtually all private owner operator trucks and half of the fleet trucks that are used for moving containers across the nation were shut out.

In an effort to offset the problem, transportation companies started using compliant trucks (low emission) to take the products to the California state line, where they could be transferred to non-compliant trucks who cannot enter California.   However, the scale of the problem creates an immediate bottleneck that builds over time.  It doesn’t matter if the ports start working 24/7, they are only going to end up with even more containers waiting on a limited amount of available trucks ... No amount of extra productivity in working the docks to off-load ships will solve the issue of trucks that cannot pick up the containers and distribute them toward manufacturing or warehouses.

. . .

Yes, years ago the private sector predicted this would happen, and they started taking actions to protect their supply chains.  What these massive corporations did to reduce their exposure to supply chain disruption was to immediately formulate plans to divert their goods to other ports ... However, it costs more money to move and entire supply chain for trillions of tons of goods coming.  Hence, we saw prices climbing as a  result of increased transportation costs being factored in to the new logistics.  Did you hear about massive increases in container shipment prices?  Well, THAT’S WHY.  The entire supply chain from Asia to the United States was being modified from the closest port (California) to the ports where internal transportation would not be an issue.

Ships from China and SE Asia being diverted from California into the Gulf of Mexico or East coast have to go through the Panama Canal.  It takes twice as long and costs twice as much, if not more.  Hence, massive shipping price increases.

There's more at the link.

Sundance includes this video showing how Amazon containers get here from the Far East.  Just look at the complexity of the chain, and think of the costs involved.  Talk about transport-fueled inflation!

So, there you have it.  Bureaucratic overregulation and progressive left-wing environmental pipe dreams are directly impacting your wallet and mine.  That doesn't exactly give me a warm fuzzy...


Thursday, October 14, 2021

If it had sails, it'd be gon-dola with the wind!


I was mind-boggled to find this video over at the always interesting Old Salt Blog.

NPR reports:

"Noah's Violin" is the most recent creation of Venetian artist Livio De Marchi. He's sent plenty of other wooden works out to sea, including a giant shoe and an origami hat.

This large-scale replica is made from about a dozen different kinds of wood, with nuts, bolts and space for a motor inside, according to the The New York Times.

De Marchi, who came up with the idea during last year's lockdown, told the newspaper that the violin is a "sign of Venice restarting." He named it after Noah's ark because he sees it as bringing a message of hope — artistically and culturally — after a storm.

There's more at the link.

Hmmm . . . one could say many things about this, not always classical in nature.  As Shakespeare put it, "If music be the food of love, play on".  In this case, the musical food is obviously fishy.  It must be a piano tuna - a highly strung one!


Doofus Of The Day #1,085


(Which could also be titled "Africa wins again!")

Today's award goes to an obliviot (clearly South African by his accent, so he really should have known better) who discovered the hard way that petting African wildlife is . . . not a good idea.  No.  Not at all!

Good for the piggy, sez I!  Obliviots have to learn the facts of life, sooner or later.  Thanks to the warthog, this one learned quickly - and he's still alive to pass on the lesson.  In Africa, that's a win!

(A tip o' the hat to Andrew for sending the video link.)


Is Southwest Airlines a harbinger of future resistance?


We've discussed the weekend meltdown in Southwest Airlines' flights, but there isn't much "official" comment apart from attempts to deny the obvious.  Two industry observers have now weighed in with "informed" commentary.  The first was published in And magazine.

The White House has pressed the airlines to adopt vaccine mandates using the leverage of federal contracts. United knuckled under first and announced a vaccine requirement. Southwest recently announced its employees had until December 8, 2021, to get vaccinated or lose their jobs.

The pilot’s union for Southwest Airlines responded to the mandate by filing suit and trying to block the action, but the pilots themselves are not waiting for court action to make clear where they stand. They have started using vacation and sick days and refusing to show up for work. Other employees have followed suit.

The entire airline has been brought to a standstill. The pushback began Friday when a grand total of 3 out of 35 employees showed up for work at the Jacksonville center. Almost every flight out of Orlando had to be canceled. Almost 50% of Southwest pilots remain unvaccinated. There is no indication that any large numbers are moving to get the vaccine. As bad as things are, they are going to get a lot worse.

Over the weekend Southwest canceled 1900 flights. As of the time this article was published it had already canceled 365 flights for Monday, and 600 more are “delayed.” Southwest Airlines is effectively shut down.

. . .

Southwest pilots are drawing a line in the sand. They, like so many other Americans, are done with the creeping tyranny, and they have grasped that in Washington no one is going to stand up for them and push back. It is time for citizens to act on their own.

This is the beginning, not the end. Other airlines are already reported to be seeing the same issues as Southwest. Those issues will expand. Rumors are swirling that United pilots may join the “sickout” any time.

Amtrak just announced the cancellation of several scheduled trains, because personnel are not showing up to work. The expectation is that such actions will spread.

. . .

This action by the Southwest pilots is not designed to attract attention. It is designed to use economic leverage to compel Southwest to change course. The pilots are not saying they want a conversation. They are saying that if Southwest does not change its policy, they will destroy the company.

There's more at the link.

The second comment (thanks to the commenters who mentioned it in responses to a previous post here) is from Juan Browne of the Blancolirio channel on YouTube.  He's a professional pilot, and posts about aircraft and air transport issues (particularly accident analyses, etc.) on a regular basis.  I highly recommend you make time to watch his 12-minute analysis of the Southwest Airlines situation.  It's an insider's perspective you won't find anywhere else right now.

That gets it said.

To put this into perspective, Jason Falter calls the whole COVID-19 vaccination push "the greatest bio-engineering catastrophe in human history" (bold print is his emphasis.

Many of us have been fighting the fraudulent “science” and manipulated stats that Public Health has been using since the beginning of the Covid-19 spread ... All perpetrated by governments controlled by corrupt Public Health organizations, which are in turn controlled by the big pharma corps, that seem to be giving the orders. Follow the money and you will see the trail of corruption. Meanwhile the news media and Big Tech (social media and search) continue to censor and smack fake fact checks on true stories that don’t fit the Gov/Public Health/Big Pharma narrative. Never before have the wheels of corruption in the machine, been so easy to see for those looking. Never before have the general public been so easy to take control of and leverage their fear and need for safety on a global scale, as a way to remove their freedom and liberty. The narrative is all. George Orwell was truly ahead of his time.

. . .

I have no doubt that the illegal vaccine mandate in the US (via OSHA) will be coming soon, and this will be a “hill to die on” moment. Do you forsake liberty, freedom, and the Constitution for a false sense of safety? Will you throw away your rights (the rights of your children) that will never be returned? Will you bend the knee to those that are forcing you to take experimental vaccines, that on the low end, have caused 15,000+ deaths and have over 100,000 adverse reactions, with many being lifelong disabilities? Or do you stand up and say, “NO. The freedom and the liberty of this nation cannot be thrown away for a virus that is over 99% survivable.” This is the hill where we now reside ... we are fast approaching the point where we either say no to this control, or become slaves to the will of those in power.

Again, more at the link.

Folks, I agree with Mr. Falter.  This is the crucial decision we all must face.  Will we submit to literal tyranny - the imposition of a vaccine with known and severe dangers, which has been proved over millions of recipients to offer minimal protection, and may even make it more likely that they will be infected - or will we take a stand and refuse to submit?  Are we citizens, or are we subjects?  Are we free, or are we slaves?

I'm not in the least anti-vaccine:  I've had many of them - but they've been vaccines that worked, and were medically proven, and were offered and accepted freely, without coercion.  None of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines are as yet officially approved;  none have proved effective in preventing further infection;  all have produced side effects, totaling more than half a million cases in the USA so far;  and all of their manufacturers have had to be protected from the legal consequences of those side effects by law.  Over and above that, I have significant religious and moral objections to them.  Putting all those factors together, I've chosen to reject current COVID-19 vaccines.

Some principles are too important to be bought and sold, or given up out of fear.  Freedom is the first of them.  Yes, there may be a price to be paid for freedom.  Our forefathers did so.  Why should we be afraid to follow their example?  It seems many Southwest Airlines pilots aren't.  Good for them!


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

A good second novel to rival his first


A couple of years ago, I mentioned that my friend Jason Fuesting had published the first book in his "Echoes of Liberty" series, a military science fiction novel titled "By Dawn's Early Light".

He's just published the second volume in the series, "Foreign Shores".

The blurb reads:

Eric's escape from Solitude quickly turns into a desperate attempt to leave Protectorate space altogether. Where can they go that takes them beyond the reach of the Protectorate's State Security Bureau? They have only one chance to find out and it's too late to turn back. Eric and his crew will visit exotic, distant locales, meet new people, and kill them. Enemies both old and new will try to stop them every step of the way while newfound friends help from the shadows. Freedom has never been closer, but neither has the SSB.

It's a driving, high-tension novel that I'm finding very enjoyable, with some unforeseen twists and turns that keep me guessing.  It can be read stand-alone, but you'll enjoy it more if you've read his first book, to set the scene.  Recommended reading.


Prices are getting ever higher, and shortages are getting ever worse


In our frequent discussions of inflation and supply chain problems (see here for a recent article), some may have become "punch-drunk" to the point that they've switched off further discussion.  Others appear to have decided that since there's nothing they can do about it, they may as well not bother.  Sadly, such reactions are what's making the problem worse.  Those responding like that are, in essence, expecting the supply chain and inflation to be "fixed" or "solved" by someone else, so they can "get back to normal".  Both demands are non-starters in practical terms right now.  To ignore the problems, or demand that others - government, big business, whatever - solve them, is to set ourselves up for failure.  If we do that, we're living in cloud cuckoo land rather than the real world.  We have to take steps ourselves, and take them right now, to avoid being steamrollered.

One of the things making the situation worse, in my opinion, is the ongoing refusal by the mainstream media to challenge the government's deliberately slanted, optimistic portrayal of the rate of inflation.  We've spoken about this often in the past.  The real rate of inflation, as being experienced right now "on the street" by tens of millions of consumers, is vastly higher than what the government is prepared to admit.  As I said in the linked article above:

To know the true rate of consumer inflation in the USA, take the official rate declared by the government and multiply it by 3½.  The result will be much closer to reality.

I've seen nothing since I wrote those words to make me change my mind.  That means, whenever you read an article citing a ridiculously low inflation rate, it's lying to you by not admitting that cost increases are actually much higher than that.

For a quick summary of what's really going on with consumer inflation and the supply of goods, here are some recent headlines.

  • Kraft Heinz says people must get used to higher food prices - "The cost of ingredients such as cereals and oils has pushed global food prices to a 10-year high, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.  Kraft Heinz has increased prices on more than half its products in the US, its home market, and Mr Patricio admitted that is happening elsewhere too.  "We are raising prices, where necessary, around the world," he said.
  • Heads Up! New Food Shortage! - "Augason Farms ... has ceased production for the next 90 days due to 'supply line disruption' ... I went to their website and there's a notice:  "Due to an extremely high order volume through all sales channels we are currently not able to receive any orders through our web site."  So yepper they're out.  For 90 days."
  • Conagra Announces Food Price Inflation Likely to Remain Around 11 Percent Through 2022 - (remember, multiply that 11% by a correction factor!) - "This is terrible for wage earners in the U.S. who are now seeing no wage growth and higher prices. Real wages are decreasing by the fastest rate in decades. We are now in a downward spiral where your paycheck buys less. As a result, consumer middle-class spending contracts ... Gasoline costs more (+50%), food costs more (+10% at a minimum) and as a result, real wages drop; disposable income is lost. Ultimately this is the cause of Stagflation. A stagnant economy and inflation ... This inflationary period will not stall out until the U.S. economy can recover from the massive amount of federal spending. If the spending continues, the dollar continues to be weak, as a result the inflationary period continues. It is a spiral that can only be stopped if the policies are reversed…"
  • Dollar Tree breaks the $1 barrier as costs take a bite - "Dollar Tree is breaking the mold and will sell items in some locations that exceed the tantalizing $1 grab-n-go price.  The cost of clothes, cars, food and just about everything else has soared this year as the global economy emerges from a pandemic uppercut and Dollar Tree has not been untouched.  Last month the retail chain said that rising shipping costs would take a bite of $1.50 to $1.60 out of its per-share profits this year. That’s a huge hit for any business ... Raising some prices will certainly give the national chain some flexibility and likely more variety on its shelves. But a dollar this year will not buy you what it did in 2020."
  • No supply chain recovery before Q4 22 - " 'Supply chain turmoil will last longer than thought,' says Drewry in its latest Container Forecaster report ... 'The deteriorating situation makes us think the problem is much deeper-seated than feared, with the pandemic bringing forward latent crisis within certain sectors' ... it is forecasting 'a significant increase in contract pricing, leading to an increase in average global pricing of about 6%'."
  • America Is Running Out of Everything - "One-hour errands are now multi-hour odysseys. Next-day deliveries are becoming day-after-next deliveries. That car part you need? It’ll take an extra week, sorry. The book you were looking for? Come back in November. The baby crib you bought? Make it December. Eyeing a new home-improvement job that requires several construction workers? Haha, pray for 2022 ... the world is getting a lesson in Econ 101: High demand plus limited supply equals prices spiraling to the moon."

When did you last hear President Biden or any senior government official speak about, or acknowledge, any of those problems, or those headlines?  You haven't, because they're ignoring them.  They're concentrating on COVID-19, and alleged (but in reality non-existent) "right wing extremist terrorism", and defending their stolen governance with increasing desperation.

Friends, I hate going into debt to finance short-term expenditure, but right now, I have no choice but to do so myself, and I advise you to do likewise (within reason).  We aren't going to be able to get many of the things we need over the next year;  so, if it's an essential, or you're likely to need it this winter (e.g. emergency heating if - or should that be when? - the power fails), get it now while it can still be found, even if it costs you more.  If it's not essential, do without it.  We've been preparing as best we can within our limited means, and I'm grateful to the good Lord that we've been able to do so.  There are those who can't afford to, and I'm truly sorry for them.  If you have close friends and family in that situation, you might want to consider helping them out, because we're all going to have to get through this together.

If you want a secular anthem to help you get through these hard times, Jethro Tull has provided one.


Interesting... but at what price - and not just in money?


We've spoken several times in the past about the glut of office space in city centers.  Now that so many are working from home, it's unlikely that many of them will return to office buildings except for short-term visits.  Some companies are having staff come in one or two days a week, and work from home the rest of the time;  others are having meetings centrally, but then those involved go home to implement what was discussed.

That brings up the question:  what's to be done with all the suddenly vacant office buildings?  Wolf Richter reports on one solution.

Commercial buildings – not the land – are depreciated to zero, and for most of them, that’s the ultimate value. But for some, there is a second life with a different purpose: Redevelopment into residential buildings.

For 2021, a total of 20,122 apartments are expected to be completed, in 151 buildings of all types, with a surging share of office buildings ... By comparison, new construction starts of multi-family buildings with five or more units averaged around 370,000 units per year over the past five years. The number of completed buildings in 2021, at 151, are over double the number in the prior two years.

. . .

Redevelopments could cost about 30% to 40% less than new construction for the same number of units, but only if the cost of the site and the building is not significantly higher than the cost of site acquisition for new construction ... This is why a landlord that owns the office building at the cost of an office building, and uses it as collateral for loans, cannot redevelop the building. This would be too costly; and the lenders would refuse. So when the office building empties out, the landlord lets it default and go back to lenders which then sell it for cents on the dollar to a developer, who then owns it at a much lower cost base and can then invest large amounts to redevelop the building.

Here is an office redevelopment in Washington, D.C., The Wray with 150 apartment units, in a building once occupied by the State Department:

Going forward, for 2022 and beyond, 306 buildings are already in the pipeline for redevelopment, with an expected 52,700 apartment units ... Of them, 23% are office conversions.

There's more at the link.

This raises a number of interesting questions.

  • Will the building (re)developer set apartment prices/rentals at an affordable level, or will he try to milk every last dollar and cent he can get out of them?  If the former, I can see a big demand from young couples looking to get into the housing market for the first time.  If the latter . . . not so much.  Another question is how large the apartments will be - will they justify the price/rent asked for them?  At The Wray, mentioned in the excerpt above, the apartments appear very small to me (although I may be out of touch with city apartment reality, I guess).
  • Will corporate investors try to buy as many of the apartments as possible, just as they're buying up large numbers of houses on the open market, to convert them to rental units?  That might give the developers a better return on their investment, but it'd be lousy for those looking to buy affordable apartments.
  • What about support infrastructure for the new residents?  There usually aren't hospitals, pharmacies, supermarkets, etc. in city centers.  Will they have to be built, or converted from existing buildings?  Will residents instead learn to rely upon online ordering and delivery?  What about fire, law enforcement and other services?  How can/will they be expanded or adapted to cope with the repurposed city center?  What about high-rise fires, evacuations and similar considerations?
  • What about the long-term future of the city center?  As long as there were large numbers of office workers commuting in and out every day, they had a purpose.  If a lot of people are no longer commuting in and out, but living there, and possibly working from home as well, what will happen to the infrastructure of inner cities?  There typically isn't enough parking for office workers' cars - so what about residents?  Will living there imply that you can't own your own vehicle, because there's nowhere (or nowhere economical enough) to park or store it?  What about the added load on utilities (sewage, water, electricity, etc.) to service all the new apartments?  Can the existing infrastructure handle the load, or will it have to be expanded or changed to cope with a different usage pattern?
All are good questions, to which nobody has the answer right now.