Thursday, December 14, 2017

The minnow and the whale

One of the more amusing aspects of flying is the discrepancy in size between many aircraft.  Here's a fun meetup on the runway:  a Bombardier Dash 8 commuter airliner (capacity usually about 35-75 depending on fuselage length, maximum takeoff weight up to 30-odd metric tons) takes off immediately ahead of an Airbus A340-600, at one time the longest commercial airliner in the world (capacity up to 375 [comparable to Boeing's biggest 777's or its 747], maximum takeoff weight up to 330 metric tons).  The contrast is eye-catching.

Like I said:  the minnow and the whale!


The nightmare world

I've written more than once about child sexual abuse, particularly in the context of the Catholic Church's clergy crisis.  (For my personal experience of how that played out, see here.  To see all my articles on that subject, in reverse chronological order, click here.)  I also had not inconsiderable contact with child molesters and abusers as a prison chaplain.  I wrote about some cases in my memoir of prison ministry.

However, nothing can capture the agony of child abuse, mental, spiritual and physical, like the recollections of an abused child.  Moira Greyland is one such person.  Daughter of famed science fiction and fantasy author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and her husband, convicted pedophile Walter H. Breen, she was abused by both of them, rampantly and repeatedly, for many years.  In a 2014 letter to blogger Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Ms. Greyland said this:

The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.

There's more at the link.  You can read here her more detailed account of her abuse, including her rape by her father, and the psychological conditioning and grooming from both her parents that still affects her.

Her brother, too, was the sexual victim of his parents.  He's spoken about it here.  (If that screen is hard to read, highlight the text.  It will stand out from the background.)  It scarred him for life.

I live in an echo chamber where memories of yesterday can swell up into thunderstorms of thought and go rolling through my troubled valleys like a drunken Zeus hurtling thunderbolts in every direction laughing to raise the dead. And it does, corpses of memory before me shaking to the Monster Mash and filling my eyes with what I try so hard not to see.

Physical. Absolutely. But that is so much easier to bear than head games. Screaming is bad, but little whispers and threats work so much better to chill your blood and recreate being cold and naked hiding under tables hearing the shouting. To be "Bone Chewing Bear", robbing the plates of every scrap of food you could find. Life got better as I got older and there was more money, but the earth could turn any day to seeing the big cat stalking in her skin. I flinch from hands and eyes and am very polite and patient day by day by...

Mental. My god, I have no way to say this. Words work so well on me; before long the raised hand I am cowering from becomes reflex. The face is the face of guessing moment by moment what she would bring. As I got older humiliation and embarrassment became the thing and more and more indirectly as time went by.

There was no believing she was getting better as you could not tell which one of her would wake up at any moment. It is so much easier to bear being hurt yourself than being blamed for someone hurting someone else. The shame from that alone is this boulder I have hanging around my neck.

Again, more at the link.

Now Ms. Greyland has written a book, 'The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon', describing, in detail, what it meant to grow up as the victim of such abuse.

The blurb reads as follows:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

I think this is an extraordinarily important book.  I believe we all need to understand the horrifying impact of child sexual abuse on its victims.  Most of them can't speak for themselves.  I commend and applaud Ms. Greyland's courage in speaking out, not just for herself, but on their behalf, too.

On a personal note, I find this book a ghastly reminder of why I took the stand I did when the Catholic Church hierarchy signally failed (and has continued to fail to this day) to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse in any meaningful way.  I don't think the bishops, archbishops and cardinals in general have any idea of just how horrifying is the reality of child sex abuse.  If they did, I can't believe they would have allowed their neglect of the situation to continue for so long.  Nevertheless, they did . . . and the result for the Church has been catastrophic.  By their wrong actions and deliberate inaction, they have destroyed the faith of millions - their faith in the Church, certainly, and in tragically many cases, their faith in God too.  That destruction will be weighed in the scales against them when they come to the Judgment we all must face.  I would not like to be in their shoes when that happens.

I can only suggest most strongly that you read Ms. Greyland's book for yourself.  Right now, today, there are tens of thousands of children among us who are going through what she went through.  May her story motivate all of us to do better for them, to help them escape their living nightmare;  and may all of us do our utmost to ensure that those who abuse them are prevented from ever doing so again.  Furthermore, may all those seeking to justify such abuse (for example, NAMBLA and its supporters) be publicly called out for the scum they are.  Let them be treated in the same way as abusers.  They deserve no less.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hard at work

Sorry about the light blogging today.  I'm about 82,000 words into my work in progress, and I'd like to finish it by next week, so that I can get it out to alpha readers.  They can read it over the next week or two, and make suggestions and comments, which I'll incorporate in the publication version.

I've been working very hard on the book over the past few weeks, and the end is in sight. With luck, you'll see another military science fiction novel in January.  Wish me luck!


Doofus Of The Day #991

The video speaks for itself.  Courtesy of Wirecutter:


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

If an app is free, is it trustworthy?

In the case of some popular software, not necessarily.

Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app has leaked online, after the app's developer failed to secure the database's server.

The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customizable and personalizable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world.

But the server wasn't protected with a password, allowing anyone to access the company's database of user records, totaling more than 577 gigabytes of sensitive data.

. . .

Each record contains a basic collected data, including the user's full name, email addresses, and how many days the app was installed. Each record also included a user's precise location, including their city and country.

. . .

More complete records also include the device's IMSI and IMEI number, the device's make and model, its screen resolution, and the device's specific Android version.

A large portion of the records also included the user's phone number and the name of their cell phone provider, and in some cases their IP address and name of their internet provider if connected to Wi-Fi. Many records contain specific details of a user's public Google profile, including email addresses, dates of birth, genders, and profile photos.

We also found several tables of contact data uploaded from a user's phone. One table listed 10.7 million email addresses, while another contained 374.6 million phone numbers. It's not clear for what reason the app uploaded email addresses and phone numbers of contacts on users' phones.

Several tables contained lists of each app installed on a user's device, such as banking apps and dating apps.

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

This is very worrying for two reasons.  The first and most obvious is that the app developer did not password-protect user information, leaving it vulnerable to hacking.  The second, more insidious concern is that most users probably did not have any idea of how much information about them and their telephones, contacts, etc. the app was collecting.  Privacy?  What privacy?

This is by no means the only instance where a 'free' app proved to be risky at best.  One of the best-known cleanup programs, CCleaner (the free version of which I've used myself for a very long time), was recently infected with malware, which downloaded itself to users along with a program update.  That affected my computer, too.  It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and disruption to many users' computers, to deal with the problem.

Moral of the story:  free software isn't necessarily free of malware, viruses, and bugs.  Even paid software isn't immune.  Use at your own risk.


When the cure for terrorism is worse than the disease

There's a conundrum in anti-terror operations.  Military necessity dictates stopping, killing and capturing terrorists.  However, the priorities of ordinary citizens are, more often than not, simply survival;  and, after survival, the security of their property and possessions.  This has led to many situations where military counter-terror operations have been opposed by local civilians, on the grounds that they are suffering more from them than the terrorists.  (Iraq and Afghanistan have provided many examples.)

The most recent such situation occurred in Marawi, in the Philippines, earlier this year.

More than six months after Filipino and foreign fighters claiming allegiance to the Islamic State stormed this lakeside city, setting off a monthslong war with U.S.-backed Philippine troops, liberated Marawi lies in ruins and its people seethe.

The heart of the city has been bombed and burned beyond recognition, its domed mosques pierced by mortar fire. Homes stand roofless, blackened. There are armored vehicles on the streets.

Some 200,000 residents are still scattered across the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, living with weary relatives or in displacement camps thick with mud and worry.

Those who have been allowed to return found their homes sacked and looted - safes open, jewelry snatched, appliances gone.

Many are angry at the men who seized their city in a failed bid to establish a caliphate, taking hostages and targeting civilians. They are angry, too, at the forces that fought those men, namely the Philippine army and its backer, the United States.

. . .

In late May, Philippine troops stormed a compound in Marawi, expecting to make some arrests. Instead, they set off fighting that lasted more than 150 days.

After a prolonged gun battle, the Philippine army slowly pushed the militants toward the city's center, where they dug in. "It was heavy urban fighting," said Col. Romeo Brawner, a U.S.-trained soldier who is now the deputy commander of a Marawi task force.

. . .

More than six months after the fighting started and more than two months after Duterte declared Marawi liberated, it still looks and feels like a war zone, with the destruction centered in the city's heart, along the shore of Lake Lanao, and radiating outward.

The center is a no-go zone controlled by soldiers. Militants had turned the houses that are still standing into snipers' nests, where furniture has been trashed and pro-Islamic State graffiti is still on the walls.

It may be years before the main battleground is habitable. At the periphery, where people have been allowed to move back and schools are reopening, families are returning to wrecked and emptied homes.

. . .

The bombing is a source of tremendous anger here. "Why didn't they warn us, 'Hey, be prepared because we are going to deploy an airstrike?' " asked Drieza Lininding, a displaced resident who runs the Moro Consensus Group, a nonprofit that seeks to counter radicalization.

The strikes sent people fleeing without money, documents, weapons and other valuables - much of which has since been taken from damaged homes. The military denies assertions that it was behind systematic looting, but civilians, including Lininding, are not sold.

"Who are we going to blame for that looting? Nobody could do this without using a truck," he said.

There's more at the link, along with photographs.  It's well worth clicking over there to read the article in full.

I remember seeing many similar situations in Africa, in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola, the Congo, Rwanda and other countries.  In every case, government and/or military priorities dictated an offensive against terrorists.  In every case, the locals suffered because of it.  Many died.  Many lost loved ones, even entire families.  Many lost everything they owned.  None of them could understand how their government could completely ignore their needs and priorities, in order to concentrate on the military mission of killing terrorists.

I don't have an answer to that conundrum.  All I know is, having seen at first hand how innocent people suffer through military and/or terrorist action on both sides, my preference is to work against terrorists in less indiscriminate ways.  Military action may, indeed, be unavoidable;  but could not military forces do more to evacuate civilians from danger zones, or refrain from using weapons that target an area, regardless of who may be in it?  As for fighting in a major urban environment, that's virtually guaranteed to cause mass civilian casualties, simply because they're stuck there.  Avenues in and out are likely to be blocked by fighting, or damage resulting from fighting.  Who's going to pay any attention to their needs?  With the notable exception of US and First World armies, most soldiers will not.  Their priority is to stay alive themselves, and to hell with anything and anyone who stands in the way of that.  As General George S. Patton famously said, "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."  Most combat veterans of my acquaintance (including myself, when I was still wearing a uniform) would wholeheartedly agree.

I truly feel for the citizens of Marawi.  They've been largely abandoned by their government.  What does their future hold?  Only what they can rebuild for themselves.  It's a cold, hard, brutal world out there.


A piece of aviation history

The Sikorsky R-4 was the first helicopter to go into mass production for the US armed forces (and a few for Britain's Royal Air Force).  Between 1942 and 1944, 131 were built.

The aircraft was announced to the public in 1942.  It was the first time most people had ever heard the word 'helicopter', and the aircraft's capabilities were, at the time, extraordinary.  Here's the first publicity film of the R-4.

The R-4 saw combat in Burma, where it was used for combat rescue and casualty evacuation from the thick jungle.  You can read about its first combat rescue mission here.  It also made the first helicopter landing on a ship, in trials aboard the British merchant ship Empire Mersey in 1944.

The R-4 wasn't very successful, being grossly under-powered, but it was the first of its kind.  More and better successors would build on the foundation it laid.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Browsing cat is browsing

I think Ashbutt's trying to tell us, "You'd better not be looking at pictures of other cats!"


The solution to rape and sexual assault

From Just Violet on Gab:

True dat.  I prefer ladies who use the bullet box as well as the ballot box.


A conspiracy of lies

Glenn Greenwald, famous for breaking the news about Edward Snowden, has published a devastating critique of the US news media in general.  He as good as accuses them of deliberate conspiracy and subterfuge.  Here's an excerpt.

Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.

. . .

Think about what this means. It means that at least two — and possibly more — sources, which these media outlets all assessed as credible in terms of having access to sensitive information, all fed the same false information to multiple news outlets at the same time. For multiple reasons, the probability is very high that these sources were Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee (or their high-level staff members), which is the committee that obtained access to Trump Jr.’s emails, although it’s certainly possible that it’s someone else. We won’t know until these news outlets deign to report this crucial information to the public: which “multiple sources” acted jointly to disseminate incredibly inflammatory, false information to the nation’s largest news outlets?

. . .

Thus far, these media corporations are doing the opposite of what journalists ought to do: rather than informing the public about what happened and providing minimal transparency and accountability for themselves and the high-level officials who caused this to happen, they are hiding behind meaningless, obfuscating statements crafted by PR executives and lawyers.

How can journalists and news outlets so flamboyantly act offended when they’re attacked as being “Fake News” when this is the conduct behind which they hide when they get caught disseminating incredibly consequential false stories?

. . .

... what one should expect with journalistic “mistakes” is that they sometimes go in one direction, and other times go in the other direction. That’s exactly what has not happened here. Virtually every false story published goes only in one direction: to be as inflammatory and damaging as possible on the Trump/Russia story and about Russia particularly. At some point, once “mistakes” all start going in the same direction, toward advancing the same agenda, they cease looking like mistakes.

No matter your views on those political controversies, no matter how much you hate Trump or regard Russia as a grave villain and threat to our cherished democracy and freedoms, it has to be acknowledged that when the U.S. media is spewing constant false news about all of this, that, too, is a grave threat to our democracy and cherished freedom.

There's more at the link.

It's hard to argue with Mr. Greenwald's conclusions.  I think we have to accept that the US news media in general are now nothing more than a propaganda arm for political extremism.  That's not just the Democratic Party, either.  It's every progressive, left-wing, liberal cause du jour.  Anything or anyone straying from the path of political correctness is to be attacked and/or silenced - and selective reporting is as bad as censorship, in that it silences voices who think differently.

We are now in an era of deliberate, corporate-sponsored censorship of the news.  If that doesn't scare you, you don't deserve to live in a democracy.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday morning music

Let's have a bit of rock nostalgia - with added Cream.  Here's their complete reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, in 2005.

That brings back some memories;  but why do the boys look so old?  I mean, it was only yesterday . . . wasn't it?


Saturday, December 9, 2017

C'mon, baby, light my fire!

Delta Airlines from Raleigh, NC to Atlanta, GA.

I'm amazed the person filming that was so composed.  If I'd been in his shoes, I'd have been leaving footprints across the seat tops on my way to the emergency exit!


Sexual harassment is much worse in the Third World

Amid all the brouhaha about sexual harassment in the United States, don't forget that it's much, much worse in the Third World.  A recent article in the Los Angeles Times, about women in Lesotho (where I lived for most of a year), highlights the problem.

The epidemic of sexual violence against women in Lesotho, a nation of 2.2 million people, is arguably the worst in the world. But it is rarely reported.

I spent three weeks in the country, dodging unwanted advances and hearing stories of frequent, unpunished sexual assaults. It was the most threatening environment for women that I had ever navigated. If somehow you still don’t recognize the sweeping scale of sexual assault, if you think women across the world don’t need to fight for each other with everything we have, try visiting Lesotho, where holding a man accountable for sexual violence is almost impossible.

. . .

The epidemic of sexual violence against women in this nation of 2.2 million people is arguably the worst in the world, but it is rarely reported. The problem, women’s rights advocates say, begins in childhood. Girls are taught to be compliant, to quietly endure suffering and to serve men.

The director of a local aid organization told me grown men regularly flirt with her 8-year-old daughter in the grocery store, capitalizing early on a grossly unequal power dynamic. UNICEF found that 19% of girls under 18 in Lesotho are forced into (illegal) marriages, oftentimes with older men. The rate of new HIV infections is the highest in the world (one in four people have the disease) thanks in no small part to a virtual army of Harvey Weinsteins preying on economically disadvantaged young women.

In response to questionnaires circulated by Catholic Relief Services in Lesotho, women have reported that in school, teachers request sex from female students in return for passing grades. At garment factories, security guards require women seeking jobs to have sex before entering the building. Inside, bosses want sex in exchange for hiring women and offering them overtime (which women need to obtain food for children they raise alone because the fathers are often out committing sexual abuse). Marriage offers little protection, as husbands feel free to demand sex at home whenever they please.

Women rarely discuss or report any of these encounters. The subject of sex is taboo, and aggressors are unlikely to face consequences. Women who do report sexual abuse risk retaliation.

Police are routinely the culprits and even those who are not may be nonchalant about sex crimes. Cases are delayed or dismissed with petty excuses. One aid worker told me police failed to prosecute the rape of a 5-year-old girl because the perpetrator said he was sorry.

There's more at the link.

I'm here to tell you, that article is largely accurate.  I saw it during the several months that I lived in Lesotho, and from what I hear, things have gotten worse since then.  Add to that the ghastly prevalence of child rape, due to the so-called 'virgin cleansing myth', and you have a recipe for nightmares.

In talks to school classes in various parts of the USA, in the twenty-odd years that I've lived here, I routinely tell girls that they should thank God they live here, rather than in the Third World.  I describe to them what life can be (and all too often is) like for women there.  Almost uniformly, they don't believe me.  They think I'm making it up, or trying to scare them.  That's why I keep articles such as this on file, to persuade them that the rest of the world is nothing like America.  However, some of them still won't believe me.

If they and their ilk go to the Third World, all too often they learn the hard way that I wasn't joking.



Doofus Of The Day #990

Today's award goes to a woman from Long Island, NY.

Authorities say a woman arriving at a Long Island court to answer a marijuana possession summons was smoking pot when she parked her vehicle in the local police chief's spot ... [She had] been ticketed in May for unlawful possession of marijuana.

Police say she was arriving for her court appearance in Northport on Monday night when she cut off an unmarked police car in the parking lot while talking on her cellphone ... she then pulled into the parking spot clearly marked as reserved for the village's police chief ... when the officers asked the woman to roll down her window, pot smoke billowed out.

There's more at the link.

Let's see . . .
  • Using a cellphone while driving?  Check.
  • Cutting off a police car while doing so?  Check.
  • Driving under the influence?  Check.
  • All this while on her way to appear in court for a previous offense?  Check.
  • And, last but not least, taking the police chief's reserved parking spot?  Check.

Under the circumstances, she couldn't possibly have been more of a doofus if she tried - or, if she could, I don't want to know about it!


Friday, December 8, 2017

Lightning as you've never seen it before

Here's some amazing photography from Dustin Farrell.  You can read more about it here.

I'll be looking at lightning in a whole new light now (you should pardon the expression!).


What did I tell you?

A few weeks ago, writing about the allegations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore, I said:

I don't know whether the allegations against Roy Moore are true or false. Nevertheless, the way in which his accusers have chosen this, of all times, to come forward, stinks to high heaven of political opportunism, particularly given the fact that they could have done so at any time in the past four decades. The fact that some choose to believe their allegations, despite no evidence whatsoever to corroborate them, is a sign of the current moral and ethical sickness of our society.

I'm forced to conclude that political operators are capitalizing on what's been called the "Weinstein Effect", and are using it as a tool to damage Roy Moore (and presumably, in the near future, other political opponents). Unless and until hard evidence, usable in court, is presented against Roy Moore, I shall continue to believe that, rather than the allegations against him.

There's more at the link.

Well, guess what?

Beverly Young Nelson has finally admitted that she forged a portion of the infamous high school yearbook that she and attorney Gloria Allred used as proof of her accusations against U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

And in yet another blow to the credibility of ABC News, the disgraced, left-wing network downplayed the bombshell by presenting this admission of forgery as adding “notes” to the inscription. Worse still, the reporter actually coaches Nelson, puts words in her mouth, downplay[s] the enormous significance of her deceit.

Again, more at the link.

Like I said . . .


When the going gets tough

I often receive comments, e-mails, complaints, etc. from fans of my books, asking when the next in a series is coming out, or why I take so long between books, or whatever.  I do my best to answer them, but it's hard because they simply don't understand my circumstances, which aren't the greatest in the world as far as creativity is concerned.  A number of other writers have their own problems, too.  I've noticed more and more complaints about lack of time, lack of progress, lack of anything and everything that they need to succeed.

I therefore decided it was time to address the issue head-on.  I've done so over at Mad Genius Club this morning, in an extended article looking at my current situation, the challenges I'm facing, and what I'm doing about them.  If you've wondered why I'm not producing books fast enough to meet your expectations, you'll find much of the answer over there.  Please click over there and read it for yourself.

I'm not holding myself up as any sort of shining example, or looking for sympathy.  Life happens.  I'm doing my best to cope with it (and to stop it happening even harder, in some circumstances!).  We all are.  I'm very grateful for all my blessings, and I'll continue to try to meet your expectations.  Please be patient with me when I don't.  There are good reasons for it.



Thursday, December 7, 2017

Doofus Of The Day #989

Today's award goes to an idiot in Wolverhampton, England.  In many ways, he and his friends define doofidity.  A tip o' the hat to reader Philip E. for sending me the link.

Five firefighters spent an hour working to release a YouTube prankster who cemented his head inside a microwave.

The 22-year-old and a group of friends mixed seven bags of Polyfilla [similar to US spackling paste] before they poured it around his head, which was protected by a plastic bag inside the appliance.

Their intention was to use the microwave as a mould, and by the time emergency services were at 1.49pm on Wednesday to the garage of a house in Fordhouses, Wolverhampton, the group had already been trying to free him for 90 minutes.

The friends had managed to feed an air tube into the man's head to help him breathe.

There's more at the link, including photographs of the removal process.

I don't have much sympathy for this idiot's discomfort.  I probably wouldn't have had much sympathy if he'd been seriously injured, or even killed, by his own stupidity.  However, if anyone else needed firefighter assistance for real (i.e. in a fire), and couldn't get it because the firefighters were tied up trying to free this doofus from the consequences of his own actions . . . I think a case could be made for throwing him, microwave and all, into the next fire that comes along.

Why do people like this never think of the danger their actions may cause to others, directly or indirectly?


US Special Forces: time for their own Pearl Harbor moment?

I'm sure many readers are familiar with the "Communist at West Point" scandal that erupted some time ago.  It's eerily reminiscent of the neglect into which many US military institutions had fallen at the time of Pearl Harbor, as we mentioned in passing this morning.  The consequences of such neglect were also visible in the accidents suffered by several US Navy Seventh Fleet warships over the past year, and the removal of several senior and Flag officers as a result.

However, not everyone is familiar with the devastating critique of US Special Forces that was released about ten days ago, purportedly by actual SF instructors.  If their allegations are correct, then US SF has become a hotbed of political correctness, cronyism and careerism.  Here are a few excerpts from a long document.

SWCS [Special Warfare Center and School] has devolved into a cesspool of toxic, exploitive, biased and self-serving senior Officers who are bolstered by submissive, sycophantic, and just-as-culpable enlisted leaders. They have doggedly succeeded in two things; furthering their careers, and ensuring that Special Forces more prolific, but dangerously less capable than ever before. Shameless and immodest careerism has, in no uncertain terms, effectively destroyed our ability to assess, train, and prepare students, or to identify those students that pose very real risk to Operational Detachments. I cannot stress how systematic and severe the effects on the force will be if the standards, recently implemented here in the Special Forces Qualification Course, remain in place.

. . .

In the last 24 months, Commanders and/or Sergeants Major at the Group and SWCS level have systematically removed numerous fundamental SF standards, lowered and undermined the grading metrics for others, all while simultaneously ensuring that a gagged cadre population was expressly prohibited from holding students accountable for their academic, physical, and character performance ... The issue is that career-focused leaders, far removed from team life, have no ‘skin in the game’ and thus do not concern themselves with the problems inherent in employing subpar soldiers in a no-fail environment: where individual limitation creates team-wide catastrophe, often with international repercussions. Their responsibilities involve ensuring that yearly graduation quotas are met and that political agendas are enforced. They do not concern themselves with ensuring that students are capable of surviving the rigors of combat ... Ignorance of their interference in this endeavor might be forgivable, but they have been told by the operational force numerous times what issues these policies would create, and chose career progression instead.  As you will read, this moral cowardice started in the preceding command, and is shared by every current Commander and Sergeant Major at the Group and SWCS level.

. . .

Students are being shown, time and time again, that the standards can be fudged. That failure is not a big deal. That if they fail they will get special treatment, or they can know the right person, or they can just try again; sometimes as often as 6 times before getting it right. We try to enforce that this is not so, that in Group you often only have one shot. But we can’t overcome the atmosphere of forgiveness and compliance that this place now breeds. The good students, through no fault of their own, don’t get taught the importance of first-time success. The bad students, visibly increasing in number, embrace it and are bringing it to Group. We are trying, but the commanders have the authority, and they are abusing it.

This is the next generation of Special Forces. In just a few years, most of our regiment will be a product of this foundation. We will become a brotherhood of parasites: devoid of any real character, feeding off of the achievements those before us earned, and consuming the heritage as a whole. We can cure it, but it needs to happen now. We need to take back ownership of our profession.

Help us fix this mess. The Regiment’s legacy depends on it.

There's more at the link.  Essential reading for all concerned with the state of readiness of the US military.

One presumes that General Mattis, the current Secretary of Defense, has been made aware of these accusations, and is probably doing something about them already.  (He has that reputation, for which thanks be to God!)  One hopes that those who've systematically disgraced all that Special Forces should be will soon have their own 'Pearl Harbor moment', career-wise, and that these problems can be fixed.

(I might add that, although I've never been in Special Forces, I worked alongside them in a number of support roles from time to time in another country.  The selection and training standards there were very high indeed, aided by the fact that all those 'trying out' knew that they would be going into combat - no question about it.  Their future team-mates knew that, too, and made sure that those who made it through the selection and training pipeline were worthy to join them and be trusted with the lives of their comrades.  The dropout rate was sometimes astronomically high, but operational standards and exploits justified it.  For the compelling war history of one of those units, see here.  I'm here to tell you - that history is true.)


Pearl Harbor was as much of a bureaucratic bungle as a military disaster

Today, we remember those who died at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

Let's also remember that many of them died because peacetime military officers moved with such bureaucratic torpor and lack of urgency that they failed to learn readily available lessons.  The US Naval Institute took a long look at that a year ago.

On the night of 11 November 1940, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) aircraft attacked Italian battleships at anchor in the port of Taranto, Italy. On the morning of 7 December 1941, aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s carrier strike force attacked the battleships and other assets of the U.S. Navy at anchor in Pearl Harbor. Is there a connection between the two attacks? If so, should the Navy have discovered it before 7 December?

It is not obvious that there should be any connection, for the two attacks were very different ... Still, the fundamental lesson of each operation was the same: The development of naval aviation meant ships no longer were safe in their home ports.

. . .

One man was almost certainly the first down the gangplank once the Illustrious had docked: Lieutenant Commander Opie. Though his official title was assistant naval attaché, London, Opie had come aboard the Illustrious on 22 August, when she departed Britain bound for Alexandria. During the intervening months, he had sailed on board a number of Royal Navy ships on combat operations. He was in the heavy cruiser HMS Kent when she was torpedoed, and he would spend time on board the battleship Warspite, destroyer Jervis, and light cruiser Sydney. He sent back numerous reports to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), reporting on his own observations and also forwarding almost any Royal Navy document he could get his hands on.

On 14 November, he quickly made his way to the American Legation in Cairo and wrote a four-page report on the Taranto attack. He had obtained a copy of the report by the commanding officer of the Illustrious and added his own observations to “supplement the enclosed report.” Under the heading, “Lessons,” Opie wrote:

  • AA fire is not effective.
  • Low flying planes attacking ships limit shipboard gunnery for fear of hitting friendly ships.
  • Strain on pilots was intense, doubt that they could have made a second attack.
  • Some believe that ships should put to sea on moonlit nights, rather than try to defend in harbor.
  • RN has given up on high level bombing, and prefers torpedo attack to dive bombing.
. . .

Officers out with the fleet were aware that successful aerial torpedo attacks were being made in Europe. Officers serving as neutral observers with the Royal Navy were getting and forwarding the facts about these successes. But officers serving in staff jobs at the Navy Department failed to connect the two groups. This was not a case of deliberately withholding intelligence needed by the fleet commanders but rather an ordinary bureaucratic failure to overcome preconceived notions, to send clear messages without adding “on the other hand” comments, and to keep up with changing technology. A failure nevertheless, and, indeed, a catastrophic one.

There's more at the link.

The Japanese did more to profit from the lessons of Taranto.  As Wikipedia summarizes:

It is likely the Imperial Japanese Navy's staff carefully studied the Taranto raid during planning for the attack on Pearl Harbor because of the issues with a shallow harbour. Japanese Lieutenant Commander Takeshi Naito, the assistant naval attaché to Berlin, flew to Taranto to investigate the attack firsthand and probably wrote a report, but no copy of such a report has ever been found. Naito subsequently had a lengthy conversation with Commander Mitsuo Fuchida about his observations in October 1941. Fuchida led the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941. More significant, perhaps, was a Japanese military mission to Italy in May 1941. Japanese Navy officers visited Taranto and had lengthy discussions with their Italian Navy opposite numbers.

I wonder how many modern military lessons are not being learned due to similar issues?


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Why I won't willingly live in Los Angeles, even if you pay me to

This picture, courtesy of The Vulgar Curmudgeon, scares the living daylights out of me.

He posted it in connection with an evacuation order for about 200,000 Los Angelenos because of the danger from wildfire . . . but that's just the beginning.  Imagine that a major earthquake strikes Southern California, or a really big wildfire threatens more of the city, or a health epidemic or some other natural catastrophe affects the region.  Greater Los Angeles is said to contain almost 19 million people.  There are few open areas;  almost everywhere is built up, and roads are frequently clogged like that shown above.

In the event of a major disaster, no-one's going to be going anywhere.  The roads will clog up and shut down.  Cops won't be able to even get onto them, much less clear them.  It's going to be the ultimate traffic nightmare.  Prevented from getting away to safer places, those left behind are going to be at the mercy of people who are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they need and/or want.  To say it'll be a nightmare is a euphemism.  Even if you've stocked up on emergency supplies, you're likely to be a target for all those who haven't, just as soon as they realize you have them.  (Think they won't notice?  Just wait until they see light in your home in the midst of a blacked-out neighborhood, or smell your food cooking, or figure out that you and your kids are still clean, and wearing clean clothes, when everyone else around you is looking like a badly-made-up extra from the Mad Max movies.)

It's not just Los Angeles - it's any major built-up metropolitan area.  I've had enough of that, thank you very much!


OK, that's embarrassing

It seems a Marshall Islands-registered tanker, the MT Swan Biscay, ran aground in the Cape Fear River in North Carolina last month.  Judging by this footage from a security camera, there was no-one on the bridge or at the wheel when she did so - or, if they were, they were concentrating on anything but doing their jobs!

She can't have been too badly damaged, because she was refloated very quickly, and at last check was over in Europe.  She probably ran onto a mud- or sandbank, and didn't hole her hull.


Retirement: hype versus reality

I note with distaste another scare-mongering story about how much you need for retirement.  It's only accurate if you're overloaded with debt, haven't saved anything much, and intend to continue a spendthrift lifestyle.

A cool $1 million has long been considered the gold standard of retirement savings. These days, it's only a fraction of what you will really need.

For instance, a 67-year-old baby boomer retiring now with $1 million in the bank will generate $40,000 a year to live on adjusted for inflation and assuming a sustainable withdrawal rate of 4 percent, said Mark Avallone, president of Potomac Wealth Advisors and author of "Countdown to Financial Freedom."

It's worse for a 42-year-old Gen Xer, whose $1 million at retirement will only generate an inflation-adjusted $19,000 a year when all is said and done. And a 32-year-old millennial planning to retire at 67 with $1 million would live below the poverty line.

That's what Avallone, a certified financial planner, calls "million-dollar poverty."

There's more at the link.

The picture painted above is warped and twisted by the out-of-touch-with-reality expectations of so many people.  If you're prepared to be sensible in your spending, not expect undue luxury, and live within your means, prospects are nowhere near so bleak.  As Aaron Clarey points out in his book "Poor Richard's Retirement" (which we've noted in these pages before), common sense is a big help.  Here's an excerpt.

The simplest and most compelling argument against today’s retirement system is that it just isn’t working.  We can argue all day about what people “should be doing” or what they “shoulda done,” but we don’t live in “Shoulda Land.”  We live in the real world.  And conventional retirement planning is failing the majority of people.

Statistics vary widely, but of the 75 million Baby Boomers half do not even have a paltry $100,000 in their retirement accounts.  Over a third have less than $50,000.  And half the Baby Boomers admit they are going to have to work past 65.  Only a mere 15% of Baby Boomers have the required standard of $500,000 needed for a successful retirement, and that assumes a lot of rosy assumptions.

. . .

... it’s painfully obvious Americans simply aren’t saving enough for retirement.  Admittedly, most of this was self-inflicted - borrowing more than they could pay back, buying things they don’t need, partying when they should have been saving, taking on student loans for incomprehensibly stupid degrees.  We can enumerate a long list of financial sins.  But again, the larger philosophical point is not one of morality or lecturing.  It’s one of accepting reality.  If only 15% of the Baby Boomer generation has managed to successfully retire using today’s modern retirement system and... well... pretty much nobody else, we must design a retirement system that is conducive to the majority of Americans’ economic and financial behaviors, not to mention... reality.

. . .

If we can get rid of our desire for “stuff” the whole rotten system will come collapsing down on itself.  Not only will this free us from our slavemasters of materialism, it will do wonders for the American family, their finances, their happiness, not to mention, make retirement a very real possibility for all Americans.  It could also (in theory) usher in a new American golden age with higher economic growth, lower debts, accelerated advancements in technology, and a simply better-off society.  The only problem is overcoming the innate, genetic addiction Americans have to consumption and materialism.

I highly recommend that you read "Poor Richard's Retirement" for yourself.  It's a short book, priced to sell, and well worth the investment of your time and money.  Miss D. and I are following a similar philosophy, and so far, thanks be to God, we're doing OK.  I hope you will, too, if you follow the same path.  Those who don't . . . are likely to have problems.


Batman as you've never seen him before!

I'm not a fan of the superhero genre.  I simply can't suspend my disbelief far enough to make them work for me.  Nevertheless, this Japanese adaptation of Batman kicked over my giggle switch in no uncertain terms.  See for yourself.

I'm just waiting for the tentacles to appear . . .


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

If this doesn't bring a tear to your eye...

... then you may have an empathy deficit.  The Miami Herald reports:

Dan Hart was driving home to Palmetto from Texas when he suffered a medical emergency, was forced to pull over, and died on the side of the road. His golden retriever, Sandy, was in the truck with him, according to WFLA News Channel 8.

Sandy spent eight days in the truck, which had a food and water supply for her inside, with her owner, faithfully staying by his side even after he passed, WFLA reported.

It was a tow truck driver who noticed the vehicle, and that there was a man inside, and called for help, according to WLOX, a Biloxi, Mississippi, television news station.

. . .

Michelle Londke found Sandy’s picture on Facebook. Not long after, Boob had a message on her phone that Londke and Sherryl Jenkinson were coming to pick up the dog ... Jenkinson, of Sarasota, said she has been rescuing dogs for years, so there was hardly a second thought about driving for hours to reunite Sandy with her family in Palmetto.

There's more at the link.

Here's a news report about the incident.

God bless all those involved in reuniting Mrs. Hart with her late husband's dog.  May they bring comfort to each other.


Doofus Of The Day #988

Courtesy of Daily Timewaster (clickit to biggit):

Identification!  It's all about correct identification!  Just how big were those tins of tuna, anyway?


Monday, December 4, 2017

For the fishermen among us

This made me laugh.

A shark figurehead?  Sounds like it's just what the local lawyer's association needs . . .


Quote of the day

From James Delingpole:

Trump wields Twitter like a cross between a surgeon’s scalpel and a theater commander’s Daisycutter bomb.

It's from an article in which he analyzes how the President is playing to his popular base, rather than to other politicians and diplomats, particularly when he re-tweeted graphic illustrations of fundamentalist Islamic violence.

[President Trump] was sending a message to the people he cares about: all those ordinary people out there, not just in the U.S. but in Europe and beyond, who are shocked, appalled, scared by the way their countries are slowly (or quite quickly in the case of some countries, Sweden, for example) surrendering to Islam; who feel betrayed by the pusillanimity of their political leaders and let down by the failure of most of their media to report on the rapes and the sexual grooming and the violence being committed disproportionately by Muslims, both immigrants and home-grown radicals; who feel unable to speak – except in embarrassed whispers – about their fears about being stabbed or machine-gunned or blown up or mown down by yet another jihadist simply for the crime of going about their daily, Western life; who bitterly resent being tarred as Islamophobic or xenophobic or uncaring when all they want is to be allowed to live their life in peace in a country whose traditions, laws and cultural values remain the ones they grew up with and which make their homeland worth living in.

These are the people Trump was reaching out to with those tweets.

As for the rest – all those politicians and media types and cry bully activist groups – they just fell into Trump’s trap.

Trump wanted them to react in the way they did. It was part of his strategy ... if you want the short version, ask yourself this: how do you think most ordinary people – the ones outside the politically correct politics/media bubble – responded when they saw the president’s tweets?

Did they go

a) “I heard some people on the BBC tell me that Britain First are far right and far right is, like, the worst thing ever. So by retweeting them Donald Trump was literally endorsing fascism!”

b) “Trump gets it. Why don’t the other politicians get it?”
I suspect it’s mainly the latter.

There's much more at the link.  It's very interesting reading.

As I've said before, I did not vote for President Trump, and feared that he might be a liability in office rather than an asset.  However, his performance since his inauguration has surprised me, mostly pleasantly.  Sure, there have been some missteps, but I think he's completely steamrollered the "business-as-usual" bureaucrats and administrators in Washington D.C., and discombobulated our purported allies by insisting that he's going to put America first, rather than the international community.  Frankly, that's long overdue.

He's made a good start. Now, if he could just build that damned wall, and kick out the millions of illegal aliens who are leeching off our taxpayer dollars, and . . .



Courtesy of Allen Skeens on Gab, here's the aurora over Norway.  Clickit to biggit.

That's spectacular!


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday morning music

Let's relax with a little easy listening.  Here's one of my long-time favorite singers, Roger Whittaker.

Roger Whittaker isn't just a good singer; he's always been known as one of the best whistlers in the business. Here's a live rendition of 'Mexican Whistler'.

Easy on the ear, isn't he?


Saturday, December 2, 2017


From Chris Muir:

No s***, Sherlock!


An unexpected threat to Chinese warships

I was intrigued by a report in Australia about an unexpected maritime hazard in the South China Sea.  A tip o' the hat to reader Snoggeramus for sending me the link.

BEIJING has discovered a major threat to its new aircraft carrier: swarms of deadly jellyfish. Now it’s racing to develop weapons of mass destruction to beat them.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Masses of the creatures can be sucked through the warship’s water intakes necessary for cooling the vessel’s engines.

Once in the cooling vents, they get mashed into a thick, sticky soup.

This blocks the cooling system, causing the engines to overheat and bringing the warship to a halt.

It then reportedly takes days to clear the pipes.

Thus the urgent need for countermeasures.

The new jellyfish shredder consists of a net, several hundred meters long and wide, which is towed by a tugboat ahead of the carrier.

This funnels whatever falls within towards an array of steel blades.

What comes out the other side is no larger than 3cm wide.

The effect is so brutal researchers report the waters the shredder passes through become murky as the jellyfish — and other marine life — corpses begin to decompose. It takes up to a week to clear.

. . .

The jellyfish swarms are a sign China’s waterways are becoming increasingly unhealthy.

The fish that usually eat juvenile jellyfish are themselves ending up on dinnerplates.

And the mass environmental upheaval caused by China’s enormous island reclamation project — which has destroyed many South China Sea estuaries in order to create military outposts — is only beginning to be understood.

There's more at the link.

I'm afraid the deliberate destruction of marine life to accommodate the ship is characteristic of attitudes towards nature in, not just China, but most of Asia.  The prevailing attitude in many of the countries and cultures there seems to be that nature exists to serve human interests. If it doesn't, it must be tamed, reshaped, or removed until it does.

Sucks to be jellyfish, I guess . . . or any other fish swimming near them!


Raffle winners!

Thank you very much to everybody who donated in support of Andi's medical treatment for a stroke.  We set a target of $25,000, and by yesterday (the deadline for contributions to qualify for our gun raffle) we'd raised over $18,500 - about 74% of our goal.  The fundraiser will continue, but without prizes, so if you're feeling generous, we'd still like to reach $25K for Andi (shown below with her husband and sons).

For every $10 donated, donors were given one 'ticket' in a drawing for the prizes.  $50 got 6 tickets, $100 got 12, and so on.  Yesterday, winners were drawn using a random number generator (and yes, it really was random, because I didn't get a prize, dammit!).  The full list may be found over at Old NFO's place.

Congratulations to all the winners.  The first name drawn will choose his/her preferred prize;  then the next name will do likewise;  and so on down the list until everyone's made their selection.  Firearms will be shipped to a dealer of the winner's choice, for transfer according to US law and local regulations.

Thank you all again for your support.  $18K+ will pay for a lot of therapy, and Andi's going to need it all.  You've made her, and her family's, Christmas a whole lot merrier than it would otherwise have been!


Friday, December 1, 2017


Here's a fun video from Peugeot in the UK.  It's their April Fool spoof from 2012, showing paint that changes color according to the driver's mood.

Unfortunately, it's just an April Fool stunt - but wouldn't it be fun if it were real?  Given that I now live in cattle country, in Texas, I can just imagine a rancher in his pickup truck, watching his cows.  I wonder what color it would turn?  Dung brown?  Dollar green?

Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .


Sparse blogging today

Sorry about the not-so-prolific blogging today.  Life, the universe and everything are getting in the way - as is a sore arm from my annual flu shot.

I'll try to post something later this afternoon.  Meanwhile, please amuse yourselves with the folks in the sidebar.  They write good too!


World War I in the air

Here's some fascinating footage of actual World War I aircraft and missions, provided by the Australian War Memorial.  It's silent, so don't bother adjusting your speakers.  They've also adjusted the speed of the film, so that instead of the usual jerky, flickering playback, it's more the smooth rendition we're accustomed to today.

I'm sure none of those pictured are still alive.  It's sobering to think that a hundred years ago, our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were risking their lives in flimsy wood-and-canvas machines like that.  What's even more astonishing, my wife's aircraft (dating to 1941) is built with a similar fabric skin, although much of its frame is aluminum.  Things hadn't progressed all that far between the world wars.

When my father trained as an Aircraft Apprentice in the Royal Air Force in the late 1930's, he was taught to work on aircraft very similar to those shown above.  He told me once how astonished he was to be told that the Spitfire had a metal skin, rather than 'doped' fabric.  When he first saw that fighter, he rapped on the side with his knuckles to confirm that it was, in fact, metal - and was promptly reprimanded for making a noise!  (As a matter of fact, even the Spitfire used fabric-covered ailerons and other control surfaces in its early versions.)

It took the concentrated aerial combat of World War II, which forced massive experimentation and innovation, to kick-start aviation into what it became post-war.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Quote of the day

By Robert Stacy McCain, concerning a particularly nutty professor:

University faculties are beginning to resemble a casting call for a remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

True dat.


Shenanigans upon shenanigans . . .

You really need to read the history of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  A bigger partisan political boondoggle would be hard to imagine.

[Senator] Warren, who had hoped to be the CFPB’s first director, led the one-year agency-building process. She chose loyal Democrats to be her senior deputies; they hired like-minded middle managers, who in turn screened lower-level job seekers. It was too risky for interviewers to discuss politics, so mistakes were possible.

. . .

As screening techniques improved, Republicans were more easily identified and rejected. Political discrimination was not necessarily illegal, but attempts to hide it invited prohibited race, gender, religion, and age discrimination. In retrospect, the Office of Enforcement’s hiring process, which was typical for the bureau, violated more laws than a bar-exam hypothetical.

Job seekers interviewed with two pairs of attorneys and most senior managers. All Office of Enforcement employees were invited to attend the weekly hiring meetings, where interviewers summarized the applicants. Any attendee could voice an opinion before each candidate’s verdict was rendered; even a single strong objection was usually fatal. Note taking was strictly forbidden, and interviewers destroyed their records after the meetings ... Clear verbal and non-verbal signals quickly emerged. The most common, “I don’t think he believes in the mission” was code for “he might not be a Democrat.” At one meeting, Kent Markus, a former Clinton-administration lawyer who had joined the bureau as Cordray’s deputy, remarked that an applicant under consideration “sounds like a good liberal to me.” After a few seconds of nervous laughter and eye contact around the room, Markus recognized his slip. “I didn’t say that,” he awkwardly joked. The episode so unnerved one attorney that he never attended another hiring meeting.

. . .

The “us against the world” culture that was exhilarating in a startup became debilitating in a mature agency. Internal policies to minimize record-keeping deprived the CFPB’s enemies of statistics, but limited management tools. External criticism was dismissed as disingenuous, good advice ignored. Problems that could not be acknowledged could not be fixed. Morale and productivity deteriorated. The employees unionized.

There were a few winners, most with political connections, and many more losers. Moderates who objected were marginalized or ostracized.

There's more at the link.

It's well worth your time to read the article in full.  Its revelations are mind-boggling.  They certainly explain why the outgoing head of the bureau tried with might and main to prevent President Trump appointing even a temporary head.  He didn't want his shenanigans coming to light!


Doofus Of The Day #987

Hint:  When deploying a taser . . . shoot straight.

Admittedly, in a hand-to-hand melée, that can be difficult;  but I can't help wondering how many beers that officer had to buy for tasing his own colleague!


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Talk about leaving yourself wide open...

I note CNN has stated, delicate offended nose in air, that it won't attend President Trump's White House party for the news media.

“CNN will not be attending this year's White House Christmas party,” a CNN spokesperson said. “In light of the President's continued attacks on freedom of the press and CNN, we do not feel it is appropriate to celebrate with him as his invited guests. We will send a White House reporting team to the event and report on it if news warrants.”

The President's press secretary promptly responded on Twitter:

Ouch!  I bet someone at CNN is fuming . . .


All you ever wanted to know about the "missionary position", but were afraid to ask

I had to laugh at the explanation offered by the Straight Dope as to why the sexual intercourse so-called "missionary position" got its name.  I won't repeat it here, because this is a family-friendly blog and I don't want to shock those with delicate sensibilities;  but it's not rude, and it's funny.  Click over there to read it for yourself.

It reminded me of one of my more amusing encounters when I first came to the United States, on a seven-month church mission tour in 1996.  I was traveling in clergy attire;  black shoes, socks, trousers and blazer, and a black shirt with a so-called "clergy collar".  I happened to land in Chicago, after traveling from South Africa via Amsterdam.  In those pre-9/11 days, security was more relaxed, but it was still apparently the practice for customs and immigration officials to randomly select a few passengers and interview them more closely about why they had come to the USA.  My name ended up on that list, so along with half a dozen others, I was ushered into an examination room. It held a long wood counter, behind which sat uniformed officers with clipboards and pens.  They fired questions at the interviewees, noting their replies.

I happened to be sent to a position occupied by a young female agent. She began running down the list of questions:  name, address, age, etc.  She didn't look up at me at all, only down at her clipboard as she wrote down my replies.  The crunch came when she asked, "Employer?"  I replied, "Catholic Church."  Without missing a beat, she demanded, "Position?"

I couldn't resist it.  I replied, solemnly, "Missionary."

She looked up angrily, ready to rend me for being a disgusting, sexist pig, only to find me tapping my clergy collar with my forefinger.  I repeated, mildly, but with emphasis, "Missionary."

She blushed scarlet.  Every other agent behind the desk suddenly had a coughing fit, or had to stop what they were doing and lower their heads, shoulders shaking.  Before I knew it, another agent tapped me on the shoulder.  "That's all, padre.  Thank you.  Have a nice visit to the USA."  He ushered me out, as quickly as possible.

I've never forgotten that.  I still giggle at the memory.


What made them think this was a good idea?

Over at Daily Timewaster, I came across this video of two BASE jumpers in wingsuits entering the passenger compartment of a Pilatus PC-6 Porter - in mid-air!

They seem to have enjoyed it, but I couldn't help shuddering at the thought of what would have happened if one of them had run into the propeller, instead of the entrance.  Sliced base-jumper?  Shredded chutist?  Either way, it would have been messy . . .

There's also the question of what might have happened if anything had gone wrong - a sudden wind swirl (not uncommon in the mountains), a problem with the aircraft (particularly a jumper hitting a vital control surface), or whatever.  I think this was a very dangerous stunt from many perspectives.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

That's telling 'em!

It's so nice to see the current head of the FCC using logic, rather than partisan political propaganda, to address the subject of net neutrality (which we discussed in these pages a few days ago).

Ajit Pai laid it on the line as far as true neutrality of expression is concerned.

Pai defended his order to roll back Title II, he said that some Silicon Valley players have been criticizing the plan--he singled out Twitter in particular--as a threat to the open internet, consumer choice and free expression.

Pai countered that it was Twitter that was discriminating on the basis of content, and edge players in general that were the ones discriminating on the basis of viewpoint.

. . .

"As just one of many examples, two months ago, Twitter blocked Rep. Marsha Blackburn [the Republican chair of the House Communications subcommittee who helped overturn FCC broadband privacy rules] from advertising her Senate campaign launch video because it featured a pro-life message. Before that, during the so-called [net neutrality] Day of Action, Twitter warned users that a link to a statement by one company on the topic of Internet regulation “may be unsafe.” And to say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users. This conduct is many things, but it isn’t fighting for an open Internet."

Pai called out others for similar actions, saying Twitter was not an outlier.

"[D]espite all the talk about the fear that broadband providers could decide what Internet content consumers can see, recent experience shows that so-called edge providers are in fact deciding what content they see. These providers routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like. "

He used as examples an app store barring apps from cigar aficionados as promoting tobacco use, or "streaming services restricting videos from the likes of conservative commentator Dennis Prager on subjects he considers 'important to understanding American values'."

Pai took aim at algorithms for deciding what content web users see or don't, but aren't disclosed. Then there were the "online platforms secretly editing certain users’ comments. And of course, American companies caving to repressive foreign governments’ demands to block certain speech—conduct that would be repugnant to free expression if it occurred within our borders," he added.

He said for all those reasons the edge was a bigger threat to the open net than broadband providers, particularly when it comes to viewpoint discrimination.

There's more at the link.

I couldn't agree more!  Such behavior is the very opposite of "net neutrality".  It's the abuse of its dominant position by a company (or companies - Facebook, Google, etc. are just as bad) to promote one viewpoint while discriminating against another.  They can - and do - argue that since they're private companies, they aren't bound by any constitutional or legal requirements for "equal time" or non-discrimination, and so they can do as they please.  Sure, they can - but then let them shut the hell up about "neutrality" in any way, shape or form.  They don't know the meaning of the word, in any context.

In that light, it's hard to argue with Pai's conclusion.

Pai's decision to seek a full repeal of the rules was praised by the telecommunications trade groups as a boon for broadband investment, but loudly panned by the tech industry and consumer advocacy groups.

In his speech, Pai didn't just attack tech companies. He also went after celebrities like musician Cher and actors George Takei, Mark Ruffalo and Alyssa Milano by name for criticizing the rules.

"These comments are absurd," Pai said after reading off a tweet from Ruffalo claiming the net neutrality repeal would be fuel for authoritarianism. "Getting rid of government authority over the Internet is the exact opposite of authoritarianism."

Again, more at the link.

That's telling 'em!