Friday, August 29, 2014

A real-life Crispi critter!

Seems alcohol and bacon make a dangerous combination.

A [Utah] woman faces arson charges after police say she drunkenly started a fire in her ex-boyfriend's house ...

. . .

When officers arrived, they saw smoke billowing out the front door. Apparently, [Cameo Adawn] Crispi had placed a pound of bacon on a lit burner. In the home, officers discovered hot coals on the floor around an open wood stove and the burned bacon.

Charging documents say Crispi's blood-alcohol level was 0.346, four times the legal limit.

There's more at the link.

They should charge her with wasting valuable bacon while they're at it!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

There are none so blind as those who will not see . . .

. . . particularly when it comes to politics, race, or other contentious issues.

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, continues to attract an inordinate amount of media attention;  but what strikes me most of all is the way the two sides are talking past each other rather than to each other.  It's not so much that they don't understand each other as that they begin from diametrically opposed viewpoints, so far apart that they have almost nothing in common.  As a result, there's no dialog at all.  Consider the following two examples.

Peter Coy, writing in Bloomberg's Businessweek, opines that there was 'Injustice in Ferguson, Long Before Michael Brown'.  He takes a civil rights perspective on the issues there.  Here's an excerpt.

Who’s to blame in the confrontation that led to Brown’s death has yet to be sorted out. But the ArchCity Defenders report is the clearest evidence to date that Ferguson’s justice system was discriminatory in practice, if not intent, long before the police force’s heavy-handed response to the riots that followed the fatal shooting. Harvey and his co-authors found that middle-class drivers stopped by police routinely hire lawyers who knock speeding tickets down to non-moving violations; poorer drivers, mostly black, who can’t afford lawyers, often find themselves caught in a downward spiral. They get points on their licenses, they can’t afford their fines, they’re jailed, they lose their jobs, they drive with suspended licenses and get into deeper trouble.

One can question ArchCity Defenders’ blunt claim that “defendants are incarcerated for their poverty.” It’s harder to dispute the defense attorneys’ warning that Ferguson’s practices “destroy the public’s confidence in the justice system and its component parts.”

The rioting and looting in Ferguson are plainly wrong in every respect, but they’re taking place in a society that plainly isn’t working.

There's more at the link.

On the other hand, Walter E. Williams (himself black) argues that 'Blacks Must Confront Reality'.  He takes a sociological and anthropological perspective.  For example:

Though racial discrimination exists, it is nowhere near the barrier it once was. The relevant question is: How much of what we see today can be explained by racial discrimination? This is an important question because if we conclude that racial discrimination is the major cause of black problems when it isn't, then effective solutions will be elusive forever.

. . .

The Census Bureau pegs the poverty rate among blacks at 28.1 percent. A statistic that one never hears about is that the poverty rate among intact married black families has been in the single digits for more than two decades, currently at 8.4 percent. Weak family structures not only spell poverty and dependency but also contribute to the social pathology seen in many black communities -- for example, violence and predatory sex. Each year, roughly 7,000 blacks are murdered. Ninety-four percent of the time, the murderer is another black person.

. . .

If it is assumed that problems that have a devastating impact on black well-being are a result of racial discrimination and a "legacy of slavery" when they are not, resources spent pursuing a civil rights strategy will yield disappointing results.

Again, more at the link.

I suspect there's some truth in both articles;  but from my own experience of crime and criminals (which is more extensive than most), I tend to side more with Prof. Williams than with Mr. Coy.  I note, too, that as far back as 1965, the Moynihan Report (which we've encountered in these pages before) warned of precisely the consequences that Prof. Williams highlights.  Its predictions have been proven by history to be grimly prescient.

In my personal judgment of any person or situation, I apply two 'acid tests'.  They complement each other, in my experience, and I seldom find that one is positive while the other is negative.

The first is that actions speak louder than words.  If someone's speech is honeyed and persuasive, but their actions are self-serving, violent, repellent - any other negative you care to name - then they're basically hypocrites and not worthy of trust.  Their actions are a far more accurate guide to their true nature than their dissembling words.

The second is the Biblical test, found in the words of Christ in Matthew 7:15-20.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

If someone produces positive results, or outcomes, in people and situations, that's good fruit.  If someone stirs up more trouble, whips feelings into a frenzy, polarizes and divides rather than unites and restores . . . bad fruit, and a bad person.  I invite readers to judge the leaders who flocked to Ferguson, Missouri, by this standard.  What 'fruit' did Missouri State Police Captain Ronald Johnson produce?  Contrast his efforts with those of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.  Who produced the more positive fruit, and who the more negative?

Those who speak the truth about the crime and violence endemic in the Black community are often pilloried as racists.  That's not true.  It needs to be confronted head-on, as Fred Reed did in his two columns we've referenced in recent days.  Walter Williams confronts it in his article.  Bill Cosby confronted it in his famous 'Pound Cake' speech in 2004.  I've embedded it here before, and I'll do so again for the benefit of those who may have missed it.

When I hear others complain about civil rights issues in Ferguson, or anywhere else, I first want to know more about the local community and what it's doing to address the issues identified by Prof. Williams, and Bill Cosby, and so many others.  Unless and until they've been addressed, there's no point in worrying about external issues.  In the words of Christ (Matthew 15:10-11, 17-20):

Hear and understand:  Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man ... Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?  But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  These are the things which defile a man ...

These things can defile an entire community, not just an individual.  Evil comes out of the heart, and only a change of heart - individual hearts, because there's no such thing as a collective heart - can remove it and replace it with good.  We can argue until the cows come home about whether that needs to be a religious/spiritual or political/social or ethical/moral conversion, but conversion there must be.  No amount of civil rights complaints or legal action or police presence can produce it.  It can only come from within . . . and the refusal of civil rights activists to acknowledge that reality means that they're forever doomed to failure.


An amusing beer ad

I had to smile at this ad from Austin Beerworks.  I like their irreverent touch.

Looks like at least a minivan, if not a pickup truck, will be needed to get it home, though!


Ebola: this s*** is getting serious

I mentioned the Ebola virus earlier this month.  Suddenly things are looking a whole lot worse, and cases are spiking exponentially in several African nations.  Reuters reports:

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it had shut a laboratory in Sierra Leone after a health worker there was infected with Ebola, a move that may hamper efforts to boost the global response to the worst ever outbreak of the disease.

At least 1,427 people have died and 2,615 have been infected since the disease was detected deep in the forests of southeastern Guinea in March.

The WHO has deployed nearly 400 of its own staff and partner organizations to fight the epidemic of the highly contagious hemorrhagic fever, which has struck Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria. A separate outbreak was confirmed in Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday.

. . .

The WHO said it had withdrawn staff from the laboratory testing for Ebola at Kailahun -- one of only two in Sierra Leone -- after a Senegalese epidemiologist was infected with Ebola.

"It's a temporary measure to take care of the welfare of our remaining workers," WHO spokesperson Christy Feig said, without specifying how long the measure would last.

There's more at the link.

Zero Hedge published this horrifyingly informative graphic yesterday:

You're looking at an exponential upward spike there.  Some of it might be deaths that occurred earlier, but have only recently been reported;  but all the signs are that the incidence of sickness is rising dramatically.

Zero Hedge concluded with this comment from a World Health Organization spokesman:

It’s not “a question of incompetence or complacency,” according to Morrison ... “It’s the fact we’re catching up with the unknown, and it’s way ahead of us.”

(Bold print is my emphasis.)

I said earlier:  "I think we have to assume for safety's sake that the risk of [Ebola's] spreading around the world may be a lot higher than the authorities have so far indicated".  Given the spike in cases illustrated by the graphs above, I think we can now take that risk as a virtual certainty.  I wouldn't be planning any international travel in the short term unless I had to:  and then only on airlines that didn't fly to any of the affected countries, because whilst airlines are reported to be checking boarding passengers for symptoms, I'm not sure that their aircraft are restricted to that route, or properly sterilized in between flights.  For example, wouldn't it be fun to find out - after takeoff - that the Air France aircraft flying you from the USA to Europe had been on the West African route the previous week?  India's taking the threat seriously.  I wonder when the US will begin to do so (or at least admit publicly to doing so)?


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tracking earthquakes - with fitness apps?

I was amused, and also interested, to read that the recent California earthquake was monitored very accurately by Jawbone, a fitness tracker log.  Ars Technica reports:

Wearable computing company Jawbone released a graph on Monday showing its users being woken up by the 6.0-magnitude earthquake centered in the Napa Valley region of California on Sunday morning. 120 people were injured, a lot of wine went to waste, and a few people wearing Jawbone's Up fitness bands lost some sleep, according to a huge spike in the percentage of users who were up and moving in affected regions at about 3:20am (close to 80 percent in Berkeley, Vallejo, and Napa Valley itself).

(Image courtesy of Jawbone blog - click it for a larger view)

The graph accurately plots the nexus of the earthquake, with smaller spikes of activity in more distant regions, including San Francisco and Oakland (around 60 percent of users), Sacramento and San Jose (25 percent), and Modesto and Santa Cruz, with only a tiny bump of a few percent from the baseline. Together, the locations form a basic map of the earthquake's reach, not dependent on scientific measurements and existing equipment waiting for a disaster, but just a large, distributed population wearing tracking devices.

There's more at the link.

I'd never have thought that a fitness tracker app would be able to provide almost real-time feedback on where and how intensely an earthquake was felt.  I wonder if the USGS has considered contracting with Jawbone and other app companies to see whether this can be more widely used?  (Of course, it also has implications for individual privacy, but if the data is aggregated as Jawbone did in its graph, those risks should be minimized.)


Help! Vehicle electrical problems

I could really use some diagnostic help in determining what's going on with my 2005 Ford F-150 XL truck.  I've got three intermittent problems that I think are all related.

1.  For several months now, the cruise control will occasionally cut out in the middle of a drive with no warning.  It won't allow me to switch it back on, either.  Sometimes this is accompanied by a sort of crackling sound from the steering column, as if there were an electrical short-circuit, but sometimes not.  There's no smell of burning or any other electrical problem.  If I stop the car, turn off the engine, wait a few seconds, and turn it on again, everything works as normal.  The fault is intermittent:  nothing might happen for several trips, then for two or three in a row it will reveal itself, then it'll go away again for a while.

2.  For about six to seven weeks, I've had an intermittent problem with the air-conditioning.  While driving, it'll suddenly shut down completely - compressor and fan together.  If I do nothing, after one to two minutes it'll come back on again.  If I thump the dash just next to or below the fan switch, it'll usually come on again at once.  Like (1), the problem comes and goes.

3.  Over the past week, on three separate occasions when I've switched off the truck, the brake lights have continued to burn.  On two occasions I only noticed them when I came back to the truck;  on the third, I was looking for the problem, and noticed it at once.  If I restart the truck, wait a moment, then switch it off again, the brake lights go out again as usual.

I'm convinced these problems must somehow be related.  A dealer agrees that (1) and (3) are probably related, because (their service staff say) the brakes has to disconnect the cruise control when they're applied;  so if a single switch in that circuit is faulty, it might be the cause of both problems.  However, they can't see how (2) is related to the other issues.  What's more, they claim they can't diagnose the problem unless the faults occur while they're driving the vehicle;  and given that they're intermittent problems, there's no guarantee they can reproduce any or all of them.  They're willing to try, but I'll have to cover labor costs, so I might end up paying several hundred dollars without finding a fix at all.

I've had suggestions from a couple of mechanics that since the truck's now a decade old, it might be a good idea to retire it and buy a replacement;  but have you seen the price of trucks these days?  It's ridiculous!  I've thought of buying a used truck as a replacement, but I've only driven 60,000 miles in mine, and all the used trucks I've seen in the 5-6 year old bracket will cost me mine as a trade-in plus at least $10,000 in cash for a vehicle that's already covered many more miles than mine has.  I could look at replacing it with a fuel-efficient small vehicle to run errands around town, reserving the truck for longer trips or hauling things;  but then we'd have a third vehicle to look after, insure, etc. - all additional expenses, and on our limited budget, I'd rather not incur them.  One mechanic has suggested replacing the entire wiring harness in the cab, on the principle that it's probably going to solve the problem even if we can't identify what the problem is!  It'll cost a lot (probably into four figures), but in the absence of certainty over specific circuits, he reckons it's the most likely 'cure' for what ails the truck.

Frankly, I'm at a loss what to do next.  I don't want to drop several hundred dollars on a dealer investigation that might not find the problem;  but I can't carry on driving a truck that might develop worse problems over time, and strand me at the side of the road.  I also really don't want to spend a couple of thousand on a complete wiring harness replacement in the cab.  Can anyone offer helpful (and practical!) alternatives?  I'll be very grateful.

Thanks in advance.


If only that car could talk . . .

Courtesy of a link at Og's place, we find this heartwarming story of a father and son who restored a 1951 Chrysler New Yorker as - of all things - a rally car.

Since Auerbach and his father bought the Chrysler, they drove many miles in it, running the New York-to-Vancouver leg of the Trans-America Challenge in 2012 in addition to numerous other events.

Overall, the father-and-son team put more than 10,000 competition miles (16,100 km) together in the New Yorker. However, they never won an event together. Sadly, the father died at the age of 70, and shortly after that, his son won the first rally with the Chrysler. And they say cars don’t have souls...

There's more at the link.  Here's a video report - rather, a video love story - about the car.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

Heartwarming, in this soulless day and age . . .  Think of the 'family stories' that car could tell, if it could talk!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More on Ferguson, and on police attitudes

We've spoken about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, and about police attitudes towards the public.  Both situations are intertwined in many ways.  Since writing those articles, I've come across other essays (and a book) that add different and worthwhile perspectives.

First, an English doctor who writes under the pseudonym of Theodore Dalrymple published a book some years ago titled 'Life at the Bottom'.  It's a series of essays about the 'entitlement class' in England.  I recommend it to you, because it analyzes that group of people very well;  and that 'class' in the USA is very similar to its counterpart in the UK about which Dalrymple writes.  (For an excellent survey of both major parties and their contributions to the rise of the 'entitlement class', see this two part essay.)  The traits of the 'entitlement class' have a great deal to do with the actions of the looters in Ferguson.

Second, Herschel Smith wrote a great essay titled 'Assessment Of Ferguson: Misrepresenting The Liberty Movement'.  He sums it up as follows:

Ferguson is the hive’s chickens coming home to roost.  It is the collectivist’s nightmare.  A class of people who have had the family destroyed for generations, been taught that we owe them something for generations, and think they can break the law with impunity, are at odds with the police and other authorities, while the police and other authorities are under criticism for using the very tactics on this entitled class that the collectivists set them to to use, because they want to fill in the gap and prevent the effects of consequences ... We should all stand back and say to the collectivists, “Look upon what thou hast created.  Are you proud?”

Nightmare.  And it’s just beginning.  Ferguson is a microcosm of Chicago, LA, Houston, New York, and Atlanta.  It’s all unraveling for them.

There's more at the link.  It makes very thought-provoking reading, whether or not you agree with his perspective.

Finally, Fred Reed (whom we've already noted in connection with the situation in Ferguson) has just put up a column concerning the difficulties faced by police, and how it changes them.  Before I respond to what he says, I'd be grateful if you'll please click over there and read it in full.  It's important, and you won't understand what I have to say next unless you've read it.

Back already?  All right, then.

The problem with what Fred says is that cops come to assume that everyone is as nasty, as felonious, as the trash with whom they deal every day.  Such a reaction is understandable from a psychological perspective, but it's simply not true.  It's the source of a great deal of unhappiness among many law enforcement and emergency personnel.  In my memoir of prison chaplaincy, I wrote about how it affects corrections staff.  I'm going to quote from that chapter at some length, to add to what Fred said about police in general.  (Much of what I say here can, of course, also be applied to cops.)

Working in such an environment has an inevitable effect on the staff — not just the Correctional Officers, but all of us. It’s very hard to maintain a cool, professional approach when you know that many of the inmates are out to get you in any way they can. After a while, the constant lies, evasions, attempts at manipulation, lack of co-operation, and just plain nastiness start to wear you down. Stress levels among prison staff are understandably very high, with inevitable negative consequences for their domestic life. The incidence of divorce and suicide amongst all peace officers is considerably above average, and corrections staff aren’t exempt. It’s very hard to leave your work behind at the gates of the prison ...

This is very troubling from three perspectives. The first is that of inmates who genuinely want to change, to reform, and seek help in doing so. Their approach will be automatically regarded with suspicion by prison staff. We’ve all been ‘conned’ so many times that it’s all too easy to regard any such approach as more of the same. The inmates, hurt and frustrated, then blame the staff for being unfeeling and inhuman. In a sense, of course, they’re right — but they refuse to acknowledge the inevitability of such a reaction, given the staff’s constant exposure to less-well-motivated inmates ...

The second perspective is that of the staff themselves. They can very easily become hardened to anything any inmate says, and discount even reasonable excuses or explanations. I’ve known cases where a minor infraction by an inmate new to the system (probably committed through ignorance of regulations), has resulted in extremely heavy punishment, most likely because the officer or manager concerned was tired and frustrated from dealing with far too many similar cases, and wasn’t in the mood to make allowances or cut a new inmate some slack. It’s all too easy to say to oneself, “If they’re going to treat me like dirt, then I’m going to dish out dirt to them. Let’s see how they like it!” When I trained at FLETC, an instructor commented to me in private conversation, “During his first year in the BOP, a new officer can’t do enough for the inmate. During his second year, he can’t do enough to the inmate. The third and subsequent years, he just doesn’t give a damn any more.” Sadly, I’ve seen this cynical observation borne out in practice many times — although there are honorable exceptions, thank heaven.

The third perspective is that of the families of prison staff. It’s hard to maintain a normal home environment when one’s spouse is bringing home so much stress and tension. Children feel it too. A disproportionately large percentage of ‘corrections marriages’ fail, and the effects on spouse and children are long-lasting. Second and subsequent marriages often go the same way. It’s extremely difficult for those who haven’t personally experienced the stress of the corrections environment to understand its effect on those who live in it every day. It’s even harder for those who come home from it to share it with their spouses, who consequently feel ‘shut out’ of their partner’s work life. After all, what can a Correctional Officer tell his wife about the reality of his job? If he says, “Honey, today I charged down a man with a knife, while armed only with my bare hands,” her instant (and understandable) reaction will probably be to scream at him for being a fool by exposing himself to such danger. She might understand intellectually that he did something heroic and praiseworthy, but all she can see in her mind’s eye is herself and her children at his funeral.

The prison environment has another unfortunate effect on staff and their families. The staff member is surrounded, all day, every day, by those he cannot and dare not trust. Every time they approach him, he has to wonder about their ulterior motives and hidden purposes, suspecting a trap or an attempt to deceive. When he gets home, it’s sometimes very hard not to let this perspective affect his attitudes towards his loved ones. What might be normal behavior in a child (lies, evasions, excuses, etc.) may attract a much stronger reaction than normal parental disapproval and correction, because he’s too used to exercising discipline (sometimes very physically) over real evildoers who do the same things. This leads to a great deal of stress and tension in families.

There's more in my book, for those of you who are interested.  I've had to counsel many individuals caught up in such problems, so I speak from a foundation of considerable experience.

Police (and corrections staff, and other law enforcement personnel), in theory at least, should not allow such 'conditioning' to dominate their reactions to honest people.  Unfortunately, this is often honored more in the breach than in the observance.  It's easier (from their perspective) to treat everyone as a potential malefactor, a potential threat.  That may work from their point of view, but it doesn't work from ours.  We (and by 'we' I mean honest citizens) are simply not prepared to accept such treatment, or allow those who try to treat us that way to get away with it.

Police need to understand that if they try to treat everyone like criminals, we're all going to start responding to them as criminals do - in other words, all of us, whether honest citizens or not, will regard police as 'the enemy', and treat them with suspicion and distrust, and resent (not to mention resist) their authority.  I suppose it's a psychological application of Newton's Third Law of Motion, which can be summed up in the phrase, 'Every action has an equal and opposite reaction'.  As I said in my earlier article on the subject:

I've seen far too many police officers try to intimidate citizens rather than treat them with respect.  I know I'm law-abiding - since coming to this country almost two decades ago, I haven't had so much as a traffic ticket.  I've also served as a duly sworn member of the law enforcement profession.  I will not permit, and I will not tolerate, the kind of attitudes I'm increasingly seeing on the part of jackbooted thugs masquerading as police officers.  Treat me with respect and politeness, and you'll receive a similar response.  Treat me like dirt and I'll respond in kind.  I do not and will not respect your authority if you prove yourself unworthy of it.  Your badge doesn't impress me in and of itself - not when so many of those wearing it think nothing of shooting dogs at the drop of a hat, or injuring babies during drug raids (and then refusing to cover their medical expenses), or conducting illegal searches, or threatening to kill a journalist, or whatever.

Again, more at the link.  I know I'm far from alone in feeling that way.

So, whilst admitting the truth of what Fred Reed says about the realities police face every day - realities that, to some extent, I've faced myself in the corrections environment - I also assert that there are equal and opposing realities that they are refusing to face every day.  Unless and until law enforcement as a whole - not to mention individual agencies and officers - finds a balance in this matter, we're going to have ongoing difficulties;  and unless they put in the necessary effort to find that balance, they're going to find themselves ostracized by the very society they're sworn to protect and serve.  In many sections of that society, they already are - and their own attitudes are making that estrangement worse, every single day.  The latest example happened just today in Beverley Hills.  How long until the next?


Boys and their toys, US Marine edition

Some years ago I wrote about the then-new Assault Breacher Vehicle developed by the US Marine Corps, which had just gone into action in Afghanistan.  Since then the US Army has announced plans to buy several times as many of them as the USMC.  Here's a video giving a good idea of how useful it is.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

All I can say is, I wish we'd had a few of these things in Angola during the 1970's and 1980's!

(South Africa developed its own version of the mine-clearing line charge, known over there as the 'Plofadder'.  [The name is a play on the 'Puff Adder' snake - in Afrikaans, 'Pofadder' - and the word 'explosives' in Afrikaans - 'plofstof'.  Putting them together formed 'Plofadder', which implies 'Exploding Adder'.]  There were two types, a small backpack unit and a larger vehicle-mounted one.  Early production versions were notorious for detonators that didn't fire automatically as intended after the tube had been deployed by rocket.  This resulted in some poor sod having to crawl out to it [sometimes under fire], insert new fuses by hand, and detonate them once he'd crawled all the way back to safety.  You probably won't be surprised to hear that the job wasn't the most popular in the Army . . .)


Bach gets to elephants, too

Violinist Eleanor Bartsch was warming up for an outdoor performance of Bach's Concerto in D Minor when she noticed that two elephants in an enclosure at the adjacent Circus World Museum were getting into the spirit of things.  She put up this video on her YouTube channel.

How cute is that?  I suppose they may have been used to 'dancing' to the music of circus orchestras, but even so, I suspect Bach himself would have found that funny.


Looks like I was right about the Middle East

Earlier this month I asked whether an Arab-Israeli rapprochement was on the cards.  I pointed out that fundamentalist Islamic terror movements threatened many Arab governments, and as a result they appeared to be beginning to work together to counter the threat.  As part of the process, there was a new pragmatic willingness to negotiate with Israel, the ancient enemy, because it, too, was threatened by Islamic fundamentalism in the form of Hamas, and would likely be just as pragmatic in mending old fences to deal with new threats.

Looks like I was right.  In the past 24 hours, we've seen the following:

  • Arab bombing raids on Libyan Islamic fundamentalists, carried out by aircraft and crews from the United Arab Emirates staging through Egyptian airfields (which is also a very public slap in the face - and probably a very direct warning as well - to Qatar, which had funded and supported those same Islamic fundamentalists).
  • A very direct and unambiguous call by the Saudi Arabian foreign minister to 'denounce our hatred toward Israel and begin [to] normalize ties with [the] Jewish nation'.  In the same address, he was blistering in his criticism of Hamas (an Islamic fundamentalist movement) for provoking Israel to respond to its aggression.  In effect, he accused the Palestinian movement of being the author of current Palestinian misfortunes through its fundamentalist terrorism.
  • The Jerusalem Post has acknowledged that 'Israel and Sunni powers finally display convergent interests'.  The report quotes Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as saying:  "We are enlisting the international community to support this goal of linking the rehabilitation and development of Gaza to its demilitarization but no less important – this may surprise many, but not us – is the unique link which has been forged with the states of the region ... This as well is a very important asset for the State of Israel. With the cessation of the fighting and the conclusion of the campaign, this will open new possibilities for us."  This is a very public reciprocation by Israel of Saudi Arabia's public willingness to 'make a deal' - and they're doing it all themselves.  The USA has been left on the outside, unable to affect or influence the process.
  • Arab distrust of the USA has been growing over the past few years.  In particular, Saudi Arabia has been angry over US policy.  As Business Insider reported last year, "Saudi Arabia's warning that it will downgrade its relationship with the United States is based on a fear that President Barack Obama lacks both the mettle and the guile to confront mutual adversaries, and is instead handing them a strategic advantage".  Neither the UAE nor Egypt consulted the USA before bombing Libyan fundamentalists - in fact, Egypt reportedly denied that it was involved, even as it made its air bases available for the raids (which were carried out using US-supplied aircraft and weapons).  Middle Eastern nations no longer trust the Obama administration.  (Note Hamas' despairing appeal yesterday to President Obama, rather than Middle Eastern and Muslim nations, to restrain Israel and 'end the genocide' in Gaza.  The movement knows it's more likely to find support in Washington rather than Riyadh, or Abu Dhabi, or Damascus.)

Game on, folks.  We're seeing the development of a whole new paradigm in the Middle East, based on one of the most ancient principles of that troubled region - "The enemy of my enemy is my friend".

EDITED TO ADD:  And some 'old friends' may become 'new enemies' . . .


Monday, August 25, 2014

BIG badaboom!

It seems a Russian Proton-M rocket carrying three Glonass navigation system satellites suffered a catastrophic failure immediately after launch last year in Kazakhstan.  The resulting explosion, shown below from several miles away, was . . . impressive, to say the least.

I hope all that flying glass didn't hurt anyone!

Here are two more views of the same explosion, from a nearby road and from launch pad cameras.

I'm glad I wasn't near that one . . . and very glad it missed the residential area in which the first video was filmed.  I'd imagine that explosion was big enough to wipe out most of a typical town.

(A tip o' the hat to Foxtrot Alpha for the links to the videos.)


Not your average weekend cruiser

Fancy a rather more original boat than the designs seen on lakes and dams, and along the coast, every weekend?  How about a replica of a genuine Viking longship?  The Local's Norwegian edition reports:

Fancy owning your own Viking ship capable of carrying an 80-strong landing party to ravage the destination of your choice? The craftsmen at The Viking Ship Museum are now selling replicas of Norway's Gokstad ship for a mere €160,000 [about US $211,000].

The construction of the 10-metre [33 feet] long Gokstad battle cruiser is scrupulously authentic, with the Roskilde-based craftsmen hewing each model out of oak using tradition tools, putting it together with handmade nails, and equipping it with woollen sails.

But the design has nonetheless proven extremely seaworthy since the first replica, the Viking, crossed the Atlantic from Bergen in 1893.

The original boat was discovered in a burial mound near Sandefjord in 1880, and is now kept at the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History outside Oslo.

There's more at the link.  If you'd like to buy a copy (or one of the other Viking ships there), see here for more information.

Here's an interview with the head of the Viking Ship Museum, showing details of the replica of the Sea Stallion of Glendalough, the second-largest Viking ship ever discovered.  It sailed from Denmark to Ireland and back last decade in a demonstration of Viking trade routes.  The interview's in Danish, of course, but has English subtitles.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode to see the details of the ship.

A hundred-foot longboat built with just axes, hammers, nails, rope, wool and leather . . . those Viking shipwrights knew their stuff!


A tough way to start a rally

Belgian rally driver Thierry Neuville and his navigator Nicolas Gilsoul had a narrow escape during a shakedown stage of the Rallye Deutschland last week.  Their Hyundai i20 WRC went for a high-speed excursion off the road and down a hill through a vineyard.  It was rather spectacular - particularly the view from inside the car, later in the video clip.

I wonder what sort of compensation the farmer will get from Rallye Deutschland for the loss of so many well-established vines?