Monday, July 28, 2014

Music for the mind and soul

As regular readers will know, I'm a big fan of Mike Oldfield's music.  Here are three tracks from his 2008 orchestral performance "Music Of The Spheres".  It draws heavily upon his original masterpiece, "Tubular Bells", and its sequels for inspiration, with some of its themes readily recognizable as reworked versions of the originals (hence my irreverent nickname for "Spheres" - "Tubular Balls"!)

I highly recommend taking the time to listen to these if you need to relax and unwind.  Here's the opening track, "Harbinger".

From the middle of the work, here's "On My Heart".

And here's the penultimate track, "Empyrean".

The entire album's on YouTube, if you're interested. Also, here's an interview with Mike, interspersed with video of the inaugural live performance in Spain (from which the second track above is taken).

Lovely stuff!


Time for Facebook to reconsider its "community standards"?

From Facebook:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

If your enterprise's "community standards" are such that they don't find that page unacceptable, perhaps you need a better set of community standards?  Yesterday, if not sooner?


Want to know where the "poor children" are going?

If you'd like to know where all the "children" streaming across our southern border are being sent by the authorities, Numbers USA has a very informative map.  Click over there to see whether your state and/or city is among the targeted areas.

Considering the nature of some of those "children", I expect crime statistics in those areas to show a significant upward trend starting right about now . . .


A traffic hazard with a difference!

It is to laugh . . . The Austrian Times reports on an incident in Vienna.

Motorist Michael Kienast told local media: "I was behind two guys who had a fender bender because the motorists in front took their eyes off the road to glance up at the view. The young woman was obviously keen on getting some sun in a place where it doesn't usually shine.

"I heard the guy who was rear-ended shout to the motorist who had hit him: 'Didn't you look where you were supposed to be going?'

"The driver who hit him said: 'Sorry, I was distracted,' and pointed up to the window where the woman was lying. The guy who was hit then said: 'Oh, right, I see what you mean'."

Several cars were blocking the road before police arrived but by then she had disappeared inside and closed the windows.

There's more at the link.

I wonder if the insurance companies involved will sue her for causing a distraction?


"A sudden and acute failure of the victim selection process"

That's how my friend and teacher Massad Ayoob would doubtless describe the thought (?) processes of the hapless criminals in this case.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Around The Blogs 2014-07-27

Let's start tonight's roundup with two powerful images inspired by or related to the court declaration that Washington D.C.'s absolute ban on carrying firearms outside the home is unconstitutional.

CenTexTim applauds the decision, and offers this informative graphic:

Blue has his own take on the liberal logic behind D.C.'s gun ban:

Quite so . . . I don't think!

# # #

I hadn't previously heard of the Community Link Integrated Transit of Tucson in Arizona.  Apparently it's a new streetcar service.  The Lonely Libertarian points out that someone clearly forgot to imagine how that name would appear as an abbreviation . . .  Unfortunately it turns out to be a hoax story:  but full marks to the man who thought of it!

# # #

Michael Stephen Fuchs writes an open letter to Jeff Bezos of concerning that company's policies towards independent authors, and thanks him for all he's done for us.  I concur, and gladly associate myself with his letter.  (The link he provides to an article in the Guardian is incorrect - here's the correct link.)

# # #

Francis Porretto has two interesting articles this week.  In the first he considers the concept of freedom, and notes:

"It often seems as if the original American conception of freedom -- the absence of coercion or constraint from all matters that don't involve aggression or fraud -- has given way to a welfarist conception, in which what the individual is supposed to prize most highly is "freedom from want:" i.e., the absence of significant unsatisfied desires for material things ... the original conception of freedom has been displaced by the Marxist conception of freedom as 'an absence of tension or conflict'."

In the second article he offers some thoughts on the place occupied by sex in the life of a properly bonded couple.  I'm not sure I entirely agree with all his perspectives on the matter, but he certainly makes one think.  Both articles are recommended reading.

# # #

Mr. B. has some serious concerns about President Obama's current actions.

"At first I thought it was incompetence or naivete that led to the terrible things he did/has done to our country. No more. I am coming to believe that his actions and the actions of his supporters are a series of actions which indicate that there is a plan to harm both the country as a whole and the citizens upon which its strength resides. Now, I wonder if he was, in fact, placed where he is by our adversaries to facilitate damaging our country and economy."

I'm wondering much the same thing right now . . . and it has nothing to do with the President's party affiliations.  George W. Bush severely damaged this country with his post-9/11 security legislation, interminable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and overall neglect of the fundamentals of good government.  Instead of resolving those issues, the Obama administration has made them exponentially worse.  We're going to have our work cut out for us to repair the damage that's been done to this country in the opening years of the new millennium . . .

# # #

Daddybear links to a news report about a Florida auto dealership that appears to regard its customers with contempt, even when they obtain a DMV injunction against it.  Based on that report, I can only suggest that my Florida readers take their auto business elsewhere, and advise their friends and relatives to do the same.

# # #

The Bearded Backyarder points out that the so-called 'children' flooding across our southern border aren't always what the mainstream media portray them to be.

# # #

Have you ever heard of "Amish pornography"?  I hadn't either, until MSgt. B. decided to introduce us to the concept.

# # #

Charles Hugh Smith has four articles in a series on the US economy and the failure of our politicians to do their job in managing it.  All four are highly recommended reading.  In sequence, they are:

Corroborating his pessimism, Monty Pelerin points out that economic laws are not optional, and that our government has been ignoring them at its - and our - peril.  He concludes:

The smoke and mirrors obfuscating true economic conditions for five years has been deliberate. The economy has not recovered. It has been made more distorted and imbalanced by the futile attempts to pretend that all is well. Government has more smoke and mirrors left. Yet, even the political class now seem to sense that they are playing out the clock without altering the ultimate conclusion. When your time frame is limited to the next election, longer-term consequences of current policies are ignored.

The economic piper will be paid. All that has been accomplished by these actions is a deferral of the correction and the creation of a bigger debt upon which the piper will collect.

. . .

A collapse is coming. It is unavoidable and will be worse than it should have been as a result of political duplicity.

Regretfully, I'm forced to agree with him.  It's not going to be pretty.

# # #

Old blogbuddy AEPilotJim has a new moral patch.  If you can't translate it, invert it . . .

# # #

Karl Denninger has three excellent articles dealing with internet security (or the lack thereof) and why we should be very, very worried about the news this past week.  In the first, he points out that the so-called 'Internet of things' is dangerous, and concludes:  "... given the lack of care (and outright insertion of code that has no reasonable proper purpose, such as the recent IOS disclosures) you'd have to be nuts to allow devices like that in your home and office."

In the second article, and in the second half of the third article, he goes into detail about revelations that Apple has deliberately built 'backdoors' into its signature operating systems, and points out that they pose a completely unacceptable risk of penetration of any level of computer security.  I couldn't agree more - in fact, if I were a corporation dependent on Internet and communications security, I'd be suing Apple right now for flagrant and deliberate violations of my security systems.

Anyone with any security-consciousness concerning their Internet activities and computer privacy needs to read these articles carefully, taking notes as they do so.  It's that serious.

# # #

Contributor ASM286 over at Borepatch's place reminds us of a treasure-trove of back issues of Guns magazine, now available online.  As Old NFO pointed out in a comment, it's a real time-sink.  Since they span the year in which I was born, I guess that makes me a back issue too . . .

# # #

Dan Gordon, an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, reminds his readers 'Why We Fight'.  It's a powerful and emotional piece.  Recommended reading.

# # #

Last but not least, Wirecutter warns us about something we should never say to a pregnant woman.

# # #

That's all for this week.  More soon!


The most prolific writer of Westerns you've never heard of?

I read a couple of days ago that J. T. Edson, a very well-known (outside the USA) author of Westerns, has died.  His books were a big part of my younger days, and the news of his death brought back many memories of them.

Most Americans have never heard of J. T. Edson, being more familiar with Westerns by authors such as Louis L'Amour:  yet Edson wrote over 130 of his trademark short novels and sold tens of millions of copies of them.  He lived in Melton Mowbray in England, occasionally visiting the USA but never living here.  He was almost entirely devoid of any personal Western or associated background.  He once famously said, "I’ve never even been on a horse. I’ve seen those things, and they look highly dangerous at both ends and bloody uncomfortable in the middle."

Despite this seeming handicap, he immersed himself in Western movies from the 1950's onwards, and surrounded himself with replica firearms, research materials and the like.  At his peak he was publishing up to half a dozen novels every year.  Whilst they never sold in large quantities in the USA, they were extremely popular in England and several Commonwealth countries, including South Africa where I encountered them.  Along with Louis L'Amour's Westerns, Edson's books were common in military camps and similar settings, and I understand they were popular among British servicemen as well.  I can remember many nights spent reading two or three of his books, consuming them rapidly, many of them already familiar, then turning to another one to while away the hours spent on radio watch.  In due course the copies floating around military camps became so dirty and dog-eared that they probably represented a major health hazard;  yet they were still passed around until they fell apart at last.  I recall that one of his books, 'Apache Rampage', was a source of great frustration to me because several individual pages were missing from the only available copy when I first read it.  It took me several years to locate another, more complete copy and 'fill in the blanks' in my memory of the story.

Edson isn't the only non-American author to be a prolific producer of Westerns.  Fellow Englishman Terry Harknett has written well over a hundred under pseudonyms such as George G. Gilman (the 'Edge' and 'Adam Steele' series) and several others.  Again, I haven't often come across them in the USA, but they're very widely read overseas.  I'm living here now, and I've traveled widely across much of what was once the Old West;  so who knows?  Perhaps I'll try my hand at a Western series one of these days, just for the heck of it.  I must have read many hundreds of them in my time, and I'm not hampered by political correctness, so it might be a fun challenge.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Internet-powered investigators?

In our Internet-connected generation, it's amazing to see what can be done by private citizens determined to ferret out the truth.  The shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine is the latest example.  Mashable reports:

On Tuesday, U.S. intelligence officials admitted that while it's true that Russia has been arming pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine for months, no proof exists that the Buk SA-11 surface-to-air missile launcher, which Washington says took down the plane, was Russian.

. . .

But a group of citizen journalists led by Eliot Higgins, who is better know by his online alias "Brown Moses," has had plenty of Perry Mason moments in the last few days.

Higgins, with the help of some of his Twitter followers, was able to pinpoint the location of a Buk launcher while it was being transported through Snizhne, a pro-Russian rebel-held town in Ukraine near the Russian border, based on a video circulating on YouTube.

. . .

The next day, Aric Toler, a longtime follower of Higgins, identified the exact location of a photograph of the Buk launcher in Torez, another town in Eastern Ukraine, using only open source information like the name of a store shown in the picture, and other unrelated YouTube videos filmed in the area.

. . .

Toler and Higgins were able to establish that the photograph was shot around 11:40 a.m. local time, using an online tool called Suncalc, which lets you calculate the position of the sun based of the time of day and location. That would prove that the launcher was in the area before the MH17 crash. (Higgins told Mashable that he checked the tool's accuracy by taking pictures of his garden at different times of the day to see if the shadows matched the ones on the site.)

Another crowdsourced analysis that Higgins assembled on Tuesday offers strong proof that a video published by the Ukrainian government shows the Buk launcher being moved from Ukraine to Russia through rebel-held towns. In the video, the launcher seems to be missing a missile.

The Russian government rebuffed the video, claiming it had actually been filmed in the town of Krasnoarmeisk, which under the control of the Ukrainian military. However, thanks to other open source intelligence analysis, it turns out the town is not actually Krasnoarmeisk but the rebel-held Luhansk, just 30 miles from the Russian border.

There's much more at the link.  Intriguing and highly recommended reading.


It seems coffee is actually good for you

I was intrigued to read an analysis of coffee by Patrick Cox, including an historical overview and some very interesting health information.  Here's an excerpt from the first part of the article.

Serious historians have proposed that the introduction of coffee into the Western diet contributed significantly to both the Enlightenment and its offshoot, the American Revolution. The idea is not such a stretch.

Given the lack of modern water purification and plumbing technologies, beer was routinely consumed in Great Britain in the 1700s to prevent water-borne diseases. Though alcohol at the concentrations common in beer may not always kill pathogens, it does keep them from growing in beer that has been boiled during the brewing process.

When coffee came onto the British scene in the 1500s, it provided a popular and alternative way to take water safely. As with tea, pathogens were killed during the brewing process. Coffee, however, is often viewed as the disreputable cousin of tea, which is widely regarded as healthful. Coffee usually has higher caffeine levels and that difference may have quite profound implications.

In those days, coffee was much more expensive and few people had experience brewing the stuff. Coffeehouses sprang up in response, but they didn’t normally sell individual cups. Rather, they charged an entry fee, after which java flowed freely. The result was that hyperactive groups of coffee drinkers began to pop up in place of semi-sedated beer drinkers.

Students and merchants found these establishments pleasant places to study, do business, and talk. Lacking Wi-Fi connections, merchants who tracked current events and their impact on business would announce major news to the entire assemblage. Naturally, a lot of discussions turned to politics and philosophy. Arguments took place and movements were born.

Just as contemporary politicians would like to regulate political speech, especially on the Internet, British royalty took a dim view of the free and often antiauthoritarian ideas associated with coffee and coffeehouses. In 1675, “A proclamation for the suppression of coffee-houses” was issued by King Charles II.

. . .

Many efforts all over the world have been made to stamp out the demon bean. Though such efforts have failed, coffee is part of our lives and our culture.

Edward Lloyd opened his coffeehouse “The Angel” in 1650. The Oxford hangout of merchants and shippers eventually morphed into Lloyd’s of London, the best-known insurance company in the world. In Scotland, the tenets of the Enlightenment were worked out in coffeehouses where works by Adam Smith and Spinoza were passed around.

Daniel Webster called the Boston coffeehouse, Green Dragon Tavern, “headquarters of the Revolution.” Open from 1697 to 1832, it played a role in the birth of America and was frequented by the likes of John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere who met there to conspire. The New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York were first coffeehouses.

There's more at the link, including an analysis of the health benefits of coffee, which the author describes as "the primary source of antioxidants in the American diet and ... the single-most important food item available in most grocery stores".  He provides some impressive medical opinions to back up his claims, including an opinion that coffee helps prevent or mitigate Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

It's a bit late for a cup of coffee now, but tomorrow morning . . .


Not all Chinese chainsaws are equal

A few weeks ago I put up a video comparison between a 'brand-name' chainsaw and a Chinese knock-off that found the latter to be a pretty useful tool.  Unfortunately, it looks like not all Chinese chainsaws can make the same claim.  The Telegraph reports:

Nearly 1,000 chainsaws imported from China with a host of faults have been seized at one of Britain's main borders.

. . .

They were found to have three crucial faults, including a failure of the chain brake test, which measures the force needed to move the handle.

Trading standards officers also said that when the engine was running the brake failed to work, regardless of how hard it was activated.

Tests showed that although the engine kill switch worked, it took longer than anticipated. Normally, it should stop immediately, but tests found it took about five seconds.

There's more at the link.

I did a bit more research.  The offending chainsaws are sold under the brands Powerhaus and Kraftwelle (the latter even offers a German web site to suggest that they're made there):  but despite their use of German-sounding names, all are made in China.  In 2010 the European Union issued a safety warning and product recall about them.  Looks like nothing's improved since then . . .

I guess it all boils down to "buyer beware":  do your due diligence and check carefully on any product before you buy it.  I won't be buying one of these!


What if the Soviet Union hadn't collapsed?

Would the ethnic violence in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics still be a problem if the Soviet Union had not collapsed?  British historian Tim Stanley suggests not.

I have to agree with his analysis.  If you look at the deliberate Soviet oppression of nationalist and religious sentiment in republics like Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ukraine and many others in its portfolio of ethnic groups, what we're seeing today is just more of the same.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Tired puppy

I'm kinda exhausted tonight.  Working too hard, not sleeping very well, looking for another house to rent before our current housemate gets married, sorting out bureaucracy problems in two states . . . it's been a long week.

I'll try to put up some more blog posts in the morning.  Until then, sleep well, y'all.


An art detective story

I was fascinated to read how, while cleaning a Dutch painting, an art student at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in England discovered that it had been altered in the past, obscuring its central feature - a stranded whale - without which the painting made very little sense.

Here's a video report on how the discovery was made. I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

I suppose, after the passage of so much time, we'll never learn for sure who covered up the whale, or why . . .


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The day in Africa when the Cold War almost turned hot

As most readers will know, I was born and raised in South Africa, and served in that country's armed forces as a young man.  While researching some of the transport aircraft of the former Soviet Union, I was reminded of an incident in 1975 or 1976 (I forget precisely which year) that almost caused a couple of US representatives to have kittens on the spot.

The Soviet Union built the giant Antonov An-22 transport (shown below - still the largest turboprop-driven aircraft ever constructed) for its strategic airlift forces (as opposed to tactical airlift, which used smaller aircraft such as the Antonov An-12 and An-26).  The An-22's normal payload was up to 60 tons, but it routinely carried up to a third more than that on shorter flights, and actually lifted a full 100 tons to an altitude of over 25,000 feet during one record attempt.  It was a remarkable achievement for 1960's aviation technology.  A few of these giants remain in Russian service to this day (although most have been replaced by the even bigger Antonov An-124 jet transport).

Being a long-range heavy-lift strategic transport, the An-22 was used by the Soviet Union to ferry armaments and other urgently-needed military supplies to Angola during the civil war that led to the Communist takeover of that nation in 1975 and 1976.  Several of these aircraft flew shuttle missions between the Soviet Union and Angola, and others flew between Cuba and Angola, bringing in Cuban surrogate forces and their arms and equipment.  For some weeks there were three to six An-22 flights coming into Luanda, capital of Angola, every night, offloading their cargoes for onward shipment by ground transportation then returning to collect more freight.  Their cavernous cargo compartment (shown below) could hold more than any other airlifter of the period except the Lockheed C-5A.

South Africa got involved in the Angolan conflict in an attempt to prevent a Communist takeover there, initially with the encouragement and covert support of the US Ford administration.  Unfortunately the Clark Amendment terminated such support, leading to South Africa being forced to withdraw from Angola (and precipitating the ongoing conflict in that country that was only resolved in 1989).  South African forces ranged from the border with what is today Namibia all the way up to just outside Luanda (a distance of about eight hundred miles), operating with relative impunity at first, but later facing growing Cuban-led opposition.

A South African reconnaissance unit duly arrived within sight of the airport at Luanda, took a look at the increasingly hectic pace of resupply flights involving the giant An-22's, and radioed a proposal to its base in Namibia.  It was in possession of a number of captured shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles, and was close enough to the runway to be sure of being able to hit the big planes as they came in to land.  The South Africans proposed to shoot down all the incoming flights the following evening, which under normal circumstances would involve three to six An-22's.  They requested permission to proceed.

Their bosses duly put the question to a couple of US representatives who were providing 'advice' as to what was, or was not, politically acceptable from the point of view of the US administration.  The representatives promptly had kittens.  An account from someone who was present at the discussion claimed that they begged and pleaded for the South Africans to abandon any and all plans for such an attack.  They believed that the loss of so many of their limited supply of strategic airlifters (which were used to, among other things, ferry intercontinental ballistic missiles around the Soviet Union) would enrage the Soviets, and lead them to attempt something big in the way of retaliation.  This, in turn, might involve the USA willy-nilly in the escalation of the conflict in Angola into something no-one wanted in the wake of the all-too-recent loss of South Vietnam to the Communists.

Reluctantly, it's said, the South African leadership conceded, and radioed their forces outside Luanda not to proceed with the attack.  The latter were reportedly livid at having to forgo such a splendid opportunity, and protested vigorously, but were forced to knuckle under.  The US representatives breathed a sigh (probably several sighs) of relief.

Here's a video clip of the An-22 at a Russian air show in 2008.  For all its immense size and weight, it's still a pretty handy performer in the hands of a good crew.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

I wonder if that's one of the planes that was almost shot down in Angola, all those years ago?


My books are now available from other vendors

I know a number of you have been asking (some less patiently than others!) for me to make my books available from vendors other than, and in formats other than the latter's Kindle files.  Well, the day has come!  If you look in the sidebar, under four of my five books you'll now see buttons that'll take you to either, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBooks store, or Kobo, where you can buy them in the format of your choice.  My latest book, 'War To The Knife', is at present only available on, because it was launched in their KDP Select service.  When it comes out of that service after 90 days, I'll see about setting it up from the other vendors as well.  So, if you have a Nook or iPad or Kobo reader and want my books in your native file format, you can now buy them.

This is an experiment.  With Amazon's launch last week of its new Kindle Unlimited subscription library service, it may become financially imperative to return to an Amazon-only sales strategy (which, of course, is one of the reasons Amazon's launched KU in the first place - to lock in unique content that you can only access there).  I'd prefer not to do that, but it's a question of dollars and cents.  If I sell only a few copies each month at other vendor sites, while losing out heavily on the income from Kindle Unlimited (which is only available to authors if your books are exclusive to Amazon), I may have to drop Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo as vendors.  I guess we'll see how sales go on their sites, and take it from there.

If you have any problems ordering from those sites, please send me an e-mail (the address is in my blog profile) or leave a comment to this post, and I'll try to fix them as quickly as possible.  Thanks!


Winter Olympics - heavy equipment event

Uh . . . yeah!