Saturday, April 25, 2015

"The Disintegration of the World"

That's the title of an unsettling but insightful article in The Atlantic.  It examines how geopolitics and changes in and around the world - political, military, social and cultural - are affecting business and commerce.  If you work in the business world or draw a salary from it or anything related to it, this affects you.  Here are the opening two paragraphs.

Leon Trotsky is not often invoked as a management guru, but a line frequently attributed to him would surely resonate with many business leaders today. “You may not be interested in war,” the Bolshevik revolutionary is said to have warned, “but war is interested in you.” War, or at least geopolitics, is figuring more and more prominently in the thinking and fortunes of large businesses.

Of course, multinational companies such as Shell and GE have long cultivated an expertise in geopolitics. But the intensity of concern over global instability is much higher now than in any recent period. In 2013, the private-equity colossus KKR named the retired general and CIA director David Petraeus as the chairman of its global institute, which informs the firm’s investment decisions. Earlier this year, Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, Britain’s CIA, became the chairman of Macro Advisory Partners, a firm that advises businesses and governments on geopolitics. Both appointments are high-profile examples of a much wider trend: an increasing number of corporations are hiring political scientists, starting their board meetings with geopolitical briefings, and seeking the advice of former diplomats, spymasters, and military leaders.“The last three years have definitely been a wake-up call for business on geopolitics,” Dominic Barton, the managing director of McKinsey, told me. “I’ve not seen anything like it. Since the Second World War, I don’t think you’ve seen such volatility.” Most businesses haven’t pulled back meaningfully from globalized operation, Barton said. “But they are thinking, Gosh, what’s next?”

There's much more at the link.  Here's one of the graphics accompanying the article.  Click the image for a larger view.

Highly recommended reading.


Friday, April 24, 2015


Courtesy of BC:


Doofus Of The Day #831

Today's award goes to the US Environmental Protection Agency, which appears to be arguing against itself before the US Congress.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testified today before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on EPA’s proposed carbon standards for existing power plants. Describing the goal of the proposed rule under Section 111 (d) of the Clean Air Act, McCarthy exclaimed:

“The great thing about this [111(d)] proposal is that it really is an investment opportunity. This is not about pollution control. It’s about increased efficiency at our plants, no matter where you want to invest. It’s about investments in renewables and clean energy.”

But in previous testimony last month before the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, one of McCarthy’s top deputies at EPA, Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Janet McCabe had a much different description of the rule. She testified:

“Chairman Upton, this is not an energy plan. This is a rule done within the four corners of 111(d) that looks to the best system of emission reduction to reduce emission… The rule is a pollution control rule, as EPA has traditionally done under section 111(d).”

There's more at the link.

When the agency contradicts itself so blatantly, why should anyone believe a word the EPA says about anything?


Too cute for words!

Yes, this is the Internet, and you're about to watch a cute (very tiny) kitten video.  What did you expect?

All together, now:  Awwww!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

How humanity discovered cheese?

Mother Jones has an interesting article about how humans might first have learned about the nutritional value of cheese.

Kindstedt, author of the book Cheese and Culture, explained that about a thousand years before traces of cheese-making show up in the archaeological record, humans began growing crops ... for the first thousand years, toddlers and babies were the only ones consuming the milk. Human adults were uniformly lactose-intolerant, says Kindstedt. What's more, he told us that "we know from some exciting archaeo-genetic and genomic modeling that the capacity to tolerate lactose into adulthood didn't develop until about 5500 B.C."—which is at least a thousand years after the development of cheese.

... we now know that the real dawn of cheese came about 8,500 years ago, with two simultaneous developments in human history. First, by then, over-intensive agricultural practices had depleted the soil, leading to the first human-created environmental disaster. As a result, Neolithic humans began herding goats and sheep more intensely, as those animals could survive on marginal lands unfit for crops. And secondly, humans invented pottery: the original practical milk-collection containers.

In the warm environment of the Fertile Crescent region, Kinstedt explained, any milk not used immediately and instead left to stand in those newly invented containers "would have very quickly, in a matter of hours, coagulated [due to the heat and the natural lactic acid bacteria in the milk]. And at some point, probably some adventurous adult tried some of the solid material and found that they could tolerate it a lot more of it than they could milk." That's because about 80 percent of the lactose drains off with the whey, leaving a digestible and, likely, rather delicious fresh cheese.

With the discovery of cheese, suddenly those early humans could add dairy to their diets. Cheese made an entirely new source of nutrients and calories available for adults, and, as a result, dairying took off in a major way. What this meant, says Kindstedt, is that "children and newborns would be exposed to milk frequently, which ultimately through random mutations selected for children who could tolerate lactose later into adulthood."

There's more at the link.

It's fascinating to study the archaeological record like that and work out how a human population that was almost uniformly lactose-intolerant made the switch to become lactose-tolerant, leading to the consumption of gallons of milk per person in today's world (for those who can afford it).  I learned a lot from this article, and I'm going to read the book to learn more.


Satisfying my inner railway geek

If you don't like railways and trains, skip this post.  For the rest of us, here's a mammoth rail-laying machine that stirs my inner geek.

I've never seen one that large before.  Does anyone know where this beast operates?


War, refugees and lingerie

From my own experiences working with refugees in Africa, I know how some needs are often overlooked by the big aid organizations, which focus on food, shelter and the like.  However, the little things are sometimes very important, as this article in the Telegraph illustrates.

My first 12 days [in Arsal, Lebanon] are spent distributing clothing, school text books, hospital operating gowns, water tanks and heating oil for schools and hospitals. All this while trying to avoid detection by the camp ‘roosters’ - informants who report on us directly to the militants.

We’re doing our best, with limited resources. But I meet misery every day; all day. A 9-year-old girl badly burnt in shelling with no money for medication. Destitute families about to be evicted from their filthy storeroom. No access to drinking water.

. . .

Then, suddenly, a whole new need opens up in front of me.

After almost two weeks here, I’m taken aside by a woman who manages one of the refugee camps.

She has a request. She seems desperate. But I can’t make out what she’s asking for.

My interpreter is a young, handsome Syrian student - a strict Muslim and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. But now – as this Syrian woman pleads with me - he looks mortified. He can’t seem to form the words.

Frantic now, the woman ushers me to the back of the tent and picks up a grubby white bra and a sanitary towel.

I understand. Every woman here needs underwear. There’s plenty of donated soap and toothpaste - but no knickers. No sanitary protection. Imagine coping with your period using rags. How would you wash and dry them in three feet of snow, or summer temperatures of 95 degrees when water is so scarce? How do you do this discreetly in camp life?

I decide we have to help. I’m a woman too and - although far removed from what they have to cope with - I instantly grasp how hard it must be.

I jump in a van but alone, running the gauntlet of Hezbollah checkpoints, and take the one hour trip down to the town of Baalbeck with $800 from EDA in my pocket.

My heart begins to sink as I enter the haberdashery shop.

How to do this? How do I buy this much underwear? How do I shop in Arabic with no interpreter?

A bold attack, I decide, is the only way. I grab a handful of knickers and bras and wave them madly above my head.

At first, people back away in fear at this crazy western woman.

I refuse to be cowed – it’s too late to back off now – I briefly wonder if they have lunatic asylums in Lebanon. Waving the underwear around my head, I shout: ‘more knickers – I need more knickers!’

There's more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

The problem of menstrual cycles is even worse in some parts of Africa where women are considered 'unclean' during their periods.  Worse still, there are men who look for young girls who have just entered puberty.  Their embarrassment at dealing with an unfamiliar period, particularly in a culture where it's taboo to discuss it or show that it's going on, marks them out as targets for those who believe that sleeping with a virgin will cure venereal disease, even AIDS.  Needless to say, they don't bother to seduce them - they just rape them.

Most Western feminists have no idea what real feminine oppression is all about.  None whatsoever.  I'm proud to have done my small part in rescuing at least some women from that burden, for however long I could . . . but I don't suppose that matters at all to the SJW's.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's been a long day

The beta draft of 'Forge A New Blade', Volume 2 of the Laredo War trilogy and sequel to 'War To The Knife', is finished.  Tomorrow I'll post it for beta readers to view and comment, and start my own editing and review process while waiting for their feedback.  Two to three weeks from now and it should be ready to go.

There's a great sense of satisfaction in completing a manuscript like this.  The beta draft isn't nearly as polished and presentable as it will be after editing;  I know I'm going to find many rough patches that need fixing up, and loose ends that need to be tied off.  Still, that's all part of the process.  I'm getting faster and better at it with every book.  Looks like practice really does make . . . well, if not perfect, at least better.

Miss D. and I are planning to take off for a bit of a vacation after the book's published in mid-May.  I know I'll be pretty tired and worn out by then, and so will she.  We're thinking of heading up to Indy to see Brigid, Tamara, Roberta, Mad Mike and other friends, then cut across to Ohio to see Miss D.'s family, Cedar and others.  Sounds like it'll be a pleasant road trip.

I'm too tired to put up more blog posts tonight.  See y'all in the morning.


An AMAZING body paint illusion

This is one of the most astonishing body paint illusions I've ever seen.  It's not entirely safe for work - the ladies are, obviously, almost nude but for paint - but they don't show anything desperately revealing, so I think it's safe to put the video on this blog.  However, if you're at work you might want to save it until you get home.  Watch in full-screen mode for the best results.

I simply don't have the kind of 'visual mind' it takes to conceptualize something like that and transform it into 'living art'. Amazing!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Even more windy!

Earlier today I posted a video clip of a tornado in Illinois that went over the top of a man in a pickup truck who sheltered beneath an overpass.  He was lucky to escape injury, if nothing worse.

Following that video, an anonymous reader sent me a link to this clip of a light car meeting a hurricane-force wind in Okinawa.

Suddenly I see yet another advantage to large, heavy American pickup trucks like the one I drive . . .


Not appetizing?

I had to laugh at an article in Good online magazine.

Middle Earth Organics is known for their organic pasta sauces, each label featuring a famous Italian painting. While this would normally be an NBD, the painting they chose for their Tomato and Porcini Mushroom Sauce has been stirring up controversy online.

The woman in the painting above is not staring with intense concentration at a pot of delicious, simmering sugo.

The image, as Middle Earth Organics would know if anyone had done ANY research whatsoever, is Judith Beheading Holofernes, a 1598 painting by Caravaggio. Judith, seen above, is not making an al dente delight. Judith is cutting off some dude’s head.

There's more at the link.

If you look at the full version of Caravaggio's painting, it's definitely gruesome.  I must admit, though:  the expression on Judith's face does resemble those I've seen on several cooks' faces as they concoct an interesting recipe . . .



Filmed in Illinois on April 9th this year.

As many commenters on YouTube pointed out, the worst place to wait out a tornado is underneath a bridge, because air is sucked through the gap like a funnel.  It can pick up vehicles and toss them as if they were made of paper.  That man got lucky.


Private sellers and the absence of logic

I've run into adamant, intractable private sellers on three different occasions in recent weeks, and I'm finding their mental attitude almost incomprehensible.  In each case the seller argued along the lines that he'd paid X for the article in question, and therefore he wanted to recover as much of that price as possible.  The fact that the same article could be bought, brand-new, for a significantly lower price was irrelevant as far as he was concerned.

One of the sellers posted in a repeat advertisement (the fourth for the same item, after he'd turned down at least three fair-market-price offers, including one from me):

No lowball offers.  Don't tell me what it's worth or what you can get one for.  I know what I paid and I won't give it away.

I just can't understand that attitude.  In each case I provided links to current retail prices for new versions of the same items, to illustrate that they were lower than what the seller was asking for a used one, and that I wasn't trying to low-ball the seller but wanted to buy it at a fair price.  In each case, the response was cold, almost contemptuous.  It seemed to be, "Don't confuse me with the facts - my mind is made up!"  In one particular incident, the seller tried to con me into a manifestly unfair trade (to his advantage, not mine), and wouldn't accept that fairness has to apply both ways.  He, too, is still trying to sell his item, and has re-listed it for what I think is the fifth or sixth time (despite assuring me he wasn't going to accept my final offer "because he had a better one from someone else", which clearly he didn't).

I'm seeing this crop up in more and more areas of the market right now, including housing and vehicles.  Actual market values are ignored as sellers demand unrealistic, unreasonably high prices.  Some of them are just plain greedy.  Others seem to be conflating the price they paid for something with an emotional investment in it. They're trying to recoup that emotional investment, rather than the item's actual present monetary worth.  I can understand someone who needs cash wanting to get the best possible price, but the market sets that price, not the individual.  If he demands too much, he'll get nothing at all.  (On the other hand, those asking fair and reasonable prices seem to be getting them.  If it's something I really want, I don't even haggle - I just buy the thing outright before someone else gets in ahead of me.)

How about you, readers?  Have you run into this sort of irrational attitude in your dealings with private sellers?  Do you find it's becoming more widespread?  Let us know in Comments.

(Shakes head in bewilderment, walks off to seek coffee . . . )