Sunday, May 24, 2015

Remembering the "Little Ships"

Seventy-five years ago this week, Operation Dynamo got under way - the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in France.  Its survival meant that Britain could continue the war against Nazi Germany, standing alone until the USA entered the war in December 1941.

Evacuation was initially thought so difficult as to be practically impossible, because there were no major ports along the coast at or near Dunkirk.  Ships could not get close enough to load the troops directly.  However, a massive appeal was launched to all boat-owners along the English coast for any suitable craft to be brought to Dover.  Some, whose owners could not be traced in time, were simply commandeered.  Several hundred of the so-called "Little Ships" eventually made the crossing to Dunkirk.  There they ferried soldiers from the beaches and makeshift jetties (some formed by driving Army trucks into the waves until they stalled, then pushing them further out by means of other trucks shoving from behind, until a line of trucks half a mile long extended into the sea).  Some of the small craft even tackled the relatively long voyage back to England under their own power, because there weren't enough larger rescue ships to take aboard their 'cargo' of rescued soldiers.

In total, about 220 warships and large vessels and about 700 of the "little ships" were involved in the evacuation.  Six British and three French destroyers were sunk, along with another nine larger vessels plus about 200 of the small boats;  many more were damaged.  However, their sacrifice helped to achieve the rescue of 192,226 British and 139,000 French soldiers – a total of 331,226 in all.  The British troops were re-equipped to form the core of Britain's army.  Some French soldiers chose to be repatriated to France after the Armistice, but many others stayed on in England to form the core of the Free French forces.

Last week about 50 small craft sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the evacuation.  Among them were a number of the original "Little Ships" that have been preserved to this day.

The last surviving veterans of the evacuation are telling their stories for possibly the last time, as the next commemoration will only be held in five years time.  It's doubtful whether many of them - or any of them - will be either alive, or healthy enough to attend again.

I can remember my mother describing the emotion in England as the tens of thousands of rescued soldiers were ferried to their bases aboard trains and buses.  She told me of how she wept to see them so bedraggled and exhausted, and joined other young women in providing sandwiches and cups of tea to sustain them on their long journey.  She and others listened to Winston Churchill's address to the House of Commons and the nation at the conclusion of the evacuation, and took fresh heart from it.  (She met my father shortly thereafter, and married him in early 1942.)

Dark days indeed . . . but the darkness turned to dawn, and five years later the full light of victory brought freedom for Europe.  Let's not forget what our parents and grandparents went through to bring that about, this Memorial Day weekend.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Robert de Niro lays it on the line

Robert de Niro recently gave the graduation address at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.  He congratulated the graduates . . . then immediately told them "You're f****d" (and yes, he used that word).  He went on to describe the challenges that lay ahead for them, and told them what their lives would be like.  It's a remarkable testimony from one of our era's foremost actors, and the most clear and concise description I've yet heard of an acting life.

If you, or anyone you love or know, has ambitions in that line, this is really worth listening to.  It's sometimes very funny, but also very thought-provoking.

Nice to hear someone telling the plain, unvarnished truth with no sugar-coating.


A very courageous confession

Ken White, one of the lawyers who contributes over at Popehat, has put up a remarkable article in which he discusses his battle with severe depression, including recent voluntary treatment in a specialized hospital.  Here's an excerpt.

I'm still here. That's a consequence of the grace, and love, and generosity, and decency of others, and my own ridiculously good luck. I'm here, I feel good — not just okay, but good — and I'm very happy to still be here. Not only that, I feel hope. If you haven't been depressed, that may seem like just a little thing, but it's not. I don't feel the hope that I'll never have a low point of anxiety and depression again. It's going to happen again; that's the deal. No: I feel hope that when it happens again, I have the tools to face it.

Every time I write about depression, I feel like I'm having the naked-at-school dream, exposed and poised for incoming ridicule. No matter how often I say that depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and how sincerely I believe it in my head, my gut tells me otherwise. But every time I write about depression, I get emails from people thanking me for talking openly about the subject and for describing what it's like. And, as I said, I'm only here because of the decency of others. I owe back. I owe back more than I can possibly repay. A little squeamishness doesn't weigh much in the balance.

So here we are. I'm Ken, and though I live an outwardly "normal," high-functioning and successful life, I suffer from grave anxiety and depression, and last year it got bad enough that I was hospitalized "voluntarily" for it. Maybe you suffer, or maybe you love somebody who suffers, or maybe you want to understand depression and anxiety more so you can support people who suffer. I want to share some things I've learned in the course of a harrowing experience, in hope that it might help someone, even a little.

There's much more at the link.

As a pastor I've worked with people suffering from depression, and once suffered a temporary, short-term bout of it myself during a particularly difficult period in my life.  It's no fun at all, even from my limited experience, and I've seen how utterly debilitating it can be to those who suffer from more severe forms of it.  Fortunately, treatments have been developed that are light years ahead of those available to our parents and ancestors.

I think Mr. White is to be applauded for his willingness to share so openly about what is a really serious problem, one that affects far more people than most of us realize.  If you also suffer from depression, or know someone who does, or would like to know more about it, I strongly recommend clicking over and reading what he has to say.  It's long, but well worth your time.


Friday, May 22, 2015

The Battle of Berlin, 70 years later

This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1945.  The climactic European battle of that war was the Soviet fight to take Berlin, capital of Nazi Germany, in April and May of that year.

The Big Picture, a publication of the Boston Globe, has provided a fascinating series of photographs of scenes from the battle, juxtaposed with the same location photographed from almost the same position 70 years later.  The contrast between utter destruction and modern prosperity is jarring.  Here's just one of them to whet your appetite.  Click the image for a larger view.

There are many more images at the link.  They make fascinating viewing.

It's humbling to think of those who survived all that, then went on to rebuild their countries and establish the prosperity that we take for granted today.


A very fitting recognition of a hero, 75 years later

I was touched to read about one aspect of the Royal Air Force's commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

An RAF Typhoon fighter has been repainted in the Second World War colours of a Battle of Britain hero to mark the 75th anniversary of the crucial clash.

The Eurofighter jet which is usually coloured a drab grey has instead been painted with the camouflage and 249 Squadron identification number of the only Fighter Command pilot awarded a Victoria Cross during the battle.  (It's shown below alongside a WW2 vintage Hurricane fighter of the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Click the image for a larger view.)

Flt Lt James Brindley Nicolson won Britain’s highest award for battlefield bravery for attacking and shooting down a German fighter even though his own cockpit was on fire.

The repainted Typhoon will fly alongside a WWII Spitfire at air shows across the UK this summer.

There's more at the link.

That's a fine paint job, and one that I think F/Lt. Nicholson would have appreciated.  Unfortunately he was killed near the end of the war, in 1945, in the crash of a B-24 Liberator bomber in the Bay of Bengal.  My late father would have recognized it, too.  He started the war as the equivalent of a Lance-Corporal in the RAF, and was commissioned as an engineer officer shortly after the Battle.  That color scheme would have been very much a part of his life at the time.

May F/Lt. Nicholson, and all those who died in the Battle of Britain, rest in peace.


A "spectacularly honest" job advertisement

The Telegraph reports:

Budding chefs who don’t mind working in a kitchen the size of a closet for “s—t” money can look no further.

A restaurateur has posted a brutally honest job advert seeking a colleague who is “fast, progressive, and not a total p----k” to work alongside him in his new American diner in Glasgow.

Justin Valmassoi, a Michigan-born businessman pulls no punches, warning potential applicants not to waste his time if they think a “good sandwich is a tuna mayo like your gran makes” and stressing that he did not want to receive any CVs filled with anodyne, generic statements.

“If you have one that says you're a "hard-working team player that can also function well alone" and that you "value customer service and punctuality" I will stab myself in the face with a pencil and nobody will get a job,” he writes.

There's more at the link.

The advertisement may be found here.  The following is a short excerpt.

I have no problem working seven days a week, but on the off-chance I break my foot or get third-degree steam burns on my face I need someone who can work unsupervised and still make quality food. It's a breakfast/brunch/lunch place to start, but there are no eggs benedicts. Go on, wrap your head around that and then continue reading. I'll wait.

. . .

I don't care if you're super outgoing or actually mute. I don't care if you've got tattoos. I don't care if you only work in kitchens to get away from your horrible significant other. I don't care about anything other than that you're fast enough not to be in the weeds constantly and you want to be part of something genuine and good. This is a mom-and-pop type restaurant. You can learn a lot. You can have a good degree of freedom. What you cannot do is be a pain in my balls because my life savings is on the line and I have to work with my wife all day so I don't have time for any primadonna bullsh*t.

. . .

If you think I sound like an obnoxious d*ckhead, congratulations. You are observant and will go far in life. Don't let it discourage you, though. I'm only a d*ckhead for the first three years you know me. After that I'm a total sweetheart.

Again, more at the link.

Y'know, on the basis of that advertisement, I'd go and eat there if I lived in the area, just to say "thanks for the laughs" with my wallet!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gangs and the threat they pose

Following the publicity generated by the motorcycle gang clash in Waco, Texas last weekend, Survival Blog has put up a three-part article on gangs that contains some useful information.  Follow these links:

The articles don't go into much detail, but provide a good overview.  For more information, see:

There are many other resources on the Web, not all of which are as good as others.  A quick Internet search will reveal many more links.

I ran into a lot of gangs and gang members during my work as a prison chaplain.  Gangs are probably in your area.  There are few where they aren't.  Forewarned is forearmed.


Fred gets his wookie on

The indomitable Fred Reed responds to recent news that Army ROTC candidates were forced to march in high heels as part of sexual-assault awareness events.  Here's an excerpt.

Dear General,

I see that on your watch the Army is turning into a transvestite marching corps in high heels, a Ziegfeld cross-gendered or bisected gay-bath sexual zoo vacuuming up every sort of erotic loony, not to mention becoming a home for unwed mothers and prostitution rings. I commend you. I have always wanted to be defended by a freak show.

. . .

What I figure, General, is you ought to set an example for the troops by wearing panties and a bra (if you don’t already wear panties: I give you credit for miitary foresight.) A good officer--we had some--doesn't order his men to do anything he himself wouldn't do. Walk a Mile in Her Skivvies, General. (Actually, when I was a hard-charging young Gyrene, we spent a lot of time trying to get into women's skivvies. Now it’s going to be mandatory?)

. . .

Now, General, I speak only for myself as a Marine who carried a rifle in Viet Nam, but others may agree with me. (A “rifle” is one of those awful long thingies (no, not those long thingies) that make boomy noises and stinky smoke and put stains on your cocktail dress that just ruin it.) Outside of Da Nang we used to lie behind sandbags at night with mortars coming in (a “mortar” is one of those gun thingies with a tube—no, a different kind of tube, General—that shoots--never mind) hoping a hit wouldn’t spray a buddy’s guts around. To a man we were thinking, why couldn’t we have a leader like a Pentagon general to give us cute little heels instead of these uncomfy old boots?

There's more at the link.

"Fred Reed".  "Political correctness".  Two phrases not normally encountered in close proximity . . . or in high heels!


That's a tough gun sight!

Last year I put up half a dozen posts concerning the upgrading and refurbishing of AR-15 rifles.  In #6 of that series I talked about sights, including red dot sights.  I mentioned that the most 'value-for-money' optic in the Aimpoint series was at that time its Patrol Rifle Optic, or PRO, shown below.

Now comes proof of the PRO's toughness under extreme conditions.

Paul Riddell ... lost his Minnesota home to a fire one night this past February.

. . .

Aside from all his family’s other possessions, he lost three firearms in the blaze. But, he reports his Aimpoint PRO mounted on a Spikes lower/BCM-EAG lightweight upper frankenrifle somehow survived the fire. That’s it in the inset photo of his rifle above, red dot glowing defiantly. Aimpoint found out about it and already swapped it for a brand new optic and with a plan to display the survivor in its museum.

“Here’s a picture of my AR after it was recovered from my house fire after being exposed to the elements for over a month in late February to mid March,” said Riddell. “The rifle was at the core of the fire.”

He said the rifle sat in the water and ice leftover from the firefighters, exposed to the outside in sub zero Wisconsin winter. Weeks later, Riddell was allowed to look through the wreckage after the fire investigation was complete. He found his melted pile of a rifle covered in ice, rust, ash and mud in the debris. The polymer rifle case it was stored in had fused to sections of the rifle, as well. He pried open the eyepiece cover on the PRO and turned the knob. And, it lit up.

“Had I been willing to trust firing the gun,” said Riddell, ” I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it held zero.”

There's more at the link, including a picture of the damaged rifle and sight.

Kudos to Aimpoint for replacing the fire-damaged sight with a new one - but they'll get their money's worth out of it as an example to potential customers of how tough their products are.  Makes me glad I recently bought a PRO to put on my 'fighting rifle'.


I need your help with a book cover, please

I've had some feedback from readers who don't like the cover of my latest book, 'Forge A New Blade'.  I've taken a look at their criticisms, and I can see their point.  The overall theme fits that of previous covers in the Maxwell series, but doesn't necessarily fit with the first volume of the Laredo War trilogy, 'War To The Knife', the cover of which which showed a battle in space.

I'm therefore looking at alternatives.  Here's the existing cover image, plus one I may use to replace it.  The latter also fits the plot of 'Forge A New Blade' in that it shows three cargo vessels in formation, which would correspond to the three converted merchantmen serving as Armed Merchant Cruisers in the book.

Here's where you come in, readers.  Looking at the two images, which do you prefer?  In particular, if you've already read the book, which fits it better?  Please leave your opinion in Comments.

(This is one of the real advantages of independent publishing. If a cover - or any other element - doesn't work, one can change it very quickly in response to feedback. Mainstream publishers don't have that luxury.)

Thanks very much for your help.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I'd never have thought of doing that!

El Capitan brings us these images of an RV that had an argument with a tree - and lost.

The owner decided to make the best of it . . . and converted it into, of all things, a flatbed truck!

There are more images at the link.

El Capitan is annoyed because he can't afford to go out to Utah, buy it, and drive it back.  Personally, I wouldn't have thought an RV frame/chassis/suspension could stand the stresses that a typical flatbed load would exert, but what do I know?


Wish I'd been in the passenger seat

It seems Lamborghini's Aventador SV recently tackled the Nurburgring as part of development testing for its P Zero Corsa tires.  As Autoblog describes it:

Lambo unveiled its latest Superveloce in Geneva just a couple of months ago, boasting an upgraded version of its free-revving V12, unburdened by 110 pounds of excess weight and fitted with enhanced equipment. The result of all these improvements is 740 horsepower, 509 pound-feet of torque, a 2.8-second 0-62 time, a top speed of 217 miles per hour and a Nordschleife lap time of 6:59.73. No turborchargers, no hybrid assist, no type certification or regulatory loopholes. Just an old-fashioned twelve-cylinder supercar doing what it does best, and trouncing just about everything else in the process.

There's more at the link.

Here's a video of the lap.  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode to get a better idea of the speed, particularly over the last long straight stretch (which goes by so fast you forget it's a couple of miles long).

Just listen to that V12 roar!  Music . . .


To Tweet or not to Tweet? That is the question . . .

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The ads and trackers of outrageous Facebook
Or dive into a raging sea of Tweeters,
And by partaking, join them?

(With apologies to William Shakespeare!)

I don't want to go on Facebook.  I've written many times before about how that company's cynical disregard for its users' privacy and security makes it beyond the pale in my book.  However, I come across several articles each day that I like, or which intrigue me, but about which I don't have time to write on this blog.  I also come across books that strike a chord, or YouTube video clips that interest me, or articles on other blogs that catch my eye.  (I used to address the latter in regular "Around The Blogs" articles, but again, those take a lot of time to prepare;  and when I'm working to a book deadline, it's hard to keep them up.)

I'm trying to decide whether to open a Twitter account, where I can provide links to things like that.  Would you be interested in following it?  Is this something you'd find useful or valuable?  Or would I simply be lost in the background noise?  I'd be grateful for your feedback.  Please let me know in Comments what you think.

Thanks in advance.


The war on cash

I'm sure readers have been aware of the growing number of calls from statist economists and financiers to do away with cash altogether.  In recent weeks, they include the following:

The real reason for the onslaught on cash, of course, is the desire by politicians and financiers to exert greater control over their citizens subjects.  Without cash, we can be forced to use our money as they see fit, or - if we don't - they'll confiscate it, tax it, devalue it, or do anything else they please.  With our money reduced to binary ones and zeroes in a computer system, it'll no longer be "our" money at all - it'll be theirs.  The "shadow economy", almost always run on a cash and/or barter basis, will take a heavy hit and be wiped out in many cases, forcing those currently making a living (no matter how precarious) outside the formal economy to be drawn into the latter, or starve.  It's not about the money - it's about control.  It always is.

The last article I cited above provides some very interesting reading to explain why cash is so unpopular with financiers.  Here's an excerpt.

Cash is a MAJOR problem for the Central Banks.

The reason for this concerns the actual structure of the financial system. As I’ve outlined previously, that structure is as follows:

  1. The total currency (actual cash in the form of bills and coins) in the US financial system is a little over $1.36 trillion.
  2. When you include digital money sitting in short-term accounts and long-term accounts then you’re talking about roughly $10 trillion in “money” in the financial system.
  3. In contrast, the money in the US stock market (equity shares in publicly traded companies) is over $20 trillion in size.
  4. The US bond market  (money that has been lent to corporations, municipal Governments, State Governments, and the Federal Government) is almost twice this at $38 trillion.
  5. Total Credit Market Instruments (mortgages, collateralized debt obligations, junk bonds, commercial paper and other digitally-based “money” that is based on debt) is even larger - $58.7 trillion.
  6. Unregulated over the counter derivatives traded between the big banks and corporations is north of $220 trillion.
When looking over these data points, the first thing that jumps out at the viewer is that the vast bulk of “money” in the system is in the form of digital loans or credit (non-physical debt).

Put another way, actual physical money or cash (as in bills or coins you can hold in your hand) comprises less than 1% of the “money” in the financial system.

As far as the Central Banks are concerned, this is a good thing because if investors/depositors were ever to try and convert even a small portion of this “wealth” into actual physical bills, the system would implode (there simply is not enough actual cash).

. . .

In this scenario, when the 2008 Crisis hit, one of the biggest problems for the Central Banks was to stop investors from fleeing digital wealth for the comfort of physical cash. Indeed, the actual “thing” that almost caused the financial system to collapse was when depositors attempted to pull $500 billion out of money market funds ... When all of this happened, the global Central Banks realized that their worst nightmare could in fact become a reality: that if a significant percentage of investors/ depositors ever tried to convert their “wealth” into cash (particularly physical cash) the whole system would implode.

There's more at the link.  You really should click over and read the whole thing.  It makes the situation very clear.

(BTW:  That $1.36 trillion figure for 'total currency in the US financial system' isn't altogether correct.  AFAIK, that's the amount of US currency estimated to be in circulation worldwide.  A great deal of that is squirreled away under mattresses or in hidden 'stashes' by citizens of other countries whose currencies aren't particularly stable, or accumulated by criminals who can't put it in banks for fear that it'll be confiscated.  This is why you see regular news reports (such as this one) of huge amounts of cash being confiscated from criminal gangs.  I'd guess the amount of cash actually circulating inside the borders of the USA is a lot less than $1.36 trillion . . . but no-one knows for sure.)

I hope we can stop the politicians and banksters from outlawing cash, although I'm not sure whether we'll be successful in the longer term.  Until then, I think it's an excellent idea to keep at least one month's expenditure handy in the form of cash;  two months, if you can afford it.  I also recommend stocking up on assets you'll find useful in a "cash crunch", when cash or credit facilities may not be available to buy what you need and you'll have to revert to barter (i.e. swapping what you have for what you need).  Ammunition and firearms are almost always valuable barter items (and can help to defend what you don't want to barter!).  So are tools, hardware supplies, liquor (particularly in the form of readily-tradeable miniatures), essential necessities such as feminine hygiene items, soap, etc., and other goods.  Gold and silver?  I'm not so sure.  I can't use them for my everyday needs, and it's almost impossible to be sure whether they're real or counterfeit.  I might hold some gold and silver as a store of value, but not primarily as a means of exchange.  YMMV, of course.