Thursday, January 18, 2018

All together, now: Aaawwwww!

Shamelessly stolen borrowed from Wirecutter:

They're just too darned cute, aren't they?


"Shoddy" in more ways than one

The term "shoddy" originally referred to wool salvaged from used clothing.  Wikipedia describes it as follows:

Benjamin Law invented shoddy and mungo, as such, in England in 1813. He was the first to organise, on a larger scale, the activity of taking old clothes and grinding them down into a fibrous state that could be re-spun into yarn. The shoddy industry was centred on the towns of Batley, Morley, Dewsbury and Ossett in West Yorkshire, and concentrated on the recovery of wool from rags. The importance of the industry can be gauged by the fact that even in 1860 the town of Batley was producing over 7,000 tonnes of shoddy. At the time there were 80 firms employing a total of 550 people sorting the rags. These were then sold to shoddy manufacturers of which there were about 130 in the West Riding. Shoddy is inferior to the original wool; "shoddy" has come to mean "of poor quality" in general (not related to clothing), and the original meaning is largely obsolete.

In the 19th century, it was unusual for anyone except rich people to have more than one or two changes of clothes.  Middle-class families might have three or four.  However, as clothing costs came down in the 20th century, thanks to the invention of artificial cloth made from nylon and polyester, clothes became more and more affordable.  Nowadays it's unusual to find anyone in the First World with less than a dozen changes of clothing, and most have a lot more than that.  Many homes have built-in closets to make it possible to store so many clothes - and many of them are overflowing.

As usual, with abundance and affluence comes excess supply.  A lot of us have far more clothes than we need, and the fashion industry is eager to make us buy more every year - but what do we do with the old ones?  The answer, for many of us, is to donate them to charities such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other organizations.  However, we seldom think about what happens to them from then onward.  It can be a blessing - or a curse.

According to various estimates, here's what happens to your clothing giveaways. In most cases, a small amount of the items, the best quality castoffs -- less than 10 percent of donations -- are kept by the charitable institutions and sold in their thrift shops to other Americans looking for a bargain ... The remaining 90 percent or more of what you give away is sold by the charitable institution to textile recycling firms.

. . .

Most of the clothes are recycled into cleaning cloths and other industrial items, for which the recyclers say they make a modest profit.

Twenty-five percent, however, of what the recycling companies purchase from charities is used not as rags, but as a commodity in an international trading economy that many American may not even know about. Brill, from the textile association, picked up the story. "This clothing is processed, sorted and distributed around the world to developing countries," he said.

Take that pair of bluejeans you may have recently donated. Your jeans are stuffed with others into tightly sealed plastic bales weighing about 120 pounds and containing about 100 pairs of jeans.

The bales are loaded into huge containers and sold to international shippers who put them on ships bound for Africa and other developing regions. Again, the price of your old jeans has increased a bit because the shipper had to buy them.

By the time the bale of jeans is unloaded from a container here in Accra, Ghana, it is worth around $144. That's $1.30 per pair of jeans. But when the bale is opened up and the jeans are laid out for sale in the so-called "bend over" markets, customers bend over and select their purchases from the ground for an average price of $6.66 per pair of jeans. That's a 500 percent increase in value just by opening up the bale of clothes.

. . .

There are two ways to look at all this. One view is that ... African textile industries are closing their factories and laying people off because they cannot make clothes as cheaply as those American items found in the bend over markets.

. . .

Neil Kearney, general secretary of the Brussels based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation says the practice is exploitative, "It is neo colonialism in its purest form. It's exporting poverty to Africa, a continent that is already exceedingly poor."

. . .

The other view is that the donated clothing market is actually the American way, that your old clothing is used at every step to create new wealth and to help people who are less fortunate.

There's more at the link.

Two things have now begun to disrupt this trade.  One is that newly manufactured cloth has become so cheap as to make it uneconomical to recycle older clothes into the modern equivalent of "shoddy".  The other is that new clothing has become so cheap that it undermines the sale of used clothing.  The result may be an environmental nightmare.  Bloomberg reports:

For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing.

Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making.

. . .

Between 2000 and 2015, global clothing production doubled, while the average number of times that a garment was worn before disposal declined by 36 percent. In China, it declined by 70 percent.

The rise of "fast fashion" is thus creating a bleak scenario: The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar.

. . .

The question is what to do about it. Some brands ... are experimenting with new fibers made from recycled material, which could help. But longer-term, the industry will have to try to refocus consumers on durability and quality -- and charge accordingly. Ways to do this include offering warranties on clothing and making tags that inform consumers of a product's expected lifespan. To satiate the hunger for fast fashion, meanwhile, brands might also explore subscription-based fashion rental businesses -- such as China's YCloset -- or other more sustainable models.

Again, more at the link.

I've seen at first hand the impact of used clothing on Third World economies.  In Africa, many who depended on making or fitting clothing to make a living have lost their jobs.  Other jobs, sorting and selling used clothing, have replaced them - but what will replace them in their turn, if used clothing becomes less freely available?  A sophisticated economy may be able to absorb such shocks, but a primitive one is far less resilient.  Many nations have no support networks like welfare or social security.  The loss of a job can literally lead to starvation.

There's also the question of our own consumption habits.  Some say that if we can afford them, that's all that matters - anything else is not our problem.  Those "downstream", who are affected by those problems, might disagree.  With some sources claiming that clothes are worn as few as seven times before being discarded, it's no wonder that the "affluent society" is producing a downstream "effluent society", where everything must be either reprocessed or recycled, or discarded altogether.  We already export a large proportion of our garbage to the Third World.  Our used clothes may become part of that garbage in due course, rather than being resold or recycled.  Even the modern equivalent of "shoddy", until recently used to make things like disaster relief blankets or moving blankets, has to a large extent been replaced by new synthetic fabrics mass-produced in modern factories.  Fleece fabric relief blankets are now manufactured by the tens of thousands for aid agencies and organizations.

As I said earlier, I've seen this dilemma playing out in the Third World.  I don't have any answers, except to be responsible in my own purchasing and disposal of clothes.  I think it at least helps if we're aware of the problem.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More about those "Third World s***holes"

Last week I pointed out that many so-called "Third World s***holes" were perfectly accurately described by that label.  They were, and are, s***holes - literally as well as figuratively.

Now a former Peace Corps volunteer adds her perspective.

In plain English: s--- is everywhere.  People defecate on the open ground, and the feces is blown with the dust – onto you, your clothes, your food, the water.  He warned us the first day of training: do not even touch water.  Human feces carries parasites that bore through your skin and cause organ failure.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a few decades later, liberals would be pushing the lie that Western civilization is no better than a third-world country.  Or would teach two generations of our kids that loving your own culture and wanting to preserve it are racism.

Last time I was in Paris, I saw a beautiful African woman in a grand boubou have her child defecate on the sidewalk next to Notre Dame Cathedral.  The French police officer, ten steps from her, turned his head not to see.

I have seen.  I am not turning my head and pretending unpleasant things are not true.

Senegal was not a hellhole.  Very poor people can lead happy, meaningful lives in their own cultures' terms.  But they are not our terms.  The excrement is the least of it.  Our basic ideas of human relations, right and wrong, are incompatible.

As a twenty-one-year-old starting out in the Peace Corps, I loved Senegal.  In fact, I was euphoric.  I quickly made friends and had an adopted family.  I relished the feeling of the brotherhood of man.  People were open, willing to share their lives and, after they knew you, their innermost thoughts.

The longer I lived there, the more I understood: it became blindingly obvious that the Senegalese are not the same as us.  The truths we hold to be self-evident are not evident to the Senegalese.  How could they be?  Their reality is totally different.  You can't understand anything in Senegal using American terms.

There's more at the link.

Those of us who've been there, know what such places are like.  When President Trump (allegedly) describes them as "s***holes", he's speaking nothing more or less than the truth.  They are precisely that.  Anyone trying to deny that is living in cloud cuckoo land - or deliberately lying to you.

I stand by what I said last week:

I think President Trump's point may have been unfortunately phrased;  but I think it is nevertheless accurate.  The USA does not need to be overrun by people who are not capable of becoming Americans.  It needs immigrants who are able to make that adjustment.  For those who are not, by all means let us help them;  but let us do so in their own countries or regions, and help them to improve the quality of life there for everybody.  That's the only practical solution that's fair to everyone, IMHO.


Pick your fights carefully . . .

. . . because you may lose.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Saving Rosa Parks' house - by moving it to Europe???

This happened some time ago, but I only just read about it in this article.

The project came about [in 2016], when Rhea McCauley, Ms. Parks’s niece, met Mr. Mendoza in Detroit. As part of an art project that explored his own sense of home, as well as the American subprime mortgage crisis, Mr. Mendoza successfully transported an abandoned house from Detroit to Europe, winning the trust of Detroit community members along the way. Ms. McCauley told him she had managed to buy back the family house for $500, but she could not find anyone interested in saving it from demolition.

Mr. Mendoza, who makes his living as a fine-arts painter, agreed to help. He raised a little over $100,000 by selling some of his paintings, and set out for Detroit. There, he worked with a local team to take apart the house, which had fallen into extreme disrepair.

He then shipped the wooden exterior to Berlin, where he spent the winter painstakingly rebuilding it, mostly alone, by hand. “It was an act of love,” he said.

That the house had to be shipped to Berlin to be saved is extraordinary, said Daniel Geary, a professor of American history at Trinity College Dublin, given that, “in general, in the U.S., with public heroes, there is an attempt to preserve anywhere they lived.”

Mr. Geary said that to him, the neglect of a house like this one speaks to a contemporary American unwillingness to deal with racism’s legacy.

“People like to remember Rosa Parks for one moment, when she wouldn’t stand up on a bus,” he said. “They don’t really want to grapple with the rest of her life. The death threats, the fact that she had to leave Alabama and go to Detroit. It’s a more complicated story with a less happy ending. She suffered for her decision.”

There's more at the link.

It's a pretty shameful thing that the home of such an icon of the civil rights movement should have to be disassembled and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in order to save it for posterity.  She worked as the secretary and receptionist for Detroit congressman John Conyers.  Could his colleagues and/or successors in office, and/or the Democratic Party organization in Detroit, not have done something to save a building like this?

It was reported late last year that the house would be returned to America.  I hope it happens soon.  You can read more about the house, and the effort to save it, here.


I'm not a fan

I was more than a little mind-boggled to learn that Alien Gear plans to introduce an inside-the-waistband holster with a fan in it.

I can only assume this is some sort of advertising gimmick.  For a start, the fan couldn't push cooling air through the holes at the rear of the holster, because your body will block them!  It'll just push air uselessly against your skin, then blow it out the top or bottom of the holster.

There's also the question of security.  If you're carrying inside-the-waistband, presumably covering the gun with an outer garment, you don't want it to be noticed.  However, if there's the constant whine of a fan coming from your holster . . . doesn't that defeat the object of the exercise?

On the other hand, taking up a 'bladed' stance with your firearm now takes on a whole new meaning - and I suppose it makes it easier to plead self-de-fan-se . . .


How about this in the hands of terrorists?

We had some spirited discussions in these pages a few days ago (follow those three links to find the articles), concerning terrorist attacks on a Russian airbase in Syria, using 'hobbyist'-style quadcopter drones as well as some homemade larger models.  Some people are still unconvinced that the former pose any realistic threat.

Now Boeing has announced the development - in just three months from 'clean-sheet' concept to a flying prototype - of an octocopter that can carry payloads of up to 500 pounds.

Octocopters big enough to carry a human passenger have already been announced.  If Boeing can build something like that shown above in three months, using off-the-shelf components, I'm willing to bet a backyard mechanic team can do something similar in a year or so.  Given that sort of payload capability - 500 pounds is the weight of a standard USAF Mark 82 bomb - there are all sorts of nasty weapon and target combinations that come to mind. is already talking about using UAV's to deliver parcels and packages.  UPS and FedEx are doing the same.  We'll soon be seeing something like this drone in the skies around our homes.  Terrorists are sure to figure out that by painting their drone in familiar colors, and sticking a couple of commercial logos on it, and wrapping its payload in cardboard or plastic to resemble a commercial delivery, they can operate their drones with virtual impunity.  I damn well guarantee it.  This genie is well and truly out of the bottle.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Hypocrisy, thy name is politician

The latest political hypocrite (but by no means the only one):

It's becoming something of a miracle to find any politician, from either side of the aisle, who isn't a hypocrite.  I'd love to see a law that says any politician caught in such duplicity would not be permitted to run for re-election during the next term of office.  It's a pipe-dream, I know, but it's a pleasant one . . .


Looks like Puerto Rico's endemic corruption has struck again

For decades, it's been alleged that Puerto Rico's government is at least as corrupt as any other third world nation, if not more so - despite its US government oversight.  For example, in 2001 corruption scandals led to indictments against about 40 officials.  In 2010, 89 Puerto Rican law enforcement officers were among about 130 people charged.  Global Security claims that the seemingly endemic corruption is largely rooted in the drug trade, as drugs from South America are smuggled into the USA via Puerto Rico.

Last year, famed investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson produced this report on corruption in the island, noting that even before Hurricane Maria's devastation, the economy there was in tatters.

Last week came news that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority might be involved in a new corruption scandal.

On Saturday, a day after becoming aware of a massive store of rebuilding materials being held by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the U.S. federal government — the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with their security detail — entered a Palo Seco warehouse owned by the public utility to claim and distribute the equipment, according to a spokesperson for the Corps.

Rumors of a tense standoff had been circulating on the island, but the encounter was confirmed to The Intercept in a statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Asked if the federal officers were armed when they entered the warehouse, USACE spokesperson Luciano Vera said they were indeed accompanied by security detail and quickly began distributing the material after seizing it.

. . .

“Warehouse 5” — the one which USACE and FEMA entered Saturday — “falls under the control of the [PREPA] transmission division and has lacked transparency in inventory and accountability,” the email from Vera continued. Carlos Torres, appointed by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to oversee power restoration, was on site as well.

“Due to the size of the warehouse,” Vera said, accounting for everything contained therein is still underway days later. Among the materials recovered so far are “2,875 pieces of critical material to contractors” along with the sleeves of full-tension steel, a component of Puerto Rican electrical infrastructure required to erect new power lines. PREPA did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment, though in a statement to the Associated Press, it rejected allegations that it had failed to distribute the warehouse’s contents. The AP only reported that “officials over the weekend also discovered some needed materials in a previously overlooked warehouse owned by Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority.” How they discovered them and how they were obtained is a story that has not been fully told.

There's more at the link.

The island's governor has 'ordered an investigation' into the discovery of the materials.  However, one possible reason for their existence being hidden has been advanced by a former Puerto Rican Secretary of State.

Kenneth McClintock, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 and president of the island’s senate from 2005 to 2008 told Mother Jones on Wednesday that PREPA, the US Attorney’s Office, and the FBI should investigate the incident as evidence of corruption.

“If the US Attorney and the FBI are not currently investigating corruption at PREPA, which has been going on for 70 years, this incident—with such a huge amount of materials has been kept away from plain view for so long—would be a good point to begin,” he said. “This was not a mistake. This is corruption.”

. . .

“What they’ve been doing is creating a huge hidden cache of the materials that are needed to do repairs. And then for lack of access to repair materials, the outside crews from the states have been waiting at the hotels with their trucks parked,” McClintock says, adding that the power authority’s local employees and their unions do not want outside crews “doing the job that they can do with triple-pay overtime.”

Again, more at the link.

President Trump allegedly referred to certain Third World nations in uncomplimentary terms last week.  I wonder whether he might not wish to employ the same language about Puerto Rico, and its clearly inept, irresponsible, incompetent government?  Seems to me we need to 'clean house' there even before we worry about immigrants from elsewhere.  I wonder how many Puerto Ricans currently moving to the mainland will bring with them a culture tolerant of such corruption?  Will we see it spread to Florida and elsewhere?

I'm not being racist in the least - I'm being realistic.  The color of the skin of those involved, or the language they speak, is irrelevant.  Once you allow corruption to become so entrenched in society - any society - it's almost impossible to uproot it.  As evidence, I submit New York City, Chicago, Detroit, or New Orleans.  Examples there are so immense in number and in scope that there's really no reason to say more, is there?


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday morning music

Let's have a change of pace.  So-called 'spirituals' or 'negro spirituals' grew out of the experience of slaves in America, and have become a recognized music genre in their own right.  They also informed and influenced the folk music revival of the 1950's and 1960's, to such an extent that there's hardly a single folk music 'great' who didn't also record spirituals.  There are so many of them it's impossible to do them justice in a short blog post, but here are half a dozen classics, plus an updated one.

Let's start with a 1920's recording from Paul Robeson of 'Go Down Moses'.

Here's Bob Gibson and Joan Baez in a remastered 1959 recording of 'We Are Crossing That Jordan River'.

And who can forget the great Louis Armstrong with 'Ezekiel Saw de Wheel'?

The Weavers were one of the earliest groups in the folk music revival, and leaned heavily on spirituals for their repertoire.  Here they are in 1963 with 'Sinner Man'.

Patsy Cline and a young Willie Nelson collaborate in this rendition of 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee'.

Here's Australian group The Seekers with 'Come The Day'.  It's an original composition, but heavily influenced by the many spirituals the group performed.  I've included it as an interesting example of how spirituals influenced the new folk music of the 1960's.

Finally, the old classic spirituals have lent themselves to some reinterpretation down the years.  Here's Pete Seeger with a humorous, tongue-in-cheek look at 'Old Time Religion'.

I'm not sure how many of the original singers of spirituals would have reacted to that version!