Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Too cute!

Courtesy of Borepatch, here's a pup who just wants to be part of the game.

All together, now:  Aaaaaawwwww!


Contaminated water awareness goes mainstream?

Last week I published some thoughts about emergency water supplies, in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Now Accuweather has put up two interesting articles dealing with the threat from contaminated water following a hurricane, and how to deal with the problem.

I highly recommend reading both articles, as well as my earlier article and a longer one that I wrote on the same subject some years before.  Many people put some effort into storing emergency food supplies, but pay little or no attention to their need for water, keeping only a few flats of 16-20 ounce bottles of water on hand.  That may supply drinking water for a few days, but it won't be enough for cooking, personal hygiene, etc.

Furthermore, I'm hearing many reports from survivors of both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that sewer lines 'backwashed', flooding bathrooms (if not entire homes) with the contents of sewers pushed back up into toilets, baths and basins by overflowing storm water.  This is particularly problematic if you plan to fill your bath in an emergency, to use it as a water reserve.  Even the smallest backflow will ruin that water.  As the old saying goes, "If you add a glass of wine to a barrel of sewage, you have a barrel of sewage.  If you add a glass of sewage to a barrel of wine, you have a barrel of sewage!"  What's more, any sewer backflow that overflows your toilet(s), basin(s), bath(s) or shower(s) will cause a major contamination problem, one that will probably require (expensive) professional attention to clean up.

It begins to look more and more desirable to install a sewer backflow valve to prevent this problem, particularly in flood-prone areas.  FEMA has instructions on how to do that (link is to an Adobe Acrobat file in .PDF format).  Even though we don't live in a flood-prone area, I'm going to look into that as part of our next residential upgrade.


More fiscal insanity in Illinois

We've spoken before about Illinois' budget woes - follow those four links for more information.

Now comes this news.

Illinois’ pile of unpaid bills topped $16 billion for the first time as the state deals with the fallout of an unprecedented two straight fiscal years without complete budgets, the state comptroller’s office reported on Tuesday.

The bill backlog is growing despite the enactment of a fiscal 2018 spending plan and income tax increase in July that ended a budget impasse between Illinois’ Republican governor and Democrats who control the legislature.

. . .

A provision in the budget enacted by lawmakers over the vetoes of Governor Bruce Rauner authorized the sale of up to $6 billion of general obligation bonds to pay bills from vendors and service providers that are accruing late payment penalties of as much as 12 percent.

. . .

But on Monday, the governor told reporters that the bonds do not solve any problem because lawmakers failed to set aside money to make principal and interest payments over the 12 years the debt would be outstanding.

“We need to come up with roughly half a billion (dollars) of cuts just to be able to service a bond offering,” he said, adding that he planned to meet with legislative leaders for discussion.

There's more at the link.

So, Illinois wants to borrow another $6 billion . . . to pay current bills presently totaling about $16 billion . . . but the state has made no budgetary provision whatsoever to pay the interest on those new borrowings, let alone the principal?  Does that sound like something the average bond investor will find attractive?  I don't know about you, dear reader, but to me, it sounds absolutely insane.

Illinois' current population is reportedly about 12.8 million people.  That means every resident of Illinois, man, woman or child, is on the hook for $1,250 of currently outstanding short-term state expenditure, over and above the state's longer-term debt (estimated to come to $5,041 per resident), and over and above the state's $130 billion backlog in pension funding (equal to another $10,156 per resident, all of whom are liable for the shortfall).  In case you were wondering, that's a total of $16,447 in state government debt owed by every resident of Illinois.  (That leaves out questions of their share of the US national debt, of course - but let's focus on state-level finances here.)

Even leaving aside federal debt, if Illinois owes you money in any way, shape or form - a pension, payment for goods you've sold to a state agency, reimbursement for expenses, whatever - I suggest you urgently begin examining ways to survive financially without it.  I suspect you're not likely to be paid in full - that is, if you're ever paid at all.

(There are, of course, many other states that are almost as badly off, and to which the same caution applies.)


One has to ask . . .

. . . given the abysmal failure of the War On Drugs:  is it time to just let this stuff come in, and allow the drug addiction problem to solve itself through natural selection?  After all, drugs - particularly 'hard' drugs - are today much easier to find, and far more affordable, than they were at the start of the War On Drugs in 1971.

And then there's this:

Methinks Einstein had the right of it:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again
and expecting different results.



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Shooting miscellany

Here are a few bits and pieces that have crossed my path, or my consciousness, in recent weeks.

First off, buckshot.  I highly recommend Federal's Flite Control rounds as one's primary buckshot load for defensive use.  I prefer the #1 buckshot reduced-recoil (i.e. slower muzzle velocity) cartridge (15 pellets per load), but others choose 00 buck in standard-velocity or reduced-recoil rounds.  The special Flite Control shot cups hold the load together quite a long distance from the muzzle, so that even out to 30 yards, most of the pellets will hit a human-size target.  Most 'conventional' buckshot is lucky to get half as far without some of the pellets drifting off target, and at 30 yards, you'll be lucky to get two or three buckshot pellets in the kill zone.

However, it's often hard to find Federal Flite Control buckshot.  Many stores simply don't stock it, partly because it's a premium round (and therefore more expensive), and others because they concentrate on hunting rather than tactical firearms and ammunition.  There's a good, and reasonably low-cost, second choice;  Sellier & Bellot's 12-pellet 00 buckshot round.  It's also hard to find, but if you do an online search, you're likely to locate some.  (Note that I'm talking about the 12-pellet round here, not the cheaper 9-pellet load.  Be sure to search for the former.)  It patterns very tightly in most shotguns in which I've tried it.  Tamara tried some a couple of years ago, and found the same thing (and also noted the superior tightness of the Federal Flite Control pattern).

So, if you want good defensive buckshot rounds, Federal Flite Control is still top of the heap;  but the 12-pellet 00 buckshot Sellier & Bellot load isn't bad, and it may pleasantly surprise you (or unpleasantly surprise someone on the other end of your muzzle).  As always, test some of the rounds in your own shotgun to find out how it patterns for you.  Here's an article on how to pattern your shotgun for birdshot rounds;  for buckshot, I recommend shooting at 25 or 30 yards instead of 40, and a human head-and-torso life-size silhouette instead of a 30" circle.

Next, a couple of folks have complained that ported firearms such as the Taurus Tracker or Model 44, which I've reviewed and recommended in their .44 Magnum versions, are too 'noisy' for prolonged use.  I have to admit, they have a point;  but I don't know anyone who uses these things for casual plinking, without ear protection!  They're meant to be used with earplugs and/or muffs.  Given that protection, the louder noise from the ported barrels isn't a problem at all.  Certainly, I'd hate to have to fire one inside a car, or in my bedroom at night - but I don't use them for that purpose.  I have other firearms, better suited to such environments.  The ported barrel does make recoil control easier, and enables faster repeat shots.  That's what it's there for.  The added noise is not pleasant, but given proper equipment, it's not a problem, either.

Finally, here's a US Marine showing us how to cook bacon in the field . . . er . . . sort of.


Book roundup #1

I'm finding it difficult to post one-off articles about friends' books, so I'm going to try doing a more-or-less regular book roundup article in which I'll mention new publications from friends and fellow bloggers.  I hope you'll give them a try.  I've found a lot of good reading material among them.  I'll limit coverage to books by friends and colleagues, those whom I've come to know in person or in cyberspace.  I'll list them in the order in which I was told (or learned of) their release, to be fair to all concerned.  (I'll also do stand-alone reviews of certain books now and again.)

First off, I recently reviewed Tom Rogneby's short story, 'The Boogeyman'.  He's just released two more starring his new character, in a compilation called 'Working Vacation'.

The blurb reads:

Martin Shelby, called the BoogeyMan by friend and foe, returns in two new stories.

In “The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea”, a young Shelby thought his Grandpa was just being grouchy about having to help out with the gardening. That is, of course, until Grandma's geraniums spontaneously burst into flames and the lilies started chanting in Latin.

In “Working Vacation”, the BoogeyMan just wants to relax on the beach with his wife, but his plans change when an old friend tracks him down to call in a debt. Shelby races against the clock to find a missing client before the full weight of the world falls in on his quiet vacation.

I'm enjoying Tom's new protagonist.  This looks like it might develop into a worthwhile series - perhaps even a full-length novel or two.

Next, Margaret Ball has returned from her decade-long hiatus in writing.  Her new novel is titled 'Insurgents', and is the first book in her new Harmony series.

The blurb reads:

Can one man make both love and war – at the same time?

Harmony, one of the first settlements from Earth’s Age of Expansion, has a totalitarian government which uses the bleak continent of Esilia as a dumping ground for political dissidents. Now they’re surprised that the dissidents want to secede.

Gabrel is totally devoted to his colony’s battle for freedom. Isovel, daughter of the enemy’s invading general, knows exactly why Harmony should continue to rule the exiles. When she is taken hostage by his guerrilla group, he has to draw a line between his personal inclinations and his duty to the insurgency, while Isovel has to remember her duty to escape. There can be no future for two people on opposing sides of this war – so Gabrel will just have to win the war. And the peace.

Margaret's been previously published by Baen Books, and has a well-established writing pedigree.  I think this is her first independently published book.

Last but not least for this week, Dragon Award-winning author John C. Wright has just released the sixth book in his amazing 'Moth & Cobweb' series.  I love the first three books in the series, and I'm planning on reading the next three as soon as I can find the time.  (Isn't it odd that writers are so busy writing that they usually have less time to read than their readers do?  Seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it?)

John's new book is titled 'Tithe to Tartarus'.

This is listed as 'Young Adult' reading, but I find it equally gripping as adult fiction.  The blurb reads:

Inflicted with amnesia, Yumiko Ume Moth has managed to discover the identity of the lost love she cannot remember. She has also learned the bitter truth of her mother's murder. And the party responsible for the absence of the one and the death of the other is the same: the Supreme Council of Anarchists.

Now Yumiko hopes to rescue the brilliant young man who may or may not be her fiance while seeking vengeance for the Grail Queen, her mother. But her only allies are a scatter-brained fairy and the Last Crusade, which despite its grand name consists of a young knight and his dog. Nevertheless, the Foxmaiden will not turn from her path, though all the dark forces of Tartarus stand in her way.

If it's anything like as good as its predecessors in the 'Moth & Cobweb' series, this one will be un-put-downable.  I'm looking forward to reading it.

I'll have more book news soon.


Will homeowners abandon their hurricane-damaged properties?

That's the question posed by CNBC.  It holds profound implications for the mortgage financial sector.

New estimates suggest as many as 300,000 borrowers could become delinquent on their loans and 160,000 could become seriously delinquent, that is, more than 90 days past due, when banks initiate foreclosure proceedings ... That is four times the original prediction because new disaster zones were designated and more homes flooded when officials released water from reservoirs to protect dams. The total number of mortgaged properties in disaster zones is 1.18 million. Houston disaster zones contain twice as many mortgaged properties than Katrina zones, with four times the unpaid principal balance.

After Hurricane Katrina, mortgage delinquencies in Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas spiked 25 percentage points. The same could happen in Houston, as borrowers without flood insurance weigh their options. They will get some federal relief, but if rebuilding would cost more than the principal in their homes, they could decide to walk away.

There's more at the link.

Zero Hedge adds:

Combining the preliminary estimates for both Harvey and Irma suggests that over 3.3 million total mortgaged properties are located in Irma and Harvey-related FEMA Disaster zones, while the dollar amount of total unpaid mortgage balances in these two zones is massive: between Irma's $517 billion and Harvey's $179 billion, the total potential damage could impact as much as a $696 billion in notional mortgage values, which banks could be on the hook for if current occupiers decide to simply walk away.

Again, more at the link.

This highlights an anomaly in US mortgage finance law, one that does not exist in most of the rest of the world.  In several US states, a mortgage is classified as so-called 'non-recourse debt';  i.e. it's secured only by the property against which it is granted.  If the mortgage holder defaults, the property may be seized and sold to pay off as much as possible of the mortgage bond, but the holder's other assets may not be seized in the same way, and the holder may not be sued for the balance (if any) of what was originally owed.  In other states, there is a right of recourse, but it may be more or less limited according to local law.

This issue exposes the mortgage holder to much greater risk when it comes to hurricane-damaged properties.  If the homeowner discovers that his insurance payout is much less than the present value of his home, and/or much less than what it will cost to repair his home, and if the mortgage holder's recourse is limited, he may simply decide to walk away from it, cease paying the mortgage, and let the mortgage holder deal with the problem.

I posed this question after Hurricane Katrina, when I wrote:

What about mortgages on properties that are now underwater? The occupants can't and won't pay, but the mortgage holders will demand payment.  We could end up with massive foreclosures on property that is worthless, leaving a lot of folks neck-deep in debt and without homes (even damaged ones).

The problem is likely to be much worse after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which affected a much larger area between them.  To make matters worse, more storms are already active in the North Atlantic Ocean, and may potentially strike this country.

This problem, in turn, means many financial institutions may have to take a long, hard look at whether or not it's still profitable to grant mortgages in areas vulnerable to such natural disasters.  If they can't adequately protect their investments by insurance or other means, then is it still worth making them?  That may affect potential homeowners in those areas for much longer than the hurricane damage will take to repair.  Some sort of state guarantees may be necessary to persuade financial institutions to continue to finance home construction and purchases - yet another burden on already over-extended state budgets, and on taxpayers.


Monday, September 18, 2017

South Korea as the wild card in the North Korean game

George Friedman makes a very interesting point.

The US had little to gain from a war with North Korea; it wanted only to destroy the North’s nuclear program. The war plan was complex, and though it was likely to succeed, “likely” is not a term you want to use in war. North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities were scattered in numerous locations, and many were underground or in hardened sites. And the North Koreans had massed artillery along their southwestern border, within easy range of Seoul. In the event of an American attack on North Korean facilities, it was assumed those guns would open up, killing many South Koreans. Destroying those batteries would require a significant air campaign, and in the meantime, North Korean artillery would be firing at the South.

The US turned to China to negotiate a solution. The Chinese failed. In my view, the Chinese would not be terribly upset to see the US dragged into a war that would weaken Washington if it lost, and would cause massive casualties on all sides if it won. Leaving that question aside, the North Koreans felt they had to have nuclear weapons to deter American steps to destabilize Pyongyang. But the risk of an American attack, however difficult, had to have made them very nervous, even if they were going to go for broke in developing a nuclear capability.

But they didn’t seem very nervous. They seemed to be acting as if they had no fear of a war breaking out. It wasn’t just the many photos of Kim Jong Un smiling that gave this impression. It was that the North Koreans moved forward with their program regardless of American and possible Chinese pressure.

Another Player Enters the Game

A couple of weeks ago, the reason for their confidence became evident. First, US President Donald Trump tweeted a message to the South Koreans accusing them of appeasement. In response, the South Koreans released a statement saying South Korea’s top interest was to ensure that it would never again experience the devastation it endured during the Korean War. From South Korea’s perspective, artillery fire exchanges that might hit Seoul had to be avoided. Given the choice between a major war to end the North’s nuclear program and accepting a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons, South Korea would choose the latter.

With that policy made public, and Trump’s criticism of it on the table, the entire game changed its form. The situation had been viewed as a two-player game, with North Korea rushing to build a deterrent, and the US looking for the right moment to attack. But it was actually a three-player game, in which the major dispute was between South Korea and the United States.

The US could have attacked the North without South Korea’s agreement, but it would have been substantially more difficult. The US has a large number of fighter jets and about 40,000 troops based in the South. South Korean airspace would be needed as well. If Seoul refused to cooperate, the US would be facing two hostile powers, and would possibly push the North and the South together. Washington would be blamed for the inevitable casualties in Seoul. The risk of failure would pyramid.

There's more at the link.  It's well worth your time to read the article in full.

This explains, to my mind, why the US response to North Korea's undoubtedly aggressive moves has been so muted.  There is no doubt that the USA could turn the whole of North Korea into a radioactive desert - but that would poison parts of China and most of South Korea with fallout, which neither country will accept.  Short of such an all-out nuclear attack, any US military intervention in North Korea must inevitably involve South Korea.  If South Korea is not willing to permit its territory, or its airspace, or its waters, to be used for that purpose, the USA is effectively stymied.

I see only one way to break the logjam, and force the issue.  That would be for the USA to announce that, in view of North Korea's aggressive actions and stated intentions to become a nuclear power, it is willing to sell nuclear weapons to Japan and South Korea.  Note that I said "sell" - in other words, not station US nuclear weapons in those countries under US control, but give each country its own nuclear warheads and delivery systems, under its own sovereign control.  China would instantly have kittens - a nuclear-armed Japan must be close to its worst nightmare, and a nuclear South Korea wouldn't be far behind that.  If anything could force China to rein in the North Korean regime, that might do it.

Frankly, I see no other way of breaking the stalemate over North Korea.  Can readers suggest anything better?


Cutting out the deadwood in the State Department

In his 1971 book 'The Foreign Affairs Fudge Factory', Alastair Campbell relates:

Ellis Briggs, when he was ambassador to Czechoslovakia shortly after the Communist coup d'êtat in 1948 ... had been pestering Washington, without success, to cut his staff of eighty personnel ... by half ... One day the Czech government, unaware of this background, declared sixty-six of the American embassy's personnel persona non grata and gave them forty-eight hours to leave the country ... to Briggs it was a blessing in disguise.  "The American embassy in Prague then consisted of thirteen people," Briggs remarked.  "It was probably the most efficient embassy I ever headed."

With that example in mind, it's encouraging to read this report.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is finishing what he calls a “redesign plan” that would shrink the State Department and revamp American diplomacy in ways that already have drawn bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill.

Tillerson said he is determined to do more with less even as the Trump administration grapples with growing foreign policy challenges in North Korea, Syria and Russia.

"The most important thing I can do is to enable this organization to be more effective, more efficient,” Tillerson told U.S. Embassy employees in London on Thursday. “Because if I accomplish that, that will go on forever and you will create the State Department of the future."

Since taking office, Tillerson has moved slowly to fill traditional leadership slots at State, leaving many offices vacant or nearly so. Retirements, removals, hiring freezes and fewer promotions have trimmed staff. A few diplomats have publicly quit to protest administration policy.

Among the most vulnerable have been diplomats at programs now out of favor, like climate change and women’s empowerment, as well as special envoys. Some special fields, such as religious freedom, are being subsumed in other bureaus.

Tillerson delivered a progress report on his redesign plan to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday. It quickly prompted a bipartisan protest.

. . .

Tillerson last month denied he is “hollowing out” the department. He said that reorganization will take months to implement and that some positions are best left unfilled until all the pieces are in place.

Congress already has pushed back hard on the staffing and budget cuts.

This year, Tillerson backed President Trump’s proposal to cut State’s budget from about $55 billion to about $39 billion. He told a Senate committee in June that he aimed to cut about 1,300 jobs — 327 foreign service officers and about 1,000 civil service employees.

State has about 13,000 foreign service employees and 11,000 civil service employees.

There's more at the link.

The "swamp" is already pushing back against Secretary Tillerson's plans, as the above article makes clear;  but I think they're long overdue.  Part of the problem is that the State Department has been its own worst enemy when it comes to justifying its enormous cost (over $50 billion annually) and bloated bureaucracy.  The Washington Examiner noted:

With its image still tainted ... by the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, the State Department has struggled to shake public perceptions of failure after spearheading a controversial nuclear agreement with Iran and failing to improve battered relationships with Russia and Israel, among others.

Its deep transparency problems were exposed in a January inspector general report, which found several examples of FOIA requests for politically charged documents that were suppressed by officials who should have had nothing to do with the FOIA process. In 2014 alone, the State Department spent $2 million of taxpayer money fighting FOIA lawsuits in court instead of simply turning over documents, as the law requires.

Again, more at the link.

There's historically been a great deal of tension between the US armed forces and the State Department, and between American businesses and the restrictions imposed by State on their overseas marketing and promotional activities.  The State Department appears to have done little to justify many of those restrictions and its activities except to state that they exist "because we say so".  Many of its activities in Africa have been blunders of the first magnitude.  I know, because I witnessed many of them at first hand.  Benghazi was only the most recent example, and one of the most publicized.  There have been many more.

I think Secretary Tillerson is doing exactly the right thing.  Get rid of the deadwood, streamline the State Department, and restructure the organization to effectively address today's priorities, rather than those of the Cold War.  Faster, please!


THIS is why the Federally subsidized flood insurance program needs to be killed!

Late last month I opined that there should be restrictions and/or limits on how much subsidized insurance and government funding is applied to rebuilding flooded houses after a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey.  My view wasn't universally approved;  some readers objected, in comments and via e-mail, claiming that I was being heartless and uncaring, or words to that effect.

Well, now comes this report, which demonstrates exactly what I meant.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

Brian Harmon had just finished spending over $300,000 to fix his home in Kingwood, Texas, when Hurricane Harvey sent floodwaters “completely over the roof.”

The six-bedroom house, which has an indoor swimming pool, sits along the San Jacinto River. It has flooded 22 times since 1979, making it one of the most flood-damaged properties in the country.

Between 1979 and 2015, government records show the federal flood insurance program paid out more than $1.8 million to rebuild the house
—a property that Mr. Harmon figured was worth $600,000 to $800,000 before Harvey hit late last month.

. . .

As they tally up the losses from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, government officials are looking for ways to step up purchases of frequently-flooded houses, which have become a huge drain on the financially troubled federal flood insurance program.

Homes and other properties with repetitive flood losses account for just 2% of the roughly 1.5 million properties that currently have flood insurance, according to government estimates. But such properties have accounted for about 30% of flood claims paid over the program’s history.

“We are seeing a very acute need to move far faster” on property buyouts, said Roy Wright, who directs the National Flood Insurance Program. “It’s a clear priority to address these multiple-loss properties.”

In a buyout program, homes are typically razed and the land left as open space.

Even before Harvey and Irma, the flood program owed the U.S. Treasury $24.6 billion, as payouts have exceeded the amount of insurance premiums it takes in.

The program paid out more than $47 billion in insurance claims since 2000, according to government figures.

Insurance payouts from Harvey alone are expected to total $11 billion, said Mr. Wright, noting the program had already received nearly 85,000 claims tied to the disaster as of Wednesday. It is too early to estimate losses tied to Irma, but Mr. Wright expects both storms to be among the most costly in the program’s history.

There's more at the link.

Let's assume that Hurricane Irma will cost about the same as Hurricane Harvey in terms of insurance payouts.  That's $22 billion in total.  Let's assume, too, that the historical average holds, and that about 30% of those claims will be repeat claims from properties that had previously been damaged by flooding.  That's $6.6 billion.  That money might as well be poured down the drain . . . because it's merely repeating previous repairs.  What's more, if those properties are permitted to reinsure at subsidized rates, we - the taxpayers of America - will be on the hook yet again for future repairs, which are certain to arise when the next hurricane hits those properties.

This is stupid.  It's sick.  It's disgusting!  It's our money, as taxpayers, being wasted.

The taxpayer-subsidized federal flood insurance program should be modified AT ONCE.  Those who are presently insured under it should be able to keep their insurance . . . but for one future claim only.  As soon as they make a flood-related claim, the payout should be in the form of a forced purchase of their property, and a razing of any and all buildings on it.  The property owner(s) can use the payout to settle any outstanding debts on the properties, and apply the balance to buying or building another home in a less flood-prone area.  We, the taxpayers of this country, should no longer be liable for any repeat claims on their former property - otherwise we're subsidizing failure.  We're subsidizing the repair, cleanup and construction industries, as well as the property owners.

I also propose that any new or replacement construction in flood-prone areas, and any repairs to properties formerly covered by the federal flood insurance program, should be automatically denied access to that program.  Those who build or rebuild in such areas should be forced to pay for insurance at commercial rates, which should not be subsidized by the rest of us.  Why should we pay for damages that we know are almost certain to be incurred in future?  Is that a proper use of our taxes?  I maintain it's not.

What say you, readers?  Are you happy at the thought that your taxes are about to be used for the 23rd time to rebuild that flooded house in Kingwood?


Doofus Of The Day #978

Today's award goes to a would-be carjacker who just wouldn't learn . . . or let go.

A carjacker picked the wrong driver to try to steal a car from, when the driver of that car refused to cooperate and drove off down the street, dragging him along the way.

The incident occurred about 7 PM on Friday, August 25 ... Video shows the suspect punching the driver repeatedly, and the driver then manages to close the vehicle’s door, and drove off.

The video shows the suspect being dragged along a busy street, with his pants falling to his ankles.

The car stopped at least once in the video, but the would-be carjacker wouldn’t give up; he tried again to get the driver out.

The driver then took off again, dragging the suspect alongside the car ... Kent police officers responded, and the suspect was tased “multiple times” after refusing to follow their commands.

There's more at the link. Here's the video.  Nudity alert, if that bothers you.

I enjoyed Blue Lives Matter's closing remark on this report: "WARNING – Bare carjacker butt. Dangly bits were harmed in the making of this film."


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sunday morning music

Miss D. and I are experimenting with making our own Van Der Hum, a South African brandy-based liqueur of which we're fond.  Sadly, there's no longer a US importer of the stuff, so once our last bottle has been consumed, we'll be without it . . . unless we can find an alternative.  Fortunately, it's been home-made for generations in South Africa, and there are several recipes online and in print, so we're giving it a try.  I'll let you know how it works out once we've got past the first, experimental batch, and we're closer to the real thing.

Be that as it may, I got to thinking about the number of songs out there concerning whisky (with or without an 'e'), brandy, and other "waters of life", as spirits have often been described.  I don't think it's possible to tally all of the songs.  The number must measure well into three figures, if not four!  However, I've had fun looking.  This week, I thought I'd tackle whisk(e)y.  I may tackle different spirits in weeks and months to come.  Let me know in Comments if you have a favorite you'd like to see (or hear).

Many whiskeys contain barley as one of their ingredients, so I thought we'd begin with a traditional ballad, performed by English rock group Traffic as the title track of their 1970 album 'John Barleycorn Must Die'.

From now on, the pace picks up.  Let's hear the O'Reillys and the Paddyhats perform 'Barrels of Whiskey', from their album 'Seven Hearts:  One Soul'.

In a more folksy vein, here's the Irish Rovers with 'The Rare Old Mountain Dew'.

Crossing the Atlantic for the American version of uisce beatha, here's Willie Nelson and Toby Keith in a live performance of the title track from the album 'Beer for my horses'.

In a lighter-hearted vein, here's Irish group Patrick Street with the tongue-in-cheek song 'Humors of the King of Ballyhooley' from their 1993 album 'Irish Times'.  It's about a distiller of illicit whiskey, and how he found the love of his life.  I'd never heard of an illegal whiskey still being used as an incentive to marriage, but I'm sure it's happened!

And finally, here's a live, rollicking, foot-stomping, folk rock rendition of the traditional Irish ballad 'Whiskey In The Jar' by the Killdares.  I've cut out the long, slow violin introduction to concentrate on the song itself - click over to the YouTube version for the full track.

That's a rattling good collection of songs about at least one 'spirit of the age' (just about any age, I guess!).  I'll see if I can find equally good ones about other spirits for future consumption (you should pardon the expression).


Saturday, September 16, 2017

This stuff is so good, there's probably a law against it somewhere

Last year I mentioned Killer Bees Honey, a small business started by Sean C., a long-term online acquaintance.

I've just received my latest order of their products.  I'm sitting at my desk, eating Sourwood Amber honey on sourdough bread, trying to keep from dripping honey on the keyboard as I type these words.  Ohhhh, man, this is good - and seriously addictive!

Reading Sean's blog, and looking at the pictures on Killer Bees Honey's Web site, I note that he seems to have a lot more hives now.  He's also teamed up with another apiary nearby, so he'll soon have a lot more honey to send to deserving causes like Miss D. and I.  We'd better start budgeting accordingly!

If you like really, really good natural honey, unfiltered, unprocessed and unpasteurized, I can't recommend Sean too highly.  I'm a repeat customer, and expect to remain one.  You can read more about it at my previous post.  (No, Sean didn't ask me to advertise his wares, and he's not paying me to do so, and I don't get any freebies from him in return for mentioning them on this blog.  I do so because it's the best honey I've tasted in many years, and I think it deserves a wider audience.  Besides, I like to share good news with my readers and friends.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's another piece of sourdough bread crying out to be slathered with honey.  See ya!


The "Greatest Generation" would spit in disgust

Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation" applied that label to those who lived through the Great Depression, fought and won World War II, and then came home to build new lives for themselves and their families.

My parents were among that generation, albeit in another country.  The Greatest Generation did all that without much in the way of government assistance.  Sure, there was the "New Deal" and its programs, but they didn't mollycoddle people - they required hard work, too.  There were few, if any, "freebies", and people didn't expect them.  They knew that their future was up to them, not anyone else.  They tried to raise their children in that ethos (or, at least, my parents certainly did).

Compare and contrast that approach with this news report (bold, underlined text is my emphasis).

It's been one week since Margherita Lopez has taken a shower. She's been shuffled to three different shelters since evacuating her home in Key West last week as Hurricane Irma approached. She's slept on a gymnasium floor without a cot, has struggled to find food and says she feels like emergency management officials have forgotten her.

"It's been a nightmare ... there should have been a better plan," said Lopez, a 43-year-old woman...

. . .

Wearing a donated Mickey Mouse T-shirt, Lopez sat in a room Thursday on Florida International University's campus that had air conditioning but smelled like a pet store. She shared the space with about 30 fellow evacuees from the same organization, their room lined with green cots with Red Cross blankets. Three shopping carts full of donated water, canned food and clothes sat in the entryway.

Everyone sleeping there had been housed together because they had been deemed to have "special needs." Lopez is bipolar and has panic attacks.

Or how about this one?  (Ditto on the emphasis.)

Officials at the Florida nursing home where eight residents died in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma reportedly called Gov. Rick Scott for assistance hours before the first death, but help never arrived.

. . .

In Scott’s defense, the health department claims nursing home officials could have easily walked across the street to Memorial Regional Hospital and sought help.

There are many more reports like them.  In every case, people expected - and still expect - others to do everything for them.  They seem mentally incapable of getting off their butts and doing anything for themselves.

In contrast, where private individuals and organizations did get off their butts and do it themselves, things went much better.  Unfortunately, some observers appear to look upon self-help efforts (i.e. non-governmental, unofficial, grassroots organizations) with not just disdain, but concern.  Consider this perspective from the New Yorker.

... the stories of [Hurricane Harvey] are consolidating, much as they did following the floods last year in Baton Rouge, around the failures of the government’s preparations and response to the disaster, and the successes of private individuals’ rescue efforts.

. . .

Behind everything, escalating the stakes, is the willful ignorance of climate change that many local and national political leaders still cling to. In contrast to this, the actions of the Cajun Navy and other groups are celebrated. The heroism of the boaters is so vivid and so moving that it obscures the most important question about them: Why are they so needed in the first place?

. . .

There were hundreds of families ... who felt that they owed their safety not to the distant forces of government but to a neighbor who had put himself at risk to help them.

. . .

There is a cyclic pattern to the erosion of faith in government, in which politics saps the state’s capacity to protect people, and so people put their trust in other institutions (churches; self-organizing volunteer navies), and are more inclined to support anti-government politics. The stories of the storm and the navies exist on a libertarian skeleton. Through them, a particular idea of how society might be organized is coming into view.

It's clearly never occurred to the author of that opinion piece that "the failures of the government’s preparations and response to the disaster" has been the rule, rather than the exception, in almost every major disaster that has struck this country. I've had up-close-and-personal exposure to some of them;  Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, for example.  I went through the Nashville flood of 2010.  I've also seen the authorities at work in more distant disasters:  9/11, Hurricane Sandy, tornadoes in several states, and so on.  In almost every single case of which I'm aware, home-grown, spontaneous disaster relief efforts, informally organized by locals, were on-scene faster, and did more effective work, than the much slower, more ponderous, bureaucratic official responders.  Salon found the same thing when it examined the role of the 'Cajun Navy' in Hurricane Harvey, and citizen responders after other major disasters such as 9/11.  It's sub-headline read "Unconventional emergency rescue operations during natural disasters demonstrate the strength of community".  Note that it did not say "the strength of government".

On the flip side, you have the increasingly common response of individuals and organizations to wait for the authorities to provide.  They appear to have no inclination, or feel any sense of personal responsibility, to provide for their own needs before an emergency arises.  They're the people who swamp the stores, buying supplies like water, canned food, and plywood sheets in a last-minute panicked rush, rather than buying them in more peaceful times when there's less pressure to do so.  They're the people who complain that they can't afford to spend money on emergency preparations - but they can afford smartphones, and big-screen TV's, and luxuries like that.  They're the people who sit in evacuation shelters, demanding that the government "do more" for them - but not lifting a finger to do it themselves.  They're organizations like that nursing home in Florida, calling the Governor's office to demand help - but not even walking across the road to obtain readily-available assistance!  They're behaving like sheep, not like responsible adults . . . and we all know what happens to sheep.  They get sheared, or slaughtered, or both.  That's what they're there for.

There are those who would argue that someone who's a domestic violence victim and suffers from panic attacks, like Ms. Lopez mentioned above, should not be expected to do such things for themselves.  Well, I have news for them.  Mother Nature is a stone cold bitch, who'll kill you as soon as look at you if the opportunity arises.  It simply won't do to plead excuses.  Some things have simply got to be done.  You do them, or you die.  Your call.  However, don't blame others for not helping you enough!  It's in your hands, first and foremost.

I've seen that reality uncounted times in the Third World, where those who don't have the gumption to do something are the first to go to the wall (which usually means getting killed, or dying slowly of disease or starvation, in those parts of the world).  For all that the USA is a first world nation, the same realities are in effect here.  Your personal problems, and handicaps, and incapacities, are just as potentially lethal here as they are anywhere else.  Get over them, or make a plan to work around them, before they kill you.  That's the cold, hard, brutal reality of this world.  Mollycoddling won't change that.  If you can't get over or work around them, don't rely on some nebulous government bureaucracy to change that reality.  Sometimes, it might.  Other times, it won't.

Miss D. and I live with that reality every day.  We're both permanently affected by injuries we've suffered.  In the event of disaster, those injuries and the burdens they impose on us might kill us - so we'd better plan ahead, and already have what we need in case of emergency.  If we don't, we'll be among the casualties.  That's life.  We've learned to live with it.  So have many others like us, some with physical issues, some with psychological or emotional or other needs  We all know that in the event of an emergency, it's up to us, particularly when everyone around us is in the same boat.

It's not an exact Scriptural quote to say that "God helps those who help themselves", but that principle is found in the Bible, in so many words - and it's found in other cultures and religions, too.  However, we seem to have raised a "Millennial" and "Generation X" society that expects government - or, at least, other people - to do it all for them . . . and too many of them blame God when that doesn't happen!  Fortunately, there are exceptions;  but there aren't enough of them.  How do we get through to the others?  How do we wake them up to reality?  I don't know.  Do you?