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Sunday, March 31, 2013

China Goes to Space

The Shenzhou 9 flight took place in June 2012.

P.S. I just came across these photos of female fighter pilots and the astronauts on the Shenzhou 9 mission, so I thought I would put them up. I posted a video of the landing back when it happened.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Theory of Fat #42

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to some music, some tunes I was familiar with and liked, and I started noticing things that I had not noticed before. Patterns of notes, complex melodies, things that I usually don't notice. It wasn't entirely pleasant, matter of fact it kind of soured the experience for me. I think what was going on was more of my brain was being used to listen to the music, which might explain why some people like operas and symphonies and other people like folk music or really loud rock and roll. There might be sounds in some sorts of music that some people's brains pick up on, and others don't. It might be influenced by brain power or upbringing or exposure, or it might just be an innate facet of personality. I don't think there is anything you can do about it. In any case whatever it was went away and I seem to be back to normal. Normal for me, anyway.
    This led me to think the same thing may be going on with gourmets (or foodies as they are called now). A larger part of their brain is engaged in smelling and tasting, so they are going to be more interested in, and more discriminating about food. I enjoy a good meal occasionally, but mostly I'm not too picky. A fast-food cheeseburger will do me fine nine times out of ten.
    Then there was that bit about how the Victorians were healthier than we are because they had better foods to eat. It occurs to me that people have some sort of innate ability to determine what kinds of food they need (pregnant women's cravings are a prime example). It might be that if you are not getting enough of certain kinds of micro-nutrients, your body might be telling you to eat more of a particular food in order to get more. Eating more might get you more micro-nutrients, but it can also cause you to gain weight.
    I'm not sure if I buy that or not. I suspect psychological forces play a bigger role than any stinking micro-nutrients, but hey, cheeseburgers are the perfect food, aren't they?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Somalia may be Kenya's Afghanistan, but its army doesn't get it

This is from January of last year, but it is still relevant. I mean we're still spending a million dollars a minute in Afghanistan, aren't we? From South Africa's Daily Maverick, by Simon Allison.

Kenya just doesn’t seem to get it. Lost in the minutiae of military detail, a Kenyan army colonel claimed they were at the halfway point of their mission to rid Somalia of Al Shabaab. Have they learnt nothing from Afghanistan? Iraq? Vietnam? Weapons don’t win wars any more, and until Kenya and its African allies figure out a political solution, Al Shabaab isn’t going anywhere. By SIMON ALLISON.
Colonel Cyrus Oguna was in a confident mood as he spoke to the media outside the headquarters of the Kenyan department of defence, a building conspicuously far from the frontlines of Kenya’s war against Al Shabaab, the Islamist militant group that controls much of southern Somalia; this might explain Oguna’s hopelessly misplaced faith in what his military has achieved: “As we are speaking now, Al Shabaab is halfway in the pit. The targeting has been on logistics bases and command centres, and (these) are crucial in any operation. And if you cripple a logistics base and command centre, the war is halfway won.”
Colonel Oguna’s confidence was born of a successful few days of action as far as the Kenyan military was concerned. An air strike destroyed an important Al Shabaab base in the town of Bibi, while another took out six Al Shabaab commanders and a number of foot soldiers. Among the bodies was that of Bilal El Berjawi, considered one of the group’s most senior figures. And also in the last week, a new offensive from the African Union troops in Mogadishu consolidated even more of the capital under the control of the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom).
But Colonel Oguna’s confidence is mistaken. Even just militarily, the task ahead of Kenya and Amison remains daunting. Kenya’s troops, invading southern Somalia from the west, have made little progress in the four months they’ve been there. And Amisom’s gains reveal its weakness: not even Somalia’s capital is completely secure, despite the presence of Amisom’s 9,000-plus soldiers. Meanwhile, Al Shabaab has not been quiet. It launched a little invasion of its own when around 100 Al Shabaab fighters overran a police post in Kenya itself, destroying it and kidnapping three men. And it’s been fighting hard to overturn Amisom’s gains in Mogadishu, although so far Amisom has been able to retain its position.
More importantly, Al Shabaab continues to control most of southern Somalia, including the vital port city of Kismayo, its de facto capital, and the transit town of Afmadow, which is reported to be littered with hastily dug trenches and bunkers in preparation for a major showdown. The group is also bolstering its ranks by press-ganging young men into military service. One report claimed 200 “young boys” had been abducted from a town near Mogadishu and commanded to participate in Al Shabaab’s “jihad” against Kenya, Amisom and the internationally recognised government of Somalia. Clearly, there’s plenty of fight left in Al Shabaab, making Oguna’s “halfway” estimate look nearly as silly as George W Bush’s infamous “Mission accomplished” speech.
But this war is not just about military might. Iraq is a rather instructive example. War has changed in the last century and possession of the biggest guns is no longer sufficient to guarantee victory. America went into Iraq in 2003 with the most fearsome military this world has ever seen, effortlessly swatting away Saddam Hussein’s ill-equipped and poorly motivated army. But, as Bush was to discover, this conventional dominance couldn’t win the war and certainly couldn’t keep the peace. Instead, opponents of US involvement in Iraq, which included a broad range of dissatisfied players from Shia Muslim clerics to al Qaeda’s Iraqi offshoot, waged a modern guerrilla war which made Iraq almost impossible to govern and killed hundreds of thousands of people. Suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices and routine abductions were the weapons of the new conflict, and they proved almost impossible to defend against. Similar tactics were used in Afghanistan by the Taliban, and much earlier in Vietnam.
What ties these three contexts together is each has been characterised by a foreign invading army seeking to destroy an ideology that it finds threatening. In Iraq and Afghanistan, this was the US trying to eliminate Islamic fundamentalism as practised by the Taliban and al Qaeda, in Vietnam it was trying to stop the spread of communism. And in Somalia, it’s Kenya and Amisom (with some rumours of tacit US support) seeking to wipe out the radical beliefs of Al Shabaab.
But history has shown us that foreign military intervention is a notoriously poor tool at eliminating a strong ideology. Men with principles will fight on, even when battle after battle is lost. Even if Kenya and Amisom advance swiftly through southern Somalia, marching all the way to Kismayo, the threat from Al Shabaab –already trained in suicide bombings, IEDs and abductions – will continue. While Al Shabaab is not universally loved, it does command some strong support, and will be able to easily disappear into local communities, to plan its next assault. And all the while, Somalia will remain in chaos, unable to develop its economy or build lasting institutions of governance.
The solution lies not in guns and bombs, but in politics and negotiations. Al Shabaab, for all its sins, cannot be completely demonised because like it or not it represents a significant chunk of the Somali population. And remember, its radical and violent streak was an almost direct result of a previous foreign intervention in Somalia which dismantled the government of the Islamic Courts Union. For Kenya’s involvement in Somalia to really be halfway over, it would need to be sitting across a negotiating table from Al Shabaab and the other main actors in Somalia’s fragmented political space, thrashing out the details of a functioning state and government that represents all Somalis.
Perhaps Kenya will be able to use its military prowess to force Al Shabaab into such an arrangement. This is the only outcome that could provide immediate peace and order in the country. It’s unlikely to even be an option, however; Kenya appears determined to destroy Al Shabaab completely, an almost impossible goal, and has bought into the dangerous international narrative the notion that groups like Al Shabaab cannot be negotiated with or included in unity governments. If it intends to see this goal through, Kenya’s military should expect to be occupied in Somalia for many years to come and, eventually, Colonel Oguna will look back on his claim that “the war is halfway won” as a moment when Kenya’s pride and ambition exceeded its grasp of political reality. DM

Snow in Germany

The party tent for the Easter dance and entertainment (i.e. bar, music equipment and dance floor) has had its roof collapse due to the weight of the snow on it, so now all the roof snow is INSIDE the tent :-( To quote William Shakespeare from 1594 in Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1, opening line spoken by Gloster :- "Now is the winter of our disco tent..." - Stu

Thomas, as in Jefferson, On-Line

E. B. Misfit mentioned Thomas, which I hadn't heard of, so I wandered over to check it out. It's a little thick, and a little dense, but if you want to know what's going on in the Federal Government you might find some real information, as opposed to what some yahoo on the evening news thinks is will boost their ratings. Their About Page explains who and what they are.

Existential Threat

Dustbury references a Forbes story about security theater, which uses the term "existential threat", which means what? So I look it up and I find a non-definition on Jargon Database dot com, but then I find a pretty good discussion by Dr. Y on Science Wonk dot com.

Seems an "existential threat" is one that threatens one's existence. Now existence can be a funny term. A man with a gun can threaten your existence. He could shoot you and kill you and you would cease to exist, but your body would still be there, it would still "exist". Likewise, as Dr. Y posits, you can destroy a nation by breaking it up, like Yugoslavia or the U.S.S.R. when the Soviet empire collapsed. Those "countries" ceased to exist, but the nothing actually changed. The land did not vanish. The people were all still there. The U.S.A. went through a horrible civil war, a war that threaten to "destroy" the country. The "country" survived, but only at the cost of half a million lives.

I'm beginning to think that when people use the term "existential threat" they mean that the threat exists. Whether it is actually threatening the existence anything other than our language is another thing entirely.

Backing Up Blogger Blogs

Because I post pictures on my blog, and I sometimes use hot links to do so (I think that's the right term), and sometimes those links die, and because anything that is given for free (like Blogger gives me this space) can be easily taken away, I try to backup my blog at least occasionally.

All of the internet browsers I have used have a provision for saving a copy of a web page onto your local hard disk (on Chrome you can find it by clicking the three barred equal sign to the right of the address bar). I started out just saving whatever the default page was, but then I realized you could change the number of posts you wanted on one page, so my new technique was to chang it to an entire month's worth, view my blog, save the page, and then reset the number to the default, which is 7, I believe.

Then I discovered that I could just click on the name of the month in the sidebar and Blogger would display all of the posts from that month. Shoot, that makes it ridiculously easy. Just click on the month, wait for a few seconds for it to load, and then save the page. Repeat for all the months you haven't backed up. (You need to give each file a different name, like month and year, so you don't overwrite your last saved page).


I don't know whether Blogger changed their rules, or their settings, or I just started posting more, but the last time I tried this I got burned. I thought I was getting all of my posts from one particular month, but I only got slightly more than half. To get the other half I had to scroll to the bottom (Ctrl-End) and click on Older Posts. I only figured this out because I could not restore one of the disappeared pictures from my backup because IT WASN'T THERE. Grrr. Stupid Blogger.

I could get around the picture problem by saving the picture to my disk, and then uploading it to Blogger instead of using a hot link, but that takes a few seconds longer, and it means figuring out where to save the picture, and sometimes I just don't want to mess with it. And besides it gives me a good second reason to backup my blog, because the other one is pretty weak. I mean, when has Blogger ever let me down?

Clerk shortage, food shortage

by Marcel
Regularly at Walmart, I'll want to buy onions, but the onion bin is empty. Or a pouch (Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!) of salmon. There's a space on the shelf, maybe an empty cardboard box where the salmon used to be, but there's no salmon. Or gherkins, or oyster crackers, or hot dog buns. The stuff is in the store, but it's on the pallet back in the back. The shelves look like the Moscow Central Grocery Collective might have looked in 1982. In Soviet Russia you could slip some money to the clerk, and she'd sell you some of the salmon hidden under the counter. In Walmart, there are no clerks.
In Communist Russia, the central planners set the price of salmon below its market price, so alternate mechanisms developed for distributing salmon. Maybe fish was rationed by hassle -- the salmon cost twenty kopecks plus two hours in line, or twenty kopecks plus a bribe for the clerk. Or maybe you bought your salmon from a guy who stole it from the cannery.
In America today, it's completely different. To keep costs down (Thanks, Obamacare!),Walmart has thinned out their supply chain until they have too few people working too few hours to keep the shelves stocked, and there are long lines to check out. They have, in effect, set the price of salmon below what it costs. But this is America! Here, we don't wait for hours or bribe the clerks (there are no clerks; that's the point!) Here in America, we buy something else, or we make a scene. We stand in the aisle and holler "Where's the salmon!" or "Customer need assistance!" I mean, one would rather politely ask a clerk for help, but like I said there are no clerks.
People could shop somewhere else, but circumstances are the same there. Mom and Pop's closed because they couldn't compete with Walmart prices. Ritzy Organic's prices are too high for someone on disability or working part time at, wait for it, Walmart! where their hours just got cut. Before the current food price inflation (which of course is not really happening), I thought the retail business model of the future might be membership. Customers would pay a flat monthly fee for whatever they wanted to carry out of the warehouse. Now, I don't know. Maybe we need federal food insurance.
Stolen entire from Monday Evening. I really enjoyed reading this. Could it be that the Walmartians, in their effort to cut costs and prices, are going to drive themselves out of business? Or is it really true that Capitalist slave drivers are no different than Communist slave drivers? Two legs are better than four, no wait, four legs are better than two. I hope this is a temporary, or maybe a localized anomaly and not a portent of things to com.

I enjoyed this story, although being a good anti-Republican I had to overlook the crack about Obamacare, because you know all our troubles are because of adventures in the Middle East. No! It's because of the banks! No it's not! It's the old people! Bash! Bop! Pow! etc., etc., etc.

Earthquakes 2011

Watch at 1:50 for the Japanese Tsunami in March 2011.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Today's Military Photos

Arranged West to East. Click on the corner to go to the bigger versions on Picasa. Much better.


I found this ad for a Russian Rocket Launcher on The Dead District, a Georgian blog. Well, it's written in Georgian anyway. I was able to figure that out by copying some of the unfamiliar looking  text and asking Google to translate it.
    Isn't SMERCH an awful lot like SMERSH, James Bond's nemesis? Only to an American. They are completely different words. SMERSH, it turns out, was not just a fictional organization, but was also a real-life WW2 Soviet operation:
In its counter-espionage and counter-intelligence roles, SMERSH appears to have been extremely successful throughout World War II. SMERSH actions resulted in numerous captures, desertions, and defections of German intelligence officers and agents, some of whom SMERSH turned into double agents. Indeed, the Germans began to consider missions where their losses were less than ninety percent “satisfactory.” According to German sources, the Soviets rendered approximately 39,500 German agents useless by the end of the war.
No telling how many Russians they rendered useless. Stalin was in charge then.

Smersh was James Bond's enemy only in the  novels.
Film versions of novels where SMERSH appears substituted either SPECTRE or independent villains in order to avoid fomenting hatred of the Soviets, and so contributing to unstable relations with the USSR.[citation needed] 
I vaguely remember SMERSH from the novels. It's been decades since I read them. But now we have Hollywood, fulfilling our craving for violence through the use of fictional villains. I feel much better now.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rare Earths from the Bottom of the Sea

A vast deposit of rare earth minerals has been found in the Pacific seabed within the Japanese exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the island of Minami-Torishima - some 1,250 miles south of Tokyo. Mud samples taken from the seabed about 18,000 feet down are of “superb quality,” registering a rare earth density of between 1,000 and 1,500 ppm (parts per million) - several times higher than rare earth depots found in China, whose density averages 400 ppm. The discovery was made by a team led by Yasuhiro Kato, an earth science professor at Tokyo University. - Yoshiko Sakurai Official Web Site (metric measurements deleted).

    Rare earths are essential for many of our modern electronical gizmos. Red China is the principle producer these days, and they have been restricting their export recently (surprise, surprise).
    "Superb quality". Well, they are 4 times denser than what you might find in China, but it's still only one-tenth of one percent. Not very stinking much, it still means you are going to have to process a thousand tons of ore to get one ton of metal. Plus this stuff is at the bottom of the sea, over 3 miles down. That's not as deep as some of the oil wells being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico, but it's pretty stinking deep. I imagine they are probably going to use ROV (remotely operated vehicles) and maybe some really long hoses. It's going to be a major engineering effort to haul enough dirt up to the surface to make it worthwhile.
    The island is really in the middle of nowhere. Iwo Jima and Wake Island are it's nearest neighbors and they are almost 1,000 miles away.
    A story in the Telegraph got me started.

Update December 2016 replaced missing picture.

Google Versus Adobe

I have quit using Adobe Reader. Seems like whenever I want to use it, it decides in needs to update itself, which means I have to wait, and when it is done updating I find that someone has moved the controls and I have to go look for them, which means more time wasted. There are probably ways to get around these problems, but I've had enough, and I just don't care, not when I can use Google. Google has it's own problems, but at least it doesn't change their user interface every six weeks. In this case I just download a 14 megabyte PDF file, just to see if it might contain anything interesting, and when I tried to open it I remember that I don't have Adobe Reader installed, so I upload it to Google Drive (which is their new name for their document service). Drive offers to convert the document to Google format. This has its pros and cons. On the pro side, the space used to store the converted file doesn't get charged against your allotment. On the minus side, the conversion isn't always perfect. In this case the conversion didn't work at all: FILE TOO LARGE it tells me after it has been grinding away for a few seconds. Two megabytes is the limit. Well, no shinola Sherlock, if you had looked before you started you would have known the file was too large before you even started. But that would have required thinking, wouldn't it, ya big dummy? You'd think that since it has already started the upload business it could just go on and upload the unconverted file, but no, all work done so far is just discarded. So I have to repeat the upload request and specify NO conversion this time. What would be nice is if they uploaded the file, and then tried to convert it. If the conversion failed, you would at least have the original file, which you could at least look at, and then, if you are worried about space, delete.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Volcanic Lighting

A lightning storm collided with an erupting stream of lava at Sakurajima Volcano in Japan. Photographer Martin Rietze.
Update December 2019 replaced dead Picasa slideshow with image and link.

Economic Doubletalk

    I suspect most economists of new speak, they just make up stuff as they go because no one really understands how this financial business actually works. Right now Cyprus seems to be having some kind of problem. Paul Krugman wrote about it his column a couple of days ago. In it he mentions Iceland. Remember Iceland? Not me, I had forgotten clean about it, but it had a financial meltdown a few years ago. It is recovering. Now that you mention it, I do sort of remember hearing about this. People were saying it was some kind of miracle because the government did not bail out the banks. They didn't say was what did happen. What happened was that the banks failed and those people who had put up capital to start those banks lost their investment. Poof! Gone. So the taxpayers didn't have to foot the bill, but some of the movers and shakers took a palpable hit, or so I surmise.
    One reason places like Cyprus and Iceland get so much business is because of their bank secrecy laws. They don't have to tell nobody nothin'. So people with ill gotten gains like them. If you were a bank doing business with the mob, you might want to be careful with your money, and not go making risky loans to your brother-in-law in Florida. I mean, if your bank were to go bust, there are some not-very-nice-people who are going to be very unhappy with you. I wonder how many bank managers have died in mysterious circumstances since the Iceland debacle happened?
   Rooting around for some evidence to support my wild speculations, I stumbled over this little bit on the Recovery Partners dot biz blog:
    Under capitalistic forms of economic organization, Banks must ordinarily be held accountable to deal with their distressed credits promptly and the public balance sheet must not be used to subsidize bad risk decisions nor to prop up zombie companies at public expense and to the ultimate detriment of employees, taxpayers and other more efficient and productive entities.
    However, this departure from the norm in order to favor creditor interests is exactly what has been happening.
    These policies of Financial Repression have been followed before. The most obvious examples are failed communist states many of whom had to abandon the experiment over twenty years ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall and more recently, hyperinflationary Zimbabwe. Some examples in the developed economies include New Zealand in the late 1970’s / early 1980’s before the 1984 collapse and Germany in the immediate Post WWI “Weimar” period. In every instance, the outcome of these episodes was negative. Today, the Europeans (and  North America and Japan) are conducting policies of Financial Repression in a variety of formats.
"Financial Repression". What a fine term.

Friday, March 22, 2013

WW1 Photos

    For the last three or four months I have been collecting photos off the internet, mostly from Military Photos dot net. I have my own set of criteria for deciding which photos I will save, and which ones I ignore, and it amounts to some low percentage, less than ten percent, of the photos I see. Some of the photos I will post on this blog, but most of them just sit on the disk drive in my computer. Sometimes I will go back and look at some of them, but that is a haphazard activity. I am not sure why I am doing this. It is something I can do on autopilot. It doesn't require any great thinking, so I can do it when I wake up in the middle of the night.
    A couple of days ago I came across a treasure trove of WW1 era photos. Well, treasure might be the wrong word. There were a bunch of them, but they were all relatively small, which means low resolution. I spent several hours sorting through them, arranging them in rough categories. The largest category was Duplicates. Many of these were not identical files, but were the same picture in a slightly different size and with a different coloration. It was hard to choose which ones were better, I mean none of them were what you would call good quality. The next largest category was Destruction. These are the kind of photos I normally would not choose to save. Is any one pile of rubble any more interesting than another? Perhaps if you had seen the building before it was destroyed it might have some meaning. I only included them because I downloaded the whole batch all together, and they were part of the package. Plus they are old. History is important. This might be the only evidence that a church ever existed in the quaint little town of XYZ. It would be hard to prove from these photographs though, because few have any captions.
    After that it kind of breaks down. We have soldiers engaged in a multitude of activities, mostly pretty mundane. There were quite a few pictures of horses, not surprising since the motor car was just coming into its own. There are a fair number of portraits, both of individuals and groups. Some of the individual portraits were interesting. This is the best of the lot.


    I used to have a lot of trouble getting enough sleep. Now that I am not working at a regular job and I have exhausted all the "solutions" that medical science has to offer, it is not such a problem. Nowadays I go to bed around 1AM, sleep for 3 or 4 hours, get up for 2 or 3 hours, then go back to sleep for another 3 hours or so. This gets me up in time for lunch. I have a couple of hours in the afternoon when I can get something done and then it's time for my afternoon nap. Around about 5PM I awake refreshed and ready to go. Great. Most useful businesses have closed up for the day, and in a couple of hours my wife, who gets up at O-dark-thirty every morning, is going to bed, so no more blacksmithing (hammer & tongs) or rock-and-roll blasting in the garage.
    Not worrying about getting enough sleep has improved my outlook considerably. I tell my family I am on a mariner's schedule now: 4 hours on, and then 4 hours off. I am not sure how they actually work it in the navy, but in the Patrick O'Brian stories a watch is always 4 hours.
     A couple of weeks ago I came across Up All Night, a story by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker. She talks about Nathaniel Kleitman, the father of sleep science, and Ben Franklin, one of our founding insomniacs. It's an enjoyable read.

How the Mid-Victorians Worked, Ate and Died

We like to think we live longer and are healthier than our ancestors, but sometimes I wonder. How many of our modern afflictions are a direct result of our industrial methods? Is our average life-span really longer than previous generations, or is there some statistical anomaly that only make it seem that way? Modern medicine can perform miracles, but sometimes all they do is prolong a patient's suffering. Sometimes I think we are so fixated on the least little sign of life that we ignore the bigger picture. It doesn't help that no one agrees on what the bigger picture is. That might explain why we have eliminated it from consideration when making medical decisions. In any case we have a paper from the National Center for Biotechnology Information that argues that the Victorians were better off than we are now.


Analysis of the mid-Victorian period in the U.K. reveals that life expectancy at age 5 was as good or better than exists today, and the incidence of degenerative disease was 10% of ours. Their levels of physical activity and hence calorific intakes were approximately twice ours. They had relatively little access to alcohol and tobacco; and due to their correspondingly high intake of fruits, whole grains, oily fish and vegetables, they consumed levels of micro- and phytonutrients at approximately ten times the levels considered normal today. This paper relates the nutritional status of the mid-Victorians to their freedom from degenerative disease; and extrapolates recommendations for the cost-effective improvement of public health today.

Via Steve McG.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

One Year Later

Since my daughter has been spending more time in Buenos Aires than the USA lately, I subscribed to the BA Expats newsletter. This illuminating story showed up in this month's issue.
    A year ago today we left Argentina to return to the US and I've wanted to write a post since we've left.
    The only reason I ever came to Argentina was for the love of my life. I met her online, fell for her and came to visit her for a month almost a year after we met. Three months after I came home, on black Friday I took another flight to BA.
    That time I ended up staying for almost two and a half years.
    I won't bore you all with the details, but a lot of bad things happened, and a lot of wonderful things happened. The good things, although they were fewer in number, infinitely outweigh the bad things.
    I got married in Argentina. I became a father in Argentina.
    After so much time I got annoyed by the day to day bothers of life in Buenos Aires. I won't list them here because you know what they are already. I wore me down. I was ready to leave by the time my wife's visa was approved.
    But I miss it. I would not rather be living there now, but I do miss it.
I can say that I miss the mercados, the empanadas, milanesa, Sunday asado, greeting people with a kiss on the cheek, the ease of getting around on the bus, but none of those are really why I miss it.
    From the first taxi into the city to the taxi that dropped us off at Ezeiza, I have been captivated by it. There was just something that sucked me in. I could walk down the same street every day for a year and every day I would see something new. Every few blocks you have another panaderia and mercado and countless kioscos, each one of which has a character all its own. The stores here in the United States are all the same. You've been to one Harris Teeter and you've been to them all.
    Every time I left the house to go somewhere, I never knew what to expect. Would there be a strike or concert somewhere that would make me have to get creative in my commute? How long would I have to wait for the bus at 2am? Five minutes? Fifty? And again, I rode the same bus for a year, looked out the same window at the same route through the city and I always always saw something new.
    And there are the people. Even if you don't talk to the people, just sit on a bench in a park and watch. People from all walks of life are remarkably similar in Buenos Aires.
    They all partake of the same things. Sunday asado, drinking mate in the park with friends, playing futbol, and so on. Rich, middle class, poor, very poor, for the most part, they are so similar. You don't see that here in the US.
    Every taxi driver was different. For every driver who tried to drive us in circles, we had one who genuinely wanted to talk to us and share life's stories. There was the 10 block roller coaster taxi ride where the driver floored it from every stoplight. And we hit all five lights red in those 10 blocks. I was sick for an hour. And then there was the craziest ride of my life when my wife's water broke and the remise driver took it upon himself to be our ambulance. A trip that usually took 45 minutes took 15. He gave me a dirty orange hand towel to hold out about the car and he laid on the horn. At one point we were going the wrong way down Avenida de los Incas. Needless to say, he got a generous tip.
    I could go on and on and on. I could talk about how every restaurant's empanadas are different and how each panaderia's facutas were different. I will tell you that the best facuras I had were from Panaderia La Paz in Nunez on Cuba between Quesada and Ibera. They were EXCELLENT.
    I know it seems like I am only remember the goods things. I remember the bad ones, which is why I am glad that I am here in the US. My life is certainly easier here. My job is more consistent. My family is here. There are less day to day troubles here.
    But Buenos Aires captured a place in my heart. I am not well traveled. Outside of the US, I have been to Argentina and Uruguay. But I've never been to a place like BA. The city is alive, it has a pulse. You never know what it will do next. You never know who you'll meet or even where you will end up.
    I didn't love every minute of my time in Buenos Aires, but I love Buenos Aires. I am glad, at this point in my life, that we are not living there, but we will be back.
    To everyone who complains all the time, I get it. I understand. I was one of you. I complained all the time about this and that. But take it from me, someone whose life if easy and boring now, enjoy it while you are there.
    I still can't believe I did it. That I moved 5000 miles away from home, from everything I knew, and not knowing more than a few words of Spanish, to Buenos Aires. Even after a year being back in the US, I can't believe it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I came across an odd story a few weeks ago about how childlesssness is the preferred state for many, if not most people. I thought that was really weird, considering how I have been bombarded since the beginning of time with threats of impending doom due to the population explosion.
Population growth seems to have tapered off in first world countries, meaning it is still growing, just not as fast as it was. In some countries like Japan and Russia population has even started to decline, though for different reasons, I suspect.
We fight over abortion rights, argue about how many kids a family should have (Mormons say ten, Lutherans say two), spend frightful sums of money on fertility treatments and adoptions in order to have kids.
The ancient Romans had such a problem with not enough children being produced that they passed a law that required everyone to be married, or prohibited celibacy, or something.
There is something really odd going on here.
When I was younger I was never, ever, no way Jose, going to have kids. That lasted until I was about 35, whereupon I changed my tune. It could have been external circumstances, but I think it was more internal, more like a male version of a biological clock, but I really have no idea.

Time Has Come Today - Chambers Brothers

The Chambers Brothers - Time Has Come Today (Audio)

This tune has been lurking on the edge of my consciousness for the last week or so, but no amount head scratching or YouTube searching revealed it. So I finally resorted to asking my two experts (Dustbury and Ex-Post-Hip Scott) and they both responded within milliseconds. Well, hours actually, but the next time I checked my mail they both had the same right answer. Well done, dudes. It was a hit in 1967.
Lester Chambers, the group's lead singer, seems to have fallen on hard times. Lester was born in 1940, which was like an infinite time before I was born, but he is only a few years older than I am. How can that be?

Update May 2020 replaced missing video.

Conservatives’ contradictions on American power

The first half of this story paints a pretty accurate portrait of America in the twentieth century, which is necessary to understanding how we got to where we are, and might help us figure out where we want to go now. Not likely, I know, but one can always hope.
By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published in the Washington Post March 17
    The question is not intended to discourage the healthy debate being pushed by Rand Paul and his allies over whether Republicans in the George W. Bush years were too eager to deploy our country’s armed forces overseas. After the steep costs of the Iraq war, it is a very necessary discussion.
    But Paul has inadvertently called our attention to a deep contradiction within American conservatism.
    Those who share Paul’s philosophical orientation are quite right in seeing the rise of American power in the world as closely linked to the rise of the New Deal-Great Society state at home. But this means that those who want the United States to play a strong role in global affairs need to ask themselves if their attitudes toward government’s role in our country, which are similar to Paul’s, are consistent with their vision of American influence abroad.
    After World War II, there was a rough consensus in America, confirmed during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency in the 1950s, in favor of an energetic national government.
We emerged from the war as a global power that had learned lessons from the Great Depression. Government action could lessen the likelihood of another disastrous economic downturn and build a more just and prosperous society at home by investing in our people and our future.
    Thus did the Marshall Plan and the GI Bill go hand in hand. The Marshall Plan eased Western Europe’s recovery from the devastation of war, thereby protecting friendly governments and opening new markets for American goods. The GI Bill educated a generation of veterans, spurring prosperity from the bottom up by enabling millions to join a growing middle class.
    Eisenhower built on these achievements by creating the first college loan program and launching the interstate highway system. It’s no accident that the former was established by the National Defense Education Act while the latter was known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.
    Lyndon Johnson operated in the same tradition. It’s worth remembering that passage of the landmark civil rights acts was helped along by our competition with the Soviet Union. We realized we could not appeal to the nonwhite, nonaligned parts of the world if we practiced racism at home.
    And we fought poverty — for moral reasons but also because we wanted to show the world that we could combine our market system with economic justice. We forget that we succeeded. A strengthened Social Security system combined with Medicare slashed poverty rates among the elderly. Food stamps dealt with a real problem of hunger in our nation while Medicaid brought regular health care to millions who did not have it before.
    Through it all, Keynesian economics kept our economy humming while widely shared prosperity created the sense of national solidarity that a world role required.
Paul and his allies deserve credit for consistency. They are against the entire deal.
“As government grows, liberty becomes marginalized,” Paul declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which announced Saturday that the libertarian senator from Kentucky had placed first in its 2016 presidential straw poll. I think the evidence of all the years since World War II proves Paul flatly wrong. But then I am not a conservative.
    But what of conservatives who endorse continued American global leadership but would drastically reduce government’s investments in our citizens and our infrastructure, in economic security and in health care?
    Do they honestly think voters will endorse the military spending they seek even as they throw 40 million to 50 million of our fellow citizens off health insurance and weaken health coverage for our elderly? Can they continue to deny that their goal of an internationally influential America demands more revenue than they currently seem willing to provide? Have conservatives on the Supreme Court pondered what eviscerating the Voting Rights Act would do to the image of our democracy around the globe?
    And do conservatives who say they favor American greatness think they are strengthening our nation and its ability to shape events abroad with an ongoing budget stalemate created by their refusal to reach agreement with President Obama on a deal that combines spending cuts and new taxes? Would they rather waste the next three years than make any further concessions to a president the voters just reelected?
Rand Paul is very clear on the country he seeks. Conservatives who reject his approach to foreign policy need to consider where the strong America they honor came from in the first place.
 I copied the article instead of just providing the link because you never know when links to other sites will expire, and because we don't want you contaminated with any opinions that I have not personally vetted.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea

USS Guardian
Click to see the photo album
The American minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef January 17, 2013.

No longer applies: [Photos are arranged in chronological order. The first few photos are from its career prior to this ignominious event. Most of the pictures were taken since then. The last third depict the salvage operators dismantling the ship in order to remove it from the reef.]

The reef is in the middle of the Sulu sea in the Philippines  a hundred miles from land in any direction. The reef is a National Marine Park and World Heritage Site and the Philippines are understandably ticked off that we managed to get our ship stuck there, so the U.S. Navy is trying to minimize the damage to the reef as they try to remove the ship. Photos from Military Photos dot net.

Update June 2019 replaced dead Picasa slideshow with image and link to Google Drive album.


There was a scene in a movie, I think it was with Matt Damon in The Rainmaker, where he asks his client if they had been saving for a rainy day. They reply in the affirmative and ask why, whereupon Matt tells them that "it's raining", meaning that the situation is bad and is going to get worse and having a rainy day fund may enable them to weather the coming storm.
    I wonder what we are doing with all the gold in Fort Knox. I mean gold is valuable at least partly because it is so useful, and if it's so useful, why don't we use it instead of keeping it locked up in a vault where nobody even gets to see it, much less touch it? Then I realized that this is our rainy day fund. If things ever get really bad, we can always fall back on the gold in Fort Knox. Or if we ever decide to go wild and forsake all sense, we could use it to buy everyone a new Rolex, which would be really cool, wouldn't it?

From the Wikipedia article on Fort Knox:
The United States Bullion Depository holds 4,578 metric tons (5,046.3 short tons) of gold bullion (147.2 million oz. troy). This is roughly 3 percent of all the gold ever refined throughout human history. Even so, the depository is second in the United States to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's underground vault in Manhattan, which holds 7,000 metric tons (7,716 tons) of gold bullion (225.1 million oz. troy), some of it in trust for foreign nations, central banks and official international organizations.

Let's leave out the New York gold for now. I mean "some" of the gold belongs to other people, and "some" is one of those weasel words that could mean anything from almost none to almost all. So let's just leave it out and just work with the gold in Fort Knox. 5,000 tons translates to 10 million pounds, which is 160 million ounces. At $2,000 per ounce that comes to $320 billion, which is about $1,000 per person in the USA. You'd be hard pressed to get a used Rolex for that.

Annual worldwide gold production is something over 2,000 tons ($125 billion), or something less than half of what's in Fort Knox. To put it another way, Fort Knox holds enough gold to keep the world happy for two years.

Lcoke & Rousseau

Left to Right by Dogz. A thoroughly entertaining bit about the TV show Lost and the Enlightenment. And Vizzini. From 2008.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Transportation Area of World's Fair Offers Visitor Many Interesting Exhibits.
Washington Post, September 24, 1939
Celeste Weyl
Don't miss “Railroads on Parade,” the colorful pageant of the iron horses of the past and the streamlined engines of today. In 16 scenes and actual settings and costumes of the early days, actors, horses, covered wagons, stage coaches, oxen, mules and locomotives, you see the importance of transportation in the opening of this continent. Starting over 110 years ago, at the New York water-front, in the covered wagon era, the parade of actors, chorus and ballet tells the story of America's conquest of the wilderness.
Via Scott and Shorpy dot com.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Water Backflow Preventer Testing

Backflow Preventer Installation
Since I am married and live in a house in suburbia with a lawn, I have a lawn sprinkler system. The  water department insists that you install a backflow preventer in the water line that connects the sprinkler system to the main water supply line. This device is supposed to prevent water from the sprinkler system from being sucked back into the water mains should the main water supply fail. Since sprinkler systems are right down there at ground level where people may have applied pesticides or fetilizer and where animals are doing their business, the water in the sprinkler lines could be contaminated and so if it should ever get sucked back into the mains, the main supply could become contaminated, which could be bad for everyone in the neighborhood, if and when the water ever gets turned back on.

Vacuum Breaker

    I never liked the idea of annual testing, I mean who needs one more annual expense? So I thought I would get a vacuum breaker and install it in place of the backflow preventer.  The nice thing about backflow preventers is that they can be installed underground where they are out of sight and safe from freezing. Vacuum breakers need to be installed above ground, which means you need to turn off the water in the winter. They also need to be concealed from the homeowners association which takes a dim view of anything that disturbs the Disneyland like ambiance of the neighborhood.
    I've been kicking the idea around for a while, well, ever since I built the house, but installing one would involve a bunch of work, i.e. digging. That plus the fact that a good vacuum breaker would probably cost a couple of bucks led me to stall actually doing anything about it. Besides, I had more important stuff to do, like go to work and drink coffee. And the city, besides saying there was a requirement to get the backflow preventer tested back when I first built this house had never said anything more.
    The city has finally gotten off their bums and for the last six months or so have been sending me letters telling me I need to get the device tested. The letters have been coming more frequently, so I finally decided I should get it done. So I looked up their list of "approved backflow testers". It had phone numbers, but no addresses. These guys can't all be in Hillsboro, there isn't that much business, so being the nitwit I am I decided to track them down and see where they were actually located. I didn't want to be calling someone from the back of beyond. If it takes him an hour to get here it is most assuredly going to be reflected in the price. Better to call someone local.

List of CERTIFIED BACKFLOW DEVICE TESTERS for Hillsboro, Oregon with locations

Update March 2016. Replace missing picture.

Splotch, Part 2

There is one other thing I want to mention about inconsistent user interface found in the latest version of Windows. People are always coming up with new designs, mostly they are just to tweaks to old designs that someone thought was cuter, better, more intuitive, cooler, more space-shippy, or something. Mostly they are just tweaks to old designs, new colors, rearrange the menus, change the icons, the sort of thing that automobile designers did back in the 50's and 60's. The underlying car didn't change much, but every year it got a flashy new package.
    The problem with software is nobody knows what is going to be a success, so people keep trying new things and occasionally someone hits on something that just goes wild, like Facebook, or Windows for that matter. I know I don't like the way Windows works, but I've gotten used to it. But who knows? Someone could come up with a new method that a lot of people will really like, but unless it finds its way out into the world, no one will ever know. So. What I suspect may have happened is that Microsoft decided to take a bunch of new ideas and dump them into a bunch of programs, load it all into Windows and dump it on the market and see what floats.

Part 1 here.


I rented a Nissan Altima when I was in Iowa. Got to the car and I wanted to put my suitcase in the trunk. Could not find the trunk release. It was dark and I was tired so I figure I just didn't see it. It's a four door car so I put the suitcase in the backseat. Several days go by with occasional use of the car and I still have not located the trunk release. I finally sat down and got serious and pressed this unmarked switch and found it.
There it is!

Here's why I couldn't find it. Until you push on it all you can see is a little arrow / triangle thing. Doesn't look like a trunk latch switch to me.
Stupid Nissan.

Bathroom at my in-laws house had this fancy switch.

I was there a whole week and I was never able to hit the right switch when I wanted to turn something on or off. I invariably hit the wrong switch two or three times before I hit the right one. You can't tell just by looking whether any of these switches are ON or OFF. In this case the Night Light switch is on and all the others are off. Or is the heat switch on, and all the others off? Do you see the problem?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Splotch, Dramatic & Otherwise

    Elliot sent me a link to a long boring rant about what's wrong with the latest version of Windows. One of the complaints voiced was that the user interface was not consistent from one application to another. I suppose if I were using the new version of Windows and I still used any Windows programs that might bother me, but I don't, so I don't really care.
    We watched all three seasons of Downton Abbey last month. The first season was great, but after that the story line started to fall apart to the point that when we get to the end we are just getting splotches of drama that are only hung together by the characters. Pretty sad state of affairs.
    The same thing happened with Damages. That one started off a little more hare brained, but it soon spiraled into a psychotic nightmare. Dramatic and possibly entertaining, but the long term story line was basically non-existent. I happened to come across a current episode when I was channel surfing in Iowa and it was down right pitiful.
    Not all TV serial dramas suffer this fate. We are still watching The Good Wife and I have no complaints. Could it be they have a stronger story line, better writers, or more discipline? I dunno.
    What has all this got to do with Windows? Bear with me for a minute.
    Back when Windows was first gaining traction one of the lines you would hear when people were talking about the user interface is "it is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer". This got to be a running joke, because sometimes it was obvious, and sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes it was the exact opposite of obvious, and it didn't really matter whether you were steeped in the Windows experience, or a complete novice. Some things just hit people the right way and they were able to easily figure out how to get the program to do what they wanted, and sometimes it was completely opaque.
    What I have found is that when it comes to getting something done it is often quicker and easier to do it the way you know how, even if it is cumbersome and awkward, then to try and figure out the combination of keystrokes and button pushes that will allow you to do it the "quick and easy" way. I think this is why we sometimes run into customer service people typing hundreds of keystrokes into a terminal in order to effect a simple request. They have only learned enough about the system to do things one way, they have not taken the time (or maybe not had the training) to learn all the in's and out's of that particular system. And can you blame them? It's not like anyone will really appreciate any extra effort on their part. Well, that depends on the manager.
   Anyway, for most people it doesn't matter whether the user interface is consistent across multiple programs. They are only going to use one program. They will learn how to do the one thing they need to do and completely ignore all the rest of the wonderful software that is installed on their machine. They got the computer to do that one thing, they've learned how to do that one thing and they are happy. They don't want to learn any more about it, they have a real life to live.
   A similar kind of thing is going on with the TV shows. Viewers have gotten to know the character, they tune in to see how that character behaves, they get a little splotch of drama centered on their character and they are happy. They don't need no steenking story, they just need some emotional impact.
    This is why Facebook, Twitter and Texting have become so popular, they are catering to people's emotional need for constant interplay. I was going to say communication, but I'm pretty sure that's not what is going on there.


The Afghan war is costing us $80 Billion a year. That's like a $1,000 a year for a family of four, EVERY year. The Mars lander project cost that same family $10, once. I know, Mars is boring. There aren't any ragheads to kill. Who cares about a bunch of rocks? We really should be looking at Venus. It might be poisonous, but at least it has an atmosphere. If we can poison our own atmosphere, maybe we can unpoison Venus's.

Via Stu and St. Eutychus

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mexican Extravagence

From Ricas y Famosas, 1999. Daniela Rossell/Greene Naftali, New York.
Google Photos album here.

Via Burro Hall and Slate dot com.

Update March 2020 replaced dead Picasa album with image and link.


Sometime around mid-morning I went to get a drink and the water that runs out of the tap is a mere trickle compared to what I usually see. Try another faucet, same thing. What's happened to the water? I call the water department and they tell me the water has been shut off for non-payment. I'm thinking and/or hollering "that's crazy" on account of the bill being paid automatically every month. Turns out the bill is $400 for two months which is twice what it normally is. This in turn explains the insufficient funds notice I got from my bank, which couldn't have been the water bill because, after all, the water bill is only $200, not $400. Since it wasn't the water bill, it must have been some commercial outfit that would try again and find that there was now money in the account and everything would sort itself out. But I had forgotten about the runaway sprinkler. An indefinite time ago I noticed that one sprinkler head seemed to be stuck on, but I thought it was my neighbor's. A week later I found out that, no, it was mine. Doh! Anyway, I paid the bill with a debit card and a couple of hours later the water was back on.
    The last couple of weeks I have racked up around $500 in avoidable expenses. However, compared to this month's airfare bill it's a drop in the bucket. It may not be raining here, metaphorically speaking, but it's certainly drizzling.

I'm back

Got back Monday night actually. Went to Iowa for my mother-in-law's memorial service. Daring daughter flew in as well. She has recently gotten a couple of part-time data mining jobs and she wanted to get started on them, which meant she needed an internet connection. My inlaws had a DSL connection, but only one DSL modem, and darling daughter drug it up to her room and plugged it into her Mac. Since I wasn't about to order an ethernet hub to use for just one week, and since work trumps blogging, I was effectively cut off from the world for the week I was there.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Iowa Adventure

Sunday we had a pretty good blizzard. By Monday things had calmed down but there was still snow on the side roads and patches of it on the highways. I'm taking the new highway 20 East towards I-35. Just past the exit for Kamrar I am in the left hand lane getting ready to pass another vehicle and this patch of snow shows up. There are tire tracks running through it so there are dark and light stripes. I pick the ones that I think were made by previous traffic, as opposed to the stripes left in between, but just as I get to it I realize I have chosen wrong. The car starts rotating off course. First it drifts a few degrees to the left, and then a few degrees to the right (perhaps in reaction to my trying to control it) and then we regain traction and zoom! Off the road and into the ditch. The whole thing took about two seconds.
    I call 911 on my wife-mandated cell phone and they tell me they'll send someone along. Before too long a highway patrol car shows up and tells me to bring my stuff. The snow is a foot or two deep. I look at the 20 feet to the road through the deep snow, and the 100 feet up the track left by my car, and I hump my big, fat suitcase up the longer, car-plowed route.
    We're heading down the highway when we get passed by a tow truck, which annoys Officer Friendly. Seems that tow truck company is not supposed to operating in this area, so he calls another tow company and arranges for them to come tow my car. We take the next exit and double back to my car. There are patches on snow on the road and the Crown Victoria gets a little squirrely, but just for a fraction of second. I wonder if rear-wheel drive cars are more stable in situations like this, or whether I just happened to hit a really bad patch. Whatever. We get back to my car and I hump my suitcase down the plowed track and stow it in the trunk.
    Tow truck shows up and instead of pulling me out backward, which I thought would be the logical, easy thing to do, he digs down in the snow by the left front wheel until he can get a hook on something underneath. I ask him about this and he tells me that pulling the car out backward would pull the plastic nose piece off of the car. I can believe that. He proceeds to start dragging my car sideways. I would have thought this would be a fairly smooth operation, but it's more like a series of tugs. Eventually I figure out that periodic movement is related to the tow truck rocking on it's tires. The winch winds up putting tension on the line and taking up all the slack in the truck's suspension, tires and whatnot. Eventually the tension becomes high enough to overcome the resistance from the wall of snow and the car moves, where upon the line goes slack-ish, the truck rocks forward on its suspension and the whole process is repeated.
    You might think that it would go smoothly from here on, but no. The driver had to re-position his truck half a dozen times. At one point my car is parallel to the road, the truck is pulling at maybe a 30 degree angle, but the car persists in going straight ahead, heading right for one of the steel roadside marker poles. It would be a crime to run into that now since so far we have no real damage. The driver resorts to pulling out into the highway, which finally gets me on the shoulder.
    The bill was $200 plus $14 tax, and they don't take American Express. I thought it was a little high for 30 minutes work, but he did crawl around in the snow, and he got me out in time for me to catch my flight.
    I saw at least two dozen cars stuck in the snow off to the side of the road. Most of them looked like they had been there since yesterday (they had red or yellow tags stuck on them). Officer Friendly told me he had 25 cars stuck just today. I wonder whether the that errant tow truck was really the cause of my getting instant service, or because I told him I had a plane to catch and he figured, hmmm, airline traveler, has at least $2, probably willing to pay a premium to get his car unstuck, I'll call Willy. Or maybe it was: airline traveler, a delay for him is going to be a real pain. Ordinary folk can afford to hang around for a bit, but it will cost this guy real money. Who knows? I maybe could have saved us all the fuss if I had told them up front that I had a plane to catch, but at the time (I'm not dead!) it didn't seem all that important.
    That patch of snow that sent me in the ditch? That was the last patch of snow I saw on the road. All the way to I-35 and then South to Des Moines and the airport the road was perfectly dry.
    Coming into Des Moines I happen to look at the gauges and notice that the needle on the temperature gauge is right at the top. I figure I better pull off and take a look. I do not want to stop on the side of the road: if the engine dies I don't want to be stuck there, so I drive on looking for a gas station or something. Naturally there is nothing, nothing but big highway interchanges. I go through two before I finally find something that looks promising. Well, there are businesses, but no gas stations. I head off sideways and come across a convenience store. I open the hood and discover that the whole space between the grill and the radiator is packed with snow. Doh! Snow has even come up behind the radiator and clogged the electric fans. (I knew there was a reason I didn't like electric fans.)  I'm looking for a stick or some kind of tool that I can use to dislodge the snow but the only thing I can find is my comb. I poke and prod at the snow I can reach and I let the car sit with the hood open for 10 or 15 minutes. This is enough because the temperature gauge falls to the middle and stays there all the way to the airport.
    It is 30 minutes to flight time and there is a line six people long at the Dollar counter, so I drop the keys on the counter and say Hi and Bye to the clerk and head to the ticket counter to check my mighty suitcase. It's 15 minutes to flight time when I get to the gate but they have not started boarding due to some kind of foul up, so I'm good.

P.S. It now occurs to me that the little ride from Officer Friendly may have just been a chance for him to evaluate my mental state, and when he discovered I was shaken, but not stirred, he decided I was competent to resume my travels, and so dispatched the tow truck. If I hadn't of passed his evaluation I would have found myself sitting in a truck stop.

Monday, March 4, 2013


My mother in law.

ROCKWELL CITY - Audrey A. Gray, 84, passed away Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at the Paula J. Baber Hospice Home in Fort Dodge. Abiding by Audrey's longtime request, her remains were gifted to the University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine, in Iowa City. Memorial services will be 11:00 a.m. Monday, March 4, at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Rockwell City, with Pastor James Hoover Mossman officiating. Visitation will be 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Palmer & Swank Funeral Home, Rockwell City. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the Rockwell City Public Library, or the South Central Calhoun Elementary School Library.
Audrey is survived by her husband Jack Gray of Rockwell City; son John Gray and his wife Di of Sioux City; daughter Anne Pergiel and her husband Charles of Hillsboro, Oregon; five grandchildren, Joe (Stephanie) Canny, Ross, Kathryn, and John Pergiel, and Jack Gray. She was preceded in death by her son Todd Gray in 1988; and parents, Dr. Edwin "Doc" and Emma (Kirchoff) Langland.
Audrey Anne Langland Gray was born July 10, 1928 at Story City, Iowa. She graduated from Story City High School, with the Class of 1946, and the University of Iowa in 1950. Although she was then engaged to Jack Gray, she made him wait two years while she taught elementary school in California and traveled Europe. The couple married on September 7, 1952 and for the rest of her life she made their home in Rockwell City and Twin Lakes. Audrey left home to earn her Masters Degree in 1970 and to visit the world. She saw the 99 counties of Iowa, all 50 states, the seven continents, and nearly 90 countries. She went through eight passports. Audrey taught at the elementary schools in Lohrville and Rockwell City until her retirement in 1989. She instilled a love of reading in her classroom and, after retirement, at the men's reformatory and in the classrooms of others. Audrey started the Reading All Stars at the South Central Calhoun so that many more adults could help beginning readers. She was a longtime member of the Library Board, PEO, American Association of University Women, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, and to her husband's chagrin, the Democratic Party. - Des Moines Messenger

When Audrey & Jack came out to visit us at Christmas she was fine, and now this.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Big Brother

    E.B. Misfit put up a post today about a Supreme Court ruling about electronic surveillance. There was a movie not too long ago about the East German Secret Police listening to everyone (back when there was an East Germany). Then there was the bit about the Soviets listening to everything everyone said and you had to mind your P's and Q's if you didn't want to be sent off to the Gulag. Now we have the NSA listening to everything.

  1. The Soviet Union collapsed because they could not continue to fund their national security apparatus, which meant mostly the armed forces, but you can include the KGB and all their apparatchiks as well.
  2. The NSA may be recording everything and stowing it away in some vast great server farm, but how much of this stuff is anyone actually going to look at or listen to? Not much. What they'll do is wait for the computer to highlight something and then they'll go look at it, and it won't be of any interest, so they'll go on to the next highlighted item.
  3. Occasionally, someone will realize that all clandestine communications will be done using code words, so all conversations will become code. "Picking up the kids from soccer" will mean picking up the terrorists from the safe house. "Going to the store for groceries" will mean stocking up on fertilizer and fuel oil. Now every conversation will be suspect and will have to be investigated, which means absolutely nothing will get done.
  4. The Soviets only listened to people who mattered. If you didn't do anything to get noticed, no  one paid you any mind.
    Remember the old Pogo quote? "We have met the enemy and he is us." It costs the USA about a million dollars a year to put a soldier in the field, mostly for the same reason that it costs a $100 million dollars to make a movie. It's an expedition. You need to bring everything with you, and you need to bring a bunch of people to bring the stuff, and then you need to feed them, which means more people and more stuff. It's like a pyramid scheme.
    I keep thinking the Taliban is couple of guys walking around with a shovel and a gun, but it's not. It's actually a sizable organization, and like any big outfit it takes money to run it. I imagine it probably takes about $10 thousand a year for the Taliban to put a soldier in the field, or about ONE PERCENT of what we are spending.
    We hire contractors to build things in Afghanistan. The contractors have to deal with the local people in order to get things done. Pay off the local warlords so their workers don't get shot on the job. I would not be surprised if ONE PERCENT of what we spend to put our own troops in the field ends up in the hands of the Taliban, who use that money to put one of their own soldiers in the field. In effect we are paying the enemy to fight us.
    We are all going to hell.