Saturday, December 16, 2017

Doofus Of The Day #992


This quote says it all.

"According to the investigation, it is believed the male victim was attempting to steal the wheels from a van when the vehicle fell on top of him," said a statement from [Pittsburgh's] Public Safety Department.

Uh-huh.

Hint to aspiring wheel thieves:  the wheel nuts are on the outside for a good reason - so you don't have to be the nut who gets under the inside!


*Sheesh*


Peter

Lessons learned from yesterday's excitement


Thanks to everyone who offered help after yesterday's alarums and excursions.  I think we're on top of the situation for now.  I've learned a few things, and re-learned others, so I thought I'd share them for the benefit of anyone who's interested.

First, Miss D.'s and my emphasis on building up and keeping a cash reserve has paid off, yet again.  We're facing bills of over $1,000 to buy and install a new water heater and associated bits and pieces, and also replace my cellphone (with ye olde basic economy model - I don't waste money on high-end phones with features I don't need).  Fortunately, because we've saved for a rainy day, we can spend the money without worries.  That's a real blessing.

I went online and searched for information about a replacement water heater.  To my surprise, it emerged that the different warranty periods for those things - usually 6, 9 or 12 years - often (not always) apply to precisely and exactly the same heater.  The difference in price is usually to pay for an insurance policy for the manufacturer, which is betting its unit will last long enough that it can keep some extra profit on the deal.  Local plumbers confirmed online advice to buy a good-quality 6-year unit, and look after it.  Given due care and attention, it's likely to last as long as a more expensive one.

Some readers recommended tankless water systems.  Those are useful, but they also cost more than a traditional heater, and have one drawback - there's no water reservoir for use in emergencies.  If we lose our water supply for some reason, it's comforting to know there'll be 50 gallons in the water heater, in addition to my backup supplies.  That might come in handy in an emergency.

Three precautions and routine maintenance measures were recommended:
  1. Given the prevalence of sediment and algae in our water at certain times of the year, a whole-house water filter, installed in the line ahead of the water heater, is a very useful thing.  It traps most of the sediment that would otherwise build up inside the heater's tank.  It's a lot cheaper to replace the filter than the heater!
  2. Buy a heater with replaceable anodes.  We're doing that;  in fact, I'll buy the first set of replacement anodes, plus the wrench needed to install them, at the same time that I buy the heater.  That way, we'll have them on hand when we need them, in case the store doesn't have them in stock.  We'll make sure to swap them out at recommended intervals.
  3. Don't let the plumber supply the equipment from their stocks, because they'll charge more.  This proved very true.  I reckon we'll save between 20% and 30% on their price by buying the heater and filter ourselves, and having the plumber install them.

Miss D. also came up with a very useful idea.  She wants the plumber to install a water shut-off for the whole house as the very first thing in the line as it comes in, even ahead of the filter.  That way, if we have a leak anywhere and it's sub-zero outside, we don't have to go plodding around the garden at two in the morning, freezing our unmentionables off, looking for the hatch and trying to fiddle with the special key needed to close off the inflow.  We can simply walk into the garage and close a tap instead.  I think that's a great idea, so we'll add it to the list for the plumber's attention.

So far, so good.  My new phone is set up and working, and we've got our ducks more or less in a row for the plumber.  Now, bearing in mind that problems seem to come in threes . . . what else is going to go wrong?

Peter

Friday, December 15, 2017

Romance - bachelor edition


Courtesy of today's Pearls Before Swine comic strip, by Stephan Pastis.  Click the image for a larger version at the strip's Web page.







Peter

Oh, frabjous day!


It's turning out to be one of those days.  I'm working on the climactic, second-last chapter of my latest novel, writing the main battle sequence, when:
  1. My cellphone dies - the battery will no longer hold a charge.  So, it's off to the cellphone store as soon as I finish writing these words.
  2. The hot water heater begins leaking.  Plumber ahoy!  They can come out on Monday, but that's going to be a few hundred dollars down the drain for a new heater plus installation charges.
  3. I now have to move around a large part of the contents of the garage this weekend, to allow the plumber to get at the hot water heater.

Writing?  What writing?  And who says life is boring?




Peter

This is what happens when you hand out weapons as if they were candy


In its efforts to supply so-called 'moderate' or 'anti-government' groups in Syria, it looks like the USA and Europe ended up supplying ISIS and other radicals instead.  The Telegraph reports:

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants relied heavily on guns and ammunition produced by Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Germany, a report released on Thursday by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an international organisation that documents weapons trafficking in war zones, revealed.

. . .

Their 200-page report provides the most comprehensive, verified study of the group’s weapons to date, presenting an analysis of more than 40,000 items recovered from Isil forces over three years.

It concludes that international weapon supplies intended for rebel factions in the Syrian conflict ended up with Isil, “significantly augmenting the quantity and quality of weapons in its arsenal”.

In the early phase of the conflict, most of the group's cache had been captured from Iraqi and Syrian forces. But from the end of 2015, CAR started to see another significant source - factories in Eastern Europe.

The weapons and ammunition was being manufactured in Europe, sold to the US and Saudi Arabia, and transported across the Turkish border into Syria.

They said supplies of weapons by the Washington and Riyadh to Syrian opposition groups indirectly allowed Isil to obtain a substantial amount of sophisticated anti-armour ammunition and anti-tank guided weapons (ATGW), which have then been used against coalition forces they support.

"Time and again, states that seek to accomplish short-term political objectives supply weapons to groups over whom they exert little to no control," said James Bevan, the executive director of CAR. "These weapons often gravitate to the most organised and effective rebel and insurgent forces."

In one case CAR tracked a number of advanced ATGWs. Using their production numbers they discovered they were manufactured in the EU, sold to the US, which supplied them to an opposition group in Syria, where they were then transferred to Isil fighters in Iraq.

The full chain of transactions occurred within two months of the weapons' dispatch from the factory.

In another instance, in October 2014, Romania sold 9,252 rocket-propelled grenades, known as PG-9s, to the US military.

The grenades were sent by the US to Jaysh Suriyah al-­Jadid, a Syrian militia armed and trained by America to fight Isil in the east of the country.

But somehow, PG-9s from this same shipment made their way to neighbouring Iraq, where Isil experts separated the stolen warheads from the original rocket motors before adding new features that made them better suited for urban combat such as the battle for Mosul.

There's more at the link.

There's nothing new about this sort of thing, of course. I can recall black-painted C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft arriving in the dead of night in the African bush, laden with weapons for pro-US movements in their fight against Communist-dominated governments in more than one country.  During the 1980's, the USA supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to UNITA in Angola, under the strict condition that they not be allowed to fall into the hands of its South African allies.  That didn't stop several of the missiles from making their way to a very interested technical analysis team in Pretoria, along with SA-7SA-8, SA-9, SA-14 and SA-16 missiles captured from Angolan forces.  (The Russian manufacturer of the SA-16 later proudly referenced South African tests showing 'the Igla's superiority over the ... Stinger missile'.  That amuses the heck out of me, since I watched some of those tests!  Yes, the SA-16 [which appeared to copy many features of the Stinger, leading us to nickname it, in pidgin Russian, the 'Stingerski'] did appear to be a more capable missile at the time.)

There's no easy way to avoid arming one's enemies in such a confused situation.  One either accepts that risk, or withholds arms altogether.  The latter is safer, but can get one's allies chopped up by other groups whose supporters are less scrupulous about providing weapons.

Peter

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Heh - weird feminist dingbat edition


Last week Wear Your Voice, an 'intersectional feminist magazine' (really?), published an article titled - wait for it - "If you’re going to date someone, you want to make sure they’re anti-oppression. Here are 10 things you should ask on a first date".

As a queer femme of color, I keep close relationships with people who go beyond allyship; they’re true accomplices in the fight against white supremacy, queerphobia and misogyny. If you’re not going to support marginalized folks, then we can’t be friends, let alone date. The personal is political.

Beyond the lovely cushioning, happiness and support that we receive from our platonic relationships (which are, in all honesty, soul-feeding and essential), feminists also date! But there are questions we have to ask before we get close to someone.

The following list of questions is applicable for all relationships — certainly not just cisgender, heterosexual ones.

There's more at the link.

My own reaction to such nonsense was fairly blunt and down-to-earth, not the sort of thing I could reproduce in a blog I try to keep family-friendly.  However, PawPaw, who can be equally blunt and down-to-earth (funny how us old fart veterans seem to think alike!), has penned his own responses to the lady's (?) list of questions.  For example:

1. Do you believe that Black Lives Matter?  Yeah, like I believe that white lives matter.

2. What are your thoughts on gender and sexual orientation?  There are two genders.  That is simple biology.  Sexual orientation is more complex.  Just so we're clear . . . [details omitted].

3. How do you work to dismantle sexism and misogyny in your life?  Are you going to pick up the tab?  Or do you intend to perpetuate societal conventions?

4. What are your thoughts on sex work?  I had to give it up when I turned 40.

Again, more at the link.

Thanks, PawPaw.  I needed the laugh!




Peter

The minnow and the whale


One of the more amusing aspects of flying is the discrepancy in size between many aircraft.  Here's a fun meetup on the runway:  a Bombardier Dash 8 commuter airliner (capacity usually about 35-75 depending on fuselage length, maximum takeoff weight up to 30-odd metric tons) takes off immediately ahead of an Airbus A340-600, at one time the longest commercial airliner in the world (capacity up to 375 [comparable to Boeing's biggest 777's or its 747], maximum takeoff weight up to 330 metric tons).  The contrast is eye-catching.





Like I said:  the minnow and the whale!




Peter

The nightmare world


I've written more than once about child sexual abuse, particularly in the context of the Catholic Church's clergy crisis.  (For my personal experience of how that played out, see here.  To see all my articles on that subject, in reverse chronological order, click here.)  I also had not inconsiderable contact with child molesters and abusers as a prison chaplain.  I wrote about some cases in my memoir of prison ministry.

However, nothing can capture the agony of child abuse, mental, spiritual and physical, like the recollections of an abused child.  Moira Greyland is one such person.  Daughter of famed science fiction and fantasy author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and her husband, convicted pedophile Walter H. Breen, she was abused by both of them, rampantly and repeatedly, for many years.  In a 2014 letter to blogger Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Ms. Greyland said this:

The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.

There's more at the link.  You can read here her more detailed account of her abuse, including her rape by her father, and the psychological conditioning and grooming from both her parents that still affects her.

Her brother, too, was the sexual victim of his parents.  He's spoken about it here.  (If that screen is hard to read, highlight the text.  It will stand out from the background.)  It scarred him for life.

I live in an echo chamber where memories of yesterday can swell up into thunderstorms of thought and go rolling through my troubled valleys like a drunken Zeus hurtling thunderbolts in every direction laughing to raise the dead. And it does, corpses of memory before me shaking to the Monster Mash and filling my eyes with what I try so hard not to see.

Physical. Absolutely. But that is so much easier to bear than head games. Screaming is bad, but little whispers and threats work so much better to chill your blood and recreate being cold and naked hiding under tables hearing the shouting. To be "Bone Chewing Bear", robbing the plates of every scrap of food you could find. Life got better as I got older and there was more money, but the earth could turn any day to seeing the big cat stalking in her skin. I flinch from hands and eyes and am very polite and patient day by day by...

Mental. My god, I have no way to say this. Words work so well on me; before long the raised hand I am cowering from becomes reflex. The face is the face of guessing moment by moment what she would bring. As I got older humiliation and embarrassment became the thing and more and more indirectly as time went by.

There was no believing she was getting better as you could not tell which one of her would wake up at any moment. It is so much easier to bear being hurt yourself than being blamed for someone hurting someone else. The shame from that alone is this boulder I have hanging around my neck.

Again, more at the link.

Now Ms. Greyland has written a book, 'The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon', describing, in detail, what it meant to grow up as the victim of such abuse.




The blurb reads as follows:

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.

I think this is an extraordinarily important book.  I believe we all need to understand the horrifying impact of child sexual abuse on its victims.  Most of them can't speak for themselves.  I commend and applaud Ms. Greyland's courage in speaking out, not just for herself, but on their behalf, too.

On a personal note, I find this book a ghastly reminder of why I took the stand I did when the Catholic Church hierarchy signally failed (and has continued to fail to this day) to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse in any meaningful way.  I don't think the bishops, archbishops and cardinals in general have any idea of just how horrifying is the reality of child sex abuse.  If they did, I can't believe they would have allowed their neglect of the situation to continue for so long.  Nevertheless, they did . . . and the result for the Church has been catastrophic.  By their wrong actions and deliberate inaction, they have destroyed the faith of millions - their faith in the Church, certainly, and in tragically many cases, their faith in God too.  That destruction will be weighed in the scales against them when they come to the Judgment we all must face.  I would not like to be in their shoes when that happens.

I can only suggest most strongly that you read Ms. Greyland's book for yourself.  Right now, today, there are tens of thousands of children among us who are going through what she went through.  May her story motivate all of us to do better for them, to help them escape their living nightmare;  and may all of us do our utmost to ensure that those who abuse them are prevented from ever doing so again.  Furthermore, may all those seeking to justify such abuse (for example, NAMBLA and its supporters) be publicly called out for the scum they are.  Let them be treated in the same way as abusers.  They deserve no less.

Peter

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hard at work


Sorry about the light blogging today.  I'm about 82,000 words into my work in progress, and I'd like to finish it by next week, so that I can get it out to alpha readers.  They can read it over the next week or two, and make suggestions and comments, which I'll incorporate in the publication version.

I've been working very hard on the book over the past few weeks, and the end is in sight. With luck, you'll see another military science fiction novel in January.  Wish me luck!

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #991


The video speaks for itself.  Courtesy of Wirecutter:








Peter

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

If an app is free, is it trustworthy?


In the case of some popular software, not necessarily.

Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app has leaked online, after the app's developer failed to secure the database's server.

The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customizable and personalizable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world.

But the server wasn't protected with a password, allowing anyone to access the company's database of user records, totaling more than 577 gigabytes of sensitive data.

. . .

Each record contains a basic collected data, including the user's full name, email addresses, and how many days the app was installed. Each record also included a user's precise location, including their city and country.

. . .

More complete records also include the device's IMSI and IMEI number, the device's make and model, its screen resolution, and the device's specific Android version.

A large portion of the records also included the user's phone number and the name of their cell phone provider, and in some cases their IP address and name of their internet provider if connected to Wi-Fi. Many records contain specific details of a user's public Google profile, including email addresses, dates of birth, genders, and profile photos.

We also found several tables of contact data uploaded from a user's phone. One table listed 10.7 million email addresses, while another contained 374.6 million phone numbers. It's not clear for what reason the app uploaded email addresses and phone numbers of contacts on users' phones.

Several tables contained lists of each app installed on a user's device, such as banking apps and dating apps.

There's more at the link.  It makes for disturbing reading.

This is very worrying for two reasons.  The first and most obvious is that the app developer did not password-protect user information, leaving it vulnerable to hacking.  The second, more insidious concern is that most users probably did not have any idea of how much information about them and their telephones, contacts, etc. the app was collecting.  Privacy?  What privacy?

This is by no means the only instance where a 'free' app proved to be risky at best.  One of the best-known cleanup programs, CCleaner (the free version of which I've used myself for a very long time), was recently infected with malware, which downloaded itself to users along with a program update.  That affected my computer, too.  It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and disruption to many users' computers, to deal with the problem.

Moral of the story:  free software isn't necessarily free of malware, viruses, and bugs.  Even paid software isn't immune.  Use at your own risk.

Peter

When the cure for terrorism is worse than the disease


There's a conundrum in anti-terror operations.  Military necessity dictates stopping, killing and capturing terrorists.  However, the priorities of ordinary citizens are, more often than not, simply survival;  and, after survival, the security of their property and possessions.  This has led to many situations where military counter-terror operations have been opposed by local civilians, on the grounds that they are suffering more from them than the terrorists.  (Iraq and Afghanistan have provided many examples.)

The most recent such situation occurred in Marawi, in the Philippines, earlier this year.

More than six months after Filipino and foreign fighters claiming allegiance to the Islamic State stormed this lakeside city, setting off a monthslong war with U.S.-backed Philippine troops, liberated Marawi lies in ruins and its people seethe.

The heart of the city has been bombed and burned beyond recognition, its domed mosques pierced by mortar fire. Homes stand roofless, blackened. There are armored vehicles on the streets.

Some 200,000 residents are still scattered across the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, living with weary relatives or in displacement camps thick with mud and worry.

Those who have been allowed to return found their homes sacked and looted - safes open, jewelry snatched, appliances gone.

Many are angry at the men who seized their city in a failed bid to establish a caliphate, taking hostages and targeting civilians. They are angry, too, at the forces that fought those men, namely the Philippine army and its backer, the United States.

. . .

In late May, Philippine troops stormed a compound in Marawi, expecting to make some arrests. Instead, they set off fighting that lasted more than 150 days.

After a prolonged gun battle, the Philippine army slowly pushed the militants toward the city's center, where they dug in. "It was heavy urban fighting," said Col. Romeo Brawner, a U.S.-trained soldier who is now the deputy commander of a Marawi task force.

. . .

More than six months after the fighting started and more than two months after Duterte declared Marawi liberated, it still looks and feels like a war zone, with the destruction centered in the city's heart, along the shore of Lake Lanao, and radiating outward.

The center is a no-go zone controlled by soldiers. Militants had turned the houses that are still standing into snipers' nests, where furniture has been trashed and pro-Islamic State graffiti is still on the walls.

It may be years before the main battleground is habitable. At the periphery, where people have been allowed to move back and schools are reopening, families are returning to wrecked and emptied homes.

. . .

The bombing is a source of tremendous anger here. "Why didn't they warn us, 'Hey, be prepared because we are going to deploy an airstrike?' " asked Drieza Lininding, a displaced resident who runs the Moro Consensus Group, a nonprofit that seeks to counter radicalization.

The strikes sent people fleeing without money, documents, weapons and other valuables - much of which has since been taken from damaged homes. The military denies assertions that it was behind systematic looting, but civilians, including Lininding, are not sold.

"Who are we going to blame for that looting? Nobody could do this without using a truck," he said.

There's more at the link, along with photographs.  It's well worth clicking over there to read the article in full.

I remember seeing many similar situations in Africa, in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola, the Congo, Rwanda and other countries.  In every case, government and/or military priorities dictated an offensive against terrorists.  In every case, the locals suffered because of it.  Many died.  Many lost loved ones, even entire families.  Many lost everything they owned.  None of them could understand how their government could completely ignore their needs and priorities, in order to concentrate on the military mission of killing terrorists.

I don't have an answer to that conundrum.  All I know is, having seen at first hand how innocent people suffer through military and/or terrorist action on both sides, my preference is to work against terrorists in less indiscriminate ways.  Military action may, indeed, be unavoidable;  but could not military forces do more to evacuate civilians from danger zones, or refrain from using weapons that target an area, regardless of who may be in it?  As for fighting in a major urban environment, that's virtually guaranteed to cause mass civilian casualties, simply because they're stuck there.  Avenues in and out are likely to be blocked by fighting, or damage resulting from fighting.  Who's going to pay any attention to their needs?  With the notable exception of US and First World armies, most soldiers will not.  Their priority is to stay alive themselves, and to hell with anything and anyone who stands in the way of that.  As General George S. Patton famously said, "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his."  Most combat veterans of my acquaintance (including myself, when I was still wearing a uniform) would wholeheartedly agree.

I truly feel for the citizens of Marawi.  They've been largely abandoned by their government.  What does their future hold?  Only what they can rebuild for themselves.  It's a cold, hard, brutal world out there.

Peter

A piece of aviation history


The Sikorsky R-4 was the first helicopter to go into mass production for the US armed forces (and a few for Britain's Royal Air Force).  Between 1942 and 1944, 131 were built.

The aircraft was announced to the public in 1942.  It was the first time most people had ever heard the word 'helicopter', and the aircraft's capabilities were, at the time, extraordinary.  Here's the first publicity film of the R-4.





The R-4 saw combat in Burma, where it was used for combat rescue and casualty evacuation from the thick jungle.  You can read about its first combat rescue mission here.  It also made the first helicopter landing on a ship, in trials aboard the British merchant ship Empire Mersey in 1944.

The R-4 wasn't very successful, being grossly under-powered, but it was the first of its kind.  More and better successors would build on the foundation it laid.

Peter