Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Biggest Plane Ever Built

If you’re minimally knowledgeable about such things, when you saw the header, you said, “Oh sure – the Spruce Goose.” At least, that’s what I would have done. But seventy years later, there’s a new
The Stratolaunch is currently in production at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. Aerospace firm Scaled Composites has headed-up development of the mammoth aircraft, and befitting such a sizable plane, the technical details are jaw-dropping. Stratolaunch, nicknamed “Roc” after the mythical bird of prey, features two fuselages, six Pratt & Whitney jet engines, 28 landing gear wheels, and a whopping 385 foot wingspan.

“If you were to put the center of this airplane on a football field,” mentions Scaled Composites president Kevin Mickey in a KGET interview, “its wingtips would extend beyond the goalposts by about 15 feet on each side.”

Those dimensions make it 65 feet wider than the legendary “Spruce Goose” H-4 Hercules … it is being constructed using pieces of two already quite large planes–a pair of disused Boeing 747s.
The purpose of the plane is to launch satellites.
The Stratolaunch is designed to carry a three-stage rocket (equipped with a satellite) between its two fuselages. Upon reaching the correct altitude, the rocket will detach, blast off into space, and later release the satellite.

Monday, August 10, 2015

You Get What You Pay For

There are rumors around the web that Donald Trump is buying Facebook likes, retweets, and even entire websites:
Inside the most pro-Trump news outlet on the right (Breitbart), some employees say the billionaire candidate has provided financial backing in exchange for fawning headlines — a charge management strongly denies.
I wonder if he bought these two, and if so, how much he paid.

Hillary’s a Piker

The BBC informs us that some other governments are as adept as ours at averting their eyes from obvious corruption among the elite.
Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency has said hundreds of millions of dollars found in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal accounts were donations, effectively clearing him of wrongdoing.

But it did not disclose who the donors were or what the donations were for.    
It was investigating allegations funds were transferred to Mr Razak from the 1MDB state investment fund he set up.

The allegation is that he transferred nearly $700m (£450m) from the debt-ridden fund to his own personal account.
This guy makes the Clinton Foundation look honest by comparison.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Whom Do You Suppose He's Referring to?

Silly Season

The term above is a political cliche, referring to a phenomenon that occurs during every campaign, during which odd candidates (e.g., Howard Dean) flourish in the polls before fading from view.

We are, obviously, in that season now, but I have to say that in my roughly fifty-five years of following politics closely, this is by far the silliest season ever.

Donald Trump is the most obvious piece of ... evidence, but we also see the most extreme leftist Democratic candidate perhaps ever being booted off the stage by a group of extreme leftists for not being extreme enough on racial issues.

While all this nonsense is certainly entertaining, and we will no doubt look back on it with nostalgia at some point (as people of my generation look back on our hippie days, even while acknowledging the insanity of it all), still one hopes that this will soon end, and the two parties can turn their attention to selecting reasonably rational candidates.

Poor Journalism

Maybe it's been brought up elsewhere, but CNN’s guy, Don Lemon (never heard of him before), should be called out for his lack of professionalism for failing to follow up on Trump’s ‘blood out of her wherever’ comment.

Border Fences, Euro-Style

The US isn’t the only country with an illegal immigration problem. Here’s how Hungary is dealing with theirs.
Hungarian soldiers started building a fence Monday on the border with Serbia, an effort meant to stop the rising flow of migrants trying to enter the European Union.

On the outskirts of the southern village of Asotthalom, soldiers were using heavy machinery to drive metal rods into the ground, the first steps in the construction of the nearly 4-meter (13-foot) high fence, which the government wants to finish by Aug. 31 along the 175-kilometer (109-mile border). […]

More than 100,000 migrants have reached Hungary on routes across the Balkans so far in 2015, compared with fewer than 43,000 asylum seekers last year and 18,900 in 2013.
The Bulgarian fence.

And in Bulgaria:
… the new section of fence being constructed to seal Bulgaria’s entire border [with Turkey] is designed to appear all but impregnable,

The local authorities are hoping to put off the ruthless criminal gangs exploiting families fleeing war and terror in Syria, Iraq and North Africa from trying to enter Europe via Bulgaria.

Bulgarian Border Police chief Ivan Stoyanov said: ‘Our operation has stopped more than 500 migrants from crossing in the last month alone.

Venezuela, Part Whatever

More on the collapse of Venezuela, this time considerably more tragic than the beer shortage.
Prednisone and Cellcept, immunosuppressive drugs to avoid rejection of transplanted organs, disappeared from Venezuelan public and private pharmacies since early July, patients told AFP.

Consequently, hundreds of patients are faced with a critical situation: their treatment cannot be interrupted not even for a day, as they could lose the kidney or liver for which they waited for years.

"When (human) prednisone ran out, everybody started to look for the canine drug," reported the President of the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation (Fefarven), Freddy Ceballos.
Socialismo o Muerte!, as they used to say in Cuba.

Or maybe both.

Friday, August 7, 2015


I haven't talked here about the fact that I'm being treated for prostate cancer. Cancer isn't a very amusing topic.

Except when it is.

I'm currently being treated with an IV solution of radium-223, called Xofigo. Each treatment ends with one of the doctors holding a geiger counter in front of me to see whether I'm emitting radiation. Cracks me up every time.

I've had the cancer for a little over a year (I returned from Ecuador because a test there had found it). Prostate cancer is usually considered one of the least-aggressive common cancers, but apparently mine skipped his cancer-training class that day.

I'll periodically offer updates here, but this is not going to be a blog about cancer. It will continue to be mostly about the same stuff it has been.

The Most Sought-After Endorsement

Dennis Rodman has announced his choice for president. Guess who?

Actually, who else could it be? When a clown makes an endorsement, naturally he is going to endorse a fellow clown.
Dennis Rodman has endorsed Donald Trump for president. On Friday, the five-time NBA champion tweeted that the Donald “has been a great friend for many years.” 

"We don’t need another politician, we need a businessman like Mr. Trump! Trump 2016,” he added. 

Trump responded on Twitter, writing, “Thank you @DennisRodman. It’s time to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain! I hope you are doing well!”

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Skull Church

This is pretty far off-topic even by my very loose standards, but I found it really fascinating. In the Czech Republic, there is a church called the Sedlec Ossuary, aka the Skull Church. It is ‘decorated’, if that is the right word, with the remains of tens of thousands of plague victims.
It’s a real-life chapel that looks like the set of the Pirates of the Caribbean.

The spine-tingling Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic is estimated to hold the remains of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, many of whom died in the plague in 1318 and during the Hussite Wars in the 15th century.
More pictures here.

Paranoid Nightmare Special

RealClearPolicy had an interesting item yesterday on how Obama could get around the 22nd Amendment and run for a third term. Of course, he wouldn’t do such a thing, because he has too much respect for the constitution. [/sarcasm]

Seriously, I see about a zero percent chance of such a thing happening, but the article makes a good case for how it could plausibly be done – read it and offer your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Grexit: Sooner or Later

Most Europeans want Greece gone.

YouGov polls show that a) Most Europeans would like to see Greece out of the Eurozone; and b) Most think they will be gone in five years.

The question asked in the poll was “Would you prefer Greece to leave or stay part of the Eurozone?” and although Germans unsurprisingly feel most negative towards Greece, a majority in all countries polled disapproved of the recent bailout deal, and would prefer the debt-ridden country to leave the common currency.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Venezuelan Beer Shortage, Part II

Well, yes, it's true that the whole point of this post
was to justify slipping this picture in here.
Clever of me, wasn't it?
Last week, I mentioned that Venezuela was running out of beer (together with a bit of snark that failed states ought to make darned sure they have plenty of booze to deaden the pain). Maybe instead of being snarky, I should have offered some serious advice to any R4ers traveling to Venezuela: Keep your mouth shut about the beer shortage.
Without knowing the crimes alleged against him, the general director of the Venezuelan Federation of Liquor Producers (Fevelif) was arrested on Friday, July 24. According to local media, Fray Roa could appear in court on Monday, July 27.

While there remains no stated justification for the arrest, Venezuelans haven’t failed to notice that it occurred right after Roa shared revelations with journalist Gabriela Frías on her television program Global Portfolio, broadcast on CNN en Español. […]
The industry representative complained about the lack of raw materials for the production of beer and malt in the country.
Ain’t socialismo wonderful?

An Asian Arms Race

China’s aggressive moves have stoked concerns throughout Asia (we’ve discussed the South China Sea as a coming trouble spot before -- most recently here).

Here are a couple more examples.

India’s Naval Build-up

India is planning to spend $61bil to expand their navy and to counter Chinese incursions into the Indian Ocean.
The build-up is mostly aimed at deterring China from establishing a foothold in the Indian Ocean. It also serves another goal: Transforming India’s warship-building industry into an exporting force that can supply the region, including U.S. partners in Asia wary of China’s increased assertiveness. […]
The vessels on India’s wish list show Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intent on expanding the navy’s influence from Africa to the Western Pacific. Most of them will be made in India, a sign that moves to upgrade the country’s shipyards are starting to pay off for the world’s biggest importer of weapons.
India plans to add at least 100 new warships, including two aircraft carriers, as well as three nuclear powered submarines capable of firing nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

Japan Overrides Its Constitution

Here’s another bit of fall-out – Japan has passed legislation to greatly expand their military role (possibly in violation of the constitution Douglas MacArthur wrote for them after WW2).
Controversial legislation that could result in Japanese troops fighting abroad for the first time since World War II passed the lower house of Japan’s parliament on Thursday after large public protests and scuffles in the normally staid chamber.
The bills have been championed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who contends that Japan – which adopted a U.S.-drafted pacifist constitution after its defeat in World War II – needs to be able to come to the aid of allies, particularly America, under the doctrine of “collective self-defense.”
His push comes as China is expanding its military capabilities and increasingly asserting itself in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Those Damn Homophones Are Taking Over

Anyone well-grounded in English knows about certain tricky words that sound alike but have different meanings. An example is ‘lead’ (a mineral) and ‘led’ (the past tense of the verb ‘to lead’).
The worst, for most of us, is the three-fer, there/their/they’re – I know the different uses of these three quite well, thank you, but when I get typing fast, I often insert the wrong one (or at least that’s my alibi whenever I screw up).

These sound-alikes are called ‘homophones‘. Which turned out to be an unfortunate label for a guy who wrote for a certain English as a second language school last year.

Just ask a blogger … named Tim Torkildson. For three months in 2014, Torkildson was a social media specialist and blogger for the Nomen Global Language Center, a Utah-based English-language school for non-English speakers. In July of that year, as part of that job, Torkildson wrote a blog post … for Nomen’s official blog. Titled “Help with Homophones #1,” the missive was hardly a manifesto — it simply instructed readers about a few trap words which sound alike but are spelled differently.  (A screenshot of the post, cached, can be found here, via the Daily Mail.) It seemed entirely appropriate for the job Torkildson was hired to do, and innocuous nonetheless.
His boss didn’t see it that way. As Torkildson recounted on another now-deleted … blog post, the first chapter of his homophones work would be his last:
“I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you” said Clarke Woodger, my boss and the owner of Nomen Global Language Center.  “This blog about homophones was the last straw. Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”

Shining Path Slaves Freed in Peru

The BBC tells us about a rescue operation in Peru.
The Peruvian army says it has rescued 39 people from a farm where the Shining Path (aka Sendero Luminoso) rebel group kept them as slaves.
Some of the captives said they had been kidnapped some 30 years ago. The defence ministry said 26 of them were children, some of whom were born in captivity.
The victims said they were also forced to work in fields.
Some 120 Peruvian soldiers took part in the operation. Four army helicopters airlifted the captives into safety.
The military says soldiers were led to the farm by a former captive, who lived there for many years and escaped about a month ago.
The women were expected to give birth to young rebels.

I thought Shining Path (they were the Maoist group that was very active in Peru in the ’80s and 90s) was long gone, but apparently vestiges remain.

It would be interesting to hear from the usual Marxist apologists (e.g., George Clooney) about this, but I imagine they'll remain silent.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Happy B'day to My Mahal

Today would be her 60th birthday. This picture was taken in the spring/summer of 1980, when she was 24, a few months before we married.

Posted without Comment

Cecil the Lion? Whodat?

Answer honestly – had you ever heard of Cecil the Lion before this week? Had any of the people filling the internet with outrage ever heard of him? Don’t worry about it – neither had the folks in Zimbabwe, but at least they have the decency to be ignoring the whole thing.

As social media exploded with outrage this week at the killing of Cecil the lion, the untimely passing of the celebrated predator at the hands of an American dentist went largely unnoticed in the animal’s native Zimbabwe.

“What lion?” acting information minister Prisca Mupfumira asked in response to a request for comment about Cecil, who was at that moment topping global news bulletins and generating reams of abuse for his killer on websites in the United States and Europe.

The government has still given no formal response,

Just Another Clinton Foundation Scandal

From The Guardian:

Hillary Clinton’s overlap of private and political activities was once again in the spotlight on Thursday after a Wall Street Journal report that since Clinton helped broker a settlement in a legal tax case against UBS while she was secretary of state, the Swiss bank has increased its financial support and involvement in Clinton Foundation projects.

In February 2009, the IRS sued UBS and demanded that it disclose the names of 52,000 possible American tax evaders with secret Swiss bank accounts. In the months that followed – thanks to involvement of Clinton as secretary of state and Swiss lawmakers – a legal settlement was negotiated. On 19 August 2009, it was announced that UBS would pay no fine and would provide the IRS with information about 4,450 accounts within a year.

Since the deal was struck, disclosures by the foundation and the bank show the donations by UBS to the Clinton Foundation growing “from less than $60,000 through 2008 to a cumulative total of about $600,000 by the end of 2014”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The bank also teamed up with the foundation on the Clinton Economic Opportunity Initiative, creating a pilot entrepreneur program through which UBS offered $32m in loans to businesses, the newspaper reported. Other UBS donations to the Clinton Foundation include a $350,000 donation from June 2011 and a $100,000 donation for a charity golf tournament.

Additionally, UBS paid more than $1.5m in speaking fees to Bill Clinton between 2001 and 2014, the newspaper reported.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Disappointing Rand Paul Campaign

A lot of people thought Rand Paul might be one of the finalists this year, but that doesn’t seem likely now.  I saw him as Ron with the rough edges sanded off – the guy who might finally sell libertarianism to the public. It hasn’t worked out that way at all.

Politico has the story.
Rand Paul, once seen as a top-tier contender, finds his presidential hopes fading fast as he grapples with deep fundraising and organizational problems that have left his campaign badly hobbled.
Interviews with more than a dozen sources close to the Kentucky senator, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, painted a picture of an underfunded and understaffed campaign beaten down by low morale.
They described an operation that pitted a cerebral chief strategist against an intense campaign manager who once got into a physical altercation with the candidate’s bodyguard. And they portrayed an undisciplined politician who wasn’t willing to do what it took to win — a man who obsessed over trivial matters like flight times, peppered aides with demands for more time off from campaigning and once chose to go on a spring-break jaunt rather than woo a powerful donor.

Illegals Holding Steady at 11.3mil

Pew tells us that the illegal (or ‘unauthorized, as the PC crowd prefers) immigrant population has held roughly stable over the past five years. This is in line with other data I’ve seen.
An estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the U.S. in 2014, according to a new preliminary Pew Research Center estimate based on government data. This population has remained essentially stable for five years after nearly two decades of changes.  […]

Pew Research estimates that, since 2009, there has been an average of about 350,000 new unauthorized immigrants each year. Of these, about 100,000 are Mexican, a much smaller share than in the past. In the years leading up to the Great Recession, Mexicans represented about half of new unauthorized immigrants.
Donald Trump should be pleased; fewer Mexicans = fewer rapists.
Due to the slowdown in new illegal immigration since the Great Recession, unauthorized immigrants are less likely than those in the past to be recent arrivals. The share of unauthorized-immigrant adults who have lived in the U.S. for a decade or more has nearly doubled, from 35% in 2000 to 62% in 2012, according to a Pew Research estimate released last year. Only 15% in 2012 had lived in the U.S. for less than five years, compared with 38% in 2000.

Because they are more likely to be long-term residents, unauthorized immigrants also are increasingly likely to live with children born in the U.S. Pew Research Center estimates that in 2012, 4 million unauthorized-immigrant adults, or 38%, lived with their U.S.-born children, either minors or adults. In 2000, 2.1 million unauthorized-immigrant adults, or 30%, lived with their U.S.-born children. (The total number of unauthorized immigrants with adult or minor children born in the U.S. may well be higher, as these figures do not count those whose children live elsewhere.)