Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Heh - doggy edition

Found on Gab (clickit to biggit):

I think I've met that dog, more than once!


A new science fiction series from Jon del Arroz

Fellow author and blogger Jon del Arroz has just released 'The Stars Entwined', the first book in a new military science fiction series.

The blurb reads, in part:

After several recent attacks along the border of Aryshan space, internal affairs agent Sean Barrows is brought to Palmer Station to ensure the Interplanetary Navy’s on the right track in their terrorism investigations. What he discovers could lead to the biggest war the galaxy has ever seen. Sean’s work leads him to his most dangerous assignment yet—into the heart of Aryshan territory as a spy.

Meanwhile, Aryshan Commander Tamar is being groomed by the Ruling Committee to one day assume leadership of her people. First, she needs to prove herself in warship command. As tensions increase with Earth, Tamar finds herself increasingly isolated as one of the few in opposition to the war. Her troubles deepen when she comes face to face with a new member of her crew, the most intriguing man she’s ever encountered.

Jon and I have corresponded for some time, and we met at LibertyCon last year.  I had the pleasure of recommending him to Vox Day to write the novelizations of some forthcoming comics.  I'm looking forward to reading his latest book.

By the way, Jon:  your surname, in Spanish, means 'rice'.  Does that mean that with your new series, you've proved you can 'rice' to the occasion?  Or does that go against the grain?


Learning a lot about my body, and about pain

As many readers will know, I suffered a work-related back injury in 2004.  After two surgeries, I was left with a fused spine and permanent damage to my sciatic nerve.  I've been in constant pain, 24/7/365, since the date of injury, with just one glorious, all-too-brief break in 2005, when I was given an epidural injection of steroids to see if it would reduce inflammation in my spine.  (It didn't.)  A spinal anesthetic was part of the treatment, which numbed everything below my waist, including the damaged nerve.  That was the last time I remember being pain-free.  It's been my constant companion since then.

I've tried many things to control the pain, and live my life despite it.  They've ranged from cocktails of various prescription narcotics, through physiotherapy, to actually seriously considering cutting the damaged nerve and (if necessary) amputating the affected limb.  (That didn't go anywhere.)  The medical advice I was given was, in so many words, to "suck it up" and accept it.  Unfortunately, that led to other complications, including a severe drug interaction between some of the medications I was prescribed, leading to massive weight gain and major metabolic problems.  It hasn't been fun.

Eventually, I got fed up with doing what the doctors were telling me.  It was killing me slowly.  I had to find a better way.  For the past nine months I've basically thrown my doctors' recommendations out of the window and followed my own path.  It's led to increased pain, but also increased mastery of my own body, and for the first time in a long time I'm feeling relatively human again.

The core of my new approach has been strength training at Mark Rippetoe's gymnasium, following the Starting Strength program.  It hasn't been easy, and my progress has been much slower than "normal" beginners, but from the perspective of one who's been half-crippled for a long time, it's been nothing short of remarkable.  I owe Mark and his coaches, particularly Carmen, a huge debt of gratitude for taking me on, with all my challenges and difficulties, and helping me to overcome them.

Despite my early progress, I began to find, a couple of months ago, that I was hitting a wall.  My damaged sciatic nerve and its associated problems were causing me more and more pain as I pushed them further and further.  I couldn't see a way past this, until I asked for the help of a chiropractor who also attends Mark's gym.  He understands the mechanics of our exercises from personal experience, and can therefore use his training and education to analyze, diagnose and help solve the issues that have been holding me back.

What's emerged is that pain such as mine - centered around damaged nerves and skeletal structure - has far more wide-reaching effects than I'd ever considered.  The sciatic nerve, when irritated and inflamed, affects muscles all around it, up and down the leg.  (See, for example, piriformis syndrome, one of my difficulties.)  Those muscles, in turn, when irritated, exert an unhealthy influence on other muscles to which they're attached.  I'd never considered that my diaphragm might be overstressed by a thigh muscle, but that's apparently one of the problems I've been having;  and because the diaphragm was overstressed, it was pulling ribs out of alignment, which was affecting my spine above the fusion site, which was . . . you get the idea.

I've got a long way to go yet, but I'm already seeing light at the end of the tunnel.  If the strained, overstressed muscles affected by my nerve damage can be relaxed, they'll stop pulling other muscles and skeletal components out of alignment, and I'll hopefully be able to break through the "plateau" I seem to have hit in strengthening my body, and move on to the next level.  This isn't reducing my nerve pain - in fact, it's greatly increasing it during treatment! - but it's helping me to understand just how various elements in my body interact (or fail to do so) under the impact of nerve pain.  I'll still have to rely on painkillers, but better posture, greater ease of movement, and a more smoothly functioning body should help me stay mobile and healthy for much longer than would otherwise have been the case.

If I hadn't embarked on this journey, I think I'd have been in a wheelchair before long, and perhaps bedbound a year or two after that . . . and it's very hard to come back once one accepts those restrictions.  I'd much rather live with greater pain, and push myself, and remain as healthy as possible.  I'd therefore like to encourage any of my readers who are also in constant pain, to consider pushing their limits as far as they're able to go.  It may be difficult physically, but it may also help you bear your burdens and regain some of your humanity.  IMHO, that's worth the cost.  I also think it's a heck of a lot healthier to do that than to simply increase one's medication level, and let the medical system consign you to early oblivion!  That's the easy way out, but you end up a physical and mental vegetable.  I can't - I won't - accept that.

This is also helping me to write more, and hopefully better as well.  I'm almost finished a military science fiction trilogy that I began on the spur of the moment last December, and I'm looking forward to bringing it out soon.  If my increased productivity continues, I'll be able to produce more work, and earn a better living for myself and Miss D. (who brings her own part as well, of course).  I hate the "soggy brain syndrome" that excessive pain produces in me.  If I can become healthier in body, then perhaps, in spite of the ongoing pain, I can have a healthier and more creative mind as well, as Juvenal put it.

Food for thought.  I hope it helps some of you who may suffer from similar issues.  In particular, if you're struggling with health issues that the medical profession doesn't seem able to solve, consider the Starting Strength program.  There are gyms offering training in many states, and online coaching is available if there's no gym in your area.  Miss D. and I can testify from our own experience that the program really is worth all the time, effort and money it will cost you.


Monday, March 19, 2018


Courtesy of Chief Nose Wetter:

Yes, indeed.


Oh, the mud!

The Moorslede Rally/Sprint was held in Belgium earlier this month - and boy, was it muddy!  I've driven in some pretty wet conditions during my own rallying days, but I'm pretty sure they were never this bad.

That's when a high-performance car can get you into trouble a lot faster than the driver can get out of it!


You don't say!

Seen on Gab:

No s***, Sherlock!


If they can't change the laws, they'll force society to ignore them

That's the behavior postulated by John Robb of Global Guerrillas in his latest column, which examines how social pressure groups might seek to deal with law-abiding gun owners.  Here's an excerpt.

... how will the moral network personalize attacks against people who own guns legally?
  • They won't do it by discussing it on the TV talk show circuit or pushing new legislation.  The members of this network have already lost faith in that process.
  • They will do it by establishing strict moral limits on the capacity of an individual to commit acts of violence.  You can already see this new 'consensus' emerging.  A growing sense that anyone who owns a gun is immoral, unsafe, and a threat to society. 
  • With that goal mind, the network can get working on the next step: shunning gun owners en masse and disconnecting them from society until they recant.
At this point, this doesn't seem possible, without legislation to back it up.  However, that can change quickly.  This effort gets teeth, and the capacity to impact millions of people simultaneously, through a list.  A list of gun owners.  A list built in part using leaked/stolen government data and through the reporting of friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and more.  A list that is potentially stored in a blockchain for durability and enhanced with rumors (statements or pictures of people on the list that makes them look dangerous).  With this list in hand, network members would then turn up the pressure on individuals:
  • Employers would refuse employment or fire individuals who own guns, in the name of workplace safety, at the urging of other employees.
  • Parents would put pressure on schools to ban the parents who own guns from attending school functions or put in place extra security at schools targeting children living in gun owning households.
  • With pictures and and a little open source facial recognition software, anyone on the list could be IDed by anyone with a smart phone.
Get the picture?  In short, everything from getting access to a building to renting an apartment to getting a date could get very hard for reputed gun owners to do nearly overnight.

All without legislation or government regulations.

Scare you a bit?  It should.

There's more at the link.

That's a worrying scenario, but it's entirely plausible within the context of a left-wing, progressive city where social interactions are facilitated and dominated by social media.  Marshall McLuhan postulated several decades ago that "the medium is the message".

McLuhan understood "medium" in a broad sense. He identified the light bulb as a clear demonstration of the concept of "the medium is the message". A light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, yet it is a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. He describes the light bulb as a medium without any content. McLuhan states that "a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence."

Likewise, the message of a newscast about a heinous crime may be less about the individual news story itself — the content — and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are in effect being brought into the home to watch over dinner.

Again, more at the link.

If one examines social policy-making as the exertion of pressure in and by the medium (social media networks) on the society that uses it/them, this makes Mr. Robb's position entirely plausible.  Of course, outside societies dominated by such media (e.g. in "flyover country" rather than big cities), such pressure is much less likely to be successful;  but there are fewer people in such areas than there are in major metroplexes.  Social policies in the latter might end up becoming de facto law, and in due course de jure in such settings, simply because those with different views are out-shouted, outcast and outvoted.  In effect, the Second Amendment - perhaps even the constitution as a whole - would be overridden simply by shunning it, and refusing to give it any recognition or importance in the formation of laws and policies.

That's a very scary thought, particularly because those of us who take the rule of law seriously appear to be growing fewer, as we get older, and replaced in society by those who've been "educated" without reference to fact and an emphasis on feeling.  Lenin had a name for them, of course.  This meme from Gab sums it up nicely, I think.



Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday morning music

As a variation on our usual Sunday morning practice, I thought I'd illustrate how a very old song can be updated and "revamped" into something rather different.  I'll illustrate with an old English folk song, "John Barleycorn".  It tells the story of how barley is planted, harvested and converted into beer by personifying the plant, and discussing how it's treated (very poorly) by, and eventually triumphs over, those using it.

Here's Steeleye Span with a live "folk rock" rendition very similar in tune to the eighteenth-century folk version.  They recorded a studio version on their (recently remastered) album "Below the Salt".

Next, Traffic with a 1969 acoustic version from their album of the same name (also remastered).

Finally, Jethro Tull with a rockin' version of the song from their live concert compilation "A Little Light Music" (one of my favorites among their albums).

Fun stuff!


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Good advice on reducing major medical expenses

A writer styling himself "hedgeless_horseman" offers a detailed article on how to negotiate with medical service providers, to reduce their bills by as much as 80% or more, if you're lucky.  It's very long, but packed full of useful advice, and is worth reading - particularly if, like me, you're older, and can expect your medical expenses to increase.  Here's a brief excerpt.

Primarily, this talk is to educate those of you that are, now, or may be, in the future, responsible for paying for your own healthcare.  It is not directed at the nearly half of America that is now on Medicare, Medicaid, VA, Tricare, government employee insurance, etc., those whose healthcare expenses are the responsibility of the taxpayer, and who are essentially wards of The State.  However, the conversation we are going to have should still be interesting for them, too, and God only knows how long that government gravy train will last, so all of you should really pay attention.

Like all the speakers at this first ZeroHedge Symposium, I am talking about how to, in many instances, remove the middleman, in this case the health insurance company, and how to negotiate directly with healthcare providers, specifically physicians, hospitals, diagnostic facilities, and pharmacies.  This is a discussion about how to negotiate to pay less for healthcare, and not a discussion about how to not pay for healthcare.

. . .

You are going to need five things, which I am going to give to you, today, free of charge!

  1. Some absolutely critical industry vocabulary
  2. A clear understanding of how healthcare is priced in the USA
  3. Insight into to actual pricing
  4. A proven negotiation strategy, including:
    • The point of contact
    • Foreknowledge of what prices medical providers will usually agree to
    • A sample offer and agreement
  5. The confidence to successfully negotiate

There's much more at the link. Informative and recommended reading.


Saab's GlobalEye: an example of too many military eggs in one basket?

Saab's new GlobalEye, an airborne early warning and control platform, has just made its maiden flight in Sweden.  Three have been ordered by the United Arab Emirates, and the company is pitching the aircraft (particularly its newly enhanced radar system) as a replacement for NATO's ageing Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft in due course.  Here's a video clip of the first flight.

The base platform is a Bombardier Global 6000 large business jet.  Combat Aircraft reports:

The GlobalEye features the new Erieye ER (Extended Range) active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar in a ‘balance beam’ fairing atop the fuselage, which Saab says offers a 70 per cent improvement in range performance when compared to its predecessor. The aircraft also features the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E X-band maritime search radar and a FLIR Systems electro-optical turret below the nose.

The GlobalEye has an 11hr+ endurance — crew comfort and overall performance mean the airframe is ‘ideally suited for special mission specifications’, according to Saab. The cabin has five operator workstations plus a rest area with four seats, and can also be configured for remote operation and mission support from a ground station. The airborne operator complement is intended to be flexible, based on air force needs, up to a maximum of nine. The flight crew comprises two pilots.

There's more at the link.

On the face of it, that's an exceptionally capable aircraft, able to deal with a wide range of surveillance, command and control missions and tasks, on land, at sea and in the air.  However, I suspect that simultaneous, multi-tasking capability may offer its own set of problems.

First off, one can have too many things happening at the same time.  Anyone who's been in combat knows the truth of Helmuth von Moltke's (paraphrased) dictum:  "No plan survives contact with the enemy".  In my (admittedly limited) experience, the same thing can happen to command and control systems and procedures, particularly when problems and their effects "cascade".  What happens if too many things are going on?  One can lose sight of the forest for the trees;  or, alternatively, one might concentrate on the whole forest so intently that one fails to notice problems affecting a few trees.  Small issues can easily escalate into much larger ones, if not nipped in the bud early on.  Will a single command and control node be able to cope?

Until now, sensors have typically been distributed across multiple command and control platforms:  for example, in the USAF, the E-3 Sentry has handled AWACS duties;  variants of the RC-135 and other aircraft have handled SIGINT, ground surveillance and control, etc.;  and maritime ditto has been dealt with by the US Navy.  GlobalEye combines all these duties and sensors into a single aircraft, whose sensors can reach out for several hundred miles in all directions.  With so many duties to perform, and so large an area to cover, will its operators be able to handle all the tasks expected of them?  In theory, they might . . . but in practice, perhaps not so efficiently as theory would suggest.

There's also the factor that this is an all-in-one solution.  If I were the enemy of a nation fielding GlobalEye, I'd realize that I have to take out those surveillance aircraft at all costs, at the very start of hostilities (or even before).  My enemy would be relying on them for command and control;  therefore, if they aren't available, his command and control will be severely impaired, just when he needs it most.  I'd do whatever it took to get rid of them - special forces attacks on their base, operators with ground-to-air missiles to shoot at them as they took off or landed, sabotage of their maintenance facilities and/or spare parts, assassination of their crews, and (of course) attacks on them during their missions, provided I could get through the defenses that would undoubtedly try to protect such vital assets.  What's more, because these are very complex, relatively expensive aircraft, there won't be very many of them (for example, the launch customer, United Arab Emirates, has ordered only three).  Therefore, damaging or destroying even one of so small a fleet might have a disproportionate impact on my enemy.

Those aircraft (and their crews, and support facilities and personnel) might as well have great big targets painted all over them.  If they can be adequately protected, that's great . . . but I suspect most armed forces (including the USA's) would find that rather difficult across the entire spectrum of potential threats to them.  I think Globaleye is a great peacetime or limited-hostilities (i.e. terrorism rather than all-out war) solution for a nation like the UAE.  Whether it will continue to be so during a major conflict is debatable.  Can a minor power like the UAE defend it against threats like those discussed above?  Your guess is as good as mine . . . but mine is, probably not - and without the aircraft, on which they'll undoubtedly come to rely, will the UAE's command and control structure be able to cope?  Will it become so dependent on such technology that it can no longer function without it?

(That's a question the US armed forces, and those of other major powers, must answer as well.  In an increasingly technological environment, the loss of satellite communications, for example, would instantly overload the radio spectrum to such an extent that many modern weapons systems would no longer be able to function.  Could the USAF or US Navy operate as successfully if denied the use of some or all of their command and control technology?  Almost certainly not.)


Friday, March 16, 2018

One of the saddest headlines I've ever read

I was not so much surprised as deeply saddened to read this headline and report the other day.

Man strangled woman during sex just two hours after they met

Mark Bruce, 32, met 20-year-old Chloe Miazek at a bus stop in the early hours of the morning on November 3 last year after they had been on separate nights out in Aberdeen.

She died at his hands when he choked her after they were said to have discovered a mutual interest in erotic asphyxiation.

Miss Miazek, a Tesco worker from Kemnay, Aberdeenshire, had been drinking with friends in the city before being asked to leave a nightclub.

The High Court in Aberdeen heard that both had been drinking heavily and that she died in seconds after he seized her neck as they had sex in his city centre flat.

There's more at the link.

When someone - male or female - has so little respect for their physical, mental and spiritual integrity that they will engage in extremely dangerous sexual practices with a stranger, without knowing anything about them . . . that's tragic, but also symptomatic of so much that's wrong with our society.  There's no sense of right or wrong any more, no sense of what may or may not be wise, or appropriate, or safe, or . . . whatever.

This woman may as well have thrown herself on the garbage dump outside town.  That's the value she placed on her life - her actions prove it.  As for the man, he's admitted culpable homicide (i.e. manslaughter, in US terms), but denied murder, because the erotic asphyxiation was consensual.  The court agreed with him.  The fact that he can eagerly look forward to strangling a stranger while engaged in intercourse marks him as, at the very least, mentally suspect, as far as I'm concerned.  If that had been my daughter, I don't know what I'd have done to him, even if she had consented to the act.

For so many people, sex is just "f***ing" now.  There's no sense of mystery, or love, or romance, or intimacy, at all.  If it's just physical, then obviously, anything goes, right?

I'm glad I'm not a young person today.  The thought of dealing with such attitudes sends a cold chill down my spine.  At least, when I grew up, we were taught some semblance of values and respect for others.  Today?  Not so much, it seems.


I sympathize

From Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis: