Thursday, October 23, 2014
Yesterday I posted a query received from a reader in Missouri. I invited you to make your own suggestions to her in Comments, and many of you did so (for which thank you very much). Blogging buddy Zercool turned his response into a blog post of his own, which is worth reading.
Here's my advice to her. See what you think.
1. Don't settle for selling enough to raise $2,000: try to double or triple that sum. Be ruthless with yourself and your family. Give everyone a 'personal allowance' of, say, two or three suitcases or duffel bags or other storage containers. Everything they want to keep - clothing, toys, books, etc. - has to fit into those containers; all the rest is to be sold. Go through every room, keeping essential furniture and listing the rest for disposal. Do the same in the kitchen, the garage, the workshop (yes, your husband will hate to part with his tools, but in your present situation you can't afford to be soppy and sentimental. If it's not in regular use or essential for a critical need, it goes.) Even the family's collection of DVD's or CD's isn't sacred. If you watch or listen to something regularly, keep it. If you used it only once and then dumped it in a cupboard or drawer where it's sat for the past year, sell it. Hold a yard sale or two (perhaps in co-operation with neighbors), use Craigslist and other advertising venues, and don't get discouraged. It'll take hard work, but it's necessary.
I think you'll be surprised how much stuff you can free up to be sold, or swapped with other families for things you really need.
2. If there are no jobs available in your area, it's time to take stock of where you live and why. Missouri isn't one of the 11 'death spiral states' recently identified by Forbes, but it's not doing real well either. There are lists of states and cities where jobs are more freely available, but Missouri and its cities aren't on them. You may have to move somewhere else if your husband and children need jobs. For example, North Dakota may have viciously cold winters, but even entry-level shelf-stackers at Walmart are presently earning in the $12-$15 per hour range because the state's so short of workers. You may have to put up with bad weather and sub-standard housing in order to earn a living. It's as simple as that.
This assumes, of course, that you can sell your home. If you can't, it's an anchor holding you back rather than an asset. If you're 'underwater' on your mortgage, this may make it difficult to sell. I'm of two minds here. If Missouri is one of the states whose laws make the home itself the only security for the mortgage, so that you aren't on the hook for any losses remaining after the bank forecloses and sells it, that may allow you to walk away from it. If not, you may be liable for the remaining balance on the mortgage after foreclosure and sale - a very unhealthy position to be in. (Either way, your credit rating will take a major hit for several years. This isn't a step to take lightly.) On the other hand, if you can break even or make a small profit, it might be best to sell it right away before another downturn in the housing market (which I've been predicting for some time).
Of course, moving is expensive. That's another reason to cut down on your possessions (see point 1 above) and sell them to raise more money. Not only will this give you cash to pay for a move and start afresh when you get to your destination, but you'll have much less stuff to take with you. This may be the difference between success and failure.
3. If you can't move in the short term, your family will have to look for work where you are. This is difficult at present, I know. With so many people unemployed in so many areas, there's immense competition for the few available jobs. I've seen it where I live, and I know most cities have the same problem. If you have friends or contacts who can help to open doors for you, that's one thing; otherwise you're competing with thousands, even tens of thousands of people in your area who are trying to do the same as you. That makes it tough to succeed.
I think it'll do your kids a world of good to realize how seriously your situation has affected the family's finances. Encourage them to try to find part-time work like babysitting, snow-shoveling, car-washing, etc. and put the money into a 'family food fund'. That'll help them feel that they're part of the solution. In addition, make it clear to them that if the family has to move for employment reasons, they'll have to be willing to move too, even if that means leaving their friends and schools behind. It'll be tough for them, but that's life. They're old enough to cope.
4. Economize wherever possible. I agree with my readers that your kids should be getting their clothes only from thrift stores (e.g. Goodwill) or the cheapest stuff at Walmart; that probably applies to you and your husband as well. Shop for food at Aldi (the cheapest store I've found almost anywhere - and their quality's at least on a par with Walmart or other supermarkets, so you won't lose out by shopping there). Use the Internet to get ideas for cheap food that's nutritious and tasty (try this search for starters).
5. What to do with the money you raise. If you raise the $2,000 you're hoping for (plus, hopefully, at least a little more, as I mentioned in point 1 above), here's how I'd use it if I were in your shoes.
(a) A 'rainy day fund' sufficient to pay essential bills for a month. Winter's coming; that means electricity, fuel for heating, water, etc. are critical. I'm assuming that $1,000 will cover those bills plus your monthly mortgage payment. Put it aside and don't touch it! It's there for emergencies. (Of course, if one of you needs urgent medical treatment, that counts as an emergency too.)
(b) Invest up to $500 in building up reserve food supplies. Readers have made helpful suggestions in that regard. Personally, I'd put $100 into tinned vegetables; that'll buy you up to 150 cans at Aldi of things like corn, beans (several varieties), carrots, peas, diced tomatoes, etc. Get two dozen cans of each of (say) five or six staples and put them in your pantry. (If you have a bit more to spare, buy tins of tuna as well - they're about 75c apiece at Aldi, and a couple of cans of tuna is good solid protein to add to a meal.) Invest another $100 in dry foods that will keep; rice, pasta, beans, etc. Another $100 goes to bulk foods that you'll use over time; sugar, salt, herbs and spices, cooking oil, flour, etc. Buy only what you already use, and the essentials rather than a wide variety of stuff. A fourth $100 goes to bulk purchases of toilet paper, paper towels, plastic bags (Ziploc-type bags for food storage [quart and gallon sizes], garbage bags, etc.). A fifth $100 goes towards cleaning materials; dish-washing soap, hand and bath soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene essentials, laundry detergent, bleach, floor cleaning materials, etc. This $500 total expenditure will give you enough stocks for two to three months if they're used carefully. That's your reserve. As you take items from the reserve, add them to your regular shopping list and replace them, putting the newest stuff in the rear and using the oldest stuff first. This means that if you should lose your job, you'll at least have food to eat and be able to keep yourselves and your home clean for a few months.
(c) Spend a couple of hundred on making sure everyone's got adequate warm clothing for the coming winter. It's likely to be a cold one. If you turn down the thermostat on your furnace, you can save a lot of money that way; but you'll have to have something warm to wear if you're to be comfortable. Hit thrift stores like Goodwill to look for jackets; buy the cheap fleecy throws that places like Walmart sell for less than $5; perhaps replace older, worn comforters with heavier ones, again from thrift stores or supermarkets rather than more expensive specialty stores. Don't throw the old ones away; layer them (two old, thin comforters on a bed can be as warm as a new, thick one). You might even sew the edges of an old comforter together to make a sort of sleeping-bag, into which your kids can climb and pull blankets over themselves. We used to do that with old blankets and quilts in Africa. It was a cheap way to stay warm compared to the cost of new stuff.
(d) Home security: this is important, particularly if crime is getting worse in your area, but first things first. You've got to eat and stay warm. After that, if you've got a few hundred dollars left over, my suggestion is to look for a used pump-action shotgun (available from many pawnbrokers or gun stores for well under $200). Get one with a shorter barrel if possible to make it easier to maneuver indoors. If you don't know much about them, ask friends who do, or read up about them online. (I don't think you'll go far wrong with a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 or a derivative of those models). Plan on buying a couple of hundred rounds of cheap birdshot to familiarize the whole family with its operation, plus a couple of boxes of buckshot for defensive use - Walmart will probably have ammo cheaper than most places, or look in sporting goods stores like Academy Sports, Bass Pro, Gander Mountain, etc. Your total expenditure, including gun, ammo, a cleaning kit, etc., shouldn't have to exceed $300, and you might be able to keep it below $250 if you're lucky. I'd love to recommend a handgun, too, but a good one will cost too much for your budget right now, and it's much harder to learn to use a handgun effectively than a shotgun. We've got to be realistic here.
(e) Celebrate! You'll probably have a little left over after the purchases I outlined above. I strongly suggest using some of it to have a low-key family celebration. After all, you're alive, you're well, and you have enough to eat. There are many people who aren't so fortunate. Invest a little in some 'comfort food' and sodas, rent a video and have a family evening together. I also highly recommend donating a little to help those less fortunate than yourselves. The Salvation Army's always a good place to start. If you find you can't sell some of your excess goods, donate them to the Sallies as well. They'll send them to their thrift stores. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you": in other words, if you hope to receive help from others when you need it, help others in your turn.
Those are my ideas. Thanks to all my readers who contributed other suggestions. I've already e-mailed my correspondent and advised her to read what everyone had to say, then make up her own mind. Ultimately, it's her responsibility.
I swear the dragon figurehead on the boat has a disapproving expression on its face . . .
I came across this video clip today. It's a sobering reflection on what the drought in California is doing to the 'little people', those below the radar of the major news media, and the way their lives are being disrupted. Highly recommended viewing, preferably in full-screen mode.
(If you have problems viewing the video, you'll find the original here.)
Makes you think, doesn't it? What happens if the entire farming sector in California goes under? That's more than 10% of US agricultural output, and the source of the majority of our fresh fruits and vegetables . . .
Air New Zealand has produced a number of Tolkien-themed safety videos, advertisements, and even paint schemes for their planes, based on Peter Jackson's two trilogies. (You'll find them on the airline's YouTube channel.) Now they've come up with another Hobbit-themed safety video to mark the forthcoming release of the third and final film in the trilogy of that name. I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.
Full marks for creativity!
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
From England comes this news.
CORNWALL'S first blind darts team is preparing for its inaugural game at a Grampound pub – for charity.
. . .
Mr Pryor, 68, said: "While we were down the pub the other day, Joe, the landlord, mentioned that Rotary had organised for pubs to take part in a Fast Darts competition.
"He asked if we wanted to put in a blind darts team. After three pints I am up for anything and we said yes."
The team will be aided by a piece of string attached to the bull's eye which they will use with one hand as a tactile means to establish their aim.
. . .
Mr Pryor, a social worker, added: "No one has been injured yet, although there has been quite a bit of damage to the door and around the board ... However, on the night people might want to stand back a little bit as I don't think we get any points for hitting the spectators."
. . .
Landlord Joe Fryer said it will be about having fun and raising money, although the door to the room where the competition takes place will be closed "just in case" a dart strays off course.
There's more at the link . . . and here's the team.
I'd want to watch that match from behind a dart-proof plexiglass screen, thank you very much!
David Stockman and Michael Snyder, both of whom we've met in these pages several times before, uncover the real problem with our present low interest rates and the catastrophe that would ensue if they were allowed to rise. They also show why present and future levels of US government expenditure are completely irrational and cannot continue.
When discussing the national debt, most people tend to only focus on the amount that it increases each 12 months. And as I wrote about recently, the U.S. national debt has increased by more than a trillion dollars in fiscal year 2014.
But that does not count the huge amounts of U.S. Treasury securities that the federal government must redeem each year. When these debt instruments hit their maturity date, the U.S. government must pay them off. This is done by borrowing more money to pay off the previous debts. In fiscal year 2013, redemptions of U.S. Treasury securities totaled $7,546,726,000,000 and new debt totaling $8,323,949,000,000 was issued. The final numbers for fiscal year 2014 are likely to be significantly higher than that.
So why does so much government debt come due each year?
Well, in recent years government officials figured out that they could save a lot of money on interest payments by borrowing over shorter time frames. For example, it costs the government far more to borrow money for 10 years than it does for 1 year. So a strategy was hatched to borrow money for very short periods of time and to keep “rolling it over” again and again and again.
This strategy has indeed saved the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments, but it has also created a situation where the federal government must borrow about 8 trillion dollars a year just to keep up with the game.
. . .
The only way that this game can continue is if the U.S. government can continue to borrow gigantic piles of money at ridiculously low interest rates.
And our current standard of living greatly depends on the continuation of this game.
If something comes along and rattles this Ponzi scheme, life in America could change radically almost overnight.
In the United States today, we have a heavily socialized system that hands out checks to nearly half the population. In fact, 49 percent of all Americans live in a home that gets direct monetary benefits from the federal government each month according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And it is hard to believe, but Americans received more than 2 trillion dollars in benefits from the federal government last year alone. At this point, the primary function of the federal government is taking money from some people and giving it to others. In fact, more than 70 percent of all federal spending goes to “dependence-creating programs”, and the government runs approximately 80 different “means-tested welfare programs” right now. But the big problem is that the government is giving out far more money than it is taking in, so it has to borrow the difference. As long as we can continue to borrow at super low interest rates, the status quo can continue.
But a Ponzi scheme like this can only last for so long.
It has been said that when the checks stop coming in, chaos will begin in the streets of America.
. . .
As the Baby Boomers continue to retire, the amount of money that the federal government is handing out each year is projected to absolutely skyrocket. Just consider the following numbers…
- Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid. Today, more than 70 million Americans are on Medicaid, and it is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.
- When Medicare was first established, we were told that it would cost about $12 billion a year by the time 1990 rolled around. Instead, the federal government ended up spending $110 billion on the program in 1990, and the federal government spent approximately $600 billion on the program in 2013.
- It is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.
- At this point, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years. That comes to approximately $328,404 for every single household in the United States.
- In 1945, there were 42 workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits. Today, that number has fallen to 2.5 workers, and if you eliminate all government workers, that leaves only 1.6 private sector workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.
- R ight now, there are approximately 63 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits. By 2035, that number is projected to soar to an astounding 91 million.
- Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.
- The U.S. government is facing a total of 222 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities during the years ahead. Social Security and Medicare make up the bulk of that.
There's more at the link. Go read the whole thing. It's worth it.
Thanks to everyone who responded to my question (yesterday) about battery-operated chainsaws. Lots of good information was provided, and my correspondent is currently considering her options.
That brings me to another question from a reader. It looks very much as if the world economy is on the brink of a precipice right now. Consider just a few headlines from the past week:
- CNN: Opinion: Brace yourselves for another financial crash
- Simon Black: Forget about Ebola – here’s why US banks (and your savings) are now EXTREMELY vulnerable
- David Stockman: Kudos To Herr Weidmann For Uttering Three Truths In One Speech
- Michael Snyder: 19 Very Surprising Facts About The Messed Up State Of The U.S. Economy
- Casey Research: The Many Roads to Currency Ruination
I've been writing about these and similar problems for years, as have many other people. I hope most of us have taken what steps we can afford to prepare ourselves for another financial and economic crisis, which I believe is as certain as the dawn.
Now a reader e-mails to ask for advice. I've condensed her query as follows:
I'm stuck with an unemployed partner and teenage kids who can't earn their own living. We haven't been able to afford reserve supplies for an emergency, yet it's clear that even harder times are on the way. I want to build up reserves for my family to help cope with them, so I'm selling a bunch of our stuff at garage sales and through Craigslist. By mid-November I hope to have $2,000 to spend. What's the best way for me to use that money?
A bit of background: she lives with her husband and two kids, a boy of 15 and a girl of 17, in a small suburban home in a Missouri city. The local crime situation wasn't bad until recently, but it's getting worse as economic hard times bite deeper. The family owns one older car free and clear - they sold a second, newer vehicle when they couldn't afford the monthly payments. The mortgage on their home runs about $650 per month, which isn't too bad if both of them are earning, but for the past year her husband hasn't been able to find work. Her income isn't enough to cover all the bills.
I have some ideas of my own, which I'll address tomorrow; but I thought I'd throw open my reader's question to the rest of my audience. If you were in her shoes, and had made almost no emergency preparations, and could raise $2,000 for the purpose, how would you spend it? Please let us know your suggestions (concisely, of course - point form is fine) in Comments, and we'll see what the range of replies covers.
The remains of Hurricane Gonzalo made landfall in Britain two days ago, producing vicious crosswinds and nasty weather at Manchester airport yesterday morning. This video clip shows aircraft from puddle-jumper commuters (ATR 72's and Dash 8's) to intercontinental widebodies (777's) and everything in between struggling to get down in the difficult conditions. I recommend watching it in full-screen mode for the best effect.
Glad I wasn't flying there yesterday . . .
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Last week I suggested that Houston pastors should deliver their sermons directly (and verbally and on television) to the Mayor and City Council of Houston, in response to the Mayor's demand (and subpoena) that they hand them over (in clear violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution).
Mike Huckabee went one better. He suggested that pastors all across America send their sermons to the Mayor (because "obviously she could use a few"), and asked the viewers of his TV program to send her Bibles as well. The call's been taken up by others, with interesting results.
Fresh off the stunning attack on religious liberty down in Houston ... there is now an effort underway by pastors across America to VOLUNTARILY send Bibles and their sermons to the mayor of Houston.
Mike Huckabee called for it and so has influential Christian author Eric Metaxas. Metaxas tells The Brody File, "Never in our history has religious freedom been so brazenly defied. A bold red line has been crossed. The Houston mayor's inexcusable demand to see the sermons of pastors is an outrageous and shocking affront to all Americans and to liberty itself. If the American church does not rise up and stand against this, there is no American church."
. . .
Sources [say] that pastors from Canada, Australia and Germany are also sending the Houston mayor Bibles and sermons. There are also big events planned around what happened in Houston. On November 2nd, The Family Research council is hosting a huge simulcast event in Houston at a big church.
There's more at the link.
This looks set fair to become an energizing get-out-the-vote issue all across the nation for Americans with strong religious beliefs . . . doubtless to the dismay of those not holding such beliefs. I suspect the latter are presently cursing Houston's Mayor for daring to touch the subject at all.
Here's some reading that Mayor Annise Parker might find useful.
(And yes, even though I'm a retired pastor rather than in active ministry, I'll be sending a printout of a few sermons and a Bible to Her [dis]Honor! I invite all clergy among my readers to do the same. Let's enjoy the schadenfreude while we may . . . )
I've written here and there about chainsaws, and found them useful during the cleanup after hurricanes in Louisiana, where I lived for more than a decade. However, these have all been gas-fueled models, big, powerful - and noisy. Regular "homeowner" models have never been able to handle entire fallen tree trunks, either. They've coped with smaller trees and de-limbing larger ones, but the big stuff has always had to await the arrival of professionals with really big, powerful saws to get through the trunks and thick branches.
I've had a query from one of my correspondents asking about the utility of smaller, lighter battery-powered chainsaws. She's partly disabled, like me, and I came into contact with her through my efforts to teach disabled people how to shoot in order to defend themselves if necessary. She says she can't handle a big, heavy chainsaw, but that the smaller, lighter battery-powered models are manageable. However, she doesn't know if they're worth buying to cut firewood or clean up smaller limbs after a storm.
I did a bit of research, and found this Popular Mechanics article comparing half a dozen models. It speaks highly of the Stihl MSA 160 C-BQ, as does Gizmodo's review. The Stihl's an expensive choice, particularly if you get an extra battery or two, but I guess that's what you pay for that level of performance (at least at present). There's also the MSA 200 C-BQ model, with a standard 14" bar, which is listed by Stihl under "Farm and Ranch Saws" rather than "Homeowner Saws" like the 160. The latter is listed as taking a 10"-14" bar, but appears to be usually sold with a 12" option, so the 200 is probably designed for slightly tougher, harder jobs. Here's a composite picture of both models, taken from Stihl's Web site.
I'd like to ask whether any of my readers have tried an electric chainsaw, particularly one of the Stihl models mentioned above. If so, how well did it perform? Was it worth the money? In particular, was it easier to use than a heavier, more unwieldy gas-fueled chainsaw? Do you think a partly disabled person, with limited physical strength and mobility, would be able to use it more easily than a standard model? For emergency use (e.g. post-storm cleanup), if the power's out, I'm thinking that a generator could recharge a battery-powered saw with no trouble at all (their lithium-ion batteries recharge in an hour or so), and probably use less gas overall than a gas-powered chainsaw would need (since the generator would be powering other things at the same time). That might make a saw like that, with a spare battery, a very serviceable option, but only if it does the job it's supposed to do.
Please let us know your thoughts in Comments. Thanks.
I think the term "magnet ass" dates back to World War II, when airmen whose planes were frequently hit or shot down by the enemy were labeled as such (here's one example). There's a modern variation on the theme, too.
Wirecutter put up a blog post about someone who was hit by lightning three times - and after his death, his gravestone was hit by lightning as well. He might be considered a "magnet ass" for lightning, I suppose. However, that pales into insignificance behind the man who was struck no less than seven times - and possibly an eighth, but because he couldn't prove beyond doubt that it happened, he didn't claim it. Wikipedia reports:
Roy Cleveland Sullivan (February 7, 1912 – September 28, 1983) was a United States park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. For this reason, he gained a nickname "Human Lightning Conductor" or "Human Lightning Rod". Sullivan is recognized by Guinness World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being.
. . .
He was avoided by people later in life because of their fear of being hit by lightning, and this saddened him. He once recalled "For instance, I was walking with the Chief Ranger one day when lightning struck way off (in the distance). The Chief said, 'I'll see you later'."
. . .
All seven strikes were documented by the superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, R. Taylor Hoskins, and were verified by doctors. Sullivan himself recalled that the first time he was struck by lightning was not in 1942 but much earlier. When he was a child, he was helping his father to cut wheat in a field, when a thunderbolt struck the blade of his scythe without injuring him. But because he could not prove the fact later, he never claimed it.
Sullivan's wife was also struck once, when a storm suddenly arrived as she was out hanging clothes in their back yard. Her husband was helping her at the time, but escaped unharmed.
There's more at the link, including details of the seven strikes Sullivan survived.
Y'know, by about the third or fourth strike I'd have considered changing locations - or my religion!
Raphael Ravenscroft, the well-known saxophone player and session musician, has died. He recorded for many of the top groups and performers in the world, including Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Mike Oldfield, Robert Plant and Bonnie Tyler, but is probably best known for his alto sax riff in Gerry Rafferty's 1978 song 'Baker Street', which became a hit around the world.
There's a persistent 'urban legend' that Rafferty originally intended the riff to be sung or played on guitar (as it was towards the end of the song). Ravenscroft was apparently in the studio to record another piece, and is said to have suggested he play the riff on alto saxophone. Whatever the truth, the result became music history and led to a surge in the popularity, use and sales of the saxophone (as well as vaulting Ravenscroft himself to prominence).
Monday, October 20, 2014
I'm still chortling over this BBC report.
Scientists believe they have discovered the origin of copulation.
An international team of researchers says a fish ... is the first-known animal to stop reproducing by spawning and instead mate by having sex.
The primitive bony fish, which was about 8cm long, lived in ancient lakes about 385 million years ago in what is now Scotland.
Lead author Prof John Long, from Flinders University in Australia, said: "We have defined the very point in evolution where the origin of internal fertilisation in all animals began.
"That is a really big step."
Prof Long added that the discovery was made as he was looking through a box of ancient fish fossils.
He noticed that one of the ... specimens had an odd L-shaped appendage. Further investigation revealed that this was the male fish's genitals.
. . .
Constrained by their anatomy, the fish probably had to mate side by side.
"They couldn't have done it in a 'missionary position'," said Prof Long. "The very first act of copulation was done sideways, square-dance style."
There's more at the link.
That's all well and good; but then one reads the scientific name of the fish concerned. It's . . . wait for it . . . Microbrachius dicki.
Dicki? For the first copulating fish? Yeah, go on; tell me that name's just coincidental . . .
A headline in the Toledo Blade read 'Mental Issues Put 34,500 on New York No-Guns List'. That's apparently the (current) number of people deemed too 'disturbed', mentally speaking, to be trusted to own or have access to a firearm in New York state.
An e-mail today put that in perspective:
"...what's to stop any of them from getting an axe, a car, or a dollar's worth of gasoline?"
My correspondent had a point. It's as if the powers that be breathe a sigh of relief when they stop a 'disturbed' person from (legally) obtaining a firearm. They ignore the reality that getting one's hands on a gun illegally isn't particularly difficult (like this convicted felon did, for example); or, if one doesn't want to go to that trouble, there are any number of other potentially lethal instruments and methods open to abuse. Follow the links in the cited passage above to see how much carnage three 'disturbed' people caused with nary a gun in sight.
Laws won't make us safe, because lawbreakers will (by definition) not obey them. That's the way it is. That's the way it's always been. If we rely on laws (or the police) to keep us safe, we're living in cloud cuckoo land. Given their current ill-advised mishmash of gun control efforts, the authorities in New York state seem to have taken up residence there for the duration . . .
Today's award goes, with a snort of derision, to the politically-correct idiots in charge of young children's education in Victoria, Australia.
Baa, Baa Black Sheep could be the latest nursery rhyme to bite the dust because of political correctness.
Staff at childcare centres and kindergartens in Victoria have been changing the lyrics because of the concerns over the racial connotations of the word “black”, the Herald Sun reports.
A kindergarten in Melbourne’s east was also considering changing the line “one for the little boy who lives down the lane” lest it be viewed as sexist.
At Malvern East’s Central Park Child Care children were still allowed to use the word “black” if they wanted to, co-ordinator Celine Pieterse said.
“We try to introduce a variety of sheep,” she said.
There's more at the link.
Really? Really? Well, if they insist, here are a few more politically correct nursery rhyme suggestions:
- Humpty Dumpty can no longer have "all the King's horses and all the King's men" try to put him together again. That's sexist.
- The three blind mice are now to be described as "visually challenged".
- "Hickory Dickory Dock" will have to change. You can't discriminate against other hardwoods by referring to hickory alone. That's tree-ist.
I invite readers to contribute their own suggestions for PC nursery rhyme revisions in Comments.
Oy gevalt . . .
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Reader Sherman W. drew my attention to this article.
Seven decades after thousands of "balloon bombs" were let loose by the Imperial Japanese Army to wreak havoc on their enemies across the Pacific, two forestry workers found one half-buried in the mountains of eastern British Columbia.
A navy bomb disposal team was called and arrived at the site Friday in the Monashee Mountains near Lumby, B.C.
"They confirmed without a doubt that it is a Japanese balloon bomb," said RCMP Cpl. Henry Proce.
"This thing has been in the dirt for 70 years .... There was still some metal debris in the area (but) nothing left of the balloon itself."
The forestry workers found the device Wednesday and reported it to RCMP on Thursday.
Proce, a bit of a history buff himself, accompanied the men to the remote area and agreed that the piece appeared to be a military relic.
The area was cordoned off and police contacted the bomb disposal unit at Maritime Forces Pacific.
It was a big bomb, Proce said. A half-metre of metal casing was under the dirt in addition to approximately 15 to 20 centimetres sticking out of the ground.
"It would have been far too dangerous to move it," Proce said. "They put some C4 on either side of this thing and they blew it to smithereens."
There's more at the link.
Balloon bomb gondola on display, showing sandbag ballast
Japan launched over 9,000 balloon bombs against North America during World War II. Some 300 made it across the Pacific to land all along the coast from Canada to Mexico. Only one caused fatalities, on May 5th, 1945. Their payload was mainly incendiary rather than high explosive bombs, designed to cause fires in America's forests.
Here's a World War II US training film describing the bombs, with actual footage of them.
It's amazing that one was found almost intact some 70-odd years after being launched. A tip o' the hat to Sherman W. for providing the link.
Several readers have contacted me, indignant over a decision by Coeur d'Alene officials that a Christian-oriented wedding chapel must offer its services to gay couples. They believe this violates the First Amendment to the US Constitution, specifically the 'separation of church and state' doctrine.
Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple.
- The wedding chapel is precisely that: a for-profit venue for weddings. Despite its explicitly Christian orientation, it's not a church and has no congregation. That makes it a business in the eyes of the law, as far as I'm aware; and, also as far as I'm aware, it's registered and pays taxes as a regular business rather than a non-profit religious corporation.
- The lawsuit filed on behalf of the chapel claims that the state can't force ordained ministers to act in violation of their faith or beliefs. I agree - when they're acting in their capacity as ordained ministers. If they're operating a for-profit wedding chapel as a business concern, explicitly offering its services to the general public, they're doing so as businesspeople rather than ministers of religion. Throughout the USA laws prevent any business from discriminating against customers and employees on the grounds of race, sex, religious orientation, etc. Religious establishments - churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc. - have certain exemptions from such ordinances, but this isn't a religious establishment.
I have real sympathy for the conundrum facing the proprietors of the wedding chapel, but they've just run headlong into the problems faced by any business offering services to the general public. If you want to claim religious exemption from the law, you need to restrict your services to members of a particular faith or a particular congregation, all of whom understand and voluntarily accept your doctrines. If you offer your services on a cash basis to all comers, I'm afraid the situation has changed. It's precisely the same as the Colorado bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The owners' position was perfectly in order for a religious establishment, but not for a civil one. They couldn't see the difference, but a judge could - and did.
Unfortunately, in the USA too many churches and religious individuals have assumed for decades - centuries! - that since public morality and our laws generally conformed to the dictates of their religious beliefs, they could impose the same restrictions on their customers in the business world. That was never legally valid - merely a happy coincidence (for them, at any rate). The world has changed. Unfortunately for people of faith, that means we have to adapt ourselves to the society in which we live. If certain religious principles are so important to us that we can't betray them at any cost, then we need to withdraw from commercial activities where those principles will bring us into conflict with the law. If we try to impose our principles on others who don't share our beliefs, we have no recourse when others of different faiths insist we offer them the same accommodation - for example, a dhabihah (ritual slaughter) facility that may not meet regulatory standards and norms, or loudspeakers broadcasting a call to prayer (in competition with our church bells) . . . or even a gay pride parade rolling down the (public) street outside our churches.
We live in a post-Christian society. As we used to say in Africa, "There's no use farting against thunder". Our task is not to throw up our hands in despair and abandon our faith: rather we must find ways in which to remain faithful to our principles whilst respecting those of others who don't agree with us. We may not dictate to them, just as they may not dictate to us. It's going to be a long and difficult process for both sides to work out an accommodation.
Part of that accommodation for Christians will have to include acknowledging Jesus' words: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s". In the Coeur d'Alene case, the modern equivalent of Caesar makes the business laws.
I was astonished to read, not only that organizers held the Beijing Marathon today in severely polluted conditions, but that tens of thousands of runners actually took part regardless! Conditions were so bad as to pose a real danger to health.
- From the BBC: "The WHO says daily pollution levels should not exceed an average of 25 micrograms per cubic metre of fine particulate matter. Yet the US embassy's monitor at one point reported peaks of up to 400 micrograms per cubic metre, which it said would be hazardous if a human was exposed to it over a 24-hour period. Fine particulate matter, the kind of pollution in smoke, damages the body as it moves deep into the lungs and can even enter the bloodstream."
- From the Independent: "Runners were forced to wear face masks as tens of thousands of competitors took part in an international marathon in Beijing under a thick blanket of smog – despite warnings that everyone in the city should avoid outdoor activities. About 30,000 runners were expected to take part in the event on Sunday morning, with the organising committee making 140,000 sponges available at supply stations along the marathon route so runners could 'clean their skin that is exposed to the air,' the Beijing News reported."
- From the Telegraph: "Ying Wei, a 23-year-old runner, admitted his “lung hurt quite badly during and after the race”. Runners had “made an outstanding contribution towards clearing Beijing’s haze” by breathing in the smog, joked Zhi Ri Gang, a user of Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog. “They should be known as human air purifiers!”
You can judge the level of air pollution for yourself from this video report.
I simply can't understand the mindset of the runners. When you know that the particulate levels in the air are up to 16 times more than the maximum recommended limit for health and safety - when the city's own pollution bureau is warning people to stay indoors - how can you possibly justify breathing them deep into your lungs for hours at a time? What's even worse, the particulates are among the most noxious out there - motor vehicle exhaust, factory chimney pollution, etc. Knowing that . . . I'm sorry, but I feel as if these runners and I come from different planets. Have they no conception of reality? Am I wrong for expecting them to have better sense? Readers, what say you?