Thursday, March 26, 2015

Welcoming a newborn elephant

I was delighted to see video of a newborn baby elephant taking its first steps at the Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa.  I know Londolozi well - or rather, I used to back when I still lived in that country.  I've seen this elephant behavior before on several occasions.  You can read about the event here.

I suggest watching the video in full-screen mode.

Another thing:  if you see elephant behavior like that - the tightly clustering females, I mean - get the hell out of their way!  They're being very maternal and loving towards the baby . . . and that means they're absolutely deadly to anything and anyone they consider might represent any threat at all.  I've personally seen a lion about fifteen feet across and one inch thick in the Kruger National Park.  According to the ranger with us, it had probably decided it was going to snack on a little Mtoto (baby elephant) - and Mtoto's mommy had decided it wasn't.  Guess who won?


Remembering "A Man in Full"

I've frequently mentioned in these pages the name of the late, great Jeff Cooper, one of the most important figures in firearms theory and practice since World War II.  A DVD presentation about his life is titled 'Jeff Cooper: A Man in Full'. That's a pretty good summation of who and what he was. I had the privilege of meeting him in South Africa many years ago, and never forgot what I learned from him. It helped to keep me alive on more than one occasion.

In the NRA magazine 'American Rifleman' there's a regular feature called 'Throwback Thursdays'.  The latest is an article dating back to 1993 about Jeff Cooper by the late, equally legendary firearms writer Finn Aagaard, a fellow African whom I also held in high regard.  Here's an excerpt.

Cooper has written that "Man fights with his mind. His hands and his weapons are simply extensions of his will...” He says that of the 50 or so of his students who have been involved in lethal confrontations, not one student claimed to have saved his life by his dexterity or his marksmanship, but rather by his mindset.

He defines the combat mindset as “...that state of mind which ensures victory in a gunfight. It is composed of awareness, anticipation, concentration and coolness. Above all, its essence is self-control. Dexterity and marksmanship are prerequisite to confidence, and confidence is prerequisite to self-control.”

Cooper wrote about this new doctrine of practical pistolcraft, and presently he was being asked to teach it, mostly overseas. Working with the “good guys” in hot spots in Latin America, Europe and Africa, he evolved simple and effective ways of teaching the modern technique.

. . .

A man of many parts is Jeff Cooper, apart from being the guru of the combat pistol, warrior (as all true men are at bottom), Marine officer, spook, swordsman, bon vivant, historian, scholar, adjunct professor of police science, connoisseur of fast cars, expert rifleman and big game hunter, adventurer (“peril — not variety — is the true spice of life”), philosopher, NRA director, a superb writer and author with a wonderful command of the language, father and grandfather, husband to one of the most gracious, charming and delightful of ladies (doubt not her core of steel, though — else how could she have managed Jeff for more than 50 years?), a seeker of excellence whose creed is Honor, Duty, Country, a man with a great gusto for life, and, perhaps above all, a teacher.

. . .

... he is truly the father of the modern technique of the pistol. Others helped evolve it — and it continues to evolve — but he put it all together, promoted it, and taught it. No one since Samuel Colt has had a greater impact on practical pistolcraft than Jeff Cooper.

There's more at the link.

I have most of Col. Cooper's books in my permanent collection.  If you haven't read them yet, you're in for a treat.  His volumes of memoir and personal philosophy, listed below, are my favorites.  Click on a book title to be taken to its page at

All are highly recommended reading.


A father gives his daughter to her husband

I laughed out loud at parts of this . . . and found it touching, too.

I think she's lucky in her father.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

An icy view of the solar eclipse

The recent solar eclipse was filmed by a Polish research station on Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island above the Arctic Circle.  It makes very interesting viewing from the 'land of the midnight sun'.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

Interesting . . . but cold!


"The man who invented the obstacle course"

That's the title of an interesting article over at Defense Media Network.  It points out, correctly, that the obstacle course or assault course was actually a well-established concept in foreign armies, but was introduced to the US armed forces early in World War II.  Here's an excerpt.

When World War II started in Europe in September 1939, the United States was the 17th largest military power. Its army, containing just 190,000 troops, was effectively a constabulary force. By February 1941, all that had changed. Thanks to the recently passed conscription law, the number of recruits had ballooned almost ten-fold, with millions more to come. The American military had experienced such crash-program increases before, in the Civil War and World War I. And as before, the draftees entering service were raw material. Before they could be shipped out to the new and expanding training centers being prepared for them, they had to be shaped up. While all base and camp commanders had that problem, it was particularly acute for Lt. Col. William M. Hoge.

. . .

Hoge’s most vexing problem [at Fort Belvoir] was how to provide proper military outdoor physical exercise training. Because he was located on a peninsula, he couldn’t expand. Space was at a premium.

It was while trying to figure out a solution one day to the physical fitness problem that he recalled one of his subordinates, Paul W. Thompson, had spent a year in Germany as an attachĂ©. Calling Thompson into his office, Hoge asked him, “What in the hell do the Germans do to get exercise for their men? They have much less area than we have.” Thompson told him about specially designed fields filled with a variety of trenches and constructions that the men had to overcome through climbing, crawling, swinging, hopping, and jumping.

Hoge brought in the officer responsible for physical training and the three drew up a blueprint for the Army’s first obstacle course. In an interview conducted years later, Hoge recalled, “It wasn’t as big as a city block from beginning to end, but you did all these things in a short space. You’d run, climb walls, jump over ditches, crawl through pipes, walk on logs over running streams. I don’t know what all we didn’t try. We put everything we could in that space.”

. . .

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall soon heard about Hoge’s creation and came down to see it for himself. Impressed, he promptly ordered every base and camp to build them.

There's more at the link, including many photographs.

I have bitter, twisted memories of obstacle courses.  The worst is when I spent several months at a particular establishment where weekly run-throughs, carrying telephone poles, truck tires, duffel bags (colloquially known as balsaks) filled with sand, and sundry other impedimenta were part of the routine.  I ended up spending a full forty days in hospital as a result of an infection.  Needless to say, after so long in bed I lost a lot of my physical conditioning.  Not only did that base deny me the sick leave the hospital had ordered, but I was made to participate in a fitness contest over the obstacle course that very weekend.  Teams were penalized for every time one of their members couldn't complete an evolution, or get over an obstacle in the specified time, or anything like that.  Thanks to my weakened condition, I amassed over thirty penalty points for my team - some of whom had placed bets on the result, and beat me up that night for 'making them lose'.

(I filed charges over that, including over the [illegal] denial of my hospital-authorized sick leave.  I was threatened with all sorts of dire consequences for daring to 'buck the system', but I had the documentation to prove my case.  In the end I was transferred to a much nicer unit, the charges were allowed to lapse, and those responsible for the screw-up received 'administrative reprimands', whatever that meant . . . not a lot, I suspect.  The staff at that base looked after its own.)

Anyway, I was interested to read how the obstacle course came to the US Army.  I wonder how many veterans have longed to pee on General Hoge's grave because of that?


Doofus Of The Day #825

Today's award goes to four constables of the Jharkhand police force in India.

An embarrassed Jharkhand police on Saturday suspended four constables after it emerged that they had taken along a convicted prisoner to a redlight area in neighbouring West Bengal, a top official said, exposing gaping holes in prison security.

On Friday, the police personnel had escorted the prisoner, serving a seven-year prison term for murder, for a health check-up at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences in Ranchi, around 200 km from the Koderma jail.

However, instead of returning to Koderma, the constables took the prisoner to a redlight area at Kulti in Asansol, a border township in West Bengal.

Asansol is around 230 km from Ranchi, a three-hour drive by road.

Jail sources their act came to light only after a team of Asansol police raided the red light area and arrested the policemen, who carried arms, but sported civil dress.

. . .

The prisoner, identified as Baiju Yadav, returned to the prison on Friday night and told authorities that he was “forcibly” taken to the red light area, jail sources said.

The four police personnel, who are said to have been drunk at the time of the raid, are in custody of Asansol police.

There's more at the link.

I've heard of sleeping on the job . . . but never sleeping around on the job!  Did they 'treat' the prisoner to the services of one of the ladies of negotiable virtue, as well as themselves?


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A World War II bomber pilot tells his story

Last week, during a Reddit 'Ask Me Anything' thread, former B17 pilot Carl Estersohn answered questions from readers about what it was like to fly and fight during World War II.  Here's a brief series of excerpts.

IKingJeremy: How did you and your fellow airmen keep their spirits up during war?

CarlEstersohn: We drank a lot of beer, hahaha! We would go to London every 3-4 days... we'd go to the dance halls, dance with the pretty girls, and that's about all we could do, because London was at war, and they were being bombed, and it wasn't really that safe a place, but we managed to survive.

hurtsdonut: That's amazing, dancing while being bombed.

CarlEstersohn: Yeah, well, we didn't have a choice! If we wanted to go to London to be entertained, that was the only place we could go. And everything wasn't really available, it was wartime, there were a lot of restrictions - there were no restaurants, there were taxis available but they were few & far between, difficult to get, there were a lot of Americans over there waiting for the invasion, and a lot of the guys that were flying were going - and that's what took up the limited stuff. They were very good to us. We were made to enjoy English beer, which was quite a feat! That's all there was. There was very little food. They had eating clubs, here and there throughout London. If you belonged to one, you could get some chicken or maybe steak - I think they were cooking horsemeat steaks at that time. They were pretty good, hahah!

. . .

kinglyryan: What was your worst experience in WWII, and what was your best?

CarlEstersohn: My worst experience and my BEST experience?

Well, my worst experience was when I got shot down during one of my raids, and landed in Belgium, which fortunately was in Allied hands. The Allied armies had pushed their way up through France, and up into Belgium, on their way to Holland, so I was not made a prisoner of war. And myself and my crew got back to our base in England, and we managed to fly all together 35 missions.

My best experience during the war, that's kinda tough, I'd say my last mission was probably my best because that was knowing that I wasn't going to be subjected to enemy action anymore, and I took over somebody's job as a planning officer, to send missions out, and brief the other guys as to where they were going and where they were supposed to do.

I was still an officer. I didn't have a title, I was just Lieutenant Estersohn. And later I became a captain, and I went home on a troop ship, just about the same time as the armistice was declared in the German theater of war. First week in May 1945. And I got home, became a civilian, and went back to school.

. . .

Sercos: How did your experiences during the war change you as a human being? Would you say that overall it was for better or for worse?

CarlEstersohn: I would say, overall, it was for the better.

It gave me a chance to get my priorities straight.

It gave me a chance to look at so-called "crises" with a different outlook, different expectation and different way of handling it.

I don't mean to say that war is a good thing, in ANY respect.

But it does affect you. I think that any person that's been at war, or any kind of skirmishes, can say the same thing. It changes your values.

. . .

MethMachine: Did the war change your outlook on life? If so, how?

Thanks for your service, and for doing this AMA!

CarlEstersohn: You're welcome!

And of course, absolutely. You come to realize that all the things you thought were so important are not really, because life is what's important, and without it, there's nothing. So you understand that... whatever problems you have are minuscule compared to having to go out and fight a war.

Which very people realize today. Very few people experience.

But that's about the story, your outlook on life, it sure does change.

Priorities change. Your values change.

There's much more at the link.

Sobering, thought-provoking stuff.  My war was years later and on another continent, but I learned many of the same lessons.  Thanks for your service, Mr. Estersohn.


I want this as a watch band

As soon as I saw the promotional material for the forthcoming Leatherman Tread multitool, I couldn't help but imagine:  what would this be like as a watchband?

My next thought was:  how many heart attacks would it give TSA inspectors if you tried to carry it through their checkpoints at the airport?  Just mention 'multitool' in their hearing and it's good enough for an X-rated pat-down.


EDITED TO ADD: A commenter informs me that it is, indeed, available as a watch: but at an estimated price of $500-$600, that's too rich for my blood.

A stunt for the ages

I was intrigued to read about this stunt performed by Buster Keaton in the 1928 silent movie 'Steamboat Bill Jr.'

According to the book 'Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase' by Marion Meade:

As he stood in the studio street waiting for a building to crash on him, he noticed that some of the electricians and extras were praying. The window was just big enough to give two inches of clearance on either side. Keaton drove a nail in the ground to mark his position. When the moment came and the house front came down, he froze. The open window hit him exactly as planned. Afterwards, he would call the stunt one of his greatest thrills. He said later that he did not care whether he lived or died: "I was mad at the time, or I never would have done the thing."



Monday, March 23, 2015

Big Brother and your money

Simon Black brings us a disturbing warning about possible capital controls in America.

You tell the teller that you’d like to withdraw $5,000 from your account. She hesitates nervously and wants to know why.

You try to politely let her know that that’s none of the bank’s business as it’s your money.

The teller disappears for a few minutes, leaving you waiting.

When she returns she tells you that you can collect your money in a few days as they don’t have it on hand at the moment.

Slightly irritated because of the inconvenience, you head home.

But as you pull into your driveway later there’s an unexpected surprise waiting for you: two police officers would like to have a word with you about your intended withdrawal earlier . . .

. . .

Federal regulations in the Land of the Free REQUIRE banks to file ‘suspicious activity reports’ or SARs on their customers. And it’s not optional.

Banks have minimum quotas of SARs they need to fill out and submit to the federal government.

If they don’t file enough SARs, they can be fined. They can lose their banking charter. And yes, bank executives and directors can even be imprisoned for noncompliance.

. . .

According to the handbook for the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council, banks are required to file a SAR with respect to:

“Transactions conducted or attempted by, at, or through the bank (or an affiliate) and aggregating $5,000 or more…”

It’s utterly obscene. According to the Justice Department, going to the bank and withdrawing $5,000 should potentially prompt a banker to rat you out to the police.

There’s something else about this that I want to point out, though: this may be a very early form of capital controls in the Land of the Free.

There's more at the link.

Note that money deemed suspicious can be seized under asset forfeiture rules without any criminal conviction, leaving you to fight in court (at great legal expense) to get your money back.  It's a well-known tactic by Federal, State and local jurisdictions.  Even airport travelers are now being targeted.  It treats normal precautions such as keeping a store of ready cash on hand (which I've recommended before) as suspicious or even criminal activity - which is ludicrous.

Land of the Free, indeed!


Ralph Peters nails it

"Why our prep-school diplomats fail against Putin and ISIS":

We are led by men and women educated to believe in the irresistible authority of their own words. When they encounter others who use words solely to deflect and defraud, or, worse, when their opposite numbers ignore words completely and revel in ferocious violence, our best and brightest go into an intellectual stall and keep repeating the same empty phrases (in increasingly tortured tones):

“Violence never solves anything.” “There’s no military solution.” “War is never the answer.” “Only a negotiated solution can resolve this crisis.” “It isn’t about religion.”

Or the latest and lamest: “We need to have strategic patience,” and “Terrorists need jobs.”

Every one of those statements is, demonstrably, nonsense most — or all — of the time. But the end result of very expensive educations is a Manchurian Candidate effect that kicks in whenever the core convictions of the old regime are questioned. So we find ourselves with leaders who would rather defend platitudes than defend their country.

And negotiations become the opium of the chattering classes.

Once-great universities have turned into political indoctrination centers worthy of the high Stalinist Era or the age of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Their aims may be more benign, but their unwillingness to consider alternative worldviews is every bit as rigid. Students in the social sciences at Harvard or Yale today are cadets being groomed to serve a soft-Socialist form of government conceived not in the streets, but in the very same classrooms. It’s a self-licking ice-cream cone. And graduates leave campus brilliantly prepared for everything except reality.

There's more at the link.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Not flushed with success

I have to wince in sympathy with New York City's sanitation workers.  The New York Times reports:

In recent years, the intersection of evolving hygienic sensibilities and aggressive industry marketing has fueled the product’s rise. Wet wipes, long used for baby care, have grown popular with adults.

Some of the products are branded as “flushable” — a characterization contested by wastewater officials and plaintiffs bringing class-action lawsuits against wipes manufacturers for upending their plumbing.

Often, the wipes combine with other materials, like congealed grease, to create a sort of superknot.

. . .

The city has spent more than $18 million in the past five years on wipe-related equipment problems, officials said. The volume of materials extracted from screening machines at the city’s wastewater treatment plants has more than doubled since 2008, an increase attributed largely to the wipes.

Removal is an unpleasant task. The dank clusters, graying and impenetrable, gain mass like demon snowballs as they travel. Pumps clog. Gears falter. Then, there is the final blow, wrought by an intake of sewage that overwhelmed a portion of a north Brooklyn treatment plant.

“Odor control,” a sign there reads. But on a recent afternoon, the second word had disappeared behind a wayward splotch: It was a used wipe, etched with a heavenly cloud design.

. . .

The consummate cautionary tale is that of London, where in 2013 a collection of wipes, congealed cooking oil and other materials totaled 15 tons, according to Thames Water, the utility company that removed it. It was known, like some previous occurrences, as the fatberg. “We reckon it has to be the biggest such berg in British history,” Gordon Hailwood, an official with Thames Water, said at the time.

There's more at the link.  Here's a video of London's 'fatberg'.

When one considers that most of us have that sort of disgusting goo not far beneath our feet in the cities where we live, it gives one a new appreciation for sanitation workers.


Lies and cultural memes, exposed

Back in December last year I wrote an article titled 'When lies become cultural memes'.  I addressed the chants of "Hands up! Don't shoot!" and "I can't breathe!" being employed by demonstrators, and pointed out that they were manifestly, undoubtedly false.  They were lies.  I asked:

Am I wrong to insist that the truth is important?  Am I so far out of touch with modern society that I find it morally wrong to demonstrate over something I know to be an untruth?  I have no problem with drawing attention to the very real racial tensions in our society.  They're undeniable.  However, to do so while parroting lies seems to me to taint one's cause with dishonesty.  Can't the demonstrators see this?  Or is it that they no longer care about what's factually true or false, but only about their feelings on the subject?

There's more at the link.

Now the Washington Post, to my surprise, has come down firmly on my side of the argument - even though the newspaper has probably never heard of me or my earlier article.

Catchy phrases like “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “Black lives matter,” “an unarmed black person is killed every 28 hours” (which we have fact checked) have resulted from protests over the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. They are emotional messages spread easily, like the “We are 99 percent” mantra of Occupy Wall Street.

We care about facts, how they’re used and the context in which the facts are portrayed.

. . .

Investigators have overwhelmingly rejected witness accounts that Brown had his hands up in a surrender before being shot execution-style. The DOJ has concluded Wilson did not know whether Brown was armed, acted out of self-defense and was justified in killing Brown. The majority of witnesses told federal investigators that the initial claims that Brown’s hands were up were not accurate. “Hands up, don’t shoot” did not happen in Brown’s killing, and it is a characterization that deserves Four Pinocchios. Politicians should step carefully if they try to highlight this expression in the future.

Again, more at the link.

Well, at least one mainstream news outlet has chosen to come down on the side of fact.  Now, what about the others?  I somehow don't think it would be wise to hold my breath in anticipation . . .


The F-35 boondoggle, redux

I've said for several years that the F-35 Lightning II aircraft program is nothing more or less than a boondoggle, and should be terminated at once.  Here are some of my previous articles about it.

Now the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has produced one of the most sweeping condemnations of the program I've ever read.  Its introduction reads:

Inside-the-Beltway wisdom holds that the $1.4 trillion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program is too big to cancel and on the road to recovery. But the latest report from the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) provides a litany of reasons that conventional wisdom should be considered politically driven propaganda. The press has already reported flawed software that hinders the ability of the plane to employ weapons, communicate information, and detect threats; maintenance problems so severe that the F-35 has an “overdependence” on contractor maintainers and “unacceptable workarounds” (behind paywall) and is only able to fly twice a week; and a high-rate, premature production schedule that ignores whether the program has demonstrated essential combat capabilities or proven it’s safe to fly. All of these problems are increasing costs and risks to the program. Yet rather than slow down production to focus resources on fixing these critical problems, Congress used the year-end continuing resolution omnibus appropriations bill—termed the “cromnibus”—to add 4 additional planes to the 34 Department of Defense (DoD) budgeted for Fiscal Year 2015. The original FY2016 plan significantly increased the buy to 55, and now the program office is further accelerating its purchase of these troubled planes to buy 57 instead.

At some point, the inherent flaws and escalating costs of a program become so great that even a system with massive political buy-in reaches a tipping point. The problems described in the DOT&E report show that the F-35 has reached a stage where it is now obvious that the never-ending stream of partial fixes, software patches, and ad hoc workarounds are inadequate to deliver combat-worthy, survivable, and readily employable aircraft. This year’s DOT&E report also demonstrates that in an effort to maintain the political momentum of the F-35, its program office is not beneath misrepresenting critically important characteristics of the system.

In sum, the old problems are not going away, new issues are arising, and some problems may be getting worse.

There's much more at the link.

The F-35 program is the biggest boondoggle I've ever heard of.  It's long gone time it was axed.  Unfortunately, our spineless politicians have been bought off with jobs at companies in their district (Lockheed Martin has taken great care to spread the work on the project through as many congressional districts as possible).  The 'fix' is in, and we, the taxpayers of America, are the ones who are being shafted.  Is there no-one who'll stand up and call this turkey what it really is, and kill it before it's too late?