Saturday, January 20, 2018

An "emotional support chicken"???


I think I've heard it all now.

The day of the service duck and emotional support chicken on airlines may be drawing to a close.

Delta Air Lines Inc. said Friday it will more thoroughly vet passengers’ efforts to fly with all manner of unusual animals, which often board U.S. airlines under the guise of psychological or medical support.

“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” the airline said Friday in a news release. “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”

There's more at the link.

The only sort of "emotional support" I need from a chicken is in the form of comfort food.  That's why my emotional support chicken's initials are "KFC"!




Peter

That thing could take your leg off!


If this isn't the biggest snapping turtle ever, it'll do until a bigger one comes along.




It's swimming beneath the ice in an Arkansas lake.  It was spotted last week.  The article has a picture of another big one after the text.

That image should make anyone think twice about swimming in some Arkansas lakes . . . you could lose some vital assets, up to and including a leg!




Peter

Friday, January 19, 2018

He needs to buy a lottery ticket!


With luck like that, this Chinese motorcyclist is sure to win . . . unless he's just used it all up.








Peter

When money becomes worthless


I was reminded of my younger years when reading this article about inflation in Venezuela.

A friend recently sent me a photograph ... [of] the detritus left behind after a store was looted last week in San Felix, a city in the country’s southeast ... strewn about in the trash are at least a dozen 20-bolivar bills, small-denomination currency now so worthless even looters didn’t think it was worth their time to stop and pick them up.

. . .

Hyperinflation is disorienting. Five or six years ago, the 500 bolivars on the floor would’ve bought you a meal for two with wine at the best restaurant in Caracas. As late as early last year, they would’ve bought you at least a cup of coffee. At the end of 2016, they still bought you a cup of café con leche, at least. Today, they buy you essentially nothing ... Prices are now rising more than 80 percent per month, according to the opposition-led National Assembly’s Finance Committee. (The government itself stopped publishing official inflation data long ago.) At that rate, prices double every 34 days or so. Salaries lag far behind, leaving more and more of the country to face outright hunger. Thus, the looting.

Rule No. 1 of surviving hyperinflation is simple: Get rid of your money. Given the speed with which money is shedding its value, holding on to it means you’re losing out. The second you’re paid you run out as fast as you can to buy something – anything – while you can still afford it. It’s better to hold almost any asset than money, because assets hold their value and money doesn’t.

. . .

Under hyperinflation, money no longer works. It doesn’t store value. It just stops doing the basic things people expect money to do. It stops being something you want to have and turns into something you’ll do anything to avoid having: something so worthless you won’t even bend down and scoop it up off the floor while you’re looting.

There's more at the link.  Recommended reading.

In South Africa, during my formative and young adult years, inflation was running at a steady 10%-20% per year.  As a result, one's wealth eroded steadily, but in a way that was more or less manageable.  One's salary increases every year had two components;  one to compensate for inflation, and the other to reward performance.  It wasn't unusual for people to get at least a 10% increase every year (at least, in the commercial sector).  Top performers might double that, and get a bonus on top.  Workers in the mines or in agriculture, occupations largely reserved for races other than white, were worse off, getting little or no increase to compensate them for inflation.  As a result, their already appallingly poor standard of living eroded steadily, adding to the social and political unrest sweeping the country.  It was one of the factors that brought an end to apartheid.  Those policies had simply become unaffordable.

Just to our north, in Zimbabwe, hyperinflation arrived during the late 1990's.  It's a well-known story, so I won't go into it here.  Suffice it to say that "Zimbabwe's peak month of inflation is estimated at 79.6 billion percent in mid-November 2008".  Those figures are, of course, meaningless.  Once one's dealing with billions of percent, one's basically guessing, sucking the numbers out of one's thumb.  There are no economic measurement systems adequate to come up with hard and fast numbers, and monetary systems become meaningless.  To illustrate, the banknote below is from the third series of Zimbabwean dollar bills, issued in January 2009.  It has a face value of one hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollars, but was equivalent, at the time of issue, to only about thirty US dollars at the official exchange rate - and only $1.40 on the black market.  This, in a currency that in 1983 traded at par with the US dollar (i.e. one-for-one).




Another well-known example of hyperinflation is Weimar Germany.  Venezuela is merely the latest country to go down that path.  It likely won't be the last.

The frightening thing, to me, is the number of governments (including our own) that are deliberately understating the rate of inflation for their own purposes.  If the US government accurately calculated the rate of inflation, it would have had to raise inflation-linked payouts such as Social Security, etc. by up to 10% every year since the 1980's.  That's why it doesn't calculate it accurately, of course.  It can't afford to pay out that much - so it deceives the electorate by lying to it.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  The facts speak for themselves.  I discussed them in a two part article in 2016.  Follow those two links to learn more.  It really is worth your time to do so.  The second part of that article discusses how to cope in a high-inflation environment.  It dovetails neatly with what's happening at present in Venezuela.

Hyperinflation creeps up on us unawares.  I'm sure those currently experiencing it in Venezuela would never have dreamed, ten years ago, that they'd be in this situation today.  I'm equally sure that in Zimbabwe, no-one saw it coming - certainly not my friends and former comrades-in-arms.  In South Africa during the 1970's and 1980's, we all complained about double-digit inflation, but no-one thought much about what it would mean if that continued over an extended period.  Today, it's all too clear.  To illustrate:
  • My monthly starting salary when I entered the workforce in the 1970's - a salary on which, at the time, I could afford to own a motorcycle, and pay all my routine expenses - would today be sufficient (but only just) to buy me four entry-level burgers and fries at a South African restaurant, with a soda - nothing special, just cheap burgers without toppings.  Call it one meal per week.  There'd be nothing left over for other expenses.
  • In my top earning year in South Africa, in the late 1980's, when I'd just been appointed as a director of the small company I worked for, I made a little over one hundred times more than that 1970's entry-level salary.  Today, that same amount, in the same country, would be considered a lower-middle-class level income - probably a supervisor-level salary.

Inflation that bad hasn't struck here, yet, but it might.  It's bad enough as it is.  To take just one example, let's price the Ford F150 XL regular-cab pickup - the entry-level base model, to compare "apples to apples" - over the past 20 years.  According to Motor Trend, in 1998 the manufacturer's suggested retail price was $15,865.  Ten years later, in 2008, it had increased to $17,900 - a rise of just 12.8% from 1998.  However, this year, 2018, the manufacturer's suggested retail price is no less than $27,380 - an increase of 53% from 2008, and of 72.6% from 1998.  That illustrates how inflation in vehicle prices over the past 10 years has become significantly worse than during the previous decade.  The rate of increase is accelerating (you should pardon the expression).

I've challenged my readers before to compare the cost of your typical weekly grocery shopping bill in (say) 1998, and in 2008, and today in 2018.  If you kept accurate records, I think you'll find that grocery and household goods prices doubled every decade.  If your expenditure didn't go up that much, it was probably because you became more frugal in your buying habits, and bought less of what you really wanted, because you could no longer afford as much.  Go on, try that price test for yourself, and let us know in Comments what you found out.  The results should be interesting!

Peter

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Lawdog has a voice!


Last year, my buddy Lawdog published two volumes of his memoirs.  The first, "The Lawdog Files", dealt with his law enforcement experiences.  I wrote about it at the time, here and here.  The second, "The Lawdog Files:  African Adventures", dealt with his upbringing in Africa, and added a few more modern stories to his tally.  I had the honor of writing the foreword for that volume.  I discussed it here.

Now an audiobook version of "The Lawdog Files" has been released - and it's gone straight to #1 in Amazon.com's "Business & Professional Humor" category.




I repeat what I said about this book last year:

I can't recommend 'The Lawdog Files' too highly.  Miss D. and I have been part of the friends-and-editors process in bringing it to life, and we've found ourselves howling with mirth at frequent intervals while reading excerpts.  Be careful where you read it.  As many early reviewers have pointed out, explosive bursts of laughter are guaranteed!

If you're looking for an easy-listening audiobook with lots of laughter, you won't do much better than this.

Peter

All together, now: Aaawwwww!


Shamelessly stolen borrowed from Wirecutter:





They're just too darned cute, aren't they?




Peter

"Shoddy" in more ways than one


The term "shoddy" originally referred to wool salvaged from used clothing.  Wikipedia describes it as follows:

Benjamin Law invented shoddy and mungo, as such, in England in 1813. He was the first to organise, on a larger scale, the activity of taking old clothes and grinding them down into a fibrous state that could be re-spun into yarn. The shoddy industry was centred on the towns of Batley, Morley, Dewsbury and Ossett in West Yorkshire, and concentrated on the recovery of wool from rags. The importance of the industry can be gauged by the fact that even in 1860 the town of Batley was producing over 7,000 tonnes of shoddy. At the time there were 80 firms employing a total of 550 people sorting the rags. These were then sold to shoddy manufacturers of which there were about 130 in the West Riding. Shoddy is inferior to the original wool; "shoddy" has come to mean "of poor quality" in general (not related to clothing), and the original meaning is largely obsolete.

In the 19th century, it was unusual for anyone except rich people to have more than one or two changes of clothes.  Middle-class families might have three or four.  However, as clothing costs came down in the 20th century, thanks to the invention of artificial cloth made from nylon and polyester, clothes became more and more affordable.  Nowadays it's unusual to find anyone in the First World with less than a dozen changes of clothing, and most have a lot more than that.  Many homes have built-in closets to make it possible to store so many clothes - and many of them are overflowing.

As usual, with abundance and affluence comes excess supply.  A lot of us have far more clothes than we need, and the fashion industry is eager to make us buy more every year - but what do we do with the old ones?  The answer, for many of us, is to donate them to charities such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other organizations.  However, we seldom think about what happens to them from then onward.  It can be a blessing - or a curse.

According to various estimates, here's what happens to your clothing giveaways. In most cases, a small amount of the items, the best quality castoffs -- less than 10 percent of donations -- are kept by the charitable institutions and sold in their thrift shops to other Americans looking for a bargain ... The remaining 90 percent or more of what you give away is sold by the charitable institution to textile recycling firms.

. . .

Most of the clothes are recycled into cleaning cloths and other industrial items, for which the recyclers say they make a modest profit.

Twenty-five percent, however, of what the recycling companies purchase from charities is used not as rags, but as a commodity in an international trading economy that many American may not even know about. Brill, from the textile association, picked up the story. "This clothing is processed, sorted and distributed around the world to developing countries," he said.

Take that pair of bluejeans you may have recently donated. Your jeans are stuffed with others into tightly sealed plastic bales weighing about 120 pounds and containing about 100 pairs of jeans.

The bales are loaded into huge containers and sold to international shippers who put them on ships bound for Africa and other developing regions. Again, the price of your old jeans has increased a bit because the shipper had to buy them.

By the time the bale of jeans is unloaded from a container here in Accra, Ghana, it is worth around $144. That's $1.30 per pair of jeans. But when the bale is opened up and the jeans are laid out for sale in the so-called "bend over" markets, customers bend over and select their purchases from the ground for an average price of $6.66 per pair of jeans. That's a 500 percent increase in value just by opening up the bale of clothes.

. . .

There are two ways to look at all this. One view is that ... African textile industries are closing their factories and laying people off because they cannot make clothes as cheaply as those American items found in the bend over markets.

. . .

Neil Kearney, general secretary of the Brussels based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation says the practice is exploitative, "It is neo colonialism in its purest form. It's exporting poverty to Africa, a continent that is already exceedingly poor."

. . .

The other view is that the donated clothing market is actually the American way, that your old clothing is used at every step to create new wealth and to help people who are less fortunate.

There's more at the link.

Two things have now begun to disrupt this trade.  One is that newly manufactured cloth has become so cheap as to make it uneconomical to recycle older clothes into the modern equivalent of "shoddy".  The other is that new clothing has become so cheap that it undermines the sale of used clothing.  The result may be an environmental nightmare.  Bloomberg reports:

For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing.

Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making.

. . .

Between 2000 and 2015, global clothing production doubled, while the average number of times that a garment was worn before disposal declined by 36 percent. In China, it declined by 70 percent.

The rise of "fast fashion" is thus creating a bleak scenario: The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar.

. . .

The question is what to do about it. Some brands ... are experimenting with new fibers made from recycled material, which could help. But longer-term, the industry will have to try to refocus consumers on durability and quality -- and charge accordingly. Ways to do this include offering warranties on clothing and making tags that inform consumers of a product's expected lifespan. To satiate the hunger for fast fashion, meanwhile, brands might also explore subscription-based fashion rental businesses -- such as China's YCloset -- or other more sustainable models.

Again, more at the link.

I've seen at first hand the impact of used clothing on Third World economies.  In Africa, many who depended on making or fitting clothing to make a living have lost their jobs.  Other jobs, sorting and selling used clothing, have replaced them - but what will replace them in their turn, if used clothing becomes less freely available?  A sophisticated economy may be able to absorb such shocks, but a primitive one is far less resilient.  Many nations have no support networks like welfare or social security.  The loss of a job can literally lead to starvation.

There's also the question of our own consumption habits.  Some say that if we can afford them, that's all that matters - anything else is not our problem.  Those "downstream", who are affected by those problems, might disagree.  With some sources claiming that clothes are worn as few as seven times before being discarded, it's no wonder that the "affluent society" is producing a downstream "effluent society", where everything must be either reprocessed or recycled, or discarded altogether.  We already export a large proportion of our garbage to the Third World.  Our used clothes may become part of that garbage in due course, rather than being resold or recycled.  Even the modern equivalent of "shoddy", until recently used to make things like disaster relief blankets or moving blankets, has to a large extent been replaced by new synthetic fabrics mass-produced in modern factories.  Fleece fabric relief blankets are now manufactured by the tens of thousands for aid agencies and organizations.

As I said earlier, I've seen this dilemma playing out in the Third World.  I don't have any answers, except to be responsible in my own purchasing and disposal of clothes.  I think it at least helps if we're aware of the problem.

Peter

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More about those "Third World s***holes"


Last week I pointed out that many so-called "Third World s***holes" were perfectly accurately described by that label.  They were, and are, s***holes - literally as well as figuratively.

Now a former Peace Corps volunteer adds her perspective.

In plain English: s--- is everywhere.  People defecate on the open ground, and the feces is blown with the dust – onto you, your clothes, your food, the water.  He warned us the first day of training: do not even touch water.  Human feces carries parasites that bore through your skin and cause organ failure.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a few decades later, liberals would be pushing the lie that Western civilization is no better than a third-world country.  Or would teach two generations of our kids that loving your own culture and wanting to preserve it are racism.

Last time I was in Paris, I saw a beautiful African woman in a grand boubou have her child defecate on the sidewalk next to Notre Dame Cathedral.  The French police officer, ten steps from her, turned his head not to see.

I have seen.  I am not turning my head and pretending unpleasant things are not true.

Senegal was not a hellhole.  Very poor people can lead happy, meaningful lives in their own cultures' terms.  But they are not our terms.  The excrement is the least of it.  Our basic ideas of human relations, right and wrong, are incompatible.

As a twenty-one-year-old starting out in the Peace Corps, I loved Senegal.  In fact, I was euphoric.  I quickly made friends and had an adopted family.  I relished the feeling of the brotherhood of man.  People were open, willing to share their lives and, after they knew you, their innermost thoughts.

The longer I lived there, the more I understood: it became blindingly obvious that the Senegalese are not the same as us.  The truths we hold to be self-evident are not evident to the Senegalese.  How could they be?  Their reality is totally different.  You can't understand anything in Senegal using American terms.

There's more at the link.

Those of us who've been there, know what such places are like.  When President Trump (allegedly) describes them as "s***holes", he's speaking nothing more or less than the truth.  They are precisely that.  Anyone trying to deny that is living in cloud cuckoo land - or deliberately lying to you.

I stand by what I said last week:

I think President Trump's point may have been unfortunately phrased;  but I think it is nevertheless accurate.  The USA does not need to be overrun by people who are not capable of becoming Americans.  It needs immigrants who are able to make that adjustment.  For those who are not, by all means let us help them;  but let us do so in their own countries or regions, and help them to improve the quality of life there for everybody.  That's the only practical solution that's fair to everyone, IMHO.

Peter

Pick your fights carefully . . .


. . . because you may lose.








Peter

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Saving Rosa Parks' house - by moving it to Europe???


This happened some time ago, but I only just read about it in this article.

The project came about [in 2016], when Rhea McCauley, Ms. Parks’s niece, met Mr. Mendoza in Detroit. As part of an art project that explored his own sense of home, as well as the American subprime mortgage crisis, Mr. Mendoza successfully transported an abandoned house from Detroit to Europe, winning the trust of Detroit community members along the way. Ms. McCauley told him she had managed to buy back the family house for $500, but she could not find anyone interested in saving it from demolition.

Mr. Mendoza, who makes his living as a fine-arts painter, agreed to help. He raised a little over $100,000 by selling some of his paintings, and set out for Detroit. There, he worked with a local team to take apart the house, which had fallen into extreme disrepair.

He then shipped the wooden exterior to Berlin, where he spent the winter painstakingly rebuilding it, mostly alone, by hand. “It was an act of love,” he said.

That the house had to be shipped to Berlin to be saved is extraordinary, said Daniel Geary, a professor of American history at Trinity College Dublin, given that, “in general, in the U.S., with public heroes, there is an attempt to preserve anywhere they lived.”

Mr. Geary said that to him, the neglect of a house like this one speaks to a contemporary American unwillingness to deal with racism’s legacy.

“People like to remember Rosa Parks for one moment, when she wouldn’t stand up on a bus,” he said. “They don’t really want to grapple with the rest of her life. The death threats, the fact that she had to leave Alabama and go to Detroit. It’s a more complicated story with a less happy ending. She suffered for her decision.”

There's more at the link.

It's a pretty shameful thing that the home of such an icon of the civil rights movement should have to be disassembled and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in order to save it for posterity.  She worked as the secretary and receptionist for Detroit congressman John Conyers.  Could his colleagues and/or successors in office, and/or the Democratic Party organization in Detroit, not have done something to save a building like this?

It was reported late last year that the house would be returned to America.  I hope it happens soon.  You can read more about the house, and the effort to save it, here.

Peter

I'm not a fan


I was more than a little mind-boggled to learn that Alien Gear plans to introduce an inside-the-waistband holster with a fan in it.




I can only assume this is some sort of advertising gimmick.  For a start, the fan couldn't push cooling air through the holes at the rear of the holster, because your body will block them!  It'll just push air uselessly against your skin, then blow it out the top or bottom of the holster.

There's also the question of security.  If you're carrying inside-the-waistband, presumably covering the gun with an outer garment, you don't want it to be noticed.  However, if there's the constant whine of a fan coming from your holster . . . doesn't that defeat the object of the exercise?

On the other hand, taking up a 'bladed' stance with your firearm now takes on a whole new meaning - and I suppose it makes it easier to plead self-de-fan-se . . .




Peter

How about this in the hands of terrorists?


We had some spirited discussions in these pages a few days ago (follow those three links to find the articles), concerning terrorist attacks on a Russian airbase in Syria, using 'hobbyist'-style quadcopter drones as well as some homemade larger models.  Some people are still unconvinced that the former pose any realistic threat.

Now Boeing has announced the development - in just three months from 'clean-sheet' concept to a flying prototype - of an octocopter that can carry payloads of up to 500 pounds.





Octocopters big enough to carry a human passenger have already been announced.  If Boeing can build something like that shown above in three months, using off-the-shelf components, I'm willing to bet a backyard mechanic team can do something similar in a year or so.  Given that sort of payload capability - 500 pounds is the weight of a standard USAF Mark 82 bomb - there are all sorts of nasty weapon and target combinations that come to mind.

Amazon.com is already talking about using UAV's to deliver parcels and packages.  UPS and FedEx are doing the same.  We'll soon be seeing something like this drone in the skies around our homes.  Terrorists are sure to figure out that by painting their drone in familiar colors, and sticking a couple of commercial logos on it, and wrapping its payload in cardboard or plastic to resemble a commercial delivery, they can operate their drones with virtual impunity.  I damn well guarantee it.  This genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

Peter