Saturday, March 31, 2018

Country Music Allstars - Will The Circle Be Unbroken

Easter calls for songs of faith, and Country Music does not disappoint.  Fortunately, they are well practiced on this song - by tradition, it closes each year's Country Music Hall Of Fame ceremony.  This is appropriate as this version (which included a significant lyrics re-write from Ada Habbershom's and Charles Gabriel's 1907 original) was popularized by the Carter Family in the 1930s.  Mother Maybell Carter sang on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1972 epic version.

About the only thing that could top that version, in fact, is this 1989 performance from the Country Music Hall Of Fame.  Not only was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band there, but a list of everyone who was anyone in Country Music: Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, The Carter Family, Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, and Bruce Hornsby.  Among others.  It's sort of a Borepatch Saturday Redneck reunion.

It's a worthy song for this holy weekend.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken? (Songwriters: Ada Habbershom, Charles Gabriel; lyrics rewriten by A.P. Carter):
I was standing by my window
On a cold and cloudy day
When I saw the hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
There's a better home awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

Well, I went back home, home was lonely
For my mother she was gone
And all my family there was cryin'
For our home felt sad and alone

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
There's a better home awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

Undertaker, undertaker, undertaker
Won't you please drive slow?
For that lady you are haulin'
Lord, I hate to see her go

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by?
There's a better home awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky
There's a better home awaiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Play ball!

Forget the first flowers appearing, the real sign of spring is opening day.  It is the most American of sports.  It's also the most literary, with a rich history of superb writing from the best American writers, which to me at least adds to its charms.  Offered as proof, here's John Updike's farewell to Ted Williams, who hit a home run in his very last at bat but refused to tip his cap to the home town crowd:
Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.

Gods do not answer letters is perhaps the most iconic line ever penned in sports journalism.  The game raises up the ink stained scribblers.  Sometimes, at least.

Baseball has been around for a long, long time.  Over a century of play makes the game old, but each season is new.  So make sure you have some frosty ones in your fridge, and join in the celebration welcoming fairer weather.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

On car sensors and Uber

Clarence emails:
Regarding the Uber car fatality, the excuse that it was dark is just that - an excuse. Mercedes-Benz has offered night vision on the S-class for ten years now. An emitter in each headlight cluster 'illuminates' the road ahead and a sensor at the top of the windshield receives the return infra-red waves. An image is generated for the driver on the instrument panel. BMW has offered their version of night vision for 5 or 6 years on the 7 series which gives the driver a warning when a warm body is detected.

Also why was there no LiDAR fitted to the Uber car? I think Uber is trying to do things on the cheap.
Yeah, this sounds right to me.  This is a big reason not to trust self-driving cars (companies skimping on the technology to the point that they don't really have it right).

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

An excellent introduction to Western Civilization

One of my favorite shows in the 1980s was James Burke's fantastic The Day The Universe Changed. I posted about it years back, but the videos were either deleted or moved.  Now you can find the episodes here.

It takes an interesting approach to the subject - rather than a chronological presentation, Burke takes a number of different topics that were kept to the West becoming the West, and traces a topic through time in a single episode.

If you know a young person who you suspect isn't getting introduced to Western Civilization in school, then you might want to watch this with them.

More on the fatal Uber self-driving car accident

People have been checking out Uber's story, and things are not looking good for Uber:
On Sunday night, an Uber self-driving car killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona. A key argument in Uber's defense has been that the road was so dark that even an attentive driver would not have spotted Herzberg in the seconds before the crash. 
Herzberg "came from the shadows right into the roadway," Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday. "The driver said it was like a flash." 
But then people in the Tempe area started making their own videos—videos that give a dramatically different impression of that section of roadway. 
In this nighttime video, posted to YouTube by Brian Kaufman on Wednesday, the scene of the crash can be seen around 0:33. Features at the sides of the road—including curbs, signs, and bushes—are clearly visible. No pedestrians walk into the road during the video, but it seems clear that Herzberg would have been visible much earlier if the Uber video had been taken with this camera.
At the very least, it looks like Uber has poor sensors.  The Uber video shows that the car's headlights only illuminate the road 2 seconds ahead.  This is far below the legal standard for headlights, which strongly suggests that Uber's video is not the end of the story here.  Add in that the human operator was staring at his phone for the entire time during which the accident occurred - over 5 seconds.  There's no way that the driver could have done anything to save the pedestrian with that lack of attention.

And it seems that the Arizona government agrees - Uber told to suspend all self-driving car testing in Arizona:
Uber was told on Monday evening to suspend its autonomous car-testing program in Arizona. The move follows the death of Elaine Herzberg, a pedestrian who was struck and killed by one of the company's self-driving vehicles on March 18. According to the Associated Press, Governor Doug Ducey told Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi that public safety should be a top priority, and that "[t]he incident that took place... is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation."
This sounds like the Arizona government doesn't believe that Uber has been entirely candid about the accident.

I suspect that when the complete report on this comes out we will see a number of factors contributing to the pedestrian's death: sub-par sensors, lack of radar to complement visual sensors, sub-par software that didn't recognize a dangerous situation, and a driver so lulled into complacency that he was paying attention to everything BUT the road.

None of this recommends self-driving cars as remotely ready for prime time.


Makes you wonder - if these are the sheep, who are the shepherds?

Monday, March 26, 2018

R.I.P. Zell Miller

Dead at 86.

I thought he was a good Governor.  He was my kind of Democrat, even in the '90s a dying breed.  You never wondered where his heart was about this country, or his support for a strong defense.  His address to the 2004 GOP Convention was epic, a stemwinder of a speech where he didn't give his party hell, he gave it the truth and they thought that was hell.  Here's just a sample:

Perhaps even more epic was the post speech interview where Chris Matthews tried to play word games with him for so long, and in such an aggravating way that Zell challenged him to a duel.

This Republic is less without him.  Rest in peace, Governor.

I'm pretty cynical about the anti gun march

I think that this is all about trying to get Democrats elected in November.  The fact that the school systems were strongly behind this suggests that the Teacher's Union is deeply involved, and the lack of any meaningful proposals to, you know, actually address the stated problem is pretty telling.  The kids are, well, kids - blathering empty nothings for the camera, nothing more.

As the Bard said, it's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Keeping people hyped up seems to the the only thing.  You don't need well reasoned policy proposals for that.

I also don't think that this changes anything about the poor chance of any new meaningful gun control laws.  The Democrats had their chance in 2009 and (remembering 1994) didn't touch it.  I think that they've come to the conclusion that this is an area where they don't want to do anything meaningful, and would rather keep it as an issue that never goes away.  At least, I think this is the view of the national Democratic Party.  States will continue passing what they think they can get away with, so that's the ball to keep your eye on.

But Keith Ellison and Wayne LaPierre have precisely the same motivation - keep this issue alive and kicking, to keep the donations coming in.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 2, "The Resurrection"

Image von der Wik
Classical music has a rich catalog for Easter, but not much specifically for Palm Sunday.  So we shall have to make due with what we have.  Fortunately, what we have is very good indeed.

Gustav Mahler was one of the great romantic era composers, perhaps the pinnacle of lyric orchestral music before the taste of the arts world began the long slide into today's atonal wasteland.  He originally wrote this symphony in four movements; he envisioned a fifth movement with a chorus, but could not find appropriate words for the score.  But when he attended the funeral of a friend, he was struck at the reading of the poem Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection).  The lyrics to his fifth movement then more or less wrote themselves.

The lyrics are entirely appropriate to the Easter story, alas, less so for Palm Sunday:

Rise again, yes, rise again, 
Will you My dust, After a brief rest! 
Immortal life! Immortal life 
Will He who called you, give you.
Very Easter-ish.  Ah, well.  As I said, we must make due with what we have for today's Feast Day.  But it is a marvelous piece.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Red Foley - Old Shep

Dogs are legally property, but nobody really believes that.  Yesterday we learned of a dog that was awarded the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, an official recognition that valor exists in the creatures is a way that will never be seen in, say, the dining room table.

But lawyers are an odd race* and when a West Virginia woman's dog was killed by a negligent driver, she sued for loss of companionship.  The decision in Charbasho v. Musulin went against her, ruling that a dog is legally equivalent to, say, a dining room table.  The dissent referenced this song, and included Red Foley's lyrics as evidence that a dog is so much more than property.

It's a sad song, but captures the depths of emotion that we feel for our four footed friends.  Red Foley is all but forgotten today but was one of the first of the Country Music mega stars.  He sold 25 Million albums, back when the population was maybe half what it is now.  He hosted the first Country Music TV show, Ozark Jubilee.  He was in a couple movies.  Unusually, he was a College Man, but was discovered by a talent scout as a freshman.  He never looked back as his career took off in the 1930s.   He was known as "Mr. Country Music".

This song is from 1941, on the eve of the war.  It was about his German Shepherd (named Hoover) who was poisoned by a neighbor.  This was the first song that Elvis Presley performed publicly.  He was 10 years old and had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone.  It was at the 1945 Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, and he came in fifth place, winning $5.

Old Shep (Songwriters: Red Foley, Arthur Willis):
When I was a lad and old Shep was a pup
Over hills and meadows we'd stray
Just a boy and his dog, we were both full of fun
We grew up together that way 
I remember the time at the old swimmin' hold
When I would have drowned beyond doubt
But old Shep was right there, to the rescue he came
He jumped in and helped, pulled me out 
As the years fast did roll, old Shep, he grew old
His eyes were fast growing dim
And one day the doctor looked at me and said
"I can do no more for him, Jim" 
With hands that were trembling, I picked up my gun
And aimed it at Shep's faithful head
I just couldn't do it, I wanted to run
I wish they would shoot me instead 
He came to my side and he looked up at me
And laid his old head on my knee
I had struck the best friend that a man ever had
I cried so I scarcely could see 
Old Shep, he has gone where the good doggies go
And no more with old Shep, will I roam
But if dogs have a Heaven, there's one thing I know
Old Shep has a wonderful home
* Offered in evidence: Shakespeare's quote from Julius Caesar. First round up all the lawyers.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Brigid has reopened her old blog!

Guest blogger Brigid has reopened her old blog for business again.  I've loved having her post here, and hopefully she will come back every now and then to grace us with more of her bloody goodness, but you can get your regular dose at Home On The Range.

The dog that had nine lives

OK, he really only had 5 lives but he was a World War II combat veteran and hero.

Václav Bozděch was a Czech air gunner who left Czechoslovakia when the war began, making his way to Britain where he joined the RAF.  He was in France in 1940 during the "Phony War" of late 1939 and early 1940.  On one mission his two seater bomber went down in no man's land, which is where our story begins.  He and his pilot sought refuge in an abandoned farmhouse where they found a German Shepherd puppy.  He was dehydrated and starving, and so they gave him water and some chocolate to eat.

If their plane hadn't gone down, the puppy surely would have died.  Let's score that as life #1 of the nine 5 lives.

After resting, the two airmen decided they had to make a break for their lines.  They left and shut the puppy in (so it wouldn't follow them) but the puppy started crying, and attracted the attention of a German patrol.  The two decided that one would have to go back and kill the puppy to shut it up.  Bozděch picked up a rock on his way back to the farmhouse but found himself unable to kill the puppy.  Instead, he picked him up and put him in his flight suit and carried him back to the safety of the Allied lines.

Let's score that as life #2 of the 5 lives.

He named the puppy Antis, after the airplane he used to fly in back in Czechoslovakia.  Antis became the unofficial squadron mascot, and flew on missions with Bozděch as he manned the tail gun.  But the Blitzkrieg was unleashed and the squadron's planes were all shot up on the ground, and Bozděch and the others decided that they needed to get out of collapsing France, and made for Spain.  He took Antis with them.

It was a hard journey, as the roads were clogged with refugees.  They scavenged a push cart for their belongings, and put Antis on top but the puppy kept falling off.  Some of the people suggested killing the dog so he wouldn't show them down.  Instead, Bozděch picked him up and carried him, and the other squadron mates took turns carrying him

Let's score that as life #3 of the 5 lives.

They got on a train, which was another story.  The train was packed with refugees and there was no room for them.  But Antis ran to a cattle car at the end of the train; when they knocked on the door, they found just a single family in the car.  The daughter had been eating a chocolate bar and Antis had smelled it.

From Spain, they made their way to Gibraltar to get a ship back to Britain.  They got passage in a convoy, but on the dock the tender refused to let them bring the dog.  They had to leave Antis on the dock.  But when he got to the ship, Bozděch climbed down a ladder to a swimming platform and called to Antis.  The dog swam the 100 yards from the dock to the ship, and Bozděch hid him in the cargo hold.

Let's score that as life #4 of the 5 lives.

As their ship approached Britain, the crew told Bozděch that Britain had strict animal quarantine laws to prevent the introduction of rabies.  Bozděch would have to pay for the 6 month quarantine and if he couldn't, Antis would be put down.  Bozděch had no money.  He smuggled Antis to shore in a box and eluded the Shore Patrol, rejoining the RAF with his dog.

Let's score that as life #5.

Bozděch spent the war flying combat sorties for the RAF, frequently taking Antis up with him.  Both emerged from the war.  Antis was wounded in an air raid but searched for survivors anyway.  The squadron loved him.

After the way, Bozděch returned to Czechoslovakia, but the Communists took power in 1948 and Bozděch had to flee for his life.  This time it was Antis who saved him, showing the way past search parties as they made their way to West Germany and freedom.

Antis and Bozděch lived out their lives in Britain.  In 1949, Antis was awarded the Dickin Medal (sometimes called "the animal's Victoria Cross") for heroism.  Antis lived to a ripe old age for a German Shepherd, crossing the Rainbow Bridge in 1953.

You can read about Antis' story in the 1961 book One Man And His Dog.  There's also a good post about him at the Flight Blog.

This is out of print and pretty expensive ($40 for paperback).  You could look at Damien Lewis' book War Dog.

This is actually Lewis' second book about Antis.  Sharp eyed readers will recognize Lewis from a previous book review here: Sergeant Rex.

Like a psychopath

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Love Rand Paul

Summing up the Maryland school shooting

So by all means, let's ban bump stocks!  Stupid and useless gun control is an infinitely renewable resource.

More gun control ideas destroyed by crummy data

In line with the awesome analysis found by T-Bolt (highly recommended) comes this via Isegoria: How does the number of steps required to buy a gun relate to homicide rates?  Short answer: not really at all.
Not what I wanted to do this morning, but when I saw a fellow sociologist Tweet about a New York Times story on “How to Buy a Gun in 15 Countries,” I couldn’t help myself. According to the Times, “Many Americans can buy a gun in less than an hour. In some countries, the process takes months. Here are the basic steps for how most people buy a gun in 15 of them.”
The implication is that adding more steps and required approvals to the process of buying a gun ("Be more like Europe!").  The problem is that it doesn't.  Looking at the homicide rates in other countries vs. how many steps and approvals are required to buy a gun shows no correlation.

The red dots are the data points for each country and while a "best fit" line has been plotted, the bit is very poor.  The "R2" value in the upper right is exceedingly low; normally you need R2 to be at least 0.5 for a valid correlation and mostly you want to see R2 > 0.7.  This value is 0.071, meaning that there is basically no correlation at all between the data points.

Combining homicide and suicide rates, the closest countries to the USA (2 steps, 14.58 combined rate) are Austria (8 steps, 12.61 rate) and Yemen (2 steps, 16.67 rate).

Summing up: The New York Times says that we need to have more restrictions and permission steps to buy a gun ("Be more like Europe!") when this would have precisely ZERO effect on the homicide or suicide rates compared to Europe.  In other words, it's just another comfortably smug northeasterner blabbering nonsense about a topic he knows nothing about.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Whisky, Women, and Wi-Fi - A Brigid Guest Post

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” ― Mark Twain 

The picture was taken where friends and family gathered, a night back in January.  The moon was building, the air was quiet, the earth a motionless sphere in cooling space.  Stepping outside, one breathed in the cold, across which the faint scent of a fire touched the palate with smoke. Above, the night streamed in thick indigo threads, beyond which lay myriad points of crystal lights.  It was a good night for a small glass of whisky.

Whiskey vs. whisky?  The difference between whiskey and whisky seems simple but it's not. Whisky typically denotes Scotch or Canadian versions and whiskey denotes the Irish and American beverages. Although both spellings are of Celtic origin, there are substantial differences between the countries products, include the selection of grains, number of distillations, the maturation period and the type of still and barrels used.  Each country's style has its own unique characteristics to savor and there are some further divided into sub categories like bourbon.

Irish vs. Scotch? Unlike Scotch, the malted barley in Irish whiskey is dried in enclosed kilns, not roasted over peat fires, which is why it does not have that distinct smokiness of Scotch. Irish whiskeys maintain the natural flavor of the barley, fragrant, with a unique but softer roundness of body. It's an enjoyable drink indeed, but not the beverage of this cold winter evening. I want something that brings the echo of smoke across my tongue, down my throat, and leaves me with the smallest bit of heat on my breath, after that last sip, that soft lick of flame as a candle gently sighs and goes dark.

Just as in the wine world, where names like Napa Valley, the Okanagan Valley, Bordeaux or Rioja tell someone not just where a wine was made, but what it will bring as far as color, clarity and taste, scotch whisky has its own geographic intricacies. But among all, there is one common thread, the origin of the drink is Scotland.  If you see Scotch Whiskey made in Massachusetts - run!!!
There are friends I know socially and professionally that enjoy a good Scotch. Enjoy to the point there is rumored to be a Scotch Club amongst some of them, a fluid society of friends who meet the first Monday evening of each month.  They meet along the shores of a Great Lake, to share stories of good guys and bad guys, of airplanes and automobiles while sipping the best of that liquid mystery which is brought forth from barley and water. None of us are kids.  Most kids today can't keep up with us.

Some of us have a really cool extra gun safe full of something other than firearms.
Scotch isn't something to drink because it's there, as it's not cheap. One doesn't drink it to get a "buzz".  It's the warm sip of history and tradition, a celebration of artisanship and the deep pleasure of life.  It's a developed taste.  It's a journey; one that will take you through the rugged Highlands, along the waters of the Sound of Islay to the Isle of Jura where George Orwell penned his novel 1984 at the age of 46, describing the place as an extremely "ungetatable place".

Besides, it makes up for the times when we're about ready to go on duty and we need to have iced tea.
But, in all honesty, I never tried Scotch whisky until I was in my 40's, when my best friend brought some back from "duty-free" on a business trip overseas.  I'd tried some amber adult beverages in my youth, but they were of the ultra-cheap American variety, smelling of uncapped magic marker and tasting of sharp heat, the taste equivalent of pulling a hot cast iron pan off the stove with your bare hand. After that, the scotch was a revelation, the honeyed, warm glow of meeting an old friend.

Since I started spending time with folks that actually knew what a good whisky was, and even better, would share it with me, I've learned a lot.  We've also come up with a number of ideas for introducing others to such fine beverages (forget that Bambi Airstream idea, let's get one of these).
As for the many varieties and price ranges of whisky/whiskey. I'd classify them on a Brigid 1 to 10 scale.

(1) Taste buds usually recover from the shock by morning.  May incite anarchy in redheads.
(2) Chock full of dreadfulness. Put aside for the next Democratic National Convention or Sheep Dip, whichever I would want to attend first.
(3) Suitable for antifreeze, almost as tasty.  May improve with age, but usually drunk by the very young at a shotgun wedding bachelor party.
(4) It's like a root canal, sometimes you know you just have to have one.  Doesn't mean you are going to like it. Often blended with 7-Up to get rid of it.
(5) The Keltec of adult beverages.  If it was all that was in the house, I'd sip it.  Otherwise, no.
(6) It's 10 degrees out.  It's this or hot tea.  Maybe I'll just put a splash IN the tea.
(7) You're getting warmer.
(8) Very nice.   I'd not be embarrassed to have this on my side buffet with guests.
(9) I really feel bad that I didn't try this 20 years ago.
(10)  It's like a good quality firearm.  When you want it, cost doesn't matter that much.
So, if you wish to venture into the aisle of whiskys, don't go cheap and don't necessarily go for the brand you see on billboards with a floozy blond.  This isn't a drink for Monday night football and wings.  This is a drink for those gentle dark nights of retrospect, a sip of warmth before the long corridors of sleep.  This is the clink of a glass next to the fire, sipped slowly under the long sound of rain, the taste, a whisper of smoke.  It's life lived richly, profoundly enjoyed in amber miniature.

It's not a drink for youth or debutantes or post tractor pull.  Its taste, whether drunk during travels when you only have WiFi for company or at home, is an invitation, leaving you with a fading aftermath of promis. It's a toast to the brave and the fallen, that secret affirmation, like taste itself.
A Dhé, beannaich an taigh - Brigid

If you torture the data long enough ...

... they will confess to anything.  T-Bolt find an outstanding article about how the gun grabbers torture the data.  This is really, really important, and you should bookmark it.

Update on the self-driving car pedestrian fatality

The self-driving uber had a dash cam, and analysis of the video is providing some clarity on what happened:
The chief of the Tempe Police has told the San Francisco Chronicle that Uber is likely not responsible for the Sunday evening crash that killed 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. 
“I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident," said Chief Sylvia Moir. 
Herzberg was "pushing a bicycle laden with plastic shopping bags," according to the Chronicle's Carolyn Said, when she "abruptly walked from a center median into a lane of traffic." 
After viewing video captured by the Uber vehicle, Moir concluded that “it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway."
I still don't trust these things, but it looks like it may have been the pedestrian's fault.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Self-Driving cars: the killer app

Last night a woman was struck by an autonomous Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona. She later died of her injuries in the hospital.

The deadly collision—reported by ABC15 and later confirmed to Gizmodo by Uber and Tempe police—took place around 10PM at the intersection of Mill Avenue and Curry Road, both of which are multi-lane roads. Autonomous vehicle developers often test drive at night, during storms, and other challenging conditions to help their vehicles learn to navigate in a variety of environments.
Think about that last sentence for a moment.  The implication is that these things aren't very good in a variety of environments.

I'm not blaming the car software, at least until we know more than we do now.  But as someone who has made a career from the unanticipated consequences (or purely lousy coding) of software people, I'm really unimpressed with the safety claims of the marketroids here.

The people who have built these devices simply do not know as much as they think they do.  After all, there are known things, unknown things, and things that we do not even know exist.  The designers clearly understand that there are unknown things, which is why they test in (ahem) "challenging conditions". The more honest among them might even admit that this testing might even reveal unknown unknowns.

But not the marketroids.  And today a woman is dead.

It will be a cold day indeed before I ever get into one of those things.  I understand too much about how high tech products are created, and how they fail.  And about the kind of things that programmers don't know.

OK, so Bitcoin can't completely replace cash

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Turlough O'Carolan - Si Bheag Si Mhor

The Dropkick Murphys are Irish(ish), but not traditional.  You want traditional for St. Paddy's Day?  You don't get more traditional Irish than Turlough O'Carolan.  This is one of his most famous compositions, done (as it would have been in his day) on the harp.

Dropkick Murphys - The Wild Rover

Corned beef and cabbage, while delicious (at least, the Queen Of The World's is beyond compare) is not Irish in the slightest.  It was a pure, 100% adaptation by Irish immigrants to the locally available foodstuffs on the shores of the New World.

As are the Dropkick Murphys.  An Irish-punk band from Quincy, Mass, they are Irish in the same way that corned beef and cabbage is.  A tasty, local adaptation to St. Paddy on the shores of the New World.

Country Music is alive and well in Ireland

I don't post much recent Country Music because is American Country Music isn't dead, it's coughing up blood.  It sounds the same: banjo accompanied pop music with lead singers who look like models. It's bland and packaged and boring, and so I don't post much of it.

But Country Music is alive and well in Ireland.  This is a TV show that aired just 3 years ago, one with music that would have been familiar here in the '80s or '90s, sung by people who look, well, like normal people.  It's the opposite of packaged country-pop, and is refreshing as a mint julep on a hot May afternoon.

Today is the feast of St. Patrick.  Here's one more thing to be grateful for the Emerald Isle.  They saved civilization once; it shouldn't be too hard for them to save Country Music.

Friday, March 16, 2018

"But there ought to be a law ..."

Don't forget the light bulbs.

Study: Violent video games do not cause violent behavior

I've posted before about scientific studies that show no link between violent video games and actual violent behavior.  But this seems to be an ever green idea for idiots and gun banners, so here we go again.  Now it's a new study from the Max Plank Institute in Berlin:
A new, longer-term study of video game play from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Germany's University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf recently published in Molecular Psychiatry found that adults showed "no significant changes" on a wide variety of behavioral measures after two straight months of daily violent game play.
In other news of the obvious, Quentin Tarantino films don't lead to increased murder and Rock n' Roll lyrics don't lead to satanic worship.  Tipper Gore hardest hit ...

You'd think that people would finally catch on to this.  You'd think wrong, I guess.

Boot note:  I've posted rather a lot in the past about the Max Plank Institute.  Most surprisingly when their scientists told politicians to cool their jets on Global Warming, but most humorously here where they really screwed up the cover page of their magazine.  Whoo, boy.

Interesting prepping videos

$5 buys you tools to make a camp, making Roman concrete, casting a bronze skillet.

Not exactly my thing, but pretty cool

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Massachusetts colluding with Russia?

Look!  Collusion!
‘Puter was perusing the Wall Street Journal this morning, as all rich oligarchs do, when he stumbled upon this piece. Why is Russian gas in Boston Harbor? ‘Puter expected to get an article on cabbage and bean eating Russian sailors.
Much to his surprise, ‘Puter learned Massholes were importing Russian natural gas despite being only a few hundred miles from the natural gas rich Marcellus shale in Pennsyltucky. ‘Puter assumed something catastrophic must’ve happened to the pipeline between the shale gas producing region and Mass-backwards-ass-achusetts.
Well, yes and no.
Turns out nothing physically happened to the pipeline. Also turns out there is no pipeline because elite genius enviroweenie do-gooders decided all fossil fuels are evil so they put the kibosh on the Access Northeast Pipeline which would’ve provided Massholes all the clean-burning natural gas they could ever want.
Now, ‘Puter’s a simple man, but there were a few questions he had about Massholes killing a project which would’ve provided domestic energy in favor of importing Russian natural gas and lining kleptocrat Vladimir V. Putin’s blood-stained pockets.*
Questions like, “Why are Massholes happily funding Putin’s war on the West instead of creating jobs in economically depressed areas of their own country?”
Or, “Do Massholes really hate the poor so much that they’re willing to make them choose between high-cost Russian natural gas and feeding their children?”
Dang.  I thought this whole Russia! Russia! Russia! thing was a bit lame, but it looks like maybe there is a Russian under every bed.  At least in Boston.

Nerd humor

Hawking actually had a pretty good sense of humor.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

R.I.P. Stephen Hawking

Yes, I had his book.  Everyone remembers him from his life in a wheelchair after being struck with ALS, and how long he lasted (not years but decades).  His many cameo appearances on "Big Bank Theory" didn't hurt his fame, either.

What I remember is the first time I heard of him.  Jerry Pournelle (no doubt in his "A Step Farther Out" column in Galaxy Magazine) described a 1970s lecture at Cal Tech as "An evening of Lovecraftian horror" as Hawking described Black Holes that evaporate due to quantum leakage, leaving behind naked singularities.  His description of Hawking's wit in the days before he was struck by that disease was vivid, and has stuck with me all these years.

In case you were wondering, here he is in 1970, in the peak of health.

Rest In Peace, Dr. Hawking.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

So General Clapper will not be tried for perjury

The statute of limitations has run out, and so he will remain a free man:
Former intelligence chief James Clapper is poised to avoid charges for allegedly lying to Congress after five years of apparent inaction by the Justice Department. 
Clapper, director of national intelligence from 2010 to 2017, admitted giving “clearly erroneous” testimony about mass surveillance in March 2013, and offered differing explanations for why. 
Two criminal statutes that cover lying to Congress have five-year statutes of limitations, establishing a Monday deadline to charge Clapper, who in retirement has emerged as a leading critic of President Trump. 
The under-oath untruth was exposed by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who sparked national debate on surveillance policy with leaks to the press.
So Clapper is still free and Snowden is still on the run.  America, you see the rules - one set for them, a different one for you.

Rest in peace, LTC Floyd Carter Sr.

Another of the Greatest Generation musters out:
Floyd Carter Sr., one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen, dedicated his remarkable life to serving his country and his city. 
The decorated veteran of three wars and 27 years with the NYPD died Thursday at age 95, leaving a long legacy as a groundbreaking hero pilot and a city police detective.
He flew in 3 wars, led the first squadron of transports in the Berlin Airlift, and was married 70 years.  Quite a man.

God speed, Colonel.

Lessons from the Road - A Brigid Guest Post

I try not and post too many book excerpts but a friend with a blog had a blog post about learning to drive, asking others to share their stories.  This ended up in my second book and re-reading it brought tears to my eyes.  My brother, a Navy Submariner who was part of Operation Ivy Bells as a teenager, died on Good Friday 4 years ago.  He had a very aggressive cancer.  He couldn't get into the VA, and didn't' qualify for Tricare, he said.  He lost his Navy Contractor job due to sequestration, and the Washington State Obamacare exchange was having technical glitches which didn't allow him to sign up. He died badly.  The end was not good, but his life was one of honor and service and he was my best friend for most of my life.

Chapter 2  - Lessons from the Road

I thought of my late brother tonight as I drove to a work assignment, someplace out where it was cold and barren but for some emergency vehicles waiting for me. I no longer live out West, but with my husband in a tidy little bungalow closer to the Windy City, a place where weather can be just as treacherous. We’re newlyweds, my getting the courage to remarry after twenty years on my own, with an introduction by friends and a bit of help from a big black dog. But that is its own story.

When the visibility is down around a quarter of a mile, that truck in front of me seems no larger than a spool of thread until its brake lights come on, and then it looks enormous. With almost a foot of snow, it looks so peaceful out there, everything blanketed in white, as innocent and smooth as the surface of so much cream. But it’s not a good day for travel; hundreds of flights canceled, probably thousands when all is said and done. Don’t drive if you don’t have to, the radio warns, as under the hood the engine rumbles with threat and promise both.

Allen, being my only sibling, had taught me how to drive; but what I remember most was his teaching me how to drive in the snow out in the West where we grew up, the two of us and our parents. We’d take the little VW Bug I had over to the empty high school parking lot where there were no people or light poles. There I learned all about braking, sliding, skidding, and the physics of stopping with a stalemate of snow and rubber. He’d teach me to recognize a skid, how to immediately pick out a distant visual target and keep your eyes focused on that target, while I steered out of it as he issued commands to keep me pointed in the right direction like a border collie directs cattlehis tone fast and quick and light, words darting in and out of my field of vision.

As I relaxed into well-practiced maneuvers, I simply listened to him talk; about things that angered him, things he wished he could change as he got older, what was right with the world, and what he could to do preserve those things. And I quietly listened, there amidst snow flying as if from a blower and donuts formed of chewed rubber, circles as identical and monotonous as milestones.
I put his teachings to test on hill and valley, letting that little car run like it was a horse, leaning forward with a yell as we got into fourth gear as if by doing so I could somehow outpace it as we both fled the sheer inertia of Earth. That car and my spirit ran free of the fence lines, free of themselves, racing with a quality of movement in our motion totally separate from the imaginary pounding of hooves or the whoop of joy as I discovered flight in four-wheeled form. I put mile after mile on that car, the land stretching out until only darkness stopped her, the heavy scent of pines lying across the road for my trusty steed to disperse as if the scent were tangled skeins of smoke.

I also knew when to rein it in, slowing it down on slippery turns, downshifting through those sharp corners that are judgment and sentence and execution. I knew to stay behind the clusters of bright shiny cars, artificial flowers to which the restless bees of the law would be drawn. I also knew when to drive away, coasting out of a driveway when I arrived at a high school crush’s to find him with someone elsethat long slow tearing that leaves no scar of tire, only an internal lament that is the rending of raw silk.
Those lessons saved me more than once, like when the car slid toward an embankment late one night, that dark space where one’s shadow waits for your death, only to recover and continue on. You’ve likely been there as well. It happens so fast: one minute you’re staring bored at the speedometer, and the next you’re snatched out of your lane in a torrent of rubber and refinanced steel, other vehicles scattering like rabbits suddenly looking for their warren. 

When that happens you may not even know the cause--speed, black ice, or the force of Mother Nature that's as distant to indictment as God. All you know is that for a moment your useless hands are clasped tight to a useless steering wheel, and by only muscle memory you try and keep the pointy end forward, the headlights revealing not your safety but the now-empty road’s abiding denial. When you finally stop all you can hear is your heart and the tick of a watch, that curved turmoil of faltering light and shadow in mathematical miniature reminding you how close you came to running out of time.

Such moments are the reason my last little car was traded in on a truck, though in city traffic a truck would be about as maneuverable as a dirigible. But I don’t mind. I know about weather and idiot drivers, and I also know about fate. Because fate waits, needing neither patience nor appetitefor yesterday, today, and tomorrow are its own. For fate I’ll arm myself, as I look down on a little Smart car scooting along the slick road between semis like a lone circus peanut among a herd of stampeding elephants.

I come to a halt at a rest stop. I get out, stomach in knots, regretting downing the salmon oil supplement with my vitamins and a glass of milk on an otherwise empty stomach. As I walk through the trees an unladylike belch sneaks out, fragrant with salmonand I can only think to myself: I’ve survived the drive, now I’m going to get eaten by a bear in a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.
But I make it back to the vehicle with some animal crackers from a vending machine, none the worse for wear, hoping I can make it through the night without running off the road, wishing I had Allen with me for company.

I hear his voice in my head on that drive, echoes of the phone calls we made over the years. Sometimes he just wanted to vent a bitnot about the particulars of his military work, which he would never discussbut simply other things he’d gone through. Our Mom’s death to cancer when we were barely out of school; a fire that took his home; a bitter divorce. But I’d let him talk without interruption. For one thing he taught me other than slips and skids: that there are things we should never stop refusing to accept. Be it injustice and dishonor and outrage, not for cash for a better car, not for accolades, not for anything. There are things one must continue to be outraged over, to fight for, hands firmly on the wheel of where you want your life to go. His words are in my ears to this day: “You will have regrets, but never let yourself be shamed.
So many words of his as I drive along, words of not just wheels, but a commitment to something bigger than both of us. They are words that got me to change course when I lost direction, words that helped me as well to take on a mantle of duty I never regretted even as I was forced to put it down; words to live that last life that I left behind. Now, years later, I have taken up that duty again, with his wordswords that like a long climb up a rocky road were stepping stones of atonement. All of them words I’ll remember long after he is gone, words that I’ve handled so long the edges are worn smooth; words that will keep me alive.

 “Focus on the target, you can do this. .

Monday, March 12, 2018

What's the biggest threat to your privacy?

It's your cell phone.

This is a fascinating talk about how the Italian police identified a CIA operation in 2003.  It points out just how much information your phone gives out, and how the government can use it to piece together way more than you think.  It also points out just how hard it is for even intelligence professionals not to get busted (hint: really hard).

Note: this talk was given at the 2013 Black Hat Briefings (perhaps the world's most interesting security conference).  I was there, but didn't attend this talk.  I did live blog General Alexander's keynote address, though.  My skepticism at the time was perhaps more percent that I'd like:
He talks a lot about internal NSA training and individual auditing. The big concern isn't rogue NSA employees, but a directed program from NSA management. He isn't addressing this at all.
*cough*Russian dossier/FISA*cough*

Your cell phone is the Police State's best friend.

The idiotic war on (some) drugs

It's being waged by idiots:
Georgia police raided a retired Atlanta man's garden last Wednesday after a helicopter crew with the Governor's Task Force for Drug Suppressionspotted suspicious-looking plants on the man's property. A heavily-armed K9 unit arrived and discovered that the plants were, in fact, okra bushes.
Now, I know that a lot of folks like to hate on okra, but this is going too far.  Try it deep fried, fellows - it's not slimy that way.  You could have some on April 20th ...


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Louis Moreau Gottschalk - Le Banjo

Image via Le Wik
So who did Frédéric Chopin consider the "King of pianists"?  It was someone that you may never have heard of.  I hadn't heard of him until long time commenter and classical music aficionado Libertyman mentioned him during his current visit to Castle Borepatch.  It's quite a story.

Gottschalk was from New Orleans, born in 1829.  He was a musical prodigy, and at age 13 was sent to Paris for a classical musical education.  In the United States, New Orleans was considered "french" and perhaps a little disreputable for that; in Paris, he was considered more than a little disreputable because he was American: the head of the Piano faculty at the Paris Conservatory sniffed that America was a country of steam engines and that Paris had no need of that sort of nonsense.  Gottschalk didn't even get a hearing.

But the Gottschalk family had connections in Paris, which got him an invitation to perform.  His creole flavored music captured the imagination of the Paris musical society, leading to the great Chopin himself attending one recital.  Chopin was impressed enough to predict great things for the young Louis.  That's quite a recommendation, one that opened doors.

When Gottschalk returned to America he began a tour of the Caribbean and South America, where he picked up even more "exotic influences" that diffused in his compositions.  He traveled all over (100,000 miles on trains, it was said) and performed over 1,000 concerts.  He became certainly the most well known pianist in the Americas - fulfilling Chopin's prophecy.

Le Banjo is his best known composition, sometimes performed by as many as 40 pianos at the same time.  This performance by Cecille Licad gives the exotic flavor and high energy of Gottschalk's works.

The final irony of his life was that he died after playing a song called "Death" at a concert in Rio de Janeiro.  He was only 40.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

On Chivalry - A Brigid Guest Post

If life is a battle, then my inner scars are medals for valor,
for swiftness, for courage, for passion.
Evil is the dark-haired brother of Good;
they walk hand in hand– always. Calanthe - Wraeththu

Honor, Chivalry, words that seem old-fashioned to today's generation, but words that previous generations literally died for.

I got thinking about those words again when I received a coin in the mail.  I recognized the sender, one of a number of people known as Lexicans, people who were friends and followers of a well known Navy Aviator blogger, Neptunus Lex.  I, like many, quietly read his blog, but through a mutual friend we ended up meeting and over the years shared many an online chat about flying. Unlike many people's perception of a fighter pilot, Carroll was humble and unassuming, willing to quietly listen to others rather than do all of the talking, a man that loved his family and the Navy more than anything.  He was also an incredibly gifted writer, one that could quote Yeats as he crafted another story about flying that was as much poetry as a string of words can be.  He was one of the key people who encouraged me to write my first book though sadly, he never got to hold it in its finished form.

We lost him March 6, 2012, in a crash of an Israeli built F-21 Kfir, while working, post Navy retirement, as a Navy contractor.  He is deeply missed by his family and those that were proud to call him a friend.  For you this week, Capt. LaFon - What is Chivalry.
What is Chivalry? A knight was expected to have not only the strength and skills to face combat in the violent Middle Ages but was also expected to temper this aggressive side of a fighter with a chivalrous side to his nature. There was not an authentic Knights Code of Chivalry as a prescribed document - it was a moral system which went beyond rules of combat and introduced the concept of Chivalrous conduct - qualities such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women. Documented in 'The Song of Roland' in the Middle Ages Knights period of William the Conqueror who ruled England from 1066, it consisted of these tenents -

To fear God and maintain His Church
To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
To protect the weak and defenceless
To give succour to widows and orphans
To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
To live by honour and for glory
To despise pecuniary reward
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honour of fellow knights
To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
To keep faith
At all times to speak the truth
To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
To respect the honour of women
Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
Never to turn the back upon a foe
The "code" is written in slightly different form in different pieces of literature,  but it all has these things in common - courage, loyalty, respect, honor, finishing everything you start and never refusing a necessary battle regardless of the odds.

Widows and orphans were cared for. In days of old, the helpless were looked after, but you worked or you did not eat. There were three orders in society: oratores (those who pray), bellatores (those who fight), and laborares (those who work). Those that prayed, lived beyond simply, not riding around in limos in $1500 suits while telling their followers on national TV to "send more money". The welfare class, that's rapidly becoming a huge chunk of our "modern" society, didn't exist. If you were physically capable, you pulled your weight. Or you died. The knight did not fight for the lazy, but for those who by station, age, or gender were not able to fight for themselves.  There was faith in a higher power, but not so heavenly driven, that a man was useless on earth.
A sword was a tool, to defend and protect. Lesser weapons were considered dishonorable. The dagger was considered a weapon of a sneaky assassin and an arbalest (fired from a distance) was a brutal weapon used by the untrained. A knight's code of chivalry demanded that he face his enemy openly, honestly and with skill - it was a "let the best man win" situation. Battle was more than the desire to pursue and kill, but endurance, the conviction and longing to endure beyond all imaginable limits of the flesh to protect and preserve.

There was a difference between aggression and self defense, a difference between being devoted to justice and being a school yard bully. It is a self-awareness and self-restraint and differs as night and day from apathy, the concept of which Christians might refer to as meekness, a trait often associated with Christ, and clearly as misunderstood.

There was the ability to think before one speaks, to consider the gravity of words and actions; and even to know when inaction or silence is the best avenue. Such things, many, including myself, have failed at. Such things we can still strive for if we can recognize them.  For some are so bound by their ego or the expectation as to what society owes them that they are no more capable of shame, then they are of courage and honor. What they are left then is the emptiness of loss, of something they could almost touch but didn't know how to grasp.

For some they learn this early, taught by their fathers or mentors.  Others learn it simply the hard way.  For the dictates of chivalry are not some formal guide to etiquette. I hope I die before I see a "Chivalry for Dummies" book. It's not a checklist, it's an understanding of things for which a man needs no checklist. It's not bowing before your nation's enemy, it's never turning your backs on them. It's not holding the door open for a women because she's weak and lesser than you, but as a sign of courtesy  It's a way of thinking, not an era or a specific rule.

I often hate how men are being portrayed on TV, as if just being a man is a crime  .Being a strong man does not mean you are completely closed off to emotion, treating love like something that's common and a woman as a somewhat lesser accessory. The strongest man I know can convey in one look, one touch, what I mean to him. But one can understand where the mixed signals come from. The view from the media is one of abject consumerism, relationships that manipulate, duty as control and the worst "if there's a man involved, it's his fault". Our nation has more material comforts than the knights could ever imagine, but for many people, it's prosperity without purpose, it's passion without principles.

People espouse the Middle Ages as being little more than Pestilence, Black Death and no YouTube with the concepts of that day being outdated, or worse, by their own basis, misogynistic. What do we have now to replace it? Materialism without ethics or effort, and baby daddy's, greedy trophy wives, teen moms, and uncouth, plastic infused bimbos who get their own reality TV shows without any bit of skill or talent. This is our alternative to "the Dark Ages", a generation of people who fail to understand the difference between "can" and "should"?

Epictetus said it best "for it is better to die of hunger, exempt from fear and guilt, than to live in affluence with perturbation."

But the spirit of chivalry has not been entirely eradicated from the human heart, even in our pacifist, feminist, age. A chivalrous man today is a warrior with something to live for - and is willing to sacrifice his life either to protect or further it. Being a warrior does not necessarily make him a man of war, but a man prepared to do battle for that which he loves. The battle can be one of ideology, not weapons, his life simply marked by preparation for something worthwhile, and thus is lived pursuing those ideals and interests which for him hold true value.

If this man is willing to die for something he loves, it is because he loves deeply and with great passion. Romantic love may well make the short list, but it's not the sole occupant of his soul, there are other causes and objects of a man's passion, that make him truly rounded.

Chivalry is not dead, it is simply dormant in many, for all things that are excellence can be as difficult as they are rare. In my writing I've referred to the knight as he, for it was a manly profession. Yet the ideas that define chivalry know no gender; it's a way of thinking expressed in form by both men and women who hold true these concepts of defense and accountability.
Some will call me hopefully old-fashioned. Feminist and those more liberal-minded will decry it as a way of life that is simply bloodshed, war, and women seen as a possession. It's not. A chivalrous man has no desire to control and direct a woman's thoughts, but to allow her to live without constraint, loved unconditionally, free from pesky dragons and telemarketers. He will not only arm himself with the tools he as to protect her, he will smile when she takes up her own. He will fight for her. He will fight with her.

Chivalry is NOT dead.

Look at our military personnel, look at those people who responded after the terror attacks. Firemen, EMT's, the police. Nurses, doctors. A post-September 11 nation's no place for milquetoasts. We are living in a fallen world with entire societies that wish us harm, religions of "peace" that dictate to embrace them or die. This is not a time to sit home watching reality television when the dragons aren't just bigger, they're almost nuclear ready.

It's a time for heroes. Big Damn Heroes.

In the Battle of Maldon, a few Englishmen have been attacked by a fierce army of Viking invaders. Although the Vikings are between two branches of the river and thus separated from launching their full strength at the Anglo-Saxon army, Beortnoth nobly allows them free passage to do battle on equal terms. Vastly outnumbered, Beortnoth and his brave men are slain until only a small, unflinching band of warriors remain:

“Byorthwold spoke; he grasped his shield; he was an old companion; he shook his ash spear; full boldly he exhorted the warriors: 'Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens. Here lies our leader all hewn down, the valiant man in the dust; may he lament for ever who thinks now to turn from this war-play. I am old in age; I will not hence, but I purpose to lie by the side of my lord. . ."

In these few words, a better description of heroism, of unwavering dedication and loyalty I've not read in a while. The lines “Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens" are a thousand years old, a pre-Christian heroic spirit which author J.R. Tolkien, a crafter of worlds where chivalry roared, himself called "Northernness".

Chivalry exists, and heroism stands. Heroism and chivalry live not in might and size and power, but often in the smallest places and quietest moments.  Look at the people who serve in hard times, hard areas, death a shadow on the wall so the masses can be safe. But you don't have to be a member of the military, a protector of the weak, or a fighter of the worst nature can throw at you to embrace these concepts. Chivalry gives us something to strive for, something to hold up as an ideal and an understanding that throughout history there are those who have risen above the standards of the day to truly be called brave.

The year could be 1066, it could be 2006, it could be today. A hand on a rough shovel, flinging the dirt with an effortless fury, the mound of soil rising of its own volition, not crafted by man but as if flung forth by the earth itself, until the grave is readied. A warrior has fallen, medals scribed on ore or heart, small things insignificant to the view, but mute with profound meaning.
The earth waits but a moment. Shadows fall with the moon's curve, no sound but the labored breath of form of one who engaged without arms, this single combat. Laying a warrior to rest.  There is now but a shield to be picked up and carried on. So, man or woman, we never forget.
 - Brigid