Monday, 14 May 2018

Sore, but not sorry

Yesterday was shotgun day.

I packed a box of shells with my shotgun. It was a big box - 10 boxes of 25, so a total of 257 rounds when you added the loose rounds from the pocket of my shooting jacket.

I would not recommend firing 257 rounds of 12-gauge when you are barely three months from a broken collarbone, and have a titanium plate in your shoulder.

It was a beautiful day - mid 20s Celsius, gentle breeze - and the pain of Monday was just a hint on the horizon. Oh, the sacrifices we make for fun.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Not A Tragedy, But An Atrocity

Seven people are dead in what appears to be a murder/suicide in Osmington, outside Margaret River in Western Australia's south-west.

Many, if not most, of the news reports use the word "tragedy" to describe the deaths.

I beg to differ - this is not a tragedy, but an atrocity.

A tragedy carries the connotation that nothing could have been done to prevent it - lives lost to an earthquake is a tragedy - but in this case, actions were taken by someone to take the lives of six others, before then ending their own. The murders are an atrocity.

The other point I want to raise is - I did not do it.

Whatever method was used to take those lives, I did not do it, so punishing me for the crime is simply nonsensical.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Australian fauna will find ways to kill you

I read something recently about the risks to other motorists associated with the debris from truck tyre blow-outs, and it reminded me of something similar.

Years ago, I'm pretty sure it was 1987, I drove to Adelaide for the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Start-to-stop, the trip was 2699 kilometres and the original plan was for a mate and I to share the driving. Unfortunately, he got a job in Melbourne between buying the tickets and departure date, so I drove the whole way solo.

There is not a lot of choice regarding roads across Australia - it's the Eyre highway across the Nullarbor or nothing - so directions are pretty simple. Drive east to Coolgardie, then south to Norseman, then east to Port Augusta, then south to Adelaide.

I took things easy, intending to make the trip in two days, with a night camping out somewhere quiet.
Early, VERY early in the morning on day two, somewhere east of Eucla thus on the Nullarbor and just into South Australia, I spied something on the road ahead. It was difficult to make out much detail because of the rising sun in my eyes, but whatever it was it most definitely had a different shape to that of the thousands of dead 'roos I had grown accustomed to seeing. Strangely, I never saw a single LIVE 'roo - I suspect that the turbo-charger on my car was whistling some 'roo repellent tune.

Anyway, there I was, travelling at the speed limit or a little over, and trying to work out what the heck it was on the road ahead of me. Finally whatever it was moved, and what few synapses I had that were active before coffee did their shape-recognition thing, and I realised that it WAS a 'roo, just one that a wedge-tail eagle happened to be feeding on.

Now the 'roos of the Nullarbor are mainly Red Kangaroos, the largest species, and the eagle sitting on the carcass ahead was bigger than its breakfast, so I am guessing maybe 4 metre wing span.

I could tell that the eagle knew I was there - maybe it heard the same turbo-charger whistling that the 'roos apparently found so repellent - because it decided to decamp the area. Wings spread it caught the morning breeze, and flapped a couple of times for lift-off.

Perhaps eagles need coffee in the morning too, because the damned bird FORGOT TO LET GO OF BREAKFAST!

So, picture this - I am driving at 110 kph or so towards a weird bird/mammal combo that is struggling for lift and altitude about a hundred metres ahead. I am thinking, "Do I brake? Do I drive on? Will that damned eagle get out of the way?"

FYI, a car travelling at 110 kph covers 100 metres in a hair over three seconds.

By the end of second one, I was starting to panic. The eagle had gained a little altitude, but was still directly above the road.

By the end of second two, I was starting to think that I was about to die in a slimy, maggot-ridden mess of 'roo guts, fur, and feathers.

Somehow the eagle, that monster eagle, clawed harder for altitude, and by halfway through second three, I was convinced that I would drive under it and all would be OK.

Then some ethereal bombardier said, "Target in sight, fly straight and level, bombs away," and that cursed bird/mammal split into two separate animals again, and the already dead half was headed straight for my windscreen, closing speed 140 kph, while the live half curled away to the left and zoomed skywards, no doubt laughing hard.

I swear, I missed that 'roo by less than the height of the radio antenna. I can tell, because when I stopped at the next road-house, there was a tuft of red fur snagged on the tip.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Shamanist or Christian, who makes the better scientist?

In my daily perambulations around the web, I found this quote of a post from a comment to another post Link to Ace:

... the west's general belief in the superstition of praying to a guy who was nailed to a cross then resurrected after 3 days seems NOT to have had a negative bearing on your development. How do you suppose witchcraft has held back Africans?"

Obviously this was in reference to somebody posting that Africans needed more "civilizin' ", as was apparent from the belief in witchcraft  that is prevalent throughout the The Dark Continent. Said comment probably espousing the equivalence of  "civilizin' " and "Christian proselytising".

Reading that fired some synapses into posing the question: "What exactly is different between faith in Christ and faith in witchcraft - between Christianity and Shamanism?"

Both would seem to espouse a faith in the supernatural - ordinarily people crucified to death are not seen walking around within the week, and shaking bones over a smoky fire while muttering imprecations would not seem to have any likely association with your enemy falling ill with suppurating boils.

So what exactly is the difference, and can it in any way explain the disparity in technological development between "the west" and "sub-Saharan Africa"?

Let me start with Christianity. As someone who was raised in the Anglican church, an altar boy, and a church youth group member, and then became an engineer - in as much as anyone ever becomes an engineer, it may actually be genetic - I have an admitted bias towards a quiet form of Christianity, even though I now find blind faith in the inexplicable a little unsettling.  The Anglicans of my acquaintance are primarily concerned with their own faith, and the betterment of themselves through that faith and the teachings of Christ. They don't seem to petition their God for harm to befall others, nor necessarily for good to befall themselves - although I think I would be safe to assume that many a prayer is said when the numbers are drawn for the church fund-raising raffles.

Shamanism? I have no idea beyond the depictions in movies, and the odd documentary, but since when does ignorance stop an internet commenter?

It seems that many adherents to the world of the shaman are a little like Easter and Christmas Christians - they don't necessarily believe any of it, but it never hurts to cover the bases. But then, there are obviously the hard-core committed folk who are absolutely certain that certain practices are supernaturally linked to other unrelated events - and that stands for BOTH communities.

So real believers are not the difference; semi-committed followers are not the difference; probably cynical exploiters are not the difference either; so maybe the actual beliefs themselves are the difference.

The original quote stressed that there was little difference between the two in terms of the incredible nature of their respective claims - rising from the dead, the power of prayer, pointing the bone etc. - but I think this is where the kernel lies. Although both claim supernatural things, only the witch-doctor or shaman makes claims of the banality of the supernatural. Where the Christian says, "I believe in these supernatural things that are the province of ONLY the divine", the shamanist says, "I believe in these supernatural things, and SPECIAL PEOPLE can do them." 

As is natural when people are involved, that's where the corruption starts. In the Christian world, has anybody heard of Papal dispensations? Maybe you've heard of the Spanish Inquisition? I don't know that there have been similar happenings in shamanist circles, but it certainly seems that the ordinary believers have reduced witch-craft to "things I can do to harm others and help myself in life". This has proven disastrous to Africans compared to the Christian "I can live life being good, and ASK that God recognise that, and reward me in the AFTER-LIFE."

In essence, I suppose I consider shamanistic faith in the application of the supernatural by special people to deliver benefit in daily life to be fundamentally different to Christian faith in living life by the teachings of Christ (taught as a reward in itself) leading to rewards from God in the after-life.

So, how has this helped the west and/or hindered Africa?

To an engineer, a Christian's faith has no bearing on whether a  bridge falls down; a circuit oscillates, amplifies, or resonates; or a turbine engine produces thrust. These things happen due to generally understood, immutable laws of the physical world - laws that are not beyond the mind of man to understand and apply.

To a Christian, an engineer's calculations are not offensive to God, and are no less immutable.

To a shamanist, designing and building a bridge or a building must be done on the basis that the laws of physics are NOT immutable, but can be changed at will by any one of a special class of people. After all, application of the supernatural is a daily reality in that world, and NOT just the province of the divine.

Can you imagine how much science and technology can exist in a world where the scientific principles are not understood, because they can be changed - arbitrarily, momentarily, and locally?

Christianity has a bevy of critics, but its separation of the intrinsically unknowable supernatural from the daily application of consistent, understandable natural phenomena is probably the greatest boon ever delivered to humankind.




Monday, 23 April 2018

Miscegination is no excuse for a law

Hands up: Who has heard of the Mann Act in the US?

From Wikipedia (Mann Act) :

It is named after Congressman James Robert Mann of Illinois, and in its original form made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of "any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose". Its primary stated intent was to address prostitution, immorality, and human trafficking, particularly where trafficking was for the purposes of prostitution. This is one of several acts of protective legislation aimed at moral reform during the progressive era. In practice, its ambiguous language about "immorality" has resulted in its being used to criminalize even consensual sexual behavior between adults. It was amended by Congress in 1978 and again in 1986 to apply to transport for the purpose of prostitution or illegal sexual acts.

That bit about "... for any other immoral purpose" is kind of odd wording for a law - surely better would be "... or any other illegal purpose", seeing as that is what laws are supposed to be about.

I was all set to rant about how it was mainly used to target black men having sex with white women and was thus part of the Jim Crow laws that ostensibly targeted everybody, but were almost exclusively used against Negroes, Blacks, African-Americans. That prompted the title - FYI miscegination is the technical term for inter-racial sexual activity.

Before I started ranting, I wanted some ammunition in the form of statistics about disparate application of the Mann Act, and found instead that many white Americans were prosecuted under its auspices, and that rather than being a Jim Crow law, it was more part of  a Puritanical response to the somewhat laissez-faire attitude to prostitution in the 19th and early 20th century.

Such worthies as Charlie Chaplin, Chuck Berry, Frank Lloyd Wright, and yes Jack Johnston (1908-1915 World Champion boxer, and black) were charged under the Mann Act. Chaplin was acquitted, Wright's charges were dropped, Johnson and Berry were convicted. Maybe there was disparate impact, even if there wasn't disparate application.

There are moves now surfacing to have President Trump issue a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson's conviction, and I was all for it, but now that I investigate further, I think I was wrong.

I could get on board if Congress or the courts were to concede that the initial law (pre-1978 amendments) was unconstitutional for vagueness - the term "immoral acts" was apparently not defined. Following that, President Trump should pardon everybody convicted under the law. To single out any one person would be a travesty.

Monday, 16 April 2018

... and the Oscar for PR Disaster goes to ...

From news reports it appears that a discount airline operating flights from the US to Mexico cancelled a flight, refused to schedule a replacement, and made a statement saying "... they hope providing a refund for the cancelled flight ‘will more than compensate for the cost of making alternative arrangements home.’ "

Maybe people should pay more attention to the details of contracts they enter into, specifically in this case what's called the Contract of Carriage.

Right there in paragraph two of Sun Country Airlines Contract of Carriage, it says (emphasis mine):
Consequential Damages
Purchase of a ticket does not guarantee transportation. Sun Country Airlines shall in no event be liable for any indirect, special, or consequential damages resulting from the performance or delay in performance of, or failure to perform, transportation of passengers and other services incidental thereto (except baggage liability as provided below) whether or not Sun Country Airlines has knowledge that such damages might be incurred.

Found at:
https://www.suncountry.com/dam/jcr:f9e2405b-7ceb-4b98-a716-78c1dcd6874f/SCA-contract-of-carriage.pdf

This seems startling - this airline is taking your money but making no promises in return that they will fly you to your destination.

The elephant in the room is: ALL AIRLINES HAVE THE SAME OR SIMILAR CLAUSES IN THEIR CONTRACT OF CARRIAGE.

If you believe you have a paid right to transport, said transport to be provided by the company to which you have paid money - YOU ARE WRONG.

Sure, in most cases the airline will do its best to get you to your destination, but that is because the management want to stay in business. By the terms of the contract you entered into, all the company has to do is TRY. If that effort results in failure, you have NO RESORT under the contract.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Beclowning of the Leftists

Like many a normal person, I have relatives - members of my extended family - who are avowed leftists. Of course, they don't call themselves leftists. According to them, they are invariably the only people in the room who are right.

When Donald Trump was elected as President of the US, they loudly and proudly pronounced themselves opposed to every breath he took, even though as the leader of another country his election had little to no affect on them or their lives.

In May of 2017, at a family member's birthday celebration, I was derisively dismissed as stupid when I ventured that the Mueller investigation had, and would, discover nothing. I said at the time that I did not believe Trump had done anything wrong, even though various courts (most in Hawaii, strangely) seemed to disagree with his announced intention to protect America from sudden jihadi syndrome.

It's now almost a year later, and indeed Mueller has produced nothing but a few dubiously obtained "he didn't tell us the truth" indictments of people unrelated to his remit of investigating Trump's "collusion with Russia to sway the election".

Birthdays being the annual event that they are, and the passing of decades being a significant milestone, there is a large party planned for this May.

Should I raise the utter failure of Mueller's "investigation", and cite the ongoing investigations into assorted FBI, DoJ, and CIA figures; or should I be the proverbial better man, and let this particular sleeping dog lie?



On a related note: Scooter Libby has been pardoned. He allegedly leaked the name of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, and spent time in prison. Of course, he did no such thing, and the prosecution and court both knew it. A number of elements of that conviction were unsound:
1. The prosecution and the court  had a confession from Richard Armitage that HE leaked the name;
2. Valerie Plame was NOT a covert agent, but a lowly analyst
3. The prosecution relied on known false statements from a witness who was manipulated into saying something that could be used against Libby
4. The FBI made CLAIMS that Libby lied to agents, but as is usual FBI practice, no recording of the interview was made, only a Form 302, completed by one of the interviewing agents from memory and notes, and NOT PROVIDED TO THE INTERVIEWEE for verification.

Trump was right: given the abysmal recent performance of the FBI in relation to honesty and integrity, Libby's conviction was most definitely unsound.