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December 17, 1903

“Boldly going

Wright Flyer

where no man has gone before.”

The Wright Brothers make the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

December 17, 2014   1 Comment

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah in Hebrew

MenorahHappy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends. I miss the latkes and jelly doughnuts my roommates received for the holiday at college. [Their grandmothers were afraid they wouldn't celebrate or couldn't get "real" food at that terrible Baptist university.] It was a great break.

One of the nice things about Hanukkah is that there are established “gifts”, so you don’t have to rack your brains about what to get: a card and gelt covers just about everyone.

General background at Wikipedia’s entry for Hanukkah and even more at Chabad’s Chanukah page.

[Note: on the Jewish calendar the day changes at sundown, not midnight.]

December 16, 2014   2 Comments

Why Don’t We Do This?

While I have been following the siege in Sydney, I saw this BBC story: Fare-dodging banker banned from City

A London banker who regularly avoided buying a train ticket on his commute to the City has been banned from working in the financial services industry.

BlackRock director Jonathan Paul Burrows was caught by inspectors at Cannon Street station last year and admitted to avoiding the £21.50 fare from Stonegate in East Sussex.

In total, Mr Burrows is believed to have dodged £42,550 in fares.

In Britain “the City” refers to the financial district in London, just as Wall Street is shorthand for the financial district in New York.

The financial services watchdog banned him for failing to meet the standards of professionals in the industry. The offense had nothing to do with what he did in the industry, but people who dodge fares aren’t up to the ethical standards expected.

We know members of the financial industry in the US who caused global chaos, but still have high paying jobs, and have not been penalized at all. Why don’t we expect ethical standards from the financial industry?

December 15, 2014   No Comments

Siege In Sydney

The lead story everywhere is the hostage situation at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia. An unknown number of staff and customers have been taken hostage by a gunman. At one point a black flag with Arabic letters was held against the front window of the cafe by hostages.

The political leaders offer some advice:

“[New South Wales] Premier Mike Baird said the police and public were being “tested”, but people should go about their business as normal.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said “… I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.”

Well, the problem is that this is in the middle of Sydney’s Central Business District and police have closed down several blocks surrounding the cafe, which means businesses in that area are closed and evacuated. Transportation routes that go through the area have been halted. It is difficult to go about your business as usual or normal if it involves anything in the cordoned off area. They have even closed and evacuated the Sydney Opera House that is a kilometer away.

The police have not been able to establish communications with the gunman in the cafe.

Update: This is the ABC live blog on the aftermath of the siege that ended in the death of two hostages and the gunman.

December 14, 2014   11 Comments

Another Public-Private Enterprise

The BBC reports on the shutdown of the airspace over Southern England and Wales:

Friday: London airspace closed after computer failure

London airspace has been closed until 19:00 GMT after a computer failure, air traffic controllers have said.

The news was announced in a brief message on flight safety body Eurocontrol’s website.

UK air traffic controllers Nats confirmed a “technical problem” at its Swanwick control centre in Hampshire.

Today: Flight disruption: Air traffic glitch ‘not seen before’

In a statement, Nats said the number of workstations “in use” at its control centre versus “in standby” fluctuated with the demands of the traffic being controlled.

“In this instance a transition between the two states caused a failure in the system which has not been seen before,” it said.

“The failure meant that the controllers were unable to access all of the data regarding individual flight plans which significantly increases their workload.”

It turns out that the air traffic control system is at 98% of capacity, which is effectively full, so it can’t take any surges of data, like bringing more terminals on line. They have no reserve capacity and people are talking about adding another airport near London while the government is cutting positions at the current facility.

Converting the Nats system to a public-private enterprise has had the usual results of such attempts – it’s more expensive and less effective than the public system that it replaced.

December 13, 2014   No Comments

The Feast of Saint Lucia

This is Saint Lucia’s Day for Scandinavians.

It features special treats that are handed out by a girl wearing a crown of candles, Lucia coming from the Latin for light, LUX.

Saint Lucia was an early Christian martyr from Syracuse on Sicily, but her official feast day, December 13, fit perfectly with the local pagan celebration of the Lussi on December 13, which was the Winter Solstice at the time. Yep, more cover to continue the fun mid-winter celebrations by pretending they are associated with Christianity to get the Church off everyone’s case.

December 13, 2014   No Comments

Friday Cat Blogging

Bun Warmer

Friday Cat Blogging

Do you mind!?

[Editor: Ms Underhouse taking a break on the heated cat pad - under the house, of course.]

Friday Ark

December 12, 2014   2 Comments

The Big Stories

The ?news? sites are covering two extremely unusual events tonight.

The biggest story is the drenching California is getting from a ‘Pineapple Express’ which is good news, in that it will help to alleviate the drought conditions, but also bad news because the high winds are taking out power lines and the heavy rains are causing flooding. In essence they are getting months of normal rainfall in days.

I hope that people like Badtux, Jill, Ellroon, and skippy make it through the storm without major problems.

The other unusual story is that the House of Representatives actually did something that they have avoided doing and passed a continuing resolution to keep the government from shutting down. The bill now goes to the Senate which has been given two days to pass it and get it to the President.

The current House of Representative has done less than almost any other Congress in US history.

December 11, 2014   11 Comments


Heinrich Müller, Chief of the Geheime Staatspolizei [Gestapo] coined the term Verschärfte Vernehmung, “enhanced interrogation”, in 1937. The useful euphemisms are recycled forever – “homeland security”, etc.

In my experience, torture is only used as an attempt to produce information in Western Christian societies. In the rest of the world it is punishment to force conformity and/or compliance, when it isn’t used strictly to cause pain and suffering.

Consider the sacrament of penance in the Christian tradition. That is really the basis for the Inquisition and was part of Western laws for centuries in many forms like trial by ordeal.

Some “think tank” in ages past decided that souls have weight, ergo witches would weigh less than normal people because they have sold their souls to Satan. This leads to tying up people suspected of witchcraft and throwing them into deep water. If they didn’t sink and drown, they were pulled out to be hanged and/or burned. Those who drowned were obviously innocent and given a Christian burial.

December 10, 2014   4 Comments


From McClatchy in DC: New NY Attorney General wants to prosecute police who kill unarmed civilians

Washington — New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked Gov. Mario [sic should be Andrew as Mario is the former governor and father of Andrew] Cuomo on Monday to let his office investigate and prosecute cases in which police officers kill unarmed civilians.

In a letter to Cuomo, Schneiderman says the move would help address a “crisis of confidence” in the judicial system following the grand jury decision not to prosecute New York City police officers in the recent chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Schneiderman needs the approval of Andrew Cuomo to take over local cases, but he makes a very persuasive argument about the conflict of interest involved in the prosecution of local police officers by local prosecutors.

I hope that Cuomo has the intelligence to understand that letting Schneiderman do it is a winner politically for him. Even if cops aren’t convicted, Cuomo can say that he did everything he could in the furtherance of justice for the victims.

December 9, 2014   No Comments

Defecation Meets Ventilation

The BBC notes CIA torture report: US raises security ahead of release

Security has been stepped up at US facilities around the world ahead of the release of a report expected to reveal details of harsh CIA interrogations, the White House says.

It is expected to detail the CIA’s campaign against al-Qaeda in the aftermath of 9/11.

As well as detailing the controversial methods used by CIA operatives in an effort to extract information from high-value suspects, the report is expected to say harsh interrogations failed to deliver appropriate results.

In other words, the US violated its own laws and principles to torture people and it didn’t produce anything useful.

Torture doesn’t provide you with the truth, and never has. Torture produces whatever the victim believes the torturer wants to hear.

December 8, 2014   7 Comments

December 7th, 1941

The seventy-third anniversary of “a date which will live in infamy…”

The official US Navy site on the Pearl Harbor attack.

There will be a memorial service aboard NAS Pensacola that normally features local survivors of the attack. Obviously there are fewer of them every year.

December 7, 2014   No Comments

Feast Of Saint Nicholas

Russian Icon of Saint Nicholas

Yes, it is the day that kindly old Saint Nicholas fills the footware of good little girls and boys with treats [or his assistants beat the evil out of bad children, depending on the local customs - they didn't just leave the sticks - in some places they use them.] Don’t forget the carrot if he rides a horse in your area.

He is the patron saint of Russian merchants and pawnbrokers (three gold balls are one of the symbols associated with him).

December 6, 2014   No Comments

Friday Cat Blogging

Finding Tadpole

Friday Cat Blogging

Have you seen him?

[Editor: Hadley wants to play tag, but Tadpole is avoiding him.]

Friday Ark

December 5, 2014   9 Comments