Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Now For Something Completely Different

Use this the next time somebody complains that there are too many cats in the world.


--Leslie <;)))><  )O(

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Perspective on the Howling

Fact:  Over a century ago, an American warship --  the USS Maine – mysteriously exploded in Havana Harbor, at a time when the US was supporting native uprisings against Spanish colonial rule.  Even then, there was good argument that the explosion was caused by serious flaws in the ship’s boiler;  nowadays, with the hindsight of much better engineering knowledge, it’s all but certain that the ship’s boiler system was at fault.  Nonetheless, a newspaper mogul named William Randolph Hearst ordered his editors and reporters to claim that the ship had been blown up by Spanish saboteurs, and the US must not tolerate such an insult.  He kept on like this for weeks, until the US population – which made the mistake of believing that anything published in the newspapers must be true – pressured the federal government to declare war on Spain.  The result was the Spanish-American War, which ended the colonial empire of Spain – and, incidentally, sold millions of newspapers for Hearst.  It’s been said in the years afterward that Hearst started a war just to sell his papers.

News-media editors and owners have regarded this feat with awe and envy ever since.

With that in mind, consider how two major news-media corporations have steadily and constantly attacked Trump the Spoiler ever since election night, desperately trying to get him impeached and install Hillary in his place – with a little help from the Democrat National Committee and billionaire George Soros.  First they tried to claim that Trump was a neo-Nazi, and he’d won because all the “racists” in America had voted for him.  That didn’t work, despite the carefully-sculpted Charlottesville caper, because nobody with any sense believes that there are nearly 50 million Nazis voting in the US.  …Besides, a lot of people who voted for Trump were Black.  Black racists could be understandable, but Black neo-Nazis?  No way.

So, while not entirely giving up on the Trump-is-a-Nazi pitch, they took up the public theory that Trump is a Russian Dupe, and the Russians hacked our election to put him in office.  And what’s their evidence for this?  Simply that Russian agents – like agents of nearly every other government in the world – tried to “influence” our federal election. 

Pause for another historical fact: everybody and his uncle has tried to “influence” US elections since before America became a country.  Many of the Founders grumbled at the ways agents of the British crown tried to sway elections in various colonial Houses of Burgesses, usually by rallies which included lots of free sausages, cigars, and hard cider.  The political rally with free goodies has been a staple of political campaigns ever since.

More to the point, there’s a difference between “influencing” an election by swaying the minds of the voters and “cheating” by dickering with the voting and counting process.

After America gained its freedom and began holding elections regularly, would-be election cheaters had to come up with ever more elaborate tricks as election committees learned to counter them.  After more than two centuries, across 50 different election systems, those election committees have become very good at countering election-cheats.

Contrary to popular opinion, no, you can’t just use an Internet connection to hack into a vote-tallying machine and alter the results.  The last people to try that were an all-American company called Diebold, who actually made the vote-tallying machines, and were caught at attempting the cheat nearly ten years ago;  their machines wound up in the junk-heaps, they were obliged to pay back millions, and their company no longer exists.  Modern voting systems – a different one for every state – have several tallying methods, elaborate oversight methods, and multiple air-gaps.  Computer-hacking simply won’t work.  If you want to cheat on an American election, you have to do it the old-fashioned way: stuff the ballot-boxes (the classic Democrat trick) or kick people off the registration rolls (the classic Republican trick).  A lot of states have countered these tricks by making the voter-registration rolls a matter of public record, so that literally anybody can look at the rolls, look at the election results and cry “Foul!”, and demand a recount – which, of course, will be very carefully overseen. 

Now “influence” is another story, and everybody has tried it at one time or another.  The old song “Jefferson and Liberty” was written by Irish “interests” to encourage undecided citizens to vote for Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson did indeed win the election, but I really don’t think it was just the song that did it.  During the 1930s, a lot of German agents formed the German-American Bund, which paid for political ads and speeches supporting the ‘new regime’ in Germany.  That didn’t stop the election, and re-elections, of FDR nor keep the US out of the allied side of World War Two.  During the early Cold War, various Russian agents invented or infiltrated pro-peace groups and tried to persuade the public to persuade the govt. to get out of the Korean War, even unto buying ads for opponents of Ike in the ’52 election.  Didn’t work. 

And never mind the home-grown groups, who buy ads and create rallies and spread rumors for their own candidates.  Professional advertising companies have been quietly hired by political parties for nearly a century, in hopes of applying their expertise to something other than selling soap.  One result is that the American public has developed a good nose for advertising pitches and a healthy cynicism for the same – enough to give them a practical working immunity to political ads.  Any advertising executive can tell you that even the best of ads can’t guarantee buyers.  Consider how many people have seen, and loved, Budweiser ads featuring those beautiful Clydesdale horses;  that still hasn’t made Budweiser everybody’s favorite beer.  “Influence” is only the ability to make people listen to what you have to say, not to make them believe it, let alone act on it.

Now, bearing all that in mind, let’s look at what CNN and NBC and assorted Democrat pundits and politicians have been throwing at Trump for the past week.

First, after claiming for nearly a year that “Russia meddled in our election to elect Trump!” the media and DNC made a point of trying to prevent the Tump/Putin summit meeting in Helsinki, on the excuse that “Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments is an insult to our democracy” (Chuck Schumer).  Those indictments were against “12 Russians who *allegedly* interfered with the 2016 election by hacking the DNC server” (Rod Rosenstein). 

But the meeting went ahead anyway, and at the joint press conference Putin offered to permit US officials – including Mueller – to come to Russia to assist in their investigation of the Trump-Russia collusion story.

He also stated: “Business associates of Mr. Browder (one of the indictees) have earned over $1.5 billion and never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States, and yet the money escaped the country.  They were transferred to the United States.  They sent huge amount of money -- $400,000,000 – as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton…the way the money was earned was illegal.  So we have solid reason to believe that some (US) intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions.  So we have an interest in questioning them.”

Did anyone see the media pick up this blockbuster of a story?

Anyway, Trump met in private with Putin – nobody else there but two translators – and afterward said that he believed Putin when he said that Russia “did not interfere with our 2016 election”.  The media and Democrats, of course, went ape-sh!t over that comment, howling that it proved that Trump trusted Putin more than his own “intelligence community” – and extrapolating from that to accusations of treason and calling on the military for a coup to remove Trump from office.  Their hysteria is amazing. 

More interestingly, Mike Pompeo – who has been quietly close to Trump for a long time – said that the Russians “tried to interfere with our election”.  Note the words “tried to”.  He did not say “succeeded”. 

Put both those phrases together, and it’s quite possible that they’re both true;  the Russians tried to interfere with our election – and they failed. 

Now, the entire “intelligence community” does not necessarily like, or serve, Trump.  Different departments of the federal bureaucracy – a.k.a. the Deep State – have their own political biases, continued sometimes for decades.  The FBI, for instance, has a long history of serving and protecting Democrat administrations, while the CIA has a similar history of serving and protecting Republican ones.  Not every employee of these bureaucracies toes the party line, but enough of them do to establish a trend.  Comey, for instance, did remarkable services for Obama and later for Hillary. These included forbidding FBI personnel to even use the word “Jihad” or “Jihadist”, and inviting a CAIR official to be advisor to the FBI on “hate crimes”.  This is the real reason Trump fired him, and one of the reasons Trump has no trust in the FBI.  The CIA wasn’t entirely clean either, given the behavior of Brennan during the Cold War and afterward, but it behaved much more sympathetically to Trump than the FBI did.

In fact, there’s good reason to believe that when Trump first planned to go to Russia on business, he had the sense to go talk to the CIA about what he might expect there – and Pompeo was the agent he talked to.  I further suspect that Pompeo has been Trump’s reliable guide to dealing with Russia ever since.   I’ll go so far as to say that Pompeo – and Trump – know some things about Russia, and China, which could be very advantageous to the US as long as they’re kept secret.  More on this later.  So of course the DNC and its media cronies, in their hysterical efforts to get rid of Trump, are likely to expose it. 

In fact, Trump is not “subservient” to Putin – the opposite, if anything.  Trump has, in fact, been noticeably tough on Russia.  He has approved the sale of weapons to the Ukraine, he has not lifted the sanctions on trade with Russia (which is much more important than it sounds) but approved sanctions against specific Russian oligarchs (by which we can read “Russian Mafia moguls”), he has flogged the other NATO countries into paying their fair share for their common defense (primarily against Russia), he has berated Germany’s Merkel for her plans to make a gas and oil transmission pipeline linking Germany directly to Russia (think about that), he has torn up Obama’s agreements with Iran that Russia wanted so badly, and above all he has increased our military’s funding and let it loose to actually win the war against the Jihadis in Syria -- and all the way into Africa.  Actions speak louder than words, and his actions have not been those of Putin’s kiss-@ss. 

So what is he keeping secret? 

First, the fact that Russia’s attempts to “influence” the 2016 election were pitiful, and easily caught.  They managed to hack into the voter registration rolls in a few states – where, in fact, the registration rolls are a matter of public record.  They also managed to hack into the DNC’s “analytics” – the surveys of what Democrat voters tend to like, which gives the DNC ideas about how to appeal to them – which would be about as effective as hiring Pew or Gallup to do the same survey.  They spent maybe $100,000 under cover of a shell company to buy political ads playing up racial and social divisions in the US – and there’s no evidence whatever that those ads changed a single vote.  They also bought memberships in the NRA, which is laughable considering the NRA’s attitude toward Russia, and that it had already endorsed Trump over Hillary on its own hook, for free.  In short, Russia did a p!ss-poor job of “influencing” our elections – or anything else.  The scary specter of ingenious Russian agents worming their way into the US govt. is a total illusion.

So is Russia’s power, period.  For over a century the Russian economy has been staggering from disaster to disaster, constantly running out of food and having to buy grain from its claimed “enemies” in the west, with factories functioning at roughly 50% capacity, with farms that can’t get their produce to market for lack of transport, with military hardware that is 15-50% inoperable, with an army which is mostly unpaid and moonlighting (and could not even conquer all of the Ukraine!), with its internal trade depending at least 50% on barter, and with most of its money tied up in the west – at least partly by Trump’s doing.  No wonder Putin wants that $400 million back!  Those trade sanctions are seriously hurting Russia, and Putin really-really wants Trump to take them off.  Russia could save half its annual harvest if it could only get a thousand working pick-up trucks – and fuel, and replacement parts – out to its farms, and Trump is in a position to make that happen.  Trump does indeed know how to play Economic Warfare.  And what’s Putin supposed to have on Trump, anyway?  A rumor of his cavorting with high-class Russian whores?  Ridiculous.  Everyone knows that Trump is too shameless to be blackmailed!  No, Putin does not have Trump by the short-hairs;  it’s the other way around if anything. 

And the same is true of China, only with more mouths to feed.  They’re both paper tigers, maintaining an excellent false front.

Probably the only “modern industrialized nation” in worse economic shape is North Korea, which has become an expensive embarrassment to China and Russia alike.  They’d both love to see Kim & Company vanish, and see economic powerhouse South Korea take over the whole peninsula and turn it into a money-maker, instead of a sinkhole, with which they could profitably trade.  The problem is that Russia and China cordially hate each other, and would happily make war if they thought they could win.  China has the advantage of a lot of cannon-fodder which it would be happy to lose in war, while Russia has the superior weaponry – such as it is – to do that.  In order to keep Russia and China quietly focused on getting rid of Kim, both countries have to keep up their false fronts with each other.  Revealing their weaknesses before the world would disrupt the whole plan.

That’s the reason Trump doesn’t want to expose Russia’s secret – or China’s.  It’s the dumb Democrats, in their frenzy to Get Trump (and what, put Mike Pence in his place?), who are endangering the game.  We can only hope that their own hysteria collapses on them before they do serious damage.

--Leslie <;)))><  )O(      

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Lively Summer Weather

When most people think of summer in Arizona, they think of blistering heat -- which is generally quite true -- and little else.  What you generally have to live here to learn is that the summer is also when we get the Monsoon storms -- and we're getting a bunch of them right now.  It started two days ago with a ferocious windstorm, followed by a dust-storm, followed by rain.  We couldn't follow too well how the rest of the Valley of the Sun was affected because one of the first effects of the windstorm was to knock out the electric power in our neighborhood.  It took the electric company nearly ten hours to get the power back on.  Meanwhile, we were left padding about in the dark with the assistance of flashlights, candles, and the lights on our phones. 

When the power, and the TV, came back on the next day we got an eyeful of flood reports -- yes, floods, in Phoenix!  We were exceedingly grateful that we'd gotten a lot less rain out here to the west in Buckeye.  ...And then we got a clear look at what the windstorm had done. 

A major limb from that damned eucalyptus tree in the front yard had come down, not on either of our cars but right between them, partly blocking Rasty"s Bronco and completely blocking my little rice-burner.  We've spent the last day and more breaking off the lesser branches and stuffing them in the garbage can, and dragging the stripped larger branches out of the driveway.  ...And that work hasn't been easy in the returned clear sky, and therefore 105-degree heat.  It's going to be a long time before I can get my car clear. 

It's also a good thing that we've both recovered from that nagging case of sourceless fatigue which, I'm convinced, was caused by a low-level but persistent flu.  Has anybody else out there noticed anything similar?

Anyway, half an hour's work out in that slaughtering sun is the best either of us can do at a time -- usually followed by an hour spent indoors, in the air-conditioning, with a good pint of ice-water.  As you can guess, the work is going slowly.  The garbage-can is full of twigs and leaves, and we'll have to drag the rest of the branches off to the scrap-wood pile in the back of the yard.  Cutting up those damned branches is going to be more hot work, and the new reciprocating saw works only off batteries;  that means maybe half an hour's work per couple hours' charging.  Oh well, that's excuse enough for getting out of the sun.

The real giggle is that there are more storms due in tonight or tomorrow;  let's hope that the power doesn't go out again.  Oh well, we can always use the rain.  Arizonians will forgive much in exchange for water.  The floods that swept through the central valley yesterday have already sunk into the ground, the reservoirs and the cisterns, much to everyone's relief.  Truth is, if it weren't for the summer Monsoon Season rains -- which come up from the Gulf of Mexico -- the state couldn't survive until the winter rainy season comes in from the Pacific.  It's a gamble which set of storms tend to hit harder, but each of them provides half the water for the year hereabouts: with luck, that's a good four inches of rain in a handful of days. 

Oh yes, the weather hereabouts is definitely extreme! 

--Leslie <;)))>< 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


Now for something completely different, concerning our food supply.

Most of us today live in cities, completely artificial surroundings, with no more view of nature than a strip of lawn, a potted plant, or maybe a small pet.  We occasionally go to parks, more rarely to public gardens or zoos.  It’s easy to forget our place in the ecosystem that keeps us alive, and it’s easier to forget the function of various animals in that system.

Those of us who still live in the country, on working farms, have a better sense of the realities of nature.  We know that evolution never stopped, and “survival of the fittest” is still the name of the game.  We know about predators, parasites and plagues – animal, plant and microbe.  We also know about our symbiotes and allies.  We know why there are certain domestic animals that we raise and care for, but do not eat.          

Certain ornamental fish, small birds and small rodents – like hamsters and gerbils – we keep purely as pets, but others we keep because they perform vital work for us.  They help keep us alive, and we must never forget it. 

There are just 9 kinds of animals in the world that can be trained to carry burdens or pull loads for us:  elephants, horses, donkeys, camels, llamas, oxen, large goats, reindeer and large dogs.  Despite the easy availability of machines, these animals are still valued for their work in particular circumstances, especially since many of these animals can be used to grow their own fuel.  There’s an old saying among small farmers: “Farm with horses, and keep more of what you make.”  And ask any Alaskan if sled-dogs are more useful than snowmobiles. 

Dogs also perform many other tasks for us: hunters, guards, guides, and even health-alarms.  Cart-trained goats can also give milk.  Other domestic – or even semi-domestic – animals perform vital services that are harder to see.  Small birds, even wild ones, devour insects and worms which would otherwise harm us or our crops, and some of them – like hummingbirds – pollinate many of our crops, especially fruit-plants;  this is why we make the effort to put out food, water, and shelters for them.  Bees do more than produce honey;  they pollinate most of our food-plants, especially grains, and also protect their territories against invading insects and animals. 

There’s one creature which most people have forgotten is a working animal, think of only as a useless pet, and that is a serious mistake.

That animal is the cat – the common house-cat – and it protects us more than we know.

Think:  the most common, numerous, fertile, and invasive land-mammals on Earth are the Rodents – rats, mice, moles, gophers, ground-squirrels, tree-squirrels, and more.  Most of them eat the same food-plants that we do, and a few of them – like the rat – eat meat, too.   Rats, in particular, are quite willing to eat us if they can. 

The damage rodents do to humans is incredible. The most numerous and invasive species of land-mammal on the planet is the common or house mouse, and the runner-up, by a whisker, is the common rat.  Rats and mice annually destroy 20% of the world’s human food supply, according to the UN – and that’s not counting the damage done by rodents to crops in the field.  That’s also not counting the dozens of rodent-borne diseases – like the Black Plague – that can jump to other species and infect humans.

In the wild, rodents are preyed on by snakes, raptor-birds, bears, weasels, wolves, foxes, coyotes, wild dogs, and especially by the dozens of species of small wild cats.  In human territories such as farms, towns and cities, the only rodent-predators found in any large numbers are domestic (or stray) dogs and cats – and cats are more efficient at it.  House-cats are also much more likely to hang around human habitations rather than wander off into the wild. 

Despite wildly inaccurate claims by admitted cat-haters,* there is no way to tell how many cats there are in the US alone, and likewise no way to tell how many rodents they kill, but we know that there is no shortage of rodents.  We know that communities which restrict the numbers of outdoor cats and dogs tend to suffer from amazing plagues of mice and rats (see “mouse plague”, South Australia and Apopka, Florida, and see also “rat plagues”).  People who earnestly tell you that we have an “overpopulation of cats and dogs” have really no evidence for this except the abundance of stray animals in shelters.  The best solution to that problem is to spay/neuter the strays, try to find homes for them, and if nobody takes them, turn them loose again – hopefully to find their own homes.  You can never tell when a “stray” is actually somebody’s lost pet. 

We can also tell from direct observation, despite the claims of cat-haters and the ignorant, that house-cats very rarely kill birds.  Think: birds small enough for a cat to tackle have faster reactions than cats, can see 300 degrees around them, and can fly.  Only a very sick or injured bird would move slowly enough for a cat to catch.  As for the idea that cats climb trees to get at nests, recall that birds form breeding pairs who stick together to feed and protect their young;  two birds, who can fly, are more than a match for a cat, who must climb – and can’t go further than a branch that will hold his weight.  If anything, the climbing – “roof”, “wharf”, or “ship” – rat has a better chance to steal birds’ eggs than the cat does.  Direct observations by amateur birdwatchers and professional biologists reveal that the biggest predator of birds is… other birds: eagles, hawks, owls, and ravens.  The cat doesn’t even come close.

No, the major prey of small cats is small rodents – and it was from the beginning.  When humans learned how to farm and store food, around the eastern Mediterranean Sea and eastward into Asia, the rodents – particularly rats and mice – saw that they had an easy smorgasbord with humans.  One reason that humans developed pottery, besides carrying water, was to secure their food against rodents – particularly rats and mice – who could gnaw through anything softer.  Rats and mice, in particular, took to hanging around human habitats, waiting for their chance to steal food that humans provided.  Their presence, in turn, provided a feast for the various breeds of Felis Sylvestris – the native wild cat of Africa, Europe, and southern Asia.  

This is how the ancestors of the modern house-cat began hanging around with humans.  Humans soon noted that when the cats moved in the rats and mice thinned out, so they began providing regular favorite foods – tender meat, milk, later cheese – and shelter, to entice the cats to stay.  The cats accepted the deal, and it has lasted to this day.

Neither the arrangement nor the cat has changed much in thousands of years.  Domestic cats – Felis Cattus – are still capable of interbreeding with wild cats, and their offspring are fertile.  The house-cat still preys primarily on rats and mice, with occasional side-dishes of whatever other small rodents, reptiles, or fish it can catch – and whatever it can charm, demand, forage or steal from humans.  Whether as an only-occasionally-hunting pet, a busy farm-cat, or a feral full-time hunter, the cat still destroys the pests that destroy our food.

The cat is a vitally important working animal, whether ignorant cat-haters realize it or not.        

This is why fools who want to exterminate cats – and dogs – need to be recognized as domestic terrorists, and treated accordingly.

--Leslie Fish  <;)))><