Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Surviving the Apocalypse in Style, Part 2

Back in January of 2015, I wrote in this space about the industry that has arisen to help us prepare for the coming zombie apocalypse, as well as more mundane but no less deadly eventualities. I pointed you to the "Zombie Fortification Cabin, Model 1 (ZFC-1)," as well as bulletproof school accessories for protecting our children against dangers we never faced in less crazy times.

Well, people are still worried about surviving the apocalypse, perhaps even more now that we have the present administration in power. And as with so many other aspects of life, survival of the apocalypse can be much easier and more comfortable if you are able to afford the best.

Two years ago, six months after I wrote my blog post on apocalyptic survival, Forbes Magazine ran this article: Billionaire Bunkers: Exclusive Look Inside the World's Largest Planned Doomsday Escape. It told the detailed story of a luxurious survival hideaway that was developed in Germany from an abandoned Soviet-era munitions storage bunker complex. Vivos Europa One is described in the article as "an invitation only, five star, underground survival complex, similar to an underground cruise ship for the elite [in which e]ach family will be provided a private 2,500 square foot of floor area, capable of two story improvements for a total of 5,000 square feet of private living quarters." Further, "[p]rivate improvements will include all of the typical amenities enjoyed by the floating counterparts, including pools, theaters, gyms, a kitchen, bar, bedrooms and deluxe bathrooms. The possibilities are limited only by each member’s personal desire."

And, of course, budget.

There are numerous other apocalypse hideaways for the 1% in various locations around the world, including Czechoslovakia, England, and the United States*. You can read more about them in this CNN article published yesterday.

Yes, Dear Readers, those higher than you on the socio-economic scale will be just fine when the nuclear, biological, political, and ecological chickens come home to roost. You, not so much.

Have a good day and don't worry ... if you are concerned enough to worry about surviving the coming apocalypse and wealthy enough to want to do it in style, have your broker call now!

More thoughts tomorrow.


* The Vivos xPoint website tells you, "This is the place you will want to be when the SHTF!" It also reminds you to buy now, because "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark."

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Accidental Wall

Here's something interesting I read the other day: Humans Accidentally Created a Protective Bubble Around Earth. Here's a summary paragraph from the article:

"A pair of NASA space probes have detected an artificial bubble around Earth that forms when radio communications from the ground interact with high-energy radiation particles in space, the agency announced* this week. The bubble forms a protective barrier around Earth, shielding the planet from potentially dangerous space weather, like solar flares and other ejections from the sun."

Yes, Dear Readers, we have built a defensive wall of sorts - one that actually protects us from a real threat - without even realizing it.

The article points out that Earth already has its own protective wall ... bubble, actually ... the magnetosphere. The enhanced, artificial bubble found by NASA's satellites is an unintended result of the interplay between human technology and the magnetosphere that nature helpfully provided.

Wouldn't it be nice if all of our human impacts on nature could work out this well? If they did, then the Trump administration's war on the EPA and on science in general might make sense.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* You can read the actual NASA press release here.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Poetry Sunday

This poem combines the dual melancholy of growing old and of longing for a home that isn't there any more. Sad, but still entertaining ...

To the Woman at the Retirement Center 
by Phebe Hanson 

You tell me when you were eight, newly arrived
from Czechoslovakia, your teacher made you memorize
a poem that began “I remember, I remember
the house where I was born.” Stranger
to our language you proudly learned all the verses,
practiced them over and over in front of your mirror,
but at the program when you stood to recite
in front of all the parents and other students,
you got as far as “I remember, I remember,”
and forgot all the rest and had to sit down shamefaced.
Now you live in this ten-story retirement center
where you cried most of the first month, so lonesome
for your son, transferred to another city, who couldn’t
take you with him because his new house wasn’t
big enough. Sometimes, you tell me, you slip away
from the recreation director who wants to teach you
how to turn plastic bleach bottles into bird feeders,
sneak up to your room, turn on the Bohemian radio station,
dance barefoot all by yourself, as you used to
years ago in the house where you were born.

Have a good day, and enjoy what's left of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow as we start a new week.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

Even by modern standards, it's been a heck of a week ...

The Deputy Attorney General has appointed former FBI Director Robert Muller as a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election; Russian president Vladimir Putin trolled the US government by offering to provide a transcript of the controversial meeting between his foreign minister and his ambassador to the US with Donald Trump; in Washington, Turkish security personnel beat protesters on a public street in front of the Turkish ambassador's residence; former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has refused to honor a Senate subpoena for documents relating to his meetings with Russian officials; and a driver murdered one person and injured many others when, high on marijuana and PCP, he drove his car through crowds in Times Square.

This week, in honor of the management style of the current administration, we have no theme and no focus ... just a collection of random cartoons.

Packaging technology is creating problems of its own ...

Speaking the truth at graduation ceremonies ...

Many days, it's what I need, too ...

Truth ...

Yes, it probably does go back this far ...

I'm absolutely certain of this one ...

I understand the dizziness and nausea part ...

I'll take a dozen ...

It works for Mr Trump ...

What I don't miss now that I'm retired ...

Have a good day and a great weekend, and try not to pay too much attention to the rolling circus where our government used to be. That's why God gave us gin.

See you tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown for May, 2017

How quickly two weeks go by! It's the third week of May, and it's time to name our latest Ass Clown Award recipient. As usual ... actually, more so than usual ... it's been difficult to separate the wheat of the true Ass Clowns from the chaff of the merely stupid and ignorant, especially given the chaotic events of the last week. I have an idea that my selection this time will be controversial, but after weighing the qualifications of the many contenders and thinking about what makes a truly award-worthy Ass Clown, I've made my decision.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown
May, 2017

On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 17th, Representative Green took the floor at the House of Representatives and called for the impeachment of Donald Trump, saying:

"This is about my position. This is about what I believe. And this is where I stand. I will not be moved. The President must be impeached."

Mr Green is free to believe what he will, and to take any position he wishes, and I personally think that Donald Trump is an utter disaster in the nation's highest office. However, Donald Trump was legally and properly elected according to the Constitution and the law, and we are nowhere close to seeing definitive evidence of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors"* that will stand up in court. Issuing a formal call on the House floor for Mr Trump's impeachment at this time is the worst sort of shameless grandstanding, and complicates an already-difficult and highly charged political situation. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Readers, Texas Representative Al Green is named our Left-Cheek Ass Clown for May, 2017.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday ... I guarantee it will be funnier than anything you've seen in Washington this week.

More thoughts then.


* Article II, Section 4.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Like a Fiddle at an Ozark Hoedown

Two of my favorite movies are RED and its sequel, RED 2. They detail the adventures of a group of aging intelligence operatives (Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich) who are kept under close government observation because they have been designated as "Retired, Extremely Dangerous (RED)." One of my favorite lines (from RED 2) is delivered by John Malkovich, who explains that he knew Bruce Willis's old girlfriend, a Russian agent, would "play him like a fiddle at an Ozark hoedown."

Well, it seems that Russians are still playing us like fiddles at an Ozark hoedown.

Yesterday, Russian president Vladimir* Putin helpfully offered to help Mr Trump out of his latest self-inflicted crisis by offering to provide the US government with a transcript of Trump's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak ... presumably to clarify whether the men's discussions included highly classified information Mr Trump should not have shared with his guests.

What a neighborly thing to do! I can hear the fiddles playing in the background.

First of all, I'll stipulate that Mr Trump has the inherent authority, as president, to declassify and release intelligence information. But as my mother was fond of warning us as we were growing up, the fact that you can do something doesn't automatically mean that you should do it. In this particular case, the information that Mr Trump is said to have revealed to his Russian guests appears to have been provided by an allied nation under an intelligence sharing agreement ... with the proviso that it not be further disseminated without that nation's specific permission, which had not been obtained.

Some of my more conservative friends insist that this is not an issue, and that the presence of classified information in e-mails that transited Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server is a far worse transgression. As I've agreed before, Secretary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server for official State Department business was stupid, and the fact that classified information was included in messages that transited that server was illegal, not to mention stupid. But to equate that activity to Mr Trump passing highly classified information directly to senior officials of a government that is suspected of meddling in our presidential election is also stupid. It is clear that Mr Trump does not understand the relationship between his authority and his responsibilities, and while one can argue that sharing some counterterrorism information with Russia may be helpful, it must be done within the limits and constraints that protect the intelligence relationships on which we depend.

I spent 23 years as an active duty Air Force intelligence officer, and another 20 years working as a contractor in support of Air Force intelligence programs. As a career intelligence professional, I don't like being played ... by the Russians or by my own elected officials who should know better.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Just as a linguistic aside, the Russian name "Vladimir" comes from the combination of two words: "vlad" (ruler) and "mir" (world) ... hence "Vladimir" means "Ruler of the World." Similarly, the Russian city of Vladivostok combines "Vlad" with "vostok" (east) to mean, "Ruler of the East." I should also note that "mir" can also be translated as "peace," in which case "Vladimir" can be translated as "Ruler of Peace" or perhaps, "Peaceful Ruler." I'm sure Mr Trump would go with option 2.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Taking a Break

I had a post written for today, but when I gave it a last review before hitting the "publish" button, I realized that it wasn't quite as ready for prime time as I thought. Instead of my usual carefully-crafted and rock-solid style ...

it seemed to have a few issues ...

Therefore, I'm taking the day off from blogging to re-work that post and try to bring it up to standards. I realize that "standards" are something with which we're unaccustomed in the age of Trump, but just work with me on this, okay.

Have a good day. I'll be back tomorrow.

More thoughts then.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Coop d'Etat

From the Department of Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Crazier comes this article my daughter sent me last night: Chickens Exhibit Machiavellian Tendencies, Scientists Discover.

Yes, Dear Readers, chickens - the clucking, comical fowl made yummy by Col Sanders, Popeye's, and Chic-fil-A, and lampooned by generations of cartoonists - may be more intelligent and crafty than we thought. According to the article, we have "greatly underestimated" the intelligence of chickens, which have "demonstrat(ed) thinking skills that are similar to mammals and primates."

For instance, roosters have been observed to make sounds which announce the presence of food even when no food is present, for the purpose of attracting hens ... a variation on the human practice of inviting a female to one's apartment to view etchings. Indeed, chicken communication has been found to be very complex, consisting of "a large repertoire of different visual displays and at least 24 distinct vocalizations," placing chickens - at the very least - on a par with Donald Trump in their ability to communicate.

Dr Loro Marino, a scientist quoted in the article, noted that,

“... chickens have the capacity to reason and make logical inferences, a capability that humans develop at approximately the age of seven*. They perceive time intervals and may be able to anticipate future events. (They) are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating among individuals, exhibiting Machiavellian-like social interactions, and learning socially in complex ways that are similar to humans.”

The bottom line, Dear Readers, is that we need to pay more attention to the potential threat around us posed by machiavellian chickens. Perhaps they are quietly grooming their own General Tso and preparing for the day they rise up and make Kiev their capital.

They could hardly do worse than the current administration.

Have a good day. Be careful when crossing the road.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* As we see every day, some children do not develop this capacity, and nevertheless go on to enjoy successful careers in politics.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Nobody Cares About This Except You"

There was a very interesting and thought-provoking article in last Thursday's Washington Post. The print title was "For President Right Now, No Profit in Learning from Past," while the online title was "Why Trump Expected Only Applause When He Told Comey, ‘You’re Fired.’"

The bottom line of the article is summed up in the print title: Donald Trump is a man who lives entirely in the present, which allows him to blithely shrug off things he said and did in the past as if they never happened ... because to him, they didn't, and therefore they don't matter. Only the present matters. Here's a key quote from the article:

"Confronted with his past statements that stand in direct conflict with his current positions, Trump has always reacted not with remorse or embarrassment. Rather, a look of almost innocent surprise sweeps over his face and he says, as he has to reporters who remind him that he once promised to release his tax returns but then decided that he never would, 'Nobody cares about this except you.'"


"'I’m just not interested in the past,' Trump has said. 'I’m interested in the present.'"

Philosopher George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That's why we study history - to learn what has happened before, to see what worked and what didn't, and to identify and avoid making again the mistakes of those who came before us.

Of course, paying attention to the wrong historical precedent, or interpreting it in the wrong way, is not a good thing, either. Historians Richard Neustadt and Ernest May made this point in their excellent book Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, which ought to be required reading for anyone in government. But that's no excuse for totally ignoring historical precedent. Were Donald Trump not so totally driven by the now, by what he sees on his favorite, fawning Faux News programs, he might have realized that his ham-handed firing of FBI director James Comey would draw immediate (and not completely inaccurate) parallels to Richard Nixon's firing of officials during the Watergate scandal.

Sadly, many millions of people - like Trump - don't care about the lies and the distortions and the nepotism and the ignorance ... people who are so blinded by a visceral hatred of Hillary Clinton and the liberal elite that they'll swallow anything Mr Trump says and then ask for a bigger second helping.

And yet, Mr Trump is wrong when he says that nobody cares about things. I care very much about getting to the bottom of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. I care about Mr Trump's total lack of transparency about his family's business dealings and how they could affect his presidential decision-making. And I am not alone. Many other people really do care ... people who actually care about the Constitution and about flagrant abuse of authority by a narcissistic and delusional president.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mothers' Day, 2017

This is the tenth year that I have slightly revised and updated my traditional Mothers' Day post. It may be recycled and tweaked, but it comes no less from the heart. If you've read it before, just know that everything still applies ... read it again if you like, or come back tomorrow for my thoughts on other things ...

Today is Mothers' Day, the one day each year we set aside to honor the lady we undervalue the other 364. It's the day we remember the person who made our hurts better, explained our homework, cooked our meals, washed our clothes, drove us where we needed to go, warned us about our less-savory acquaintances, embarrassed us in front of our friends, and did her best to point us down the straight line of a moral and upright life.

Mothers are the wonderful and woefully underappreciated people from whom the Army and the Navy stole their one-time recruiting slogans - the Army's "We do more before 9 AM than most people do all day," and the Navy's "It's not just a job, it's an adventure." With all due respect to Soldiers and Sailors everywhere ... you don't have a clue.

Somewhere in my web surfing I found this little riff on how we look at our Mothers at different ages:

Age 4: Mommy can do anything!
Age 8: Mom knows a lot!
Age 12: Mother doesn't know everything.
Age 14: Mother doesn't know anything.
Age 16: Mother is so old-fashioned.
Age 18: Her? She's out of it.
Age 25: Mom might know something about that.
Age 35: Before we decide, let's ask Mom.
Age 45: What would Mom have thought about that?
Age 65: I wish I could talk that over with Mom.

It's true.

My mother passed away sixteen years ago at the far-too-young age of 74. She spent a long and honorable life raising four children who, I like to think, made her proud ... most of the time, anyway. And in her twilight years, her once-formidable mind ravaged by Alzheimer's Disease, she missed much of the result of her love and care and sacrifice - a son who can dance (and who may yet write that book she thought he had in him, instead of a daily blog), a small army of grandchildren, and six beautiful great-grandchildren who will never know her love and wisdom and the off-the-wall sense of humor* that brightened the lives of everyone who knew her.

The next generation of mothers is moving the family forward. My beloved daughters Yasmin and Tabitha**, between them are raising the world's six greatest grandchildren (Marcy, Joe, Noah, Leya, Elise, and Ava). And someday those wonderful grandchildren will sit down on Mothers' Day and reflect - just as their grandpa does today - on the lady who gave up so much of her own life and dreams to make them who they are.

And so again this year, I wish my own Agnes, Yasmin and Tabitha, my sister Lisa and sisters-in-law Laura and Brenda, fellow bloggers Amanda and Fiona, my dear friends Kathy and Lioudmila, and all the other mothers out there doing the world's toughest job, a very happy Mothers' Day and many more to come. We couldn't be what we are, or do what we do, without you.

Take the time today to give your Mother a hug and a kiss. Someday, you'll wish you had.

And lest you think I'm getting too maudlin about the whole thing, here's a picture from long ago of my Dad with four then and future moms: my daughter Yasmin, my sister Lisa, Agnes, and my mother ...

We're an odd family, but somehow we've turned out all right ... more or less. Good parents will do that to you.

Oh, and in case you haven't seen it, here's The Mom Song, set to the tune of The William Tell Overture ...

Happy Mothers' Day! More thoughts tomorrow.


* Every time you groan at one of my puns, you should be grateful that you never had to deal with Mom ...

** I don’t think of Tabitha as an “in-law.”