Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Feeling old, redux

Last week I linked to a series of photographs that made me feel awfully old.  Well, looks like I'm not alone.  Stephan Pastis appears to get sort of that way, too.

Click the image to be taken to a larger version at the 'Pearls Before Swine' Web page.


Amazing aerobatics in Moscow

This is the aerial display by the Sukhoi Su-35 fighter at the MAKS 2017 air show in Moscow, Russia, last week.  The aircraft has very powerful engines, giving a thrust-to-weight ratio much better than 1:1, and also boasts thrust vectoring nozzles, allowing it to use engine thrust to augment its already impressive maneuverability.  Its agility puts most other aircraft in its class to shame.

Watch the video in full-screen mode for best results.

I'd say the Su-35 is probably the best kinetic-energy dogfighting aircraft out there today . . . although that's not necessarily a war-winning attribute, in an age of stealth technology, long-range air-to-air missiles and active electronically-scanned radar arrays.  Nevertheless, if it comes down to knife-fighting range in future aerial combat, the Su-35 would seem to have a great many advantages.


We can't spare President Trump. He fights.

So says Evan Sayet.  Here's an excerpt.

The Left has been engaged in a war against America since the rise of the Children of the ‘60s.   To them, it has been an all-out war where nothing is held sacred and nothing is seen as beyond the pale.  It has been a war they’ve fought with violence, the threat of violence, demagoguery and lies from day one – the violent take-over of the universities – till today.

The problem is that, through these years, the Left has been the only side fighting this war.  While the Left has been taking a knife to anyone who stands in their way, the Right has continued to act with dignity, collegiality and propriety.

With Donald Trump, this all has come to an end.  Donald Trump is America’s first wartime president in the Culture War.

During wartime, things like “dignity” and “collegiality” simply aren’t the most essential qualities one looks for in their warriors.  Ulysses Grant was a drunk whose behavior in peacetime might well have seen him drummed out of the Army for conduct unbecoming.  Had Abraham Lincoln applied the peacetime rules of propriety and booted Grant, the Democrats might well still be holding their slaves today.   Lincoln rightly recognized that, “I cannot spare this man.  He fights.”

General George Patton was a vulgar-talking, son-of-a-bitch.  In peacetime, this might have seen him stripped of rank.  But, had Franklin Roosevelt applied the normal rules of decorum, then Hitler and the Socialists would barely be five decades into their thousand-year Reich.

Trump is fighting.  And what’s particularly delicious is that, like Patton standing over the battlefield as his tanks obliterated Rommel’s, he’s shouting, “You magnificent bastards, I read your book!”  That is just the icing on the cake, but it’s wonderful to see that not only is Trump fighting, he’s defeating the Left using their own tactics.

That book is Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals – a book so essential to the Liberals’ war against America that it is and was the playbook for the entire Obama administration and the subject of Hillary Clinton’s senior thesis.   It is a book of such pure evil, that, just as the rest of us would dedicate our book to those we most love or those to whom we are most indebted, Alinsky dedicated his book to Lucifer.

Trump’s tweets may seem rash and unconsidered but, in reality, he is doing exactly what Alinsky suggested his followers do.

. . .

So, to my friends on the Left – and the #NeverTrumpers as well -- do I wish we lived in a time when our president could be “collegial” and “dignified” and “proper”?  Of course I do.   These aren’t those times.  This is war.  And it’s a war that the Left has been fighting  without opposition for the past 50 years.

So, say anything you want about this president – I get it, he can be vulgar, he can be crude, he can be undignified at times.  I don’t care.  I can’t spare this man.  He fights.

There's more at the link.

Oscar Wilde said that "You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies".  Well, given that President Trump's enemies are, in the main, politicians, that's not very high quality at all;  and given that they're from across the political spectrum, that can't all be laid at the feet of leftists.  Nevertheless, to annoy, outrage and just plain piss off so many politicians and liberals is quite an achievement in itself.  Methinks Mr. Sayet has a point.

Perhaps we should adopt another of President Lincoln's reactions to the problematic General U. S. Grant.

After the failure of his first experimental explorations around Vicksburg, a committee of abolition war managers waited upon the President and demanded the General’s removal, on the false charge that he was a whiskey drinker, and little better than a common drunkard. “Ah!” exclaimed Honest Old Abe, “you surprise me, gentlemen. But can you tell me where he gets his whiskey?” “We cannot, Mr. President. But why do you desire to know?” “Because, if I can only find out, I will send a barrel of this wonderful whiskey to every general in the army.”

It would, of course, have to be Trump-branded single malt whiskey. A man's got to make a profit, after all.


Lawdog goes dead tree!

'The Lawdog Files', which blasted its way into bestseller territory upon its release in e-book format less than two weeks ago, is now available in paperback.

I couldn't be happier for Lawdog's success.  He's been a friend for the best part of two decades, and to see his work so popular is warm, fuzzy happiness for his buddies.  He's hard at work right now, finishing some new material for the second volume, 'The Lawdog Files: African Adventures'.

I'm sure his fans will be delighted to learn that Brigadier-Captain Azikiwe, the anti-hero of the infamous Ratel Saga, will feature in the new material.  Lawdog's told us a few stories about him, over and above those that appeared on his blog, and some are now being prepared for publication.

The second volume is already available for pre-order on Amazon, and should be released early next month.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Quote of the day

From friend in meat- and cyberspace, fellow author and blogger, Daddybear:

If the people inside my head would learn to wait their turn, I’d be a lot more productive.

I know exactly whereof he speaks . . .


And now for something alcoholically different

Youtube has a large number of videos purporting to show Irish people trying various things from other countries.  Some are very amusing, including this one, where they try half a dozen varieties of American moonshine.  Love the reactions as their alcohol level rises and their inhibitions fall!

Given that Ireland's the home of potheen, and the source of uisce beatha, I'd thought they'd have liked moonshine more.  Oh, well . . .


Photographic evidence of the auto industry's dilemma

In a comment to my previous post, reader 'A Texan' pointed me to the blog of a lady in California.  In recent weeks she's photographed several parking lots, at defunct shopping malls and offices, that are being used as storage areas for a glut of unsold new vehicles.  Here's just one example.

Here are her blog posts, with pictures and (frequently snarky) comments:

She mentions how many of the cars have been standing there for up to a year, perhaps longer.  Their protective plastic coatings have weathered away, and they're extremely dirty.  My concern is that they haven't been run in all that time, either.  How many times have we seen mice, squirrels and other critters making nests in idle engines - and chewing their way through cables, pipes, tubes and wiring in the process?  How many engines can handle standing idle for that long, never being turned over, without risking damage when they're finally put into service?  Finally, just think of the financial burden represented by all those photographs.  There are hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in those overstocked vehicles in her part of California alone.  How much is tied up across the nation?

It's not just the USA, either.  Some years ago, Business Insider ran a photo essay titled 'Unsold Cars Around the World'.  Here's just one image from it, showing thousands of new cars being stored on the runway and taxiways of an unused Royal Air Force base in England.

There are many more photographs at the link.  They make sobering viewing - and the situation has gotten considerably worse since they were taken.  Late last year, the Detroit News reported:

At the end of November, the U.S. auto industry had nearly 4 million vehicles in inventory, or a 72 days supply, according to IHS. Automakers typically want to see a healthy level of between 60 and 65 days supply, IHS says.

The industry has 250,000 or 260,000 units of excess inventory “that kind of needs to be weaned from the system,” said Joe Langley, IHS principal analyst for North America light vehicle forecasting.

Again, more at the link.

The inventory and over-production situation has gotten significantly worse this year.

The imbalance was especially acute at General Motors, which entered March with a 123-day supply of cars and an 81-day supply of light trucks. Its Buick Division had an overall 167-day supply, the most of any U.S. brand. Buick's car stocks jumped to 239 days vs. 79 days a year earlier.

By comparison, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler US have sharply trimmed production of slow-selling cars in the first quarter. They were the only two of the seven best-selling automakers to reduce total March 1 inventory units from Feb. 1. Compared with a year ago, Ford's March 1 inventory fell 77,200 units to 678,300 and FCA was down almost 100,000 to 578,800 units.

In units, industry inventory stands at 4.1 million, up almost 300,000 from a year ago and the highest for any month since July 2004.

More at the link.

In other words, General Motors could sell cars for 123 days - a third of a year - at its normal rate without manufacturing a single new vehicle.  How much money is tied up in that inventory?  Think billions of dollars.  What's more, that overhang in new vehicle supply is going to be made far worse by the glut of vehicles coming off-lease over the next few years, all of which must be re-sold as used vehicles - over and above getting rid of the glut of new cars.

I stand by what I said in my previous post.  The US vehicle industry is in dire straits, and I don't see how it can survive in its present form.


Proof the US auto industry is in serious trouble

"Follow the money" is one of the oldest truisms.  Sooner or later, if you want to know the truth about something, or someone, or some industry, find out where the money is going, watch how it's being raised, see how it's being spent . . . and draw your own conclusions.

We've already seen how the US auto industry (and Europe's, too, for that matter) is threatened by a tidal wave of vehicles coming off lease over the next few years, as well as technological obsolescence.  Used car prices are predicted to drop by as much as 50% over the next few years, which will undoubtedly force new car prices to decrease as well - otherwise few will be willing to pay them, since the new-to-used differential will be so great.

There's another reason why vehicle prices are going to have to drop.  It looks as if many of us are struggling to afford them at any cost.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported:

The average price of a new car is now $31,000, up $3,000 in the past four years. But at the same time, the average monthly car payment edged down, to $460 from $465—the result of longer loan terms and lower interest rates.

In the final quarter of 2012, the average term of a new car note stretched out to 65 months, the longest ever, according to Experian Information Solutions Inc. Experian said that 17% of all new car loans in the past quarter were between 73 and 84 months and there were even a few as long as 97 months. Four years ago, only 11% of loans fell into this category.

Such long term loans can present consumers and lenders with heightened risk. With a six- or seven-year loan, it takes car-buyers longer to reach the point where they owe less on the car than it is worth. Having “negative equity” or being “upside down” in a car makes it harder to trade or sell the vehicle if the owner can’t make payments.

There's more at the link.

Jalopnik elaborates that there's a significant downside to longer-term loans.

These extra-long car loan terms seem good for new car buyers because they help keep the payments down, ideally under $500 a month. But as the story notes, it takes buyers much longer to reach the point where they owe less on the car than it is worth.

In the meantime, you're spending all that money each month for years at a time on a depreciating asset when it could be better spent on other things, like a mortgage or building up a savings account. You also may end up paying a ridiculous amount in interest over those years.

Again, more at the link.

Think about it.
  • 73 months = 6 years, 1 month - 50% longer than most people spend in high school, or to earn a 4-year undergraduate degree.
  • 84 months = 7 years - even worse.
  • 97 months = 8 years, 1 month - twice as long as most people spend in high school, or take to earn a 4-year undergraduate degree.

That's an awful long time to burden oneself with an auto loan, on top of existing debt such as study loans, credit cards, lines of credit, etc. (to say nothing of a housing loan).  What if you want to get married during the term of your auto loan?  You now have to carry that expense into your new (and hopefully lifelong) relationship, burdening your partner with it, even though the vehicle you bought may not be suitable for a couple (particularly if they plan to have children).  If you need a more suitable vehicle, as Jalopnik warns, you may be 'upside-down' on your loan (i.e. owe more than the vehicle is worth), and therefore have to take out an even larger loan to buy what you need.

There's another factor to consider.  I've written on many occasions about the real rate of inflation, as compared to the 'official' rate (which is deliberately understated to a ridiculous extent, so as to hold down mandated-by-law increases in entitlement costs).  The inflation-adjusted cost of a motor vehicle is claimed to be relatively constant over time.  (Click the chart for a larger view.)

However, average US incomes have not kept pace with the real level of inflation over time.  Even using the deliberately-skewed, politically-correct, understated 'official' inflation rate, the bottom three quintiles show a decline:

When one uses a more realistic measurement of inflation, as we discussed last year, the inflation rate - and the resultant decline in effective household income - is far greater.  Put in its simplest terms, most US households currently have significantly less disposable income, in terms of the buying power of their money, than they had in previous decades.  Therefore, while auto prices may have held reasonably steady in inflation-adjusted dollars, the incomes of those who buy them have not.  They're now effectively much lower.  (If you doubt this, do your own measurement.  Compare the cost of typical groceries and supplies for your household in 1997, in 2007, and this year.  I guarantee you, the cost difference will be much greater than can be accounted for by the official rate of inflation!  My wife and I reckon our expenses for normal household groceries and supplies have more than doubled over the past ten years;  yet our personal incomes have not grown to anything like the same extent.  I'll be surprised if you haven't seen something similar.)

That's why the duration of auto loans has had to increase.  People no longer have sufficient disposable income to afford both their normal living expenses, and the monthly payments on that auto loan over a more 'conventional' term.  That's also why many US cars are now sold through short-term leases rather than auto loans - because  loan payments are simply too high.  To take a wider perspective, it's also why most housing mortgages have stretched from fifteen to thirty years, in most cases, and why most people can't afford to put down a deposit of more than one or two per cent on their homes - and therefore are very, very vulnerable to another housing downturn.  (When Miss D. and I bought our house in Texas, a year and a half ago, I was told by the bank official handling our loan application that we were the first couple in six months to have taken out a 15-year loan, putting down a 20% deposit.  This is, apparently, simply impossible for most couples today.  That's a very scary thought!)

Putting all those factors together, I'd say the US auto industry is in very serious trouble indeed.  Many of its customers simply can't afford its vehicles at their current price levels;  and even those who can, often have to stretch out their auto loans to unconscionable lengths to reduce the monthly payment, thereby crippling themselves with additional interest charges (and affecting their ability to access other forms of credit, for the duration of the auto loan).  In order to sell cars to those who can't afford even such extended payment terms, the industry has hamstrung itself by leasing millions of vehicles.  As those short-term leases expire, they will vastly increase used-car inventories, making it impossible to both resell them all, and simultaneously sell more new cars, all at present, inflated prices.  The industry has been hoist on its own petard.

Herbert Stein famously said that "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."  I rather suspect that's about to happen to the US auto industry in its present form.  Unless it changes, it'll simply price itself out of its own market . . . and that'll leave it nowhere to go.


Monday, July 24, 2017

They're at it again!

Lots more rally action here, after last week's two videos on the subject.  A lot of this is inside-the-cab video, which gives a new and very scary perspective on just how fast things can go wrong.



Charlie Gard: the inevitable result of a post-Christian world

I'm sure my readers have been following the sorry, tragic saga of Charlie Gard.

The real issue here is, who has parental authority over a child?  Is it the infant's natural, physical parents?  Or are they merely acting as custodians for the State?  In a post-Christian world, the latter view appears to be in the ascendant - and that should trouble not only Christians, but anyone who favors individual rights, freedoms and liberties over the authority of the 'nanny State'.

Charlie’s parents, Chris and Connie, have raised over a million dollars to bring Charlie over to America for an experimental treatment. But England’s health service seems to believe they know better than Charlie’s own parents. The National Health Service, NHS, told his parents he should be left to “die with dignity.”

Socialized medicine takes the human element out of health care and looks at illnesses and diseases in a strictly cost-based, quantitative view. If the likelihood of survival is low, the “national health experts” won’t take the “risk” with treatment. Never mind that the parents have already made plans to take the risk somewhere else.

However, the Charlie Gard case speaks to the ... redefinition of marriage in a broader, cultural sense. And this immorality affects medical care and health insurance, which leads to a socialized medicine with a subhuman view of man, while bestowing deity-like prominence on the State.

It isn’t just about denying parental rights in the medical treatment and health care of Chris and Connie’s child. It is denying they are even Charlie’s ultimate parents at all.

. . .

Charlie Gard isn’t just an example of the failures of socialized medicine. You’re thinking too small. It is the denial of true liberty.

There's more at the link.

This case is a direct, immediate warning to Americans of the likely consequences of single-payer health care.  The Chicago Tribune points out:

Why does the British government have such wide authority over Charlie's treatment? One big reason: Because the government funds a single-payer health system, picking up medical costs for British citizens.

We imagine many Americans reassure themselves that this country's largely private system of health insurance would never be so dismissive of a parent's right to make decisions about a child's health care. Or deny a parent the right to take a child home to die.

But this medical drama, no matter anyone's opinion, foreshadows the difficult decisions to come if America converts its medical insurance system into a single-payer model. (Note that "single-payer" is a euphemism for government-controlled health spending and care.)

The prospect of single-payer here isn't far-fetched: Medicare and Medicaid already account for about 38 percent of U.S. health care spending. Democratic politicians have floated the notion of lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 55, or of a broader Medicare-for-all. Before Obamacare became law in 2010, there also was talk of a so-called public option — a government-run plan — to compete with private plans on market exchanges. That was widely seen as a Trojan horse for single-payer.

. . .

Bottom line: Single-payer is no panacea. Free treatment isn't free. Somebody — everybody — pays. To which proponents of single-payer would retort: Private insurers aren't models of generosity: Sometimes they pay for costly new treatments, sometimes they don't.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates probably never thought they'd be in this predicament, arguing with the British government about whether they could take a child home to die. Nor could anyone predict that a critically ill infant far from U.S. shores would provide one more reason for Americans to remain wary of a single-payer system.

Again, more at the link.

When Obamacare was introduced, there was much talk about so-called 'death panels'.  Opponents of the law warned of them;  supporters derided the very idea.  Well, the case of Charlie Gard demonstrates conclusively that in the absence of a morality that values human life as worthwhile in and of itself, even in the absence of any reference to a Divinity;  that sees human life as intrinsically valuable, rather than measuring that value in terms of dollars and cents . . . death panels are inevitable.  The British courts are, right now, functioning as a death panel in the case of Charlie Gard.

As a retired pastor, you'll understand that my own position on this is clear.  Others will doubtless differ.  Nevertheless, I pray most sincerely that God will protect young Charlie Gard from those who would see him dead, rather than allow his parents to spend their own funds and those donated by supporters, to give him a chance at life.  If his death is inevitable, let it occur;  but let it not be dictated by bureaucratic fiat, or imposed by a godless, indifferent State, overriding the wishes of his parents.

For the rest of us . . . the case of Charlie Gard illustrates the perils of allowing the State to dictate what health care we may, or should, receive.  "He who pays the piper, calls the tune":  and if we allow the State to pay the piper, we should not be surprised to find that we have no say at all in what he plays.  I'm absolutely certain that in time, this will extend to telling older people that they may no longer consume the lion's share of health care dollars, as they have in the past.  It's more cost-effective to let them die, because their utility to society is less than that of younger, more productive, less unhealthy people.  If you think that won't happen, explicitly or implicitly, there's this bridge in Brooklyn, NYC I'd like to sell to you.  Going cheap!  Cash only, please, and in small bills.

We have been warned.


End of a long-drawn-out death

Readers will recall the saga of the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner off the Italian coast in 2012.  It was raised from its watery grave in 2014, in what turned out to be the largest and most complex marine salvage operation in history, and towed to Genoa, where dismantling began.

The Ship Recycling Consortium has announced the completion of their task of scrapping the Costa Concordia.

Less than three years have passed since the arrival of the Concordia wreck in Genoa, on July 27th 2014. Below some of the most significant numbers of this project since the beginning of the operations:
  • Workforce employed: up to 350
  • Total effective hours worked: approximately 1 million
  • Companies and suppliers involved: 78 (98% of them are Italian)
  • Total recycled material: approximately 90%, equal to over 53,000 tons for almost 4,000 trips to recycling facilities in Italy
  • Total dismantled material: 8,000 tons with over 850 trips to dismantling facilities.

There's more at the link.

It's a sad farewell to a ship that should never have sunk, but for the tragic and criminally stupid actions of her Captain.  He began serving a 16-year prison sentence for his crimes in May.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday morning music

Regular readers will know that I've been a lifelong fan of the music of Jethro Tull and its leader, Ian Anderson.  He's far more than just a rock or pop musician.  He's composed in genres ranging from pop, to disco, to folk, to hard rock, and any number of combinations thereof.  He's also transcribed many of his compositions for orchestra (and a number of classical orchestral works into rock songs, too!).

I thought you might be interested to see how his orchestral adaptations have worked.  Here's just one example from 'The Orchestral Jethro Tull', which is one of my favorite Tull/Anderson albums.

First, from the legendary 1971 album 'Aqualung', in the 40th anniversary remastered edition issued in 2011, here's 'Mother Goose'.

Now, here's the orchestral version, featuring a much older band, with lots more musicians.

I find it a whimsical, light-hearted and interesting variation on the original rock version.  You might like to check out the other orchestral renditions on the album (you can listen to samples at the link, and if you subscribe to the Amazon Unlimited music streaming service, the full album's available there at no additional charge).


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Doofus Of The Day #966

Today's award goes to a biologically clueless pet owner in Britain.

An unsuspecting pet owner had the shock of his life when he thought caring for his two new little female guinea pigs would be a breeze.

It turned out that he couldn't have been more wrong. He'd accidentally bought a male and a female, which began multiplying "faster than he could react".

Before he knew it, the babies had mated with one another, and he had 160 little guinea pigs running around in his garden in Gosport, Hampshire.

There's more at the link.

I'd have thought that when the first litter of guinea-piglets appeared, that would have been what the professionals call A Clue . . . but to wait until he had 160 of them before figuring it out?  Verily, the mind doth boggle!


Is there a maritime jobs crisis in the USA?

I'm asking because two fellow bloggers have complained about the situation for US merchant seamen and officers in recent weeks.

First, Captain Jill is having a very hard time finding work.

I spent most of every day this week still trying to find work. Filling out online applications (again), for all the same places that I’ve already filled them out for. Calling everyone I could find to call. Still getting the same results...

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

So, I broke down and went to Houston on Wednesday to see about joining the SIU. The unlicensed seamans union. I’ve been an applicant with the AMO (licensed officers union) since at least December and have had 1 (yes only 1) possible job. That job was gone before I could even return the phone call! Since then, they don’t answer the phone, they don’t return calls, I’ve pretty much lost hope that they actually have any work.

Of course I would rather use the license I’ve spent 30+ years and $50,000+++ to earn! But if I have to sail as a deckhand, I’m perfectly willing to do that too. Anything out at sea is better than working at McDonalds or Domino’s, which seem to be the only jobs open to me on the beach.

S***! 2 college degrees and 30 years of experience to earn the highest license there is out there, and what does it get me? NOTHING! Not a damn thing!

Yeah, I’ve had it pretty good up until the last couple of years. I was able to save a few bucks. I was able to travel and enjoy life. I did really love a few of my jobs. Never really hated any of them. But after almost 2 years of unemployment and unable to find ANY work that will even come close to paying the bills, I have to say I am getting more than a little bit pissed off.

Yes. Pissed off! Frustrated. Angry. Depressed. Un-motivated. I could go on...

There's more at the link.

Then, Paul, Dammit! informs us that the fuel sector of the US maritime industry is in a bad way.

There's a serious morale issue throughout the ports of NY/NJ fuel barge crew. My company is not immune there. Oh, we're doing fine compared to the poor bastards down in the Gulf of Mexico, where even master mariners are working as able seamen and thankful when there's even that for work. While you're not seeing massive savings at the pump anymore thanks to the suits in the futures markets who're really cashing in, efficiencies have led to companies being able to get oil out of the ground cheaper on land, which is competitive with offshore oil, even given the disparities of distribution costs. Jobs have shifted for now, and both shale oil and offshore oil have plenty of wells just waiting for the price index to rise enough to be worth kicking the drills in gear. In the meanwhile, while the low-hanging fruit is being brought to market, there's lots of hungry bellies.

Morale is pretty low in the US maritime fuel transport sector, at least in many parts. It seems like medium-parcel movements are down, too, but not to the extent that I've seen in the small boats.

Unfortunately, I lack the ability to read crystal balls, and I don't have enough chatty friends in the marketing sector for fuel transport to really put together a more complete, coherent synopsis for what's going on, but I can say that the coconut telegraph among friends and shipmates and acquaintances online, there's an awful lot of this time is different in terms of riding out the slowdown.

Well, we'll see.

Again, more at the link.

Does anyone know whether these problems extend throughout the US merchant shipping industry?  Are they on both the East and the West Coasts?  What are the reasons for the downturn?  How bad is it here compared to elsewhere in the world, where I note that some articles complain about a skills shortage?

I'd like to know more.  If anyone can provide further information, or post links to relevant articles, I'd be grateful.  Thanks.