Seriously? Contempt of Court?

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“This is pretty outrageous,” U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said after he was informed about the flight, the Post said. “That someone seeking justice in U.S. court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?”

He threatened to jail Jeff Sessions for contempt if the plane wasn’t turned around. It duly was, reportedly after it had landed.

But hold on just a gol-darned minute, as Jeff Sessions might say.  Why is this a contempt of court issue? Or more properly, merely a contempt of court issue?

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Out, out, damned spot.

When I was a little kid, this comic scared the bejesus out of me.

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If you have forgotten how the story goes, Macbeth starts out as an OK guy but develops into the Idi Amin of Scotland. With his wife egging him on, he murders his way to the throne and later wipes out a host of innocents to keep the regicide from coming to light.

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In The Line of Fire

Messing with the Left is the political equivalent of beating up your little sister. It’s not even sporting but it’s still interesting to see each new variation on the old familiar theme. The Right has it down to a science; is the Left never going to catch on?

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If you set out to gin up a bogus controversy that would maximally distract the people on the Left while twisting the indignation of the Second Amendment crowd to a fever pitch, you just can’t beat 3-D printed guns.  No aspect of the controversy makes sense, yet the forces of darkness have millions of people fretting about it instead of worrying about things like why the EPA is being gutted or why it’s America’s new policy to drive Turkey out of NATO and into the loving embrace of Vladimir Putin.

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The Last Days of Pompeii

viet_tank_gallery__550x423More than ever before, our shared world is constructed of images. We talk a good game about facts  but the connection between our collective memory and history as documented by journalists and historians is more tenuous than we ever imagine.

Take the pictures on this page, for example. I’ve shown them to dozens of Americans over the last few years and nearly everyone recognizes them as the fall of Saigon. It’s not too surprising; how could anyone forget the day America lost the War in Vietnam, that frightening and humiliating day in 0417namfall01April 1975 when United States Navy sailors dumped helicopter after helicopter overboard to make room for the fleeing troops, and the embassy staff, protected by M16-wielding marines, evacuated the city as North Vietnamese Army (NVA) tanks rolled into town.

Like the Challenger disaster or the burning World Trade Center, these pictures are burned into the memory of a generation.

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How It Ends

191888_600We’re only a little more than 1/3 of the way through the first term of the Trump presidency and it already bids fair to end the tenure of the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower.

Until recently, it felt to me like we might be in for a full four years of Donald Trump but just lately things seem to be coming to a head.

Accordingly, I want to get my predictions into print now so that some day in the near future I will be able to either (a) crow insufferably about how prescient I was or (b) laugh ruefully about how the very worst we could imagine in those days was nothing compared to how it ultimately turned out.

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Chicken Love

I am new to the appreciation of chickens, new to seeing them as anything more than the larval form of McNuggets, but I’m fascinated by these beautiful birds that I somehow never noticed until now. Here are some things I have learned.

First of all, there are a lot of chickens in the world, but it’s hard to grasp what the raw headcount of about 20 billion really means. With about 7.4 billion humans in the world, chickens outnumber us by almost three to one, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story because chicken lives are so short compared to human lives. Continue reading “Chicken Love”

You’ve Got The Wrong German

People reflexively compare Donald Trump to Hitler, but they have the wrong German.  It’s Kaiser Wilhelm that the Donald is freakishly like. Wilhelm_II._1905 The similarity goes far beyond their extremely distinctive hair. (Trump’s elaborate blond comb-over is easily matched by the Kaiser’s trademark handlebar mustache with tips that stood straight up an inch high on the ends.)

The Kaiser’s power, like Trump’s, was unearned; he inherited the throne, while Trump fell into the presidency through a freak accident of history and demographics. Popularly perceived as foolish, Trump, like the Kaiser is actually reasonably intelligent, but also like the Kaiser, he convincingly simulates stupidity through his combination of extraordinary vanity, a comical level of arrogance, a negligible attention span, and legendary immaturity.

Trump famously surrounds himself with yes-people of mediocre talent. How like the Kaiser, who, soon after coming to power, fired Otto von Bismark, one of the great foreign policy geniuses of modern history. It was Bismark who had forged the German Empire out of Prussia and an assortment of minor German states and principalities, but the Kaiser wanted him out of the way so he would be free to pursue a militaristic course that was more or less opposite to the peaceful course Bismark had wisely set.

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Long Division

I just reread Michael Shaara’s classic novel of the Civil War, The Killer Angels (1974.) It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and was wildly popular with readers from across the political spectrum; it remains one of the great novels of the Civil War. It’s a fascinating story, beautifully told, but rereading it in a time of political polarization that rivals the political climate of the 1850’s, there is a new level of poignancy, not so much about that ancient battle, but about how we, the reading public, have changed.killer-angels

Today, conservatives and even grumpy liberals bemoan the prissy falsity of PC speech, and it is loathsome, but it is easy to forget how bad, and how recent, the bad old days were.

History moves at different speeds across America. As a Yankee, I think of 1974, the year  The Killer Angels was published, as modern times; The Velvet Underground and the Beatles had already come and gone, the moon landing was history, the great March on Washington was more than a decade in the past, and Martin Luther King himself had been dead for six years. Modern times.

Yet, much of the country was still rooted in the old days. The last of the “Whites Only” signs had only just been taken down in the South. I know they were still commonplace in the mid-1960’s South Carolina, so maybe some were still up, for all I know. Continue reading “Long Division”

Wonderful Flatness

This may not be everyone’s taste, but the black granite slab in the picture is an amazing artifact. It’s called a surface-plate. I got this one for my little home machine shop from a semi-retired machinist who deals in used tools on the side. He had it out in the back shed under a pile of junk and I had to pull it out myself, but he let me have it cheap—$80.  surface-plate

The surface plate is one of the machinist’s most basic and important measuring devices.  It is a slab of stone (or occasionally cast iron) ground and lapped to almost perfect flatness so that it can be used as a reference surface to measure things from.  Machinists and tool-and-die makers use them constantly to set up tools for taking complex measurements or for laying out precision work. Industry uses them for high-precision inspection, and laboratories find numerous uses for the accuracy provided by the finest grades. At 18”x24”x3” and 220 pounds, this is a small one. I saw a nine-ton,  4’x8’x2′ surface plate offered on eBay the other day, and that’s by no means as big as they get.  Two foot thick solid granite. Continue reading “Wonderful Flatness”

Nobody is Amazed Enough

I’m no kind of engineer or industrial design guy. I do make a lot of physical things, but it’s mostly artworks, and old fashioned artworks at that—stone and wood carving. Nothing much has changed in those media in 150 years, and even then it was just power tools to speed up the same things they already did.

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A sample from Autodesk’s site. The virtual parts all move, shafts turn, the spring compresses, etc.

It’s perverse to live in the 21st technological Renaissance, and limit yourself to materials and techniques that have been around since the end of the Bronze Age. With this in mind, I recently borrowed a Makerbot Replicator 3D printer, downloaded a program called Fusion360 and set about joining the 21st Century. (I’m lucky to have friends who can lend a guy a printer!)

Holy $%^#!, but this stuff has come a long way. Forget the printer—Fusion360 is a potential career killer. Don’t even start playing with it unless you’re prepared to get obsessed. It’s magic, really. It takes a little time to get the basics, but it’s a nice shallow learning curve and you can start building simple designs the first day.  

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