One of my friends and readers from Australia has commented extensively on my review of Trustee from the Toolroom and provided an introduction to some of the other works by Nevil Shute. Since I found the comments too valuable to leave them buried in hidden comments under a post, I have reposted them in their entirety here with his permission. Thanks Ray.

You obviously enjoyed Trustee from the Toolroom, perhaps another of Nevil Shute’s books– No Highway (later filmed as No Highway In the Sky–staring Jimmy Stewart) might also appeal.

Shute, who was himself an aircraft engineer, tells the story of an engineer who becomes aware of “premature” metal fatigue causing catastrophic effects in airplanes.

Much of the story centers around the engineer’s “lone voice” as he attempts to convince others of the inherent dangers. Shute also explores themes of our propensity to judge others, based upon physical appearance—or even the holding of viewpoints which differ from the “mainstream”.

Another Shute novel which might appeal, is On the Beach. This tells the story of several disparate characters who all face their own imminent demise, as radiation from a nuclear exchange in the Northern hemisphere gradually drifts towards the last remaining centers of civilisation—–in Australia. Notwithstanding the bleak theme of the book, Shute still manages to inject some of the laconic humor of Australia into this work, perhaps something the author had enjoyed, after moving here (to Australia) some years prior to writing the book. On the Beach was later filmed in Melbourne (Australia) in 1959—-starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire—–and again in 2000. It addresses such issues as the pointlessness of weapons which are so destructive as to destroy ALL life——and the consequent loss of ALL “political rationalisation” for such monstrous creations, when no one remains to “believe” in same–!!!!

A personal favorite amongst Shute’s work, however, is A Town Like Alice. Again, Shute wrote of tumultuous events involving both his country of birth (England) and his “adopted” Australia—–yet the underlying themes are “universal” and common to people everywhere. Much of the story takes place following the Japanese invasion of Malaya during WW2, and portrays the travails of POW’s in utterly miserable circumstances. Despite such a context, or perhaps BECAUSE of same, Shute reminds us through little incidents of small kindnesses, and common human decency amidst he horrors of war, that life is NOT so starkly “black & white” (or good and “evil” ) —a view to which we are often only too ready to subscribe—!!!! Another central tenet of the book is the strength of the human spirit, and our capacity as human beings, to survive the most horrendous of circumstances—–and despite such horrors, to actually thrive in spite of same–!! Because this is SO important to Shute’s A Town Like Alice, it seems to me, to be “unfortunate” that the FILM (here in Australia, of the same name as the book) was, in the U.S. renamed, The Rape of Malaya. This latter title seems to focus solely on the “HORROR” of the story–and the historical events upon which THIS part of Shute’s story is based. Shute’s story however, finds its REAL “wonder” NOT only in the day-by-day surviving of incredible hardships of warfare, but rather in what happens AFTER the events which the (U.S.) title accurately portrays as, The Rape of Malaya—!! For my “U.S. friends”, the “Alice” of Shute’s original title refers to the Australian outback town of Alice Springs—-locally referred to as “the Alice”—or simply, “Alice”. It is what takes place HERE, in Alice Springs (Australia) AFTER the war–(and which could not have occurred WITHOUT the suffering OF the earlier wartime events) which elevates Shute’s work from simply an interesting grittily heroic story, to a true celebration of all that is great & good about people everywhere-!! What unfolds in A Town (called) “Alice” is a portrayal by an author at the height of his powers, of the WONDER that is life–!! As such, it is a fine example of why we read good books–!!! *** I hope you and your readers may find some of the enjoyment to which I have alluded above, in these and other works by Nevil Shute.

Thanks, Ray Cullen, for providing your insight here.

When the original Islamic prophet Muhammad died in the year 632, there was a dispute over the succession.

The early leaders of the Muslim nation were called Khalifat Rasul Allah, the political successors to the messenger of God. Some academics transliterate the term as Khalīfah.

Sunnis believe that Abu Bakr, the father of Muhammad’s wife Aisha, was Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leaders endorsed by the Quran is the consensus of the Muslim community.

Shias believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Hussein ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next caliph, making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad’s successors. Ali was married to Fatimah, Muhammad’s daughter from his wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.

The dispute intensified greatly after the Battle of Karbala, in which Hussein ibn Ali and his household were killed by the ruling Umayyad Caliph Yazid I, and the outcry for his revenge divided the early Islamic community.

[I encapsulated these details from Wikipedia. Learn more details here.]

And thus the dispute started over 1300 years ago and continues to this day.

The two main sects still hate each other sufficiently, at least at the power and leadership level, that they are willing to kill each other and innocent bystanders for it.

Today 87–89% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni  and 11-12% are Shia.

Did we really believe that by toppling Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, by the way, in Iraq, one of the countries where the Sunni were actually a minority, we would once and for good solve the ancient dispute between the two Muslim sects? Bush and Cheney, with presumably access to the advice of the best experts on Islam in the world, did apparently not consider this situation sufficiently before they dismantled the power structure in Iraq and the surrounding region. All they did was stir up the powder keg.

Cheney recently remarked that by 2007 or 2008, they had pretty much sewed up the situation in Iraq.

This is history we’re talking about. Things don’t happen in a matter of days, weeks or even months. History sometimes takes years or decades or more to “resolve” situations. The Shia – Sunni situation has taken more than a millennium now. Do we really think they’ll come together now just because the imperialist United States would like them to?

While many Americans now blast Obama for passivity, I applaud him. He actually seems to understand that further meddling with a situation that we don’t even properly comprehend can not result in any satisfactory outcome other than more innocent dead, more American soldiers dead, more billions of American money (that we don’t have) spent, and more anti-American sentiment around the world. Finally, there would be more terrorism directed against the United States as the great Satan, fomenting religious zealotry and escalating world-wide terrorism as a result.

If the Middle East were not rich in oil, none of us would care about it. We would not even be able to point to Iraq on a map. Do you need proof? Point to Liberia or Namibia on a map.

Now that oil as a valuable resource is in decline and the world is rapidly (on a historic timescale) converting to renewable energies, we will see the Middle Eastern countries revert to feudalism and religious irrelevance. I predict it will take no longer than a couple of hundred years and nobody in the industrialized world will give a hoot about the difference between Sunni and Shia – and they will still be killing each other.

Thus are the benefits of religion to mankind.

TrusteeFromTheToolroomTrustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute is the most delightful novel I have read in a very long time. Spending time with the book, letting the paragraphs slide by, was pure joy, every minute of it. I just didn’t want it to end.

Shute died in 1960 and the book was published posthumously later that year. I must admit I had never read another Shute book, never heard of the author and I would certainly not have come across this one had it not been for a recommendation by a friend and colleague.

Trustee from the Toolroom is the story of Keith Stewart, a frumpy British engineer and journalist who has carved out a meager business building model engineering projects and writing about them in a niche magazine called the Miniature Mechanic. He loves what he does, and he and his wife live childless and seemingly content. They have just enough to get by and they are happy with their modest lives.

Keith’s wife’s sister Jo is married to a retired British naval officer. The two have one young daughter. They decide to sail in their own boat from England to the Pacific, with the goal of establishing themselves in Vancouver. During the journey, they leave their daughter with the Stewarts. They intend to have her flown over after they arrive in Vancouver some five months later.

A hurricane in the middle of the South Pacific changes everything, and Keith faces the conflicts of deciding to maintain his small and safe existence in an English village, or risk everything to recover the nest egg his in-laws have put aside for their daughter, making him the trustee. In the end, Keith chooses the path of adventure and courage.

This book is a novel without any villain or even any intense conflict. It simply tells the story, in great detail, of how Keith lives and eventually embarks on an exotic trip across half the globe on a very unlikely mission. We think we know the eventual outcome but the suspense comes from wanting to know how he accomplishes it, step by step.

Shute is an excellent story-teller. All the main characters are very likeable and honorable. Everyone seems to do the right thing all the time. It’s almost like a fairy tale, except there is no bad guy. The challenges in the story are simply life’s obstacles and accidental misfortunes.

A story like that just makes you feel good reading it, and everyone should have that experience once in a while.

Rating: **** (out of 4)

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world. We give Israel over $3 billion a year. $10 million of our tax dollars a day go to Israel. Yet, when the Israelis kill women and children in Palestine by the hundreds, we don’t seem to be alarmed. Only when Russians or Arabs do that, we’re worried.

Here is a map that shows what Israel has done to Palestine. It looks a little like what European settlers in North America have done to the Native Americans, doesn’t it.

It won’t be long now before Israel can tear down the walls around Palestine and bulldoze everything Arab and build shopping malls, schools and military bases – as there will be no more Palestinians left. A few more decades at this pace, and it’ll be over.

One people without a state (the Jews) will have totally ousted another people without a state (the Palestinians). One persecuted people against another persecuted people.


[click for photo credit]

Here is a six-minute history lesson of the background of the situation.


If this is all about religion, God must be great.


July 23, 2014, was not a perfect choice for a hike in the Adirondacks, but it was the only one open in my calendar. Thunderstorms were in the forecast, with a 40% chance of rain.

I had big plans, bagging a 4-peak-victory, first summiting Algonquin Peak, the second highest mountain in New York, then hopping over to Boundary and Iroquois Peaks on a minimum maintenance trail (this means no trail and no markings, only visuals of the peaks ahead), and then on the way back making a 0.4 mile each way excursion to Wright Peak, she “shortest one” of the four, at 4,580 feet altitude the 16th highest peak in New York.

But that was all just wishful thinking of my boundless energetic mind long before I had to put step in front of step.

I arrived at the trail head at Heart Lake at 5:40am and was walking by 5:50. It was dark and gloomy and the cloud cover was low. The first mile meandered through thick woods and marshland. Eventually it started climbing steadily.

The trail got rocky very quickly.

[note: click on any picture to enlarge]

Starting on Trail

If the above does not look too bad,  check  this out below:

More Trail 2

No, this is not a dry brook, it’s the trail. Somewhere around this point I passed another hiker that said this trail was much easier in the winter, because there were no rocks, just snow. Good point. I had never thought of that. I could carry up skis and come back down in no time. Hmmm.

Subject to Change

After about an hour and a half I came to this sign. I decided that my proper gear was hiking boots, trekking poles, and an extra long-sleeve shirt, windbreaker, down jacket and rain poncho in my pack, just in case. I was ready to go on.

Decision Time

Then it became decision time at 3.4 miles into the trail. The extremely rocky trail had already worn out my feet and knees and I had to be careful not to twist ankles or stub toes too much to save energy for the long return.

By this time, the sky around me was all socked in and while it didn’t rain yet and I didn’t hear any thunder, it seemed like it could start any time. Dreams of Algonquin and peaks beyond faded, and I decided to conquer Wright Peak first by taking this left turn and going up another 0.4 miles to the peak from this point. I could decide later if I wanted to move on to Algonquin or turn around when I got back to this junction.

Up the Rock

But what a 0.4 miles it was. This was the view east right from the sign above, showing the first section of the trail. Yes, the “wall” in the back was a slab of solid granite to climb up on, and the only way to do it was to let the tread on my boots do its gripping and trusting the boots. This is a nice exercise if you ever want to build your calves. It kept going like this on steep slabs of rock.

Heart Lake

About halfway up the last 0.4 miles I had a good view back to Heart Lake, where I had parked my car at the trailhead. The clouds below were so thick, the lake was only visible seconds at a time and then it disappeared again. I found a good moment to shoot this picture.

Seeing the Peak

Finally, the peak was within reach. Just a few more minutes.

Standing on the very Top

And here I was standing on the very top at 4,580 feet (which seems not much of an altitude for a Californian) but I was spreading my arms to keep my balance and prevent being blown over by the fierce wind whipping me around. The camera was sitting on a little rock ledge what was sheltered from the wind.

View from the Peak

When things cleared up for a moment I took another picture looking south from the peak.


This is a view toward the southwest and Algonquin, which is not really visible. I decided right there that I would not be attempting that mountain that day.


A hundred yards to the north of the peak is an airplane crash site, marked by a plaque. Four airmen lost their lives in a crash of a B-47 here on January 16, 1962. There is also still some debris from the plane collected there and strewn about the general area.

The Plaque

To give you a sense of the whipping wind at the top, here is a quick panoramic  video. I narrated over it but realize now that I didn’t speak anywhere near loud enough. I would have had to scream:

After I got to my cozy hotel that night I watched a PBS special about orangutans as I passed out after a long day on the trail and then in the car.

As I recollected my “rough” eight miles on the road, I remembered a blogger I follow, named Carrot Quinn, who is currently hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (from California to Mexico). She and her friends have been hiking 30 miles a day, every day, on their quest. I always thought that at age 57 I was a badass hiker, but Carrot and her buddies would leave me in the dust in minutes. When I checked  her blog today, titled Day 90: Hypothermia in Oregon in July, I found with amazement that Carrot and her friends had been watching the same documentary about orangutans on the same day after a very hard section on the Pacific Crest Trail.

They have me in awe.




On Monday I was in the audience of a keynote session at the New York Public Welfare Association (NYPWA) annual summer conference in Saratoga Springs. One of the presenters stated that in the next year, the U.S. expects 90,000 children from Central American countries to cross the border to the United States to seek asylum. New York State is making foster care slots available in vacant buildings and shelters for about 900 of these children. State officials expect that many of  them will end up on the welfare rolls for childcare, food stamps and various other services and warned the counties to get prepared for the onslaught.

Elsewhere I read that in June, about 350 children a day crossed the border to give themselves up. Multiplying 350 a day for the year somewhat corroborates the 90,000 number independently.

Many politicians blame Obama for “leaving the border open.” I did some research and came up with this chart:

Border Agents

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

This shows that there were 3,444 border patrol agents stationed along the nation’s southern border in 1993, under Clinton. There were 9,840 agents there in 2003, under Bush. And under Obama, in 2013, there were 18,611 agents.

Claiming that Obama isn’t putting the manpower on the border is simply factually wrong.

Today there were headlines that Texas Governor Rick Perry is going to deploy the National Guard to protect the border. This makes no sense to me. If desperate Central American children run away from their countries,  across Mexico, across the hostile desert, in the summer, and into the United States just to give themselves up as soon as they get here, what are men with guns going to do to keep them away – to “keep our border secure?”

In 1993, an American Marine shot and killed an American 18-year-old boy along the border for reasons not understood.

Our Border Patrol agents are trained to apprehend people, stop drug smugglers and secure the border. The U.S. Military or the National Guard are not. We have enough agents there already. This is not a “crisis” as it is made out to be.

It’s a disaster resulting from terrible conditions primarily in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, partially fomented by errant intervention policies by the U.S. government in those countries decades ago.

If we had more reasonable and workable drug policies in the U.S. and if we consumed less of the stuff, conditions in those countries would not be what they are and there would not be a flood of child refugees.

I believe that a large majority of these children will eventually become productive Americans, grateful to this country for taking them in, and committed to the Constitution of the United States for life. They will be called immigrants in a country of immigrants. Some of them will become American soldiers.

I am an immigrant and I understand what they are and how they feel.

And I am proud to be an American.

Today I drove into Lake Placid, New York. Every time I drive into this city, I cannot help but be in awe of the Olympic ski jump ramps, giant structures soaring over the woods.

Olympic Shadows 1

[click to enlarge]

At the beginning of June, during another visit to Lake Placid, we stopped by the Olympic arenas. Here is Trisha imitating the form of a speed skater, on the very rink where Eric Heiden won an unprecedented five individual gold medals, and set four Olympic records and one world record in 1980.

Olypmpic Shadows 2

[click to enlarge]

Olympic shadows are strong in Lake Placid, even 34 years later.

Scars upon the Land

[click to enlarge]

The hill in the background is in San Marcos, California. It used to be all covered by brush. The peak on the far left is Double Peak, the highest point in San Diego North County. Now somebody built a house on it (green arrow), and cleared his property all around it. The gap is visible for miles from many directions. It will be there for a very long time.

Scars upon the land.

Earth from Moon1

Three people were circling the moon that day. They took this picture, containing all of humanity in one shot. Then two of those people proceeded to land on the moon. It was a giant leap for mankind.

Norbert Haupt:

Here is a delightful summary of why parents should not text. Ever.
Oops, I am a parent. What am I saying?

Originally posted on The Journal:


View original

Zygote: a cell that is formed when an egg and a sperm combine : a fertilized egg. There are people in our country that say that a zygote is a person and should receive the full protection of the law based on that personhood.

There are also people who say that say that children that are in our country without documented citizen or resident alien status should be sent back to where they came from, no matter what the conditions. Are they thinking of those children as persons?

Does the zygote have citizen papers? No. So if he or she is eventually born in Mexico, tough luck.

I must admit, I am baffled.


News abound about looting going on at the crash site of MH17 in the Ukraine. People are going through luggage, taking electronics, any valuables they like, wallets and money. To me, this is astonishing on many levels:

1. The local government and law enforcement does not have their act together sufficiently to secure the crash site and perform a proper investigation. I must be naïve about the integrity of the area as it relates to the “almost” civil war.  Make a ring of troops around this area – we know you have enough manpower, and lock the place down!

2. Human beings living in the local area are poor and desperate enough to rifle through other people’s stuff, people who boarded an airplane in far away Amsterdam to go to far away Malaysia and just happened to pass through. Their moral code is lacking the concept that this stuff lying on the ground belongs to other people who, in this case, were extremely unfortunate and had very bad luck by being killed. They don’t understand that these objects might be very important to the relatives of the victims and that they might want them back. There are thousands of people who lost somebody in this disaster. Every one of those people is cringing in pain knowing that looters are going through the wreckage, disgracing their loved ones and their belongings.

3. Shooting down an airliner is one of the most heinous terrorist acts or mass murder imaginable. It does not happen very often, but when it does, the entire world usually grieves. I grieve for the victims. My world is not quite right, and I am thousands of miles away, safe and removed from the reality. However, people living in the villages right there obviously are not grieving, since they have the strength to scour the site and take away other people’s stuff as theirs.

I don’t think we’re any holier than the Ukrainians. If a plane went down in the rural United States, I can imagine that there could be looting, too, if the authorities didn’t lock down the site. The difference is, the authorities do lock down the sites pretty quickly here, so this does not happen. But remember Katrina, remember hurricane Sandy and the images of people carrying television sets out of stores.

The fact that our moral codes break down as soon as “the law” can no longer enforce a code shows how weak our civilization is. The smallest upset in the order of things, like a natural disaster or a terror strike, can remove the shackles of normal civilized ethics, and the concept of property disappears.

The frightening thing is: it’s not just the concept of property. The next step is that without “the law” bullies with guns will start extorting food, water and ammunition from others that don’t have guns, and they will pillage and rape. I am not saying that everyone becomes lawless, but it does not have to be everyone. If only one in a hundred thinks that they now have rights over other people’s properties or bodies, that’s sufficient to plunge us back into the Bronze Age.

Disasters like the MK17 terror strike brings out the worst in us.

Try to ask Siri whether it can give you directions using Google Maps and see what happens:


Not only does it does it do this, but it launches Apple Maps and proceeds with directions from wherever you are to some location in Los Angeles, where there is presumably the U-Sing-Along Music Store.

Siri obviously has a very twisted sense of humor.

Time Travel


I am going on a time trip. I need to borrow some weapon, though. Does somebody have any weapons I could use for a minute?

No matter how long I’ll be engaged down-time, I will return exactly one minute after I leave, so we could arrange that you come to my place with the weapons. You give me the weapons, you just wait for a minute until I come back from my time trip, and I’ll give you the weapons right back.

But first I need to write to this guy in Prince George, BC.

As it turns out, a large percentage of the people onboard Malaysian flight 17 were top AIDS researchers on the way to Melbourne, Australia for a conference.

The conference will have a somber mood, with so many participants missing this year. This article in the Sydney Morning Herald shows details.

The insanity of ethnic strife and suppression, as evidenced in Ukraine, and of course going in on Syria and Iraq, is both depressing and agonizing.

Put the guns down, people!

And the rockets!


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