Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oven Stoves

From Low-Tech Magazine, a lengthy article on "oven-stoves"--ceramic or stone stoves--designed to provide heat throughout the day (or night) on less fuel than a conventional wood stove or fireplace. The article also has numerous photographs of different designs and styles.
The most essential feature of an oven stove is that it is made out of some kind of stone or brick, while all our modern heating appliances are made of steel. Metal heats up fast, but it also cools down just as quickly. Therefore, a metal heating appliance has to be fuelled almost continuously.

Stone requires more time to heat up, but once it has, it holds the heat much longer. An oven stove is only fired for a short time, from a quarter of an hour to one or two hours and only once or twice per day. An average oven stove then radiates heat for at least 12 hours.

Smoke channels

The main part of the heating appliance consists of a labyrinth of smoke channels and smoke rooms. Their aim is to hold the warm gasses inside the oven as long as possible, so that the stone can absorb the heat before it leaves the chimney.

The energetic output of an oven stove is 80 to 90 percent, compared to 40 to 50 percent for metal stoves or central heating appliances, and only 10 to 15 percent for a fireplace – where most heat escapes via the chimney. One of the most striking features of a (wood fuelled) oven stove is the stokehold, which looks ridiculously small compared to the stove itself.

Thanks to the high output, a modest masonry heater or tile stove (heating a room of 60 square meters) only needs 6 cubic meters of wood per year: one tree. If you have even a small garden, you can easily fuel your oven stove by means of your own cuttings – thin wood is very well suited for tile stoves, although it needs to be dry enough.

Radiant heat

All our contemporary heating appliances warm a house or a room mainly by means of convection: they heat up the air. An oven stove does it by means of radiant heat: infrared radiation, comparable to the heat of the sun. In a room that is heated by an oven stove, a thermometer can hardly measure anything.

The effect is comparable to that of a skier who enjoys a schnapps while sunbathing, in spite of the freezing temperatures. Radiant heat does not (only) warm up the air, but particularly also the body of the skier directly.

An oven stove acts in the same way as the sun: it does not so much heat the air, but the floor, the walls, the furniture and the people in the room. These objects in their turn radiate that absorbed heat to their environment – similar to a city radiating heat after a long hot summer day, when the walls and the pavement slowly release back the heat from the sun.
Read the whole thing.

Trial Exposes Reach of the Los Zetas Cartel Into the U.S.

The Zetas criminal organization evolved and expanded between 2001 and 2008, going from hired guns to a sprawling drug syndicate with tentacles reaching into the U.S. — and trained hit men to protect the gang's interests here.  
The history and inner workings of the cartel were laid out by federal prosecutors over five days of testimony this month in a Laredo courtroom. Former cartel traffickers testified about the Zetas' smuggling operations, and hit men told jurors how they killed for its leaders — slaying their enemies with bullets in the U.S. and kidnapping rivals in Mexico and slaughtering them while bound.
* * *

Today, the gang has split from the Gulf Cartel and is waging a bloody war against their former masters. But in 2001, when the prosecutors' story began, the Zetas were hired guns, a group of former Mexican army special forces who'd been dispatched to Nuevo Laredo to secure it for the Gulf Cartel. They also went to war against the west coast Sinaloa Cartel, which was trying to make its own inroads.

* * *

By 2005, the Zetas had expanded to the U.S. They had stash houses in Laredo and were crossing drugs at the Rio Grande, testimony showed. They were also killing in the U.S.

* * *

In 2007 and 2008, a former trafficker testified, the gang used corrupt employees of bus companies to move hundreds of pounds of cocaine to Dallas and ship hundreds of thousands of dollars back to Nuevo Laredo.

Building an AK -- Part 1

With the successful resolution of my failure-to-extract issue, I've decided to discuss my thoughts (and lessons learned) on building an AK-74. This is not intended to be a primer (there are several sources of detailed information on builds available on the internet) but just a few pointers, ideas, and what I learned from the project.

Please note that I am not a gun smith, engineer, or machinist. These tips and thoughts are based on my own experience and are for educational use only. You should obtain proper instruction and training before attempting to use any tools or assembling a firearm. If you decide to use or apply these tips and thoughts, you do so at your own risk.

You Will Not Be Saving Any Money

First, and foremost, I want to emphasize that it is no longer economical to attempt to build an AK from a parts kits.Several years ago, you could get a de-milled AK kit (generally a Romanian AKM "G" kits) for around $70 dollars, that included the original barrel already seated in the front trunnion. Other types of kits, such as Polish underfolders, Egyptian made models, etc., were a little more, but included a barrel. The difficult part--seating the barrel and cutting the slots for the pins--was already done. This made it easier, and less expensive, for you--or a gunsmith if you sent the parts off for assembly--to build the rifle.

Then the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (BATF) changed the import rules. The result is that kits are now much more expensive, and do not come with an original barrel (or have a demilled barrel, i.e., a barrel with a several large holes drilled into it rendering it useless and irreparable). When you add the expense of purchasing the barrel to the other 944r parts, it is nearly the same as buying a finished gun from someplace like Century Arms. When you add the costs of a gunsmith to assemble the parts (or the tools, if you are going to do the assembly yourself), you easily could be paying as much or more than you would for a really nice AK from K-VAR. My opinion is that if you are going to build an AK from a kit, it must be because of the joy or interest in the project, to test your skills or learn new skills, and not because you are trying to save a few bucks.

Parts

Obviously, the basic set of parts you will need will be a "parts kit"--generally this will include both the front and rear trunnions, gas tube, front and rear sight assembly, trigger group (the hammer, sear, and trigger unit--typically for select fire, unless from a Romanian "G" model), stock, pistol grip, top cover, recoil spring, bolt, bolt carrier and gas piston, and various springs and pins. Some sellers may include a U.S. made barrel as part of a packaged deal. If not, you will need to purchase a barrel separately.  Sometimes you can find an East Bloc barrel that is mil-spec with a chrome lined bore and barrel. Otherwise, you will need to get a U.S. barrel. To my knowledge, there are no U.S. made barrels that are chrome lined. Sources for barrels, parts kits, or individual parts, include Apex, Centerfire Systems, Cheaper-Than-Dirt, Copes Distributing, Sarco, and RTG Parts. There are plenty of other sources out there as well.

The next "part" is technically the firearm. This is the receiver. This is the part that is registered and bears the serial number. You have two options: (1) buy a fully manufactured receiver through a licensed firearms dealer, or (2) buy a receiver "flat" and manufacture your own receiver. The welding and bending of a "flat" is beyond my skills and ability, so I will not discuss it, but Tapco manufactures flats. There are several manufacturers of AK receivers, but I used one from Nodak Spud. If you have a gun dealer you work through, you can place an order with Nodak, then have the FFL holder fax his license to Nodak. The receiver will be shipped to the FFL holder, where you will complete the paper work for the transfer. Check about the transfer fee charged by the FFL before you order the receiver.

Next, you need to purchase parts to comply with BATF Regulation 944r. I won't go into it in detail, but essentially you need to have a certain number of key parts manufactured in the United States. Tapco has a good overview on their website (link here). Not all guns have the total number of parts in the list. My understanding is that you will need to get at least six (6) U.S. made parts for the AK, but I also recommend that you "overbuild" it with additional parts just to be safe.

The barrel and receiver are each one (1) part, so by this point, you already have two 922r parts.

You will also need to get a different trigger group since you can't use the select-fire/full auto trigger group that came with the kit. A new hammer, trigger and sear all count as a 922r part each, so a complete trigger group is three (3) additional parts. As you can see, just replacing the minimum parts you need already gives you 5 of the 6 required parts. I used an Arsenal Inc. made trigger group (available through Midway or K-VAR), but Tapco's trigger group has also received high marks.

A couple notes as to the trigger group, however. First, there are single-hook and double-hook triggers available. You can read up on the differences on the internet. However, the receiver has a small slot in front of hole for the trigger to accommodate the hook when the trigger is pulled. That means that a single-hook will need one-slot, but a double-hook will need two-slots. Not all receivers are built with two slots. So, unless you fancy yourself cutting a slot into the receiver, check your receiver before you order the trigger group. I used a single-hook so I didn't have to worry about the issue.

Second, you may be tempted to pitch the full-auto trigger group that came with your kit. Don't. There is a small spring that fits between the trigger and the sear that you will need. Take the trigger/sear/rate reducer apart after wrapping in a cloth. The spring will jump out, so the cloth will catch it. (Trust me, the spring is very small and hard to find). After you have removed the spring, then you can throw the old trigger parts away.

The other parts to replace with 922r parts depends on your taste and what you want. If you want to use a non-U.S. stock and/or pistol grip, you may have to get creative. However, the stock is the easiest part to replace. The fore-stock, pistol grip, and butt stock are each one part, so replacing all three would give you a total (with the receiver, barrel, and trigger group) of 8 parts, which is well in excess of what is required under 922r.

Another part that is easily replaced is the flash-hider/muzzle compensator. The gas piston can be replaced, and some people will use U.S. made magazines (three parts--body, floor plate, and follower) or use a U.S. made floor plate or follower on a foreign made magazine body.

I opted for a U.S. made stock set. I chose the set available through K-VAR because it was the only U.S. made synthetic stock set with a heat shield in the forestock. (Note: K-VAR also sells foreign made stock sets, so double-check what you are ordering).

Another part you may consider, although it is not necessary, is a retaining plate to hold the trigger group pin in place. Tapco builds one (link here).  Here is a different style (a "shepherd's crook") at Brownells. (Link here). You can also modify one of the springs to clip into place. Strangely enough, Tapco has modified spring clips that you can also get (link here). I've had experience with the shepherd's crook style, but made my own spring clip out of a spring. (Some instructions here). It will save you a lot of time and expletives if you use a retaining plate.

Once you have the parts you need, you can ship it off to a gunsmith to assemble. Otherwise, you are ready to start down the hard road of becoming a DIY gunsmith.

Rivets Versus Screws Versus Welding

For the DIY gunsmith, the next issue is deciding the method to assemble the component parts--specifically, attaching the receiver to the front and rear trunnions, as well as attaching the trigger guard and magazine release assembly to the receiver. 

The great debate (and it can be contentious) is using rivets versus using screws. You will also find a few people discussing welding. As I noted above, I don't do welding, so I won't discuss that option any further. The people arguing for rivets make two basic arguments: rivets are what the original design called for; and screws are too weak and loose to hold the gun together. Well, there is no doubt about the use of rivets by the Soviets, but in my research, I never came across anyone that actually experienced a failure due to a screw breaking. If there were any problems with screws, it was with the screws backing out, which problem was solved with a bit of Lock-Tite.

I decided on a screw build. My reasoning was that I thought it would be easier than attempting to build with rivets, it would be cheaper, and if I had issues, I could dissemble the parts if I needed. One of the issues that particularly concerned me with a rivet build was the actual process of squeezing the rivets. The professionals that built lots of AKs had special jigs for use with a hydraulic  press, which cost several hundreds of dollars. Other people modified bolt cutters to use to squeeze the rivets.

However, whichever way you go, you will need to get either rivets or screws. Various companies make rivets for assembling an AK. Screw kits were harder to track down. Although Tapco makes a set of screws, you can't purchase directly from Tapco, and there were only a couple of parts dealers that carried the screw sets. Of course, you can also go to your local hardware store for the screws, which is what I did, selecting stainless steel screws. If you do go the screw build route, I would recommend getting two sets of the screws just in case.

Tools

I'm going to assume that anyone getting into a project like this has basic hand tools like a ball-peen hammer, punches, various types of pliers, a vice-grip, etc. I also assume that you have some lubricant for easing the barrel and various pins into place. My focus will be on some of the non-standard tools.

Since you will be seating (pushing) the barrel into the front trunnion, you will want a hydraulic shop press. (Here, for example). This will come in handy for pressing the barrel pin. I suppose that you could use a heavier hammer to hammer the barrel in place, but it is a whole lot easier to have the press.

You will have to cut slots in the barrel for various pins, and you may need to open up some of the holes in the receiver for the screws. For this, you will need a Dremel or similar rotary tool. For the actual cutting, you will want to get 1/8 inch tungsten carbide cutter (Craftsman parts no. 953071) and 5/16 inch diamond point cutter/engraver (Craftsman parts no. 953161). The latter actually comes with two cutters/engravers--you will only need the pointed one; the one with the bulb tip is unnecessary for this project.

Of course, if you decide on a screw build, you will need the appropriate sized and thread tap and a tap wrench. 

I discovered that the hole in the front trunnion for the barrel was actually too small. Ideally, you would use a flapper wheel to open it up but keeping it uniform in diameter. However, I couldn't find one that was the right size. I eventually decided on a 1-1/8 inch brake cylinder hone. (See, for example). It was still too big, but by removing one of the stones, I was able to fit it in and broaden the hole. If you have to do this, be very careful--you want the hole to be big enough that you can fit the chamber end of the barrel into the front trunnion, but tight enough that you will have to use the press to seat the barrel. In my case, just a few seconds of use (probably enough to grind off 1/1000 inch of material) was enough.

In my next post on this topic, I will discuss tips and pointers as to the actual assembly process.

The Spread of Antiobiotic Resistant Bacterial Infections

To sum it up: too free of use of antibiotics. From Spiegel Online:
Microbiologists refer to this bacterium as community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or ca-MRSA. The terrifying thing about it is its resistance to almost all common antibiotics, which complicates treatment. And, in contrast to the highly drug-resistant hospital-acquired MRSA (ha-MRSA) strains, which primarily affect the elderly and people in hospitals and nursing homes, ca-MRSA affects healthy young people. The bacterium has become a serious health threat in the United States. Doctors have already discovered it in Germany, although no deaths have been attributed to it yet in the country.

The two bacteria, ha-MRSA and ca-MRSA, are only two strains from an entire arsenal of pathogens that are now resistant to almost all available antibiotics. Less than a century after the discovery of penicillin, one of the most powerful miracle weapons ever produced by modern medicine threatens to become ineffective.

The British medical journal The Lancet warns that the drug-resistant bacteria could spark a "pandemic." And, in Germany, the dangerous pathogens are no longer only feared "hospital bugs" found in intensive care units (ICUs). Instead, they have become ubiquitous.

About two weeks ago, consumers were alarmed by the results of an analysis of chicken meat by the environmentalist group Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), which found multidrug-resistant bacteria on more than half of the chicken parts purchased in supermarkets.

The dangerous bacteria have even been detected on one of Germany's high-speed ICE trains. Likewise, more than 10 percent of the residents of German retirement homes have been colonized by MRSA bacteria. In their case, every open wound is potentially deadly. The pathogens have also been found on beef, pork and vegetables.

Another alarming finding is that about 3 to 5 percent of the population carries so-called ESBL-forming bacteria in the intestine without knowing it. Even modern antibiotics are completely ineffective against these highly resistant bacteria.

Diminishing Defenses

When the neonatal ICU at a hospital in the northern German city of Bremen was infested with an ESBL-forming bacterium last fall, three prematurely born babies died.

Infestation with multidrug-resistant bacteria is normally harmless to healthy individuals because their immune systems can keep the pathogens under control. Problems arise when an individual becomes seriously ill.

"Take, for example, a person who is having surgery and requires artificial respiration and receives a venous or urinary catheter," explains Petra Gastmeier, director of the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at Berlin's Charité Hospital. "In such a case, the resistant intestinal bacteria can enter the lungs, the bloodstream and the bladder."

This results in urinary tract infections, pneumonia or sepsis, which are increasingly only treatable with so-called reserve antibiotics, that is, drugs for emergencies that should only be administered when common antibiotics are no longer effective.

The Spread of Killer Bugs

Recently, an even greater threat has arisen. With the spread of ESBL-forming bacteria, reserve antibiotics have to be used more and more frequently, thereby allowing new resistances to develop. In fact, there are already some pathogens that not even the drugs of last resort in the medical arsenal can combat.


In India, where poor hygiene and the availability of over-the-counter antibiotics encourage the development of resistance, an estimated 100 to 200 million people are reportedly already carriers of these virtually unbeatable killer bacteria. There is only one antibiotic left -- a drug that is normally not even used anymore owing to its potentially fatal side effects -- that is still effective against these killer bacteria. In serious cases, people who become infected with these types of pathogens die of urinary tract infections, wound infections or pneumonia.

The killer bugs have also reached England, presumably through medical tourists who traveled to India for cosmetic surgery, and they have reportedly already infected several hundred people. A few cases have also turned up in Germany.

Israel even experienced a nationwide outbreak a few years ago. Within a few months, about 1,300 people were afflicted by an extremely dangerous bacterium that killed 40 percent of infected patients. Even today, the same bacterium still sickens some 300 people a year.
Read the whole thing.

Director of National Intelligence Says that Iran Poses the Bigger Threat

From Fox News:
With Usama bin Laden and many of his former deputies dead, Clapper said the group's leadership is thinned, its capabilities "degraded" and its focus on "smaller, simpler plots."

"Al Qaeda core's ability to perform has weakened significantly," he said.

At the same time, Clapper described the threat from Iran as one on the upswing. In a lengthy document submitted to Congress, Clapper said last year's alleged Iran-backed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. "shows that some Iranian officials -- probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei -- have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."

He said the intelligence community is also concerned "about Iranian plotting against U.S. or allied interests overseas."

Clapper described Iran as undecided, perhaps conflicted, about its next move -- and weighing its options based not on ideology but a cold-eyed assessment of whether more aggression would be good, or bad, for Iran.

He said Iran's willingness to sponsor attacks in the U.S. and elsewhere "probably will be shaped by Tehran's evaluation of the costs it bears for the plot against the ambassador as well as Iranian leaders' perceptions of U.S. threats against the regime."
Let's be clear here. The cost-benefit calculation here has nothing to do with harm and suffering to the Iranian people, per se, but to the self-interest of the Iranian leaders. That is, they are only concerned with their power and personal safety. If they can maintain that, the potential loss of Iranian lives will do nothing to dissuade them.

"California is the place you wanna be...."

California may have a great climate, but it is a disaster waiting to happen. (And I'm not talking about its rampant crime rate, unchecked illegal immigration and bankrupt government). Earthquakes, ark storms, and now this:

California's Death Valley, already one of the hottest places on Earth, may have the potential to get a whole lot hotter — and live up to its name in a surprising (and possibly scary) new way, according to new research.

Scientists have long known that the craters that pepper this dry landscape were formed by long-ago volcanic eruptions, triggered when hot magma ascending from inside the planet hit pockets of water.

Some researchers now think the area erupted far more recently than thought, meaning the parched swath of central California, home to desolate salt flats and scalding temperatures, could be primed for a follow-up.

Dates for the geological catastrophe are fuzzy, but researchers used to think that Death Valley's largest crater, a half-mile (0.8 kilometer) wide gash in the Earth nearly 800 feet (240 meters) deep, formed in 4000 BC.

Yet new evidence uncovered by a team of scientists at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory suggests the dramatic crater, called Ubehebe, last erupted only 800 hundred years ago.

Although that may sound like ancient history, in geological time 800 years is a mere blip. And because the crater formed relatively recently, it might still be restive, and plenty of liquid hot magma may still be lurking beneath it.
 (Full story here).

Monday, January 30, 2012

Has Iran Divorced Hamas?

Now this is interesting:
According to Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, a group of armed Hamas fighters "brutally attacked" Shi'ite worshippers in the Gaza Strip last Friday, in part of a crackdown on Shi'ite groups that was sparked "by Hamas' fear of growing Iranian influence in Gaza." This is what happens with the Ayatollah stops paying the bills: up until a few months ago, "Iranian influence" was the sole reason for Hamas’ existence.
* * *

So what dark turn has destroyed so fruitful a marriage of true minds? Nothing other than the imminent demise of the Assad regime in Syria.

Iran wants Hamas to hang around Damascus, currently its global headquarters, and show solidarity with the dictator who advertises himself as the last titan of Arab “resistance”. But Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal has other ideas which is why, when not promising to retire, he’s been shopping for new real estate in the Middle East and shuttering all business in Damascus. As punishment for going wobbly on a regional ally, Iran has reportedly cut some or all of its funding to Hamas, forcing the group into a budgetary shortfall that’s been somewhat compensated by Turkish and Qatari funds.

But how long can this emergency subsidy last? Islamist though the current government in Ankara is, it cannot support an internationally proscribed terrorist organisation forever without jeopardising its ties to the US and Europe, not to say its Nato membership. So either Turkish money will stop flowing or Hamas will have to not just “suspend” its commitment to violence, as it claims to have done recently in order to certify a dead-letter unity deal with its secular rival Fatah – it will have to permanently renounce violence altogether.

Oil Prospects for the Falklands

The Telegraph reports that the Falkland oil discoveries could set off an oil boom similar to that in the North Sea.
Some was found in the 1990s, but what has really got the oil industry excited is Sealion, a "discovery" which geologists think is about the size of decent North Sea oilfield. Other finds nearby in the North Basin, about 70 miles north of the islands, are also promising.

And then there is the South Basin, which has never been drilled. It is big, and the geological structures look good. A drilling ship is en route from Aberdeen to start a proper search. There was speculation about oil even at the time of the Falklands War, but the islands were too far away in an environment which was too difficult for any company to raise the investment to prospect seriously. Now the price of oil is high, the world's main oil fields are menaced by political insecurity - whether in the Gulf or Nigeria - and technology is better than ever at extracting black gold, even in the harshest environment.

The stage is being set for the transformation of the South Atlantic.

The Five Most Common Regrets of the Dying

Author Bronnie Ware worked as a caregiver for the terminally ill. She has written a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Ms Ware recorded the most frequent five regrets in the elderly as:
  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

    'This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
    Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.'
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

    'This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship.
    Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.'
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

    'Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others.
    As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.'
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

    'Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down.
    Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.'
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

    'This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives.
    Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.'

We are told in the scriptures that “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). 
[W]e sometimes forget that it’s really true. We are meant to have joy, which means to be genuinely happy, in an eternal sense.

Our Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to have many opportunities to learn and grow. To do that, He provided a wonderful world that He declared to be good and gives us the opportunity to choose goodness and joy. We know the commandments are to bless and help us, but we don’t always remember they also help us have joy.
(Source).

You might wonder what this has to do with disaster preparation, and its a fair question. The link is that we preppers must not be full of "doom and gloom," worrying about a disaster ... or the end of the world. Our preparations are to give us peace of mind so that we can live our life with joy. And, if we enjoy camping, or hunting/shooting, or canning, so much the better.

Debunking the Maya Doomsday Predictions

Doomsday reports have reached a fever pitch this year -- and it's all thanks to the Mayans.

On Dec. 21, 2012, many doomsday believers fear the apocalypse will arrive -- anything from a rogue planet smashing into us to our world spinning end over end. That surge probably comes from the ancient Mayan calendar, and if you try to flip through one from December 2012 to 2013 you'll see exactly why.

According to the ancient Mayan "Long Count" calendar, next year's winter solstice marks the end of a 144,000-day cycle. This cycle, which begins at the mythical Maya creation date, has already been repeated 12 times. The 13th will end in 2012, capping a full 5,200-year Mayan cycle of creation.

Even NASA is trying to debunk the story.

"Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar," the space agency recently wrote.
The article goes into discussing several predicted "dooms," including rogue planets, cosmic alignments, and polar reversals.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Metaphor for the Collapsing Chinese Real Estate Market

We are on a dirt track snaking its way uphill through rice paddies and groves of yellow bamboo. Behind us, spread out across a vast, smoggy plain, are the homes of tens of millions of dirt-poor migrant workers who struggle to earn a living in some of the most polluted cities on the planet: Huizhou, Dongguang, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the clustered sweatshops of southern China. Yet there in front of us, as we turn a final corner through the dust, is an Alpine vision.

A neo-Gothic church rises like a mirage. It is surrounded by the spotless wooden roofs of well-tended chalets, scores of them, a picture-postcard village set beside an artificial lake. Welcome to Hallstatt, the UNESCO-listed Austrian resort. Welcome to Hallstatt, China.

Never afraid to ‘borrow’ or imitate, Chinese planners have now designed what might be called the ultimate counterfeit: a settlement copied wholesale for the benefit of wealthy industrialists and located just an hour or so by chauffeur-driven limousine from their grim factories in the smoky distance.
* * *
There is, however, a flaw in this otherwise impressive feat of construction: no one is buying.

China’s real-estate market, booming as recently as last summer, has gone into freefall. For the moment at least, Hallstatt, Austria, will keep the prize for visitor numbers.

This sudden reversal of fortune might generate a few wry smiles among lovers of the original. But the state of the Chinese property market is no laughing matter; in fact it has caused waves of alarm as the world’s second biggest economy heads for a crisis of confidence.

China is growing at its slowest pace for more than two years and property prices, which have grown fivefold in the past decade, are projected to shrink by as much as one fifth in the next year to 18 months. The price of new homes in China fell for the third consecutive month last December, official statistics show, with annual growth in real-estate investment slowing to its weakest pace for a year.
The property ‘bubble’ is a source of grave anxiety for economists and a potential disaster for China’s newly monied classes, who for years have snapped up luxury homes, often leaving them empty to preserve their treasured ‘brand new’ status, apparently secure in the knowledge their value could only rise.

Unable to invest abroad (the regime does not permit individuals to send money out of China) and with precious few options for domestic investment, tycoons and middle-class buyers have put their faith and their money in real estate. And this, in turn, has become one of the engines driving China’s extraordinary development.

Finding that so much of China’s ‘growth’ is paper profit based on empty bricks and mortar is scarcely better news for us in the beleaguered West. China’s expansion has fuelled the global economy, driving demand for raw materials and creating an enormous appetite for consumer goods and foreign luxuries.
* * *
Nor is it just the rich who have seen the value of their investments plunge; legions of middle-class city dwellers have ploughed their life savings into urban property, too. In recent months, apartment owners have erupted in protest as they watch developers slash prices for neighbouring – and identical – properties because of shrinking demand. And such protests hint at a social disquiet that terrifies China’s leaders.

One of their darkest fears is the prospect of an uprising by the country’s middle classes who, in an unspoken pact, tolerate single-party rule in return for prosperity and continuing economic growth.
And for some additional irony:
The same fate has befallen Thames Town, the English-style development built near Shanghai in 2006, which a visitor last year described as being ‘like the set of The Truman Show’ deserted but for a handful of couples having their wedding photographs taken with ‘British’ backdrops.

Free Audio Childrens Books

From BooksShouldBeFree.com.

The Sixth Seal

As I had noted in an earlier piece:
The basic structure of the vision is chronological. After seeing the Father and the Son in heaven (Rev. 4–5), the vision of the history and destiny of the world begin to unfold for John. He sees the first five seals (or first five thousand years of history) in rapid-fire, encapsulated form. Then he sees the opening of the sixth seal, which includes the restoration of the gospel. (See Rev. 6:12–7:17.)
(Full article). The opening of the Sixth Seal is described thus:
12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;

16 And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:

17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
 (Link). (Note: Joseph Smith has indicated that verse 14 should read: "And the heavens opened as a scroll is opened when it is rolled together; and every mountain, and island, was moved out of its place." This indicates that the heavens, which had theretofore been closed due to the apostasy, see 2 Thes. 2:2-3, would again be opened).

There are four significant events: (i) the restoration of the gospel (Rev. 6:14; see also D&C 88:84-88); (ii) the gathering of Israel (Rev. 7:1-3; see also D&C 77:8-10); (iii) the sealing of the 144,000 (Rev. 7:4-8); and (iv) a great earthquake(s) and other natural disasters (Rev. 6:12-17; see also D&C 88:87-91). Section 88 indicates that this great earthquake will be "after your testimony" and sometime yet in our future. (D&C 88:87-88).

The 20th Century was actually fairly quiet geologically speaking. So, it is interesting to read about what a really large earthquake, both in terms of force and scope, can do. I came across this description of the New Madrid Earthquake:
The New Madrid earthquakes were the biggest earthquakes in American history. They occurred in the central Mississippi Valley, but were felt as far away as New York City, Boston, Montreal, and Washington D. C. President James Madison and his wife Dolly felt them in the White House. Church bells rang in Boston. From December 16, 1811 through March of 1812 there were over 2,000 earthquakes in the central Midwest, and between 6,000-10,000 earthquakes in the Bootheel of Missouri where New Madrid is located near the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In the known history of the world, no other earthquakes have lasted so long or produced so much evidence of damage as the New Madrid earthquakes. Three of the earthquakes are on the list of America’s top earthquakes: the first one on December 16, 1811, a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale; the second on January 23, 1812, at 7.8; and the third on February 7, 1812, at as much as 8.8 magnitude.

The Mississippi Ran Backwards
After the February 7th earthquake, boatmen reported that the Mississippi actually ran backwards for several hours. The force of the land upheaval 15 miles south of New Madrid created Reelfoot lake, drowned the inhabitants of an Indian village; turned the river against itself to flow backwards; devastated thousands of acres of virgin forest; and created two temporary waterfalls in the Mississippi. Boatmen on flatboats actually survived this experience and lived to tell the tale.

Getting Over Cracks
As the general area experienced more than 2,000 earthquakes in five months, people discovered that most of crevices opening up during an earthquake ran from north to south, and when the earth began moving, they would chop down trees in an east- west direction and hold on using the tree as a bridge. There were “missing people” who were most likely swallowed up by the earth. Some earthquake fissures were as long as five miles.

Earthquake Phenonema
Sand Boils
The world’s largest sand boil was created by the New Madrid earthquake. It is 1.4 miles long and 136 acres in extent, located in the Bootheel of Missouri, about 8 miles west of Hayti, Missouri. Locals call it “The Beach.” Other, much smaller, sand boils are found throughout the area.

Seismic Tar Balls
Small pellets up to golf ball sized tar balls are found in sand boils and fissures. They are petroleum that has been solidified, or “petroliferous nodules.”

Earthquake Lights
Lights flashed from the ground, caused by quartz crystals being squeezed. The phenomena is called “seismoluminescence.”

Warm Water
Water thrown up by an earthquake was lukewarm. It is speculated that the shaking caused the water to heat up and/or quartz light heated the water.

Earthquake Smog
The skies turned dark during the earthquakes, so dark that lighted lamps didn’t help. The air smelled bad, and it was hard to breathe. It is speculated that it was smog containing dust particles caused by the eruption of warm water into cold air.

Loud Thunder
Sounds of distant thunder and loud explosions accompanied the earthquakes.

Animal Warnings
People reported strange behavior by animals before the earthquakes. They were nervous and excited. Domestic animals became wild, and wild animals became tame. Snakes came out of the ground from hibernation. Flocks of ducks and geese landed near people.
That article also describes the voyage of the first steamship on the Mississippi which, by coincidence, was at the same time:
The first steamboat travel on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers took place during the New Madrid earthquakes. The New Orleans set out from Pittsburgh on October 20, 1811 bound for New Orleans. Captain Nicholas Roosevelt had brought along his young wife, their 2 year old daughter, and a Labrador dog. Ten days after leaving Pittsburgh, his wife Lydia gave birth to a son in Louisville, Kentucky. They waited a while for her to recover, and for the water to rise prior to crossing the dangerous waters and coral reef at the Falls of the Ohio. On the night before the day of the earthquake, December 16th, the steamboat was anchored near Owensboro, Kentucky, about 200 miles east of New Madrid, Missouri. Their dog, Tiger, insisted on staying in the cabin with them instead of sleeping on the deck. Without realizing it, they were heading straight towards the epicenter of the greatest earthquake in American history. Their steamboat, intended to be an advertisement for steam travel, was thought instead to be the cause of the earthquake by many who saw it. At Henderson, Kentucky, where no chimneys were left standing, they stopped to visit their friends, the painter John James Audubon and his wife Lucy. Floating in the middle of the Ohio River they were protected from the earthquake tremors shaking the land, but not from the hazards of falling trees, disappearing islands, and collapsing river banks. After entering Indian Territory on December 18th, they were chased by Indians who figured the “fire canoe” had caused the earthquake, but they managed to escape capture by outrunning them. They even had a small cabin fire that night which they managed to put out. Thousands of trees were floating on the waters of the Mississippi as they approached New Madrid on December 19th, three days after the earthquake. They found that the town of New Madrid had been destroyed. They didn’t dare to stop and pick up a few survivors, for fear of being overrun, and they were without supplies. Most alarming was the fact that they had not seen a boat ascending the river in three days. They saw wrecked and abandoned boats. It was undoubtedly a miracle that they survived and kept on going. They tied up at one island, and the island sank during the night. Their dog, Tiger, alerted them to oncoming tremors. On December 22nd, they encountered the British naturalist John Bradbury on a boat at the mouth of the St. Francis River, who told them the town of Big Prairie was gone. They arrived at Natchez, Mississippi on December 30th and celebrated the first marriage aboard a steamboat on December 31st, when the steamboat engineer married Lydia’s maid. They arrived at New Orleans on January 10th, 1812, safe and sound, after traveling 1,900 miles from Pittsburgh on the first steamboat to travel the western waters.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Urban Farm Hub

Chasing through some links on rural foraging, I came across this web-site on urban farming. I will also add it to my "Useful Links" section.

Israel's Perceptions of Iran

Shoshana Bryen notes that Israel looks at the Iranian situation differently than the U.S., focusing on Iran's capabilities rather than intent.
At the end of the day, the United States is a very large, rich country with an almost boundless capacity to absorb and correct for mistakes. We think in grand sweeps and, if they fail, we go on to the next sweep. Whether TARP spending, bailouts, health care, nuclear disarmament or the move from diplomacy to sanctions to escalation with Iran, the United States has an enormous margin for error in which we can, and often do, change course.

Israel has almost no capacity to absorb and correct for big mistakes. And its government is responsible for the desire -- no, the demand -- of history not to permit a repetition of the Holocaust within the national boundaries of the Jewish state.

One consequence is their differing approach to Iran, and another is Israel's much greater need for reassurance by its major security partner, the United States. The postponement of Austere Challenge 12 -- for whatever reason is posited as "official" -- is more likely to reassure Iran than to reassure Israel.
(Full story here).

The making of Ezekiel 38, anyone? Or will some horrific attack on Israel give rise to the seven year treaty that will be broken by the anti-Christ? Or both?

Food for Children's Brains

An easy way to kick-start energy levels and improve concentration is to start the day with wholegrains. Berries are another fabulous brain food, with compounds known to boost brain signals and help memory. Calcium-rich foods, such as yoghurt, improve nerve function - combine with berries and wholegrains or blend into a super smoothie for breakfast.

During study breaks, eat foods that boost energy and concentration; too many processed carbohydrates can leave you feeling sleepy. Instead of biscuits, munch on fresh fruit, raw vegetable sticks, nuts and seeds, which contain proteins, vitamins and essential fatty acids. Walnuts, almonds, pecans and cashews are top of the list and make a great snack at home, but remember, most schools have nut-free policies due to students with extreme allergies.

Include sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds in home-made toasted muesli or sprinkle them over a healthy lunchtime salad.

Eggs, avocados and tomatoes - perfect for a simple, tasty salad - are all good for brain health. Broccoli and spinach are also on this list, as is fish. Combine it with leafy greens for a fast and easy mid-week dinner.

And yes, chocolate really is good for you. Dark chocolate has antioxidants and natural stimulants that improve focus and concentration, but is best taken in moderation.
The article has several recipes, including a granola recipe.

Urban Foraging and Using Squirrels for Food

Melany Vorass is a 49-year-old college-educated woman living in a middle-class neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.

And in the backyard of her quiet neighborhood home, she traps, drowns and butchers squirrels for her dinner table -- one of her family's principle sources of meat.

Ms Vorass is part of a growing crowd of city-dwellers who are 'foragers' -- living off of greens picked from public parks, fish caught from local streams and mushrooms plucked from nearby forests.

* * *
Ms Vorass believes commercial meat is unethical. Cows are raised on inhumane feedlots, butchered in inhumane ways and fed rations of unhealthy and environmentally-damaging antibiotics and feed, she says on her blog Essential Bread.
* * *

Her urban foraging isn't just limited to squirrels. In her backyard, she plants a garden every year and raises chickens and goats.

She picks also dandelion greens and other 'weeds' for salads and occasionally she and her husband catch trout in a local lake.

Ms Vorass began trapping squirrels as a way to get the pesty critters out of her backyard and away from her garden -- which they were terrorizing.

Her husband set up a metal 'Have-A-Heart' live trap and started releasing them in a nearby park.

But then an irate neighbor complained that the was just dumping their problems somewhere else.

About that time, Ms Vorass discovered a recipe for squirrel and instructions on how to skin the rodents in an old Joy of Cooking cookbook.

The classic American cooking was first published in the height of the Great Depression and for many years contained recipes for all manner of wild animals -- from rabbits to opossums.
* * * 
Squirrel is tougher and darker than rabbit and somewhat greasy.

It does not taste like chicken.

Squirrel is actually richer than beef in some ways -- higher in fat and cholesterol. However, it's dramatically lower in saturated fats and higher in polyunsaturated, so-called 'good' fats.
 (Link to Ms. Vorass' blog). The reference to the old Joy of Cooking having rural recipes is intriguing. That would be handy to try and track down.

Here is a link to a University of Washington site on urban foraging. At the bottom of the page are links to articles and other web-sites.

David Goldman Predicts Chaos in Egypt

We are watching the death throes of Arab civilization. Goldman writes:
It’s not often that a country of 80 million people goes belly up, but that’s what I’ve been predicting in Asia TImes for the past year. Today the New York Times reports that Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen to just $10 billion–about a month and a half of imports–from $36 billion before the fall of Hosni Mubarak, “after certain obligations.” The Central Bank claims it has $18 billion, and the Times doesn’t report what those “certain obligations”: are. But the likely conclusion is that the military government has looted the central bank’s reserves and placed them in untraceable accounts and property outside the country.

The economic meltdown of Egypt promises to be a crisis of biblical proportions; the way things are going, frogs and flaming hail wouldn’t surprise me. Somali-style food shortages and chaos might bring to mind the slaughter of the first born.
(Full story here).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Bracing for Persecution

If Mitt Romney manages to win the GOP nomination, then we need to hope he is far better-prepared to handle the liberals' anti-Mormon slime machine than he was prepared to handle intra-party jabs at his Bain record, his tax returns, and his flip-flopping.

I would be quite dishonest if I said that I wasn't worried about what the liberals and their lackeys in the press will do to defame the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in their win-at-any-cost zeal to re-elect Barack Obama. Mitt Romney's religious faith is likely to be mocked, sensationalized, disparaged, and dragged through the media gutters. It could even be uglier than the fanning of racial tensions and demonization of the wealthy, also projects pushed by the Obama machine.
She goes on to describe some of the areas on which the Church will be attacked.

One of the issues she raises is the 2008 Proposition 8 matter in California. Proposition 8 was heavily backed by members of the Church. You may remember that the fight over Proposition 8 resulted in protests and violence against the Church and its members.
The outbreak of attacks on the Mormon church since the passage of Proposition 8 has been chilling: envelopes full of suspicious white powder were sent to church headquarters in Salt Lake City; protesters showed up en masse to intimidate Mormon small-business owners who supported the measure; a website was created to identify and shame members of the church who backed it; activists are targeting the relatives of prominent Mormons who gave money to pass it, as well as other Mormons who are only tangentially associated with the cause; some have even called for a boycott of the entire state of Utah.

The wisdom of hate-crimes legislation aside, there is no doubt that a lot of hate is being directed at Mormons as a group. But why single out Mormons? And why now? Dozens of church bodies — including the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Christian bishops of California, and a wide variety of evangelicals — supported the proposition. It’s also worth considering that, while gay-rights advocates cannot discuss same-sex marriage for more than 30 seconds without making faulty analogies to Jim Crow-era anti-miscegenation laws, some 70 percent of blacks voted for Proposition 8. While there have been a few ugly racist statements by gay-rights supporters, such vile sentiment has been restricted. Not so the hatred directed at Mormons, who are convenient targets.
If Romney gets the nomination, it will be worse.

If nothing else, you should expect more questions about the Church and your beliefs. It was President Oaks, I believe, who said at one time that no response was better than a bad response.The issues raised in the American Thinker article have been addressed by Church leaders before. Study the responses by Church leaders, so you will know how to respond to inquiries from friends and acquaintances.

This attention on the Church may also inspire or motivate violence or threats against the Church or its members. The news media will undoubtedly downplay any such violence, but if Romney is nominated, begin paying more attention to suspicious activity around your individual ward or branch meeting houses. For good or bad, the Church will be focused on like never before if Romney is the Republic candidate for President.

Police Disappear from Kano, Nigeria

Law enforcement has disappeared in the city of Kano, Nigeria, a city of 9 million in northern Nigeria.

In the biggest urban centre in northern Nigeria a new terrorist group has inflicted a steady drumbeat of violence since carrying out the deadliest attacks in its history.

The local police – despised and demoralised – virtually disappeared from the streets after suicide bombers destroyed two of their stations, a regional headquarters and the official residence of their most senior officer last Friday.

The police stayed out of the way as Boko Haram, the Islamist extremists who claimed responsibility, pressed on with their offensive. On Tuesday night, another of Kano's police stations was destroyed; on Thursday morning, a bomb concealed inside a drinks can exploded at a crowded bus station, wounding five people and causing thousands to flee in panic.

Yesterday, Abubakar Shekau, who claims to be Boko Haram's leader, said in a video message that he ordered the attacks and warned: "I will give that order again and again." Earlier, a German engineer, Edgar Raupach, was kidnapped as he supervised a construction project outside Kano, although it is unclear who was responsible.

Inside the city, knots of youths wielding sticks and bars direct traffic in the absence of the police. Meanwhile, the army enforces a draconian curfew running from 7pm until 6am, causing a nightly hush to fall over the sixth biggest city in the Muslim world. By day, the army sends a Russian-made MI-24 helicopter gunship flying low over Kano in a noisy show of force.
(Fully story here).

Just a few thoughts. Police are not soldiers (much as they may want to be), but are just civil servants. They are in it for a paycheck, a cushy retirement package, and whatever perks they can get out of it. In other words, it's just a job. This goes double, or triple, in many third-world countries (where bribery and extortion may be a significant portion of their income). Also, and most importantly, they aren't subject to court-martial (i.e., prison) for desertion and cowardice. So, it is a simple risk/benefit analysis. In this case, the police were up against a group that is more dangerous than they, and specifically targeting them, a population that had grown generally hostile, and there was probably no down-side to simply staying home, so they did.

Could this happen in the U.S.? Don't know. There is obviously more of a work ethic, professionalism, and sense of duty in U.S. law enforcement. But, ultimately, if the risk were great enough, the result would be the same.

More Info on the New AK-12

At the Firearms Blog (Link here).

More Evidence of a Slowing Chinese Economy

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, at The Telegraph, takes note of some economic data from China that seems to contradict the Chinese government's overall reports of economic growth. (Link here). Mr. Evans-Pritchard indicates in his article that China's imports from Japan and Taiwan in December fell 16.2% and 6.2%, respectively; the Shanghai Container Freight Index fell 1.4% in November, and had been sliding for several months prior; and the Baltic Dry Index (freight rates for ores, grains, and bulk goods) fell 44%, with weak Chinese demand for iron ore being the key culprit. (The author cautions that the BDI index reflects the shipping glut, so the figure may need to be taken with a grain of salt).
However, rail, road, river and air freight volume for the whole of China fell to 31780m tons in November (latest data), from 32340m tons in October. Not a big fall, but still negative. (National Bureau of Statistics of China.)

Chinese electricity use was flat in over the Autumn, with a sharp fall in the (year-on-year) growth rates from 8.9pc in September, to 8pc in October, and 7.7pc in December.

Residential investment has been contracting on a monthly basis, and of course property prices are now falling in all but two of China’s 70 largest cities.

So how did China pull off an economic growth rate of 8.9pc in the fourth quarter?

Beats me.

I strongly suspect that the trade and power data reveal the true state of China’s economy.

There clearly was a pick up in early January but I stick to my view that China has inflated its credit bubble beyond the limits of safety – an increase of 100pc of GDP in five years, or twice US credit growth from 2002-2007 – and that Beijing cannot continue to gain much traction with this sort of artificial stimulus.

Indeed, the extra boost to GDP from each extra yuan of credit has collapsed, according to Fitch Ratings.

A final point. There is a widespread misunderstanding that China’s households can easily come to the rescue by cranking up spending because they have the world’s highest savings rate, and consumption is just 36pc of GDP.

Prof Michael Pettis from Beijing University puts that one to rest. The Chinese do not have a much higher personal savings rate than other East Asians. The reason why consumption is so low is that wages are low, the worker share of GDP is low, and the whole economy is massively deformed and tilted towards excess investment.

This is deeply structural. It cannot be changed with a flick of the fingers, and contains the seeds of its own destruction.
One of the primary concerns of the Chinese government is social unrest due to a slowing economy (Heaven help them if their economy were to actually contract). Thus, the recent efforts to reign in media and television programs that might raise the average Chinese expectations as to how well they should be living. (Somewhat ironic that, in a Communist nation, there is such a huge disparity in incomes and how people live). My question is, what happens to the U.S., or U.S. companies, if there is enough social unrest to interfere with production or shipment of goods to U.S. markets, and the stores shelves are empty of I-Phones, cheap clothes, shoes, etc.?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Urban Survival Example

Another example of living through an economic crises, from FerFal's blog. Basically, life goes on, but the people (who were business owners) lived in a hardened house in town. Significantly:
... I asked them why they were still living in such a run-down town when they could easily afford to live in a large country house or a gated community. They all responded emphatically that the isolation of a country house or a gated community was the best way of ensuring that you would either fall victim to a home invasion, kidnapping or just have everything stolen while you were out. They stated that they had many friends that had moved out of BA or the suburbs, to the perceived safety of country houses or gated communities only to then fall victim to brutal home invasions and/or kidnappings. The isolation had turned out to be a major disadvantage because of the lack of friends or neighbours that
could come to their aid or raise the alarm. They felt much safer in a
community where they knew their neighbours, where strangers stand out, where the local trouble makers are well known and where the locals look out for each other as part of an unofficial neighbourhood watch.
Read the whole thing.

British Defense Minister Says that Argentina Doesn't Have Military Power to Invade the Falklands.

Of course he does. Did anyone really expect him to say otherwise? (Full story here).

An Upside to Global Warming?

Given that warm periods, including the Medieval Warming period, have always been good for animals and people, and cold periods have always resulted in food shortages, this shouldn't really be a surprise. Anyway, the upshot:
Falling public health costs and fresh produce could be unforeseen upsides to global warming.

A UK government study released today has identified the top 100 effects of climate change and how they may surprisingly impact Britain in the next century.

The costs of public health and shipping will also go down but flooding could be really problematic and expensive, the Climate Change Risk Assessment has found.

With the melting of the Arctic sea, new routes will open up which will reduce journey times and fuel costs.

The warmer water temperatures mean sole and plaice will be more plentiful in the UK, though cod and haddock will move to cooler climates.

Also, with Britain acquiring a more temperate climate, public health costs are set to decline.

The deaths due to cold winters will decline by some 24,000 people – far less than the 5,900 predicted deaths that will arise from the increased temperatures.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More on the AK74 Malfunction (Updated)

A few weeks ago, I had posted about a failure to extract issue with an AK74 using a U.S. made barrel. (Link here). The chamber was covered with what appeared to be a uniform brown coating, which was obviously what was causing the cartridge to stick. I thought the issue was solved when I made my earlier post, but the fact is that I could not clean the gunk (or whatever it was) out of the chamber with Hoppes, a copper solvent, or even carburetor cleaner.

I subsequently purchased two more cleaning products: "Goof Off," which is formulated to remove latex paint, asphalt and tar; and Rust-Oleum Rust Stripper (which I specifically selected because it was acid based). Alternating between these two products, which I applied to Q-tips for the actual cleaning, I was able to clean out the coating.

If it was rust, I am thoroughly embarrassed. However, I'm not sure it was. I have used corrosive ammo before in other weapons, and I've never seen anything like this before. There was no sign of corrosion in the barrel or on the gas piston--it was all in the chamber, uniformly distributed, and stopped in a clean circle about 1/8 inch from the bore. It came out somewhat irregularly, with jagged edges to some areas, and it truly appeared that something had coated or been applied on the interior of the bore.

Due to weather issues, it will probably be a while before I can test the rifle out again. Rest assured, I will report further extraction issues, if I have any. Given the lack of information I was able to find on the internet on solving this issue (even though I came across enough items to suggest that this is not an entirely rare issue), I hope that this is of some help to someone.

(Update: I was able to test fire the rifle again a couple weeks later and it functioned reliably--I shot 90 rounds through the rifle without any problems. After returning from the range, I immediately cleaned the bore with both the ordinary cleaners and the "Goof Off").

New Russian Assault Rifle -- the AK-12

The Truth About Guns has a snippet of information and a couple photos. (Link here).
The basic layout is that of a traditional AK rifle, but with an altered safety/selector switch. The top cover is obviously sturdier and appears to hinge at what would have been the sight block on an AK 47 or 74. The stock appears to be designed to fold to the left, which is useful because it occupies the same space as required for the cocking handle. It looks interesting.

Largest Solar Storm in Nearly a Decade

Today (Tuesday) the Earth was hit by one of the largest solar storms in a  nearly a decade. (Story here).

The largest solar storm in almost a decade swept across Earth on Tuesday, affecting air traffic across the North Pole and radio communications, in a harbinger of fiercer outbursts from the Sun predicted for the year ahead, federal experts said.

A solar eruption late Sunday launched a cosmic tsunami of energy, in the form of charged particles, radio static and X-rays, across the 93 million miles to Earth. It was the biggest burst of speeding particles since October 2003, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.
* * *

Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. said they were rerouting some transpolar flights to avoid the storm. Atlanta-based Delta said some flights to Detroit from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul took a more southerly route on overnight flights, though a spokesman said planes flew faster to minimize delays. Tuesday departures from the U.S. were expected to follow similar routes. United, which operates a number of transpolar flights from Chicago and Newark airports, said it had rerouted flights between Washington and Dubai.

* * *
At the height of severe solar storms in 2003, almost daily communications blackouts required that flights be rerouted. The Federal Aviation Administration for the first time also warned pilots on polar routes to stay at lower altitudes to avoid slightly higher radiation levels.

* * *

In its normal, 11-year solar cycle of sunspots and flares, the Sun typically triggers thousands of such storms. This week's storm is among the more powerful, the space-weather experts said. Such storms are likely to become more frequent as the sun approaches its "solar maximum," predicted for May of next year.

"By this time next year, we expect to see a storm like this a couple more times," Mr. Biesecker said.
Of course, the real concern is something like the Carrington Event of 1859. On September 1, 1859, a massive solar flare rivaling the brightness of the Sun erupted.
Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.

Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.

"What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic explosion on the sun," explains David Hathaway, solar physics team lead at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Coronal mass ejections on the scale of the Carrington Event appear to be rare. According to the article from NASA:
"In the 160-year record of geomagnetic storms, the Carrington event is the biggest." It's possible to delve back even farther in time by examining arctic ice. "Energetic particles leave a record in nitrates in ice cores," he explains. "Here again the Carrington event sticks out as the biggest in 500 years and nearly twice as big as the runner-up."

These statistics suggest that Carrington flares are once in a half-millennium events. The statistics are far from solid, however, and Hathaway cautions that we don't understand flares well enough to rule out a repeat in our lifetime.

And what then?

Lanzerotti points out that as electronic technologies have become more sophisticated and more embedded into everyday life, they have also become more vulnerable to solar activity. On Earth, power lines and long-distance telephone cables might be affected by auroral currents, as happened in 1989. Radar, cell phone communications, and GPS receivers could be disrupted by solar radio noise. Experts who have studied the question say there is little to be done to protect satellites from a Carrington-class flare. In fact, a recent paper estimates potential damage to the 900-plus satellites currently in orbit could cost between $30 billion and $70 billion. The best solution, they say: have a pipeline of comsats ready for launch.
This article from National Geographic goes into more detail on what would happen if another flare on the scale of the Carrington Event were to happen today:
In 1859, such reports were mostly curiosities. But if something similar happened today, the world's high-tech infrastructure could grind to a halt.

"What's at stake," the Space Weather Prediction Center's Bogdan said, "are the advanced technologies that underlie virtually every aspect of our lives."

Solar Flare Would Rupture Earth's "Cyber Cocoon"

To begin with, the University of Colorado's Baker said, electrical disturbances as strong as those that took down telegraph machines—"the Internet of the era"—would be far more disruptive. (See "The Sun—Living With a Stormy Star" in National Geographic magazine.)

Solar storms aimed at Earth come in three stages, not all of which occur in any given storm.

First, high-energy sunlight, mostly x-rays and ultraviolet light, ionizes Earth's upper atmosphere, interfering with radio communications. Next comes a radiation storm, potentially dangerous to unprotected astronauts.

Finally comes a coronal mass ejection, or CME, a slower moving cloud of charged particles that can take several days to reach Earth's atmosphere. When a CME hits, the solar particles can interact with Earth's magnetic field to produce powerful electromagnetic fluctuations. (Related: "Magnetic-Shield Cracks Found; Big Solar Storms Expected.")

"We live in a cyber cocoon enveloping the Earth," Baker said. "Imagine what the consequences might be."

Of particular concern are disruptions to global positioning systems (GPS), which have become ubiquitous in cell phones, airplanes, and automobiles, Baker said. A $13 billion business in 2003, the GPS industry is predicted to grow to nearly $1 trillion by 2017.

In addition, Baker said, satellite communications—also essential to many daily activities—would be at risk from solar storms.

"Every time you purchase a gallon of gas with your credit card, that's a satellite transaction," he said.

But the big fear is what might happen to the electrical grid, since power surges caused by solar particles could blow out giant transformers. Such transformers can take a long time to replace, especially if hundreds are destroyed at once, said Baker, who is a co-author of a National Research Council report on solar-storm risks.

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory's Cliver agrees: "They don't have a lot of these on the shelf," he said.

The eastern half of the U.S. is particularly vulnerable, because the power infrastructure is highly interconnected, so failures could easily cascade like chains of dominoes.

"Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year," Baker said. "The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years."
This article from the Washington Post also delves into the possible impact:

Communications satellites will be knocked offline. Financial transactions, timed and transmitted via those satellite, will fail, causing millions or billions in losses. The GPS system will go wonky. Astronauts on the space station will huddle in a shielded module, as they have done three times in the past decade due to “space weather,” the scientific term for all of the sun’s freaky activity. Flights between North America and Asia, over the North Pole, will have to be rerouted, as they were in April during a weak solar storm at a cost to the airlines of $100,000 a flight. And oil pipelines, particularly in Alaska and Canada, will suffer corrosion as they, like power lines, conduct electricity from the solar storm.
But the biggest impact will be on the modern marvel known as the power grid. And experts warn that the grid is not ready. In 2008, the National Academy of Sciences stated that an 1859-level storm could knock out power in parts of the northeastern and northwestern United States for months, even years. Report co-author John Kappenmann estimated that about 135 million Americans would be forced to revert to a pre-electric lifestyle or relocate. Water systems would fail. Food would spoil. Thousands could die. The financial cost: Up to $2 trillion, one-seventh the annual U.S. gross domestic product.
"Thousands could die"? That is optimistic. Try, tens of millions could die. (See, e.g., this article discussing the impact of an EMP attack). While the risk of another Carrington Event is probably low--i.e., probably not within our lifetime--an EMP attack is more likely.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Preppers

Reuters published this article a few days ago on the preppers movement. Although the article tries to emphasize the "crazy" aspect of preparing for the end of the world, or collapse of civilization, a careful reader could actually pick out some kernels of truth, including that a lot of preppers just have a gut feeling that things are wrong, and that preparations can come in useful for more "run of the mill" disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes.

The Economic Outlook for the United States

Not everyone has a negative outlook going into the future. Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy (h/t Instapundit) notes that the United States is successfully deleveraging, manufacturing is on the mend, and increased energy security.
However, as Adam Smith once noted, "there is a lot of ruin in a nation."

I have no doubt that the United States will successfully rebound in the long term--just as it did after the Great Depression. My concern is the short term. While households and businesses are shedding debt, the Federal debt is exploding, and many state and local governments are coming under increasing pressure due to public pensions. There are some real limits to how much debt that households can shed given the share of debt wrapped up in student loans (which is exempt from bankruptcy) and stagnating incomes.

An upturn in manufacturing may not lead to new jobs--some jobs are gone permanently. As I've noted before, China is expected to devalue its currency to avoid a slowdown in its economy, which will act to siphon off further manufacturing jobs. And, as ObamaCare comes online, increased taxes and regulatory expenses will leave less money for investment, while making it correspondingly more expensive to start up a new enterprise.

Even energy independence is questionable. The United States may sit on some of the largest reserves in the world, but it doesn't matter if we cannot exploit these resources. For instance, even though the Monterey/Santos oil field has very large reserves, what are the odds that California will allow development? Obama has rejected the Keystone pipeline that would have created jobs and provided a secure North American source of oil. The EPA is forcing the shut down of power plants and a major oil refineries, and the Administration is essentially doing everything it thinks it can get away with in shutting down domestic oil production.
The Obama administration has taken a lot of steps to shut down US production of coal and oil. Obama's EPA is working to clamp down on Canadian oil sand imports and on US production of shale oil. But political peak oil -- and the resulting artificial oil price bubble -- a la Obama will not affect the US' neighbors.

Cuba is diving into the offshore oil drilling game -- hoping to cash in on Obama's ongoing de facto Gulf of Mexico oil moratorium. Cutting corners on safety and environmental protections, Cuba's Venezuelan, Spanish, Norwegian, Brazilian, Indian, and Chinese partners are not particularly concerned about the environmental fallout along the Eastern US coast and fisheries, in the event of a massive spill. Certainly Mr. Obama is not likely to complain very loudly -- even if the environmental damage from a Cuban spill is orders of magnitude larger than from the BP spill. In the event of a Cuban spill, Obama is likely to turn against US oil companies to make it even harder for them to drill in US offshore areas.
(Source).

You may note that a lot of the problems facing the United States are not natural obstacles, but political obstacles. (See, e.g., this op-ed on the elitism underlying environmentalism). Thus, whether the United States overcomes its problems will largely depend on the outcome of the coming election cycle.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gear Review -- Condor 602 Jacket Revisited

I had previously posted a review of the Condor 602 Jacket (link here).

When I had used the jacket before, I hadn't been able to use it in any significant amount of downpour. However, the weather over the past week has given me several opportunities to use the jacket for extended periods (including a 1/2 hour and 45 minute walk) in light to medium rain, as well as windy conditions. With that, I thought it would be good to update my original review.

First of all, this is the first time I've really gotten a good use out of the hood. Before, I had mentioned a velcro attachment to the hood that I thought was used for adjusting the hood. Wrong. That is just for keeping the hood rolled up when it is zipped away. There is an elastic tie that tightens up at the back of the hood to adjust the hood's overhang. On each side of the hood is another elastic tie that can be tightened up to make the hood fit more closely around your face (useful in the wind). There is a small fabric visor on the hood which helps with keeping the rain off glasses (if you are unfortunate enough, like me, to have to wear them).

My initial impression that the jacket is really for use in mid-range temperatures (40 - 50s') is correct. With a sweater or other warm underclothing, and a warm hat (I was using a bomber hat), the jacket works fine down to about 30 degrees F. As I said before, there just isn't much insulation in the jacket itself.

The jacket really shined in the light rain. The hood worked well, and the jacket breathed better than any other rain gear that I have. I didn't have any problems with water leaking through the zippers, so the lack of a storm flap was not the issue I worried it might be.

In short, for someone needing a light to medium weight jacket for use in rainy weather, this jacket does very well.

Update (April 14, 2012): So, I used the jacket through the winter and a wet and windy spring, and it has worked extremely well. Its water repellent properties appear to be good, and although I'm not putting a lot of physical stress on the jacket, I was wearing it almost daily for a couple months straight without any problems. So, in short, I've been very pleased with the jacket.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Soaps and Soap Making (Updated and edited)

(Updated Jan. 21, 2012: Since I felt rushed in putting this post together, I've decided to expand and edit the original post).

Some time ago, I had posted a review of the book Defiance.Briefly, it was a history of a group of Jews that sought refuge in the Belorussian forests during WWII to escape the Nazis. Living in the forest, guarding against Nazi attacks and dealing with locals, it has quite a few lessons for preppers. One of the issues that was important to the group was hygiene. To control lice and infections, the group followed a strict plan for regular bathing. However, one of the problems they faced was having a shortage of soap.

Include Soap in Your Supplies:

With that in mind, I would suggest that preppers should include soap and/or detergents in their stores as their room and budget allows. (You will want other cleaning supplies and disinfectants, but that is for another post).

For personal washing, stock up on extra of the soaps and shampoos that you normally use. My personal recommendation for a hand or bath soap is Ivory soap because it seems to be tolerated well by most people (the last thing you need is people developing rashes because of dyes or fragrances). Wikipedia notes:
Ivory soap had been more caustic in comparison to some milder bars such as Dove, a non-soap synthetic detergent bar. Plus, some consumer investigations had found that Ivory's antimicrobial activity was better than that of other skin soaps, even those containing antibacterials such as triclosan.[citation needed] A postulate for this effectiveness is the ability of the soap to lyse bacteria efficiently, and to rinse cleanly. The drawback to the soap was its drying effect on the skin, as it had easily dissolved natural oils. Of all the commercial soaps, Ivory has been considered the best by holistic health people, but was criticized for what it did not contain, glycerin. One reason is that glycerin was expensive and would raise the cost of the bars, which had the value of being about the least expensive soap available for people of modest means.

My recommendation is not based on owning shares of P&G stock, but on experience. When I was younger, I found that I could tolerate most bar soaps for only about 6 months and then became sensitized to whatever was in the soap. This problem ended when I switched to Ivory. Anyway, because it is "99.4% pure," it can also be used for washing dishes and clothes in a pinch.

However, whichever soap you prefer, remember to stock up--just use the buy 2, use 1 principle for 6 to 12 months and then switch to simply replacing what you use.

One thing that is easy to forget when you use a dishwasher is to have hand dish soap. A little goes a long way, so one or two large bottles may last you a long time if things never go wrong--but if the power is out for any extended period of time and you need to wash dishes, you will be glad for it. The dish soap also is good for cleaning linoleum floors. If you think you may want some on hand for trading, stock up on the smaller bottles of dish soap.

Wash Your Hands!

Some hand-washing "do's and don'ts" from the Mayo Clinic:
When to wash your hands As you touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Although it's impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
Always wash your hands before:
  • Preparing food or eating
  • Treating wounds, giving medicine, or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses
Always wash your hands after:
  • Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
  • Using the toilet or changing a diaper
  • Touching an animal or animal toys, leashes, or waste
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • Treating wounds or caring for a sick or injured person
  • Handling garbage, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated — such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes
In addition, wash your hands whenever they look dirty.

How to wash your hands
It's generally best to wash your hands with soap and water. Follow these simple steps:
  • Wet your hands with running water.
  • Apply liquid, bar or powder soap.
  • Lather well.
  • Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
  • If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet.
Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future.
Rinsing your hands with only water just doesn't cut it:
A poll conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of LifeBridge Health reveals that when in a public restroom without soap or towels, 74 percent of American adults who use public restrooms would rinse their hands with water and let them air dry.

"They might as well not even bother," says John Cmar, M.D., an internist at LifeBridge Health's Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and expert on infectious diseases. "Washing with water alone does not get rid of microbes the action of working up a lather with soap, and then rinsing it off, is what washes them away. Plus, by touching the sink faucet one of the dirtiest things in a restroom these people could be adding even more germs to their hands."
(Full story here).

Washing Without Soap:


There are substitutes for using soap, or reducing your use of soap, if necessary. (As noted above, you still need to use soap for washing your hands, and you will want soaps or detergents for other tasks, such as cleaning dishes and clothes).

This article describes techniques for washing with minimal water and using an exfoliating bath using baking soda, to-wit:
Step 1

Fill your bathtub or wash basin with as little warm water as you need. Keep the water level less than 5 inches for a home bathtub to conserve water, advises the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Step 2

Use a wet washcloth to wash your body in the same way you would if it had soap on it. In most cases, this is sufficient to wash away dirt, body soil and odor.

Step 3

Add a sprinkle of baking soda to your washcloth to help scrub especially soiled areas. Add baking soda to your bath before washing if you'd like; it helps clean and deodorize skin, according to Mother Earth News. If you're not very dirty, save the baking soda for your hair.  
Step 4

Add a few heaping tablespoons of baking soda to the water if you need to perform a soapless hair wash. If you're basically clean, rinsing your hair will suffice, but if your hair is oily or product laden, the baking soda will neutralize the dirt and oil, according to Mother Earth News.
Step 5

Rinse your hair and your body in clean, running water. If you don't have access to running water, rinse your body by ringing out the wash cloth over areas that need to be rinsed or by rinsing in your outdoor water source. Baking soda is not harmful to the environment, according to Mother Earth News.
An oil and Epsom salt mixture can also be used for exfoliating type bathing.
Exfoliate dead skin - In the shower or bath, mix a handful of Epsom salt with a tablespoon of bath or olive oil and rub all over your wet skin to exfoliate and soften. Rinse thoroughly.

Exfoliating face cleanser - To clean your face and exfoliate skin at the same time, mix a half-teaspoon of Epsom salt with your regular cleansing cream. Gently massage into skin and rinse with cold water.

Dislodge blackheads - Add a teaspoon of Epsom salt and 3 drops iodine into a half cup of boiling water. Apply this mixture to the blackheads with a cotton ball.

Remove foot odor - Mix a half cup of Epsom salt in warm water and soak your feet for 10 minutes to remove bad odor, sooth achy feet, and soften rough skin.

Remove hairspray - Combine 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of lemon juice, and 1 cup Epsom salt. Cover the mixture and let set for 24 hours. The next day, pour the mixture into your dry hair and leave on for 20 minutes before shampooing as normal.

Hair volumizer - Combine equal parts deep conditioner and Epsom salt and warm in a pan. Work the warm mixture through your hair and leave on for 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
(Source here--the site also has lots of other uses for Epsom salt [active link removed by request, but it is: http://www.saltworks.us/salt_info/epsom-uses-benefits.asp]).

Here is an article from SimpleMom.com about washing your hair without shampoo (hint, it mentions using baking soda and apple-cider vinegar). And here are a couple articles from people that largely abandoned bathing with soap (opting for a water only type of bath). (Articles here and here).


Soap Making:

I've never made soap, but some of you may be interested in doing so. My issue with "making" things is that it is often just as easy (or easier) to purchase and store the manufactured item as the materials needed for making a particular item. This seems especially true in soap making since you need to use lye--a caustic substance--wax, oils, and probably the materials for fragrances. Like other skills, however, if it is something you enjoy (or think you would enjoy doing) as a hobby, there is no reason not to store extra materials aside, and have the option of using this skill as a trade during an extended grid-down situation.

If you are interested in soap making, here is a site that discusses soap and soap making for the hobbyist, including a PDF link at the bottom of the page for various recipes. It appears that they also carry supplies and molds. Here what appears to be another commercial site. This site has more information on using lye, including charts on the amounts needed.

If any of you have experience in this area, feel free to chime in.