Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Holy Death" Cult in Mexico

I had read about this cult before, but didn't know that it was so widely followed. From the Daily Mail:
Eight people have been arrested in northern Mexico have over the killing of two 10-year-old boys and a woman in what appears to be ritual sacrifices.

Prosecutors in Sonora, in the north-west of the country have accused the suspects of belonging to the La Santa Muerte (Holy Death) cult.

The victims' blood has been poured round an altar to the idol, which is portrayed as a skeleton holding a scythe and clothed in flowing robes.

The cult, which celebrates death, has been growing rapidly in Mexico in the last 20 years, and now has up to two million followers.

Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for Sonora state prosecutors, said the most recent killing was earlier this month, while the other two were committed in 2009 and 2010.

Their bodies were found at the altar site in the small mining community of Nacozari, 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona.
If you are interested in some more background, here is the Wikipedia article. It notes:
The cult of Santa Muerte attracts those who are not inclined to seek the traditional Catholic Church for spiritual solace, as it is part of the "legitimate" sector of society. Most followers of Santa Muerte live on the margin of the law or outside it entirely. Many drug traffickers, mobile vendors, taxi drivers, vendors of pirated merchandise, street people, prostitutes, pickpockets and gang members are not very religious, but neither are they atheists. In essence, they have created their own religion that reflects their realities, identity and practices, especially since it reflects the violence and struggles for life that many of these people face.

* * *

Mexican authorities have linked the worship of Santa Muerte to prostitution, drug trafficking, kidnapping, smuggling and homicides. Criminals, among her most fervent believers, are likely to pray to her for successful conclusion of a job as well as escaping from the police or jail. In the north of Mexico, she is venerated along with Jesús Malverde, the so called “Saint of Drug Traffickers.” Altars with images of Santa Muerte have been found in many drug houses in both Mexico and the United States. Among two of Santa Muerte’s more famous devotees are kidnapper Daniel Arizmendi López, known as El Mochaorejas, and Gilberto García Mena, one of the bosses of the Gulf Cartel. She is considered to be the “Virgin of the Incarcerated.” Many of those who enter prison in Mexico without believing in her, come to do so after a number of months. Many cells have images of Santa Muerte in different forms. Conversely, however, both police and military in Mexico can be counted among the faithful who ask for blessings on their weapons and ammunition.
Here is an article by Kevin Freese of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Ft. Leavenworth concerning the cult.

Finally, here is a photo-essay from Time Magazine.

As for the Jesus Malverde listed above, here is a New York Times article about his cult. Here is a forum thread at a police forum that discusses the value of finding Malverde paraphernalia to determine if someone is a drug smuggler.  (See also here).

Thoughts and Ideas on Diabetes

Survival Mom has a post with tips and advice concerning post-SHTF survival for someone with diabetes.

The Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook

A review of The Doom and Bloom Survival Medicine Handbook at Survival Weekly.

Tips for Limited Storage Space

Whether you live in an apartment or a small house, storage space for food, water and extra supplies is at a premium. The Apartment Prepper's Blog has some tips on squeezing out some extra storage space.

The 1815 Mt. Tambora Explosion

Earlier today I linked to an article from Backwoods Home Magazine on various potential TEOTWAWKI disasters. In the article, they mentioned the 1815 explosion of Mt. Tambora, a larger volcanic explosion than the more famous Krakatoa explosion.

Wikipedia notes:
In 1812, the caldera began to rumble and generated a dark cloud.

On 5 April 1815, a moderate-sized eruption occurred, followed by thunderous detonation sounds, heard in Makassar on Sulawesi, 380 km (240 mi) away, Batavia (now Jakarta) on Java 1,260 km (780 mi) away, and Ternate on the Molucca Islands 1,400 km (870 mi) away. On the morning of April 6, volcanic ash began to fall in East Java with faint detonation sounds lasting until 10 April. What was first thought to be sound of firing guns was heard on April 10 on Sumatra island (more than 2,600 km or 1,600 mi away).

At about 7 p.m. on 10 April, the eruptions intensified. Three columns of flame rose up and merged. The whole mountain was turned into a flowing mass of "liquid fire". Pumice stones of up to 20 centimetres (7.9 in) in diameter started to rain down at approximately 8 p.m., followed by ash at around 9–10 p.m. Hot pyroclastic flows cascaded down the mountain to the sea on all sides of the peninsula, wiping out the village of Tambora. Loud explosions were heard until the next evening, 11 April. The ash veil had spread as far as West Java and South Sulawesi. A "nitrous" odour was noticeable in Batavia and heavy tephra-tinged rain fell, finally receding between 11 and 17 April.
The eruption caused a tsunami and, because of the ash and other effects, directly killed as many as 71,000. (Undoubtedly, because of larger populations and greater population densities, the death toll would be much larger today).

Of particular interest to preppers was the global consequences.
The 1815 eruption released sulfur into the stratosphere, causing a global climate anomaly. Different methods have estimated the ejected sulfur mass during the eruption: the petrological method; an optical depth measurement based on anatomical observations; and the polar ice core sulfate concentration method, using cores from Greenland and Antarctica. The figures vary depending on the method, ranging from 10E6 to 120E6 tonnes (11,000,000 to 130,000,000 short tons).

In the spring and summer of 1815, a persistent dry fog was observed in the northeastern United States. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the "fog". It was identified as a stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil. In summer 1816, countries in the Northern Hemisphere suffered extreme weather conditions, dubbed the Year Without a Summer. Average global temperatures decreased about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), enough to cause significant agricultural problems around the globe. On 4 June 1816, frosts were reported in Connecticut, and by the following day, most of New England was gripped by the cold front. On 6 June 1816, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine. Such conditions occurred for at least three months and ruined most agricultural crops in North America. Canada experienced extreme cold during that summer. Snow 30 cm (12 in) deep accumulated near Quebec City from 6 to 10 June 1816.

1816 was the second coldest year in the northern hemisphere since 1400 CE, after 1601 following the 1600 Huaynaputina eruption in Peru. The 1810s are the coldest decade on record, a result of Tambora's 1815 eruption and other suspected eruptions somewhere between 1809 and 1810 (see sulfate concentration figure from ice core data). The surface temperature anomalies during the summer of 1816, 1817 and 1818 were −0.51 °C (−0.918 °F), −0.44 °C (−0.792 °F) and −0.29 °C (−0.522 °F), respectively. As well as a cooler summer, parts of Europe experienced a stormier winter.

This pattern of climate anomaly has been blamed for the severity of typhus epidemic in southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean between 1816 and 1819. The climate changes disrupted Indian monsoons causing three failed harvests and famine contributing to worldwide spread of a new strain of cholera originating in Bengal in 1816. Much livestock died in New England during the winter of 1816–1817. Cool temperatures and heavy rains resulted in failed harvests in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Families in Wales traveled long distances as refugees, begging for food. Famine was prevalent in north and southwest Ireland, following the failure of wheat, oat and potato harvests. The crisis was severe in Germany, where food prices rose sharply. Due to the unknown cause of the problems, demonstrations in front of grain markets and bakeries, followed by riots, arson and looting, took place in many European cities. It was the worst famine of the 19th century.
Wikipedia elsewhere notes:
The Year Without a Summer (also known as the Poverty Year, Year There Was No Summer, and Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death) was 1816, in which severe summer climate abnormalities caused average global temperatures to decrease by about 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F), resulting in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere. It is believed that the anomaly was caused by a combination of a historic low in solar activity with a volcanic winter event, the latter caused by a succession of major volcanic eruptions [in the period 1812 to 1814 at various locations] capped by the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), the largest known eruption in over 1,300 years.
Note this concerning food prices:
In July and August, lake and river ice were observed as far south as Pennsylvania. Rapid, dramatic temperature swings were common, with temperatures sometimes reverting from normal or above-normal summer temperatures as high as 95 °F (35 °C) to near-freezing within hours. Even though farmers south of New England did succeed in bringing some crops to maturity, maize and other grain prices rose dramatically. The price of that staple food, oats, for example, rose from 12¢ a bushel ($3.40/m³) in 1815, equal to $1.52 in today's purchasing power to 92¢ a bushel ($26/m³) in 1816, equal to $12.6[0] today. Those areas suffering local crop failures had to deal with the lack of roads in the early 19th century, preventing any easy importation of bulky food stuffs.
Also:
In China, the cold weather killed trees, rice crops, and even water buffalo, especially in northern China. Floods destroyed many remaining crops. Mount Tambora’s eruption disrupted China’s monsoon season, resulting in overwhelming floods in the Yangtze Valley in 1816. In India the delayed summer monsoon caused late torrential rains that aggravated the spread of cholera from a region near the River Ganges in Bengal to as far as Moscow.

In New York City, the temperature dropped to −26 °F (−32 °C) during the ensuing bitter winter of 1817. This resulted in a freezing of New York's Upper Bay deep enough for horse-drawn sleighs to be driven across Buttermilk Channel from Brooklyn to Governors Island.

The effects were widespread and lasted beyond the winter. In eastern Switzerland, the summers of 1816 and 1817 were so cool that an ice dam formed below a tongue of the Giétro Glacier high in the Val de Bagnes. In spite of the efforts of the engineer Ignaz Venetz to drain the growing lake, the ice dam collapsed catastrophically in June 1818.
(For further information, see these articles at Science Daily, Wired, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the Weather Doctor). LDS readers may find this interesting:
The crop failures of the “Year without a Summer” may have helped shape the settling of the "American Heartland", as many thousands of people (particularly farm families who were wiped out by the event) left New England for what is now western and central New York and the Upper Midwest (then the Northwest Territory) in search of a more hospitable climate, richer soil, and better growing conditions.

According to historian L.D. Stillwell, Vermont alone experienced a drop of 10,000 to 15,000 people, erasing seven previous years of population growth. Among those who left Vermont were the family of Joseph Smith, who moved from Sharon, Vermont, to Palmyra, New York. This move precipitated a series of events which culminated in the publication of the Book of Mormon and the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
(Underline added).

Although there is probably no connection, it is interesting that the New Madrid earthquakes began in late 1811 and went through early 1812--the time the major volcanic eruptions began.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific makes a further interesting note:
A third factor also could have played a role. During both the Dalton and the Maunder minima, the Sun shifted its place in the solar system — something it does every 178 to 180 years. During this cycle, the Sun moves its position around the solar system's center of mass. This particular trick of gravity is known as "inertial solar motion." Scientists have not yet confirmed whether or not inertial solar motion affects Earth's climate directly, but it remains a possibility.
Solar inertial motion, and its possible relationship to climate, is discussed here. (See also here and here and here).

From an eschatology position, it is notable that unlike many other prophecies that describe societal trends (e.g., declining morality), Revelations largely describes "black swan" events--earthquakes and other natural disasters, and the rise of a super-dictator. Looking back at the history of Rome, Rome had major systemic economic and political problems, but was able to keep teetering along. It was the added impact of a series of "black swan" events--pandemics, cooling temperatures, and foreign invasion--that finally brought down the whole edifice. Similarly, the collapse of the Soviet Union was probably hastened by Chernobyl and a disastrous and costly war in Afghanistan.

The trend lines have been clear for a long time in the United States. The long-term debasement of our currency combined with unaffordable social programs and a massive growth of the bureaucracy has put us in a similar position to Rome in the Second Century. Like Rome, we could probably continue for an indefinite period of time like this until a black swan event shakes things up--first crippling the government and then, finally, bringing it down.

Update (Nov. 7, 2014): There is a documentary about the Tambura explosion and its impact on North America and Europe available on Hulu. The documentary is part of a series of Pure History Specials, and entitled "The Year Without A Summer."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Germany Agrees to Increase Euro Zone's Firewall to Over €800 Billion ($1 Trillion)

Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter announced on Friday that the permanent euro rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), would be expanded, by considering the around €200 billion in current bailouts as being separate from the €500 billion earmarked for the ESM -- originally, the €500 billion figure was to have included the €200 billion in existing aid. The ESM, which is due to come into operation in mid-2012, will also be boosted by including around €100 billion in bilateral aid that was given to Greece in 2010, as well as aid from other EU funds, bringing the firewall's total capacity to over €800 billion.

Fekter expressed her confidence that Friday's move would be enough to calm the financial markets. "The markets are already signaling relative calm," she said. "That shows that the markets can work with what we have set up here."

The Nuclear Option

On Thursday evening, in the run-up to Friday's summit, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had said he was prepared to combine the existing bailouts with the new permanent mechanism. He said that the €800 billion capacity was "convincing" and "sufficient."

But not everyone shares his view that the sum is enough. On Thursday, French Finance Minister François Baroin called for the permanent euro bailout fund to be increased to €1 trillion, to shore up market confidence and prevent contagion in the euro crisis. "The firewall, it's a little like the nuclear option in military planning, it's there for dissuasion, not to be used," Baroin said in a radio interview. He was echoing calls made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) earlier in the week to boost the firewall to €1 trillion.

At the beginning of the week, SPIEGEL reported that Merkel and Schäuble had dropped their long-held resistance to allowing both the temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the ESM, which was supposed to replace it, to operate in parallel for a period, thereby expanding the scope of the funds available. Berlin had come under massive international pressure to increase the size of the firewall so that it was large enough to potentially bail out countries such as Spain and Italy.
Meanwhile, the Bundesbank has exercised new authority from the European Central Bank (ECB) to not accept as collateral bank bonds backed by Ireland, Greece and Portugal. (From the Wall Street Journal via the National Review Online).
The decision signals the determination of the Deutsche Bundesbank to limit risks from the nonstandard measures the European Central Bank has taken to combat market stress during the crisis.

More broadly, it reflects concerns that the ECB’s crisis-fighting measures may be encouraging banks to shift debt of dubious value to central-bank balance sheets, ultimately exposing taxpayers to what may wind up being toxic assets.
Humpty Dumpty has already fallen off the wall and shattered. It is only inertia that keeps people from realizing it. I don't think all of the King's horses and all the King's men will be able to put the European Monetary Union back together again.

DIY Candles (Updated)

The TEOTWAWKI blog has instructions on making your own emergency candles using canning jars. The author suggests putting a book of matches into each jar as well.

In the same vain, Canadian Preppers Network has an article on making your own oil lamps, using olive oil (or other cooking oils) as fuel.

Argentina Continues Its Decline

A rather depressing story from FerFal's blog on Argentina's continued economic decline, and its government's role in that decline. Basically, he indicates that the government has imposed import restrictions in order to encourage consumption of domestic products.

The general problem, of course, is that protectionism merely fosters poor quality and high prices for the local products. Also, the government has pegged its currency to the U.S. dollar. This works for a country like China, because it has artificially undervalued its currency, which encourages an inflow of capital. Argentina, on the other hand, has artificially overvalued its currency, making its products and goods overpriced in the international market. The result is a flight of capital.

Chinese Energy Production Still Slowing

From ZeroHedge (h/t Instapundit).























The point here is that although demand is still growing, it is not growing at the rates seen for most of the prior decade. From the comments to the Zero Hedge post, the negative "spike" in 2008 was due to the government shutting down a lot of factories to clean up the air for the 2008 Olympics.

Glenn Reynolds points out at Instapundit that the demand for energy in the U.S. also doesn't point to a recovery. However, in a recent conversation with a friend involved in commercial property development, he indicated that the number of projects his company is involved with is picking up. These are projects just entering the pipeline, so to speak, so not yet to the construction stage.

"Zombie Apocalypse" from Back Woods Magazine

This is an article briefly discussing the different ways TEOTWAWKI could come about. Notwithstanding the title, it doesn't actually discuss a zombie apocalypse. However, they do discuss other possible SHTF events such as: (1) super-volcanoes, (2) dawn of another ice age, (3) pandemic disease, (4) cosmic impacts, (5) carrington event, (6) gamma-ray burst, (7) runaway greenhouse effect, and (8) nuclear war. Anyway, read the whole thing.

Choosing an Affordable Firearm

Backwoods Home Magazine has an article by Massad Ayoob on selecting affordable firearms. The criteria is that the firearm and accessories must be less than $500. As Ayoob explains, it depends on the type of firearm you want. However, he looks at shotguns, .22 rifles, high-powered rifles, and handguns. His final thoughts:
There are lots of good guns at good prices, and I can't cover them all in a 3000 word article. If your favorite, or your advisor's favorite, is not here, it doesn't necessarily mean I think that gun is crap. It might only mean that I didn't have room to mention it.

In closing, remember that a $480 gun and a box of ammo may be a good investment, but a $250 used gun and $250 worth of ammo to practice with will make you a better shooter. And $500 spent on training will make you a better shooter with the gun you already have, than will $500 spent on a new gun.

There are still bargains to be had ... and a dedicated shooter with a good, inexpensive gun will be an odds-on bet to outshoot a dilettante who doesn't know what he's doing with a firearm that costs thousands of dollars.

"The Silent Metropolis"

A photo essay from Architizer Blog on famous landmarks -- without people. More photos here at the Daily Mail.

DIY Rocketstove


This was a demonstration project at Humboldt State University. (Link here). The article provides basic directions on how they constructed the stove, test results, and some ideas for improving the design. Total cost was $84 (but that included a 16 gallon drum that they got for free).

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Abandoned Amusement Park Outside Beijing (Updated and edited)

In the past couple of weeks, I've posted a bit about urban exploration and modern ruins. For someone that grew up reading books like "Daybreak 2250 AD" or "Lucifer's Hammer," I have an interest in the ruins of modern buildings and infrastructure. For those who are willing to physically explore ruins, it would probably be great for practicing movement and scavenging techniques. Anyway, here is another example of "modern ruins"--an abandoned amusement park in China.

Preparedness for Kids

An article from Shooting Illustrated on getting your kids involved in preparedness. The article discusses talking and planning with your kids, and then offers the following advice on a kid-appropriate bug-out-bag:
I modified the food a bit based on my children’s likes and dislikes, and altered some quantities and volumes for convenience. For instance, instead of each of them having one small peanut butter, we put one large peanut butter in one bag. Instead of individual packs of trail mix, we put a big one in one bag. It saves space.
The next step is to make three packages of one day’s worth of rations. Explain to your children that it is a one day supply. If I let my son eat whatever he wanted, he’d eat nothing but the cereal bars for the first day.

In addition to the food, you’ll need utensils to eat. We opted for the CRKT Eat’n Tool, since it doubles for other uses. Don’t forget, if you take canned goods, a can opener is essential. Load the individual bags into the bug-out bag with water and other supplies.
After you make the food portion of your bug-out bag, rotate it out every six months. Just put the food in your pantry to eat, and refresh the stock in the bag.

Other items to include in the bag:
  • Flashlight
  • Pen and paper, in case we need to leave notes
  • An old, unused smart phone. In addition to being able to dial 911, it has games and other entertainment for the kids. Make sure you charge it periodically.
  • Lip balm
  • Money, in small bills and coins only, in case of vending machines
  • Folded paper towels kept in a zip bag. These serve many purposes, such as cleaning and emergency toilet paper.
  • Hand sanitizer
We also have a few stacks of games and toys that are easily grabbed for the trip, since bugging out would likely be boring for kids.

There are a few things we don’t keep in the kids’ bags, such as guns, knives, medicines and items used to start fires. Those are kept in the adult bags for obvious reasons.

The Missing $845 Billion

Interesting graph and op-ed at the Enterprise Blog noting that the drop in income since the economic crises in June 2008 is $845 billion below the pre-crises trend line. He also notes that the missing income is about equal to Obama's stimulus ($831 billion, although I believe the total amount of financial assistance by the Fed and the U.S. government far exceed that amount).

Centerfire Systems: 420 Rounds SS109 5.56 for $169.99

(Link here).

Mob Violence

An interesting article from ABC News from last year on the causes and psychology of mob violence:
Mob violence, including looting, typically ignites with little planning. Many who join are young people attracted to excitement and the lure of defying authority. Typically, a small percentage of hardened criminal characters are found in mobs; they do have an important role in instigating the unbridled lawlessness and setting the vicious tone of its chaos. Alcohol is an important lubricant to fire-setting and other destructiveness for the sake of destroying.

People do not loot alone; mob violence and mayhem in groups diminish a sense in actors that they are accountable for robbery. Each looks around and sees the person next to him throwing a brick or Molotov cocktail, stealing and with no resistance from authority. And the atmosphere and mentality spread among those who are stimulation and thrill seeking, like flames.

Looting and violence typically perpetuate and even are copied elsewhere when the media and public authority explain away the behavior as "anger" and "disenchantment" by "disaffected youth." Such messages carry with them an entitlement that legitimizes lawlessness.
It also discusses myths of mob violence:
That mob violence and looting equate with protest and are motivated by a quest for social change. Prosocial individuals willing to risk their safety by assembly and protest are evolved enough to know that they gain nothing for their causes by robbing from small businesses that serve their communities. So they don't do it, even when they are angriest. The figure standing in front of a tank at Tiananmen Square risked his own self with the military. He and his compatriots did not loot local businesses and attack others indiscriminately.

Rioters who rampaged in genteel Vancouver this year erupted after the Stanley Cup was lost; and in Detroit in 1984 after the World Series was won. Rioters at G-8 summits are essentially anarchists, advocates of chaos rather than social change. They exploit the likelihood that if they cause a disturbance, a feckless reporter will go searching for their grievance and give justification to others to join their "venting." It really is the case that some young people find excitement in creating mayhem, and instigators use a pretext to set things off.
The author suggests that the way to reduce mob violence is to shame the perpetrators by focusing on their victims--essentially, make it socially unacceptable to engage in rioting. Problem is, that really doesn't help the immediate victim.

There is a clue above, however, on how to deal with a mob. If the mob is acting out of a sense of anonymity and low risk of personal responsibility, then these are the two areas to exploit. Unless you personally know and can communicate the identity of members of a mob, there is probably little that the common citizen can do as to anonymity. However, the risk of personal responsibility can be increased to a level unacceptable to the rioter by increasing his/her perceived risk of physical harm--like the Korean shop owners' public display of firearms in the LA riots following the Rodney King incident, or the impromptu Sikh militia formed to protect their neighborhoods during last year's London riots.

While thinking about this subject, you may remember the now largely ignored incidents of black mob violence (i.e., "flash mobs") from last year. (See another example here). This site doesn't appear to have been updated for a while, but it lists reported incidents of flash mobs.

Latin American Countries Looking at Legalizing Drugs

The uncontrollable violence and corruption that surrounds the "war on drugs" has Latin American governments edging toward legalization.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez on Saturday set out a raft of proposals to tackle rampant drug-fuelled violence in Central America, including decriminalization of narcotics or establishing a regional court to try traffickers.

"The proposal is decriminalization," Perez said at a regional summit to address security throughout the region. "We are talking about creating a legal framework to regulate the production, transit and consumption of drugs."
The discussion reflects growing concern in Central America about the cost of the war on drugs, which is prompting leaders to take an increasingly independent line from the United States, where officials have repeatedly rejected legalizing narcotics.

A retired general, Perez won election in November 2011 promising to crack down on organized crime. But he shifted from his hard-line message shortly after taking office in January, calling for a more open debate on drug policy.

"It's important this is on the discussion table as an alternative to what we've been doing for 40 years without getting the desired results," he said, noting that decriminalization would erode drug cartels' profits. (Chivis says;  "erode drug cartels profits"? He ought to ask his pal Calderon how decriminalization ,enacted in Mexico in 2009, is working for Mexico! more info here)

The president added that Central American leaders are considering requiring the United States, the biggest consumer of South American cocaine, to pay the region for drug raids.

"We're talking about economic compensation for every seizure undertaken and also the destruction of marijuana and cocaine plantations," said Perez, a 61-year-old conservative.

Guatemala's murder rate has nearly doubled since 2000 due in part to brutal Mexican drug cartels extending their reach south.
 And from this article:
[Former Mexican President Vincente] Fox also pointed out that drug consumption in the US is the cause of much of the violence in Mexico. He argued that, for this reason, the US should take more responsibility in the fight against drug cartels, asking: “Are we not doing their work for them?”

This is not the first time that Fox has made a controversial statement regarding the drug war. In August the former head of state called for the Mexican government to “gather the violent groups to a truce and evaluate the advantages of an amnesty law,” in a bid to reduce violence. Two months later, in an October interview with the BBC, he argued that the US should legalize drugs in order to reduce the demand for illicit substances in Mexico. He has also advocated drug legalization.
A half-hearted legalization program won't work for these governments. They either have to legalize it, and kick the DEA out of their respective countries, or try to crush the cartels.

At this point, the issue is primarily one of money. If they are going to fight the drug war for the U.S., they want more money from the U.S. On the other hand, if they legalize drugs, they can perhaps take a cut of the drug profits (i.e., impose taxes), while, hopefully reducing violence.

So, what happens if they follow a path to true legalization? One result is that instead of the illegal aspects of the trade being spread over a wide area (production in Central and South America, smuggling inside and between those countries and into the U.S., and distribution in the U.S.), it would become more concentrated inside the U.S. (i.e., at the points of smuggling and distribution at and within the U.S. borders--similar to the situation under prohibition). This would also result in a shift of the cartels northward into the U.S., with a concomitant increase in drug related crimes and violence.

Would it work? Unlike the days of prohibition, where alcohol producers had vast legitimate markets throughout the rest of the world, and therefore ran legitimate businesses, drug legalization in Latin America would not create legitimate markets. Thus, the criminal organizations would remain largely intact and, more importantly, still in competition with one another for key smuggling routes and markets.

The Buffalo Creek Fire -- Remember your BOB.


Here is a story from the Daily Mail about the Buffalo Creek, Colorado, wildfire. As usual, it contains some great photos of the fire ... and some of the homes destroyed in the fire. Another reminder that no matter your preparations, you may be forced to evacuate your home under short notice. So have a 72-hour kit/bug-out-bag and copies of important documents ready to grab as you head out the door.

Update: Similar reminder for those living in cities.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to Survive a Riot


(Source)

 A Wikihow article on what to do in the event of a riot. The advice is geared toward overseas travelers, but some of the information should be useful here in the U.S. as well. The basic steps are:

1.  Be prepared (if you have no choice but travel into an area where there is potentially a riot).

2.  Remain calm.

3.  Get inside and stay inside.

4.  Stay on the sidelines.

5.  If you are caught up in a car, stay calm. (This is one part that I don't wholly agree with the author, but I will expound on this point in a later post).

6.  Use social medial to find out what areas to avoid.

7.  Avoid being hit by riot control chemicals or weapons. (Easy to say; perhaps harder to implement).

8.  Move away from the riot.

9.  Get to a safe place and stay put.

The full article expounds on each of these points, giving more detailed instructions and pointers, so read the whole thing.

The article also suggests making this compound to counteract CS or CN agents (however, it is ineffective against pepper spray, aka, OC).
i.  Find some antacid. Tums, Pepto-Bismol, Gaviscon, Eno, Milk of Magnesia, Alka-Seltzer are all suitable or use bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).
ii.  Dilute with water.
 iii.  Add to a spray bottle that you can easily carry.
iv.  Spray on eyes, nose and skin if you are attacked by chemicals. The spray will help to neutralize the attack.

If you have been exposed to OC ("Pepper Spray") rinse your eyes with as much fresh water as possible. Also wash your mouth, nose and any other part of your body that had contact to OC. However, do not drink the water after flushing your mouth!

Warrior Talk News -- Raising an Armed Family

Advice for childproofing your firearms ... and gunproofing your children. (Link here).

Another Video on Surviving A Nuclear Attack

This is a much longer video by Irwin Redlener on surviving a nuclear attack by a terrorist (i.e., assuming a ground level burst with a relatively low-yield weapon). Most of the video (approximately 19 minutes) is actually background on the history of nuclear proliferation and the threat of terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon. Only in the last part does he get to what to do.

How to Survive a Terrorist Nuclear Attack

How the S&P Would Plummit Without Apple

Apple’s success at selling consumer gadgets has made it the most valuable firm in the world.

As a result, stock market analysts have been trying to size its impact on the broader market.

In an attempt to analyse the market sans-Apple, Barclays Capital has produced a graph which illustrates the earnings growth of the technology sector with - and without - Apple (AAPL).

The graphic shows that earnings without Apple have actually been in decline since spring 2011.

Eddy Elfenbein, who runs financial blog Crossing Wall Street, Tweeted: 'In Q4, the tech sector's earnings growth was 19.6%. Sans $AAPL, it was 3.3%.'
(Go to the full story to see the graph). And, lest we forget, their production is centered in China.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Boy Scout Mentality or Extremism?"

The concept of survivalism had existed for decades under a dark cloud because of the paramilitary training that some groups and individuals have engaged in, and some of the anti-government sentiments that have existed among some individuals. The motivations for survivalism range from concerns of severe economic collapse, pandemics, natural disasters to possible societal and/or government collapse, nuclear war, and end-of-the-world religious beliefs.

I haven't been in the survivalist culture, but growing up in a place like Tornado Alley, being prepared was considered wisdom. Many people there have storm shelters, and some do stockpile food, water, and other provisions in the event of a tornado wiping out their home.

While some have scoffed at even those who have made some modest preparations against misfortune, the idea of being prepared does have merit. The individual who is prepared isn't a person waiting in line for emergency relief, and it's unlikely that the same individual will be seeking some kind of monetary relief or assistance from the government. In one sense, a prepared person won't be burning up taxpayers' dollars. Additionally the more prepared an individual is, the more he or she can help someone who isn't.

In another sense such preparations are like insurance against disaster. In our society we often buy life insurance, medical insurance, auto insurance, and home insurance so survivalism should be viewed in that same vein.

* * *

Many folks here in South Florida already engage in some kind of prepper planning in regards to hurricanes. For them to become some type of survivalist means merely expanding what they already do on a seasonal basis. A good place to start on the basics would be to pick up a booklet on hurricane preparedness which can often be found at your local grocery store.

The government and other organizations offer a wealth of information on disaster preparedness. 

In the "old days," before modern "just in time" distribution systems, storing food, candles or hurricane lamps, and so on, was considered good sense at a minimum, and a necessity for many people. It is still good sense today.

However, the author raises a valid point:
I think what is more important in regards to preparedness is how we are to act as human beings in any potential disaster. We can choose to be each other's foes or friends. I prefer the latter; what use is survival if we become nothing more than animals?
She is right. We should be neither wolves nor sheep.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How Neighbors Turned on Each Other After WWII

We all hope that we have good neighbors in the event of a crises or disaster. Hopefully, we've all done something to encourage good neighbors, or at least peacefully co-exist with our neighbors. And, if not? Well, read this article from the Daily Mail:
Just imagine living in a world in which law and order have broken down completely: a world in which there is no authority, no rules and no sanctions.

In the bombed-out ruins of Europe’s cities, feral gangs scavenge for food. Old men are murdered for their clothes, their watches or even their boots. Women are mercilessly raped, many several times a night.

Neighbour turns on neighbour; old friends become deadly enemies. And the wrong surname, even the wrong accent, can get you killed.

It sounds like the stuff of nightmares. But for hundreds of millions of Europeans, many of them now gentle, respectable pensioners, this was daily reality in the desperate months after the end of World War II.

* * *

Across the shattered remains of Hitler’s Reich, some 20 million people were homeless, while 17 million ‘displaced persons’, many of them former PoWs and slave labourers, were roaming the land.

Half of all houses in Berlin were in ruins; so were seven out of ten of those in Cologne.

Not all the Germans who survived the war had supported Hitler. But in the vast swathes of his former empire conquered by Stalin’s Red Army, the terrible vengeance of the victors fell on them all, irrespective of their past record.

* * *

The truth is that World War II, which we remember as a great moral campaign, had wreaked incalculable damage on Europe’s ethical sensibilities. And in the desperate struggle for survival, many people would do whatever it took to get food and shelter.

In Allied-occupied Naples, the writer Norman Lewis watched as local women, their faces identifying them as ‘ordinary well-washed respectable shopping and gossiping housewives’, lined up to sell themselves to young American GIs for a few tins of food.

Another observer, the war correspondent Alan Moorehead, wrote that he had seen ‘the moral collapse’ of the Italian people, who had lost all pride in their ‘animal struggle for existence’.

* * *

What was more, even in those countries liberated by the British and Americans, a deep tide of hatred swept through national life.

Everybody had come out of the war with somebody to hate.

In northern Italy, some 20,000 people were summarily murdered by their own countrymen in the last weeks of the war. And in French town squares, women accused of sleeping with German soldiers were stripped and shaved, their breasts marked with swastikas while mobs of men stood and laughed. Yet even today, many Frenchmen pretend these appalling scenes never happened.
As the article discusses in greater details, the slaughter of German civilians was even greater in Eastern Europe. Women in the thousands were brutally raped, then murdered.
Meanwhile, across great swathes of Eastern Europe, German communities who had lived quietly for centuries were being driven out. Some had blood on their hands; many others, though, were blameless. But they could not have paid a higher price for the collapse of Adolf Hitler’s imperial ambitions.

In the months after the war ended, a staggering 7 million Germans were driven out of Poland, another 3 million from Czechoslovakia and almost 2 million more from other central European countries, often in appalling conditions of hunger, thirst and disease. 
* * * 
In eastern Poland and western Ukraine, rival nationalists carried out an undeclared war of horrifying brutality, raping and slaughtering women and children and forcing almost 2 million people to leave their homes.

* * * 
[B]etween 1944 and 1950 some 400,000 people were involved in anti-Soviet resistance activities in Ukraine.

What was more, in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which Stalin had brutally absorbed into the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of nationalist guerillas known as the Forest Brothers struggled vainly for their independence, even fighting pitched battles against the Red Army and attacking government buildings in major cities.

We think of the Cold War in Europe as a stalemate. Yet as late as 1965, Lithuanian partisans were still fighting gun battles with the Soviet police, while the last Estonian resistance fighter, the 69-year-old August Sabbe, was not killed until 1978, more than 30 years after the World War II had supposedly ended.

Mark Steyn -- The Sun Also Sets

Mark Steyn's column at the National Review doesn't hold out much hope for the U.S. escaping a financial collapse. (H/t Instapundit). He writes:
But these comparisons [with Greece and other European countries] tend to understate the insolvency of America, failing as they do to take into account state and municipal debts and public pension liabilities. When Morgan Stanley ran those numbers in 2009, the debt-to-revenue ratio in Greece was 312 percent; in the United States it was 358 percent. If Greece has been knocking back the ouzo, we’re face down in the vat. Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute calculates that, if you take into account unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare versus their European equivalents, Greece owes 875 percent of GDP; the United States owes 911 percent — or getting on for twice as much as the second-most-insolvent Continental: France at 549 percent.

And if you’re thinking, Wow, all these percentages are making my head hurt, forget ’em: When you’re spending on the scale Washington does, what matters is the hard dollar numbers. Greece’s total debt is a few rinky-dink billions, a rounding error in the average Obama budget. Only America is spending trillions. The 2011 budget deficit, for example, is about the size of the entire Russian economy. By 2010, the Obama administration was issuing about a hundred billion dollars of treasury bonds every month — or, to put it another way, Washington is dependent on the bond markets being willing to absorb an increase of U.S. debt equivalent to the GDP of Canada or India — every year. And those numbers don’t take into account the huge levels of personal debt run up by Americans. College-debt alone is over a trillion dollars, or the equivalent of the entire South Korean economy — tied up just in one small boutique niche market of debt which barely exists in most other developed nations.

“We are headed for the most predictable economic crisis in history,” says Paul Ryan. And he’s right. But precisely because it’s so predictable the political class has already discounted it. Which is why a plan for pie now and spinach later, maybe even two decades later, is the only real menu on the table. There’s a famous exchange in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Someone asks Mike Campbell, “How did you go bankrupt?” “Two ways,” he replies. “Gradually, then suddenly.” We’ve been going through the gradual phase so long, we’re kinda used to it. But it’s coming to an end, and what happens next will be the second way: sudden, and very bad.

By the way, that decline in the U.S./Australian exchange isn’t the only one. Ten years ago the U.S. dollar was worth 1.6 Canadian; now it’s at par. A decade ago, the dollar was worth over ten Swedish Kroner, now 6.7; 1.8 Singapore dollars, now 1.2. I get asked with distressing frequency by Americans where I would recommend fleeing to. The reality is, given the dollar’s decline over the last decade, that most Americans can no longer afford to flee to any place worth fleeing to. What’s left is the non-flee option: taking a stand here, stopping the spendaholism, closing federal agencies, privatizing departments, block-granting to the states — not in 2040, but now. “Suddenly” is about to show up.
At the Instapundit link above, Glen Reynold's posts a warning from one of his readers that Canada is looking to economically disengage from the United States. Good luck with that--whether other nations want to acknowledge it or not, the United States is the economic engine that drives the planet. If the U.S. goes down, so will most every other nation on Earth, starting with China, and cascading around the globe.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Winter Concealed Carry

I think this article comes a little too late in the season, but Shooting Illustrated has an article on concealed carry in the winter and cold weather. The author's conclusion is that belt and inside-the-belt holsters are too slow to be practical when you are bundled up. His conclusion is the most accessible carry method is a pocket holster in a pants pocket; with a runner up being a shoulder holster. He has some good reasoning for many of his points, so read the whole thing.

Gun Giveaway Contests

The Weapons Blog publishes a list of monthly gun give-away contests. Check it out.

Possible Time Lines for Iran Acquiring a Nuclear Weapon

Iran can acquire weapons-grade uranium for one weapon by mid-August 2012 under currently-announced plans for expanding enrichment. This scenario is somewhat likely.

Iran will acquire enough 19.75% low-enriched uranium by June 1, 2012 to be within 2.5 months of producing weapons-grade uranium for one 15 kiloton bomb under certain contested technical assumptions. This scenario is the most likely.

TTAG Reviews the ALG Defense Quality Mil-Spec AR Trigger

If you are like me, you have a modest budget for preps, including firearms. So, I'm always on the look out for good quality, reasonably priced items. Those of you with an AR that need to upgrade the trigger may be interested in this review from The Truth About Guns on the ALG Defense Quality Mil-Spec (QMS) trigger. MSRP $45.

For comparison, TTAG also recently reviewed the Geissele S3G trigger for the AR. MSRP $240.

Knots and Rope Making

Low-tech Magazine has an interesting article on the history of rope making. One process of rope making described in the article is "rope walking":
The ropewalk method - which was also in use in China - is very simple. Describing it is a little more difficult. I came across many lengthy and sometimes puzzling explanations, but the one I found in the book "Handbook of Fibre Rope Technology" makes it quite clear (the accompanying illustration comes from the same source):
Principles of making a three strand rope "At one end, there is the jack, which has three hooks that can be rotated. At the other end, there is a carriage with a single, rotatable hook. In stage one, three sets of yarns are pulled off bobbins and are held along the length of the ropewalk."

"In stage 2, an assistant turns the crank handle of the jack so that the yarns are twisted into strands by the rotation of the three hooks on the jack. Twist causes the lengths to contract, so that the carriage has to move along the ropewalk, under the control of the ropemaker."

"In stage 3, the hook on the carriage rotates in order to twist the strands into the rope. In the usual mode of operation, the initial strand twist is made as high as possible without kinking. When the single hook on the carriage is released, the high torque in the strands causes the hook to rotate, and this, in turn, cause the three strands to twist together and form the rope. The ropemaker controls the production of the rope by continually pushing back its form of formation to give a tight structure. Meanwhile, the assistant continues to rotate the crank to make up for the loss of twist in the strands."
That article links to a different article (also at Low-Tech Magazine) on knots, including a list of on-line references about knots. One of particular note is a PDF of a knot-tying guide from the International Guild of Knot Tyers. You may also find the "Animated Knots by Grog" web-site to be useful.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

More Modern Ruins

If you liked the recent post on what the world would look like without people, you might find this article and photo collection of Chernobyl interesting.

Lifehacker: Urban Survival Skills

Here is an article from Life Hacker on urban survival skills. The article divides preppers into three categories:

  • The Stockpiler: someone with a wide assortment of supplies but very little knowledge of how to actually do anything.
  • The MacGyver: someone who can jury rig anything with duct tape, a pencil, and a pack of chewing gum.
  • The Survivalist: someone who can find dinner in an old stump and keep warm using a roll of toilet paper and a rusty coffee can.
There are pointers and a few videos on different skills. Considering my comments in my recent review of the book Without Rule of Law, the video on picking locks may be of interest.

Rumors of a Chinese Coup (Updated)

A few days ago, I posted about the growing influence of the Chinese military in Chinese politics. One of the articles I cited to was this Forbes article on how what was supposed to be a smooth transition of power has become increasingly rocky. I had focused on the run to the military for support, and less on the background. However, that background is important here:
While Americans were watching the Super Bowl, Wang, a high-level Chongqing official, attempted to defect to the U.S. at the American consulate in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu, carrying with him papers that many believe document the foreign assets of the wife of Bo Xilai, his former boss.

Bo, then the Chongqing Party secretary, tried to prevent Wang from getting away by ordering hundreds of his armed security troops to cross into neighboring Sichuan province to surround the Chengdu consulate. The effort failed as Wang was escorted to Beijing by officials of the Ministry of State Security. Wang, now detained, has been officially branded a traitor to the country and the Communist Party.

Bo has not fared well either. He was stripped of his Chongqing post on Thursday, and virtually all analysts believe he has no chance of being named to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee this fall. Many believe that Hu Jintao, China’s current supremo, engineered this bizarre incident as a means of sidelining Bo, but events could spiral beyond control as the Party’s factions scramble to take advantage of a fluid situation.
(Wang's attempted defection has been confirmed. See here). Now, Isaac Fish, in his Foreign Policy blog, questions if there is more going on behind the scenes. (H/t Instapundit):
Last week, controversial politician Bo Xilai, whose relatively open campaigning for a seat on China's top ruling council shocked China watchers (and possibly his elite peers, as well), was removed from his post as Chongqing's party secretary. He hasn't been seen since. Rumors of a coup, possibly coordinated by Bo's apparent ally Zhou Yongkang, are in the air.
He further relates:
Mainland media sites have begun to strongly censor discussion of Bo Xilai and entirely unsubstantiated rumors of gunfire in downtown Beijing (an extremely rare occurance in Beijing). Chinese websites hosted overseas, free from censorship, offer a host of unsupported, un-provable commentary on what might have happened in the halls of power. Bannedbook.org, which provides free downloads of "illegal" Chinese books, posted a long explanation of tremors in the palace of Zhongnanhai, sourced to a "person with access to high level information in Beijing," of a power struggle between President Hu Jintao, who controls the military, and Zhou, who controls China's formidable domestic security apparatus. The Epoch Times, a news site affiliated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement (which banned in China), has published extensively in English and Chinese about the coup.

. . . A censored fatal Ferrari crash on Sunday night has raised suspicions of elite foul play, possibly realted to Bo. The bannedbook.org reports that Hu and Zhou "are currently fighting for control of China Central Television, Xinhua News (the official Communist Party wire service), and other ‘mouthpieces,'" which have been eerily but unsurprisingly taciturn about Bo Xilai.
The coup rumors are undoubtedly just that--rumors. (See also here). (More roundup on the coup rumors here). But, even if rumors of an actual coup are unfounded, the fact that they gained such traction in China may be indicative of public perception of instability as this report in the WSJ discusses.
The party has been able to keep internal strife under control by avoiding ideological struggle over the last 20 years. The factions have competed for important posts and the spoils of power, but they ruled by consensus. The public was simply told to believe in the myth of a monolithic party and ignore the men squabbling behind the curtain.

This technocratic pragmatism may now be breaking down. For instance, Bo Xilai appealed to leftists' disgust with bourgeois individualism and public unhappiness with income inequality, a tactic that alarmed some leaders. Since his dismissal, leftist websites and commentators have also been silenced.

But there are plenty of other voices on the "right" advocating liberal political reform. Ten years ago, the prospect of achieving middle-class incomes made most intellectuals unwilling to rock the boat. Now they feel secure enough to demand more rights. The party sees this as evidence of Western infiltration, and it is tightening control over the media and launching new campaigns to promote the spirit of self-sacrifice.

This return of ideology could make it difficult for the party to apportion power neatly between the factions. This time, Bo Xilai was replaced by Zhang Dejiang, a more moderate member of the same faction. But if the factions come to stand for policy platforms, they will naturally start to play for keeps. Instead of rotating through positions as they currently do, politicians and their proteges will develop personal strongholds, especially in the military. From there it's a short hop to a real coup attempt like the one Mao's designated successor Lin Biao was supposedly plotting in 1971, before he died in a mysterious plane crash.
 It may also reflect ongoing economic issues in China. The latest economic figures still show an economy that is slowing down and, perhaps, contracting.

(Update: More from the Daily Mail).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Would a World Without People Look Like?

(Source: see story cited below)

There are various collections of photographs of ghost towns and abandoned buildings on the Internet. Here is a collection of such photos from The Atlantic. The introduction to the photo essay reads:
For a number of reasons, natural and human, people have recently evacuated or otherwise abandoned a number of places around the world -- large and small, old and new. Gathering images of deserted areas into a single photo essay, one can get a sense of what the world might look like if humans were to vanish from the planet altogether. Collected here are recent scenes from nuclear-exclusion zones, blighted urban neighborhoods, towns where residents left to escape violence, unsold developments built during the real estate boom, ghost towns, and more.

Colloidal Silver Blog

A big issue for disaster preparation is access to appropriate medicines, especially antibiotics. One of the more popular and widely used natural antibiotics is colloidal silver. And one of the best sources of information on using colloidal silver that I've found is the Colloidal Silver Secrets blog. Anyway, check it out.

7.6 Earthquake Near Acapulco, Mexico

MSNBC has a report.

To Attack or Not to Attack...That is the Question

The U.S. and Israel have very different answers to a key issue: how Iran would respond to an attack on its nuclear facilities. Jeffrey Goldberg states that Israeli leaders seem positive that an attack by Israel on Iran's nuclear weapons facilities would not spark a regional war, but that Iran would mute its response to avoid a conflict with the U.S., or perhaps even cover up the attack just as Syria covered up a successful attack on a nuclear facility several years ago. He writes:
One conclusion key officials have reached is that a strike on six or eight Iranian facilities will not lead, as is generally assumed, to all-out war. This argument holds that the Iranians might choose to cover up an attack, in the manner of the Syrian government when its nuclear facility was destroyed by the Israeli air force in 2007. An Israeli strike wouldn’t focus on densely populated cities, so the Iranian government might be able to control, to some degree, the flow of information about it.

Some Israeli officials believe that Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture, rather than declare all-out war. I’m not endorsing this view, but I was struck by its optimism. (A war game held by the U.S. military this month came to the opposite conclusion, according to the New York Times: A strike would likely lead to a wider war that could include the U.S.)

Another theory making the rounds was that Obama has so deeply internalized the argument that Israel has the sovereign right to defend itself against a threat to its existence that an Israeli attack, even one launched against U.S. wishes, wouldn’t anger him. In this scenario, Obama would move immediately to help buttress Israel’s defenses against an Iranian counterstrike.

Some Israeli security officials also believe that Iran won’t target American ships or installations in the Middle East in retaliation for a strike, as many American officials fear, because the leadership in Tehran understands that American retaliation for an Iranian attack could be so severe as to threaten the regime itself.
As Goldberg notes, however, the U.S. military has wargamed this scenario and believes that an attack by Israel will cause a regional war.
But the game has raised fears among top American planners that it may be impossible to preclude American involvement in any escalating confrontation with Iran, the officials said. In the debate among policy makers over the consequences of any Israeli attack, that reaction may give stronger voice to those in the White House, Pentagon and intelligence community who have warned that a strike could prove perilous for the United States.

The results of the war game were particularly troubling to Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, according to officials who either participated in the Central Command exercise or who were briefed on the results and spoke on condition of anonymity because of its classified nature. When the exercise had concluded earlier this month, according to the officials, General Mattis told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.
The two-week war game, called Internal Look, played out a narrative in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans, according to officials with knowledge of the exercise. The United States then retaliated by carrying out its own strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Monday, March 19, 2012

China Heading to a Zero Growth Economy

Various recent economic and trade statistics from China show that China's economy continues to slow. This article at Forbes indicates that China is looking at single digit increases in electricity production this year, cargo throughput at China's busiest ports shows only single digit growth (and air cargo has declined), and demand for loans has actually declined. Consumer demand has also declined.
At the moment, most observers see China’s economy growing about 8% this year. They downplay the possibility of a “hard landing” because they anticipate the central government will start to stimulate the economy soon, primarily by dropping the reserve ratio requirement. Yet Beijing did that in November and this month, and so far it has not had much effect.

Nobody sees a return to Beijing’s “tidal-wave investing” of the 2008-2009 period. To his credit, Premier Wen does not want to over stimulate the economy again, and even if he did he no longer has the tools to do so. Therefore, one has to wonder what he will do this time to get growth back on track. This is not to say that 7.5% growth is unattainable, but it is attainable only if Beijing takes decisive measures and does so soon.

In the meantime, the January-February results indicate that the downward slide, evident in the last quarter, is picking up momentum. At the moment, China is heading to an essentially zero-growth economy.

The Growing Influence of the Chinese Military

A couple articles that point to the growing political power of the Chinese military. First, from Forbes:
We were told that the upcoming transfer of power, from the so-called Fourth Generation leaders to the Fifth, would be “smooth” and uneventful.

They were wrong. For one thing, Bo is still holding on to his seats on the Central Committee and the Politburo, giving him the opportunity to fight back. And at the height of the crisis in Chengdu, he ran to the 14th Group Army in Kunming, in Yunnan province.

Bo’s move is widely seen as an attempt to get the military involved on his side in this ever-widening struggle. Hu Jintao tried the same maneuver last decade when he enlisted generals and admirals in his tussle with Jiang Zemin, his predecessor, who refused to gracefully yield power.

Hu in effect opened the door to flag officers to become referees and sometimes power brokers in the Communist Party’s increasingly nasty political struggles. And the result of that is the reversal of more than a decade of declining military influence in China. Since then, the budgets for the People’s Liberation Army have mushroomed and the top brass have become vocal on matters once considered the exclusive province of civilian officials. There has been, in short, a partial remilitarization of politics and policy.

It is not so much that China’s flag officers have been gaining control over civilians; the generals and admirals are winning the latitude to conduct their own affairs with only limited interference from civilians. In January of last year, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke of the “disconnect” between China’s civilian and military leaders. As he suggested, the regime is dividing into constituent elements, which often carry out their own policies with little evident coordination.

In this environment, it is not surprising that in the last few months there have been rumors of coups, all of them fascinating, none of them confirmable. But we have to remember that people do not talk of military takeovers when a regime is stable. And people are gossiping now because they know how powerful the military has become.

That’s undoubtedly why Hu Jintao issued a warning of his own on Monday. In Beijing, he reminded military officers that the People’s Army was subordinate to the Party. As a retired senior colonel said to the South China Morning Post, recent comments from flag officers have “undermined the absolute leadership of the Communist Party.”
And this from Walter Russel Mead:
In China, these assertive policies sometimes seem to originate without the blessing or even the knowledge of the Foreign Ministry, longtime observers tell Via Meadia. It is not just that the People’s Liberation Army generally takes a harder line, and its leaders have less time abroad and less understanding of the regional and global realities that shape China’s options; it is that often sub-agencies like the equivalent of the Coast Guard take provocative steps on their own authority without clearing it with higher ups. When the incident — like a decision to send a ship into disputed waters — blows up into a public controversy, nationalist opinion inside China makes it hard for the government to back down.
Mao's famous axiom--all political power derives from the muzzle of a gun--may yet again be proven true.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Media Reactions to "Doomsday Preppers"

I have to admit that I have not watched National Geographic's "Doomsday Preppers" but it, along with the upcoming "Doomsday Bunkers" on the Discovery Channel have generated some rather mixed media buzz.

As would be expected, the New York Times mocks the show and preppers generally. The author writes:
Watch either show for a short while and, unless you’re a prepper yourself, you might be moderately amused at the absurd excess on display and at what an easy target the prepper worldview is for ridicule. Watch a bit longer, though, and amusement may give way to annoyance at how offensively anti-life these shows are, full of contempt for humankind.
His main criticism is that, based on what the show portrays, preppers are too white, and have too many guns and are too willing to use them. Unlike the rest of the world, he hasn't figured out that "reality TV" is not actually based on, ya know, reality.

This article from Examiner.com is more positive:
National Geographic’s “Doomsday Preppers” was going to be an entertaining show to watch, this was the first thought that many had as they sat down to watch it for the first time a few weeks ago when it made its debut. Who are these people and what are they thinking? This is the mindset of many who tuned in to see what this show was all about? While prepping for the unexpected is not a new concept, Click 2 Houston reports that the official network of American Preppers is boosting more than 3 million people. This is in contrast to a couple of hundred thousand just a few years ago.

When viewers sat down and watched “Doomsday Preppers” for the first time, they didn’t find the “hillbilly’s” they expected to see practicing this preparedness for a catastrophe. Instead of an entertainment value, many got an educational awareness out of it. This push on prepping for a doomsday scenario isn’t just encompassed by people living off the beaten track in rural areas that don’t get many visitors. People preparing for this possibility live next door to you in your Manhattan loft or in the suburban miniature mansion two doors down in Fairfield County. They are just like you, doctors, lawyers, teachers, construction workers and homemakers who plant a bomb shelter or a panic room on their premises “just in case.” The Orange County Register recently wrote that the "new National Geographic show might not be so crazy after all." This is what people who tune in are finding out.
And the Hawaii News Daily actually has an op-ed from a prepper.

Although not specifically mentioning the show, this article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel takes a more objective view on preppers.

Continued Religious Polarization in the Middle-East

As Arab civilization continues its death spiral, religious intolerance toward non-Muslims continues to grow as shown by these two articles.

First, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia (the nation behind the 9/11 attacks) has declared that all Christian churches should be destroyed:
On March 12, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.” The ruling came in response to a query from a Kuwaiti delegation over proposed legislation to prevent construction of churches in the emirate. The mufti based his decision on a story that on his deathbed, Muhammad declared, “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula.” This passage has long been used to justify intolerance in the kingdom. Churches have always been banned in Saudi Arabia, and until recently Jews were not even allowed in the country. Those wishing to worship in the manner of their choosing must do so hidden away in private, and even then the morality police have been known to show up unexpectedly and halt proceedings.

This is not a small-time radical imam trying to stir up his followers with fiery hate speech. This was a considered, deliberate and specific ruling from one of the most important leaders in the Muslim world. It does not just create a religious obligation for those over whom the mufti has direct authority; it is also a signal to others in the Muslim world that destroying churches is not only permitted but mandatory.
I don't know if this proclamation is intended to be limited to the Arabian peninsula, but it is a rather provocative statement in light of Muslim terrorism over the last several decades, and the more recent pogroms to drive Christians and Jews out of the Middle-East.

And on that note, in the second article, Walter Meade writes about the continued migration of Jews into Israel and the West to avoid persecution. 

(H/t, Instapundit)

Book Review - Without Rule of Law


Book: Without Rule of Law: Advanced Skills to Help You Survive by "Joe Nobody" (190 pages; 2012). (Amazon link here) (Barnes & Noble link here).

Overview: This book covers the skills and ideas related to scavenging following a wide-spread disaster resulting in the loss of the rule of law. About 1/4 of the book covers selecting, prioritizing, and training with your equipment, with special chapters on "the survival net" (using a net for various purposes) and weapons. The author next covers hiding, evasion and infiltration. The final portion of the book discuses specific tactics of scavenging, including a chapter on working in teams.

Impression: I had previously linked to a review of this book from the SHTF Blog, but decided to pick up a copy to look at myself.

While the tactics and skills set out in the book could be used to pilfer goods from other survivors of such a devastating disaster, that is not the intent of the author. The focus of the book is to scavenge food, medicine, and other essentials that has been abandoned from unoccupied buildings and facilities, after a major disaster in what may be hostile territory.

The author writes the book from the perspective of someone that has a rural retreat location, but, for one reason or another, needs to replenish food, medicine, or other critical supplies in an environment where government and other socio-economic systems have ceased to function. In other words, he envisions a national or global disaster with a long recovery time (more than 2 months) during which time functional government has ceased to exist and outside assistance is unavailable. So, if your preparations are geared toward the "standard" earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, etc., or even an Argentina type of long-term economic emergency, you may have the impression that this book is not for you. However, I think that this type of prepper is the one that would most benefit from this book.

If your preparations are geared for a long-term collapse of government, such as might follow an eruption of a super-volcano, a nuclear war, a pandemic on the scale of the Black Plague (while the Black Plague did not lead to a collapse of government then, I think something on that scale would certainly do so now), a civil war, etc., you probably have or plan on moving to a remote retreat. You have or plan on obtaining a large supply of food--a year or more. You similarly are probably storing a good quantity of the medicines you need and first aid supplies.

The author candidly admits in the book that there is going to be a limited time frame in which to engage in productive scavenging. In fact, he acknowledges and assumes that the "easy pickin's" are already gone, and that you will be scavenging secondary, less well known, sources of foods and medicines such as individual doctors offices, office break rooms, rail road cars, etc. Even those sources will "dry up" due to others scavenging.

Paradoxically, the prepper most likely to benefit from this book is the one that has prepared for a short to medium term emergency (< 2 months) but is faced with an emergency that is much longer and greater in scope. It is this type of prepper that will likely be running out of supplies during the window of opportunity to do meaningful scavenging. By the time the "hard core" prepper or survivalist needs to scavenge, the window of opportunity will probably be gone. The other issue is proximity. The short-to-medium term prepper will likely be in a better position to engage in scavenging versus the long-term prepper in an isolated retreat who has to cover long distances to get to a good location to scavenge.

This is not to say that the long-term prepper wouldn't benefit from this book. As the author acknowledges, the long-term prepper may lose his supplies for some reason and need to resort to scavenging.

My impression of the book is positive. It is well written and edited. For someone who enjoyed "Mad Max" and similar post-apocalypse stories as a kid, it is actually an entertaining read. But it has a lot of useful information on operating alone, using MOLLE equipment, using a camouflage net for everything from dragging supplies to use as a hammock.

Where I would fault the author is that he doesn't give enough specifics on some topics. For instance, he mentions the importance of learning military hand-signals when working in a group, but doesn't illustrate any of the hand signals. Since I have the book Light Infantry Tactics for Small Teams, which has an excellent description of hand signals, this is not a real issue for me, but it does mean getting another book or guide from somewhere. If you think that you would be operating in a small team while scavenging, I would recommend also purchasing the Light Infantry Tactics for Small Teams to use in conjunction with this book. And practice.

Another area that I would like to have had more information is actual instructions on how to penetrate the doors to a building or getting through other barriers.

Even ignoring the scavenging portion of the book, it does offer a lot of tips and instructions for escape and evasion, camouflage and hiding, that would be useful by itself.

Overall, a well-written book packed with good information. As indicated, I think this book has the most value for the short to medium term prepper "just in case."

Notable Points: As I wrote above, the book has a good introduction to using the MOLLE system, and the author writes a lot about the use of a net and the various uses it can be put to.

It is also notable that, while recommending carrying a battle rifle, the author discourages actually using weapons. He envisions scavenging operations as reconnaissance type operations--no one should ever know you where there. He does discuss what you will have to do, however, if you do need to defend your life.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pass-By of Asteroid 2012 DA14

Asteroid 2012 DA14 circles the Earth once a year - and when it flies by next February, it will be just 24,000km away.

Luckily, it is not going to hit us this time round - but be warned that this is just one of just 500,000 rocks circling in a close orbit.

Scientists say there is no chance of an impact in 2013, but such a possibility cannot be ruled out during the asteroid's yearly approach .

If it did enter the Earth's atmosphere and explode, the force would be enough to destroy an area the size of Greater London.

The asteroid was spotted last month by a team operating from the La Sagra Sky Survey observatory near Granada in Spain. The observatory uses automated telescopes to track small asteroids and comets.