Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cheap Smart Weapons

The Economist has an article about a revolution in smart weapons, that will yield less expensive guided missiles. From the article:
A Tomahawk cruise missile costs about $1.5m, and even the Hellfire, an air-to-ground rocket that weighs a mere 50kg, is $115,000 a pop. In exchange for, say, an enemy tank, that is probably a fair price to pay. To knock out a pick-up truck crewed by a few lightly armed guerrillas, however, it seems a little expensive, and using its shoulder-fired cousin the Javelin ($147,000) to kill individual soldiers in foxholes, as is often the case in Afghanistan, is positively profligate. Clearly, something has to change. And changing it is.

An early sign of this change came in March, with the deployment in Afghanistan of the APKWS II (Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System) made by BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman. The APKWS II is a smart version of the old-fashioned 70mm (2.75-inch) rocket, which has been used by America’s armed forces since 1948. It is also cheap, as guided missiles go, costing $18,000 a shot.

The APKWS II is loaded and fired in the same way (pictured above) as its unguided predecessors, from the same 19-round pods, making its use straightforward. The difference is that it can strike with an accuracy of one metre because it has been fitted with a laser-seeking head which follows a beam pointed at the target by the missile’s operators. This controls a set of fins that can steer the missile to its destination.

. . . Meanwhile, the American navy has been working on its own cheap guided missile, the Low-Cost Imaging Terminal Seeker (LCITS), which it tested successfully last year.

The LCITS is another upgraded 70mm weapon, but instead of laser guidance it picks out its targets by their heat signature. Because the operators do not need to keep pointing a laser at the target, they can fire several missiles in quick succession—a useful feature if a ship is being attacked by a swarm of boats.

. . . The most determined effort to develop a small, cheap guided weapon, though, is the Forward Firing Miniature Munition (F2M2, or Spike missile), from the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, California. Steve Felix, the F2M2’s project manager, wanted to make such a weapon for just $5,000, using off-the-shelf components. The result, which weighs less than 3kg and is the size of a baguette, is claimed to be the world’s smallest.

Spike has been tested successfully as a shoulder-launched missile, and also fired from drones. It has an ingenious optical-guidance system—a camera that can either lock on to an operator-designated object or can pick up a laser spot and home in on it. It has a range of 1,500 metres and, though the warhead is too small to damage a tank, it can destroy cars and other light targets far more cheaply than the alternatives.

What Happens When You Shoot A Gun Underwater


Full article, with additional photos, here.

I wonder if the "grooves" in the "tornado" match up with the grooves on the bullet from the rifling?

Daniel's Seventy Weeks Prophecy

One of the more interesting prophecies in the Old Testament is that given through an angelic visitation to Daniel in Daniel 9. At that time, Daniel was studying the words of Jeremiah concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the Jews, and realized that the time was near that the 70 year exile was to end. Daniel wrote:
In the first year of his reign [i.e., Darius] I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
(Footnotes and verse number omitted). He then proceeded to pray and fast that the 70 year desolation of Jerusalem would end. (See Daniel 9:3-19). In response, "about the time of the evening oblation", the angel Gabriel appeared and told Daniel the following:
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
(Daniel 9:24-27) (Footnotes and verse numbers omitted).

To understand the prophecy, it is important to note that the ancient Jews used the term translated as "week" to not only mean a period of seven days, but also a period of seven years. The "week" referred to here is a period of seven years, and, thus, the prophecy is concerned with a period of (70 x 7, or) 490 years.

However, this period is broken up. First, the prophecy describes a period "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah" of 7 weeks (i.e., 49 years) plus 62 weeks (i.e., 434 years), for a total of 69 weeks (483 years). (It is not clear why the first 49 years is considered separate from the second 434 year period). Second, at the end of the second period (i.e., at the end of the 69th week), the "Messiah [shall] be cut off" (i.e., executed). Finally, there is the last week (7 years) in which there shall be a covenant between "the prince that shall come" for that one week, but which covenant will be broken "in the midst of the week."

The most comprehensive study of the meaning of this prophecy is in The Coming Prince by Sir Robert Anderson. (For those with Kindles, I would note that the Kindle edition is only 99 cents). Anderson recognized that the "year" referred to in the prophecy was a "Levitical" year (or lunar year) of 360 days. Thus, the first 69 weeks until the Savior was executed would be 173,880 days. Anderson determined that the decree issued by Artaxerxes allowing the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls was on March 14, 445 B.C. According to Anderson's research, Christ's crucifixion was on April 6, 32 A.D. Per Anderson's research, there is exactly 173,880 days between the two dates.

So why hasn't this interpretation been more widely adopted? It is, after all, an incredible prediction, and should be proof of the validity of the scriptures.

First, and foremost, I would put it down to a lack of faith. Even among people that profess to be Christian, there is a strange reluctance to admit the validity of prophecy or that it will be literally fulfilled.  (Turn to almost any article in Time or Newsweek about Christ and whether he was a real person, and you will find many examples of people who profess to be students of Christ, but whose hearts are far from him).

Second, there is a possibility of a discrepancy in Anderson's calculations, which is seized on to dismiss his theory. My copy of Anderson's book indicates:
Based on a subsequent work of Harold W. Hoehner, "Daniel's Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology" -- Bibliothca Sacra, Jan.-Mar. 1975, a discrepancy of ten days was found in the chronology with respect to the beginning of the 70th week [actually, they mean the end of the 69th week].
Assuming that Hoehner is correct, does it really invalidate Anderson's theory? Not really. As anyone that works with data knows, the data you get out is only as good as what you put in. This shows up in the concept of significant digits. The prophecy itself actually only concerns itself with years, not days. While it is necessary to know that you are only dealing with 360 day years, and you may have to calculate out the number of days, and take account of leap years, etc., to translate the period into our reckoning, in the end the prophecy only directs you to a particular year. A ten day discrepancy is not significant.

In the Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, it notes in reference to Isaiah 20:2 (where Isaiah is commended to walk stripped and barefoot for three years) that "[t]he period of three years need not be exactly thirty-six months, because in oriental fashion, any portion of a year is considered a year." (Location 17879). In the same vein, the 483 years in the prophecy need not be exactly 173,880 days. (We do the same thing--e.g., if I told you I was 30 years old, you would not assume that I was exactly 10,950 days old (plus whatever would accrue due to leap years)).

Like most prophecies, there are many levels of meaning to be explored. For instance, the identity of the prince of the people that will come to destroy the sanctuary is apparently a reference to the Anti-Christ's breaking of a treaty with Israel in the midst of the 7 year tribulation period. The city and sanctuary (i.e., temple) were destroyed in 70 A.D. by Roman legions. However, the legions themselves were actually drawn from what is modern-day Turkey. So, is the coming prince "Roman" or Turkish? Based on Ezekiel 38, many would say "Turkish." But this is merely an example of the many layers to what is a very short prophecy.

Yellowstone Caldera Possess Little Risk

The Yellowstone Caldera has erupted as a super-volcano in the past. However, the Eruptions Blog at Wired Magazine explains that it is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future:
Just because Yellowstone has produced three very large eruptions over the last 2.2 million years doesn’t mean that you should expect such an eruption. The caldera system has had plenty of smaller, dome-forming or explosive eruptions in the intervening years (and since the last caldera-forming eruption; see above), so in terms of the likeliest events, that is what to expect. In the paper by Guillarme Girard and John Stix in GSA Today, they suggest that the likeliest events to happen at Yellowstone in the near future are small, dome-forming eruptions or phreato-magmatic (water-influenced) explosions that follow pre-existing faults in the caldera, especially along the western rim. In fact, another study by Christensen and others (2007) showed that probabilistically, another caldera-forming eruption is the least likely scenario for future activity at Yellowstone. 
* * *

As for the future, it depends on what part of the caldera you are examining. Girard and Stix (2012) identify three zones at Yellowstone (see right) that could produce different potential eruptions: (1) fault-associated zones where voluminous rhyolite eruptions could occur – this is the most likely location for renewed activity; (2) a zone between Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth where phreatic or phreatomagmatic (water-driven) eruptions could occur and (3) a small fault zone on the east side of the caldera were basaltic eruptions could occur. All of these potential eruptive types present hazards to the general public, varying from significant ash fall and pyroclastic flows that could reach the neighboring area to localized hydrothermal explosions. However, none of these are the “endtimes” scenarios that jump to everyone’s mind the minute Yellowstone has another one of its many earthquake swarms or caldera floor inflation events.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rural vs. Suburban/Urban Retreat

FerFal weighs in again on this issue:
Fiction survival literature would have you believe that a house in a rural setting is the best option. Stay as far from rioting cities as you can, avoid criminals by living far away. This is repeated over and over until people take it for a fact, but ironically the truth is that living in such conditions is possible only in very safe, functioning societies. The further away and more isolated you are, the more vulnerable you are. With higher gas prices commuting back and forth or driving into town puts a dent into your finances. As the system and infrastructure starts failing, roads, reliable power and proper medical care becomes unreliable the further away you are.

After a decade of studying different crisis and disaster scenarios in different countries all over the world I believe that the idea of retreating to rural areas as a way of rationally preparing for hard times has no foundation on empirical facts but is instead rooted on American survival fantasy concepts. In what seems to be a vicious circle, people keep regurgitating what others have said and take it for a fact rather than checking how things actually turn out when serious social crisis have occurred. You only have to study South Africa’s recent history, most third world countries or the post communism western union nations to understand that what is taken as a fact in the American survival culture isn’t quite so. Keeping it short, if you live well today in an isolated homestead without 24hs security, its precisely because society has not collapsed. You wont be able to do so afterwards.

Because of this, a house in a walled gated community is highly desirable and it will be even more so after a serious crisis or collapse. In most Latin American countries, gated communities such as those are the only way in which you can live with a degree of peace of mind while you sleep. Your two properties are basically giving you those two options.
 
As crime gets worse in USA, demand for such properties will go up. With a gated community you have options such as all neighbors paying more so as to have added security.

Municipal Pensions--the Next Big Crises

Yesterday, I noted an article from the Atlantic about the coming economic crises in Japan. Today, I want to mention this article about the pension crises for local governments.
But there are other policies that have a lasting and devastating impact on the health of cities. That’s currently on sad display as municipalities try to deal with the ticking time bomb of public employee pensions.

State government pensions have dominated the headlines, beginning, as ever, with California. Less well known is the plight of local governments, struggling with the very same problem. There are 220 state pension plans but nearly 3,200 locally administered across the nation, wreaking havoc on municipal budgets already in tatters.

Like many urban renewal plans, generous pensions for a range of city employees were established with the best of intentions, in the context of another era. Awarding pensions – long since been phased out in the private sector and replaced with individual retirement accounts to which employers often contribute over the course of one’s career – was seen as a way of rewarding public service, particularly for salaries that were not competitive with the private sector.
* * *

Municipalities have an even harder time covering monthly pension obligations; most depend primarily on property tax revenue, along with dwindling state aid and limited other tax revenues. And then there is the ongoing post-2008 public finance crisis. Cities are struggling to pay for other things; many have drastically cut back services, from police patrols to keeping streetlights lit. They have laid off current employees as stimulus funding has run out. Some have declared bankruptcy.

The really bad news is in the future, however. Researchers have estimated that the aggregate unfunded liabilities of locally administered pension plans tops $574 billion. In what amounts to some scary reading in the world of public finance, Tracy Gordon and Ilana Fischer at the Brookings Institution and Heather M. Rose at the University of California, Davis, have detailed this unfolding story in a recently published paper, summarized as well by Gordon and Richard F. Dye of the University of Illinois at Chicago in the current issue of Land Lines. The conclusion is that local governments have not set aside enough funds for pension liabilities, and are borrowing heavily and shifting the burden to future taxpayers. On average, pensions consume nearly 20 percent of municipal budgets. But if trends continue, over half of every dollar in tax revenue would go to pensions, and by some estimates in some cases would suck up 75 percent of all tax revenue.
The bottom line of all of this is that governments, the world over, are finally running out of other people's money. Traditionally, during the little time most people had between when poor health forced them to stop working and when they died, "retirees" were supported by close family members--generally their children. Planning for retirement was necessarily an endeavor to have enough children.

The rise of public and private pensions upended this traditional arrangement, creating the typical freeloader problem. Since someone else's children were going to be subsidizing the system, there is a reduced incentive to expend the time, effort, and money to have enough of your own children. Now, however, the ratio of workers to retirees is declining. This is exacerbated in poorly run cities and states because they have driven out their tax base (Detroit comes to mind). So, there is just not enough other people's money to keep the pension ponzi scheme going. While the authors suggest that cities have to honor the pension agreements, I suspect that there will come a time when people rebel against having to pay taxes to a government from which they obtain no benefit. And the people that lose their pensions won't be happy either.

Our Entitlement Society

The difference between the real poor and the "poor" in modern America. From PJ Media:


In today’s (North) America, there is little financial incentive to better oneself anyway, thanks to “entitlements” that are (involuntarily) paid for by harder-working, more responsible citizens.

Behold: according to the graph above, a “a one-parent family of three making $14,500 a year (minimum wage) has more disposable income than a family making $60,000 a year.”

Using Tracers

Most anyone with any knowledge of military weapons or history is familiar with the use of a tracer ammunition to aim (or correct the aim) of an automatic weapon. As the Wikipedia article cited above notes:
When used, tracers are usually loaded as every fifth round in machine gun belts, referred to as four-to-one tracer. Platoon and squad leaders will sometimes load their magazines entirely with tracers to mark targets for their soldiers to fire on. Tracers are also sometimes placed two or three rounds from the bottom of magazines to alert the shooter that their weapon is almost empty.
An automatic, belt-fed, weapon is probably beyond the budget of most preppers (besides the lengthy and annoying process of obtaining government approval), so using tracers for aiming purposes is probably a moot issue. The use of tracers to indicate a reload is not.

Knowing when to perform a tactical reload is not difficult with a 1911 pistol--when you are limited to 7 or 8 round magazines, you will want to swap out magazines after a few rounds. It becomes harder to estimate when to make a tactical reload with higher capacity magazines; and, I would suggest, almost impossible once you get to 20, 30 or 40 round rifle magazines, at least without a great deal of experience. Meaning that it is more likely for you to empty your magazine before you realize it--maybe when you need a "bang" rather than a "click" on an empty chamber.

At the same time, it is my experience that it takes longer to swap magazines in a rifle versus a handgun. And, if you run the magazine empty and you are using a weapon without a bolt hold open (such as an AK or HK 91), you then have to cock the weapon (taking more time) before firing again.

Tracers can assist. A tracer loaded to fire just before the last round will alert you to make a magazine change before you run out of ammo, while allowing you to reload on a loaded chamber--no need to cock the weapon after the reload. A tracer loaded to fire 3 to 5 rounds before the last round will alert you when you are getting low enough to warrant a tactical reload.

With a ratio of only one or two tracers per magazine, you should not need much, but it certainly would be worth putting away a box or two.


Consumer Spending Up--But Only Because of Rising Gas Prices

American consumer spending spiked in August but experts are attributing the bump to higher gas prices say the splurge may actually be a bad sign for economic recovery.

'The U.S. personal income and spending data for August are worse than the headline figures suggest and indicate that subdued jobs growth is hitting incomes,' said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

Dales added the increase in spending "was largely due to extra spending caused by the surge in gasoline prices."

Personal consumption expenditures increased 0.5 per cent from July to August - the biggest increase since February - the Commerce Department said Friday.

Those figures measure spending on goods including cars, clothes, and food and services including health care and travel.

During the same period, gas prices rose nearly 50 cents a gallon. Factoring out increased expenses for higher fuel costs and other price gains and American consumer spending only 0.1 percent.

The numbers only look worse when you consider that income also grew 0.1 percent, taxes and inflation actually knocked American's disposable income down 0.3 percent as a whole.

That's the first decline in disposable income since November 2011, pulling American's rainy day funds spiraling down after it. In July, the savings rate tumbled from 4.1 percent of after-tax income to 3.7 percent.

Friday, September 28, 2012

After Europe ... Japan

The Atlantic has an article about the impending economic crises in Japan. The authors write:
This summer, many government officials and private investors finally seemed to realize that the crisis in the euro zone was not some passing aberration, but rather a result of deep-­seated political, economic, and financial problems that will take many years to resolve. The on-again, off-again euro turmoil has already proved immensely damaging to nearly all Europeans, and its negative impact is now being felt around the world. Most likely there is worse to come—and soon.

But the economic disasters of our time—which involve big banks in rich countries, call into question the viability of government debt, and seriously threaten the reach of even the most self-confident nations—will not end with the euro debacle. The euro zone is well down the path to severe crisis, but other industrialized democracies are hot on its heels. Do not let the euro zone’s troubles distract you from the bigger picture: we are all in a mess.

Who could be next in line for a gut-wrenching loss of confidence in its growth prospects, its sovereign debt, and its banking system? Think about Japan.

Japan’s post-war economic miracle ended badly in the late 1980s, when the value of land and stocks spiked dramatically and then crashed. This boom-and-bust cycle left people, companies, and banks with debts that took many years to work off. Headline-growth rates slowed after 1990, leading some observers to speak of one or more “lost decades.”

But this isn’t the full picture: after a post-war baby boom, population growth in Japan decelerated sharply; the number of working-age people has declined fairly rapidly since the mid-’90s.
* * *

About half of the Japanese government’s annual budget now goes to pensions and interest payments. As the government has spent more and more to support its growing elderly population, Japanese savers have willingly financed ever-increasing public-sector debts.

Elderly people hold their savings in the form of cash and bank deposits. The banks, in turn, hold a great deal of government debt. The Bank of Japan (the country’s central bank) also buys government bonds—this is how it provides liquid reserves to commercial banks and cash to households. Similarly, Japan’s private pension plans—many promising a defined benefit—own a great deal of government bonds, to back their future payments. Few foreigners hold Japanese government debt—95 percent of it is in the hands of locals.

Given Japan’s demographic decline, it would make sense to invest national savings abroad, in countries where populations are younger and still growing, and returns on capital are surely higher. These other nations should be able to pay back loans when they are richer and older, supplying some of the funds needed to meet Japan’s pension promises and other obligations. This is the strategy that Singapore and Norway, for example, have undertaken in recent decades.

Instead, the Japanese government is using private savings to fund current spending, such as pensions and wage payments. With projected annual budget deficits between 7 and 10 percent of GDP, Japanese savers are essentially tendering their savings in return for newly issued government debt, which is not backed by hard assets. It is backed only by an aging, shrinking population of taxpayers.

Japan’s taxpayers are already rebelling against small tax increases needed to limit escalating deficits. This leaves little room for hope that future taxpayers will accept the larger tax increases needed to repay debts.

Japan’s demographic decline will be hard to reverse—and even in the best-case scenario, the positive effects of a reversal would not be felt for decades. The economy, roughly speaking, is as healthy as it is likely to become. Yet the government seems incapable of steering away from the cliff, a characteristic that should strike no one as uniquely Japanese—just look at how the Euro­pean leadership has behaved over the past half decade, or how you can polarize American politicians with the phrase debt ceiling.

A crisis in Japan would most likely manifest as a collapse of confidence in the yen: At some point, Japanese citizens will decide that saving in any yen-­denominated asset is not worth the risk. Then interest rates will rise; the capital position of banks, insurance companies, and pension funds will worsen (because they all hold long-maturing bonds, which fall in value when rates rise); and fears of insolvency will surface.
 
* * *

The shock felt around the world will result not just from the realization that Japan is unable to meet its pension and other social obligations. Investors will also be horrified to see the disappearance of the private savings previously used to buy government debt, whether through debt defaults and bank failures or through high inflation. For ordinary Japanese, public promises about retirement benefits and price stability will be broken just as their private savings for retirement collapse.

No one can predict the timing, but without radical political change that creates a more responsible fiscal trajectory, this will happen.
Japan is well below the birth rate necessary for replacing their population. For a long time, they enjoyed a technological advantage in manufacturing over surrounding nations, as well as a more highly educated work force, that have allowed them to keep their per capita productivity in line with Europe. However, holding the status quo is not going to be enough to offset increasing pension and health care expenses of a rapidly aging population.  Japan's economic decline will continue, and perhaps accelerate. Nevertheless, I am left with the presentiment that Japan will not go quietly into the night.

The Bible--There's An App For That

Making the Bible accessible and shareable is what YouVersion’s Bible app is all about. About 300 versions of the Bible can be downloaded for free to smartphones and tablets, allowing people speaking 144 different languages to get their fix of Scripture.

“A lot of people in the U.S. have six or seven Bibles in the house and never use them,” says Bobby Gruenewald, 36, the man behind this mobile Christian mission. “Our goal was to help people engage with the Bible.”

If numbers are any indication, mission accomplished.

The app, also available at Bible.com, has been downloaded 65 million times and counting, Gruenewald says. Users can highlight verses, do searches and read devotionals.

* * *

As of Thursday morning, a running tally on Bible.com showed that since the app’s 2008 inception, users have spent more than 31.5 billion – yes, billion – minutes using it to read the Bible.
I would also remind readers that the LDS Church has an excellent app available for free called "Gospel Library" that allows you to read, search, make notes, mark, and link scriptures. (It's available through the App Store). You initially download the app, then separately (through the app) download the books or articles you want. Not only is the King James version of the Bible available (at least in English--I presume other versions in other languages), but you can also download (or not) other scriptures (Book of Mormon, D&C, Pearl of Great Price), Church manuals, magazines, etc. To save space, I have only downloaded the Bible, BofM, D&C and Pearl of Great Price, and the current priesthood/relief society manual.

If you have access to a Wi-Fi or unlimited data plan, I would also mention that the audio for the scriptures is great if you just want to listen to them.  It is someone actually reading, instead of the computerized voice that the Kindle offers.

Anyway, even if you are not LDS, you can just download the KJV Bible. It is a great app for studying the Bible.

Rule by Decree

Most people think that the antithesis of rule of law is anarchy. That is not completely accurate. There is also rule by decree of the tyrant or sovereign. Such as in East Saint Louis:
Angered by the recent murders of four young people, the mayor announced today that police are going to impose drastic new measurers [sic] to keep teens off the streets.
* * *

Among the new rules:

**Minors are to be off the streets at ten o’clock on both weeknights and weekend nights.

**Minors on the street during school hours will be arrested on sight.
[What about home-schoolers or those out for legitimate reasons?]

**Police will also perform I.D. checks on street corners and conduct gun searches, and Parks says he won’t hesitate to call in the National Guard if the spike in violence continues.
["Show me your papers!"]

“The loiterers will be arrested, not warned, but arrested. Those who are hanging out at 11th and Bond, 15th and Lynch, 38th and Waverly, wherever you happen to be, if you are loitering, you will be arrested.”
[Translation: If you stop for the cross-walk, that is loitering; if you don't stop for the cross-walk, that is j-walking; no matter what, we will arrest who we want, when we want]

Surrounded by police, Parks announced they also plan to arrest adult males and young men wearing gang colors, amounting to a city-wide dress code.
[The slippery slope begins--now we're moving beyond minors to adults males and young men. Does this include accessorizing?]

“No royal blue, no bright red to be worn by our men or our boys in this community,” Parks said. “Why is that? Those colors have long been affiliated with gang kinds of affiliations”
[Brilliant. Banned from their favored colors, unable to select different colors or symbols, the gangs will by stymied and have to disband]

Asked about Constitutional concerns, and the need for probable cause, Parks says the recent wave of crime is the probable cause and justifies the extreme new measures.
[Translation: The Constitution was written by a bunch of old, dead Crackers, so who cares]

“Vehicles that are moving will be stopped and searched for guns, weapons, drugs, and open alcohol and any other violations that are taking place,” Parks later told KMOX’s Mark Reardon. “People who are walking, people who are bicycling, can be stopped and searched for the same and, when it comes to state IDs, we’re going to be confirming that state IDs are in place for everyone involved.”
[Whoa. We're suddenly beyond minors and young men to just "people" in general?]

Parks noted the legal questions surrounding his new policies but said “most importantly, we have to do something.”
[Because it's more important to have a knee jerk reaction than to think things through]

“We have desperate times, they call for desperate measures and they call for extreme measures, things that we may not have done before, to get the desired results. You cannot grow as a city if your children are being wiped out and never given an opportunity to live.”
[East St. Louis must be smaller than I thought if four deaths risks wiping out all of the children]
Yeah. Give the mayor absolute power and he'll make sure you are safe.

Well, this type of ban provides fertile grounds for a lawsuit based on gender discrimination, violation of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, and violation of the Fourth Amendment.

"Killing is the Solution"

Good thing Chicago has all those highly paid, above average teachers, so their students can graduate with marketable skills and an ability to think outside the box. From CBS Chicago (via Drudge):
CBS 2’s Walter Jacobson sat down with gang members in Chicago’s troubled Englewood neighborhood to try to find some answers.

Some of the responses he received were not encouraging.

“There’s no solution to the violence,” one gang member tells him. “Killing, killing is the solution.”

* * *

“We’ve got to eat. We want to. We want money. We want to get fresh, we want fresh eggs almost every day. We want all that,” another young man said.

But where do they get the money they need? The young man answered bluntly.

“Rob, steal and kill. That’s the only way. We didn’t grow up in Beverly Hills. We don’t get it handed to us,” he said.

* * *

“The police hate us,” a young man said. “Every time they ride past us, they shoot us down and do all that. Do what you want to do, I don’t care about you all, keep riding. Who are you all? We’re not scare of you all. I’ll fight you too. Take that badge off.”

But he says the police cannot catch them or exact any consequences.

“I laugh at the police,” he said. “They’re a joke to me.”

And where would the young men like to be in 10 years?

One of them replied, “in a mansion, with a lot of cars, and a lot of women.”

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fed Funding Deficit

The latest round of extraordinary Federal Reserve stimulus is risky and leaves little room to maneuver should another crisis hit, economist Lawrence Lindsey told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday. Lindsey said that with the Fed purchasing at least $40 billion a month in mortgage debt through QE3, “they are buying the entire deficit.”
* * *
“The Fed, maybe because it can't do otherwise, has told the Congress: 'We're going to buy your bonds no matter what,'” Lindsey said. “I think that's keeping the pressure off the president, off the Congress.”

The effective of QE3 on interest rates may also keep Congress from reining in borrowing.

“If the (Fed) chairman’s estimates of the effectiveness of QE3 on interest rates come true, we’re going to be down to an average cost of borrowing for the government of 0.6 of a percentage point,” Lindsey said. “Why would any Congress not borrow and spend if they could borrow at 60 basis points?”

Threat of Secession in Spain

Spain has entered a constitutional crisis. The decision of Catalonia’s nationalist government to call a snap election in November – which in practice will amount to a referendum on independence – has opened the way to Catalan secession. That decision, in turn, may give a lift to Basque separatists, now running neck and neck with mainstream nationalists in regional government elections due next month, after winning the largest number of Basque Country seats last year in local and general elections.

* * *

A majority of Catalans feels Madrid takes too much of local income to redistribute elsewhere. The clamour for independence has become mainstream. Sentiment turned when the constitutional court in Madrid – acting on a petition from Mr Rajoy’s PP – struck down democratically approved enhancements to Catalan home rule. This is not just about money. But austerity is politically toxic and intrinsically centrifugal.
Read the whole thing.

Israel's Red Line

Holding up a cartoon-like drawing of a bomb with a fuse, Netanyahu literally drew a red line just below a label reading "final stage" to a bomb, in which it was 90 percent along the path of having sufficient weapons-grade material.

"A red line should be drawn right here, before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb, before Iran gets to a point where it is a few months or a few weeks away from amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon," he said.

"Each day that point is getting closer, and that is why I speak today with such a sense of urgency and that is why everyone should have a sense of urgency."

Netanyahu added that "the red line must be drawn on Iran's nuclear enrichment program because these enrichment facilities are the only nuclear installations that we can definitely see and credibly target."

"I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down. And this will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program all together," he added.

Netanyahu was referring to Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a level it says is required for medical isotopes but which also brings it close to bomb-fuel grade.

An August report by U.N. inspectors said Iran has stockpiled 91.4 kg of the 20 percent material.

According to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, around 25 kg of uranium enriched to a 90 percent purity level would be needed for a single nuclear weapon.

Can the Middle-East Survive a Post-Western Era?

Short answer: no.

The long answer is explored by this article from Reuters:
Now leaders throughout the monarchical states of the Middle East Gulf are bracing for the sandstorm of what they fear may be a “post-Western era.” That is, potentially decades to come of regional upheavals and realignment shaped by reduced U.S. engagement, a dysfunctional Europe and the influence of less-enlightened state actors and emboldened extremist groups.

The past week’s wave of anti-American rage across the Middle East and North Africa has sharpened the reality that the region is facing an escalating double threat: that of a nuclear-charged, expansionist Shiite Iran and the spread of Sunni, jihadist extremism from Somalia to Syria and from Cairo to Benghazi. ...

... American voters are weary of war, worried about the economy and becoming less dependent on Middle East energy thanks to the expanding natural shale gas exploration in the U.S.

The past week’s events will at the same time dramatically complicate consideration of more concerted Turkish-Arab-U.S. efforts to counter Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and end a gruesome civil war that has already claimed 30,000 lives.

Gulf officials, who spoke to me under agreement of anonymity, must feel a sense of empty vindication now, after warning the Obama administration that it had been too quick to abandon Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and too slow to recognize the dangers of what forces or disorder might replace him. Stage two of the year-and-a-half-old Arab Awakening has begun. Although stage one, in their view, was driven primarily by idealistic youth and ordinary citizens, stage two risks being hijacked by more nefarious forces and political operatives aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.

Rachel Carson, an Anti-Christ and Mass Murderer

This week Silent Spring will turn 50.

Rachel Carson’s jeremiad against pesticides is credited by many as launching the modern environmentalist movement, and the author, who died in 1964, is being widely lauded for her efforts. "She was the very first person to knock some of the shine off of modernity," says environmentalist Bill McKibben in a New York Times Magazine article from this past Sunday.

* * *

In Silent Spring, Carson crafted a passionate denunciation of modern technology that drives environmentalist ideology today. At its heart is this belief: Nature is beneficent, stable, and even a source of moral good; humanity is arrogant, heedless, and often the source of moral evil. Rachel Carson, more than any other person, is responsible for the politicized science that afflicts our public policy debates today.
 After noting the poor science underlying Carson's work, the author goes on to note:
The first notable triumph of environmentalism occurred in 1972. Ten years after Silent Spring, William Ruckelshaus, Administrator of the barely two year-old Environmental Protection Agency, banned DDT, overruling an administrative law judge's fact finding after months of scientific testimony that "DDT is not a safety hazard to man when used as directed" and that its benefits outweighed its costs. As part of the justification, Ruckelshaus noted in his decision, "Public concern over the widespread use of pesticides was stirred by Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring."

* * *

Carson described the choice humanity faced as a fork in the road to the future. "The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress at great speed, but at its end lies disaster," she declared. "The other fork of the road – the one 'less traveled by' – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth." This kind of apocalyptic rhetoric is now standard in today's policy debates. In any case, the opposition to Silent Spring arose not just because Carson was attacking the self-interests of certain corporations (which she certainly was), but also because it was clear that her larger concern was to rein in technological progress and the economic growth it fuels.

Through Silent Spring, Carson provided those who are alienated by modern technological progress with a model of how to wield ostensibly scientific arguments on behalf of policies and results that they prefer for other reasons. ...

... As trust in other sources of authority – politicians, preachers, business leaders – has withered over the past 50 years, policy partisans are increasingly seeking to cloak their arguments in the mantle of objective science. However, the Yale researchers find that greater scientific literacy actually produces greater political polarization. As Kahan and his fellow researchers report, "For ordinary citizens, the reward for acquiring greater scientific knowledge and more reliable technical-reasoning capacities is a greater facility to discover and use—or explain away—evidence relating to their groups’ positions." In other words, in policy debates scientific claims are used to vindicate partisan values, not to reach to an agreement about what is actually the case. This sort of motivated reasoning applies to partisans of the political left and right, who both learned it from Rachel Carson.
Although only tangentially discussed in the article is the important point that Carson ascribed "morality" to something inherently "amoral"--nature itself. (Obviously, Carson had never actually had to live under primitive conditions, or she would not have viewed nature as anything other than hostile and cruel). She essentially created a modern "mother nature" competitor to our affections and worship. She was an anti-Christ.

Update: More from Robert Zubrin about Carson, the mass-murderer (h/t Instapundit). After discussing the history of DDT, and Carson's falsifications and lies about it, he writes:
Initially, the ban [on DDT] only affected the United States. But the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) soon adopted strict environmental regulations that effectively prohibited it from funding international projects that used DDT.[23] Around the globe, Third World governments were told that if they wanted USAID or other foreign aid money to play with, they needed to stop using the most effective weapon against malaria.[24] Given the corrupt nature of many of the recipient regimes, it is not surprising that many chose lucre over life. And even for those that did not, the halting of American DDT exports (since U.S. producers slowed and then stopped manufacturing it) made DDT much more expensive, and thus effectively unavailable for poor countries in desperate need of the substance.[25] As a result, insect-borne diseases returned to the tropics with a vengeance. By some estimates, the death toll in Africa alone from unnecessary malaria resulting from the restrictions on DDT has exceeded 100 million people.[26]
* * *
While critics of Silent Spring have tended to focus on the one-sidedness of Rachel Carson’s case or on those of her claims that have not held up over time, the fraudulence of Silent Spring goes beyond mere cherry-picking or discredited data: Carson abused, twisted, and distorted many of the studies that she cited, in a brazen act of scientific dishonesty.[27] So the real tragic irony of the millions of deaths to malaria in the past several decades is that the three central anti-DDT claims made by Carson and other activists are all false.
Zubrin goes on to discuss the specifics lies Carson made. He concludes:
For the record, 1979 [when life in oceans was to have become extinct due to DTT] has come and gone, and life in the world’s oceans has continued to flourish gloriously. But, as a result of the mendacity and actions of Carson, Ruckelshaus, Wurster, Ehrlich, and their allies, DDT has been banned, and hundreds of millions of people who might have lived to enjoy those oceans, to sail on them, fish in them, surf in them, or swim in them, to play on their beaches or write poems about their sunsets, are dead.

In short, Carson (and her ilk) lied and, thereby, caused the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, in order to gain fame, power and fortune. Surely she needs to be included with the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the other great butchers of history.

Drug Resistant Gonorrhea

Evolution in action, in more ways than one. From Reason magazine.
In the nineteen-thirties, antibiotics changed the clinical picture of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases, and, with it, social attitudes. Once feared for its devastating complications, gonorrhea was now viewed as a bothersome but temporary price to pay for sexual freedom. The sexual revolution of the nineteen-sixties ushered in rising rates of gonorrhea, as condoms, which effectively prevent transmission, were abandoned in favor of oral contraceptives. Only after the risk of death from AIDS began to increase, in the nineteen-eighties, did condom use again become a norm. A federally funded gonorrhea-control program, started in 1972, perhaps made a difference; by 1997, the number of yearly cases of gonorrhea reported to the C.D.C. had fallen by nearly three-quarters compared with its peak, in 1975. In 2009, the number of gonorrhea cases in the U.S. was at an all-time low. “Ten or fifteen years ago, we thought it was going to be eradicated in some Western countries,” Unemo told me.

But as modern medicine has adapted so has the microbe. Natural selection has given rise to strains of the bacterium that are resistant, in varying degrees, to some or all of the treatments applied to them—sulfa drugs, penicillin, tetracyclines, fluoroquinolones, and macrolides. Now only one class of drugs, called cephalosporins—cefixime, a tablet, and ceftriaxone, administered by injection—is known to reliably treat it, and for several years resistance to cefixime has been rising. (In the lab, resistance is measured by testing how susceptible the microbe is to various concentrations of a drug.) Between 2000 and 2010, the number of cases of decreased cefixime susceptibility in California and Hawaii rose from zero per cent to more than four per cent and seven per cent, respectively, probably as a result of traffic from Asia, where cefixime resistance is more widespread. Five per cent is cause for concern; in August, the C.D.C. recommended phasing out cefixime nationwide and, instead, treating gonorrhea with a combination of ceftriaxone and either azithromycin or doxycycline. According to a recent British report, last year eleven per cent of isolates of the microbe showed reduced susceptibility to cefixime; among gay men, the figure is seventeen per cent.

“We are seeing decreased sensitivity to cefixime in all twenty-one countries in Europe,” Dr. Catherine Ison, a researcher in the U.K.’s surveillance program for sexually transmitted infections, told me. “It’s worrying.”

The Kyoto case, in 2009, marked the appearance of a microbial strain that was resistant to ceftriaxone—the first instance of broad resistance. In June, 2010, a second case emerged, in France; a third appeared in Sweden in July of that year, in a man who had recently had protected vaginal sex and unprotected oral sex with a casual partner in Japan. A fourth case occurred in Slovenia last September, and a fifth and sixth in Spain this past May. All appear to be descendants of a single cefixime-resistant strain, and they “are probably only the tip of the iceberg,” Unemo said. “Japan has been the epicenter for their emergence, and now these antibiotic-resistant gonococcal clones are spreading.” No cases have yet been reported in the U.S., but resistant gonorrhea is likely to arrive and spread long before physicians and the C.D.C. recognize it; some public-health officials predict that in five to eight years the superbug will be widespread. Whatever freedoms were won during the sexual revolution, bacterial evolution promises soon to constrain.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Understanding the China-Japan Island Conflict

Stratfor has an analysis of the China-Japan island conflict and its history.
For decades, Tokyo and Beijing generally abided by a tacit agreement to keep the islands dispute quiet. Japan agreed not to carry out any new construction or let anyone land on the islands; China agreed to delay assertion of any claim to the islands and not let the dispute interfere with trade and political relations. Although flare-ups occurred, usually triggered by some altercation between the Japanese coast guard and Chinese fishing vessels or by nationalist Japanese or Chinese activists trying to land on the islands, the lingering territorial dispute played only a minor role in bilateral relations.

However, Ishihara's plans for the Tokyo municipal government to take over the islands and eventually build security outposts there forced the Japanese government's hand. Facing domestic political pressure to secure Japan's claim to the islands, the government determined that the "nationalization" of the islands was the least contentious option. By keeping control over construction and landings, the central government would be able to keep up its side of the tacit agreement with China on managing the islands.

China saw Japan's proposed nationalization as an opportunity to exploit. Even as Japan was debating what action to take, China began stirring up anti-Japanese sentiment and Beijing tacitly backed the move by a group of Hong Kong activists in August to sail to and land on the disputed islands. At the same time, Beijing prevented a Chinese-based fishing vessel from attempting the same thing, using Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status as a way to distance itself from the action and retain greater flexibility in dealing with Japan.

As expected, the Japanese coast guard arrested the Hong Kong activists and impounded their ship, but Tokyo also swiftly released them to avoid escalating tensions. Less than a month later, after Japan's final decision to purchase the islands from their private Japanese owner, anti-Japanese protests swept China, in many places devolving into riots and vandalism targeting Japanese products and companies. Although many of these protests were stage-managed by the government, the Chinese began to clamp down when some demonstrations got out of control. While still exploiting the anti-Japanese rhetoric, Chinese state-run media outlets have highlighted local governments' efforts to identify and punish protesters who turned violent and warn that nationalist pride is no excuse for destructive behavior.

Presently, both China and Japan are working to keep the dispute within manageable parameters after a month of heightened tensions.
* * *

China is struggling with the new role of the military in its foreign relations, while Japan is seeing a slow re-emergence of the military as a tool of its foreign relations. China's two-decade-plus surge in economic growth is reaching its logical limit, yet given the sheer size of China's population and its lack of progress switching to a more consumption-based economy, Beijing still has a long way to go before it achieves any sort of equitable distribution of resources and benefits. This leaves China's leaders facing rising social tensions with fewer new resources at their disposal. Japan, after two decades of society effectively agreeing to preserve social stability at the cost of economic restructuring and upheaval, is now reaching the limits of its patience with a bureaucratic system that is best known for its inertia.

Both countries are seeing a rise in the acceptability of nationalism, both are envisioning an increasingly active role for their militaries, and both occupy the same strategic space. With Washington increasing its focus on the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing is worried that a resurgent Japan could assist the United States on constraining China in an echo of the Cold War containment strategy.

We are now seeing the early stage of another shift in Asian power. It is perhaps no coincidence that the 1972 re-establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Japan followed U.S. President Richard Nixon's historic visit to China. The Senkaku/Diaoyu islands were not even an issue at the time, since they were still under U.S. administration. Japan's defense was largely subsumed by the United States, and Japan had long ago traded away its military rights for easy access to U.S. markets and U.S. protection. The shift in U.S.-China relations opened the way for the rapid development of China-Japan relations.

The United States' underlying interest is maintaining a perpetual balance between Asia's two key powers so neither is able to challenging Washington's own primacy in the Pacific. During World War II, this led the United States to lend support to China in its struggle against imperial Japan. The United States' current role backing a Japanese military resurgence against China's growing power falls along the same line. As China lurches into a new economic cycle, one that will very likely force deep shifts in the country's internal political economy, it is not hard to imagine China and Japan's underlying geopolitical balance shifting again. And when that happens, so too could the role of the United States.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Taiwan and Japan Duel...

Two coastguard patrol boats blasted each other with water cannon as tensions escalated over the ownership of a tiny group of rocky islands in the South China Sea.

The Japanese vessel opened fire on its Taiwanese rival as the ship encroached on the disputed land - which is also claimed by China - earlier today.

In a bid to repel the approaching flotilla, they opened fire with their powerful water arsenal. But the Taiwanese boats fired back with their own spray guns sparking a ferocious water fight.

In the end, the might of Japan proved too strong for their Taiwanese counterparts, who eventually turned on their tails and headed home.

It was the latest confrontation over the uninhabited islands Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

China, Japan and Taiwan all claim the islands, but they are administered by Tokyo, since the Japanese government bought them from private owners two weeks ago.
Good thing they didn't have super-soakers, or they may have attempted a boarding action.

Syrian Kurdistan

Walter Russell Mead writes about Kurds in Syria obtaining some autonomy, and its implications.
Syria’s Kurds once waged a fruitless struggle with Damascus against discrimination and for basic rights like citizenship and official recognition of a distinct Kurdish language and culture. Now, however, the equation has changed, and large chunks of northeastern Syria are now under the sole control of the Kurds.

Back in July, Butcher Assad ceded the responsibility of governing and maintaining law and order in northeastern Syria to Kurdish leaders. In return they would keep out of the uprising. Syrian Kurdish leaders have taken this responsibility and run with it. ...

... Meanwhile, Assad also eased restrictions on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The PKK is mostly based in Turkey and Iraq, and its insurgency in Turkey has grown more intense in tandem with the Syrian civil war; observers suspect Assad is using the PKK to distract and annoy Turkey. The PKK, according to reports, now occupies towns along much of Syria’s border with Turkey. The past few months have seen an intensifying battle between the Turkish state and the PKK. Ankara claims to have killed hundreds of insurgents, and the PKK has been blamed for a spate of recent attacks on policemen and army checkpoints. A recent article in Turkey’s Zaman newspaper likened the PKK to the Taliban and described widespread drug cultivation in areas of Turkey controlled by the PKK, with enormous profits from the drug trade filling the coffers of Kurdish groups. All this suggests a renewed struggle in the Middle East between the Kurds and their host countries (see map above). We’re likely to see Syrian Kurds start to push harder and more successfully for the same kind of regional autonomy as in Iraqi Kurdistan. Depending on inter-Kurdish politics, we might see the PKK establish a safe haven and base of operations in northeastern Syria from which to launch attacks in Turkey. This could in turn lead to Turkish incursions into Syria.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Iran Threatens Preemptive Strike

Iran could launch a pre-emptive strike if Israel prepares to attack it, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander told broadcaster Al-Alam on Sunday, a day after his boss warned that conflict was inevitable.

Should Israel and Iran engage militarily, "nothing is predictable... and it will turn into World War III," Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told Iran's Arabic-language television network.

Hajizadeh, who is in charge of Revolutionary Guards missile systems, said: "In circumstances in which they (the Israelis) have prepared everything for an attack, it is possible that we will make a pre-emptive attack. But we do not see this at the moment."

He added that Iran would deem any Israeli strike to be conducted with US authorisation, so "whether the Zionist regime attacks with or without US knowledge, then we will definitely attack US bases in Bahrain, Qatar and Afghanistan."

He warned that Israel "cannot imagine our response -- and it will sustain heavy damage and that will be a prelude to its obliteration."
(Full story here). 

Former Justice Souter Warns of Dictatorship

During a question and answer session last week at University of New Hampshire School of Law, [former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David] Souter described “pervasive civic ignorance” as one of the biggest problems in the United States. He warned that Americans’ ignorance about their own government could lead to a dictatorship.

“I don’t worry about our losing a republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion, he said. “I don’t worry about it because of a coup by the military, as has happened in some other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed people will not know who is responsible, and when the problems get bad enough — as they might do for example with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown — some one person will come forward and say ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’”

“That is how the Roman republic fell,” Souter continued. “Augustus became emperor not because he arrested the Roman senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.”

“If we know who is responsible, I have enough faith in the American people to demand performance from those responsible. If we don’t know, we will stay away from the polls, we will not demand it and the day will come when somebody will come forward and we and the government will in effect say, ‘Take the ball and run with it, do what you have to do.’ That is the way democracy dies.”
(Full story here).

Washington vs. America

An interesting op-ed at the New York Times on the disconnect between Washington D.C. and the rest of the country. Here is something to ponder:
The state of life inside the Beltway also points to the broader story of our spending problem, which has less to do with how much we spend on the poor than how much we lavish on subsidies for highly inefficient economic sectors, from health care to higher education, and on entitlements for people who aren’t supposed to need a safety net — affluent retirees, well-heeled homeowners, agribusiness owners, and so on.

There’s a case that this president’s policies have made these problems worse, sluicing more borrowed dollars into programs that need structural reform, and privileging favored industries and constituencies over the common good.

But this story is one that Romney and his party seem incapable of telling. Instead, many conservatives prefer to refight the welfare battles of the 1990s, and insist that our spending problem is all about an excess of “dependency” among the non-income-tax-paying 47 percent.

In reality, our government isn’t running trillion-dollar deficits because we’re letting the working class get away with not paying its fair share. We’re running those deficits because too many powerful interest groups have a stake in making sure the party doesn’t stop.

When you look around the richest precincts of today’s Washington, you don’t see a city running on paternalism or dependency. You see a city running on exploitation.

Billionaire Ray Dalio Warns of Social Unrest

From the Huffington Post (h/t Instapundit):
Ray Dalio, one of the world's richest hedge fund managers, fears that the weak economy could have disastrous social consequences. Specifically, he's worried about the possibility of a tyrant like Adolf Hitler rising to power.

"When people get at each other's throat, the rich and the poor and the left and the right and so on, and you have a basic breakdown, that becomes very threatening," Dalio, who founded Bridgewater Associates, where he remains co-chief investment officer, told CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin in an interview aired on Friday.

"For example, Hitler came to power in 1933, which was the depth of the Great Depression because of the social tension between the factions."

Dalio warned that "another leg down in the economies" could cause "social disruptions," but did note that citizens can prevent the rise of another Hitler if they "work through this together."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review of the PTR91GI

Warrior Talk News has a review of the PTR91GI (basically, PTR's version of the HK91, which is a semi-auto only version of the HK G-3). I do have a couple of comments.

First, without the paddle-mag release, magazine changes are much slower with HK 91/93 style rifles than many other battle-rifles--the magazine release button is on the right side of the rifle, requiring you to use your shooting hand to operate the release. The paddle-mag release, on the other hand, hangs down just behind the magazine, allowing you to quickly make a magazine change in one fluid motion with your off hand. If you are just wanting a rifle that is fun to shoot at the range, it's not necessary. But otherwise, the paddle-mag release needs to be added to make it an effective combat or self-defense tool.

Second, notwithstanding what the author feels, I think the rear sights on an HK are not all that great. For one thing, the sights are too close to the eye to use the 100m sight. For those unfamiliar with the rifle, the rear sight is a canted drum that can be rotated to provide sights for 100, 200, 300, and 400 meters, respectively; the 100 meter sight is an open sight--basically an open notch sight similar to what you would find on a typical level action or .22 rifle--while the others are peep sights. While the distance from the eye to the rear sight is fine for the peep sights, the 100-meter open rear sight is so close that it blurs out and is essentially useless except for the roughest alignment. There is a reason that most rifles using those types of notch- or V-sights place the rear sight ahead of the receiver.... Frankly, HK would have been better off using a peep or ghost ring sight similar to what was on the FAL or the U.S. rifles. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to improve the rear sight. I would suggest leaving it on the 200m peep for most of your shooting and, if you can, mount a red-dot or telescopic sight.


A War With China

The Diplomat has started a 5-part series looking at possible scenarios of a war between China and the U.S.  Part 1 is here; while Part 2 is here. These first two parts are short and rather unenlightening, but perhaps the future installments may have something useful.

The Meaning of the Black Muslim Flag

I was reading a story on Fox News today about Egyptian President Morsi and read something disturbing in its ignorance or its intent to deceive readers. The story, which is from the Associated Press, states:
In the interview, Morsi dismissed criticism that he responded too slowly when protesters managed to scale the walls of the heavily fortified U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11. The demonstrators replaced the American flag with a banner carrying the Islamic declaration of faith.  
CBS reported at the time the following:
Dozens of protesters scaled the embassy walls, went into the courtyard and took down the flag from a pole. They brought it back to the crowd outside, which tried to burn it, but failing that, tore it apart. The protesters on the wall then raised on the flagpole a black flag with the Muslim declaration of faith on it, "There is no god but God [sic] and Muhammad is his prophet."
Here's a photo:


The black flag has special significance in Islam. As Joel Richardson explains in his book, Antichrist: Islam's Awaited Messiah:
In Islam there are two flags. One is white and one is black. Written across both flags in Arabic are the words, "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger." The white flag is called Al-Liwaa and serves as the sign for the leader of the Muslim army and is the flag of the Islamic State. The black flag is called Ar-Raya and is used by the Muslim army. It is also called the flag of jihad, and is carried into battle. One flag is governmental and the other is a military flag. 
 * * * 
Islamic tradition pictures the Mahdi [the Islamic messiah] as joining with teh army of Muslim warriors carrying black flags. The Madhi will then lead this army to Israel and re-conquer it for Islam. The Jews will be slaughtered until very few remain and Jerusalem will become the location of the Mahdi's rule over the Earth.
(pp. 45-46).



"What is Iran Doing in Syria?"

Foreign Policy has an article theorizing about the real reason that Iran has involved itself in Syria to support the Assad regime--to boost the domestic power and authority of the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)Quds Force:
The latest controversy over Jafari's statement is not the first time that Iran has sent mixed signals about the nature of its involvement in Syria. On May 26, Quds Force deputy commander Brigadier General Esmail Qaani admitted Iranian forces were present in Syria in an attempt to "prevent great massacres" there. Then, on Aug.22, Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi declared Iran's readiness to "live up to its defense and security obligations upon Syria's request," but he did not concede that Iran maintained any military presence there at the moment.

When it comes to potential differences among Iran's ruling elites, it is hardly surprising that IRGC officials would openly boast of Iran's military presence in Syria. The organization has an interest in making its presence known in order to increase its leverage over other branches of the Iranian government. This isn't the first time we've witnessed this phenomenon: In spring 2008, Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Suleimani sent a message to Gen. David Petraeus, then the commander of international forces in Iraq, claiming that he controlled Iranian policy in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. Suleimani's message was clear: The United States should negotiate with the Quds Force rather than other branches of the Islamic Republic in order to solve the problems it was facing in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Suleimani's message to Petraeus, of course, was self-serving. If the United States proved willing to engage in negotiations with him, it would further enhance his prestige and the Quds Forces's control over strategic decision-making in Iran. Similarly, Qaani and Jafari's admissions of the IRGC's military presence in Syria is a way of communicating that those who desire a negotiated solution to the crisis in Syria must involve the Quds Force.
 Read the whole thing.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Electricity Rates Will Skyrocket

Blue Crab Boulevard (h/t Instapundit) writes about the impact of EPA rules that will shut down 241 coal generators in 30 states, amounting to a loss of 36,000 MW of generating capacity:
Look, folks, I am in this field. I have been for more than 30 years. Losing 36,000 MWs of the most cost-efficient generation capacity in the US is a disaster. You have no idea how bad the increases are going to be. They will be disastrous to the individual energy consumers and apocalyptic to large users – those who create jobs.

I shudder to think of what this is going to do to grid reliability as well. A lot of those coal plants help support the grid during disruptions. They regularly provide both energy and MVARs (Mega Volt-Ampere Reactive) that keep the grid from collapsing when large loads are added or lost. (That’s about as simple as I can make it and still be understood.) Losing these stabilizers will make it very hard to hold the grid. I pity the load dispatchers.

Trust me, people, this is a very big, very bad thing that is happening as a direct result of Barack Obama’s war on coal.

How Would the Israelis Attack Iran?

Some thoughts I've had as a follow up to my post yesterday on the difficulties facing Israel in attacking Iran's nuclear facilities.

The primary problem seems to be the lack of mid-air refueling capabilities. When Israel conducted the raid on Entebbe, the same issue arose. The initial solution was to purchase fuel at an airfield in a neighboring country where they could land and refuel. Although that remained a backup, the Israelis final plan involved refueling while on the ground at Entebbe.

I would suggest something similar here might work, by using one or more airfields closer to Iran where they could fly in refueling bladders to either refuel before an attack, or while returning from an attack. The ideal location would be in Saudi Arabia--it is close, and there are probably several abandoned airfields built for the wars against Iraq that would accommodate their aircraft. According to the Wikileaks documents, Saudi Arabia was prepared to turn a blind eye to an Israeli attack. The problem here is three-fold: (1) it is one thing for Saudi Arabia to turn a blind eye to an overflight, but quiet another to allow Israel to land and refuel; (2) the United States will presumably not want to allow the Israelis to attack and risk a more general conflict and closure of the Straits (plus, Obama is just as likely to warn the Iranians as not--he is a very evil man who has shown that he is more than willing to abandon allies when it serves him), but there is little chance that Israel could get past the U.S. fleet without our Navy knowing about it; (3) Iran's air-defense will be concentrated in that area if, for no other reason, because of the presence of the naval forces in the Gulf.

A secondary possibility would be to attack from the north from Russia or one of the former Soviet states. This would probably require the cooperation of the Russians, but Putin had recently visited Israel....

A third possibility would be to use the chaos in Syria to their advantage and try to secure and use an airfield in Syria to stage the attack. Very risky, though, and perhaps it doesn't get them close enough to be worth the risk....

If they are desperate enough, Israel could forgo using an air attack, and slip in small teams to detonate tactical nukes that might do the job. Unlikely, but it would remedy the issue of trying to get a large number of attack aircraft into Iran.

Whatever Israel does, it will require thinking outside the box, taking full consideration that Obama will probably betray them if he is given the chance.

"A Remarkable Vision from John Taylor"

For my LDS readers, I wanted to share a vision by John Taylor, shortly after Brigham Young's death, which was recorded by Wilford Woodruff in his journal. This is from the Yorgasons' book, Spiritual Survival in the Last Days, starting at p. 44 (they kept the original spelling and punctuation, and so have I; the brackets were presumably added by the Yorgasons):

I [ ] went to bed at my usual hour half past nine o'clock. I had been reading the Revelations in the French language. My mind was Calm, more so than usual if possible to so. I Composed myself for sleep but Could not sleep. I felt a strange stupor Come over me and apparently became partially unconscious. Still I was not asleep, nor awake With strange far away dreamy feelings.

The first I recognized was that I was in the Tabernacle at Ogden sitting on the back seat in the Corner for fear they would Call upon me to Preach, which after singing the second time, they did, by Calling me to the Stand.

I arose to speak and said I did not Know that I had any thing special to say Except to bear my Testimony to the Truth of the Latter Day work when all at once it seemed as though I was lifted out of myself, and I said "Yes, I have sumthing to say, it is this--some of my brethren present have been asking me what is Coming to pass, what is the wind blowing up. I will answer you right here what is Coming to pass shortly.

I was immediately in Salt Lake City wandering about the streets in all parts of the City on ON the door of every house I found a badge of mourning, and I Could not find a house but what was in mourning. I passed by my own house and saw the same sign there, an d asked, "Is that me that is dead?" Sumthing gave me answer, "No, you [shall] live through it all."

It seemed strange to me that I saw no person [on] the street in my wandering about through the City. They seemed to be in their houses with their Sick and Dead. I saw no funeral procession, or any thing of that kind, but the City looked very Still and quiet as though the people were praying and had Controll of the disease what ever it was.

I then looked in all directions over the Territory, East west North and South, and I found the same mourning in every place throughout the Land. The next I knew I was Just this side of Omaha. It seemed as though I was above, the Earth, looking down to it as I passed along on my way East and I saw the roads full of people, principally women, with just what they Could Carry in bundles on their backs traveling to the mountains on foot. And I wondered how they Could get there, with nothing but a small pack upon their backs. It was remarkable to me that there were so few men among them. It did not seem as though the Cars were running. The rails looked rusty, and the road abandoned, And I have no conception how I traveled myself.

As I looked down upon the people I Continued Eastward through Omaha and Council Bluffs which were full of disease, and women every whare. The States of Missouri and Illinois were in turmoil and Strife, Men killing each other, and women joining in the fight, family against family Cutting each other to pieces in the most horrid manner.

The next I saw was Washington, and I found the City a desolation. The White House Empty, the Halls of Congress the same Everything in ruins. The people seemed to have fled from the City and left it to take Care of itself.

I was next in the City of Baltimore and in the square where the Monument of 1812 Stands, in front of St Charles and other Hotels I saw the Dead piled up so high as to fill the square. I saw Mothers Cut the throats of their own Children for the sake of their blood, which they drank from their veins, to quench their thirst and then lie down and die. The waters of the Chesapeake and of the City were so stagnant and such a stench arose from them on account of the putrefaction of Dead bodies that the very smell Caused Death and that was singular again I saw no men except they were dead, lying in the streets, and vary few women, and they were Crazy mad, and in a dying Condition. Every whare I went I beheld the same all over the City, And it was horrible, beyond description to look at.

I thought this must be the End. But No I was seemingly in Philadelphia, and there every thing was Still. No living soul was to be seen to greet me, and it seemed as though the whole City was without an inhabitant. In arch and Chestnut Street and in fact Every whare I went the putrefaction of the Dead bodies Caused such a stench that it was Impossible for any Creature to Exhist alive, nor did I see any living thing in the city.

I next found myself in Broad way New York and here it seemed the people had done their best to overcome the disease. But in wandering down Broadway I saw the bodies of Beautiful women lying stone dead, and others in a dying Condition on the side walk. I saw men Crawl out of the Cellars and rob the dead bodies of the valuables they had on and before they Could return to their coverts in the cellars they themselves would roll over a time or two and die in agony. On some of the back streets I saw Mothers kill their own Children and Eat raw flesh and then in a few minutes die themselves. Wharever I went I saw the same scenes of Horror and Desolation rapine and Death. No Horses or Carriages, No busses or Street Cars, but Death and Destruction every whare.

I then went to the Grand Central Park and looking back I saw a fire Start and just at that moment a might East wind sprang up and Carried the flames west over the City, and it burned untill there was not a single building left Standing whole Even down to the wharfs. And the shipping all seemed to be burned and swallowed up in the Common destruction and left Nothing but a Desolation whare the great City was a short time before. The Stench from the bodies that were burning was so great that it Carried a great distance across the Hudson River and bay, and thus spread disease and death whareever the flames penetrated. I Cannot paint in words the Horror that seemed to Encompass me around. It was beyond description or thought of man to Conceive.

I supposed this was the End but I was here given to understand, that the same horror was being enacted all of the Country, North South East and West, that few were left alive. Still there were some.

Immediately after I seemed to be standing on the west bank of the Missouri River opposite the City of Independence but I saw no City. I saw the whole States of Missouri & Illinois and part of Iowa were a Complete wilderness with no living human being in them. I then saw a short distance from the river Twelve men dressed in the robes of the Temple Standing in a square or nearly so. I understood it represented the Twelve gates of the New Jerusalem, and they were with hands uplifted Consecrating the ground and laying the Corner Stones. I saw myriads of Angels hovering over them and around about them and also an immens pillar of a Cloud over them and I heard the singing of the most beautif[ul] music the words "Now is established the Kingdom of our God and His Christ, and He shall reign forever and Ever, and the Kingdom shall never be Thrown down for the Saints have overcome." And I saw people Coming from the River and different places a long way off to help build the Temple, and it seemed that the Hosts of the angels also helped to get the material to build the Temple. And I saw some Come who wore their Temple ... rob[e]s to help build the Temple and the City and all the time I saw the great pillar of Cloud hovering over the place.

Instantly I found I was in the Tabernacle at Ogden yet I Could see the building going on and got quite animated in Calling to the people in the Tabernacle to listen to the beautiful music that the Angels were Making. I Called to them to look at the Angels as the House seemed to be full of them and they were saying the same words that I heard Before "Now is the Kingdom of our God Esstablished forever & Ever." And then a voice said "Now shall Come to pass that which was spoken by Isaiah the Prophet "that seven women shall take hold of one man, saying &c (Isaiah 4:1). ["And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach."]

At this time I seemed to Stagger back from the pulpit & F D Richards and some one els Caught me and prevented me from falling when I requested Brother Richards to apologize to the audience for me because I stoped so adruptly and tell them I had not feinted but was exhausted. I rolled over in my bed and heard the City Hall Clock Strike Twelve.
The citation given by the Yorgasons is: Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 1833-1898, ed. Scott G. Kenney, 9 vols [Midvale UT: Signature Books], 7:419-23. Also in Unpublished Revelations of the Prophets and Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 1, comp. Fred C. Collier [Salt Lake City: Collier's Publishing Co., 1979], pp. 119-23.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Problems Israel Would Face If Attacking Iran

Here are some of the problems facing the Israelis if they attempt to attack Iranian nuclear facilities by air:
According to Joffe, the US air force ordered MOPs [massive bunker busting bombs] when the Fordo facility was uncovered, the first were delivered last fall. Israel does not have MOPs or American B2 bombers, which would be used to transport the bombs if the Americans attack. Yet Fordo is only one of the problems Israel is facing.

Another difficulty in a military strike against Iran is the distance. Out of the eight central air force targets in the Islamic Republic, only the Arak facility is reachable without refueling.

"An F-16I 'Storm' flies very high in very thin air, with extra fuel tanks it can cover 1500 km. Yet if it flies low to evade radar in Jordan, Iraq and Iran, its combat radius shrinks by half. The F-15I 'Thunder', the IAF’s mightiest jet probably has similar specs: 1000 to 1500 kilometers.

Joffe goes on to explain in detail why it just is not enough: "The pilots would have to turn back about a hundred kilometers short of the enrichment sites at Fordo and Natanz. If they were to fly on anyway, they would have to refill their tanks over territory that’s not exactly friendly: Jordan and Iraq using the direct route; or, on the northern variant, along the Syrian-Turkish border.

"They could fly undetected only over the sea, around the Arabian Peninsula. That would mean 5000 kilometers: an absurd venture…Geography, then, remains Israel’s foremost enemy, one that can be overcome only by midair refueling."

Yet refueling might be Israel's main problem, says Joffe: "Israel has only five tanker jets modified Boeing 707s. Time for some mental math: The IAF has 100 Storms and 25 Thunders. If they’re all deployed at once, they would have to be refueled twice, on each leg of the mission. 125 times two equals 250 – with a handful of tankers?

"Then with half the fleet, perhaps? That wouldn’t change much either, because bombers have to arm themselves against fighters and ground-to-air missiles. The Iranians’ 50-odd fighters (F-14s, Mirages and MiG-29s) may be old to obsolete, but still have to be reckoned with."

In line with American assessments claiming that Israel cannot destroy all of Iran's nuclear facilities, and would only be able to delay Tehran's efforts to achieve nuclear capability, Joffe believes that the IDF would choose to hit a few of targets rather than all eight of them.

He concludes that the air force might try to take out key components in the nuclear supplies chain by destroying the enrichment facility at Natanz, which is more vulnerable than Fordo, as well as the uranium converter facility at Isfahan.

Joffe explains that without the possibility of converting uranium to gas, Iran would be forced to halt enrichment activities.

Indonesian Volcanoes Become More Active

Three active volcanoes in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi and another one in North Maluku are rumbling due to the impacts of the recent major earthquake in the neighbouring Philippines, the head of the Vulcanology and Disaster Mitigation Agency, Surono, said Thursday.

"All four volcanoes are on alert status now," Surono said in Bandung.

The three rumbling mountains in North Sulawesi are Mount Soputan in Southeast Minahasa, Mt. Lokon in Tomohon and Mt. Karangetang in the northern part of North Sulawesi, while Mt. Gamalama in Ternate Island grumbled in North Maluku.

Surono explained that the four volcanoes, which were located in one area, had rising levels of activity due to the impact of the Philippine earthquake.

Ash spewed from Mt. Soputan, for example, has been blown by the wind to Bitung. The volcanic ash was released by a volcanic explosion early on Tuesday morning, Surono said. "The explosion on the mountain took place until 2 a.m.," he added.

The eruption could be heard up to 40 kilometres away. Observers now could not see or record earthquakes there as the explosions were incessant, he said.
(See also this article on the Mt. Lokon eruption).