Monday, December 31, 2012

Norovirus

From Reuters (h/t Drudge):
"Norovirus is one of the most infectious viruses of man," said Ian Goodfellow, a professor of virology at the department of pathology at Britain's University of Cambridge, who has been studying noroviruses for 10 years.

... In Britain so far this season, more than a million people are thought to have suffered the violent vomiting and diarrhea it can bring. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said this high rate of infection relatively early in the winter mirrors trends seen in Japan and Europe.

"In Australia the norovirus season also peaks during the winter, but this season it has gone on longer than usual and they are seeing cases into their summer," it said in a statement.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say norovirus causes 21 million illnesses annually. Of those who get the virus, some 70,000 require hospitalization and around 800 die each year.

... Norovirus dates back more than 40 years and takes its name from the U.S. city of Norwalk, Ohio, where there was an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis in school children in November 1968.

Symptoms include a sudden onset of vomiting, which can be projectile, and diarrhea, which may be profuse and watery. Some victims also suffer fevers, headaches and stomach cramps.

... What makes this such a formidable enemy is its ability to evade death from cleaning and to survive long periods outside a human host. Scientists have found norovirus can remain alive and well for 12 hours on hard surfaces and up to 12 days on contaminated fabrics such as carpets and upholstery. In still water, it can survive for months, maybe even years.

... Add the fact that norovirus is particularly resistant to normal household disinfectants and even alcohol hand gels, and it's little wonder the sickness wreaks such havoc in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, cruise ships and hotels.

During the two weeks up to December 23, there were 70 hospital outbreaks of norovirus reported in Britain, and last week a cruise ship that sails between New York and Britain's Southampton docked in the Caribbean with about 200 people on board suffering suspected norovirus.

... the virus changes constantly, making it a moving target for drug developers. There is also evidence that humans' immune response to infection is short-lived, so people can become re-infected by the same virus within just a year or two.

... Their advice is to stay away from anyone with the virus, and use soap and water liberally.

"One of the reasons norovirus spreads so fast is that the majority of people don't wash their hands for long enough," said Goodfellow. "We'd suggest people count to 15 while washing their hands and ensure their hands are dried completely."

OPEC Has Record Revenue

The Financial Times is reporting that OPEC, as a whole, had record revenues last year, looking at netting $1 Trillion. According to the article, this represents a record high even adjusting for inflation. The increase was not evenly spread. Because of sanctions, Iran took a smaller than normal share of the oil revenue. The article also notes that in order to maintain its budget, Saudi Arabia needs to maintain oil prices at or above $80 per barrel. Last year, the Saudi oil minister vowed to keep oil prices at or above $100 per barrel.

OPEC's profits are strangling our economy, and fueling terrorism. We need to develop and exploit our domestic oil production in order to boost our economy, as well as strangle terrorism.

Egyptian Currency Sinks

Last week I had noted a story about Egypt imposing restrictions on moving currency out of the country. The Financial Times (h/t Drudge) is now reporting that the Egyptian pound has fallen to record lows. The story indicates:
The pound slid from 6.18 to 6.30 to the dollar on Sunday after the central bank held its first foreign currency auction as part of a new system introduced to slow down the depletion of the country’s reserves.

... Last week, for the first time in eight years, banks and exchange bureaus turned away anxious customers seeking to convert their savings into dollars, citing shortages.

...On Saturday the central bank warned that foreign reserves had reached the “critical minimum” needed to meet debt repayments and fund food and fuel imports.

Reserves now stand at $15bn down from $36bn just before last year’s popular uprising which unseated Hosni Mubarak as president.

The bank is also reported to have imposed measures to dampen demand for foreign currencies including limiting corporate clients from withdrawing more than $30,000 in cash per day and charging individuals who buy foreign currencies a 1-2 per cent administrative fee.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Price of War with Iran

From Project Syndicate:

Iran has threatened to seal the Strait of Hormuz – through which 20% of the world’s internationally traded oil passes – if it is attacked. While it would be difficult for Iran to seal the strait for long, if it managed to do so at all, it could easily make passage unsafe with attacks by small boats, sea mines, and missiles launched from coastal mountains.
Furthermore, Iran would likely strike the pipelines in the Arabian Peninsula that would otherwise allow oil to bypass the strait. And several strategically crucial oil-processing facilities are within range of Iranian missiles and special forces, including the Saudi oil-stabilization facility at Abqaiq, which processes seven million barrels daily.
Such a response would immediately cause oil prices to spike – possibly to $200 per barrel in the short run. A protracted conflict could mean sustained prices of roughly $150 per barrel.
Given that Americans consume roughly 18.5 million barrels of oil daily, a mere $8 increase in the price per barrel would sap $1 billion per week from the US economy, jeopardizing its already-fragile recovery. America has already financed two wars on credit, contributing to a significant fiscal deficit. Another war would eliminate what little hope there is of achieving debt stability without drastic – and harmful – spending cuts (or tax increases).
Surging oil prices would also threaten Europe and other major oil-importing countries, including China, India, Japan, and South Korea, thereby lowering or reversing their economic growth. Iran’s own economy, which depends heavily on oil exports, would also suffer.

Following the Money


I saw this in an article at PIMCO:
It has been more than a year since President Obama’s controversial decision to delay approval for the permit for the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline. At the time, President Obama suggested the delay was necessary to ensure all environmental issues would be properly addressed and understood, though we and others believe the “no-decision” was motivated primarily by the administration trying to maintain the favor of sections of the Democratic political base ahead of the November 2012 election. 
Additionally, by delaying construction of the proposed $7.5 bilion, roughly 1,700-mile oil pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, U.S. railroads have benefitted as the primary source of transportation of crude oil from North Dakota to key demand markets in Oklahoma and Texas. Burlington Northern Santa Fe, owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, was among the big winners. None of the drama, bad press and “unintended” consequences of the Keystone XL delay were lost on our neighbors to the north.
(Underline added).

Fracking Already Takes Bite Out of Saudi Profits

Via Meadia notes that Saudi Arabia's largest petrochemical producer, Sabic, has reported lower profits every quarter this past year, primarily due to increased costs and reduced demand from its largest consumer, the United States. The reduced demand is due, in part, to increased reliance on domestic sources for petrochemicals. Obviously, Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC nations will face further declining profits as other nations--Canada, China, Brazil, Israel, for instance--continue to develop natural gas and oil deposits.

In the past, OPEC has responded to increased production abroad by lowering prices. However, this is problematic for two reasons. First, Iran (the second largest OPEC producer) cannot afford lower oil prices because it relies on oil revenue to subsidize social welfare programs. (See here). Reduced oil prices would create social and political instability.

Second, Iran and other OPEC nations face declining reserves. Lowering prices will drive up demand (and kill foreign competitors), but bring these nations to the fateful day when they will no longer be able to pump any oil. There will come a day of reckoning when many Middle-East countries will have nothing left to offer the world in trade. Peak oil will not be an issue for the industrialized nations for a couple centuries or more, but for many OPEC members, it will be an issue in the next few decades. They will either need to diversify their economies, or conquer other nations in order to absorb their resources.

Secret Combinations

In October 1961, then-Apostle Ezra Taft Benson gave a talk on "secret combinations," specifically identifying socialism and communism. It is a long talk, but some of the salient points are:

Never in recorded history has any movement spread its power so far and so fast as has socialistic-communism in the last three decades. The facts are not pleasant to review. Communist leaders are jubilant with their success. They are driving freedom back on almost every front.
It is time, therefore, that every American, and especially every member of the priesthood, became informed about the aims, tactics, and schemes of socialistic-communism. This becomes particularly important when it is realized that communism is turning out to be the earthly image of the plan which Satan presented in the pre-existence. The whole program of socialistic- communism is essentially a war against God and the plan of salvation--the very plan which we fought to uphold during "the war in heaven."
Up to now some members of the Church have stood aloof, feeling that the fight against socialistic-communism is "controversial" and unrelated to the mission of the Church or the work of the Lord. But the President of the Church in our day has made it clear that the fight against atheistic communism is a major challenge to the Church and every member in it.
... The fight against godless communism is a very real part of every man's duty who holds the priesthood. It is the fight against slavery, immorality, atheism, terrorism, cruelty, barbarism, deceit, and the destruction of human life through a kind of tyranny unsurpassed by anything in human history. Here is a struggle against the evil, satanical priestcraft of Lucifer. Truly it can be called, "a continuation of the war in heaven."
In the war in heaven the devil advocated absolute eternal security at the sacrifice of our freedom. Although there is nothing more desirable to a Latter-day Saint than eternal security in God's presence, and although God knew, as did we, that some of us would not achieve this security if we were allowed our freedom--yet the very God of heaven, who has more mercy than us all, still decreed no guaranteed security except by a man's own freedom of choice and individual initiative.
Today the devil as a wolf in a supposedly new suit of sheep's clothing is enticing some men, both in and out of the Church, to parrot his line by advocating planned government guaranteed security programs at the expense of our liberties. ...
When all of the trappings of propaganda and pretense have been pulled aside, the exposed hard-core structure of modern communism is amazingly similar to the ancient Book of Mormon record of secret societies such as the Gadiantons. ... It was a secret political party which operated as a murder cult. Its object was to infiltrate legitimate government, plant its officers in high places, and then seize power and live off the spoils appropriated from the people. (It would start out as a small group of "dissenters" and by using secret oaths with the threat of death for defectors it would gradually gain a choke hold on the political and economic life of whole civilizations. )
The object of the Gadiantons, like modern communists, was to destroy the existing government and set up a ruthless criminal dictatorship over the whole land.
... What is the official position of the Church on communism? In 1936 the First Presidency made an official declaration on communism which has never been abrogated. I quote the concluding paragraph:
"We call upon all Church members completely to eschew communism. The safety of our divinely inspired constitutional government and the welfare of our Church imperatively demand that communism shall have no place in America"
We must ever keep in mind that collectivized socialism is part of the communist strategy. Communism is fundamentally socialism. We will never win our fight against communism by making concessions to socialism. Communism and socialism, closely related, must be defeated on principle. The close relationship between socialism and communism is clearly pointed out by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, of August 6, 1961, in these words:
". . . Both socialism and communism derive from the teachings of Marx and Engels. In fact, the movements were one until the split over methods of approach, which resulted after the Russian revolution in 1905.... The aim and purpose of both was then and is now world socialism, which communism seeks to achieve through revolution and which socialists seek to achieve through evolution.
"The industrial achievements of the U. S. are the result of an economic system which is the antithesis of socialism. Our economic system is called 'capitalism' or 'private enterprise' and is based on private property rights, the profit motive and competition.
"Both communism and socialism seek to destroy our economic system and replace it with socialism; and their success, whether through evolution by socialism or through revolution by communism or a combination, will destroy not only our economic system, but our liberty, including the 'civil' aspects as well....
". . . The 'common ground' of socialism and communism is a factor to which the American people should be alerted. Without a clear understanding that communism is socialism, the total threat and menace of the cold war can never be comprehended and fought to victory."
When socialism is understood, we will realize that many of the programs advocated, and some of those already adopted in the United States, fall clearly within the category of socialism. What is socialism? It is simply governmental ownership and management of the essential means for the production and distribution of goods.
... The socialistic-communist conspiracy to weaken the United States involves attacks on many fronts. To weaken the American free-enterprise economy which outproduced both its enemies and allies during World War II is a high priority target of the communist leaders. Their press and other propaganda media are therefore constantly selling the principles of centralized or federal control of farms, railroads, electric power, schools, steel, maritime shipping, and many other aspects of the economy--but always in the name of public welfare.
This carries out the strategy laid down by the communist masters. John Strachey, a top official in the Labor Socialist party of Great Britain, in his book entitled The Theory and Practice of Socialism said:
"It is impossible to establish communism as the immediate successor to capitalism. It is accordingly proposed to establish socialism as something which we can put in the place of our present decaying capitalism. Hence, communists work for the establishment of socialism as a necessary transition stage on the road to communism."
The paramount issue today is liberty against creeping socialism. It is in this spirit that President McKay stated:
"Communism is antagonistic to the American way of life. Its avowed purpose is to destroy belief in God and free enterprise.... The fostering of full economic freedom lies at the base of our liberties. Only in perpetuating economic freedom can our social, political, and religious liberties be preserved." (Excerpt from Inaugural address for Dr. Henry A. Dixon, President of USU, delivered by President McKay at the USU fieldhouse, Logan, Utah, Monday, March 18, 1954.)
Again President McKay warned, citing the words of W. C. Mullendore, president of Southern California Edison Company:
"During the first half of the twentieth century we have traveled far into the soul-destroying land of socialism and made strange alliances through which we have become involved in almost continuous hot and cold wars over the whole of the earth. In this retreat from freedom the voices of protesting citizens have been drowned by raucous shouts of intolerance and abuse from those who led the retreat and their millions of gullible youth, who are marching merrily to their doom, carrying banners on which are emblazoned such intriguing and misapplied labels as social justice equality, reform patriotism social welfare." (Gospel Ideals, p. 273.)
... No true Latter-day Saint and no true American can be a socialist or a communist or support programs leading in that direction. These evil philosophies are incompatible with Mormonism, the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
What can priesthood holders do? There are many things we can do to meet the challenge of the adversary in our day.
First, we should become informed about communism, about socialism, and about Americanism. ...
We should know why paternalism, collectivism, or unnecessary federal supervision will hold our standard of living down and reduce productivity just as it has in every country where it has been tried. We should also know why the communist leaders consider socialism the highroad to communism.
Second, we should accept the command of the Lord and treat socialistic communism as the tool of Satan. We should follow the counsel of the President of the Church and resist the influence and policies of the socialist-communist conspiracy wherever they are found--in the schools, in the churches, in governments, in unions, in businesses, in agriculture.
Third, we should help those who have been deceived or who are misinformed to find the truth. Unless each person who knows the truth will "stand up and speak up" it is difficult for the deceived or confused citizen to find his way back.
Fourth, we should not make the mistake of calling people "communist" just because they happen to be helping the communist cause. Thousands of patriotic Americans, including a few Latter-day Saints, have helped the communists without realizing it. Others have knowingly helped without joining the party. The remedy is to avoid name-calling, but point out clearly and persuasively how they are helping the communists.
Fifth, each priesthood holder should use his influence in the community to resist the erosion process which is taking place in our political and economic life. He should use the political party of his choice to express his evaluation of important issues. He should see that his party is working to preserve freedom, not destroy it. He should join responsible local groups interested in promoting freedom and free competitive enterprise, in studying political issues, appraising the voting records and proposed programs, and writing to members of Congress, promoting good men in public office and scrutinizing local, state, and federal agencies to see that the will of the people is being carried out. He should not wait for the Lord's servants to give instruction for every detail once they have announced the direction in which the priesthood should go. Each member should exercise prayerful judgment and then act.
Sixth, and most important of all, each member of the priesthood should set his own house in order. This should include:
1. Regular family prayer, remembering especially our government leaders.
2. Getting out of debt.
3. Seeing that each member of the family understands the importance of keeping the commandments.
4. Seeing that the truth is shared with members of the family, with neighbors, and with associates.
5. Seeing that each member is performing his duties in the priesthood, in the auxiliary organizations, in the temple, and in the civic life of the community.
6. Seeing that every wage earner in the home is a full tithepayer and fulfilling other obligations in financial support of the kingdom.
7. Providing a one-year supply of essentials.
In doing these things a member of the Church is not only making himself an opponent of the adversary, but a proponent of the Lord. ...

South and Central American Volcanoes Heat Up

A couple recent articles from the Telegraph about volcanoes becoming a bit more active.

First, this December 24, 2012, article indicates that the Copahue volcano, which sits astride the border with Argentina, had erupted on December 22, sending a cloud of ash almost a mile high. Officials initially issued a yellow and, then, orange alert. However, this was raised to red on December 23. The story noted that the volcano had previously erupted in 1991 and 2001.

The second is this story from December 27, 2012, that related that the San Cristobal volcano in Nicaragua had also emitted an ash plume, prompting the government to order an evacuation of residents within a 1.9 mile radius of the volcano.

Using Food Salvage Stores

A reader sent me the following, which, with his permission, I am posting. He writes:
I came across an article about shopping at food salvage stores. http://lifehacker.com/5971552/shop-at-a-salvage-grocery-store-and-save-a-ton-of-money-on-food?tag=saving-money
The article points to a couple of outdated lists of food salvage stores. But, a commenter posted a link to what looks like a reasonably current list:
http://www.extremebargains.net/store/Independent_Discount_and_Salvage_Grocery_Store_Directory.html
The article also points to an earlier article on another site that appears to be the source for the lifehacker article, which explains more about food salvage stores.
http://www.mint.com/blog/consumer-iq/grocery-outlets-the-secret-to-saving-green-on-groceries-082012/
We have shopped at food salvage stores before. They are great for a family with ravenous teenagers. They are less beneficial for empty-nesters trying to eat a low-fat diet. The store we shopped at had lots of canned food, lots of frozen convenience food, frozen meats, frozen vegetables and institutional frozen food that they had repackaged into consumer friendly sizes. They also had a walk-in refrigerator area with a variety of refrigerated and fresh foods. And, they had lots of boxed and dry goods (cereals, pasta, crackers, cookies).
As the articles indicate, the inventory of these stores will vary significantly from one visit to the next.
The food I've seen has included stuff that came out of damaged cases (I don't care if the paper label is stained or torn), food that is about to expire or is slightly expired, and overstock goods. For example, I once saw bags of salad that were expiring that day, but had been properly stored, and hence looked (and tasted) fresher than what I typically saw in the regular stores. Many of the canned goods may be close to expiring, but in my experience, most canned foods are good for quite a while after the expiration date.
Some foods are not good for any appreciable time after their expiration date, such as soft drinks sweetened with aspartame, chips, and saltine crackers.
I wouldn't look to a food salvage store as a primary source for food storage foods since the foods will typically be near the end of their marked shelf life, but they can be a good source of non-food items like soaps and paper goods.

Also, like any other shopping activity, you need to be aware of the prices. Sometimes the prices on some items in a food salvage store are excellent, and sometimes, the prices are not very good, and may occasionally even be higher than the price at big-box retailers like Walmart.

Venezuelan Murder Rate Soars


The Telegraph reports:
Venezuela, the most violent country in South America, recorded a new high of 21,692 murders this year along with a surge in kidnappings, prison riots and random shootings.
The number of victims was up by 12 per cent from last year when there were 19,336 deaths, the Venezuelan Violence Observatory said in its annual report.
... Unlike other Latin American countries Venezuela is not involved in a drug war or on-going battle with guerrillas.
But according to the Observatory, a think tank set up by public and private universities, it now has a murder rate of 73 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 67 in 2011.
The rate is well above neighbouring Colombia, and Mexico which has been engaged in a bloody drug war, and is closing in on Honduras, the country with the highest murder rate.
There are more murders in Venezuela than in the United States and the 27 countries of the European Union combined. In Caracas the murder rate is more than 200 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The Observatory said: "Killings have become a way of executing property crimes, a mechanism to resolve personal conflicts and a way to apply private justice."
President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, rarely talks about violent crime.
...Venezuela's murder rate has soared since Chavez took office in 1999, growing from 4,450 murders in 1998[.] Criminologists expected the rate to fall with decreasing poverty, but income inequality has fallen dramatically and murders are going up.
In a report earlier this year The Brookings Institution said: "No one would guess Venezuela's crime crisis from looking at these (poverty) figures.["]
Maybe because there is no connection between poverty or "income inequality" and murder. Maybe the root cause is corruption and violence by the government, and a collapsing civilization.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Should We Intervene in Syria?

The "anti-war" liberals are up in arms, apparently, because the U.S. had decided not to embroil itself in Syria. The Washington Post editorializes:
AS 2012 COMES to a close, Syria is headed toward a bloody and chaotic end to what began as a peaceful uprising against an autocratic regime. This would be a catastrophe that could destabilize much of the Middle East, provide al-Qaeda with a new base of operations, and lead to the transfer or even use of chemical weapons.
... But [the crises] also reflects a massive failure of Western — and particularly American — leadership, the worst since the Rwandan genocide two decades ago.
The appalling consequences of non-intervention by leading nations in Rwanda led, after much soul-searching, to the adoption by the United Nations of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, which provides for the international community to take action to stop crimes against humanity. Some of its leading proponents are senior officials in the Obama administration. But with the U.N. Security Council blocked from action by Russia and China, the administration has utterly failed to take or organize steps that might end the carnage in Syria. ...
... The most likely scenario is that rebel forces will, in a matter of weeks or months, win the war — or at least cause the Assad clique to retreat to its ethnic stronghold on the Mediterranean coast. If the world is lucky, this will happen relatively quickly, or an internal coup will remove Mr. Assad. If not, the bitter endgame could see tens or thousands more deaths and the use by the regime of its chemical weapons. Either way, the postwar scene in Damascus will likely be chaotic, with the Western-backed rebel coalition jockeying with al-Qaeda and remnants of the regime.
If that happens, the United States may find itself with little influence. Most rebel leaders, and average Syrians, are furious at Washington for withholding meaningful aid. They may be disinclined to listen to calls for dismantling the extremist groups that helped win the war. One way or another, Syria will haunt President Obama’s second term — and, based on the record so far, it will be recorded as one of his greatest failures.
The "responsibility to act" seems to be the new theme the past couple of years. Watching The Amazing Spiderman the other day, I noticed that the famous line of "with great power comes great responsibility" had been replaced with one stating that someone with the ability to help another had a moral duty to do so. I don't agree. We, as a nation, do not have an obligation to spend our blood and treasure helping other nations out of their own problems.

There were legitimate reasons to go into Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban backed government. The invasion of Iraq is, perhaps, more questionable. But whatever the ultimate outcome of those conflicts, it is clear that the sheer expense of those wars with the now concomitant "nation building," and the "war on terror" generally, has been greater--monetarily and at the price of our civil liberties--than the country could afford. Our people, our nation, our government, our finances, would all be better if people realized that there are some things that cannot be fixed, and there are some things in which we should not be involved--and fighting unnecessary wars, especially to replace one tyrant with another, is one of those things.

Rwanda represents a completely different situation than Syria. Rwanda involved the slaughter of mostly unarmed Christians by Muslims. The Rwandan Christians lacked adequate means of protecting themselves which could have been easily remedied and, in doing so, created some sort of status quo.

That is not the situation in Syria. First, Syria does not currently present a situation of genocide (although it certainly will if the rebels succeed). Second, aiding the rebels does not advance U.S. interests. Assisting the rebels in Syria will only guarantee the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Al Queda.

In fact, if the U.S. where to intervene, it very well could spread the conflict further. The Debka File notes that Russian forces apparently have taken control of Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles. It reported on December 22:

The chemical warfare threat looming over Syria’s civil war and its neighbors has taken an epic turn with the announcement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday, Dec. 22, that “the Syrian government has “consolidated its chemical weapons in one or two locations amid a rebel onslaught and they are under control for the time being.”
He added that Russia, “which has military advisers training Syria’s military, has kept close watch over its chemical arsenal.”
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report: The Russian foreign minister’s statement was a message to Washington that the transfer of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction to one or two protected sites was under Russian control. This had removed the danger of them falling into the hands of the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra ,which had come ominously close Friday, Dec. 21, when the Islamists spearheaded a Syrian rebel assault for the capture of the al-Safira military complex and Bashar Assad’s chemical and biological stores.
Lavrov did not go into detail about how this arsenal was removed and to which locations. But his reference to “Russian military advisers training Syria’s military” clearly indicated that Russian forces were directly involved in removing the WMD out of the reach of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists.
His assertion that they were “under control” indicated that Russia was also involved in safeguarding them.
DEBKAfile’s Moscow sources add: Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war achieved four objectives:
1.  The prevention of Western or Israel military action for seizing control of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons arsenals;
2.   The prevention of Western military intervention in the civil war behind the forces dedicated to the removal of Bashar Assad. The Russian military is now engaged in the dual mission of guarding his WMD arsenal and his regime;
3.  The Russian military presence in Syria delivers a heavy swipe to the rebels;
4.   Russia’s intervention and military presence have laid the groundwork for Moscow and Washington to work out an accord that will bring Syria’s civil war to an end.

On other words, direct strikes against Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles, or even more general intervention, could implicate Russian troops. (See also this editorial from The Voice of Russia, claiming that the reports of chemical weapon attacks was intended to draw the U.S. into the conflict. Whether the Russian account is accurate or not, the Russians clearly don't want us there).

This more recent comment from the Debka File also notes increased Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria:

The same sources point to the first appearance this week of Iran-made Fateh A-110 high-precision, short-range missiles in the use of the Syrian army against rebel fighters, under the guidance of Iranian officers and instructors .... 
The Fateh missiles are being fired quite openly by Iranian military personnel in command of Syrian missile units as Tehran’s answer for the deployment of US, German and Dutch NATO Patriots on the Turkish side of the Syrian border.  They also carry a message in response to Israel’s threat of offensive action against Syria if it becomes necessary to thwart its use of chemical weapons. According to our French and military sources, Tehran is using the Fateh missiles and the Iranian military presence in Syria to warn that there is no bar to their use against Turkey, Jordan and Israel as well, in the event of a US or Israel attack on Syria’s chemical stores.
On no account, will Iran permit the overthrow of Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus.  At most, Tehran conceives of his departure in stages and handover to an emergency government led by the military or an armed forces faction to which certain opposition elements may be co-opted. Elections, in the Iranian view, must be deferred until hostilities end and the security situation is stable.
American and French sources agree that Tehran and Moscow have attained full coordination in their strategies for Syria and also on Iran’s nuclear program. They note that it was not by chance that the Russian Navy Wednesday, Dec. 26, launched its largest sea maneuver ever in the Mediterranean and the approaches to the Persian Gulf, just two days before Iranian warships, submarines and aircraft embarked on their week-long Velayat 91 sea exercise in the Straits of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, and northern parts of the Indian Ocean.
The command centers of the Russian and Iranian war games are under orders from Moscow and Tehran to jointly exhibit  naval muscle in order to bolster the Assad regime against collapse.
Parallel to the influx of Fateh missiles from Iran to Syria, Moscow is rapidly expanding the deployment of its highly-sophisticated S-400 air and missile interceptors in Russia’s southern military region near the Turkish border.

Solar Flare in 774 A.D.

Several months ago I posted about research showing a spike in carbon 14 in tree rings dating from 774 A.D.  (see also here). The researchers had suggested that the spike was due to increased solar activity over a period of time rather than a single event. I had wondered how the incident in 774 compared to the Carrington Event. Now I have my answer. From the following article from Phys.org from November 29, 2012:

In their paper, the team from Nagoya described their results in measuring the amount of carbon-14 in Japanese cedar tree rings that represented the years AD 750 to AD 820 with one and two year resolution. In so doing, they found a rapid, 12 percent increase in the amount of carbon-14, over the period AD 774-775, indicating that an extremely energetic event of unknown origin had occurred during that time period. They noted that the bump was approximately 20 times that seen from normal solar activity and for that reason ruled out a solar flare as a possible cause. They also ruled out a supernova as a likely source as it would have been seen and noted by people living at the time.
Carbon-14 is a variant of normal carbon-12 and tends to show up on planet Earth when cosmic particles strike the atmosphere producing showers of neutrons, which in turn strike hydrogen nuclei causing a reaction that results in the creation of carbon-14. That carbon-14 then falls and in this case, abundant amounts landed on some cedar trees in Japan 1,238 years ago. The Japanese team suggest that if such a bump was due to a solar flare it would have had to have been thousands of times larger than any that has ever been recorded, making it an unlikely possibility.
Melott and Thomas disagree and write that it's possible a solar flare could have caused the bump if it shot out in blobs, rather than as a mass ejection that spewed cosmic particles in all directions. If that were they case they say, a solar flare just 10 or 20 times the size of the largest ever recorded (the Carrington event of 1859) could very easily explain the carbon-14 bump during that time period.
(Underline added). This article from Mother Nature Network further explains:

The sun could have released a huge and powerful blast of plasma into space called a coronal mass ejection, which, when it hit Earth, could have sparked the creation of carbon-14, suggest astrophysicists Adrian Melott of the University of Kansas and Brian Thomas of Washburn University, also in Kansas, in a paper published the Nov. 29 issue of the journal Nature.

Carbon-14 is a variant of the normal form of carbon (carbon-12) that is common on Earth and throughout the universe. When cosmic ray particles hit Earth's atmosphere, they can produce showers of particles such as neutrons. Some of these neutrons, in turn, hit the nitrogen nuclei that are rife in the atmosphere, and a chemical reaction occurs that transforms the nitrogen into carbon-14.

This carbon variant is unstable and decays with a half-life of about 5,730 years (meaning half of any amount of carbon-14 will be gone in that time). For this reason, it's a useful date marker: A tree, for example, will stop absorbing carbon once it dies, so the amount of carbon-14 left in it is a reliable indicator of how old it is.

It had been widely known that a jump in carbon-14 occurred in the eighth century, but researchers first pinpointed this rise and fall on a year-to-year basis by looking at tree rings in a paper by Fusa Miyake of Japan's Nagoya University and colleagues, published in the June 14 issue of Nature.

"They found that whatever made that carbon-14 bump happened really fast, and took less than one year, which called out for some really major, powerful event," Melott told SPACE.com.

The Japanese researchers considered that it might be a solar flare, but calculated that it would have had to have been thousands of times more powerful than the greatest one ever known, which made such a scenario unlikely.

Now, in a new calculation, Melott and Thomas say a solar flare is a reasonable explanation.

"Their mistake was, they assumed that the energy shot out by the sun in one of these coronal mass ejections goes out in all directions, like the light from a light bulb, but in fact it's kind of shot out in blobs," Melott said.

That adjustment meant that a solar flare need have been only about 10 or 20 times more powerful than the greatest flare on record, the so-called Carrington event of 1859. ...
... Still, the scientists can't completely rule out other explanations, such as the possibility of a supernova star explosion, or a special type of supernova called a gamma-ray burst. Both could have created a strong wave of cosmic rays as well.

However, a nearby supernova would have been extremely bright, and likely noticed by the residents of Earth at the time, who largely noted nothing unusual. A gamma-ray burst, which condenses much of the radiation released from a supernova into two strong beams, could conceivably have packed the punch necessary for the carbon-14 spike, but Melott says this scenario is still less likely than a strong solar flare.

... while a strong sun flare would have had little effect on people in 774, a similar event could wreak significant havoc today. That's because our modern technology, including satellites, radio transmissions and power grids, could be seriously hampered by the particles sweeping in from a coronal mass ejection.

The Anatomy of a Breakdown

Daily Survival has republished an article on the anatomy of societal breakdown following a major disaster.

Inconsistencies in the Sandy Hook Reporting


I am not buying into the conspiracy theories, but this article points out some interesting inconsistencies in the reporting concerning the Sandy Hook/Newtown shooting.

Certainly, it wouldn't be the first time that the media and/or authorities failed to report critical information. For instance, I've never seen domestic news sources describe the Trolley Square shooter's Muslim background (see, e.g., here), nor explore the possibility that it was an Islamic terrorist incident. Similarly, the government still obtusely ignores the obvious Muslim motivations of Nidal Hasan's shooting at Fort Hood.

Returning to the Sandy Hook shooting, I had previously noted reports of a possible accomplice being arrested in woods near the school. However, there has been no follow up by media that I've been able to find that identified the person or what happened to him.

Early reports also indicated that an AR-15 rifle was found in the trunk of the shooter's vehicle or inside the school. Several sites have pointed to video of police recovering a long arm from the trunk of the shooter's vehicle as proof that the AR was in the trunk. However, in looking at the video of police removing a firearm from the trunk of the vehicle (see here and here), it is obviously a shotgun that the police are handling.

Site 911

From the Business Insider:

Leave it to legendary Walter Pincus from the Washington Post to flesh out a Request for Proposal construction project planned for Israel called Site 911.
The oddly named project will cost up to $100 million, take more than two years to complete, and can only be built by workers from specific countries with proper security clearances. Palestinians need not apply.
When complete the well-guarded compound will have five levels buried underground and six additional outbuildings on the above grounds, within the perimeter. At about 127,000 square feet, the first three floors will house classrooms, an auditorium, and a laboratory — all wedged behind shock resistant doors — with radiation protection and massive security.
Only one gate will allow workers entrance and exit during the project and that will be guarded by only Israelis.
The bottom two floors are smaller, according to the full line of schematics uploaded to the Army's Acquisition Business Web Site, and possibly used for equipment and storage.
The story also notes very specific requirements for the mezuzahs for each door in the facility. The purpose of the facility is unclear.

November 21, 2012--The Day We Lost the War on Terror

The title of an op-ed by Henrik R. Clausen at EuroNews:
It may have escaped the attention of most, but on November 21st 2012, we suffered the final defeat in the War on Terror declared by President George W. Bush on September 20th 2001. After more than 11 years of fighting, 56,900 American causalties, cumulutative expenses of between 1.2 and 2.7 trillion dollars and a very complicated series of diplomatic & military alliances, the aim to defeat terror was abolished in Cairo, Egypt on that day.

Here, the triumvirate of Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal announced a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel following a week of intense fighting between the terrorist organisation and the army of Israel.
The author goes on to describe the principle portions of the ceasefire agreement.
... First, and most important: This agreement blocks Israel from taking any military action against Hamas or other terrorist organisations in Gaza. Without a credible threat of military action, Hamas is now at liberty to rebuild its military infrastructure, its rocket launch sites, and not least to replenish its somewhat depleted rocket stocks. Hamas will not voluntarily abstain from this.

Reciprocically, Hamas and the other terrorist organisations in Gaza shall stop attacking Israel. Given that their purpose in life is the annihilation of Israel, that can only be a temporary measure.

Then, Israel is to facilitate the movement of people and goods at border crossings. Given that the borders were never closed, not even during Pillar of Defence, that is a somewhat unclear requirement, and could easily become a bone of contention if either Hamas or Egypt deems it insufficiently fulfilled.

The hindrances to free movement in and out of Gaza came into place in June 2007 after extensive fighting between Hamas and Fatah, leaving over 600 Palestinians dead in the power struggle. After Hamas had gained undisputed control of Gaza, Israel and Egypt implemented stricter border control, blocking transport of materials deemed of military importance. That border control, however, has been perforated by an extensive set of tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border.

The final clause of the ceasefire agreement holds another surprise – Egypt, not some neutral international instution like OSCE or the United Nations, is to oversee the implementation. Given that Egypt is now ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas is a branch of the Brotherhood, this does not seem fair, impartial or even reasonably reliable.
Clausen notes that the battle, initiated by Hamas, was a terrorist failure. That is, the indiscriminate rocket attacks failed to terrorize the Israelis. Partly, this was a result of the use of the Iron Dome defensive system which was highly successful in destroying incoming rockets. Partly is was because of the resolve of the Israelis, who were prepared to strike back--first, with targeted air strikes against high value Hamas targets, but also with a ground attack to clean out the Hamas infestation. Unfortunatley, as Clausen notes:
...  Israel mobilized the army reserves and sent them to the border to Gaza, everything clear to go. At that point, however, world government leaders were scrambling to demand ”Peace in Gaza”, and the ground invasion was kept on hold.

Egypt, in particular, had reason to be concerned. The Muslim Brotherhood had risen to power after the so-call ”Arab Spring”, crowned by the election of Mohamed Morsi as president in June. Since Hamas is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood and shares the goals of reestablish the Caliphate, protecting Hamas from destruction became a top priority for Egypt.

It might seem paradoxical that Morsi, who refuses to even use the word 'Israel' or meet personally with any representatives of the country, would want to broker a peace agreement between Israel and Hamas. But the influx of foreign diplomats acknowleding his importance surely had an effect. Turkey's prime minister Erdogan, the emir of Qatar, German foreign minister Westerwelle, UN chairman Ban Ki-moon and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton all rushed in to stop the fighting. Not all of these can reasonably be suspected of being driven by anti-Jewish sentiment or sympathy for the terrorists being hammered by Israel, but the end result was that the terrorist organisations were spared extinction and a ceasefire became active on November 21st, 2012.

While the Germans, the Arabs and the Turks may have their own motivations for supporting Morsi, and the ceasefire protecting Hamas, the participation of Hillary Rodham Clinton is peculiar. Hamas, since 1997, is a US-designated terrorrist organisation, and if we were to take the US commitment to conduct war on terror seriously, the US should not have any desire to prevent the Israeli army from defeating a major terrorist organisation. Pulverizing Hamas and liberating the Palestinians from its brutal rule could be declared a major victory for Israel, for peaceful Palestinians, and for international law.

Yet this didn't happen, and thus the stage is being set for another round of fighting, more brutal and lethal than the one that was just interrupted. The reason for this lies in Islamic teachings, which does not recognize a 'ceasefire' in the sense it's understood in the West, a preparation for permanent peace. Rather, Islamists like Yasser Arafat think in the terms of 'hudna', a temporary laying down of arms in order to gather strength for further fighting.

Thus, when attention turns away from Gaza, Egypt and the nomads of Sinai will quietly transport more advanced missiles into Gaza, preparing for another assault on the 'Zionist entity', as anti-semitic regimes designate Israel. That our own leaders do not comprehend this is a source of embarrassment. Worse, it shows that we have entirely lost our moral clarity in the Byzantine game of friends, foes, percieved prestige, deception and betrayal.
Read the whole thing.

Pakistan's Rising Star

A couple articles on the rising profile of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former Prime Minister Benazi Bhutto, who was assassinated by the Taliban in 2007. BBC News reports:
The son of Pakistan's murdered ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has promised to fight militancy to maintain democracy, in his first major political speech.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told party supporters marking five years since his mother's death that she "sacrificed her life to uphold democracy".

... Her son, whose father is President Asif Ali Zardari, has so far kept a low profile as party chairman.

In remarks carried by Pakistan state television, Mr Bhutto Zardari told a crowd of tens of thousands of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) supporters near his family's shrine in Sindh province that the people were "the source of power".

"The beacon of democracy continues to shine," he said, pledging that his party would fight militancy and extremism to create a peaceful, democratic Pakistan.

... He cannot contest an election until his 25th birthday, which falls next September, some months after a parliamentary vote is due.

... Over the next few months, Mr Bhutto Zardari is expected to play a bigger role in party politics, the BBC's Shahzeb Jillani reports from the event in the city of Larkana.

But our correspondent says it will be a while before he emerges from the shadow of President Zardari, who will remain the de facto PPP head and its chief strategist in its bid to return to power next year.
More from CNN here, which emphasizes the populist note struck by Mr. Bhutto-Zardari.

The Week explains in this article:
Bilawal, who recently completed his studies at Oxford, is still too young to run for office, but he is expected to be the public face of the PPP as it seeks to hold onto power in national elections next year. In a region where political dynasties are the norm, it's unsurprising that the party faithful would rally to Bilawal. He is not only the son of Benazir, but the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister who founded the PPP. The elder Bhutto was ousted in a military coup, and was eventually executed by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1979. That is, in a nutshell, the story of Pakistani politics, with the nation swinging between military and democratic rule over several decades. In the wake of her father's assassination, Benazir built a global reputation as a champion of democracy, and after Zia's death, served two terms as prime minister in the 1980s and 1990s. She also played a role in the ouster of Pakistan's most recent military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, galvanizing public support for a return to democratic rule just before her death in 2007.

... Some analysts say Bilawal, who was largely raised abroad, may struggle to make a strong connection with the public. (His less-than-perfect Urdu accent at the rally, for example, was much analyzed.) Furthermore, it's possible that the Bhutto brand has lost some of its luster. "Doubts remain over Bhutto's appeal to new, younger, urbanized and often more religiously minded voters," says Jason Burke at The Guardian. The recent rise of Imran Khan, a former cricketer who has transformed himself into a religiously devout populist, would suggest that the PPP could struggle with that growing constituency.

There's also the share of his family's legacy that could turn out to be a millstone around Bilawal's neck: Corruption. Accusations of corruption helped bring down both Benazir's governments. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, continues to be dogged by the Supreme Court over corruption charges, one factor that has stymied the government's ability to address a host of pressing issues. And corruption is endemic in the political class, which has not only stifled economic growth, but caused widespread distrust of the government. For Bilawal to truly succeed, he would not only have to keep his hands clean — he may have to take on the corruption within his party, as well as within his own family.
 As is typical in the media, they confuse elections with democracy. However, the existence of political dynasties is proof-positive that holding elections does not guarantee "government by the people."

Friday, December 28, 2012

North Korea Prepping Third Nuclear Test

North Korea is capable of conducting its third atomic explosion within two weeks now that it has repaired flood damage at a nuclear test facility, analysis of recent satellite photos indicates.

The revelation follows the secretive state's December 12 rocket launch that proved it has the technology to fire a warhead more than 6,200 miles.

Washington and its allies fear a third atomic test would take
[North] Korea one step closer to perfecting the technology required to make a nuclear warhead small enough to attach to one of its missiles and fire at mainland America.

Gun Disassembly App

The Firearm Blog has posted a review of an app/program to assist with assembly and disassembly of firearms. From the article:
As a gunsmith I sometimes find myself squinting at poorly scanned schematics of rare guns. Stumped halfway through a project, I scratch my head trying to figure out how the doohickey is held in place by the whatsit and what the doohickey’s function actually is in there. That’s probably why I think the free Gun Disassembly 2 app from Noble Empire is so cool. Available for iPhone, Android, Macs and PCs, the program is a wealth of knowledge about what is inside your favorite gun and how it actually works.

I downloaded the PC version and had it up and running in a minute or two. There were a couple of patches that needed auto-updating, and one of them failed; it was only newer sound effects and the program runs fine regardless. The main screen gives us 3d computer representations of dozens of fireams and a couple of other oddities such as the RPG-7 and a Russian field artillery piece. Ten of the most popular guns can be viewed for free, but you’ve gotta pay for access to the others. Judging by the free samples, the developers have put a ton of work into accurately representing the internal parts and their fitment. You can disassemble, assemble, view demonstrations, and “fire” each gun in slow motion to see how the parts move as the firearm operates, all in 3d and from any angle. Zoom out to see everything or zoom in to see how just a few parts interact with each other.
... A “game” mode has you racing against the clock to click on parts in the correct order to disassemble and reassemble the gun in the fastest time possible.

Egypt Limits Amount of Cash That Can Be Moved Out of the Country

The Daily Mail reports:
Egypt has imposed a limit on the amount of money people can take out of the country, amid fears of an impending run on the banks.

The move to ban leaving with more than £6,000 came as thousands of Egyptians withdrew savings from banks to hoard cash at home.

Anxiety about a deepening political and economic crisis has gripped the country in past weeks, with many people rushing to buy dollars and take out their savings from banks.
The wealthy and powerful will have already had, or moved, their cash assets overseas. Expect Morsi to impose some incredibly stupid economic policy, such as one or more of the following: pegging the exchange rate, printing more money, nationalizing some bank accounts, etc.

Britain's and Australia's Experience with Gun Control

In 1987, Michael Ryan went on a shooting spree in his small town of Hungerford, England, killing 16 people (including his mother) and wounding another 14 before shooting himself. Since the public was unarmed—as were the police—Ryan wandered the streets for eight hours with two semiautomatic rifles and a handgun before anyone with a firearm was able to come to the rescue.

Nine years later, in March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, a man known to be mentally unstable, walked into a primary school in the Scottish town of Dunblane and shot 16 young children and their teacher. He wounded 10 other children and three other teachers before taking his own life.

... After Hungerford, the British government banned semiautomatic rifles and brought shotguns—the last type of firearm that could be purchased with a simple show of fitness—under controls similar to those in place for pistols and rifles. Magazines were limited to two shells with a third in the chamber.

Dunblane had a more dramatic impact. Hamilton had a firearm certificate, although according to the rules he should not have been granted one. A media frenzy coupled with an emotional campaign by parents of Dunblane resulted in the Firearms Act of 1998, which instituted a nearly complete ban on handguns. Owners of pistols were required to turn them in. The penalty for illegal possession of a pistol is up to 10 years in prison.

The results have not been what proponents of the act wanted. Within a decade of the handgun ban and the confiscation of handguns from registered owners, crime with handguns had doubled according to British government crime reports. Gun crime, not a serious problem in the past, now is. Armed street gangs have some British police carrying guns for the first time. Moreover, another massacre occurred in June 2010. Derrick Bird, a taxi driver in Cumbria, shot his brother and a colleague then drove off through rural villages killing 12 people and injuring 11 more before killing himself.
 The author indicates that Australia has had greater success reducing gun homicides, but violent crime increased.
Six weeks after the Dunblane massacre in 1996, Martin Bryant, an Australian with a lifelong history of violence, attacked tourists at a Port Arthur prison site in Tasmania with two semiautomatic rifles. He killed 35 people and wounded 21 others.

At the time, Australia's guns laws were stricter than the United Kingdom's. In lieu of the requirement in Britain that an applicant for permission to purchase a gun have a "good reason," Australia required a "genuine reason." Hunting and protecting crops from feral animals were genuine reasons—personal protection wasn't.

With new Prime Minister John Howard in the lead, Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement, banning all semiautomatic rifles and semiautomatic and pump-action shotguns and imposing a more restrictive licensing system on other firearms. The government also launched a forced buyback scheme to remove thousands of firearms from private hands. Between Oct. 1, 1996, and Sept. 30, 1997, the government purchased and destroyed more than 631,000 of the banned guns at a cost of $500 million.

To what end? While there has been much controversy over the result of the law and buyback, Peter Reuter and Jenny Mouzos, in a 2003 study published by the Brookings Institution, found homicides "continued a modest decline" since 1997. They concluded that the impact of the National Firearms Agreement was "relatively small," with the daily rate of firearms homicides declining 3.2%.

... In 2008, the Australian Institute of Criminology reported a decrease of 9% in homicides and a one-third decrease in armed robbery since the 1990s, but an increase of over 40% in assaults and 20% in sexual assaults.
 I would also note that, absent America's protective umbrella, Australia is now a sitting duck for any of its more populous neighbors (India, Indonesia, China, etc.) that decide to pursue a strategy of territorial expansion.

The Boy Who Played With Fusion

Glenn Reynolds linked to this article at Popular Science about Taylor Wilson, a young genius that became the youngest person to achieve fusion. However, it must have been difficult being his parents. From the article:
Almost from the beginning, it was clear that the older of the Wilsons’ two sons would be a difficult child to keep on the ground. It started with his first, and most pedestrian, interest: construction. As a toddler in Texarkana, the family’s hometown, Taylor wanted nothing to do with toys. He played with real traffic cones, real barricades. At age four, he donned a fluorescent orange vest and hard hat and stood in front of the house, directing traffic. For his fifth birthday, he said, he wanted a crane. But when his parents brought him to a toy store, the boy saw it as an act of provocation. “No,” he yelled, stomping his foot. “I want a real one.”

This is about the time any other father might have put his own foot down. But Kenneth called a friend who owns a construction company, and on Taylor’s birthday a six-ton crane pulled up to the party. The kids sat on the operator’s lap and took turns at the controls, guiding the boom as it swung above the rooftops on Northern Hills Drive.

To the assembled parents, dressed in hard hats, the Wilsons’ parenting style must have appeared curiously indulgent. In a few years, as Taylor began to get into some supremely dangerous stuff, it would seem perilously laissez-faire. But their approach to child rearing is, in fact, uncommonly intentional. “We want to help our children figure out who they are,” Kenneth says, “and then do everything we can to help them nurture that.”

At 10, Taylor hung a periodic table of the elements in his room. Within a week he memorized all the atomic numbers, masses and melting points. At the family’s Thanksgiving gathering, the boy appeared wearing a monogrammed lab coat and armed with a handful of medical lancets. He announced that he’d be drawing blood from everyone, for “comparative genetic experiments” in the laboratory he had set up in his maternal grandmother’s garage. Each member of the extended family duly offered a finger to be pricked.

The next summer, Taylor invited everyone out to the backyard, where he dramatically held up a pill bottle packed with a mixture of sugar and stump remover (potassium nitrate) that he’d discovered in the garage. He set the bottle down and, with a showman’s flourish, ignited the fuse that poked out of the top. What happened next was not the firecracker’s bang everyone expected, but a thunderous blast that brought panicked neighbors running from their houses. Looking up, they watched as a small mushroom cloud rose, unsettlingly, over the Wilsons’ yard.

For his 11th birthday, Taylor’s grandmother took him to Books-A-Million, where he picked out The Radioactive Boy Scout, by Ken Silverstein. The book told the disquieting tale of David Hahn, a Michigan teenager who, in the mid-1990s, attempted to build a breeder reactor in a backyard shed. Taylor was so excited by the book that he read much of it aloud: the boy raiding smoke detectors for radioactive americium . . . the cobbled-together reactor . . . the Superfund team in hazmat suits hauling away the family’s contaminated belongings. Kenneth and Tiffany heard Hahn’s story as a cautionary tale. But Taylor, who had recently taken a particular interest in the bottom two rows of the periodic table—the highly radioactive elements—read it as a challenge. “Know what?” he said. “The things that kid was trying to do, I’m pretty sure I can actually do them.”
... Kenneth and Tiffany agreed to let Taylor assemble a “survey of everyday radioactive materials” for his school’s science fair. Kenneth borrowed a Geiger counter from a friend at Texarkana’s emergency-management agency. Over the next few weekends, he and Tiffany shuttled Taylor around to nearby antique stores, where he pointed the clicking detector at old radium-dial alarm clocks, thorium lantern mantles and uranium-glazed Fiesta plates. Taylor spent his allowance money on a radioactive dining set.
 Taylor eventually was enrolled in the the Davidson Academy, a school in Nevada for the extremely gifted where he was able to pursue his dream of developing small fusion reactors to produce neutrinos to detect weapons. The article indicates that he has even received a DHS grant.

Anyway, it is an interesting read. Check out the whole thing.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

German Paliament Members Denied Access to Inspect Gold Reserves...

... allegedly due to a lack of visitor rooms, although one of the banks--the NY Federal Reserve--routinely offers tours. As you may remember, because of Cold War fears, the Germans had stored much of their gold reserves in foreign central banks in London, Paris, and New York. However, certain German politicians have become suspicious of whether those gold reserves still remain because no physical inspection has ever been made.

China Tests New ICBM

The Business Insider reports that China has tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) featuring, it is believed, three (3) warheads that can be independently targeted (MIRVs). The missile is known as the DF-31A, and has a range of 7,000 miles, allowing it to strike targets anywhere within the continental United States. The story indicates that the missile can be launched from mobile launch platforms, and that China has 3,000 miles of underground tunnels in which to transport and hide these missiles.

Fathers Disappear from American Households

In every state, the portion of families where children have two parents, rather than one, has dropped significantly over the past decade. Even as the country added 160,000 families with children, the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Fifteen million U.S. children, or 1 in 3, live without a father, and nearly 5 million live without a mother. In 1960, just 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers.

America is awash in poverty, crime, drugs and other problems, but more than perhaps anything else, it all comes down to this, said Vincent DiCaro, vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative: Deal with absent fathers, and the rest follows.

People “look at a child in need, in poverty or failing in school, and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ But what we do is ask, ‘Why does that child need help in the first place?’ And the answer is often it’s because [the child lacks] a responsible and involved father,” he said.

The spiral continues each year. Married couples with children have an average income of $80,000, compared with $24,000 for single mothers.

“We have one class that thinks marriage and fatherhood is important, and another which doesn’t, and it’s causing that gap, income inequality, to get wider,” Mr. DiCaro said.

The predilection among men to walk away from their babies is concentrated in the inner cities. In Baltimore, 38 percent of families have two parents, and in St. Louis the portion is 40 percent.

The near-total absence of male role models has ripped a hole the size of half the population in urban areas.
As I noted in a recent post, when it comes to gun violence in America, the elephant in the room is the crime rate among and by minorities. And most of this, I believe, is a direct result of the breakdown of the family, which is and has been most pronounced among blacks. This breakdown is a consequence of the liberal policies that have replaced husbands/fathers with welfare checks, and diminished the respect, authority and rights of husbands/fathers. It is simple economics--create disincentives to be husbands and fathers and--voila--you will end up with fewer fathers sticking around.

"Lost Tribe" of Indian Jews Returning to Israel

The Associated Press reports (via Newser) on a group of Jews that had been banished in the 8th Century B.C. has been allowed to return to Israel from India:
Dozens of Jews who claim to be the descendants of a lost biblical Jewish tribe have emigrated to Israel from their village in northeastern India. The Bnei Menashe say they are descended from Jews banished from ancient Israel to India in the eighth century BC. An Israeli chief rabbi recognized them as a lost tribe in 2005 and about 1,700 moved to Israel before the government stopped giving them visas.

Israel recently reversed that policy, agreeing to let the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe immigrate. Fifty-three arrived today. Nearly 300 others are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
The gathering continues.

Hitting Back Twice as Hard

Dianne Feinstein has released a summary of her proposed "assault weapon" ban. You can see the details at the link, but here are the high points:

(i) It will ban by specific model and feature "assault weapons," and the determination of whether it is an "assault weapon" will be determined by one "military feature" rather than two as with the prior AWB. However, this ban will not consider flash hiders or bayonet lugs (one of the easiest features to remove under the prior ban) nor allow "thumb hole" stocks.

(ii) It will allow the grandfathering of weapons already owned and manufactured, but those weapons would become subject to the National Firearms Act--i.e., they would become subject to the same restrictions as true machine guns, grenades and explosives, and other truly military weapons.

(iii) Magazines larger than 10-rounds would be banned. Since there is no provision for "grandfathering" mentioned in the summary, I presume that this is an outright ban that would require everyone to turn in or destroy the offending magazines.

How likely is this to pass? Kurt Schlicter at The Town Hall suggests that liberals have lost the gun control debate again, as evidenced by their obvious panic. He writes:
When you argue for a living, you can tell how an argument is going for you. The evidence and my gut both tell me that the liberals have lost control of the gun control narrative.

Not for lack of trying – it was almost as if they were poised to leap into action across the political, media and cultural spectrum the second the next semi-human creep shot up another “gun free zone.” This was their big opening to shift the debate and now it’s closing. They’ve lost, and they are going nuts.

The evidence is all around that this is not going to be the moment where America begins a slide into disarmed submission through an endless series of ever-harsher “reasonable restrictions” on our fundamental rights. You just have to look past the shrieking media harpies to see what’s really happening.

Let’s start with the most obvious omen that this tsunami has peaked. President Obama thrilled his base by grandstanding at the memorial, and then promptly washed his hands of it by handing it over to a “blue ribbon commission.” Making Joe Biden its chairman was like staking a vampire through the heart, then hosing him down with holy water before burying his body beneath the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Why does Obama want this gun thing buried? While intensely popular with metrosexual pundits, coastal liberals, and cultural bigots slobbering at the opportunity to stick it to those banjo –strummin’, God-believers out in the hinterlands, gun control remains poison to Red State Democrats.


... So, the politicians’ actions have spoken louder than their words, but what of the media? We lawyers always say that when your case is strong, pound on the law and the evidence, and when your case is weak, pound on the table. The furniture is splintering in Liberalland.

Their post-Newtown strategy was always to prevent an effective response from the pro-gun freedom side by both rapid action and by demonization. But the holidays and the kabuki theater that is the fiscal cliff drama meant that legislative action, their Holy Grail, would have to wait. That gave people time to think and the gun freedom side the time to react.

Demonizing those who support gun freedom was always intended as a weapon to silence them. It was also critical that we, law-abiding gun owners, become the Other. By dehumanizing us and painting us as evil, it is that much easier to strip us of our rights.

But gun freedom advocates fought back. Using the mainstream media, conservative media and especially social media – we need to understand its huge significance here – gun freedom advocates countered liberals’ bogus “facts.” Media reports about “automatic” weapons were corrected, clownish statements about “high caliber magazines” and “large capacity round” were mocked. The struggle raged over millions of Facebook posts. The average citizen saw gun banners ask “When will America control access to weapons?” and then saw several experts among his or her friends post about the significant hurdles one needs to get over to get a gun. Truth bypassed the mainstream media and became a weapon for the side of fundamental rights.

The banners overplayed their hand, losing credibility with every distortion, evasion and smear. The cries of “Blood is on your hands!” failed to resonate – reasonable Americans just did not blame the actions of a single sociopath on millions of their fellow neighbors. And it did not help when third-string celebrities and wizened literary has-beens took to hoping gun rights advocates would be shot for daring to oppose disarmament.

... Their credibility and motives already in question, the gun banners became vulnerable to a shift in the paradigm from depriving law-abiding citizens of effective defensive weapons to the idea of protecting kids with armed personnel in schools.

Suddenly, the gun banners had to argue two ridiculous positions. The first was that allowing trained educators or police having weapons in schools is a danger. The problem is that people generally like and trust teachers and cops. The second position was even worse, that armed personnel or police are somehow utterly useless against untrained, amateur creeps who seek to confront six-year olds. All over America, millions of parents noted how none of the wealthy gun banners were disbanding their personal security teams and thought, “You know, I think I’d like having a cop around my kid too.”
 And since we are on the subject of the liberal media panicking, Weasel Zippers has responding to the posting of the names and addresses of gun permit holders by the NY Journal News by posting the addresses of the journalists and editors behind the story. (See here).

Confirmation of Chemical Weapons Attacks in Homs?

The Independent reports that a Syrian general that has defected to the rebel side has indicated that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons. The story indicates:
The head of Syria’s military police defected to the opposition, accusing the Assad regime of systematic “murder” and claiming that reports of chemical weapons being used against rebels in the restive city of Homs were true.

Maj-Gen Abdul-Aziz Jassim al-Shallal became one of the highest ranking Syrian military officers to throw their support behind the rebels, accusing forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of turning their weapons on innocent civilians in the now 22-month-long civil war.

... But it is his claim that chemical weapons were used in Homs during a deadly attack on Christmas Eve that is likely to be of greater interest to the Syrian opposition and their foreign backers.

Reports from Homs had suggested that a type of nerve agent was used by the Syrian forces in the attack, a point that General Shallal appeared to verify yesterday. Al Jazeera reported at the time that at least seven people had died after inhaling a poisonous gas “sprayed by government forces in a rebel-held Homs neighbourhood”.

“We don’t know what this gas is but medics are saying it’s something similar to sarin gas,” Raji Rahmet Rabbou, an activist in Homs, told Al Jazeera.

It is not clear that the substance used in Homs was banned by international law, even the though the General yesterday specifically referred to a “chemical weapons” attack. Nonetheless, the use of non-conventional weapons is considered a “red line” by some in the international community who have been reluctant to intervene directly.
 However, it may not have been sarin nerve gas. This article from the Business Insider indicates that it may have been a chemical weapon the Syrians call "Agent 15" that is only toxic if a nerve gas antidote is administered. From the article:
Doctors at SAMS [Syrian American Medical Society] describe a "probable" use of what chemical specialists refer to as "Agent-15," or 3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate, or what NATO calls "BZ." They classified their report as "probable" because the higher classification of "confirmed" would require laboratory testing.

From SAMS:
The Gas effects started [a] few seconds after the area was shelled. Right after the shelling, patients described seeing white gas with odor, then they had severe shortness of breath, loss of vision, inability to speak, flushed face, dizziness, paralysis, nausea and vomiting, and increased respiratory secretions. Doctors who treated patients said that patients had pinpoint pupils and bronchospasm. Patients were treated in a field hospital. Gas masks were not available.
The particularly nasty aspect of this chemical weapon is that use of atropine needles, a common countermeasure against nerve agents, is actually a toxic combination and can lead to exacerbation of symptoms, even death.

... the worst known non-lethal reactions to high doses of BZ include stupor, hallucinations and "regressive" phantom behaviors such as plucking at one's hair and disrobing.
Meanwhile, Israel Hayom reports that the U.S. may be stepping up its preparations for intervention in Syria:
The U.S. is gearing up for a possible military intervention in Syria in the event that chemical weapons are used on Syrian citizens or alternately fall into the wrong hands, Strategic Affairs Minister and Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon told Israel Radio on Thursday.

Ya’alon voiced conviction that it was unlikely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's sizable chemical weapons stockpiles would be used against Israel at this time, but said, “The very discussion of the issue, and the U.S.'s need to draw red lines, points to how dangerous Assad really is."

"The U.S. and others have drawn two red lines recently,” Ya'alon said.

“One [was] back in September, for the event that these weapons fall into hostile, irresponsible hands, perhaps Hezbollah, or other groups, possibly al-Qaida. The other red line was drawn approximately four weeks ago on the understanding that Assad was considering and preparing and planning to use chemical weapons on his own people. That is why all the neighboring countries in the region are concerned, including Israel.

“The U.S. is certainly spearheading the battle here, both diplomatically and in preparation for the possibility of intervention. I don't know about deploying forces, but certainly there are different options to prevent this. Therefore, all the interested parties, including Israel, are closely monitoring the situation."

Earlier, in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday, Ya’alon dismissed reports that Syrian government forces had fired chemical agents at rebels fighting to topple Assad's government.

"As things stand now, we do not have any confirmation or proof that [chemical weapons] have already been used, but we are definitely following events with concern," he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reports confirmed Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman to discuss the risk of Syria's chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my readers. 

From Matthew, Chapter 1:

 18 ¶Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
While we are all children of our Heavenly Father, it is only through coming to Christ that we become sons and daughters of Christ, and by and through him, joint heirs of the Father.

The prayers of me and my family go out to all of you on this day, with the wish and hope for peace on Earth; but if not peace in the world at large, at least peace to your hearts.

Europe's Two Front Cultural War

Sara Hoyt tries to take the long perspective on the spread of European civilization and culture. (H/t Instapundit). After explaining why modern Europe is merely a reflection or update of Rome and how Romans understood power and wealth creation (i.e., pillaging from others), she writes:
Now look at the last century. The two world wars, not as world wars, but as the wars of European Unification. The decision of who gets to run western civ. Then expansion, always expansion because the old European model is the old Roman model. You go abroad and you get good things to bring home.

Only they’ve lost the plot a little (because of the horrific long civil war of the twentieth century) and they forgot that model implies conquest and despoiling.

On the other hand, the European model is going everywhere: India, China. Yes, yes, it is our tech they use, but it is the European model of civilization. They’re still expanding.

And that brings us to where we are. The war with Islam is just the front in the current European Expansion. Europe is, of course, expanding its form of government, its mental furniture, to the lands of Islam, and Islam resents it. They are the ultimate tribalist society.

Then there’s us. We are the other front in that war.

You see, we are part of Western civilization, but not part of European civilization. Even our parent, Great Britain, is only half digested into Europe. We are the castoffs, the redheaded step child. Part of them, but not.

Part of their resentment of us over intervention in the two world wars is the resentment of parents whose kid intervenes in an argument – particularly if the kid was right. If you view the long war of the twentieth century as a civil war, they resent we came in and settled it.

And they’ve done a lot of projecting – aided by Soviet propaganda – they call us imperialist and war mongers, because they can’t bear that in themselves.

And also they have no clue what makes us work, not really. They don’t know why we innovate more than they do. They don’t know why our consumer society is what is softening their politics advancement into the rest of the world. They know it, but they resent it.

We are of them, but we are also the others. And being the others, we must be absorbed, and we must be brought in line. There can be no competing mental furniture, as Europe takes over the rest of the world.
 Read the whole thing.

Gun Restrictions Breed Defiance and Black Markets

Over at Reason Magazine (h/t Instapundit) there is a lengthy piece by J.D. Ticcille who describes his experience in attempting to become the first member of his family to legally own a firearm in New York City--and how his frustrations with the system led him to purchase, cheaply and easily through the black market, a semi-auto AK-47 that is wholly illegal in New York. From there, he notes that in the United States, and throughout Europe, when governments have enacted registration and buy-back schemes, such schemes are often met with massive civil disobedience, and create a black market for the very arms they seek to prohibit. The results are that, in the cases cited by Mr. Ticcille, are states and nations where the newly designated illegal firearms vastly outnumber the legal firearms. He writes, in part:
Well, says the Small Arms Survey, a research outfit established by the Swiss government, the United Kingdom, with just shy of 1.8 million legal firearms, has about four million illegal guns. Belgium, with about 458,000 legal firearms, has roughly two million illegal guns. In Germany, the number is 7.2 million legal guns and between 17 and 20 million off-the-books examples of things that go “bang” (a figure with which the German Police Union very publicly agrees). France, says the Survey, has 15-17 million unlawful firearms in a nation where 2.8 million weapons are held in compliance with the law.

Even those numbers may understate the case. While the 2003 Small Arms Survey report put the number of legal guns in Greece at 805,000 and illegal guns at 350,000, just two years later, the Greek government itself nudged those figures up, just a tad, to one million legal guns and 1.5 million illegal ones.

So New Yorkers aren’t alone in being armed to the teeth outside the law.

It’s not that governments haven’t tried to grab those guns. One government after another has implemented schemes for registration, licensing, and even confiscation. But those programs have met with … less than universal respect.

In a white paper on the results of gun control efforts around the world, Gun Control and the Reduction of the Number of Arms, Franz Csaszar, a professor of criminology at the University of Vienna, Austria, wrote, “non-compliance with harsher gun laws is a common event.”

Dr. Csaszar estimates compliance with Australia’s 1996 ban on self-loading rifles and pump-action shotguns at 20 percent.

And even that underwhelming estimate gives the authorities the benefit of the doubt. Three years after Australia’s controversial ban was implemented, when 643,000 weapons had been surrendered, Inspector John McCoomb, the head of the state of Queensland’s Weapons Licensing Branch, told The Sunday Mail, "About 800,000 (semi-automatic and automatic) SKK and SKS weapons came in from China back in the 1980s as part of a trade deal between the Australian and Chinese governments. And it was estimated that there were 1.2 million semi-automatic Ruger 10/22s in the country. That's about 2 million firearms of just two types in the country."

Do the math. Two million illegal firearms of just two types, and only 643,000 guns of all types were surrendered …

The Australian Shooters Journal did its own math in a 1997 article on the “gun buyback.” Researchers for the publication pointed out that the Australian government’s own low-ball, pre-ban estimate of the number of prohibited weapons in the country yielded a compliance rate of 19 percent.

But maybe success is in the eye of the beholder. After the expected mountains of surrendered weapons failed to manifest themselves, then-Australian Attorney General Darryl Williams’s office revised its estimate of total firearms in the country to a number lower than its pre-ban estimate of prohibited firearms, and declared victory.
The author goes on to discuss the rise of black markets, including a specific incident involving the Odessa Mafia importing 30,000 tons of weapons into Europe, including anti-tank missiles. Ticcille's conclusion:
So, by imposing restrictions on one type of product, governments have driven people to the black market where all forbidden products and services are available, and likely increased the wealth and power of active sellers in that market.

If you were trying to enrich and empower the folks who thrive beyond the reaches of polite society, you couldn’t come up with a better plan.

Hmmm … but those guns come from somewhere, right? Before black marketeers turn them into illicit commodities to be sold alongside cocaine and tax-free cigarettes, they have to be manufactured. So, what about putting tighter controls on the companies that make these killing machines and cutting off the supply?

Good luck on that.

In 2007, Suroosh Alvi, a co-founder of Vice magazine, pulled a few family strings in Pakistan to gain access to the turbulent Northwest Frontier Province. Specifically, he wanted to see the gun markets that are feeding a steady supply of arms to Afghanistan. More specifically, he wanted to see just how modern firearms were being cranked out in wholesale lots under the most primitive conditions imaginable. His opening comment in the resulting video documentary—“I’ve seen kids making guns with their bare hands in caves”—only barely overstates what he presents. Thousands of 9mm pistols, knock-off AK-47s, machine guns, and anything else you can imagine are manufactured there over wood fires with hand tools—and so is the ammunition to match.

Pakistan isn’t alone. Danao, in the Philippines, has a thriving underground gun-manufacturing industry that is reputed to employ as much as 20 percent of the local population. Starting decades ago with crude revolvers, the “paltiks” turned out by the backyard gunsmiths of Danao now include working replicas of modern assault weapons manufactured with basic technology.

Just how do you shut down underground craftsman who don’t seem to require much more than their skills, some scrap metal, and access to Third-World tools that barely begin to compare to the equipment in the garages of many Western suburbanites?

That’s a rhetorical question. The evidence suggests that underground manufacturers will step up to meet any demand that arises.