Thursday, January 31, 2013

"China's New Militancy"

The Diplomat has an article describing a disturbing trend toward more militant rhetoric from Chinese leaders. An excerpt:
Xi Jinping, named Communist Party general secretary in November, reflects a new militancy. On Tuesday, he delivered a hard-edged speech to the Politburo in which he effectively ruled out compromise on territorial and security issues. His tough words were in keeping with the ever-more strident tones of his messages to the People’s Liberation Army about being ready to plan, fight, and win wars. Chinese leaders have traditionally addressed the army and urged improvement in general readiness, but, as veteran China watcher Willy Lam notes, Xi has put a special emphasis on it. Moreover, his calls on preparing for conflict go well beyond those of his two predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

In the past, the military’s war talk contrasted with soothing words from senior civilian leaders. Now, with Xi, the aggressive comments from flag officers are consistent with what he, as top leader, is saying. Worse, as the Financial Times notes, Xi’s words of war are now “being bundled” with his rhetoric, which seems calculated to “fan nationalism.”

In this environment, Chinese military officers can get away with advocating “short, sharp wars” and talking about the need to “strike first.” Their boldness suggests, as some privately say, that General Secretary Xi is associating with generals and admirals who think war with the U.S. might be a good idea.
The article goes on to note evidence of the increased influence and power wielded by the Chinese military, and concludes:
From all outward appearances, the military is already playing an expanded role in policy as well as politics. Senior officers look like they are acting independently of civilian officials, but in any event, they are openly criticizing them and are making pronouncements on areas that were once the exclusive province of diplomats.

The process of remilitarization of politics and policy has gone so far that the People’s Liberation Army could soon become the most powerful faction in the Communist Party, if it is not already. ...

Xi Jinping appears to have no power base to speak of. ... Therefore, it makes sense for him to rely on the military to consolidate a shaky position.

There is always constant bargaining when a new Chinese leader takes over, and this is especially true now because the ongoing transition did not start well. In this troubled time, we should not be surprised that the most hardline elements in Beijing look like they are free to say and do what they want.

And perhaps that’s why Chinese leaders talk war and employ bellicose tactics while they try to push China’s borders outward, taking on Japan, India, and all the nations bordering the South China Sea. At the same time, the Chinese navy is seeking to close off that critical body of water, which Beijing political leaders claim as an internal Chinese lake. State media has been hinting since the middle of 2011 that it is China’s “territorial waters.”

Beijing’s expansive territorial claims are perhaps the inevitable result of the Communist Party’s trajectory. As Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak notes, “Militant nationalism is the only possible substitute for ex-communists who seek to retain power.” So it is natural that Xi Jinping is talking tough and that the military is assuming a frontal role in expanding territory and waters under China’s control.

Egypt's Collapse Inevitable?

A couple days ago, the Egyptian defense minister, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, warned of a possible collapse of the state due to the political turmoil. (See also here).

David Goldman (aka "Spengler") has posted a rebuttal to certain attacks against him and analysis of the situation in Egypt. What is important to note, though, is in his opinion it is inevitable that Egypt will collapse into a failed state. Goldman writes:
I believe that the foreign policy establishment (including Dr. Cook) is engaged in a hapless and counterproductive effort to save the unsalvageable. That is my assessment as a specialist in country risk with thirty years’ experience, including a stint as Bank of America’s global head of bond research. I never wrote that an Egyptian collapse was desirable, only that it was inevitable. I might be wrong, but this week’s events in Egypt surely do not make me look wrong.

Dr. Cook refers specifically to my Jan. 22 essay, “Denial still is a river in Egypt,” in which I argue that Egypt’s economic collapse has made the largest Arab state ungovernable. He denounces as “a-historic revisionism” my “claim that economic collapse was the reason for the uprising.” Revisionism? I have been arguing since February 2011 that the global spike in food prices undermined Egypt, which imports half its food. I wrote back then:
Even Islamists have to eat. It is unclear whether President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt will survive, or whether his nationalist regime will be replaced by an Islamist, democratic, or authoritarian state. What is certain is that it will be a failed state. Amid the speculation about the shape of Arab politics to come, a handful of observers, for example economist Nourel Roubini, have pointed to the obvious: Wheat prices have almost doubled in the past year.
Since then I have chronicled the unfolding economic and political breakdown in Egypt in more than two dozen essays.

... In fact, I wrote just the opposite, namely that Egypt would become a failed state whether or not Mubarak hung on ....

Monday, January 28, 2013

Constitution to Hang by a Thread

Joseph Smith is widely reported by Brigham Young and other early Church leaders as having prophesied that a day would come when the Constitution would be torn up by the people of this nation and, as it were, hang by a thread; but that the Elders of the Church would become "a balance of power" with others to preserve the Constitution. (See here and here).

The Constitution has long been under attack, but, until now, even those opposed to the Constitution have at least paid lip service to the document. No longer. Breitbart reports on a CBS News interview with Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman suggesting that the United States ought to abandon the Constitution (Note: video automatically begins to play). From the article:
From Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman:

I've got a simple idea: Let's give up on the Constitution. I know, it sounds radical, but it's really not. Constitutional disobedience is as American as apple pie. ...

To be clear, I don't think we should give up on everything in the Constitution. The Constitution has many important and inspiring provisions, but we should obey these because they are important and inspiring, not because a bunch of people who are now long-dead favored them two centuries ago. ...

...This is our country. We live in it, and we have a right to the kind of country we want. We would not allow the French or the United Nations to rule us, and neither should we allow people who died over two centuries ago and knew nothing of our country as it exists today. If we are to take back our own country, we have to start making decisions for ourselves, and stop deferring to an ancient and outdated document.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Foundations of the Middle East Continue to Crumble

Islamic civilization has been dying for decades, and probably would have completely collapsed by now if it weren't for OPEC's strangle hold on oil production. However, the last several years has seen OPEC's position as the world's petroleum producer continue to erode. A couple more nails in the coffin:

First, the discovery of huge oil reserves in Australia (from the Telegraph):
The discovery in central Australia was reported by Linc Energy to the stock exchange and was based on two consultants reports, though it is not yet known how commercially viable it will be to access the oil.
The reports estimated the company’s 16 million acres of land in the Arckaringa Basin in South Australia contain between 133 billion and 233 billion barrels of shale oil trapped in the region’s rocks.
It is likely however that just 3.5 billion barrels, worth almost $359 billion (£227 billion) at today’s oil price, will be able to be recovered.
The find was likened to the Bakken and Eagle Ford shale oil projects in the US, which have resulted in massive outflows and have led to predictions that the US could overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer as soon as this year.
Peter Bond, Linc Energy’s chief executive, said the find could transform the world’s oil industry but noted that it would cost about £200 million to enable production in the area.
Second, China is also sitting on tremendous natural gas deposits. From the Diplomat:
But, as Pacific Money has noted before, North America is not the only potential benefactor of this trend. In fact, China is believed to hold the world’s largest reserves of shale gas, with the Ministry of Land and Resources estimates the country has134 trillion cubic meters of shale gas with 25 tcm of this recoverable.

Coincidentally, China this week announced that 16 companies had won a second round of bidding to explore 19 shale gas blocks around central China in Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou, Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces, as well as in the Chongqing area. The successful bidders were all domestic—14 state-owned firms and 2 privately-owned ones — and have agreed to invest 12.8 billion yuan (U.S.$2 billion) over the coming years.
Given the limited extraction capability of Chinese firms, this will exacerbate the already immense challenges China faces in extracting the natural gas and bringing it to market.
 The obvious difficulty is the ability to develop these resources. China doesn't (yet) have companies with the technical capabilities according to the Diplomat article. Australia's problem will likely be opposition from Middle-Eastern funded environmentalist groups.

You would think that with its ready access to oil, without having to go to the expense of fracking, OPEC could lower its prices and strangle the nascent fracking industry. But, due to government outlays in many of the OPEC nations, OPEC has little room to maneuver. In addition, OPEC really is facing peak oil. Even at current production, many Middle-Eastern oil field will begin to run out of oil this century.

Between exhaustion of its oil resources, and increased competition from other sources, the oil-producing Middle-East will relatively soon (i.e., within the next few decades) find themselves on the ropes financially. Combined with moribund economies and a greying population, instability will continue to spread through the Middle-East.

Iran Again Warns of Possible Intervention in Syria

From the Associated Press is this little tidbit (h/t Drudge):
On Saturday, Iran made its strongest warning to date that it could intervene militarily to help Assad's regime.
As quoted by the semiofficial Mehr news agency, an aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Syria held a key position among a group of Middle Eastern powers opposed to U.S. and Israeli influence in the region.

"Syria plays a very key role in supporting or, God forbid, destabilizing the resistance front," said Ali Akbar Velayati. "For this same reason, (an) attack on Syria is considered (an) attack on Iran and Iran's allies."

Iran is Syria's strongest ally in the Middle East, and has provided Assad's government with military and political backing for years. In September, the top commander of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said the elite unit had high-level advisers in Syria. Iran also is believed to be sending weapons and money to Syria.

NY Gun Owners Plan Civil Disobedience

J.D. Tuccille at Reason Hit & Run notes a New York Post article indicating that gun-owners are planning on a massive show of non-compliance with the new New York "assault weapon" registration and ban. Tuccille goes on:
Dicker [the NY Post reporter] quotes a Cuomo administration official admitting, "Many of these assault-rifle owners aren’t going to register; we realize that." Which means that state officials were merely posturing rather than entirely ignorant of history when they penned the law and jammed it through. As I've written before, gun laws traditionally breed massive levels of non-compliance — even in places where you might think people have no strong history of personal arms, or of resistance to the state....
The reason for such reticence isn't hard to fathom. When gun owners charge that politicians can't be trusted to resist using registration lists for future confiscation, they're not being paranoid — New York City and California have both done just that.
Political officials might want to consider those experiences, as well as a recent poll finding two-thirds of Americans willing to defy tighter gun restrictions, before setting themselves up for public demonstrations of their impotence in the face of mass defiance.

French and Malian Troops Advance on Timbuktu

French and Malian troops are reported as having surrounded Timbuktu. From France24:
After recapturing the city of Gao on Saturday, French and Malian forced have switched their focus to Timbuktu. Early on Sunday morning, masses of heavily-armored troops arrived at the outskirts of the city, stationing themselves some 100 kilometres away from the city centre.

The French air force has laid the groundwork for an all-out offensive, using Dassault Mirage 2000s and Rafle fighter jets to destroy rebel points in the vast desert around the city. So far, the troops have experienced no form of counter-attack on the ground.

Attacking Timbuktu is a symbolic operation for Mali – overrun by Ansar Dine jihadist militants almost a year ago, the ancient city has been ravaged by its captors: its mausoleums destroyed, its people forced to obey Sharia law. The rare accounts we’ve heard depict scenes of social desecration.

Liberated villagers ‘hysterical’

When we travel through liberated villages, the residents become almost hysterical at the sight of the French and Malian tanks. They rush out of their homes with the national flag shouting “Mali!” These people are literally being liberated after experiencing the terror of Sharia law. The accounts we’ve heard are terrible: suspected thieves having their hands cut off; women forced to wear the veil; men banned from wearing long trousers.

Residents tell us that the rebels flee very quickly [when the French and Malian forces arrive], leaving behind weapons and vehicles. They dress like civilians so as not to stand out and then try to head for the border with Mauritania.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Planetary Disasters

Nature discusses some possible planetary disasters, including supervolcanoes; fungal diseases attacking crops and animals; solar flares, asteroid impacts and y-ray bursts; and submarine landslides producing large tsunamis. The article notes the following about fungal diseases:
... fungi are the planet's biggest killers. Of all the pathogens being tracked, fungi have caused more than 70% of the recorded global and regional extinctions, and now threaten amphibians, bats and bees. ...

Potato blight is still a threat: 13_A2, a highly aggressive strain of P. infestans, is now rampant in Europe and North Africa. Across the globe, Phytophthora causes some US$6.7 billion in annual damages, according to a 2009 estimate. Sarah Gurr, a plant pathologist at the University of Oxford, UK, estimates that the worst theoretical potato infestation would deprive 1.3 billion people of food each year. Other major staple crops face similar threats, such as rice blast (Magnaporthe oryzae), corn smut (Ustilago maydis), soya bean rust (Phakopsora pachyrhizi) and wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis). The stem-rust superstrain Ug99 has in recent years slashed yields in parts of Africa by as much as 80%.

If all five crop staples were hit with fungal outbreaks at the same time, more than 60% of the world's population could go hungry, says Gurr. ...

... Humans have cause for concern as well. In the past decade, a tropical fungus called Cryptococcus gattii has adapted to thrive in cooler climes and invaded the forests of North America's Pacific Northwest. By 2010, it had infected some 280 people, dozens of whom died. ...

Book Review: War Before Civilization by Lawrence H. Keeley




Book: War Before Civilization: The myth of the peaceful savage by Lawrence H. Keeley (Amazon link here).

Overview: The title pretty well sums it up: the peaceful, noble savage is a myth of Western romantic culture. Instead, conflict, whether characterized as warfare or armed banditry, was rampant and a normal part of life. Your odds of dying a violent death in such societies is much, much higher than in a modern society, even putting together deaths from violent crime and warfare. Primitive societies only become peaceful when "peace" is imposed on them by an outside power, such as the colonial empires of the 19th and 20th centuries. Peaceful coexistence is a byproduct of civilization.

Impression: I read this book on the Kindle. I originally had downloaded a sample, which provided the author's introduction and, later, purchased the whole book.

Based on the introduction, which discussed neolithic and copper age sites in Europe, I was under the impression that the book would discuss specifics of primitive warfare--i.e., details of fortifications, discussion of weapons and tactics, and so. While such details crop up--for instance, the distribution of arrow points at different locations around an enclosure showing where most of the fighting occurred--the book itself was an argument to dispel the long-held belief, even among anthropologists and ethnographers, that primitive tribes are inherently peaceful and that organized warfare is a relic of civilization.

However, as the author goes on to demonstrate from both archaeological evidence and ethnographic evidence from modern tribes, the opposite is true. Organized conflict has always been with us, and "peace" is actually the byproduct of strong civilizations. The "peaceful savage" is based on observations made of tribes and peoples that had already been pacified by the West. The author notes, for instance, three independent cross-cultural surveys of recent tribal and state societies from the around the globe showed only 1/5 of the societies "infrequently or never" engaged in warfare, and the majority of those were groups that "might more accurately be classified as defeated refugees than as pacifists." Another survey indicated that "90 percent of the cultures in the sample unequivocally engaged in warfare and that the remaining 10 percent were not total strangers to violent conflict." Although some cultures were pacifistic, they did so my fleeing territory rather than engaging in combat.

The author gives some other specific examples, such as the Kung ("Bushmen") of the Kalahari, during the period of 1920-1955, had a homicide rate four times that of the United States; and during the 50's and 60's, they had homicide rates of 20 to 80 times that of most industrialized countries. In that regard, the author notes that "[b]efore local establishment of the Bechuanaland/Botswana police, the Kung also conducted small-scale raids and prolonged feuds between bands and against Tswana herders intruding from the east." He notes other examples, such as a Copper Eskimo community first contacted in the early 20th century where every adult male had been involved in a homicide, to that Yaghan of Tierra del Fuego whose murder rate in the late 19th century was 10 times as high as the United States. Later, he notes that "the homicide rate of the prehistoric Illinois villagers would have been 1,400 times that of modern Britain or about 70 times that of the United States in 1980." But this raises an important point: "the seeming peacefulness of such small hunter-gatherer groups may therefore be more a consequence of the tiny size of their social units and the large scale implied by our normal definition of warfare than of any real pacifism on their part." In other words, when dealing with small groups, you cannot usefully separate a "raid" using a small number of people from a "battle." They are one and the same.

The author also addresses the issue of whether it is unfair to compare homicide rates in a small culture against a major nation, without taking into account warfare statistics. The author writes:
Let us undertake such a comparison for one simple society, the Gebusi of New Guinea. Calculations show that the United States military would have had to kill nearly the whole population of South Vietnam during its nine-year involvement there, in addition to its [the United States'] internal homicide rate, to equal the homicide rate of the Gebusi.
In short, "the overwhelming majority of known societies have made war. Therefore, while it is not inevitable, war is universally common and usual," and "frequent, even continuous warfare is as characteristic of tribal societies as of states." "The only reasonable conclusion is that wars are actually more frequent in nonstate socieities than they are in state societies--especially modern nations." The cure to warfare, then, is not less civilization, but more civilization.

Notable Points: There are several notable issues or points to be taken from the book for our purposes as preppers:

First, pre-state peoples existed in tribes, clans, family bands, or some other level of social organization larger than families, but small than a city state. Thus, if civilization were to break down, we should expect that people would organize in, at a minimum, at the level of family or tribal groups (clans or gangs, if you prefer), or larger groups.

Second, raids and ambushes for the purpose of obtaining resources (sometimes including raids to obtain women or children) and revenge killings, would be common. The archaeological evidence the author examined from Europe showed that every single village possessed fortifications. If we were to lose rule of law, it may be necessary, therefore, to plan to live in fortified villages and settlements that would not be easy to infiltrate or attack, and would provide some protection against small arms fire or a mass attack.

Third, it was interesting to me that the author noted a distinct difference between "shock" weapons--axes, spears, and so on--and fire weapons--arrows and darts. The latter were largely inferior in their lethality, but obviously superior as far as staying out of the range of the enemies shock weapons. I would note that this is consistent with studies performed after WWI showing that bayonets were more lethal than bullets or shrapnel. However, the author notes that the increased power of firearms made firearms a type of "shock" weapon. For our purposes, then, I would offer the following: two-feet of steel is going to be deadlier than a rifle or handgun; a large caliber hunting round will be more effective than FMJ or weaker weapons; don't use bows and arrows for fighting.

Fourth, "organized" battles are rare and require the combatants to agree to fight. Most combat will be raids or skirmishes.

Fifth, small numbers of casualties per encounter add up. A prolonged series of battles could result in the extinction of a tribe.

Sixth, while there were "rules" of war among related groups or tribes, "unrestricted warfare, without rules and aimed at annihilation, was practiced against outsiders." Age and sex is no guarantee of protection.

Seventh, raids and ambushes are the most effective forms of warfare. From the author:
Raids characteristically kill only a few people at a time; they kill a higher proportion of women than do battles or even the routs that follow them; they kill individuals or small groups caught in isolated circumstances away from major population concentrations; and because the victims are outnumbered, surprised, and often unarmed, their wounds are often inflicted as they try to flee.
However, the cumulative effect of raids makes them more effective at wiping out another tribe over a period of time.

Eighth, primitive (guerrilla) warfare techniques were generally superior to the "mass" warfare of modern armies. "Primitive (and guerrilla) warfare consists of war stripped to its essentials: the murder of enemies; the theft or destruction of their sustenance, wealth, and essential resources; and the inducement in them of insecurity and terror. It conducts the basic business of war without recourse to ponderous formations or equipment, complicated maneuvers, strict chains of command, calculated strategies, time tables, or other civilized embellishments." It is true total war. However, the author notes that modern forces, when they adopt primitive warfare, can exploit their advantages to defeat primitive warriors by exploiting their clear advantage--logistics. The civilized warrior has a logistic chain that allows them to constantly attack and harass tribal warriors during the depths of winter, during planting or harvest, and so on when the tribal warrior is most vulnerable.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Gear Check: Snow-Trax

(Source: Amazon.com)

The product I'm reviewing is called the Snow-Trax (Amazon link here), made by Implus Footcare, LLC.

I actually bought these a couple years ago at Costco, but never had an opportunity to really try them out until yesterday. We had an ice storm that left a nice layer of ice on everything, including my inclined driveway. While I didn't try to clear all of the ice off, I did go out to break up the ice on the sidewalk and pathway to our door. And I figured this was as good a time as any to try the Snow-Trax out.

As the photograph above shows, they are traction devices designed to slip on over a pair of shoes or boots. The heel has metal cleats to really dig into the ice. The front have crisscrossed metal coils to provide traction.  Obviously, your best traction is if you walk heel-to-toe.

My feet size are probably at the upper range of what the Snow-Trax was designed for. I had difficulty fitting them over a pair of hiking boots, but they fit fine over a pair of shoes. However, I think with practice it would become easier to fit them over the boots. Although you can't see it on the photo, there is a cross-wise velcro strap that tightens up the sides and keeps them in place.

These are not items that you can slip on standing up--you will, at the least, need to be sitting down. I found it was easier to pull them over my shoes first, before putting my shoes on, than to try and pull them on later.

One thing to watch for is that you place the cleats on the heels. When I first was trying to fit them on my boots, I hadn't bothered to read the directions, and put them on backwards (the cleats on the ball of my feet). I kept having problems with the device sliding up and over the toe of the boot. When I put them on my shoes, I realized my error, and did not have any issues with them slipping off my shoes. In fact, I didn't have any problems at all on the second go-around with slipping or any other issues with fit. I noticed that some of the negative reviews at Amazon indicated that the Snow-Trax kept slipping off, and I suspect that it probably had to do with putting them on backwards as I had done initially.

Of course, the key issue is whether they improve traction, I have to say that I had very good traction on the sheet ice. I could feel the cleats dig into the ice. I didn't experience any issues with the balls of my feet slipping either. While I was out working on chipping away and clearing ice, a neighbor that came out to visit was slipping quite a bit, and nearly fell a couple times. So, I think the devices saved me from having a nasty spill.

Given the limited use, I can't really speak to their durability. However, I had bought them for emergency use, and they are small enough to keep a pair in an emergency kit in your car or home. At $20 for two pairs (i.e., $10 per pair), they are a useful piece of gear to keep in your car with other winter emergency items.

Here's another review from About.com.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Obama's Inauguration Speech

As I sat in a hospital waiting room on Monday, I was essentially a captive audience to Obama's inaugural speech, as all of the televisions were tuned to CNN. Most everyone there was indifferent to the speech, as they probably should have been. Another vague, vacuous speech from the Ivory Tower. Maybe it was because I was tired and not feeling well, but I had a harder time than usual paying attention to his speech. But then, I think Obama has become an even more boring speaker over the years. He knows he doesn't have to try, and it shows.

Later, I decided to track down some analysis of his speech from outside the MSM, whose members were obviously beside themselves in fawning and hero-warship of the man who they believe can finally lead the United States out of the shabby worship of the middle-class and into the grand elitism of the European technocracy.

First, Barry Rubin at PJ Media notes that while couched in comfortable language, Obama's speech was in reality a repudiation of Constitutional principles and a call for collectivism, offered under the guise "to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time." And because America is in a as-yet-undetermined crises, all of this must be done without due deliberance or consideration. Rubin sums of the speech:
Thus, the following principles:
– Portray America as a disaster zone where inequality and unfairness run rampant, even though that is demonstrably untrue. Therefore, the United States must be fundamentally transformed.
– Portray those who don’t support you as engaged in evil, racist, etc., practices. Thus, those who criticize you are illegitimate and don’t deserve a fair hearing, much less compromise.
– Get away with breaking those principles yourself.
Ron Radosh, also at PJ Media, also noted the collectivism in the speech.

After repeating the generally accepted view of self-reliance, individuality, and rejection of central authority, the president made it clear he believes “times change,” and we must too. We must respond to new challenges through “collective action.”
And if you have about 10 minutes, you might want to check out the Feb. 22, 2013, "Trifecta" video commentary.

Hit by the Flu...

Even though I had a flu vaccination just a few months ago, I got hit by the flu anyway. I hope to get back to posting either later today or tomorrow.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Stealth Clothing


The Daily Mail reports on "Stealth Wear"--fashions designed to block thermal signatures from being seen by thermal imagers. I gather from the article that it is not yet on sale, but will be expensive when it is finally available. The article notes:
The nickel-metalized fabrics he uses to create his new clothing line are very specialized and very expensive, he says.

He does plan to offer the clothing at a price, but don’t expect to see these products at Target or Conway.

Harvey’s ‘Stealth Wear’ has been on display at Primitive London, a network of underground designers and artists, since Thursday, January 17.
The designers didn't stop there. The article states:

The designers also created a special pouch for cell phones that shields them from trackers by blocking the radio signals that phones emit and a shirt that blocks detection of the wearer’s heart.
Also:
In 2012 he introduced face makeup product called CVDazzle that allows the user to throw off face-recognition software.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Domino Sugar Factory


The Daily Mail occasionally has articles and photos of "urban ruins." The latest is the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, NY. The factory was abandoned in 2004. According to the article, parts of the factory will be renovated into apartments. More photos and a video at the link.


More Hezbollah Fighters Head into Syria

The Times of Israel reports today on a new influx of Hezbollah fighters into Syria to support President Assad:
A-Sharq Al-Awsat leads its front-page news coverage with a report of Shia fighters in the vicinity of Damascus.

According to “media and intelligence reports,” the gunmen have entered Syria from Iraq and Lebanon and are succeeding in repelling the anti-Assad opposition.

The daily features a photo of a veiled Syrian women, decked out in military garb and carrying a sniper rifle, walking through a destroyed street in Aleppo.

According to the report, Hezbollah has established a major presence in Syria, comprising a significant force within the “Abul Fadhl Abbas Battalion.”

According to a spokesman for the battalion, its role is limited to protecting Shiite holy sites frequented by Shiite pilgrims, but other reports indicate that the battalion’s role “surpasses mere defense.”
The article links this with the overall spread of extremist ideology throughout the Muslim world. However, this has the hallmarks of being just a continued escalation of a spreading general conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, such as I've written about before.

Reader Reviews Beretta Nano

A long-time reader recently mentioned to me that he had purchased a Beretta Nano, so I asked him if he could do a short write-up for my blog of his first thoughts and impressions, to which he graciously agreed. He writes:
The Nano is a relatively new compact 9mm pistol from Beretta. Like many newer 9mm pistols, it is double-action only. And, like many newer 9mm pistols, the lower frame is predominantly plastic ("fiberglass reinforced technopolymer"). The serialized portion of the pistol - the receiver - is effectively a trigger group with integrated slide rails made from stamped stainless steel that is held in the lower frame by a couple of pins. The Nano comes with two six-round single-stack magazines. I won't go into the rest of the technical specifications, as they are available online: http://www.berettanano.com/
User Manual:
http://www.berettausa.com/file.aspx?DocumentId=78
I took my new Beretta Nano 9mm pistol to the range for the first time the other day, and used 150 rounds of Federal 9mm ammunition for this initial break-in session.

The trigger travels a rather long distance before firing, but is fairly smooth. Certainly smoother than the Kel Tek P3AT, but not as smooth as a more expensive pistol like the Browning Hi-Power. Accuracy seems pretty good, with the first two shots hitting the same spot on the target. Then I started to flinch and my accuracy degraded. My accuracy improved as I got over the flinching. I believe the gun is fairly accurate for its diminutive size. My marksmanship skills are not up to the capabilities of this pistol.

Like other compact semiautomatic pistols, it does have a bit of a kick, but it was not unreasonable for its small size, and certainly less than the Kel Tec P3AT, which uses the less powerful .380 ACP (9mm short) round.

One very nice feature of the Nano, over the P3AT, is a slide lock which holds the slide open after the last round in the magazine is fired.

Over the course of my shooting session, three times the pistol failed to eject a spent casing (the case remained in the chamber). This occurred around the 70th, 90th, and 130th rounds fired. But, occasional eject/misfeed problems are not uncommon for a new semiautomatic pistol. I was not paying attention to which magazine was being used, and both magazines look look fine. (I've numbered the magazines in anticipation of the Nano's next trip to the range.) Further, there was nothing wrong with the casings to indicate what the problem might have been.

Disassembly and cleaning of the pistol is easy. First, a decocking pin is pressed with something like a ball-point pen. Then the take-down cam is rotated counter-clockwise one-quarter turn. Then the slide can be easily removed. The remainder of the disassembly and cleaning is similar to that of other modern semiautomatic pistols. Reassembly is the reverse of the disassembly, except that the take-down cam automatically rotates back into its locked position when the slide is reattached and racked all the way back (the user manual recommends checking the orientation of the take-down cam after reassembly).

Overall, the Nano is a fun little pistol to shoot - certainly not as brutal as other compact pistols I have used. It is very compact for a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. I have not decided if I am going to start using it as my every-day concealed carry pistol. As small as it is, it is still significantly larger and heavier than my current every-day carry pistol.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Further Confirmation that Chemical Weapons Used in Syria

Foreign Policy Magazine has the following:
A secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month, The Cable has learned.
United States diplomats in Turkey conducted a previously undisclosed, intensive investigation into claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, and made what an Obama administration official who reviewed the cable called a "compelling case" that Assad's military forces had used a deadly form of poison gas.

The cable, signed by the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, Scott Frederic Kilner, and sent to State Department headquarters in Washington last week, outlined the results of the consulate's investigation into reports from inside Syria that chemical weapons had been used in the city of Homs on Dec. 23.

 ... An Obama administration official who reviewed the document, which was classified at the "secret" level, detailed its contents to The Cable. "We can't definitely say 100 percent, but Syrian contacts made a compelling case that Agent 15 was used in Homs on Dec. 23," the official said.

... Experts say the symptoms match the effects of Agent 15, known also by its NATO code BZ, which is a CX-level incapacitating agent that is controlled under schedule 2 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Syria is not a party.

"The symptoms of an incapacitating agent are temporary. If someone is exposed to BZ, they are likely to be confused, perhaps to hallucinate," said Amy Smithson, a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. "While it is not good news that a chemical agent of any kind may have been used in the Syrian conflict, this Agent 15 is certainly on the less harmful end of the spectrum of chemical warfare agents believed to be in the Syrian arsenal."

The Cable spoke with two doctors who were on the scene in Homs on Dec. 23 and treated the victims. Both doctors said that the chemical weapon used in the attack may not have been Agent 15, but they are sure it was a chemical weapon, not a form of tear gas. The doctors attributed five deaths and approximately 100 instances of severe respiratory, nervous system, and gastrointestinal ailments to the poison gas.

"It was a chemical weapon, we are sure of that, because tear gas can't cause the death of five people," said Dr. Nashwan Abu Abdo, a neurologist who spoke with The Cable from an undisclosed location inside of Homs.

Abdo said the chemical agent was delivered by a tank shell and that the range of symptoms varied based on the victim's proximity to the poison. The lightly affected people exhibited gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, he said. Victims who received a higher concentration of the poison, in addition to the gastrointestinal symptoms, showed respiratory symptoms as well.

"The main symptom of the respiratory ailments was bronchial secretions. This particular symptom was the cause of the death of all of the people," he said. "All of them died choking on their own secretions."

The doctors said their conclusion that the poison was a chemical agent and not tear gas was based on three factors: the suddenness of the deaths of those who were directly exposed, the large number of people affected, and the fact that many victims returned with recurring symptoms more than 12 hours after they had been treated, meaning that the poison had settled either in their nervous systems or fat tissue.

"They all had miosis -- pinpoint pupils. They also had generalized muscle pain. There were also bad symptoms as far as their central nervous system. There were generalized seizures and some patients had partial seizures. This actually is proof that the poison was able to pass the blood-brain barrier," Abdo said. "In addition, there was acute mental confusion presented by hallucinations, delusions, personality changes, and behavioral changes."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Betrayed

Great civilizations rot from the top. Here is an enlightening piece about Al Gore from the National Review:
So there is no doubt that Al Gore Sr. deserved his payoff from Armand Hammer. But what has Al Gore Jr. ever done for Qatar? Isn’t he, after all, the foremost champion of the worldwide environmentalist movement, which is bitterly opposed to oil production, the very lifeblood of the Qatari regime? Yes, he is, but there is a little catch, because while opposed in principle to oil production everywhere, the environmentalist movement has been effective in reality only in impeding it in the United States.

Some measure of the effect of the environmental movement may be obtained by
[comparing] U.S. oil production, OPEC oil production, and non-U.S./non-OPEC oil production from 1960 to the present. ... U.S. oil production grew at an average rate of 3.2 percent per year during the 1960s, peaking at 9.6 million barrels per day in 1970. In that year, however, the environmental movement was empowered by the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and the accompanying creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. production has been in decline ever since. ... [T]he growth of OPEC production, which had been extremely rapid during the 1960s, came to a screeching halt in 1973, when the OPEC powers replaced the previously dominant Seven Sisters’ policy of expanding production to grow the world economy with an alternative policy of constricting production to loot the world economy.
As a result, OPEC production has not increased at all since 1973. Thus the entirety of the increase of world oil production over the past four decades — during which time the world economy has doubled in size — has come from non-OPEC, non-U.S. sources. ... [T]his has increased at a rate of 3.4 percent per year since 1970, essentially the same as the 3.2 percent average U.S. growth rate from 1960 to 1970. [If not for this], instead of producing 5.7 million barrels per day today, we would now be producing 35. Together with other non-OPEC production, this would have totally marginalized OPEC and constrained oil prices below $30 a barrel, with associated gasoline prices driven to the range of $1 to $1.50 per gallon. Just as they did in the 1950s and 1960s, such low oil prices would have fueled dramatic U.S. and global economic growth.

At present, Qatar exports around 400 million barrels of oil per year, while the U.S. imports about 4 billion barrels per year. So the fact that oil prices today are $90 per barrel, instead of the $30 per barrel that they would be if not for the environmentalist hamstringing of American oil production, is costing the United States at least $240 billion per year (based on the price difference alone — much more if we take into account the potential replacement of our oil imports with exports), while benefiting Qatar by $24 billion per year, and OPEC as a whole by at least $600 billion per year.

So, Al Gore has certainly earned the gratitude of the rulers of Qatar, and indeed, all of OPEC.

Drop In Left-Handed Charging Handle for AKs

Now this is a good idea. An HK style charging handle system for the AK for lefties. It replaces the gas tube on the AK and allows a person to charge the weapon using their left hand. Full review at The Truth About Guns. Frankly, it would be useful even for right-handed shooters, because it would allow you to reload and chamber a round without having to let go of the pistol grip or lose your sight picture.

Christians Fleeing Persecution in Egypt

From the Telegraph (h/t Weasel Zippers):
Coptic Christian churches in the United States say they are having to expand to cope with new arrivals, as priests in cities like Cairo and Alexandria talk of a new climate of fear and uncertainty.

"Most of our people are afraid," Father Mina Adel, a priest at the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria said. "Not a few are leaving - for America, Canada and Australia. Dozens of families from this church alone are trying to go too."

... But the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary and presidential elections has changed the mood - particularly as the biggest opposition party is the even more hardline Salafist movement which wants strict Sharia law implemented.

... The biggest change in attitudes has come since the passing of a new constitution giving Sharia law more prominence.

"With the new constitution, the new laws that are expected, and the majority in parliament I don't believe we can be treated on an equal basis," said a congregation leader in Cairo's Church of St Mary and St John the Baptist.

... The United States, like other countries, does not distinguish visa applications by religion, so there are no absolute figures. One estimate put the number of Coptic emigrants in 2011 at 100,000, of whom more than 40,000 went to the US.

Fitch May Downgrade U.S. Debt Rating...

... if the debt ceiling is not raised. The explanation is that the failure to raise the debt ceiling exposes the U.S. to possible default. However, why are we having to raise the debt ceiling? Increased federal spending, including sizable increases in welfare spending, which is expected to rise 80% over the next decade.

What Music Reveals of the Decline of Civilization

I recently came across this 2007 article by Mark Steyn on music and what it reveals about the decline of popular culture. It's a lengthy article, but worth the read. Just a snippet:
“Popular culture” is more accurately a “present-tense culture”: You’re celebrating the millennium but you can barely conceive of anything before the mid-1960s. We’re at school longer than any society in human history, entering kindergarten at four or five and leaving college the best part of a quarter-century later—or thirty years later in Germany. Yet in all those decades we exist in the din of the present. A classical education considers society as a kind of iceberg, and teaches you the seven-eighths below the surface. Today, we live on the top eighth bobbing around in the flotsam and jetsam of the here and now. And, without the seven-eighths under the water, what’s left on the surface gets thinner and thinner.

So the “Music” chapter is the most difficult one for young fans of The Closing Of The American Mind—because it’s the point at which you realize just how much Allan Bloom means it. And by “young fans,” I mean anyone under the age of Mick Jagger, who features heavily in that section. ...

For Bloom to write his chapter on “Music” seems to many of us braver than attacking the 1960s or the race hucksters or his various other targets. No-one wants to be Mister Squaresville. And it’s interesting to see the reaction it gets from readers. Told by Bloom that they know nothing about Brahms or Mozart, they respond that he knows nothing about … well, whomsoever they happen to dig. ...

But Bloom is writing about rock music the way someone from the pre-rock generation experiences it. You’ve no interest in the stuff, you don’t buy the albums, you don’t tune to the radio stations, you would never knowingly seek out a rock and roll experience—and yet it’s all around you. ... Whether or not rock music is the soundtrack for the age that its more ambitious proponents tout it as, it’s a literal soundtrack: it’s like being in a movie with a really bad score. So Bloom’s not here to weigh the merit of the Beatles vs. Pink Floyd vs. Madonna vs. Niggaz with Attitude vs. Eminem vs. Green Day. ...
[H]e’s not doing album reviews, he’s pondering the state of an entire society with a rock aesthetic.

That’s another reason I don’t like the term “popular culture”—because hardly any individual examples of popular culture are that popular. I don’t mean that whatever the current Number One single is this week will sell far fewer copies than the Number Ones of the 1940s, but in the sense that a gangsta rapper is not as popular as Puccini was ninety years ago, or Franz Lehár a century ago, or Offenbach. Popular culture has dwindled down to a bunch of mutually hostile unpopular popular cultures. The only thing about it that’s universally popular is its overall undemanding aesthetic.

So Bloom is less concerned with music criticism than with what happens when a society’s incidental music becomes its manifesto. The key to what’s happened is in the famous first sentence of the book. “There is,” writes the author, “one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” To quote the African dictator in a Tom Stoppard play, a relatively free press is a free press run by one of my relatives. A relative culture ends up ever shorter of any relatives to relate to. In educational theory, it’s not about culture vs. “counter-culture” but rather what I once called lunch-counterculture: It’s all lined up for you and you pick what you want. It’s the display case of rotating pies at the diner: one day the student might pick Milton, the next Bob Dylan. But, if Milton and Bob Dylan are equally “valid,” equally worthy of study, then Bob Dylan will be studied and Milton will languish. And so it’s proved, most exhaustively, in music.

NY Senate Passes New "Assault Weapon" Bill

Reported at Human Events (h/t Instapundit). I don't have the specifics, but the general provisions are a tougher "assault weapons ban," restrictions on ammunition and sale of firearms, police registry of "assault weapons," stricter reporting by counselors/psychiatrists of threats by mentally ill people who say they intend to use a gun illegally, and "unsafe storage" of firearms. Citing an AP article, the "assault weapon ban" would be extended to any weapon with at least one "military rifle" feature, including a pistol grip. Also, the law would limit weapons to magazines of 7 rounds or less. Owners of higher capacity magazines will have 1-year in which to sell higher capacity magazines out of state.  The AP article seemed to indicate that, even in the interim, no more than 7 rounds could be loaded into a magazine.

The bill seems aimed at banning rifles such as the SKS and M-1 Garand.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Unforeseen" Social Effects of China's One-Child Policy

Discovery Magazine reports on unforeseen social effects due to China's one-child policy, including that children born after implementation of the policy were less trusting and less trustworthy, more self-centered, and less cooperative. I'm not sure, when considering a generation of only-children that this should be considered "unforeseen."

China and Japan Scramble Jets

The Diplomat reports:
Tensions continued to escalate between Japan and China over disputed islets in the East China Sea on Thursday, with Japan reportedly sending two F-15s from Naha, Okinawa, after several Chinese military aircraft crossed into its Air defense identification zone (ADIZ). China responded by scrambling two J-10s of its own.

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force spotted the Chinese aircraft in its ADIZ over the East China Sea at about 12pm on Thursday, Kyodo quoted a senior Defense Ministry official as saying, adding that the Chinese aircraft never entered Japanese airspace. Kyodo said the Chinese aircraft penetrated Japan’s ADIZ on three occasions.

The official said the Chinese aircraft, which numbered more than 10, included J-7s and J-10 fighter aircraft, though according to Chinese media, Japanese reports seem to have mistaken the J-7, an interceptor, for the JH-7 “Flying Leopard,” a fighter/bomber. Unconfirmed reports also alleged that some of the planes may have been early-warning aircraft.

In a press release on January 11, the Chinese Ministry of Defense said that a Shaanxi Y-8 transport aircraft was conducting a routine patrol over oil and gas fields east of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, and confirmed it had dispatched two J-10s after the two F-15s from Japan closed in on the transport plane.

The Chinese aircraft left the area soon thereafter.
The story notes that this this is the first time military aircraft from both nations have been involved in these confrontations.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

N. American and Australian Biker Gangs in Europe

The Daily Mail reports on an influx of North American and Australian "violent biker gangs" into Europe, raising concerns that it could lead to conflict with existing gangs over the lucrative drug trade. 
Violent biker gangs from Australia, Canada and the US have arrived in Europe prompting fears of a battle for organised crime markets throughout the continent.
Britain has been warned that turf wars could break out as 'Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs' fight for control over the drugs, weapons and human trafficking criminal markets.

The European Union's law enforcement agency has now warned of a repeat of the 1990s biker wars that left at least 11 dead.

Europol said the arrival of notorious gangs including Comancheros and Rebels from Australia, Rock Machine from Canada and Mongols and Vagos from the US has exacerbated tensions with established clubs.

It has informed police forces across the continent that established gangs are expandings and said there are already ongoing territorial battles with organised crime groups.
Football hooligans from Britain and the continent, as well as former military personnel, right-wing extremists and prison gangs are among those expected to be targeted for recruitment.
Europol said the four main groups - Outlaws, Hells Angels, Bandidos and Gremium MC - were all increasing their membership, particularly in north east and south east Europe.


Slate: "World Population May Actually Start Declining...."

As any long time reader of my blog is aware, the crises in our future is not overpopulation, but declining populations. Even the liberal media is beginning to pick up on this. From Slate Magazine:
The world’s seemingly relentless march toward overpopulation achieved a notable milestone in 2012: Somewhere on the planet, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the 7 billionth living person came into existence.
Lucky No. 7,000,000,000 probably celebrated his or her birthday sometime in March and added to a population that’s already stressing the planet’s limited supplies of food, energy, and clean water. Should this trend continue, as the Los Angeles Times noted in a five-part series marking the occasion, by midcentury, “living conditions are likely to be bleak for much of humanity.”
A somewhat more arcane milestone, meanwhile, generated no media coverage at all: It took humankind 13 years to add its 7 billionth. That’s longer than the 12 years it took to add the 6 billionth—the first time in human history that interval had grown. (The 2 billionth, 3 billionth, 4 billionth, and 5 billionth took 123, 33, 14, and 13 years, respectively.) In other words, the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.

And then it will fall.
This is a counterintuitive notion in the United States, where we’ve heard often and loudly that world population growth is a perilous and perhaps unavoidable threat to our future as a species. But population decline is a very familiar concept in the rest of the developed world, where fertility has long since fallen far below the 2.1 live births per woman required to maintain population equilibrium. In Germany, the birthrate has sunk to just 1.36, worse even than its low-fertility neighbors Spain (1.48) and Italy (1.4). The way things are going, Western Europe as a whole will most likely shrink from 460 million to just 350 million by the end of the century. That’s not so bad compared with Russia and China, each of whose populations could fall by half. As you may not be surprised to learn, the Germans have coined a polysyllabic word for this quandary: Schrumpf-Gesellschaft, or “shrinking society.” [Docent: I think the term "birth dearth," from the book of that same name, is more descriptive of the problem].
American media have largely ignored the issue of population decline for the simple reason that it hasn’t happened here yet [Docent: or, more likely, because it doesn't fit the PC "narrative" noted in the second paragraph quoted above]. Unlike Europe, the United States has long been the beneficiary of robust immigration. This has helped us not only by directly bolstering the number of people calling the United States home but also by propping up the birthrate, since immigrant women tend to produce far more children than the native-born do.
But both those advantages look to diminish in years to come. A report issued last month by the Pew Research Center found that immigrant births fell from 102 per 1,000 women in 2007 to 87.8 per 1,000 in 2012. That helped bring the overall U.S. birthrate to a mere 64 per 1,000 women—not enough to sustain our current population.
Moreover, the poor, highly fertile countries that once churned out immigrants by the boatload are now experiencing birthrate declines of their own. From 1960 to 2009, Mexico’s fertility rate tumbled from 7.3 live births per woman to 2.4, India’s dropped from six to 2.5, and Brazil’s fell from 6.15 to 1.9. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average birthrate remains a relatively blistering 4.66, fertility is projected to fall below replacement level by the 2070s. This change in developing countries will affect not only the U.S. population, of course, but eventually the world’s.

America--The Heir to Germany

The other day I had posted about Oswald Spengler. One issue I sidestepped at the time, although central to Robert Merry's article, was Spengler's views on the resolution of the conflicts between England and Germany. Merry notes:
In 1911, he watched with mounting alarm as his country entered into a tense confrontation with France in what was known as the Second Moroccan Crisis. War was averted when Germany backed down—in humiliation—after Britain threw her weight behind France. But the episode left young Spengler with an indelible fear that war between Germany and the French-British alliance had become inevitable. He saw this looming conflict as a clash of epic proportions with profound consequences for Western civilization.

He set out to write a book predicting this conflagration and exploring the existential rivalry between Great Britain, the trade empire of democratic capitalism, perceived by many Germans as intrinsically decadent; and Germany, a rising socialistic empire widely viewed in Spengler’s country as representing a more hallowed Prussian Kultur. The question was which power would dominate the West during its civilizational phase.
Of course, as Merry describes, Spengler's efforts turned from merely a book about Britain and Germany to one analyzing the rise and fall of civilizations generally. But Spengler returned to his original question:
But, concluded Spengler, all that yearning, probing, exploration and artistic expression was finished in the West of a century ago. Signs of the new civilizational phase, he wrote, were evident in the new pseudoartistic expression that no longer celebrated the West’s fundamental cultural ideas but rather assaulted them; in the rise of impersonal world-cities whose cosmopolitanism overwhelmed the folk traditions of old; in the preoccupation with the money culture; in declining birthrates and the rise of the Ibsen woman who belongs to herself; and finally in the death struggle that had emerged between the democratic state of England with its ethic of success and the socialist state of Germany with its ethic of duty.

Spengler felt certain that Germany would win this struggle and emerge as “the last nation of the West,” spawning ground for that future Caesar who would lead the West to its final civilizational glory of world dominance. It was all written in the historical analogies he had studied so carefully. But he was wrong about that death struggle, and he died in 1936, too soon to see his native land crushed by the awesome force of the Anglo-Saxon world, led by a surging America, with its focus on liberal democracy, free markets and the control of the individual over his own destiny. He did not die too soon, however, to reject German fascism as an alien force incapable of taking Germany to the intracivilizational triumph he desired—or to be rejected by the early Nazis in turn after they took power in 1933 and banned Spengler’s book. In any event, it was America, not Germany, that emerged as the last nation of the West, that would define Western civilization and determine its fate as it made its way through its civilizational phase.
 But was Spengler really wrong? Or did German socialism transmit itself somewhere else?

A few days ago, Ed Driscoll published an article entitled "Scientists Discovery Unbreakable 90-Year-Old Mobius Strip." He writes:
I’ve written several posts over the years noting that modern art — at least the “shocking the bourgeois” brand of modern art — is a genre permanently trapped in the 1920s. Modern architecture often seems similarly trapped in the same decade, endlessly recycling the forms and styles created by Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Sarah Hoyt has an interesting post this weekend that describes much of today’s bourgeois intellectual life as permanently trapped in that decade as well, as a byproduct of WWI and its aftermath....
The 1920s was the debut of the modern intellectual, as Tom Wolfe wrote in his essay “In the Land of the Rococo Marxist”:
After the First World War, American writers and scholars had the chance to go to Europe in large numbers for the first time. They got an eyeful of the Intellectual up close. That sneer, that high-minded aloofness from the mob, those long immaculate alabaster forefingers with which they pointed down at the rubble of a botched civilization-it was irresistible. The only problem was that when our neophyte intellectuals came back to the United States to strike the pose, there was no rubble to point at. Far from being a civilization in ruins, the United States had emerged from the war as the new star occupying the center of the world stage. Far from reeking of decadence, the United States had the glow of a young giant: brave, robust, innocent and unsophisticated.
But young scribblers roaring drunk (as Nietzsche had predicted) on skepticism, cynicism, irony, and contempt were in no mood to let such … circumstances … stand in the way. From the very outset the attempts of this country cousin, the American intellectual, to catch up with his urbane European model was touching, as only the strivings of a colonial subject can be. Throughout the twentieth century, the picture would never change (and today, a hundred years later, the sweaty little colonial still trots along at the heels of… sahib). In the 1920s the first job was to catch up with the European intellectuals’ mockery of the “bourgeoisie,” which had begun a full forty years earlier. ...
... Similarly, as the late Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind, America in general transformed itself into the post-WWI-era Weimar Republic on a mammoth scale:
This popularization of German philosophy in the United States is of peculiar interest to me because I have watched it occur during my own intellectual lifetime, and I feel a little like someone who knew Napoleon when he was six. I have seen value relativism and its concomitants grow greater in the land than anyone imagined. Who in 1920 would have believed that Max Weber’s technical sociological terminology would someday be the everyday language of the United States, the land of the Philistines, itself in the meantime become the most powerful nation in the world? The self-understanding of hippies, yippies, yuppies, panthers, prelates and presidents has unconsciously been formed by German thought of a half-century earlier; Herbert Marcuse’s accent has been turned into a Middle Western twang; the echt Deutsch label has been replaced by a Made in America label; and the new American life-style has become a Disneyland version of the Weimar Republic for the whole family.
In Germany, Nietzsche declared “God is Dead” in 1882; in the States, Time magazine would attempt to confirm the diagnosis 84 years later, in 1966. David Frum’s history of the 1970s is essentially a book about America’s decade-long collective effort at discarding its puritan roots and becoming 1920s Weimar in polyester pants and a Disco Stu shirt. Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism approaches the same transformation, but over a much longer timetable.
So if we’re trapped in the Weimar Era Mobius Loop, can we head for the exits in a different and infinitely more peaceable fashion than Germany itself did? ...
(Interestingly, Driscoll updated his article since I had first read it to include a reference to Merry's article).

Of course, no discussion of the transplant of German socialism to America would be complete without pointedly noting the impact of the Frankfurt School.  The best explanation is the video (below) by Bill Whittle:


Thus, we see that American leftism is the descendant of German socialism. And, per Spengler's theories, will be (or rather, is) the source of the "that future Caesar who would lead the West to its final civilizational glory of world dominance."

Reigniting Civil War in Iraq

I've posted in the past about the growing Sunni-Shiite conflict. I came across this short piece from Walter Russel Mead from January 4, 2013, discussing rising sectarian violence in Iraq. 
A car bomb ripped through a procession of Shia pilgrims today in Musayyib, Iraq, almost 40 miles south of Baghdad, killing 27 people. The bombers were most likely Sunnis trying to reignite Iraq’s civil war.

As the Shia regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki grows increasingly authoritarian and sectarian violence gets worse and worse, the fear grows that Iraq is heading back into civil war. Parts of the country have been virtually under siege over the past few weeks, with 60,000 protesters turning out in Fallujah last Friday, blocking highways and chanting the familiar slogan of the Arab Spring—”the people want to bring down the regime!”—and the more direct “Maliki you coward, don’t take your advice from Iran!”

Iraq’s volatile mixture of Sunnis and Shia is once again boiling over, and the civil war next door in Syria is not making matters any easier. Iraqi fighters are operating in Syria on both sides of the war. The U.S. recently determined that the Nusra Front, which claims credit for several spectacular attacks on Syrian regime targets and is one of the strongest rebel groups, is virtually identical in personnel and ideology to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Iraq’s and Syria’s troubles are closely related—a fact the mainstream media often forgets, choosing instead to stubbornly define the Syrian war as a fight for democracy against a dictatorship and the violence in Iraq as a contained sectarian conflict. This shortsightedness fails to recognize that across the Middle East Sunnis and Shia are engaged in a struggle for political power and religious legitimacy. Sunni rebel groups backed by Sunnis in the Gulf are fighting a Shia regime in Damascus backed by a Shia theocracy in Iran. The same is happening in Iraq, where a Shia authoritarian regime backed by Iran is fighting Sunni groups backed by the Gulf Arabs. Other actors, like the U.S., Turkey, and the Kurds, make this a truly volatile international conflict. And it is Iraq where all of this is going to erupt next, writes Henri Barkey here at the AI[.]

Thursday, January 10, 2013

California Falls Below Replacement Birth Rate

Bad news for CalPERSThe Daily Mail reports:
With childbirth shrinking significantly in all major ethnic and racial groups since 2000, the state has now slipped below the ‘replacement rate’ of 2.1 babies per woman of childbearing age.
And with the ‘babyboom’ generation set to retire, there are not enough children born to fulfill the space they leave as taxpayers.
In 1970, California averaged about 21 seniors per 100 working age adults. By 2030, that number is predicted to rise to 36 per cent of working age adults.

... this demographic shift mirrors those in other states, including New York, Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts.

Feral Dog Attacks in Mexico City Park

Fox News Latino has the story:
A 15-year-old girl is believed to be the fifth victim of a string of stray dog attacks in a Mexico City park over the last month, setting off a fierce debate about how to handle the city's stray dog problem.

Prosecutors say the girl found fatally bitten in mid-December may actually be the first victim of the feral pack behind the killings.
Authorities began capturing dogs in the park this week after a mother and her infant boy were found dead and covered in dog bites on Dec. 29. A week later, the bodies of a teenage couple were found, also covered in fatal bites from as many as 10 dogs.
The four were believed to have been the only victims, until the mother of 15-year-old Ana Gabriela Nataret Ramirez told Milenio Television late Tuesday that their daughter had died in a hospital after being found covered with apparent dog bites near the Cerro de la Estrella park on the night of Dec. 16.
The city prosecutor's office confirmed the details of the case Wednesday and said it was looking into whether her case was connected to the other deaths.
... Fatal mauling of humans by dogs are extremely rare, but Dr. Sophia Yin, executive board member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, said they can happen, particularly when dogs that are used to being around people are moving in large groups, and people shout or run in fear when accosted by the animals.
"It's hard to tell people, stand completely still and relax, don't turn your back. Almost anything else you do can get the dog more excited," Yin said. "The more animals involved, the higher the excitement is."
Jose Luis Rodriguez, driver for a micro-bus service that travels through the park, said he had recently encountered a pack of 10 feral dogs that had growled at his father.
"There are a lot of dogs around here. We give them something to eat and they go away," he said. "People come and throw their dogs away in the park, abandon them. There are too many dogs around."
Considering the large number of feral dogs in some urban areas, such as Detroit, I'm surprised we haven't seen more of this in the United States.

If I get nervous about a free-roaming dog or dogs, I generally will move toward it/them in a threatening manner, or at least take a fighting stance. An ASP baton is good, too. The motion and noise of flicking it open seems to scare dogs (and raccoons).

My father was taught in the military that if a dog unexpectedly attacked (i.e., jumping at you), you should grab its foreleg and throw it onto its side, pull up its foreleg, and stomp down on the exposed junction of the foreleg and the chest. I'm not sure how well this would work against a really big dog, though if you are sidestepping while blocking, like you should, it probably would still work.

More Sunni on Shiite Violence in Pakistan

Fox News reports:
A series of bombings killed 115 people across Pakistan on Thursday, including 81 who died in twin blasts on a bustling billiards hall in a Shiite area of the southwestern city of Quetta.
Pakistan's minority Shiite Muslims have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics, and a militant Sunni group claimed responsibility for Thursday's deadliest attack — sending a suicide bomber into the packed pool hall and then detonating a car bomb five minutes later.
It was one of the deadliest days in recent years for a country that is no stranger to violence from radical Islamists, militant separatists and criminal gangs.
Violence has been especially intense in southwest Baluchistan province, where Quetta is the capital and the country's largest concentration of Shiites live. Many are ethnic Hazara who migrated from neighboring Afghanistan.
The billiards hall targeted Thursday was located in an area dominated by the minority sect. In addition to the 81 dead, more than 120 people were wounded in the double bombing, said police officer Zubair Mehmood. The dead included police officers, journalists and rescue workers who responded to the initial explosion.
Ghulam Abbas, a Shiite who lives about 150 yard (meters) from the billiards hall, said he was at home with his family when the first blast occurred. He was trying to decide whether to head to the scene when the second bomb went off.

A couple points. First, the use of a second bomb to catch people responding to an initial blast is classic terrorist tactic. If there is a suspicious blast, you should be doubly suspicious before you rush in to help.

Second, as I've noted before, the issue of Sunni-Shiite conflicts is something to watch carefully. It is not just Pakistan experiencing Sunni-Shiite violence. Whatever other reason that the civil war started in Syria, it is ending in a Sunni-Shiite conflict. Assad (and many others in the Syrian military and government) are of the Alawite sect, which is recognized as part of the Shiite branch of Islam, whereas Al Qaeda is Sunni. The sectarian nature of the conflict threatens to spill over into Lebanon as well. (See here and here). The latter article, from the Global Post and dated Jan. 9, 2013, reports:
A few weeks ago, when the Syrian government returned the mutilated bodies of several Lebanese fighters who had crossed the border to fight with the rebels, a famous face was there to greet them.

It wasn't a senior member of the government who welcomed home the “martyrs,” as one might expect. The official line in Beirut is still one of “disassociation” from the Syrian conflict.

Instead it was an ultra-conservative Salafist Muslim leader who has gone from obscure preacher to household name in less than two years.

Sheik Ahmad Assir’s skyrocketing popularity is now threatening to turn a segment of Lebanon’s primarily moderate Sunni population more extreme, forcing the country’s long simmering sectarian tensions to a boil.

Assir is now the most high-profile of Lebanon's Salafists — an ultra-orthodox branch of Sunni Islam. His status is buoyed by the neighboring war in Syria, which has devolved into a mostly sectarian fight between Sunnis and Shiites.

The sheikh's core message resonates with a broadening segment of society, and though he is still considered an eccentric outsider by many, he is attracting increasingly mainstream followers.

Assir’s message is that Sunnis have suffered indignities — both at the hands of Syria as well as Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political group based in southern Lebanon — for far too long, and that Lebanon's elected leaders are useless.

A recent clash here in the sheikh's hometown, on the southern coast of Lebanon, showed that his supporters are willing to confront Hezbollah on a level not previously seen before.

Residents of Sidon were shocked in November when their otherwise quiet town suddenly fell into sectarian bloodletting. It seemed a gloomy harbinger of things to come if even this obscure byway in the Middle East could be darkened by the Syrian conflict.

A gun battle between the sheikh's men in Sidon and Hezbollah militants claimed three lives. Two of Assir's closest bodyguards were killed. The local Hezbollah commander and his bodyguard were wounded. A 14-year old Egyptian boy was killed in the crossfire.
 (See also this article from Al Monitor that argues that Turkey's foreign policy is essentially Sunni).

This Is Where Gun Registration Leads

From WND, Phil Elmore, in the face of New York's threatened gun confiscation, describes why he finally sold all of guns. He notes:
The result [of the proposed gun confiscation laws] is that a few hunting weapons and a few antiquated firearms designs will remain nominally legal, while most of the weapons currently in private hands in the state will be outlawed. Their owners will, with the stroke of a pen, become criminals. What is worse, many of those owners will be faced with a stark choice: Comply or die.

Unless you’ve never purchased a rifle new from a store, unless you’ve never held a New York State pistol permit, there exists a record in this state telling the government that you own guns. In the case of your handguns, your government knows precisely what you own by make, model and serial number. There is no hiding what you have. There is no quiet noncompliance, no silent refusal to turn in such weapons. If you refuse, the state will know. If they know, they will send officials to your door to take them. That is what confiscation is. When that happens, you can either give them up, or you can resist. If you resist, you will die. You will be outmanned and outgunned by the tyrannical state, now and always, because your fellow citizens are cowards.
(Emphasis in original).

Al Qaeda Literally Carving Out a New Country in Mali

Deep inside caves, in remote desert bases, in the escarpments and cliff faces of northern Mali, Islamic fighters are burrowing into the earth, erecting a formidable set of defenses to protect what has essentially become Al Qaeda’s new country.

They have used the bulldozers, earth movers, and loaders left behind by fleeing construction crews to dig what residents and local officials describe as an elaborate network of tunnels, trenches, shafts, and ramparts.

... Northern Mali is now the biggest territory held by Al Qaeda and its allies. And as the world hesitates, delaying a military intervention, the extremists who seized control of the area last year are preparing for a war they boast will be worse than the decade-old struggle in Afghanistan.

‘‘Al Qaeda never owned Afghanistan,’’ said former United Nations diplomat Robert Fowler, a Canadian kidnapped and held for 130 days by Al Qaeda’s local chapter, whose fighters now control the main cities in the north. ‘‘They do own northern Mali.’’

... In recent months, the terror syndicate and its allies have taken advantage of political instability within the country to push out of their hiding place and into the towns, taking over an enormous territory which they are using to stock arms, train forces, and prepare for global jihad.

... Turbaned fighters now control all the major towns in the north, carrying out amputations in public squares like the Taliban did. Just as in Afghanistan, they are flogging women for not covering up. Since taking control of Timbuktu, they have destroyed seven of the 16 mausoleums listed as world heritage sites.

The area under their rule is mostly desert and sparsely populated, but analysts say that due to its size and the hostile nature of the terrain, rooting out the extremists here could prove even more difficult than it did in Afghanistan.

Where Are We Headed on Iran?

I fear that we are headed to a dark place. Economic sanctions have worked as well as always-- that is, it hasn't dissuaded the Iranian government from pursuing their nuclear goals, but it has undermined the West's influence in the country. The Daily Mail reports:
Iran’s oil and gas revenues have dropped by a dramatic 45 per cent since sanctions were imposed by the West over it’s nuclear development programme.

The restrictions came into force in July under which the EU put a complete embargo on oil and gas from Iran, which eliminated 18 per cent of Iran’s export, and has led to financial collapse.

The result of these and further banking and trade sanction over the refusal to halt uranium enrichment, has seen oil exports drop 40 per cent in the last nine months, compared to the corresponding period last year, a senior lawmaker said.

The financial crisis has led to an inflation in the rial, which in October last year had lost over half of its value against the U.S. dollar.
Meanwhile, Iran's nuclear weapons program has continued apace. In fact, World Net Daily reports that the program is all but completed:
Iran successfully has built a nuclear bomb with the help of Russia and North Korea and has enough weapons-grade uranium and plutonium for more, according to a source in the Revolutionary Guards intelligence unit.

The source, who has access to Iran’s nuclear program, said the Islamic regime is working out of seven nuclear sites, most unknown to the IAEA, and that its nuclear bomb program is complete.

North Korea has provided the regime with plutonium for nuclear warheads, the source verified, and the last obstacle to overcome is arming missiles with those warheads.

The source, who revealed the existence of the regime’s microbial plant and its effort on biological weapons as published on Jan. 1 by WND exclusively, now has provided information on two of the seven secret sites.

The first is in the town of Khondab near the city of Arak in central Iran where Iran’s heavy-water plant reactor is located, which, once operational, will provide enough plutonium for several bombs just in its first year. WND will soon publish information on the second secret nuclear site, which has direct Russian participation involving laser technology for uranium enrichment.
The article goes on to describe in more detail the facility and a review of satellite images.

So, Iran has or will soon have nuclear weapons, and with a failing economy, will have a reason to threaten to use them. Nuclear blackmail seems to be working for North Korea, so there is no reason why Iran should not use also do the same.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Apophis' First Fly-By of Earth is Tonight

According to this article at Fox News, new observations show that the asteroid is 1,066 feet wide, which is 20% larger than the prior estimate of 885 feet. This also translates to a 75% increase in the volume or mass, according to the article. The asteroid is calculated to make another pass by of Earth in 2029 and 2036. The article has information and a link to where you can watch web-casts of the fly-by.

Venezuela Tackles Hoarding

In a Financial Times article linked to by Drudge, it notes the following:
Meanwhile, Mr Maduro on Tuesday showed he would continue the radical economic path of Venezuela’s ailing president as he cracked down on what he claimed was hoarding and speculation by private companies.

In reaction to opposition claims that the Opec nation was suffering from a power vacuum in Mr Chávez’s absence, the government made a show of force by sending troops to take control of food distribution networks, including Venezuela’s six private sugar mills, as scarcity of basic goods riled shoppers.

Although little is known about the policy preferences of Mr Maduro, a former trade unionist, the move signals that Mr Chávez’s controversial economic management is unlikely to be substantially moderated under a government led by Venezuela’s vice-president if the socialist leader’s cancer forces him to relinquish power.
Cracking down on "hoarders" is part and parcel with food and commodity shortages or price spikes. That is one of the reasons OPSEC is so important as to your food storage.

First Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Cases in U.S.

From U.S. News (via Drudge):
The fears of major health organizations have come true: Gonorrhea that is immune to the last remaining effective oral antibiotic has been detected in at least nine North American patients, meaning the era of "incurable" gonorrhea could be close.

In a study released Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group of scientists led by Vanessa Allen of Public Health Ontario, found that 6.7 percent of patients with gonorrhea at a Toronto clinic still had the disease after a round of cephalosporins, the last effective oral antibiotic used to treat the disease. Of 133 patients who returned for a "test of cure" visit, nine remained gonorrhea-positive. This is the first time cephalosporin-resistant gonorrhea has been found in humans in North America.

Last year, both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control warned that untreatable gonorrhea—the world's second most common sexually transmitted infection—could soon be a reality as the bacteria showed increasing resistance to cephalosporins in lab tests.

"These are the clinical cases we've been waiting for," Allen says. "This is the translation of the lab information into what the clinical consequence is."

Previously, there had been a couple individual case reports of untreatable gonorrhea cases in the United Kingdom, Austria, France, Norway, and Japan. In an accompanying editorial, Robert Kirkcaldy of the CDC writes that gonorrhea is quickly becoming a more threatening disease.