Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hunting Rats in New York City with Dogs

From the Daily Mail:


In a scrappy, streetwise cousin of mannerly countryside fox hunts, on terrain far from the European farms and fields where many of the dogs' ancestors were bred to scramble after vermin and foxes, their masters sport trash-poking sticks instead of riding crops and say it's just as viable an exercise for the animals' centuries-old skills.
 
‘It's about maintaining the breed type through actual work,’ says Richard Reynolds, a New Jersey-based business analyst and longtime dog breeder who might be considered the group's organizer -- if it would accept being called organized. 
Known with a chuckle as the Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society -- parse the acronym -- the rodent-hunters have been scouring downtown byways for more than a decade, meeting weekly when weather allows.
... The lineups included two border terriers; a wire-haired dachshund; a Jack Russell terrier/Australian cattle dog mix; a Patterdale terrier, an intense, no-nonsense breed that's uncommon in this country; and a feist, a type of dog developed in the American South to tree squirrels.
... Although the dogs have hunting instincts, it takes training to capitalize on them. Just because your pet runs after backyard squirrels doesn't mean it could ever catch one.
When at its best, the alley pack works together. One dog will sniff out a rat and signal its whereabouts, often by barking. Another leaps at the hideaway to rout the quarry, and then a third lurches to catch it as it flees.
Of course, PETA--whose members think that animals are like they are portrayed in Disney cartoons--is horrified.


DIY Rinse Agent

Fill the rinse agent dispenser in your dishwasher with white distilled vinegar. You can add a few drops of lemon essential oils to give it a more pleasant odor.

The G-3 and Commercial Brass

The Firearm Blog warns about using commercial .308 in a G-3 barreled rifle. From the article:
Back in the day when G3 parts kits were affordable and flowed into the United States like water anyone could build one for a few hundred bucks. The problem however (aside from relative build difficulty) was that a true G3 spec chamber does not like commercial .308 Winchester ammunition. G3 rifles have an internally fluted barrel. This aides in extraction and prevents the possibility of an extractor breaking, and a shell sticking. The gas from the discharge is forced back and around the spent shell blowing it out of the breech.
... You must use 7.62×51 NATO if you have a true G3 spec barrel. As you can see, the top of that round has the aforementioned flute marks – that’s what a spent shell looks like – it gets ruined. Now, if you notice… that’s only 1/3 of a shell, the rest of it was ripped off. Since commercial .308 is much thinner cased, when the round discharges the more pliable case expands and actually sticks in the flutes, and given the power of the round, the extractor literally rips the back of the case off, leaving the front of the shell stuck in the barrel. The next round was cycled in with such force, it actually slid itself through the remaining case neck.
The only time I've heard of this issue was with certain batches of PTR made barrels that did not have the flutes cut deeply enough, so the cases were sticking. In fact, due to the way the flutes work, I have a hard time believing that a case would stick in a barrel with proper fluting--the cases will literally be blown out of the rifle, even without an extractor. I would guess that the firearm in question probably is having issues with extracting the NATO cases also, but because the military brass is thicker, the owner hasn't had an issue with it tearing the base off the case. However, I don't have a G-3 barreled rifle, so I can't speak from experience. But, a couple of friends and I all bought CETME kits and had rifles built off of those several years ago when you could still get the the parts kits with genuine CETME barrels, and none of us, to my knowledge, have ever had issues with commercial .308 cases.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Israel May Have Attacked Syrian Chemical Weapon Facility


The Free Syrian Army (FSA) reports that Israeli fighter jets slipped into Damascus over the weekend and bombed a chemical weapons depot outside the city.
 
Neither Damascus nor Jerusalem have yet confirmed the attack, according to UPI.
According to The Jewish Press (JP) "many" reports came in over the weekend confirming the mission. Sources told the JP Israeli jets arrived over Damascus early Saturday morning and circled Assad's presidential compound before moving on to target the weapons site.
 
The Israeli jets reportedly received fire but returned to base unscathed. 
The Lebanese Daily Star confirms heavy FSA fighting occurred near the plant, the Scientific Studies and Research Center, but troops lacked the resources to breach the heavily fortified site.
The reason for this would be to keep Syrian rebels, linked to Al Qaeda, from getting control of the stockpiles. As this article from JNS notes:

 ... reports indicate a mounting presence of Islamic terror groups within Syria’s rebel forces, complicating options for Western policymakers to address the Syrian civil war.
According to a report in the New York Times, Islamic groups have provided basic government and local services such as running bakeries, controlling power plants and providing medical services in rebel-controlled areas.
Local residents have grown to respect the Islamic groups who receive funding and weapons from sympathetic donors in the Arab Gulf states. As a result, Islamic commanders have risen up the Syrian rebel ranks, now controlling many positions in the rebel umbrella group, the Supreme Military Council.
The biggest concern for the West is a U.S.-designated foreign terror group, the Al-Nusra Front, which has direct ties to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and has pledged loyalty to Al-Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Another prominent terror group is Ahrar al-Sham, which is made up primarily of native Syrians.
“My sense is that there are no seculars,” Elizabeth O’Bagy of the Institute for the Study of War, who has recently interviewed several rebel commanders, told the New York Times.

Pentagon Continues Down Path Of Religious Persecution

Breitbart notes that the Pentagon is planning on employing Mikey Weinstein as a consultant to develop new policies on "religious tolerance, including a policy for court-martialing military chaplains who share the Christian Gospel during spiritual counseling of American troops."Yes, you read that right. Religious "tolerance" will include punishing military personnel that engage in proselytizing. The article goes on to quote Weinstein comparing the sharing of the gospel to rape and terrorism, and conservative Christian beliefs as sedition and treason. From the article:

Weinstein decries what he calls the “virulent religious oppression” perpetrated by conservative Christians, whom he refers to as “monstrosities” and “pitiable unconstitutional carpetbaggers,” comparing them to “bigots” in the Deep South during the civil rights era.

He cites Dr. James Dobson—the famous Christian founder of Focus on the Family—as “illustrating the extremist, militant nature of these virulently homophobic organizations’ rhetorically-charged propaganda.” Regarding those who teach orthodox Christian beliefs from the Bible, Weinstein concludes, “Let’s call these ignoble actions what they are: the senseless and cowardly squallings of human monsters.”

Weinstein then endorses the ultra-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), who publishes a list of “hate groups.” Alongside truly deplorable organizations like the KKK, the SPLC’s list includes a host of traditional Christian organizations (for their support of traditional marriage) and Tea Party organizations (for supporting limited government). Weinstein says SPLC correctly labels them all as “hate groups.”
 If this is indicative of the future of our military and national policy, every Christian should be very afraid.

Conspiracy Theorists Right, Sort Of...

Rolling Stone reports on the latest price fixing super-scandal:

You may have heard of the Libor scandal, in which at least three – and perhaps as many as 16 – of the name-brand too-big-to-fail banks have been manipulating global interest rates, in the process messing around with the prices of upward of $500 trillion (that's trillion, with a "t") worth of financial instruments. When that sprawling con burst into public view last year, it was easily the biggest financial scandal in history – MIT professor Andrew Lo even said it "dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scam in the history of markets."

That was bad enough, but now Libor may have a twin brother. Word has leaked out that the London-based firm ICAP, the world's largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by American authorities for behavior that sounds eerily reminiscent of the Libor mess. Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world's largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps.

Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It's about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.

It should surprise no one that among the players implicated in this scheme to fix the prices of interest-rate swaps are the same megabanks – including Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland – that serve on the Libor panel that sets global interest rates. In fact, in recent years many of these banks have already paid multimillion-dollar settlements for anti-competitive manipulation of one form or another (in addition to Libor, some were caught up in an anti-competitive scheme, detailed in Rolling Stone last year, to rig municipal-debt service auctions). Though the jumble of financial acronyms sounds like gibberish to the layperson, the fact that there may now be price-fixing scandals involving both Libor and ISDAfix suggests a single, giant mushrooming conspiracy of collusion and price-fixing hovering under the ostensibly competitive veneer of Wall Street culture.
Its a lengthy article, but you should read the whole thing.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Layering Strategy to Food Storage

Ready Nutrition has posted an article involving the concept of layering, and applying it to food storage. From the article:

When planning for emergencies, layering is an ever-constant theme. I often emphasize when one begins to prepare that you start simply by preparing for small-scale emergencies, and then slowly begin adding onto those existing preps to create a longer term preparedness supply. These emergency layers help you create a reliable foundation, and the same layering approach can be used when creating a food storage pantry.There are some emergency food considerations to keep in mind:
  • The amount of people in the household.
  • Have a good amount of food varieties to reduce food fatigue.
  • The serving size of the food.
  • Vitamin content in the food.
  • The expiration date or “best if used by” labels on the food.
  • Special health conditions for family members.
Additionally, these essential food pantry rules can come in handy when you decide on which food to purchase.
The author then discusses four "layers": (i) 0-72 hours, (ii) 4-30 days, (iii) 31-99 days, and (iv) 100-365+ days. Read the whole thing.

(H/t Daily Survival).

No More Wooden Handles!

Another weekend brought another opportunity to devote some serious time to gardening and yard tasks. Things were actually going pretty smoothly, initially. We had purchased a new reel for rolling up hoses (this one contained in a box) and a new hose, and I was able to get the reel installed and the new hose loaded onto it. Since we use a 100 ft. hose, this is much more convenient and neater of storage.

Next, as I think I've mentioned before, the water for our sprinkler system comes from an irrigation canal. Start of the season tasks involve cleaning the inlet pipe for our irrigation/sprinkler system pump, replacing all the plugs removed last fall to drain the pump and system, priming the pump, and then checking that everything works. We have separate manual valves that control different watering for different sections of our property. Generally, I can run sprinklers in two sections at a time. Today, though, opening the valve to one of the sections dropped off all water pressure to any other section. Somewhere, one of the pipes had ruptured.

Since the sprinkler system pipes are buried, it was not readily apparent where was the leak. After running water through it a few times for several minutes each, I finally spotted water percolating out of the ground. Now it was time to dig. The ground in that particular area has lots of rock, and lots of roots from a nearby bush and tree. Grabbing a long handled shovel, I started to excavate a hole to uncover the pipe. The first shovel load was fine. The second ... well, I'm still not sure whether the edge of the shovel got stuck under a root or rock, but the handle suddenly snapped lengthwise along the grain. This was a fairly new shovel. Fortunately, I had a spade with a fiberglass handle and was able to finish digging out the pipe. (Actually, I have several other spades, but they all have wooden handles, and I was reluctant to use them).

Lessons learned: (1) Another example of "two is one, and one is none."  Have backups or substitutes for basic tools. (2) Modern technologies have given us better handles, so use them. I have made sure that my sledge hammer and certain other tools have plastic or fiber glass handles, which are generally stronger and more resistant to breaking and splitting. (3) Sometimes you have to grin and bear it. Things go wrong, but c'est la vie.

My son recently was reading that coconut milk works very well for getting cuttings from fruit trees to sprout. We picked up a can of coconut milk, and will try it with a cutting from a cherry tree and a plum tree. Hopefully, in two or three weeks, I will be able to let you know how it worked.






Concealed Carry Options for Women

An article at Concealed Nation.

TTAG Self-Defense Tip: Practice Shooting Multiple Targets

Another good tip from The Truth About Firearms Blog.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Locating Shooters--There's an App for That

An app that can pinpoint a gunman's location simply by analysing the sound and shockwaves from a gunshot have been revealed by US researchers. 
The Android app can show a map of exactly where the gunman is located, and is expected to be developed for military and police use in the war on terror. 

... The system works on the principle that all but the lowest powered firearms produce unique sonic signatures when they are fired.  

First, there is the muzzle blast – an expanding balloon of sound that spreads out from the muzzle each time the rifle is fired.  

Second, bullets travel at supersonic velocities so they produce distinctive shockwaves as they travel.
 

As a result, a system that combines an array of sensitive microphones, a precise clock and an off-the-shelf microprocessor can detect these signatures and use them to pinpoint the location from which a shot is fired with remarkable accuracy, the researchers say.

In addition to the smartphone, the system consists of an external sensor module about the size of a deck of cards that contains the microphones and the processing capability required to detect the acoustic signature of gunshots, log their time and send that information to the smartphone by a Bluetooth connection.
The researchers have developed two versions.  

One uses a single microphone per module.

It uses both the muzzle blast and shockwave to determine the shooter location. It requires six modules to obtain accurate locations.

The second version uses a slightly larger module with four microphones and relies solely on the shockwave.

It requires only two modules to accurately detect the direction a shot comes from, however, it only provides a rough estimate of the range.
 Obviously, using a silencer and subsonic ammo would obviate the sound waves needed for detection.

Bushnell Trophy Red Dot

The Firearms Blog reports that Bushnell is introducing a range of lower-priced red-dot sights for handguns, shotguns and rifles. MSRPs range from $99.99 to $149.99. Although I was a little slow coming around to using a red dot, I think that they are a must for any weapon you intend to use for self-defense or short distance hunting. It's nice to see the price on decent quality optics have started to come down.

Survival UK Beginning a Series on Urban Survival

(Link here).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

H7N9 Bird Flu Spreads To Taiwan

(Full story here).

Military Censoring Southern Baptist Convention Website?

Fox News reports that the Southern Baptist Convention website has been blocked from access at an indeterminate number of military bases. The DOD claims that it was unintentional, but this may be questionable given the recent U.S. Army training that included Catholics and evangelical Christians among a list of dangerous "extremists."

Why You Should Stay Inside During A Gunfight

Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, upset about the amatuer video of the gunfights between law enforcement and the Boston Bombers, writes in Esquire about why you should stay inside or get away from a gun fight.

He writes, in part:


2. Power, with guns, is dictated by physics. As my father the physicist taught me at way too early of an age, F = M x A. Force = Mass x Acceleration. The striking, or penetrating, power of the bullet is determined by how heavy (mass) it is, multiplied by how fast it is moving. Thus, a small bullet, moving at extreme speeds, can cause a lot of damage. A large bullet can move at much slower speeds, and cause the same damage. All other things being equal, however, the higher the speed, the greater the penetration. Now, that word "penetration" is one you should think about. 
*** 
6. In the real world, I have converted a sedan into a convertible, quite easily, using bullets. Not even a lot of bullets either. If the other guy is firing anything with greater hitting power than, say, a .32 (Google .32 caliber, .45 caliber, 5.56mm and 7.62mm...I can't do it ALL for you) it will go through things. Metals, woods, sheet-rock? No problem. Your front door will not protect you, at all. Nor will the walls of a normal suburban house, nor the three Sheet-rock walls beyond that. In a car, the only thing that really stops most bullets would be the engine block itself. All the rest of the body of a car, well, basically tin-foil. All those cop movies you remember from the 70s, when they hid behind the opened door of their patrol car and shot at the bad guy? Yea, no. Do not think that works. That is stupid, and nobody but actors in Hollywood actually does that. 
*** 
7. SO, the bottom line is this: If you are in a place where you hear steady, and sustained, and nearby (lets call that, for some technical reasons, anything less than 800 meters) gunfire, do these things:
*Go to your basement. You are cool there.
*If you don't have a basement, go to the other side of the house from the firing, and leave, heading away from the firing. Do not stop for a mile.
*If you do not think that you can leave, get on the ground floor, as far from the firing as possible, and place something solid between you and the firing. Solid is something like a bathtub, a car (engine block), a couple of concrete walls (single layer brick...nope).
*If you are high up (say 4rd
 [sic] story or higher) just get away from the side of the building where the firing is taking place. You will, mostly, be protected by the thick concrete of the structure.


I think he is being over simplistic--penetration depends on a lot of factors, including the construction of the bullet, the shape of the bullet, the length of the bullet, the type of material it is striking, and so on--but the gist is generally correct. Most modern construction, especially houses, provide only concealment, not cover.





More Photos From Chernobyl



The Daily Mail has photos and an article on the ruins of Chernobyl. These are different from sets they have run before.

Gun Hoarders

The SHTF Blog discusses the phenomena of people that "prep" by buying lots of firearms and ammo, but doing little or nothing for food storage, and suggests that these types will be a prepper's worst threat in a SHTF situation. The author writes:

My impression, based on many conversations with various preppers, is that those in the “firearms only” category break down further into two categories: those that buy firearms with the intent of stocking up on other supplies later (and then never do), and those more evil individuals who plan to use their firearms to take what they need (whether they verbalize that intent or not). I suspect the majority do not fall into the latter category as I believe most people are generally kind at heart, but they may inevitably enter the “take by force” crowd when the chips are down.
He suggests three strategies: (i) stay away from them (and practice your OPSEC), (ii) outgun them (which may be difficult at best), or (iii) befriend them (although I would note that this violates the principles of OPSEC).

Although I can't find the comment now, one of the comments I read when I first came across this story questioned whether this was because of the emphasis placed on weapons and self-defense on survival web-sites; basically, more people write about firearms, and write more about firearms, than they do food storage or gardening. This is a good point. I think there are some reasons for this. First, I've noticed that the web-sites authored by women tend to focus more on the food and other preps--i.e., nurturing and nesting type activities. Men seem to focus more on protecting against dangers--both environmental (fire, shelter) and predators (firearms, knives). Second, people tend to write about what they are comfortable in discussing. There is a smaller learning curve to becoming competent with firearms compared to gardening or nutrition. Third, it is more interesting to write about the latest red dot sight or tactical shotgun than how to prevent an infestation of potato bugs. Finally, and probably most importantly, everyone has an opinion about firearms.

Returning to the original post, I have had my own experiences with the "gun hoarder" type. I became friends with a co-worker who was interested in firearms, and we began going shooting. He knew I was LDS, and that Mormons were supposed to store food. So, in the course of time, he learned that my wife and I had put up some food storage; he'd been to my house and seen some of it. He would joke that if the "zombie apocalypse" happened, he would be coming to my house to get the food. I'm sure he was joking, and he lives some distance away, but the fact is that he has firearms, he is proficient with them, and he knows that I have some extra food tucked away.

I feel fairly comfortable talking about food storage with other members of the LDS church because we are all supposed to be doing it, and most do to some extent or another. However, I have learned not to discuss food storage or other survival preps with anyone else unless they are a close friend who I would be willing to take in and share with during an emergency.

Reid Introduces Bill To Restrict Powder/Ammunition

The Truth About Guns is reporting that Harry Reid has introduced a bill that would require background checks to purchase ammunition and loose gun powder.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gold and Bread

What does the drop in precious metals portend? This article from Economic Collapse suggests that gold and silver prices will become volatile, wildly escalating over the next few years. Citing Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, it suggests that the fall in gold prices was orchestrated by the Fed to prevent investors from moving from dollars into gold. The SHTF Blog also suggests that gold prices were deliberately driven down so that a cabal of wealthy can buy up the physical gold at cheaper prices. I don't know whether there was deliberate market manipulation going on, but it has happened before. And there have been other accusations within the past few years of market manipulation of precious metals.(See here for the NYT article).

Even so, gold prices are well above what most of us can afford. What are we to do? Are we in trouble if we haven't stored gold and silver?

In Crowther's Prophecy--Key to the Future, which I have cited to numerous times before, he records a couple relevant prophecies. First, he notes a prophecy from Joseph Smith that during the internal wars warning of the influx of people from other areas of the country:

You will be so numerous that you will be in danger of famine, but not for the want of seed time and harvest, but because of so many to be fed. Many will come with bundles under their arms to escape the calamities, and there will be no escape except by fleeing to Zion.

Crowther, p. 64. He also notes a dream related by Heber C. Kimball:

I will tell you a dream which Brother Kesler had lately. He dreamed that there was a sack of gold and a cat placed before him, and that he had the privilege of taking which he pleased, whereupon he took the cat, and walked off with her. Why did he take the cat in preference to the Gold? Because he could eat the cat, but could not eat the gold. You may see about such times before you die.

Crowther, pp. 64-65.

I am reminded of accounts from Germany during the Wiemar Republic and during WWII of urbanites traveling to the countryside to buy food by trading family silver and other precious heirlooms. The fact is that if we are to face dire economic times, we may be as well or better off to have stored food than gold. We can eat the food, and perhaps sell the excess, and thus have both the food and the gold. I am also reminded of one of the episodes of Downton Abbey where, following WWI, certain food items and spices were almost impossible to obtain. While the television series is fiction, the shortages it portrayed were not.

Right now, even though gold and silver prices are high is the time to look at buying up bulk food storage or storing away spices and herbs, or other goods that can be traded or sold in times of troubles.

Spain's Population Falls As Foreign Workers Give Up

The Daily Mail reports that Spain's population fell by 206,000 last year, primarily as a result of foreign born workers leaving the country, presumably because of the poor economy (the story notes that the unemployment rate is 26% and the youth unemployment rate is over 50%). Sadly, the population of native Spaniards only grew by 10,000 last year according to the article--out of a population of 47.1 million. With figures like that, Spain seems to be circling the drain.

Israel Claims Syria Has Used Chemical Weapons

Brigadier-General Itai Brun, Israel's top military intelligence analyst, has told a conference at the National Institute of Security in Tel Aviv, that Syrian forces have used deadly chemical weapons. Brun cites as evidence March 19, 2013, photographs of victims showing foam coming out of their mouths and contracted pupil, which are signs of certain types of chemical weapons. Most likely the weapons used include sarin gas.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring Gardening

I saw a headline last week declaring March 2013 to be one of the warmest on record (although not all news sources can agree--this article from the Washington Post states that it was the 52nd warmest on record, and 13 degrees colder than March of last year).

In any event, it has been unseasonably cool here, and so we have been late getting our outdoor gardens started. This past weekend we spent time cleaning up the yard and preparing our raised garden beds for planting by pulling any weeds and any remains of older plants. We bought some fertilizer to spread, but the ground has compacted enough that we will likely have to add more dirt. Although I hate to disturb the soil too much, it has compacted to about 60% of its volume from last year, so I think it really needs to be churned up. My wife has the green thumb, though, so it will be her decision. When it comes to the gardening, I just provide the muscle.

The last couple years we had very wet springs, which delayed our planting. We learned our lesson, and started planting seeds in early March in pots and plastic cups inside the house, to transplant later. I have seen some inexpensive mini-greenhouses on sale that use a green plastic fabric and metal shelving units, and I'm very tempted to buy one if they go on clearance to use next year.

We also had some problems with using metal tomato cages last year, probably from the metal rusting and leaching, so we will be using wood and/or bamboo this year.

The other thing we tried last year was to use an old wading pool to create a new raised garden bed. Originally, we attempted gardening using standard furrows, which didn't work too well. After a few years, we moved to using mounds, which worked better, but were not an efficient use of space. The first beds we constructed were made with 2x6 boards, but they were too shallow, and we wanted to move the location of our garden beds. A couple years ago, we bought plastic, stackable bed forms from Costco. Very nice, and they come with plastic covers to help in cooler weather, but are somewhat expensive. However, based on a letter posted on Survival Blog, I decided to use an old wading pool. I drilled numerous 1 inch holes in the bottom for drainage, then used a mixture of earth (from leveling some ground) and leaves (from a compost pile) to form the soil. In our leveling operations, we had separated out numerous rocks, some quite large. These we piled around the pool to provide some exterior support. It seemed to work well enough for what we were growing, which was squash.

Anyway, a lot of experimenting and learning. Gardening really is an art, and requires practice before you get good returns on your investment. If you are thinking about gardening, but haven't started, I recommend that you get started as soon as you can so you have time to learn the ropes, work out the bugs, and experiment with different seeds and growing arrangements.

The War On Christianity Continues Unabated

One of the more sickening things about the Boston Bombing was how quickly liberals and the media lined up to suggest that it was an example of "right wing" extremism--and by "right wing," they meant to imply social and fiscal conservatives.

Just scrolling through Weasel Zippers tonight, I saw links to various stories of religious persecution, from the seeming benign orders from the Army that soldiers grind off the scripture references on ACOG sights,  to Syrian Christians being told to leave or die, Syrian bishops being kidnapped by rebels, and continued violence against Christians in Pakistan.

Obviously, compared to what is happening in the Middle-East, the persecution against Christians in the West (Europe and the U.S.) is low key. But will it remain that way? Populations don't just wake up one day and decide that they will oppress and destroy a minority. They are slowly led down that path through innuendo, unofficial ridicule and condemnation, then official censoring and censure, and, finally official condemnation and withdrawal of protection. Christianity is at the stage of unofficial ridicule and condemnation and official censoring, but quickly slipping into official censure. In fact, I think that I would be safe in saying that conservative Christians are to the United States now what Jews were to the Wiemar Republic.

Midwest Flooding

At least three people have died in flooding that is causing havoc across the Midwest.

In all three deaths - two at the same spot in Indiana and one in Missouri - vehicles were swept off the road in flash floods.
The flooding was started by torrential rain last week which caused the Mississippi and many other rivers to surge in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.

And the misery is not over as forecasters say more rain is expected tonight and tomorrow in many places.
Flood waters claimed the life of an Indiana man and Missouri woman after their vehicles were submerged as the Midwest braces for potentially record-level flooding and torrential downpour.
Robert Morgan, 64, of Arcadia, Indiana, died Friday attempting to drive his car through the rising water.
He was carried 100 yards downstream in Hamilton County, according to a statement from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

Police responded to a 911 call from a motorist who said his vehicle was sinking in the same spot where Morgan's car was submerged.

Upon arrival, rescuers found an unoccupied truck 200 feet from the roadway. The phone that called 911 belonged to an Arcadia resident, but the owner had not been found, police said.



Review--The Butterfly Wallet


Those of you that have seen the TV series Seinfield may remember the episode where the George Castanza character's wallet is so full of cards, receipts, etc., that he can't fold the wallet and it ends up exploding. While my wallet has never gotten that bad, I really hate having to carry a wallet around because most are bulky compared to the what I need to carry.

Last year I bought new glasses which required a special cleaning cloth, which came in a plastic sleeve. I discovered that it was just the right size to accept my drivers license and a debit card, so I started travelling light. However, as time went on, I needed to carry more items with me. It wasn't very convenient for carrying cash. Also, the plastic started to split and age, and, frankly, I looked like a bum trying to pull a card or cash out of the wallet.

What I wanted was something like a wallet, but a lot lighter. Then, a few weeks ago, I came across the Butterfly Wallet while shopping in REI.


It comes in different colors, including violet, blue, lime and black. As indicated at the manufacturer's website, the wallet is made of ripstop nylon and weighs just 0.2 oz. And it is small. As you can see, it is a tri-fold design, and each pocket is the size of a credit card. Because it lacks the bulk of a regular wallet, it is still dimensionaly only slightly larger than a credit card when folded up.

After using for a few weeks, I have to give it high ratings. It is lightweight and small. I can easily fit it in a pocket with my cell phone, if need be. It keeps my cash, cards and ID handy and organized. Although I have pulled it out and found the cards to have slid out about a quarter inch, I haven't yet had any cards slide completely out. My personal experience is that it actually seems to work better with more cards in it. For instance, the photo from the manufacturer (above) shows a single card in each pocket. I think in that case, it would probably be loose enough to lose something. I carry two to three credit cards, ID cards, membership cards, discount cards, etc., per pocket, which works just fine.

I like it and I recommend it for anyone tired of carrying around a bulky wallet.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fitch Downgrades the U.K.

From Reuters:
Fitch Ratings has downgraded the United Kingdom's Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) to 'AA+' from 'AAA'.

Boston and the Future

Now that the two men that planted the bombs have been caught, it is time to consider the further implications of the bomb attack. It is clear that, whether or not the bombers were part of a larger conspiracy or group, they were inspired by the ideology of Islamic supremacy. Of course, Obama has indicated that we should not jump to conclusions about their motivation, but this is coming from the same person and Administration that still cannot bring itself to admit that the motivation for the Ft. Hood shooter (even though he yelled "Allah Akbar") was Islam. (Conversely, if the FBI were to discover that one of the brothers had read "The Turner Diaries" ten years ago, that would be enough for them to be branded "right-wing" extremists).

However, John Hinderaker notes at the Powerline Blog that whether they were part of a terrorist organization or acting on their own is largely irrelevant:

... The important point is not that the Tsarnaevs acted on their own, but rather that they could have. There is nothing about the murders they carried out that was beyond the capacities of two bright (as they were) and committed young men. 
That being the case, it is depressing to contemplate the success that the brothers’ terrorist act achieved. They killed three people and wounded nearly 200. The death toll was kept remarkably low by the fact that the finish line of a marathon is swarming with doctors, nurses, policemen and ambulances, and by the presence nearby of several excellent hospitals; still, the destruction must have been satisfying, from their perspective. Moreover, their homemade explosives succeeded in virtually shutting down a major American city for the better part of a week, and diverting an astonishing volume of law enforcement resources at enormous cost. 
That being the case, it is reasonable to ask whether the question of their association with a larger terrorist group, while entirely appropriate, is nevertheless overrated. It strikes me that the main lesson we should take away from the Boston Marathon massacre is the destructive potential of jihadist ideology in itself, apart from its manifestation in relatively large and well-organized groups like, most notably, al Qaeda. Doesn’t the fact that two guys like the Tsarnaev brothers can cause such destruction, and paralyze an entire metropolitan area, regardless of whether they had any direct association with al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, call into question the adequacy of a drones-over-Afghanistan strategy? And shouldn’t we at least consider, in the midst of a wide-ranging debate over immigration policy, whether more realistic immigration measures should be taken to limit the risk posed by home grown (or, as in this case, transplanted) terrorists?
Hinderaker's last question is important as the backers of "immigration reform" try to rush a bill through Congress before anyone has had a chance to review it. Over at the National Review, John O'Sullivan raises an important issue--the failure of assimilation:
The first point that strikes me is that these young men should have had every reason to be happy in the United States and grateful to the country for its giving them sanctuary. Their uncle seems to have developed just such a loyalty. In addition, the young men were apparently well-integrated into American life locally. They had been to good schools, taken part in voluntary activities, and were regarded by Americans who knew them as bright kids and potentially productive citizens.


... In that case
[the 2005 London subway bombings] — and I suspect we shall find also in the case of the marathon bombers — the explanation was (or included the fact) that they had been assimilated into a nullity. For almost the entire youth of the 7/7 bombers, the British had acted as if they were ashamed of their national identity and history. So young men, with the usual propensity of young men to want to identify with patriotic and idealistic causes, had been told that there was nothing admirable or heroic about being British. It was a sort of swindle, and one, moreover, that had been perpretated especially upon people of their ethnic backgrounds. They had therefore looked around for a heroic cause they could identify with. The radical Islamists provided them with the cause of radical Islamism — and they embarked on the relatively short road to mass murder.
When that happened, several British commentators argued that this wouldn’t happen in America because America, with its public and private ceremonies of Americanization, had solved the conundrum of how to turn immigrants into loyal and patriotic Americans.
Alas, I had to tell them sadly that they were a generation behind the times. America now bore all the marks of a society that had been subjected to sevral decades of relentless indoctrination in the dogmas of multiculturalism and bilingualism. And the results are now in.
Ten days ago the Hudson Institute published an important paper, “America’s Patriotic Immigrations System is Broken,” by John Fonte and Althea Nagai, which drew on a massive new Harris Interactive survey of native-born Americans and immigrants (which Fonte discussed on the Corner).
This study shows beyond any doubt that, as John Fonte puts it, the patriotic attachment of naturalized citizens is much weaker than that of the native-born. For example, by 30 percentage points (67.3 percent to 37 percent) native-born citizens are more likely to believe that the U.S. Constitution should be a higher legal authority than international law if there is a conflict between the two. But that is only one example — the strength of Fonte-Nagai paper is the cumulative evidence that a relatively weak love of country persists across a large range of issues. But read the study for yourself.
Into this moral and patriotic vacuum seeps what Orwell called “transferred nationalism.” In his day this was usually some variety of Marxism; today it often often a variation on radical Islam. But it is adopted and sparks violent thoughts in the minds of young men whom official America has shielded from the old Americanization.
Getting patriotic assimilation right is as vital — perhaps more vital — than getting border security right. It is an essential part of any comprehensive immigration reform worth the name. To propose opening the country to millions of new immigrants until we have solved this problem is simply to invite more violence from more young men whom we have disoriented and left victim to the worse impulses.

...The fact that Senator Schumer has declared ex cathedra that the Boston bombings have no significance for the immigration bill before Congres
[sic] merely shows that folly has no natural internal limit.
I'm also concerned with the police response, which seemed over-the-top, yet largely ineffective. An entire city put on "lock down" to track down two men. And unsuccessfully. The first clue as to the brother's location came only after their photos were finally released to the public (apparently panicking them into action). The second brother was located only after the "lock down" was lifted, and a citizen called in a tip. The success of the two will surely breed copycats. Will these also result in shutting down cities and ordering 24-hour curfews?

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Carbon Bubble

We're not talking about the little bubbles in your soft drink. The Guardian reports:

The so-called "carbon bubble" is the result of an over-valuation of oil, coal and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies. According to a report published on Friday, at least two-thirds of these reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for "dangerous" climate change. If the agreements hold, these reserves will be in effect unburnable and so worthless – leading to massive market losses. But the stock markets are betting on countries' inaction on climate change.


* * *
Stern said that far from reducing efforts to develop fossil fuels, the top 200 companies spent $674bn (£441bn) in 2012 to find and exploit even more new resources, a sum equivalent to 1% of global GDP, which could end up as "stranded" or valueless assets. Stern's landmark 2006 report on the economic impact of climate change – commissioned by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown – concluded that spending 1% of GDP would pay for a transition to a clean and sustainable economy.
In other words, the bubble that is forming is that despite the fears of "peak oil," energy companies are finding and exploiting larger and larger deposits of new carbon-based fuels. However, if the climate overlords have their way, severe restrictions will be imposed on carbon-based fuels, dramatically reducing demand during a time of increasing supply, and resulting in a crash in oil prices and, consequently, the value of these energy companies. .

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

America's Achilles Heel--Electrical Transformers (Updated and Bumped)

The most vulnerable structure, system or component for large scale coal plants is the main step up transformer – that component that handles electricity at 230 or 500 kV. They are one of a kind components, and no two are exactly alike. They are so huge and so heavy that they must be transported to the site via special designed rail cars intended only for them, and only about three of these exist in the U.S.They are no longer fabricated in the U.S., much the same as other large scale steel fabrication. It’s manufacture has primarily gone overseas. These step up transformers must be ordered years in advance of their installation. Some utilities are part of a consortium to keep one of these transformers available for multiple coal units, hoping that more will not be needed at any one time. In industrial engineering terms, the warehouse min-max for these components is a fine line.

On any given day with the right timing, several well trained, dedicated, well armed fighters would be able to force their way on to utility property, fire missiles or lay explosives at the transformer, destroy it, and perhaps even go to the next given the security for coal plants. Next in line along the transmission system are other important transformers, not as important as the main step up transformers, but still important, that would also be vulnerable to attack. With the transmission system in chaos and completely isolated due to protective relaying, and with the coal units that supply the majority of the electricity to the nation incapable of providing that power for years due to the wait for step up transformers, whole cites, heavy industry, and homes and businesses would be left in the dark for a protracted period of time, all over the nation.

The economy would collapse, regardless of how much good will and positive hope there was among the ruling elite. The hard facts of life – America in the dark – would soon become apparent to everyone, and the economy wouldn’t be able to absorb it.
Bob Owen's blog elaborates on this:
After the Dot Com bubble burst in the early 2000s, I took a job in upstate New York for a subcontractor of Central Hudson Gas and Electric. I was part of a crew sent out to map electrical transmission line power poles and towers via GPS, check the tower footings for integrity, check the best routes for access, etc.
It meant I rode quads (ATVs) through mountains, swamps, forests, neighborhoods and farms all over southern New York, in winter’s icy chill and blowing snow, and in summer’s melting heat. It was exhausting work, often in beautiful scenery.

... what I remember most about the job were the days we spent up near the Rondout Reservoir. What I remember in specific was discovering how powerless the government was to protect key utilities.

In a post-9/11 New York, where terrorism was foremost on the minds of many, you simply didn’t mess around near New York City’s water supply, and Roundout was part of that equation.

The thought that we could be viewed as a threat as we rode the hills around the reservoir for several days never crossed our minds, because we were focused on our jobs minding the electrical transmission lines, not the waters flowing nearby.

It wasn’t until late on the second day, where we parked right beside the dam’s offices, that law enforcement caught up to us. Apparently we’d been the on again, off again suspects in a low intensity chase for two days, with the law enforcement agency that was in charge of providing security for the reservoir (NYDNR, maybe?) trying to chase us down, without any luck. They didn’t catch us until we parked the truck beside their HQ on the afternoon of the second day and began unloading our gear right under their windows.

That it took them 14 hours to “catch” us was a little unsettling. Then I started thinking about the much more fragile structures we were working beside routinely.

You see, we’d ridden up to edge of the Danskammer and Roseton power generating stations, and a dozen or more unattended substations during the course of this contract, without being challenged at all.
Substations like the one above could be accessed not just from surface roads, but from access trails under the power lines by people with UTVs, ATVs, and motorcycles. 

Just like the residential transformers in your neighborhood, the transformers in substations are cooled with a form of mineral oil. If someone decides to blast a transformer at its base as prepper Bryan Smith did, and the oil drains out, then the transformer either burns out catastrophically, or if the utility is lucky, a software routine notices the problem and shuts the substation (or at least the affected portion) down. The power must then be rerouted through the remaining grid until that transformer can be replaced and any other resulting damage can be repaired.

Were an angry group of disenfranchised citizens to target in a strategic manner the substations leading to a city or geographic area—say, Albany, for example—they could put the area in the dark for as long as it took to bring the substations back online. Were they committed enough, and spread their attacks out over a wide enough area, perhaps mixing in a few tens of dozens of the residential transformers found every few hundred yards along city streets, they could overwhelm the utility companies ability to repair the damage being caused or law enforcement’s ability to stop them. The government could perhaps assign a soldier or cop for every transformer, substation and switch, but they’d run out of men long before they ran out of things they need guarded. Not that the government could even guarantee to actually protect the transformers they were guarding; a residential transformer is a big, stationary target, and the substation transformers and switches and other equipment even bigger targets. Residential transformers are easily “touched” by even a moderately competent deer hunter from hundreds of yards away, perhaps separated by roads, subdivisions, swamps or streams. Substations are a dense area target easily struck from a half-mile or more away.
Meanwhile, the lone wolves and small teams would simply shift to other targets of opportunity left unguarded by an overwhelmed and outmatched government force, of which there are many.

How many days with partial power or no power, how many nights in the dark, would it take before the local economy collapsed in the targeted area? Insurgents could cripple a city, region, or state, without ever firing a bullet at another human being.
 Update (April 17, 2013): I just came across this April 16 article (via Survival Blog) about sabotage of electrical transformers in California:

South Bay authorities have announced that a coordinated act of vandalism that took down electricity and phone service on Tuesday.
One of those incidents happened at a PG&E substation in San Jose. 
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department is now conducting a criminal investigation. 

"PG&E notified us that they had a breach in their security fence and that somebody had actually gained access to the substation and damaged, I believe, they're either transformers or radiators," said Kurtis Stenderup of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department.
At least five of the seven banks of transformers appear to have been shot, causing them to leak oil. 

Authorities in charge of the state's power grid are asking South Bay customers to conserve electricity at least until midnight Wednesday morning. So far, PG&E says there have been no outages and the state's Flex Alert warning is just a precaution.

"As we conduct the investigation there may be equipment that may need to be taken offline or out of service," said Nicole Liebelt of PG&E.

Just a short distance from the substation someone cut an AT&T phone cable leaving people in the city of Gilroy unable to call emergency services like 911 from their landlines.

Bird Flu Outbreak in England

Nothing big, but worth watching. Full story here.

Fed and Bank of Japan Caused Collapse of Gold Prices


Ambrose Evans-Pritchard believes that the policies by the Fed and the Bank of Japan caused the sudden drop in gold prices last week. He writes:

It is becoming ever clearer that the roaring boom in global equities since last summer has priced in an economic recovery that does not in fact exist. The International Monetary Fund has had to nurse down its global growth forecasts yet again. We are still stuck in an old-fashioned trade depression, with pervasive over-capacity in manufacturing plant and a record global savings rate of 25pc of GDP.


... The upward trend of the great bull market has been broken. The technical damage is brutal. Bank of America expects a further drop to $1,200. Be patient.
 
My view is that the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan "caused" the gold crash. The rest is noise. The Fed assault began in February when it published a paper warning that the longer quantitative easing continues, the harder it will be for the bank to extricate itself. 
... This was a shock. It suggested that the Fed has lost its nerve, and will think long and hard before launching a fresh blitz of money if growth falters.
Then came last week's Fed Minutes, with hints of tapering off QE earlier that expected. That was the next shock. What they seemed to be saying is that the US economy is groping it way back to normality, that the era of silly money is over, that the dollar will stand tall again.
If that were the case, gold should fall. But it is not the case. The US economy is growing below the Fed's own "stall speed" indicator. Half a million people fell out of the workforce in March. Retail sales fell in March. So did manufacturing.
... My guess is that the Fed will be forced to row back smartly from its exit talk, but first we must look deflation in the eyes.
As for the Bank of Japan, it had been assumed that the colossal monetary stimulus of Haruhiko Kuroda would revive the yen-carry trade, leaking $1 trillion into world asset markets. But the early evidence is the opposite. Japanese investors brought money home last week.
"Mrs Watanabe" is selling her Kiwi and Aussie bonds to bet on stocks and property at home. And she is selling gold like never before. That too is a shock.
Japan's "Abenomics" may prove a net drag on the world over coming months. It is exporting deflation through trade effects. This already visible in Korea and China, where soaring wages have eroded competitiveness. "Investors may have forgotten that yen weakness was one of the immediate causes of the 1997 Asian currency crisis and Asia’s subsequent economic collapse," said Albert Edwards from Societe Generale.
China's growth rate fell to 7.7pc in the first quarter. It will fall further, though the catch-up boom in the hinterland cities of Chengdu, Chonquing, Changsa and Xi'an may have further to run.
Fitch Ratings says credit has surged from €9 trillion to €23 trillion over the past four years, a rise equal to the entire US banking system. Beijing pumped up loans yet again after its recession scare in the summer, but is gaining less traction. The GDP growth effect of credit has halved. It is the classic sign of an economy sated on debt. China too will have to deleverage.
The world is still in a contained depression. Sliding commodities tell us global money is if anything too tight. "There is a threat of deflation almost everywhere. A lot of central banks will have to follow the Bank of Japan, whatever they say now," said Lars Christensen form Danske Bank
The era of money printing is young yet. Gold will have its day again.

The Inevitability Of Inflation And Continuing Monetary Crises in Europe

Carmen Reinhart, a Harvard economist, gave an interview to Der Speigel about inflation and central bank monetary policy. She noted, in part:

You have to deal with the debt overhang one way or the other because the high debt levels are an impediment to growth, they paralyze the financial system and the credit process. One way to cope with this is to write off part of the debt.

... But we are in an environment where politicians are very reluctant to do write-offs. So what happens is that money is transferred from savers to borrowers via negative interest rates.

... After World War II, all countries that had a big debt overhang relied on financial repression to avoid an explicit default. After the war, governments imposed interest rate ceilings for government bonds. Nowadays ... [m]onetary policy is doing the job. And with high unemployment and low inflation that doesn't even look suspicious. Only when inflation picks up, which is ultimately going to happen, will it become obvious that central banks have become subservient to governments.

... Somewhere down the road you are going to wind up with higher inflation. That is a safe bet -- even in Japan …
She also observed the following about the U.S. debt:
... who are the large holders of government bonds? Foreign central banks. You think the Bank of China is going to be repaid? The US doesn't have to default explicitly. If you have negative real interest rates, the effect on the creditors is the same. That is also a transfer from China, South Korea, Brazil and other creditors to the US.

... Why do we have such low interest rates? The Federal Reserve Bank is prepared to continue buying record levels of debt as long as the unemployment situation isn't satisfying. And China's central bank will also continue to buy treasuries, because they don't want the renminbi to appreciate.
And while you consider Reinhart's comments, there is this from Walter Russell Mead concerning the Euro crises and why it won't be solved soon, or without hardship:

A new survey by the European Central Bank has concluded that median German household wealth ranks among the lowest in the entire Eurozone. The median German family is worth €51,000 whereas the median Cypriot household is worth €267,000. ...
But anybody who’s traveled in Europe understands that these numbers have something wrong with them. Germans are significantly richer than Italians and Greeks. The answer, says Münchau, must be that varying price levels across the eurozone are responsible.
... In America, it’s the richer parts of the country that have the highest price levels. But in Europe it’s the other way round. Prosperous Germany has lower prices than the dead broke Club Med countries. In American terms, imagine that real estate in Manhattan was cheaper than in Detroit, or that prices in Buffalo, New York, far outstripped prices in Silicon Valley.
There are two ways to solve this problem within the eurozone: Germany can let its prices inflate to match Club Med levels, or the Club Med countries can deflate to match German prices. But the first option is closed: since the Germans are dead set against inflation, prices in the south will have to come down.
They will have to come down a lot. For the eurozone to survive as it now stands, house prices, wages, the cost of meals in restaurants, groceries, and so on would all have to fall by as much as 50 percent in the periphery. That can’t happen without massive losses to banks, which have lent money based on current price levels. These loans cannot be repaid if prices fall that far. And this kind of price adjustment also means massive unemployment, probably dragging on for many years.
As Münchau points out, this situation means that Europe’s single currency has in effect already failed. €300,000 in Germany is not the same as €300,000 in Italy or Spain, and there is no way to equalize values without years of wretched and ruinous pain.
... We have no way of knowing how this all ends. One problem is that the smartest solution—having Germany and perhaps a handful of other northern countries leave the euro for a new currency (the Deutche Mark 2.0, or a “neuro” for northern Europe)—would make life easier in the south. The south based euro would fall in value, but since debts and contracts are denominated in that currency, the adjustment would be the same as in a normal devaluation. This course would likely lead quickly to a new burst of growth in the south, though inflation and other problems would take a toll over time.
But the euro’s break up day would cause a lot of problems for Germany and its northern friends. First, the new currency would rapidly appreciate, killing their export markets. Second, all the assets their banks and companies held in the south (loans, etc.) would suddenly be worth much less. This would quickly create a major and expensive banking crisis in the north. The resulting bailout might well bring the neuro back to earth for a while, helping exporters, but it would be an ugly and expensive mess and the German government would end up with a large pile of new debt. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What Caused the Sudden Decline in Gold Prices?

From NBC News:

The two-day crash in the price of gold is one of the most devastating asset sell-offs ever witnessed on Wall Street, right up there with the stock market crash of 1987. What makes it that much worse is no one is exactly sure why it happened.
... It seems like every trader on Wall Street has a theory for the move. Most commonly cited are fears of central bank selling (especially Cyprus), exchange-traded funds liquidation, global deflation setting in, a weak yen strengthening the dollar, and mysterious hedge funds blowing up from margin calls.


... Many say there may not be a fundamental reason to pinpoint for the bullion crash. After all, the metal has no fundamentals like cash flows or dividends, so it is only worth what others are willing to pay for it. After a 13-year run, perhaps it was time for other assets like Treasurys and high-yielding stocks to gain favor among the safe-haven crowd.



"Commodities trade even more technically than other assets since it's futures driven," said Enis Taner, global macro editor for RiskReversal.com. The crash "was technical more than anything in my view."



Taner points to the $1,530 to $1,550 area for gold, which was support for the metal for almost two years. Once it broke below that, the rush for the exits started.



And that's where a new facet of this trade, which was not around in 1980, may have thrown fuel on the fire: ETFs. They give the average Joe access to the gold futures market and these less sophisticated investors may not have the same pain threshold or capital as institutional investors.
 Or maybe its fear of banks defaulting on gold contracts.

Video Review Of The Vortex Razor Red Dot...

... with a link from The Truth About Guns. The review is from the Military Arms Channel, and bashes on the Burris Fast Fire II quite a bit. However, the Burris is less than half the price of the Vortex sight--$200 versus nearly $500. However, the Vortex sight looks to be tough--they drop a rifle several times so it lands on the sight, and everything reportedly still worked. Anyway, check it out.

Egyptians Facing Starvation and Malnutrition

David Goldman observes:
Egypt’s pound has fallen by 40% since last December, from 6 to the dollar to 8.25 to the dollar on the black market. The prices of basic food items like beans and milk have risen by more than that, pricing all forms of protein out of the range of the half of Egyptians who live on less than $2 a day. And the worst is yet to come: according to the U.S. embassy, the Muslim Brotherhood government has vastly inflated its estimates of this year’s wheat harvest in order to keep export orders down — because it doesn’t have the money to pay for them. Egypt reportedly got $5 billion in emergency loans from Libya and Qatar (although it is not clear how much of that can be spent), but that barely covers the government’s arrears to oil companies operating in the country.
Goldman continues:
The half of Egyptians that lives on $2 a day no longer eats beans, let alone milk products.
The price of fava beans, the country’s second-most important food staple, has already risen by 40% this year, to 5,000 Egyptian pounds (US$728) per ton from $3,000 Egyptian pounds in January. Imports of proteins have collapsed, according to the Egyptian Gazette....
The price of imported milk products, which account for 60% to 65% of consumption, has risen by 60% since January, the Gazette reported.
The only basic foodstuffs still available to poor Egyptians are state-subsidized bread, sugar and oil. That may change drastically during the next several months.
He also notes evidence of capital flight based on official reports of declining cotton exports, notwithstanding no evidence of a decline in cotton production. This indicates that cotton merchants may be trading cotton for foreign currency or holding their currency in accounts outside the country.

Earthquakes Hit Middle and Far East

Somewhat lost among all the news reports on the Boston bombing was that there was a powerful earthquake in Iran near the Pakistan border. USA Today reports:

The website of Tehran Geophysics Center said the quake, measured at least magnitude 7.7, lasted 40 seconds and called it the strongest in more than 50 years in one of the world's most seismically active areas. Press TV called it "massive," but likely far less than menacing than lesser quakes in far more populated areas.


It also was the second deadly quake to hit Iran in less than a week after a magnitude 6.1 temblor struck near Bushehr, on Iran's Persian Gulf coast, killing at least 37 people and raising calls for greater international safety inspectors at Iran's lone nuclear reactor nearby.


Press TV said the quake was centered near Saravan, about 50 kilometers (26 miles) from the Pakistani border. The U.S. Geological Survey put the preliminary magnitude at 7.8 and at a depth of 15.2 kilometers (nine miles).
Casualty figures are somewhat muddled:

At least 34 people were killed in a single village in Pakistan, a military official said. But the overall death toll became clouded after conflicting reports from Iran.


At first, Iran's state-in Press TV said at least 40 people died — which would push the two-nation tally to 74. But it later retreated from its account, and other Iranian outlets stepped in with a far less dire picture.
More at the New York Times.

Also, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Papua New Guinea.

Thoughts On The Boston Bombing

I don't want to rehash the general facts concerning the bombing, which you can just as easily find anywhere on the Internet. But there are a few interesting articles that caught my attention that are just a bit off the beaten path. 

Some of the most recent news is that the bomb was apparently made using a pressure cooker filled with an explosive and shrapnel, a favorite of terrorists in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. This Reuters article speculates:
At least one bomb and possibly both were built using pressure cookers as the superstructure, black powder or gunpowder as the explosive and ball bearings as additional shrapnel, according to current and former counterterrorism officials briefed on the matter.
The sources, who asked not to be identified, said instructions on how to design such bombs are available on the Internet.
On the other hand, this article at Popular Mechanics explains:

"The forensics start as soon as people realize there's been an explosion," says Tom Thurman, of Eastern Kentucky University.
Thurman knows a lot about bomb investigations. Before his retirement from the FBI in 1998, Thurman was the chief of the FBI Bomb Data Center; he also worked Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; the bombing deaths of a federal judge in Alabama and an attorney in Georgia, both in 1989; and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
... Video will be crucial to determining what happened in Boston, much more than the laboratory analysis, Thurmon says. "They will be looking at how the bomb got there: who deposited it and when."
Even the video of the blast can help identify what kind of bomb it is—or in the case of Boston, confirm that the bombs that detonated were the same that went off. "Generally, white smoke means a commercial explosion or improvised device," he says. A common chemical used in these bombs, in the United States and abroad, is acetone peroxide (TATP). It comes in a white powder and blooms in a white cloud when it explodes. In Boston, the initial images seem to show white smoke blossoming at the moment of explosion.
Industrial and military explosives emit black smoke, Thurman says.
This Boston Herald report notes that the bombing could easily be the work of a lone individual:

“When the terrorist has planned an attack and they’re going to utilize an IED as their weapons of strategic influence, it’s hard to stop that in a free and open society,” said Grant Haber, a security consultant who runs the firm American 
Innovations. “It’s difficult. Where we can do a better job is focusing our efforts via a whole-of-government approach, and focus our 
efforts on gaining a better control on homemade explosive precursors.”
The bombs could easily have been hidden in a backpack, avoiding all suspicion among the thousands of spectators who flooded the Back Bay yesterday, experts said.

Retired FBI bomb technician Kevin G. Miles said the attack could “easily” have been the work of one person.

“A one-man operation could 
easily do something like this,” 
Miles said. “It would take some coordination, some know-how and some intelligence, but a lot of bombers throughout history have been one person.”
Miles also said it would have been all too easy for the bomber or bombers to blend in.
“There are thousands and thousands of people. You’re not going to be able to check everybody’s backpack, everybody’s gym bag. Every runner’s got a backpack.
“No one’s going to question somebody carrying around a backpack. They’re not paying attention,” Miles said. “This is the way it is. We’re a free country. This isn’t Russia or Cuba. You’re not going to be able to check everybody’s bag, 
everybody’s pocketbook on a 
massive event like this. This is America.”
Miles said the white smoke was indicative of a “commercially available explosive,” such as smokeless gunpowder.
“It can be very powerful. Smokeless powder confined in a pipe bomb can function with the same velocity as TNT,” Miles said.
He said there is nothing to immediately indicate whether it was the work of a team or a lone wolf.
Note the emphasis on controlling "precursors." This could be a prelude to attempts to control or restrict access to reloading components and supplies, including gun powder


Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Bombings (Updated)

Drudge probably has the latest story links on this, but the New York Post is indicating that there were three explosions--two at the Boston Marathon and one at the Boston JFK Library--and that 12 are dead and nearly 50 injured. Also, the suspect is a Saudi national.

Remember that the Obama Administration just recently entered into an agreement with Saudi Arabia (the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Program) that would have allowed Saudis to bypass normal customs lines starting this next year.

So, how will the Administration not let this crises go to waste?

Update: The LA Times reports that as many as 100 people may have been injured, and that the explosion at the JFK Library was unrelated. Weasel Zippers has noted that liberals had already started blaming "right wing extremists".

Friday, April 12, 2013

Strategies for Magazine Limitations

Another firearm related article from Guns Magazine for those in New York and other jurisdictions that limit the number of rounds you can carry in a defensive weapon:
“Spray and pray” or “hose the foes” was never a sound strategy, even with higher capacity handguns, and it’s all the more hopeless with a severely limited ammunition reservoir. A law born as a knee-jerk reaction to the murder of the helpless never took into account the fact that when the time comes to stop those violent murderers, they are likely to be in such a state of rage that one or two bullets are unlikely to stop them unless the shots are perfectly placed. That reality does indeed make powerful cartridges all the more important.

It also means that the old gunfighter’s aphorism “speed’s fine, but accuracy’s final” must come again to the forefront. Have a gun whose sights you can aim with. Invoke another bit of wisdom invoked by gunfighters from Wyatt Earp to Texas Ranger John Hughes to Bill Jordan: “Take your time, quick.” Accuracy of fire vs. volume of fire is no longer a debate when volume of fire has been taken away from you as an option.

Spare ammo will be all the more important. ... From WWI through Korea, American troops with 1911 .45 autos and a couple of spare 7-round mags were considered the best-armed handgunners on the battlefield. Still, there was a reason any serviceman issued a .45 was issued two spare mags to be carried with it.

... Backup gun? I think it’s a great idea no matter how many rounds you’re allowed in your primary handgun, and all the more important if you’re limited to a low-capacity gun.

EO Tech Contest

EO Tech is running a Facebook contest to celebrate their millionth sight, with monthly and a year end prize packages. Details here.

Using Telescopic Sights

Continuing on the theme of my last post, which was on operating a bolt-action rifle, Guns Magazine has also published some useful articles on using and adjusting telescopic sights. For instance, this article explains some basics as to how scopes are designed and built. Another article addresses how to use a long-range tactical scope. Another, which I just happened to be perusing the other day in the print edition, addresses adjusting your scope for parallax and distortion.

Operating the Bolt Action Rifle

Sometimes its good to review the basics ... or to incorporate them. One of the reasons I like to shoot a semi-auto rifle is that I don't have to worry about working the action. That said, I have developed a poor habit with bolt action rifles which is to not immediately operate the bolt upon firing. While acceptable for target shooting, it is a poor habit for hunting, where quick follow up shots may be necessary. Guns Magazine has a recent article on this topic:
A few principles apply with all methods. The rifle remains shouldered as the bolt is operated. Firing a shot, lowering the rifle while working the bolt, then shouldering it again is slow, tacky, and just wrong.

Reload immediately after firing. The shot sequence doesn’t end when the shot is fired; it ends when the rifle is ready to fire the next shot. Reloading should be so quick and habitual the action is being worked while the shot is still echoing. If another shot isn’t needed there will be plenty of time to clear the chamber and reload the magazine.

Work the bolt briskly. Don’t abuse the rifle but don’t baby it either. Run it like you mean it. Whatever direction the bolt is traveling, keep it going until some mechanical feature of the rifle stops it.

A common error is for a shooter to see the fired case eject and immediately begin moving the bolt forward, before it has moved far enough back to pick up a fresh cartridge. Remember: The rifle, not the shooter, stops movement of the bolt. Lift the bolt until it won’t lift further. Pull it back until it hits the bolt stop. The bolt stop will take it. If it won’t you need a better rifle.
 The article also goes into a few techniques for gripping the bolt and the author illustrates with photos both the steps to operating the bolt, as well as his favorite method of grip.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Elite Panic

From an interview with Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. (h/t Instapundit)

Though Solnit is one of San Francisco’s most devoted residents, we met in Manhattan to discuss her latest offering, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, a tour through a century of North American catastrophes that deftly guides us through the rubble that results from the volatile combination of social darwinism and disaster. After opening with an astounding portrait of San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake, Solnit takes readers to Halifax in 1917, where a cargo-ship crash caused the largest man-made explosion before the invention of the atom bomb. In Mexico City she revisits the 1985 earthquake, spending time with seamstresses who organized themselves after witnessing bosses who rushed to salvage machinery while workers perished. Solnit then presents 9/11 through the eyes of survivors and volunteers before taking an unsparing look at New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. There, the apathy of government authorities and unremorseful confessions of racist vigilantes who killed innocent people in order to protect their property against imaginary looters stands in dramatic contrast to the stories of selfless citizens who navigated their boats down flooded streets to rescue stranded citizens, opened their homes to flood survivors, or traveled to Louisiana to contribute to the rebuilding of the broken city.
... AT One of the most interesting ideas in the book is the concept of “elite panic”—the way that elites, during disasters and their aftermath, imagine that the public is not only in danger but also a source of danger. You show in case after case how elites respond in destructive ways, from withholding essential information, to blocking citizen relief efforts, to protecting property instead of people. As you write in the book, “there are grounds for fear of a coherent insurgent public, not just an overwrought, savage one.”
RS The term “elite panic” was coined by Caron Chess and Lee Clarke of Rutgers. From the beginning of the field in the 1950s to the present, the major sociologists of disaster—Charles Fritz, Enrico Quarantelli, Kathleen Tierney, and Lee Clarke—proceeding in the most cautious, methodical, and clearly attempting-to-be-politically-neutral way of social scientists, arrived via their research at this enormous confidence in human nature and deep critique of institutional authority. It’s quite remarkable.
Elites tend to believe in a venal, selfish, and essentially monstrous version of human nature, which I sometimes think is their own human nature. I mean, people don’t become incredibly wealthy and powerful by being angelic, necessarily. They believe that only their power keeps the rest of us in line and that when it somehow shrinks away, our seething violence will rise to the surface—that was very clear in Katrina. Timothy Garton Ash and Maureen Dowd and all these other people immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started writing commentaries based on the assumption that the rumors of mass violence during Katrina were true. A lot of people have never understood that the rumors were dispelled and that those things didn’t actually happen; it’s tragic.
But there’s also an elite fear—going back to the 19th century—that there will be urban insurrection. It’s a valid fear. I see these moments of crisis as moments of popular power and positive social change. The major example in my book is Mexico City, where the ’85 earthquake prompted public disaffection with the one-party system and, therefore, the rebirth of civil society.
Read the whole thing.

China's Exports Miss Forecasts

From Bloomberg:
China’s exports rose less than forecast for the first time in four months, fueling concerns about the outlook for trade as the government said it’s investigating reports of inflated figures.
Shipments abroad increased 10 percent in March from a year earlier, the customs administration said today in Beijing, while imports rose by an above-forecast 14.1 percent, leaving an unexpected trade deficit of $880 million. An “astounding” 92.9 percent jump in exports to Hong Kong, the most in 18 years, raises questions on data quality, researcher IHS Inc. said.
The customs agency acknowledged concerns that the data may be overstated at a press briefing today while standing by its figures and saying the Hong Kong gains stem from different statistical methods. Sales to the U.S. and Europe both fell for the first time since November, leaving the world’s second- largest economy with weaker global demand to support a recovery.
“This 10 percent export growth is more real as it’s in line with other data” including power consumption, industrial production and transportation, Lu Ting, chief Greater China economist at Bank of America Corp. in Hong Kong, said in a note today. January and February’s “abnormally strong” gains were probably distorted by companies’ inflated reports, Lu said. 
BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP), the world’s biggest mining company, sees China growth “trending down” toward 6 percent after about 7 percent to 8 percent in the next couple of years, Chief Financial Officer Graham Kerr said today at the Bloomberg Economic Summit in Sydney, indicating prospects in its largest customer present its main risk.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

 Zero Hedge reports that (surprise, surprise) Federal statistics on inflation understate the actual increase in prices in groceries that most people buy:
The expected results from the drought last summer are only one example: corn, poultry, and produce prices are expected to surge as the corn shortage comes full circle. The USDA’s food CPI forecast for 2013, which you can find here, predicts a 3-4% rise in its basket of goods in 2013, with dairy product and fresh fruit & vegetable prices rising more than 4%. These foods supposedly make up 13.3% of the USDA’s “basket” (in relative importance) for the year.
Unfortunately, these weightings don’t seem to accurately represent the real world baskets Americans bring to the checkout at their local supermarkets. The top 10 purchased items in US food stores, according to various surveys, are (1) milk, (2) bread, (3) eggs, (4) beef, (5) chicken, (6) cereal, (7) salty snacks, (8) lettuce, (9) cheese, and (10) non-alcoholic beverages (juice and soda). While the USDA reports only 0.1% food inflation (seasonally-adjusted) for February 2013, these top items actually rose an average of 1.3% over last month. It would seem, then, that our shopping carts are getting more expensive than the headlines numbers might indicate. If, as these surveys suggest, we purchase items growing faster in price more often than those that decline or stagnate, these foods could have a disproportionate – and in this case, inflationary – impact on what we expect overall inflation to be. This is what economists call, unsurprisingly, “Inflationary expectations” and everyone from Fed Chairman Bernanke on down to the most junior staffer at a regional Fed worry intensely over these popular perceptions of future inflation.
Read the whole thing.