Friday, May 31, 2013

Ol Remus Has Good Advice for the Hard Times Ahead


Assume for the moment a '30s variety Depression lies just ahead. Here are a few things you may wish to consider.
 
Nothing lasts forever. You'll be living among the newly poor and they will be unpredictable, even dangerous, but it's out of confusion and desperation. Remember, your friends and neighbors actually are blameless for what has befallen them, aside from being unprepared, and they'll still be around when the hard times have passed. For your part, you don't have to be a self-sacrificing martyr but you do have to acquit yourself honorably. There will come a time when you'll have to answer for what you did and didn't do. You'll want to look back and know you did the best you could with what you had. 

Get out of debt. What you actually own may be all you actually have. You'll be sacrificing for the present, not the future. You can't do either if you're sacrificing for the past. Debts that are manageable now will crush you in a Depression, pay off those loans. If you must have credit cards, treat them like a thirty day interest-free loan and carry a zero balance. Own at least one vehicle outright, preferably a plain, utilitarian, economical model of good quality, well maintained. If you're a city person or an apartment dweller, consider getting a habitable RV-style vehicle and a well situated parcel of land as well. After you've attended to the basics, insulate yourself from currency disruptions with cold hard cash, meaning precious metals. For most of us that means silver. 

Save. Live within your means. Have a savings account and an adequate checking account, yes, at a bank, if the banks collapse money will be the least of your problems. In some phase cash will be king, keep a few hundred dollars in small denominations squirreled away. You might put aside trading material too: liquor, ammunition, medical supplies, tobacco, that sort of thing. 

Stock up. Don't buy groceries, lay in supplies. Better yet, hoard. Look at it this way, if it comes to where food is more valuable than gold it's better to have the food in the first place. Keep a perpetual three to six month's supply of long shelf-life staples, even hard times have their hard times. Next time you're shopping, look around. How many light bulbs do you have? Durable clothing? Tough and comfortable shoes? Consider what you might need when you're down with the flu and threatened by roaming gangs or looters or partisan raids. And whatever you buy, buy quality. Reliability is more valuable than features. Experienced engineers adore robust simplicity, you should too. 

Learn the basics. Carpentry, vegetable gardening, emergency medical skills, that sort of thing. You don't have to be a back-to-the-land fanatic or do your own dentistry, but you do need to be minimally competent and self-reliant. If you can set up a surround-sound system you can replace a light switch. Equip yourself with excellent hand tools and basic components. Most of what you'll be doing will be maintenance. What you don't know your friends and neighbors will. Learn from each other, widen your skills, become more valuable to yourself and others. 

Arm yourself. There's no need to outfit yourself like a comic book commando. A .22 rimfire rifle and a shotgun will do nicely for taking game and protecting home and family from casual intruders. For those special occasions, add a center-fire rifle, capable but mild enough for your smaller adults to handle with confidence. There won't actually be much call for shooting through engine blocks half a county away. Handguns are a weapon of last resort, if a bad guy gets within whispering range your fitness to survive is questionable on other grounds. Plain vanilla is preferable to high-tech. Figure five tough years and think about how much ammunition you might need, worst case, then triple it.

Anticipate trouble. Expect bizarre and violent behavior at the outset from the kind of people who take gravity personally. They're not the real threat however, the improvident and irrational will expend themselves early on, it's the mid and later phases that bring out the really dangerous sorts. A Depression is the sort of change that favors competent gangs, urban demagogues and rural populists, and semi-official committees of this and that, usually more or less lawless and eager to back up intimidation with force. Your mother's advice is the best, be seen as no better off than your neighbors whether you are or not, be polite to strangers but don't trust them, stay away from crowds, fasten on fundamentals like a puppy to a root. 

Know yourself. A Depression not only throws people back on their own resources, it demands good judgment in times of uncertainty and stress. The last few decades were about choosing between good and bad, in hard times your decisions will be between bad and worse. Yet even when your choices are bad, and they will be, there will always be an even worse choice. Know what you will compromise and what you will not compromise—ever. 

Amusement. Although 'thirties-era people had unforgettable tales of misfortune, it's remarkable that most also remembered those times with fondness. The gentle delights of ordinary life provided most of their entertainment. Notice how valuable their diaries and recollections and ephemera have become. Notice how their recollections centered on small things, anecdotes of how they "made do" when their life was stripped of artifice except for pretending on Saturday nights they were doing well when everybody knew better. It was an era when style was in style, probably the last time the affluent, street thugs and destitute men in soup lines all wore three-piece suits. 

Final thoughts. Every era has its texture, every texture has its fine grain. For the 'thirties it was G-Men and Public Enemies, the Okies and the Dustbowl, union organizers and union busters, Huey Long and Father Coughlin, the National Recovery Act. These things affected relatively few people directly, most felt far more involved than they really were. One doesn't lose much by giving only passing attention to such things, nor is there much to be gained. It's wisest to treat politics and mass movements like supermarket music, unrewarding yet not quite avoidable. As a general rule, if there's nothing in it for you by that same afternoon, make your excuses.

The Mechanical Transmission of Power

Low-Tech Magazine has three articles on historical methods of mechanically transmitting power over short distances--several miles or less.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Killed by Hail

In 1942, British soldiers discovered the skeletons of 200 people in a frozen lake in northern India. At the time, it was believed that the skeletons were Japanese soldiers. The skeletons actually date from about 850 A.D. And scientists now think that they were killed by hail stones.

A 2004 expedition to the site concluded the group was killed by cricket ball-sized hailstones during a sudden storm.
 
This, they decided, was the only way to explain why the skulls and shoulder bones of the dead had all been hit by rounded objects directly from above. 
As there was nowhere to shelter in the valley, the group was at the mercy of the storm.

Their bodies lay in the lake, which regularly freezes, for the next 1,200 years until their wartime discovery.

Protests Simmer in Kuwait

Der Spiegel reports on a growing dissatisfaction with the Kuwaiti emir and the crony government. According to the article, the people want more rights and true representative government.

Al-Barrak is the country's conscience, his supporters say, the future prime minister of a Kuwait with free elections.

He certainly seems to be the emirate's most popular politician at the moment. At first glance, he seems fairly conventional, with his portly figure and fastidiously colored mustache. But perhaps a demagogue is not what's needed here in this city of one million, where nearly everyone knows everyone else. Perhaps it's enough to move with a reasonable degree of confidence through these tangled webs of clans and tribes, urban and rural populations, between Shiite merchant dynasties and the Sunni majority, between young people and dignitaries. Al-Barrak is as respected by the country's young people as he is by the Bedouin population. His attacks on the conservative elite in Kuwait City have also made him popular with the unions and with those who live on the city's outskirts.

"The country is being robbed," he says. "The worst of the fraud is committed by the ruling family," who al-Barrak says managed to increase its wealth even during the 1990 invasion by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The true danger to the regime, al-Barrak says, is the regime itself and its inability, demonstrated time and again, to run a modern state. Kuwait recently had to pay $2.2 billion (€1.7 billion) to American company Dow Chemical for breach of contract because the emirate pulled out of a deal at the last minute. Kuwait's political opposition takes this as proof of the government's incompetence, while the government blames it on an opposition constantly calling everything into question.
 Assuming that an "Arab Spring" movement catches fire in Kuwait, it will probably end up the same as any other country--devolving into chaos and sectarian violence.

DOJ States that Anti-Muslim Comments on Social Media May Violate Civil Rights Laws

From Judicial Watch (h/t Instapundit). Still okay to bash Christians, though.

Detroit's Ongoing Descent Into Hell ....

I think that one of the sure signs of the collapse of a society is the inability to reliably provide basic services. You can have all of the minority outreach programs, after school programs, homeless shelters, Section 8 housing, beautiful art collections, etc., but if a city can't provide basic government services like road maintenance, water and sewer services, and police services, that city has failed.

From Bloomberg, a report on Detroit turning to using unarmed volunteer citizen patrols to replace declining police force.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Can the Fed Keep the Peddle to the Metal?

Japan's blue-chip stock index has in May suffered its two sharpest sell-offs for the year and its high volatility is fueling concern about a spill over into other major markets.
The Nikkei stock index tumbled over 5 percent on Thursday to its lowest level in a month, knocked down by a strong yen and a fresh bout of profit taking on this year's double-digit gains.
Equity markets in Europe and the U.S. shrugged off the Nikkei's slide to close higher, but strategists say they're not so sure how long they will stand up.
"I don't know how much longer the U.S. markets can hold off [Japan volatility] and I was surprised we didn't open lower [Thursday]," said Mike Crofton, CEO at the Philadelphia Trust Company. "The market is obsessed with the Fed [Federal Reserve] and whether or not it will take its foot off the pedal and so we opened higher on the U.S. economic data," he said, offering a reason why markets had been able to withstand the Nikkei tumble.
Just another way of saying that the U.S. stock market is artificially inflated due to quantitative easing.

MERS Death Toll Rises


Three more people have died from MERS, the Middle Eastern respiratory virus that has now claimed the lives of 30 people.
The latest deaths occurred in Saudi Arabia, the country hardest hit in the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Symptom Coronavirus that health officials have dubbed “a threat to the entire world.”

Saudi officials said that the age of the three most recent victims ranged from 24 to 60, but that all suffered from a chronic health condition that made them especially susceptible to the virus.
So far, at least 50 people are known to have been sickened by the virus, and cases have been reported in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.
(Full story here). Small pox originated from the same region, and was spread by Islamic invaders across North Africa and thence to the rest of the world. I guess in a real sense, you can say that Islam killed off the Native Americans.

U.S. Customs Seized $1 Billion Worth of Cocaine Over Weekend

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized two motorboats over the weekend carrying a combined total of $1 billion in cocaine. 

The Memorial Day weekend drug bust, which was announced Wednesday, resulted from two separate interdiction efforts, the first unfolding Friday north of the Galapagos Islands, west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean.
A Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine crew spotted a 30-foot speedboat carrying almost 7,000 pounds of cocaine worth more than $500 million. ...

A law enforcement helicopter, responding to a call from the Customs and Border Protection crew, tracked down the boat and fired shots to disable it. Three suspects were arrested as the boat sunk into the ocean, according to the release.
The next evening, a Customs and Border Protection crew in the Western Caribbean saw a three-engine speedboat moving rapidly near the Panamanian-Colombian border. ...
The crew told Panamanian police to intercept the boat, which was carrying more than 1,000 bundles of cocaine weighing more than 6,000 pounds. Authorities estimate their value at more than $445 million.
The Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine crews, called P-3s, patrol a 42 million-square-mile swath of the Western Caribbean and Eastern Pacific in search of drugs destined for U.S. shores. In fiscal 2012, P-3 crews seized almost 59 tons of cocaine valued at $8.8 billion.
The interesting thing to me is that an agency that is supposed to be patrolling our border is instead monitoring boats off the coasts of Ecuador and Panama. I didn't realize our border extended so far....

Americans Only Recaptured 45 Percent of Wealth Prior to Recession

From the Washington Post:

From the peak of the boom to the bottom of the bust, households watched a total of $16 trillion in wealth disappear amid sinking stock prices and the rubble of the real estate market. Since then, Americans have only been able to recapture 45 percent of that amount on average, after adjusting for inflation and population growth, according to the report from the St. Louis Fed released Thursday.
In addition, the report showed most of the improvement was due to gains in the stock market, which primarily benefit wealthy families. That means the recovery for other households has been even weaker.
“A conclusion that the financial damage of the crisis and recession largely has been repaired is not justified,” the report stated.
So when the stock market crashes after the Fed stops quantitative easing, we should see what little has been recapture evaporate again--except it doesn't entirely evaporate because that money flowed somewhere to someone.

Ozymandias by Shelly


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

(Source)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Japan's Economy Flying Apart?

The Economic Collapse blog notes that Japan has reached that magical point where half of its tax revenue on debt maintenance, its attempt at quantitative easing has failed, and interests rates are creeping up. Read the whole thing.

Islam's War of Annihilation Against Hindus


A thought-provoking essay written by Narain Kataria, president of the Indian American Intellectuals Forum, sounds a familiar alarm. “Hinduism Faces Eclipse” reveals that “the anti-Hindu forces within and without India are working in tandem on an insidious mission to destroy our civilization and culture, and obliterate Hinduism from the Indian soil.” Kataria further contends that Indians are not facing terrorism, but worldwide jihad, which he calls a “fully globalized franchise…working overtime to destroy all non-Muslim nations.”
Read the whole thing.

Egypt Continues to Circle the Drain--Rolling Black Outs

Egypt has been facing food shortages and fuel shortages. Now it is facing power shortages as the government institutes daily rolling blackouts.

The End of the Dollar As A Reserve Currency?

A growing number of countries are entering into agreements with China to directly trade currency, rather than use the U.S. dollar. The latest is New Zealand. As the WSJ article notes:
Direct convertibility between the Chinese yuan and New Zealand dollar would end the need for New Zealand's companies and currency traders to convert New Zealand dollars or yuan into U.S. dollars when making or receiving payments.
CNBC discusses the bigger picture here:

The U.S dollar is shrinking as a percentage of the world's currency supply, raising concerns that the greenback is about to see its long run as the world's premier denomination come to an end.

When compared to its peers, the dollar has drifted to a 15-year low, according to the International Monetary Fund, indicating that more countries are willing to use other currencies to do business.
* * *

"Generally speaking, it is not believed by the vast majority that the American dollar will be overthrown," Dick Bove, vice president of equity research at Rafferty Capital Markets, said in a note. "But it will be, and this defrocking may occur in as short a period as five to 10 years."

Bove uses several metrics to make his point, focusing on the dollar as a percentage of total world money supply.That total has plunged from nearly 90 percent in 1952 to closer to 15 percent now. He also notes that the Chinese yuan, the yen and the euro each have a greater share of that total.
* * *

For a country with a budget deficit in excess of $1 trillion a year, the consequences of losing standing as the world's reserve currency would be dire.

"If the dollar loses status as the world's most reliable currency the United States will lose the right to print money to pay its debt. It will be forced to pay this debt," Bove said. "The ratings agencies are already arguing that the government's debt may be too highly rated. Plus, the United States Congress, in both its houses, as well as the president are demonstrating a total lack of fiscal credibility."
* * *
To be sure, the markets at this point are not acting like the dollar is in severe trouble. The greenback has maintained its position as a general safe haven in times of trouble.

"Longer term, of course, countries are going to diversify away from the dollar if they can. There are more favorable investment opportunities out there if you can catch yield," said Christopher Vecchio, currency analyst at DailyFX, a trading firm. "Despite the increase in risk to the U.S. dollar and Treasury, investors still feel safest at home."

But the Federal Reserve's successive quantitative easing programs, which have created $3 trillion in new greenbacks, continue to spur worry over the dollar's status.

"The No. 1 security issue we have as a nation is the preservation of the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency," said Michael Pento, president of Pento Portfolio Strategies. "It's a thousand times more important than a nuclear bomb being tested by North Korea. It's a thousand times more important that we keep the dollar as the world's reserve currency, and yet we are doing everything to abuse that status."

The dollar's seemingly precarious status is why Pento remains bullish on gold and believes the dollar's demise as the premier reserve currency could end even sooner than Bove predicts -- perhaps by 2015.

"Five to 10 years -- that would be an outlier," he said. "I would say 2015, 2016, that would be the time when it becomes a particularly salient issue. When we're spending 30 to 50 percent of our revenue on debt service payments, we enter into a bond market crisis. The dollar starts to drop along with bond prices. That would set off the whole thing."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Expanding Conflict in Syria (Updated)

Russia has refused to scrap plans to provide Syrian President Bashar Assad with high-powered missiles - claiming it will help deter 'hotheads' intent on intervention in the two-year-old conflict.

The announcement comes as Russia accused the European Union allowed of 'throwing fuel on the fire' by letting its own arms embargo on Syria expire.

Israel and France had urged Moscow to refrain from sending high-precision S-300 missile systems to President Bashar al-Assad's government, which is battling a Western and Gulf Arab-backed insurgency.
Then there is the growing participation of Hezbollah:
The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah warned Saturday that the fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime would give rise to extremists and plunge the Middle East into a "dark period," and vowed his Shiite militant group will not stand idly by while its chief ally in Damascus is under attack. 
In a televised address, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah members are fighting in Syria against Islamic extremists who pose a danger to Lebanon, and pledged that his group will not allow Syrian militants to control areas that border Lebanon. 
Nasrallah's comments marked the first time he has publically confirmed his men were fighting in Syria, and were his first remarks since Hezbollah fighters have become deeply involved in the battle for the strategic Syrian town of Qusair near the Lebanese frontier. 
Hezbollah has come under harsh criticism at home and abroad for sending fighters to Syria to fight along Assad's forces. In his speech, Nasrallah sought to defend the group's deepening involvement, and frame its fight next door as part of a broader battle against Israel. 
He also portrayed the fight in Syria as an "existential war" for anti-Israel groups including Hezbollah. 
"Syria is the back of the resistance, and the resistance cannot stand, arms folded while its back is broken," Nasrallah told thousands of supporters from a secret location though a video link. 
"If Syria falls into the hand of America, Israel and takfiris, the resistance (Hezbollah) will be besieged and Israel will enter Lebanon and impose its will," Nasrallah said. Takfiri Islamists refers to an ideology that urges Sunni Muslims to kill anyone they consider an infidel.
The involvement of Hezbollah risks the spread of the war to Lebanon--perhaps it is already there:

Two rockets hit Shiyah District (pictured) last night. Four people were wounded in this Hizbollah stronghold in southern of Beirut. Two more rockets were also fired in the Bekaa Valley, another stronghold of the Shia movement, but caused no casualties. The Lebanese army is also looking for an unexploded rocket fired from a location between Baabda and Aitat.


The attacks are said to be related to the statement made just 12 hours earlier by Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, that his movement would continue to support militarily Syrian President Assad.


This, according to Syrian opposition sources, has cost the Party of God dozens of deaths. However, Syrian sources say that Hizbullah military support has helped President Bashar Assad's forces gain the upper hand in the battle for Qusayr, which the Syrian army and Hizbollah are said to control 80 per cent.


The Free Syrian Army, which includes most of Syria's armed opposition, has denied involvement in the rockets against Hizbollah.


What is happening gives further arguments to those who fear for the future of Lebanon. "What is certain is that the [rocket attacks] were an attempt to create splits among the Lebanese ranks and drag the [Syrian] strife to Lebanon," Lebanon's Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn said.


There are plenty of signs that it is working. Clashes in Tripoli are set to continue today for an eighth day between the rival neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, this despite the Army's intervention.


Yesterday there was another victim, bringing to 24 the number of those who lost their lives in the clashes, along with 167 injured.


A clash between an official in the Hizbollah-linked Resistance Brigades and Salafists left one man wounded in the southern city of Sidon over the weekend.


Finally, there is the concern that an attempt is underway to involve Israel, after state-run National News Agency reported a rocket launched against the Jewish state. The attack has not been confirmed either by the Lebanese army, nor the Israeli one, perhaps to avoid increasing tensions.
 The war in Syria is likely to take on apocalyptic significance in the Middle-East due to Islamic prophecies that Christ will return to Damascus. From Arab News:
ANOTHER one of the amazing signs shortly before the Day of Judgment is the return and descending of Jesus (peace be upon him), to this earth again. 
God says in the Qur’an: “And because of their saying (in boast), ‘We killed Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God,’ — but they did not kill him and nor did they crucify him, but the resemblance of Jesus was put over another man (and they killed that man), and those who differ therein are full of doubts. They have no (certain) knowledge, they follow nothing but conjecture. Surely, they did not kill him. But God raised him (Jesus) up (with his body and soul) unto Himself (and he is in the heavens). And God is Ever All-Powerful, All-Wise. And there is none of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), but must believe in him (Jesus) before his death. And on the Day of Resurrection, he (Jesus) will be a witness against them.” (Qur’an, 4:157-159) 
The words, “And there is none of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), but must believe in him (Jesus) before his death,” refer to Jesus’ worldly death after he returns to earth. At that time, the Jews and Christians will finally believe in him as a Messenger of God and a human being only, as that will be the only option possible at that time. In fact, some scholars state that part of the wisdom in Jesus’ return is the final and undeniable refutation of the Jews’ claim that they had crucified him and to bring an end to the false claim that he was the Son of God. 
There are numerous Hadith, which speak about the coming of Jesus during the last days of this world. They give a description of many of the acts of Jesus after his return.
As is clear from the last Hadith presented under the section concerning the Dajjaal, Jesus’ return will occur while the false messiah is upon the earth. The following is the continuation of the above Hadith:
 
“He [the Dajjaal] would then call a person brimming with youth and strike him with the sword and cut him into two pieces and (make these pieces lie at a distance which is generally) between the archer and his target. He would then call (that young man) and he will come forward laughing with his face gleaming (with happiness) and it would be at this very time that God would send Christ, son of Mary, and he will descend at the white minaret in the eastern side of Damascus wearing two garments lightly dyed with saffron and placing his hands on the wings of two Angels. When he would lower his head, there would fall beads of perspiration from his head, and when he would raise it up, beads like pearls would scatter from it. Every unbeliever who would smell the odor of his being would die and his breath would reach as far as he would be able to see. He would then search for him (the Dajjaal) until he would catch hold of him at the gate of Ludd and would kill him.” 
... At the time of his appearance, he will bring an end to all of the false beliefs, which crept into Christianity. Thus, he will break all of the crosses, as they signify a worship of him. Similarly, at his time, he will not accept the jizyah because there will be no excuse for any Jew or Christian not to believe in him and follow him. ...
At the time of Jesus’ return, the Muslims will be led by the Mahdi (A guided leader), ....
This Hadith is evidence that when Jesus returns, he will not return in the role of being a new messenger with a new law. Instead, he will return as a follower of the Prophet Muhammad and submitting to the laws of Islam. In fact, another Hadith in Saheeh Muslim describes Jesus as performing the Islamic ritual of Hajj (pilgrimage). 
A Hadith in Saheeh Muslim further describes that Jesus will remain ruling among the people for seven years. ...
As stated earlier, when one of these great signs appear, the others are soon to follow. It is in the context of Jesus’ return that the Prophet also spoke about Gog and Magog.
Update: The Washington Post is reporting a threat from Israel to destroy any advanced missiles shipped by Russia into Syria. From the Post article:

Israel’s defense chief said Tuesday a Russian plan to supply sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Syria was a “threat” and signaled that Israel is prepared to use force to stop the delivery.
 

The warning by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon ratcheted up tensions with Moscow over the planned sale of S-300 air-defense missiles to Syria. Earlier in the day, a top Russian official said his government remained committed to the deal.

Israel has been lobbying Moscow to halt the sale, fearing the missiles would upset the balance of power in the region and could slip into the hands of hostile groups, including the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian regime. 

Israel has carried out several airstrikes in Syria in recent months that are believed to have destroyed weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah. Israel has not confirmed carrying out the attacks. 

The delivery of the Russian missiles to Syria could limit the Israeli air force’s ability to act. ...

100,000 Christians are Killed Each Year Because of Their Faith (Updated)

The Daily Mail reports:
Around 100,000 Christians are killed every year around the world because of their faith according to a top Vatican official.

Monsignor Silvano Maria Tomasi, a Catholic archbishop, cited the Middle East, Africa and Asia as the worst places for the deaths.

On Vatican radio, he was quoted on Tuesday saying the figures were 'shocking' and 'incredible'.
Update: I just saw this from the Examiner
Members of the Free Syrian Army reportedly attacked the Christian-dominated al-Duvair village in Reef on the outskirts of Homs on Monday, where they massacred its citizens, including women and children, before the Syrian Army interfered.
(H/t Weasel Zippers).


Monday, May 27, 2013

Shipping Valuables Safely Via UPS

A long time reader emailed me about a 4-part series at Western Shooting Journal offering some tips on how to label and ship firearms via UPS in order to avoid theft. However, most of these same tips will work for other valuables. Parts 1 and 2 are the most important for the majority of us. Parts 3 and 4 suggest some electronics to add to a package.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Copahue Volcano Warning


Chilean and Argentine authorities have declared a red alert and ordered the mandatory evacuation of a 15.5-mile radius around the active Copahue volcano, which straddles the border between the two Andean nations.
The volcano - located 310 miles south of capital Santiago, between Chile's Bio Bio region and Argentina's Neuquen province - has seen increasing seismic activity in recent weeks but has not erupted, Chilean authorities said. 

"This doesn't necessarily mean the volcano will start erupting. But according to the Sernageomin (National Geological and Mining Service), the volcano is now in a process that could culminate in an eruption, for that reason we've issued a red alert and the evacuation," Chilean Interior Minister Andres Chadwick told a nationally televised news conference.
 
Authorities estimated that some 2,240 people will be evacuated in Chile.
In Argentina's Neuquen province, authorities also declared a "red alert," and ordered the evacuation of some 900 people in tourist-haven Caviahue-Copahue. The Argentine municipality had previously ordered the cancellation of school classes.
(Full story here).

Immigration Reform and the Permanent Isolation of Conservatives

Whatever your position on immigration reform, the reason that it has support among the Democrats is because of the votes it will garner them. Although the Democrats, by dint of offering lots of free stuff and an election win based on corruption, squeaked by on the last presidential election. They potentially could win the next two or three election cycles. However, demographics suggests that Democrats will lose in the long run simply because they reproduce at a lower rate than conservatives.

They hope to reverse this trend, and solidify their political control, by bringing in millions of new voters that are almost assuredly going to vote Democratic. And the prize is Texas, and its 38 electoral votes. As this New York Times blog notes:

Regardless of who gets hurt in the process, Texas is ripe for realignment. Insofar as demographics count, Texas is on a path to first turn purple and then blue. The question is when. Whites are already a minority of the state’s population, 44.8 percent, down from 52.4 percent in 2000; blacks are at 12.2 percent, slightly up from 12.0 percent; Hispanics are at 38.1 percent, up from 32.0 percent; with Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and others making up the remaining 4.9 percent. Whites are teetering at just over 50 percent of Texans eligible to vote; according to demographic projections, they will become a minority of voting age citizens in 2016.
What makes Texas such an inviting target for Democratic organizers is that Hispanic turnout in the state is strikingly low, 38.8 percent of those eligible to vote, compared to the national average of 48 percent.
 Of course, why bother increasing their voter turn-out if you can simply increase the number of voters?

The question for purposes of this blog is the long term consequences of letting a large group of immigrants from a single country or culture into the United States while permanently disenfranchising half of the population? Perhaps the question answers itself.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Myth of the Noble Savage

Several months ago, I reviewed the book War Before Civilization which was premised on debunking the myth that primitive peoples are peaceful. I came across a review at Reason magazine about a couple other books tackling the same subject. From the review:
Modern anthropological research may be settling the great debate between the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Was the state of nature a “war of every man against every man” in which life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” as Hobbes wrote? Or did “savages” live in utopian bliss, thanks to “the tranquility of their passions and their ignorance of vice,” as Rousseau believed?
Two new books, Marlene Zuk’s Paleofantasy and Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, examine the data on how hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers have eaten, loved, socialized, fought, reared children, and lived. Both side mostly with Hobbes.

* * *  
Both Zuk and Diamond are unconvinced by Rousseau’s notion of the noble savage. In his 1754 Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality Among Men, the Frenchman claimed that “more murders were committed in a single day of fighting and more horrors in the capture of a single town than had been committed in the state of nature during entire centuries over the whole face of the earth.” But archaeological and modern ethnographic data show that small-scale stateless societies—which were once called “savage” or “primitive”—are far more violent than are modern state societies. To the extent that they are a good proxy for Rousseau’s state of nature, they reveal Rousseau to be wrong.

Zuk cites archaeological and ethnographic work finding that 14 percent of deaths in ancient and contemporary pre-state societies resulted from human violence. Diamond notes that while the level of violence varies among traditional societies, it “usually ranks as either the leading cause or (after illness) the second-leading cause of death.”


These arguments jibe with the data reported by the Harvard neuropsychologist Steven Pinker in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking). After examining evidence from 20 sets of archaeological data from all over the world ranging from 14,000 to 700 years old, Pinker reported that societies were very dangerous, with the percentage of human deaths attributed to violence ranging from 60 to 15 percent. Similarly, data from 27 stateless societies studied by modern ethnographers found war deaths averaged 500 per 100,000 people, whereas all deaths from wars, genocides, and man-made famines in modern societies in the 20th century amount to a mere 60 to per 100,000.

“It may astonish you readers, as it initially astonished me,” Diamond writes, “to learn that trench warfare, machine guns, napalm, atomic bombs, artillery, and submarine torpedoes produce time-averaged war-related death tolls so much lower than those from spears, arrows, and clubs.” So how can this be? Because “state warfare is an intermittent exceptional condition, while tribal warfare is virtually continuous.”

Firearm Ownership and Hunting Are Not Synonymous

The Atlantic has a disingenuous op-ed by Charles Eisendrath arguing for the total confiscation and banning of "assault rifles" (even though, by definition, assault rifles are selective fire that are effectively banned anyway).

Eisendrath's argument is based on two straw-man arguments. First, he argues that firearms like the AR-15 (or any firearm that accepts a detachable magazine, for that matter) should be banned because they are unnecessary for hunting deer or ducks. He writes:
In most states, it is illegal to hunt animals or birds with more than six rounds in a rifle or three in a shotgun. Why? Because if you can't kill within those limits you need remedial marksmanship....
Civilian weapons should be required to conform to the more humane rules for hunting game. No amount of legislative fiddling will prevent Rambo-styles clips from replacing small ones if the structure of the gun isn't changed. The answer is to return long guns to traditional magazines internal to the weapons, themselves, limited to hunting restrictions.
There are lots of reasons why people own and use guns, even for sports purposes, that are not hunting. Not everyone owns a gun to kill things. Some people only shoot targets. Some people collect firearms with no intent to ever shoot them.

The magazine limit is also misleading. Not all states restrict magazine size, and the three-round limit for shotguns is mandated by the Federal government for migratory birds to prevent over hunting. And there are even types of hunting where large magazines and/or detachable box magazines are useful, e.g., boar hunting.

More importantly, the Second Amendment is not rooted in hunting. It is rooted in self-defense, service in regular and irregular militias, and revolutionary warfare. All things involving weapons of war.

Eisendrath's second argument, although not fully articulated, is that even firearms needed for self-defense do not require large magazines. He writes about why he purchased a handgun:
The other I bought when the enraged "general" of a bogus charity "army" I had exposed appeared in the city room of the Baltimore Evening Sun (no security back then), pointed at me and bellowed that he intended "to kill that sneaky little peckerwood." A week later a normal-looking guy knocked at my door in the sort of neighborhood where you lived on $78 a week, asked where a neighbor was, went one floor down and executed her with a shot to the forehead.
Implicit here is that a person will only be facing a single criminal. Again, patently misleading. Not only may you have to face multiple assailants, but it may require more than one or two rounds to stop an assailant.

Eisendrath finally attempts to boost his legitimacy by casting himself as a "gun guy" because he hunts and owns several firearms. I know a lot of people that are hunters, and own firearms, that are not "gun guys." They enjoy hunting, but firearms just happen to be a tool they use for hunting; their interest in firearms does not extend much, if any, beyond the realm of hunting. You might as well say a framer or carpenter is a "hammer guy" because he owns and uses hammers; or that a journalist is a "computer nerd" because he uses computers.

"Ghost Ship" Goes Missing

And now for something completely different....

The Daily Mail has the following story:

A rat-infested and toxic Russian cruise ship cast adrift in the Atlantic Ocean has apparently vanished.
 
The MV Lyubov Orlova - named after a Soviet actress - broke free in January when it was being tugged to be scrapped. 
It was being tracked by US intelligence officials but has not been seen since March and there are fears it has sunk.
The luxury liner was being towed to the Dominican Republic from Newfoundland, Canada, when it slipped away as the crew on board the towing ship battled howling winds and 10ft waves to try in vain to reconnect the towing line. 

The so-called 'ghost ship' was located briefly in February as it floated aimlessly about 500 miles off the coast of Ireland.


Then, in March, the Canadian Coast Guard reported that one of the ship's emergency radio beacons, which activate after hitting the water or another object, flashed a location almost 800 miles off Newfoundland, according to the Vancouver Sun.
With no further sightings, some are speculating the ship has sunk.





Thoughts On The Woolwich Attack


Mark Steyn offers some comments on the Woolwich attack, where two Muslim converts stabbed and hacked a British soldier to death in London. He writes:

As grotesque as this act of savagery was, the aftermath was even more unsettling. The perpetrators did not, as the Tsarnaev brothers did in Boston, attempt to escape. Instead, they held court in the street gloating over their trophy, and flagged down a London bus to demand the passengers record their triumph on film. As the crowd of bystanders swelled, the remarkably urbane savages posed for photographs with the remains of their victim while discoursing on the iniquities of Britain toward the Muslim world. Having killed Drummer Rigby, they were killing time: It took 20 minutes for the somnolent British constabulary to show up. And so television viewers were treated to the spectacle of a young man, speaking in the vowels of south London, chatting calmly with his “fellow Britons” about his geopolitical grievances and apologizing to the ladies present for any discomfort his beheading of Drummer Rigby might have caused them, all while drenched in blood and still wielding his cleaver.

* * *

Once, long ago, I was in an altercation where someone pulled a switchblade, and ever since have been mindful of Jimmy Hoffa’s observation that he’d rather jump a gun than a knife. Nevertheless, there is a disturbing passivity to this scene: a street full of able-bodied citizens being lectured to by blood-soaked murderers who have no fear that anyone will be minded to interrupt their diatribes. In fairness to the people of Boston, they were ordered to “shelter in place” by the governor of Massachusetts. In Woolwich, a large crowd of Londoners apparently volunteered to “shelter in place,” instinctively. Consider how that will play when these guys’ jihadist snuff video is being hawked around the bazaars of the Muslim world. Behold the infidels, content to be bystanders in their own fate.
 
Styen, and others, have blamed the overwhelming, stifling political correctness of Britain the lack of response from bystanders. Many of the comments I've read suggest that such passivity would not have occurred in the U.S. Given the same circumstances--no weapons and facing two young men that were obviously capable of violence, with police officers on the scene but not acting--I'm not sure a large crowd of bystanders would necessarily reacted differently in an American city.

The reason is the bystander effect, widely researched after the infamous 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York (although the apathy of possible bystanders has been exaggerated). (See also here). The issue is discussed in this article of a 2008 murder in California:

The town of Turlock and much of the rest of the nation was shocked when a 27-year-old man beat and stomped his 2-year-old son to death on a rural road. But what was nearly as stunning for many people was that none of the motorists and their passengers who stopped and saw the attack tried to tackle the man. 
Police officers and psychologists familiar with violent emergencies, however, said they weren't surprised at all. 
A volunteer firefighter and at least five others saw Sergio Casian Aguiar assaulting his son Saturday night on the road west of Turlock (Stanislaus County), but it wasn't until a police officer arrived in a helicopter that the attack finally ended. Aguiar refused to halt the attack and raised his middle finger at the officer, who shot him to death, authorities said. 
Bystanders are justifiably scared and confused in such situations, the experts said Wednesday, and they lack the experience needed to respond with force. They can also be mesmerized by shock. 
John Conaty, a veteran homicide detective and former patrol officer in Pittsburg, said that in interviews of witnesses to violence, "the common thing you hear is, 'I was frozen in fear. I just couldn't take action.' " 
Conaty questioned whether the witnesses had even been capable of stopping Aguiar. "If they were physically able, you have to take a look at whether they were psychologically prepared to intervene," he said. 
"I would not condemn these people," said John Darley, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University who has studied how bystanders react in emergency situations. "Ordinary people aren't going to tackle a psychotic. 
"What we have here," Darley said, "is a group of family and friends who are not pre-organized to deal with this stuff. They don't know who should do what. ... If you had five volunteer firefighters pull up, you would expect them to have planned responses and a division of labor. But that's not what we had here." 
Darley said he was also not surprised that people who weren't at the scene of the killing believe they would have been heroic Good Samaritans. 
"It's an aspiration," he said. "They hope they would have done differently."
However, the Turlock, CA, and Kitty Genovese cases raise a different issue, which was the police response. In the situation of Genovese, the killer initially left from fear of encountering police, and only returned after he realized that the police were not going arrive. In the Turlock incident, the police officer promptly shot the murderer. In the Woolwich incident, the killers evidenced no fear of the police, but strutted around apparently waiting for armed police officers to arrive. (Unarmed police arrived earlier, but did nothing). The Powerline Blog notes:
The idea of policemen in one of the world’s major cities “wait[ing] helplessly for armed officers to arrive,” while murderers parade up and down the street soaked in blood and the body of a half-beheaded soldier lies in the street, is almost unbelievable. And yet that is the state of law enforcement in Great Britain. The average American household is better armed than a London policeman, and as a result, it was left to a few women from the crowd of bystanders to try to deal with cleaver-wielding murderers.
To add insult to injury, British law enforcement has promptly charged anyone that dared criticize Islam for the murder.

Would this have turned out differently if someone in the crowd felt confident enough to engage the murderers? Confident because they possessed a firearm and knew how to use it? I suspect so--I hope so. Although the Woolwich incident cannot be carried directly over to the United States, it is nevertheless a grim reminder that your self-defense, and the defense of your loved ones, is your responsibility. You cannot rely on someone else to help you. I look at the issue of carrying a firearm for self-defense as similar to having auto insurance or home insurance--its a nuisance and I hope I don't have to use it, but I want it if I should ever need it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Shopping for AR Parts

Gabby at the Gun Nuts discusses her search for parts to build an AR, and lists a few sellers that gave great service.

Inflation or Deflation? Perhaps Both

Michael at the Economic Collapse posits that as the economy continues to decay, we will see deflation initially, and then inflation as the government intervenes to stop the crash. Read the whole thing.

German Intelligence Sees Assad Regaining Lost Power

Der Speigel reports that Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), is now predicting that Syria's Assad will maintain power, and even make gains against rebels. From the story:
... the situation has changed dramatically, the BND believes. Schindler used graphics and maps to demonstrate that Assad's troops once again possess effective supply lines to ensure sufficient quantities of weapons and other materiel. Fuel supplies for tanks and military aircraft, which had proved troublesome, are once again available, Schindler reported. The new situation allows Assad's troops to combat spontaneous rebel attacks and even retake positions that were previously lost. The BND does not believe that Assad's military is strong enough to defeat the rebels, but it can do enough to improve its position in the current stalemate.

Severing Rebel Supply Lines

The assessment appears to be consistent with recent reports from Syria, where government troops have been able to regain the upper hand in the region stretching from Damascus to Homs, including coastal areas near Homs. Furthermore, fighters loyal to Assad have expelled rebel fighters from several districts on the edge of Damascus and cut off their supply lines to the south. Currently, the regime is in the process of severing rebel supply lines to the west.

Meanwhile, the BND believes that rebel forces, which include several groups of Islamist fighters with ties to al-Qaida, are facing extreme difficulties. Schindler reported that different rebel groups are fighting with each other to attain supremacy in individual regions. Furthermore, regime troops have managed to cut supply lines for weapons and evacuation routes for wounded fighters. Each new battle weakens the militias further, the BND chief said.

Should the conflict continue as it has in recent weeks, says Schindler, government troops could retake the entire southern half of the country by the end of 2013. That would leave only the north for insurgent fighters, where Kurdish rebels have tighten control over their areas.

Tyranny In Our Time

Milton R. Wolf observes at the Washington Times:

King George’s assault on the Americans’ natural freedoms was oppressive, intolerable and deserving of a revolution. The truth is, the intrusion, restriction and outright harassment that our government subjects us to today is far beyond what the colonists faced from their tyrannical king. If it was tyranny in 1776, then, by God, it is tyranny today.

Consider the enormous coercive power of the Internal Revenue Service and its lust to wield it. The IRS admits to systematically identifying and harassing political dissidents who dare to disagree with the political bosses. The IRS created what could be considered an enemies list starting with conservative Tea Party groups. It targeted any group calling itself “patriot” or daring to teach the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

... This abuse is not limited to the IRS. Mr. Obama’s appointee to the Environmental Protection Agency likened himself to a Roman conqueror ready to wield his government power to arbitrarily “crucify” — his word — energy companies just to keep them obedient and fearful. His forced resignation fails to hide what we’re learning today, that even in his absence, the EPA routinely waives burdensome fees for politically acceptable groups but imposes them to their fullest on adversaries.

This is not simply picking winners and losers — it is something so much more. This is a government declaring friends and enemies among fellow Americans, and it goes all the way up to the Oval Office. In 2010, it was Mr. Obama himself, who declared to a roaring crowd, “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends.” Chilling.

...“After we win this election, it’s our turn. Payback time,” warned Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s longtime senior adviser. “Everyone not with us is against us, and they better be ready because we don’t forget. The ones who helped us will be rewarded, the ones who opposed us will get what they deserve. There is going to be hell to pay.”

This is not simply a scandal, as some call it. A scandal implies a failure of the system. This is the system. This is a political class wielding the goliath power of the most intrusive and most feared government agencies at their disposal in order to intimidate, silence and control the citizenry. It is an unmasked assault on the First Amendment, on the Constitution and on America itself, and it must not stand.

... Make no mistake, however. Both parties have luxuriated in the drunken power of government, at our expense. Mr. Obama did not build the IRS, nor did Richard Nixon, but both wielded it as a weapon. Now the IRS is poised to become the hammer of even our health care. Democrats are furiously converting the welfare state into an authoritarian state right before our eyes, and most in the GOP establishment are too seduced or intimidated to stop them.

America’s Founders had a dream of freedom, and this is not it. It is “we the people” who must save America now, just as it has always been. Let us once again pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor, and let us stand undivided and undeterred against tyranny in our time.

Stockholm Rioting Continues for 5th Day

The Guardian reports :

Police in Stockholm are to seek reinforcements after youths set cars ablaze and threw stones at police for a fifth night running, officials said.

About 30 cars were set on fire in poorer districts in north-western and south-western parts of the Swedish capital on Thursday night, with rioters causing widespread damage to property, including schools. However, a police spokesman said the overnight violence was less intense than in previous nights.
* * *

The violence appears to have been prompted by the death of a 69-year-old man shot by police this month in Husby, now the centre of the rioting.

One recent government study showed that up to a third of young people aged 16 to 29 in some of the most-deprived areas of Sweden's big cities neither study nor have a job.

The gap between rich and poor in Sweden is growing faster than in any other major nation, according to the OECD, although absolute poverty remains uncommon.
 

Market Crash By August?

A couple stories/opinions on the financial markets, predicting (at worst) a crash in stock prices or (at best) a rocky summer as QE ends, and the Fed-fueled bull market ends. The recent news from Europe indicates, however, that European central banks are considering their own versions of quantitative easing (i.e., printing money), so maybe that would continue to buoy the markets.

Reporter Amazed That Guns Can Be Built With Machinist Tools

The difference between "journalism" (originally, "yellow journalism") and reporting is that reporting involves informing the public of news, while "journalism" is focused around creating "news" or a narrative. This story from Mother Earth News falls into the latter category. 

The "journalist," Bryan Schatz, breathlessly announces:
The wooden and steel parts I need to build my untraceable AK-47 fit within a slender, 15-by-12-inch cardboard box. I first lay eyes on them one Saturday morning in the garage of an eggshell-white industrial complex near Los Angeles. Foldout tables ring the edges of the room, surrounding two orange shop presses. The walls, dusty and stained, are lined with shelves of tools. I'm with a dozen other guys, some sipping coffee, others making introductions over the buzz of an air compressor. Most of us are strangers, but we share a common bond: We are just eight hours away from having our very own AK-47—one the government will never know about.

The AK-47, perhaps the world's best-known gun, is so easy to make and so hard to break that the Soviet-designed original has spawned countless variants, updated and modified versions churned out by factories all over the globe. Although US customs laws ban importing the weapons, parts kits—which include most original components of a Kalashnikov variant—are legal. So is reassembling them, as long as no more than 10 foreign-made components are used and they are mounted on a new receiver, the box-shaped central frame that holds the gun's key mechanics. There are no fussy irritations like, say, passing a background check to buy a kit. And because we're assembling the guns for our own "personal use," whatever that may entail, we're not required to stamp in serial numbers. These rifles are totally untraceable, and even under California's stringent assault weapons ban, that's perfectly within the law.
My first instinct is to yawn and say "so what." You could get just as excited to learn that hackers could build their own computers, or thieves build their own lock picks or buy crow bars and cutting tools without any identification. Next thing, Schatz will be telling us that milk can be had from a cow without any FDA oversight.The horror!

However, since I've actually built an AK, I want to emphasize that Schatz has actually exaggerated the ease of building an AK. In fact, if he had not been to a "build party" with experienced people, he probably would not have been able to do it.

Schatz spins his story to make it sound like most everything you need is in the "parts kit." Well, no. You have to buy a barrel (another $100 - $200 dollars) and buy or make a receiver. If you buy the receiver, you have to go through a licensed dealer. Schatz decided to build his receiver from a "flat." And, although hardly mentioned in the article, to build the gun legally, you also have to buy a bunch of other parts to comply with Federal regulations (generally the stock and pistol grips, the trigger group parts, together with the barrel and receiver--going to be at least another $200 even if you go with cheap stuff).

Also, building the receiver is not the easy, "one bend in a vise later and, voilà, it's a receiver, ready for trigger guards to be riveted on," that he describes. I wound up buying a receiver after looking at what was involved with making one from a flat. First, it isn't bent in a vise. It is bent into shape using a hydraulic shop press--if you don't have one, you have to buy one--$120 for a small one. Then it needs to be pressed into a form--a jig. He didn't mention that in his article. But the jig is another couple hundred dollars. Then, he sort of skipped over this part quickly, you have to weld bolt rails on the inside of the receiver. Yeah, that needs a welder and some experience and training at welding. Then, he only mentioned in passing, you have to heat treat the metal of the receiver around the rivet holes. That takes a torch and some more experience to do it correctly.

Schatz also skipped over the whole riveting process. You have to rivet the front trunnion, rear trunnion, and trigger guard into place. That means buying or building tools to crimp the rivets. Although you can build the tools from a pair of bolt cutters, some square steel stock, and bolts, you would still need to have the tools and metal working experience to do so. More time and money. And then you have to buy a set of rivets.

Once everything is riveted, you get to install the barrel. Some issues here that are skipped over by Schatz. First, not all barrels have the gas ports drilled or other cuts made. So, more machining possibly needed. Second, even if all that is already done, you have to press the barrel into place--hey, you get to use that hydraulic press again! However, you need another jig to hold the receiver in place and support the trunnion because otherwise you will just bend the trunnion. More money and/or something to machine.

Of course, you can't just push the barrel in and call it good. You have to correctly head-space the barrel or you might end up blowing up your gun or risk some other mechanical malfunction rendering it unusable and/or dangerous to the user. So, that requires a set of headspacing gauges (at least a "go" and "no go"). Another $60 or so for both gauges.

Then you have to press the gas assembly and front sight assembly onto the barrel, cut the notches in the barrel for said gas and front sight assemblies, and make sure your sights are correctly aligned.

Schatz did mention the sand-blasting and finish they had to put on the gun. Of course, everyone has a sandblaster in their garage. No? Neither do I. More money and time. And the finish he described takes more time, money, training, and equipment.

Then you have to install the trigger assembly, which actually isn't that easy if you are not familiar with what to do, the order to do it in, and have some additional tools.

Did I mention that it takes a lot of tools?

Finally, you have to test it and sight it in. Schatz apparently didn't bother sighting his rifle.

So, I call B.S. on his story. He wants his readers to get all excited that criminals will somehow learn the "secret" that you can build a gun at home (ever hear about zip guns?) and we will suddenly see whole gangs armed with these home-built AKs. Problem is, it takes a lot of time, money, tools and experience to do so. Things that Schatz borrowed from the experienced builders that he worked with. No gang-banger is going to do all that. Far easier to just buy a stolen gun for a couple hundred dollars.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Promag Introduces the Archangel Stock for the Mosin-Nagant

Story and pictures at the Truth About Guns. Basically, it is a target/sniper stock for the Mosin-Nagant rifle for about $200. Taking a decent rifle, and making it more ergonomic. The article also notes that detachable magazines are available for the Mosin.

Termite Swarms In New Orleans


Story and more photos at the Daily Mail.

"The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall"

The Art of Good Government has an interesting article entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall," which provides a brief history of East Germany and the Berlin Wall, including photographs. I found the article engaging if for no other reason than the history. However, the article not only relates the rise of East Germany, but the failures that eventually led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the eventual merging of East and West Germany. The author provides a personal point of view by describing his own travel into East Germany prior to the fall of the Wall.

The author describes a 1985 journey into East Germany:

As we drove the short distance towards Eisenach in East Germany our hearts began to sink as the dismal socialist scene gradually unfolded before us. The main road leading into the town was of prewar cobbles, full of potholes, the road edges overgrown and untidy, with rusted and leaning street lights many with their light fittings missing. Eisenach itself presented a scene straight from the aftermath of World War II. The buildings were crumbling, the dusty, dirty and long-unpainted facades almost obscured by a thick pall of sulphurous coal-smoke, and the blue fumes from the 2-stoke cars which, incidentally were only for model workers after a wait of up to 21 years. The yellow coal smoke, we later learned, was produced by the ubiquitous yellow-dust coal briquettes which seemed to be the only form of domestic heating fuel. It came from enormous open-cast mines which in their relentless expansion had consumed whole villages.
All the buildings were dirty and grimy, the streets and pavements in disrepair, the few shops dowdy, and small crowds of people seemed to be standing around on street corners as if with nothing to do. In the back streets whole blocks of houses were simply falling down, some boarded up, some lying as piles of rubble which nature was already camouflaging with grass and small bushes. To call our reaction "a culture shock" after West Germany would be a totally inadequate description, despite our familiarity with other East European countries.
The more we travelled through East Germany, the more evidence we saw of a country close to economic breakdown. The roads were all full of holes – though there was little traffic even on main roads, for private motorists could not travel outside their towns without a permit. The air was polluted everywhere, even in the forest where we had thought we might enjoy a brief refreshment with nature. The few relatively modern industries belched out clouds of polluted gases while the many older factories seemed to be surviving in partly ruined premises. Urban streets were everywhere in decay and not a touch of paint had been put on the former private houses, each now assigned to several families, since before the War.


Wittenberg was a town we hadn't planned to visit – we had been directed there by the almighty State Tour Planners. But it was, we were to discover, the home of Martin Luther, so at least we were able to learn more about him and to see the famous church door on which he had nailed his 95 Theses which sparked the Reformation. It was a sunny afternoon, so after a morning of Luther-study, we walked the short distance out of town to the banks of the Elbe River – the great artery which is to East Germany what the Rhine is to the West. We sat down at the edge of a field a few yards from the river, looking across to the opposite bank where there was a large and active Russian army barracks.
After a few moments we became aware of an overwhelmingly foul odour. Surprised, we got up and looked closely at the river. The water was thick and black, its surface solid with pollution of every kind imaginable, glistening multicoloured globules of oily petroleum products, lumps of industrial waste, yellowish foam, solid human effluent and domestic garbage. Following the universal instructions on fireworks – we retired immediately! Simple fact: environmental protection was a luxury East Germany could not afford, and didn't even care about.
 Could almost be a description of Detroit....

Mountain Lion Killing Pets in Idaho

A southeast Boise neighborhood is on alert after a mountain lion attacked two dogs in someone's backyard, killing one. We're also learning that this isn't the first time pets have been attacked in that neighborhood in the past couple weeks.

It happened on South Horseshoe Place in southeast Boise, just below the cliffs. The neighborhood backs up to some huge power lines and undeveloped desert, which Idaho Fish and Game officials say acts like a "wildlife corridor" for foxes, mule deer, and apparently, mountain lions.

"It's definitely scary to think that this huge animal can come into your backyard. And so, you feel a little unsafe," said Loralee Bafford.

Bafford got the shock of a lifetime Tuesday morning, at about 5:30 in her own backyard. It started when she let out her two little yorkies, Buddy and Holly. "I heard this noise, it was just this little yelp. It was real quiet. There wasn't anything else. I just knew something had gotten her."

Bafford grabbed a bat and ran outside. "All of a sudden, just very quickly and quietly, an animal, a huge animal leapt up on the fence."

It then pounced on Buddy.

"It came from my neighbor's yard, and just down on my dog," said Bafford. "My little dog was laying on its back with its legs up. I just started screaming and yelling, and hitting the fence with the bat."

That eventually scared the cat away. Loralee called police, and took Buddy to the vet immediately.
 Dangerous wild animals are becoming all too comfortable living around people.

Quantitative Easing Is Doing Its Job (Second Update and Bump)

USA Today reports that the Dow Jones Industrial Averages, and the S&P 500 ended the week at record highs. Of course, the banks are still not lending, real unemployment is sky-high, and housing prices are depressed. But the price of stocks have been inflated into another bubble....

Update (May 21, 2013):
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes at the Telegraph about why investors are betting on stock increases at the same time they predict continued economic slump:

This schizophrenic exuberance seems entirely based on the assumption that QE and central bank largesse will keep the game going, flooding asset markets with liquidity. Indeed, 80pc think the ECB will cut rates again, and half think it will have to swallow its pride and join the QE club in the end.

Four fifths think equities will gallop on upwards over the next year. Complacency is rife. "It became very clear – and many investors were quite explicit about this – that markets are lulled by the lure of liquidity resulting from negative real interest rates and global QE," said Mr Fels.

This then is the bull market of May 2013. Remember the infamous words of Citi's Chuck Prince in July 2007. "When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing."

I defy anybody to explain what liquidity is. At the end of the day, it is really just risk appetite. It can vanish in a second. (If people mean the quantity of money, that is a different story, and not uber-bullish right now).

Stephen Lewis from Monument Securities says markets seem to think they are in a "no-lose" play: if the economy gains traction, stocks will rise: if it doesn't, central banks will pump in more money.

Mr Lewis said they overlook a nasty possibility that the Fed will start to wind down QE before the US economy has fully recovered. He cites the minutes of Fed's 19-20 March meeting showing growing worries about a new asset bubble, a worry shared by the BIS and the IMF: "A number of participants remained concerned about the potential for financial stability risks to build".

The concerns were spelt out in a landmark paper for US Monetary Policy Forum published by the Fed in February: "Crunch Time: Fiscal Crises and the Role of Monetary Policy".

The paper was by co-written by former Fed Governor Frederic Mishkin, Ben Bernanke's alter ego. It warned that the Fed could struggle to extract itself from QE from 2014 onwards. The longer it goes on, the more dangerous it becomes.

It argued that rising long rates could lead to a bond market rout, inflicting big losses on its $3 trillion portfolio. This could "wipe out" its capital base several times over.

Mishkin said the Fed is badly exposed because it has stretched the average maturity of its bond holdings to 11 years, and the longer the date, the bigger the losses when yields rise. Trouble could compound at an alarming pace by the middle of the decade, with yields spiking up to double-digit rates by the late 2020s.

By then Fed will be forced to finance federal spending directly to avert the greater evil of default. By then, the US really will be facing the sort of hyperinflationary denouement long-feared by QE sceptics.
Second Update (May 23, 2013): The Wall Street Journal reports a sharp drop in Japanese stocks, which has echoed in other foreign markets, including declines in Spanish and Italian bonds, but mirrored by increases in certain "safe-haven" currencies and in gold. Here is the key part of the article:
The markets were jostled by a confluence of events that interrupted a monthslong rally in risky assets. Thanks in large part to a flood of easy money from global central banks, investors had gleefully bought stocks—particularly Japanese stocks—and smiled on European bonds they once shunned.

But comments Wednesday by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and minutes from the Fed's recent policy meeting suggested that the Fed might start pulling back on its bond purchases sometime this year. That made investors fret that the flood might soon be tapering and dovetailed with weak Chinese manufacturing data to send the Nikkei tumbling. It fell 1,143.28 points to close at 14483.98, a drop of 7.3%, the worst decline by percentage since right after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Luxury Bomb Shelters

Photos and story, mostly featuring Atlas shelters, at the Daily Mail.

Why Bailouts Are Bad

Todd Zywicki reviews Financing Failure: A Century of Bailouts by Vern McKinley and makes the following observation:
What is a “bailout” and why are bailouts bad? McKinley argues that a “bailout” of an insolvent institution is the corruption of an arguably sound idea, going back to the Nineteenth-century British economist Walter Bagehot, that a central bank may be a useful institution to preserve the soundness of the financial system in a time of panic. But Bagehot’s core distinction was between what today would be called illiquid versus insolvent institutions. It is crucially important that the distinction be preserved—saving an improvident and mismanaged failed institution from its day of reckoning undermines incentives for prudent operation, weakens public confidence in the financial system by propping up failed institutions, provides unfair economic advantages to the disadvantage of responsible banks, risks taxpayer dollars, and typically produces larger losses in the end than would have otherwise been the case (as evidenced most strongly by the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s).

The real concern is to protect the operations of solvent institutions confronting a bank run because of loss of public confidence in the banking system and the uncertainty whether a particular bank is also insolvent. Similarly, the purpose of deposit insurance is to provide confidence that depositors will be made whole in the event of a failure, thereby relieving the ordinary depositor of the risk of leaving their deposits in a particular institution.

The role of a central bank, therefore, is not to provide capital to insolvent banks during a time of crisis, but to provide capital to solvent but illiquid banks. So—to state the glaringly obvious point widely ignored throughout the financial crisis—if Citibank is insolvent, the Federal Reserve should not lend to Citibank to prop it up. Instead, it should lend to banks other than Citibank that are solvent, but which could suffer a confidence-induced bank run if Citibank were to fail. A bailout occurs, therefore, when the Federal Reserve or Treasury provides funds to insolvent institutions, thereby propping them up, with all the negative consequences that entails.
 
As McKinley demonstrates, this failure to remain focused on the central justification for government intervention in crisis periods has led to increasing numbers and cost of bailouts in each succeeding financial crisis.

Billionaires Dumping Stocks ...

... in anticipation of rising inflation and a resulting downturn in the market? The reason they are billionaires is because they are the first into a rising market, and sell off before incurring losses. The money created by quantitative easing hasn't entered the general money supply, but is just floating around in the financial markets. Stock prices right now are not based on economic strength and future growth, but due to too much money chasing too few "assets" in the stock market.

Continued Attacks Against Coptic Churches in Egypt

A growing body of Christian martyrs:
The Egyptian Coptic community faces a new escalation of attacks by Islamists. On 17 May, two churches were attacked with Molotov cocktails in the district of Dakhela, west of Alexandria, Egypt, and Menpal in Upper Egypt.

In Alexandria over 20 thousand Muslims attacked the church of St. Mary setting fire to the entrance of the building and shattering windows. A man died of a heart attack in the attack. In response to the violence, hundreds of Copts left their homes to create a human wall around the building. According to witnesses some Islamists armed with pistols and knives fired on the crowd, causing some injuries.

At the origin of the clashes is a dispute between two neighbors. Basem Ramzy Michael, a Coptic Christian, is reported to have behaved inappropriately towards the sister of Alloshy Hamada, a Muslim with a criminal record. In a short time the dispute between the two erupted into a sectarian clash.

A similar incident occurred last May 13, in the village of Menbal, Matay district, north of the province of Minya, where a Muslim mob stormed the church called the Tadros el-Mashreki and assaulted one person inside. The assailants threw stones at the building, looted Christian shops nearby and burned cars. The Coptic minority has been threatened with expulsion from the village. Once again the violence was sparked by a trivial quarrel between two young people. Some young Muslims are reported to have made advances to a group of Coptic girls, as they entered the church. Irritated at having been ignored the group waited for the young Christian girls to leave the Church and threw bags filled with urine at them. The young people were rescued by some Christians peers who have started a heated argument with Muslims. As in other cases, the news spread across the village. In a short time a crowd of Islamists rallied in front of the church, forcing young people to take refuge inside.
 Full story here.

Muslim Youth Riot in Sweden

Stories here and here. The riots are allegedly in response to police shooting a machete wielding maniac.

Sweden and Finland Facing Next Housing Crash?

Germany's Commerzbank warns that the property boom in Sweden and Finland are nearing their end, and their is a risk of housing prices falling.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Threat of Cryptosporidium Pathogens

At the New English Review:

One of the more disabling and emerging pathogens is the cryptosporidium parvum (this is the human infective species) (Crypto) parasite (oocysts) derived from animal and human fecal tissue that has a toughened cell cover which is impervious to chlorination, fluoridation and in some instances, can avoid filtration. Within the United States and other countries, Cryptosporidiosis is a notifiable illness caused by extremely chlorine-tolerant protozoa of the genus Crypto. The only way the parasite can be killed is by boiling water above 160 degree F.   Note in this article on the 20th anniversary of the Milwaukee Crypto outbreak that Milwaukeeans are still boiling water.  See here.  In the US we have had two mass Crypto outbreaks in water supply systems in Carrollton, Georgia in 1987 and in Milwaukee in 1993.  The Georgia outbreak affected 13,000 out of 16,000 residents.  Because the Milwaukee water supply system draws from Lake Michigan, Crypto pathogens might have entered from drainage or in ice breakup during the early spring.  In the Milwaukee case, the epidemiologists and public health specialists estimate that more than 400,000 succumbed to Crypto causing massive outbreaks of watery diarrhea over a period of two weeks or more.  108 deaths occurred involving those with immune deficiencies from cancer treatment, AIDS and other maladies. Within immunocompromised communities, exposure frequently leads to severe and permanent diarrhea, decreasing absorption of nutrients resulting in progressive dehydration and eventual death. See here.
 The article discusses the possible threat from terrorists using the crypto pathogens. Read the whole thing.

The Failure of the Arab Spring and Other Delusions of Spreading Democracy

David Goldman discusses the catastrophe by consensus that marks our Middle-Eastern policy, headed by coalition of the delusioned that supported overthrowing Mubarak in Egypt, destroying Libya, and wants to intervene in Syria, all based on the irrational belief that, at their core, everyone is an American and free elections can fix everything. Best line:
Large portions of the Arab world have languished so long in backwardness that they are beyond repair. After the dust of the popular revolts dissipated, we are left with banana republics, but without the bananas.
Partly I blame the myth making behind the formation of America--that America rose, wholly formed, from the cruel tyranny of the British monarchy.  Those who believe that we can freely export "democracy" forget the centuries old traditions that underlay our society and government: the democracy of Athens, the Republic of Rome, Anglo-Saxon traditions, the Magna Carta, the fact that the American colonies were largely self-governed. It is no accident that the most stable democratic nations are those birthed by the British, or that other nations struggle with "democracy" because the foundations have not been properly laid.

"It Can Happen Here"

Victor Davis Hanson has some thoughts on the bevy of scandals plaguing the Administration and what it means, including some discussion of how the Administration has abandoned the rule of law in favor of political correctness. He concludes:

Government has become a sort of malignant metasisizing tumor, growing on its own, parasitical on healthy cells, always searching for new sources of nourishment, its purpose nothing other than growing bigger and faster and more powerful—until the exhausted host collapses. We have a sunshine king and our government has become a sort of virtual Versailles palace.
 
I suppose that when a presidential candidate urges his supporters to get in someone’s face, and to take a gun to a knife fight, from now on you better believe him.

Santa Muerte Declared Blasphemous

The Telegraph reports:
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi says worshipping such an icon is a degeneration of religion.
"It's not religion just because it's dressed up like religion; it's a blasphemy against religion", Cardinal Ravasi said.

The Santa Muerte is a skeletal figure of a cloaked woman with a scythe in her bony hand. It is worshipped both by drug dealers in Mexico and by the terrified people who live in drug-torn neighbourhoods.
In his book, El Narco--Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, Ioan Grillo devotes an entire chapter to discussing the strange interaction and mingling of faith and the drug war. For instance, he writes:

The most virulent expression of narco religion is by La Familia Cartel in Michoacan. La Familia indoctrinates its followers in its own version of evangelical Christianity mixed with some peasant rebel politics. The gang's spiratual leader, Nazario Moreno, "El Mas Loco," or the Maddest One, actually wrote his own bible, which is compulsory reading for the troops. ...

But La Familia is only the most defined voice in a chorus of narco religion that has been rising in volume for decades. Other tones of the choir include some morphed rituals of Caribean Santeria, the folk saint Jesus Malverde, and the wildly popular Santa Muerte, or Holy Death.
Grillo is careful to note that not all believers of these cults are narcos, but that "gangsters definitely feel at home in these new sects and exert a powerful influence on them.... Kingpins now fight for souls as well as turf."

Writing about Santa Muerte, Grillo says:
Her rise in popularity has been meteoric. Within a decade, Santa Muerte shot from an obscure symbol only a few people had seen to being in almost every city and neighborhood in Mexico, across Mexican communities in the United States, down in South America, and as far away as Spain and Australia. But the heart of her faith is in Tepito, in the center of Mexico City.
One Santa Muerte religious leader, David Romo, claims 2 million faithful, and to be  setting up affiliated churches throughout Mexico and the United States.