Friday, February 28, 2014

A Simple M60 Sling Modification To Make Your Own Tactical Sling

Instructions and photos at Mason Dixon Tactical. (H/t Western Rifle Shooters)

Ragnarok--Part III: What Are Russia's Intentions? (Update)

As I suspected, Russia isn't going to let Ukraine leave its sphere of influence so easily. The Guardian reports:
With Russian armoured personnel carriers on the move in the Crimean peninsula, world leaders have sought assurances from the Kremlin that Moscow is not acting to escalate the violence in Ukraine.

A convoy of nine APCs painted with the Russian flag were seen on the road between the port city of Sevastopol and the regional capital of Sinferopol. Reporters spotted them parked on the side of a road near the town of Bakhchisarai, apparently stalled after one vehicle developed a mechanical fault.

The Russian foreign ministry said movements of vehicles belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet were prompted by the need to ensure the security of its base in Sevastopol. Russia is supposed to notify Ukraine of any troop movements outside the naval base. The Ukrainian defence ministry said it had no information about the vehicles' movements.

... Military troops in unmarked uniforms resembling Russian uniforms took over two airports in Crimea, Simferopol airport and a military facility at Sevastopol, overnight, and there were reports on Friday evening that Simferopol airport was not allowing flights from Kiev.

After the airport seizures, Andriy Paruby, the newly appointed top Ukrainian security official, accused Russia of waging "a military invasion and occupation". "These are separatist groups … commanded by the Kremlin," Paruby said of the armed military men patrolling streets in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastapol.

Moscow has denied launching a military offensive in the region.

Journalists and the Ukrainian border guard have reported a fleet of more than 10 Russian military helicopters entering Ukrainian air space over Crimea, flying from Russia.
... In Simferopol, groups of armed men arrived overnight at the main airport serving the region. They wore military fatigues with no insignia and refused to talk, though one told news agencies they were part of a self-defence unit who wanted to ensure that no "fascists" arrived in the region from Kiev.

At Sevastopol airport, a military airport that handles few commercial flights, a man who said he was a captain in the tactical aviation brigade but declined to give his name, told the Guardian there were about 300 people of unknown identity inside the airport. "We don't consider it any invasion of our territory," he said without elaborating.

He said the men looked like military, were wearing two different types of uniform and were armed with sniper rifles and AK-47s. "We don't know who they are, nor where they've come from."

He added that there were two large trucks inside. "They [the vehicles] looked like they could contain 50 people at a push, so how they got 300 people inside I don't know," he said

A Major Fidorenko, from the Ukrainian military based at the airport, said the Ukrainians had been in touch with the unknown gunmen, who said they were there "to prevent unwanted landings of helicopters and planes".
 The BBC also has confirmed some movement of Russian vehicles into Ukraine.

The Daily Beast is reporting that the "troops" which took over the airports are not Russian military, but, rather, Russian "security consultants":
Private security contractors working for the Russian military are the unmarked troops who have now seized control over two airports in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, according to informed sources in the region. And those contractors could be setting the stage for ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to come to the breakaway region.
... but the troops are being directed by the Russian government. Although not confirmed, informed sources in Moscow are telling their American interlocutors that the troops belong to Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana, the private security contracting bureau inside the Russian interior ministry that hires mercenaries to protect Russian Navy installations and assets in Crimea. Other diplomatic sources said that the troops at the airport were paramilitary troops but not specifically belonging to Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana.

“They don’t have Russian military uniforms and the Russia government is denying they are part of the Russian military. But these are people that are legally allowed to perform services to the Russian fleet.”
 
“They don’t have Russian military uniforms and the Russia government is denying they are part of the Russian military. Actually most of them may be Ukrainian citizens. But these are people that are legally allowed to perform services to the Russian fleet,” said Dimitri Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest.
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement Friday did not address the troops at the airport but did acknowledge that armored elements of the Black Sea Fleet had been moved in Crimea, “associated with the need to ensure the protection of locations of the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine, what is happening in full accordance with the basic Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet.”
 That the Russians have made some movement of troops into Ukraine (specifically, Crimea) is to be expected because of their need to safeguard their naval base. Certainly, if there was a revolution in Cuba, the U.S. would probably airlift troops to protect Guantanamo without necessarily having any intention of "invading" the rest of the country.

The Daily Beast article raises a secondary purpose, as well:
Second, the forces could be paving the way for Yanukovich to travel to Crimea, where he will maintain that he is still the president of all Ukraine. In fact, Yanukovich was involved in the decision to deploy the security contractors to the airport, he said.

“They are providing an extended perimeter of security. Yanukovich certainly has the authority (in Moscow’s view) to allow these units to extend their service wherever it is appropriate,” said Simes. “I am told by informed sources in Moscow that this is what it happening.”
... But the private security forces provide a loophole for Vladimir Putin; he can claim there is no Russian “military” intervention while using Russian-controlled forces to exert influence inside Ukraine. The plan would be to give the new Crimean government a space to hold a referendum and then elections, thereby establishing a province with some autonomy from Kiev.
 Another article from the Daily Beast sums up the potential for war:
Demography may not be destiny, but in this case it’s trying like hell to be. According to Andrei Malgin, a writer for Ehko Moskvy, as of 2001, 58.3 percent of Crimea’s population was Russian. But Russians outnumber other ethnicities, such as the Tartars, in only a few raions or municipalities: Feodosiya, Simferopol and Yalta among them. Elsewhere throughout Crimea—Krasnoperekopsk, Dzhankoy, Pervomaysk—Russians are in a minority. If armed clashes were to break out in a region-wide scale, the “victor” would by no means be predetermined. What the media has rather glibly been defining for months as a geographical or ethnolinguistic East-West split for Ukraine as a whole might actually be better applied to Crimea. But here it runs along a North-South divide, with pro-Russian concentrations more heavily distributed closer to the Black Sea.

Yesterday, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations broke in Simferopol, leading to at least one death, probably from heart attack. “Glory to Ukraine” (shouted by Tartars) competed with “Russia!” (shouted by Russians). Refat Chubarov, the Crimean Tartar leader, has even called on his people to form self-defense militias to guard against attack or provocations, as Ukrainska Pravda reported. Tartars have even asked Ankara for military intervention to protect them against the Russians: whispers, however deafly received, of another Balaclava campaign. Meanwhile, news emerged that the Russian military would now be conducting a large-scale “snap” exercise featuring 150,000 soldiers (as Naval War College Professor John Schindler points out, this is roughly the number that the United States dispatched into Iraq in 2003) for what Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called “action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security.” This drill, running from February 28 until March 3, would encompass the entirety of Russia’s Western Military District, which spans from the Arctic to the borders of Ukraine and Belarus, as well as the Second Army of the Central Military District, the command of the Aerospace Defense, the Airborne Troops, and the Long-Range and Military Transport Aviations. The district that would theoretically invade Crimea isn’t involved in the exercise: both saber rattling and plausible deniability done right.
 Update: Some analysis from USA Today:


The appearance of Russian speaking armed troops who've seized airports and government buildings in Crimea seems to follow a pattern that has allowed Russia to assert dominance over former Soviet republics that tried to shift toward Europe, an analyst says.

"This is a pattern of Russian policy, divide and conquer, use your leverage through separatist and ethnic disputes" to pressure post-Soviet countries to remain in Russia's orbit, says Damon Wilson, former White House director of European Affairs under then-president George W. Bush.

Russia's message is: "If you go to Europe you lose territory where Russia has its military bases," Wilson said.

... In Georgia, Russia took military actions in 2008 after making similar warnings to the Georgian governmentthat it must protect pro-Russian peoples there. Like in Crimea, armed men rose up to take control of a breakaway province. In Georgia that action was followed by the arrival of Russian "peacekeeper" troops that pushed out government troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia and remain there today.

In Moldova, like Ukraine and Georgia, declared independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Soviet troops stationed there shifted allegiance to Russia, and when Russia-speaking separatists in Transnistria demanded to secede Moscow backed their grievances.The troops have never left despite repeated requests by Moldova's president for their withdrawal from his country's soil.

And when Moldova tried to strengthen ties with Europe, it too encountered obstacles from Russia.
... A bill introduced recently by Russian lawmakers would simplify the process of incorporating new territories into the country. If passed, the bill would allow territories to join Russia through a referendum, sidestepping international treaties.

As it happens, Crimea's parliament has asked for such a referendum to take place in May.

SKS Bullpup Test

I'm so used to SKS bullpup conversion kits turning into vaporware that I have ignored them for the last couple of years. Apparently, though, a company has come out with one that may work. The Firearms Blog has a video review and a photo showing the size comparison with an AR-15 of an SKS using the Shernic Gunworks kit.

Unfortunately, the video "review" just shows them shooting the converted SKS, and there is no discussion or testing of its durability, reliability, pros or cons. The best review I found was by "Tom2112" at the Zombie Squad forum (his post is near the bottom).

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"AR v. AK: Can't We All Just Get Along"

Dan Zimmerman, at The Truth About Guns, has apparently become an AK convert. He writes:
Like countless other red-blooded American males, I was attracted to the AR-15 rifle platform simply because it has been the rifle of choice for our military for a very long time. ... The chief features that I find most attractive include the AR’s innate modularity, its accuracy and effectiveness when used in the way it was intended. But . . .

Is it the be-all and end-all in assault rifles? [Note: I’m using the term “assault rifle” in its more technical sense, to describe a select-fire rifle, chambered for a cartridge that falls between a pistol cartridge and a high-power rifle cartridge, and that uses a detachable box magazine]. I’ve also developed a nearly equal admiration and fondness for the AK platform. Is that heresy? Depends on who you ask, I guess. But I’d like to suggest we not make this a matter of either/or, but rather both/and.

... The AK is elegant in its simplicity, with field stripping down to the bolt taking a matter of seconds without requiring a single tool. Cleaning is easily done and reassembly also very simple. The AK is famous for its generous tolerances allowing it to keep functioning in conditions that will cause an AR to sputter and choke.
 Read the whole thing.

Further Russian Mobilizations

Reuters reports:
Armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament in Ukraine's Crimea on Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev's new rulers, who urged Moscow not to abuse its navy base rights on the peninsula by moving troops around.

"I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet," said Olexander Turchinov, acting president since the removal of Viktor Yanukovich last week. "Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry also summoned Russia's acting envoy in Kiev for immediate consultations.

There were mixed signals from Moscow, which put fighter jets along its western borders on combat alert, but earlier said it would take part in discussions on an International Monetary Fund (IMF) financial package for Ukraine. Ukraine has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to stave off bankruptcy.

The fear of military escalation prompted expressions of concern from the West, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urging Russia not to do anything that would "escalate tension or create misunderstanding".

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski called the seizure of government buildings in the Crimea a "very dangerous game".

"This is a drastic step, and I'm warning those who did this and those who allowed them to do this, because this is how regional conflicts begin," he told a news conference.

It was not immediately known who was occupying the buildings in the regional capital Simferopol and they issued no demands, but witnesses said they spoke Russian and appeared to be ethnic Russian separatists.
 What happens next is going to depend heavily on what Russia thinks will be the response of Europe and the U.S. If Russia thinks its back is against the wall, it will fight. If Russia thinks that Europe and the U.S. will stand idly by, it will send forces into Ukraine. One of the aces it holds is that the U.S. still heavily depends on Russian cooperation to supply our troops in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Security Arrangments

I follow the Survival UK blog for several reasons, not the least of which is that I'm curious on ideas for self-defense/security for someone living in an area that prohibits most weapons. I don't live in such a place myself, thank goodness, but a lot of people do. Anyway, some thoughts from Survival UK about "internal security"--i.e., making your house a little better able to protect you. One of his ideas that I find interesting is this: "We place boards with spikes in just inside the door and around other entrances. We also put spikes on stairs."


Making Your Own Strike-Anywhere Matches

Dirttime has instructions for making your own strike-anywhere matches.

Large Solar Flare

From Space.com:
The sun fired off a major solar flare late Monday (Feb. 24), making it the most powerful sun eruption of the year so far and one of the strongest in recent years.

The massive X4.9-class solar flare erupted from an active sunspot, called AR1990, at 7:49 p.m. EST (0049 Feb. 25 GMT). NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured high-definition video of the monster solar flare. The spaceecraft recording amazing views the solar flare erupting with a giant burst of plasma, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME.
The flare wasn't aimed at Earth, but the story notes that if it had been, it would have caused a severe geomagnetic storm. The report adds, though:
Earth isn't totally out of the woods yet, however. This region of the sun is set to rotate more fully into view of Earth over the next week, according to officials with the NOAA-led Space Weather Prediction Center.

Russia Mobilizing Troops?

Voice of America News reports:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an urgent drill to check the combat readiness of the armed forces in western and central Russia, including areas near the border with Ukraine.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says the drill will involve army, navy and air force troops and will check the force's "readiness to deal with crisis situations that threaten the nation's military security."

The announcement Wednesday comes as pro-Russia demonstrators faced off with supporters of Ukraine's new pro-Western interim leaders in the southern city of Simferopol.

Small-scale clashes broke out between the shouting protesters, some of whom were injured in the incident, which happened in the courtyard of an administrative building in the Crimean capital.

The Crimean peninsula is mainly made up of Russian speakers who support Moscow, though it also includes a minority Tatar group that tends to take an anti-Russia stance.

The Russian navy's Black Sea Fleet is based on the Crimean coast, and Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency Wednesday quoted Shoigu as saying Moscow is "carefully watching what is happening in Crimea" and taking measures to "guarantee the safety" of the fleet's "facilities, infrastructure and arsenals."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

5 Signs that the S*** Has Hit the Fan

I came across this 2012 post at the SHTF School about 5 signs to know when the s*** has actually hit the fan. The author (Selco) apparently lived in Sarajevo when civil war broke out, and so his perspective is from a breakdown of civil government (as compared to other types of disaster). He provides some specific examples and insights at his site. But to summarize, The 5 signs are:

1.  More violence in your area (i.e., neighborhood or district). His primary point here is a sudden spike in crime. He warns that you will not learn this from national media. Instead, you will have to keep your ear to the ground, so to speak--relying on local media and contacts, such as police, EMS, and so on.

2.  Group behavior changes--people begin to keep to known groups, and engage in othering.

3.  Dead streets--i.e., pedestrian traffic disappears; people spend more time in their homes.

4.  New leaders emerge. Selco seems to indicate by this the rise of demagogues, politically, and in the local bar or hang-outs.

5.  Nobody to trust anymore. Basically, a general rise in lawlessness, even from police and neighbors. He specifically mentions an episode where the police responded to a crime (a person shot by a sniper), and then casually broke the window to a tobacco shop and stole items before leaving.

Poas Volcano Erupts

The Poas Volcano in Costa Rica has erupted. The volcano is active, and so eruptions aren't uncommon. The Daily News reports:
The research institute, affiliated with the National University of Costa Rica, said the blast was a phreatic explosion which occurs when magma or hot rocks heat surface water to the point where it boils and quickly explodes in a burst of stem.

Earlier this month, Costa Rica's National Seismological Network (RSN) released a report saying that the volcano’s crater was glowing red-hot with molten rock and was emitting sulfur.
 
Small-scale eruptions are not uncommon for the 8,884 foot giant. Geology site Volcano Discovery said there have been eruptions during every year of this decade so far.
More from the Costa Rica Star.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chiappa To Introduce New Survival Rifles

Chiappa is introducing (or resurrecting) the old M-6 over/under 20 gauge shotgun/.22 LR, folding survival rifle, with some improvements, including rails for mounting accessories and separate triggers for each barrel. They will also be introducing an X-caliber version that is a 12 gauge over a .22, with inserts for the 12 gauge barrel allowing it to shoot other gauges and calibers, including 20 Gauge, 410 Gauge/45 Colt, 45ACP, 44 Magnum, .40S&W, .357 Magnum/.38 Special, 9mm and .380ACP. It is also supposed to be able to shoot slugs.

Full article and photos at Rocky Mountain Bushcraft.

The original M6 was designed as a survival weapon for use by downed pilots for hunting or signaling. These new weapons serve the same role--a small weapon that could be fitted in a day-pack or back pack, in the cargo area of an airplane or boat, and so on, in the event of being stranded in a remote area.

I'm glad to see it as 20 gauge. Most combination guns, at least in the United States, generally mate a .410 with a .22. I've always thought the .410 to be virtually useless for anything but shooting a snake--it just lacks the power and range for most bird or rabbit hunting. On the other hand (or barrel, in this case), I would prefer a 20-gauge over something more powerful than a .22 LR. I don't understand why someone won't pair a 20-gauge with a .243 or .30-30 (even a .44 Magnum would work). That way, you could use the 20 gauge for smaller game or birds, yet still have something adequate for taking larger game if it presented itself. What I have in mind is having both available to shoot, depending on what game you came across (remembering that survival hunting is not species specific such as your typical hunting outing). The inserts don't address this issue, because you lose the shotgun capability in order to carry the more powerful cartridge, and are left with the .22 LR for your alternate shot.

Why the Second Amendment?

I don't think I could say it any better than the Ukrainian Gun Owners Association:
Today every citizen of Ukraine understands why our country has hundreds of thousands of policemen. Last illusions were crushed when riot police used rubber batons and boots at the Independence Square on peaceful citizens.

After such actions we realize that it is not enough to only adopt the Gun Law.

As of today Ukrainian Gun Owners Association will start to work on the preparation of amendments to the Constitution, which will provide an unconditional right for Ukrainian citizens to bear arms.
 
People should have the right to bear arms, which will be put in written into the Constitution.

Authorities should not and will not be stronger than its people!

Armed people are treated with respect!
 They understand.

From those who do not, or will not, we receive this message:
Since the first day of this year, thousands of otherwise law-abiding Connecticut residents - at least 20,000 and maybe as many as 100,000 - have become criminals. They have broken a new state law that required owners of military-style rifles and high capacity magazines to register them with the State Police by last Dec. 31. Not quite 50,000 rifles were registered by the deadline but that could be as little as 15 percent of the now illegal assault rifles in Connecticut, according to the state-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is familiar with industry sales.

We do not doubt that many sincerely believe the measure, passed after the Newtown massacre, should never have become a Connecticut law because it violates their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. But that doesn't give them the right to disobey it. The law's constitutionality is a matter for the courts to determine, not the individual gun owner. In the meantime, he or she must obey the law or face the consequences of breaking it.
The editorial board for the Day recognizes that Connecticut has a serious problem, though, if it is going to suddenly make 100,000 of its citizens (nay, subjects) felons. Thus, it backs down a bit, and calls for the legislature to extend the deadline.

(H/t TTAG)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The New Cold War

Geoff Dyer writes at the Financial Times about  the possibility of a "cold war" with China. After reading his article, I'm not sure that he is describing a "cold war," as much as the military build-up like that which preceded WWI. He notes that the U.S. has been unchallenged in the Pacific since 1945, and created a climate supporting "free-trade, freedom of navigation and, when possible, democratic government." And China had long acquiesced to this arrangement. But the growth of China's economic power has been followed by a national pride that feels threatened by the U.S. Navy, and fear of what a naval blockade could do to China. Dyer writes:
... When China looks out to sea, it also quickly sees the US. In the decades when China had little more than a coastguard, it was largely unaware that the US Navy was patrolling waters near its shores. But now that its capabilities are more advanced, it witnesses on a daily basis that the American navy is superior and operating only a few miles from many of China’s major cities. “For them, this is a major humiliation that they experience every single day,” says Chu Shulong, an academic at Tsinghua University in Beijing who spent a number of years in the Chinese military. “It is humiliating that another country can exercise so close to China’s coasts, so close to the base in Hainan. That is the reason the navy wants to do something to challenge the US.” 
Anxieties about history and geography have meshed with broader concerns about economic security. One of the key turning points in China’s push to the high seas took place when it started to import oil for the first time, in 1993. By 2010, China had become the second-biggest consumer of oil, half of which is now imported. New great powers often fret that rivals could damage their economy with a blockade. For every 10 barrels of oil that China imports, more than eight travel by ship through the Strait of Malacca, the narrow sea channel between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, which is patrolled by US ships. Fifteenth-century Venetians used to warn, “Whoever is the Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.” Hu Jintao echoed these sentiments when he warned in a 2003 speech that “certain major powers” are bent on controlling this crucial sea lane. Until now, China’s maritime security has been guaranteed largely by the US Navy. But, like aspiring great powers before it, China has been forced to confront a central geopolitical dilemma: can it rely on a rival to protect the country’s economic 
Dyer describes that the U.S. has traditionally relied on its aircraft carriers to project power, but that China is developing weapons specifically designed to destroy those carriers. So, the navy has come up with a plan for countering China's tactics:
In the bowels of the Pentagon, that new plan has been taking shape. It is not actually described as a plan – instead, Pentagon officials call it a new “concept” for fighting wars. But it does have a name, AirSea Battle, which echoes the military doctrine from the later stages of the cold war called AirLand Battle, when the massive build-up in Soviet troops appeared to give the USSR the capacity to over-run western Europe. Many of the details about AirSea Battle remain vague. But the few indications that have been made public suggest an approach that, if pushed too far, could be a manifesto for a new cold war.
One senior Pentagon official insisted to me, “This is not an anti-China battle plan.” But when the Pentagon starts to describe the threats it is facing – long-range, precision-strike missiles that can restrict the movements of its ships, advanced submarines and expertise in cyberwar – it becomes clear that AirSea Battle is primarily about China. The hypothetical threat that the Pentagon planners outline describes accurately the precise ­strategy that China has been developing to restrict US access to the western Pacific. No wonder US military officers sometimes refer to China as “Voldemort” – in the Pentagon’s new battle plan, China is the enemy whose name they dare not speak.
Amid the military jargon there lies an idea that – if taken to its logical conclusion – is fraught with peril. In early 2012, the Pentagon released a document called “Joint Operational Access Concept” (known in the building as Joac). In the event of a ­conflict, the paper says, the US should “attack the enemy’s cyber and space” capabilities. At the same time, it should attack the enemy’s anti-access forces “in depth”. The clear implication of this advice is that, if war ever were to break out, the US should plan to launch extensive bombing raids across mainland China. China’s “anti-navy” of missile bases and surveillance equipment is based at facilities spread across the country, including in many built-up areas. The basic idea behind AirSea Battle leads to a fairly uncompromising conclusion that, in the early stages of a conflict with Beijing, the US should destroy dozens of military sites. It is the navy’s version of “shock and awe” for 21st-century Asia.
There are several reasons why this would be a dangerous way to think about a conflict with China. For a start, it is a recipe for rapid escalation. Given that two nuclear powers are involved, there should be big incentives to leave room for diplomats to try and find a way to resolve the situation. Yet, in calling for US forces to take out China’s missile batteries at an early stage, the Pentagon’s ideas could intensify any conflict quickly. The Chinese might well conclude that the US was also targeting its nuclear weapons.
Using AirSea Battle’s ideas against China is an all-or-nothing battle plan. If commanders quickly order bombing raids across China, there is little scope to create space for diplomacy. Short of complete Chinese capitulation, it is difficult to see how such a war would end.
 Dyer also warns that this strategy will be expensive, as it relies on the U.S. rapidly deploying new weapons systems.

What Dyer ignores, but which is inevitable at this point, is the militarization of space.  Not in the sense of spy satellites or navigation/communication satellites, but in the sense of actual weapon systems, including hypersonic weapons systems and lasers. The benefit for the United States is that the technology to launch and maintain such systems will also open up space to commercial applications.

Ragnarok--Part II

Events in the Ukraine continue to move at a fast pace as the country threatens to fly apart. Meanwhile, Obama sticks his head in the sand.

First, an update on events. BBC News reports:
Ukraine's opposition has asserted its authority over Kiev and parliament in a day of fast-paced events.

MPs have replace the parliamentary speaker and attorney general, appointed a new pro-opposition interior minister and voted to free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Police appear to have abandoned their posts across the capital.

Protesters in Kiev have walked unchallenged into the president's official and residential buildings.

President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders signed a peace deal on Friday after several days of violence in which dozens of people died in a police crackdown on months of protest.

But the deal failed to end the protests and huge crowds remain in Independence Square, the Maidan.

The opposition have called for elections before 25 May, earlier than envisaged in Friday's peace deal.

The president's whereabouts are unclear - his aides say he is in Kharkhiv, close to the border with Russia.

Presidential aide Hanna Herman said he was due to give a televised address later.

A gathering of deputies from the south-east and Crimea - traditionally Russian-leaning areas - is taking place there, but Ms Herman said the president had "no intention" of attending, nor of leaving the country.
However, USA Today reports that Yanukovych has denied he has resigned:
Ukraine's parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych on Saturday, even as the embattled leader remained defiant, calling the country's political crisis a "coup" and saying he has no intention of resigning or leaving the country.

"They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign, I'm the legitimately elected president," Yanukovych said in a televised statement. "What we see today is a coup — I did everything to prevent the bloodshed. We adopted two amnesty laws. We did everything to stabilize the political situation."

"I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed," he added.
 The Associated Press reports that Yanukovych's primary political rival has been released from prison, and many his political support is slipping:
Hours after her release from prison, former Ukrainian prime minister and opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko appeared before an ecstatic throng at the protester encampment in Ukraine's capital Saturday, praising the demonstrators killed in violence this week and urging the protesters to keep occupying the square.

Her speech to the crowd of about 50,000, made from a wheelchair because of the severe back problems she suffered in 2 1/2 years of imprisonment, was the latest stunning development in the fast-moving Ukrainian political crisis.

... Her call for protests to continue and Yanukovych's defiance leaves unsettled the fate of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million of huge strategic importance to Russia, Europe and the United States.

The country's western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych's government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych's authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation's economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president. The three-month protest movement was prompted by the president's decision to abort an agreement with the EU in favor of a deal with Moscow.

"The people have won, because we fought for our future," said opposition leader Vitali Klitschko to a euphoric crowd of thousands gathered on Kiev's Independence Square. Beneath a cold, heavy rain, protesters who have stood for weeks and months to pressure the president to leave congratulated each other and shouted "Glory to Ukraine!"

"It is only the beginning of the battle," Klitschko said, urging calm and telling protesters not to take justice into their own hands.

The president's support base crumbled further as a leading governor and a mayor from the eastern city of Kharkiv fled Russia.

Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the border guard service, told The Associated Press that Kharkiv regional governor Mikhaylo Dobkin and Kharkiv Mayor Hennady Kernes left Ukraine across the nearby Russian border.
 Reuters reports:
In a television interview which the station said was also conducted in Kharkiv, Yanukovich said he would not resign or leave the country, and called decisions by parliament "illegal".

"The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d'etat," he said, comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s. He said he had also come under fire. "My car was shot at. I am not afraid. I feel sorrow for my country," he told UBR television.

Interfax news agency said Yanukovich was refused exit from the country by border guards when he tried to fly out from the city of Donetsk.
Walter Russell Mead provides some analysis on the subject:
... Ukrainian society is unable to produce a strong and united government that could limit the influence of foreign interests and lobbies so that the Ukrainian state and people would follow a consistent course toward either Moscow or Brussels, much less find some kind of effective pathway in between. Meanwhile, given the inability of internal forces to set a firm course, Russia lacks the resources and the West lacks the will to attach Ukraine firmly and irrevocably to either camp. Thus we see what we see: a succession of failed governments as the country flounders and slithers in the mist.

There are three possible futures for Ukraine. In the short term some kind of continuation of the status quo of indecision and drift seems the most likely alternative, but such a volatile and unsatisfactory status quo is unlikely to endure into the indefinite future. When and if the status quo finally ends, Ukraine can go one of two ways. One is partition: the east and the west go their separate ways, as the eastern portion returns to the Kremlin’s embrace, and the west prepares for the EU. The alternative is that either Moscow or the West succeeds in drawing the whole country to its side.
 Mead suggests that partition may be the best course for Russia, as it cannot afford a war and hostile occupation:
A rationalist would suggest to the Kremlin that partition was its best hope. Solzhenitsyn once gloomily speculated that the Ukrainians on the west bank of the Dnieper were lost to the Russian motherland as a result of Soviet history; the Kremlin might well think about trying to move quickly towards a de facto partition with the dividing line as close to that river as possible in the north, and stretching across it to Moldova in the south. It would be surprising if the Kremlin has not entertained the possibility of partition as a second-best outcome and wouldn’t switch quickly to promoting it if all hope of absorbing the whole country is lost.

There are reports this morning that Yanukovych (who must now fear criminal prosecution if his opponents consolidate their authority across the whole country) is calling for the formation of militias in the east. He appears to be ‘forting up’ in Kharkov, Ukraine’s second city and the metropolis of the eastern part of the country. If the Kremlin backs this play, it is a sign that Russia is, among other things, preparing the ground for partition if nothing better can be gained.

One should remember that Putin, conscious of being the weaker party in his high stakes geopolitical game with the West, likes to move swiftly and present his adversaries with facts on the ground. This worked brilliantly for him in Georgia and again in Syria where the exploitation of Western indecision and muddled thinking allowed a weak Russia to score significant gains. Putin at this point does not seem to have much respect for his counterparts in either Washington or Brussels. He believes he is up against dithering wimps who profess high ideals but are deeply risk averse. He may calculate that moving quickly to solidify the power of a pro-Russian government in the eastern rump of Ukraine is his best move — and indeed, this may well have been part of his end game calculation well before the current crisis began. Russian thinking and policymaking is heavily focused on Ukraine; it stretches credulity to suppose that Russian planners have not thought long and hard about their alternatives in what, for them, is the most vital arena in world politics today.
 David P. Goldman also believes partition offers the best option:
I’ve argued for years that partition is the best solution for Ukraine, which never was a country but an almalgam of provinces left over from failed empires–Russian, Austrian, Lithuanian, Ottoman–cobbled together into a Soviet “republic” and cast adrift after the collapse of Communism. Lviv (Lemberg) was a German-speaking city, part of Silesia; before World War II a quarter of its people were Jews. Jews were two-fifths of the population of Odessa.

A fifth of the population, mainly in the East, are ethnic Russians; a tenth, mainly in the West, are Uniate Catholics, who have a special place in Catholic policy since the papacy of John Paul II. Ukrainian nationality is as dubious as Byelorussian nationality: neither of them had a dictionary of their language until 1918.

... Russia never will permit the integration of Ukraine into NATO; were it to come to that, Russia would use force, and the West would stand by cursing. But Russia will settle for half a loaf, namely a Russian-allied Eastern Ukraine. Whatever we do, Ukraine will continue its slow, sad slide into oblivion. The diplomats have the dour duty of managing this decline with the minimum of friction.
So what is Obama's stance? He is urging a unity government, over a country where unity is unlikely. (See also the official statement from the White House).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ragnarok

Tomorrow is the date Ragnarok is supposed to begin.
Ragnarok, the final bloody battle predicted in Norse mythology approaches on February 22.

Believers say that when the fateful day arrives Earth will split open, unleashing the inhabitants of Hel.

The wolf, Fenrir, son of Loki, will break out of his prison and the Midgard snake Jormungand will rise from the sea.

Nidhogg, the dragon of the underworld, will gnaw at the world tree, Yggdrasil, until it groans and wilts.

Then as the ice giants of Jotunheim come thundering over the horizon, the dead heroes of Valhalla will descend from heaven to fight them.

These events were prophesied by the god Odin who had hung himself from Yggdrasill for nine days so he could die and be re-born with wisdom and foresight.
The Viking apocalypse may not be starting tomorrow, but events in the Ukraine are heating up, and could possibly lead to a civil war ... or worse. Earlier it had appeared that the protests in Kiev might simmer down, as opposition leaders signed an agreement with Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovich. That is not what has happened. Rather, protesters have denounced the deal. The Globe and Mail reports:
The future of Ukraine appears more uncertain than ever after thousands of protesters angrily denounced an agreement aimed at ending months of unrest.

While politicians managed to reach a deal on Friday that will see the removal of embattled President Viktor Yanukovych by December, the thousands of protesters still on the streets here made it clear they want him out immediately and some vowed to take up arms if that doesn’t happen.

“The Right Sector is not putting down our weapons,” said Dmytro Yarosh, who leads the right-wing organization which some have labelled extremist. “We are not going to stop any of our activities until Yanukovych resigns.”

It was a day of drama and intrigue in Kiev. Under intense pressure from European diplomats alarmed at the increasingly violent confrontation between the Moscow-backed government and its opponents, Mr. Yanukovych and the three main opposition party leaders emerged with an agreement to set up a unity government and hold early elections.

The negotiations were aimed at calming the popular uprising – dozens of people were killed in the now wrecked centre of the capital this week – but they risk exacerbating tensions between the West and Russia over the future of Ukraine.

A Russian envoy in Kiev refused to sign the accord, although EU mediators signed as witnesses. But whether Russia will accept the concessions is unclear. Later on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin had what was described as “constructive” discussions, speaking by phone for about an hour, mainly about the Ukraine crisis.
Given Obama's record at foreign relations, I'll hazard a guess that nothing in the conversation was "constructive," but it was a complete disaster.

Meanwhile, the rats have begun to flee the sinking ship, so to speak. Mediaite and Hot Air both indicate that Yanukovych has fled Kiev. From Mediaite:

The Russian-backed president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovich, fled the capital city of Kiev on Friday evening shortly after signing a deal with opposition protesters aimed at ending the months-long standoff. The protests in Ukraine against the government’s proposal to avoid integrating with the European Union in favor of strengthening ties with Russia have grown deadly in recent days.

The State Department confirmed on Friday that Yanukovich left the city of Kiev to hold meetings with officials in the nation’s second largest city, Kharkiv. There, the Ukrainian president would be greeted with anti-Yanukovich protesters.

Some, however, are suggesting that Yanukovich’s move may not be as innocent as his office is leading the international press to believe. A Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter tweeted on Friday that the Ukrainian president’s belongings are being prepared for travel as well.
And he is not the only one leaving. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports:
... However, charter flight records published on Twitter and by Ukrainian media suggest that dozens of Yanukovych allies appear to have fled -- or attempted to flee -- the country as the president's regime has grown increasingly shaky.

With the current death toll from protest violence at nearly 80, Yanukovych announced a peace deal on February 21, establishing early presidential elections, a national unity government, and reduced presidential powers.

But even before Yanukovych revealed the terms of the deal, the prospect of such an outcome was reportedly enough to send regime stalwarts scurrying to Kyiv's Zhulyany airport, where records indicate that as many as 180 charter flights have been registered since February 19. (A roll call at the parliament session on February 21 showed only 131 of the Party of Regions' 204 deputies in attendance.)

One log, published online, showed flights to international destinations as well as locations in Ukraine's Russian-speaking south and east. The destinations include Moscow, Frankfurt, Budapest, Istanbul, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, and Simferopol.

Many of the surnames on the passenger list appear to correspond to those of high-ranking members of the Yanukovych regime, as well as police officials and oligarchs.
The Daily Beast reports on a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament that would require an investigation into violence against protesters. The same news story goes on:
The second group of MPs took to their heels to the airport with their families and big suitcases, undoubtedly stuffed with cash. They have lots of places to escape to. One of those rumored to have fled: Serhyi Klyuyev, who has close ties to D.C. lobbying firms and who is the brother to Andryi Klyuyev, one of the country’s most powerful politicians. Serhyi’s daughter is said to have an apartment in a luxury building at Clearwater Beach, Florida. Meanwhile, the parents of Yevhen Heller, a key member of the Yanukovych-Ahmetov clan, reportedly live in Brooklyn. While snipers are shooting students in Kiev on the orders of Heller’s boss, his family gets to take advantage of American democracy. If civil war starts in Ukraine, Heller could even ostensibly try to flee to the U.S. through America’s Family Reunion program.

Meanwhile, Yanukovych looks to be increasingly alone. State media reported that he had been prepared to declare a state of emergency, but nobody from the National Security and Defense Council signed the papers for the decree, and so he left his signature off, too. Meanwhile, someone for the opposition drafted a document for the president to read—it accused him of acting like a tyrant. Foreign diplomats have visited Yanukovych to try to persuade him to stop the carnage. But it’s clear who is real friend is: earlier, he allegedly put in a call to Moscow asking Putin if it would be possible to get some guarantees in case he needed to escape. It’s said Putin gave an evasive answer. Yanukovych was left as alone as a Führer in his bunker.
 Allahpundit, writing at Hot Air, warns that the result may be a division of Ukraine along ethnic lines, with a portion of the country seeking to join Russia. This could lead to a civil war. Moreover, he quotes from the Financial Times:
Russia is prepared to fight a war over the Ukrainian territory of Crimea to protect the ethnic Russian population and its military base there, a senior government official has told the FT.

“If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war,” the official said. “They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia.” In August 2008, Russian troops invaded Georgia after the Georgian military launched a surprise attack on the separatist region of South Ossetia in an effort to establish its dominance over the republic…

However, many government officials say in private that Ukraine falls inside Russia’s sphere of influence. “We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us. The states of the former Soviet Union, we are one family,” said a foreign policy official. “They think Russia is still as weak as in the early 1990s but we are not.”
 And there is this op-ed from Reuters:
Ukraine has had two weeks to find a compromise in its Russia versus the West dispute. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been focused on promoting his soft image with the Winter Olympics in Sochi. With the games ending Sunday, however, time has run out and the crisis in Kiev and other cities is only getting worse.

If Putin uses Russian history as a guide, it would not be out of the question that Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine. After all, Soviet leaders did just this to retain control during the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the 1968 Prague spring in Czechoslovakia.

For Putin stands to lose influence and his ability to affect policy in Ukraine if the opposition gains control. This is at the core of the current Ukraine crisis.

Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich disregarded a much-anticipated association agreement with the European Union in November to sign a $15 billion bailout deal with Russia. It was this Kremlin-influenced act that sparked the protests — first peaceful but now increasingly violent. Ukraine now appears divided into an eastern part that supports Yanukovich and the Russian deal, and the Europe-prone western half.

So the real question may well be: What does Russia want?

Looking to history, Moscow wants what it has always wanted — Ukraine, translated as the Edge (of Russia) and also known as Malorossiya or Small Russia. ...

"Like a Broken Vessel"

File:Ethiopian Flowerpot (2093019039).jpg
(Source: Wikimedia)


Last October, at the LDS General Conference, Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk entitled "Like a Broken Vessel" about dealing with emotional problems. Just a few excerpts from his talk:
... In striving for some peace and understanding in these difficult matters, it is crucial to remember that we are living—and chose to live—in a fallen world where for divine purposes our pursuit of godliness will be tested and tried again and again. Of greatest assurance in God’s plan is that a Savior was promised, a Redeemer, who through our faith in Him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials, even though the cost to do so would be unfathomable for both the Father who sent Him and the Son who came. It is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive.

Let me leave the extraordinary illnesses I have mentioned to concentrate on MDD—“major depressive disorder”—or, more commonly, “depression.” When I speak of this, I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion. The Book of Mormon says Ammon and his brethren were depressed at a very difficult time, 2 and so can the rest of us be. But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!

No, this dark night of the mind and spirit is more than mere discouragement. ...

... So how do you best respond when mental or emotional challenges confront you or those you love? Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend. ... Never, ever doubt that, and never harden your heart. Faithfully pursue the time-tested devotional practices that bring the Spirit of the Lord into your life. Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being. Ask for and cherish priesthood blessings. Take the sacrament every week, and hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.

In preventing illness whenever possible, watch for the stress indicators in yourself and in others you may be able to help. As with your automobile, be alert to rising temperatures, excessive speed, or a tank low on fuel. When you face “depletion depression,” make the requisite adjustments. Fatigue is the common enemy of us all—so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill. Physicians promise us that if we do not take time to be well, we most assuredly will take time later on to be ill.

If things continue to be debilitating, seek the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values. Be honest with them about your history and your struggles. Prayerfully and responsibly consider the counsel they give and the solutions they prescribe. If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.

If you are the one afflicted or a caregiver to such, try not to be overwhelmed with the size of your task. Don’t assume you can fix everything, but fix what you can. If those are only small victories, be grateful for them and be patient. Dozens of times in the scriptures, the Lord commands someone to “stand still” or “be still”—and wait. Patiently enduring some things is part of our mortal education.

For caregivers, in your devoted effort to assist with another’s health, do not destroy your own. In all these things be wise. Do not run faster than you have strength. Whatever else you may or may not be able to provide, you can offer your prayers and you can give “love unfeigned.” “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; … [it] beareth all things, … hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.”

Also let us remember that through any illness or difficult challenge, there is still much in life to be hopeful about and grateful for. We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions! ...

Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.

I testify of the holy Resurrection, that unspeakable cornerstone gift in the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ! With the Apostle Paul, I testify that that which was sown in corruption will one day be raised in incorruption and that which was sown in weakness will ultimately be raised in power. I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind. What a thrilling moment that will be! I do not know whether we will be happier for ourselves that we have witnessed such a miracle or happier for them that they are fully perfect and finally “free at last.” Until that hour when Christ’s consummate gift is evident to us all, may we live by faith, hold fast to hope, and show “compassion one of another,” I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
(Footnotes omitted).

Common Core Cheats the Exceptional and Those With Special Needs

The Atlantic discusses how the "one-size-fits-all" approach of Common Core deprives the extremely bright students, and handicaps those with cognitive disabilities.
Precocious students, students with learning disabilities, precocious students with learning disabilities: How does the Common Core suit them?

Even before the widespread adoption of the Common Core, it was already increasingly rare for even the most intellectually unusual children to be exempted—whether by acceleration, remediation, or placement in special classrooms—from the course of study followed by their cognitively typical peers. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act had schools focusing away from the most academically advanced students (and requires no special programming for them); the 2004 re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act required children with disabilities “to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.” Increasingly, it’s the general curriculum for everyone. And now that this general curriculum is being shaped by dozens of grade-specific Common Core standards, and that teachers (including special-ed teachers) are increasingly expected to align each day’s lesson with one or more of these standards, there’s even less room for remediation or acceleration.

Indeed, those two words appear nowhere in the standards, not even in the one Common Core document that addresses this subject: a one-and-a-half-pager entitled “Application to Students with Disabilities.” It says that special-needs students should have the support services, individualized instruction, and assistive technology they need for the “the rigor and high expectations of the Common Core State Standards.” It does not, however, state what these services are or how they would work. As for curricular materials, they might be altered or presented “in multiple ways,” but only “within the framework of the Common Core.”

For students with sensory disabilities like deafness or blindness, the necessary accommodations—e.g., sign language interpreters or audio books—are obvious. Cognitive disabilities are different. Yet the document simply states:

Some students with the most significant cognitive disabilities will require substantial supports and accommodations to have meaningful access to certain standards.
 
So what happens to the approximately six percent of the student population with significant cognitive disabilities—whether general intellectual disabilities, language impairments, reading impairments, non-verbal learning disabilities, or autistic spectrum disorders? What happens when their classrooms function under a set of guidelines that ignore their skills and specific needs?

In general, the news isn’t good. Last November, an issue of Education Week ran several articles on special-needs students and the Common Core. One article characterizes the English language arts goals as “largely unmet.” Another reports more than half of teachers surveyed saying they are unprepared to teach the standards to high-needs students.
 Read the whole thing.

Ukraine Violence Over?

Some hopeful news this morning. I saw several reports, like this from Bloomberg News, indicating that an agreement had been reached between opposition leaders and the president of Ukraine:
In a day that could significantly shift Ukraine's political destiny, opposition leaders signed a deal Friday with the country's beleaguered president that calls for an early election, a new constitution and a new unity government.

It was not clear, however, how well the deal would go down with all the sides involved in Ukraine's protracted political crisis. A senior Russian lawmaker immediately criticized it as being crafted for the West, and Ukrainian protesters angry over police violence showed no signs of abandoning their sprawling encampment in central Kiev.

Still, if it holds, the ambitious agreement could be a major breakthrough in a months-long crisis over Ukraine's future, a standoff that worsened sharply this week and left scores dead and hundreds wounded in the worst violence the country has seen since it became independent in 1991.
It is somewhat surprising, considering that just yesterday, there were fears that the military would be involved. From the Financial Times:
People close to Ukraine’s opposition leaders expressed concern that president Viktor Yanukovich, his options dwindling, was preparing to unleash the army to crush the protests against him – possibly within hours. 
They also accused Ukrainian authorities of provoking Thursday’s violence, with snipers firing at protesters on Kiev’s central square, as a pretext for a decisive clampdown. Mr Yanukovich’s website pointed the blame at protesters.

“If there is a decision to use force to clear the protesters, it can be done but will start a civil war,” said Ihor Smeshko, former head of Ukraine’s SBU security services. “The army is so far neutral, but if it is pulled into this conflict it will be a point of no return. Army personnel are themselves split 50/50 in their views of Ukraine.”
 
The government prepared the way for using the army on Wednesday, when the defence ministry said the military could be deployed in “antiterrorist” operations. Authorities and legal experts had previously said the army could only be used within Ukraine if a state of emergency was imposed.

Polar Vortex is Back!

File:Frozen Schuylkill River, Philadelphia 2014.JPG
Frozen Schuylkill River, Philadelphia 2014 (Source: Wikimedia)
The Daily Mail reports:
Just when you thought you were safe - the Polar Vortex is back. 
The Midwest and North East are thawing out after being covered with more than a foot of snow over the past week, but forecasters have warned it won't be for long as another cold front is on its way. 
The wintry storm is expected to slam the Midwest this weekend, bringing ferocious winds and freezing temperatures as low as 35 degrees below normal. 
After rattling the Midwest, it will stretch into the South and East at the start of next week, according to Weather Underground.

A six-to-ten-day forecast from NOAA also reveals a terrifying swathe of cold temperatures starting in the Midwest on Tuesday and stretching south and to the coast - where the mercury is expected to plummet to temperatures below average, while a higher than average amount of rain is also due.
 
'Temperatures 20°F below normal will likely invade the Upper Midwest on Sunday, and gradually spread southeastwards during the week,' Dr Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground said.

'The peak cold is predicted to occur late next week, with temperatures 20 - 35° below normal covering much of the eastern 2/3 of the country.'

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Lot of People Are Fed Up

Just a brief look around the world shows a lot of people unhappy with their government. First, I'll start in the United States. Certain groups will riot and protest at the slightest excuse or provocation, but most Americans are passive-aggressive when it comes to politics. The passive-aggressive has come out in Connecticut, where tens-of-thousands, if not more, have ignored a new law requiring registration of "assault weapons" and "high-capacity" magazines. From the foregoing link:

A bit of miltary wisdom has it that you should never give an order you know won't be obeyed. Issuing such an order accomplishes nothing except to undermine your authority and expose the extent to which, no matter what enforcement mechanisms are in place, you rely upon voluntary compliance. But now that Connecticut's resident class of politically employed cretins has awoken to the fact that, in their state, like everywhere else, people overwhelmingly disobey orders to register their weapons, they're acting like this is a shocking revelation. They're also promising to make those who tried to comply, but missed the deadline regret the effort [by requiring them to move their weapons out of state, surrender them to the state, or destroy the weapons] (proving the point of the openly defiant). And the politicians' enablers in the press are screaming for the prosecution of "scores of thousands" of state residents who, quite predictably, flipped the bird at the government.
My guess, however, is that at some point, Connecticut or New York or California or some other state that has passed similar laws is going to push the issue, with the backing of the Feds, and things potentially could get violent. That is probably why the Department of Homeland Security has gone on another shopping spree for ammo.

Of course, at the top of the news stories are the protests in Ukraine. CNN reports:
A short-lived truce crumbled Thursday as gunfire erupted at Independence Square, the center of anti-government protests and an increasingly violent crisis that threatens catastrophe for this divided nation. 
The head of the protesters' medical service said 100 people died and 500 were injured in clashes on Thursday, just hours after the government declared a truce in fighting that had shocked world leaders with the deaths of 28 people two days before. 
The Ukrainian government has not released its own casualty figures, but Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko said 25 police officers had been wounded and an unspecified number of them had died. Some others had been taken hostage, he said.

... It's unclear what prompted Thursday's clashes. CNN crews at the scene reported that as security forces were moving away from the area, a group of protesters pursued them throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
 
Zakharchenko said the violence had been "provoked exclusively by the opposition leaders," echoing an earlier statement from Yanukovych's office accusing protesters of breaking the truce. 
"The opposition used the negotiation period to buy time, to mobilize and get weapons to protesters," the statement from the President's office said. 
However, a doctor volunteering to treat protesters, Olga Bogomolets, accused government forces of shooting to kill, saying she had treated 13 people she believed had been targeted by "professional snipers." 
"They were shot directly to their hearts, their brain and to their neck," she said. "They didn't give any chance to doctors, for us, to save lives." 
CNN could not independently confirm Bogomolets' claim of sniper fire.
Reuters reports:
Acting Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharschenko said police had been issued with combat weapons and would use them "in accordance with the law" to defend themselves and others and to free hostages. The ministry said protesters were holding 67 policemen hostage.

In a sign of dwindling support for Yanukovich, his hand-picked head of Kiev's city administration quit the ruling Party of the Regions in protest at bloodshed in the streets.
 It is harder to find news about Venezuela's protests. Weasel Zippers indicates:
Reports of fires across Caracas, unknown as to their cause or origin. What is known is international media are being told to leave the country. Ones who won’t leave are threatened with violence and death if they do not.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Some Sober Words of Wisdom

From the blog, Straight Forward in a Crooked World, the author relates that the daughter of an acquaintance/friend was kidnapped and killed. He concludes:

I grow weary of the bad men of the world killing children. Everyone's politics be damned, 
I grow tired of the rapist, the killer, the men who commit themselves to sanely devised evil. 
Because it is evil and there is evil in this world. It's not one man's perspective over another or another. Some men just want to do evil and they sleep every night free of guilt from it. 
And so it is and was with Craig Michael Wood. Child killer. Innocence thief. Destroyer of small worlds and families. 
Years back when I started SFIACW it was an outlet for the writer in me who grew weary of a world of bullshit and double talk. It eventually grew less personal and more....XYZ.
So normally this is the part where I say "fight" give the bad men everything you have and leave them on the floor and not you. 
 
But instead I would rather say "do good."  
Do good. Because the world is so absent of it at times. You want to be counter cultural? 
Do good.

Cody Lundin Fired from "Dual Survival"

Cody Lundin has announced on his Facebook page that he is no longer part of "Dual Survival". He writes: "Unfortunately, I have been fired by Discovery Channel for differences over safety and health concerns on the show and will no longer be a part of Dual Survival."

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

I've been holding off on blogging about this because the death toll killed keeps going up. However, this is from the New York Times this morning:
The security authorities in Ukraine offered the first indication on Wednesday that the deadly political violence afflicting Kiev had spread far beyond the city limits, announcing a crackdown on what the Interior Ministry called “extremist groups” that had torched buildings and seized weapons nationwide.

The Interior Ministry announcement of an “anti-terrorist operation” across the country came a day after Kiev was gripped with the most lethal mayhem since protests erupted in November, leaving at least 25 dead including nine police officers. The Health Ministry said that 241 people had been wounded.

... “In many regions of the country, municipal buildings, offices of the Interior Ministry, state security and the prosecutor general, army units and arms depots, are being seized,” Oleksandr Yakimenko, the head of the SBU, the Ukraine state security service, said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

“Courtrooms are being burned down, vandals are destorying private apartments, killing peaceful citizens,” he said in the statement. Mr. Yakimenko said the past 24 hours had shown “a growing escalation of violent confrontation and widespread use of weapons by extremist oriented groups.”

In Kiev on Wednesday, protesters stoked what they are calling a “ring of fire” separating themselves from the riot police in a desperate effort to defend the remnants of a stage on Independence Square that has been a focal point of their protests.

Men staggering with exhaustion dismantled the tents and field kitchens from the protest movement’s earlier and more peaceful phase and hauled their remnants onto the fires. They piled on mattresses, sleeping bags, tent frames, foam pads and whatever else looked flammable, burning their own encampment in a final act of defiance.

... The Interior Ministry’s announcement of a nationwide crackdown came after witnesses and unofficial news reports from outside the capital said protesters had seized provincial administrative buildings in several regions, including Lviv, a bastion of anti-Yanukovych sentiment in western Ukraine near the border with Poland.

Andriy Porodko, a 29-year-old antigovernment activist in Lviv, said by telephone that protesters had taken control of the central government’s main offices in the region, resuming an occupation that had ended last Sunday, and had also raided the local headquarters of the state prosecutor, the Ukrainian security service and several district police stations.

Most ominously, said Mr. Porodko, who last month organized a blockade of an Interior Ministry garrison on the outskirts of Lviv, around 1,000 protesters had stormed the garrison, which serves as the headquarters of the Interior Ministry’s western regional command, seizing control of barracks and weapons stores. In addition, a local journalist said that around 140 guns were seized from Lviv’s central police station.
The Russians are getting excited about the situation, as well they should since these protests are rooted in policies carried out by Stalin:
The statement on Wednesday from the Foreign Ministry described the violence as an attempted coup and even used the phrase “brown revolution,” an allusion to the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933.

The ministry said Russia would use “all our influence to restore peace and calm.”

President Vladimir V. Putin’s spokesman said that the Russian leader had spoken by telephone with Mr. Yanukovych and expressed support for a swift settlement, but said it was up to Ukraine’s government to resolve it without external interference. “In the president’s view, all responsibility for what is happening in Ukraine rests with the extremists,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman, told reporters, according to the news agency Interfax.
 I interpret this as Russia will lend clandestine support against the protesters, but can't yet do anything openly because of the Olympic Games.

Government officials have also claimed that police had been killed by the protesters' weapons. However, the NYT article also states:
The Interior Ministry said all the police officers killed on Tuesdayhad died from gunshot wounds, although witnesses said it appeared that several officers had been trapped in a burning armored vehicle.
Last night, the BBC had reported:
Police are storming the main protest camp in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, which has been occupied since November.

Explosions are taking place, fireworks are being thrown and large fires have broken out in Independence Square.

On Tuesday at least 18 people were killed, including seven policemen, in the worst violence seen in weeks.

President Viktor Yanukovych blamed the violence on opposition leaders, but said it was still "not too late to stop the conflict".
 Obviously the police have failed to do so. My guess is that the military will now become involved.

And, finally, from a Time Magazine report this morning:
On Tuesday night, police in Ukraine began to storm the protest camp in the center of the capital, Kiev, using water canons, tear gas, truncheons and rubber bullets. In the course of the day, which was the most violent in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, 20 demonstrators were killed reportedly alongside seven members of the security forces. But the dilemma now facing the state and the police is far more complicated than clearing a city square filled with thousands of people. They also have to dislodge the intricate community of revolutionaries that has taken root there over the past three months. In the space of roughly 10 city blocks, the uprising has established a city within a city, a barricaded fortress with its own police force, its own economy, its own hospitals, a parliament, a cathedral, even a library and, most importantly, its own political ideals. Those cannot be chased away with rubber bullets. 
The revolutionary fortress, which is known as the Maidan (Ukrainian for city square), also had its own command structure, independent of the political leaders of the revolution who have been trying in vain to negotiate an end to the crisis. One of the three overseers of the Maidan, known as commandants, is Stepan Kubiv, a lawmaker in the national parliament for the pro-Western Fatherland party. On Tuesday, as the government troops surrounded the Maidan and tire fires raged along its perimeter, he got on the stage in the center of the square to explain what was at stake. “Stand up, Ukraine!” Kubiv shouted into the microphone. “Today the fate of our children and grandchildren is decided. The fate of all of us!” Then, in a hint at the bloodshed likely to ensue by morning, he told the armed men guarding what was left of the barricades, “Death to the enemies!”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Global Stagflation?

America appears to have entered a period of stagflation (inflation + stagnant economy + high unemployment). Investor's Business Daily reports:
Food and energy prices are rising, wages are flat and the top concern among Americans is unemployment. What was that word coined in the '70s to describe a stagnant economy suffering inflationary pressures? 
Since the Obama "recovery" started 4-1/2 years ago, inflation appears to have been relatively tame, with core prices climbing just 7% from June 2009 to December 2013.
But as CBS News discovered when it looked a little closer, the overall number is deceptive. In fact, it found food prices soaring.
 
The official inflation data confirm this. Overall, food prices are up 9% since June 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the cost of many staples is skyrocketing. Pork prices have climbed 14%; poultry is up 12%; eggs, 27%; milk, 20%. 
Meanwhile, energy prices have climbed 18% during the recovery, and the price of gasoline is up a whopping 31.5%. Then there's college tuition, up 23%. 
At the same time, wages aren't budging. In fact, measured in real terms, the median household income is 4% below where it was four-1/2 years ago. And while the official unemployment rate is down, that's due to millions quitting the workforce altogether. 
Yes, the economy has created 6.6 million jobs since June 2009. But the ranks of those not in the labor force climbed nearly 11 million, driving the labor force participation rate down from 65.7% to today's 63% — a level not seen since 1978. 
In fact, had the participation rate remained where it was, we'd have an unemployment rate of over 10%. So it's no wonder the IBD/TIPP Poll continues to find nearly a quarter of U.S. households reporting that someone at home is looking for a job.
(The reason that government statistics on inflation--the CPI--doesn't reflect the inflation that the rest have been seeing is because it excludes food and energy prices). Of course, one of the concerns I've lately been reading about is fear of deflation. The deflation spiral is that because of an expectation in lowering prices, consumers put off purchases (other than necessities) in the belief that prices in the future will be even lower. These decreases demand, and the economy begins to stagnate. My question is, however, if inflation figures do not include the price of necessities, how can economists tell the difference between stagflation and deflation. If food prices soar, people have to spend more money for food, and have less money to buy other goods. From a macroeconomic perspective, the end result is the same as deflation--people put off purchases of other goods in services. So maybe the warning signs of deflation are actually the result of stagflation.

The problem with misunderstanding the nature of the problem is that the wrong policies will be followed. As this article at Communities Digital News (CDN) notes, the solution with resolving the stagflation of the 70's and early 80's was not the standard Keynesian demand-side solutions, but policies that addressed deficiencies on the supply-side:
A demand side solution will not necessarily stimulate a stagnant economy. Maybe we should look instead at the supply side. In 1981 we faced a somewhat similar, but worse, situation. We were experiencing stagflation which is a condition of a no-growth (stagnant) economy with rapidly rising prices (inflation). Demand side solutions couldn’t be used because if we took actions to increase demand, the stagnation might end, but prices would be bid upward to pour fuel on an already raging bonfire of inflation. If we took action to reduce inflation by cutting back the money supply, businesses would have a hard time getting credit for growth, and an already stagnant economy might tip back into full-blown recession.

The solution was to take action — not on the demand side, but on the supply side. By giving incentives to producers, we would increase output which would grow the economy. Their expanded output would put downward pressure on prices, thereby reducing inflation.

A supply side solution is what we need today. Unfortunately policy makers are doing just the opposite. Instead of policies geared to increase supply and grow the economy, the policies of the past few years have tended to decrease supply.
(See also this article from Dr. Paul Craig Roberts).

What is interesting is that the U.S. is not the only country facing stagflation. Argentina, Australia, IndiaIran (video), Russia are all facing stagflation. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The 1783 Laki Volcanic Eruption in Iceland (Updated)

File:Laki fissure (3).jpg
Laki, Iceland (Source)

I've blogged before about the Mt. Tambora eruption of 1815, and another 1258 A.D. eruption in Indonesia, both of which had significant impacts on the climate of the time. Today, I want to shift to the northern hemisphere, and discuss the 1783 eruption of Laki in Iceland.

Volcano World gives  a brief synopsis:
The Laki eruption lasted eight months during which time about 14 cubic km of basaltic lava and some tephra were erupted. Haze from the eruption was reported from Iceland to Syria. In Iceland, the haze lead to the loss of most of the island's livestock (by eating fluorine contaminated grass), crop failure (by acid rain), and the death of one-quarter of the human residents (by famine). Ben Franklin noted the atmospheric effects of the eruption (Wood, 1992).

It is estimated that 80 Mt of sulfuric acid aerosol was released by the eruption (4 times more than El Chichon and 80 times more than Mount St. Helens).

The climatic effects of the Laki eruption are impressive. In the eastern United States, the winter average temperature was 4.8 degrees C below the 225 year average. The estimate for the temperature decrease of the entire Northern Hemisphere is about 1 degree C. The top graph shows change in acidity in micro equivalents H+ per kg in the Greenland icecap. The bottom graph represents the winter temperature records in the eastern United States. From Sigurdsson (1982).

The Laki eruption illustrates that low energy, large volume, long duration basaltic eruptions can have climatic impacts greater than large volume explosive silica-rich eruptions. The sulfur contents of basaltic magmas are 10-100 times higher than silica-rich magmas (Palais and Sigurdsson, 1989).
Initially, I want to address a 2011 paper published in Geophysical Research Letters that suggested that the Laki eruption was the not the significant cause of the decline in temperature. Live Science provides a summary:
The eruption of a volcano in Iceland is often blamed for the unusually harsh winter of 1783 to 1784 around the North Atlantic. But new research lays the blame for the extreme cold elsewhere.

Scientists find that the extremes of cold back then might actually have been triggered by the same climate effects potentially responsible for the unusually cold and snowy winter that Europe and North America experienced from 2009 to 2010.

These new findings shed light on how extremes in natural variability in climate have played and still play a key role in our world today, along with any recent global warming effects, the researchers said.

... In the winter of 2009 to 2010, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a climate phenomenon in the North Atlantic sector, went through a negative phase, meaning less warm air flowed into Europe and more cold Arctic air headed toward North America. At the same time, the El NiñoSouthern Oscillation (ENSO), a climate pattern in the tropical Pacific Ocean, went through a warm phase, which can potentially cause wetter, cloudier winters in northern Europe and enhanced storms to hit the central and southern latitudes of the United States.

After analyzing 600 years' worth of data in tree rings, which preserve details about the climate in which the trees grew, the scientists found that NAO and ENSO conditions during the 1783 to 1784 winter were similar to those seen in the 2009 to 2010 winter. In ranking this kind of combined NAO-ENSO events, the researchers found that the 2009 to 2010 winter showed the strongest combined effects and the 1783 to 1784 winter the second strongest in the past 600 years.

At the same time, their simulations of the effects of the Laki eruption and its dissipation through the autumn of 1783 suggest that it did not play a key role in these events.
Watts Up With That also discusses the 2011 paper. You can get a copy of the 2011 paper here (pdf). However, a subsequent paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research (VOL. 117, D23116, doi:10.1029/2012JD018414, 2012) which rebutted the 2011 paper. The 2012 paper, "Climatic impact of the long-lasting 1783 Laki eruption: Inapplicability of mass-independent sulfur isotopic composition measurements," essentially argues that the prior studies were flawed because they only examined sulphur dioxide concentrations in the norther latitudes, while climate modelling predicted that the SO2 would have been pushed into the middle-latitudes, which, I might add, is supported by the historical record at the time.

However, whatever the cause of the temperature fluctuations, let's look at what happened in 1783-84. Netherland's NRC noted, in an article on an April 2010 eruption in Iceland:
... On June 8, 1783, the Laki volcano erupted and remained active for eight months. Its ash cloud reached as high as 15 kilometres. The poisonous dust that rained down on Iceland killed 10,000 people, a quarter of the island's population at the time.

The Icelandic language even has a word for it: Móduhardbindin, meaning "death by famine caused by poisonous gas". Domestic animals suffered white spots on their skin and burns on their hooves. The little grass that remained turned yellow and pink. Half of all livestock died from poisoning.

Iceland was not the only country where apocalyptic scenes became reality. In the United Kingdom, the summer of 1783 would go down in history as the "sand summer". Large swaths of Europe were enveloped in a thick, permanent, haze. The fog rolled over Bergen in Norway first, followed by Prague and Berlin, and finally, Paris and Rome. With visibility at sea extremely limited, ships remained moored in port. By day, a paltry sun emitted little more light than the moon did by night. Only at sunset and sunrise did it turn a deep crimson red.

Extremely hot summers and cold winters followed, causing crops to fail across Europe. Famine ensued. In the UK alone, 23,000 people died from poisoning in the summer of 1783. In the winter that followed an additional 8,000 succumbed to hunger. In 1784, the United States had its coldest winter ever. Even parts of the Gulf of Mexico froze over. The Mississippi river was covered with ice as far south as New Orleans.

The eruption's effects lasted until 1788. France was plagued by heavy storms. Newspaper reports from the era mention hailstones so big they killed cattle on impact. Harvests failed and famine followed. Grain prices reached record heights. The country's rural populace in particular, which then accounted for 85 percent of the population, rebelled against the bankrupt French monarchy. The Bastille prison was stormed and the Ancien Régime overturned. France would remain a hotbed of unrest for years, long after the Laki volcano in Iceland had already returned to a deep and long-lasting slumber.
The Laki eruption wasn’t really a single event, but rather 8 months’ worth of lava flows and explosions that ejected an astounding ~14.7 km3 of basaltic lava that came out of 140 vents along a 23-km-long set of fissures and cones. ... That volume might be hard to visualize, but 14.7 km3 would pave the entire city of Boston (~232 km2) in ~63 meters deep of basalt. Think of it another way: Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, as erupted ~4 km3 of basalt since 1983. That means that Laki erupted 3.6 times more lava in 8 months than Kilauea as erupted in 30 years. That is pretty remarkable! This doesn’t even take into account that while the Laki eruptions were occurring, nearby Grímvötn was also erupting, possibly as many as 8 times between May 1783 and May 1785. These two events are thought to be related in a single “volcanic-tectonic episode” that fed magma into the Laki fissures and Grímvötn.
... Now, the Laki eruptions had a staggering effect on Iceland itself, in large part due to the volcanic gases released in the eruption and not the lava flows themselves. Sulfur dioxide released by the lava flows stayed close to the ground (within 5 km) in Iceland, creating acid rains that were strong enough to burn holes in leaves, kill trees and shrubs and irritate skin. The eruption released 8 Mt of fluorine, so as that fluorine settled out and was incorporated into grasses, grazing livestock got fluorinosis. Sixty percent of all grazing livestock died due to the effects of the Laki eruptions. The “Haze Famine” as it is called in Iceland killed over 10,000 people (~22% of the population) from famine and disease.

Of the 122 Mt of sulfur dioxide released in the eruption, 95 Mt made it to the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, so it entered the jet stream and was circulated around the entire northern hemisphere (see right). The haze quickly reached Europe and by July 1, 1783, the haze was noticed in China. There are not many historical records from North America that mention the arrival of the Laki haze, but tree ring records from northern Alaska suggest that July and August 1783 were very cold. The mean temperature in northern Alaska is 11.3ºC, but the mean temperature recorded in May-August 1783 was only 7.2ºC. Russian traders in Alaska noted a population decrease in the years after the eruption while Inuit oral histories do refer to a “Summer that did not come” that could correlate with the Laki eruption as well.

Globally, those 95 Mt of sulfuric dioxide reacted with atmospheric water to form 200 Mt of sulfuric acid aerosols. Almost 90% of that sulfuric acid was removed in the form of acid rain or fogs, while 10% stayed aloft for over a year. This might explain why northern hemisphere temperatures were 1.3ºC below normal for 2-3 years after the eruption. Thordarson and Self (2003) created an excellent figure to show how the sulfur aerosols were dispersed during the eruption (see below), where 80% was part of the explosive phase of the eruption and launched 10-15 km, producing distant haze across the world while 20% came directly from cooling lava flows, so it stayed close to the ground to produce the local haze in Iceland. The sulfuric acid was even damaging to crops in Europe, where noxious dews and frosts (sulfur precipitates) formed. Ash from the eruption was noted as far away as Venice, Italy and many places in between.
See also this short article from Scientific American, noting that the famine after the eruption helped spark the French Revolution. This April 10, 2010, article from the Guardian also notes the devastating consequences to the people of Iceland, as well as the broader global implications:
In Norway, the Netherlands, the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, in North America and even Egypt, the Laki eruption had its consequences, as the haze of dust and sulphur particles thrown up by the volcano was carried over much of the northern hemisphere.

Ships moored up in many ports, effectively fogbound. Crops were affected as the fall-out from the continuing eruption coincided with an abnormally hot summer. A clergyman, the Rev Sir John Cullum, wrote to the Royal Society that barley crops "became brown and withered … as did the leaves of the oats; the rye had the appearance of being mildewed".

The British naturalist Gilbert White described that summer in his classic Natural History of Selborne as "an amazing and portentous one … the peculiar haze, or smokey fog, that prevailed for many weeks in this island, and in every part of Europe, and even beyond its limits, was a most extraordinary appearance, unlike anything known within the memory of man.

"The sun, at noon, looked as blank as a clouded moon, and shed a rust-coloured ferruginous light on the ground, and floors of rooms; but was particularly lurid and blood-coloured at rising and setting. At the same time the heat was so intense that butchers' meat could hardly be eaten on the day after it was killed; and the flies swarmed so in the lanes and hedges that they rendered the horses half frantic … the country people began to look with a superstitious awe, at the red, louring aspect of the sun."

Across the Atlantic, Benjamin Franklin wrote of "a constant fog over all Europe, and a great part of North America".

The disruption to weather patterns meant the ensuing winter was unusually harsh, with consequent spring flooding claiming more lives. In America the Mississippi reportedly froze at New Orleans.

The eruption is now thought to have disrupted the Asian monsoon cycle, prompting famine in Egypt. Environmental historians have also pointed to the disruption caused to the economies of northern Europe, where food poverty was a major factor in the build-up to the French revolution of 1789.
You can find more on the fluorine poisoning in this report, "Fluorine poisoning in victims of the 1783-84
eruption of the Laki fissure, Iceland." Alexendra Witze also notes:
In the end, Laki’s effects would spread all the way around the northern hemisphere. Volcanic fluorine settled across the lush pastures of Iceland, poisoning the grass and killing livestock and leading to one of the worst famines in the country’s history. Farther afield, volcanic sulfur first choked people on the ground across Europe — and later, by scattering away the sun’s incoming rays, led to climate change across the Northern Hemisphere for years. Laki cooled parts of the planet in ways that likely shut down the flow of the Nile, and that may have contributed to famine as far away as Japan. Some have gone so far as to attribute the French Revolution of 1789, in part, to Laki’s role in crop failures across France throughout the 1780s. The eruption’s official death toll is around 10,000, but if you add in the distant famines that may be linked to Laki’s climatic effects, something closer to several million people may have died.
(She is probably referencing the Great Tenmei famine in Japan, which was at least partly the result of local eruptions). NASA simulations showed:
In contrast to the cooling over Northern Hemisphere land masses, computer simulations showed the weakening monsoon led to an area of significant warming of 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over the Sahel of Africa, southern Arabian Peninsula, and India in the summer of 1783. The researchers believe the weaker-than-normal monsoon reduced the cloud cover in the region, allowing more of the sun's energy to reach the surface, raising temperatures and further worsening drought conditions. 
Computer model simulations also showed that this reduction in cloud cover was consistent with a decline in summer precipitation. "Some of the driest weather occurred over the Nile and Niger River watersheds," said Oman. "The relative lack of cloud cover and increased temperature likely amplified evaporation, further lessening water available for run-off." 
To see what effect major high-latitude volcanic eruptions have on rainfall and river levels, the researchers used records on the height of the Nile River that date back to 622 A.D. Record low Nile River water levels occurred in 1783-1784 following the Laki event. Similarly low levels were observed after the Mount Katmai, Alaska, eruption in 1912, when the Niger River was also at a record low. And in 939 A.D. there was also low Nile River flow following the Eldgjá eruption in Iceland. "Our analysis found there is less than a 3 percent chance that the Laki and Katmai low river flow events could be attributed to natural climate variability," said Oman.
In Exodus Lost, by S.C. Compton, writes that "[c]rops could not be grown in Egypt in 1783 or 1784, and by 1785 one-sixth of Egypt's population had starved or fled."  This article from Decoded Science describes:
Because the Laki eruption took place within an era and a geographic location in which written records were kept, researchers know a lot about the environmental impacts. They were extensive: it’s been described on the The Naked Scientist podcast as ‘the biggest atmospheric pollution event in history.’ Benjamin Franklin, at the time living in Paris, wrote of the ‘constant fog’ which shrouded Europe and North America. 
The fog was not the only outcome. The vast quantity of sulphur dioxide which found its way into the atmosphere created acid rain in parts of northern Europe. The eruption also seems to have interfered with climate patterns: in North America, climate records show that the years 1784-86 were abnormally cold – although in Europe the summer of 1783 was exceptionally hot and in Japan, unseasonably wet.

In Iceland, the impacts were particularly severe as concentrations of poisonous gases acted upon the local population and livestock within only few days. Vegetation also became poisoned by the gases and volcanic fallout. The result was famine: estimates suggest that the final toll was up to 75% of all the livestock in Iceland and possibly also a quarter of its population.
 
The famine took hold elsewhere, with reports of crops failing in Sweden. In addition, the toxic atmospheric gases proved fatal to large numbers of people, with Dr John Grattan of the University of Aberystwyth (quoted by The Naked Scientist) stating a figure of ‘something like 20,000 extra people’ dying in the summer of 1783. Although there are no accurate figures, the death toll worldwide must have been significant. 
Moving further afield, the Drishtikone blog states:
The atmosphere also impact the weather in other areas. India’s monsoon was severely impacted contributing to the drought of 1783-84, which led to Chalisa Famine. 
The modeling showed significant warming that occurred in the region west to east across Africa to the southern Arabian Peninsula and on to India during the summer of 1783. With little or no monsoon, there were no clouds to bring rain for the rivers or shield the surface from evaporation. Little or no rain, no irrigating floods, no crops and no food — all conspired to bring about the situation Volney described, and all were traceable back to Laki. 
It has been said time and again that the entire ecosystem is linked. In case of the impact of Laki Eruption to India leading to the Chalisa Famine, the underground occurrences – which caused volcanic eruption led to weather changes that devastated many large areas and killed many. 
 That famine caused over 11 million deaths in India alone.

Ars Technica warns that "[t]here have been four 'Laki-like' eruptions in Iceland over the past 1,150 years—some bigger, some smaller—which means this is not just an academic exercise. It’s a scenario that we could very well encounter in the near future."

UPDATE (2/18/2015): The Eruptions Blog has an interview with the authors of Island on Fire (a book about the Laki eruption), Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe.