Saturday, May 31, 2014

Some Good News (Updated)

A couple bits of good news. First, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been released by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He has been held prisoner for nearly 5 years. He was able to walk, but no other word on his condition. Unfortunately, the release necessitated the trade of some Taliban held by the U.S., but the trade was worth it. It will be quite a challenge for Bergdahl to adjust from being a prisoner back to normal life, and our prayers are with him and his family. (Update 6/1/2014: Things may not be as they seem. It is not clear but that Bergdahl may have been a Taliban sympathizer).

Second, Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman facing the death penalty for marrying an American Christian, may be released. This is still preliminary, but we hope and pray for her safety as well.

"Bag Trick"

Greg Ellifritz at Active Response Training shares a neat trick--something you should consider whether or not you ever use it yourself. It is to carry a weapon (a knife or a handgun) in your hand, concealed in a plastic shopping bag, making it look like you are simply carrying the bag in your hand. Obviously, this is for the limited situation where you suspect you may need the weapon, but also need to keep it concealed. Mr. Ellifritz relates that he first learned this technique from talking to a criminal, so it should be something that you watch for. Anyway, he has tips and advice concerning the technique, including photographs, at his article. Read the whole thing.

Survival Life Collects Some Video Reviews of the Mini-14

The Mini-14 was my first exposure to semi-auto rifles in .223/5.56, and so I've always had a certain fondness for it. Plus, there are certain advantages to having a bland or benign appearing rifle that doesn't garner unwanted attention.

In any event, here is the link to the Survival Life post.

And Now For Something Completely Different....

Tim Hawkins performing "The Government Can":

Friday, May 30, 2014

5 Existential Threats to Humanity

Article at The Conversation.

Bedbug Epidemic Spreads Across Spain

From the Telegraph:
Housing authorities in Madrid are complaining of “a plague of bedbugs” and called for extra measures to tackle the troublesome parasites. 
According to pest control experts, the reports of bedbug infestations across Spain have risen by 70 per cent within five years and is now bordering on an “epidemic”. 
A residents’ association in the Lavapies district of central Madrid is demanding city authorities provide temporary housing for those affected while their homes are fumigated. 
Residents are blaming the proliferation of the insects, which bury themselves deep inside mattresses, on the rise in the number of buildings being squatted in the neighbourhood.
... Bedbugs, which bite humans and suck their blood, were considered virtually extinct in western Europe for at least fifty years. Their reappearance across Spain over the last ten years has been blamed on the increase in mass tourism.
The United States has seen its own bed-bug epidemic over the past several years (see, e.g., this 2011 article) and it seems to be getting worse. (See also here). The resurgence may be related to the banning of effective pesticides.

Bedbugs are not believed to spread disease. However, that seems to me to be of little comfort--flees probably didn't spread pathogens prior to y. pestis and the plague.

More on China vs. Vietnam

This is to follow up on my post earlier this week concerning China's confrontation with Vietnam over an oil platform placed in Vietnamese waters. VOA News reports:
Two experts spoke to VOA about the Chinese decision to place the oil rig in contested waters at this time, knowing it would provoke outrage from Vietnam.

“I think it’s part of a long-term pattern of testing the responses of states around the region, ranging along the spectrum of much weaker states like the Philippines up to Japan and the United States,” said Michael Auslin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“There are moments of opportunity and this seemed to be one where they could get away with really trying to stake their claim in waters that by almost any definition are Vietnam’s,” Auslin said.

John Tkacik, the director of the Future Asia Project at the International Strategy and Assessment Center in Alexandria, Virginia, agrees with the perception that this was a calculated move by Beijing.
... The dispute is complicated by China’s preference to deal with the countries involved individually, instead of through an organization like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. That has made the other members of ASEAN concerned about China’s growing might.
Tkacik indicates that international law on the law of the sea favors Vietnam's claims. The story also states that Vietnam is considering legal action against China.

China's strategy to cut off and isolate the weaker members of the herd, so to speak, is a timeless strategy, but has the disadvantage that it alarms the rest of the herd which become more protective. Instead of weakening international alliances, China is more apt to strengthen the alliances. Chinese leaders probably assume that the nations will seek to align themselves with the U.S., and, therefore, not act without permission from the U.S. That is, they are counting on the U.S. to forestall any rash actions by these smaller nations--to act as a referee rather than the leader of a military alliance. China knows that the United States will not risk war with a nuclear power to protect the territorial integrity of any of the Southeast Asian nations. The strategy fails, however, if the United States is cut out of the decision making loop, or is able to carry out military action through a proxy.

As noted in my post earlier this week, Vietnam is considering a strategy whereby they would initiate hostilities with China, and then hope the United States would be forced to step in and stop the fight. It is a big gamble, but if sufficiently threatened, might be carried out.

There is also the issue of the Southeast Asian nations simply creating their own alliances that are independent of the United States. I could certainly see India taking a leading role in such an alliance as its military power increases.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

U.S. Economy Shrinks

Bloomberg reports that GDP fell by an annualized 1% during the first quarter. The spin in the story is that this is a good thing because it indicates that Americans are using up unsold inventory, which will prompt even better growth later in the year. More likely, it is evidence of borderline deflation.

On a related note, Bloomberg also reports that Russia's economy is expected to contract as sanctions take their bite.

China's economic growth is also slowing (see also here), with the central government telling local governments to pick up the pace of spending to mitigate the stall.


Reuters reports:
Tens of thousands of children unaccompanied by parents or relatives are flooding across the southern U.S. border illegally, forcing the Obama administration and Congress to grapple with both a humanitarian crisis and a budget dilemma.

An estimated 60,000 such children will pour into the United States this year, according to the administration, up from about 6,000 in 2011. Now, Washington is trying to figure out how to pay for their food, housing and transportation once they are taken into custody.

The flow is expected to grow. The number of unaccompanied, undocumented immigrants who are under 18 will likely double in 2015 to nearly 130,000 and cost U.S. taxpayers $2 billion, up from $868 million this year, according to administration estimates.

The shortage of housing for these children, some as young as 3, has already become so acute that an emergency shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, has been opened and can accommodate 1,000 of them, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in an interview with Reuters.

Ukrainian Rebels Kill 14, Including General

They shot down an helicopter with a shoulder-fired missile.

Lost Genes May Have Created Black Plague

Article at Ars Technica.

(H/t Instapundit)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

China and Vietnam

Although this incident seems to have quickly slid off the radar, Chinese vessels, yesterday, rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel. The Diplomat reports:
Tensions between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea waters off Vietnam’s coast rose higher when a Chinese vessel intentionally rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat. The Vietnamese boat was operating 17 nautical miles southwest of China’s HD-981 mega oil rig which was installed a few weeks ago, sparking a major bilateral dispute and protests in Vietnam.

According to Vietnamese state media, all crew members on board the fishing boat were rescued with no injuries. Xinhua, Chinese state media, meanwhile reported that, “a Vietnamese fishing boat capsized after harassing and colliding with a Chinese fishing boat in the South China Sea,” charging the Vietnamese fishing boat as the aggressor in the incident. It added that according to a Chinese government source, “the Chinese side has taken measures to stop Vietnamese interference and lodged serious representations to the Vietnamese side, asking them to immediately stop the disruptive activities.”
Carl Thayer, also writing at the Diplomat, discusses the options that Vietnam is considering. Primarily, these include closer military ties to the Philippines and the United States, including possible joint exercises in Vietnamese waters with the United States Coastguard and allowing U.S. surveillance aircraft to operate out of Vietnam. If tensions escalate to force:
Vietnam’s second possible strategy of deterrence, “mutually assured destruction,” applies only to a situation where relations between China and Vietnam have deteriorated to the point of armed conflict. Vietnamese strategists argue that the aim of this strategy is not to defeat China but to inflict sufficient damage and psychological uncertainty to cause Lloyd’s insurance rates to skyrocket and for foreign investors to panic and take flight.

Under this strategy, if armed conflict broke out, Vietnam would give priority to targeting Chinese flagged merchant shipping and oil containers ships operating in the southern extremity of the South China Sea. Vietnam currently possesses coastal ballistic missiles that are in range of China’s naval bases on Hainan and Woody islands.

Some Vietnamese strategists also argue that Vietnam should quickly acquire large numbers of ballistic missiles capable of striking Shanghai and even Hong Kong. In the event of armed conflict, these and other cities could be targeted to cause massive disruption to China’s economy. This would have a global impact. Vietnamese strategists expect that major powers would intervene to counter China’s aggression.
 China's strategy, meanwhile, is to slowly build pressure and cripple Vietnamese boats and ships. From Thayer's article:
... China is engaged in an unequal “war of attrition” with Vietnam. China’s tactics of ramming Vietnamese vessels two to four times lighter in weight is designed to damage them sufficiently to require repair.

Some Vietnamese analysts speculate that if the current rate of damage continues, Vietnam may not have enough vessels to confront China in the waters surrounding the rig.

According to the Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of Vietnam’s Marine Policy (Coast Guard) Ngo Ngoc Thu, on May 3 China’s Coast Guard Ship No. 44044 smashed into the side of Vietnam Marine Police vessel No. 4033 leaving a crack three meters by 1 meter and completely damaging the vessel’s right engine. Thu gave details of other damage suffered by Vietnamese vessels.

Recent research by Scott Bentley has revealed that China is deliberately targeting the communications masts and antennae of Vietnamese vessels with its water cannons. YouTube clips clearly show these communications masts being forcibly blown off the bridges of Vietnamese vessels. This degrades their ability to communicate with other ships and thus forces them to return to port for repairs.

Further, China-Vietnam confrontations are deadly serious. According to Scott Bentley, most of China’s Coast Guard ships are now armed with naval guns. Both Chinese Coast Guard ships and People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates have manned their uncovered guns and deliberately targeted Vietnamese vessels during the current confrontation.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ukraine Launches Air Strike Against Separatists

The Daily Mail reports:
Ukraine launched an air strike on pro-Russian rebels and sent in paratroopers today after the separatists seized Donetsk airport in violent scenes. 
Government jets and a helicopter struck against the militants, who arrived at the airport in the eastern city and demanded the withdrawal of government patrols. 
As darkness fell tonight, it was unclear who controlled the airport. Hundreds of fighters were in the area, armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and automatic rifles. 
Civilians and journalists were caught in the crossfire, which came a day after billionaire chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko was elected as Ukraine's new President - and warned he would not negotiate with 'terrorists' and 'bandits'.

The Three Nephites and a Sign of the Times

In our family scripture reading, we have been reading Third Nephi from The Book of Mormon and I came across a sign of the times of which I was unaware. I'm sure many of the you (speaking of the LDS readers) probably were aware of this, but for some reason, it had not come to my attention. Anyway, in 3 Nephi, Chapter 28, it states concerning the three Nephites:
27 And behold they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not.

28 They will also be among the Jews, and the Jews shall know them not.

29 And it shall come to pass, when the Lord seeth fit in his wisdom that they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, and shall bring out of them unto Jesus many souls, that their desire may be fulfilled, and also because of the convincing power of God which is in them.

30 And they are as the angels of God, and if they shall pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus they can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good.

31 Therefore, great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day when all people must surely stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;

32 Yea even among the Gentiles shall there be a great and marvelous work wrought by them, before that judgment day.

"Everything is Broken"

An essay on why cybersecurity is a nightmare.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review of Shotgun Inserts

Wood Trekker has a review and evaluation of shotgun inserts to shoot different caliber rounds out of a 12 gauge shotgun.

(H/t The Firearm Blog)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Would You Do?

"Ol' Remus" at the Woodpile Report asks some hard questions about our psychological and moral preparations. He writes:
Assume the worst doomsday scenario: grid down, distribution systems down, lawlessness and predation, mass privation, disease and death. Assume it's many months into an on-going calamity. You're skilled enough in useful crafts and were well situated at the start.

But the growing season was as bad as it was short. Now your supplies are low. Scary low. You're laboring long hours but you and your family are hard pressed. You'll probably make it, but there's no cushion. A family with small children approaches your door; exhausted, ragged and so famished it's all they can do to walk. You know legitimate charity is provided from surplus, that giving away needed sustenance is an unwarranted sacrifice. The weather's turned nasty and it's getting dark. There's a soft knock at the door.

Or, the local Committee of Emergency declares all stockpiled food to be common property. 'Hoarders' were given three days to turn in their 'excess' provisions. With so many improvident people—the ones who chose to live high on easy credit and harass preppers as a sort of hobby—it's obvious this won't make a real difference. You don't comply. The Community Action Committee is at your door, they're your neighbors, they know what you have, they're armed and they're not backing down.
He offers some other scenarios to consider as well.

I would hope that even in dire conditions we would keep our moral compass and charity. For the first scenario, I know what my wife and I would do because we've discussed it--we would share what we could. But we are not alone, being part of a larger ward/congregation in our Church who also have food stored away.

The second scenario is more problematic. From the wording, I'm assuming that the mob is at my door, but has not forced its way in; and I'm outnumbered and out-gunned. If an armed mob has learned of my food storage and are parked at my door to confiscate it, I've already made mistakes. It's easy to say that they aren't getting the food except by stepping over my dead body. But my goal is to ensure the survival of my family, not prove I'm the braver warrior. If faced with a choice between handing over the food or having my family killed (and the food taken anyway), I'll turn over the food and see what opportunities present themselves afterward.

Anyway, read all the scenarios and see what you think.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Oil War

Richard Fernandez notes that with the annexation of the Crimea, Russia not only gained (regained?) a historically and strategically significant portion of its former territory, but oil and gas rights to substantial deposits in the Black Sea. He further observes that much of Russia and China's recent military actions can be seen as part of a larger pattern of attempting to stake out claims to oil and natural gas deposits--a de facto war for oil that the United States is apparently sitting out.

One thing I would note is that when Fernandez wrote his article, China and Russia had apparently not yet signed an agreement on the sale of natural gas to China. That deal is now in place.

Russia Signs Gas Deal with China

France 24 reports that Russia has signed a $400 billion, 30-year agreement to provide natural gas to China. The gas will be shipped via a pipeline to be constructed through Siberia to China.

TTAG: Thoughts on a Self-Defense Weapon

In an article titled "P320 Entry: The Perfect Self Defense Firearm," Dan Zimmerman discusses the selection of a firearm for home defense.

"Russian Spetznaz Disarming Techniques"

The Firearms Blog has posted a video showing some Russian techniques for disarming an opponent.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chicago Boyz Discuss Survivalism (Updated)

      Chicago Boyz is a political and legal blog, so it was interesting to me to see them take up the subject of survivalism recently. It kicked off with Jay Manifold's review of Bill Quick's Lightening Fall. Because of various comments, Manifold posted a follow up post. T. Greer then posted an article he had originally written in 2011 for The Scholar's Stage.

      Both Manifold and Greer address the issue of rural retreat versus town/urban locations (or bug-in versus bug-out). Manifold, because he is reviewing Quick's book which posits an EMP disaster, begins by noting that the effects of EMP will vary quite a bit from location to location--some places may have the electrical grid crippled, while other communities near by may be largely untouched. Moving beyond physical differences, he also comments on social differences:
... In the metro area I live in, there are entire square miles in the inner city with less aggregate wealth than single households in the tonier areas. I lack progressive credentials; I strongly believe these inequities to be an emergent property of the overall system, an artifact of culture and especially generational temperament rather than anything readily meliorated by the proper legislation. The Silent Generation (birth years 1925-42) was deeply concerned with equality. The first wave of the baby boomers (’43-’51) was somewhat less so, the last-wave boomers (’52-’60, which includes me) much less so, and the Gen Xers (’61-’81) scarcely at all. [All dates from Strauss and Howe, and note that these are cultural, not demographic, generations, thus the departure from the usual ’46-’64 definition for the boomers.]

So, to bring this home, and I encourage readers to plug analogous neighborhoods in their own cities into this paragraph, the east side of KC – which as I commented recently, has a homicide rate around 80 per 100,000 per year, so high as to be characteristic of failed states elsewhere in the world – might very well experience a population crash from starvation and disease, while southern Johnson County on the Kansas side lost 1% or less of its people. And that is likely to be true even if the physical infrastructure of both areas is equally affected. Relative wealth connotes many other kinds of preparedness and resiliency, including the psychological.
He turns to the real world example of Haiti:
Now to veer sharply in a nonobvious but, if I may say so, rather insightful direction: suppose there were an existing society in which the electrical grid chronically malfunctions, there is no regular supply of potable water, availability of motorized transport is scant, malnutrition is a constant backdrop, and a variety of illnesses (often vector-borne) are at pandemic levels.

According to the survivalist/prepper model, the inhabitants of that society should be dying in heaps, not least from slaughtering one another. Furthermore, the safest people in that society should be the most remote, studiously avoiding human contact and devoting their energies to becoming, and remaining, entirely self-reliant.

But that society does exist, and in it, other than a tiny elite, the largest number of people living in some (admittedly by North American standards rather slight) comfort are those with the greatest degree of interaction with others. The worst off, at imminent risk of death, are the rural isolates – and the wealthiest elites are not found in the deep countryside, but on the very outskirts of the largest city in the nation. Also, there’s no slaughtering going on.

Well, that’s Haïti, and my time there over the past three years has convinced me that the oft-extolled strategy of holing up somewhere as far away from other people as you can get, with everything you think you’re going to need, is nothing more than elaborate and painful suicide. In a decade or two, someone will find your bones in your hideout and wonder what the hell you could possibly have been thinking.
[The best course of action is] the exact opposite of isolation and self-reliance: trade and specialization. As Julian Simon masterfully documented, people are the ultimate resource. In anticipation of a significant disruptive event, therefore, we would do well to look toward (to borrow a term) community organizing. How well do you know your neighbors, and what can you offer them, whether material or informational, in trade?
       Greer's article more broadly addresses the traditional "jack-of-trades," isolated retreat versus the cooperative community models. Greer begins by addressing a fundamental tenet of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations--that specialization and division of labor leads to vastly increased efficiency. However, he observes that it also brings with it a certain fragility because the parts are dependent on the whole system working. A failure, for instance, in one part of a manufacturing plant can shut down the whole plant.  Greer writes:
For the survivalist this is a problem pervading not only the pin factories, but all of modern society. Over the last century two trends have decidedly shifted society’s balance away from robustness and towards efficiency. Modern dependence on technology and the specialized knowledge needed to maintain it is the first of these trends; the second is the fusion of local communities with the global economy and larger political units. The day is past where a man is expected to know how to repair all that is on his property, grow his own food, or make and use his own fuel. In some cases this is simply the fruits of geographic isolation and economic specialization - the knowledge needed to raise livestock and plant crops is quite useless to the city dweller. Other cases reflect the ‘division of knowledge’ that inevitably comes with man’s growing understanding of and ability to manipulate the universe in which he dwells (e.g. few Americans know how to build a hard drive, much less a nuclear power plant). The rise of multinational conglomerates and global supply networks ensure that most of what we need is made far away; the eclipse of local civic and political institutions by national agencies erodes our communities’ capacity to solve problems without outside help. What we are left with is a culture of dependency, so ingrained as to be seen in our aesthetics. ...
      Greer postulates three levels of disasters: Type 1 are major disasters, sudden, but short term and geographically limited (e.g., earthquakes and floods); Type 2 are long term, but not sudden and of greater geographic impact (e.g., a depression, hyperinflation, perhaps a political collapse); and Type 3 are disasters national on scale with an impact lasting for a long period of time (e.g., nuclear war, an epidemic on the scale of the black death, political collapse). However, he suggests that while probabilities favor preparing for Types 1 and 2, the cost of preparing for a Type 3 disaster outweighs the risk:
That is the difficulty with type-3 disasters: the probability of their occurrence does not square with the measures that must be taken to truly prepare for them. The cost of these preparatory measures (such as relocating one’s family far away from urban centers, as Mr. Rawl’s advises) is very high - too high to recommend their adoption. If moving to a backwoods Idaho cabin is the only sure-fire way to survive a nuclear war, I would rather live my life as I will and meet, if it comes, my fiery death with a grin. I assume that I am not the only person who holds this view. Moreover, if preparations are made for type-1 and type-2 disasters, those of the third type will be much easier to survive. The extreme measures advocated by many survivalists are simply not necessary. 
I say this not because I find fault with the preparation ethic of the survivalists, but because I find fault with what the survivalists prepare for. Survivalist literature is dominated by images of chaos and disorder, social disintegration à la Mad Max, full of riots, robbers, bandits, and desperate men willing to do anything – and kill anyone – to survive. This vision of bellum omnium contra omnes in the suburbs of America betrays a profound unfamiliarity with disaster psychology and sociology. The literature on this topic is extensive (this, this, and this are a few good introductory articles; this and this are popular books on the subject) and it lends no support to the notion that disasters produce panic stricken mobs or roving bandits prone to avarice and violence. It is the opposite that occurs: those who survive sudden disasters respond to their plight not with riots and terror, but with spontaneous acts of altruism and amazing feats of self-organization. Remember the 11th of September, when more than 500,000 denizens of Manhattan Island were evacuated by boat, bridge, and ferry without any centralized planning or direction. Consider the state of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina raged, levies broke, and hundreds of thousands of people fled the region for safer climes. The Hurricane and its aftermath are widely seen as an unparalleled disaster. The centralized response to the Hurricane was just that; everything from the army-built levees to FEMA’s delayed relief efforts were marked by failure and mismanagement. The same cannot be of the said of the main populace’s uncoordinated response to the disaster. Though millions of people were evacuating the region and police forces temporarily lost control of New Orleans and its immediate environs, crime levels in New Orleans were no higher than normal. Reports of looting and violence were creations of an easily excited media machine, bearing no resemblance to reality. 
This suggests that, contrary to the expectations of most survivalists, the greatest danger will not come from the other disaster survivors, but from outside elites trying to reassert authority over a disaster ravaged area. These elites are susceptible to what has been called the “Myth of Panic“: being the largest beneficiaries of the traditional order, they cannot see anything but chaos, violence, and carnage in its absence. The government response to Hurricane Katrina is a testament to the perilous effects of such misperception. Fear of violence and crime led to the misallocation of relief resources, and in a few shocking cases, refusal to offer relief at all. Eager to restore “peace and order”, government officials stripped Louisianans of their rights, confiscating all weapons in the city of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina is small fare compared to most of the scenarios survivalists prepare for; in the event that such a disaster occurs, we cannot expect the authorities’ scramble for control to pose any less of a danger to the lives and liberties of disaster survivors.
 Accordingly, like Manifold, he suggests that the key to survival is to be part of an organized community rather than an isolated family or small group of retreaters:
It is unlikely that we will face any disaster so bad that we will be forced to eat from our larders for a year or more’s time. However, preparing for that year as if it were a certainty is quite sensible: those with supplies otherwise unavailable will undoubtedly be providing for the needs of more than just their immediate family. When friends and neighbors are sick or starving and asking you to help them survive, the wisdom in such extensive preparations will be more than evident.
This focus on supplies should not mislead us into thinking that survival is simply a matter of gear or supplies. Herein lies one of my main complaints with the survivalist movement: too many survivalists seem to think that survival comes down to equipment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The key to survival does not lie with supplies, but people.

I mean this in two senses. On the one hand, an individual’s skill set is incalculably more valuable than anything they might own. (E.g. if you are not trained in basic first aid then all of the medical supplies in the world will do you no good). Yet even this is not enough. As with most things, what we know is less important than who we know. The notion of a lone survivalist tramping off into the wilderness to make it through doomsday is utter nonsense. These figures are great for Hollywood, but they stand little chance of surviving in the event of a real world disaster. The well supplied lone wolf is even less resilient than the masses of modern society he so abhors. One accident is all it takes to bring the best laid plans of the single survivalist to nought. Their survival will be dependent on a margin or error that simply does not exist.
Mr. Rawls and a few other survivalists recognize this. They recommend ”forting” with a small group of several families or close friends. I submit that even this will prove unsatisfactory. The most successful survivors will be those who belong to a much larger community. We’ve already discussed how networks of mutual aid spontaneously arise in the wake of disaster; those formed around existing social groups with a strong sense of collective identity, social cohesion, and a regularly exercised ability to care for their own will be by far the most successful of these communities. Being independent of national infrastructure and existing political structures these groups will have little trouble organizing and mobilizing after a major disaster. Minority immigrant groups, Mormon congregations, military bases, rural towns, and their like will become the loci of the new commonwealths forged by disaster. The organizational capacity of these communities will far outstrip what any family commune is capable of providing. 
Becoming a part of one of these communities before disaster strikes is the best way to ensure your survival in its aftermath.
(Emphasis in original).

Updated (5/22/2014): In the comments, a reader points out the potential for civil war, citing to a couple articles by Matthew Bracken (here and here). (I mentioned these articles in a post from a couple years back). He (the reader) comments: "For every 'good' outcome the Chicago Boyz cite for why large cities and their suburbs will not descend into a dystopian hell, I can cite contrary first hand accounts."

My response is two-fold. First, as long-term readers of this blog know, I subscribe to what I've called a baby footsteps approach for prepping--that is, don't try to do everything at once, but begin by preparing for the more common or statistically likely threats (such as short-term power outages, snow storms, household accidents, burglaries) then increase your preps, both in quantity and sophistication, over time as you are able. Thus, you could begin by preparing to have a few days or a week's worth of food and water, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, defensive weapon(s) (a firearm suitable for home protection and something non- or less-lethal), emergency lights or candles, etc. Once you reach a basic level, then you can start adding more food and water and fuel for cooking to get you to a month's worth of backup, and adding other preps (a garden, generator, additional weapons and defensive preps, etc.), working ideally to having several months or even a year's worth of food stored away and otherwise prepared to weather an economic downturn (personal or national) or other major disruption. In this regard, I agree with what Greer says that if you prepare for the more likely disasters, you will be better prepared for the statistically unlikely, but major, disasters (his Type 3).

I recognize that we are headed for major social upheaval. The elements are in place or coalescing. But I don't know when, how, or what will spark it.

Second, the urban vs. rural debate is (or should be) more nuanced than it generally is. I can't claim to know exactly what the Chicago Boyz authors were thinking when they wrote their articles. I don't read what they wrote as suggesting that cities or towns would necessarily be safer, but that cities and towns would recover quicker from a disaster, and being part of a cohesive group of people is better than being a loner.

For what they are worth, here are my thoughts on the matter. There are a lot of survivalist literature that advise a rural retreat in an Intermountain or Western state such as Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, etc. I've read enough of the older literature that I know the original reasoning for this, which had to do with fall-out patterns in the event of a full-out nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States. These locations were desirable because they were (a) not in large cities (i.e., targets) and (b) not downwind of major targets (i.e., not in fall-out zones). However, along the way, these locations also became associated with a place of retreat from the "inevitable" hordes that would abandon the cities in the event of a nuclear war or economic collapse. I think this was about the time that the government decided that "civil defense" would simply be warning people to evacuate large cities in the case of an attack.

Nuclear war is one thing, and other forms of disaster are another, and the two shouldn't be confused. As someone that has lived in Idaho for a long time, I can tell you that there are reasons that the early settlers simply passed through on the way to Oregon. First, with the exception of a few river valleys in the southern part of the state, and the Palouse in the north, there is not a lot of good arable land, and most of what there is must be irrigated because there simply is not enough rainfall (and because of the method of water appropriation, don't think that you can simply take water from the nearest stream or river--assuming there is one, which is also unlikely in many areas of the state--and use it). Although much of the state is forested, even the forest soils are pretty poor--hardly more than sand in many areas. Second, the summers are hot, and, in most places in the state, the winters are cold and harsh. Growing seasons can be short. I would also add that wages are relatively low and many of the more isolated rural communities are economically depressed. So, in reality, the remote cabin in the mountains of Idaho is actually one of the worst places you could go to survive a long term disaster such as an economic collapse.

What applies to Idaho, does not necessarily apply to other states. I would expect that arable land and the necessary water for a garden or crop is more common in the mid-west and Mississippi/Ohio river valley. Thus, a rural location may make more sense in other areas of the country than in the "American Redoubt."

That being said, living in the rough part of town in a large urban center is not a good strategy either. But, from what I've read from various sources on the events in Argentina, South Africa, the Balkans, and post-WWII Europe, living in a village or remote farm didn't prevent disfavored minority groups from being killed or driven out in WWII and post-WWII Europe; and Argentina, South Africa, and other examples show that in a slow-collapse, rural locations are no better off when it comes to crime or access to food, and may actually be worse off in some ways. Your best security is to be among people that are like you--socially, ethnically, and religiously.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Another Moisture Farming Device

I had posted not too long ago about the Warka Water towers, used to condense potable water out of the air. MIT researchers have been working on developing a mesh that can do the same. From the Daily Mail:

MIT researchers have developed a special mesh that can extract the water from morning fog, channeling it into reservoirs. 
They have already trialled the system in Chile, and say it could have a dramatic impact on the lives of remote communities. 
Researchers at MIT's School of Engineering, working with colleagues at the Pontificial University of Chile in Santiago, are harvesting potable water from the coastal fog that forms on the edge of one of the driest regions on earth.  
Using a simple system of suspended mesh structures, placed on hilltops in areas with persistent fog and prevailing westerly winds, local Chilean communities collect fog water for drinking and agricultural use.  
'This water has been naturally desalinated by the sun, we are trying to build meshes to capture it straight out of the air,' said Gareth McKinley of MIT, who is leading the project. 
Fog collecting technology is still in its infancy but laboratory experiments have shown that variations in the mesh spacing as well as the size and the wettability of the fibers in the mesh all affect the volume of water that can be collected each day.

Friday, May 16, 2014

FM 3-24 Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies (Updated)

PDF download here. A critique by Bing West at the Small Wars Journal is here.

Update (5/18/2014): A reader asks in the comments what is the value of downloading the manual if, as West writes, the doctrine is flawed. This is a good question, but unfortunately one I probably cannot answer at this time as I have not yet had an opportunity to read the new manual. I included the link to the article by Mr. West because it provided some insight (and a counterpoint) to the contents of the new manual. My response at this point would have to be that the manual may prove of interest to those that follow military matters, and represents the "play-book" that will likely be followed by the military in any future counterinsurgency campaigns.

That said, the issue of whether the United States' COIN strategy is flawed is hotly debated. I've read articles and books from senior military officers and advisors touting the fundamentals of current COIN as a success. It is notable that in 2007, Mr. West wrote:
The COIN manual [speaking of the predecessor to the one linked above] has set the proper strategic tone in Iraq. It has also provided foreign policy elites with an intellectual rationale for grudging acceptance of the fact that the US military is prevailing in Iraq.
In fact, after the successful surge in Iraq, most everyone of any influence over COIN operations seemed to largely favor Petraeus' basic COIN strategy, and the then new FM 3-24 he had co-authored.

It is now, after the fact, that we see criticism of COIN--the "winning hearts and minds" and "nation building" emphasized by Petraeus. (Although, I would note that modern COIN theory has its roots in post-Vietnam evaluations and critiques of that counter-insurgency). For instance,  in 2013, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry (Ret.) wrote an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations entitled "The Limits of Counterinsurgency Doctrine in Afghanistan" that was critical of Gen. Petraeus' COIN doctrine as applied in Afghanistan.  He observed that:
The apparent validation of this doctrine during the 2007 troop surge in Iraq increased its standing. When the Obama administration conducted a comprehensive Afghanistan strategy review in 2009, some military leaders, reinforced by some civilian analysts in influential think tanks, confidently pointed to Field Manual 3-24 as the authoritative playbook for success. When the president ordered the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan at the end of that year, the military was successful in ensuring that the major tenets of COIN doctrine were also incorporated into the revised operational plan. The stated aim was to secure the Afghan people by employing the method of “clear, hold, and build” -- in other words, push the insurgents out, keep them out, and use the resulting space and time to establish a legitimate government, build capable security forces, and improve the Afghan economy. With persistent outside efforts, advocates of the COIN doctrine asserted, the capacity of the Afghan government would steadily grow, the levels of U.S. and international assistance would decline, and the insurgency would eventually be defeated.
The general thrust of Eikenberry's argument was not, as I understood it, that COIN doctrine was inherently defective, but that it was too vague to implement.Col. Gian P. Gentile published an article entitled "A Strategy of Tactics: Population-centric COIN and the Army" (PDF), that, although critical of COIN, actually takes the diametrically different viewpoint from Eikenberry. Instead of being too vague, Gentile argues that the problem with COIN doctrine is that it describes one or a small number of tactics out of many for defeating an insurgency, and elevates that tactic to strategy. He writes:
...The Army is so tactically oriented toward population-centric counterinsurgency that it cannot think of doing anything else. General Stanley McChrystal’s recently released command guidance to forces in Afghanistan employs all of the dictums of population-centric counterinsurgency and confirms this strategy of tactics. His statement that success in Autumn 2009 Afghanistan will not be determined by the number of enemy killed but by the “shielding” of the civilian population could have easily come out of the pages of FM 3-24, or commander’s talking points during the Iraq Surge. 
These population-centric COIN principles have been turned into immutable rules that are dictating strategy in Afghanistan and having a powerful shaping effect on reorganizing the American Army. A few months ago, when asked about the way ahead for the American military in Afghanistan and how Iraq was comparable to Afghanistan, General David Petraeus acknowledged that the two were very different. But the thing to remember, according to General Petraeus, was that the principles of COIN that the Army has learned in Iraq over the past couple of years are applicable to Afghanistan. 
Those principles belong to the population-centric COIN methodology. If we accept that the principles are applicable, then we have already chosen the way ahead in Afghanistan, which is population-centric nation-building requiring large numbers of American ground combat forces, dispersed into the local population in an effort to win their hearts and minds away from the insurgent enemy, and to eventually build a nation.
(Footnotes omitted). Gentile argues that the military also needs to consider the use of actual, well, military force, to accomplish its objectives (and warns that the current COIN is undermining the military's basic ability to engage in military operations as opposed to social work). But see Oleg Svet's critique at the National Interest, which, does not question the theoretical underpinnings of the "winning hearts and minds," but argues that its implementation failed because too much military force was utilized.

Conversely, Gen. Eikenberry's criticism has, itself, been criticized, and Gen. Petraeus penned a defense of his COIN strategy--at least as implemented in Iraq--published in October 2013 in Foreign Policy. Petraeus argues that if Iraqi forces implemented many of the strategies followed by coalition forces during "the Surge," the Iraqis would succeed against Al Qaeda. R. Scott Moore's paper, "The Basics of Counterinsurgency," (PDF), suggests that the basics of COIN is ... more nation building and hearts and minds tactics.

My feelings on the matter, which I believe I have expressed before, is that the entire strategy in Afghanistan has been a mistake. Afghanistan should have been a punitive campaign with the sole and limited goal to destroy Al Qaeda and inflict as much damage on its supporters as possible, followed by a withdrawal. Repeated as necessary. If the "nation-building" nonsense had not been followed, the battle at Tora-Bora would have been carried out to its end by American troops, and Bin Laden would have died there, instead of sneaking out with the assistance of corrupt Afghan troops.

Moore notes in his paper: "The Department of Defense inadequately defines insurgency as 'an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict.'” He suggests a broader definition:
An insurgency is a protracted violent conflict in which one or more groups seek to overthrow or fundamentally change the political or social order in a state or region through the use of sustained violence, subversion, social disruption, and political action.
Similarly, he believes the definition of "counterinsurgency"--“Those military, paramilitary, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency.”--is too narrow, and advances his own definition:
Counterinsurgency is an integrated set of political, economic, social, and security measures intended to end and prevent the recurrence of armed violence, create and maintain stable political, economic, and social structures, and resolve the underlying causes of an insurgency in order to establish and sustain the conditions necessary for lasting stability.
What is notable is that under current DOD definitions, or Moore's expanded definitions, both post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan were not insurgencies. In Iraq, the United States had overthrown the existing government and/or social order. In Afghanistan, the Taliban represented the government (such as it was) at the time of the invasion. In both cases, COIN was not being used to protect the political or social order, but to change the social order. That is, to impose a "democratic" Western-style government on what (especially in Afghanistan) were tribal societies and, in the case of Afghanistan, a theocratic based government. (Notably, post-invasion Iraq also lacks religious tolerance).

Semantics aside, Gentile's basic thesis--that current COIN doctrine is too limited--is correct. To step back a bit, Napoleon is reputed to have said that amateurs discuss tactics while professionals discuss logistics. If we look at examples of successful counterinsurgencies--the Indian Wars in the United States, the Second Boer War, and the Malayan Crises--we see that successful counterinsurgency operations are wars of logistics: denying materials and support to the guerrilla fighters that they needed to survive, while exploiting the logistical advantages of the United States or British forces, respectively. Interestingly, all three of the examples above relied on forced relocation of the populations that supported the insurgency, thus removing sources of food, shelter, intelligence, and moral support. Those supporters that were not removed were destroyed when found. That is, villages friendly to the guerillas, and their crops and herds, were destroyed. Conversely, the United States and British troops enjoyed logistical advantages as to weapons, ammunition, etc., giving them additional freedom in pursuing operations year-round.

Obviously, forcible relocation, while one tactic, is not the only one. Turning the population against the insurgents can be almost as effective as forced relocation. It is no coincidence that, in Iraq, the success of "the Surge" coincided with the Al Qaeda forces having alienated local populations through their extremism and heavy-handed tactics. Both in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was also important that local leaders saw the United States as the most powerful war lord. They respected the sheer power of the United States military. To that extent, "winning hearts and minds" can be a viable strategy under certain circumstances. In Iraq, it was and remains a viable tactic because the country, as a whole, is modern enough to appreciate the benefits of rule of law and social stability. Afghanistan, I would contend, is not.

So why adopt broken strategies? As Svet's article suggests, the most significant reason is that the modern COIN doctrine is palatable to our governing elites. Building health clinics and schools is warm and fuzzy, and does not generate negative publicity. Relocating whole villages to internment camps, while simultaneously destroying the buildings, crops, and livestock left behind, and killing anyone in the area after the relocation, would probably not be received with much enthusiasm in the Western world.

The other reason, I suspect, is that the decision makers are so isolated and removed from the realities on the ground, and what information they receive has to pass through so many sycophantic filters, that decision makers do not have accurate information. I am reminded of the following:

In the beginning was The Plan
and then came the assumptions, 
and the assumptions were without form,
and The Plan was completely without substance,
and the darkness was upon the face of the employees,
and they spoke amongst themselves, saying
"It is a crock of sh** and it stinks."
And the employees went unto their Supervisors, saying:
"It is a pail of dung and none may abide the odor thereof."
And the Supervisors went unto their Division Managers, saying:
"It is a vessel of fertilizer and none may abide it's strength."
And the Division Managers went unto their Systems Managers, saying:
"It contains that which aids plant growth and it is very strong."
And the Systems Managers went unto the General Manager, saying:
"It promotes growth and is very powerful."
And the General Manager went unto the Board, saying:
"This new plan will actively promote the growth and efficiency of this organization."
And the Board looked upon The Plan and saw that it was good,
and The Plan became policy.
            --author unknown

Pogo and the War on Terrorism


Yesterday, I saw this story about the Department of Agriculture having published a solicitation for submachine guns. While you ponder why the Department of Agriculture would want or need automatic weapons, I would recommend reading Angelo M. Codevilla's article entitled "America’s New Security State." It's a long article, but the basic thesis the Professor builds on is:
After 9/11 our ruling class came together on the proposition that, at home as well as abroad, America is at war against enemies so evil that there must be no limit to fighting them, whose identity we must always seek but can never know; that to focus on, to “profile,” the kinds of persons who have committed terrorist acts, is racist and provocative; that any American is as likely as any other to be a terrorist, and hence that all must submit to being sifted, screened, restricted—forever.
He goes on to explain that this fundamental premise--that any American is a potential enemy--has not only fundamentally altered the relationship between the state and the citizen, but it has "diminished the natural distinctions between citizen and foreigner, familiar and alien, friend and enemy," and opened the door to the abuse of power against political or cultural opponents by undermining the rule of law.
If war, once exceptional, is henceforth normal and perpetual, and if all are liable to be treated as enemies, our complex of laws boils down to the Roman dictatorial formula: salus populi suprema lex. In the name of the people’s safety, the dictator’s will is law. But republican Rome’s “dictators” were appointed for brief emergencies for the purpose of returning the state to its ordinary laws, and themselves to live under them. Not incidentally, they were congenitally committed to victory. By contrast, the new American security state is committed neither to victory, nor to any purpose that transcends it. Least of all is it committed to transcending itself. Like Orwell’s Oceania, it is an endless end in itself.
(H/t Weaselzippers and Instapundit)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pulling Back the Curtains

"Woman at her Window"

Initially, I feel I must offer some explanation to certain readers. I know that a lot of people interested in survival, disaster preparation, or self-defense/security, don't want to read a political screed. I understand. If I'm looking for information on how to build a fire, or a firearm review, etc., I don't want to read rantings and ravings about politician X or political party Y. But in order to understand the hows and whys of an economic collapse, you also have to dig into politics and figure out who are the real players and factions. And not just the dumbed-down version for mass consumption of "left versus right" or "Democrats and Republicans", but try to figure out what is going on behind the scenes. So, I'm going to venture a little more deeply into the politics today and, likely, in future posts.

In my recent discussion of Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies (Part 1 is here), much of the discussion revolved around declining marginal returns as the complexity of a society increased. As the example of Rome provides, there is a strong correlation between "complexity" and the taxing/spending to support it. And when the money starts to run out, so does social cohesion. To counteract that, the government must invest more in legitimacy. In Rome, this meant building public works, and "bread and circuses." It also means cracking down on dissension.

In Part 6 of the series, I gave some examples of what I deemed to be negative marginal return of government spending. Now, let us look at what is happening to the pool of people that pay for the spending. Charles Hugh Smith has been exploring the decline of the "middle-class." In this regard, he recently commented on why the middle-class lifestyle has become unaffordable. He observes, in part:
The State has two core mandates: enforce quasi-monopolies and cartels for private capital, and satisfy enough of the citizenry's demands for more benefits to maintain social stability.

If the State fails to maintain monopolistic cartels, profit margins plummet and capital is unable to maintain its spending on investment and labor. Simply put, the economy tanks as profits, investment and growth all stagnate.

If the State fails to satisfy enough of the citizenry's demands, it risks social instability.

That is the nation-state's quandary everywhere. With growth slowing and parasitic cartels increasingly difficult to maintain and justify, the State has less tax income to fund its ever-expanding social spending.

In response, the State raises taxes and borrows the difference between its spending and its revenues. This further squeezes spending as the cost of servicing debt rises along with the debt. The rising cost of debt service is an ever-tightening noose that cannot be escaped.
So far, this is an accurate description of Tainter's thesis that once a culture gets stuck in the cycle of declining marginal return on complexity, more and more must be spent on legitimizing the government--whether through force or welfare.

But Smith focuses on some of the consequences. He goes on to note that although productivity has steadily increased, rather than workers/employees receiving an increased portion of that productivity through increased wages, wages have stagnated, with the difference going to support benefits (e.g., healthcare and pensions) and corporate profits. This introduces its own problems for a government:
And this leads us straight to financialization, the parasitic extraction of profits from the real economy by finance and the state. Remember Wallerstein's key insight: the state depends on cartel pricing to sustain high labor costs, investment and the taxes that flow from high wages and profits. As the real economy stagnated, the state (which includes the Federal Reserve) incentivized financialization and speculative credit bubbles to keep the money flowing to feed its own spending.

In other words, the state isn't just a passive patsy in financialization--it is a willing partner, because financialization funds the state. Just look at the enormous expansion of property taxes and income taxes that flowed from the housing and stock market bubbles.

... If the state stops financialization, the state's enormously expensive programs and its debt machine all die, too.

In essence, the state has no choice: to save itself, the middle class must be sacrificed.
From the point of view of global capital, the ideal partner is a powerful central state that imposes cartel pricing on the economy: $200 million a piece F-35 fighter jets, $100,000 college diplomas, $200,000 medical procedures, $1,000 a pill medications, etc.

From the point of view of the state, it's more important to protect corporate profits and preserve the ability to borrow another trillion dollars at near-zero interest rates than it is to restore a vibrant middle class.

Debt-serfdom works just fine for the financial sector and the central state that enforces the serfdom. Food stamps (bread) and distracting entertainment (circuses) are cheap. What's not to like about debt-serfdom to those in power? Not only is it an ideal arrangement, it's the only one left to the state and its partner, global capital.
In other words, when the middle-class is mostly bled dry, the state must rely on borrowing and/or printing money.

But there is more than just bread and circuses to keeping the population complacent. The state must also prevent the formation of any organized resistance--one of the reasons why the Tea Party is so feared right now. It is an irony of the current situation that, to counteract dissension against the state, the state must foster dissension within the pool of potential dissenters. In other words, to prevent social breakdown, the state must strengthen social fault lines.

One method is to emphasize tribalism--that is, identity politics and "othering." Luke Ford recently interviewed Paul Gottfried about tribalism in America. I'll warn you that it is not an easy read because it is a frank and open discussion about race in America and, for that reason, not safe for reading at work. But because they are both Jewish, they have an outsider view which may be helpful. There are a couple specific points that I want to bring out of the interview.

First, Gottfried notes that for most minorities, ethnicity outweighs all other political considerations. He gives, as an example: "I’ve known black people who were devout Christians, who were against abortion, who prayed over food when they ate it, and they loved Obama and they thought George W. Bush wanted to re-enslave every black in America because being a Democrat was black ethnic identity." The basic point being the lack of loyalty to the greater society.

Second, he predicts what is going to happen to America:
It will muddle through for a while because it is so rich. I think the whites will become so decadent that they will allow the minorities to do whatever they want. There will be no core loyalty except to social programs. The government will give out victimological credits. Tribal divisions will become so severe that it will convulse the country. At some point, the saints [presumably, he means Christians] will rise up and try to preserve what there is left of white society.
Again, this is consistent with Tainter's analysis. Social breakdown follows once people realize that the costs of maintaining social complexity substantially outweigh the benefits of splitting from the central authority.

It is not apparent from the limited quotes I have above, but when you read the whole interview, you realize that when Ford or Gottfried speak of "whites" or "white Christians" or "WASPs," actually they are describing the group that largely comprises the American middle-class--the very group that Smith describes as failing economically under current policies.

(H/t The Woodpile Report)

What Your Carry Ammo Says About You

Just to interject some humor into your day. Ammo Land has a list of types/brands of ammunition for concealed carry and what it says about your personality. Give it a look.

Back when I was just out of college, living in an apartment, I used to load my pistol magazine with Black Talon, except for the top round which was a Glaser Safety Slug because I couldn't afford to buy enough of the Glasers to fill the whole magazine! I guess that meant that I was too poor to really care.

(H/t TTAG)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Saudis Parade Nuclear Missiles

I missed this Saudi "show-and-tell", but an April 29, 2014, Debka File report states:
Saudi Arabia became the first Middle East nation to publicly exhibit its nuclear-capable missiles. The long-range, liquid propellant DF-3 ballistic missile (NATO designated CSS-2), purchased from China 27 years ago, was displayed for the first time at a Saudi military parade Tuesday, April 29, in the eastern military town of Hafar Al-Batin, at the junction of the Saudi-Kuwaiti-Iraqi borders. 
The DF-3 has a range of 2,650 km and carries a payload of 2,150 kg. It is equipped with a single nuclear warhead with a 1-3 MT yield. 
Watched by a wide array of Saudi defense and military dignitaries, headed by Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz, the parade marked the end of the large-scale “Abdullah’s Sword” military war game. 
Conspicuous on the saluting stand was the Pakistani Chief of Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif alongside eminent visitors, including King Hamad of Bahrain and Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
The article make some additional important points. First, the display of these older missiles intimates that Saudi Arabia has purchased newer Chinese ballistic missiles--Dong-Feng 21 (DF-21) missiles--which have a shorter range, but are more accurate. Second, that by including the missiles in the war games, Saudi Arabia is signaling that it believes that a conflict with Iran could go nuclear. Third, by including a senior Pakistani military officer, it is tacitly acknowledging Pakistan's assistance in providing nuclear weapons. In all, just more evidence of a budding nuclear arms race in the Middle-East.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Arizona Drought Limits Municipal Water


From the Associated Press:
In the northern Arizona city of Williams, restaurant patrons don't automatically get a glass of water anymore. Residents caught watering lawns or washing cars with potable water can be fined. Businesses are hauling water from outside town to fill swimming pools, and building permits have been put on hold because there isn't enough water to accommodate development.

Officials in the community about 60 miles from the Grand Canyon's South Rim have clamped down on water use and declared a crisis amid a drought that is quickly drying up nearby reservoirs and forcing the city to pump its only two wells to capacity.

The situation offers a glimpse at how cities across the West are coping with a drought that has left them thirsting for water. More than a dozen rural towns in California recently emerged from emergency water restrictions that had a sheriff's office on the lookout for water bandits at a local lake. One New Mexico town relied on bottled water for days last year. In southern Nevada, water customers are paid to remove lawns and cannot install any new grass in their front yards.
Read the whole thing.

Reminder of the Impact of an EMP Attack

Investors Business Daily reminds us:
Expert testimony before Congress on Thursday warned that an electromagnetic pulse attack on our power grid and electronic infrastructure could leave most Americans dead and the U.S. in another century. 
That dire warning came from Peter Vincent Pry, a member of the Congressional EMP Commission and executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
He testified in front of the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies that an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event could wipe out 90% of America's population.
... As we reported early last year, Pry, a former CIA nuclear weapons analyst, believes that North Korea's recent seemingly low-yield nuclear tests and launch of a low-orbit satellite may in fact be preparations for a future electromagnetic pulse attack. 
A copy of a report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security for the Defense Department, obtained by Pry from sources within DHS, finds North Korea could use its Unha-3 space launch vehicle to deliver a nuclear warhead as a satellite over the South Pole to attack America from the south. 
As the Heritage Foundation has reported, an EMP attack with a warhead detonated 25 to 300 miles above the U.S. mainland "would fundamentally change the world:" 
"Airplanes would fall from the sky; most cars would be inoperable; electrical devices would fail. Water, sewer and electrical networks would fail simultaneously. Systems of banking, energy, transportation, food production and delivery, water, emergency services and even cyberspace would collapse."
Two points here. First is that the lower the yield of the device, the lower altitude it must be detonated at to produce the desired effect, and, therefore, the more limited the range. Second, with its back against the wall, North Korea cannot be expected to act rationally.

(H/t Instapundit).

Fighting Stance vs. Isosceles Stance (Updated 3/17/2015)

Caleb at Gun Nuts Media posted a very pointedly negative opinion of the Front Site training school last month. His first, and presumably primary, reason he gave as to why he would never attend their school was that they still taught the Weaver stance. He wrote:
Let us be honest for a moment: Weaver is obsolete. Modern Isosceles, as used by every top tier shooter on the planet, is better. Yes, you can absolutely prevail in a self-defense situation using Weaver, and a well trained Weaver shooter is very capable. However, Front Sight teaches Weaver as The Only Way, and still teaches it as close to the original Modern Technique as possible. Even Gunsite, the fountain of Weaver has adapted their stance over the years. That’s why I always tell people, if you want to learn how to shoot Weaver properly, go to Gunsite. They started it.
I'm not trying to defend Front Sight--I've never taken one of their classes. If you want to read some different points of view on Front Sight, look through the comments to the article. Rather, my issue is with the suggestion that the Weaver stance is obsolete.

The Isosceles stance, as you probably know, describes a stance where your feet are placed parallel to one another, at shoulder distance or slightly further apart. With a handgun, the firearm is held in a two-handed grip straight in front of you so that if, looking down at that shooter from overhead, you were to draw a line from the weapon to your shoulder, then to the other shoulder, and, finally, back out to the gun, it describe an isosceles triangle. The isosceles stance has been almost universally adopted for use by police because it is a natural stance for quickly drawing, aiming and shooting a firearm at a close target. One of its early proponents was Mas Ayoob. It has also been adapted to shooting tactical rifles (although I don't see how it could be used with rifles exhibiting any significant recoil).

The advantages touted for the stance is that it is more natural by way of using body mechanics when under stress because it is simple and doesn't depend on pulling with one arm, while pushing with the other such as in the Weaver stance. It also allows you to engage multiple targets rapidly because you can pivot your torso without having to shift your feet. Finally, if you are wearing body armor, it presents the armor straight on to the target, maximizing the effectiveness of the armor.

However, like many simple tactics or tips, it appears to have advanced into the realm of dogma. Mas Ayood, as I mentioned, was one of earliest proponents of the Isosceles stance. He recognized, though, that you would not be able to maintain the stance at all times and situations--for instance, that as you twisted further right or left from the front, you would naturally transition into a Weaver stance, or its mirror image.

I was never taught one particular "perfect" stance for a handgun. Probably because my father was adamant about the correct way to hold a rifle for off-hand shooting, I naturally reverted to a similar stance when shooting a handgun. This was merely reinforced by later training and practice in unarmed fighting which is based around a fundamental "fighting stance" where (if right handed) your torso is turned slightly so your right foot is placed further back than your left foot. My thought on the subject, influenced by some tips on shooting a shotgun, is to worry about what your torso and arms are doing, and your feet will find the right place to support your body.

Anyway, getting to the point of this post, the Firearms Blog has a link to a nice video from Kyle Defoor at TriggerTimeTV explaining why the Isosceles stance doesn't work so well with rifles, as well as an interesting pointer for holding the forestock of your AR.

Update (3/17/2015): Caleb has changed his mind and decided it doesn't really matter which you use.

"The Second Amendment as Ordinary Constitutional Law"

Glenn Reynolds has published a paper that is intended as an introduction to a symposium on Second Amendment law being sponsored by the Tennessee Law Review. As such, it offers a fairly concise history of Second Amendment jurisprudence. You can download a pdf from here.

Outdoor Life's 25 Most Incredible Survival Stories

The article (actually, slide show) is from 2011. It is just a quick overview of the stories, but it does list the title of books for most of the events.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Unappreciated Advantages to a Revolver

Grant Cunningham, writing at Personal Defense Network, discusses some of the unappreciated or less obvious advantages to a revolver. This is in addition to the general reliability and ease of use that is often cited. A couple points he makes:
Many people will tell you that a revolver is hard to carry concealed. The cylinder, they say, is darn near impossible to hide. I’ve found that it’s just the opposite: the revolver is actually easier to conceal, despite the cylinder!

With an auto, the part that sticks out is the squared-off butt of the frame. No matter how thin the gun is, you still have that bottom corner poking through your cover garment. It’s hard to hide because it’s not organic; we don’t normally see right angles protruding from beneath clothing.

The grip of the revolver, on the other hand, is rounded. It doesn’t protrude as far because it’s typically shorter, and the smooth profile doesn’t catch clothing and scream “GUN!” The cylinder, likewise, is a round shape that easily disappears under clothing.
During an actual encounter, you’ll find that the revolver has some definite tactical advantages as well. A revolver isn’t dependent on having just the right grip in order to run, and “limp wristing” malfunctions simply don’t exist. This means that shooting from awkward positions or while injured won’t result in a jammed gun, as can happen with an autoloader. Strong side or weak side, pulling the trigger will fire the revolver every time.
He notes some other advantages as well, including that you don't have the expense of purchasing and replacing magazines. As someone that reloads, I also appreciate that I don't have to hunt through the dirt to find my ejected shell casings! Anyway, read the whole thing.

"Attacked on a Bicycle"

Active Response Training has an article about carrying a weapon and defending yourself against attack when commuting on a bicycle. It was of some small comfort that the author, Greg Ellifritz, came to the same conclusion that I did when riding--the best (least bad?) way to carry was in a fanny pack, with the pack turned so its behind you. I tried other carry methods--even in a pannier. Carrying in a pannier is a mistake, I quickly learned, because (a) it wasn't easy to access and, more importantly (b) if you had an accident or were knocked off your bike, you would be separated from your weapon.

Anyway, good article with good information. Check it out.

Severe Weather Warning for Mid-West/Mississippi River Valley

The Daily Mail reports:
A large swath of the U.S. is on storm alert as downpours, strong winds and hail hammer several states from Illinois to Texas.

With predictions of flooding on roads and hail the size of golf balls, motorists have been warned to be careful and, if possible, to just leave their cars in a garage.

Texas has already experienced part of the deluge, when winds and rain damaged buildings and roads in Dallas on Thursday.

Book Review: "Contact!" by Max Velocity

(Source: Amazon)

Book: Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival by Max Velocity (2nd edition) (586 pages for the Kindle edition).

Overview: A manual of small unit tactics intended for a post-collapse, loss of rule of law and/or a resistance movement.

Impression: To understand what is this book, it is helpful to know what this book is not. It is not a book on self-defense or personal security. Although there are some ideas concerning fortifications and "bugging" in place,  it is not a book about defending or hardening your home. It does not discuss how to make or use improvised weapons or booby-traps. It is not a manual of arms, or a guide to shooting. It does not teach field craft or basic military skills. It does not teach individual tactics.

So what is this book about? I think the best description is that it is an intermediate level book on small unit tactics (i.e., a couple fire teams up to company level) that is tailored, to a certain extent anyway, to a survivalist or resistance fighter.

By intermediate level, I mean that it seems to be intended on someone with at least some background or training in small unit tactics, such as military basic training or boot camp, or perhaps attending a basic course in small units training. That is, it does not discuss or only has minimal discussion of individual skills. For instance, there is no description of hand signals and only a cursory overview of tactical movement. It does not teach land navigation, and only lightly touches on basic communications issues. It doesn't have the number or detail of diagrams for many topics that would be desirable for a beginning text. Although it has tips on using weapons, it is not intended to be a primmer on shooting, and does not cover weapons retention techniques. It discusses some aspects of camouflage, but does not address the basics of applying camouflage on the person (such as face or hands). For someone without some background knowledge in small unit tactics, I would recommend at least reading through some of the basic military manuals or a book such as Light Infantry Tactics by Christopher Larsen to get a better handle on the fundamentals, and perhaps a book on the use of a tactical carbine (such as Green Eyes and Black Rifles by Kyle Lamb or one of Gabe Suarez's books on tactics) before trying to delve into this book.

On the other hand, Contact! has too broad of an overview to be considered advanced. There is almost no mention, let alone discussion, of movement or tactics for mountainous terrain, and not much more about urban combat. If you want to learn about air assault or insertion from a small boat, this book is not for you. It is, as I stated, intermediate.

Don't let this fool you, though. There is a lot of information here. It is not a "quick read". For instance, it has taken me several months to work through it--albeit, I have also been reading other books at the same time (such as The Collapse of Complex Societies). You will probably want to read the book straight through first, and then revisit the sections--at least that is what I plan to do.

What makes this book useful is that it presents its subject matter with an eye toward the survivalist or resistance fighter. As the author notes:
Something has been pointed out about the mindset of many prepper[s]; the whole barricading yourselves in the homestead, growing tomatoes, and beating off marauders with precision rifle fire at long range, while leaving the actual fighting to 'others.' It is that aspect that I am picking up on and hoping to help with.
(p. 444). And so, the book focuses on teaching concepts of fire and movement, including the principles of patrolling, setting ambushes, reaction drills (thus, the title), and some escape and evasion tactics. For those who are bugging out, there is a discussion of vehicle movement and roadblocks. It covers the use of vehicles in tactical movement, caring for or dealing with casualties. The author has also included blog posts that answer or discuss specific questions or topics that readers of his blog has raised. Most importantly, the author includes a lot of little details and pointers that only come through combat experience.

Some of the strengths of the book are also its weaknesses. Although there is useful information provided in the posts from the author's blogs, a lot of the information is redundant or repetitive. I would have preferred for those discussion to better integrated into the main text. The focus on tactics and operations using units also means that there is little information on operating alone or in a pair. That is, this book is not intended for the individual or family. However, even in that situation, it provides information on how units will act (or react), and thus may be useful to the individual prepper or family.

The military focus is beneficial if you think you may be facing military or paramilitary units. However, the author also assumes access to military or military style equipment--automatic weapons, grenades and explosives, and so on--as well as a large supply of ammunition and fuel for vehicles. (This is where the book's roots in the author's other book, Rapid Fire, shows up most clearly). There is no discussion of constructing or using improvised munitions, methods of substituting civilian weapons or compensating for a lack of military equipment, or low tech booby traps. It doesn't discuss movement using bicycles, horses, or other modes of transportation once the gasoline runs out. It also will take a lot of practice to become proficient at the skills discussed in the book--something that may not be possible unless you can attend the classes offered by the author or similar teachers and/or are part of a large group of people similarly dedicated to learning the skills.

I also have my doubts as to whether practicing the principles outlined in the book on your own, or even taking the classes, is going to get you accepted by a community as a skilled fighter. I suspect that in most situations, a person that has a military background--even if it was limited to working in a mess or similar support position--will be looked to for advice or assistance before someone without, even if the latter has more actual knowledge and skills.

In short, this is not an introductory or first book on combat, but is one for after you understand the basics. Unless you are part of a large group of preppers, this book may not fit into your preps. Obviously, the small unit tactics discussed are not going to have a great deal of application prior to a collapse, and cannot be implemented unless you have a relatively large number of people to work with. Its value for the individual or family group is to inform you of what an enemy will do. The exception is the information on vehicle movement and escape and evasion techniques--those can be applied even by a family group. However, it has a lot of information and tips on actual combat. So, even if you can't field the 16+ troops needed to implement most of the tactics, the "tips and tricks" are worth the read.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Weapon Blog Has An Updated Gun Contest List

Link here.

1957 Article on the AR10

GUNS Magazine from March 1957 (pdf) has an article on the AR-10, posing the question of whether it would replace the M1 Garand. From the article:
Top brass in the Pentagon were as startled as the California hunters when they first saw Sullivan and his guns. This time, it was not the color which shocked them, since Sullivan knew better than to show camouflage-conscious military specialists bright colors and highly polished surfaces. Instead, it was the story Sullivan had to tell. He spoke of a new rifle that weighed about 6 3/4 pounds, and could fire full automatic, handling the standard service .30 NATO cartridge with as much accuracy as the present M l rifle. He showed them a 20-round magazine of waffle-creased sheet aluminum that weighed four ounces. An infantryman's load of 100 rounds in these pre-loaded expendable magazines would weigh no more than an equal amount of ammunition involving the regular BAR box that required reloading, plus the ammunition stripper clips.
(p. 15).
Objectionable kick was nonexistent in these truly lightweight automatic rifles. The highly efficient tin-can muzzle brake and flash suppressor fitted to one AR-10 kept things to a comfortable bounce in full auto, with none of the uncontrollable climb associated with some weapons when gripped too tightly. In semi-auto fire, the kick-in spite of the fact that the gun weighs hardly more than an Ml-carbine~is far less than any other gun of comparable caliber. Measured energy of recoil is a scientific figure, but "kick" is something else~nobody knows what. My impression was that the 308 AR-10 kicked less than a Model 70 Winchester bolt action rifle wing the same cartridge.
(p. 48).

 A little different from the standard history of the AR rifles suddenly coming from nowhere to be adopted in lieu of the M14.

Docent's Memo (May 16, 2022)

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