Monday, September 20, 2021

The Collapse of Evergrande?

Last Tuesday I wrote about the developing crisis around the Chinese real estate development and investment firm, Evergrande, and the risk it could have to the Chinese economy.  At that time, it was not clear if the Chinese government would be bailing out the firm or if a white knight investor would swoop in and save the company from ruin. 

    Since then, matters have grown more precarious for Evergrande. On September 16, the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest newspapers, reported that although "[a] collapse of Evergrande could ignite immense financial and social turmoil, the "leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have been taking a wait-and-see approach over the crisis instead of rushing to rescue the company." This is because a rescue "would run counter to President Xi Jinping’s stated policy of not favoring the rich." The article explains:

    Evergrande Group was established in Guangzhou in 1996, after China’s economic reforms.

    The company grew rapidly as its offer of compact apartments built in what it pitched as a “better living environment” proved popular at a time when China’s real estate industry was booming.

    Evergrande Group continued to develop more projects by borrowing funds from banks as it appeared that the more it built, the more it could rake in profits.

    With speculative money pouring in from international investors and the wealthy, it expanded and attempted to diversify its businesses, making forays into car manufacturing and movie production, among other things.

    But the diversification line backfired and ended up running 9.7 trillion yen in debt with interest as of the end of June, a figure impossible for the company to repay with its own funds.

    An additional blow came when the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party introduced rules to curb the ratio of debts against assets of a business.

    The move is intended to keep real estate prices in check, which have soared in urban areas to the point that the public can no longer afford to buy a place to live.

    Party leaders also restricted the amount of loans a company can get, making it more difficult for Evergrande Group to continue with its aggressive business approach using loans as leverage.

    The regime is not moving to bail out the company as those who have been hard-hit by Evergrande's crisis are deep-pocketed individual investors rather than the general public.

    Xi, in an effort to secure a third term, has begun to uphold the goal of pursuing wealth for a society as a whole by eliminating economic disparities between the rich and poor.

    Chinese leaders fear that coming to the rescue of wealthy investors would lead to a loss of popular support.

    Still, they will need to rein in damage to the country’s economy from a sudden collapse of a large company. Evergrande Group’s downfall could also trigger social instability.

    A challenge for the leaders will be how to help the struggling company make a soft landing while mitigating the shock of the company’s financial crisis.

The same article had noted that investors fearing that they have lost all of their money had started protesting outside the company headquarters. The company had said that it would repay investors with real estate rather than cash. This apparently didn't sit well with investors, however, as Zero Hedge then reported the next day, September 17, that the protests had escalated with nearly 100 investors having stormed Evergrande's headquarters to demand their money back, holding management hostage in their offices. As the article notes, "[a]fter accumulating some 1.97 trillion yuan (US$410 billion) in liabilities, the company - which became the country's largest high-yield dollar bond issuer (16% of all outstanding notes) - sparked protests across the country earlier this week after announcing they were forced to delay payments on up to 40 billion yuan in wealth management products." Another article reports that "[o]ne U.S. investor in China tells FOX Business 'just about every bank in China has exposure to the company,' which explains the heightened contagion fears."

    Today, the Daily Mail reported that the "Dow Jones plunges more than 700 points as Chinese real estate giant Evergrande teeters on the brink of collapse with debts of more than $300 BILLION and firm threatens top execs with 'severe punishment'." Markets in Europe and Hong Kong had also fallen as a consequence of fears of what impact a collapse of Evergrande could have on the global economy. This dragged down stocks in large manufacturers and banks including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. Per the article:

Many markets in Asia were closed for holidays and analysts said the thin trading accentuated volatility. Hong Kong´s benchmark sank 3.3%. Germany´s DAX dropped 2.9% to 15,038.17 and the CAC 40 in Paris shed 2.7% to 6,393.04. if both indexes close at those levels, it will mark their steepest declines since last October.

This means that once Asian markets open we may see even steeper declines. The article reported that "Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, told CNBC that it is unlikely Evergrande will have as severe a fallout as the Lehman bankruptcy which caused global and economy credit markets to collapse," based on his belief that the company is too big to fail and the Chinese government will be forced to intervene. Many other financial experts seemed to agree that China will likely do something to mitigate a collapse. 

    Other investment experts don't believe that a collapse would be as bad as some think because unlike Lehman Brothers, Evergrande has assets (real property) that can be sold. But I have to wonder at this: if the real property could be flipped so easily for cash, why are so many of Evergrande's investors unwilling to accept property in lieu of cash?

    The BBC has a helpful article that explains why the collapse of Evergrande would act as a contagion in the Chinese market:

    There are several reasons why Evergrande's problems are serious.

    Firstly, many people bought property from Evergrande even before building work began. They have paid deposits and could potentially lose that money if it goes bust.

    There are also the companies that do business with Evergrande. Firms including construction and design firms and materials suppliers are at risk of incurring major losses, which could force them into bankruptcy.

    The third is the potential impact on China's financial system.

    "The financial fallout would be far reaching. Evergrande reportedly owes money to around 171 domestic banks and 121 other financial firms," the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) Mattie Bekink told the BBC.

    If Evergrande defaults, banks and other lenders may be forced to lend less.

    This could lead to what is known as a credit crunch, when companies struggle to borrow money at affordable rates.

    A credit crunch would be very bad news for the world's second largest economy, because companies that can't borrow find it difficult to grow, and in some cases are unable to continue operating.

    This may also unnerve foreign investors, who could see China as a less attractive place to put their money.

Barron's also explains that it could have deleterious impacts on some of the largest investment firms:

    Evergrande currently has some $300 billion in liabilities and only around $15 billion in cash on hand. Swiss bank UBS estimates that liability figure to be closer to $313 billion—which amounts to 6.5% of the total liability of the debt-laden Chinese property sector—of which $19 billion is made up of outstanding offshore bonds.

    The group also has a large network of loans. Monday was a deadline for domestic bank loan repayments, with a 24-hour grace period; in a note, Deutsche Bank strategists said there was a 24-hour grace period from the Monday deadline. Chinese authorities warned banks last week that Evergrande wouldn’t meet these obligations.

    A bigger pinch is likely to come Thursday when coupon payments for both domestic and offshore bonds are due. BlackRock (BLK), UBS (UBS) and HSBC (HSBC) are among the company’s bondholders.

 The article also notes that:

A very bad outcome, if not the worst-case scenario, would be for Evergrande to completely fail and be totally liquidated. If it defaults on loans, that could cause banks and other groups with large exposure to Evergrande to go under or be forced to restructure themselves.

 One unforeseen impact is on the values of cryptocurrencies. For instance, Forbes reports that "Crypto Markets Suddenly Lose $250 Billion In Value As Evergrande Turmoil Pummels Bitcoin, Ethereum And Other Major Cryptocurrencies."

My First Squib Load

 So I've been shooting and handloading regularly for some 30 years, and just had my first squib load this past weekend. Technically, my eldest son had the issue, but it was one of my handloads. Fortunately no harm resulted to either my son or his pistol.

    For those that aren't familiar with the term, a squib load is one where the round fires but the power of the burn is not enough to push the bullet out of the barrel. This may be because of a reduced powder load, no powder (just the primer going off as apparently happened in this case), or powder that for some reason does not fully burn (i.e., contamination or moisture). The result is a bullet stuck somewhere in the barrel. Obviously, if you try to follow this up with a full power round, you could wind up with the barrel bursting or some similar catastrophic failure of the weapon. 

    Below are a couple photographs showing what could happen if you have a squib load and you follow it up with another round:

From "Hang Fires and Squib Loads – Dangerous Ammunition Malfunctions" at Practical Defensive Training. Great article on the subject of squib loads and hang fires, why they can happen, and showing a gory photograph of what it can do to the shooter.

From "The Explosive Dangers of a Squib Load – How to Identify & Fix" at Locked Back. Another excellent article on the topic including videos demonstrating what a squib load looks like when it is touched off.

    The two most commonly cited methods for determining whether you just fired a squib load are (1) a reduction in the volume of the shot--instead of a load "bang" it might be more of a "pop"--and (2) less recoil than normal or that you have had with other rounds you have been firing. The Locked Back article (above) has a couple more tips to spot the problem.

    But what if you weren't the one firing the weapon, as happened in my case. The symptoms we had were:

  1. The pistol failed to eject the case.
  2. When the case was manually ejected, there was a substantial amount of carbon--almost a soot--all around the case. While I didn't grasp the significance of this right off the bat, it indicates that the case didn't expand sufficiently to fully seal off the chamber and/or the bullet blocking the barrel forced the carbon around the cartridge.
  3. In our case, because the bullet had barely lodged into the barrel, there was insufficient room to feed another round.
Examination revealed there was an obstruction because I could not see light through the barrel. Using a flashlight, I was able to see that the obstruction was the lodged bullet.

    I would note that we initially had followed the standard malfunction clearage, which is to manually eject the case while racking the slide to feed the next round from the magazine. If the force of the burn had been sufficient to push the bullet farther into the barrel, we could have ended up with a catastrophic failure instead of simply being unable seat the next round for enough for the weapon to go into battery. Thus, it seems that in addition to the sound and feel of the round being fired, a look at the ejected case is called for. If there is an unusual amount of carbon or the carbon is sooty, it may well behoove you to check for a barrel obstruction.

    As for removal, I didn't have anything with me that I could have used to remove the bullet. I used a brass drift punch I had once we returned home. Fortunately, the barrel was short enough for it to work. Hopefully I will never have this issue again, but I am considering buying a set of longer brass punches or perhaps a longer brass rod that I could use if this ever comes up again. 

    Below is a video from Hickok45 on squib loads that is also worth watching. He deliberately loaded a round to act as a squib load so he could show you what it looks and sounds like.

VIDEO: "Squib Load Danger"--Hickok45 (17 min.)

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Scout Rifle--Another Look

Ruger Scout Rifle in .450 Bushmaster (source)

There has been a lot of ink spilled on Jeff Cooper's concept of a scout rifle. It doesn't help that the specifications have varied over time, and some criteria that Cooper left fairly open have since been cast in stone, such as the caliber and action type.

Background: The Military Scout

    To understand Cooper's concept, you first have to understand the role of the military scout and his inspiration. The purpose of the scout is essentially that of reconnaissance. That is, to explore an area in order to obtain information about enemy forces, terrain, and other activities. Nowadays this mission is carried out with satellite and aircraft imagery and small groups of men (e.g., Army Rangers or Special Forces teams, Marine Scout/Snipers, etc.) typically transported to the general area to be surveilled where they might set up a fairly static location to make their observation, and then retreat to position where helicopter exfiltration can be arranged.

    But in the past, before detailed maps were available. and insertion and exfiltration by aircraft was not possible, scouts would precede a military force in order to locate suitable trails and roads, sources of water, stream or river crossings, updating or creating maps, and, of course, trying to gather information as to enemy location, strength, movement, etc. Some famous long range reconnaissance teams include the Alamo Scouts of WWII that provided valuable intelligence to U.S. forces during the island campaigns against the Japanese, the Long Rang Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) of the Vietnam War. The latter, in particular, were essentially a guerilla force of their own operating against the NVA.  

    If you are a fan of old Westerns, you might remember movies where an Indian scout, a frontiersman or mountain man, or some such would act as guides for cavalry forces in tracking down Apache guerilla bands, or whatever other tribe was the focus of the story. This was the general inspiration to Cooper, with Frederick Russell Burnham being a particular inspiration.

    Burnham was an American born in 1861 on a Dakota Sioux Indian reservation in Minnesota where he learned much of his fieldcraft. At 14 years of age, he became a civilian tracker for the United States Army in the Apache Wars. During that time and his subsequent forays into being a hired gun, smuggler, and running cattle, he learned much from older, experienced trackers and frontiersmen. In 1893, he moved himself and his family to southern Africa where he distinguished himself in the First Matabele War, oversaw and led the Northern Territories British South Africa Exploration Company expedition, and further distinguished himself in the Second Matabele War. Later, while working for the British Army, in the Second Boer War, he was also recognized for his exemplary service. He was given a military rank of major in the British Army, was invested into the Companions of the Distinguished Service Order, and became Chief of Scouts. During his South Africa days, Burnham had met and become friends with Robert Baden-Powell (the father of scouting), and Burnham later assisted Baden-Powell with formulating a program of teaching scouting to youth--what would become the Boy Scouts.

    The gist of all of this, however, is that Cooper envisioned a scout as someone experienced in fieldcraft, tracking and hunting that might be operating alone deep in the bush or forest for days or weeks at a time in order to gather intelligence on the enemy. The scout rifle was his idea of the ideal weapon for such a person but using the latest in late 20th Century technology. That is, a weapon that could be used to defend oneself against both man and dangerous game, fill the stew-pot, but was handy and lightweight to carry. 

The Criteria For A Scout Rifle

    The requirements for a scout rifle--that is, the characteristics that define a scout rifle--seem to vary from one account to another. However, as best as I can determine from various sources I found, it appears that the following characteristics defined the weapon:

  1. First, and foremost, most sources agree that the rifle had to be in a caliber that could be used to take down at least medium sized game. The size of the game varies: some sources say up to 1,000 lbs., others say 200 kg (441 lbs), and another I found stated 400 kg (880 lbs.). In Cooper's "To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth" he wrote: "A general purpose rifle is a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow, on a live target of up to 200 kilos in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target."  Based on this requirement and his preference for short-action rifles, Cooper specified the .308 Winchester/ 7.62×51mm NATO or, for those living where civilians cannot own firearms that use military calibers, the 7mm-08 Remington. Most sources indicate that Cooper allowed for .243 Winchester for shooters sensitive to recoil. 
  2. The rifle, because of its quasi-military role, also had to be able to be loaded quickly. This meant, in practice, that the rifle had be capable of being loaded with stripper clips and/or a detachable box magazine. None of the lists I found mentioned a minimum magazine size--and it appears that internal magazines of 4 to 5 rounds were acceptable--but I would note that most rifles advertised as scout rifles (including the Steyr Scout that was produced with Cooper's input) sport 10-round magazines. 
  3.  The action had to be slick and reliable. Cooper stipulated a bolt action, but also wrote that "if a semiautomatic action were made which was sufficiently compact and otherwise acceptable, it should certainly be considered". 
  4. It was to have a trigger pull of 3 lbs. (because of it being a rifle intended for use in the field--perhaps from horseback, I suspect that this was a minimum weight rather than a maximum weight).
  5. In light of its role as being a handy rifle for carrying into the bush or forest, Cooper stipulated a barrel length of around 19 inches, and an overall length no-more than 39 inches (1 meter). (This article explains the advantages to a shorter barrel and overall length when hunting in backcountry or mountains). 
  6. Similarly, the rifle had to be lightweight. According to the sources I found, the rifle ideally would weigh 6.6 lbs. unloaded with accessories like the sling and optic attached, but no more than 7.7 lbs. 
  7. Although not all lists include this, Cooper recommended a synthetic stocks due to their light weight and durability compared to wood stocks. One source also noted that the heel of the stock needed to be rounded to prevent the weapon from catching on cloths. 
  8. It had to be fairly accurate: capable of producing 3-shot groups of 4 inches or less at 200 yards (i.e., 2 MOA). Again, nothing shocking today, but more accurate than the majority of military rifles back in the day which typically shot around 4 MOA using standard military ammunition. On the other hand, sources also indicated that Cooper did not intend the rifle to be a sniper or precision rifle, so it needn't shoot sub-MOA groups. 
  9. Cooper intended that the rifle be shot with a shooting sling--i.e., a sling that could be looped up to provide extra support for shooting without a support. Cooper favored the Ching Sling, a 3-point shooting sling designed to loop up quickly and easily compared to the traditional 1907 leather military sling.  One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Ching Sling is that it required three sling attachment points: one at the rear of the stock and two on the underside of the handguard. Riflecraft, however, has developed shooting slings that have the benefits of the Ching Sling without the need for three attachment points
  10. Finally, and probably most controversial, was the optical sight. Cooper called for a low-power (3x or less) optic with long eye relief to be mounted forward of the action. There are various reasons given for this, the main one being that it allowed for better situational awareness and quick snap shots because you could shoot with both eyes open. I've argued in the past that this was likely more driven by the need for the rifle to be capable of being loaded via stripper clips, necessitating that the action be open and accessible, and at least one source seems to agree with me. Another source indicates that "Cooper consider[ed] conventionally mounted scopes acceptable, as long as they’re low power (no greater than 4x) with fixed magnification." In any event, because the rifle would be used in austere conditions, Cooper also believed that the rifle should also have iron sights of the peep variety. I would note, however, that one source indicates that the backup sights were recommended not required.

Steyr Scout Rifle (source)

There were also a couple other items that came later and seem to generally be considered option: 
  1. An integral bipod.
  2. A means of carrying extra ammunition or an extra magazine in the stock of the rifle.
The shooting sling largely obviates the need for a bipod; and including a bipod can only make the rifle heavier and less handy for carrying. Carrying extra ammo in the stock seems to me to be another feature where the added complexity would far outweigh the benefit. If you had to singly load cartridges, I could see attaching a set of cartridge loops to the sling or stock; I could even see having a small pocket strapped to the stock to hold one or two stripper clips of ammo. 

    However, there are arguments over the criteria listed above. Richard Mann, for instance, has taken the position that the Scout Rifle must be a bolt-action rifle. He reasons:

    Cooper was a hunter - what I would classify a sport hunter - and loved his experiences in Africa. He also felt the Scout Rifle or scout-like rifle was an ideal hunting rifle. He killed his lion with what he called the Lion Scout and took a group of hunters to Africa with the Steyr. Though you can take an AR-type rifle to Africa and hunt (Bill Wilson has done it, but it requires some hoop jumping) it is not the everyday kind of easy thing that happens. It was clear Cooper was attempting to create a rifle that would have world-wide application due to his inclusion of the 7mm-08 as a suitable cartridge.

    Cooper wanted everyone to have a Scout.

Mann goes on to note that while having a semi-auto rifle was not an issue a few decades ago, many American states and foreign countries now restrict or prohibit semi-auto rifles. He continues:

    The semi-auto is no longer world-wide applicable; its not even coast to coast America applicable. Because of that, from a hunting standpoint, in my mind it can not qualify. From the standpoint of a SHTF rifle, who cares if it is legal or not. (My at SHTF rifle is an AR15) Additionally, I think the 16-inch barrel is an issue because it is clearly outside the length specification. Nor can a 16-inch barrel reliably deliver the ballistic performance Cooper desired. (Did you ever wonder why Cooper specified a 19-inch barrel and a longer barrel for the 243?)

    Kudos to those who have created an AR that makes weight. I've hunted with several AR10s that were not too heavy and taken elk, deer, and other critters with them. They are fine rifles. But, to me, as a hunter I would want a Scout Rifle that I could take hunting anywhere. After all, it is supposed to be the one and only rifle you need short of buffalo and bigger, right? If your needs and rifle desires are more localized, then for you it is probably a non issue. If you are like me, then in addition to your AR Scout, you would need another rifle to do some of your hunting. To me, this clearly falls short of the one rifle (Scout) answer.

    While Cooper may have used his scout rifles to hunt, I think that Mann is missing the point that it is a scout rifle, not a hunting rifle. If the scout rifle is simply a lightweight bolt-action hunting rifle, there are plenty of manufacturers out there that have sold or continue to sell lightweight mountain rifles and light weight hunters that meet the weight requirement--a few even meet the overall length requirement. In fact, the ideal lightweight bolt action rifle for a scout rifle may be the Sig Saur Cross Rifle. Cooper's inspiration, Frederick Russell Burnham, undoubtedly hunted, but that is not why he is remembered and respected. Rather, it was his exploits as a scout in various military conflicts.

    I would also mention a forum post by someone writing under the nom de plume of "Enforcer" who discusses the primary criteria and offers additional insights and thoughts. But one of the points he raises is that, according to Cooper, there was more freedom as to the sighting system. Cooper apparently stipulated:

Sighting system: Typically a forward and low mounted (ahead of the action opening) long eye relief telescope of between 2x and 3x. Reserve iron sights desirable but not necessary. Iron sights of the ghost ring type, without a scope also qualify, as does a low powered conventional position scope.

In other words, while the forwarded mounted scope was preferred, it was not required. You could use no scope (as long as your iron sights were ghost ring sights) or mount a low power scope in the standard position. 

This is set to start at about the 7:30 minute mark where Ian voices some of the main problems with bolt action rifles.

My Return To The Scout Rifle Concept

    I've ridiculed the scout rifle concept in the past because the idea of a "do-it-all" bolt-action rifle for use against critters and enemy soldiers seems antiquated (see the video, above). Bolt-action combat rifles were already obsolete by WWII and quickly replaced by almost all countries in the subsequent two decades, and for good reason! As one author described from his experience shooting a scout-rifle match with a bolt action:

But even with expert guidance from our Gunsite instructors, Il Ling New, Mario Marchman and Gary Smith, the compounding learning curve during three days of training in 108° F high desert heat began to take its toll and showed in bolts that were sometimes inadvertently short-stroked or not fully closed, which resulted in misfires and missed shots. And since we were shooting for score at paper targets from 25 to 200 yards, from standing, kneeling, sitting and prone, all that movement did nothing to improve our concentration on the targets or our shot placement.

I also thought that some of the other criteria (as I understood them at the time) were too rigid. So I had put the scout rifle concept behind me.

    But earlier this year, I walked into a gun store and noticed hanging on a wall a Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM rifle which sports a 16.25 inch barrel. I was impressed with its compactness, but not its nearly $2,000 price. I've since been considering that a light-weight "do-it-all" semi-auto rifle would be nice in the prepping/survival setting with the added benefit that I could use it for hunting. 

    Why a do-all rifle? In one of my early blog posts I discussed the advantages of a small battery of firearms over a large, extensive collection. In that article, I quoted a passage from the book High Country Hunting by Lloyd Bare where he also discussed the simplicity to having a small collection of hunting weapons. Bare noted the amazement and disapproval he generally encountered when other hunters learned that he used a .300 Winchester Magnum BAR for all of his big game hunting, be it deer, sheep, elk or bear. He explained:

In my gun cabinet you'll find one big game rifle (the BAR), one .22, one varmint rifle and one shotgun. In other words, I'm a hunter not a “gun nut” and I say that with kindest regards to gun experts and aficionados. Some of my best friends own a closet full of guns, one for every purpose. 

(High Country Hunting, p. 208). This has merit for the prepper, especially one with tight finances or who anticipates having to "bug out." 

    I have now returned to Cooper's scout rifle concept, not because I intend on using an obsolete rifle action, but because his idea of a military scout's rifle has some merit: particularly his weight and size requirements. Although the size of the M1A SOCOM was appealing, it is out of the picture not just because of its price but also because of its weight: over 9 lbs. While a Browning BAR hunting rifle with a synthetic stock would meet most of the requirements, the .308 version only holds 4-rounds in the magazine which seemed too little for a rifle that might be pressed into combat. I also didn't want to spend $1,600 for that rifle, either.

    I have handled and shot most of the popular .308 battle rifles, but the weight of rifles like the HK91, CETME, and FAL similarly take them out of the running. And, because of the heavy steel receivers and reciprocating mass, there is little that can be done to significantly reduce their weight.

    That left an AR-10/AR 308 style rifle. Like the AR-15 pattern, the AR 308 is almost endlessly customizable. You can find barrels of almost any length you could need, and in different weights and profiles. Magazines my not be as cheap as those for the HK91/CETME, but neither are they as expensive as for the FAL or M1A. And they are easy to find. Having assembled a couple of AR15s, I know that I could easily maintain or repair the weapon. And, most important, it is possible to build them lightweight: I saw articles and forum posts boasting of AR 308 rifles that weighed in at 5.5 lbs. or less. 

    But the real challenge is keeping the costs down. There are many receivers and other parts available to help you save weight, but they cost. For instance, a lightweight BCG typically runs nearly $500 dollars. So I had to find relatively inexpensive options that would still give me the weight savings I wanted. There was no way I could build a sub-six pound rifle without using expensive parts made of titanium, magnesium, or other expensive options, but with careful research, I think I came up with a list of parts that will get me to 6.5 lbs. (sans scope or sling) without breaking the bank. This is the same weight as the Ruger Scout Rifle pictured at the top of this post. Over the next 6 months, depending on money and availability, I hope to collect the parts that I need and assemble my AR 308 "Scout Rifle". 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Bombs & Bants Live! (Streamed 9/15/2021)

 
VIDEO: "Bombs and Bants Live!" (53 min.)
In this week's podcast, John Wilder, his wife, and I decided on something more lighthearted than our usual fare: our favorite horror movies. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Docent's Memo (9/15/2021)

VIDEO: "How America Learned to Fight Dirty"--Dark Docs (10 min.)

Firearms/Shooting/Self-Defense:

Q: Can you talk about common mistakes you see?
 
    Alex Hartmann, Ridgeline: The most common mistake we see is improper setup of the gun.  If you don’t start there, you’re swimming against the current for everything else you’re trying to do with it.  Then basically making sure when you mount the gun, you’re mounting it consistently every time without you having to work for it. 

    The second thing we see which is something where we veer from most other people in this space is the speed at which you shoot it.  Most long-range training is very slow, very deliberate and that’s where you need to start, but you can’t stay there.  If you stay slow and you give yourself all the time in the world, you never learn to grab that next gear, to solve that firing solution at speed and deliver the hit.

    We break sniping down doctrinally.  From zero to 600 yards is that urban sniper doctrine.  The speed that you need to be able to problem solve and get your hit inside of 600 is faster than most people think.  When you get beyond 600, especially from 800 to 1,200…you’ve got a little bit more time.  Then when you get to 1,500 and out, you’ve got a lot more time to sit there and play and figure out your firing solution, because typically they don’t know you’re there, or it’s far enough out that you’re not under the threat of being directly suppressed yourself. 

    But that’s probably the biggest thing we see.  People training for slow, very precise stuff…whether it’s PRS or it’s the professional end-user, this game is just about as much about speed and performance on-demand as anything else.  We just have to be able to do it from farther away.
... in the long run, Biden shutting off ammo from Russia will have the same unintended result as Clinton shutting off ammo from communist China in the 1990s: It will force Americans to purchase pricier, but superior ammunition made in this country and in countries allied with us, rather than from our adversaries, and incline gun owners to think about how to improve their skill while firing fewer rounds, instead of burning through larger numbers of rounds just for fun.

He also notes that:

...  it makes only slightly worse the limited availability and higher cost of ammunition that has been going on for the last year and a half, so it’s less a problem for people who need a relatively small amount of ammunition in case they have to defend themselves—against common criminals, at least—than for packrats who hoard ammunition they will never use and profiteers who hoard it to sell at inflated prices to people who don’t know they’re being ripped off.


A look at how to charge your electronics for a backpacker or someone bugging out.

Prepping/Survival:

  • "Seed Saving and Seed Storage For Survival"--Skilled Survival. The article discusses why you would want to harvest seeds, tools or equipment, how to harvest seeds, and how to wash, dry and store them. An excerpt on harvesting seeds:

    The first step to saving tomato seeds, saving cucumber seeds, saving pepper seeds, or any seeds that you may decide to save, is, of course, harvesting your seeds.

    Harvesting starts with the proper dissection of the fruit or veggie that you are going to save seeds from.

    For tomatoes, you have a very large amount of water to deal with. With wet vegetables like tomatoes, you first want to get a basic idea of where the seeds are.

    Tomato seeds, for example, are housed in chambers inside of the tomato.

    You first need to cut your tomato in half to access the seeds. A quick way to harvest them is to give the tomato halves a gentle squeeze into a collection dish.

    You then need to clean your seeds thoroughly and get ready for the next step.

    With other wet vegetables like cucumber, you may have a little bit harder time.

    When saving cucumber seeds you need to access the interior of your cucumber.

    Once you have split it open you can use a spoon to help scoop out the seeds. After you have removed them, again wash and get ready for step two.

    For vegetables like squash and pumpkin, the process is a bit different.

    When saving squash seeds and saving pumpkin seeds you have much less flesh to deal with and a much larger abundance of seeds.

    Much like a cucumber, once you have accessed the interior of the squash you can use a spoon to hollow out the seed cavity to harvest your seeds.

    With pumpkin, anyone that has ever carved a pumpkin knows that pumpkin seeds come in the hundreds and that they are encased in a mucus-like substance that is known as a membrane.

    When removing pumpkin seeds you can simply chop off the top and remove the seeds with a scoop. Then, wash thoroughly and get ready for the next step.

    Harvesting pepper seeds are much easier than any other vegetable.

    Pepper seeds grow in bunches in the center of the pepper attached to the stem. If you cut out the stem and essentially core your pepper, you will have all your seeds in one place.

With a polyester outer shell and liner, these boot shields are windproof, water resistant, lightweight and packable. Heat, meanwhile, is kept in by "Retain" technology: an aluminized polypropylene core layer in the fabric, designed to return up to 90% of body heat to the source. To keep a low profile, these insulators are available in RealTree Edge, Mossy Oak Break-Up Country, or basic Black. Sizes, which cover all shoe sizes from 6-13 in mens', and 8-14 in womens', are Small, Medium, Large and X-Large

  • "Safest Inexpensive Medicines for the World"--Dr. Sircus. A look at why baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate (NaHCO3)), magnesium, iodine, selenium, potassium, sulfur, zinc, and boron are so important to maintaining health and recovering from various diseases. The author also recommends Spirulina which is described in the article as "the ultimate survival food as well as one of the most useful medicinal items a person can have in their home."

Spirulina is a super-food that has been shown to be effective in cases of radiation exposure as well as cancer. Spirulina offers advantages over most other foods. Comprised of over 65% vegetable protein, it has everything the body needs to survive and thrive.

  • "Let's say you've gone back in time - Fixed"--Rebuilding Civilization. You may have seen an infographic going around that discusses how you could kickstart civilization if you found yourself having traveled back in time. The author of this piece found numerous problems with the infographic and so has updated it to make if more accurate (e.g., updated the explanations of how an airplane wing works) and alternate suggestions (e.g., making a hurricane lantern over a light bulb). Anyway, an interesting read.
  • "Cast Iron Myths"--Lodge Cast Iron. This FAQ addresses common myths about using and caring for cast iron cookware. For instance, before coming across this, I had heard that you shouldn't use cast iron on glass top stoves, but this states that it is safe as long as you take care not to damage the glass surface.
  • "Emergency Preparedness: Are You Ready for a Disaster?"--National Safety Council. This is a web page at the NSC that links to articles on emergency preparedness, including: earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, emergency supplies for the car, and emergency supplies for the home. In addition, the NSC advises on this page:

The National Safety Council recommends the following general precautions that apply to many disaster situations:
    The stark message from Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, came as customers continued to share pictures of gaps on shelves and a farmer warned staff shortages were 'killing small businesses'.

    Addressing the supply chain issues, Mr Wright said: 'It's going to get worse, and it's not going to get better after getting worse any time soon.'

    Speaking to listeners at an event organised by the Institute for Government, he added: 'The result of the labour shortages is that the just-in-time system that has sustained supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants – so the food has arrived on shelf or in the kitchen, just when you need it – is no longer working.

    'And I don't think it will work again, I think we will see we are now in for permanent shortages.' 

    Industry figures have pinned the problems on a shortage of lorry drivers and food processing staff due to Brexit and Covid, which has seen foreign workers go home to be with their families and increased waiting times for receiving HGV licenses.  

 

VIDEO: "SECRET DOCUMENTS Reveal Coronavirus Mysteries"--China Uncensored (9 min.)
The Intercept released 900 pages of documents obtained under a FOIA request showing that the NIH and its subcontractor, EcoHealth Alliance, were much more involved in discovering Covid viruses from bats and performing gain of function research on those viruses than previously revealed. Moreover, the NIH was aware of the dangers of such research. China Uncensored's Chris Chapel is not saying that Covid-19 came from a lab, but it came from a lab.

 COVID News:

    In every age group from 20-79, the percentage of the confirmed Covid cases are “fully vaccinated” exceeds the percentage of the population that is “fully vaccinated”.

    This means the fake vaccines are literally worse than nothing. And remember, the Antibody Dependent Enhancement that is created by the “vaccines” don’t merely enhance Covid-19, they will enhance all similar viruses, including the common cold virus.

    This isn’t just logic applied to scientific data anymore. This isn’t just theory. This is now the published medical reality from a sample size of 18,678 confirmed Covid cases. The fake vaccines will not protect you, and contrary to the government and media propaganda, they will render you more susceptible to infection, hospitalization, and possibly, death, than simply doing nothing.
    The researchers who authored the paper found widespread vaccine failure and high rates of Covid transmission under tightly controlled circumstances in a hospital lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

    The scientists studied healthcare workers who were unable to leave the hospital for two weeks. The data showed that fully vaccinated workers — about two months after injection with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine — acquired, carried and presumably transmitted the Delta variant to their vaccinated colleagues.

    “They almost certainly also passed the Delta infection to susceptible unvaccinated people, including their patients. Sequencing of strains confirmed the workers transmitted SARS-CoV-2 to one another,” McCullough noted.

    Some U.S. scientists have made the same observations. The CDC has confirmed the Covid vaccines have failed to stop transmission of the virus.
In Stage 1, the anointed declare a negative societal situation a crisis while with Stage 2 there is an unconstrained solution that purports to solve the crisis. Those who have the tragic vision criticize the proposed solution, warning that instead of giving a solution to the so-called crisis, it will instead cause unintended and detrimental consequences. The inevitable Stage 3 comes after the policies of the anointed go into effect, and the tragic results occur. When the anointed are confronted with the detrimental results, their response in Stage 4 is two-fold: First, the benighted are accused by the anointed as being simplistic and ignoring the complexities involved, thus placing the burden of proof on the benighted critics to demonstrate with certainty that these policies alone caused a worsening of the crisis. Second, the anointed claim that the situation would have been worse if not for their bold and wonderful actions. 

Purdy then applies the 4-steps to the Covid-19 response from the anointed, including the anointed-in-chief Fauci, and discovered that it fits the 4-steps and validates Sowell's theory.

 

Since the Bronze Age Collapse involved the near simultaneous collapse of several civilizations closely tied by trade and alliances and located around the Mediterranean and the Near and Middle-East, I think there are lessons for what we may be facing should things get too bad in our time. Notably, the Bronze Age populations blamed the ruling elite for what happened to bring down their civilizations, so the collapses were accompanied by civil unrest; the elites and their cities largely did not survive.  Epimetheus also has a longer (60 min.) version of this video if you are interested in more details.

The War Against Us

    “This proposal would create a comprehensive financial account information reporting regime. Financial institutions would report data on financial accounts in an information return. The annual return will report gross inflows and outflows with a breakdown for physical cash, transactions with a foreign account, and transfers to and from another account with the same owner,” the memo states.

    “This requirement would apply to all business and personal accounts from financial institutions, including bank, loan, and investment accounts, with the exception of accounts below a low de minimis gross flow threshold of $600 or fair market value of $600.”

    This proposal will also “apply to crypto asset exchanges and custodians.”

Nine gunmen and suicide bombers struck within minutes of each other at several locations around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, leaving 130 people dead and spreading fear across the nation. It was the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II and one of the worst terror attacks to hit the West.

But here is the key point:

    France changed after that night: Authorities immediately declared a state of emergency and now has armed officers constantly patrolling public spaces. And it transformed forever the lives of all those who suffered losses or bore witness to the violence that night.

    “Our ability to be carefree is gone," Kielemoes said. "The desire to go out, travel — all of that’s gone. Even if we still do a number of things, our appetite for life has disappeared.” 

    And nothing — nothing — is more sacred to the left than abortion. Having long shed the “safe, legal and rare” lie of the 1990s, the abortion of children has achieved an Arc of the Covenant-like status, with all who touch or even approach it becoming worthy of pitiless destruction. Simply speaking of it without active celebration is heresy.
     
  • "The Day They Drove Old Dixie Down" by Rod Dreher, American Conservative. Dreher writes about Virginia taking down the statute of General Robert E. Lee and replacing the time capsule in the base with various sundry items including "a photo of a Black ballerina taken by a local Richmond photographer in front of the statue, Kente cloth worn at the 400th commemoration of 1619, a 'Black Lives Matter' sticker, 'Stop Asian Hate' fliers, an LGBTQ pride pin, and an expired vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19vaccine" and other pro-LGBTQ items. In explaining why the Left has to do this, Dreher quotes from an article by John Daniel Davidson which states:
For the Left, the Confederacy is just a small part of a much larger problem, which is the past. Iconoclasm of the kind we’ve seen this week is native to the Left, because the entire point is to liberate society from the strictures of tradition and history in order to secure a glorious new future. That’s why Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China torched temples and dug up ancient graves, why the Soviets sacked Orthodox churches and confiscated church property, and why various governments of France went about de-Christianizing the country during the French Revolution.

Dreher adds (emphasis in original):

    That we take down a statue of a great but tragically flawed American like Robert E. Lee, and replace it with a time capsule containing these items (check out the list — it includes an LGBTQ walking tour of Richmond, a Teen Vogue article, and a copy of verses titled “Post-Colonial Love Poem”). The whole list signals that the Democratic governor of Virginia and the woke Left wants to rub the noses of cultural conservatives in our defeat. You might not have had anything good to say about Robert E. Lee, but if you are unwoke, you need to understand that the attack on this monument was aimed at you too. If you are a Virginian who is not part of a minority sacred to the Left, then there is nothing in this new time capsule for you, or about you. You are erased. This is the base upon which the new ruling class is constructing a new American identity.

    After the Civil War ended, Lee worked hard for the cause of national reconciliation. Still, we should not pretend that the statue of Lee in Richmond was regarded by all Virginians, black and otherwise, as something positive. But its removal, and replacement within its base with a time capsule that can only be read as a triumphalist act by the Left, signals the renewal of hatred. And for what? The message from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and all those who support this is: hate your fathers, hate your people, damn them in your memory

But this is probably the money quote: "This will not end soon, or well. They won the culture war, and are bouncing the rubble."


Dan Davis writes fantasy novels including a series set in the early bronze age and this is one of several videos he has made to share what he has learned in his research for his novels. I am currently reading one of his novels--Godborn--and enjoying it very much.

Miscellany:
  • "How a Great Power Falls Apart: Decline Is Invisible From the Inside" by Charles King, Foreign Affairs (reprinted in Africa Horn Now).  A look back at Andrei Amalrik, a Soviet dissident, and his predictions of the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of Amalrik's key observations is that governments are terrible at analyzing their own problems.
Governments are good at recognizing the faults in other places and times, but they are terrible judges of the injustices built into their own foundations. Thiswas especially the case for great powers such as the Soviet Union, Amalrik believed. If a country could sail the seas unrivaled and put humans into outer space, it had little incentive to look inward at what was rotten at the core. 

Moreover, "Citizens tended to take their government as a given, as if there were no real alternative to the institutions and processes they had always known." 

Up to this point in his argument, Amalrik was following an analytic line that would have been familiar to Sakharov and other dissidents. Stability and internal reform were always in tension. But he then made a leap by asking a simple question: Where is the breaking point? How long can a political system seek to remake itself before triggering one of two reactions—a devastating backlash from those most threatened by change or a realization by the change makers that their goals can no longer be realized within the institutions and ideologies of the present order? Here, Amalrik warned, great powers’ proclivity for self-delusion and self-isolation puts them at a particular disadvantage. They set themselves apart from the world, learning little from the accumulated stock of human experience. They imagine themselves immune to the ills affecting other places and systems. This same predisposition might trickle down through society. The various social strata could come to feel isolated from their regime and separated from one another. “This isolation has created for all—from the bureaucratic elite to the lowest social levels—an almost surrealistic picture of the world and of their place in it,” Amalrik concluded. “Yet the longer this state of affairs helps to perpetuate the status quo, the more rapid and decisive will be its collapse when confrontation with reality becomes inevitable.” 

He identified four main drivers of collapse:
      1. "[T]he 'moral weariness' engendered by an expansionist, interventionist foreign policy and the never-ending warfare that ensued."
      2. "[T]he economic hardship that a prolonged military conflict—in Amalrik’s imagination, a coming Soviet-Chinese war—would produce." King noted that the predicted war did not come about, but that "one might say the Soviet-Afghan conflict was a good stand-in: a drawn-out, exhausting war, prosecuted by decrepit leaders, which drained the Soviet government of resources and legitimacy". One might, in the case of the United States, similarly point to the Global War on Terror (GWOT), especially the invasions and attempted pacification of Iraq and Afghanistan.
      3. "[T]he fact that the government would grow increasingly intolerant of public expressions of discontent and violently suppress 'sporadic eruptions of popular dissatisfaction, or local riots.' These crackdowns were likely to be especially brutal, he argued, when the suppressors—police or internal security troops—were 'of a nationality other than that of the population that is rioting,' which would in turn 'sharpen enmities among the nationalities.'" The Jan. 6 so-called insurrection, anyone? Opposition to the vax? Disapproval of BLM, Antifa? Disapproval of the LGBTQ+ agenda or lifestyle? Anyone believing that it is okay to be white?
      4. The most important, in King's mind, however, was "the calculation, by some significant portion of the political elite, that it could best guarantee its own future by jettisoning its relationship to the national capital." In the Soviet Union, it was the peripheral states abandoning the Empire: first those outside the Soviet Union such as East Germany and Poland, and then those non-Russian ethnic states within the Soviet Union such as the Baltic States and the Ukraine. We are already starting to see this happen with the U.S. as both NATO countries and certain states like Texas are becoming increasingly noisome and critical of Washington.
Overlooked in much of the mainstream analysis of Ida’s impact, however, is the critical role southern Louisiana plays in the United States’ agriculture industry. The various terminals (Image 3) in the lower Mississippi River (the 250-mile stretch of river from Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico) are responsible for some 59% of US corn exports and 60% of US soybean exports, as of 2020.

The article continues:

    Now, what does this have to do with China and the immediate future of the Transpacific power struggle?

    In short - China is desperately short of crucial grains and oilseeds needed for domestic human and animal consumption. Understand, food security is not an unknown issue in China. So too is it widely known that CCP media organs and official ministries routinely lie about a range of food-related issues, from grain and oilseed production to hog population and slaughter figures. The CCP even went so far as to engineer the collapse and takeover of Swiss agriculture and chemical conglomerate Syngenta several years ago to short-path China’s rise to being a tier one agriculture research powerhouse alongside the United States, Japan, and the European Union.

    The immediate causes of China’s food security woes are twofold:
  1. An ongoing, multi-year outbreak of African Swine Fever
  2. Two consecutive years of reduced grain and oilseed production due to widespread catastrophic flooding
    Despite China’s rosy claims about its 2020 production, its year-long buying binge for available global inventory of grains and oilseeds indicates significant flooding-related production woes in several major agricultural reasons in the Yangtze River and Amur River basins. 2021 is shaping up to be potentially as bad. Notably, the critical crop-producing province of Heilongjiang (16% of China’s total corn production, and 40% for soybeans) is showing significant excess moisture stress during the critical corn development stages between pre-tassel and silking, with excess moisture also being a major factor in yield drag for soybeans during seed-fill. The general time period for both crops to reach these reproductive stages are July through end of August.

    Closely related to the trade indicators for grain production, import, and consumption is the issue of animal feed. Contra its massive buying spree throughout 2020 and early 2021, China’s imports have now slowed a touch, ostensibly due to hog growers feeding cheaper available wheat in lieu of pricier soybeans, corn, and their various co-products. But as indicated by the article from The Economist linked above, it’s more likely a signal that pork production is falling dramatically due to the re-emergence of African Swine Fever. Note that at its peak in 2018-2019, ASF was estimated to have forced China to cull at least 50% of its hog population and store the infected carcasses in freezers all over the country.

    Bringing it full circle to the devastation to US agri export capacity wrought by Hurricane Ida, there is now an imbalance of supply and demand such as we have not seen in a long time. Whereas before, China was able to make up shortfalls in domestic production by sourcing from the US, Brazil, Ukraine, Europe and others, that optionality is gone. The US’ primary grain and oilseed export hub of southern Louisiana lies in disrepair, with US yields expected to be basically at trendline, with unknown impact to grain and oilseed quality due to drought stress in some regions. Early indicators of crop quality are a bit worrisome, with the most recent USDA Crop Progress Report released on 30 Aug 2021 showing corn conditions at 60% Good/Excellent (62% last year) and soybeans at 55% Good/Excellent (66% last year). What is available to China will likely be of reduced quality and more expensive to transport from alternate US origins.

As John Wilder has noted, the U.S. and China stand in much the same position to each other as Germany and the Allies stood in the lead up to WWI. One of the key points about that pre-WWI relationship was how closely Germany and the Allied countries were tied by international trade. That is, the trade relationship exacerbated the poor relations between the countries making war more likely. In the Cold War, if the Soviet Union had a poor crop harvest, it could only blame saboteurs for shortages as it came hat-in-hand to buy U.S. wheat, but China can blame the United States for withholding wheat and other food stuffs.

Trump was hated for the qualities that made him an excellent president, for “Making America Great Again,” and for being a towering, if controversial, figure. He was hated for not sinking to the indescribable ineptitude of Joe Biden and for not being on the take. He was hated for his efforts to clean up the political swamp. He was hated for his endorsement of the free market and for championing a prosperous citizenry. He was hated for his opposition to crony socialism and bureaucratic bloat. He was hated for all the wrong reasons.
  • This is what tolerance gets you: In "Soft Totalitarians Vs. Semi-Christian Schools," Rod Dreher notes a recent court decision against a Catholic School that fired a substitute English and drama teacher who came out as homosexual.  The court granted summary judgment to the gay teacher, ruling against the School's attempt to invoke the religious exemption under under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The reason the School could not avail itself of the religious exemption?
Importantly, Charlotte Catholic discourages teachers of secular subjects from instructing students on any sort of religious subject. The school asks that teachers who teach secular subjects refrain from instructing students on Catholic Doctrine. Secular teachers do not have to undergo religious training, do not have to be Catholic, and do not have to be Christian. The administration at Charlotte Catholic does not know the percentage of teachers at the school who are Catholic and does not ask if candidates are Catholic
during job interviews.  [Citations omitted].

Apparently the School also knew that the teacher was gay when he was first interviewed but hired him anyway. 

  • "Is It Racist To 'Call A Spade A Spade'?"--NPR. This expression, meaning "tell it like it is," goes back at least 500 years in the English language and is, itself, derived from a much older expression from Classical Greece. The "spade" referenced is, of course, the garden implement. In the 1920s, based on the playing card suit being black, "spade" began to be used to refer to blacks. The author of this 2013 piece, however, suggests that because of the racial "spade" reference (referring to the deck of cards) we should be careful of using the expression "call a spade a spade" (referring to a digging tool) because some ignoramuses (e.g., Ivy League graduates who probably couldn't tell you the difference between a spade and a hoe) might interpret it as racist. We probably also want to jettison the expression, "a tough row to hoe" because it might insult sex workers.
  • "'Catastrophic' supervolcano eruption could be much more likely than previously thought, scientists warn"--Sky News (h/t Marcus Wynne).  The gist is: "Existing knowledge about the likelihood of eruptions is based on the presence of liquid magma under a volcano, but new research warns 'eruptions can occur even if no liquid magma is found'." We should be more worried about more frequent, less powerful volcanoes that have the ability to temporarily alter the climate. For instance, in the 19th Century, there was one eruption with a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 7 -- the Mt. Tambora eruption of 1815 that caused "the year without a summer" in 1816 -- and two eruptions with a VEI of 6 -- an 1808 "mystery eruption" which is believed to have occurred in the South Pacific, and the Krakatoa explosion of 1883. Conversely, there were no VEI 7 eruptions in the 20th Century, but three VEI 6 eruptions. It isn't just how powerful the volcano is, but also where the eruption occurs that can be important. For instance, the June 1783 and February 1784 eruptions of the Laki volcano in Iceland disrupted food production on a global scale although it appears to have only been a VEI 4 eruption. By comparison, the largest 20th Century eruption was that of Novarupta, Alaska, in 1912 (VIE 6) that apparently had little or no effect globally.
  • It wasn't that long ago that a video went viral of a deer rushing out of the brush to attack and kill a hawk that had caught a rabbit, and now this: "Butt out! Moment goat and rooster rush to save chicken from hawk attack"--Daily Mail. Reminds of the line from Pink Floyd's song, Sheep: "Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream...." 

The Collapse of Evergrande?

Last Tuesday I wrote about the developing crisis around the Chinese real estate development and investment firm, Evergrande , and the risk i...